Hoylman takes aim at ‘high rent blight’

Various empty storefronts in State Senator Brad Hoylman’s District, the subject of his recent study, “Bleaker on Bleecker” (Photo collage courtesy of Brad Hoylman)

By Sabina Mollot

State Senator Brad Hoylman, whose district includes Stuyvesant Town, Gramercy, Chelsea and Greenwich Village, recently conducted a study that found a high percentage of vacant storefronts in the district, with some retail corridors about 10 percent vacant and on Bleecker Street, a vacancy rate of 18.4 percent.

This is no breaking news to area residents of course; but the senator’s study “Bleaker on Bleecker,” which focuses on what’s been dubbed “high rent blight,” has led to his offering a few proposals to combat the problem.

In particular, the phenomenon of landlords of choosing to keep a space vacant “suggests waiting for Marc Jacobs instead of renting to Jane Jacobs,” the study quotes economist Tim Wu as saying.

The study also mentions the closure last year of the Chelsea Associated Supermarket, which had seen its $32,000 rent jump by $100,000. The now-shuttered store had the same owners as the Associated in Stuyvesant Town, the future of which is still murky.

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Naked men removed from Gramercy storefront

men-cart-statue

Workers remove a statue from 281 Park Avenue South. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Last summer, the installation of nine anatomically correct male statues into a storefront in Gramercy raised a few eyebrows, with neighborhood residents wondering if it was an art exhibit or a marketing gimmick. It didn’t help anyone’s confusion that there was a neon sign in the window indicating the space was for rent.

As it turns out, the answer is it was a bit of both. On Monday afternoon, workers emerged from the storefront at 281 Park Avenue South and 22nd Street, moving out the larger-than-life-size sculptures. Asked where they were going, a worker at the scene said the naked men were headed to storage, since the ground floor space had been leased to a restaurant. However, Dan Turkewitz, one of the brokers marketing the space, later said nothing was finalized, so he wasn’t sure why the statues were being evicted. “We’re talking to a lot of different people,” he said.

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UPDATED: Grill 21, Rose closing, Ess-A-Bagel moving

Grill 21 restaurant

Grill 21 restaurant

By Sabina Mollot

Three restaurants that are located at the corner of East 21st Street and First Avenue, Ess-A-Bagel, Grill 21 and Rose Restaurant, won’t be getting their leases renewed, T&V has learned.

Henry Beck, a Stuyvesant Town resident who owns Grill 21 with wife Marissa, said their business will likely close at the end of the month. He’s not sure if they’ll move it elsewhere. According to Beck, both his business and Ess-A-Bagel have been denied lease renewals and new businesses are already lined up to move in.

Those businesses are Bank of America and Tal Bagels.

David Wilpon, the owner of Ess-A-Bagel said the longtime bagel joint may be moving somewhere close by but it’s nowhere near a done deal. “There’s a lot that’s up in the air,” he said, adding that he’s still holding out some hope of staying put. He’s also requesting a holdover and is in the midst of negotiations. Meanwhile, the company also has a second location on Third Avenue in midtown.

Wilpon said the trouble with his lease started when his aunt, Florence Wilpon, who’d founded the businesses in 1976, died. This was in September, 2013 during the midst of negotiations for a renewal. After that, while the family was dealing with the will and related issues, “They claimed we weren’t getting back to them in a timely fashion.”

He said he heard that both the bank and the bagel restaurant will be moving into the Ess-A-Bagel space, which is technically two spaces that were divided prior to his restaurant’s opening.

Wilpon chalked up the impending closure as part of the pattern of the city’s landlords preferring to oust mom-and-pops in the hopes of getting a corporation that can pay more.

“It’s endemic of the city; they’re pushing out independent businesses,” he said.

Beck said the owner of the building is L&M Development Partners, and that the owner has already taken away Grill 21’s storage space. Grill 21, a Filipino restaurant, opened in 2005.

A principal at L&M, Ron Moelis, didn’t return a request for comment on the owner’s plans for the property or at least the storefronts. The company develops properties, including affordable housing, and also handles commercial leasing.

(UPDATE: See response from a rep for the owner, an LLC called East 21 Retail, below the article.)

Another restaurant that will be closing is Rose Restaurant, which an employee said will be happening “as soon as possible. The landlord wanted too much money.”
The owners may reopen a restaurant in the Bronx “but not yet and not Manhattan,” he said.

Ess-A-Bagel and Grill 21 expect to have their last days at the end of the month.

A shoe repair shop in the same property is also expected to be given the boot soon.

The owner of Frank’s Shoe Repair said he was unsure of what was happening with his business, as he’s been hearing different stories from neighbors and customers. However, before hanging up his phone, he added that he didn’t see the point of discussing it, anyway.

