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August 22, 2023 36 mins

It’s time for the final episode in our Summer Staff Picks series, highlighting favorite conversations from the Here’s The Thing archives. This week, we revisit Alec Baldwin’s conversation with Andrew Berman. He has been called one of the most powerful people in New York real estate, but not because he's a deep-pocketed developer. Berman is the Executive Director of Village Preservation, where he advocates for the protection and conservation of historically important buildings and sites in Greenwich Village, the East Village and NoHo, including the cultural touchstone The Stonewall Inn. Alec first spoke with Berman in 2015 regarding his background and what led him to this field, how the changing zoning laws affect his work, and his wish for the city’s future. Berman joined Alec again earlier this summer for an update on his work since last they spoke, including the recent wins that Village Preservation has achieved, the ways the city has changed since covid and the challenges involved in solving the city’s affordable housing crisis.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:02):
This is Alec Baldwin and you're listening to Here's the
Thing from iHeart Radio. Over the last few weeks, you've
heard from some of our staff as they showcase their
favorite episodes from our archives. Now it's time to hear mine.
Since conservation and the enduring character of New York are

(00:23):
topics close to my heart, I wanted to share with
you an episode with someone fighting the good fight.

Speaker 2 (00:29):
Andrew Berman.

Speaker 1 (00:30):
Berman is the executive director of Village Preservation, a nonprofit
that works to document, celebrate, and preserve historical and significant
buildings in downtown New York. Named one of the one
hundred most powerful people in real Estate by The New
York Observer, Berman is a lifelong New Yorker whose work

(00:51):
led the charge against development plans by NYU and Donald
Trump and secured landmark protection for over one thousand buildings.
We'll have an update with Andrew Berman later in this episode.
We began my twenty fifteen conversation with Andrew Berman discussing
the One that got Away, the one building he wasn't

(01:14):
able to save that still haunts him.

Speaker 3 (01:17):
You know, this is gonna sound sort of strange, but
one of my personal favorites that we lost. Was this
beautiful building called the Tunnel Garage, which, believe it or not,
was a parking garage which you would never think who
would care about a parking garage. It was one of
the first purpose built parking garages in New York. It
was this beautiful Art Deco building that had a medallion

(01:38):
on it that was an image of a model t
Ford emerging from the Holland Tunnel, which hadn't even yet
been built. When this tunnel, which was built near the
entrance to the Holland Tunnel, where was this. This was
on the corner of Broome Street and Thompson Street, so
sort of at the edge of soho the South Village.
Beautiful building. I mean it really, if there's a parking

(01:58):
garage anywhere on Earth that people would raize about, it
was this one. And it had been on sort of
lists for years of a building to be saved. A
developer came along and bought it and said, you know,
I just want to tear it down and build a
slightly larger condominium building. Here.

Speaker 2 (02:13):
How many stories eight stories? How many units?

Speaker 3 (02:17):
I think about thirty or so, you know, a pretty
a bland, you know, sort of you'd never look at
it a building, you never look at it twice.

Speaker 2 (02:24):
What's another example, Well.

Speaker 3 (02:25):
Here's one where sort of the opposite. There was a
vacant lot at the northern end of the Greenwich Village
Historic District and there was a plan to develop it,
which we had no objections to. You know, vacant lots
are there to be developed. But the developer put forward
a proposal for this thirteen story curving, entirely glass walled
building in the Greenwich Village Historic District and we thought

(02:49):
that's ludicrous, that would never never be approved. What does
that have to do with the Greenwich Village Historic District.
The notion is new development in these areas should kind
of fit the character. They don't have to mimic it.
It doesn't have to be some bo town, some compatibility.
The Commission unanimously approved it, which we were really taken
aback by.

Speaker 1 (03:08):
What's one that was a tremendous victory for you Where's
Where's something where you guys really fought and you scored.

Speaker 3 (03:14):
I'd say one of the ones that we're most proudest
of is the part of Greenwich Village south of Washington Square,
what we often call the South Village the part of
Greenwich Village that everybody associates with, you know, the folk Revival,
the beat Nicks in the nineteen fifties and nineteen sixties.
Bleaker McDougal. That area amazingly was not protected by landmark protections.
Any of those buildings could have been demolished and replaced

(03:36):
with pretty hitty beach in New York. Yes, very much so.
And after really fifty years of people trying to get
that area of landmarked, we were able to get it
landmarked in two stage shake. It took thousands of people
really coming together and pushing the city. One part of
it is we actually had to almost sort of blackmail

(03:58):
the city. They wanted to get an area adjacent to
that rezoned as basically a sort of a stop to
a developer, Trinity real Estate in this case, and we
pushed the city council to say, we won't approve the
rezoning that you the city want, unless you move ahead
with this landmarking that the community has been asking for

(04:19):
for years. So we really kind of backed them into
a corner. And to be honest, we sort of used
election year politics as a bit of a cudgel. You know,
people were trying to look like they were being friendly
to the community. So we were able to make them
do something that they had not wanted to do and
had been unwilling to do for years.

