Scaffolding Is 'Kiss of Death' for Business, BLT Fish Says
FLATIRON — High-end restaurant BLT Fish claims it has been starving for business ever since its next-door neighbor put up scaffolding more than a year and a half ago.
The critically praised Flatiron District eatery says that in August 2012 an adjoining building set up metal guards and a sidewalk shed that extend across its storefront. The scaffolding has caused a dramatic drop in the seafood purveyor's customer base and cost it more than $50,000 a month in revenue.
Business became so bad last year that BLT sued the owner of the adjoining building, calling the scaffolding the “kiss of death.”
The lawsuit was filed in Manhattan Civil Supreme Court in September 2013. At the time the restaurant — which once received a Michelin star — said it had already lost $650,000 in revenue, or about $400,000 in profits.
“You can't even tell there is a restaurant,” Jimmy Haber, the head of ESquared Hospitality, which owns BLT Fish, told DNAinfo New York on Tuesday.
Scaffolding covers the adjoining building at 17 W. 17th St., but the sidewalk shed runs along the façade of BLT's building at 21 W. 17th St., making it difficult to see the restaurant.. BLT signage is posted on the shed, but Haber said the scaffolding is a stomach-turner.
“In a city where there are so many choices of restaurants, are you going to go a restaurant that's totally covered in scaffolding?” he asked.
The lawsuit says that the scaffolding was likely set up to fulfill requirements under the city’s Local Law 11, which mandates that buildings taller than six stories have their facades inspected every five years.
In March 2013, the New York Post reported that the number of scaffolds and sidewalk sheds that are up in the city at any given time has increased in recent years because the city Department of Buildings started staggering the inspections of the 12,000 buildings that fall under Local Law 11.
The Buildings Department could not immediately provide the number of permits for scaffolding and sidewalk sheds that it has issued in the last three years.
BLT’s lawsuit names the building owner, 17 W. 17th Street Enterprises, and three construction companies — Powers Bridging & Scaffolding, Westerman Construction and Contegiacomo LLC — as defendants.
A lawyer for 17 W. 17th Street Enterprises did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for the property manager, Argo Real Estate, also did not respond to a request for comment.
But in a legal filing, the building owner has denied any fault. Westerman has also denied any fault in a legal filing, claimig it's work has been in accordance with the law.
BLT claims Westerman initially told the restaurant in an email that the scaffolding would only be up for three months starting in August 2012.
In April 2013, Westerman updated BLT, stating construction work was finally about to begin and would take another 90 days, the lawsuit says. A month later, the construction company allegedly pushed back the completion date to fall 2013.
Haber said that the companies now refuse to give an end date.
The restaurateur believes building owners have a right to erect scaffolding to perform inspections and repair work but they should make a good-faith effort to do it expeditiously.
“It obviously injures whatever retail businesses are there,” he said. “There should be remedies for the retail tenants.”
The lawsuit seeks an injuction to have the scaffolding taken down.