“It’s nothing to do with you,” he said. “You can’t help us. It’s called business. The big fish eats the small fish.”

Meanwhile, another nearby restaurant/bakery owned by the Becks on East 21st Street and Second Avenue, Pan de Sal, has also closed. The closure of the eatery happened about a month ago due to business being terrible, Beck said. The fact that the storefront was partially obscured by scaffolding since it opened in 2011 “didn’t help.

“The owner told me it was coming down in July; he didn’t say which year. It was a beautiful thing and we had a lot of fun times there,” added Beck, who’s also an associate broker with the Corcoran Group, “but of course you have to make a decision.”

UPDATE: On Friday afternoon, a spokesperson for the owner contacted us and said L&M is not the owner of the building; East 21 Retail LLC is.

When informed of this, T&V spoke with Beck and Wilpon who said they’d believed they were dealing with L&M and affiliated partners.

Beck said, “The people we talk to are still the same. Christina Warner (of L&M) is a part owner. My feeling is they’re still part owners.”

When called for comment, Warner said due to company policy any comment would have to come from East 21’s spokesperson who contacted us.

Wilpon told T&V, “I always thought they (L&M) were (the owner) and we paid to their partnerships.”

We then asked the East 21 Retail LLC spokesperson who owned the LLC, and she admitted that there was some overlap between the two entities, with Ron Moelis, CEO at L&M, being a part owner.

As far as Ess-A-Bagel’s moving out is concerned, the owner issued the following statement:

“When we purchased the property, our main priority was to keep Ess-A-Bagel as a tenant. Ess-A-Bagel is a tradition in this city and we had no desire to see them leave. In the three years since, we’ve bent over backwards to come to a mutually fair agreement with Ess-A-Bagel’s owners. Our offer would have allowed Ess-A-Bagel to remain — and even gave them the option to expand — in the space they are in currently. Unfortunately, it takes two sides to make a deal, and Ess-A-Bagel’s owners repeatedly refused to meet us between their below-market rent and current market value. We regret that Ess-A-Bagel chose to misrepresent our intentions in the press. We take our responsibility as landlords very seriously and worked diligently to keep Ess-A-Bagel as a tenant. At a meeting in September, Ess-A-Bagel confirmed they were actively negotiating a lease at a new location. We wish them the best of luck in all their future endeavors.”

Regarding the neighboring restaurants, the spokesperson said Grill 21 was on a month-to-month lease and made a decision to close, while Rose Restaurant was seven months behind in rent.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Tal Bagels as Tower.

Teachout: I’d repeal Urstadt Law, support retail diversity

Zephyr Teachout  (Photo courtesy of campaign)

Zephyr Teachout
(Photo courtesy of campaign)

By Sabina Mollot

Despite allegations that the Cuomo administration compromised the governor’s own corruption watchdog panel and despite the fact that Cuomo’s opponent in the primary has been interviewing non-stop — thanks to an unusually interested press in a longshot candidate — that opponent has still retained her title of just that, a longshot.

Still, there’s no doubt at this point that Zephyr Teachout is gaining momentum. Cuomo recently attempted, unsuccessfully, to have her tossed off the ballot over allegations she didn’t live in New York for the past five years. Meanwhile, the move to keep her from running may have backfired. Along with pointing out that Teachout, a Fordham law professor, was an underdog candidate, it also alerted New Yorkers to a fact many weren’t aware of previously, which was that there was even a primary election at all.

During a recent interview over the phone, Teachout shared her thoughts with Town & Village on why voters are starting to pay attention to this race. She also spoke about her ideas on what can be done to keep New York affordable for tenants (including small businesses) and why developers like Extell are part of the problem. (The interview has been edited for length.)

Why do you think people are finally noticing your campaign? Do you think it’s just the Moreland Commission?

There’s a latent, deep frustration about our economy, about how New York State has the most segregated schools; it’s the most unequal state. It’s a closed all-boys club in Albany. It’s supposed to be an egalitarian state. I’m anti-corruption. Extell gives $100,000 in campaign donations — and this is Extell of the poor door fame — and Extell is getting subsidies that other New York businesses aren’t. What I think people are starting to see is that Extell is not just a developer. They’re spending so much money on developing political power and connections. One thing about me. You’ll always know where I stand. Andrew Cuomo is hiding from the issues. He’s hiding from a debate right now. He’s scared of bringing more attention to the campaign. I won’t tell you that the reason people are (paying attention) is any one thing, but Moreland is pretty shocking. I think he’s governing like an ad man. He’s putting on a lot of ads, but he doesn’t engage reporters. We like to say that Andrew Cuomo is my biggest campaign donor. That (Cuomo has taken me to court) has perked up a lot of reporters’ ears.

