SOUTH STREET SEAPORT — The owners of a shuttered South Street Seaport restaurant are suing their landlord, real estate giant Howard Hughes Corporation, claiming the company has "fraudulently" refused to reopen the restaurant's building months after Hurricane Sandy as a way of forcing them out of their below-market lease.
The Himami family, which owns six eateries on the Seaport’s soon-to-be overhauled Pier 17, says in the suit that Howard Hughes has in “bad faith” kept the Link Building — which sits next to the pier’s mall — closed since the massive storm.
Although Howard Hughes managed to reopen the Pier 17 mall about a month after Sandy hit, tenants of the adjacent Link Building, which is home to the Himamis' Seaport Cafe, received notice in late December that the building would remain shuttered because of storm damage.
“While we were already struggling, we then get hit with more bad news,” said Sal Himami, who owns the Seaport Cafe and other restaurants on the pier, along with his dad and uncles.
The suit charges that the real reason Howard Hughes hasn't reopened the Link Building is that the developer wants to force the Seaport Cafe out of its below-market lease, which expires in September 2017, before the company guts the entire pier — including the tourist-friendly, dated Pier 17 mall — and replaces it with high-end shops and restaurants built in a sleek, glass structure.
"The Landlord is attempting in bad faith to use Storm Sandy as a pretense to rid itself of Seaport Cafe as a tenant because Seaport Cafe’s lease, which runs through 9-30-17 is below market in comparison to retail rental that the Landlord could garner, if it relets the premises to other future tenants,” reads the suit, filed in Manhattan federal court on Jan. 23.
The suit, which is seeking $600,000 in damages, also claims that Howard Hughes' own architect certified to the Department of Buildings last fall that the Link Building was safe to reoccupy, so there is no reason for Howard Hughes to keep it closed.
But the architect, Teresa Malihan, told DNAinfo.com New York that she only inspected the Pier 17 mall, not the Link Building.
Howard Hughes called the lawsuit "completely without merit."
"Due to the significant flood damage from Hurricane Sandy to the Link Building, The Howard Hughes Corporation lawfully terminated the lease agreements of all of the Link Building tenants, including The Seaport Cafe, under the casualty termination provisions contained in each of these lease agreements," the company said in a statement.
"The Link Building will not reopen and remains a part of the Pier 17 redevelopment project."
The Department of Buildings did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Howard Hughes faces a similar lawsuit from Bridgewaters, a high-end Seaport catering hall, which claimed the developer was using Hurricane Sandy as an excuse to keep the venue closed and ultimately force Bridgewaters out of its relatively cheap lease.
Himami, whose family has owned restaurants on Pier 17 since 1997, said he hopes to someday return to open new businesses there.
"We have had a good relationship with Howard Hughes," he said. "We support the redevelopment. We want to be a part of it."