Uncertainty Over Embattled Eatery

The 39 North Moore Street entrance at left serves the commercial space, now occupied by a home furnishings store. The residential entrance is on the right. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Mar. 01, 2013

Plans for a Mexican restaurant at 39 North Moore Street were stirring the ire of upstairs condo owners and sending shockwaves through nearby multimillion-dollar lofts last month.

But the true intentions of the restaurant developers, two men who apparently would be making this their first culinary enterprise, has become clouded in uncertainty.

In a letter to a member of the building’s condo board, who had requested a meeting with the two partners, Santiago Gomez said they were considering other options.

“[We] have not signed a lease or anything similar yet,” Gomez wrote. “We want to make sure everyone is happy and we work in a peaceful environment.

(Wether [sic] in this space or some others we are exploring around in the city.)”

Several days later, on the phone, Gomez told the Trib, “Nothing has changed.

We are waiting for something to happen, so we’re just sitting down and waiting.”

Gomez would not specify what they were waiting for.

“A lot of things about the project need to be defined,” he said. Gomez referred further questions to his partner, Santiago Perez, who did not return calls for comment.

Stephen Corelli, the developer of 39 North Moore and owner of the commercial space, said he “thinks” they are still interested. “We’ve had a lease generated, we’ve had comments to it, we’ve negotiated it,” Corelli said. “Whether or not they sign the lease I just have no idea.”

The partners, who had set out in February to apply for a liquor license, called off their appearance before Community Board 1’s Tribeca Com­mittee following a flurry of opposition from neighbors. They are not scheduled to appear before the committee this month either.

Neighbors said the restaurant would bring late-night noise and street traffic and that the space could not physically accommodate the requirements of a restaurant.

In early February, Perez said in a telephone interview that he delayed his date with the community board in order to first meet with the residents.
Condo board president Bet­tina Blohm and a second resident, who asked not to be identified, met with Gomez and Perez on Feb. 22.

In an email, Blohm de­scribed the meeting in general terms, calling it “friendly.”
“We were able to explain to them our opposition of both the Board and all the residents of the building to the restaurant,” she wrote.

“They spent a lot of time telling us how they were looking at other spaces,” said the other resident. But the messages were mixed, she said, because Go­mez talked of continuing to seek permits. And the partners were reportedly in the space the day before considering “design details.”

The resident recalled telling the partners, “I’m hearing that you’re moving on and I’m also hearing that you’re not.” If they continue to pursue a liquor license, the resident said she warned the men that she would continue to organize against the restaurant. She said, if need be, her condo would go to court to enforce the board’s recently passed resolution that forbids a bar or restaurant in the space.

Though Corelli owns the space, this resident claims the condominium declaration gives the board that power.

Corelli, who developed the building in the early 1990s, strongly disputes that. “I think everybody knows that wouldn’t survive judicial scrutiny,” he said.

In an interview early last month, Perez described the restaurant concept, with 60 seats and a 10-stool bar, as a “high-end Mexican restaurant, not a bar.” He said that acclaimed chef Enrique Olvera, whose Mexico City restaurant Pujol was called one of the 50 best in the world by San Pellegrino, would be at the restaurant for two months before and two months after the restaurant opens, and return there for a week each month, according to Perez.

“The first thing that comes to mind when a neighbor hears about Mexican restaurants is margaritas, tequila shots, etc.,” Perez said. “So I think it’s very important to highlight the type of restaurant we’re trying to do, to move away from that misconception.”

Perez and Gomez, who say they have family connections to a string of restaurants in Mexico City, recently formed a company, Both Sides of the Table, to de­velop the project. It will be, Perez said, a “crown jewel” of others to come.

“I think the neighborhood blends really well with the concept that we are trying to develop,” he said.


Long Ago, Another Battle at 39 North Moore

Architect Stephen Corelli and the commercial space he owns at 39 North Moore St. are no strangers to controversy.

In November 1995, a battle broke out over another newly acquired tenant, a dry cleaner. It would not be long before Corelli, who then lived on the building’s second floor, regretted his choice of renter and, like other residents, viewed the business as a potential health hazard.

(The dry cleaner, Jeffrey Namm, eventually chose the space after an explosion in December 1994 shattered the window of his soon-to-open store at 146 Duane St.)

Residents living upstairs (two of whom still reside in the building) and next door sued to prevent Namm from opening, claiming he threatened property values and health. Large demonstrations on North Moore ensued as Namm’s White Glove Valet became a symbolic target for elected officials and environmentalists seeking to eliminate dry cleaners from residential buildings.

Namm won the suit but the pressure never let up. City inspections of the building found some excessive levels of the toxic solvent, perchloroethyline, and he was shut down—then allowed to reopen after passing further inspections.

Another cleaner, one that does not use “perc,” brought Namm’s suffering business out of bankruptcy and in May 1997 he was gone. (That cleaner would last less than two years, and be replaced by a fabric store.)

“This is a big victory for everyone who doesn’t want to live with the equivalent of a toxic waste dump operating on the first floor of their building,” said Tom Freston, then the CEO of MTV and a sixth-floor resident of the building.

“I was within my legal rights, within the codes of the city,” said the dejected dry cleaner. “I just got run over in the name of politics.”