Thursday, September 13, 2007

After Evictions, A Building Slowly Empties

After Evictions, A Building Slowly Empties

By Anna Phillips
Before last summer, the auto body shops at 3251 Broadway buzzed with activity, as workers on each floor yelled to each other in Spanish while they repaired and painted cars. Now, three of the businesses have been evicted, and two others have relocated, while one business in the basement and one on the ground floor remain in operation.

Since May 2006, when Columbia—the owner of the building and its neighbor, 3249 Broadway—announced that the tenants would have to vacate the building when their leases expired, two of the tenants have been able to negotiate relocation deals. The other three businesses were evicted this past July, and because of the tangled web of leases and subleases within the building, the University has not recognized these businesses as tenants.

Juan Javier German leased two spaces in 3251 Broadway and one in 3249. He used one to run his own business, the 3251 Broadway Auto Center. Earlier this year, German made a deal with Columbia. The University paid him an amount his lawyer, Philip van Buren, would not disclose, but he did say it was enough to start a new business. In return, German agreed to leave the building.

Matters quickly became complicated, as German had subleased his other two spaces. One of German’s tenants, Tony Garcia, was operating a business called Tony Nova’s Body Shop and another tenant, named Indio, had an auto body paint shop on the fifth floor of 3251. According to Columbia’s policy, Garcia and Indio were not University tenants, so they did not have contracts stipulating that in the event that Columbia empties the building, they must be relocated with compensation. Instead, they were German’s tenants.

In March of this year, when German was battling Columbia over a relocation deal, he said, “I’ve got around 20 people working for me, and I’m worried they’re going to be on the street.”

Now, German’s workers are in the same position as his tenants. Since he left, they have joined together to form the 3251 Broadway Workers’ Association in hopes of securing a relocation deal from Columbia.

In April, Columbia offered Garcia a space on 125th Street, but because the building’s certificate of occupancy did not allow for auto body painting—part of Garcia’s business—he declined the offer. Garcia was told that he could apply to be a tenant, and his application would receive consideration based on availability of space. But in July of this year, Columbia’s lawyers wrote to van Buren, telling him that there was no available space in Manhattanville.

“Since Manhattanville is three-quarters empty at the moment, it’s sort of an incredible statement,” van Buren said. “On the one hand, Columbia feels that it’s charging ahead and making its final dash for victory, and so in that sense, if you were thinking about starting to demolish buildings, having spaces empty at this point would be a reasonable expectation of any developer. However they’re putting the cart a little before the horse.”

Columbia spokeswoman La-Verna Fountain said this is not the case, that there is still space for tenants and that the University’s ultimate goal is to ensure that the Columbia-owned buildings of Manhattanville are put to use in the “interim” before any construction begins.

She said that Garcia applied for space in August and is currently going through the review process, but because his business involves painting, which violates certificates of occupancy on the University’s available buildings, Columbia probably won’t offer him space. As landlord, Columbia could apply for a permissive certificate of occupancy which would outline terms of use for Garcia and could include an exception for auto painting. According to Fountain, it would be a long process.

The two businesses that made relocation deals—Los Compadres Auto Repair and New Millennium Auto Repair—are long gone from the building, which is much quieter than before.
German has yet to open a new shop.

“He hasn’t exactly made a lot of friends,” van Buren said.

Anna Phillips can be reached at

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