SOUTH STREET SEAPORT — It’s a restaurant built for more than 200, but on a dreary Wednesday afternoon, Pier 17’s Pacific Grill was serving lunch to just two tables — a total of four people.
“It’s just terrible,” said Sal Himami, who owns the restaurant — and five other Pier 17 eateries — with his dad and uncles. “We are absolutely just losing thousands of dollars. Everybody here is.”
As businesses in the Seaport continue to struggle in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Himami said he was recently dealt another blow. He and other Pier 17 tenants received lease-termination notices a few weeks ago from the pier's owner, the Howard Hughes Corporation, saying they have to leave by May 1 in anticipation of a massive redevelopment project slated to begin in July.
Tenants have long known about the upcoming overhaul of the pier — which calls for gutting the entire mall and replacing it with high-end shops and restaurants built in a sleek, glass structure — but many business owners had hoped they'd be able to keep their doors open longer into the warm weather.
Howard Hughes representatives had previously said at public Community Board 1 meetings that tenants would be able to stay until at least May 31.
And tenants, along with CB1, have been urging both Howard Hughes and the City Planning Commission to push the construction start date back to Oct. 1, allowing the pier’s stores to take advantage of the bustling summer season.
The only chance to recoup at least some of their losses, owners said, is in the warmer months ahead.
“That just makes no sense,” Himami said of the May 1 vacate date. “We’ve been asking for a full summer, and now they cut it off even before May. Everyone's not just upset — they're devastated.”
Himami also received a notice saying the mall’s neighboring building, known as the Link Building and home to large restaurants like Pizzeria Uno and another Himami restaurant, the Seaport Cafe, will not reopen at all following the storm. The Seaport Cafe, the letter from Howard Hughes reads, will have to be out by Jan. 26.
Himami said he and his family — who have run restaurants on the pier since 1996 — want to have a continued good relationship with Howard Hughes, and very much hope to come back after the reconstruction.
“We really want to work with them on this,” Himami said. “And I think wanting to stay, even at least through May, is completely reasonable.”
But Himami will also have other issues to sort out with Howard Hughes. Two of his restaurants, the Seaport Cafe and Nathan's, have long-term leases. The leases aren’t up until 2015 for the Seaport Café and October 2013 for Nathan’s, so legally, according to his lease, he shouldn't be able to be kicked out, he explained.
Himani said he’s supposed to meet with Howard Hughes this week to discuss the situation and is hoping for a resolution.
A Howard Hughes representative confirmed that Pier 17 businesses have received the lease-termination notices.
"As we move ahead with the highly-anticipated redevelopment, termination notices have been sent to tenants, in accordance to their specific leases, to give them the opportunity to relocate their businesses," the company said in a statement.
Other business owners who didn't have long-term leases said their temporary leases are up at the end of April, and Howard Hughes acknowledged they won't be renewed.
Tom Berton, the owner of Manhattan By Sail, a sailboat touring company that operates out of the South Street Seaport’s Pier 17, said that although he was disheartened when he received his May 1 termination notice, he and others will continue to try to persuade Howard Hughes and the city to change the date.
The City's Planning Commission is slated to vote on the redevelopment this month. The plan would then go before the City Council, but may not happen until March or later.
"Everyone is hoping Howard Hughes and the city will see how helpful more time will be for this devastated community," Berton said. "It just seems like such a reasonable thing to ask — this is about our livelihoods and the livelihood of the whole Seaport."