New command center offers better access to Public Safety

Public Safety Chief Bill McClellan at the new office/command center (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Public Safety Chief Bill McClellan at the new office/command center (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot
Earlier this month, Stuyvesant Town’s Public Safety department officially settled into its new home at what was previously a storage area at 2 Stuyvesant Oval.
Following a winter-long construction project, the resulting office, designed by architectural firm STV, is a 1,840-square-foot, glass-front structure with a similar look to the Oval Amenities spaces. Inside the space, past a small lobby, there’s a command center where dozens of new HD monitors allow officers to see everything that the 1,200 surveillance cameras located throughout the complex see in high-definition quality.
But the newer technology isn’t the only improvement. During an interview with a T&V reporter at the office this week, Public Safety Chief Bill McClellan said residents have been giving overwhelmingly positive feedback about the department’s more central location and the easier access to the officers.
“Now they can walk past and they see we take security seriously here,” said McClellan.
In fact, said McClellan, after Hurricane Sandy destroyed the old office on Avenue C and Public Safety had to move to a temporary office at the old Oval Film space, officers began hearing that most residents found the location to be an improvement. So this was taken into consideration by CWCapital when planning a permanent address, as well as the need to keep the office out of a flood zone.
“We want people to come in and ask questions and interact with our Public Safety team,” said CWCapital spokesperson Brian Moriarty, who was also present during the interview, along with CWCapital Asset Manager Andrew Cain. “It’s more convenient for residents.”
It was in 2006 that ST/PCV’s security department officially became known as “Public Safety,” which McClellan said was done since the department is made up of peace officers, not guards.
That said, while preventing and stopping crime is the top priority for the officers, mainly it is quality of life issues that they’re responding to on a regular basis, such as loud parties and unregistered dogs. Dealing with the latter issue has been made a little easier since management introduced a brightly colored registration tag for dogs, eliminating the need to stop all dog owners as they walk through the grounds. When dealing with the former issue, McClellan himself will sometimes show up to the offending apartment with a member of the property’s legal team when a noise issue is particularly serious and persisting.

The new Public Safety office at 2 Stuyvesant Oval (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

The new Public Safety office at 2 Stuyvesant Oval (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

McClellan, who’s worked for ST/PCV for the past eight years, previously had a 21-year career with the NYPD, and his last role was that of commanding officer of the 71st Precinct in Crown Heights. Since his arrival in ST/PCV, crime in the community has decreased, he said, a fact he credits to upgrades made to the property’s security system as the technology has improved. For example, the system was designed so that cameras can be added any time anywhere, and there have been many added over the past few years as the layout has changed to feature the new amenity spaces as well as the more recent construction projects like the extension of the leasing office. Some cameras also face outside the property, and that came in handy recently when police were looking for a robber who kept hitting a Dunkin Donuts shop on the west side of First Avenue. After the NYPD asked ST/PCV Public Safety to focus a camera at that location, the footage wound up being instrumental in the arrest several days later of a man who molested a young girl at the shop.
Crime tends to be higher on the west side of First Avenue than on the ST/PCV side, “and we’d like to keep it that way,” said McClellan, who also provided some interesting local crime stats. ST/PCV, which covers 10 percent of the 13th Precinct’s coverage area geographically and is home to 24.5 percent of the precinct’s population, only accounts for 5 percent of the crime.
But when there are crimes on the property, once catching the perps, Public Safety officers will typically turn them over to the 13th Precinct for arrests. Though 40 of ST/PCV’s officers are official peace officers with the authority from the NYPD to issue summonses and make arrests, there are still other limitations to consider. “We don’t have an arrest processing center here and we don’t have cells,” said McClellan.
Hours for the new Public Safety office, during which walk-ins are welcomed, are 8:30 a.m.-8 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends and holidays. The command center is open 24/7 though and people can come in with an emergency after hours.
The construction of the office comes after CWCapital also invested in new trucks as well as three T3 motion scooters for the officers to make their rounds in.

‘Roberts’ payments delayed again

Tenants Association President John Marsh (pictured last fall) alerts tenants to the latest delay in "Roberts v. Tishman Speyer" payments. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

