The Archdiocese of New York sold the former site of the Church of the Visitation on Van Cortlandt Park South for $29 million to the New York City School Construction Authority and Tishman Speyer on Aug. 16.
The city purchased just under a third of the lot for $8.4 million and is moving forward with plans to build a 736-seat primary school on a half-acre site that previously served as the church’s parking area. The new school is part of the city’s four-year capital plan to address overcrowding in District 10 by adding 1,978 new funded seats by 2024.
The remaining 1.3 acres sold for $20.6 million to Tishman Speyer, whose portfolio includes such icons as Rockefeller Center and the MetLife Building.
The prestigious firm has gained somewhat less renown for its forays into affordable housing. One of Tishman Speyer’s lesser crown jewels is Stuyvesant Town, where a class action tenants lawsuit led the real estate firm to default on its mortgage in 2010 — at the time, the largest commercial mortgage default ever.
Past debacles notwithstanding, Tishman Speyer has emerged 10 years later poised for an intriguing pivot. In 2020, Gary Rodney joined the firm as the managing director of a new affordable housing platform. Former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s pick to head the city’s Housing Development Corp. is now at the helm of the Van Cortlandt Park South development and others seeking to “build ground-up housing that is affordable for low, moderate, and middle-income individuals and families,” the company’s website says.
The news was heartening to Community Board 8’s land use committee chair Charles Moerdler, who served alongside Rodney on the Housing Development Corp.’s board.
“At the HDC he was personally responsible for thousands of units of affordable housing,” Moerdler said. “And he’s the person doing the visitation project. We can provide people housing, and we ought to provide them housing.”
Moerdler said it was news to him that Tishman Speyer had an affordable housing initiative.
“We are pleased to finalize the acquisition of a portion of the former Visitation Parish Church site as part of a larger full-block redevelopment that will bring quality affordable housing and much-needed public school seats to the neighborhood,” managing director Rodney said in a statement to The Riverdale Press. “We look forward to presenting our initial vision for an all-affordable apartment building to the local community.”
Some of those details are already available in construction permits the firm filed this week. Permits for the construction of a new 8-story residential building containing 340 apartments were filed Aug. 30 at 171 W. 239th St. The plans were drawn up by Ariel Aufgang of Aufgang Architects and now await the building department’s review.
Workers will first need to tear down the vacant church and former parochial school that remain on the property, although no demolition permits have yet been filed at the address.
Meanwhile, the School Construction Authority is continuing to oversee the design and construction of the new public school that will rise on the opposite side of the lot facing Review Place.
If the projects proceed according to schedule, the new elementary school will be ready to open its doors in September 2027.
The agency submitted an environmental review for the proposed development in May, and soon followed with a negative declaration on June 22 — a formal claim that the development will have no significant adverse effects on the quality of the environment.
“There are potential significant traffic impacts at three of the study area intersections,” the authority noted, but said they could be “fully mitigated” by limiting parking on the eastbound side of Van Cortlandt Park South and adjusting the timing of traffic signals at several intersections nearby.
A public hearing on the environmental review and negative declaration for the proposed new school will take place on Sept. 29. CB8 Chair Laura Spalter said the exact time and location would be announced soon.
Abigail Nehring is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.