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BY SAM SPOKONY | A lot of new tension has certainly risen around Greenhouse, the crime-plagued Hudson Square nightclub that has apparently shut down, for now, following recent violence and increased pressure from police. Party fiends and celebrities love it (unless they’re being injured there), neighboring residents hate it and the club’s new management is, at this point, nowhere to be found.
But there’s at least one person who doesn’t seem to be too worried about the situation at the 150 Varick St. club.
“Whatever’s gonna happen is gonna happen,” John Maltz, the club’s landlord, said in an April 23 phone interview.
In addition to his role overseeing the Varick St. building, Maltz also wields some additional influence in the area as a board member of the Hudson Square Connection, the newly rezoned neighborhood’s business improvement district, or BID.
The BID has declined to comment on the ongoing Greenhouse situation.
“A lot of people around here are looking at me and saying, ‘Hey, why don’t you do something about this?’ ” Maltz said. “But I’m just an observer here. I’m just sitting back and watching it all.”
Well, maybe not quite all. Maltz claimed he had no idea that the S.L.A. sent a notice to Greenhouse on March 11 (in which his building management company was also named), alleging 11 different violations of the club’s liquor license since last March — citing brawls, illegal overcrowding and extreme noise — and threatening to revoke the license pending future hearings. The S.L.A. didn’t respond to request for comment about the status of those proceedings, but the March 11 notice also specifically stated that, if the club’s license is revoked, the S.L.A. could also take action affecting the landlord, by prohibiting the issuance of any alcoholic beverage license, for any business, on the premises for two years.
“Well, it is what it is,” he said, upon reading the document (emailed to him by Downtown Express) and seeing the possible two-year prohibition, after which he went on to somewhat freely speculate about what he could do with the Varick St. space if Greenhouse were to go by the wayside.
“You know, it’s a prime location,” he said. “If I get the space back, it could be used for any number of purposes. And then if it became a wine-tasting book club someday, the S.L.A. probably wouldn’t have any problems with that.”
In any case, that notice could have something to do with why Greenhouse’s operators may have temporarily rescinded a recent application to renew their liquor license — which expires at the end of this month — although they couldn’t be reached for comment. Some media outlets have reported that the operators never filed that application, but they did file it back in March, according to Community Board 2, which wrote a resolution opposing the application after receiving word of it from the S.L.A.
Speaking of the club’s operators, although they haven’t said anything publicly, it’s been reported that the club — which still has several years left on its lease, Maltz noted — will soon be undergoing renovations and rebranding.
“Their plan is to remodel and improve the venue in order to create a better relationship with the community,” Maltz said of the unnamed ownership, which, he added, took over from the previous operators several months ago. Specific details about the nature of those improvements are still unclear, but the landlord stated that, “a lot of times, it’s just about changing the kind of music you play, because that can change the clientele.
“[The new operators] are not being thickheaded about this, and their intent is to be a responsible neighbor,” he said.
But a local resident who’s helped lead the charge against a renewal of Greenhouse’s liquor license — citing alleged drug deals on the block, along with frequent street fights and both urination and defecation around neighboring buildings — didn’t share Maltz’s easy-going spirit about the future of the club.
“They have zero credibility with the neighborhood, and I don’t think any of us believe they’re really going to clean up their act,” said Richard Blodgett, president of the Charlton St. Block Association, which represents residents who live just around the corner from the club. He’s been backed by a neighboring block association on Vandam St., which consists of residents who live just outside the crime-plagued haunt.
“Our hope is that they will close and stay closed,” said Blodgett, who has previously met with Maltz to discuss residents’ concerns about Greenhouse.
“I give him credit for meeting with us, but John just doesn’t want to acknowledge that this is a problem in the neighborhood,” the block association president said of the landlord, while also noting that at least 50 residents who live around the club have already written to the S.L.A. to oppose a new liquor license.
For his part, Maltz considers residential concerns to be a natural product of a “neighborhood in transition,” since Hudson Square had previously been a largely industrial area.
“The reality is that anytime they rezone an area, this is a typical friction point, and suddenly the uses that were grandfathered in come under pressure,” he said, referring to the fact that Greenhouse was allowed to remain in place after last year’s Hudson Square rezoning banned nightclubs from the area.
The landlord explained that he sympathizes with long-term residents of the surrounding area, who’ve had to deal with the club’s raucous presence in recent years, but he didn’t express the same sympathy to anyone who might buy a home near the club in the future (if it remains open and licensed).
“Nobody is sympathetic with people who buy houses next to J.F.K. Airport and then complain about the noise,” he said.
But it isn’t just residents who’ve railed against the nightclub — they’re now backed by the neighborhood’s elected officials.
“The State Liquor Authority should shut down Greenhouse, once and for all,” said State Senator Brad Hoylman, in an April 23 emailed statement. “The operators have clearly shown they don’t know how to run a safe venue for customers, and in the process they’ve shown no respect for the local neighborhood.
“The situation doesn’t call for a ‘rebranding’ of the venue, a laughable suggestion from the owners,” Hoylman continued, “but for the S.L.A. to take the strongest action possible and revoke the license for Greenhouse entirely — period, end of story — before someone else gets seriously injured, or worse.”
Back in March, Hoylman, State Assemblymember Deborah Glick and City Councilmember Corey Johnson had also written letters to the S.L.A. opposing Greenhouse’s liquor license application shortly after C.B. 2 voiced its own opposition.
“Well, there you have it — there are political forces at work here,” said Maltz, when asked about the electeds’ condemnation of the club. Thinking in terms of the pols’ responsiveness to local residents, he claimed that none of the commercial tenants in Hudson Square have come to him, or the BID, with complaints about the presence of Greenhouse in the area.
“From a commercial perspective, the club really has no presence, because they’re not even open during [daytime] business hours,” the landlord said. “But, of course, the commercial tenants here can’t vote for the local councilmember.”
Meanwhile, Blodgett and his supporters are just hoping that the rebranding and reopening of Greenhouse is nothing more than a pipe dream for its new operators.
“It’s been hell for our neighborhood,” he said. “All we want is for them to be gone, and for something that actually benefits the community to replace them.”