CITY OF NEW YORK
IN THE MATTER OF THE REGULARLY SCHEDULED MEETING
PERMITS, DISPOSITIONS AND CONCESSIONS
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
NOVEMBER 14, 1995
AT 1:00 P.M.
COUNCIL MEMBER C. VIRGINIA FIELDS, CHAIRPERSON
JEROME X. O'DONOVAN
ADAM CLAYTON POWELL, IV
COUNCIL MEMBER C. VIRGINIA FIELDS, CHAIRPERSON, SUBCOMMITTEE ON PERMITS, DISPOSITIONS AND CONCESSIONS: Good afternoon. The Subcommittee on Permits, Dispositions and Concessions is hereby called to order. . . .
On Page 8 we have several persons here who wish to speak on Pre-Considered L.U. 133096 HAM, address 156 Rivington Street, 161 Allen Street, Manhattan, two properties to be disposed of through the Enterprise Program Round 7 Harmony Houses, and there are six persons who asked to speak in opposition to the program, and the Chair will now call the persons to speak on this project and I will call you as a panel.
The first panel is Steven Englander--please come forward and have a seat--Shawnee Alexandri and Professor Stanley Zimmerman, all representing ABC No Rio. And is Erica Tate also part of ABC No Rio? Please state your name and make your presentation.
MR. STEVEN ENGLANDER: My name is Steven Englander. As you know I am here to speak on ABC No Rio, which is a community based arts center performance space and gallery located at 156 Rivington Street. We are concerned about this agenda item, the disposition of the property at 156 Rivington Street.
This project requires that ABC No Rio be evicted. We wanted to alert this Committee and the Council, that 156 Rivington Street is not an abandoned building, but it's home for ABC No Rio, and it has been for 15 years.
This book I have, (Indicating) chronicles the early days of ABC No Rio, and the social and historical contents of that time.
We are internationally known as avenue for presenting alternative and non-commercial arts and performances, poetry readings, children's art classes and filming. Our space is available for the community for meetings and it's home for the New York City Charter (Inaudible), which serves food for those who need it.
I will let the Sergeant-At-Arms submit letters on our behalf,and petitions signed by people in the neighborhood, City-wide and across the nation concerned about our faith.
I want to let the Committee know that at least three times in the past six years ABC No Rio has expressed an interest to HPD about acquiring our building at Rivington Street. Each time we were ignored, and we were never given a reason why, a viable reason for not acquiring.
The situation at the very beginning, we had to put it politely, we had a stormy contemptuous relationship with HPD, mainly due to the neglicence and mismanagement of the building.
ABC No Rio repairs and maintains the boiler and heating system. ABC No Rio repaired the plumbing system of the building when nobody else takes care of it, and in the past year, ABC No Rio has kept this building at 156 Rivington Street alive.
Some of my other friends are going to tell you why ABC No Rio is an important neighborhood and cultural insititution. I just want to close by requesting that you not approve this UDAAP project at 156 Rivington Street.
Finally, I would like to request that this Committee recommend that the City Council urge HPD to dispose of this building by conveying it to ABC No Rio, who have been tenants at the premises for the past fifteen years. Thank you for your attention.
COUNCIL MEMBER FIELDS: Thank you. Next.
MR. SHAWNEE ALEXANDRI: Hi, I am Shawnee Alexandri, and for the last two years I have been volunteering at ABC No Rio at a number of activities.
Every Saturday and Sunday morning for lunch time I was at ABC No Rio cooking food and distributing it with neighborhood people, whoever was hungry.
And, for two years I have been repairing the building, and I have done numerous construction-like chores to make sure it does not fall apart, and as Steve and everyone else is going to tell you what goes on at ABC No Rio, and what makes it important.
I can tell you taht too, bu ti am just going to say that I think ABC No Rio is being evicted for the wrong reasons. To kick out an art space that's been there for fifteen years and that's world renowed for three units of low-income housing, is ridiculous.
We have been told taht this is a retaliation for the 13th Street squatter evictions, and that's really ridiculous because ABC No Rio does provide all these services to the community, and in fact this building is being given away for political reasons, not for the bneed of low-income housing.
Avenue A has been given a building, 161 Allen Street, which was 14 units I believe, and someone said they need to get twenty units, and this would give it three units. Still for this, only 17 new units and HPD said that okay, take the other three.
For this to happen would be atragedy for ABC No Rio, and will cause serious harm to the neighborhood in more ways than one. Thank you.
CHAIRPERSON FIELDS: Thank you. Next speaker.
PROFESSOR STANLEY ZIMMERMAN: My name is Stanley Zimmerman. From 1956 to June of this year, I was a full-time Professor at the College of Staten Island, and I'm continuing my work there as an adjunct, because I believe very strongly in the value of education.
