By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
"It's impossible to defend yourself," says AK Smith-Ford, former doorman at Sullivan Hall — a live music venue that's hosted performances by Alice in Chains, Ben Folds Five, Phil Lesh, and ?uestlove over the years. "311 accepts anonymous complaints where anyone can call and accuse you of a violation. You don't even see it coming."
A two-block walk down Bleecker Street presents a now all-too-common Greenwich landscape: a construction-covered Kenny's Castaways, a "For Lease" sign in Hamlet's Vintage store, and a plywood-covered corner at Thompson Street where the 68-year-old Back Fence once stood. The proprietors were unable to renew their lease this autumn due to a rent increase that property management won't discuss.
"It's the independent businesses that suffer. Sooner or later, the lawyer money runs out," says Smith-Ford. "You don't see anyone shutting down the West 3rd McDonald's."
Efforts spearheaded by the Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation have made strides in attempting to curb drastic changes to the area's character. The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission voted on December 17 to grant landmark status to the South Village Historic District, a 240-building, 13-block section of Greenwich Village south of Washington Square Park. GVSHP first proposed landmark designation of the south Village 10 years ago, and submitted a formal landmarking proposal with boundaries to the city in 2006. GVSHP felt such action was necessary because "in recent years, NYU and private developers have made several large incursions into the neighborhood, including a series of over-sized, out-of-character buildings on Washington Square South."
"Landmark designation protects the exterior of the buildings," says Andrew Berman, GVSHP's executive director. "Unfortunately, there are limitations about what you can preserve through the mechanism. Saving the building doesn't save what's inside, but it gives the entity and its people a fighting chance. The philosophical underpinning says there's an important public benefit within.
"If we had our druthers," Berman continues, "we would be able to preserve some of the businesses as well. We are working on seeing how other cities have protected longstanding independent operations."
One can hope.