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Latin American Nonprofit El Taller Risks Losing UWS Home, Founder Says

By Emily Frost | November 26, 2013 9:30am
 The non-profit fears it will be priced out of its current UWS home. 
El Taller Faces Massive Rent Increase
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UPPER WEST SIDE — A 34-year-old nonprofit whose mission is spreading Latin American culture through dance, art, language and music claims a rent increase will push it out of its Upper West Side home.

El Taller Latino Americano learned that the rent on its 4,000-square-foot space on Broadway and West 104th Street will increase by $10,000 to a total of $17,000 a month in July, when its 10-year lease is up — far exceeding what it can afford, staff members said. 

"It’s not that you are evicting El Taller, you’re evicting a whole community," said the nonprofit's founder and artistic director, Bernardo Palombo, who hails from Argentina. "We are of one of the last community strongholds and bastions surviving."

The group is known by many for its range of Spanish-language classes, but it also hosts roughly 50 concerts each year, a dozen art exhibits, and is home to a recording studio, as well as salsa and tango classes, among other programs. 

The landlord, Prana Investments LLC, has owned the building housing El Taller for the 17 years it has occupied the space, and has left all maintenance and building costs to the organization, Palombo said. The rent seventeen years ago was $3,200 a month, before El Taller signed a lease for $7,000 a month almost ten years ago, Palombo said. Prana Investments did not return a request for comment.

"We provide our own heat, security, maintenance and we clean the building," along with paying for water, he explained, which adds up to about $200,000 a year including rent.

The rent costs leaves little room in the organization's annual $400,000 budget for additional expenses, with most of the remaining money going to pay staff, he added.

El Taller started in Chelsea, had to move to the Lower East Side and then relocated again to its current spot as rents rose in Manhattan.

"We are the history of gentrification of New York," Palombo said. 

El Taller has hosted recordings of famous musicians from Pete Seeger to Dan Zanes, as well as scheduling performances by Seeger and Manu Chao for its 35th anniversary party to be held in March, he said. 

In preparation for the party, which the organization hopes will bring attention and support to the nonprofit, El Taller is gathering artwork from people across the city to display in its home.

Palombo had high hopes for the building, including plans to create a rooftop garden, use solar batteries to provide electricity and create a cooking program using produce from the rooftop. 

El Taller doesn't object to its landlord's desire for profit, but rather the amount of the increase.

"We will pay [increased rent], but sadly he has more than duplicated," he said. 

As of Monday, 487 people had signed an online petition in support of the organization. 

Many of those who signed expressed the need for a home for cultural exchange like El Taller in New York City. 

"This wonderful venue is truly open to the diversity of artistic flowering and reflowering in New York City," said resident Patricia Eakins. "There is no place quite like it."  

Seth Daniels, of Brooklyn, described it as "an integral cultural center exposing the local community to the beauty of Latin American culture through art and song."

In addition to pleading with its landlord, El Taller is writing a letter to Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio pointing out that so many arts and cultural organizations in the city face the same challenges. 

"[Rent increases are] affecting any group that is not a multinational here," Palombo said. 

If an agreement or emergency funds are not found, Palombo said he's not sure what will happen to his organization. He has heard about possible spaces in Washington Heights, Inwood and East Harlem and is evaluating them as possibilities, he said.

"Maybe [a move to] Canada," he joked, "we keep on going north."