May 15, 2013
By Marc Bussanich
New York, NY—Verizon received almost $200 million in taxpayer assistance after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and promised to keep its corporate headquarters in Lower Manhattan to help the area recover economically. But last week, the company announced plans to market the historic 140 West St. building for luxury condos, prompting union and elected officials to declare Verizon’s actions unconscionable and calling for federal and state action. Watch Video
Keith Purce, President of Communications Workers of America Local 1101, told Labor Press that Verizon sent a memo to workers at 140 West St. in February notifying them they would be transferred to a facility in Downtown Brooklyn because the company said it could no longer afford work stoppages after Hurricanes Irene and Sandy flooded the building.
But Purce, and Councilwoman Margaret Chin, whose District 1 includes Lower Manhattan, challenge Verizon’s claim by asking if Verizon is concerned about rising waters why is it planning to sell parts of the building to real estate investors to build luxury condos and expensive retail.
“It’s very disappointing that they’re going to be doing that because after 9/11 they got taxpayer dollars to fix-up the building and made a commitment to help us rebuild Lower Manhattan. We don’t need that building to be converted to luxury condos or hotel; we have a lot of that here in Lower Manhattan,” said Chin.
According to Verizon, the company wants to market 18 of the upper floors of the 31-story West St. building, and the ground-floor space for storefront opportunities, while retaining floors one through 10 for employees and associated communications facilities.
While Verizon claims its plan will contribute to flourishing Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn economies, both Purce and Councilwoman Chin say the uprooting of 1,100 communications workers will negatively impact the local businesses that depend mightily on the CWA members’ purchasing power.
In addition, Councilwoman Chin said that local community organizations, such as Chinatown Head Start Corporation and St. Margaret’s House (a senior apartment community), that rely on critical matching funds from Verizon for employees volunteering their time will leave them in a precarious spot.
“We’ve heard from local businesses that have been selling goods for years to Verizon workers they will be hurting if Verizon leaves Lower Manhattan. The company says their plan is good for Lower Manhattan. We disagree. It’s not good for Lower Manhattan. They should continue to stay here and continue their commitment to helping us rebuild here,” Chin said.
Mr. Purce and Councilwoman Chin both worry that Verizon’s plan might set a precedent for other companies to follow Verizon’s lead, especially in a sizzling New York real estate market. But the plan for 140 West St. wouldn’t be Verizon’s first attempt to sell real estate assets. The company has sold off central offices formerly located in Art Deco buildings such as 212 West 18th Street—Chelsea’s Walker Tower—where the going rate is $10,000/foot for penthouses.
Asked what the City can do if Verizon ultimately decides to exit from Lower Manhattan, Councilwoman Chin said Verizon should pay back the nearly $185 million it received from the feds over a decade ago to repair its communications network after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
“If Verizon decides to leave, pay back all the taxpayer money you took to fix up the building because it’s really unacceptable for the company to abandon Lower Manhattan right now when they made a commitment to help us rebuild.”