Restore Dyckman Marina


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A New Era on the Hudson?

“We are pleased the matter has been resolved, and look forward to the future operation of the concession, and the marina.”

– Parks Department spokeswoman Crystal Howard, August 7, 2019
 
Over the summer of 2019, a long courtroom drama played out as the City of New York battled their defunct concession operator Manhattan River Group over the reorganization of the entity that held the Restaurant Concession license at Dyckman Marina.
 
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The empty former La Marina on August 11, 2019

The previous post on this website explained in detail all of the bankruptcy proceedings.  What is important in fall 2019 is the outcome.  After an agreement between the court, the City of New York and the various affected parties, a new reorganization plan was agreed to.  This plan does the following:
  • Transfers the Manhattan River Group entity to two new parties controlled by Jimmy Goldman and Adam Mizrachi.   Other new owners are not yet known but per court documents the former owners – Rosen, Tenenbaum, Mateo, et al. – must “have no present or future economic or other interest in the Manager, and shall have no involvement in the operation of the restaurant at any time.”
  • Pays back the many creditors at least 40% of their owed debts, over time.  It is possible they will see no more than 40%.
  • Withdraws other legal actions against Parks.
  • Agrees to several clarifications and stipulations reinforcing the license agreement, which continues, now in year 8 of its 15 year term
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The never-approved temporary building over the north patio as seen on September 2, 2019

The stipulations are numerous and include the following:

  • Season of May 15 to September 30
  • Hours of:
    • Monday—Thursday: 3PM-11PM
    • Friday—Saturday 11AM-12:30AM
    • Sunday: 11AM-11PM
  • Restaurant may be closed for a private Special Event a maximum of two (2)
    times during the Restaurant Season (limited to a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday)
  • Food-based community events at the Restaurant involving ticketed entry, for certain holidays during the Restaurant Season.  Community Events must end by 10:00 p.m. unless they are located inside the Restaurant.
  • No events may be held by outside promoters.
  • Off Season the Restaurant is closed, but Special Events can be held with Parks approval.  Plus community-oriented ticketed food events can be held the first or second Sunday of every month.
  • No valet parking during the Restaurant Season.   During the Off Season, may
    provide valet parking to a garage off of Parkland during Special Events
  • Shall not host or allow any concerts or music-oriented events (including, but not limited to, events featuring live or recorded music/DJ).
  • However music may be played so long as it is incidental to food-related or other community-related activities.
  • The Parks Department does not oppose a new liquor license application by the new ownership team.

It should be noted that most of these stipulations are already in the 2009 concession agreement, which has not been terminated but has been assigned to the new owners and remains in force.  This is perhaps preferable to the chaos and delays a termination and subsequent RFP process would have caused, and after all the issue was never really with that license agreement anyway.  The problem was the utter incompetence and non-enforcement by Parks

lamarina meeting notice

A public meeting will be held to answer questions about the last year of changes.

Hopefully a community meeting on September 12 will clear up some of these enforcement issues, but Inwood residents are wary.  Recall that a similar meeting was held in the same location with the same elected officials and Parks officials in 2015 and it was a complete farce.  If David Cerron and Melissa Goldberg could claim back then that, for example, “concerts are strictly prohibited” meant that 1,500 person highly-publicized mega-concerts were just dandy, what good are the new stipulations?  What is to stop Parks from approving (or simply ignoring) changes in operations that make the facility again an improper illicit nightclub and not a restaurant?  Is a concert in the vinyl party tent “incidental music”?  Is “food-oriented community event” a backdoor wording for allowing the infamous #BrunchBounce to return?  What happens the next time PCBlast Litty shows up to party down

Given that Parks has maintained absolute radio silence with the community for more than a year there is cause to temper any optimism with concern.

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The partially-repaired marina docks on August 11, 2019

Meanwhile the marina is now beginning to operate under Parks, and an RFP has been issued to select an operator for community-related boating services.  In the past under Manhattan River Group’s concession management this role was initially unfilled despite public promises.  In 2014 the function was finally filled by Hudson River Community Sailing under an agreement with MRG (although the docks were never technically legal for their use).

With the change in ownership of the marina, a new RFP process is now required to properly select an operator who can use the facilities to provide some community benefits.    The RFP offers six moorings and daytime use of some dock space in exchange for offering programming, however the respondent wants to propose. 

Parks is seeking proposals for the operation and maintenance of recreational boating programming and other services at Dyckman Marina, Manhattan. The operation of this concession is intended to be of a premium quality in terms of service. Parks is seeking a concessionaire who will operate and maintain the concession at the highest standards, making a significant improvement to the services available at Dyckman Marina. The concession should also make a significant improvement to the ambiance of the park while providing a convenient
service to the public. The marina was operated as a concession previously. As of May 2019, Parks operates the marina. This concession opportunity does not include the rental of slips, moorings, or boat storage.

One would expect HRCS to be the frontrunner in this RFP but there are other groups active in community boating such as SailNY or New York Sailing Center (who were part of the original 2007 concession RFP bid).  We will be sure to watch the process involving the public marina asset closely.  

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Back to the restaurant, which as of September has already reopened (well in advance of this public meeting, hmmn).  Having cleared the way for a new operation via the courts, on Labor Day weekend of 2019 the facility had a soft reopening with a name change as The Hudson, serving a casual menu of chicken sandwiches, BBQ and crab legs.  There are still many questions, but for now it seems a new era has begun at the Dyckman Marina.

Is Dyckman Marina now restored, as per the objective of the CRDM?  Time will tell.

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The Hudson on its soft-opening weekend.



 
 


2 Comments

Summer Limbo

“Licensees, as parties without an interest in the real property, may be removed from City property without legal process…. Accordingly, if it were not for the protection of the automatic stay in this case, the City would have been entitled to terminate long ago the licenses and recover the property for the public benefit. “

– Motion filed by the Corporation Counsel of the City of New York, May 13 2019

 
In May of 2019, the seven years of Manhattan River Group not operating the Marina concession as promised (and legally obligated) finally ended, as the docks concession was surrendered in bankruptcy court and returned to the direct control of NYC Parks.
 
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However, the Restaurant concession has remained in limbo ever since closing for the season in 2018.  To recap the saga of the Restaurant:
 
 
Currently, the site sits in a state of abandonment.  Much of the mess has been left on the Marina property, which Parks will now have to clean up (using your tax dollars).  However, the Restaurant property is also filled with trailers, dumpsters, some sort of RV and other detrius. 
 
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Complicating matters is that MRG, contrary to their promises, used the old Quonset hut for restaurant offices, telecom and Restaurant storage instead of the Marina functions they were required to.  So now those functions have to be rebuilt on Restaurant property, further junking up the site.
   
Perhaps nervous about losing the name-recognition built up since 2012, La Marina has recently updated their website and taken to various media to try and proclaim that they are “opening soon”.  The truth is a little more complicated.
 
opening soon jun6.jpg
 
First of all, the city’s legal team filed in court a strongly-worded motion that was seeking  to recognize that a concession license is not a lease, and therefore should not be subject to bankruptcy protection, and therefore the city should be free to terminate the license:
 
The City respectfully submits that, in this case, cause exists for this Court to lift the
automatic stay to permit the City to terminate both the Restaurant License and the Marina License. There can be no doubt that both agreements at issue here are licenses to use real property. Both agreements are entitled “License Agreement” and each refers to the Debtor throughout as the “Licensee.” Furthermore, each agreement contains an identical provision, at Section 1.3, which states: “It is expressly understood that no land, building, space, or equipment is leased to Licensee, but that during the Interim Period (as hereinafter defined) and the Term of
the License, Licensee shall have the use of the Licensed Premises for the purpose herein after provided.” (Emphasis supplied). Section 1.3 further contains a specific restriction on the Licensee’s use of the premises: “Except as herein provided, Licensee has the right to occupy and operate the Licensed Premises only so long as each and every term and condition in this License is strictly and properly complied with and so long as this License is not terminated by Commissioner.”
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The Law Department was probably also alarmed over any possible precedent by a concessionaire running amok in bankruptcy and circumventing the approval processes spelled out in the concession agreements:
 
It appears that the Debtor intends to try to reorganize by bringing in entirely new equity owners. The Marina License and the Restaurant License contain identical provisions, at Section 14.1, which require the written approval of the City in advance of any sale, transfer, assignment, sublicense of the License, or “a majority of the shares of or interest in Licensee. . .”
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The city also filed multiple objections to MRG’s attempts to bring in a new lender and manager without following the proper process outlined in the license agreements:  
Before the City would be in a position to approve of any entity operating the restaurant as the “Manager” (as defined in the proposed Management Agreement), the City should conduct an extensive background check, the proposed Manager should enroll in the City’s Procurement and Sourcing Solutions Portal (commonly referred to as “PASSPort”) and receive clearance therein, and the City would need to
conduct a Vendor Name Check through the Department of Investigation….
 
Further, the Management Motion does not explain which persons or principals will control the Manager. Therefore, without the due diligence process discussed above, and additional information regarding the proposed ownership interests, the City will not be able to determine if doing business with the Manager is in the best interests of the City….