The ST-PCV Tenants Association (President John Marsh pictured last fall) alerted tenants to the latest delay in “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” payments. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot
Residents and former residents of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village who were waiting for their checks from the “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” settlement will have to wait a while longer.
The second distribution of payments, this time the damages CWCapital is responsible for paying, has been delayed, the ST-PCV Tenants Association announced on Wednesday.
The Tenants Association, while not a party to the class action lawsuit, alerted neighbors in an email on Wednesday at the request of the “Roberts” attorneys.
“The delay is attributable to complexity in the claims administration process, but is expected to be a short one,” the TA said it was told by attorneys.
This is the second delay, with the first one being in the fall for tenants’ payments from Met Life.
Lead attorney Alex Schmidt of the firm Wolf Haldenstein told Town & Village the latest delay was due to a couple of reasons, the first being that CWCapital believes that many tenants owe back rent, which would be taken out of the damages, and the other was that many class members filed claims after the May 15, 2013 deadline.
“If they’ve expressed a good reason for filing late there no reason not to pay them,” said Schmidt. But, he noted, with each new claim, the amount of damages that’s spread among the pool changes.
The portion of damages former owner Met Life was responsible for, which is considered a separate pool from the CW damages, was paid at the end of last December.
Though he wasn’t sure when those owed money by CW would be paid, there “shouldn’t be an extended delay,” Schmidt said. He added, “We’re still ahead of where most class actions are. It’s rare to get distributions done within even a year of a settlement being approved.”
Out of a $173 million settlement for tenants in apartments that were illegally deregulated by former owners MetLife and Tishman Speyer, close to $69 million will be paid out to tenants. The rest of the money is in the form of rent savings.
Unlike the Met Life payments, in which class members received 110 percent of what they owed, there won’t be 110 percent payments for the CW payments for current tenants. There will be 100 percent of the overpayments paid back minus legal fees and expenses. This is because of how many current tenants (or specifically those owed money by CW who still lived in ST/PCV on May 15, 2013) ended up filing. (Current and former tenants are also in separate pools.) Current tenants filed for their damages at a 99 percent rate of eligible class members while over 50 percent of former tenants in the class filed.
Schmidt said for a class action suit, this was a “very good” result. He also noted that current tenants, while getting a smaller payout, also get the settlement’s benefit of rent savings. So, he reasoned, “It’s not inequitable.”
As for the tenants who CW believes owe back rent, there are quite a few out of the 11,800 people who filed claims. Schmidt didn’t have the exact number available, but said, “CW’s calculations turned out to be far more complex than anyone anticipated.”
Those who are not believed to be in arrears with their rent will be paid first, and those who are will still receive a portion of their damages. To get any amount that’s in dispute, the tenant or former tenant will have 45 days to object.
“If they’re not accurate I’m sure there’ll be a lot of objections,” said Schmidt, who says he plans to negotiate any claim of payment owed with CWCapital or if the parties fail to reach an agreement, ask the court to resolve the matter.
A spokesperson for CWCapital did not yet return a request for comment.

Power out at 2 Peter Cooper buildings on Tuesday

By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Residents of 370 First Avenue and 2 Peter Cooper Road noticed on Tuesday morning that the power in their building was out. Gothamist reported that a manhole fire occurred at 4:52 a.m. on Tuesday at 370 First Avenue and Con Edison confirmed that there was an issue in that building concerning a cable box but noted that the incident was internal, so the utility was unable to provide any more information about the fire.
A representative for Con Edison noted that there wasn’t any more information publicly available because the incident occurred between the meter and the home, where the responsibility of resolving the problem falls to the owner.
In a notice to residents on Tuesday, management said that power was cut at both 370 First Avenue and 2 Peter Cooper Road, including elevator service, so that the problem could be assessed and damage could be repaired.
The power shutdown was not expected to affect the water supply to the building but the notice said that there would be an interruption of the heat.
Management did not respond to a request for comment about the incident, but a spokesperson for Con Edison told Town & Village on Tuesday that the problem was expected to be resolved by the end of the day.

Letters to the Editor, Cartoon, March 27

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Thanks to those who helped save The Players

The Gramercy Park community is excited that The Players has finally decided to do the right thing to “Help Save The Players” by electing a highly qualified and dynamic new president, Arthur Makar, and putting a Strategic Turnaround Plan in place.

This is an important first step in the process of addressing the club’s debt, reforming its governance, and rebuilding its membership. For the first time in a very long time, we can be hopeful about the future of The Players.

In light of this, we’d like to acknowledge the efforts of those who “Helped Save The Players” by documenting and reporting the gross mismanagement and dire circumstances at the club, as it accrued $4 million in debt and was in “imminent danger of closing.”

Since a major focus of the GPBA’s mission is historic preservation, we could think of no more important challenge to undertake than to help save The Players. The club not only stands as a monument to theatre life in New York City, but is a cultural treasure of the American people. Its 1844 Greek Revival townhouse at 16 Gramercy Park South is a National Historic Landmark, and sits on one of the original lots laid out in the 1831 Samuel B. Ruggles Gramercy Park Trust. A statue of The Players’ founder Edwin Booth, sits in the center of Gramercy Park.

Because of our community’s passionate interest and concern for The Players’ survival here, we refused to be bystanders as the club’s facade and financial circumstances continued to deteriorate. We felt it was our obligation to work closely with the media to bring to light the alarming findings of The Players Financial Audit Committee’s (FAC) 18-page report, documenting its shocking mismanagement.

Our deepest gratitude goes to the FAC, spearheaded by Lee Pfeiffer and Lynne Lerner, for their relentless pursuit of the truth, despite many obstacles put in their path. The FAC’s dogged determination and countless hours of work led to their extensive report detailing the desperate circumstances at the club. It was their report, which was the catalyst for the turnaround of the club.

