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Noah's Ark Threatened with Eviction

by Yori Yanover

We received a press release this week from the law office of John Ciurcina, representing Noah’s Ark on Grand Street, accusing Seward Park Housing Corp. of “trying to rid Lower Manhattan of its only remaining glatt kosher deli.” Before we proceed, a disclosure: Noah’s Ark is a client of the Grand Street News, which is published by this reporter.

According to Ciurcina, in April 2006 the new board at Seward Park Housing – NA’s landlord – and Rudd Realty Management Corp. sent the restaurant a bill for real estate tax escalation charges seeking $80,000 in real estate tax escalation charges, threatening the restaurant with eviction if payments are not made.

Noah's Ark’s lease is expected to run until 2017. It opened in 2002, with an overall 75-seat capacity and a thriving takeout business. Now, warns Ciurcina, they may be forced to close.

Seward Park Housing Corp. is the owner of Block 311, Lot 13 on the tax map of the borough of Manhattan. Block 311, lot 13 comprises the following commonly known street addresses: 357-381 Grand Street; 383-387 Grand; 389-411 Grand; 52 Essex Street; 175-187 Clinton Street; 193-197 Clinton; and 196-218 East Broadway.

The unusually large block and lot encompass 866 residential and 27 commercial units, including Noah's Ark. A clause in most of the commercial tenants' leases calls for them to pay annually, as additional rent, a percentage of the real estate tax escalation charges for "block 3l1, lot 13."

Over the past 15-20 years, according to Ciurcina, the commercial tenants were charged a percentage of the commercial portion of block 311, lot 13 only. In other words, each commercial tenant paid an amount equal to their pro rata share of retail rental space.

In 2004 none of the commercial tenants were billed for real estate tax escalation charges at all.

In April 2006 SP and Rudd sent bills to all the commercial tenants, seeking back real estate tax escalations from 2004 through 2006 for an area covering the entire block – including all 866 residential and 27 commercial units.

This change in the definition of commercial tenants’ liability, says Ciurcina, resulted in $10 to $30 thousand annual increases in charges to each of the commercial tenants.

Seward Park Housing has launched summary non-payment proceedings against any tenant who disputed these charges, says Ciurcina. There are currently between ten and fifteen non-payment proceedings pending in NY Civil Court. None of the proceedings have gone to trial yet.

Commercial tenants whose long-standing leases were due to expire were told that if they didn't pay the additional charges, Seward Park would not renew their leases. A number of long-standing family-owned businesses may be closing down shortly.

According to Ciurcina, commercial tenants with several years remaining on their leases were told that the real estate tax escalation clause would be rescinded from their lease, if only they agreed to pay the charges from 2004-2006 (and in some cases, from 2003), and agreed to increases in their monthly rent along with annual increases. If successful, Ciurcina cautions, Seward Park will be collecting a windfall to the tune of several million dollars, at the expense of their long-standing commercial tenants.

The following businesses, according to Ciurcina, are affected by the new policy at SP: Fine Fare Supermarket; Citibank; New MayMay Kitchen; L'Salon; US Post Office; 99 cent Plus Clinton Variety Store; Shalom Chili Pizza; Grand Spa Unisex; Amity Studio-Shoemaker; Co-op Elegant Barber Shop; Seward Park Liquor; Alex's Repair Shop; Card & Gift; Special Touch Cleaning; Rx Levitt Pharmacy; and Full City Coffee.

We approached Fred Rudd, the manager for Seward Park Housing Corp., for a comment on this story, and his response came by email: Under advice of counsel, since this matter is in litigation we are restrained from commenting at this time.

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