Volume 75, Number 4 | June 15- 21, 2005

Villager photo

Muzzy Rosenblatt with one of Bowery Residents’ Committee’s homeless outreach vans.

CBGB feeling punk’d, as nonprofit stops lease talks

By Cathy Jedruczek

The chances of CBGB keeping its home on the Bowery suffered another blow recently when the Bowery Residents’ Committee indicated it is no longer interested in negotiating a new lease with the famous punk rock mecca. Hilly Kristal, CBGB’s owner, previously feared he wouldn’t be able to pay the high rent of at least $40,000 — double his current rent — B.R.C. notified him they would be renting his space for in the new lease. Now comes news B.R.C. doesn’t want to offer Kristal a lease at all when his lease expires at the end of August.

In February, B.R.C. issued Kristal a seven-day notice to pay $91,000 in back rent for the past several years — which was for a rent increase Kristal claims he never knew he had to pay — and took B.R.C. to court.

Muzzy Rosenblatt, executive director of B.R.C., the nonprofit homeless services organization that holds a long-term master lease on 315 Bowery, says he’s willing to renew the club’s lease. But Kristal argues Rosenblatt refused to continue to negotiate terms of the new lease on May 11 when both parties appeared in court.

Kristal showed The Villager a copy of a letter, dated May 10, which was sent to the judge by B.R.C.’s attorneys. The document read, in part, “Although our client appreciated the court’s efforts in the ongoing settlement discussions, it is unlikely that further discussions involving a lease extension will be productive. Accordingly, we request that the settlement conference for tomorrow morning should be cancelled and that the Court decide the pending motions.”

CBGB opened in 1973 when its rent was $600 and the Bowery was lined with flophouses. Today, the flophouses are being replaced by million dollar lofts, celebrity hangouts and expensive commercial space.

Under its existing 12-year lease, CBGB currently pays $20,000 in rent to B.R.C.

“They know I can’t pay $40,000 a month,” said Kristal about B.R.C.’s plan to double the rent in a few months. “They don’t want to deal with us because they had bigger offers,” Kristal said. “They are trying to get as much rent as they can. They are a not-for-profit organization, but they are a business. They are a private organization. They get millions from the state and city. Maybe it’s not enough to cover what they do.”

Rosenblatt said it’s not his intention to get rid of CBGB, but, in the end, he may have to. Rosenblatt explained the dispute between CBGB and B.R.C. goes back to 2000. Back then, he found out CBGB had not paid rent for three years, which totaled some $400,000.

The current rent dispute began earlier this year when B.R.C. noticed that CBGB had neglected to pay a 5 percent annual rent increase the past several years. According to B.R.C., CBGB owes about $91,000.

“We didn’t catch it,” said Rosenblatt. “We probably should have earlier. I called him and asked to pay the money he owed. He said ‘I am not going to pay.’ ”

“They wanted interest,” said Kristal. “You can’t charge interest if you didn’t bill somebody. If I owed any money, I would pay. It is up to the judge to decide.”

Rosenblatt said the spaces with CBGB and the adjacent CB’s Gallery, Kristal’s other club, are being marketed and that various companies and organizations have submitted bids and that CBGB has not. He did not mention that he refused to negotiate with CBGB while in court on May 11.

“We are interested in what people could give, but we want to lease it to the most responsible bidder, somebody who could demonstrate their ability to pay rent and demonstrate their ability to act responsibly,” said Rosenblat. “It is Hilly Kristal who signs the lease. It’s not about CBGB. The track record of the past is not good but there are clearly things he could do to establish assurances that things would be different in the future.”

Kristal is determined to stay and he promises to “fight, fight, fight” until he runs out of money. He is not alone. From bands that have either played at CBGB or launched their careers from there to City Councilmember Alan Gerson and the Municipal Art Society, he has lots of support. The Project Save CBGB & OMFUG Web site campaign has grown and includes such diverse allies as Nike, Steven Van Zandt — a.k.a. “Little Steven” to music fans and Silvio Dante to “Sopranos” — and the Chocolate Bar chocolate store on Eighth Ave. in Greenwich Village. Allison Nelson, Chocolate Bar’s owner, frequented CBGB as a teen and still drops by once in a while. She created a special Punk Rock Box, which comes with chocolates in the shape of guitars, skulls, crossbones and record albums and a CBGB Retro Bar to help raise funds for Project Save CBGB.

“I had wanted to create chocolates that would be an homage to the New York music scene and CBGB is definitely that place,” said Nelson. It’s the music that we grew up with.”

CBGB & OMFUG, which stands for “country, bluegrass, blues and other music for uplifting gormandizers,” is a tourist destination and is featured in the NYC 2012 Olympics ads. Many consider CBGB a sort of rock museum and recently the club applied to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission for interior landmark designation. Even assuming the club’s inside gets landmarked, that won’t automatically grant Kristal a new lease or keep the rent from doubling.

There’s no doubt CBGB is an important part of New York and music history. Even Rosenblatt agrees. He thinks however that, “Whatever happens won’t take history away. It has been written.”

“I would love to preserve history. I have my own fond memories and sentimental moments at CBGB,” Rosenblatt said, recalling he had his first date and first kiss with his wife at CBGB. “But we all have responsibilities in life.”

Kristal says the dispute is no longer about money he may or may not owe to B.R.C. but about B.R.C. wanting up to $60,000 from a future tenant. A festival CBGB planned for August to raise awareness about the club’s plight, according to Kristal, would have helped pay for future rent.

“I feel we are both doing good jobs,” Kristal said of himself and Rosenblatt.

But Kritsal wants to keep doing his at 315 Bowery. “CBGB is known around the world,” he said. “Hundreds of thousands or even millions of people want us here. The city uses us for their Olympics commercials. What’s going on?”

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