They asked for a community center, but they might be getting condos.
After the city ignored Coney Island residents’ pleas to purchase a shuttered property so it could be made into a community space, grocery mogul and developer John Catsimatidis — who once ran for mayor — swooped in and bought the foreclosed building.
Brooklyn Daily reports Catsimatidis bought the former Federation Employment and Guidance Service (F.E.G.S.) building in Coney Island for $7.7 million when it was sold at auction last week. The building was put up for sale after its previous owner — one of the city’s largest largest social services agencies — filed for bankruptcy in 2015.
Catsimatidis told the paper he has no immediate plans for his new purchase — only that “we may build it, we may not, depending on how much cooperation we get from the city.”
The sale was a disappointment for residents hoping Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) would bid on the property so it could be put to community use. At a rally last week outside the F.E.G.S building, located on Surf Avenue near West 33rd Street, locals lamented the one remaining community center was closing its doors.
“No community should be without youth and senior centers,” said Coney Island Democratic Club President Ken Jones. “There are 50,000 residents here. There’s no excuse why we don’t have one.”
City Councilman Mark Treyger said he talked to NYCEDC months ago about purchase the F.E.G.S. building. At the rally, he noted the agency seemed to be pouring money into Coney Island’s amusement district while ignoring the neighborhoods west end.
He joined residents in calling for NYCEDC to purchase the property and said “anything less than that would be insulting and a slap in the face.”
In a statement, NYCEDC said the agency partnered with Treyger on past projects, but could not justify placing a bid.
“While we are supportive of efforts to provide community space and enrichment opportunities for the Coney Island community, this is not an acquisition that we can pursue at this time,” the statement read.
Treyger said he plans to reach out to Catsimatidis’ real estate firm, Red Apple Group, to learn more about plans for the property and will work to ensure any development benefits the community.
“I want to be clear that everything can’t be condos,” he said. “I understand the owner will have quite a bit of leverage in the future of the site, but I want to engage in meaningful and constructive dialogue and strongly urge him to consider the needs of the community.”
Red Apple Group did not return repeated requests for comment. However, Catsimatidis’ interest in the F.E.G.S. building would seem to be related to his long-planned Ocean Dreams Development. In 2008, he scooped up properties along the waterfront on West 35th and West 36th streets and got the city to rezone those blocks so he could build a mix-use development with towers as high as 14 stories.