We also want to thank Town & Village Editor Sabina Mollot for her outstanding reporting of the mismanagement and dysfunction at The Players. Mollot, who is widely known for her excellent in-depth investigative journalism, was someone we counted on at every turn to bring to the public’s attention the sad state of affairs at The Players.

Without the determined efforts of the FAC, the media and The Gramercy Park Block Association in exposing the truth, we believe The Players had little chance of survival on Gramercy Park.

Arlene S. Harrison
President, The Gramercy Park Block Association
Trustee of
Gramercy Park

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Players aims to attract corporate crowd

Arthur Makar, president of The Players, hopes to attract young, corporate members, but first focus on improving the cash-strapped club. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Arthur Makar, president of The Players, hopes to attract young, corporate members, but first focus on improving the cash-strapped club. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot
Arthur Makar, the man who’s been the president of The Players for a total of two weeks, knows that turning the financially strapped club around isn’t going to be simple. Still, he said, while seated for an interview with Town & Village in one of the club’s spacious rooms, “It isn’t rocket science. It’s more like ditch digging.”
His vision for the club, which was founded in 1888 as a place for men of the theater to rub elbows with those in other lines of work, goes back to its roots. The idea, he said, is to reach out to the some of the community’s corporate neighbors — Credit Suisse, New York Life and other financial institutions — and rebrand the club as the place to go to make deals over lunch.
Makar, who’s also the executive director of the nonprofit organization Fight for Sight, noted in a recent PowerPoint presentation to the club’s members the importance of attracting young professionals “who can afford annual dues.” For some time the average age of members has been 50, although Makar said he’s started seeing more in their 20s and 30s.
Currently, there are 375 members who pay around $2,000 in annual membership fees as well as an additional 75 or so who are honorary or lifetime members. It’s not nearly enough, considering some members are non-local and many of those who are local work in other neighborhoods, and don’t use the club during the day.
Still, Makar said marketing the place to potential members isn’t going to happen any time soon. First, the club has to improve its dining service — and image. An inspection earlier in the month by the health department left the club’s front door with the dreaded scarlet letter — a C. The grade was issued for six sanitary violations, including evidence of live mice and improper storage of food.
“We have to get it from a C to an A,” said Makar. “We have to make sure we address all those issues.”
Once that happens, Makar said he wants to make the club’s dining experience feel more special, by improving the ambiance in the dining room. “Just basic things. You light votive candles and make sure the lighting isn’t up to a roar.”
Another plan is to offer additional dining with a more upscale menu in the club’s Kinstler room, which offers a direct view of the park across the street. This has had a soft launch already “to test the waters.”
In his PowerPoint presentation, Makar stressed that he didn’t want members to only be dining at the club out of a sense of duty.
“A good restaurant always has patrons,” he said. “We do not want you to feel that dining at the club is an obligation to keep the club solvent. We want you and your guests to enjoy the experience.”

Workers repair the club building’s facade. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Workers repair the club building’s facade. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Meanwhile, the club’s new general manager, Michael Smith, is in the midst of working out a contract with its unionized kitchen and wait staff. Late last year, the club’s chef was let go and currently the sous chef is running the kitchen. Also last year, the club had trouble making payroll on several occasions and the club owed so much money to various vendors and to the government in taxes that even its then-president Johnnie Planco didn’t know the exact amount of debt. And even now, Makar, who’s worked in the nonprofit world for years, isn’t sure, either.
“I don’t have my mind wrapped around the numbers,” he admitted. “We haven’t had an outside examination of the books in three years.”
To get those numbers figured out by June, which is when the club’s membership holds its annual meeting, The Players has hired an auditing firm.
In the meantime, to bring in revenue, along with the dining room, there’s been a renewed focus on renting rooms out for events. There may also be a “reassessment” of member fees, which could mean a one-time spike in dues. There’s been talk about selling a prized painting by John Singer Sargent, but, said Makar, members would have to be informed about that and other options to bring in money first.
One thing he’s hesitant to do though is approach the club’s more deep-pocketed members for donations.
“In the past there were a lot of wealthy people to bail out the club,” said Makar, “but that kind of culture has changed. To move forward we really need to do more fundraising instead of discretely approaching someone.”
Asking the club’s more famous members, who include Jimmy Fallon and Uma Thurman, for any kind of help is also not part of his plan. Again, he said, improving services comes first as does keeping members in the loop of the financials, something that hadn’t been done in the past.
“We have to get that transparency in place before anyone give us a dime,” said Makar.
Transparency has been a part of a “strategic turnaround” plan the club’s board recently came up with, and has included the voting in of Makar, two new vice presidents and the club’s first ever chairman, James Larocca.
Makar’s presidency has since been cheered by Arlene Harrison, president of the Gramercy Park Block Association, who’s been a critic of Planco and the board for not revealing the club’s debt to members sooner.
Harrison, after meeting with Makar, said she was “very impressed” with him due to his experience working in nonprofits.
“I believe he has the understanding and expertise in many areas of nonprofit management, including strategic planning, budgeting and fundraising, that are crucial for the turnaround of the club,” she said this week.
Makar, meanwhile, said he suspects he was elected because he’s relatively new. He joined the board last year after the club’s financial woes, much of which have been blamed on the former executive director, John Martello, were out in the open.
“I didn’t have time to get into all the politics,” he said.
Planco, meanwhile, also said Makar had his full support. Commenting on the regime change, Planco, a talent agent who rents an office at the club, said, “I think we all thought it was time for fresh horses. So I’m delighted. And I’m still here and will keep doing what I do.”
In other club news, the outside of the building on Gramercy Park South has seen some improvement. After having to come to a halt due to financial reasons, work recently resumed on its landmarked facade and a scaffolding that had shrouded the building finally came down last week.

