NY City Hall – Council ChambersThursday July 27 @ 9:30 AM
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– How Artists Fought to Keep SoHo Rents Affordable – and Why It Matters Today
Here is a link to an engaging and informative editorial in this week’s Artsy that describes the evolution of SoHo from industrial slum to today’s gentrified neighborhood, and the role artists, activists, loft tenants and the Loft Law played in the process. A must read! https://www.artsy.net/
BY COLIN MIXSON
The artist behind Bowling Green’s famed “Charging Bull” says that its newly minted neighbor, feminist icon “Fearless Girl,” is utterly derivative of his iconic brass bovine, and is demanding her big-money financier take its wildly successful marketing gimmick elsewhere and pay him damages for violating his legal rights.
“I don’t like it,” said Arturo Di Modica, who spent $360,000 of his own money to fabricate and install “Charging Bull” opposite the New York Stock Exchange without a permit in 1989. “They’re supposed to find another place to do their advertisement.”
Attorneys for Di Modica fired off letters to State Street Global Advisors and marketing firm McCann Worldgroup, which designed the marketing stunt, on Tuesday, which accused the companies of “commercializ[ing] and exploit[ing]” ‘Charging Bull’ and violating copyright laws, before going into the Sicilian artist’s demands that she be relocated and he get paid.
“Fearless Girl,” according to Di Modica’s lawyers, wouldn’t be “fearless” if she weren’t facing down his bull, and the effect that State Street’s statue creates is entirely dependent on Di Modica’s opus.
“The statue of the young girl becomes the ‘Fearless Girl’ only because of the ‘Charging Bull,’” the letter reads. “The work is incomplete with Mr. Di Modica’s ‘Charging Bull,’ and as such it constitutes a derivative work of the ‘Charging Bull.’”
Attorney Norman Siegel cited State Street promotional materials referencing the new statue’s juxtaposition with the bull at a press conference with the artist on April 12.
“A deliberate choice was made to exploit and appropriate the ‘Charging Bull’ through the placement of fearless girl,” said.
Furthermore, by turning “Charging Bull” into a de facto emblem of misogyny, State Street unilaterally altered the public meaning of the sculpture — intended by Di Modica as a symbol of American strength in the face of the 1987 stock market crash — into an object of fear, the letter states.
“The inescapable implication is that the ‘Charging Bull’ is the source of that fear and power, and a force against what’s right,” Di Modica’s attorneys wrote to the investment firm.
The irony of State Street appropriating the bull statue as a symbol of sexism in a campaign to promote women in corporate leadership is that the would-be feminist-crusader is a fairly poor role model in that regard. Of State Street’s 11 board members, only three are women, and of its 28 top executives, only five are women.
“In terms of practicing what we’re preaching, we absolutely know what have further to go,” said State Street spokeswoman Anne McNally.
But Di Modica’s main beef is that “Fearless Girl” is just an ingenious marketing scheme, with State Street aiming to make a buck off his bull.
Throughout the media frenzy the stature enjoyed last month, State Street’s gender-diversity-tracking exchange traded fund — ticker symbol “SHE” — was featured prominently in a plaque placed at the base of fearless girl, which read: “Know the power of women in leadership — SHE makes a difference.”
The plaque was removed in late March after “Fearless Girl” was enrolled in the Department of Transportation’s street art program, which has a specific signage format that the plaque didn’t adhere to, according to McNally.
Regardless, the sign proved that “Fearless Girl” was created for commercial purposes, according to Di Modica’s attorneys, therefore voiding any “fair use” protection and violating the artist’s sole right to reproduce the image of the bull for financial gain.
Di Modica and his legal team were joined at Wednesday’s press conference by Bowling Green Association chairman Arthur Piccolo, who spearheaded the effort to give “Charging Bull” a permanent home at Bowling Green back in 1989. He suggested “Fearless Girl” be moved to Broad Street and positioned to face the New York Stock Exchange, where her message of gender equality could be better directed against the real perpetrators of Wall Street’s patriarchy.
“If Fearless Girl has a message of equality, all these companies that are not practicing equality, their stock is traded at the New York Stock Exchange,” Piccolo said.
