Monday, May 13, 2013

New Life for Long-Abandoned Rockaway Courthouse

For more than 30 years, the stately Rockaway Courthouse built in 1932, has sat empty and crumbling on Beach Channel Drive. The building only functioned as a courthouse for 30 years, before being abandoned altogether. The closing of Peninsula Hospital Center last year left the area in desperate need of medical facilities. Now the city Economic Development Corporation has announced plans for the 24,000-square-foot building to undergo a gut renovation and become a medical center. 

There have long been ideas for the once-bustling courthouse on Beach Channel Drive. Closed for more than 40 years, city officials have envisioned—and then dropped—plans for a seaside college campus, an office building and a town hall at the stately Greco-Roman structure.

Now, there are new plans for the lifeless Rockaway Courthouse.

A developer has city approval to transform the crumbling 81-year-old building in the Rockaway Beach neighborhood of Queens into a medical clinic, potentially filling a health-care void on the 11.5-mile Rockaway Peninsula, which lost one of its two hospitals in 2012.

Uri Kaufman, and his company, Harmony Group, is buying the abandoned courthouse for $50,000 and plans to open the Rockaway Ambulatory Surgical Center there in 2015, offering ophthalmology, urology, obstetrics, gynecology and orthopedic care and employing 45 people.

Despite its majestic exterior, the structure is a decaying eyesore. Currently, the building's rotting, water-stained floors are littered with crumbling bits of its ceilings. It will take more than $10 million in renovations over two years to change the three-story limestone and marble courthouse into a modern medical facility.

City officials have long wanted the building to have a cultural use, but since Peninsula Hospital Center closed in 2012, Mr. Kaufman's proposal was heralded as helping to fill a gap in the health care needs of area residents.

St. John's Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway is the last remaining full-service medical center in the Rockaways, which has a population of 110,000. Its emergency room was built to handle up to 15,000 visitors a year but had 45,074 in 2012, and occupancy rates continue to climb.

The courthouse was built in 1932 and served as one of multiple halls of justice serving Queens. The courthouse was closed in 1962 when the city consolidated much of its court system. It was briefly used in the 1970s by an arts group but has been abandoned ever since.

Previous efforts at selling and developing the property have failed. The City University of New York once floated opening a campus—called "CUNY by the Sea" there but later cited money problems. Another attempt to make the building into office space didn't materialize

Local officials expect the surgical center to have a significant impact on the peninsula's medical-care needs and estimate the project will bring 64 construction and 45 permanent jobs to the Rockaways.