CW requests, then pulls request for wine and beer license at Oval Café

Oval Cafe may soon sell beer and wine. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Oval Cafe  (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Sabina Mollot
That was fast.
A rep for CWCapital, who’d been scheduled to request a wine and beer license for Oval Café on Thursday, pulled that request on Tuesday.
The license request for the Stuyvesant Town coffee joint had been scheduled to take place at a meeting of Community Board 6. However, by Tuesday afternoon, that application was scrapped due to a timing issue by that representative, Spencer Rothchild of Barrio Foods consulting firm, said Sandro Sherrod, the chair of CB6.
Sherrod, who’s also a resident of Stuy Town, said he didn’t want to comment on the license request until he actually heard the proposal. And the request could be made again at another time.
A spokesperson for CWCapital said the application was pulled pending consultation with community leaders.
However, this was after the plan was blasted by John Marsh, president of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, and Council Member Dan Garodnick.
Garodnick told Town & Village he’d made his feelings known to CWCapital expressing how “wholly inappropriate” he believes it is to have alcoholic drinks sold at the Oval.
“To change (the café) to a place where people congregate for beers changes the entire establishment to something different and makes it less family friendly,” said Garodnick early on Tuesday.
He added that he was annoyed about having to find out about the plan not from CW but from CB6. Still, he said he hoped management would rethink the plan.
“They were responsive when we raised concerns about the Public Safety office and I hope they will consider this as well in the community’s interest,” he said. This was in reference to management’s agreeing to remove a driveway from in front of the new Public Safety office for the officers’ vehicles in response to residents’ complaints.
Though he stressed he was speaking as an individual and not on behalf of the Tenants Association, Marsh also said he opposed a liquor license in a post on the TA’s Facebook page.
“I feel like if you want a drink go back to your apartment or to a neighborhood restaurant or bar,” he said. “The Oval is a place that was designed for peace and quiet. Coffee is one thing. Alcohol is another.”
Local blog Stuyvesant Town Report also blasted the plan, saying it would encourage rowdy behavior. CW, the author wrote, “should be thoroughly embarrassed.”
Following the news about the application being pulled, Garodnick said, “We appreciate that CompassRock has pulled this application. Selling beer and wine in the Oval Café could have very harmful consequences and we are relieved that management has taken a step back.”
Susan Steinberg, chair of the TA, added that even though the application has been pulled for the time being, tenants should still let CB6 know if they have something to say about it.
“Of course, the TA is pleased that the application was withdrawn and will be given more consideration,” she said. “There are many issues to be addressed and reasons why such a license is troubling. In the meantime, it is extremely important that residents with concerns email their comments to the CB6 (office@cbsix.org) because these comments will be held for the future should the license be reapplied for.”
Not everyone had been against the idea though.
A longtime Stuy Town resident, Kay Vota, told T&V, “I don’t have a problem with it as long as people act responsibly.”
Still, she said she guessed there would be some controversy.
“You can please some of the people some of the time but you can’t please everybody all the time, and in Stuyvesant Town you never have anything new where people don’t have something to say about it.”
Another resident, who’s lived in Stuy Town for four years, David Burstein, also said he didn’t think it would have been a problem.
“The whole neighborhood is surrounded by bars; I don’t think it would have been detrimental. I think people would be respectful and appropriate about it,” he said. Burstein added that for cafés, it’s “tough to stay afloat” without selling alcohol. “It’s the reality of the world we are living in.”
Since its opening in the summer of 2012, Oval Café has sold coffee, pastries and sandwiches and in the summer, offered a clear view of sunbathers on the lawn.
Ironically, though there was never a liquor license previously at Oval Café or the amenity space that came before it, Oval Lounge, it was once the site of a bar-style brawl. It was there where brokers for then-owner Tishman Speyer got into a fight at a private party, with one getting bashed over the head with a beer bottle.

This article was updated to include an additional comment from Council Member Garodnick, a comment from Susan Steinberg and information from Sandro Sherrod and CWCapital.

