Demolition of the Pier 17 mall was scheduled to begin in early September. But it’s still standing over the East River at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, seeming almost defiant in its red, barn-like incongruity.
The spark of life propping up the three-story shopping center is a single food court tenant which, as of yesterday (Tuesday), was still serving up fried fish and beer in the otherwise vacant building. Here, no anthropomorphization is required to detect the defiance.
“I’m here, ready to serve customers — and I’m not leaving,” Joseph Demane told DNAInfo last month.
Demane and his father, John Demane, are the owners of just one of the 17 privately-owned retail tenants (mainly food vendors, restaurants and souvenir shops) that filed suit against the mall operators at the South Street Seaport in November of 2004. They alleged that the landlord — at that time it was the Rouse Company – was trying to drive them out through high common charges and poor maintenance.
The defendant changed when Rouse was purchased by General Growth Properties, and again when General Growth spun off a number of its assets into the current landlord, Howard Hughes Corporation.
But the allegations have stayed. The Demanes’ Simply Seafood is the only tenant left that claims to have a current lease in the property.
Simply Seafood moved from the Fulton Market Building to Pier 17 when the market building was being renovated in 1995. At that time, they signed a lease till 2010 with a ten-year renewal option, according to John O’Kelly, a lawyer in private practice who is representing the tenants. But in 2005 — after the tenants sued — the landlord issued a lease termination, claiming $5,000 in late utility payments, without warning the tenant. O’Kelly said his clients are contesting the lease termination on the grounds of 25 years of a landlord-tenant relationship in which late payments were always met with a warning and a grace period, as well as the fact that his client was contesting the specific utility bill.
Judge Shlomo Hagler of the New York State Supreme Court is expected to rule on the validity of the lease by the end of the month, O’Kelly said, though the original lawsuit is still being heard, with 16 of the original plaintiffs still on board.
Judge Hagler has urged the parties to settle, O’Kelly said, but he claims Howard Hughes seems committed to the fight.
“This situation has just become very odd,” O’Kelly said. “For some reason, Howard Hughes is taking an extremely hard line on this.”
Howard Hughes is represented by attorneys from DLA Piper, who could not be reached for comment.
If the judge rules that the fish shop’s lease is good until 2020, O’Kelly said, the landlord could still lock the doors on the Demanes.
“[Howard Hughes has] told the court that whatever the decision is, they’re going to go ahead with their plans,” O’Kelly said.
Howard Hughes provided the following statement:
“Simply Seafood’s lease was originally terminated in 2005 due to non-payment of rent and other monies owed according to the lease terms. Since that time, it has been an illegal, hold-over tenant at the Seaport. They do not have a lease through 2020 despite their claims. Their lease expired in 2010. Although the lease agreement gave the company a 10-year lease term extension option, Simply Seafood was unable to exercise the option because it had breached several terms of the lease. In fact, the courts have already issued a summary judgment order against Simply Seafood for unpaid rent and other costs. They owe a substantial amount of money.
“We expect that the Court will issue an ejectment order against Simply Seafood sometime early next week.”