No operational plan was submitted with regard to the Management Agreement.  All elements of the operations of the restaurant, e.g., hours of operation, menu items and prices, entertainment (all mentioned in Section 1.2 of the Management Agreement); trade name (as mentioned in Section 4.1 of Management Agreement), including advertising and signage, are subject to the City’s prior approval. See Section 10 of the Restaurant License. Without further details, the City is not in a position to state whether it would approve any such operational plan.
MRG then filed its own objection to the city’s objections, basically arguing that although they had a license and not a lease, it should still be protected under bankruptcy law and they should have a chance to address past issues:
 
The Restaurant License Agreement is an utter necessity for the Debtor to
operate. It goes without saying that the Debtor requires the real estate on which it is
situated….

The Debtor has the right, at a hearing on plan confirmation and/or assumption of the Restaurant License Agreement, to demonstrate that it can and willsatisfy the City’s legitimate concerns, which to this day it has refused to share with this Court
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All of this was to have been settled at a court hearing on June 13, 2019.  However, at that hearing, the parties instead delayed the decision on the various motions another 30 to 45 days.   This means that it will likely be August before it is determined if MRG can or will be thrown out before they can even attempt to reorganize and leave bankruptcy.
 
That hearing at the start of August is also proposed to be the Confirmation Hearing for their bankruptcy.  MRG recently filed their Disclosure Statement and Reroganization Plan and is now seeking to have these approved by their creditors (by vote) and by the court (at the confirmation hearing). 
 
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The reorganization plan is how a debtor plans to become profitable and repay their debts.  In this case, a new lender (Waterfront Hospitality Partners LLC) will provide new funding in exchange for 18% of ownership of the reorganized debtor (let’s call it “New MRG”) after approval:
 
WHP shall be issued up to 18% of the membership interests in the Reorganized Debtor in consideration of its waiver of right to repayment of its Administrative DIP loan Claim
Waterfront Hospitality Partners LLC is not in the New York State corporation database, but it appears from its address in another court filing  to be an entity controlled by  Adam Mizrachi.  WHP is purely an investor. 
 
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It seems the current partners of MRG (Rosen, Tenenbaum, Mateo and others) will then exit and turn over the remainder of New MRG to the proposed manager entity, 348 Hudson River Partners LLC.   According to court documents, “none of the Debtor’s current management or Interest holders have any interest in the Manager.” Note that 348 Hudson River Partners LLC is also not in the state database but appears from media descriptions and financial projections to be a Brother Jimmy’s entity.
 
348 Hudson River Partners LLC shall be issued at least 82% of the membership interests in the Reorganized Debtor in consideration for its continuing obligations under the Management Agreement dated May 8, 2019, as amended, and fulfillment of its indemnification obligations set forth herein.
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The city’s attorney in the most recent hearing certainly categorized the plan as an assignment to a new ownership group (one which they are reserving their rights to object to following review):
 
We would like to, however, reserve our 13 right to raise any related issues in connection with the confirmation hearing, which since the debtor has incorporated in its plan an assumption of the restaurant license — so to the extent that we can’t reach a consensual resolution, the City would reserve its rights to make those arguments to the Court at that time.
The original MRG partners may not be walking away entirely — the Disclosure statement outlines that they will still potentially receive proceeds of their $2M lawsuit against Parks for stopping (illegal) ticketed concerts and (illegal) valet parking, but then again that lawsuit was recently moved off-calendar (indefinitely suspended), thickening the plot further…
 
 
 
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The reorganization plan requires its own voting period where the various creditors vote for the plan.  MRG is promising to pay creditors at least 40 cents on the dollar if they approve the plan, and nothing if they don’t).   The voting will likely take place between now and the Confirmation Hearing in early August.
 
Pursuant to a Court order, ballots on the Debtor’s Plan must be filed on or before August __, 2019….
 
Class 2 will be deemed to have accepted the Plan if the Plan is accepted by at least two-thirds in dollar amount and more than one-half in number of the holders of Claims actually voting of such Class….

The Code requires the Bankruptcy Court to hold a hearing on the Debtor’s request for Confirmation of the Plan after the ballots have been cast.
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Even then, La Marina, or Brother Jimmy’s, or whatever it would become, would probably need a liquor license in order to actually be profitable.  It’s hard to tell if this pertinent fact is noted in the budget projections attached to the disclosure documents, since they sloppily forgot to break out the revenue.   The City’s legal team pointed out in May how unrealistic it would be to try to operate profitably without a liquor license:
 
The Loan Motion suggests that the Debtor will be able to commence operations
in May. As noted above, however, the Debtor does not yet have an approved operation plan; moreover, it is far from clear that the Debtor can obtain the necessary permits to operate, even if the City were to approve any such operations plan.
 
The proposed budget attached to the Loan Motion appears to be unrealistic.
For example, it appears to assume that the Debtor will obtain a liquor license and that the City would approve the operation of a beer garden. There appears to be no credible basis for the Debtor’s assertion, that “the Debtor expects to be operating at or close to break even in the upcoming months.”
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So, IF the court doesn’t allow the City to terminate MRG’s concession in late July, and IF the proposed investor and manager and concession assumption are approved by the city, the courts and creditors sometime in August, and IF a liquor license can be obtained after that or they choose to try and operate without one… that’s a lot of IFs, and it likely means no one will be pulling up to La Marina in a yacht this summer.   
 
Is it possible we will see a new restaurant emerge with new ownership sometime before the restaurant concession season ends in October, operating initially without alcohol?  Maybe.  (And that itself would be quite the welcome, departure from the booze-soaked past at this public parkland site.)  But it’s not certain and it’s definitely not “Opening Soon”.
 
Stay tuned to see if Manhattan River Group will be removed from the site once and for all, and if both of Dyckman Marina’s concessions will now finally be restored to proper use.
 

 
UPDATE #1 – As an outcome of the June 13th hearing, an amended disclosure statement has been filed.  The Confirmation Hearing has been scheduled for July 29 at 11 am at the court, and the creditors will be voting on the plan from now until July 22.  It is not public knowledge at this time how New York City, the largest creditor, will be voting.
 

UPDATE #2 – All matters that were to be decided on July 29th have been adjourned to a hearing on August 5th.  The city seems to still be in discussion with 348 Hudson River Partners about approving their assignment of the restaurant concession license from the prior operators.


UPDATE #3 – The court approved the reorganization plan, clearing the way for the facility to reopen later this year under new owners and a new name.  Many detailed questions remain.

 


 
 


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Sunk!

“The Debtor now has made clear that its real interest (and that of its potential new investors and/or plan funders) is in trying to salvage the restaurant operation. The Debtor has no real interest in running a first class, full service marina, as is required in the Marina License… In the meantime, the Debtor has defaulted on its obligations under both the Restaurant License and the Marina License. This has caused – and continues to cause — substantial harm to the City and to the public interest.”

– Motion filed by the Corporation Counsel of the City of New York, May 13 2019

 
The Marina part of La Marina has been sunk.  Effective May 20, 2019 New York City’s Department of Parks and Recreation has taken over the Dyckman Boat Marina docks and boating infrastructure and will run it directly along with their 79th St Boat Basin Marina, World’s Fair Marina, and Sheepshead Bay Piers.  
 
Before we break down this momentous news, let’s take a trip through time with the help of MyInwood.net and recap the many prior failed attempts at establishing a proper marina at Dyckman Street.
 
Originally, the area where Dyckman Street meets the Hudson River was known as Tubby Hook.  Over a century ago it featured a Hudson River Railroad station and a number of boathouses and bathing places by the waterfront.
 
postcard 1890s.jpg
 
By 1915, these waterfront structures were joined by a car ferry service to New Jersey; the ferry terminal buildings stood where La Marina is today.  Meanwhile passenger train service ended in 1916 (a decade after the IRT subway came to Inwood) and the freight tracks were elevated onto a viaduct in 1931, creating the current topography at the site.  The Henry Hudson Parkway was constructed behind the railroad tracks in 1937, further isolating the site.  Many of the boating clubs maintained docks and moorings during this era, as can be seen in the 1930s photo below.
 
ferry1930s
 
The ferry stopped running in 1942 after the George Washington Bridge took over most of its traffic and the ferry buildings fell into disrepair.  The site at the foot of Dyckman Street was cleared and vacant by the 1950s.  Seeing the potential for a grander, marina-based development here to replace the jumble of decaying boathouses along the shore, in the 1960s the city hired the same architectural firm that had been working on plans for Battery Park City and came up with “Marina City“, a giant residential, hotel and marina development idea that never made it past the concept stage.
 
Dykeman-Marina-rendering
 
After Marina City failed to happen, the land was transferred over to the Parks Department in 1966, preserving it from future residential redevelopment.  As the boat clubs faded away (Inwood Canoe Club being the sole survivor) and the city lost interest, the site was essentially abandoned by the 1980s.  It appears in the city tax lot photos only as a jumble of bush.
 
1980s tax map dyckman.jpg
 
Later that decade, a Bronx “boat bum” named John Boldt came across the site.  He spent 10 years obtaining federal funding to build the public pier and a small marina and cafe.  The original plan was for 127 slips and a 60 seat restaurant.  The site opened in 1995 as the Dyckman Boatyard with about 25 slips and a small “canteen”. 
 
His efforts received considerable press at the time for bringing “the lazy activity of anglers, boaters and revellers” back to the waterfront.  Parks Commissioner Henry Stern said “John Boldt is a remarkable entrepreneur. Of course, you have to be a bit nutty to take on something like this, but that adds to the spirit of adventure. Now, it’s up to the public to use it.” DOT also transferred the former ferry terminal parking lot to Parks around this time to support the new use.
 
dyckman boatyard.jpg
 
Although Boldt’s company, Dyckman Marine Venture had a 20 year concession starting in 1990, something must have gone wrong as the concessionaire was soon in “six figure arrears in license fees not paid,” and the city went looking for another operator. 
 
A 15-year concession contract was awarded in 1998 to Dyckman Marine Group, Inc. to further build out and enhance the marina and cafe, which became known as the Dyckman Boat Marina and, after it opened in 2000, the Tubby Hook Cafe.  This facility offered 16 slips and 30 moorings and further enlarged the restaurant building and patio.  The concession operator was run by James O’Rourke, a retired NYPD officer.  However, a 2002 audit did find some financial problems and noted the rough condition of the marina infrastructure.
 
 
dyckman marina before 4
 
Like its predecessor, this concessionaire was also terminated early — this time after a large drug bust in 2006.  There was also frustration over illicit concerts that the cafe had been holding.  Discussing the prospect of a new operator in 2006, the New York Times reported:
 
The marina was a mainstay of the neighborhood, and Mr. O’Rourke was known for staging salsa and merengue concerts. Those gatherings sent sounds echoing off the Palisades across the water and bred a satellite party scene along Dyckman Street, where young men would park tricked-out cars vibrating with bass. The noise provoked constant complaints from neighbors, occasionally leading the police to restrict car access to the end of the street. 
 
“People had fun there,” said Javier Fernandez, 28, who was wiping down a Town Car inside Hand Car Wash on Dyckman Street. Speaking from beneath the brim of a baseball hat embossed with red flames, he added, “Everyone who lived here went to concerts there.” But many older residents seemed to hope for a more sedate marina, a place free of the packed concerts and $100 bottle service.
 

“I think the community is relieved at the possibility of a new concession,” said Sarah Morgridge, an aide to City Councilman Robert Jackson, who represents the area. Ms. Morgridge, 58, remembers the marina of 10 years ago as “a place you could grab a hot dog and be down by the water.” The Parks Department said that it planned to solicit proposals for a new concession at the site, and that it would ensure an end to the late-night parties.

(Yes, that was a 2006 article, not a 2019 article!)
 
Which brings us to Manhattan River Group, which won the 2007 RFP and was awarded a 15-year concession for both the Marina and the Restaurant in 2009.  That operator was formed primarily by textile salesman Josh Rosen and coporate lawyer Jerald Tenenbaum, and later bought into by nightclub owner Fernando Mateo
 
But alas, the third time was not to be the charm as Manhattan River Group immediately recreated the very problems that plagued the prior concession (only this time the bottle service was $1,300, not $100).  Although a marina of up to 200 slips offering many services was promised, it was never fully completed.  By 2014, a 22-slip dock had been built using a federal grant, but in practice it was operated more as an accessory to the restaurant and concert events rather than for boaters looking for a home port.  
 
Ritmo Sonico
  
Most of the boats parked at the dock were either jet-skis (not allowed), the sailing school (also technically not allowed) or short-term lounge patrons.  A 2016 audit found that the marina could not prove they had a single seasonal customer, and it was obvious from their non-existence in marina guides and navigation resources that the marina only existed on paper. 
 
It turns out that the docks, 20 moorings, laundry, restrooms, hookups and pumpouts were not  completed until 2017, and then perhaps only to claim the $669,286 federal grant for boating infrastructure.  The marina  still did not operate afterwards except for dock-n-dine services.  Although Parks looked the other way for seven years throughout all of this, the city’s attorneys made the failure to operate the marina very clear in 2019 bankruptcy court filings:
 
In this case, the Debtor has defaulted numerous times on its obligations under each of the licenses. In the case of the Marina License, these defaults are especially egregious and call out for immediate redress… These defaults have harmed the City and the public interest.
And so, having now sunk for the third time, the City seems resigned to run the marina concession themselves in order to avoid yet another concessionaire who makes grand promises only to run into a financial mess (or worse) while failing to provide the mandated marina services:
 

The judge’s decision brings the boat dock under city control, the Parks Department said.

Crystal Howard, a Parks Department spokesperson, said the city hopes to have some marina services, including docking and ramp use, up and running as soon as possible.

“We plan to operate the marina directly, and are working diligently so we can open the space to the public this summer,” Howard said by email.

site in 2017.jpg
 
The city has therefore announced a series of proposed changes to the City Rules that will allow them to administer the marina directly.  These will be heard at a public hearing on July 8, 2019.  While the rules changes are administrative and don’t really speak to programming at the site, the proposed rates are strangely high — 29% to 42% higher than the already very expensive 79th St Boat Basin for seasonal berths, and 300% higher for 4-hour stays. 
 
Other charges such as winter storage, labor, etc. are also much higher.  While the lucrative Dyckman Restaurant Concession remains tied up in court and will likely remain financially separated, thereby preventing any subsidy of the Marina Concession, these high rates seems illogical for a marina that has yet to properly establish itself. 
 
dcykman marina proposed rates
 
Even more insulting, kayak or paddleboard storage is proposed at a whopping $600 per year at Dyckman instead of the $350 at Boat Basin.  After seven years of denying its low-income community the promised public benefits because of their mismanagement of the most recent concession, Parks should be offering a discounted rate for storing such accessible human-powered watercraft (kayaks can be purchased for under $100, after all).  There is certainly ample space on the “beach” area for outdoor racks in the area once improperly used for concerts.
 
There is also the rules change that apparently sets fees for commercial boats to pick up and drop off passengers at Dyckman Marina, which might enable “party boats” or “booze cruises” to use the facility.  That would in an instant recreate, yet again, the issues with noise, crowds, parking, late hours, etc. that made the site infeasible for large concerts in the first place.
 
partyboat.jpg
 
Note that the above 2019 advertisement, which is very similar to past La Marina concert promotions, is for a $40 per person booze cruise featuring six DJs on a 600-person capacity boat with $1000 bottle service sailing from midnight to 3 am.  It still uses the #lamarinanyc hashtag even though it leaves from Pier 40 near Houston Street!  Similar party boats were recently evicted from the Sheepshead Bay Piers for causing numerous problems in that neighborhood and they are no longer allowed at any other marina run by Parks.  So why is Parks seemingly looking to recreate these issues in Inwood? 
 
Comments on the proposed rules changes can be made by email to

rules@parks.nyc.gov or by appearing at the Public Hearing on July 8:

 
Monday, July 8, 2019 – 12:00pm
 
Thomas Jefferson Recreation Center
2180 First Avenue & E. 112 Street
 
There will also be a discussion with Parks officials at the Community Board 12 (Manhattan) Parks and Cultural Affairs Committee meeting on Tuesday, June 11 at 530 West 166th Street, 6th floor.
 
Publicly-owned marinas are public assets, and taking over the operation of this often costly infrastructure directly after so many failed attempts is the correct action by New York City.   But after all Inwood has been through, crippling this fourth attempt at a marina with sky-high boating fees, unreasonable community storage rates, and potenitally problematic booze cruises is flat-out wrong. 
 
Restoring Dyckman Marina means making its infrastructure accessible and enjoyable to both the boating public and general public and bringing long-promised waterfront access back to Dyckman Street.
 
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2 Comments

Hearing Loss

“Why should we believe [Manhattan River Group]?  We can go into the drug sales by a manager, we can go into the fact that they felt like they could do valet parking all over upper Manhattan and not care where they left the cars, we can go into the fact that they were having concerts or whatever events that they had already told the city they weren’t going to have.  They lied every chance they got.

Now all of a sudden because we’ve shut them, and their investment is going out the window, or their golden goose, whatever you want to call it, now they’re going to find God. It gets to the point where, to me, based on when I’m here, I don’t care what they promise me, I don’t think I’ll ever believe them, the guys that are involved in this thing.  “

– NY State Liquor Authority Chair Vincent Bradley, La Marina Disciplinary Hearing April 10 2019

 
During the last month, there were two important hearings concerning the bankrupt, landlord-suing La Marina.  Let’s break them down and see if they give any indication of what might happen next.
 
 
BANKRUPTCY STATUS CONFERENCE 4/4/19
 
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Shuttered, bankrupt, and not open for the start of the season.  (Photo 4/16/19)

On April 4th, 2019 attorneys appeared in US Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York to give the presiding judge a status update on the Chapter 11 filing by the concession operators.
 
One attorney (Mr. Brian Hufnagel) represented Manhattan River Group, the holder of the Restaurant and Marina concessions at Dyckman Boat Marina, operating as “La Marina”.  Also present was an attorney (Mr. Zachary Kass) from the New York City Corporation Counsel’s office representing the Parks Department and the City overall.  
 
A Chapter 11 filing (a “reorganization” filing) means the business intends to restructure their debts and emerge from bankruptcy to operate again, if possible.  They have to work out deals with their creditors and come up with a business plan that the court will approve.   In the meantime, they have to meet from time to time with the judge to give him or her an update on the status.  
 
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This area was supposed to be “holly trees and native grasses”.  Photo taken 4/16/19

 
Obviously MRG is not going to have a viable plan to restructure their debts unless they can:
 
1) Hold onto one or both of their concession agreements
2) Get a liquor license (the current liquor license was suspended on Dec 6th, 2018)
 
And so, stalling for time, the first status conference in February contained little of note other than that they claimed to be close to agreements with the City and SLA:
We’ve identified a new operating partner who has a — it’s a well-known restaurant chain who’s operated in the city for thirty years. I really can’t disclose a name until things are final, but it’s one we believe will be hopefully more acceptable to the City and to the community, and will allow the place to reopen with a new type of operation and a more acceptable — but he’s on board. We have to nail down the final details, as we hopefully reach an agreement with the City.

We are also close to a potential resolution with the State Liquor Authority that will allow reopening with a liquor license as well. We’ve had discussions with them. They’re very far along. I can’t say we have a deal until everything kind of falls in place, but that’s been taking place as well.
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Area behind the Quonset hut.   4/16/19

In the April status conference, the attorney for MRG claimed that a proposal was sent to the Parks Dept in March, a proposal that Parks refuses to discuss with Inwood residents:
 

There is nothing final yet, unfortunately, but they have moved along. We submitted, probably about a month ago, a proposal — settlement proposal to the City. The debtor and the Parks Department met in person to — let me back up.  Before that, we — before we submitted the proposal, we met with the Manhattan Borough President as well as some members of the local community that are up in that neighborhood to try to fill them in on what our thoughts were and to get their input from it.

The MRG attorney also claimed that the Manhattan Borough President supported their proposal.  (One wonders what Gale Brewer thinks of such a representation given her past concerns about operations):

The community response is mixed. Some people like the place, some people don’t like the place and would like to see something different there. The Manhattan Borough President was pretty much on our side in terms of our proposal for how to reopen the place going forward. 

 

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Photo taken on the first day of the boating season, 4/16/19.  Docks not installed.

It also appears that there was a second proposal sent to Parks – also not shared with the public:

So after that, we submitted a proposal to the Parks Department and met with them to discuss it. And we then submitted a revised proposal after the meeting that took into account some of their comments. We did meet with them. And at this point, we’re waiting, really, for their feedback, to see whether we’ll have a settlement and have something put in place.

One can surmise from the following though that these proposals likely refer to Brother Jimmy’s:

Without going into too many specifics, in general, we’re going to be bringing — we’re hoping to bring in a new investor who’s — slash — kind of co-operator with us for the place, so it’ll be reopened with a little different food, probably better price points for the area, we’re hoping, as well. And the investor will put some money into the case that will allow a plan to come together as well.

Overall the MRG attorney painted a rather vague yet rosy picture:

So it could be — again, we’re — I think — I can’t really speak for the City, because we don’t really know, and they don’t know either, but we think in terms of the concept we’re pretty close. And then there’s some monetary elements that kind of go along with it. And those are still being worked out — worked out — as well. So this case could be done very quickly and it could still go further. But we’re going to know one way or another, I think, before we come back here next time, whether we’re going to have an agreement with the City.   I think we’re — we could have still some back-and-forth, but I think it’s moving along and we should know fairly soon.

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The “greenhouse” structure erected over the north patio as the new “indoor” concert area, never approved legally by DOB, SBS or any other agency.  Photo 4/16/19

At the prior status conference the city attorney called the marina concession “sort of a snack bar.”  This month he was paying more attention:

It is my understanding that there have been some discussions with the businesspeople. I know there are internal discussions at Parks to consider the revised proposal. Debtor’s particular status conferences always tend to be a little bit more rosy than everybody else in the room, and I must say that what I’ve heard from the City isn’t quite that rosy about where things stand.

Still, he confirmed meetings and discussions all somehow “moving forward” but being hidden from the public:

But it’s my understanding that they are moving forward, both sides, in good faith, and that there has been some progress on some open issues, and that Parks is seriously considering what to do next.

A pause here to reiterate that Parks is meeting with a bankrupt concessionaire who owes them rent and members of the public their deposits, who is suing them for enforcing their agreement, who is facing four pages of SLA charges including drug sales and has a suspended liquor license, taking revised proposals from them, and now “seriously considering” what to do next?  Anywhere else, even at this very concession site a decade ago, there would be nothing to consider but immediate cancellation of the concession agreements.  This is insane.

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Nowhere to dock on the first required day of the marina season, April 16th 2019

To return to the status conference, the City attorney still seemed to not quite understand how the marina actually worked:

The main operation is at the restaurant, of course. There are some conversations about what to be — what use the marina should be made of.  I understand there are other issues about the marina in terms of some federal involvement, as there usually is with waterways and — things of that nature. So I understand that’s among the various components that’ll have to go into this that’ll enter into it as well.

The marina is not up for conversation – it’s required to be a marina, for the next 28 years, per the terms of its funding that paid for the docks, restrooms, electric hookups, etc.  It’s not up for debate.  The attorney seems to be confused that the “federal involvement” is the US Army Corps of Engineers, the agency that does deal with waterways and navigation, but in this case it’s not them.  It’s the Boating Infrastructure Grant program of US Fish and Wildlife.

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Bar in beach area that was supposed to be a cafe, not a concert venue, 4/16/19

The next status conference will now be on May 14th, well into the boating season that opened on April 16th and the restaurant season that opened on May 1, per the concession agreement terms.  There is some cause for concern that the timing will cause the city or the judge to rush something that should not be rushed, no doubt a strategy of MRG:

MR. KASS: — I know there is considerable concern, actually, on both sides that the summer season  — is approaching —
THE COURT: Right.
MR. KASS: — and that having the place unavailable simply because parties aren’t in synch, wouldn’t serve the community.
THE COURT: Right. Well, if there’s anything I can do on that front, just let me know.
MR. KASS: Sure.
THE COURT: And if you decide that there’s some artistic license that you want to take in terms of anything I said today to get any of your clients to move at the City, feel free to take such license. Having represented government clients in the past, sometimes the wheels of justice grind exceedingly slowly, so but that’s fine.

What wouldn’t serve the community is allowing MRG to emerge from bankruptcy still holding the concession agreements which they have violated so many times and clearly are not qualified to hold.  Judge Sean H. Lane turns out to be an Inwood native (!!!) so perhaps this will all be sorted out properly in the end, no matter what the timing.
 
 
SLA HEARING 4/10/19
 
mrg sla

MRG attorney presents plea at SLA hearing.  Jimmy Goldman and Josh Rosen at left.

 
The second major hearing was the disciplinary hearing at the State Liquor Authority on April 10 (video: skip to 3h42m).  The purpose was for the Board to hear a Conditional No Contest (CNC) plea from Manhattan River Group.  This is an option that license holders have when charged with infractions to, instead of fighting the charges, instead offer the Board a “No Contest” plea, conditional upon an offer of a fine, as a way to address and dismiss the charges. 
 
In this case, Manhattan River Group (again, this is the business that holds the Restaurant and Marina concessions, operating as “La Marina”) made an offer of $125,000 in exchange for pleading Conditional No Contest to THREE PAGES of violations dating back to July of 2017.  The attorney also made an attempt to tie the offer to a promise of a change in operations.
 

The licensee understands that it has had its problems in the last year…. but what I want to emphasize and why I have Brother Jimmy’s with me is they will make part of the Conditional No Contest (CNC) that they will change the operation, they will not be open past midnight any night of the week, they will not have ticketed events, they will not have any of these loud parties that they have been accused of, and what you will have is a very kid-friendly Brother Jimmy’s, a place that is known to the liquor authority, is a good licensee, has relatively no problems (a charge here and there) but nothing of major concern to the SLA.  So part and parcel of the CNC is that will we assure you what was will not continue, and that is critical I believe.

Before we go further, let’s remember that the concession license itself limits the hours to 11 pm most nights and 12:30 am only on Thurs, Fri and Sat.  It also prohibited concerts while the city charter makes outdoor music (at any volume) past 10 pm illegal in a park.  The fact that MRG was the very party that ignored those rules for seven years rather undermines any promise to now all of sudden abide by them.