As a political outsider, how do you feel about political alliances, like the recent announcement that the Independent Democratic Conference was breaking away from the Republicans, and the expectation of a Democrat-led Senate as a result?

Not to toot my own horn, but Andrew Cuomo only started fighting for a Democratic Senate when I entered the race. I entered the race at the end of May and within three days Cuomo was making all kinds of concessions that he hadn’t agreed to in years. He could have made a Democratic Senate years ago if he vetoed the redrawn districts, which had been a campaign promise. There’s no excuse for not having a Democratic Senate in New York. The reason we don’t is Andrew Cuomo. If it was in Democrat control we’d be a lot better off in terms of affordable housing.

As a political outsider, how would you handle the actual politics of governing? Dealing with the various alliances in order to get things accomplished?

I think the job is leadership. You’re not going to win every fight. My vision of leadership is hiring great people and respecting people who work for the state.

In Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, everyone’s rent-stabilized, so there’s concern over the fact that the Rent Stabilization Law is coming up for renewal in 2015. What would you do to strengthen it?

I’m very familiar with Stuyvesant Town. I used to live near there on East 7th Street and I would go up there to go swimming at Asser Levy. (On Rent Stabilization Law), there is precisely a role for the city to play. We need to repeal the Urstadt Law. At a minimum the city should be free to directly do things. It’s a crisis of people living in expensive housing. It’s a crisis for our economy.

In ST/PCV, some people pay affordable rents, while others pay double for the same apartments. A big concern is all the legal ways owners can raise rents from major capital improvements (MCIs), to individual apartment improvements (IAIs) to vacancy bonuses.

Rent stabilization is still one of the best sources of housing for low income people in the city. We have to make sure affordable means affordable, not unaffordable.

Zephyr Teachout with running mate Tim Wu, candidate for lieutenant governor (Photo courtesy of campaign)

Zephyr Teachout with running mate Tim Wu, candidate for lieutenant governor (Photo courtesy of campaign)

It seems that more and more small businesses are being priced out of their locations and being replaced with chain stores. What do you think of the idea of rent regulation for commercial tenants?

We have two different visions. One is commercial rent control for small businesses. The other is making sure big box stores aren’t getting an unfair advantage. We have to make sure our lending system is accessible to entrepreneurs who need it. You have to have a blend of strategies. We also have to make sure for retail diversity that there’s a range of minority owned businesses.

What made you write a book about corruption?

I began writing it years ago. I began writing in 2008 because the New York Supreme Court’s vision of corruption was narrow and cramped. They said it was only about illegal bribery, so it wasn’t about Extell. If you’re giving $100,000 in donations and getting tens of millions in subsidies, it is a violation of democratic principles. I think the core of it is if you want to be a public servant, you have to serve the public and not just serve yourself.

When you meet with voters, what are their top concerns?

Housing is one of the top concerns. People just don’t have the money to meet the basics. Another concern is people feel there aren’t enough (services) for people with psychiatric disabilities, but the more mainstream (concern) is housing. Upstate it’s property taxes and schools are central. With schools, it’s high stakes testing and over-crowding.

What would you do to alleviate classroom crowding?

There needs to be smaller classes, no more than 20 in a class. I used to be a special ed teacher’s aide, and you can’t give each child the attention they need when there are 33 kids in a classroom. There needs to be art and music for every child. They’re not extras. They’re essentials. We should be the best public school system in the country.

What’s your opinion of charter schools?

Charters have a role, but a very small role. Eva Moskowitz’s assault on education is not what charters are supposed to do. I am opposed to colocations and I don’t think charter schools should get money that was intended for our public schools.

What would you do to create jobs?

I’m a traditional Democrat. One (idea) is investing in the infrastructure, in the MTA, in transit. Upstate it’s in renewable energy. All of these create jobs in the short term and enable jobs in the long term, and affordable higher education.

If elected, what is your first priority?

My first priority is taking on the old boys’ network that allows corruption to continue. The school system is unequal and there’s immigration. Andrew Cuomo has a running mate who’s anti-immigrant. Every child at the border should see New York as a sanctuary.

Holiday Market is big business for city as well as organizer and 150 vendors

The Union Square Holiday Market, now in its 19th year (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

The Union Square Holiday Market, now in its 19th year (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

For small businesses looking to boost foot traffic during holiday season, there is arguably no better location than a holiday market, specifically, the 150-plus booth one that takes place at Union Square Park each year.

The market has grown over the 19 years it’s been run there by the company Urban Space, occupying the south end of the park, and a stroll through on any day it’s open clearly shows there’s always a steady stream of shoppers.

Urban Space has kept a tight lid on what it charges vendors for use of its red and white striped booths, but on a recent day, an operator of a medium-sized booth said his rent was about $15,000. This is for the five weeks, November 21 to Christmas Eve, that the event runs. Not that he was complaining. “It’s the busiest hub in the city,” he said. He, like the majority of merchants there, are repeat tenants, and those thinking of becoming one might want to sign up soon. A rep for Urban Space, Rachel Van Dolsen, said that the “footprint” of the event has gotten as big as it’s going to get.

