The Debate Over Town Stages

The main event at last night’s Community Board 1 Licensing & Permits Committee had the usual three opponents: Eager applicants, concerned neighbors, and wary committee members. The applicants were Robin and Scott Sokoloff of the nonprofit organization Sokoloff Arts, who are planning to open Town Stages at 221 W. Broadway, most recently the site of White Street restaurant. The neighbors are from within the residential building (which goes by 5 White Street), along with the other residential buildings on White, who had to deal with noise from White Street restaurant and its predecessor, Churrascaria Tribeca. And the committee members are always afraid of getting the wool pulled over their eyes.

I’ll spare you (and myself) a recap of the winding discussion. The big issue was that Town Stages will serve as an event space at night; the proceeds from weddings, benefits, and other functions are used to fund the organization’s arts programs at other times of day. I don’t believe there was any objection to the arts stuff—except for the hours, as described next—but you don’t have to live on Desbrosses to know that a busy event space can be extremely disruptive. (At a public assembly capacity of 236, this is relatively small.) Second, Town Stages would like to be open 24 hours a day—not to the public for events, but for artistic types working on theater productions, recording music, shooting films, or whatever. That made a lot of folks—on the committee and off—uncomfortable. Third, there was a lot of talk about acceptable soundproofing.

The neighbors alleged that the organization was a nuisance at its former location in Chelsea, and that the landlord there refused to renew the lease; the Sokoloffs refuted the accusations and blamed some the noise complaints on “an illegal Russian nightclub in the building.” (Today, there was word that one neighbor may have been grinding an undisclosed axe.)

Ultimately, the question was what sort of stipulations the committee would insist on to protect the neighbors, whether the Sokoloffs would acquiesce, and how long the infernal yapping would continue. (The committee has 15 members, each of whom needs to weigh in.) I couldn’t hack it anymore and left. But I did get hold of the stipulations this morning: opening hours of 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday; soundproofing to be completed to the specifications of the first acoustic report (at a minimum), plus soundproofing of the glass on the White Street side; background recorded music only; monitoring of traffic; and controlling the people outside.

Will the Sokoloffs bend? I’ve reached out to see if they’ve decided yet. [See the update below.] On one hand, they don’t necessarily need CB1’s approval. They can plead their case directly to the State Liquor Authority, which might look kindly on the artistic mission and consider a large commercial space on a non–side street to be a logical spot for events. On the other hand, alienating the community board—and by extension, the community—would seem to go against everything that the Sokoloffs have said they want Town Stages to embody.

UPDATE: I hear from someone at CB1 that Town Stages has decided to go straight to the State Liquor Authority. Consequently, CB1 is drafting a resolution urging the SLA to reject the application because Town Stages wouldn’t agree to the stipulations.

 

16 Comments

  1. Part of the problem for this new applicant is that the community has heard, and fallen for, this kind of pitch for a supposed multipurpose “art space / catering hall” in the past. Usually it turns out to be mostly (and for the neighborhood) disruptively “catering hall”. Maybe it will actually *be* true this time; who really knows? (Maybe Charlie Brown someday will actually manage to kick the football before Lucy yanks it away.)

    To wit:

    Guess which presenter said this at a past community board meeting?

    “While the main point of the space is photo shoots, retouching, digital editing—”We’re a full 360-degree, multichannel [more adspeak] company,” said Jude—it’ll also host events. ‘I shouldn’t expect much more than 300 people at a time,’ he said. And events will be no more than 50% of the overall business.”

    http://tribecacitizen.com/2012/11/15/cb1-tribeca-commitee-the-unofficial-minutes-november/

  2. I live on White Street. It’s 100% residential. No one on the block wants this. Ask yourself (and that goes for Robin and Scott as well) – would you want this on your block????