I attended a poetry session a few Sundays ago at ABC No Rio for the first time after having attended many poetry sessions, and I was very impressed with the activity that was going on there, the sincerity, the energy and devotion of the people who appeared there who were reciting poetry.
I was also impressed with something else, the paintings on the wall, which struck me as remarkably beautiful, and I inquired about this while other activities were going on, and they had a list of so many things going on which struck me as being so imminently useful and creative and helpful to the community.
And so I felt that their activity should be replicated all over the city, because we need not condemnation of buildings which provide such resources for young people, but rather we need to extend this throughout the entire city, a city which has become a cultural desert because of the young people losing out on these options and resorting to drugs instead of to creativity.
So rather than say taht this is to impair or arrest the sound growth, it contributes most remarkably and emphatically to the community. And I think we really do need to make something that goes on and on, and is standing and not delpeted. Thank you.
COUNCIL MEMBER FIELDS: Thank you. Next.
MS. ERICA TATE: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, my name is Erica Tate. I am a long time resident of the city. I am a taxpayer, I am a registered voter, and I hope you will bear with me, because I am a little nervous because I am as you know, here to speak in opposition to this item.
Now, this is an art collective. It's been in the same location for the last fifteen years. It's entirely run by volunteers. There is no paid staff there. They opened the door to the comminty for a lot of services. The community on the Lower East Side is dependent upon ABC No Rio to stay there.
Now, when you weigh the considerations of housing for low-income people, and you alos weigh the consideration of services that are provided to that community, I hope you will bear in mind how important ABC No Rio is to that area.
As I mentioned, there are a lot of art related projects that take place there. One of the projects is hard core and punk rock music. Many of you are not into punk rock or hardcore, but I actually happen to like it. It's the DIY Program where you can hear it. DIY means, "Do It Yourself".
ABc has a policy that is non-racist. At ABC No Rio, they book really great bands. ABC also encourages people to get involved. We don't just invite them to the shows, we invite them to volunteer; we'd like them to get involved in organizing the show and running the show. We actually want people to be a part of the community as well.
ABC No Rio's music shows are internationally known. This year, on New Year's, I saw a band there from Germany. In August, I saw two bands from Engalnd. I have seen bands from all over the country.
It's a very important place, and it's a very well run place. It's a refuge for young kids who want to have something to do that's not mainstream, where they don't get in trouble; where they can have a good time and get involved and give something back to the community.
And, as I said, I hope you will consider the services that ABC No Rio provides to the community when you're thinking about this disposition of land.
And in closing, I hope you encourage HPD to turn over the property to the art collctive ABC No Rio because we still have a lot of work to do.
COUNCIL MEMBER FIELDS: Thank you. I just have one question. I don't know if any of you are prepared to answer any questions, but each one of you mentioned that ABC No Rio has been in this location, occupied this building for fifteen years.
How did ABC No Rio come to occupy the space? Has there been rents paid during this fifteen year period? Was ABC No Rio notified of this plan to transfer the building to the Enterprise Program as part of the next round of housing, and what has beenthe discussion with HPD about ABC No Rio acquiring this property?
Are any of you in any management position in ABC No Rio who can answer these questions?
MR. ENGLANDER: I am on e of the board members. ABC No Rio was founded fifteen years ago, as group of artists staged a demonstration in an abandoned building on Delancey Street. This was even before the sortof homeless and housing crisis that came to our attention during the 1980's.
This action actually got a lot of press and publicity. Some famous artists showed up, and the result was that HPD offered them a lease at 156 Rivington Street. So, in a nutshell, that's how it came about.
COUNCIL MEMBER FIELDS: So ABC No Rio went inot that location after HPD was offering a lease?
MR. ENGALNDER: Correct, 156 Rivington Street. So the group of artists that had founded ABC No Rio at 156 Rivington Street, was the result of this action, and I think this was New Year's of '78 or '79.
COUNCIL MEMBER FIELDS: So has ABC No Rio been paying rent?
MR. ENGLANDER: Yes, although HPD stopped depositing our rent checks in Ocober 1994.
COUNCIL MEMBER FIELDS: Okay.
MR. ENGLANDER: But as I mentioned when I spoke, we had a contentious relationship with HPD. We were on rent strike for a while. We did have a lawsuit with HPD. A stipulation was drawn up, but it was not signed by either side. This was two years ago.
ABC No Rio at the time actualy did agree to their fair share of the stipulation settlement. HPD did not, but it wasn't signed by either party. I forgot what the other questions were.
COUNCIL MEMBER FIELDS: You basically answered them.
MR. ENGLANDER: Thank you.
COUNCIL MEMBER FIELDS: Thank you. The next speaker from ABC No Rio, I think it's Kelly Stoner, Janette Fritz, Peter Spagnolo, Amanda Treveras and Brad Will, all from ABC No Rio.
