Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fast and furious

St. Mark's Bookstore may close, and 135 Bowery, a historic landmark, may be demolished (more below).

Petition to save St. Mark's Bookstore. The owners negotiate their rent tomorrow, Wednesday.

Petition to save 135 Bowery. To testify or attend the hearing: Thur., Sept. 15 at 11am at 250 Broadway, 16th floor conference room. Agenda:
Why is another landmark on the Bowery being threatened with demolition? 135 Bowery is a townhouse from around 1817, one of the oldest in New York. The Landmarks Preservation Commission has already designated it as a historical landmark. But the local councilmember, Margaret Chin, has reversed her support for the landmark on the grounds that the owner, a bank, wants to replace it with a taller structure promising a bit of affordable commercial space. Without the councilmember's support, the City Council will likely not vote the designation into protective law.

The bank that owns 135 Bowery hasn't submitted its affordable intention in writing. The bank hasn't shown any affordable rent rates; the bank hasn't produced any legally binding contract for this promised affordable commercial space or any indication how long the leases would remain affordable, or even any binding document whatsoever showing their intent. All we have is the word of the bank. (What do you think that's worth?)

I would be happy to see, for example, an SRO hotel on the Bowery for recent immigrants to live in cheap but safe quarters. But I would be a great fool if I sacrificed a historic site for an SRO promised to me by a bank without any documentation or plan or legally binding contract or even any detailed information.

So I wonder who is being fleeced by this bank? Is the Councilmember being fleeced? Or is it the public?

I will testify at the Council hearing on behalf of 135 Bowery, because I know that the owner-bank, far from intending to give back to the community, wants to get the most out of his investment regardless of the community, history, the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the City Council, the Councilmember, or anyone but themselves. They've made no commitment, let's be real. The only commitment has been verbal to the Councilmember, and we don't have a binding document of that discussion.

The Bowery Alliance of Neighbors say they want to fill the chamber with support. They also ask for more signatures on their petition.  The 135 Bowery petition again.

St. Mark's Bookstore
The great used bookstores of New York, with their overstuffed chairs, chatty patrons and patiently listening bookdealers, were places to hang and enjoy, not just for browse-and-buy. The ones in this neighborhood were truly worth saving, and they are all truly gone. Should St. Mark's Bookstore be saved?

I have made my peace with the twenty-somethings that are the present and future of this neighborhood. For better or worse, like it or not, they have transformed this place in their own image and it now belongs to them, from their dorms to our tenements to their BMW Lab. But the young are mostly transient, so they are mostly unequipped to restrain the powerful market force they themselves have brought here. Yes, they want nightlife, but they probably would also like to have a good bookstore, and the monster real estate market they've fed now won't allow it. It's about to swallow up the bookstore and leave, well, you know the story.

Cooper Union owns the site of the St. Mark's Bookstore, one of the few interesting bookstores in town. CU is raising its rent beyond the store's capacity to pay. CU, of course, can afford to give back to the community. Peter Cooper himself was all about giving back to the community. Peter must have long ago tired of spinning in his grave over what has become of his life's dream, free higher education for the working class. How many ways can Cooper Union spell "betrayal"? Surely they're not hurting for this little commercial space: they own the land on which the Chrysler building stands and the glass building on Astor Place. Seems to me they ought to buy up shares of the store and expand it as a university-community bookstore. But they'd probably betray that as well.

Frankly, I'm not convinced this neighborhood deserves to have a great bookstore. The NYU students have their own bookstore, filled with all the books they need and more than they can handle. As for the rest of the neighborhood, this place is a youth destination for children of means, not an intellectual or countercultural destination anymore. Its heart is commerce now, not anarchy. Freedom must be purchased, and it exacts many prices.

Maybe saving St. Mark's Bookstore is an exercise in anachronism or sentimental nostalgia. But if you'd like to try to preserve St. Mark's Bookstore for the benefit of the future transient youth of this neighborhood, here's a petition for you.


pieman said...

save at.marks books!!! it is the last shrine relating to a period of time of insurrection!!!!

Anonymous said...

Once the bank destroys 135 Bowery and builds something big and expensive, their job will be to sell it (banks are in it for the money, not real estate). Once they sell the property, any promises made will be dust in the wind. sad.

rob said...

The bank bought it when it was already being considered for landmark status. That leads to a question: Why would a bank buy a building about to lose its full development potential? Without accusing anyone, it is natural to ask whether the bank had reason to believe, somehow, that the building would not be landmarked. The only way they'd have such reason would be from the councilmember. I don't know what actually happened in this deal, but it doesn't look good for Margaret Chin, especially since none of these speculations can be proved or disproved. At some point it will be a matter of whom to believe. Chin has a long record of community activism. It's a shame that this will likely tarnish her reputation.

rob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rob said...

(It was my own comment that somehow got repeated. I don't delete other people's comments.)