    Below are some of the alleged violations committed by Robin and Scott Sokoloff during Loft 227’s tenure at 227 West 29th Street.
    1. misrepresentation of business operations. they falsely claimed to be an office tenant
    2. once lease was secured, the space was rented to 3rd parties for events, parties, rehearsals, concerts, etc. Some days there were multiple events rented out on the same day. Rentals occurred day and night often past 4am in the morning.
    3. Robin Sokoloff was an absentee tenant, not present during events. Once events were in progress, doors would be locked and there was no avenue in which to contact the Sokoloffs. Ignoring complaints was commonplace.
    4. Security camera footage exists of drunken and unruly patrons partying, smoking in public spaces, littering, and other offenses common with excessive partying.
    5. There was no method or service to handle trash removal
    6. As an office tenant, Loft227 did not have a liquor license. Yet they rented the space as if they did. So why would CB1 grant a license to such an operator given this very basic and core violation?
    7. When the landlord refused to renew their lease, Robin Sokoloff pursued litigation through the “Human Rights” commission and sued for discrimination unsuccessfully.

    • To be fair, these are the accusations, mentioned in the post, that Robin Sokoloff responded to one by one.

      • Are her responses posted or minuted anywhere? Thanks.

        • Not by me—I viewed it all as hearsay—but she did have a logical explanation for each one. (No clue if the explanations were true, of course.) And I doubt she’ll come here anymore to engage, since she presumably views the community as antagonistic. She never answered my email about her plans re: the SLA.

          Also, and I should’ve mentioned this before, but it’s my understanding that the owner of an event space doesn’t need to have a general liquor license for the establishment; they (or the caterer) can apply for licenses for single events. I mention this in regard to point #6 above, and also because the Sokoloffs can go that route at 221 W. Broadway. They insisted that they wanted to get a liquor license so they could better control the situation (vs. having caterers do it).

          I completely understand that people living on White are deeply wary—no, resistant—to an event space on W. Broadway. And they may absolutely have every reason to feel that way. But let’s not throw due process out the window as a result.

      • Since the words accusation and hearsay were used by Erik I would like to add a few.
        There is an accusation of trespassing being made against me personally by Town Stages. On Tuesday I will be “turning myself in” at the 1st Pct due to their complaint against me.
        Their complaint arises from the FACT (not hearsay) that they repeatedly propped their White Street door open during an event on 4/12 which is in direct violation of their agreement with the community and the SLA. There were witnesses and there are photos – that’s why it is a fact. As no phone number for either of the Sokoloff’s has yet been provided for complaints (another CB1 stipulation that has been ignored) there was no way to complain without entering the space and asking for one of them which I then proceeded to do.
        So, I freely admit I was in their space – the door was wide open, I peered in and before I even entered a very nice woman (who did not work for Town Stages ) but was an event organizer invited me to come take a look around. I believe that is legal and legitimate – she even handed me literature which I kept.
        Just as an aside, my eyes were open as I need to keep them open when I walk, and I observed the Town Stages people were serving wine and beer which is interesting since they do not yet have a license to do so.
        I complained to their employee about the open door and asked to speak to the Sokoloff’s as that is the stipulated procedure – neither was “available” so I was asked to wait which I did. The employee eventually went, shut the door and then asked me to leave which I did.
        One more little oops – the TS assembly permit clearly states they need to have people at the exits that have city certificates of fitness in case of emergency – neither exit had such a person there.
        Several days later I was emailed by the TS “liason” who stated he wanted to keep the neighbors happy and wanted to meet with me and anyone else. I informed him that all they needed to do was abide by what they had agreed to. I also asked him if he would be kind enough, in the interest of building trust with the community, to send me a copy of whatever liquor license they were serving under. Haven’t seen that yet.

        There answer apparently is to have me arrested!

        Thanks TS – I’ve always wanted to spend a few hours in jail and btw you are off to a great start with the community.

        So I will go and obey the law but the real question here is – when will Town Stages do the same??? A number of my neighbors as well as CB1 have lodged complaints and inquiries regarding this event and I just learned they have also called the police regarding another neighbor.

  3. This type of space clearly does not belong in a residential neighborhood. It sounds like they are piggybacking some bogus art project onto their plans for a banquet hall in an obvious scam. How is it that this can slide past the Community Board with clear evidence of misrepresentation and violation of law and civility in their old neighborhood? It sounds like they were chased out of their old neighborhood for good reason, let’s not allow them to do the same here.