Speaker 2 (04:37):
What area do you live in yourself?

Speaker 3 (04:39):
I actually live in Hill's Kitchen, so I'm a bit
further to the north. But I'm a lifelong New Yorker.
I've worked in the village. I grew up in the Bronx,
but I've been working in the village and on the
West Side of Manhattan since for over twenty years.

Speaker 2 (04:52):
Now, where'd you go to schools?

Speaker 3 (04:54):
I went to Bronx High School of Science, so I've
lived in New York my whole life.

Speaker 2 (04:58):
What about college? Where did you go?

Speaker 3 (05:00):
I went to Wesleyan University. Well, do you study art
history with a focus on architecture and urban planning?

Speaker 1 (05:05):
Talk about, if you would, what happened to Christine Quinn
with the Chelsea Market, because of my understanding is correct,
that was in her district. Yes, And I want to
be very clear that during that political race, I endorsed
Deblasio and worked for Deblasio and did not support Quinn.
And this is not, you know, to bash Quinn at all,
But describe what happened in that Chelsea Market thing and

(05:27):
what you think was going on from pressures that were
on her.

Speaker 3 (05:30):
Yeah. Well, so you know, Chelsea Market is this old
industrial complex built by Nabisco in Chelsea that was a
Nibisco factory. Bisco Factory is where the oreo was invented.
It was a bakery. Yeah.

Speaker 2 (05:42):
And who developed into the current Chelsea Market how long ago?

Speaker 3 (05:45):
It was originally another group of people, including a guy
named Irwin Cohen, and that was in the late nineteen
nineties that had been sitting there basically abandoned, and he
came up with this idea that everybody thought was crazy
at the time because this was a real backwater fifteen
years ago, of turning it into this huge retail market
with offices and things like that, I mean.

Speaker 2 (06:05):
The food equivalent of a show.

Speaker 1 (06:06):
Yes.

Speaker 3 (06:07):
Yeah, and it was wildly successful. You know, the neighborhood
around it transformed. It's a huge building. It's a beautiful
old building, but it's a huge building. They have above
they did not have air rights up above, and that
that's that's where the key comes in with this. So
they wanted to build basically two towers on top of
this lovely old building, but they couldn't because they had

(06:27):
no development.

Speaker 2 (06:28):
On top of the eight stories that are already.

Speaker 3 (06:30):
There, on top of the building that already exists. So
they came to the city and they said, we want
you to rezone us to give us.

Speaker 2 (06:37):
These developed stories. Did they want they Originally.

Speaker 3 (06:40):
It was going to be the addition was going to
go up to something like two hundred and fifty feet
in the air or something like that. I mean huge,
and one on the west end, one on the stories. Yeah, yeah,
huge building, huge building. And you know, at this point
Quinn had already kind of shown herself to be very
willing to be accommodating to developers, so we knew this
was going to be an uphill battle at best. Although

(07:02):
Chelsea was where she was from and a lot of
the people who were very adamantly opposed to it were
people she'd known and worked closely with for years, we
were opposed to it as well, and she did eventually
approve it. A slightly scaled back version made it a
little less little less bad.

Speaker 2 (07:18):
As the work started already.

Speaker 3 (07:20):
No, and it's not been clear to us why they
haven't moved ahead yet, but they have all the approval,
so it's really up to them to go any time
that they want. But this was definitely a disappointment. And
what was particularly disappointing was that there were commitments that
were quote unquote made as part of this approval about
how it would have to remain all independent businesses, there
couldn't be chain stores and all these other kinds of things,

(07:42):
which it turned out none of these agreements were enforceable.
It was really just sort of window dressing to this
approval that the city gave them. And that's disappointing when
you see things like that happen. When do buildings need
to come down? Things have to change, We need to
make room for more people. For you, oh, it's absolutely reality,
and you know we would never do you acknowledge that

(08:03):
one you wanted to save ultimately didn't need to be saved.
I'll give you an example. There's areas of our neighborhoods
where we've fought for new zoning that we thought would
encourage good development as opposed to bad developments, which meant
the expectation was things will get built.

Speaker 2 (08:20):
Yes, give us an example of an area where this
came into play.

