Moving On

Deborah Berke Partners' prison-to-women's rights club conversion canceled

The Women's Building was set to rise inside what was the former home of the Bayview Correctional Facility, an all-female prison. (Courtesy The Women's Building)

A social club for nonprofits dedicated to tackling women’s equality issues was slated for Manhattan’s West Side inside a former women’s prison, but now it appears the long-awaited conversion has been canceled. The redesign by Deborah Berke Partners, a conversion of the Bayview Correctional Facility into The Women’s Building by the NoVo Foundation, had been the talk of the town since 2014, but the nonprofit group spearheading the much-anticipated project abruptly announced its cancellation last week. 

Instead of using the $50 million raised to repurpose the Chelsea prison as originally intended, the NoVo Foundation has instead decided to put that money directly into the pockets of organizations and minority communities doing the work it hoped the hub would serve. The City reported that The Women’s Building released a letter last Friday explaining that the timelines and budgets for the project “far exceeded original estimates,” and that the development plan was not a responsible use of these resources.

“At NoVo, we hold a very deep and continuous responsibility to examine how we are distributing resources in a world where needs are urgent and growing,” the letter read. “This country is in a time of great upheaval, with the most marginalized communities, including girls and women, facing daily and deepening attacks. In these profoundly unstable times, we know how important it is for NoVo to be nimble and responsive. We must move quickly, shifting resources to the communities facing injustice every day.”

Originally set to be built inside the shuttered women’s prison—which permanently evacuated its incarcerated ahead of Superstorm Sandy—the project had gained major traction and was backed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, local Community Board 4, and Gloria Steinem, among other activists. The design team was chosen in 2016 after a request for proposals went out through the state government, and 43 teams applied. 

Rendering of a corner prison with a glass topper

An earlier, speculative rendering of a redeveloped Bayview Correctional Facility from the New York Governor’s Office. Deborah Berke Partners has not released images of its proposal. (Courtesy the New York Governor’s Office)

A lot of work was needed to update the facility before tenants could move in, as it suffered extensive damage during the 2012 hurricane. Berke’s team, which included Rhoda Kennedy and Arthi Krishnamoorthy, along with the Lela Goren Group, had been aiming to make the 100,000-square-foot building an inclusive “place of hope and action.” It was to going to allow natural light to reach the building’s core, feature ample wellness and co-working spaces, and would have boasted expansive views of the Hudson River. 

In an email to AN, Deborah Berke Partners said it will continue to support The Women’s Building and the group’s efforts to build community. 

“We are inspired by The Women’s Building community, and we share their values. We will continue to support the work of The Women’s Building community in any way we can, and we applaud the NoVo Foundation’s $50 million commitment to advancing that work on behalf of women and girls around the world.”

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