Volume 21, Number 23 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | Oct. 17 - 23, 2008

Under Cover

Target: Gerson
The Working Families Party is targeting Councilmember Alan Gerson, pressing him to live up to his word and oppose any change to term limits that is not passed in a voter referendum. The party, which usually endorses Democrats, is sending out mailings to Gerson’s Downtown constituents and is also zeroing in on six others on the fence. For years Gerson has said he would only back a change to term limits if it was passed by the voters who imposed them, but now that the moment of truth is coming, he is undecided on the vote.

Is it just the baseball playoffs that’s making the Yogi Berra phrase, “déjà vu all over again,” pop into our heads?

Menin wows ‘em
Our own local community board chairperson, Julie Menin, is moving up the talking head A-list. A few weeks ago we told you of her media consultant’s youtube clip packaging her as a media guest. It is apparently paying dividends.

She went toe-to-toe with seasoned Republican operative Ed Rollins in the vice presidential preview and next-day analysis on CNN, impressing both Rollins and moderator John Roberts. Rollins, who helped run Ronald Reagan’s oft-praised “Morning in America” campaign in 1984, had less successful efforts with Mike Huckabee and Ross Perot. He said on the air that his crossfire foe was a “great debater.”

Roberts, who lost out to Katie Couric for the top anchor slot at CBS, shook Menin’s hand at the end and said “I have a sense you’ll be back here.”

“She’s a great talent,” Rollins agreed.

Of course, one of our Menin watch tipsters pointed out that she is appearing on national TV as a Democratic analyst even though she was a registered Republican who gave $10,000 to former Gov. George Pataki in 2002, around the time she switched parties.

50 West delay
Another casualty of the free-falling economy is 50 West St., the condo tower Time Equities hopes to build in Greenwich St. South.

Francis Greenburger, C.E.O. of Time Equities, told Crain’s New York Business last month that the firm is slowing work on 50 West’s foundation, because he doesn’t have a construction loan to build the 65-story tower.

“Our main bank group told us they can’t do it now,” Greenburger told Crain’s. “They advised us to come back to them in the spring.”

UnderCover called Greenburger’s spokesperson for more information, but she would not confirm anything and would not give a new completion date for the tower. The building was supposed to rise above ground next summer and open in 2011.

The luxury tower was not one of the community board’s favorite projects, but that doesn’t mean board members are happy to see it stalled.

“The last thing this community needs is another uncompleted project…or another hole in the ground,” said Catherine McVay Hughes of Community Board 1. “Hopefully the financing will come through and what was promised can be realized.”

Ink to wine
The building on Varick between Spring and Vandam Sts. formerly occupied by El Diario newspaper is now home to City Winery. Billed as “Manhattan’s first private-label winery,” it will offer winemaking, winemaking classes, tastings and concerts.

With two levels, the capacious, 21,000-square-foot space will hold 200 private wine barrels in the basement. You can buy one starting at just $5,000 per year, and going up to $12,000, depending on type of barrel and grapes. A barrel will yield 250 bottles of wine, with the vino ready for bottling after one year. Barrel owners can design their own label, but can’t sell the wine due to New York State Law — though merlot makers will be able to trade bottles with cabernet crafters and pinot practitioners, and so on.

Trucks will drop off the grapes at the building’s loading dock. Said grapes will then go through a destemming machine, then along a conveyor belt, allowing barrel owners to inspect the makings of their beverage-to-be. Alas, not barefoot peasants imported from Italy and France, but special, high-tech machines will then crush the grapes. Eight friends might go in on a barrel, or a company can buy one — giving the perfect excuse for a company “crushing party,” “bottling party” and, of course, let’s not forget the “uncorking party”…you get the picture.

The main oenophile behind City Winery is Michael Dorf, founder of the Knitting Factory in Tribeca. It’s not surprising then that, tapping Dorf’s music-world connections, City Winery will also sport a small stage and offer musical events. Already scheduled are Philip Glass and Wilco, though a C.W. spokesperson tells us that musical performances won’t really get going until 2009. The place will also be an event space, with room for 200 people seated or 400 standing. Grape deliveries started a few weeks ago and the winemaking equipment is currently being tasted, er, tested. The whole kit and caboodle, complete with a restaurant and a Murray’s Cheese shop — of course, you need some delicious cheese to go with all that wine! — will open next month.

Members only
Community Board 1 met with General Growth Properties Tuesday night about the developer’s plans for the South St. Seaport. It was purportedly a public meeting, but there was just one problem: The public wasn’t invited.

A surprised UnderCover caught the last minute of the meeting by chance and saw Michael McNaughton, a G.G.P. vice president; Janell Vaughan, Seaport manager; and Greg Pasquarelli, principal with SHoP Architects fielding questions from C.B. 1 members. All community board meetings are required by law to be open to the public, with advance notification.

Noah Pfefferblit, C.B. 1 district manager, said the meeting was scheduled last minute, but he said a public e-mail still should have gone out about it.

“I had instructed that the notice go out to the public and the press like all our notices do,” Julie Menin, board chairperson, said in an e-mail to UnderCover. “I am distressed to hear about this as my instruction was clear.”

Menin had a chance to meet privately with General Growth last spring before they made their Seaport plans public, but she declined to do so, saying it was important for all of the developer’s presentations to the board to take place in a public forum.

At Tuesday’s meeting, G.G.P. apparently heard more of the same complaints from the community board, including concern over the height of the 495-foot condo and hotel tower.

General Growth’s falling stock price led Paul Hovitz to ask what would happen if the company was sold — would the new developer have to abide by the community amenities G.G.P. is promising?

Hovitz said General Growth would put the amenities into its agreement with the city Economic Development Corporation to make them permanent.




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