Speaker 3 (08:23):
For instance, in the East Village, we working with a coalition,
we were able to get almost the entire East Village rezoned.
So the old zoning would have encouraged big, tall towers,
it would have encouraged building things like dormitories and hotels.

Speaker 1 (08:36):
Believe it or not, but as an NYU, that's where
NYU went to build a lot of their.

Speaker 3 (08:39):
Dormitories along Third Avenue in that area. Yes, and we
didn't want to see NYU take over the East Village,
so we pushed for and got a rezoning that said, yes,
there can be new development here, but the size and
scale of it is going to be more like what
you think of the East Village. Seven story buildings, six
story buildings. This is what zoning does. You can get
these what are called contextual zoning disc that says you

(09:01):
can build but to a certain height, certain number of
square feet, things of that nature. So we've seen a
lot of developments go up in the East Village under
this new zoning that are so much more in character
with the neighborhood than what would have been built under
the old zoning. So we weren't pushing there to say
no new buildings or nothing can ever be torn down,
but that there should be new buildings, but it should

(09:22):
really reinforce the character of the neighborhood. Just around the
corner from our office, there was a huge parking lot
that was just built on with an eight or nine
story building. Right next door to it is a dorm
that NYU built a couple of years earlier. That's twenty
six stories. There have been quite a few new buildings
closer to the traditional campus, but this will be a
whole additional campus for the university.

Speaker 1 (09:43):
Do you feel like the city you turn around one day,
you know, we have another subway tunnel, so we have
water tunnels that are coming in. I mean, the city
is constantly, constantly, constantly being changed. And if you had
one wish, I mean, I'm sure you have a laundry
and things. What's one wish of how you'd like things
to change in the next twenty to thirty years, you.

Speaker 3 (10:06):
Know, I mean, I think the biggest pressing issue facing
New York is ensuring that it stays a place that's
affordable and accessible for a broad range of people. So
I'd say, if I had one wish for the city,
it would be that that somehow we could it could
be a place where, you know, sort of the most successful,
you know, innovators and zillionaires can live there, and poor

(10:29):
working folks and middle class people who are you know,
sort of raising kids or starting out or living on
their own or sort of whatever, and everybody in between,
you know, the immigrants, the longtime residents.

Speaker 1 (10:40):
And see some of the steps that were taken to
allow for like Mitchell Lama that's.

Speaker 2 (10:44):
Dying, that's.

Speaker 3 (10:47):
Up in Mitchellama Housing, and it's it's tragic.

Speaker 1 (10:50):
For those who don't know who were listening that don't
know what Mitchell Llama Housing was. This was an attempt
back then to have the city develop property where developers
would build affordable housing and manage it as affordable housing.
I'm being very shorthand with this, and manage it as
affordable housing for a given period of time, like thirty
years or something, and then after a certain period of time,
it would slowly evolve, if you will, into or evolve

(11:14):
into private housing. They would sell it as condominiums. And
right now we're hitting that place where.

Speaker 3 (11:19):
Especially in Manhattan, very few of them are left.

Speaker 2 (11:21):
A lot of them. Mitchellama's rolling over now to private.

Speaker 3 (11:23):
Co kindominiams, which is really changing the city.

Speaker 1 (11:26):
But New Yorkers have resigned themselves to the fact that
affordable housing itself, just like paythons, is a thing of
the past. And now more and more people who never
dreamed of going to Long Island City and to Astoria
and to Brooklyn is just apart of Manhattan now in
terms of how many people who live and work there
and put their kids in school there, but who work
in the city and commute. More and more and more
people have resigned themselves or even are happy to commute.

Speaker 2 (11:50):
Is that your experience as well?

Speaker 3 (11:51):
Yeah, and you know, in some ways, I don't think
it's such a bad thing that a lot of people
who would have only considered living in Manhattan before now
are living throughout the city. What I think would be
a terrible thing is if Manhattan became a place that
only the wealthy could live, and that more and more
the other boroughs that became the case as well. I'm

(12:12):
not sure that I know what the answer is. I mean, clearly,
if we had a different political environment, we'd have things
like mitche Lama programs and other things to create and
build affordable housing, saying this is an investment in our
city's future. The construction is good, it creates jobs, the
fact that we give good, affordable housing to people who
we need, you know, to be teachers, to be firemen,

(12:32):
to be sanitation.

Speaker 2 (12:33):
We don't have housing for those people. Now, you know.

Speaker 1 (12:36):
One of the first things that happened in New York
years ago was the police were successful in argument against
the residency requirement because they said, you can't force me
to live here because I can't afford the rent here
on a policeman's salary. So they did away with But
of course this is a city where rather than build
affordable housing for people like the police and have them
invested in the community they live in, they all leave,

(12:58):
which makes them somewhat less invested, I think in the
community they live in, although many of them come from
the city. It seems we could do a whole hour
about the power of the real estate development community and
the landlords forth in this. I mean they run the city. Sure,
they run the city in so many ways, and they
run the city. I mean what gets built, what doesn't
get built? Guys like you fight them and win because

(13:20):
public outrage and public passions about these things still have
some power.

Speaker 3 (13:25):
Right Well, Ultimately government makes the decisions, and while certainly
the people with money and access have enormous influence over them.
The average people do because they vote, and if you
exercise that strength that we have, and it's the only
thing we have, is the power of the vote, that's
the way that we can affect these.

Speaker 2 (13:44):
I want to finish with this.

Speaker 1 (13:46):
The society has an LGBT initiative for some of the preservation.

Speaker 2 (13:50):
They do talk about that.

Speaker 3 (13:51):
Look, sure, New York and especially the village really has
such a wealth of sites connected to the LGBT lesbian, gay, bisexual,
transgender civil rights movements. I mean the one that everybody knows,
of course, a Stone Wall where the riots took place
in nineteen sixty nine, which in many respects kicked off
the gay movie exactly. But there's many other ones as well.

(14:13):
I mean, just around the corner from there, there's Julius's Bar,
where in nineteen sixty six there was this sit in
or sit in as it was called, the first planned
civil disobedience for gay rights. At that time, few people
sort of know or remember this. It was actually illegal
to serve alcohol to someone who you knew was a homosexual,
so it in essence made gay bars illegal. That's why

(14:35):
they were all.

Speaker 2 (14:36):
The hotel Tennessee Williams of a state and people were
breaking the law.

Speaker 3 (14:39):
I know. Yeah, So as a result of this, actually
there was a legal case that more or less changed that, and.

Speaker 2 (14:46):
So that was how to put that in a movie.
I love that.

Speaker 3 (14:49):
You know, back when there were very, very very few
places that gay people could meet, almost all of them
were in places like Greenwich.

Speaker 1 (14:56):
Village Preservation executive director Andrew Berman. In late June twenty fifteen,
just a few days before New York City's annual Pride Parade,
and after many years of behind the scenes politicking, Andrew
Berman and his colleagues celebrated early the Stonewall Inn won

(15:18):
its New York City Landmark status, making it the first
site designated primarily for its significance to LGBT history. Take
a listen to the Here's the Thing Archives. I talk
with another hard working advocate, Josh Fox, the environmental activist
whose film Gasland exposed the dangers of fracking.

Speaker 3 (15:40):
They would say, oh, your water's fine, and then they
would go and get them a glass of water. Drink
sor right, well, if you think this is fine for
my mother to drink, then you go ahead and drink it.
And they wouldn't drink it.

Speaker 1 (15:49):
Take a listen at Here's the Thing dot Org. We'll
have an update with Andrew Berman after the break. I'm
Alec Baldwin, and this is Here's the Thing. I spoke
with Executive Director of Village Preservation Andrew Berman for an

(16:12):
episode that originally aired in November twenty fifteen. Obviously, much
has changed in New York since, and I wanted to
sit with the Berman for an update on what has
developed and not developed in that time. Two things come
to mind. One of them is they say that New
York is sinking under the weight of all the building too.
I know you no doubt read that correct. Is New

(16:33):
York actually sinking under the weight of man? And I
know you're not a geologist.

Speaker 3 (16:37):
Well we'll find out. I mean either it's sinking or
the water levels arising. I mean, between the two of them,
where we seem to be going underwater?

Speaker 2 (16:46):
Is that true?

Speaker 3 (16:47):
Well, certainly the water levels are rising. I mean that's
a big problem for New York City, which they're still
trying to figure out what to do about that.

Speaker 2 (16:54):
When Sandy came. I'm in New Yorker. I've been here since.

Speaker 1 (16:57):
I have had an address in New York since nineteen seventy,
and then when Sandy came that was just so singular
and so unprecedented. They're saying the water might come up
to fourteenth Street, and I'm like, come on, I mean,
get serious, all right, I could imagine this is not
the Caribbean, and the water came up to fourteenth Street.
Buildings wiped out in Tribeca, flooded, not just in the basement,

(17:20):
but even the first floor were took in a lot
of water. The impact of Sandy I was, I was
just shocked, and I'm wondering if the city had done
anything to prepare for that happening.