Piccolo was among the first to call out State Street’s own poor record on female empowerment, and to lodge allegations of copyright infringement. In a March 28 letter to city officials, where he wrote, “… McCann Advertising and their executives were involved and are involved in a highly coordinated carefully planned conspiracy to defraud Arturo Di Modica of his copyright.”
The Bowling Green advocate’s defense of Di Modica’s copyright was so impassioned that it provoked a response on legal blog lexology.com, where Sullivan & Worcester attorney Nicholas O’Donnell wrote that even though the placement of “Fearless Girl” near “Charging Bull” may have been deliberate, that didn’t constitute a deliberate copying of Arturo’s work.
State Street acknowledged receipt of Di Modica’s letter, although McNally declined to comment on behalf of the investment firm.
Mayor de Blasio did chime in on Twitter, however, where he accused Di Modica of sexism.
“Men who don’t like women taking up space are exactly why we need the Fearless Girl,” de Blasio tweeted in reference to a Newsweek article about Di Modica’s beef.
In response, Piccolo accused the mayor of libeling the artist, and pointed out that Seigel has filed Freedom of Information requests to uncover any communications between City Hall and State Street Global Advisors or McCann, to determine if the mayor’s office colluded unlawfully in arranging the below-the-radar approval of the project that allowed the stature and advertising plaque to appear by surprise on International Women’s Day — the same day State Street’s SHE fund began trading.
BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | The operators of Smorgasburg, the popular Brooklyn outdoor food market, plan to start up a version of it in Duarte Square, at Canal St. and Sixth Ave., this summer.
The outdoor-food outfit has signed a two-year lease for the space with Trinity Real Estate. The plan is for it to operate seven days a week, starting early this August.
They are seeking a full liquor license, and will make a presentation to the Community Board 2 State Liquor Authority Committee on Thurs., April 13, at St. Anthony of Padua Church, 151 Sullivan St., lower hall. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m.
Jonathan Butler — who co-founded Smorgasburg along with Eric Demby — said it won’t be as big an affair as some are fearing. Yes, it will be seven days a week, but the weekdays won’t be as big a production, he said.
“Really, we’re talking about four or five food trucks during the weekdays,” he said. “On the weekends, we’ll probably have another 30 or 40 market vendors that pop up. But it’s really not on the scale of our Brooklyn markets.
“There’s a desire for more food in that neighborhood,” he added. “The Hudson Square BID did a study two years ago that found that.”
He was referring to the Hudson Square Connection business improvement district.
Food trucks actually will be a first for Smorgasburg, though Trinity has had them in the Duarte Square lot before. The trucks will have electrical hookups, Butler noted.
The food trucks, seating and a 20-foot-long bar located inside a shipping container will be concentrated in the northern portion of the square, along Grand St. There will also be some shade structures and pavers to create a patio.
Meanwhile, on weekends, the southern part of the square will be filled with other food vendors, plus flea-market vendors. Butler and Demby are also the founders of Brooklyn Flea.
The weekend vendors will each have a 10-foot-by-10-foot tent with a table out in front. Those vendors typically pay Smorgasburg $250 to $300 a day.
On a questionnaire for C.B. 2 that liquor-license applicants fill out, Butler wrote that Smorgasburg’s operating hours at the Hudson Square location would be 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. from Sunday to Wednesday and 11 a.m. to 12 a.m. from Thursday to Saturday.
The plan, as described on the questionnaire, is described as “Highly curated outdoor market with food and shopping, plus occasional family-friendly programming and special events.”
In the “overall seating information” section, 20 tables with 120 seats are listed. “Live” and “amplified” music are checked, as well as “iPod / CD’s.”
Asked about emissions from the trucks’ cooking operation, Butler said it would be minimal.
“I don’t think four food trucks will generate any negative effects,” he told The Villager.
“Occasional special events, such as corporate functions, private parties and community programming will also occur at the site,” another response on the questionnaire reads.
On the questionnaire, in the spot where it asks for the number of bars, Butler filled in “2.” However, he told The Villager that there will only be one bar, while a second shipping container at the site will be used “mostly for cold storage and dishwashing.”
