Mayor Bill de Blasio has connections to two of the firms representing the New York Blood Center as it seeks to build a new headquarters on the Upper East Side.Paul Martinka
Mayor de Blasio has ties to two of the firms representing the New York Blood Center in its controversial tower plan, which has been fiercely opposed by its Upper East Side neighbors and other elected officials.
The de Blasio administration has pushed the project, with Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi submitting testimony in favor of the expansion plan to the City Council, which held a marathon public hearing on the project earlier this month. A vice president at the city’s public hospital system also supported it.
Administration officials, including Deputy Mayor Vicki Been, have reached out to elected officials to back the project, according to a source.
The non-profit Blood Center is seeking a rezoning to replace its three-story headquarters on East 67th Street with a 334-foot tower — the equivalent of nearly 34 stories — that would mostly house for-profit life-sciences companies.
The Kramer Levin law firm is representing the Blood Center in the rezoning effort.
The same firm represented the mayor in a probe into his fundraising activities — and de Blasio still owes the firm an estimated $435,000.
PR firm BerlinRosen is also working for the Blood Center. The firm’s co-founder, Jonathan Rosen, has been one of the mayor’s closest advisers.
“It just seems weird to me that every time Kramer Levin is involved in a project, the mayor supports it, especially when he owes them so much money,” said City Councilman Ben Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side and is a leading opponent of the Blood Center plan.
Critics say the massive tower would cast shadows on St. Catherine’s Park across the street and construction noise would disrupt the schools housed in the Julia Richman Education Complex on the block. The mid-block zoning change would also be unprecedented, opponents say.
US Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who represents the area, along with state Sen. Liz Krueger and Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright, spoke against the plan during the Oct. 20 City Council hearing.
“The entire community is against this,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.
The proposal did find support among unions because of the jobs it would bring.
The Blood Center, at the start of the seven-hour public hearing, offered a 50-foot reduction in the height of its tower to 284 feet in order to minimize the impact to the park.
The concession may not be enough to get the project approved by the City Council, where it is currently before a zoning subcommittee and where a source called its current size “unacceptable.”
“The blood center project won’t go as is, but negotiations are ongoing,” a Council insider said.
The council usually defers to the wishes of the local representative on zoning matters.
The New York Blood Center’s current headquarters at 310 East 67th St. in Manhattan.
The Blood Center contends its current headquarters site is its “best and only viable option” for a new building and that it wants to be located with science companies for research collaborations.
While the organization holds blood drives at its headquarters, it stores and processes what it collects at a facility in Long Island City, which is also its distribution site. It says it conducts much of its research in its East 67th Street building, which dates to 1930 and was a former trade school.
“Earlier this year, the mayor set a goal to make New York City the life sciences capital of the world. So of course he supports the Blood Center. Their work saves lives, creates jobs, and innovates in a crucial sector of our economy. It’s an important project and NIMBYism shouldn’t get in the way of our city’s growth,” City Hall spokesman Mitch Schwartz said.
A representative of BerlinRosen said it worked on many economic development projects in the city and hadn’t worked with the mayor since 2017. Kramer Levin said through a project spokesperson that the firm’s “track record speaks for itself.”