Speaker 3 (17:31):
Again, well, I know they've done a bunch of things,
but I think by any measure, they haven't done enough.
You know, there are some new rules in terms of
construction in flood zones that you know, have to have
some greater level of precaution, but they're still really encouraging
a lot of development in what everybody knows is the
first places that are going to flood if there's another
Superstar and Sandy or something like that. The other thing

(17:54):
that they've done or they're doing, is they're building these
berms and other types of protection along very We're going
to build the big wall the river in the harbor. Well,
there's been everything from the proposal to build a giant
wall from New Jersey to Long Island that would you know,
a floodgate that would keep it from coming in, and
then you know, some more modest proposals. But right now
East River Park in the East Village and Lower East

(18:15):
Side has been completely leveled because they're rebuilding it at
about fifteen feet higher, I believe than it used to
be as a way of protecting the neighborhoods adjacent to it.
Although a lot of people would argue that it's not
the best plan and it's doing more harm than good,
But there's piecemeal things going on throughout the city to
try to address that.

Speaker 1 (18:33):
In the years I've lived in the city, of course,
I've seen tremendous change on a number of levels. I
do notice that it's like, especially in midtown, I just
see so many goddamn ugly buildings going up here, and
I see those kind of those tall, thin shafts along
the East fifties there, those big buildings went up there
which are so ugly. Why do you think the city

(18:56):
allows so much construction in Manhattan rather than diverting it
out to like the Bronx, working with the state of
New Jersey and so forth, to not have what we have.
And part of that, of course, is the pressure on
the village and what your organization is focused on to
knock everything down and rebuild that. Why do you think
the city it just thinks that, you know, the Manhattan's

(19:16):
going to look like some obscene megalopolis like twenty five
years from now.

Speaker 2 (19:20):
Why do you think the city doesn't fight that? Well.

Speaker 3 (19:23):
I think it's a couple of things. There's obviously a
tremendous demand from the real estate industry. They see the
opportunity to make money. And you know, the city's always
been controlled by the real estate industry, either directly or indirectly,
you know, campaign contributions, lobbying, influence, etc. You know, So
I think that's a big part of it. I think

(19:44):
that's where the most money is to be made in
many cases, although we've seen explosive development in places like
the Long Island City waterfront and downtown Brooklyn Williamsburg, so
that you're definitely seeing some of that kind of stuff
in other parts of the city, even Bedford Stuyvesant has
seen an explosive amount of development. But you know, this
city is very hesitant to put restrictions on development. They

(20:08):
want to encourage as much of it as possible. You know,
our city has never done what some other cities have done,
which is said, oh, certainly many cities in Europe, you know,
where they say that we need to make sure that
we hold on to the character of what makes our
city distinctive and wonderful even as we allow it to grow.
And you know, I don't think there's anybody of any

(20:30):
reasonable mind that would say we shouldn't allow new development
in New York City. We have to. There's more business.
People want to live here, although shockingly, in the last
two or three years, according to the Census Bureau of
the population of the city has been dropping actually as
opposed to to growing.

Speaker 2 (20:44):
Is co related.

Speaker 3 (20:46):
Well, it's continued after COVID, so you know, it remains
to be.

Speaker 1 (20:49):
A ripple effect of all the jobs leaving and the
tax space leaving.

Speaker 3 (20:53):
And my guess is probably a big part of what
that's about is that now there's just so much greater
ability to work remotely, so people don't feel as though
they have to be as close to their jobs as
they used to be for some types of jobs. Obviously,
some don't have that flexibility. So you know, even though
clearly new development needs to take place, the city has
always been very hesitant about being too restrictive about that,

(21:16):
having too heavy of a hand in terms of how
they control that. And we've seen we have some of
the ugliest new development that you can find anywhere. And
I think a lot of people in New York would
be less opposed to the new development if it just
felt like it fit in contributed in some great way
to the character of the area. When they're on the
rare occasions when there is a building that's built that

(21:38):
actually feels like this is a great new addition to
the city. People actually do in Central Park West. Yeah,
but these are these are.

Speaker 1 (21:46):
Rarities now in New York where I've heard rumors and
you know, a lot of bullshit obviously about how they're
going to start converting retail space, abandoned retail space and
office space into residential space.

Speaker 2 (21:58):
They're going to.

Speaker 1 (21:59):
Allow the old SOHO, the old evolution of SOHO. People
don't realize that they used to make nuts and bolts
and screws and wash machines or sewing machines or whatever
that was in Soho, in the old cast Iron district
of Soho. And then eventually somebody finally came to their
senses and said, none of this business is coming back.
It's gone forever. So they then became the great residential

(22:21):
evolution of Soho. Well, I'm wondering, is that Do you
think that's going to happen in other places as well?

