Another Dream For Courthouse
By John C. McLoughlin
Constructed with marble, granite and sandstone, the Greek revival architecture of the courthouse at 90-01 Beach Channel drive stands out like a sore thumb among the two family homes in Rockaway Beach. Vacant for more than 30 years, plans to make the courthouse into a professional building and town hall were discussed at the Tuesday meeting of the Rockaway Beach Civic Association.
The courthouse was opened in September, 1932 and closed by the City of New York in 1962 when the court system was centralized. In the early 1970’s the building was used by a cultural and theatrical group, but closed once again due to lack of rehabilitation funds.
About a year and a half ago the New York City Economic Development Corp. issued a Request For Proposal (RFP) for the courthouse, which elicited interest among several developers. Ira Schwartz, 42, a lawyer from the Five Towns and a partner in Wallace LLC, submitted a bid, which has not yet been accepted but has generated interest among EDC officials and Rockaway residents.
Schwartz told residents at the Rockaway Beach Civic meeting that the courthouse is an "ideal location, magnificent building" for a professional building and town hall. Since
the courthouse is not historically landmarked, Schwartz said it would be "easier" to develop.
With two large courtrooms on either side of the building, surrounded by smaller rooms, Schwartz said the space is ideal for one tenant, but they are "prepared to develop for multiple tenants."
Schwartz’s bid calls for 16,000 square feet for professional use and 4,000 square feet for community use. Community Board 14 has expressed an interest in moving from its present headquarters on Mott avenue in Far Rockaway to the courthouse.
As for other tenants, Schwartz said he believes "there is a demand" for space. He has spoken to various potential tenants who have expressed an interest.
Residents concerned with the courthouse possibly being used for a medical center, which have populated the Rockaways in recent years, were relieved when Schwartz said it is "not set-up for a medical center….the high ceilings are not good for dividing."
Parking was another issue on the minds of residents. Schwartz did admit that "parking is an issue," but has some ideas to deal with that problem. The holding cages, once used for prisoners, will be removed for parking in the back. Schwartz also said the developers will "possibly purchase homes" to make room for a parking lot. Schwartz did look into the vacant property across the street, which is privately owned, but he said that the price was not reasonable.
Although most who attended the meeting expressed support for the proposal, Rockaway Beach resident Mary Ramos seemed to speak for everyone when she said, "Our hopes have been built up so many times."
Schwartz did say that Wallace LLC is "only buying the property if we can make a go of it." The proposal is presently pending before the EDC.