L. Neil Smith's
There Goes The Neighborhood
by Jim Lesczynski
Exclusive to TLE
At a time when New York politicians are paying lip service to the notion of attracting residents and businesses back to lower Manhattan in the wake of September 11th, the owners and tenants of one Lower East Side building must contend with bureaucrats who want to remove them from their property by force.
Lou Holtzman, whose family has owned the building at 99 Orchard Street since 1910, and the building’s co-owner Peter Liang are fighting to keep their property from being condemned by the Empire State Development Corp., a quasi-government agency. The ESDC has targeted Holtzman and Liang’s building so that their neighbor, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum at 97 Orchard Street, can expand.
The building at 99 Orchard Street includes 15 apartments, one of which is occupied by Holtzman and his wife, as well as a highly regarded Chinese restaurant, Congee Village, owned by Liang. Holtzman and Liang just recently completed a multi-million-dollar renovation of the building. The renovated apartments fetch $1,650 per month in rent. Holtzman is understandably outraged that our public servants are seeking to drive out his tenants, shut down a thriving business, and put the restaurant’s employees out of work.
"I can't understand how this is for the public good", Holtzman said. "You would think the museum would have some appreciation of how immigrants to this country established businesses over decades and added to their communities."
Apparently, the museum’s director, Ruth Abram, has a better appreciation for the harshness of life on the Lower East Side a century ago and yearns to bring back the bad old days through her expansion project. In what the government-watchdog group Citizens’ Union wryly calls "a unique reversal of urban renewal", Abram plans to use our tax dollars to gut the modern interior of the neighboring building and convert it back to an 18th-century tenement. New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs thinks so highly of this slum- restoration scheme that it has committed $2 million to the project. At a time when the Lower East Side and the entire city is desperately short of modern housing, our government is helping to destroy it in order to build a monument to the decrepit living conditions of the neighborhood’s dark past.
What’s next, a blue-ribbon commission to restore the historic crack houses and sex parlors of Times Square?
Abram’s blast to the past also brings back the time-honored tradition of vicious gangs ruling the neighborhoods of Manhattan’s Lower East Side and terrorizing residents. Only this time, the Bowery Boys have been replaced by the ESDC, and their brass knuckles and shivs have been exchanged for badges and court orders (backed up by the conventional weaponry of the NYPD). The essence of the racket remains the same - the thugs and their friends see something they covet, and they take it by force. It doesn’t matter who the rightful owner is, only that the thugs are stronger and better armed.
Then, of course, the thugs and their friends, having no respect for their ill-gotten gains, proceed to trash the place.
The ESDC has signed a preliminary agreement with the museum to pursue the condemnation. They plan to offer a "fair market value" of $1.35 million for a building that the owners estimate is worth at least $3 million. The museum’s offer wouldn’t even cover the cost of the recent renovation. Most importantly, Holtzman doesn’t want to sell at any price.
Lest anyone think that the gang from the ESDC has singled out Holtzman and Liang for abuse, other legitimate property owners in Manhattan are facing pillage by the same hoodlums. Closer to Ground Zero, the state intends to condemn several properties - and throw in a cool $1 billion in direct subsidies for good measure - so that the New York Stock Exchange can build a new headquarters. (This boondoggle is not connected to the rebuilding of downtown after September 11th; Governor Pataki signed the deal for the new stock exchange in December 2000.) Further uptown, the ESDC has initiated condemnation proceedings against 10 thriving businesses on the site where The New York Times wants to erect a new office complex. Up in East Harlem, Minnic Custom Woodwork, a renowned furniture manufacturer that has pieces on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is fighting the ESDC in court. The agency wants to displace Minnic and 11 neighboring businesses to make room for the parking lot of a proposed Home Depot.
Is this "the New York miracle" that former Mayor Giuliani touts in TV commercials? At this rate, it will be a miracle if there are any residents or businesses left in Manhattan after the ESDC completes its crime spree.
Is America becoming a police state? Friends of liberty need to know.
Some say the U.S. is already a police state. Others watch the news for signs that their country is about to cross an indefinable line. Since September 11, 2001, the question has become more urgent. When do roving wiretaps, random checkpoints, mysterious "detentions," and military tribunals cross over from being emergency measures to being the tools of a government permanently and irrevocably out of control?
The State vs. the People examines these crucial issues. But first, it answers this fundamental question: "What is a police state?"
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