Volume 22, Number 11 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | July 24 - 30, 2009
Downtown Express photo by Jared T. Miller
Aleks Misyuk in front of his Fulton St. store.
Faced with construction, merchants want facade funds
By Julie Shapiro
After years of enduring the seemingly endless construction on Fulton St., Aleks Misyuk thought he finally had some good news.
Several months ago, city representatives told him that his business, My Optician at 88 Fulton St., would receive a grant to improve its storefront.
“They said there’s no way you will not be approved,” Misyuk said. “It was hard for me to believe in that — there’s nothing free in this country. But they were coming in one day after another, very energetic. It was hard not to believe in that after a while.”
However, when Misyuk filled out an application and submitted it, the answer came back quickly: He was not currently eligible because his landlord had outstanding violations on the property.
“You said you want to help out business owners,” Misyuk said angrily, referring to the city. “I am a small guy. You said you want to do something in particular for my store — why don’t you do that?”
Janel Patterson, spokesperson for the city’s Economic Development Corp., said in an e-mail that the city is trying to contact Misyuk’s landlord and hopes to work with the building’s commercial tenants to find a solution. Patterson said that while buildings with warrants, liens and violations are not automatically disqualified from the program, any problems must be cleared up before the city begins work on the property.
The $15 million Fulton Nassau Crossroads Program offers free design, engineering and construction management, along with up to $275,000 for construction, to buildings on Fulton and Nassau Sts. The idea behind the program, funded by the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., is to improve the storefronts along the major Seaport retail corridors that have undergone a lot of recent construction. The city has approved about 50 businesses so far and is still taking applications.
Several business owners who are receiving grants lauded the program this week, but it is unclear whether Misyuk will ever benefit from it.
Thurcon Properties, the owner of Misyuk’s building, has received more than half a dozen violations from the Dept. of Buildings over the past three years for failing to maintain the elevator. As a result of the repeated violations, Thurcon owes more than $20,000 to the city, according to D.O.B.’s online records.
Thurcon did not return calls for comment.
Misyuk did not criticize his landlord, but rather said the city should find a way to still give him the grant money, which he was promised. City representatives told him the only way he would not get a grant was if he owed taxes or was a criminal, Misyuk said.
Misyuk has long thought his storefront needed work, and before he had even heard of the city program, he had already taken out a private loan of $20,000 to renovate it. But once city representatives told him he was virtually guaranteed a grant through the facade-improvement program, he spent the money on advertising and other costs instead.
“I wasted my loan,” Misyuk said this week, and now he cannot afford to take out another one to do the storefront work he had planned. He estimates that he needs $12,000, which falls well within the lowest tier of the city’s program. Misyuk hopes an all-glass storefront would attract more customers into his shop, which has suffered during two years of water-main construction on Fulton St.
John Fratta, chairperson of Community Board 1’s Seaport Committee, was surprised to hear of Misyuk’s difficulties.
“That’s outrageous,” Fratta said. “That’s unbelievable, that they will leave that storefront unrenovated… The money’s not going to the landlord, the money is going to the storeowner.”
The city’s program has three tiers, representing varying levels of funding and scopes of work. The lowest level, which Misyuk applied for, gives business owners up to $15,000 for basic improvements to their storefronts. The upper tiers are for more extensive work, possibly covering the entire building, and require owners to contribute some money as well.
Those who have been approved for the program said it is coming not a moment too soon.
Alex Cardinali, who owns the Ruben’s Empanadas on Fulton St., said he lost 40 percent of his sales since the water-main construction started two years ago, and the only way he’s able to stay open is by using profits from his other three Ruben’s locations to pay the bills.
With up to $15,000 from the city, Cardinali will buy a new electric gate, repaint his storefront and replace the air-conditioning unit. He said he could not afford to make the improvements on his own.
“People are optimistic — for a change,” Cardinali said of some of his neighbors, who are also receiving grants. “We’ve been suffering for the past two years.”
The city’s program also offers consulting that is particularly helpful for owners of landmarked buildings.
Andy Kettler, an owner of the landmarked 127 Fulton St., qualified for all three tiers of the city program, which means he will receive hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of work, though he has to match a portion of it. The grants will allow him to restore the long-vacant storefront to its 1893 condition, and also to clean the entire facade.
“It’s working out great for us,” Kettler said. He hopes the work will begin this fall and finish in the spring, and that he’ll finally be able to attract a ground-floor retail tenant to the space.
Sadia Brangan just heard this week that her Nassau St. eyebrow salon, Thread, was approved for the program. The store has been draped in scaffolding since she opened it almost two years ago, and a previous owner’s sign still lurks behind that scaffolding, Brangan said. She hopes the scaffolding will come down soon, so she can use her grant to put up her own sign and get a new security gate.
Brangan said the city’s program has the power to transform the hodgepodge retail corridors into a more visually appealing place to shop, like Soho or the Lower East Side. The more businesses take advantage of the program, the greater the impact could be, she said.
“When you walk down Nassau St., you don’t have a trendy feel,” Brangan said. “It would help us more if other businesses updated their look.”