The difficulties of using a bookshelf as a room divider

The O’Connors received a notice to cure from management over their bookshelves.

The O’Connors received a notice to cure from management over their bookshelves.

By Maria Rocha-Buschel
After getting a notice of termination last December over a disagreement on the placement of some bookshelves, 10 Stuyvesant Oval residents Leigh Anne O’Connor and Robert Leon were relieved in mid-March when the issue was cleared up and management declared that their apartment was in compliance, but not before what they felt was a long struggle about the definition of a legal room partition was.
Space is a precious and expensive commodity in Manhattan and New Yorkers have a long tradition of modifying their apartments with furniture to make the best use of the space. In a place like Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, residents have been in a back-and-forth with management for years about pressurized walls, temporary room dividers and what can be used legally to split the space so siblings and roommates aren’t on top of each other.
O’Connor and Leon had been using Ikea bookshelves to break up the space in one of the apartment’s bedrooms for their kids but they started having problems with management after an apartment inspection last September when they got a Notice to Cure, saying they were in violation of their lease.
Leon, who is in construction design, checked with architects and industry professionals about his situation and couldn’t find any building or housing code that they were violating with the shelves. But, he noted, he wasn’t looking to be difficult; he just wanted to come to an agreement and resolve the problem.
“It’s in my best interest to be on good terms with my landlord and if what they’re asking is reasonable I don’t mind complying,” he said, “but I can’t read their mind.” He added that it was difficult to get an answer from management about the standard for this issue.
Susan Steinberg, chair of the Tenants Association’s board, noted that there have been difficulties in defining exactly what constitutes a legal wall or partition.
“The law actually does not give very specific requirements for the legality of nonstructural walls,” she said. “It is very subjective. The basic rules are that every room in the apartment must have a means of egress for fire safety so if a bookshelf effectively divides a room in two and one new ‘room’ doesn’t have a window, it could be a problem. As you can imagine, the fact of whether or not the bookshelf divides a room could be debated.”
Changing the layout of an apartment can be a violation of building code and a spokesperson for the Department of Buildings said that adding a partition or other kinds of floor-to-ceiling dividers can change the apartment’s layout, even if it is a temporary installation, and thus would require a work permit.
Ultimately, Leon said that he was told that if he closed off part of a room by more then 50 percent, then that constitutes a wall. CWCapital spokesperson Brian Moriarty confirmed this. He said that the standard management goes by is the New York City Multiple Dwelling Law, which states that if more than 50 percent of an opening is blocked, it is considered a wall and is not in compliance with the lease.
“For example, if the length of the room is 50 feet and the bookcase is more than 25 feet, it is illegal,” he said. “If it blocks more than 49 percent of the space profile, the rear space will then be considered an interior room with no legal light and air.”

Burglaries up in 13th Precinct

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lieutenant Mike Kotlyar, Community Council President Frank Scala and Executive Officer Frank Sorensen

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Burglaries have been on the rise in the 13 precinct in the last month, Executive Officer Frank Sorensen reported at the most recent Community Council meeting on Tuesday.

Sorensen filled in at the meeting for the commanding officer, Deputy Inspector David Ehrenberg, who was unable to attend due to a family emergency, and said that while crime in general is flat for the year so far, burglaries on the East Side have increased, and most of them are due to unlocked doors.

“Three out of four of the victims had left their front doors open,” he said. “There are guys going around just trying doors and grabbing computers or anything else they can get.”

There were also recently three drug-related deaths over the weekend due to possible GHB overdoses. Sorensen said that GHB is a drug that is put into drinks and police are waiting for more information from the medical examiner. Oxycontin and other drugs were found in the apartment of one of the victims, Charlie Denihan, whose family owns a chain of Union Square hotels,

Police don’t expect foul play in any of the three incidents.

Despite the hard partying around Union Square over the weekend, Sorensen did note that St. Patrick’s Day, which fell on a Monday this year, was fairly quiet.

“Some in the past have been rough but maybe it’s just taking a backseat to SantaCon,” he said.

Detective Ray Dorrian added the quiet around the holiday also may have had to do with the fact that the holiday has fallen at the end of the week or on the weekend for the last three years before this one, which most likely made the crowds more rowdy.

Police Officer John Seidita, the traffic safety officer, was at the meeting to address the precinct’s efforts for traffic enforcement, in conjunction with the mayor’s Vision Zero plan. Officer Seidita said that they have been focusing on enforcement of motorized e-bikes, which were previously allowed due to a loophole in the law but have been officially banned since January. He encouraged residents to email him at john.seidita@nypd.org or call at (212) 477-2530 concerning complaints about e-bikes.

Captain Sorensen also introduced Lieutenant Mike Kotlyar, who is the new platoon commander that will be at the front desk from 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. and can address problems from area residents at the precinct.

Players gets new president

Arthur Makar, a veteran of the nonprofit sector, has replaced Johnnie Planco as president of The Players.

