Local pols fight for arts existence, again

BY John Bayles

It must feel like Groundhog’s Day for elected officials in Lower Manhattan who value the arts. Only two months ago they were called on to prevent one Downtown arts organization from being evicted. Now, they find themselves in the same predicament.

Then, it was Three Legged Dog on Greenwich Street, and now it’s Dance New Amsterdam.

“Dance New Amsterdam is an important cultural institution in Lower Manhattan, serving hundreds of artists and thousands of visitors – keeping the studio in Lower Manhattan is vital to the community,” said State Senator Daniel Squadron.

Squadron also the came to the aid of Three Legged Dog when the M.T.A. threatened to evict them. Then, the State Senator was joined by the likes of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, City Council Member Margaret Chin and Assembly Member Deborah Glick. Those same players are attempting to ensure that Dance New Amsterdam, which has been operating at 280 Broadway since 2004, will not be evicted in the coming days.

Currently, they are scheduled to appear in landlord tenant court on July 14th, as their landlord, Fram Realty, is suing them for possession of premises due to rent arrears of more than half a million dollars.

“The landlord is gouging us,” said Executive Director Kate Peila. “Do the math and they are making a ton of money off us.”

D.N.A. is currently paying $70,000 a month in rent. Peila said Fram has not been willing to negotiate unless the city was brought to the table. That’s where Chin came in. She was able to reach out to Council Speaker Christine Quinn who has since arranged a sit down in the coming days with all interested parties. Spokesperson for Chin’s office Jake Itzkowitz said, “You would think the city would be in the business of promoting culture and the arts in Lower Manhattan and not stifling them.”

D.N.A. believes they are currently eligible for a non-profit tax abatement under real estate property law 420a. After various appeals to Fram Realty and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, the building’s owner, no resolution on the matter has been reached.

“We deserve by law [the abatement],” said Peila. “If we have access to it, our rent could drop down to $30,000 and we would be totally viable.”

D.N.A.’s 130 seat theater has showcased over 380 D.N.A. performances and an additional 200 dance performance rentals. They are open 360 days a year and offer 120 classes weekly with upwards of 8,000 students enrolled on an annual basis.

The non-profit currently serves over 32,000 people, provides jobs to 250 employees and bank rolls project and commission work that adds more than 400 additional jobs every year. The organization’s payroll is $1,508,000, which equals $281,658 a year in government employee taxes.

Kevin Cunningham of Three Legged Dog can relate to the troubles currently facing D.N.A. and he sympathizes with Peila’s situation

“There aren’t that many spaces like that that provide that breadth of service and if the city can’t manage to find a way to defend and support the high end facilities they created [after 9/11] – then who knows what will happen to the arts in Lower Manhattan,” said Cunningham.

“Hopefully the city will have the level of compassion needed to keep D.N.A. open,” said Itzkowitz.