According to its Web site, Smorgasburg is America’s largest weekly open-air food market, attracting 20,000 to 30,000 people to Brooklyn each week. It has two locations in that borough: on the waterfront in Williamsburg at Kent Ave. on Saturdays and in Prospect Park on Sundays.
Smorgasburg started in 2011 as an offshoot of Brooklyn Flea, which started in 2008. There is even a Los Angeles Smorgasburg now, as well as one in Kingston, N.Y.
They also operate Berg’n, a beer and food hall in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and ran a pop-up food hall / beer garden in the South St. Seaport from 2013 to 2016.
The Kent Ave. / Williamsburg market’s hours are from 11 a.m. to only 6 p.m. Despite the answer on the questionnaire, Butler said he doubted the Duarte Square Smorgasburg would really run as late as 11 p.m. or midnight.
“I don’t think it’s going to go to 12,” he said. “We have been in the Seaport the last three years. It’s a really nice after-work scene — after 6 p.m., go have a couple of beers and some food — but after 9 it’s kind of dead.”
The Brooklyn locations are far larger, with about 100 vendors each day.
“It might not even be called Smorgasburg,” Butler noted of the Duarte Square location. “I hesitate to use the word ‘Smorgasburg’ because it implies a gazillion vendors.”
Asked how many people they anticipate the market would draw on a daily basis, Butler said he really could not predict that, and there is no telling at this point if the location will even be a hit.
As for the Brooklyn Flea aspect, Butler said it would include things like vintage clothing and handmade designs.
Obviously, the Kent Ave. market has had a big impact on that neighborhood.
“When we started Smorgasburg in 2011 on Kent Ave., no one was going over there,” he noted.
Similarly, he said of Duarte Square, “Part of the idea is to activate that part of Canal St. — place-making. That particular part of Canal St. could use some sort of Jane Jacobs-style place-making.”
As for entertainment, Butler said it won’t be rock music.
“No, no, no, this is not a rock concert venue or a rock club,” he stressed. “We’ll sometimes have private events or a talk or presentation on culture or politics. We have family-friendly events.”
Previously, Butler founded Brownstoner, the popular Brooklyn real estate blog, before launching Brooklyn Flea with Demby in 2008.
The main residential building near the location is 80 Varick St. Darlene Lutz, a fine-art adviser who lives there, is a frequent critic of Trinity Real Estate’s ongoing leasing of the space for outdoor events. Trinity’s stated long-term plan for the block is to build a residential tower, with a new public elementary school for the city in its base. But that plan, clearly, has yet to get off the ground.
Previously, in February 2015 Trinity notably leased the space for Nike Zoom, a basketball-and-sneaker themed extravaganza during N.B.A. All-Star Week. Though not a commercial use, Occupy Wall Street also hoped to take over the space after it was evicted from Zuccotti Park back in 2011, but Trinity said the lot wasn’t suitable for an encampment.
Lutz admitted that her building is the source of 12 letters in support for Smorgasburg, but she figures those are from commercial tenants whose employees would likely enjoy the open-air market.
“Seating for 120 — this is an outdoor restaurant,” she warned. “No farmers’ market operates seven days a week.
“All the young tech employees around here will love it. It’s great if you can enjoy it, have a few drinks, and then go back to your home in another neighborhood.
“We’re talking over 20,000 square feet of lot, which is gravel and a cyclone fence — no trees to block the sound, and residential apartments just 30 feet away. Will my air conditioner become a grease trap for people cooking hamburgers?”
Lutz spoke to a lobbyist who is pushing the plan and asked him how Smorgasburg would operate in the winter.
“He said they’re going to bring in shipping containers,” she said.
“The small brick-and-mortar businesses in this area will suffer,” she predicted.
More to the point, she said, she’s impatient for Trinity to start building its residential tower there — even though that obviously would be noisy and disruptive.
“The school in that building was the sweetener for the rezoning,” she noted.
Five years ago, Trinity pushed through a rezoning for the formerly manufacturing-zoned area to allow residential use.
Carter Booth, the C.B. 2 S.L.A. Committee co-chairperson who will lead the April 13 meeting, said Smorgasburg is definitely something new for the board. He said that, as usual, he didn’t want to comment before the public hearing, which would be a chance to flesh out the details of the plan and address questions.
