SOHO — The Parks Department is hunting for the mystery hatchet man who illegally cut off the tops of a pair of trees that obscured a Tribeca Film Festival and Heineken billboard in SoHo, officials said.
The four-story ad — which is affixed to the façade of a building at the southwest corner of West Houston Street and West Broadway — drew the attention of the city after investigators got a tip that someone had lopped off the tops of a pair of 10-year-old honey locust trees in front of it, officials said.
"We … are investigating this incident by speaking to local business owners and building managers, and have made inquiries with the billboard company and its advertisers," a Parks Department spokesman said.
It's illegal to damage trees on city property, and violations can be punishable by fines as much as $15,000 and a year in prison, according to the Parks department website.
The ad, which is a joint venture between Heineken beer and the Tribeca Film Festival, stretches across the side of 482 West Broadway, reading: "Cut to: The exterior of a New York City apartment building. From street level, we can barely make out what's happening inside."
The "wallscape" style ad — which has cutouts for the building's windows — is owned by national billboard company Fuel Outdoor.
Fuel Outdoor did not respond to multiple calls for comment.
A Heineken rep denied the company was behind the tree mutilation, saying that it has photos that prove it was already cleared when the billboard was erected April 2.
"Heineken USA does not condone any illegal activity and would never request that any such activity be taken on its behalf," a spokeswoman said.
But the beer company said it plans to look into "whether or not the third-party installer of the sign has any knowledge of what happened."
Reps did not immediately release the name of that company.
A Tribeca Film Festival spokesman said the festival had no knowledge of work performed on the trees.
TriBeCa resident Steve Boyce, 60, said he noticed the disfigured trees earlier this month and called the Parks Department to report them.
"Trees that belong to the public were vandalized, and the benefits of these trees have been lost," said Boyce, who is certified by the city as a citizen tree pruner.
He estimated that the trees might never recover from the damage.
"They'll have spindly little branches," he said. "They're functionally never going to recover and maybe won't survive at all."
The manager of Bar Henry, which is located near the billboard, called the ad and hacked-up trees "hideous."
"That giant billboard and now those [cut] trees take away from the aesthetic of the neighborhood," said Paul Oveisi, 39.