Volume 21, Number 39 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | February 6 - 12, 2009
By Patrick Hedlund
A landlord-tenant feud between a Lower East Side housing development and the neighborhood pizzeria that is its tenant keeps getting meatier, with charges of discrimination, corruption, recipe extortion and property destruction thickening the plot.
The year-and-a-half-old restaurant, Isabella’s Oven on Grand St. near Essex St., was forced to shutter last week after the Seward Park Housing Corporation board said the eatery owed more than a year’s worth of back rent.
The establishment’s owner, Teresa Rizzo-Marino, said that the co-op board unfairly forced the pizza joint to close after not reimbursing the eatery’s operators for renovation work performed on the premises. The back rent — which she estimated at about $61,000 — had not posed a problem, according to Rizzo-Marino, who claimed the board was previously unconcerned with the overdue amount.
But after a new management company was brought in at the co-op, Rizzo-Marino said that the board followed through on a “personal vendetta” to boot the restaurant for, among other things, her mother-in-law’s membership on the co-op board and her employing of convicted felons inside the roughly 500-square-foot space.
Rizzo-Marino also said that a former Seward Park board member commented that she should move to Little Italy, sparking charges of discrimination. Another board member, she said, had confided plans to oust her while keeping the Isabella’s name and relieving past-due payments in exchange for the restaurant’s pizza recipes.
“They have made my life hell since I started there,” Rizzo-Marino told Mixed Use, adding that the board wouldn’t hear her out when she offered to pay $10,000 on the spot, or when her lawyers presented a three-point plan to salvage the situation. “It’s been horrible.”
An attorney for the Seward Park board said the eviction was pursued only on the grounds of rent owed — $77,000 in total, according to the board — and that the restaurant consented to the January judgment regarding the arrears.
“They were treated fairly,” said Steven Anderson, of Anderson and Ochs, L.L.P., who disputed that Rizzo-Martino offered to pay $10,000. “We negotiated and tried to give them the opportunity to pay their arrears, and they didn’t, so we went forward with eviction proceedings.”
The Internet lit up with comments regarding the situation — including some from Rizzo-Marino herself — with a few alleging that the pizzeria people took a sledgehammer to the space prior to their departure. Rizzo-Marino denied the accusations, stating she only left with what she owned before turning in her keys over the weekend.
Now, with her “life savings” of $300,000 gone, Rizzo-Marino hopes to open another Isabella’s in the same neighborhood her grandparents first landed generations ago.
Slump’s silver lining
It’s a good time to be a renter in New York City.
Prices for rentals across Manhattan have fallen off precipitously in some neighborhoods while remaining steady in others, but the undisputed truth is that with unemployment rising and finances frozen, landlords have become the prey as they clamber to fill their units.
According to a year-end analysis by the Real Estate Group New York, rents in Manhattan doorman and non-doorman units have shown steady decline since September, with all apartment types combined decreasing an average of 4.375 percent year over year.
From December 2007 to December 2008, the Downtown neighborhood to show the greatest decrease was the East Village, which posted a 10.18 percent tumble in rents across all unit types. (Non-doorman two-bedrooms fell the most, 15.6 percent, with doorman one-bedrooms dropping 12.7 percent.) The Lower East Side slipped by 3.06 percent overall, with doorman studios decreasing 20.9 percent and doorman one-bedrooms dropping 13.3 percent in a year. (The number was offset by a 10.6 percent gain in non-doorman studios.)
Soho suffered a 2.9 percent falloff, with non-doorman two-bedrooms declining 7.9 percent and non-doorman studios falling 4.8 percent. Tribeca rose slightly, showing a 0.06 percent increase overall, with slips in prices for non-doorman one-bedrooms (down 9.7 percent) and non-doorman two-bedrooms (down 5.4 percent) being offset by a 14.4 jump in doorman two-bedrooms.
The Financial District also fared relatively well, posting a 2.12 percent overall increase for all rental units. The neighborhood was led by a 14.4 percent surge in the price of non-doorman studios, although doorman two-bedrooms were down 6.6 percent.
Finally, Battery Park City — where only doorman units were measured — dropped by 8.7 percent overall. Studios in the area decreased by 15 percent, while one-bedrooms slipped 11.4 percent.
All the Downtown neighborhoods combined posted a 3.16 decrease year over year, better than the overall city average.
Bowery turning ‘Green’
Manhattan’s first outpost of Green Depot will open Downtown next week, bringing the company’s flagship consumer retail location to the Bowery.
The store — which focuses exclusively on green building materials, products, services and solutions — will operate out of 3,500 square feet between Prince and Spring Sts., and marks the Brooklyn-based company’s sixth site since debuting in 2005.
The store opens on an up-and-coming stretch of the formerly rundown row, just across the street from the New Museum.
The company’s “first targeted consumer retail store” came about after the original Brooklyn location, which generally serviced contractors and design professionals, saw “pregnant ladies schlepping out to East Williamsburg” to get their hands on green products, said marketing director Honey Berk.
“The space just seemed perfect for what we wanted to do,” she added, citing the LEED-certified store’s proximity to retail and art institutions.
Patrons will find everything from green kitchen appliances and countertops to cabinets and flooring, the company’s “icon system” of rating the materials. Cleaning supplies with be offered on tap so customers can refill old bottles, and the store will feature a children’s department.