Last Bowery outpost of the Salvation Army is no more
A true testament to the times we are living in was the recent closure of the Bowery’s last branch of the helping institution, the Salvation Army. The Army moved in a little over 100 years ago into what was called then “Booth House.” The veteran institution came to the Bowery to help down and out men, a population that has frequented the Bowery for almost as long as the neighborhood existed.
During World War II the country’s economic situation improved and the number of homeless men declined. Services for populations at risk improved. Many of the alcoholics, prostitutes and vagrants who had inhabited the area fled as a result of a concerted effort by the city to remove them.
Through the decades since the war the neighborhood has gone through many changes. The latest upheaval has been the hurried gentrification of the Bowery with an increasing number of renovations, new restaurants and other shops opening up to satisfy a new population of upwardly mobile residents.
As a result institutions like the Salvation Army play a smaller role in the neighborhood’s culture. Perhaps even more of an influence is the real estate boom Manhattan is experiencing now, where even old, dilapidated apartments and buildings are fetching awesome prices.
The building at 223-225 Bowery is one of the tallest along the one-mile stretch of street, its height a symbol of the hope the Salvation offered to the most downtrodden among New Yorkers. Now the building will take on a whole new meaning, as it is turned into a high-end hotel and luxury condominium. The developers paid $30 million for the premises, and will most likely be able to recoup their investment many-fold as apartments in the area are fetching as much as $2,500 per square foot.
The Salvation Army will be setting up their new shop in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. That neighborhood was chosen as it is also has burgeoning ethnic Chinese population similar to that the Bowery.
The Salvation Army Chinatown Shelter (right) and the Bowery Mission.
As gentrification of Manhattan marches on homeless and other at risk groups will find they have fewer options for support as the Bowery location of the Salvation Army turns to a modern, 180-room Ace Hotel.
The Salvation Army sold its 55,000 square-foot Chinatown shelter for $30 million to developers who will save the outer structure and completely gut the 10-story interior. The center, which not only offered shelter but also a soup kitchen and a gathering place and activity center for anyone from “little kids to 80-year-olds” will instead set up shop in Brooklyn. The premises was underused by the Salvation Army, which only used the lower two floors, leaving the upper eight stories empty for the last 13 years.
Before the upper stories were shut down they were used as an SRO, “single room occupancy” hotel. Each floor had 40 separate rooms and one communal bathroom. The new owners, Omnia Group and North Wind Group, will take about 18 months to renovate the site, located at 223-225 Bowery, which is next door to the Bowery Mission. The location is particularly valuable because it is adjacent to a private street which is closed to cars: Freeman Alley.
The sale is the latest in a series of valuable real estate deals for the Salvation Army. In 2010 the Zeckendorf brothers bought 18 Gramercy Park for $60 million; a transaction that made history when the sale of its penthouse apartment went for $42 million in 2012 to the owner of the Houston Rockets, Leslie Alexander. That building has access to the city’s only private park, Gramercy Park, and was built in 1927 and used as a dorm-type residence for young women since 1963. Also in 2010 the Salvation Army sold property at 347 Bowery for $7.6 million. The new owner flipped it last year for $19.2 million. The broker for the newest deal, Alan Miller of Eastern Consolidated commented on the sale of 347 Bowery, saying it is just one more example of the “crazy, rising, real estate market” in New York.