Neighbors Say Big Ad Firm Is a Bad Fit

Construction under way at 50 Varick St., which Spring Studios will move into in June. Photos by Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Apr. 01, 2013

It’s mad neighbors vs. Mad Men.

A British ad firm and production house, scheduled to open in Tribeca this summer, is already setting off sparks.

Spring Studios, the agency behind big-name clients like Armani, Target, and Neiman Marcus, says it will likely hold up to 291 events a year—runway shows and fundraisers, for example—about third of which will draw between 200 and 800 people each. The roof­top, one of the venues for the events, has a legal capacity for 650 people.

Some nearby residents are angry and worried. They fear the glitzy parties at the five-floor, 120,000-square-foot facility at 50 Varick Street will bring crowds, noise and congestion to the area.

One penthouse owner, the megamillionaire investment banker Richard Handler, who lives at 1 York St., is suing to stop the project. Among other “real and irreparable harm” he claims he will suffer is an obstructed view from his $23.6 million, 14th-floor apartment, across the street.

Maria Donovan, a resident of 260 West Broadway, which faces 50 Varick from the east, was surprised by the number of people who will be coming to the building.

“We’ve never had anything like that presented to us before,” she said.

In addition to fears that loud chatter, music and other sounds will travel into her and her neighbor’s apartments, she is concerned about the loading and unloading of equipment into the building on St. John’s Lane, the alley that separates her building and 1 York.

“We’re worried about the flow of deliveries of large items and the vehicles used for [residents’] moves,” she said.

Handler, the penthouse owner, named Department of Buildings Com­missioner Robert LiMandri and landlord 50 Varick LLC in his complaint, filed on March 25 in State Supreme Court. He claims that the DOB granted work permits without proper review and that the project does not comply with zoning laws.

Last month, representatives of Spring Studios faced their opponents when they appeared before Community Board 1’s Tribeca Committee, hoping to win their advisory approval for a liquor license.

A Spring consultant, Bradford Sus­sman, argued that the license would allow the company, rather than the clients, to oversee the functions in the space. Otherwise, he said, Spring “wouldn’t have the same level of responsibility for the individual events.”

David Hemphill, Spring’s events director, promised that most of the gatherings would take place during the day and that they would not disrupt the neighborhood. He also pledged to keep visitors off the sidewalk and in Spring’s 4,500-square-foot ground floor.

In a follow-up interview with the Trib, Hemphill said that Spring’s office in London, in a residential area of the city, has caused no problems for its neighbors.

“We’re not a startup who’s coming in here and just trying it all for the first time,” he said. “We know our operations—we’ve done it many years successfully.”

Nevertheless, the vision of nightly rooftop parties was of special concern to Thorsten Kiefer, co-owner and developer of 11 Beach Street, a building diagonally adjacent to 50 Varick that is being converted into residential apartments.

“It’d be great to have one piece of paper where you very clearly say what the deal is for alcohol, the number of people, whether there would be music or no music,” he told Sussman at a working group meeting to discuss the ongoing issues.

“I don’t care if they’re drinking, eating, standing and watching a movie, or what they’re doing,” said Kathleen Cudahy, an attorney for 1 York. “We’re looking straight on into these people’s faces from some of our apartments.”

Bradford Sussman agreed to stagger the number of guests allowed on the rooftop. Up to 550 would be allowed before 7:30 p.m.; after that, they would limit the maximum to 300 people until 10 p.m. (the weekday closing hour) and 200 until 11 p.m. (the weekend closing hour). The firm also committed to hiring a CB1-approved sound engineer to devise a way to mitigate noise on the roof.

But lawyer Barry Malin, who attended the working group meeting, said it would be next to impossible to enforce. “If you’re in violation of the SLA stipulation,” he said, “it’s over by the time an inspector’s going to come two weeks later.”

“This is not a club where people are going to be partying all night,” Sussman said. “I think if we come up with the right stipulations, there can be activity on the roof that won’t have a negative impact on you guys.”

Spring representatives proposed creating a community advisory board to discuss neighborhood concerns after the facility opens.

The Tribeca Committee will revisit the application and new stipulations at its April 10 meeting.

“I would hope that there would be a small amount of good faith on their part to give us a chance to prove ourselves,” said Spring’s David Hemphill.