"It is evil"
Neighbor Marty Bell, an outspoken opponent of the project, took aim Tuesday at one of the Blood Center's key defenses of the expansion: that it would encourage collaboration between Blood Center researchers and those at nearby institutions like Weill Cornell Medical Center and Rockefeller University, thanks to the short distances between their campuses.
Bell shared letters he had obtained from three public health experts — including a former director of the National Institutes of Health and a vaccine researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital — who insisted that physical proximity is not a key factor in modern research.
"I have been involved in various aspects of medical research for more than 25 years, and never once has 'close physical proximity' been the sole determinative factor, in the selection of fellow researchers with whom I have collaborated," wrote Dr. Mark Poznansky, the vaccine researcher, in an April 23 letter to the board.
Bell also claimed the Blood Center has misrepresented how frequently it works with its fellow East Side institutions: a review of the public research documents on its website showed Blood Center scientists have worked more frequently with out-of-state researchers than those in the neighborhood, he said.
"This project isn't just wrong — it is evil," Bell said.
Reached for comment, Blood Center Executive Vice President Rob Purvis did not directly address the claims but said saying that the country's most successful life-science centers "are anchored by clusters of institutions that benefit deeply from the collaborative opportunities that physical proximity provides."
"But New York remains far behind the leading life sciences centers in attracting and nurturing the institutions and companies that make up the industry," Purvis said in a statement, noting that New York itself already has a similar hub in the Kips Bay neighborhood, anchored by NYU Langone.
"Center East will contribute significantly to the City's efforts to close that gap by providing the Blood Center with 21st century facilities and by adding a critical mass of product developers to the complex of institutions that includes the Blood Center and its neighboring research partners at New York Presbyterian, Memorial Sloan Kettering and Rockefeller Institute."
Alternate proposal is pushed
Also in attendance Tuesday was City Councilmember Ben Kallos, who said his chief concern remained the three to four hours of new afternoon shadows that the Blood Center tower would cast over St. Catherine's Park, which sits across the street.
Kallos, whose position could be influential once the City Council considers the proposal, has not taken a formal stance on the project but has strongly hinted that he opposes it.
Kallos said the Blood Center should move forward instead with an alternate proposal it has included in planning documents: a modest, five-story building that would achieve its stated goals of creating new lab space and replacing its current, 91-year-old home.
"It seems that the as-of-right development could accommodate the Blood Center's needs," Kallos said.
Kallos urged neighbors to fill out a survey on his website, asking whether they support or oppose the project. Of the roughly 400 responses it has received so far, most have expressed opposition, he said.