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Volume 73, Number 20 | September 17 - 23, 2003

Bottom Line faces eviction by N.Y.U.

By Lincoln Anderson

Villager photo by Akiko Miyazaki
Allan Pepper in his office at the Bottom Line
One of New York City’s best-known live-music venues, the Bottom Line is facing eviction for being in rent arrears to its landlord, New York University.

The club has been at its corner location at W. Fourth and Mercer Sts. for almost 30 years, but 9/11 took a toll on business and the economy had already been softening before the attacks, said Allan Pepper, who owns the club along with his partner, Stanley Snadowksy.

The back rent owed is $185,000, with $20,000 of that being interest. The story was first reported on Monday by the New York Times.

“We’re not denying we owe the money,” said Pepper. “And N.Y.U. should get the money. That’s not in contention. What’s in contention is working out a way to pay the money over a period of time. There are no bad guys here.”

Pepper said N.Y.U. has been “unrealistic” in what they are asking for and has refused several proposals by the club.

Pepper said that in lieu of paying all the rent, the club has had to pay its employees — some of whom are N.Y.U. students, he noted — phones, electricity, advertising and “the talent.” He hasn’t paid himself a salary for a year, he said, adding he and his partner have “poured personal money” into the club, though he wouldn’t say how much. He said there were only four or five months when the club paid no rent at all, but rather usually paid part of its $11,000 rent, anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000.

N.Y.U. plans to use the building for classroom space. But John Beckman, the university’s spokesperson, said that is not why they are trying to evict the club. Rather, it is the simple fact that they can no longer “subsidize” the Bottom Line.

“N.Y.U. is not looking to see the Bottom Line close,” Beckman said. “The Bottom Line is paying a rent that is 50 percent of market rent. They have accumulated rent arrears…equivalent to a year and a half without paying any rent at all. They are a for-profit business. And despite urging them many times over a course of months to try to resolve the situation, we didn’t receive a credible, viable plan. And so N.Y.U., which is a nonprofit, educational institution, was effectively put into a position of subsidizing a for-profit entertainment business…. If we cannot reach an agreement, the university will put classrooms in that space. But the university was not looking to close the Bottom Line to put classrooms in that space.”

Told of N.Y.U.’s seeing the issue as a nonprofit institution having to support a for-profit music club, Pepper said all local businesses are hurting.

“Due to the economy, not intentionally, there has been no profit,” he said. “Let that question be asked to any business in the area. There is no profit.”

Five weeks ago, the club succeeded in getting a temporary stay on the eviction. But another court date looms next Tuesday. Pepper said he couldn’t discuss any future plans for benefit concerts or the like, pending the court date.

Meanwhile, both Pepper and Jessica Herman Weitz, Pepper’s right-hand person (Snadowsky lives in Las Vegas), said that the phones have been ringing off the hook since news of the threatened eviction broke. Calls are coming in from around the world, from both media and music fans. Although some have said the club now draws a slightly older crowd to hear veteran acts, the Bottom Line also launched such top new artists as Norah Jones and Alicia Keyes.

Councilmember Alan Gerson feels the club is an important cultural asset of the Village and should remain. He recalled that new N.Y.U. President John Sexton at a community town hall meeting last year said he hoped to improve community relations.

“The bottom line is we have to keep the Bottom Line,” Gerson said. “This is a big test of President Sexton’s commitment to starting a new leaf and working with the community. I believe in and look forward to finding common ground and this is a test if that view is reciprocated. The Bottom Line remains an important part of our cultural infrastructure. It’s part of what makes the Village attractive to N.Y.U. students and other folks. N.Y.U. should fix it, not nix it. We can be creative and come up with a solution that keeps the Bottom Line and works for N.Y.U., if N.Y.U. is willing to apply its reservoirs of creativity.”


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