Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Times Finds West Village Theatres Threatened; GVSHP Responds Belatedly

I was as taken aback as anyone this morning when I read the Times story headlined "Village Nonprofit Groups Say They Are Surprised by a Steep Rise in Rents." Who knew? Of course, the more I read Dan Levin's reportage, the angrier I became -- although at who, precisely, I became increasingly unsure. For one thing, Levin's reporting of the other side of the story -- the part in which Rockrose, the giant real estate conglomerate that is going to raise the rents of the Wings Theater and various and sundry small nonprofit through the roof for the express purpose of destroying them and contributing to the overcommercializatin of the West Village -- was, it seemed to me, a little bit thin. The story, by my count, is 959 words. Here is what Levin included as a quote from the Rockrose ruinators:

Patricia Dunphy, a vice president of Rockrose, said the nonprofit organizations knew an increase was coming because they were warned that their rents would be raised once the leases expired. “This was not a big surprise,” she said.

That's 38 words. Did Levin cross-examine Dunphy about anything else having to do with the story -- to respond, for example, to Jeffrey Horowitz, the founder of Theater for a New Audience who said that there "was no warning" about rent-raising and that Rockrose is "doing this in a way that is frankly brutal"? Well, sure, I suppose we can infer that's how Dunphy's comment came about -- but Horowitz is using strong language and Levin's reporting is letting Dunphy get away with a shrug. (Here's a link to a Queens Crap blogpost that illustrates just how brutal Rockrose can be -- bullying people out of their homes.)

Nor does Levin specifically ask Dunphy to respond to these three paragraphs:
Local elected officials have become involved in the dispute, hoping to find a way to allow the nonprofits to keep their spaces. The community board is pressuring the Empire State Development Corporation, which owns the property, to work out a compromise.

“These not-for-profits perform a lot of important services, and now they’re being priced out of the neighborhood they helped found,” said Brad Hoylman, the chairman of Community Board 2, which covers the area.

The development corporation and the City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, have said they are meeting with both sides to find a solution. But it is unclear how much state officials can do, because Rockrose signed a 99-year lease with the state on the building in 1982, making the company the effective landlord.

Well, for example, what city-subsidized tax breaks does Rockrose receive -- or has received in the past? Did Levin ask Dunphy that question? Did Dunphy ask Quinn? I mean, he writes that it is "unclear how much state officials can do" (I thought Quinn and Hoylman were locals), but it is apparently that no one ever asks city officials whether there might be punishments for Rockrose down the road if it goes ahead and destroys these worthy nonprofits.

I mention GVSHP (Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation) in this post because I received this evening, right on time, an email from Andrew Berman, the organization's executive director. I'm not challenging GVSHP's right to raise the red flag on this -- and God knows the last time I used Andrew's name in a post, much less referred to his political ambitions, which are very well known in city circles -- I was summarily dressed down via email.

Anyway, here is the email that GVSHP sent out:
In recent years, a super-heated real-estate market has helped force out some of the most venerable theaters in Greenwich Village. GVSHP has been greatly disturbed by this trend, and has worked with preservationists, theater advocates, and elected officials to try to prevent the loss of individual theaters. We have also reached out to the City for assistance in addressing this ongoing problem.

Four more theaters in Greenwich Village, located in the Archives Building at Christopher and Greenwich Streets, are now threatened with the loss of their space as well (see the article in today's New York Times). When the Archives Building was converted by the Federal Government to residential use 20 years ago, a condition of that agreement was that some of the space in the building would go to non-profit groups at affordable rents. Now, that original agreement is expiring.

Small theaters are vital to Greenwich Village and New York City -- they add to the cultural vitality and dynamism of our city and our neighborhood, they are engines of economic development, tourism, and education, and they are an essential part of our history and character.

GVSHP has written to Mayor Bloomberg once again asking that he work with us and other concerned groups and individuals to help prevent the loss of theaters from the Village, their historic home.

Please write to Mayor Bloomberg, urging that the City help us to keep theaters in the Village --go to www.gvshp.org/VillageTheatersLtr.htm for a sample letter you can use.
Now, I support this, but for writing to the Mayor? Really? What does anyone expect the Mayor to do? To call Rockrose and stop them? To slap them on the wrist and say, "Now, silly, you leave those nice nonprofit theatres alone"? Wouldn't it make more sense to make life miserable for Rockrose directly? For example, here's Rockrose's website.

And you can call Patricia Dunphy at 212-375-1155. Register your outrage directly. After all, it is not that the Mayor doesn't care -- he's spent millions, after all, furnishing nonprofit arts groups across the city with his largesse, generally anonymously -- but he's just not the way to proceed with this. Perhaps the problem is that the righteous leaders of advocacy groups have to play nice with real estate interests in the event that they actually acquire electoral power.

In the meantime, kiss those four theatres -- and the other nonprofit groups -- goodbye. I love New York.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you Clyde Fitch! Once again, you've cut through the bull to get to the essence of the issue here. Bravo!

Absolutely, we need to lobby directly to the culprits. The notion that the Mayor's office can (or should) intervene is ludicrous.

- Rolando Teco
(of Extra Criticum dot com)