- Under Cover
- Special Editorial
- In Pictures
BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER |Nine days after the groundbreaking for the demolition of the existing shopping mall on Pier 17 in the South Street Seaport, a guard and two policemen were stationed at the entrance to the building next to a sign that read, “Shops are closed except for ‘Simply Seafood.’ We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.”
Inside on Sat., Oct. 26, the building was darkened and whistle clean except for another sign indicating that Simply Seafood was on the third floor, accessible by stairway.
At the far end of what had been the food court, one light was burning. Joey Demane emerged from the kitchen of the modest restaurant where decades-old signs state (among other items) that a fried shrimp sandwich on a grilled bun costs $4.60 and a plate of fish and chips is $6.45.
“Yes, we’re still open every day,” Demane said, in response to questions.
John Demane, 69, Joey’s father and owner of Simply Seafood, has been selling food on Pier 17 since 1983 and says he has a lease that runs through 2020. The pier’s current landlord, The Howard Hughes Corporation, says that Demane’s lease has expired and he needs to leave.
Joey has worked with his father for almost 30 years. Demane’s family had been selling fish in the Fulton Fish Market since 1947, even before the South Street Seaport existed.
Demane’s lawyer, John O’Kelly, said that in 2004, several Pier 17 tenants, including Demane, sued the Rouse Company, a predecessor of Hughes Corp. That case is still in the courts.
“Demane’s case had to do with the exercise of his option on his lease, which goes through 2020,” O’Kelly said. “The landlord attempted to terminate that in 2005. They claim they terminated it. We say they didn’t terminate it. He exercised his option.”
Judge Shlomo Hagler of the New York State Supreme Court is hearing the case and is expected to rule on it by the end of October. O’Kelly had requested a restraining order to delay the Pier 17 groundbreaking, but that was not granted. “Case law favors the large developers,” O’Kelly said. “The idea is that the tenant can be compensated for damages.”
“Simply Seafood’s lease was originally terminated in 2005 due to non-payment of rent and other monies owed according to the lease terms,” a Hughes spokesperson said earlier this month in a prepared statement. “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.”
In response to this allegation, O’Kelly said that Demane “has paid all the rent that the court told the tenants to pay all these years.” He found it “surprising” that Hughes had not attempted to negotiate a settlement with Demane. “They just tried to roll over him and terminate his lease, and it was very underhanded, the way they tried to do this,” he said. “They tried to slide it through. It was an ambush. Usually a landlord would at least try to come to an accommodation. They didn’t even try. I think they’re kind of arrogant.”
The New York City Economic Development Corporation is the owner of Pier 17 and of other properties at the Seaport, and is the landlord for Hughes Corporation, and its predecessors, General Growth Properties and Rouse.
O’Kelly said two weeks ago that he expected his client to be locked out then, but now it looks like the restaurant will be able to stay open at least a few more days.
Joey Demane said that even though the rest of the pier was closed, there had been a steady stream of customers for Simply Seafood. “People from the community and the South Street Seaport Museum have been coming here,” he said. “We also have been getting some tourists who are curious.”
Asked if he felt lonely in the building, especially at night, he said it was O.K. “The people who work here have been very supportive,” he said. “I’ve known most of them for years. They say to me, ‘hang in there.’”
He wasn’t sure how his father’s case against Hughes would turn out, but he said their lawyer was optimistic. “Win or lose, we have to try,” he said.