The Board answered as follows:  “Why should we believe them”?  The MRG attorney then tried to again tie in the CNC to the promise of this new operation, which could be closed down if there were any further violations.  This led to a discussion about how MRG had apparently negotiated some sort of “global settlement” behind closed doors with the former SLA General Counsel Christopher Raino.  This special treatment seems highly unorthodox — but might explain why La Marina had never come to administrative trial for charges dating back a year and a half.  (That delay also caused the SLA to automatically renew the license because it was awaiting a hearing even though CB12 asked them not to.)

 

bikinipalooza

The July 2, 2017 Bikini Palooza event that resulted in Disorderly Premises and Over Capacity charges.

The MRG attorney also attempted to bring Fernando Mateo into the offer, namely that he had been removed from the partnership.  While this may explain why Fernando Mateo recently gave interviews on Hot97 and then on Power 105 blaming everyone else, the Board wasn’t having it:

This idea that one person, and I’m going to put all the activities that occurred here, which were obviously substantial, on the majority being caused by that  one person just isn’t accurate in my mind.. They were all equal partners in this thing, they all had equal responsibility”.

And then Chairman Bradley went back to Commissioner Ford’s question, why believe MRG now when the same partners would still be holding the liquor license?

Why should we believe your client?  We can go into the drug sales by a manager, we can go into the fact that they felt like they could do valet parking all over upper Manhattan and not care where they left the cars, we can go into the fact that they were having concerts or whatever events that they had already told the city they weren’t going to have.  They lied every chance they got. Now all of a sudden because we’ve shut them, and their investment is going out the window, or their golden goose, whatever you want to call it, now they’re going to find God. It gets to the point where, to me, based on when I’m here, I don’t care what they promise me, I don’t think I’ll ever believe them, the guys that are involved in this thing.  

At this point the MRG attorney fell back on the (incorrect) claim that somehow the concession holders here did something special and that they had a clean record.

Mr Chairman, there’s been a tremendous investment put in this place.  They took a rotted old pier and made it into a viable entity.  For the seven or eight years, you had no problem with them – in the past year, all sort of things have occurred”

Well, no, not quite.  Yes there was investment, but don’t forget some of it came from the city, some of it came from the federal government, and all of it was what any party that won the RFP would have done.  The concession agreements literally required those investments as a condition of holding the concession.   As for the claim of “no problems” since opening, all you have to do is read the years of headlines to understand that something was very wrong with the operation.

Again, the SLA Chair was not accepting any of this argument, pointing out that:

We had no problem with them based on the history in the records in our agency but it’s quite obvious to me now that the majority of that neighborhood and the majority of that area of Manhattan did have a problem.  It appears to me that the city administration for whatever reason was either turning a blind eye or not listening to that problem.

What followed was then a long discussion about the valet parking issues at La Marina.  The MRG attorney tried various arguments to minimize this massively illegal large-scale disruption that occurred every summer weekend since 2012:

  • “The parking issue, as you put it, was never an issue until it became one all of sudden.”

  • “The Parks department was permitting those cars to be parked inside the park.  When that was taken away, well there were problems.”
  • “I understand what you are saying about this complete disregard for what should have been going on but it’s NOT TRUE.  It’s just NOT TRUE. And it hasn’t been true.”
  • There was an agreement and a contract of a sorts with the Parks Dept which allowed for this valet parking, so these claims about valet parking all up and down the streets and avenues is not correct.  

 

no valet2012

Parks told MRG that their valet parking was illegal back in 2012.

 

The problem for this particular hole he was digging was that the valet parking was always an issue, Parks never allowed anything close to what went on every weekend, the valet was supposed to be confined to the Parks lot only (but clearly wasn’t), plus Parks has no authority without a separate concession to offer anything anyway and the disregard was total and complete, every summer, every year, causing huge traffic problems

As for that contract?  It was with the valet company, not the Parks Dept, and it was as worthless as a rusted-out AMC Gremlin — because it was not legal to park cars on public land for which there was no concession license.

Fortunately the SLA Chair saw through the smoke (maybe even the actual smoke) and  understood the underlying issue:

“You’re missing my point. It’s not about the valet parking. It’s about the way that they felt like they could operate, that they didn’t have to operate within the bounds of what they agreed they would do.

The MRG lawyer continued to try and talk about the proposed future of the site rather than address the charges from past operation.  (Note how none of this description resembles the former La Marina — someone might want to tell the Save La Marina folks.)

I’m not going to argue with you about what you perceive to be their problem.  They had a problem. They’re trying to solve their problem by completely changing the method of operation to a kid-friendly place that will close no later than 11 or 12 o’clock at night, will have no ticketed events, will have no speakers blaring in the middle of the night, will have none of these things.  We’re going to have a concept that has been a proven winner in the city of New York for 34 years as well as other states?

…Our plan is to convert the sand area to a kid-friendly area with bocce court, shuffleboard court, and other things.  we don’t work with outside promoters, idea is to do what we do for 30 years. Kids eat free. Beach area Parks has asked us to make accessible to the community, we’ve spoken to the community, talks about Brooklyn Crab and corn toss.  I don’t do outside shows, I don’t do HipHop, I don’t do Reggaton, not what we do.

 

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Had the concession been re-assigned in October this would be open by now.  (4/16/19)

 

To all of this the SLA’s general response was “Why not lease it to Brother Jimmy’s then?”  The MRG attorney responded, incorrectly, with:

That’s the problem, in a nutshell.   Because the Parks department has a licensing agreement with the current licensee and it’s not as if ok Brother Jimmy’s  here’s your license. It doesn’t work that way in the City of New York.  

The above is simply not true.  There is a process called “assignment” which is defined in the concession agreements (just go to Section 14).   The original operator, in this case MRG, would find another party, such as Brother Jimmy’s, willing to step into their shoes and assume the terms and conditions (and current year) of the lease, exactly as written.  The Parks Commissioner would have to approve such a process, but not the community board or any other party, which is logical since the new party is assuming all of the responsibilities and obligations and restrictions that were already approved.  This is exactly what happened with New Leaf Cafe in 2015 and it could happen at Dyckman Marina too.  So yes, in fact, it does work that way, exactly, in the City of New York.

 

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An unapproved restroom trailer parked for years in the marina area.  4/16/19

There was one more outrageous claim made by the MRG attorney at this hearing:

They’ve made a mistake, they made a big mistake, they’ve paid for it in many ways in that they’ve been closed for five months, there are  number of weddings that didn’t go on in the winter because of this, they’re paying a severe price for what they did.

Here he is trying to create sympathy that being closed from December to March has been a “severe price” to pay for the operators.  He mentioned this two other times during the hearing as well.  But let’s remember,

1) December to March has a name, it’s called “winter“.  Any review of past revenue reports shows very little revenue during these months ($30k to $100k) compared to summer months ($1.8M to $2M), as one would expect for a mostly outdoor operation.  Not exactly a “severe price”.

2) La Marina is a summertime concession, literally.  The concession license agreement only allows the restaurant to operate from May to October.  That’s it, period.  There is no piece of paper anywhere that allows for any legal operation of the restaurant premises between October and May.  The fact that MRG has used public property as a private event venue with no concession agreement to do so for YEARS does not make it legal.  How can being denied activity you were not legally entitled to host be a burden?

3) MRG declared bankruptcy in December, stiffing several people out of their wedding deposits.  And wedding parties could have brought in caterers with a special event permit for serving alcohol at a wedding.  It was MRG’s decision to close, so the “severe price” was paid by the cheated couples, not by MRG.

 

 

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“Concerts are strictly prohibited” say the concession agreements.  Yet this stage for performers has been here since 2012.   Photo taken 4/16/19.

Fortunately the SLA chair did not buy any of these arguments — at the end of the hearing when the vote was taken by the Board, the Chair said:

I just can’t in my conscience do this.  Just like the community board said this to me is not about Brother Jimmy’s.”  Refers to letters where Parks told valet to stop and it continued. Drug dealer who was selling to an undercover.  “At one point there was a group of people who were their customers at an event who were poisoned by some kind of powder.  

There were just too many instances where they either through political influence or just complete disregard for the law decided that they were going to do what they wanted, and I don’t believe that that would not happen again with these owners.

 
The Board voted 3-0 to counter the MRG offer of paying a penalty and getting their license back with “bond and cancel“, i.e. cancel the license but with no restrictions on applying for another new license, and seize the bond that was filed with the license application.  MRG can now decide whether to accept this offer to turn in their license and pay the bond, or fight it at a trial before an Administrative Law Judge.  The penalty at administrative trial could include fines as well as revocation, preventing anyone from MRG from holding a liquor license anywhere for two years, or denying a license at the site for two years. 
 
Regardless of whether there is now a disciplinary trial or not, or the outcome of that trial, what is certain is that there will be no liquor license for months at the Dyckman Marina site so long as the concession is held by Manhattan River Group.
 
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It’s right there in the name, yet La Marina has never run a full marina as legally required and now sits shuttered.  (Photo 4/16/19)

 
 
SUMMARY
 
What is clear from these two hearings is:
 
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The “no standing at night” signs that were installed by Manhattan DOT at the (improper) request of La Marina remain in place, for no reason at all.  (4/16/19)

Since these hearings, there have also been two additional filings in the bankruptcy case.  The first filing replaced the original attorney, Hufnagel, who was a lawyer at one of the MRG partner’s firm.  The new attorney is Robert Rattet of the outside firm Rattet PLLC.
 