Arthur Makar, a veteran of the nonprofit sector, has replaced Johnnie Planco as president of The Players.

By Sabina Mollot
The Players club, which for the past year has been struggling to stay afloat after having fallen up to $4 million in debt, has appointed a new president, replacing its longtime leader Johnnie Planco.
The new president and CEO is Arthur Makar, the executive director of nonprofit organization Fight for Sight, the club announced to members this week. He was elected to the position by the club’s all-volunteer board. They also elected attorney James L. Larocca, who’s also a playwright and actor, to a newly created position of chairman of the board. Planco has remained on as a board member.
The elections came a year after the club admitted to members just how deeply in debt the historic institution was. Many blamed then-Executive Director John Martello, who was soon ousted, though he’d blamed the economy for the club’s dwindling membership.
The financial problems led to stoppage of work on the club building’s landmarked facade, failure to make payroll on several occasions and owing so much to the government in taxes and fines and in payments to vendors that even Planco admitted he didn’t know the full amount.
But some club members came to the rescue, giving cash gifts and loans, and the club formed a “strategic turnaround committee” with the goal of reforming the administration and enriching the programming. The plan, said the club in its emailed announcement, was unanimously adopted by the board “on an urgent basis” and presented to members at a meeting last Thursday.
In an official statement, Makar said, “I am committing the new leadership team to the highest standards of integrity and accountability, transparency, collegiality, and creativity in updating programs and services and building a strong future for the club we love. Even with our incredibly rich history to date, our best days lie ahead.”
Makar, a veteran of the nonprofit sector, also sits on the board of the Cherry Lane Theater.
Part of the turnaround plan also includes improving the club’s restaurant service, which Makar called “a priority.” In its most recent city inspection, on March 12, the club received a C grade for six sanitary violations, including evidence of live mice and improper storage of food.
“It’s kind of a hard sell to say, ‘Come dine in our fabulous C-rated club,” he told Town & Village. “We have to get it up to an A.”
Other priorities, he said, are to bring more industry types in as members and to improve and expand the programming. In recent months, there’s been more of a focus on events and a few parties recently packed the place, including one celebrating the roaring 20s.
Additionally, work has resumed on the Gramercy Park South building’s facade, and Makar said the scaffolding may come down later this week.
Cheering Makar’s election was Arlene Harrison, president of the Gramercy Park Block Association, who’d been a vocal critic of Planco for not stepping down amidst the cub’s financial woes.
“The election of Makar and his new leadership team is an important first step in the club’s turnaround, and we are optimistic for the first time in a long time about the club’s future,” she said.
In related news, the club’s board also appointed three new officers last week and also voted to recognize Planco as “prince of the Players,” according to one source. However, the club source added, that vote has since been withdrawn with regards to the departing president, after some members complained that the title should be reserved for the club’s founder, actor Edwin Booth.
Makar didn’t want to comment on this, but said Planco was okay with Makar’s taking over, and was one of the board members who’d voted him into the role.

Letters to the editor, Mar. 20

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Could a building explosion happen here?

Dear T&V Editor,

Like everyone else in the city, my heart goes out to the victims and the families of the tragic gas related explosion that brought down two buildings in East Harlem. News reports indicate that there had been a number of gas leak reports prior to the date of the event. The reports of gas leaks were investigated and were deemed not to be of immediate concern.

This reminded me of my own personal situation. I have a stove that’s more than 50 years and periodically leaks gas.

Last year while I was away, there was gas odor in the corridor and it was traced to my apartment. Security entered my apartment and left a note on my table. The stove has been checked several times and declared to be not dangerous.

I wrote to the management office trying to arrange for a replacement stove and they did not respond, I am afraid whenever I have to strike a match to light the stove (the pilot lights don’t work most of the time). My biggest fear is to have an explosion similar to what happened in East Harlem can happen here.

William Alvarado, ST

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Manufactured gas plant investigation resumes in ST/PCV

The gas works and storage tanks of Con Ed’s predecessor company in 1890.     Photo courtesy of Con Ed

The gas works and storage tanks of Con Ed’s predecessor company in 1890. Photo courtesy of Con Ed

