Last night, nearly 50 residents convened at the JASA/Green Residence to discuss concerns the impact that the Cooper Square Hotel has had on the neighborhood. (Jeremiah has been on the story with his must-read Notes from the Backside series.)
The event was organized by the East Fifth Street Block Association. Matthew Moss, principal of the Peck Moss Hotel Group, the developer of the $115 million Cooper Square Hotel, was there to field questions from the audience. Stuart Zamsky, head of the East Fifth Street Block Association, ran the meeting along with Carrie Schneider, whose apartment is a few feet away from the Cooper Square Hotel's much-discussed second-level bar area. CB3 District Manager Susan Stetzer was in attendance as was a representative from the office of Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer. (I was a few minutes late, and missed all the introductions.)
The meeting started cordially enough. There was talk about the smoke coming from the fireplace in the ground-floor library. "We will not use the fireplace until we figure out this smoke issue," Moss said. That was easy. Next!
Then the discussion turned to the contentious second-floor outdoor patio (there is no actual bar outside — guests can drink in the space, though). Although the patio officially closes at 9 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, 10 p.m. on Thursday and 10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday [UPDATE: These hours are incorrect — see the comments for the hours of operation], residents have said there are disturbed at all hours. For instance, guests have been able to access the area after hours and hotel employees have used the space as a breakroom to smoke and make cell-phone calls. Moss said that until the hotel can install a permanent gate at the landing of the main stairs leading to the terrace, a security guard has been hired to stand duty to prevent off-hour access. The presence of a security guard has helped curb some unwanted chatter, people thought.
Soon enough, though, things started to change. Maybe it was the increasingly warm community room in need of a breeze, the water fountain in the back that occasionally made a clanging noise...or maybe people were just tired of Moss mumbling. Every few sentences, people had to ask for him to speak up. It didn't help that Moss, an awkward public speaker, acted at times like a fraternity brother being scolded by his housemother for not picking up his dirty clothes.
"It sucks for the people who are here," Zamsky said of all the problems the hotel has created for residents. "It's not good."
Moss, who was prone to squirming, tugging at his lip and — a few times — rolling his eyes, said at one point, "There's nothing else for me to say. The responsibility lies with me... Anything I say is going to sound like an excuse."
Fifth Street residents talked about the lack of parking spaces now available to them and the limos that line up in the evenings. One woman in a wheelchair said their families can't find a place to park when they come to town for a visit. "You have nothing but excuses! You have created another problem for us."
Said Moss, "I don't doubt for a second that the hotel has some negative impact on the community. I'm also of the belief that there is some good that comes from" our presence. He didn't offer what that was.
Moss also said that the hotel has offered to pay to soundproof the windows for residents at 207 Fifth St. who are adjacent to the hotel and have suffered the most since the patio opened last month. "That's not a perfect solution," he admitted.
A representative from Scott Stringer's office, who arrived late, confirmed that Moss met with Stringer yesterday morning and put it in writing that the hotel is willing to pay to soundproof windows. [CORRECTION: The representative from Scott Stringer's office, Greg Kirschenbaum, did not indicate that Borough President Stringer met with Moss: he stated that Moss had reached out to him to offer the soundproofing and that Moss then provided that offer in writing. Stringer did not meet with Moss. We apologize for the error in reporting.] One problem, though: The landlord of 207 Fifth St. is not receptive to such an idea.
One resident said soundproofing windows just wasn't good enough. "You have a public space out there. There are public spaces such as libraries where even homeless people that hang out know you have to be quiet." He mentioned that management should tell the hotel guests to whisper while they're on the patio. Continued the resident, "The other thing about soundproof windows: You're suggesting that the people who live there will never want to open their windows."
The residents had more to say.
Moss looked as if he wanted to shrink inside his blue blazer. He was unprepared. He had no noticeable personality. He lacked the diplomatic skills necessary for the hospitality industry — or any industry. He had no answers to questions about the noise complaints and other quality-of-life issues raised during the meeting. "I don't know...We need to figure out how to make it work," he said. He wouldn't offer a timetable for possible solutions to the noise. "I don't even know what the solutions are going to be."
Someone mentioned the tactics used by residents to retaliate against the noise. "I don't think it's really relevant," Moss snapped. Another resident asked about the secret nightclub that was going to open in the Cooper Square Hotel. "It's not going to be a nightclub," Moss said. He called it a "supper club," which will be in the basement. "I'd be surprised if it happened this year," he said.
At this point, you get the idea. To be honest, so much was discussed during the 75-plus minutes that I was at the meeting. I didn't capture every complaint, every name, every possible solution from calling 311 to the hotel manager on duty. But I had a good snapshot of what has been happening to the residents living adjacent to the hotel. So I left.
I started thinking about the hardships that I heard that night. The woman in the wheelchair whose family can't find a place to park to visit her. The residents being kept up by the party-going hotel guests. I thought about the older man who cared enough to show up at the meeting with a sign of protest against the hotel. Later, he fell asleep in the back of the room near an open door.
So I walked out of the JASA/Green Residence, which faces the south side of the Cooper Square Hotel. And what was there waiting for all the concerned residents exiting the meeting?
An invitation-only party thrown by the 100 Thousand Club and Aston Martin to unveil the DBS Volante Convertible.
Just to spell this out for myself. The co-owner of the Cooper Square Hotel agreed to meet with concerned local residents about noise complaints and quality-of-life issues on the same night that his hotel was throwing a party for a $280,000 sports car.
The crowd was tan and fit. They all looked so happy with drinks in hand. (Jeremiah also witnessed the party: He has much more on the scene.)
Guests took turns sitting inside the car for photo opps.
A few of the residents who attended the meeting stood on the sidewalk by the Cooper's outdoor patio with incredulous looks on their faces. One man ran back inside to ask Moss if he was aware there were 200 people partying behind the hotel.
I saw three different people leave the patio and enter the sidewalk with drinks. The security on duty only seemed concerned with the non-guests gawking on the sidewalk. One guest walked east a few buildings on Fifth Street. He hiked his khaki-clad leg up on a railing while holding a bottle of Stella and talking on his cell phone. Meanwhile, chauffeured town cars double-parked on Fifth Street. Other cars idled in front of fire hydrants.
One driver shrugged off the threats of a resident who asked him to move. He continued talking on his cell phone.
By the way, the only time Moss ever offered an apology last night occured after he was asked to speak up so the people in the back of the room could hear him.
For further reading:
Raging Against the Coop: the Developer/Neighbor Faceoff (Eater)