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"The biggest obstacle is how distrustful people and local institutions are of collaboration," laments ABC's Mondros. Behind her, taped to the sliding-glass door to her office, is a post-9/11 souvenir, a full-page ad from the New York Daily News declaring, "I Love New York More Than Ever."
"[In Miami-Dade County]," she sighs, "there are little fiefdoms. People are afraid of throwing in with you." Mondros cites a recent example. "We tried to start a health-access program in this neighborhood, but we couldn't get the public schools [we had targeted] and the neighborhood clinic on the same page, so we ended up changing [community] partners, moving to different schools."
If ABC's good intentions have been met in some quarters with undue skepticism, it is also true that Barry's continuing expansion is a legitimate source of worry for area residents, particularly local merchants who find themselves on the frontlines of the university's northern offensive.
In early 2001 Barry informed the commercial tenants of a two-story strip mall the school owns two blocks from campus, at the intersection of NE Second Avenue and 117th Street, that it planned to convert the building into office space for, among other things, the growing ABC. The school gave the six Haitian-owned businesses, including a restaurant, a small grocery store, and a sewing-machine repair shop, a two-month deadline for vacating the property.
"Barry came and said they wanted to improve things, make changes," remembers Bevens Durandis, owner of Best Deal Sewing-Machine Repair, a ten-year tenant. "We tried to find alternate spaces for them," explains Rolando Barrios, ABC's director of neighborhood revitalization, "but none of the proprietors really wanted to look."
Instead, they went to Leroy Jones for help. Jones, director of the Neighbors and Neighbors Association, an activist support group for black merchants, was struck by the irony of the situation. "Barry was going to put six businesses out of business to help businesses [through ABC's programs]," smirks Jones. "It didn't make sense."
Jones, who relishes his status as a known firebrand, approached the university on behalf of the business owners. "I asked Barry if they were going to give these people some financial assistance," he remembers. "They said, “No, we're giving them two months.'" (Barry University maintains it waived rent for the tenants after notifying them in February 2001 they would have to move.) Jones, however, says there was more at stake than simply the well-being of the merchants. "The [chain] convenience store across the street," he notes, "doesn't sell Haitian products like Green Variety [one of the businesses that faced eviction]. Where were people from the neighborhood going to buy those things?"
Jones initiated a grassroots campaign, handing out flyers and urging area residents to complain directly to the school. "One day," he says, flashing a gold-tooth-capped grin, "I knew Barry couldn't take incoming calls, the phones were so tied up."
He also contacted O'Laughlin directly. "When I wrote Sister Jeanne," recounts Jones, "I told her that was a good thing she had done for Elian, who's not even a citizen of this country. But what about these six businesses, their nineteen employees, and their kids?"
Jones hit a nerve. O'Laughlin made a personal visit to the property. "She came and said she wanted to know if the business owners were “real,'" recalls Jones, still miffed by the protracted negotiation. "What the fuck does that mean?"
Eventually Barry agreed to grant the existing tenants three-year leases, with two additional one-year options. Jones credits his campaign. "I whupped Barry's ass," he crows, before adding the episode is probably the beginning of a long fight. "They're not buying up the neighborhood as quickly as other schools [around the nation]," says Jones of Barry, "but they're buying."
It would be hard to argue with Jones. The two-block stretch of NE Second Avenue north of the campus already includes, besides the strip mall, the ABC offices, Barry's School of Podiatry, and the Barry University Villa, a motel that years ago was converted into university housing. In addition the school owns eleven houses around the immediate perimeter of its campus, on NE 111th and 115th streets.
And administrators do not appear averse to buying more. "The owner of that [other] strip mall [on NE Second Avenue] has let it go to the dogs," observes Tim Czerniec, referring to the scene of O'Laughlin's 1992 mugging. "We don't own it," he sighs, "but I wish we did."
If Barry appears to some to be talking out of both sides of its mouth -- or perhaps, with two separate voices, one emanating from the school's business offices, the other from its do-good agency, ABC -- officials at ABC maintain that ultimately what's good for the school, including campus expansion, will be good for the community. "The Upper Eastside," says Mondros, referring to the newly rediscovered and already prohibitively expensive neighborhoods of Belle Meade and Morningside to the south, "is a gentrification movement. We're doing something different here." Rolando Barrios agrees. "We're encouraging businesses that can support the needs of both residents and students."
Which doesn't mean businesses like Bevens Durandis's sewing-machine repair shop. Sewing machines may be fairly common in immigrant, working-class homes, where women often do alteration work to earn a little extra money or to save their families the expense of a tailor, but college students and administrators have no use for them. On the other hand, it wouldn't be hard to imagine a computer store in the space where Durandis's business currently resides.