This story was produced in collaboration with THE CITY.
Mayor Eric Adams’ announcement on Wednesday during his State of the City address of a $56-million rehabilitation project in Manhattan’s Chinatown, which features a long-sought ornamental archway, set off a wave of enthusiasm in the neighborhood.
“I think this project will bring Chinatown inspiration,” said Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Business Improvement District, who predicted the project would better link the neighborhood to the Brooklyn Bridge and improve traffic flow while providing the area with much-needed open space.
But the plan, which includes city and state funding and a call for contributions from community groups, also triggered cautionary advice from some residents of Brooklyn’s Chinese-American community who are smarting over the lack of development of an archway in the Sunset Park neighborhood that they have waited for – and poured their own money into – for more than a decade.
Their archway plan was championed by Adams when he was Brooklyn borough president and spearheaded by Winnie Greco, a former Adams volunteer who is now his Director of Asian Affairs.
Sam Ni, a Brooklyn activist and small business owner, said he understood the deep cultural importance of an archway in Manhattan’s Chinatown, but he urged the neighborhood’s residents to demand transparency when it comes to the archway’s timeline and use of their donations.
That’s what he said has been lacking from the nonprofit group until recently headed by Greco that for a decade raised funds it said would help pay for the still-to-materialize Sunset Park archway in Brooklyn.
“When we heard about the news regarding the Chinatown archway, we couldn’t help but wonder if it’s another Brooklyn archway situation,” Ni told Documented and THE CITY. “Chinese community members should keep in mind that, if you donate to the project, you are the donor and have the right to know. You should be involved in the decision-making process — we cannot simply be treated as ATMs.”
Greco launched the group Sino America New York Brooklyn Archway Association in 2012 as a nonprofit to help raise funds largely from the Chinese-American community, which she said would go toward maintaining the archway after it was delivered as a gift from the Chaoyang District of Beijing in China.
Brooklyn’s Long Wait
With little explanation, the plan for the 40-foot-tall gift from China fell apart in early 2020.
While a number of Brooklyn’s Chinese-American community members have said they expected the archway would take off with the ascension of its two biggest boosters to City Hall in 2022, there’s been little progress in Adams’ two years as mayor.
Robin Mui, publisher of the Sing Tao US newspapers, said he’s served as acting president of the Sino America New York Brooklyn Archway Association since Greco relinquished her leadership after she was hired by City Hall in January 2022. He predicted Wednesday’s announcement would not affect development of the Brooklyn project, which isn’t slated to be completed until 2029, according to the city’s long-range capital budget.
He noted that most bureaucratic hurdles — including approval from the city’s Public Design Commission — had already been met by the Brooklyn group.
Mui told THE CITY he expected to meet with Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez in coming weeks to relaunch the Brooklyn archway destined for 8th Avenue near 61st Street, although he provided the same imminent timeline for a meeting in an interview with THE CITY back in August.
The Transportation Department is the lead city agency overseeing the installation and maintenance of archways that span major streets.
“We’re trying to reform to a new group,” Mui said of the archway association. “I really want some dedicated community members to be on board to make it happen because we still need a lot of money,” he added. “We have to raise some money for this to happen.”
Past fundraising by the archway association has been a festering sore point for members of the Chinese-American community, particularly those who donated, according to a number of community leaders.
“The city promised us an archway in Brooklyn about 10 years ago, and there was funding and fundraising for it. Now there is no update on this project — what do you expect the Chinese community to think?” asked John Chan, chairman of Asian American Community Empowerment, a Brookly-based non-profit organization serving the Chinese community.
Chan was among the first group of Chinese community leaders who advocated for the archway in Brooklyn. “We welcome the city’s planning of building an archway for the Chinese community, and we also hope the plan can be truly implemented. I hope the city doesn’t let our Chinese community down,” Chan told Documented and THE CITY.
Where Did the Money Go?
The archway group under Greco reported raising more than $221,000 between 2013 and 2018, according to available IRS filings, but it spent most of that money along the way.
The group stopped filing its required IRS financial statements after 2018, which led to the automatic revocation of its tax-exempt status in May 2022, government records show.
Mui, 67, who has served for years on the board of the archway group, said it has to start fundraising from scratch.
Asked about the nature of the group’s expenses over the years, he said part of the funding had paid for Greco and Adams’ travel to China, and that $50,000 or $60,000 had been paid to the Department of Transportation prior to the pandemic.
But DOT spokesperson Scott Gastel said the agency has not received any funding from the archway association.
Asked about the DOT’s denial that it got funds from the archway group, Mui said his group “will prove that they’re wrong.”
Mui also said the archway group had funded numerous events with then-borough president Adams with the Chinese-American community, including celebrations of the Chinese New Year and mid-Autumn Festival.
“For each kind of event, we documented how much was spent, how much was spent on food, all kinds of things,” said Mui. “We did at least five or 10 events for Eric Adams during that time. We were using the archway money to pay for it.”
Asked why the archway group would spend money on events seemingly unconnected to the construction or maintenance of an archway, Mui answered, “That I don’t know. I wasn’t the chairman.”
Asked who the chairman was, he said, “Winnie.”
Mui, who hosted a number of fundraisers for Adams’ 2021 mayoral campaign, registered as a foreign agent in 2021 acting on behalf of the Sing Tao US newspapers, which is owned by a Hong-Kong based company.
Such a designation requires regular reporting to the Department of Justice, including any campaign contributions made by Mui.
He said he plans to hold a press conference in a month or so to publicly report to the community how much money the archway group had raised over the years and where all the money was spent, and to be officially announced as the archway’s new president.
He dismissed the nonprofit’s failure to file the required IRS forms as a bureaucratic mixup he would correct and said his Archway organization would pay any penalties for failing to do so.
Greco didn’t respond to a request for comment regarding Mui’s description of the archway group’s spending under her leadership.
She is the target of an ongoing probe by the city’s Department of Investigation following reporting by THE CITY in which two people alleged she used her position in the Adams’ administration for personal gain. One of them said she had demanded significant donations to the archway as the price of admission to a government event with the mayor.
Hope in Chinatown
City Hall officials on Wednesday released few details about their proposal for the wider rehabilitation in Chinatown, including an estimated completion time, and declined to directly address numerous questions from THE CITY and Documented.
This included questions about whether Greco will play a role in the Chinatown project or in the fundraising for the neighborhood’s archway.
City Hall spokesperson Charles Lutvak noted the rehabilitation of Kimlau Square, within Chatham Square, included $44 million from the city and $12 million from the state, but that fundraising would be needed for construction of the archway.
He said the project has nothing to do with the Brooklyn archway.
In December 2022, state officials announced their allocation of funding for the archway and neighborhood revitalization as part of a wider $20 million grant.
In Manhattan’s Chinatown, community leaders welcomed the infusion of funding and re-envisioning of public space in a crowded part of the city.
Justin Yu, president of Chinatown East Neighborhood Council, said he believed the archway planned for Chinatown would proceed smoothly since it already had support from both the city and state, and that fundraising wouldn’t be a challenge.
He said the wider plan for the area would help make Kimlau Square — where six roads converge — safer and more convenient, while providing urgent repair to the Kimlau War Memorial, which honors Chinese- American soldiers who died during World War II.
“It will have a positive impact on Chinatown’s landscape, transportation, commercial improvements, and tourism,” said Yu.
Raymond Tsang, president of Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of NY, said the neighborhood needs the project, to help generate more visitors after some hard years.
“The community is ready to fundraise for the project. We already have a lot of groups that are willing to take part,” said Tsang.