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City Winery is suing former landlord Trinity Church for $2M

The lawsuit centers around renovations the venue says were to be paid back via a rent reduction - before Trinity sold the property to Disney.

City Winery is slated to close its Varick

City Winery is slated to close its Varick Street location on July 31. Photo Credit: Newsday /Howard Simmons

After renting from Trinity Church for a decade and even making sacramental wine with its rector, City Winery is now suing its former landlord.

The restaurant and event space is taking Trinity Church to court for allegedly selling its 143 Varick St. location to Disney after City Winery invested millions in renovating the second floor and roof at Trinity's request. City Winery said it undertook the revamp based on an understanding that Trinity would reimburse it.

“They got $650 million from another entity, and we’re taking it on the chin?” said City Winery founder and CEO Michael Dorf, who described his relationship with Trinity as “very positive” until it was cut short.

According to the complaint, filed at the end of January, Trinity approached City Winery’s president in 2016 about leasing space above its business. The church wanted that space spruced up because it believed this would increase the property's value and enhance the area, according to the lawsuit.

The agreement was that the capital investment would be recovered through a rent abatement and would be repaid, according to the complaint. Instead, amid construction and after negotiating a five-year lease extension, Trinity informed City Winery it was closing on a deal to sell the building, which would be demolished by the new owner.

Trinity has refused to pay back the renovation money, according to the suit.

City Winery alleges it discussed relocating to another Trinity property, but the church then pulled the plug on those talks. Now, City Winery wants back the more than $2 million it says it spent on the remodeling work. 

“I just want them to be a mensch and do the right thing, and you expect that from a church,” Dorf said.

He said the winery is close to signing a new lease, but that the 150 employees at the location, which is slated to shut July 31, are in limbo. Dorf noted that City Winery is trying to find jobs for them at other locations.

Tiani Jones, a spokesperson for Trinity Church, said "the lawsuit is entirely without merit" in an email.

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