Thursday, October 27, 2011

Saddened that Cooper Union is helping to destroy the neighborhood

From the EV Grieve inbox ... reaction from the Cooper Square Committee about Cooper Union's rejection of a rent decrease for St. Mark's Bookshop...


While Cooper Union's negative decision is a disappointment, the Cooper Square Committee remain committed and vows to increase its efforts to ensure that the St. Marks Bookshop will not become another casualty of the economy. Cooper Union is the landlord for the St Mark's Bookshop.

On Tuesday, October 25, 2011, three separate meetings took place regarding the St. Mark's Bookshop. The bookshop is one of the few remaining independent bookstores in NYC and it is in severe financial crisis. It has requested a rent reduction of $5,000 from the monthly rent of $20,000, which would allow it to continue operating and serving the community.

The first meeting was an impromptu meeting of three representatives of the Cooper Square Committee and Cooper Union President Jamshed Bharucha, initiated when the Committee delivered 43,630 signed petitions to his office in support of St. Mark's Bookshop.

The second meeting took place later in the day between the owners of St. Mark's Bookshop and T.C. Wescott, a Cooper Union Vice President. During this meeting, it was confirmed that Cooper Union would not agree to a reduction in rent.

The third meeting took place at the bookshop with Jamshed Bharucha and T.C. Wescott shortly after the bookstore owners returned to the bookshop. At this follow-up meeting they reiterated that they could not reduce the $20,000 monthly rent.

Joyce Ravitz, chair of the Cooper Square Committee, a Lower East Side neighborhood preservation organization, notes that Cooper Union originally offered the St. Mark's Bookshop favorable terms on its lease in 1993 as a good will gesture at a time when the Cooper Union's expansion of its dormitories had angered the neighborhood. The rent has since gone to $20,000 with built-in yearly raises.

Property values have skyrocketed in this neighborhood partly because of institutions like theaters and bookshops. We had hoped Cooper Union would play a role in stabilizing and preserving the character of the Lower East Side, and are saddened that it seems to be choosing to help destroy it.

It's ironic that Cooper Union touts its proximity to neighborhood bookstores as one of its attractions.

Meanwhile, Jeremiah Moss has started a petition to boycott any business that moves into the space at 31 Third Avenue should St. Mark's Books be forced to close. You can find the petition here.

As he writes:

Sign the petition if you love St. Mark's Books. Sign it if you just love books. Sign it if you're sick and tired of watching New York City's cultural touchstones go down the toilet day after day. Sign it if you miss the East Village before it became a frat house. Sign it if you don't like the way Cooper Union contributes to real estate overdevelopment in the neighborhood. Sign it if you hate having a bank on every corner and a chain store on every other.


blue glass said...

sometimes press, community and elected officials (rarely) work.
the folks along second avenue were successful in saving the met and we all know how nyu feels about our community. they are so "with us" that they have a private bus line for their students.
cooper union would be very unhappy about a concerted effort to take away their free rent and real estate tax benefits from their now demolished astor place site.
the city is financially strapped and RICH cooper union's rent and taxes would certainly help the city out.

Anonymous said...

This just makes me so angry. That a college, an institution of higher learning, and one with as many assets as Cooper Union, should insist on rents that they *know* will bankrupt one of the few remaining independent bookshops in the whole downtown--its an outrage. I only wish that the negative publicity rains down upon them and they reconsider.

Lisa said...

What-- it's not enough for you that Cooper Union offers free tuition, you damn them for not subsidizing the tenants of their income-generating properties? No good deed goes unpunished.

Dr Gecko said...

@Lisa: You're exaggerating in the dubious interest of flourishing a cliché. Some good deeds do, in fact, go unpunished.

In this case, though, the land and building were acquired and built with a large amount of public money (New York State Dormitory Authority, etc.) Cooper Union is turning what was intended to a reasonably profitable public amenity into its own private mint.

blue glass said...

lisa - you've got it wrong, cooper union is not subsidizing us, we are subsidizing them.
look at how much land cooper union owns and rents out for fantastic profits. (land under the bowery bar, chrysler building, astor place chase bank building and more. they get the land under what was once the engineering building free and pay no tax. they will profit almost 100% from the former engineering building.
their mandate is to provide free, good education to local students (not their exact words). the students are no longer local, the education is no longer free, and now they need dormitories for the out-of-town students. and believe me, they profit on those too.
don't cry for cooper union, cry for our neighborhood that is being eaten by these large FOR PROFIT educational institutions and big chain stores.
and don't forget their influence in not advocating FOR the preservation of our neighborhood landmarks (including their own buildings) and advocating FOR traffic changes that will benefit them but not the residents of the area.
they clearly want to become as big a player (or bigger) as NYU.

Anonymous said...

@blue glass,

how is the tuition no longer free? do you mean the very low (~$2k) student fee?

and the fact that the students are no longer local is relevant to this conversation how? if you think providing tuition-free education to students is a benefit, it shouldn't matter who the students are.

and i have yet to see any evidence here or on JVNY that cooper union is fattening its own coffers at the expense or in the stead of providing for its students. just rife speculation, but i guess that's a KIND of evidence.

Lisa said...

Yeah-- I'll never forgive Cooper Union for their reckless admission of that non-local Thomas Edison kid.

So WHAT if Cooper Union has received some public money? Does that mean that their operating decisions should be put to popular vote? It's a FREE COLLEGE, fer cryin' out loud.