Ellen Baer, president and C.E.O. of the Hudson Square Connection BID, referred questions about the Smorgasboard plan to John Franqui, Trinity Real Estate’s senior vice president of real estate business and operations. (The BID is essentially a creation of Trinity, which is by far the Hudson Square area’s biggest property owner.) Franqui did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
A photo from 2012 of 462 Broadway, which stretches between Grand and Crosby Sts. It was built in 1880 by Mills & Gibb, a firm specializing in importing and jobbing lace, linen and dry goods.
BY DENNIS LYNCH | The owners of a large, six-story commercial building in Soho who want to convert it into one jumbo-sized retail space enthusiastically presented their plan to locals and the Community Board 2 Land Use Committee last Wednesday night. To their chagrin, they were met with near-unanimous opposition from those at the meeting.
Steve Meringoff, the owner of 462 Broadway, and his team specifically are requesting two special permits to make over the 1880 building into a single, large, 45,000-square-foot store.
However, many locals said the store would bring throngs of customers, noisy late-night deliveries and heaps of trash to the area around it, and made that clear in no uncertain terms.
“You have a right to make money, but you don’t have a right to destroy the quality of my life,” a longtime Crosby St. resident declared. He noted that on that street, on a regular basis, delivery trucks unload merchandise and trash trucks pick up refuse from other large retailers.
Around 40 local residents turned out for the meeting. Every single one of the two dozen or so who spoke opposed Meringoff’s request for a special permit to allow him to exceed the area’s 10,000 square-foot limit on ground-floor retail. The owner also hopes to use the building’s basement and parts of its upper floors for retail. City zoning regulations require any property owner who wants to obtain such a special permit to bring the application first to the local community board for an advisory vote, after which the Department of Buildings officially decides on the request. Yet, few Soho property owners actually follow that path, many of them bypassing the community board.
Soho has become one of the world’s premier retail districts, but is actually zoned for manufacturing. Meringoff, like all the district’s other property owners, needs a separate special permit to rent the ground floor for retail use in the first place.
It’s a 60-day review process and Meringoff will either resubmit the current plan for a vote at C.B. 2 or revise and resubmit it for review next month. The Land Use Committee didn’t take an official position on the first proposal, but committee chairperson Anita Brandt said the hope is that the development team returns with a proposal for around three smaller stores on the ground floor and office space on the upper floors.
Many locals are all but completely soured on large-scale retail in Soho, though, because of the disruption they say that it brings to the neighborhood. Only adding to residents’ anger and frustration, most property owners who have opened large-scale retail in the area have skirted the special-permit process by exploiting loopholes in city regulations. Some have long accused D.O.B. of failing to — or intentionally choosing not to — enforce the regulations.
The last time a property owner requested a similar special permit was in 2009. Owners of an empty lot at Lafayette and E. Houston Sts. received one for an entirely new building with oversized retail in 2013, according to local activist Pete Davies. While many locals commended Meringoff for at least going through the proper process, his apparent genuine desire to go by the books still didn’t warm them to his plans.
In some respects, last Wednesday night at C.B. 2, Meringoff and his team stood in as punching bags for the previous actions of other property owners. Residents voiced their pent-up frustrations — built up over years — passionately venting over late-night deliveries to large-scale retailers in the area and the bright lights these stores keep on overnight, even when the stores are closed.
But Brandt said she didn’t think the community would want a big-box retailer, even if those bad actors had never poisoned the well. She said large-scale retail creates “an environment of destination shopping where people are driving to a store, double-parking. It’s creating huge volumes of trash, huge volumes of deliveries. And because [the area is] residential in nature, it’s a conflict, inherently.
“What we’re trying to maintain is a mixed-use community, not one thing or another,” she added.
Brandt noted that the city has denied special permits for large retail in the neighborhood before, notably when Scholastic wanted to create up to 32,000 square feet of retail space in its corporate headquarters at 557 Broadway. The city’s Board of Standards and Appeals denied that first application and later approved the retail conversion only if Scholastic broke the space up into parts less than 10,000 square feet in size.
