Wednesday, May 31, 2006

SoHo Flux

Real estate is still healthy in SoHo, so much so that Ian Schrager is buying what was supposed to be a 13-story condo. Instead we will have yet another hotel at 350 West Broadway. Besito's, the location where a contentious "Latino" bar/restaurant fought for a liquor license -- which seems to have been responsible for the still lingering divisiveness at Community Board #2, -- was recently the scene of several fistfights between owners and relatives and now has a "For Lease" sign on its front door. The former condo, now to be a hotel, is across the street from the former Besito's and is down the block from two other recently closed bars. Felix is still in operation down the block and still drags furniture out onto the street and allows patrons to drink on the sidewalk. But, what's a little carousing on the sidewalk among friends.

Until, the hotel opens.

Then, West Broadway might be the focus of a little cleaning up. Time to get the drunks off the street and make sure that the perennial flooding at Grand and West Broadway gets some long-awaited City attention. Funny, how big money starts to bring community concerns into focus. Too bad the artists didn't get more of that attention.

Which brings us to the point about real estate. Apparently, some people have awakened to the fact that only one side of West Broadway has achieved Landmark status. The east side of West Broadway and all of its cast-iron buildings have been protected for years (one of the reasons why there are no billboards on that side of the street) - but now there is a move afoot to landmark many of the buildings which do not have such protection. Several buildings along the west side of West Broadway are now being considered for a new thrust at landmarking them. We'll keep you posted.

And, in case you have been wondering, West Broadway has few restaurants with outdoor cafes. Paris likes them. SoHo doesn't. That's partly because of the fact that no meaningful action has yet to be taken to control the vendors that gobble up sidewalk space - so residents have consistently come down against allowing tables for diners on the sidewalks. The theory behind this is that pedestrians might want to be able to use the sidewalk once in a while. While there are several restaurants that do have outside tables, such as Barolo or Cipriani's, they are essentially not permitted.

Speaking of sidewalk cafes, much ado was made awhile back when Bob Rinaolo was Chair of the Business Committee on Community Board #2 and it was pointed out that for a bar owner to be passing judgment on other applicants for a liquor license - should be viewed as a potential conflict of interest. Especially, when Rinaolo's own licenses would come up for renewal while he was Chair of that committee. It clearly would have appeared to be a conflict.

The issue became quite heated at times and after about a year of waffling on the part of the then Borough President Virginia Fields, it was decided that Rinaolo had to go. Of course, he only moved to a different slot on the committee - but at least it didn't smell as bad when all of the other liquor license holders were calling the shots - as they still do today - under the guise of independence, with Diaz as Chair. The Chamber of Commerce and Nightlife people still firmly control the committee and Diaz steps to the music when it becomes necessary. It's just not all as obvious.

However, one must question whether the Sidewalks Committee of Community Board #2 whose Chair is Phil Mouquinho does not suffer from a similar potential for conflict of interest. Considering the additional business that a restaurant can enjoy at the expense of City real estate, is it proper for a liquor license holder who is seeking to add a sidewalk cafe to his own business - be Chair of a committee that approves such a sidewalk permit? Even if the Chair recuses himself from voting, should the members of a committee who are chosen by its Chair (yes, folks, the Committee Chair and the Board Chair agree upon who is on the committee) - should those committee members be expected to objectively make an independent decision in voting upon such a permit? This particular permit is not in question here - the real or imagined conflict is.

The Nominating Committee of Community Board #2 has made its decision as to which they feel is the best candidate for the next Board Chair and other positions. Seven members were selected by the Board to handle the delicate task of reporting their findings to the rest of the Community Board.

Now bear in mind that the Nominating Committee is a vestigial body - its real function is usually to warn the rest of the Board that they had better vote as suggested if they want to keep their committee assignments. This year's Nominating Committee was elected with the help of the colorful floor antics of Rick Panson, former owner of the Duplex and current hopeful for District Manager. He is a vociferous campaigner for Maria Derr and Company and is a jovial court jester who roots for the bar owners and their supporters. His suggestions for the Nominating Committee were well taken and all of his candidates were duly elected. Will Wieder, an activist and respected member of Community Board #2 became the Chair of that august committee. The committee did its work and reported to the Board that it recommended Maria Derr as the best-qualified candidate for Chair. No surprises here.

But, when Wieder was asked whether any other candidates were interviewed - since David Reck is also a candidate for Chair of the Board - he answered that no one else was interviewed. Why? Because the By-Laws do not require it. Require, is the operative word. With a straight face, augmented by vocal support from Shirley Smith, Wieder told the Full Board that there was no need to interview any other candidates. No pretense of Democracy here on this Board and not even any embarrassment over the fact that it's missing.

So, one would ask, who wrote the By-Laws, Joseph Stalin?

Lastly, don't expect a full accounting of Community Board #2 finances anytime soon. There's been a bit of waffling on that score. Seems that Chair Maria Derr promised that a financial statement for Board #2 was available at the Board office. As it turns out, though, after Board Member and attorney Larry Goldberg had questioned its very existence, what has been prepared and disseminated by Treasurer Roscia Sanz is a lot less than one would have desired or expected. While it seems unlikely that anything untoward has transpired, the evasiveness about what's been going on with the money is troubling.

Joseph Kennedy's contemporary Joe Kane once said "In politics you have no friends, only co-conspirators."
And Harry Truman said, "If you need a friend in Washington, buy a dog."
Machiavelli, that adolescent politician from the Renaissance, would have learned a few things at Community Board #2.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yeah, more hotels! More jobs, more of a tax base!