MS. KELLY STONER: Actually I signed up for the attorney for ABC No Rio, but she was in court today, so can I just turn the mike over to her?
COUNCIL MEMBER FIELDS: I'm sorry, will you state your name?
MS. STONER: My name is Kelly Stoner. I signed up to speak because the attorney wasn't here. However, the attorney, Jackie Bukowski, is here now, and she would like to take my time to speak.
MS. JACKIE BUKOWSKI: Thank you. Honorable Virginia Fields, and I presume you're the Chair of the Committee and the rest of the Committee, I am the attorney for ABC No Rio. I have been representing them in an action in court and also in ongoing negotiations. Our interest is to take over the building.
The choice is clear; we are an art collective that's been on-site for fifteen years. They are an important part of the cultural life of New York City.
Last summer, I heard Allen Ginsburg read at ABC No Rio. It is also a palce where you can hear music. There is an ongoing poetry reading every Sunday night. We have many poets from around the city who look upon ABC No Rio as a cultural resource that they do not want to lose.
Several writers have contacted me, people who wrote for the New York Law Journal, other publications, who are also poets, have conacted me and said, "Please do not let anyhting happen to this facility."
It provides an important place in the cultural life of the City. That is what is at risk.
For this, apparently HPD wants to trade this cultural institution for three or four units, whichever way you look upon them of low-income housing, whichis also a worthy goal, but I don't think it outweighs what ABC No Rio represents to the city.
If we cut off institutions like this, if we force them to pay market rents nad scurry around looking for places, we are depriving the city of its growth art industry.
It's one thing to support Broadway. It's one thing to support Lincoln Center and allthe well known cultural insititutions of this town. But those wellknown cultural institutions in 30 or 40 years will be dead. They will be museum pieces if we cut off the feeder organizations;the smart art collective and small art collections, which are important for generating the arts and helping the young artists to create.
This is a very unusual facility in that it brings together several areas of art. It brings together the spoken word of the poetry reading. It brings together the visual art for art shows, and it brings together music.
This is a very unusual facility in New York City because of the cross relationship between the arts.
Now just to talk a little--
COUNCIL MEMBER FIELDS: Why don't you just tell us, and no disrespect to anyone because you have all signed up to speak, and it is a public hearing, but maybe if ther's some different points of information that you have to offer that has not been stated we can move ahead, because I think the issue has certainly been very clearly stated in terms of what the organization does.
MS, BUKOWSKI: Just legally, I want to state that ABC No Rio has requested, it has written to HPD what it would take to take over this building.
To have an arts facility here permanently would enable them to earn or raise more money. They have received no answer from HPD. They have received no RFP.
Apparently they have been passed over in the process of selecting buildings and assigning them to not-for-profits. I find legally, that it's very questionable when you have something there for fifteen years not to be considered the host organization that could be awarded this building.
COUNCIL MEMBER FIELDS: Okay, that represents new information. Who did ABC No Rio write to, and when was this request written?
MS. BUKOWSKI: They have been attempting to get the building going back from 1988. Most currently, I believe Debra Wright has been on notice. I have certainly put the city's attorney, Harold Weinberg from HPD on notice. He works in the Corporation Counsel's office.
COUNCIL MEMBER FIELDS: Have those correspondences been within the last six months to a year?
MS. BUKOWSKI: Yes, absolutely.
COUNCIL MEMBER FIELDS: Do you have copies?
MS. BUKOWSKI: No. They were spoken things that you did in a court proceeding, however, there were letters which we have going back to that time.
COUNCIL MEMBER FIELDS: Okay, any letters that you can provide the Subcommitte over the last six to 12 months around this issue would be of interest.
Despite the fact that it was mentioned theat we will be voting on this, the Chair is going to lay this over because of the interest that has been expressed today, and we will take a vote on it and we will close the public hearing today however. So the next person, please identify yourself and make your statement, but it will be laid over for a vote at the next hearing.
MS. AMANDA TREVERAS: My name is Amanda Treveras. I have bee a volunteer for the past four years at ABC No Rio, and over the past four years I have been attempting to help people who are hungry and homeless, by providing food for people in need.
People have been searching for a space to cook and a place to keep the food, and it you don't have that, it's very difficult to continue with the program of getting food to the people who are hungry, and who are in need.
When I first joined ABC No Rio, we'd finally got the plumbing fixed. We also keep the food there, and at that point, about a year and a half ago, then on every Saturday and Sunday, we are able to distribute food to people in the neighborhood who are in need.
And I feel like this is a very important aspect of our community, and it brings people into working and solving problems together, and I think without it, that would be ablight on the community. ABC No Rio is not a blight on the community.
I request that the UDAAP not be approved. I request that the Council urge HPD to dispose of this property and convey it back to ABC No Rio. Thank you very much.