Meringoff himself, standing at the front of the New York University classroom where last Wednesday’s C.B. 2 committee meeting was held, bore the brunt of the criticism. He has owned 462 Broadway since 1981. He pledged to put strict stipulations into any lease he signs with a retail tenant. These would include limiting delivery hours and restricting lighting on the building’s upper floors, to prevent the “nightmare” so many locals described with other large-scale retail stores.
He said that he would maintain a dialogue with nearby residents and work to solve any issues they brought to him. He said he has no plans to dump the property for an easy dollar.
“Listen, this is our baby, we are going to live with this and I will die with this building,” he told the crowd. “This is a legacy asset for us. We are not here to make a quick buck — up the net income and sell it.”
Meringoff wants the special permit because the International Culinary Center, which used the space since 1984 as a sort of test kitchen and restaurant, decided to change its business model and use only space on the upper floors. Zoning allowed the culinary school to use such a large space on the ground floor. Meringoff was legally required to advertise the space to get a conforming-use tenant for a year. He said he did so for two years, but didn’t get any bites. Many at the meeting were skeptical, though.
Now Meringoff either needs to break up the large space, rent it as commercial — rather than retail — space, or get a special permit. Many locals urged him do either the first option. But he said that Americans With Disabilities Act handicap-access and Landmarks Preservation Commission rules wouldn’t allow for the new entrances that multiple spaces would need.
Brandt, who is an architect specializing in landmarked buildings, said Meringoff could make it work, “no sweat,” she said.
“We hear that every week at the Landmarks Commission, that’s something you have to solve,” she said. “And, especially, if you do a big development, you can comply with A.D.A. inside the building. A big project like this is perfect for it — build the ramps inside. This is an ideal project for smaller stores.”
Some people told Meringoff they didn’t think a large-scale retail space would be in his best interests right now, anyway. Soho is ground zero for a citywide retail-market slump, they noted. The price per square foot of retail space in Soho along Broadway dropped from $824 last spring to $755 this past fall, according to figures collected by the Real Estate Board of New York and referenced in a recent New York Times article.
Robin Abrams, vice chairperson of real estate firm The Lansco Corporation, said that the retail boom in Soho “is softening partly because rents became overly aggressive and inappropriate.” Retailers are also realizing they can do the same business with less-expensive, smaller spaces, she said.
Abrams offered that community sentiment would mainly depend on what sort of tenant Meringoff wanted to bring into such a large space at 462 Broadway. A retailer similar to Bloomingdale’s, for example, could be better received than a discount big-box store, she noted.
“It’s a question of what that use is and why that landlord wants to create a big space, when there’s large retail spaces sitting vacant,” she said. She added that if the space could be divided up in compliance with A.D.A. and L.P.C. rules, then she would market it as flexible — she would offer a variety of options to tenants and fit them in like pieces of a puzzle.
“You could have a retailer that takes a portion of the ground floor combined with the upper floor, and another retailer that leases a portion of the ground floor with some of the lower level, with separate individual stores for the remaining ground floor,” she explained. “I would go out to the market on a flexible basis. But if someone came to me and wanted to lease the entire space, then I would present that, as well, and the landlord would compare each scenario in order to choose how to proceed.”
One resident who lives across Grand St. from 462 Broadway and wished not to be named told Meringoff maybe it’s time to sell the property or lower his asking rent price to attract a conforming-use tenant. The resident said he bought his loft knowing that “a Best Buy or Bloomingdale’s” wasn’t allowed across the street, and that Meringoff made his purchase knowing the same, so he has to live with it.
“Unfortunately, like everyone who makes investments, we are governed by what’s allowed in our spaces,” he said. “So, perhaps you made a poor investment. I think not. I’m sure it’s paid dividends for years, so it’s been a terrific investment. But maybe it won’t be as good as an investment going forward.”
The community board has scheduled a meeting to hear the presentation and to give us an opportunity to voice our opinion on whether SoHo needs yet another megastore. If this Special Permit is granted, expect other developers to follow suit and have these stores spring up not only on Broadway, but the side streets as well. Who wants to live in Herald Square?