  4. What is the guy Andrew smoking? White Street
    is a 100% residential? Since when? I do not know
    whether or not this couple were good or bad tenants
    in Chelsea. But it is not possible for them to have not secured
    garbage removal. It just could not have happened. I love the
    idea of a creative space open 24 hours. If they need to supplement their business with events so be it. The area is surrounded by business. They need to be held to their community commitments and hire managers who are acutely
    aware of our demands in being good neighbors but I say
    let’s go for it! The pros outweigh the cons.

    • Hmm
      I think I’m smoking the truth and reality. Your response sounds suspiciously like either the guy who stood up at the meeting who reminded us of whatbTribeca used to be like over on Greenwich and how disgusted he was with us newbies to the neighborhood (I’ve lived here since 1985 and my neighbor who also stood up at CB1 since 1979) OR like the landlord of the space who made the exact same comment to me on the phone.
      Truth be told – I’m incorrect – there are 3 stores on the block – none serve alcohol or stay open past 8 pm.
      So “TG”’who won’t give his name – mission accomplished – you’ve debunked a misstatement. Now turn your detective skills to investigating what Robin and her husband are all about!
      Andrew

    • Yesterday the SLA announced the 500 foot rule hearing for Town Spaces
      It is scheduled for 12/28 a perfect time for Town Spaces and an awful time for those opposed.
      Coincidence??? Not likely as their attorney is broadly experienced in matters such as these.
      Notably CB1 which should be able to get the hearing postponed was rebuffed.
      A campaign has begun to try to accomplish a postponement of the hearing so if you read this and agree please please please email Nadler, Chin, and any other elected official
      In the district to enlist their help
      You can also email the SLA. TG your support would be welcome as well in the interest of fairness.

    • TG, whoever you are (ashamed to give your full name?): You write, “The area is surrounded by business.” Um, no. I’ve lived here for more than 25 years, and you’re flat our wrong. Not this block AT ALL. White St. between Church and West Broadway is entirely residential–full of artists and families with small children. Granted, there are some quiet small businesses on the ground floor. But do you seriously think this is the right block for “arts events” (ha ha) attracting 300 people expecting to hear music and drink alcohol belongs on a residential block?

      Frankly, I suspect you’re a troll for Town Stages. If you’re not, you’ve drunk their Kool-Aid.

      • Let’s try to keep it civilized. Just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t mean he or she is “a troll” for a local business or organization.

        • TG writes, “What is the guy Andrew smoking? White Street
          is a 100% residential? Since when?” Yet Erik Torkells chastises me for not keeping things “civilized”?

          What offense did I commit other than to suggest that an anonymous writer named “TG”–I mean, why is there any need to be anonymous?–who clearly thinks it’s fine to issue a liquor license for an “arts organization” that has plans to use the space to host music events, might be connected with Town Stages? The point is, why is a residential building with an entrance on a side street a good venue for this sort of thing? This is a building that once housed Artist’s Space–a real arts organization–one that I knew well. It hosted parties, but never “party events” with loud music and alcohol in order to support itself.

          Unlike TG, I am transparent. I give my name and I explain up front that I have a vested interest in seeing this proposal turned down. Yes, Tribeca neighbors, my family and I, who have lived at 5 White Street since 1991, along with friends in our building, and well over 50 neighbors in our immediate area, do not want well over a hundred people who have been drinking (mind you, since it’s not a restaurant, drinking without dining) emerging onto our quiet residential street (5 White Street) late at night. Yes, Tribeca neighbors, we do not want a lineup of taxis, Ubers and Lyfts lined up to pick up the people needing to go home at midnight, and yes, Tribeca neighbors, we do not want the spillover sounds of music events wafting up into our homes.

          If it’s uncivilized to argue this with passion, so be it.

  5. The SLA has postponed the Town Stages 500 foot hearing to January 4, 2018 at 11:00am!

    If you are of like mind regarding their license application (denIal) and can attend the meeting community participation is very important to the SLA

  6. Yet another soon to be bar/club/lounge masquerading as a/an art/creative/event space. It’s just another bait and switch, luring and doing the song and dance to CB1 on to get the liquor licenses. And they went directly to SLA, which is more corrupt and gullible than most Community Boards. And once they get the liquor license — wam, bam, than you ma’am.

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