Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Just Say No to HQ2

It's official. Amazon has announced they are opening a headquarters in Long Island City, Queens.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York State has handed the mega-corporation a sweetheart of a deal--not yet including, as Cuomo suggested, renaming Newtown Creek the Amazon River. Until now, that deal was a protected secret.

Here are the jaw-dropping details--from a PDF from the New York State Urban Development Corporation, d/b/a Empire State Development. (Thanks Robin Grearson for sharing on Twitter via Amazon's announcement):

If I'm reading this right, Amazon gets:
- a 99-year lease on a whole shit-ton of square footage (more than I can calculate)
- base rent of $850,000 per annum ($70,000 per month -- perspective: when Florent was kicked out of the Meatpacking District, its rent went to $50,000 a month. For a small space. Ten years ago.)
- a package of incentives valued at up to $1,705,000,000

Those tax-payer funded incentives include:
- A capital grant in the amount of $505,000,000
- Excelsior tax credits of up to $1,200,000,000

Oh, yeah, and Jeff Bezos gets a private helipad. Paid for by you and me.

Crain's is now calling this "the richest-ever incentive package offered to a corporation in state history."

Who of your elected officials urged Amazon to move to New York? Sethmpk shares on Twitter: "Here are the officials who signed a letter last October urging Amazon to expand in NYC. @TishJames signed. So did my House @RepYvetteClarke and my State Senator Montgomery. Candidates for Public Advocate @JumaaneWilliams, @MrMikeBlake, @ydanis, @MMViverito all signed too":

Anticipating this announcement all week, the backlash has been swift, with journalists explaining how Amazon HQ2 will create more hyper-gentrification (see Seattle), displacing and disrupting residents, small businesses, and artists. And the deal might even be illegal.

Even the Times admitted, "The process means the rich get richer, the biggest companies, bigger. And the gulf widens between the country’s haves and have-nots" and "the tech industry isn’t culturally urban." The Times also noted, "it’s how this city works." But it didn't always work this way.

As I outline in my book, Vanishing New York, until the late 1970s, the city was moving in the direction of social democracy. And then it shifted. City Hall and Albany turned away from the people and began to court big business and real estate developers, handing over billions of dollars in tax-payer money to seduce them into moving to and staying in the city. One could argue that this approach was needed in fiscal crisis New York. It is absolutely not needed now. In fact, it is killing this city.

It's time for another change. It's time for New York to re-orient away from giving corporate welfare to big business and developers, and give back to its people. You can exercise your right as a citizen of this democracy and push this shift.

Tomorrow, show up and say no to Amazon HQ2. Phone blast against HQ2. Protest. Resistance can work.

Phone blast info from the Queens Anti-Gentrification Project:

Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer: 718-383-9566 [press "0" for person]
Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: 929-388-6141 [leave a message if no one picks up]
Congressmember Carolyn B. Maloney: 718-932-1804
State Senate Michael Ginaris: (718) 728-0960

Phone Blast Script:

It was recently announced that Amazon has chosen Long Island City, Queens as a location for its new Headquarters, a move that would lead to skyrocketing rents and record levels of displacement throughout the entire borough. We are outraged that there were no public hearings on this proposal and that none of us have had the opportunity to voice our opinions, despite the fact that every single Queens resident will be impacted by this decision. The situation is so bad that in July, Assemblymember Catherine Nolan called for a ‘Moratorium’ on new LIC developments¹, but her proposal was ignored by most politicians and newspapers. Today, I am calling [politician's name]'s office to demand that [politicians name] stand with Queens residents and reject the Amazon Headquarters proposal, as well as any other move to transform Western Queens into a so-called "tech hub". The Queens that so many of us know and love is under threat and we're going to fight back.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Two Boots Seized

Two Boots Pizza on Greenwich Avenue in the Village has been seized "for nonpayment of taxes and is now in the possession of the State of New York."

A note from Two Boots in the window says the closure is only temporary and they will reopen shortly. Let's hope so.

While we're in front of this lovely antique facade, and while we've been diving into the Municipal Archives tax photos from the 1940s...

