The four-year legal struggle over the old school building at 605 East 9th Street–where the 20-year-old CHARAS Community Center makes its home–is expected to come to an end today.
The legal battle hinges on whether Gregg Singer, a condominium developer who bought the property at city auction four years ago, genuinely intends to redevelop the building for community purposes, as required by the property deed.
Nearly two dozen CHARAS supporters–ranging from the head of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund to anarchist puppeteers to a prospective City Council candidate–amassed to hear the three-week trial's closing arguments on Friday.
“Do you believe Mr. Singer?” asked Alan Levine, CHARAS' rumpled pro bono lawyer. “He has contempt for the community and the institutions that have served them.”
The developer's angle is simple: As owner of the building, his property rights take precedence over community concerns. “This is a simple landlord-tenant dispute,” intoned Singer's lawyer, in a thick Long Island accent. “There is no difference between this and someone buying a house and using it.”
After the closing arguments, Singer was convinced he prevailed. “My side told the truth,” he declared, confidently striding down the hall. “The other side, the facts will show, did not tell the truth.”
“I'm hoping it comes down to the credibility issue,” said Susan Howard, who has organized community support for CHARAS. But if the jury rules in favor of Singer? “That means a $3 million deal is more important than a 20-year-old community center.”