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BY ALINE REYNOLDS | A Soho building allegedly being illegally used as a “convention center” has residents up in arms and ready to sue the city if the administration doesn’t crack down on the operator.
The space in question, known as 82Mercer, which opened in 2009 at 82 Mercer St., hosts a range of activities from trade shows to wine tastings to work conferences. The venue replaced the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame annex, which occupied the space from 2008 to 2010.
The space’s current operator is proving to be a major nuisance for some nearby residents. Shows held inside the two-level event space attract as many as 500 people at a time, who queue on the street and obstruct entrances to adjacent buildings. Trucks loading and unloading equipment for 82Mercer clog up the street, and cars of 82Mercer’s clients often take up precious parking spaces on Mercer between Spring and Broome Sts., according to neighbors.
“It’s really a disgrace,” said Claudia Ospina, who lives at 84 Mercer St., a co-op next to the venue.
Living next door to 82Mercer, she said, is like living beside the Jacob Javits Convention Center.
“They have trade show after trade show after trade show,” Ospina said. “I spent a lot of money on this loft to live in a residential area. If I wanted a trade show area, I would have moved there. I want a community for my children.”
Ospina, who has 4-year-old twins, said the lines for 82Mercer that form about once a week on the sidewalk prevent her from freely walking to and from her building with strollers.
She said she has called the city’s 311 quality-of-life hotline and the First Police Precinct numerous times to no avail, and that the co-op is contemplating legal action if the city continues to be unresponsive.
Beat Keerl, a longtime resident of 71 Mercer St., said he often has trouble finding parking on the block on nights and weekends due to trucks and other vehicles from 82Mercer occupying the spaces. The city bans parking on Mercer between Spring and Broome Sts. from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays.
“They post these fliers that say, ‘No Parking Today.’ It’s disturbing,” said Keerl, referring to temporary parking permits issued by the city.
Vincent Fung, an 82Mercer partner, denied accusations that the parking is largely taken up by his venue.
Fung is also denying charges by Keerl and other locals, including Soho Alliance Director Sean Sweeney, that the use of the space as a trade convention center is illegal.
According to the city zoning code, trade shows are not permitted in Soho’s M1-5B manufacturing zoning without a permit from the City Planning Commission. It wasn’t immediately clear whether or not 82Mercer has this needed permit.
Vivian Awner, a City Planning official, told Sweeney in an e-mail last summer that the venue’s trade show activities do not appear to comply with Soho’s zoning regulations, but she wouldn’t confirm either way, since, she noted, “the Department of Buildings is the final arbiter of zoning decisions.”
After reaching out to a number of city agencies without getting a clear answer, Sweeney got fed up. He recently contacted a lawyer, who suggested that he file an objection with the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals.
“It’s a scandal,” Sweeney said. “It’s multiple agencies aiding and abetting an illegal operation.”
But Ryan Fitzgibbon, D.O.B.’s press secretary, said that, contrary to residents’ accounts, the department hasn’t received any complaints about the space.
“They may be up in arms, but we haven’t heard a word about it,” she said.
What’s more, D.O.B. hasn’t issued any violations for this space since 1989, according to Fitzgibbon.
“There’s a million buildings in our jurisdiction,” she said. “If it’s illegal, we’ll issue violations. But somebody needs to let us know, and we’ll send somebody out to investigate.”
Bob Gormley, Community Board 2’s district manager, is planning to arrange a meeting with representatives from D.O.B., the Mayor’s Office and the Soho Alliance “to try to get to the bottom of this,” as he put it.
“The residents on that block have really been taking it on the chin the last few years,” Gormley said. “They need to be considered in the equation of whether things should be allowed to happen there.”
Fung insisted his venue’s operations are in line with city code.
“We’re definitely not running it illegally. If that were the case, we wouldn’t be running it,” Fung stated. “We’ve been open here for just about three years.”
The space at 82Mercer, he added, has the proper certificate of occupancy and, per city law, its clients — the groups hosting the events — possess valid “temporary place of assembly” permits for events of more than 74 people, as well as liquor licenses for the sale of alcohol.
“We don’t allow the client to do an event here without them,” Fung said. “It’s stated in our contracts.”
Margaret Baisley, a Soho-based real estate attorney, said that city regulations governing commercial space in Soho are murky, and that an architect would have to determine whether the venue’s use is in accordance with the law
“It depends on what you’re trading — this is not the Javits Center, clearly,” Baisley said. “There are regulations related to it.”
These type of local venues typically get away with such infractions until a fire or other accident occurs, Baisley said.
“It’s very hard to police illegal occupancy until there’s an issue,” she said.
Were 82Mercer breaching city law, the space’s operator would incur fines ranging from $500 to $2,500, depending on the violation’s severity, according to Fitzgibbon. The fines, she said, would be administered by the city Environmental Control Board.
“If they continue to ignore [the violations], there are other channels and actions we can take, such as issuing a Criminal Court summons,” Fitzgibbon said of the process.
Responding to neighbors’ complaints, Fung said 82Mercer has made efforts to accommodate the neighborhood’s character since it first opened.
“We understand it’s a residential area, and we’re sensitive to the neighborhood,” he said.
Other nearby businesses might also be contributing to the issues that residents are citing, Fung said.
“It’s neighbors that aren’t really privy to too much activity on the street,” he said. “They don’t like disturbances whatsoever — but it’s a street shared with businesses, bars and retail spots. To single our space out would be kind of naive.”