Fortis signs contract with SUNY to buy LICH in Brooklyn

Brooklyn loses a hospital, and a developer gains a million square feet of Cobble Hill.

After more than a year of community protests and litigation, the State University of New York on Tuesday announced it has signed a contract with developer Fortis Property Group for the sale of the Long Island College Hospital (LICH) complex.

The deal, which will not maintain a hospital at the site, still must be approved by the state Comptroller, the Attorney General and the state Supreme Court.

Fortis plans to develop the property as co-ops. The company is paying $240 million for the 20-building LICH campus, and was required to put down a $24 million deposit upon signing.

Six local community groups, officials, doctors, patients and unions had waged a ferocious battle against SUNY in state Supreme Court for more than a year to preserve the historic hospital, which SUNY closed last month, save for a vestigial walk-in clinic.

Since closing LICH, ERs have been packed across rapidly-expanding Brooklyn, and doctors have reported trouble booking time in operating suites.

“We look forward to completing the sale of the LICH complex and this is an important step forward as all parties work to ensure SUNY can responsibly exit the property while vital healthcare services will continue to be available to the Brooklyn community,” said SUNY Assistant Vice Chancellor for Communications David Doyle.

On Friday, Concerned Physicians of LICH and the six community groups involved in the LICH litigation said in a statement, “Because we have reason to believe that the State University of New York has acted illegally, and continues to do so, we call on the Department of Justice, the King’s County District Attorney, the New York State Attorney General, and the New York State Inspector General to investigate SUNY’s actions.”

On Friday, leaders of the NAACP and other minority groups called on Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday to “do the right thing” and halt the sale. The groups also want SUNY’s sales process to be investigated. SUNY chose Fortis over two higher-ranked minority developers.

SUNY took over the hospital in May 2011 with the promise of keeping it in operation, but moved to close less than two years later.

‘Free-standing’ ER planned

As part of the deal with SUNY, Fortis agreed to lease from 80,000 to 90,000 square feet to NYU-Langone and Lutheran Family Services, which will provide a “free-standing” emergency room, clinics, a cancer treatment center and a small number of observation beds. A building housing these health services is to be constructed by Fortis starting six months after closing, which is expected to take place in six to nine months.

NYU agreed to take over the walk-in clinic under its own license on September 1. The clinic, on the site of the LICH ER which once handled 50,000 emergencies a year, now sees roughly 35 patients a day, all with minor complaints, according to SUNY. NYU is paying SUNY to maintain these services through September.

Development could be ‘dramatically out of scale’

Councilmember Brad Lander told the Brooklyn Eagle on Tuesday that the LICH site was zoned R6. “I doubt they would get to 50 stories,” but what Fortis could build as of right “would be dramatically out of scale,” he said.

“I’m nervous – anxious about what Fortis can do as of right, and what they would propose via rezoning,” he said. “It would not protect the Cobble Hill Historic District, and not be contextual zoning. Over a year ago I asked City Planning and the Landmarks Commission to consider contextual rezoning, and they said ‘Let’s see what happens.’” Contextual zoning would ensure that new construction or additions could not exceed the 50 foot height limit that covers the rest of Cobble Hill.

LICH was excluded from the Cobble Hill Historic District, established in 1969 and extended in 1988, to give it the flexibility to expand hospital offerings for the surrounding communities.