Speaker 2 (22:26):
Well?

Speaker 3 (22:27):
So you know, it's interesting they started doing that in
the Financial District about twenty years ago. They allowed some
of those older office buildings there to be converted to residential. Wilworth, Yeah, exactly,
the Woolworth Building one Wall Street. Usually these sort of tall,
skinny towers, beautiful buildings, classic New York skyline buildings, and
it's been incredibly successful. Now, what we have, especially post COVID,

(22:51):
is these you know, nineteen fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties, these
massive office buildings that nobody seems to want to move into.
The problem is they're not easily adapted to housing because
the floors are so big that ninety percent of them
are more than, you know, twenty feet from a window,
and you can't have living space where you're nowhere near

(23:14):
a window. People are not going to it's illegal, car
aren't going to and people aren't gonna live in windowless spaces.
Soup to code, yeah, exactly. So the opportunities there for
turning these newer, bigger office buildings into residential space are
much more limited. From a purely practiced level, what you
can do is you can sort of like hollow out
a core. So what they sometimes do with these big

(23:37):
old buildings is they actually remove parts of it so
that all of a sudden there's an open space where
you can place windows facing like an inner core or
something like that. But that's of course very expensive, and
then you're losing the space. So I think it remains
to be seen. There's clearly more opportunities to convert office
buildings to residential but it's not like we're going to
suddenly see all of that empty office space in New

(23:59):
York converted to residential use. It's just not it's not
going to happen.

Speaker 1 (24:03):
Well, I don't see why governments that they don't work
assiduously to build affordable housing and force them to do
that kind of parody.

Speaker 2 (24:12):
In that swap, you want.

Speaker 1 (24:14):
To build a sixty story building in Manhattan, another ugly
pencil box building to have a bunch of rich people.
So we're going to all these lengths. Yes, I want
people to have jobs. Yes, I want people to have
construction jobs, good jobs, high paying jobs in New York.
But what I also want is for them to start
to explore where can we develop in the bronx to

(24:34):
build affordable housing. And you've got to do both. You
can't just sell the saudiast fifty million dollar apartments. They
don't live here. And then you know, my doormaan can't
get to work because now we have to move to
Wanta into an apartment, not even a house.

Speaker 2 (24:48):
You know, it's just crazy crazy.

Speaker 3 (24:50):
Well, let me just say we need to have affordable
housing all throughout New York City. The problem is that
the approach that a lot of people take is instead
of saying we need affordable house and let's build affordable housing,
they say, well, we need to unleash the market and
build as much market rate housing as possible, flood the market,
and then that's going to bring the prices down for everybody,

(25:11):
and you know trickle down economics. The way to get
affordable housing is to build affordable housing and to keep
the affordable housing that you have, which we're losing at
a breakneck pace.

Speaker 1 (25:22):
So village preservation, when did the village become such a
focus of yours?

Speaker 2 (25:26):
You move there to live?

Speaker 3 (25:28):
Well, So I've been working in the village since the
early nineteen nineties. I was working for an elect official
and newly elected city council member who represented the area,
Tom Dwayne, Tom Dwayne, Yeah, guy, yeah yeah. He went
onto the State Senate. I worked with him there and
then from there I moved on to what's now Village
Preservation used to be Greenwich Village Society for.

Speaker 2 (25:47):
A Store Preservation.

Speaker 3 (25:49):
And you know, it's funny. I don't live in the village.
I live in Hell's Kitchen. I've never lived in the village.
But like every New Yorker in a sense, but you know,
like every New Yorker, village is part of what I
love about New York City. And the work that I
do is not because you know, I have an apartment
and I'm trying to you know, preserve my view out
my window or you know, make sure that only this

(26:11):
happens on my street. There's none of that personal benefit
for me other than that I think everybody in New
York and the world benefits from beautiful places, historic architecture,
places that have a distinctive character. We all benefit from that.
That's a public good and that's what I work towards
and fight for, and that's why I do the work
that I do in Greenwich Village, East Village, No Hope,

(26:33):
places like that, because these are some of New York's
most historic, distinctive neighbors. So much history there, yes, so
much history, civil rights history, artistic history, cultural history, and
we we're the poorer if we lose that or we
destroy it, which is what would happen if people don't
push back.

Speaker 1 (26:50):
Village Preservation Executive Director Andrew Breman. We'll have more with
Andrew Berman after the break. I'm Alec Baldwin and this
is here's the thing. I talked with Executive director of

(27:12):
Village Preservation Andrew Berman again recently to learn what gains
had been made for his organization since we last spoke
in twenty fifteen, including the recent successful restricting. Then whyu's
efforts for expansion and my evolution has been kind of
remarkable to me.