Likely because of the SLA’s refusal of their settlement offer, MRG also filed with the court for an emergency hearing for an extension until July 18th, 2019 to submit their restructuring plan.   Note the following text from the filing, which contradicts the “severe penalty” claim above of not operating during the winter.  It also talks about an “assumption” of the lease, for which a letter was later filed on May 2, 2019. This means MRG is intending to stay in possession of their Parks concession licenses if they emerge from bankruptcy, although they seem to hint at possibly surrendering the Marina license to Parks if they can keep half of the Quonset Hut (a marina concession property).
 
First, the Debtor is currently not operating (traditionally the Debtor’s “off season”) and needs to immediately obtain debtor-in-possession financing to become current with post-petition rent (approximately $31,975) and pay for other administrative expenses pending its negotiation of a plan of reorganization with its hopeful plan funder, with whom it has just commenced negotiations.
 
The parties are already contemplating an assumption of the License as part of the Plan. However, DIP financing is needed now to cure the post-petition arrears to the City and provide some additional working capital to get the Debtor through the plan negotiation and confirmation process shortly thereafter.
example of lamarinanyc hashtag 2019

Although La Marina has not hosted concerts since July 2018 and is currently shuttered, DJ promotions as far away as Miami continue to use the #lamarinanyc hashtag to attract traffic to social media nightlife posts.  This instagram post is from April 29th, 2019.

 

Finally, on May 1st, 2019 the SLA cancelled the liquor license after receiving a  letter indicating that Manhattan River Group was accepting the Board offer of cancellation and bond.  So the liquor license has now been surrendered, so to speak, and any new operator at the site (such as Brother Jimmy’s) will have to go through the process of applying for a new liquor license under a different name.

And so without a liquor license, and without emerging from bankruptcy court, why hasn’t Parks terminated or re-assigned these concessions?  Why is the Parks Dept keeping the facility dark in these desperate attempts to retain Manhattan River Group?    What secrets are creating such leverage?  Restore Dyckman Marina.  Now.

 
 
 


3 Comments

Save Ferris.

“Half the ppl signing the La marina petition couldn’t even get in when it was open.  Lol. They was not as inclusive as they make it seem.  Selling $500 bottles of liquor is also gentrification”

@MistaMOET via Twitter

As previously noted, Manhattan River Group, the shell LLC that holds the parks concessions for the Dyckman Boat Marina restaurant and marina, has been pitching a new plan to fight the emergency suspension of their liquor license by the SLA and review of their concession leases by Parks.  
 
owners.jpg

Manhattan River Group partners seen with local politicians at La Marina opening in 2012

 
Why would they fight this when faced with a mountain of evidence?  Why not just take their profits after a 7 year run and turn the space over to someone else?  There are a number of possible reasons. 
  • Losing your liquor license is a serious, serious mark on the record of anyone who owns restaurants and bars — it comes with a two-year ban from being able to hold a liquor license anywhere else in the state. 
  • The Dyckman concessions are highly desirable, with their low percentage rent (about half the rent of, say, Boat Basin Cafe) and proven lucrative revenue potential
  • Remember also the nature of any Parks concession – everything bolted-down belongs to the city.  MRG can only walk out with the liquor stock, the furniture and a few other items.  While they spent $800,000 in taxpayer money for the docks and the sewage infrastructure, building the facility apparently cost them millions more and why give that up to the next guy?
Whatever their reasons, in February MRG began a high-octane campaign to propose bringing in Brother Jimmy’s as the new face of the restaurant operation, while telling audiences that Fernando Mateo would no longer be actively involved.  They met with elected officials, Parks officials, community board members and anyone else who might be able to help them defy law and logic and avoid termination.  They also encouraged people to sign a highly-misleading petition started by an ally.
 
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La Marina’s own Instagram Feed promotes the petition (and tries to misdirect blame).

 
To break that petition down:
 

To:          New York City Department of Parks & Recreation

Before La Marina, the Parks Department property at the end of Dyckman Street had been neglected for decades. It took a massive private investment in our community to transform the blighted park into a place that we can enjoy and that employs many people and businesses in our area. It is a place we are proud of, and every May we look forward to visiting again.

We applaud La Marina for listening to legitimate community concerns and being willing to make changes. According to information gathered from community board meetings and conversations with the owners, we fully support the changes proposed below. 

The argument starts as it often has for seven years, that La Marina somehow saved a blighted stretch of Dyckman St.  It is true that Parks mismanaged the prior concessionaire, who was busted for drugs and terminated in 2006 (sound familiar?)  The area was then empty from 2006-2012 while La Marina was constructed; this is the so-called “blight”, which would have disappeared no matter who opened in 2012. 
 
La Marina’s new buildings did represent an investment, but that was the point of the Parks concession RFP process — whomever won the RFP would be making that investment.  Manhattan River Group (Josh Rosen, Jerald Tenenbaum and Chris Villano) won the RFP and did what they were obligated to do, while at the same time bringing in a new partner, restaurant and bar entrepreneurs Alain Chevreaux and Fernando Mateo, to help complete construction.
 
Of course La Marina employed many seasonal part-time employees (although not stated is that several of them later sued La Marina).  The “350 employees” number is also contradicted by testimony MRG gave to the SLA at their emergency license suspension that they employed 200 people (go to 43:45 mark). Regardless, any operator would employ a large number of people at the site given its size.  
 
summerfest

A breach-of-contract concert megaparty from 2017

Manhattan River Group didn’t so much “listen to community concerns” (those were ignored for seven summers) as much as “got busted for drugs, lost their illegal activities, declared bankruptcy and sued the city“.  Of course they were “willing to make changes” once they were caught and shut down.  Now let’s look at their proposed “changes” in detail:
 
 

1.  Partner with Brother Jimmy’s BBQ to offer a southern inspired menu with lower prices.   Here it should be noted that the concession was originally supposed to be a high end restaurant called Costera, a casual cafe called 365, and a snack bar.  It changed to La Marina and exclusively high prices after Mateo bought into the partnership.  All this change represents is what was promised then discarded 7 years ago.  How is it supposed to stick this time, especially when Brother Jimmy’s is being sued for financial mismanagement?

2.  Kids under 8 eat for free in a family friendly environment.  Similar to the above point, the winning RFP showed a $7 kid’s menu that was quickly forgotten when La Marina decided to focus on bottle service instead.

3.  Bring back Salsa Night and similar events in the lounge.  This is where you can see what’s really going on with this petition.  Changing the face to Brother Jimmy’s is not a contract matter – any restaurant is fine so long as it follows the rules.  But those rules prohibit concertsSalsa Night and other ambient background music may be ok, but this should not be a slippery slope back to the megaconcerts of the past whether outside or indoors.  Also recall that La Marina’s greenhouse used for Que Lo Que and other “indoor” concerts was never approved.

4.  Replace weekend beach parties with food themed events, festivals and family friendly games.  Read the original RFP and it made similar promises.  Those never happened, and many of the mega-parties and concerts that did happen were billed as “festivals“.  So what’s the difference this time?

5. Open the beach to the public during the day.   Note the wording here.  Why only the daytime?  Is the plan to go back to illegal ticketed events in the evening?  Per the concession contracts, the beach and every other inch of the site should be open to the public all summer long, weekdays and weekends, and the marina is actually supposed to be 24/7 for boaters staying overnight.  (Note how nothing at all in the petition talks about the missing marina functions!)

dock a jetski

Even Internet reviewers know there is no Marina at La Marina.

6.  Bring back valet parking.  What?  Unlike, say, New Leaf Cafe, the concession contracts for La Marina do not include any parking areas.  They can’t valet park even if no matter who wants it – it’s not legal.  That’s why the insane valet parking operation was eventually shut down.  Yes, the community board from the beginning always asked for a valet partnership with nearby garages, but not the illegal valet operation that existed since 2012, where valets seized the public street parking on Dyckman Street, and the Parks parking lot that was supposed to be for all Parks users.  The way the agreements are written there can be no valet parking that is not based in a garage.

7.  Continue to support organizations that help our community.  This is a cute sop.  It was revealed in emails to Parks that La Marina in its first couple years would bill certain concerts as “benefiting Toys for Cocktails Christmas Drive” or “benefiting Thanksgiving for Seniors” in fine print.  The idea was to provide cover for the prohibited concerts in exchange for a few community events.  Eventually, as Parks wasn’t paying attention anyway, this was dropped.  Many of the community events were also.  A new operator would inevitably do as much or more to help local NPOs and the community.

 
The petition then confusingly ends with:
 
We, the undersigned believe that these improvements will to make La Marina more accessible for people of all income levels and ensure that it continues to be an economic engine for our community. Please don’t close La Marina. 
compare4

How the street looks when concerts took place vs regular restaurant operation.

