Volume 76, Number 51 | May 16 -22, 2007

Hotel pushes ’hood’s buttons with Silverman ‘phone-sex’ ad

By Lawrence Lerner

The Hotel Gansevoort added fuel to the fire surrounding its hotly debated billboard last Wednesday when it put up the second of two ads on the towering structure.

The new ad features comedian Sarah Silverman in a play on a phone-sex ad for the MTV Music Awards. Silverman is shown suggestively holding an MTV Golden Popcorn Award right below her mouth with the ad text: “For a good time, call 1-877-SARAH-07.”

Besides the billboard’s adding to the Meatpacking District’s visual pollution, Andrew Berman, director of the Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation — which has led the fight against the billboard frame — claimed the hotel had no permission to put up the second ad.

The Department of Buildings, Berman said, refused to approve the additional sign until the hotel cleared up an earlier zoning violation related to the structure; in the previous ruling, issued in April, the agency ordered that the billboard’s angle to Hudson St. and a neighboring residential district must be modified slightly — by turning it a total of 4 degrees toward the hotel.

Kate Lindquist, a D.O.B. spokesperson, did not disagree with Berman but was circumspect about the issue, saying, “The applicant [Hotel Gansevoort] has permits for the billboard structure and the signs. However, the signs must comply with zoning regulations.”

According to Lindquist, the Hotel Gansevoort claims to have taken initial steps to clear up the billboard angle issue, changing the signs’ direction a bit and hiring an architect, at D.O.B.’s request, to verify that the work has been done and that the angle now meets zoning requirements. D.O.B. will send inspectors soon to verify that the changes have been properly made, before giving the hotel the green light for the second ad.

“D.O.B. required the independent survey and inspector’s visit because the hotel misrepresented the angle of the sign to begin with,” said Berman.

Whether D.O.B. will issue additional violations for the second ad is up in the air. Berman said a department officer told him it has already slapped the hotel with a penalty, although Lindquist would not confirm this.

Michael Achenbaum, president of the Gansevoort Hotel Group, did not return calls for comment as of presstime.

The eight-story billboard frame, which sports two separate signs on a single supporting pole, is viewed by many as appropriate for a highway offramp, not the narrow, cobblestone streets of the West Village.

The top sign, which measures 1,200 square feet, features a Volkswagen ad, while the new sign, at 760 square feet, features the Sarah Silverman mock phone-sex ad.

That flies in the face of a letter Achenbaum sent to Berman back in February, in order to mitigate neighborhood concerns, claiming that the billboard is “primarily intended for fashion signage.”

All of this has left Berman scratching his head.

“Remember their claim that the billboards would only be for fashion- and art-related advertisements?” he said of the current ads.

Keith McNally, owner of a mini-empire of popular and stylish restaurants, including Pastis, which is across the street from the hotel, joined in chiding Achenbaum and his billboard.

“I think it’s an ugly, commercial monstrosity that reflects the ignorance, greed and disrespect that the hotel owners have for the people and the neighborhood,” said McNally, who has led protests of the billboard. “No one in the neighborhood wants it there. But in the end, commerce and greed are more important to him [Achenbaum] than the people in the neighborhood and the neighborhood itself, which enabled him to be here in the first place.”

As for whether the high-profile restaurateur and Berman are planning to greet the second ad with more protests, McNally said they are considering it. Currently, they have encouraged Meatpacking District restaurants and stores to hang “Shame, the Gansevoort Hotel” posters in their windows.

“The poster looks much better than the billboard, but that wouldn’t be difficult now, would it?” McNally said.


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