Van Dolsen declined to discuss rents for booths although she said the aforementioned figure didn’t sound accurate. (Another vendor at last year’s event, however, told T&V that amount sounded similar to what she paid, though hers was a little higher. “Expensive, but worth it,” she said.)

Along with its location on top of an entrance to the Union Square subway, the market has become a hit with shoppers looking for items that are handmade or hard to find as opposed to mass-produced items, which Urban Space doesn’t allow.

Last year the amount of money the company shelled out to the city in exchange for use of the park was $1,378,972, so even without official numbers, it’s clear the bustling bazaar must do pretty well for the organizer. The city of course makes out too, with its cut going to a general fund.

The Union Square Holiday Market (Photo courtesy of Urban Space)

The Union Square Holiday Market (Photo courtesy of Urban Space)

Of course, being that the event runs throughout one of the year’s coldest months, even with the built-in foot traffic, there are still going to be retailers who don’t want to conduct business outdoors as well as businesses that wouldn’t be able to sell effectively in one of the stalls.

As Faith Hope Consolo, a broker for the real estate firm Douglas Elliman, explained it, “The holiday market is for a very specific customer, and if that retailer sells products for that shopper, sure, it makes sense to go there. These can include holiday decorations, ornaments, one-of-a-kind gifts. But a pop-up probably makes more sense for apparel. You might want to try on something, and an outdoor market is not the place for that.” Electronics are also not a big seller at markets, noted Consolo, though accessories are.

At this time, asking rents for retail spaces around Union Square are around $60 per square foot to $90 per square foot on the side streets, while asking rents on the avenues are a whopping $400 per square foot. The rent gets higher closer to Flatiron, added Consolo. And of course, these are the prices for longterm leases, not pop-up shop spaces, which around holiday time, are hard to come by.

“There are fewer pop-up opportunities at the holidays because many retailers will lease a holiday shop well in advance,” said Consolo. “But someone can always find something if they look long and hard enough.”

Ultimately, as for whether it makes more sense to rent at the market or at a store, “Holiday markets have the same rule of thumb as any retail site,” said Consolo. “Better locations have higher rents. You pay more to be near entrances, etc. And Union Square certainly is bustling as more retailers, restaurants and services open to appeal to all the high-tech workers and residents there.”

In related neighborhood retail news, to help push shopping at neighborhood stores as the market is open, the Union Square Partnership has been offering District Deals booklets at the information booth at the market (across from the subway entrance gazebo). The booklets contain over 40 deals from retailers like Union Square Wines and Spirits and Jivamukti’s yoga school.

Lease signed for future Peter Stuyvesant Post Office

The current Peter Stuyvesant Post Office, which will be relocated to another space on East 14th Street (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

The current Peter Stuyvesant Post Office, which will be relocated to another space on East 14th Street (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

The U.S. Postal Service, which in May decided to proceed with a plan to move the half-a-century-old Peter Stuyvesant Post Office to a smaller space on East 14th Street, signed paperwork on Friday making the new location official.

The new post office, last home to a Duane Reade store, inked a deal to sublease the space between First and Second Avenues for 10 years, the real estate firm Feil Organization announced. The new post office will occupy 6,940 square feet of ground floor space and additional 1,500 square feet of basement.

“The Post Office is a destination in itself and has been downsizing its space needs in response to the growing use of email and other technologies,” Randall Briskin, vice president of leasing at The Feil Organization said. “The new space at 333 East 14th Street is smaller than, but in close proximity to its current location, allowing the U.S.P.S. to continue convenient service for Stuyvesant Town, the East Village, and the surrounding area.”

Duane Reade had moved from that space in January. Prior to that, the address was home to a Gristedes.

As Town & Village reported back in April, the decision by the U.S.P.S. to move and downsize was a hotly contested one with Stuy Town and East Village residents packing a meeting to argue that as it was, the post office was a busy one with lines that frequently spilled out the door.

The lease will be up in that space, 432 East 14th Street, in February of 2014. Initially the U.S.P.S. said a decision was made to leave after the agency was unable to come to an agreement with the owner, but a rep for the owner said it was actually the Postal Service’s decision to leave because of a desire to downsize.

The agency has cited the fact that it’s losing money, which a union for its employees has blamed not on a drop in the volume of mail but a federal law passed in 2006 that forces the U.S.P.S. to fund its employees’ pension plans 75 years in the future, costing it $5.5 billion a year.

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who believed the busy post office had to be making money regardless, said she asked the agency to review the branch’s financial information, and was refused.