 
La Marina is being closed in lieu of Brother Jimmy’s in the proposal, so what does the last sentence even mean?  As for better access and economic activity, one more time, any new operator would achieve this.
 
The petition has now appeared on La Marina’s instagram and Facebook pages (Note – on the Facebook page it appears right above an announcement for an illegal concert last fall).  So that means Manhattan River Group officially endorses these entirely misleading points.  
 
Meanwhile, as mentioned above, it has been claimed by MRG that Fernando Mateo has been pushed out of the partnership in some way.  Whether his controlling stake has been reduced to a smaller percentage, or converted to non-voting, or bought out entirely is unclear.  But something has happened and Mateo has been vocal in his complaints about it   In early March he gave an interview to popular radio station Hot97.  The interview has been viewed over 100,000 times on YouTube.  Several points are made during the interview that require correction:
 
  • First of all, Hot97 is not just any radio station.  WQHT is enormously influential.   It was also a title sponsor for many of the prohibited megaparties at La Marina.
  • Mateo blames “gentrifiers” over and over again in the interview.  Aside from whether the area around Dyckman Marina has “gentrified” at all (income levels and demographics have been stable for decades), if anyone was pushing gentrification it was La Marina with its $500 bottle service for anyone who simply wanted to sit down.  (The bottle service, of course, was banned by Parks but offered nonetheless).
dyckman in 2011

Dyckman Street in 2011 – hardly blighted.

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Struggles between the partners at Manhattan River Group go back to 2014

  • Plus, wasn’t La Marina taking in a boatload of revenue?  Using the 2016 Annual Concession Report as an example, La Marina reported about $475,000 in rent to the city.  Their rent that year was 8%, meaning total revenue was about $6M.
  • The State Liquor Authority is mocked for issuing minor violations about sparklers.  Their violations list was a little longer than that.  Mateo claims that what the SLA did to “small businesses like us” (!) was an “abuse of power”.
  • Mateo clearly states he is not racist.  However, this laudable declaration is undermined when he identifies people by race or ethnicity multiple times in the interview, and also by a quote in a 2013 article about a community board meeting where he stated “Look at the faces of who is complaining“.
  • Mateo makes comparisons to other concessions like Tavern on the Green, which in their concession agreement received money for their buildout, and why didn’t he get any help like that?  Here’s a little lesson in how Parks Concessions work.  The city takes a site and puts out a Request for Proposals explaining their goals and terms and asking bidders to make proposals.  It’s a very open process.  In the case of Tavern on the Green, the City was quite clear in their RFP that they would do much of the external construction and then took bids for the internal construction and operation.  The city paid about $20M for their part and the winning bidder paid about $18M for theirs.   The rent is also about $1M a year minimum.  La Marina was a different RFP.  In that situation the city offered less funding, but it also cost far less to rebuild AND the rent minimums were a fraction of the Tavern on the Green RFP.  Apples and oranges. 
  • Losing the valet parking is complained about bitterly, but it was operated illegally for SEVEN YEARS on land that La Marina did not have rights to. 
  • Hilariously, it is also claimed that the enormous gridlock “was never our fault”.  “I had to walk half a mile to get to my business because every weekend NYPD would shut every street”.  Um, the reason that dozens of cops had to close streets to struggle to keep traffic moving was entirely because of the illegal concerts at La Marina, as site that was geographically incapable of handling large traffic volumes.
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Police controlling traffic on Dyckman Street

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A 2014 email exchange between de Blasio and a MRG partner

  • “If I had power, they wouldn’t have shut La Marina down.”  It would seem he had power for seven years then.  Just read the emails where Parks lawyers tell him La Marina is violating its concession agreement in many ways, and yet nothing changes from 2012-2018.
  • Mateo oversimplifies in saying that “a healthy community is a noisy community, if your community is quiet people are dying of cancer people are dying of Alzheimer’s,  people are dying of lonely, people are dying of depression people are dying of all kinds of shit…”  No, a healthy community is one that follows the rules New York has developed over a century for residents and businesses to live and work together.  La Marina did not follow them.
  • Mateo attacks “gentrifiers” for “not liking noise”, and “thinking they live in the suburbs”.  He says “this is New York City.  New York City does not sleep.  If you want to sleep go to Westchester.”  He also attacks the SLA commissioners for not living in New York City.  Fun fact: Fernando Mateo has lived in the village of Irvington (population 6,420) in Westchester for many years.  In a 2015 email from his CPA relating to a tax dispute, it is even stated :

The Mateo’s are adamant that they reside in Westchester County, NY and Florida and are not NYC residents. Although they own an apartment in NYC, they are there infrequently. The apartment is used primarily by family and visitors from out-of-town.”

  • Mateo cites the Dominican Day Parade as their “biggest day” but that the police sent 60 cops to Dyckman Street to “prevent anyone from getting to La Marina”.  Maybe they did crowd control because of overcrowding and scenes like this?
 
The interview and the petition are being combined into a sort of “Save La Marina” social media campaign which is illogical, misleading and unfair to the facts.  The “Save Ferris” campaign in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off had more truth to it.  And some people are sadly falling for it.
 
 
Whether Fernando Mateo has been removed from Manhattan River Group or not, Parks must terminate the concession agreements with MRG, the State Liquor Authority must remove the liquor license, and a new start can then be given to the public asset that will benefit all.  Restore Dyckman Marina.


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March Madness

“Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results”

– Widely Attributed

As we enter March 2019, the future of the Dyckman Marina concession for the summer season remains unclear.  The current holder of the license, a shell company called Manhattan River Group, is in all sorts of trouble following the problems of summer 2018 (not to mention the problems of all six summers before that).  
 
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La Marina is shut down in 2018

 
First they were told by Parks to stop hosting a massive and illegal valet operation and grossly improper ticketed concerts in the beach area.  Their response?  Sue the city for $2 million in damages — for revenue lost from not being allowed to do things they were not supposed to do in the first place.  That is not the action of someone that is your partner for operation of a public concession.
 
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A valet operating on public streets

 
Then they had their liquor license seized by the State Liquor Authority, largely triggered by the fall 2018 drug bust.  Again, not something that usually leads to keeping a concession agreement.  In fact, the prior concession license was terminated for exactly this reason.
 
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MRG’s bankruptcy petition

 
Finally, Manhattan River Group declared bankruptcy.  This is almost beyond comprehension, given that they were one of the most profitable concessions in the city bringing in millions every summer.  Look at this 2018 revenue report – over a million in revenue for a single month in June (almost none of which was for valet or beach concert rental, by the way) and yet at the end of the year they owe $600,000 to creditors, including $200,000 in back rent (a measly 8% of revenue) to the city?  Those creditors, by the way, include a number of families who gave wedding and bar mitzvah deposits — read this particular letter from a couple about their wedding deposit and Manhattan River Group’s response, and the ensuing response from the couple.    
 
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MRG partners Mateo (l) and Rosen (r) with a concert DJ performer

 
Despite the years of outrageous problems, the lawsuit against the city, the multi-agency raid, the shooting, the drug bust, the bankruptcy and the Community Board resolution begging Parks to terminate the concession agreement, as of February 2019 the Parks Dept has still not cancelled the concession license with Manhattan River Group. 
 
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A Brother Jimmy’s storefront

 
Instead Manhattan River Group (which is comprised solely of partners Josh Rosen, Jerald Tenenbaum, Fernando Mateo and Chris Villano) has appeared at public meetings saying it is their intention to “restructure” and partner with a new restaurant brand for the 2019 season in a bid to save their very lucrative contract.  They appeared at a February CB12 Parks and Cultural Affairs Committee meeting introducing the BBQ chain Brother Jimmy’s as one possible idea.
 
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MRG partners Rosen (l) and Mateo (r) at La Marina

 
Letting MRG partner with anyone makes no sense.  Regardless if a new restaurant manager might actually follow, for once, the written rules and requirements of the restaurant concession agreement, Manhattan River Group should have nothing to do with it.  The concession license agreement must be terminated and re-bid (as happened with the prior operator in 2007), or assigned (as was done with the New Leaf Cafe concession a couple years ago).  And the SLA must complete their process and strip the license from MRG without interference.
 
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SLA will soon decide on the fate of the liquor license

 
Should a new operator be assigned, separate from any MRG association, remember that the basic requirements of the agreement as written and binding include:
 
  • No Concerts, No Ticketed Events, No Bottle Service.  None of these uses are allowed in the agreement as approved uses, which is not surprising for a public waterfront site.  Concerts are specifically called out as “strictly prohibited”/
  • No Late Hours.  The agreement is clear, open til 11 pm Sun-Wed, and 12:30 am Thurs-Sat.  Logical given that the site is near a residential neighborhood and in a park.
  • Summer-Only Operating Season.  The agreement allows for a concession from May to October. That’s it.  The concession license as written does not allow for off-season events.
  • No Valet Parking.  The approved site plan has no parking on site.  There is a parking lot adjacent, on Parks land, but that lot is open to the public for regular street parking.  To reserve it for the restaurant, it would have had to have been included in the Licensed Premises (as was done for New Leaf Cafe), which was not the case here.  Or a separate agreement could be drawn up following all rules and procedures for issuing a public concession.  
  • No Outdoor Music after 10 pm. This is in the agreement but also comes from the NYC Noise Code and is common to all Parks. (For example, SummerStage in Central Park)
  • Public Access.  Per the agreement, the facility cannot be closed to the public without special permission and weeks of advance notice.  It is parkland and supposed to be accessible, which it was often not since opening.

