- Real Estate
- Under Cover
- Special Editorial
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BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER | More than five weeks after The Howard Hughes Corporation was supposed to begin demolishing the existing shopping mall on Pier 17 in the South Street Seaport, one tenant, Simply Seafood, is still open.
The rest of the mall is unoccupied and dark. Hughes has turned off the heat. Nevertheless, the escalators to the food court on the third floor are still running and Simply Seafood is still serving modestly priced clams, mussels, shrimp and other seafood from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Along with several other Pier 17 tenants, John Demane, 69, owner of Simply Seafood, has sued Howard Hughes in New York Supreme Court for breaking their leases.
Judge Shlomo Hagler had been expected to rule on the case by the end of October. Demane said he believed the judge would issue a verdict on at least part of the case on Nov. 13, but no ruling has yet been made.
Demane said that the last eight years of struggle with his current landlord and with Hughes’ predecessors, General Growth Properties and the Rouse Company, have taken a terrible toll.
“I haven’t been home in two months,” he said. He has to keep his restaurant open according to the hours and days stipulated in his lease or risk losing his case against Hughes just on the grounds of lease violation.
He has been selling food on Pier 17 since 1983 and says he has a lease that runs through 2020. Hughes says that Demane’s lease has expired and he needs to leave.
Hughes has refused to negotiate with the tenants, according to their lawyer, John O’Kelly. Demane said that it’s costing the Dallas-based developer $6,000 to $7,000 a day to keep the pier open.
Hughes held a groundbreaking for Pier 17 on Oct. 17, with white drapes concealing the interior of the shopping mall from Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other guests. When the drapes came down after the groundbreaking, it was clear that the mall had been emptied of tenants other than Simply Seafood, but otherwise was intact.
On Nov. 9, Robert LaValva, founder of the New Amsterdam Market on South Street, organized a dinner gathering in support of Simply Seafood. Around 35 people attended.
One diner, who said she hadn’t been to Simply Seafood previously, complimented the food. “Good food! Great prices!” she said. “I’ll come back as long as you’re here. I wish you could stay here.”
Demane thanked her and smiled wanly as he trudged out after the last departing customer.