Brooklyn Hospital is stepping up growth plans forward of the pandemic amid native skepticism

Pedestrians cross Ashland Pl. Near the Brooklyn Hospital emergency vehicle entrance. | Hiram Alejandro Durán / THE CITY

This article was originally published by April 18 at 8:44 pm EDT THE TOWN.

With old financial troubles made worse by the pandemic, Brooklyn Hospital Center is trying to sell and rent portions of its 175-year-old campus to private developers.

For years, the district’s oldest hospital has been planning to cash in on its prime downtown real estate to fuel the decline in sales. In contrast to Long Island College Hospital, which has outraged neighbors over its closure, Brooklyn Hospital plans to expand and modernize.

Coronavirus has increased urgency, says the hospital’s president, who announced last week that the independent health center is interviewing developers to help build a new medical complex and raise money and housing for retailers.

“We’re not deviating from our long-term plan,” said Gary Terrinoni, president of Brooklyn Hospital, to THE CITY. “It’s just that the COVID situation just hit us in the stomach when neither of us really expected it.”

However, some locals are concerned about whether new buildings would cast shadows on nearby Fort Greene Park, a neighborhood gem that is expensive to work on. And it’s unclear whether the hospital’s political ties will help guide a project through the city’s public scrutiny process after upcoming elections changed the face of local government.

In the deadliest weeks of the pandemic, a year ago, the Brooklyn Hospital Center stepped on the front lines of the New York War against a new and terrifying virus. A New York Times reporter embedded in his COVID response teams. The hospital opened outer tents to pre-screen patients and used freezer trucks as a makeshift morgue.

The challenges for the hospital had only just begun.

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Governor Andrew Cuomo’s order to suspend election operations across the country for two months has cut the hospital’s revenues, Terrinoni said. He added that the emergency room volume has decreased and that inpatient care – where hospitals make most of their money – has not returned to pre-pandemic levels.

The development plan includes 800,000 square meters of new medical facilities in two new buildings. New cancer and outpatient diagnostic centers, an expanded emergency room as well as a maternity ward, a heart center and a breast cancer center are planned.

Courtesy of Robert AM Stern Architects, LLP Conceptual Rendering by Robert AM Stern Architects, LLP.

According to a press release from the hospital, the project would also include six additional buildings with up to 1,000 permanently affordable housing units, as well as other apartments and offices for doctors and other health professionals.

Low-income patients

The majority of patients at Brooklyn Hospital are low-income and have Medicaid or Medicare coverage. That puts the organization in financial distress, Terrinoni said.

“We are not paid enough by the government,” he said. “We just need to find ways to find other sources of income that could support our mission.”

He intends to close the deals “likely to close in mid-2022 and monetize some of this property and ensure our longevity in the market”.

The new plans must go through the city’s often controversial land use review process, at a time when many ambitious projects have been shelved in court or derailed by members of the local council.

These include the former Long Island College Hospital, which closed in 2014 despite protests from then-mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio. After failing to secure council support for a complex with affordable housing, the developer scaled down and started building condominiums.

Yana Paskova / THE CITY Outside the Brooklyn Hospital Center.

Current councilor Laurie Cumbo (D-Brooklyn) has no position on the Brooklyn Hospital project. She told THE CITY that the project would not stand in front of her and the council in the remaining months of her term, which ends in November.

“This is really going to be part of the legacy of the next councilor to come in,” said Cumbo.

However, some candidates for their seat, which they will vacate at the end of the year due to term restrictions, are skeptical of the plans – especially since the property is adjacent to Fort Greene Park, which is available for an overhaul.

“I don’t think these things happen in a vacuum,” said Michael Hollingsworth, a seat nominee who opposes the proposed development of towers elsewhere in the district that would overshadow the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. “I think a renovated Fort Greene Park can be sold as a luxury building amenity.”

Hollingsworth said he wanted to know if there was a link between the hospital’s plans and the $ 24 million upgrades planned for Fort Greene Park.

The park is adjacent to a valuable piece of land that the hospital sold in 2018: an apartment tower on Willoughby Street that the Rabsky Group bought for $ 95 million with development rights.

“This sale was really a godsend without knowing that COVID was coming,” said Terrinoni.

Sandy Reiburn, a 31-year-old Fort Greene resident, said she was concerned about the potential impact of the upcoming Rabsky development on the park. She feared that anything Rabsky builds would be a burden resembling the shadowy skyscrapers south of Central Park.

“This is yet another impact on public space,” Reiburn told THE CITY.

She said that while she agrees with the hospital’s financial situation and is grateful for the benefits the center is providing to the community, she is concerned about the “pact with the devil, the compromise with the developers.”

Employee on the local board

The review of the urban property requires an advisory vote by Community Board 2 in Brooklyn, which held meetings in the hospital auditorium prior to the pandemic. Brooklyn Hospital also hires the chairman of the board, Lenny Singletary III, as vice president of foreign affairs.

THE CITY requested an interview with Singletary and the Chairman of the Board’s Land Use Committee, Carlton Gordon. Singletary pushed Gordon, according to a representative of Community Board 2, who refused to comment.

Singletary’s wife, Sarissa Phillips-Singletary, is Chief of Staff to Councilor Robert Cornegy, D-Brooklyn, a candidate for district president in the June primary.

Hollingsworth said the association is raising a red flag for him. “I’m not happy with the fact that the chairman of the community board also works for Brooklyn Hospital,” said Hollingsworth.

Terrinoni said the hospital had already started advocating for the surrounding community, noting that the importance of the hospital’s premise was evident throughout the pandemic.

A hospital spokesman said Singletary would withdraw from any community board review.

“Mr. Singletary always acts with the utmost integrity and will therefore be sure to find himself on Community Board 2 when the Community Board is considering a matter relating to Brooklyn Hospital,” spokesman Greg Wagner said in a statement.

Last year, the sidewalks in front of the hospital were the scene of cheers, applause, and dancing for months, part of a nightly ritual honoring healthcare workers as they changed shifts at 7 p.m.

“We want to make sure that everything we do here is compatible with the community and gives something back to the community,” said Terrinoni.

Ben Fractenberg / THE CITY community members thanked the healthcare workers at Brooklyn Hospital Center during the coronavirus outbreak on April 24, 2020.

For whom?

The hospital is a significant facility for many local residents, including Rahjiem Jones, a lifelong New Yorker from Fort Greene. Jones said many of his loved ones had died in the hospital, including his mother, a former hospital worker.

Jones, who has been homeless for a few years, said he hoped any housing would be affordable and development would create jobs because he was looking for one.

“Would it be okay for you to live there?” said Jones, 57, who was walking through the park last Tuesday. “Dependent…. Who are you putting the enclosure there for? Are you putting it there for the rich?”

It pointed down DeKalb Avenue towards the heart of downtown Brooklyn, where luxury buildings and ongoing construction could be seen and heard.

The Fort Greene Association, a local advocacy and park protection group that had previously opposed some housing projects in the booming region, did not respond to several email requests for comment.

Terrinoni said the needs of many constituencies need to be addressed.

“We just want to create the greatest possible value for this hospital so that we can be close for another 175 years,” he said.

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