By Sabina Mollot
After a two-year break, Con Ed this week resumed an ongoing study of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village for manufactured gas plant (MGP) impacts and contaminants.
The utility noted on its website earlier this week that it would be doing indoor air testing from March 10-14 in certain buildings in ST/PCV.
The work was described as a routine part of its investigation of the complex, formerly home to MGP sites at East 14th Street, East 17th Street, East 19th Street and East 21st Street.
The former 21st Street Works MGP site occupied two thirds of the space that’s now Peter Cooper Village. Impacts have also been found in Stuyvesant Cove Park.
In its online notice (at coned.com/mgp), the company provided a list of addresses where testing would be done. In Peter Cooper Village, the testing sites are at all 21 buildings. In Stuyvesant Town, the testings sites are at 16 Stuyvesant Oval, 245 Avenue C, 522 and 524 East 20th Street and 615, 625, 635 and 645 East 14th Street.
Any contaminants and impacts are all leftovers from the days when ST/PCV was known as the Gashouse District, home to gas plants and holders where coal and oil was converted into gas for heating, lighting and cooking.
Con Ed’s manufacturing and storage of gas began in the 1840s and continued for a century until the property was sold to Metropolitan Life. Byproducts of the gas conversion included tar and purifier wastes, which were materials formed during the process before the gas was given to customers.
The last time Con Ed did investigation work on the property was in February of 2012 when it also did an indoor air study. Prior to that, in 2011, the company said it was looking at ways to “remediate” or clean up Peter Cooper Village, which was more heavily impacted by MGPs than Stuyvesant Town. However, no plan was ever announced. Con Ed is working with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the NYS Department of Health on the project, which began in 2006.
When asked about the ongoing work and plan for remediation, a spokesperson for Con Ed, Bob McGee, said the investigations at the four MGP sites in ST/PCV have already been completed. Though he didn’t share the results, he did say that reports have been submitted to the NYSDEC.
“Con Ed has submitted alternative analysis reports for each site that analyzes potential remedial alternatives,” said McGee in a written statement. “NYSDEC has reviewed these reports and is in the process of preparing draft Decision Documents for each site that will present NYSDEC’s proposed remedial alternative. When these Decision Documents are complete they will be issued for public comment and a public hearing will be held. After NYSDEC considers public comments they will issue a final Decision Documents presenting the remedy that Con Ed must implement.”
The purpose of the study is to determine the potential hazards of human exposure to contaminants that could happen through breathing, ingesting or touching them.
Con Ed has said that because the contaminants have been found two feet or below the surface of the ground, the public is not expected to come into contact with them.
Exposure to contaminated groundwater is also unlikely, the company has said, because residents are served by a municipal water system.

CW makes early lease offer, but TA advises caution

By Sabina Mollot

Last fall, the Tenants Association urged caution when CWCapital offered a deal to residents who’d accept a reduction in their MCI charges in exchange for agreeing not to challenge the recently imposed rent increases.

Now, the TA is again warning tenants to think twice before agreeing to another deal offered by the special servicer.

This time, it’s saying yes to an early lease renewal, in exchange for CW’s promise not to raise rents for a period of either 12 or 24 months. However, there’s a catch, warned the TA in an email to neighbors on Monday.

“Management will not show tenants the leases they will be signing, and are giving them little time — from 48 hours to seven days — in which to decide,” the TA said.

So far, the association has heard from about 20 residents with regards to the offer, which was sent to more recent residents paying higher rents. Some are “Roberts” tenants and some aren’t.

“I am not aware of any long-term stabilized tenants who have received such offers,” said Susan Steinberg, chair of the Tenants Association. However, since the association wasn’t aware of exactly how many people had been contacted, she wasn’t sure exactly who’s been targeted.

One thing that was constant was that the residents’ leases would be up for renewal in the fall, but the goal was to get the recipients to sign a new lease this spring.

“In what they claim is a marketing-driven effort, CWCapital/Compass Rock is attempting to match lease expirations with rental patterns in New York City — apartments are most in demand March through September — and is seeking to align fall lease starts in spring,” the TA wrote.

“However, through occupant turnover, the schedule of when leases start drifts into the slower months. If an owner of rent-regulated apartments wants to ‘correct’ the lag, the only recourse under Rent Stabilization Law is to offer to cancel a lease early and renew it at the same rate.”

The TA’s concern is that residents who accept the offer will have to first cancel their current lease before getting the new one and could possibly lose rights currently offered under the Rent Stabilization code. This is something “no sensible tenant feels comfortable” doing, the TA wrote.

In response to the concerns, Brian Moriarty, a spokesperson for CW, said the offer is voluntary and has already proven to be popular among tenants.

“Our residents are accepting this offer in significant numbers,” said Moriarty, though he didn’t have exact figures available.

He added, “We don’t understand why the TA is intent on creating an issue with this purely voluntary promotion which benefits tenants. Despite the TA’s claim, they haven’t contacted CWCapital to discuss their concern. If they had, they would know that we started providing letters outlining the offer as well as a link to the lease form to address any concerns.”

Meanwhile, a few residents contacted with the offer have said their deals included a one-time rent credit of $500. However, when discussing the issue on Facebook, it seemed some new lease offers involved a temporary rent freeze while others’ rents would still be raised, though they also got the $500 credit offer.

This comes on the heels of a handful of tenants reporting that they’d gotten credits for their MCIs. One woman said it was done as “a result of the negotiations” between the TA and CWCapital. Those conversations are still ongoing and there have been no announcements or comments from either party.

Letters to the Editor, Mar. 13

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

All this and a price increase

Furthering the “Name Withheld, PCV” letter (“Airing out the dirty laundry room”, T&V, Mar. 6), let me just add to it.

