Contact Welcome2Melrose at: 347-92-MELRO or via email at:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Breath of Life to Come to the Old Bronx Courthouse?

A few days ago I received an email from a friend and colleague of Henry Weinstein, who is the owner of the Old Bronx Courthouse, about what my thoughts as well as the community at-large would be on what should be done with the Old Courthouse while keeping in mind that SELLING IS NOT AN OPTION.  I capitalize this for emphasis as that is not up for discussion but I am opening this discussion to all of Melrose and The Bronx since we are all in this together.  For decades this old structure on 161st and Third Avenue has been a symbol of urban decay and collapse and now the time is right for it to become a new symbol.  A symbol of renewal, a phoenix literally rising from the ashes of the neighborhood it once proudly served.

Sometime in the next week or so, I have been asked to take a walking tour with Mr Weinstein and his representative to talk things through and as humbling of a request that is, I cannot do it without YOUR input so this entry is specifically for YOU to sound off on the issues...let us know what you think should be there.  Do keep in mind to keep it realistically because it is something that needs to be viable for the individual who will be developling the property as well as the future tenants of the building and the residents they will serve. 

One of the ideas that I have for it (and the credit for this goes to Irwin Cohen, the mastermind behind the Chelsea Market)  is to create a Bronx version of the Chelsea Market.  Now as early as 2005, I read in a Q & A from the Center for an Urban Future where Mr. Cohen would like to develop such a mixed use project that is so successful in Chelsea - but with a Bronx twist and flair where the ethnic vendors displaced by the creation of the Gateway Center Mall would have a home.  My idea as well as some locals who I've spoken to would be try and convince to have as an anchor in that building a Barnes and Noble open up because

  • 1. We do no not have anything remotely that is a bookstore in the Bronx outside of Barnes and Noble at Bay Plaza in Co-op City yet neighborhoods such as the Upper East Side on 86 and Lexington had TWO Barnes and Nobles within 3 blocks of each other.
  • 2. People are tired of having to go to places as 86th and Lex and go out of their way to buy books. Many residents are clamoring for one...just not to the right people...until now.
  • 3. A bookstore will more than attract business, Boricua Village, once completed, will open up 700 apartment units bringing in at least 1500 new residents to just that ONE block alone where the Old Bronx Courthouse sits and that is not counting the 2,000 students plus 200+ faculty and staff that will be housed in Boricua College.  

Just those three points alone should be enough incentive for Barnes and Noble to want to invest in Melrose and the South Bronx as a whole.  The 161st Street/3rd Avenue corridor is a transportation rich corridor with a Metro North Station at 162nd and Courtlandt, the 2/5 train at 3rd Ave/149th Street, a plethora of buses, 4, 15, 21, 19, 6, 44 just to name a few!  Much better connected for those who rely on public transportation than Barnes and Noble in Co-op City.

And Barnes and Noble or a similar book store would only be the anchor.  The rest of the facility could house mom and pop markets, like the Chelsea market and the upper levels can give way to offices who knows? Maybe even Department of Motor Vehicles would like to take shop up there...aren't we being touted as Downtown Bronx anyway?  Maybe the Bronx Chamber of Commerce can also have new digs there...the options are endless and Mr. Weinstein is not opposed whatsoever to even donating space for the arts or maybe even a gym for local community children.

So I leave you with this:  Please comment away publicly or privately.  You all have my email if you rather would discuss this privately.  Just hit me up at !


Kathy Shell said...

Beautiful building, worthy of preserving

Anonymous said...

I think an Apple Store would be nice.

They could use creative architecture to do something like a building inside of a building. (Google Apple Store Oxford St. London) to get an idea of what I'm talking about.

Anonymous said...

An Apple store in the South Bronx...whoa relax a bit. Its already a stretch to imagine a B&N but even mentioning an Apple Store just isn't realistic and does not help this endeavor.

Anonymous said...

I recommend using it for multiple purposes if possible. A community-run reading room or theater. A worker-owned cooperative bookstore even. A small theater for events could be fun for the kids. There are organizations willing to help on how to get these things started. Seems like a better option than Barnes and Noble. More imagination is yet needed.

Anonymous said...

Along the lines of the Cohen idea as expresssed to the Center for an Urban Future, take a look at what is planned for the old Limelight club in Manhattan--an almost equally distinctive building....

the same concept might work very well at the courthouse.

Jay Shuffield said...

I haven't given this a lot of consideration, but here's a few quick thoughts:

Some mix of retail might work for the ground floor. Obviously, the landlord has to make some profit, and will be under pressure to find some large tenant that pays him well, but there should be some spaces in the less visibile locations that could be suitable for more specialized, local retailers.

Some retail carts or a farmers' market out on the plaza during the day, with an open air cafe, would seem ideal. Hopefully that's not dreaming too much...

It may not make sense to put retail or other uses that require a high volume of foot traffic on the upper floors, since building and maintaining more elevators and escalators could be very expensive, and would eat up rentable floor area. Offices of some sort would make sense.

There is a certain appeal to the idea of having law offices on the top floor. That way this landmark could maintain some of its original purpose. It might be attractive to lawyers as a way to stand out to their potential clients too.

Hope this helps somewhat!

Unknown said...

Why would ANY developer waste their time, energy and money if they couldn't buy the land?

Redevelop? Oh, you mean deal with the city's ridiculous regulations, lack of construction financing, low rental rates, high real estate taxes, and FOR WHAT?