...here's what Two Boots looked like when it was the Hanscom Bake Shop.

Municipal Archives Online

In some very exciting news, the New York City Municipal Archives has put their 1940s tax photo collection online. That's hundreds of thousands of historical photographs of every (or almost every?) building in New York City. And you no longer have to go down to the Archives to see them (although that makes for a great adventure).

Last night, within an hour of sharing the link on the Vanishing New York Facebook page, the Municipal Archives' Online Gallery crashed. People are clamoring! (It's back up now.) Before that happened, I went down the rabbit hole and got screenshots of a few of my favorite spots.

On 8th Avenue off Times Square, here's the vaudeville house built in 1916 that later became The Playpen and then was demolished in 2007 (to become a hotel with Shake Shack):

Here's Charle's Garden (which I always thought was spelled Charlie's) before it was Fedora on West 4th Street:

And Julius' Bar -- still Julius' Bar (but with a different clientele):

Here's the grocery store delicatessen that preceded Three Lives & Company Bookshop across the street from Julius' Bar:

And the site of CBGB's before it was CBGB's:

And long before it was John Varvatos (today):

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

SBJSA Hearing

Yesterday was the SBJSA hearing before the City Council at City Hall. Thank you to everyone who showed up for the rally and the hearing itself, and thank you to Speaker Corey Johnson and the City Council for giving this the time and space it deserves.

At noon, a large crowd of about 100 SBJSA supporters gathered on the steps of City Hall for a rally and press conference. David Eisenbach, who is running for Public Advocate, led the rally at which several people spoke on behalf of the bill.

At the same time, supporters of REBNY, the powerful real estate lobby that opposes the bill, streamed in. At the gates they received blue baseball caps printed with a white slogan making the claim that the SBJSA is commercial rent control. (It is not.) The optics on this had an unsettling effect. Later in the day, SBJSA supporter James Klein said during his testimony, "If New Yorkers have learned anything over the last two years, we have learned that when a mob shows up in colored hats, New Yorkers lose."

As DJ Cashmere reported in his thorough account of the day at Bedford & Bowery, "Council member Mark Gjonaj, chair of the Committee on Small Business, asked whether the hats had been purchased from a local small business. Nope, came the reply from REBNY. They were purchased online."

The hearing, hosted by Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Member Mark Gjonaj, chair of the Council's small business committee, lasted until 9:00 at night, with a tremendous 200 people signed up to speak. For the first two hours, Small Business Services Commissioner Gregg Bishop represented Mayor Bill de Blasio's office, which does not support the bill.

Johnson repeatedly spoke passionately about the loss of the city's mom and pops--and he talked about it today on the Brian Lehrer show.

Next came panels both for and against the bill, including speakers Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, State Senator Brad Hoylman, David Eisenbach, and Ruth Messinger, the former Councilmember who first introduced the original SBJSA in 1986.

I testified on a panel of pro-SBJSA activists, including Harry Bubbins of GVHSP, Kirsten Theodos of TakeBackNYC, and Justin Levenson, who created Vacant New York to track high-rent blight.

It was a long day -- you can watch the whole 8 hours here -- the first big step in what will be a complicated and important process.

If you support this bill and want to see it come to a vote, write to the City Council. Here is a quick and easy guide to doing that.

And the fight to save small businesses in New York goes on.

For more coverage on the hearing:
Commercial Observer
Real Deal

Glaser's Interior

Everything we love will become salvage. The Demolition Depot just announced they're selling the interior of Glaser's Bake Shop, closed earlier this year after 116 years on the Upper East Side.

via Instagram

While they were unable to save the antique floor tiles, this could all be yours:

"Elements include the beautiful, turn of the century wood showcases, having ample storage below, marvelous, upward sliding glass doors above and decorative fluted Ionic pilasters. The upper section of open cabinetry has original silvered mirrors, original milk glass upper panels, and marble counter top. Also available are Schoolhouse pendant fixtures, pressed tin ceiling, a vintage refrigerated case, and contemporary display cases."

