Just DON’T do it! Community calls foul on Soho Niketown; City delays store’s opening

"Enforce the law!" local politicians and residents chanted outside the new Niketown superstore in Soho on Thursday. They charge the project did not go through the required public review. Photos by Tequila Minsky
“Enforce the law!” residents and local politicians — including Assememblymember Deborah Glick, front row center, and Councilmember Margaret Chin, right — chanted outside the new Niketown superstore in Soho last Thursday. They charge the project did not go through the required public review. Photos by Tequila Minsky

BY DENNIS LYNCH | Updated Wed., Nov, 16: Nike’s Soho superstore Niketown at 529 Broadway did not open on Veterans Day as the popular athletic brand had planned and scores of superfans had hoped. The Department of Buildings rescinded a permit that would have allowed the store to open for its big launch so that inspectors could certify the plumbing and electrical there, according to a D.O.B. source.

Now D.O.B. will take “enforcement action” if anyone other than the contractor occupies the five-story building, an agency source said — meaning the dozens of patrons who came on Friday to get first dibs on limited-edition shoes went home empty-footed.

Instead of having people wait in line or camp out overnight outside the store, Nike employees handed out 500 wristbands to the “sneaker heads” on Thursday to hold their place in line.

However, when the footwear enthusiasts showed up Friday, they were asked for their contact information, so that they could be sent $200 gift certificates to reimburse them for their trouble, according to a First Precinct community affairs officer.

As of press time on Wednesday, the store still had not opened.

The supersized retail site has become a lightning rod for opposition in the neighborhood. On Thursday, locals and politicians rallied outside D.O.B.’s Broadway headquarters to demand the agency penalize the building’s owners for what they called their blatant disregard of city laws and the neighborhood’s well-being. A D.O.B. spokesperson said the rally and the revocation of the building’s Temporary Place of Assembly permit were not at all related and that the project “complies with code and zoning.”

The new Nike superstore is enormous at 55,000 square feet. It’s all new construction.

The two-dozen or so people who gathered outside D.O.B.’s Broadway office had a litany of charges. They accused D.O.B. of allowing a complete demolition of the old two-story steel frame building there and new building construction at 529 Broadway by signing off on the project as an alteration. The proper project classification, the opponents said, would have required the developers to present their plans before local politicians and Community Board 2, giving them a chance to object and possibly nix or alter the project.

“It’s our only opportunity and it’s our legal right to be heard when a plan comes forward that will bring with it negative impacts, and we are not being given that opportunity,” said Pete Davies of the Broadway Residents Coalition.

The developers of 529 Broadway avoided the requirement to file for a new building application by allegedly “leaving up” 50 percent of the building’s exterior walls — namely, the two exterior walls of the adjacent buildings, which they claimed were shared walls, known as “party walls.” However, the owners of one neighboring building wrote a letter to D.O.B. stating that their wall was not actually a shared wall, yet the D.O.B. signed off on the applications anyway.

Last Thursday, people waiting in line for the Niketown's grand opening the next day were given wristbands with numbers on them, to "hold their place in line" till the next day, so they would not have to camp out overnight. But when they returned on Friday, the store had not opened and they were given $200 gift certificates.
Last Thursday, people waiting in line for the Niketown’s grand opening were given wristbands with numbers on them, to “hold their place in line,” so they would not have to camp out overnight. But when they returned on Friday, the store had not opened and they were instead given $200 gift certificates.

In another twist, in the case of other supersized Soho stores, such as Bloomingdale’s, developers have filed for separate smaller retail stores within the larger space. And because each of those allegedly “separate” retail stores is less than 10,000 square feet, they did not exceed the area’s zoning restriction on retail stores over 10,000 square feet that would require a special permit and a public review.

However, in the case of Niketown, the developer did not have to get around the 10,000-square-foot cap by resorting to this loophole of “smaller stores” within the space, because, according to D.O.B., the site is grandfathered — due to the two walls that were left standing.

Last year, local officials identified 19 oversized stores in Soho and only two with special permits allowing that use. Davies believes that in some cases, inspectors and other D.O.B. officials are not aware of that special permit rule, so large stores slip past.

The activist thinks the city should simplify some building codes and city laws to help spot irregularities.

People waiting outside the Niketown store last Thursday were ultimately given wristbands with numbers so that they wouldn’t have to stay in line or camp out overnight. However, the store’s opening has now been delayed by the Department of Buildings.

A D.O.B. spokesperson said the agency is on top of the issue.

“Over the past few months, D.O.B. has been auditing a number of buildings in the area to determine if they are being occupied in accordance with retail-size restrictions in the Zoning Resolution,” the spokesperson said. “Plans for construction jobs at these properties complied with the Construction Codes and Zoning Resolution at the time of submission. We will take enforcement actions if warranted based upon the complete audit findings, and will continue to closely scrutinize alterations of properties in the neighborhood.”

Just DON’T do it, local residents and politicians say about the mammoth-sized Niketown in Soho.

A Niketown spokesperson said, “We look forward to bringing New Yorkers the best of Nike at our new Soho store. Due to permitting issues, the store did not open to the general public as planned on Fri., Nov. 11. We will communicate the new opening date as soon as possible. Scheduled product launches and consumer events are postponed until opening.”


More from around NYC