Speaker 3 (27:32):
Very different school than when you went there.

Speaker 2 (27:33):
Well, it's completely different now it's like this monolith.

Speaker 1 (27:36):
But the thing is is that that I recently read
in one of the articles that they had a plan
for redevelopment that you successfully thwarted. Correct, what did they
want to do?

Speaker 2 (27:44):
Right?

Speaker 3 (27:44):
So, for about sixty or so years now, they and
any private university has been prohibited from most types of
uses going into Soho and No Hoo. A year and
a half ago, the city changed the zoning for Soho
and No Hoo. But we successfully lobbied the city council
to make it so that that restriction on private university

(28:06):
expansion in that neighborhood stayed part of the zoning. NYU
then sued to try to get that provision overturned.

Speaker 1 (28:15):
So, if I'm understanding you correctly, they weren't allowed to
go there at all.

Speaker 3 (28:19):
They've never been allowed to go.

Speaker 1 (28:20):
Right, and now the powers that be allowed them to
go there, but you wanted them to be restricted by
the indigenous zoning laws there.

Speaker 3 (28:27):
Basically they were restricted before, and then they were restricted
under slightly different but new rules, and they tried to
take the city to court to say the new rules
that restrict us are unconstitutional, and.

Speaker 2 (28:40):
They wanted to be able to do whatever they wanted.

Speaker 3 (28:42):
They wanted to be able to expand there as much
as they wanted to, and a state Supreme Court judge
threw their case out of court and said, Nope, this
is perfectly constitutional. You have not been harms in any way.
You were never able to locate here. You're still not
able to locate here. So no harm, no foul, And
at least as of today, those regulations can need to.

Speaker 2 (29:00):
Say are they appealing that decision.

Speaker 3 (29:02):
They haven't announced that they have yet, they haven't said
that they won't, so we have to wait and see.
But it was a pretty firm defeat that they suffered.

Speaker 1 (29:11):
Well, you know, it's always a bit of a I'm
not going to say conflict of interest, but it's always
an interesting conversation for me because you know, it's my
alma mater and I was in in large regard, you know,
very proud to go there, and you know, went to
that acting program in its earliest time. I think that
they I don't know when the Tish family gave the
money that they did the name and they created the

(29:32):
school that it is now, but I do see that
NYU and this, and I'm not singling them mouth like
with many institutions in the arts, in medicine. People want
a building they can put their name on. I'll give
you one hundred million dollars if you're here to put
my name on the front of the New York Public Library.

Speaker 2 (29:49):
What was it Schwartz Shwortsman, And he wanted his name in.

Speaker 1 (29:52):
Front of the library. They were like, no, that's not happening.
He was like, wait, whoa, whoa, whoa whoa. You know,
Gethen gets his name on the old Avery Fisher Hall.
One hundred million bucks will buy you a lot.

Speaker 3 (30:01):
You know, there's the new NYU building, Paulson, his name
is on it. So you know that huge new building
that's gone up on Mercer, the old coles Fieldhouse.

Speaker 2 (30:11):
Exactly what do you think of that building?

Speaker 3 (30:13):
Oh god, I mean it's it's it's like the Death Star,
you know, I mean it.

Speaker 2 (30:16):
Does look like a Star Wars movie.

Speaker 3 (30:18):
Yeah, it's it's quite intimidating.

Speaker 2 (30:20):
So it looks like something that landed there.

Speaker 3 (30:22):
Yes, from someplace than ever.

Speaker 2 (30:24):
Of shooting out and wind blowing everything up.

Speaker 3 (30:26):
Yeah. I mean, you'd think that the university would make
more of an effort to try to at least look
kind of friendly, open, appealing. I mean, this building and
several of their other new buildings are just so off putting,
so fortress like, so, you know, sort of aggressive.

Speaker 1 (30:40):
And do you find there's a reason for that, meaning
energy efficiency, HVAC efficiency.

Speaker 3 (30:46):
It's a good question, you know. I don't know, because
I'll say it almost seems like they're trying to make
them ugly. But I can't imagine that's the case. No
matter what I think of the NYU administration, not the
individual schools, which I think do incredible jobs, it's not
in their interest to make their buildings look off putting.
I think they just keep getting it wrong for some reason.
And you know, let me say this about NYU. I

(31:06):
think it's a great institution. I think it's incredibly important
to the success of Greenwich Village and of New York City.
Half of my staff and my board are NYU alumni.
But what all of us agree about is we don't
want to see the university take over the neighborhood. It's
important that it be an ingredient, a part of the
balance of the neighborhood.

