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.

8 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.

  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.

Comment: