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BY SAM SPOKONY | The owners of Chinatown’s new Wyndham Garden Hotel, which will open for business next week, are attempting to end years of controversy by offering compensation to the former tenants of 128 Hester St., whom they allegedly wronged when the building was demolished in 2009.
For the first time since demonstrations against the Wyndham began earlier this year, co-owner William Su — the primary subject of virulent protests led by the Chinatown advocacy group Asian Americans for Equality — is attempting to clear a path toward a more peaceful opening for the hotel, situated at the corner of Hester Street and the Bowery.
Though his presence was certainly notable, Su sat silently at a press conference the hotel owner convened on Fri., Oct. 19 at Ling Sing Association’s Mott Street offices as his associates gave statements and fielded questions.
A letter recently mailed to the Hester Street tenants provides the contact information of Su’s spokesperson Vincent Wong and implores the tenants to call him in order to schedule face-to-face meetings.
“In good faith, the owners are extending their hands,” said Wong. “We encourage the tenants [of 128 Hester St.] to contact us so we can offer them appropriate compensation.”
AAFE and other community groups previously condemned Su for what they deemed to be his repeated refusal to provide housing or compensation to the eight families — a total of 29 tenants — who were displaced when the city Department of Buildings ordered 128 Hester St. to be demolished in August 2009.
AAFE asserts that Su’s intentional neglect of the building after he purchased it in 2007 led to its eventual deterioration and demolition. Citing comments reportedly made by the D.O.B., AAFE has also claimed that Su’s construction of the Wyndham, adjacent at 93 Bowery, was so disruptive that it played a part in the structural deterioration of 128 Hester St. by causing cracks in the building’s walls and foundation.
But attorney Stuart Klein went on the offensive at the press conference by rebuking AAFE and presenting city and state documents aimed at casting doubt on its claims that the owner neglected the building and refused to comply with orders to compensate the former tenants.
“These rumors have been spread in a very unprofessional way, and in a very scandalous way, and they’re just not the truth,” he said.
Among the pieces of evidence Klein presented was a D.O.B. document showing that in 2007 the owners of 128 Hester St. did in fact invest in structural repairs to the building’s masonry. But while the attorney claimed that the owners spent “well in excess of a hundred thousand dollars” on building repairs, the document he produced only revealed about $15,000 worth of work. D.O.B. records indicate there were two other proposals for repairs in 2009, but the costs of the fixes are not specified in the files.
The city records also reveal numerous complaints about structural problems with 128 Hester St. under the ownership of Su and his associates. Several of them described cracks in the walls of the building, while others of them noted that construction on the adjacent hotel was causing the apartment building to shake and buckle.
A more compelling document was one Klein produced in order to refute AAFE’s repeated claims that Su is refusing to comply with a 2010 state order forcing him to fork over $1 million in relocation fees to the former tenants.
Klein proved that the order never existed: According to a state Supreme Court disposition filed in February 2011, the court ruled that the matter should be settled at the administrative level rather than by a judge.
Peter Gee, an AAFE spokesperson, declined to respond to specific questions about the accuracy of his group’s prior claims, but insisted that they are still accurate. He also deflected questions about a rumor swirling around that AAFE has asked the former tenants of 128 Hester St. to sign contracts that would require them to give the organization a portion of the financial compensation they receive from the owner.
Instead, Gee accused the Wyndham owners of perpetuating dishonesty that he believes has characterized all of their interactions with the former tenants.
“There’s nothing new here,” he said, “because the reality is that they’re just stalling, and they’re not really serious about getting this resolved. It’s unfortunate, because the tenants have been waiting for three years for just and fair compensation.”
AAFE has plans to hold another protest outside the Wyndham, which is scheduled to open on Thurs., Nov. 1.
At 18 stories, the Wyndham will be the largest hotel in Chinatown. Klein asserted at the press conference that the hotel will be a “major boon” to the community and that it will provide jobs to approximately 60 area residents.
A Wyndham spokesperson declined to comment directly on the ongoing controversy, saying that the company is not involved in any negotiations or dealings undertaken by the hotel’s owners.