Black-and-white cookies not included.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Rally & Public Hearing for SBJSA

Today's the day. Right now, we've got one weapon to fight the vanishing of New York and it's the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA). If you've been following this blog, you know we've been fighting for this for years. Today, come to the rally and open public hearing at City Hall and let the City Council know: Enough is enough. Pass the SBJSA.

12:00 Rally & Press Conference
1:00 Public Hearing
New York City Hall

View the Facebook invites here and here.

The SBJSA could have saved: The Lenox Lounge, Florent, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, Big Nick's, Avignone pharmacy, St. Marks Bookshop, Colony Records, Bleecker Bob's, 8th Street Gray's Papaya, Bill's Gay 90s, The Stage Deli, Rocco's Ristorante, and so many more. But there's much left to save.

If you can't be there today, here's what you can do:

1. Write and/or call your local Councilmembers--your messages go into the record--and tell them to pass the SBJSA:
- Fill out this easy-to-use form to email the City Council
- Or find your individual Councilmembers here and contact them directly
- Councilmember Mark Gjonaj is Chair of the Council's Small Business Committee--write or call him, too. You can also contact the members of that committee: Diana Ayala, Stephen T. Levin, Bill Perkins, and Carlina Rivera.
- Find them on Twitter and tweet your request: Pass the #SBJSA

2. Write and/or call the Council Speaker Corey Johnson and tell him to pass the SBJSA:
- Fill out this simple form, already written for you
- Or you can call or write to him directly here
- Tweet him @CoreyinNYC

3. Spread the word:
- Share this blog post on your social media
- Inform your local businesspeople that this hearing is happening and encourage them to show up. Tell your bodega people, your barber, your therapist, your dentist, your bartender, the people who fix your shoes and do your laundry, the folks who serve your lunch and pour your coffee. Tell them all that there is a solution, there is a protection, and we all can make it happen.
- Print out and share this flyer, available in English and Spanish

- If you are not a New Yorker, you can still write and call the City Council and the Speaker. Tell them you don't want to bring your tourist dollars to a city that's full of nothing but chain stores and luxury glass towers. Tell them to pass the SBJSA.

About the SBJSA:
Legally vetted and deemed fully constitutional, the SBJSA gives existing commercial tenants a few basic rights, including: 1. the right to renew the lease, 2. a minimum 10-year extension, and 3. equal rights to negotiate a fair rent, with third-party arbitration if an agreement between tenant and landlord cannot be reached. In that case, the arbitrator may determine a reasonable increase, a decision based on multiple factors, including current fair market rates for similar properties.

-Read more about the SBJSA here and here and here.
-View the 10/22 meeting details and agenda here.

If you've been complaining about the vanishing of New York, now is your chance to change things for the better. At this point, you really have no excuse. If you do nothing, then quit complaining.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Coffee Shop to Chase Bank

A tipster friend tells us that the famous and just-shuttered Coffee Shop on Union Square is rumored to become yet another Chase Bank.

He attended the post-closing auction this week and chatted with insiders there. They told him: 1. The space is going to Chase, 2. The rent was hiked to $3 million annually, and 3. Chase might be keeping the antique neon sign and re-doing the letters so it spells out CHASE instead of COFFEE SHOP.

None of this is confirmed for sure, but if the sign switcheroo happens, it would be yet another example of New York City soul snatching, a.k.a. authentrification. (See also: Village Den, Rocco's, Bill's Gay 90s, and too many more to list.)

Ironically, the original coffee shop here before Coffee Shop was called Chase--possibly Jack Chase in the 1950s. The name is still in the floor of the doorway.

In the 1980s, it was Jason's Restaurant.

photo by Karen Gehres, via Flaming Pablum

Tax photograph

Now it's empty, the pots and pans auctioned off, the lamps and decorations removed.

It's time to pass the Small Business Jobs Survival Act and protect places like Coffee Shop from becoming more banks (and Starbucks, and Targets, and pricey boutiques). Go to the public hearing on Monday, October 22. Speak your mind. If that's not possible, here are more easy, quick ways you can make a difference today. The future of this city depends on you.