First, it would have been nice if management had left each apartment a notice that our laundry room was available instead of scotch taping a notification in the elevators and on the main floor at the elevators.

Second, it would have also been nice if they had let us know that the prices had gone up ridiculously. I’m sure they got enough money from FEMA and their insurance companies to cover the machines so an increase, I believe, was not necessary. How about the timing of machines, or are you supposed to guess how long it takes to do a wash? It was bad enough when they got the temporary machines and left it to whoever did the wash, to guess how to use them.

Third, the layout is a ludicrous! The folding tables won’t cover anything as a large bath towel or twin sheet, never mind other items one washes such as queen size sheets. The folding table should have been put on the wall just to the left when you get into the washing machine area.

The site is large enough to accommodate a big, long table.

Fourth, what gives with the sink? It’s about the height of a child. What is this for? I won’t go into what it reminds me of.

Lastly, as to the chairs, why would anyone want to sit so far away from the machines that they would have to get up to see if the washer and/or dryer is done — or is that the reason for the TV? And what’s with the two locked doors?

I guess asking the people who use the machines, what makes sense, is beyond management’s reasoning.

Marcia Robinson, PCV

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History repeats

By Steven Sanders

A once powerful nation in eastern Europe that saw its empire dismembered some years earlier hosts the Olympics and then shortly thereafter invades and occupies a neighboring nation. It justifies its actions by saying that it needed to restore civil order and also protect its own nationals who were under attack. Sound familiar? Sounds like this scenario is right out of last week’s headlines? Sounds like the country is Russia, the Olympics are Sochi and the occupied nation is the Ukraine…yes?

Well for students of history this scene is eerily reminiscent of Europe in 1936. Nazi Germany had just completed hosting that year’s summer Olympics in Berlin. Not long thereafter it invaded and occupied the neighboring Sudetenland which was part of Czechoslovakia and then eventually occupied the rest of that country. It’s pretext then, similar to Russia’s pretext now, was that it needed to protect persons of Germanic descent form threats and to ensure stability. The world watched and did nothing. Feeling emboldened, Germany proceeded to annex Austria and then invade Poland which precipitated the most deadly conflagration in world history. Tens of millions of soldiers and civilians perished.

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Letters to the editor, Mar. 6

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

U.S. should stay out of Israel military action

Re: Letter to T&V, “A majority Jewish state necessary for Israel” (Feb. 6)

To the Editor:

A few years ago Noam Chomsky tried to enter the West Bank to give a lecture. Israel wouldn’t let him in because, in Chomsky’s words, “Israel didn’t like the kinds of things I say.” Israel thought Chomsky was going to make anti-Israel comments and, as I have observed, anyone who even remotely suggests a criticism of Israel is considered anti-Semitic. So the Jewish Chomsky must be anti-Semitic as are the many Arabs, also Semites, who criticize Israel.

Unfortunately, defending Israel from every comment, even if it’s true, seems to be a knee-jerk response. While I support Israel, I also believe it is a strong country, made even stronger by our military support, and has proven to the world that it is perfectly capable of defending itself.

If Israel feels threatened by Iran or any other country and decides to go to war, then it must bear the consequences of its decision. It’s time we look for ways to bring about peace. Secretary of State John Kerry is doing just that. Thomas L Friedman wrote in the NY Times that if Kerry’s peace mission fails, it would force Israel into “either unilateral withdrawal from parts of the West Bank or annexation and granting the Palestinians there citizenship, making Israel a bi-national state…or Israel by default could become some kind of apartheid-like state in permanent control over the 2.5 million Palestinians. There are no other options.”

I mention this because a letter by John Giannone tried to warn us that America’s policy towards Israel might drag us into a war that is not of our making and not in our national interest. This letter elicited a response from a writer who informs us that Israel, just like “all nations,” including the U.S., is guilty of committing “actions that are wrong,” as if that excuses the wrong actions. He cites “the eviction of some Arabs from their homeland and certain more recent events.” It’s not “some Arabs,” but thousands who have been evicted and/or have had their olive trees uprooted, thus destroying their livelihood.

Read in The Jerusalem Post what the U.N. Humanitarian Co-ordinator James W. Rawley and the International Committee of the Red Cross have said about Israel’s “despicable actions” towards the Palestinian refugee families and their children, including Israeli soldiers demolishing Palestinian residences and even confiscating the make-shift tents provided by the Red Cross to shield the refugee families from the weather.

The Red Cross no longer can provide these tents because as soon as they are put up, they are torn down. Roger Cohen wrote in the NY Times, “Jews, having suffered for most of their history as a minority, cannot, as a majority now in their state, keep their boots on the heads of the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank any longer…. the corrosive occupation has to end and with it the settlement industry.” In other words, committing “actions that are wrong” must stop. Now.

I support John Giannone’s position.

John Cappelletti, ST

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