March 1 was one projected reopening date for the venerable Striped Bass restaurant on the Tarrytown waterfront, closed for the second time in two years due to Hudson River flooding.
However, the only action to get the popular place up and running after Superstorm Sandy filled it with five feet of water lies outside its locked doors—in law offices.
Restaurant owner Steve Cross at the end of January filed a county Supreme Court complaint against his landlord, the Tarrytown Boat Club, to the tune of $5 million.
His claim: the boat club has done nothing to repair damages from the storm with insurance money they’ve secured and is illegally locking him out of the space and ousting him from his renewed lease.
“I will not back down,” Cross said in a phone call recently from Florida.
The Boat Club, run by its members, feels it is well-justified in shutting out their tenant and plans to deny his allegations in their upcoming response to the complaint, reports one of their lawyers, Jeff Buss of Yonkers firm Smith, Buss and Jacobs.
“He has no legal case,” Buss said.
According to Cross’ attorney, Tarrytown-based Steven Blancato, a decades-long representative for that restaurant, the Boat Club has insurance money to fix what amounts to aesthetic and not structural damages to the restaurant/bar but has opted instead to try to get out of the lease altogether.
“They want to tear the building down and build three flights up to make it higher from flooding," Blancato said.
Buss didn’t specify that plan exactly but he did say they have no plans of rebuilding in the same way again in a zone that has proved devastating too many times for their comfort. (Striped Bass reopened last March following a long-term renovation from its last major flooding problem. The last major storm before this was some 18 years back, reports Cross.)
A renewed lease for Striped Bass was supposed to go into effect March 1, 2013, a five-year with a five-year option to renew. This would have been Cross’ 20th year in that place, he said. He also owns the Cabin restaurant in Greenburgh, which lost its roof to Sandy but never missed a beat. The $5 million figure amounts to the value of the business and the future income of the business for the balance of the lease, Cross said.
The lease situation there is a bit convoluted and court-ridden.
Explained Blancato, Hudson Harbor developer National RE/sources had a lease with the Boat Club, subject to the Striped Bass lease, to dredge the marina and fix the place up. The dredging never happened as promised and the Boat Club cancelled the lease. National RE/sources objected, and sued, and that is still an open case from 2010.
The Boat Club's lawyers say that the restaurant held a sublease of the National RE/sources lease and that once the larger lease fell through so too did the restaurant's.
However, they had still been working with Cross. They allegedly made a deal with him in tenant court when he had been behind on his payments for five to six months, Buss said. Cross had promised to pay back pay in addition to monthly new payments to get back up to speed, at which point they would negotiate a renewed lease. They never made it that far, Buss said.
When Sandy hit, Cross allegedly stopped paying altogether. Buss agreed he might be justified in not paying his current rent if he wasn’t able to operate his business but said he wasn't welcome to stop making the old payments owed.
“If a hurricane comes and blows down your house," said Buss, "you may not pay rent but you still have to pay what you owe. He agreed to pay the old and new and he stopped paying both. One thing doesn’t have anything to do with the other.”
Once the Boat Club's lawyers responds to the complaint by the extended deadline of March 15, from there it will likely go to court, Blancato said.
“I’ll take this all the way,” Cross said. "I'm going to reopen."
Blancato said there are two contradictory back-to-back storm damage provisions in the restaurant's lease. One states that if the structural damage is substantial enough than the landlord has to rebuild. The other states that with storm damages they can elect not to rebuild and cancel the lease at their discretion.
The Boat Club's lawyers say any contradictory provisions in the old lease are irrelevant since Cross had lost that lease and did not get the new lease he expected.
They sent out notice of their intent to cancel the lease within the required amount of days but it came from an attorney and not from the landlord, as is apparently required, according to Blancato who will use this as one of his arguments.
The damage tally, though superficial, reported Blancato, is still substantial. It includes all the equipment damaged, wallpaper, décor. Cross said he has been paying his key employees out of his pocket so he doesn’t lose them, some of whom he’s had working for him for 23 years.
“He’s losing substantial money every month, with no real source of income,” Blancato said.
“Even when I reopen, it’s highly unlikely the name has much value left to it," Cross said. "I’ve had two major hits in a short period. It’s been expensive enough for me." He said he gets about 15 emails a week for private party inquiries that he can’t respond to, which just rubs “salt on the wounds.”
“I”ve paid top dollar for this. I’m not walking away,” Cross said. “I’m the guy who will see the revival of Striped Bass or the demise of the Tarrytown Boat Club."
That said, Cross expresses sympathy for the plight of the Boat Club and its sagging dock and dredge-desparate edge, in the same way that the Boat Club must be sympathetic to him. Both are sharing a tough spot facing hard times.
“There’s no ill will here,” said Buss, adding, “we’d of course like to have a thriving marina with a dredged and maintained shoreline and a thriving restaurant."
Buss said however they they have “no plans” for any work to the restaurant or the flagging marina, pending the hope that someone will come forward with a plan within a year’s time.
In a few weeks, Buss said they will respond to the complaint with a denial. “We don’t agree with his legal theory," Buss said. "He has no lease and he owes us arrears. Our position is he has no right to occupy the premises and at the moment we have no plans to rebuild.”