Monday, May 7, 2007

So I Thought You Guys Were Moving to Union Square?

Karen Boutet of the Zeitgeist answers a FAQ @ our (ill-starred) Union Square Gambit

The Union Square bank space fell through in February. Alan and I went through a period of discouragement, where we weren't sure what we would do, and were worn out with talking about things.

At any rate, what happened at the Union Squre Bank space is that after bringing in architects and city inspectors, we found that the building needed around $100,000 worth of work for us to be able to turn it into a public use space (it was private offices before.) For us to be able to do what we do, it would need a sprinkler system, wheelchair lift, two handicapped access bathrooms, and a second means of egress. (The handicapped access rules kicked in due to it's being on the second floor.) We were advised that this would cost approximately $100,000. After that we would still need to do all the usual sheetrocking, painting, lighting, and sound system installation. Despite extensive attempts to negotiate with the landlord (Ifeanyi Menkiti), he finally made it clear that he would not be willing to pay for any portion of this work, nor would he give us periods of free rent so that we could undertake to fund it or work on it ourselves. We have attracted a backer recently, who was willing to put up $50,000, but we didn't feel comfortable about raising the rest of the money without being able to use the space, while paying rent on it. Also, some problems arose with the Diesel cafe, who signed a lease on the first floor. They did not want to work together to develop the building, in fact they refused to give us a couple of feet we would need on the first floor to put in the whelchair lift. This would have resulted in an additional cost of $20,000 to build the wheelchair lift on the outside of the building. They were not willing to approach the city together for facade funding- they went separately as did we, which was not going to work, since the facade was made up of one wall of glass spanning the two floors.

The whole thing started to feel untenable and kind of hostile. We felt misled by the landlord, as he had initially expressed an interest in participating in an arts and cultural center, bringing people from his native Nigeria, putting on poetry events, etc. (Mr. Menkiti is a poet.) He neglected to mention that he was not willing to participate financially. We also felt betrayed by the Diesel cafe people, as Alan brought them into the space, yet they weren't willing to work with us in the most rudimentary of ways- in fact they stopped talking to us! Also, the realtor said the place already had a sprinkler system, which it didn't.

At any rate, we got a lease lawyer and got out of the lease. Mr. Menkiti gave us back our whole deposit, but the realtor, Kevin Delaney, still wanted his commission, so we had to pay that (even though Alan got him a tenant, which he hadn't been able to do in three years!) We also had some lawyer's fees. But we were very relieved to get out of there- it just felt really cutthroat. The Somerville Arts Council and Union Square Main Streets were very supportive, but they were powerless against this stuff.

So we are still looking about for an appropriate space, with a landlord who genuinely wants to work with us to make it happen!

Thanks for your patience and support.

Karen and Alan