Speaker 2 (31:24):
And there is that perception that they indeed do want
to take over the.

Speaker 3 (31:27):
Guest and that at least parts of the neighborhood feel
like a company town. That's not what we want. We
want the university to be woven into the fabric of
the neighborhood, feel like a part of it, but not
the dominant presence.

Speaker 1 (31:37):
My last question for you, one of the issues I
face is that New York itself hasn't changed.

Speaker 2 (31:44):
It's always the same.

Speaker 1 (31:45):
It's always tearing down buildings and building new buildings and
inspiring leaders who are not beyond some criticism, but and
then like deadly dull leaders who have no who don't
inspire anything. How has New York changed the most to
you in your life? To me, you're from the Bronx.
For me, what's changed is New Yorkers have changed, not
New York. The people who come here to live have changed,

(32:08):
and why they come here has changed. How is New
York changed to you?

Speaker 3 (32:11):
Well, you know, having grown up in the Bronx in
the nineteen seventies, I would say one of the biggest
things that I think I've seen change is New York
has lost a lot of its edge. It was a
much edgier place forty fifty years ago, and you know,
that's where I think a lot of the spark of
creativity and innovation and things like that come from, and

(32:32):
it worries me that we're losing that in some way.
I mean, there's still an incredible amount of creative people
here in creative activity and energy and cultural institutions. New
York to me feels less like it's kind of on
the cultural frontier the way that it did a generation
or two ago, and that concerns me because you know,
New York is always, I think going to be a challenging,

(32:53):
difficult place to live, but it gives certain rewards that
you can't get any place else. One of those is
this incredible spirit of innovation, and if we lose that,
I think that's really the lynchpin of New York's success.
That people come here because it's a place where you
can see things change, happen, be created, be the first

(33:14):
place where things happen that you wouldn't see anywhere else,
and it worries me that we've lost some of that.

Speaker 1 (33:20):
And the root of that, to me, but by the way,
is about affordable housing. I remember many years ago and
what was one of the most beautiful periods of my life,
the late eighties. I was here doing theater in New York,
and I was really enjoying myself, and I'd just really
been working as an actor for a few years up
to them, and as a member of a very well
regarded society of sober people. I would go to the

(33:43):
meetings at Trinity Church and in the book would list
of the meeting directory said Trinity was the name of
the meeting. And I go into this meeting and the
room was just teeming with these old guard artists. I
mean people who painted with wroth go. I mean these
were people who had lofts in what was the Old
Trap and they had affordable spaces to make art.

Speaker 2 (34:04):
And I was around people. Then we're going to get in.

Speaker 1 (34:05):
Like any of those meetings, they get up and share
and talk about the conditions of their life and how
well they're doing or or not. And then after the
MENI I'd hang out with them and talked to them.
I just was thrilled to be around these people who
were artists with spaces they could afford in Manhattan, and
they were part of a culture in Manhattan back when
SOHO before it got flipped, and especially Tribeca was a

(34:27):
little I wouldn't say ceed, but more of.

Speaker 2 (34:29):
A kind of the wild West.

Speaker 1 (34:31):
I mean it was really kind of a like an
open plane, if you will, And that's gone. Artists are gone,
people won't afford are gone. They built Manhattan Plaza and
said to you, if your income taxes jive with our formula,
our algorithm, you can get in an apartment here, and
blah blah blah. We know we needed twenty of those.
We needed so many more Manhattan Plazas in this town

(34:54):
or out in the outer boroughs to help maintain. And
there's no sense of to me of that. What makes
New York is that career diversity.

Speaker 3 (35:05):
Well, there's certainly a lot less affordability here as there
are in other parts of the city, and that's the key.
You need to have a place that you know, everybody
can afford to live in. The workers, you know, the artists,
the civil servants.

Speaker 1 (35:17):
Well, let me just say this to you Downtown, the
warmth and the buildings and the history and everything that
we crave and covet about the village, I'm grateful that
you're working so hard to protect that.

Speaker 3 (35:29):
So thank you. I appreciate it. Thank you for all
your great work and for having me in here. Again.

Speaker 1 (35:36):
My thanks to Village Preservation Executive director Andrew Berman. This
episode was recorded at CDM Studios in New York City.
We're produced by Kathleen Musso, Zach MacNeice, and Maureen Hoben.
Our engineer is Frank Imperial. Our social media manager is
Daniel Gingrich. I'm Alec Baldwin. Here's the Thing is brought

(35:57):
to you by iHeart Radio Company,
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