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Commercial Tenants Abruptly Booted from W. 27th St. Building After Sale

By Maya Rajamani | August 30, 2017 9:56am
 Icon Realty Management's building at 109 W. 27th St., between Sixth and Seventh avenues.
Icon Realty Management's building at 109 W. 27th St., between Sixth and Seventh avenues.
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DNAinfo/Maya Rajamani

CHELSEA — At least a dozen commercial tenants — including a longtime theater company for women — were abruptly evicted or are leaving their West 27th Street building following the recent sale of the property to a controversial developer, saying they weren't given the chance to negotiate new leases.

Seven commercial tenants leasing spaces at 109 W. 27th St., between Sixth and Seventh avenues received lease termination notices from an entity called 109 West 27th Street LLC on July 13, they confirmed to DNAinfo New York.

The businesses include the offices for the nonprofit, women-centric theater company New Georges, the fashion and beauty site SHEfinds and the NYC Hemophilia Chapter.

Employees at five other businesses in the building — including Korean community center HeyKorean and events-services company Space In The Raw — said their companies had already moved out or planned to move out of their spaces, but declined to comment on the circumstances.

The 11-story building — which houses around 30 commercial tenants, according to a sign in its lobby — was purchased from EJ Realty by DH Property Holdings president Dov Hertz earlier this year, who in turn "flipped the contract" for the building to Icon Realty Management, The Real Deal previously reported.

On Tuesday, Icon principal Terrence Lowenberg confirmed Icon currently owns the building, but said the notices were sent out by the building’s former owner.

Lowenberg did not say whether EJ Realty or DH Property Holdings sent out the notices. EJ Realty didn’t immediately respond to request for comment Tuesday, and DH Property Holdings couldn’t be reached for comment.

A copy of the notice sent to tenants states they have 90 days, or until approximately Oct. 12, to vacate the building. 

Many of the building’s tenants have been there for more than a decade, several tenants told DNAinfo.

New Georges has been operating out of its space in the building since 2000, artistic director Susan Bernfield said.

“Our lease was almost up anyway, but it’s very depressing, because we’ve been here for 17 years,” said Bernfield, adding that the company wasn't given an opportunity to negotiate for the space.

The 90-day notice the theater received was “incredibly inconvenient,” she added.

“The neighborhood obviously has changed, so I feel like in some ways, our ability to stay in the building and pay the rent was going to be in question, but the idea that we would not have the opportunity to pursue that option was totally news,” she said. “It didn’t feel like there was even the flexibility we would have had with the normal landlords.”

Ji Rook Kim, who runs a design studio called unSPACE on the building's 11th floor, also received a termination notice on July 13, despite having three more years left on his lease, he said.

He planned to speak with his attorney about the situation, but said it was unlikely he’d try to stay.

“It looks like everybody’s moving out,” Kim said. “I don’t want to be the only guy standing.”

A handful of other tenants either did not respond to requests for comment or declined to comment.

The building’s tenants had provisions in their leases stating the owner could terminate them if it sold the building, said an attorney for Icon Realty Management, Joseph Goldsmith, adding that the new owner will be moving forward with the leases terminations.

“... [E]veryone agrees just from the get-go that this is something that may occur in the future if the building is ultimately sold, and… they were given specific time frames that they thought would be appropriate for them to be able to leave in the event that that happens,” he said.

A few tenants said they assumed Icon planned to lease the spaces out to new tenants who could pay higher rents, while others speculated the developer could be planning to gut-renovate the building or even convert it into a residential building.

Goldsmith said Icon has no plans to convert the building to residential use, but added that Icon’s policy “is not to really discuss its strategies for its investments.” No plans for the property had been filed with the Department of Buildings as of Wednesday, records show.

Goldsmith couldn’t say how many of the building’s tenants were moving out or had already moved out. 

For tenants like Bernfield — whose company will be moving to a WeWork space for the time being — the eviction didn’t necessarily come as a surprise, given that New Georges is “super-duper small budget.”

“I’m very sad about it, obviously, because I’m the one that’s been here so long,” she said. “[But] we sort of have been living on borrowed time, I think.”