It looks like the already beleaguered plan to replace New York’s Rikers Island jail complex has had another wrench thrown in its works. Yesterday, State Supreme Court Judge John Kelley ruled against the de Blasio administration’s plans to build a new 29-story jail tower at 125 White Street in Manhattan.
The city’s $8.7 billion plan to shutter the notoriously violent Rikers complex and replace it with four borough-based jails in Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx was supposed to wrap up in 2026. However, with coronavirus slowing construction and the associated recession blowing a huge hole in the city’s finances, the latest reports placed the project’s completion more likely in 2027. The New York State Legislature has also rolled back bail reforms that the city claims are necessary to reduce the jail population enough for the replacement to be feasible. The Rikers closure is being framed as decarceration, as the de Blasio administration is attempting to slash the number of jailed people in the city (currently 9,400) to 3,300.
The city-wide project includes the demolition of the existing buildings at each proposed jail tower site, and at 125 White Street, that would be the current Manhattan Detention Complex or the infamous “Tombs.” Since the project’s announcement last year, the city’s original planned 50-story tower at the site was slashed to 29 stories and demolition was pushed from March 2021 to sometime that summer. The delay has reportedly energized community groups in Tribeca and Chinatown.
At the suit settled yesterday, Neighbors United Below Canal and other associated groups dealt another blow to the plan, successfully arguing that the city hadn’t done its due diligence in scoping out the potential impact of demolishing the two extant jail structures and replacing them with a larger building. Part of the problem stems from the design of the tower not being finalized, which, the groups alleged, precluded the findings of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. They also charged that because the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure was being conducted for all four jail towers at once for expediency, local concerns were being brushed aside.
The court agreed that proper consideration of other potential sites and the local health impacts of the project were overlooked and annulled the City Council’s approval to build on the site. As such, all demolition and construction related to the jail tower has been halted. The de Blasio administration has not yet announced whether it will appeal the decision.