Art Center Wins: NYC Jury Felt CHARAS Landlord Opposed Use Restrictions

News   Art Center Wins: NYC Jury Felt CHARAS Landlord Opposed Use Restrictions Deliberating only as far as they needed to determine that landlord/developer Gregg Singer probably did not plan to comply with "use restrictions" at the CHARAS/El Bohio Community Center, a Manhattan Jury effectively blocked Singer's eviction proceedings aimed at removing the art group(s) housed in the former PS 64 on the Lower East Side. Singer is expected to appeal.

Deliberating only as far as they needed to determine that landlord/developer Gregg Singer probably did not plan to comply with "use restrictions" at the CHARAS/El Bohio Community Center, a Manhattan Jury effectively blocked Singer's eviction proceedings aimed at removing the art group(s) housed in the former PS 64 on the Lower East Side. Singer is expected to appeal.

CHARAS issued a statement stating that its snapshot of the jury revealed that jurors found that Singer's testimony "wasn't credible."

The blocked eviction is rare good news on CHARAS' home front, where members of the extended community center family have existed in what amounts to a state of siege since Singer purchased the property from the city in 1998.

As reported earlier, the CHARAS/El Bohio Community Center reopened the Bimbo Rivas Theatre during the New York City Fringe Festival last year. As the long term occupant of the former New York Public School 64, CHARAS claims it has a right to buy the building and the group has demonstrated every time Singer has attempted to show it. Present Company artistic director John Clancy and CHARAS Community Center organizer Susan Howard reopened CHARAS' Bimbo Rivas Theatre as one of the five Fringe venues at CHARAS. Located in the facility's basement, the theatre is named for Bimbo Rivas, a popular Lower East Side poet and playwright. The Latino Theatre Workshop was conducted in the Bimbo Rivas for several years before problems with the ventilation system forced it to close.

The court trial in New York City was considered a key factor in the fate of CHARAS which has been fighting to stay where it has been located for more than two decades. As the long-term occupant of the former New York Public School 64, CHARAS claims it has a right to buy the building, and the group has demonstrated every time Singer has attempted to show it. The squabbling over control of the building has always been intense but never more so than when CHARAS founder and Lower East Side Democratic district leader Armando Perez was beaten to death on April 4, 1999 outside his estranged wife's apartment in Queens. That unsolved case has served to galvanize the Lower East Side arts community, especially due to the perception, which CHARAS has certainly not discouraged, that Perez was struck down while fighting with "City Hall."

Singer brought eviction proceedings on July 20, 1999, a year to the date from his purchase of the building at auction for $3.15M. CHARAS' court room strategy is based on proving the center's value as an integral aspect of the community while Singer is seeking to minimize the center's effective uses of the space in favor of his own.

— By Murdoch McBride