Furthermore let’s remember that there are TWO concessions here, restaurant and marina.  And the Marina aspect of what is one of only two public marinas on Manhattan Island has been sorely neglected since the concession opened in 2012.

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Jet skis at the federally-funded dock for large boats.

To recap, see this earlier post that talked about the incomplete marina.  It also helps to review the original 2007 winning vision by Manhattan River Group for a large full-service marina serving 200 vessels.  That’s not a typo — the schedule really called for 200 moorings after 10 years.  MRG won the RFP for the concession largely based on their proposed marina that would “be overhauled and re-established to concentrate on moorings as the primary means of storage… in the winter the entire site, including the restaurant, will be taken apart and stored, and all available upland will be utilized for the winter storage of boats.”

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Promised seasonal moorings, never built.

MRG will offer mooring customers a level of service surpassing other area marinas.  Primarily, the Manhattan River Club Marina will be the only mooring field in Manhattan offering launch service.  Basic services will include quality laundry facilities (machines and maintenance outsourced to CoinMach, an established vendor in this area), clean showers and restrooms, a ship store complete with supplies, ice and refreshments, catering services provided by Costera, dinghy rental, and in-water cleaning/detailing service.  We will also seek to provide potable water delivery, remote hose-down, and remote batter charging services for moored vessels.

The marina agreement was then based on this RFP and requires, in writing:

  • A full-service marina for the use and enjoyment of the general public.  Required components include mooring, docking and launch facilities.
  • 24/7 Access.  As a marina, it was expected that there would be seasonal and transient moorings and docks.  Any boating customer was to have access 24 hours a day, seven days a week between April 16th and October 15th.   
  • Mooring Dinghy.  From 8 am to 11 pm, every day during the above season, a dinghy would be staffed to take boaters to the moorings.
  • Marina services.  This included a boat pump-out station for sewage, use of the concrete ramp for $50, kayak storage, winter boat storage, etc.   
  • Beach Maintenance.  The marina operator must maintain the small beach next to Dyckman Pier as a small-craft launch site, free to use and free of litter.                  
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Federal program that paid for the transient marina infrastructure

To raise funds to build the docks and marina services, Manhattan River Group and Parks won a federal grant in 2011 from US Fish & Wildlife for $669,286 of taxpayer money.  This grant created additional obligations, specifically for transient vessels over 26 ft long that would visit for up to but not more than 15 days:

  • Build a dock and moorings for 100 vessels.  80 of these were to be for transient vessels.
  • Pumpout, electric and water hookups for 20 transient vessels.  This is critical since large boats require such services  if they are to visit.
  • Add security for the docks.  Most often this means a gate with an electronic key.
  • Restrooms, showers and laundry.  For visiting boaters to use when docked.

None of this happened by the time the concession opened in 2012. Parks seemed content to let things slide through 2013 and then a dock appeared in 2014 that could host 20 vessels in slips, plus a slip for a launch dinghy, and 14 more vessels across the front.  A couple moorings were on site but not deployed.   When Fish & Wildlife came to inspect in 2015 they were not pleased, finding that the marina restrooms were in fact now nightclub restrooms, the shower was marked “employees only”, there was no laundry, no hookups, no dock security, no pump-out and poor access. More time passed and it took until 2017 for the BIG grant conditions to be met (meaning these requirements now run until 2037). 

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Sailing school vessels docked at the transient dock

Note that the grant was adjusted slightly due to a decrease in moorings, now numbering only 20 transient moorings down from the originally funded 53 (and originally proposed 200 in the RFP).  Combined with the dock there is now space for only 54 transient vessels – and it’s not even clear that any boat ever used any of them for a multi-day stay.  Instead the moorings would sit empty while the dock would fill with jet-skis and boats under 26 ft, vessels that are not supposed to be even using the dock!

So besides maintaining these 54 transient spaces, the services, the restroooms, laundry, showers, dinghy service and access, there is still the obligation of seasonal tie-ups.  La Marina posts rates, per their contract, for seasonal dock space but has no seasonal dock (the transient dock cannot be used for seasonal boats per the terms of the BIG funding, or technically even the popular sailing school)   There are no seasonal moorings actually installed, just the 20 transient ones.  In other words, most of the marina is still missing.

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Greatly reduced transient mooring field finally installed in 2017

Finally, in addition to the marina, there is the lingering question of the “eco-dock“.  This was funded by former Council Member Robert Jackson and former Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer in 2012 to provide additional community waterfront access and programming.  Plans were even drawn up in 2013.  It was never built.  Where is it, where are the funds, and what are the obligations for any new concession operator?

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Closed gates of Dyckman Street Boat Marina, aka La Marina

Restoring Dyckman Marina means restoring the concession to its legally binding contracts.  It means removing Manhattan River Group based on their past actions, bringing in a new operator via assignment or RFP, and making sure that operator follows exactly the approved and written concession agreements for the Restaurant and the Marina.  After seven years of problems and unmet promises, anything less for the Inwood community would be madness.

 
 
 
 
 


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Shuttered, Shunned and Suing

“When a bar manager is able to traffic and sell these types and quantities of narcotics from within an establishment it is incredibly alarming, and it is evidence of the serious threat that this establishment poses to the health, safety, and welfare of its patrons and the community” 

– Christopher R. Riano, Counsel to SLA, December 2018

Well that only took seven years.
 
Finally spurred to action by a massive drug bust, the New York State Liquor Authority held a hearing in December of 2018 and issued a stunning rebuke to La Marina’s wild ways.  You can watch the video here  (jump to the 23 min mark).  Bluntly rejecting the Pinnochio-esque claims of the concession operator, the authority panel decided to close the facility immediately with an emergency temporary suspension of their liquor license.
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It will be determined in early 2019 whether or not this suspension becomes permanent.  But in the meantime, the Community Board wasted no time in passing their own judgment before the year ended, issuing a resolution calling on the Parks Dept to rip up the concession contract and start over with a new operator.  (Evidently they had tired of being lied to after previously supporting La Marina over resident concerns in 2012, 2014 and 2016).
 
Alas, where are La Marina’s powerful friends who protected their operations lo these many years?  Not a word about the summer health violations, fall police bust or winter license suspension was said by any of Inwood’s elected officials, which seemed a little odd given the effusive political cover they provided the concession in the pastCouncilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, for example, held and attended many events at La Marina over the years. His fundraiser/birthday party was hosted there as recently as August 2017.  He could always be counted on to take the concession’s side over the concerns of residents, and yet has been oddly silent this year.  Might running for Public Advocate have something to do with ignoring photos like this one, or this one?
 
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Perhaps realizing their luck had run out after the prominent de Blasio donor corruption trials stripped them of any remaining allies, La Marina decided to go on the offensive.  They launched their own lawsuit against New York City in November 2018, after the police drug bust but before the SLA suspended their liquor license.  It was not publicized at the time, and the city certainly kept quiet about it (perhaps out of embarrassment, one has to wonder).  The concession claimed that having to follow the rules of their license and no longer offer ticketed concerts or valet parking was an interruption in their business, and thus sued the city for damages of two million dollars.
 
So if you’ve been reading the articles and looking at the photos on this website over past summers, you will recognize the three-step process as thus:
 
1) Regularly violate concession license, city regulations and state and federal statutes in order to operate improper activities such as valet parking on public streets and late night ticketed concerts on public parkland.
 
2) Reap enormous profits for seven summers from above said activities while filing oddly inconclusive revenue reports.
 
3) Once rules and license are finally enforced normally, claim lost income from profitable, non-reported improper activities and sue city for …not enforcing the rules in the first place?
 
The arguments contained in the court documents make very little sense if you know how the concession really operated — the valet parking had “little or no adverse effect on the local community”, ha ha  — but given their repeated lies and years of mismanagement, don’t count on Parks’ lawyers successfully defending your hard-earned tax dollars.
 
And by the way, wouldn’t suing the City of New York when you are in the midst of various raids and regulatory actions be something of a no-no?   And why has the license not been terminated outright by now anyways?  How is the concession agreement even still active?  It’s not like Parks doesn’t have the right to terminate for any number of reasons:
 
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At least 2019 will be interesting.  Will Dyckman Marina be restored to its proper uses, finally?  Happy New Year!
 
 
UPDATE – turns out that La Marina filed for bankruptcy in December also.  That’s right, one of the most profitable concessions in the entire city somehow managed to run out of money and now only has $1,000 in the bank while owing $600,000 to creditors.  Note that this also put them into 180 day protection, which may stop Parks from terminating the concession.