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Patti Smith's Concert at the Chelsea Hotel Irks Residents

By Mathew Katz | January 11, 2012 11:54am
Patti Smith performs in Venice, Italy in Sept. 2011. The songstress is set to put on a private show at the Hotel Chelsea on Thursday.
Patti Smith performs in Venice, Italy in Sept. 2011. The songstress is set to put on a private show at the Hotel Chelsea on Thursday.
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Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

CHELSEA — The return of Hotel Chelsea legend Patti Smith to her former home has sparked the suspicions of some long-time residents.

On Monday, residents recieved a invitation to a private concert featuring "People Have The Power" songstress organized by the landmark hotel's new owner, Joseph Chetrit. Some tenants see it as a peace offering, but others see it as a way for the landlord to get some good PR before an upcoming court hearing.

Tenants have been in an ongoing battle with Chetrit over the safety of renovations to the landmark building at 223 W. 23rd St., and several are fighting eviction cases filed against them.

Many hotel residents say they'll attend Thursday's concert in the hotel's ballroom, but question the motives behind the apparent peace offering. Smith lived in the hotel in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and again in the 1990s.

"If it's a peace offering, then we are going to see it," said Zoe Pappas, head of a tenants' group at the hotel. "If so, we are going to approve it and everything will go very smoothly."

Pappas added that a peace offering can't just be a concert — it has to be true cooperation with tenants, making sure their apartments are safe and the renovation proceeds cleanly.

In a December interim order, a housing court judge told the Chetrits to clean up renovations that an environmental survey said were hazardous to tenants' health. Tenants said common areas have been cleaned, but the Chetrits are still fighting with tenants over what companies get hired to check apartments for mold and other damage.

That case goes back to court on Jan. 20 — a week after the much publicized concert.

"Probably what's going to happen in court is the judge will hear of this concert and think that the landlord is entertaining the people who sued him," said Pappas. "Why didn't this happen after the court date?"

Some tenants said they have seen Smith filming a documentary about herself around the hotel over the past few weeks. Samuel Himmelstein, a lawyer representing the tenants, said he was skeptical of the Chetrits motives behind the concert.

"A peace offering would be if he dropped the eviction cases," he said. "I see this as a PR stunt."

Meli Pennington, another Hotel Chelsea resident, said she was shocked Smith would participate, especially considering her history with the hotel.

"[The Chetrits] may think it's a peace offering, but that would be a total disconnect from their actions," she said. "Now they've made their friend Patti Smith into a political football."

Both the Chetrits and Smith did not respond for comments on this story.

"She came at a time when there was still misery in the hotel," she said. "She's not blind. She could see it herself."