By Elizabeth OBrien
Workers at American Park restaurant, facing a possible holiday eviction, protested against the city Parks Department on Monday at a news conference at the embattled Battery Park eatery.
The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation has threatened to shutter American Park for what it calls the restaurants failure to keep up with revenue-sharing payments after Sept. 11, 2001. A federal bankruptcy judge is expected to hear the case on Tuesday.
People become numbers its ridiculous, said executive chef Rad Matmati, speaking inside the festively decorated restaurant whose wreathes and gold ornaments contrasted sharply with the somber mood of the employees.
Tony Golio, president of the Shellbank Restaurant Corp., which opened the upscale American Park on city-owned land in 1998, said the agency has overlooked the restaurants role in helping the city through the difficult period following the terror attack. The restaurant served as an emergency triage center immediately after 9/11 and then served as a police headquarters for more than a month. It incurred $30,000 in utility bills during the time when police occupied the facility, Golio said.
The city is just being unreasonable, Golio said.
As part of its bankruptcy reorganization, the restaurant secured $1 million in financing that would cover the approximately $600,000 that Shellbank owes the city, Golio said.
Ron Lieberman, the director of the Parks Departments revenue division, said that Shellbank and its parent company, Tam Restaurants Inc., actually owe a combined amount of $1.36 million to the city. He said the city offered the restaurant delayed rent and other concessions after 9/11, but that as recently as this month, Shellbank had bounced checks to the city.
Its unfortunate, and its been a long struggle to keep them open, Lieberman said. Right now, its at a point where we cant put the taxpayers at this much risk.
Lieberman said that if it was the case that American Park incurred $30,000 in utility costs when police occupied the waterfront facility, the restaurant could file a claim and the city would pay that amount.
Lieberman said that the city has chosen a new operator for the restaurant, a partnership that is scheduled to begin operations on January 6, 2004, pending Tuesdays decision by the bankruptcy judge. The partners will continue to operate an upscale restaurant on the spot and will make an effort to hire American Park employees, Lieberman said.
Elyn Rosenthal, a Financial District resident, said she would miss American Park if its forced to close. Rosenthals 8-year-old daughter has celiac disease, a digestive disorder triggered by the ingestion of certain grains. The staff at American Park has always graciously accommodated Macies dietary restrictions, Rosenthal said, and the restaurant recently made its actions official when it joined the Gluten-Free Restaurant Awareness Program.
I hope they work it out, Rosenthal said. If its gone its going to be a cultural loss for Downtown.