COUNCIL MEMBER FIELDS: Thank you. Next speaker.
MR. PETER SPAGNOLO: Madam Chair, Members of the Committee, I am not a member of ABC No Rio. My name is Peter Spagnolo. I am an East 13th Street squatter. I am also a poet, and a member of the East 13th Street Legal Committee, and as you know we are still involved in litigation over 13th Street, and in my experience with 13th Street, I have come to see the UDAAP process is a very big stick wielded by powerful people.
The UDAAP process language uses terms such as vacant and blighted, and there is no independent criteria anywhere in the UDAAP proposal to establish something is indeed vacant and blighted.
As on 13th Street where we have numerous people testify at the State Supreme Court, long-term residents of the neighborhood, who testified that the squatters had run out the drug use, and stabilized the area similarly to what we see now at 156 Rivington Street.
This characterization of vacant and blighted is a capricious statement. You may have heard many people saying that these people impair the sound growth of the community, but in fact they enhance the neighborhood. We saw that on 13th Street.
I think it's time for this Council and other agencies of the city involved in the UDAAP process to start looking at the way the UDAAP is applied to remove people that HPD may find unpleasant, politically at odds with them, low-income people in general, removed from neighborhoods that are slated for gentrification.
The UDAAP process itself is in a sense what happened to me on May 13th, when over 400 cops arrived at my apartment, kicked my door down, put glocks and loaded machine guns to my head to move me from my home, and destroy my community.
That's what happens when the UDAAP process is applied, and it's inappropriate and it's extremely capricious. You have to understand when programs aren't wnated, people are going to respond in a certain way. Thank you.
COUNCIL MEMBER FIELDS: Thank you. May we have the next speaker?
MR. BRAD WILL: My name is Brad Will. Iam a poet. I would like to not repeat what has been said, so I'll just try to say on ething that hasn't been mentioned, is that the Open Night at the ABC No Rio does allow a lot of people who wouldn't be able to attend commercial venues when theres is an admission charge at buying the goods and services at these locations, and especially alternative performers, people who don't want to necessarily perform in English are welcomed and encouraged to perform.
There are very few venues that are available for performers like that, especially that aren't expensive or restricted in those ways, and please don't end ABC No Rio's stay at this location. Thank you.
COUNCIL MEMBER FIELDS: Thank you. Next.
MS. JANETTE FRITZ: My name is Janette Fritz. I attend ABC No Rio for the art classes for children there. I also help the teachers there with the kids which recently had a mask making class for Holloween, and kids from the community came, not just children taht are affiliated with certain communities. They cam e from all over, and their parents drop them off sometimes, and sometimes theri parents attend the classes.
I do think it's really terrible that so much time and energy is being put--and money-- to destroy a community media arts center when people in the community initiated and tried to get money out to organize things.
At centers like this, ther's no drugs, no alcohol; it's a safe haven for people like me taht live in the Lower East Side, and I think it's really terrible. I wish you would just work on getting the drug dealers off the street and leave people like this alone who are trying to help the community.
COUNCIL MEMBER FIELDS: Thank you. That concludes the speakers on L.U. Number Pre-K 133096 Ham, address 156 Rivington Street, 161 Allen Street, Manhattan. As I stated earlier, this was an item--I'm sorry, I understand HPD would also like to speak on the item.
So because we can conclude the public hearing today despite the fact that (Inaudible) all the information will be on the record for further consideration.
MR. SAL D'VOLA: Sal D'Vola, HPD. HPD has brought before you a disposition package to sell both 156 Rivington Street and 161 Allen Street to the Asian Americans For Equality, which are the sponsors for the Lower East Side through the Enterprise Program.
I sort of listened to some of the testimony that's been given here. I just wnated to clarify something with regard to ABC No Rio. ABC No Rio is a tenant, a month-to-month tenant with HPD in a commercial space. The bulding is a three-story residential building, and one commercial building of units. As with all our commercial tenants in HPD prgrams, they are on month to month leases.
We put this building in the Enterprise Program I believe about two years ago, a year-and-a-half to two years ago, and we notified ABc No Rio of our intention.
The past two years we had legal action against ABC No Rio. Originally it was a non-payment action which commenced in the Spring of '94 I believe, and we commenced a new action this Spring to evict them out of the space.
We recently re-issued a 30 day notice as of October 30th, which speaks on November 30th, and we plan to deliver the building vacant to the Asian Americans For Equality so that they can rehab the building and deliver the building to the community.
COUNCIL MEMBER FIELDS: Any questions?
Thnak you. Again, the item was slated to be voted on today, but because of the issues that have been raised, the Chair would just like to lay this over for the next hearing and have a chance to review all the information that has been presented, and it will be brought back for a vote.
The hearing however, the public hearing is closed on Pre-Considered 133096 HAM. . . .
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