To develop the property for someone else? HA! Look around you Henry Weinstein - plenty of Manhattan property available for the "redeveloping." Honored to take a walk around with a Landlord and his representative - Oh, the same landlord who wants to profit off of another developer's hard work, exposure to risk, and maybe, just maybe, can recapture the "redeveloped property" at foreclosure?

Haha. Bronx people. Henry. You guys are so far gone, you don't even know what dimension we're in.

Uncle Fred said...

Tell Mohammed to put it where the monkey put the nut...

Mr. Weinstein BOUGHT the courthouse many years ago, at a city auction. He OWNS the courthouse, (and the land upon which it sits) and has dutifully paid taxes on it to the City for the last 10+ years. He has capital (money) at risk in his ownership of the building, and he's entitled to a return on that investment. Mohammed, my young friend,you can't begin to imagine how much it will cost to bring the building back to life...Mr Weinstein can, and is physically, financially and mentally up to the task.
Let us know how you think the building looks in a year or so, all lit up and glowing in the evening.....

Unknown said...

Ahh uncle fred, a lot to learn. Of course he paid the taxes. He bought the property for A SONG! Taxes ensure he KEEPS THE SONG! Are you this new to RE investment - thats the only thing you have to do.

Clearly, you didnt read my post. If Mr. Weinstein is in on the project himself - and put his OWN MONEY AT RISK - thats fine.

But if he thinks he's going to piggy-bag on the back of a developer and get top dollar off of their back, THINK AGAIN.

Mr. Weinstein actions, and own dollars will dictate his intentions.

Developers exploitation by landlords are over. Time for them to put their money into their own property.

Anonymous said...

Two years ago a charter school was supposed to open there. I thought that was a good idea.

Barnes and Noble is a terrible idea. Who can afford to buy retail priced stuff there? Not me (I live in the neighborhood) or anyone I know who lives around here. I think something like Trader Joe's would be a much better option. A decent grocery store with affordable prices.

Tony B. said...

As a business owner on 3rd ave
and 149th street , for the past 15 years i've driven by the building hundreds of times only after reading this blog did I take a half hour and walk by it, done right this could be
the crown jewel of the city , i propose a series of stores that i know will do well , they however are unwilling or afraid to invest in the people of the bronx , i know i did and never once regretted it. is it beacause we don't read ? or we dont look right in their white sterile store...,,,

The Mayor of Melrose said...

A Trader Joe's is more reasonable and affordable than a Barnes and Noble? Are you kidding me? I've shopped at Trader Joes on and off for about 15 years since they first opened up in Scarsdale. We have something better than Trader Joe's in the area and it's called The South Bronx Food Co-op. Prices are MUCH cheaper than Trader Joe's AND Whole Foods and is a cooperatively run store that doesn't mark up prices exorbitantly to make vulgar profits while still providing healthy, organic and natural alternatives to our MetFoods, Pioneers and bodegas.
If you can afford to shop at Trader Joes you can afford to buy a $6.95 book at B&N

Unknown said...

What about some kind of market serving a variety of ethnic, organic foods? Doesn't have to take up a lot of space but enough for people to have a choice, other than running to the nearest C-Town or Bravo. And although there's commercial interest in the building, could some of the space be used for middle-income housing? Just my thoughts! :)

Anonymous said...

That idea is pretty good but honestly it should become a museum that show'sz how far the bronx has come n u can even throw in a libary full of book'sz that take place n tell the story'sz of all the people who live here. What betta place then a buildin like that to put the history of the bronx right?

ALTEMAR said...

I would recommend a community based organization with multiple services for the community. An organization such as SOBRO (South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation), with a youth development center, recreational facilities.
Let us keep the integrity of this beautiful space with one entity which would address the needs of this ever growing community. Perhaps reserve space for a branch of the New York Library; useful for the youth of the community and the students from Boricua College. The thought of Produce in such an architectural gem does not seem appealing.

Anonymous said...

Look, I love my Apple laptop and my iPhone as much as the next thirtysomethinger but I don't think the Apple Store would quite serve the community.

I also love sitting in B & N and sipping my cafe au lait while grading student work but while a second B & N in the Bx may serve me personally I am not sure it is a better idea than a South Bronx NYPL Library Center aimed at increasing the literacy rates of the community. That would be ideal. Besides, won't Boricua College open up a B & N/Boricua College bookstore in the first floor of their new digs around the corner?

The "mayor of melrose" has his heart in the right place as he defends the South Bronx Food Coop but to claim it is better than a Trader Joe's is just plain wrong if by better he means cheaper. There are many of us who shop there because we want to support the Coop and the area (and because we live nearby) but it is light years from being able to compare to Trader Joe's or even the Park Slope Food Coop in many categories of "betterness."

Perhaps the SBxFC can move there and become better with more space and Mister Weinstein's support... otherwise a Trader Joe's may be quite good for the hood.

However, I don't think any of these traditional retail options nor a school would do well in this "architectural gem" that lacks windows!

A more viable alternative (besides the NYPL one I am quite wedded to) might be a community health center/club like a YMCA that can provide the community with lower-cost opportunites to get in better shape will be the ticket. The general health of South Bronx residents is awful compared to that of many other neighborhoods... Let's do something about that!


Melrose Hopeful...
C'mon NorthRose
open up!

Unknown said...

Apple Store The Bronx? Yes PLZ do so I'm a Mac Fanatic for years.

prentiss said...

I grew up in this neighborhood i think a community based company that will bring in various educational programs for our youth and elderly will be most beneficial.
I know of a family owned company thats from this area that,s been doing this as a non profit here in the bronx and manhatten
that could use this space to help promote there services and generate funding as a non profit to better serve the comunity.