Reviews | New York Blood Center can get upgrade if NIMBYs don’t get in the way

In a quiet neighborhood on the Upper East Side of New York City, scientists are conducting vital research in an aging old trades school covered with asbestos flooring.

This is the absurd reality of the New York Blood Center, a vital part of the region’s health infrastructure in desperate need of a serious facelift.

The nonprofit research organization oversees the distribution of most of the blood supply in New York City and its suburbs. His work has played an important role in groundbreaking research into dozens of diseases, even though his home – a nearly century-old three-story brick building on East 67th Street – is woefully obsolete, limiting its potential at a time when his work is need more than ever.

Finally, a plan to build the modern facility needed by the transfusion center is underway. But neighbors on the Upper East Side have rallied against it, arguing that the proposed 16-story life science tower will block sunlight in a park across the street.

City councilor Ben Kallos, who represents the region, strongly opposes the proposal. Normally, this would sink the project into New York City, where the 51-member city council almost always defers to the wishes of local members on land use projects.

Not this time.

Regarding the blood center, the City Council seems to have finally found its voice.

In an unusual move, Council appears poised to vote to change the zoning of the land the Blood Center is on anyway, paving the way for the tower to be built, despite Mr Kallos’ objection. The rezoning plan in front of Council would lift a height restriction, allowing the Blood Center to fund the facility it needs by building higher. Under the current proposal, the blood center would occupy about a quarter of the 233-foot tower.

In a telephone conversation, Mr. Kallos called the blood center’s proposal an “overglorified office tower”.

In fact, the rest of the building would be occupied by other research institutes and biotechnology companies. The new development could benefit from tax benefits of $ 100 million over 20 to 25 years. The project would qualify for the benefit under an existing business tax incentive offered by the New York City Industrial Development Agency, a city-run public utility.

It’s a good investment in New York City, which has huge public health needs and increasingly relies its economic future on the life sciences industry. As part of the deal, St. Catherine’s Park across the street will receive $ 7 million from the city for improvements, such as replacing the playground and sidewalks. The blood center will donate an additional $ 3.6 million to the park and $ 2 million to a public school across the street.

In a last-minute attempt to block the project, the owners of a nearby luxury apartment building filed a protest against the rezoning, triggering an unrecognized provision of the City Charter. Now, rezoning will likely require a qualified majority of 39 members, instead of 26.

If a large majority of the City Council supports the project, at least some members hesitate to override the opposition of their colleague, breaking with custom.

While the community’s contribution is important, relying on the wishes of a single local councilor reflexively is not always in the best interest of the city. Sometimes communities try to stop affordable housing where it is needed most. Sometimes they try to keep black and Latino children out of neighborhood schools.

Now is the time for political courage.

The blood center, however humble, plays a key role in the city’s health ecosystem. He also researches diseases and viruses that disproportionately affect marginalized communities, such as sickle cell disease, HIV and diabetes. If City Council holds firm, it can set an important precedent, showing through action that it is ready to move forward with development that is in the best interests of the whole city.

The blood center is also essential outside of New York. Over the past 57 years, his work has contributed to important medical breakthroughs. Researchers at the center carried out work that helped develop an HIV vaccine candidate, as well as vaccines against SARS and MERS. They invented a low-cost hepatitis B vaccine. Their work has helped develop new treatments to treat sickle cell anemia, work that continues. The center created the first public cord blood bank to support transplant patients. Its scientists are studying therapies for blindness, deafness, autism, brain damage and Alzheimer’s disease.

All of this is hard to imagine when standing inside the centre’s current house, a building more suited to a museum than a world-class research center.

Modern laboratory equipment is based on old integrated wood and laminate elements once used by business school students.

Giant containers of liquid nitrogen freezers are in the basement, far from the main laboratories, as the building is not strong enough to support them on the upper floors.

Also in the basement is a room filled with dozens of freezers that wouldn’t look out of place in the average American garage. Barry Greene, vice president of the center, said the freezers contain blood samples containing all kinds of blood-borne diseases, including some of the first known samples of HIV in the United States.

Mr Kallos and others opposed to the project said the new blood center should be built smaller or simply be moved elsewhere.

This is a bad idea for several reasons. For starters, the blood center owns its current building, an asset that can be put to good use. He cannot afford to buy a new property. The blood center is a short walk from Weill Cornell Medical College and Rockefeller University – proximity that allows for greater collaboration. It must stay in the neighborhood, at the heart of the city’s thriving life science corridor.

The center played another vital role – hosting meetings for the local community council amid the faded red seats of the current building’s auditorium, a memory dating back to business school.

The concerns of the Upper East Side about sunlight and open spaces are real and valid. They just don’t justify dropping a plan to modernize a key part of New York’s healthcare system that serves the entire city and millions of people beyond its borders.

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About Larry Struck

Larry Struck

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