From Demolition To Development: Plans For Peninsula Hospital Site

Peninsula Hospital is being demolished after shuttering its doors nearly 6 years ago. Having amassed over $60 million in debt, the struggling hospital filed for bankruptcy to restructure in September 2011. The century-old , 173-bed hospital closed for good in April 2012 after their lab was shut down by the New York State Health Department, who cited patient safety concerns. The property stretches between Beach 50th Street and Beach 53rd Street between Beach Channel Drive and Rockaway Beach Boulevard.

In August 2012, the property was purchased at auction by nursing home magnate Michael Mehickle for $24 million. Mehickle owns five other nursing home properties throughout the city and had previously sat as a board member of Peninsula Hospital from 1999 to 2004. The Peninsula Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, the nursing home on the property, remains operational to this day and is currently undergoing renovations that will allow them to offer additional outpatient services to seniors. The rest of the site’s structures, however, have since sat vacant and slowly crumbling.

Peninsula Hospital’s closure evoked deep concerns and anxieties in a community whose access to health care services is already plagued by geographic isolation, and the community fought hard against it’s closing. There is now only one hospital, St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, serving the 150,000 residents that populate the Rockaway Peninsula, not to mention the millions of tourists and visitors who flock to Rockaway’s beaches every summer. In the first month of Peninsula Hospital’s closing, St John’s saw an 35% increase in emergency room visits. In addition, the hospital’s closure displaced many locally-based employees, inflating unemployment rates on the Peninsula. Rockaway residents hope that any new development on the site includes health care facilities that prioritize hiring locally.

In May 2016, the 760,000 square foot site was sold for $19 million to Arker Companies in a partnership with the Northeast Brooklyn Housing Development Corporation, or NEBHDCO. The vacant lot adjacent to the site was also included in the sale. Plans for the site includes multi-family affordable housing as well as commercial space. The developers have already applied for a mortgage tax exemption incentive that is available for new affordable housing development in New York City. However, before it can break ground on any new affordable housing development, the project must go through the city’s Uniform Land Use Revision Procedure, or ULURP, and expand the zoning parameters of the site to include affordable housing. The first official step of any ULURP process is a review of the proposed plan by the local community board. Jonathan Gaska, District Manager for Community Board 14, confirmed with the Rockaway Advocate in early February that Community Board 14 had not as of yet received any materials for review regarding the old Peninsula Hospital site. According to Council Member Donovan Richards’ office, the upcoming ULURP process, which is tentatively projected to begin later on this year, will include opportunities for community input and involvement.

Founded in 1949, Arker Companies is a family-owned New York City real estate development company that focuses primarily on affordable housing. The old Peninsula Hospital site is Arker’s second Rockaway development, the first being the Beach Channel Senior Apartments at 34-11 Beach Channel Drive across from Bayswater Park. Beach Channel Senior Apartments provides affordable housing to senior citizens who make under $36,3000 a year, as well as permanent housing for some formerly-homeless senior citizens. This was the first project under the de Blasio administration’s $350 million Senior Affordable Rental Apartments (SARA) Program, which seeks to increase affordable housing for NYC’s low-income seniors. The Northeast Brooklyn Housing Development Corporation, or NEBHDCO, is a non-profit known for combining affordable housing development with community-based initiatives that promote social change like urban farming, employment support, and access to social services.

Arker Companies has previously been criticized for failing to work with smaller, community based non-profits. That’s not to say that Arker does not have its own internal initiatives for involving and giving back to the communities that they are developing in. However, many housing advocates believe that it should be grassroots, locally-based organizations with deep, established roots in the community being developed that should be on the front lines of leading that development. It is therefore encouraging to see that Arker has partnered with NEBHDCO in developing the former Peninsula Hospital Center site. Still, the Rockaway community must remain watchful and weary. As low-income neighborhoods and communities of color face development speculation and gentrification across the city, it is crucial that existing populations have a seat at the table in deciding the future of their community. The Rockaway Advocate will continue to monitor any changes to the site as we wait for its developers to reveal their vision for its future.