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BY SAM SPOKONY | An Asian American advocacy group is continuing to rail against William Su, co-owner of the new Chinatown Wyndham Hotel, for what the group deems is unjust treatment of the former tenants of 128 Hester St., who were left homeless in 2009. The group, along with dozens of supporters, held a press conference on Fri., Aug. 24. outside the Wyndham to protest against Su and call for a boycott of the hotel.
Su’s attorney, Stuart A. Klein, responded several days later saying that the landlord and his associates are preparing a lawsuit for libel and slander against Asian Americans For Equality (A.A.F.E.), the group behind the protest. “It was quite some time ago that we told them we would sit down and negotiate in good faith,” said Klein, “as long as they would promise to stop these lies and these press conferences. And they’ve flatly refused to stop.”
The protesters continue to condemn Su for what they deem to be his repeated refusal to provide housing or monetary compensation to the eight families — a total of 29 tenants — who were displaced when the city Department of Buildings ordered 128 Hester Street to be demolished in August 2009.
Friday’s protest marked the third demonstration in two months outside the hotel at 93 Bowery, situated just down the block from the former residential building at 128 Hester St. “We will continue to come here for as long as it takes for the tenants to get justice and compensation,” said A.A.F.E. spokesperson Peter Gee. “This isn’t a case that just starts and ends overnight.”
In a July press conference, A.A.F.E. also claimed that the landlord had backed out of a June 7 settlement conference held by the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal.
Su and his associates — collectively known as 128 Hester St. L.L.C. — purchased the building in 2007, and A.A.F.E. asserts he intentionally neglected it, resulting in the building’s demolition two years later. A.A.F.E. also claims, citing comments made by the D.O.B., that Su’s construction of the Wyndham on an adjacent lot played a part in the structural deterioration of 128 Hester St. The protesters believe that Su was more focused on building the hotel than ensuring the safety of his tenants.
Up to this point, the protesters have had no trouble gathering in front of the Wyndham, as it has not yet opened. But since the hotel is now scheduled to open sometime this month, according to Wyndham’s website, the stage may be set for even more heated conflict.
Over the past few months, A.A.F.E. has brought in several local and state leaders to speak on behalf of their cause. Julie Menin, former chair of Community Board 1, spoke at the group’s Aug. 7 press conference alongside a representative from the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council.
“We must ensure that we have responsible development in our city and that we protect the stability of our communities from displacement,” said Menin.
Xin Shu Zheng, a former tenant of 128 Hester St. who now resides in Queens with his wife, said they are struggling to make ends meet now that they have lost touch with the Chinatown community. At the Aug. 24 press conference, Zheng said through a translator that if he could meet Su today, “I would tell him that he is a liar.”
Klein contests this allegation, claiming that the owners did in fact put money into the building between 2007 and 2009 in an effort to adequately maintain it.
“My clients spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on repairs to 128 Hester, and also reconfigured the superstructure of the hotel in 2009 to prevent it from impacting 128 Hester,” Klein said. “Why would they take the time and money to do that if their intent was to neglect it?”
Klein also said he was growing increasingly frustrated with the fact that A.A.F.E. and the protesters have continued to exclusively use Su’s name in their statements.
“William Su was not the actual owner of 128 Hester St.,” he said. “He is not the actual owner of 93 Bowery. He is one of a number of people who own an L.L.C. that owns the locations. So why he is being singled out is beyond me.”
In an earlier interview, Klein asserted that, after the building became unsafe in 2009, Su and his partners had found a nearby location at which to relocate the displaced tenants, but that A.A.F.E. rejected the plan.
“We were going to pay all the reasonable costs to move them into vacant apartments owned by A.A.F.E.,” he said, “but A.A.F.E. refused that option. They said that it was Section 8 housing, and that these people weren’t qualified. I thought that wasn’t true, but they just didn’t explore it any further.”
Gee denied this claim in an interview after the Aug. 24 press conference. “I don’t believe that what [Klein] is saying is true at all,” he said. “The reality is that these 29 tenants were wronged, and they deserve compensation.”