Late on Friday afternoon, the 30,000-square-foot art space at Bushwick’s 3rd Ward is mostly empty. The spacious atrium where the popular “drink and draw” night was held, the digital lab filled with rows of brand-new Apple computers, the pristine photography studio, the sewing room–all are deserted. A pit bull is curled under a worktable in the metal shop, where a man and a woman are packing up their belongings.
From behind the front desk, a young woman is explaining to a confused man who purchased a membership a few days ago that he has been issued a credit but not a refund of his money. He’ll be able to use the credit if 3rd Ward reopens; if it doesn’t, he will have to get in line with the rest of the members when the space’s assets are liquidated.
Jason Goodman, co-founder and CEO of 3rd Ward, sits with two friends at a picnic table on the patio, drinking Tecate, smoking cigarettes, and reflecting on the closure of the arts center he started eight years ago.
It has been a rough few days for the man who helped create this pillar of the north Brooklyn arts scene. He has been roundly criticized for the way he handled the closure.
Gothamist posted a photo gallery of his second home in Montauk, where a former associate said Goodman spent much of his time while the organization struggled financially. Free Williamsburg published excerpts of a letter from a former employee calling Goodman (among other things) “a selfish, duplicitous crook disguised as a pioneering leader of the Brooklyn arts/hipster community.”
Goodman characterizes the things that have been published online as “deeply disturbing, and a lot of gossip.
“Somebody published my home address,” he adds, shaking his head.
Other than a brief comment to the New York Times, Goodman has not spoken to the press, so in addition to the flak he’s taking for for closing abruptly and not offering refunds, he’s being criticized for disappearing. He rejects that idea. If people want to talk to him, he says they can come on down to 3rd Ward.
“I’m literally here every day,” he says. “The doors are open.”
Among the folks who have come to say goodbye and clean out their workspaces, he says, the reaction has been “a lot of tears and hugs.”
Goodman doesn’t have a lot of answers about how 3rd Ward collapsed so quickly and completely. “We’ve been raising capital since the beginning of the summer,” he says. In September, 3rd Ward launched a campaign to raise $1.5 million in investment on the website Fundrise. That campaign was called off on Wednesday.
Pressed about why 3rd Ward continued to accept money up until the day the arts space closed its doors, Goodman insists that he did not believe he was going to have to shut down. He maintains that he was in negotiations with potential investors through Tuesday evening, when the final decision was made: “It was down to the wire.”
There is still a possibility that 3rd Ward could be saved, he adds. “Over the last two days, there’s been an outpouring of interest” from potential investors who could contribute or buy the space outright. Former members have mounted a campaign, too, with a website, Save3rdWard.com. Goodman says he’s not affiliated with that campaign.
Under a deal he made with the building’s landlord, he says, he has about a month to figure out what will become of the space.
If no savior comes forward, 3rd Ward’s assets–the woodworking tools, the sewing machines, the computers–will be liquidated, and Goodman says creditors, including former students, teachers, and members, will be reimbursed. The organization’s biggest creditor, according to Goodman, is a bank.
Until the closure, 3rd Ward had been pursuing ambitious plans to expand to a second location in Philadelphia and unveil a culinary institute, which some say diverted resources from the entity’s original location.
[Goodman says if someone were to come forward tomorrow with $1.5 million to save 3rd Ward, a plan to regroup would not include the culinary institute. “If an investor stepped up right now, I think the strategy would be partially dictated by them. There have been some hopeful negotiations,” he says.
Still, all he can manage to say about 3rd Ward’s seemingly imminent demise is, “It’s really unfortunate.”
Among the criticisms that have surfaced against Goodman in recent days are old ones from 2010, when he managed a warehouse full of live-work spaces at 573 Lorimer in Williamsburg.
“Shutting down unexpectedly, effectively taking people’s money and then playing the victim, isn’t a new way for Jason Goodman,” Klementine Song, a former tenant and employee of Goodman’s, wrote in a letter sent out to news outlets on Friday.
Song lived for two years in a converted loft at 573 Metropolitan in Williamsburg. When she moved in, she wrote her rent checks to Goodman and his 3rd Ward co-founder, Jeremy Lovitt, who she believed owned the building. In fact, Goodman was leasing it from the actual owner and subleasing spaces in the building to other tenants.
In 2009, Goodman and Lovitt painted “3rd Ward” on the side of 573 Metropolitan. They created studio spaces on the third floor, opened a band practice room in the basement, hosted some few classes there, and called it the arts collective’s second location. Around this time, Goodman asked tenants to start making their checks payable to 3rd Ward.
In August 2010, Goodman and Lovitt abruptly moved out. On August 8, 2010, Song and the other tenants received an e-mail from 3rd Ward’s director of member services, Phil Weinrobe, that read, “The property owner, Realty Management Co., will now be managing all units in the building, and has received a transfer of all leases and agreements.”
Weeks later, the property was visited by an inspector from the Department of Buildings, who told all the tenants they had to vacate the premises by the end of the day–they were not given 48 hours’, or even 24 hours’, notice.
Echoing his sentiments about 3rd Ward’s closure, Goodman says what happened at 573 Metropolitan was “super-unfortunate.”
But he denies any responsibility for what happened to the tenants, and says he sees no similarities between what’s happening now at 3rd Ward and what happened at 573 Metropolitan.
“The landlord made an unsolicited offer to buy out our rights,” he says. The deal, related to the recently passed loft law, was offered to three people in total–Goodman, his business partner, Lovitt, and a third resident.
After he moved out, Goodman says, “It was really sad to see how Aaron Berger behaved,” referring to the building’s landlord. (The Voice reached out to Aaron Berger for comment, and will update if he responds.)
Two former tenants say they believe Goodman struck a deal with the landlord knowing they were going to be evicted and did nothing to warn them. A group of residents organized to sue Goodman, but in the end, some of them took small payouts from the building management and the issue was ultimately dropped.
Of three former tenants of 573 Metropolitan reached by the Voice, only one of them, Sean Healey (who was present at 3rd Ward on Friday afternoon), said he did not blame Goodman for his eviction. Looking back on the months he lived at 573 Metropolitan, Healy says, “I’ve been in New York for about five years now and it still stands out as being the most inspirational and visionary place I’ve lived.”
He credits Goodman with helping him in the days after he was evicted, and allowing him to maintain his membership at 3rd Ward for free.
Members, students, and teachers who (unlike Healey) lost money when 3rd Ward abruptly shut its doors are not as forgiving.
Dozens have voiced their frustrations on 3rd Ward’s Facebook page.
Goodman says he gets that people are upset. “That’s what happens when you have a passionate community.”
As things move forward, he says, “obviously, I’m trying to put our students, teachers, members first.”
“It’s the honest truth that we’ve been here for seven years,” Goodman says. “We planned on being here for the foreseeable future. This is a great tragedy; a lot of people are going to miss this. We really did something new. This was a movement.”
As for himself? “I’ll regroup, try to move forward. 3rd Ward has really consumed my life for eight years. It’s going to take me some time to make sense of what happened.”