Anonymous said...

Lisa- you're coming off as a complete ignoramus.
Try thinking about what you write before you actually write it.
Cooper Union is a so called non profit, making a profit on commercial properties. That is not NON PROFIT.
And if a non profit is being subsidized by the people of New York, then we most certainly do have a say in any decision they make that affects the community as a whole.
Poor old Cooper Union, they hide behind their non profit status while raking in many millions on the sale and rental of commercial properties all over Manhattan.
Non profit my ass.

Lisa said...

Presumably they make profit on their commercial properties so that they may fund their non-profit school. How else would you have them fund it?

occupy lisa said...

lisa is part of the 1%

Crazy Eddie said...

For most of the shit hitting the fan these days, one should always go back to John Ford's, "The Grapes of Wrath", for guidance:

Agent: The fact of the matter, Muley, after what them dusters done to the land, the tenant system don't work no more. You don't even break even, much less show a profit. Why, one man and a tractor can handle twelve or fourteen of these places. You just pay him a wage and take all the crop.
Muley: Yeah, but uh, we couldn't do on any less than what our share is now. Why, the children ain't gettin' enough to eat as it is, and they're so ragged. We'd be ashamed if everybody else's children wasn't the same way.
Agent: I can't help that. All I know is, I got my orders. They told me to tell you to get off, and that's what I'm tellin' ya.
Muley: You mean get off of my own land?
Agent: Now don't go to blamin' me! It ain't my fault.
Muley's son (Hollis Jewell): Who's fault is it?
Agent: You know who owns the land. The Shawnee Land and Cattle Company.
Muley: And who's the Shawnee Land and Cattle Company
Agent: It ain't nobody. It's a company.
Muley's son: They got a President, ain't they? They got somebody who knows what a shotgun's for, ain't they?
Agent: Oh son, it ain't his fault, because the bank tells him what to do.
Muley's son: All right, where's the bank?
Agent: Tulsa. What's the use of pickin' on him? He ain't nothin' but the manager. And he's half-crazy hisself tryin' to keep up with his orders from the East.
Muley: Then who do we shoot?
Agent: Brother, I don't know. If I did, I'd tell ya. I just don't know who's to blame.

Anonymous said...

When it comes to nonprofits, what matters is how their funding is used, not how much of it they get. Also, a surplus is not necessarily profit.

Anonymous said...

this is what slavoj zizek said about the bookstore.

hey look! i just got "greed" as my captcha word verification. :D :D

Lisa said...

Funny, it's always the other guy who's "greedy", ain't it? Never the person who's making a demand and/or requesting a favor.

For pursuing their self-interest, Cooper Union is called "greedy"-- they've denied a requested rent reduction on one of their rental properties, the profits of which fund their free school.

On the other hand, the book store supporters are pursuing their self-interest-- keeping the merchant in that space, at the expense of CU's revenue.

Explain to me why the supporters of the book store have the moral high ground here....?

(My word-verification is "hypocrisy", by the way :D)

Anonymous said...

Lisa, the point is that Cooper does not have to raise the rent on St.Marks because they are raking in millions from the sale and rental of other commercial properties.
Throwing a bone to a beloved neighborhood bookstore will not break Coopers bank accounts or force them to deny students an education. They sold one of their properties for more than $100 million.
Cooper is not hurting.

Lisa said...

That's a $60,000 yearly "bone" you're casually demanding.

It's not your (or my) business to second-guess how much income Cooper Union can afford to sacrifice. Presumably, they haven't an infinite supply of $100,000,000 buildings to sell.

Since it's a "beloved" neighborhood bookstore we're talking about though, one might just as easily suggest that 600 patrons donate $100 toward rent each year-- it wouldn't break those people's bank accounts or force them to deny themselves food.

Or, maybe it would-- what know I of other people's finances? It's always easy for me (or you) to come up with splendid ideas to spend others' money. So much other-people's-money, so little time...

Anonymous said...

Lisa, I LOVE and appreciate your comments. I am right here with ya.
No sarcasm here.


Anonymous said...

This is a school which is actually running a deficit providing free education to their students, providing space for speakers from many walks of life open to the public, providing cheap adult education also open to the public. Are they not part of the neighborhood? I believe they have been for over a century now.

Nobody is saying the bookstore should close. Cooper is not increasing the rent, just trying to collect something that represents a market rent. If the community wants to save the bookstore then buy more books or donate to the rent.

Cooper Union is a major contributor to the neighborhood. Some will fault the school with building gaudy buildings and destroying the fabric of the neighborhood but I disagree. They continue to fulfill their intended purpose which is to provide a free education. I'm not sure how they are profiting? What is happening to these profits? This makes no sense to me. The "profits" go to pay for a student's education, period.

Anonymous said...

As someone who was born and raised in the LES (before it was the East Village) and attended CU on a full-tuition scholarship, many of you sound like a bunch of privileged whiners who want to have your cake (a clean safe and prosperous neighborhood) and to eat it too (don't raise rent/change the look). CU is part of the fabric of my LES and is not raking in millions as a greedy landlord as some here suggest. In fact, CU has been running a deficit for years and almost closed its doors a decade ago when I was a student there.

As cute as St. Marks Books is (I was a frequent customer), it is a for profit business that also benefitted from the local gentrification and the academic community for its business. CU's decision to charge market rate for that space is merely an act of self preservation so it can continue to give individuals of all stripes a free education.