PARK SLOPE — A developer’s recent purchase of a South Slope building full of work studios has forced at least a dozen artists to leave and left many others fearing for their future, tenants say.
Sugar Hill Capital Partners bought 1713 Eighth Ave. — a three-story building with about 45 workspaces rented by painters, musicians, filmmakers and other creative professionals — for $5.35 million in August 2015, according to public records.
Since then, roughly a dozen tenants on the first floor have had their leases terminated so the space can be renovated, while tenants on other floors have seen rent increases of up to 25 percent, tenants said. Others have been told that their leases won't be renewed, tenants said.
Sugar Hill managing director Alex Friedman is an avid art collector, and the firm's spokeswoman said Sugar Hill is "committed to the arts."
A spokeswoman said Sugar Hill Capital Partners hasn't finalized its plans for the building, and added that the space will remain a "highly creative environment that is in context with the fabric of the neighborhood."
Those words make former tenant Olivier Conan's blood boil.
"The whole idea of them trying to be more artsy then the artists who were renting from them is annoying to say the least," Conan said. "It's a pretty clear cut example of gentrification."
Conan moved to Park Slope 30 years ago and opened the Ninth Street bar and music club Barbès in 2002. He said he tried for years to get a work space at 1713 Eighth Ave., one of the few affordable artists' buildings in the neighborhood, and finally succeeded about a year and a half ago.
Conan ran his record label out of a first-floor studio he split with his wife, a piano teacher. When the new owners arrived, Conan discovered that his lease had expired and was given one month's notice to clear out. Now Conan uses his basement as an office and his wife teaches piano in the kitchen of their apartment.
Artists who rent space at 1713 Eighth Ave. said the new owners seemed to "curate" which tenants were allowed to stay. One tenant said there was no rhyme or reason to the selections, while others said the "culling" seemed based on the type of artist: tenants whose work made noise or involved music were asked to leave, while others were allowed to stay, tenants said.
Tenants said the new owners gave various answers when asked about their plans for the building. One tenant said a representative for Sugar Hill told him they planned to turn the first floor into a sort of co-working space with a cafe, while others were told the building would become a hub for filmmakers with amenities including a screening room.
Sugar Hill is known locally for renovating a dilapidated building on Seventh Avenue and Second Street into luxury condos, and for its intention to purchase the assisted living facility Prospect Park Residence for $76.5 million.
The developer bought 1713 Eighth Ave. — a former factory that's in a residential zone — using an LLC called "1713 Eighth Avenue Residences," according to public records.
Illustrator Sean Qualls rented a first floor space at 1713 Eighth Ave. for $650 a month and when the new owners took over, a representative for Sugar Hill told him they wanted him to stay in the building "because the new owner was very interested in keeping it an arts building," he said.
Qualls was told he had to leave the first floor so it could be renovated, but was offered a new space on one of the upper floors. It was half the size of his original studio and $100 more per month, Qualls said.
He said he decided to leave because of the rent increase, and because the new owners gave "inconsistent" answers when questioned about the building's future. Qualls now rents a work space in the MADarts building on 18th Street and Fifth Ave.
The upheaval is another unsettling moment for local artists, many of whom were rattled in the fall of 2015 when news broke that artists were being forced out of several buildings on Ninth Street in Gowanus.
“New York has always been a changing city, but I’m on the wrong side of the wave right now,” Conan said. “There’s a sense of doom and exodus."
He added, "It makes you wonder about the role of the artist in our society — it seems like the only role of the artist in New York City is to be at the vanguard of the real estate community."