Regina Rex’s closure on Sunday was the first public development in a campaign begun six months ago by the building’s landlord, David Steinberg, that placed pressure on the half-dozen gallery tenants in his loft building at 17-17 Troutman Street in Queens. The former industrial structure, an anchor of the Bushwick and Ridgewood scene since Regina Rex became the first gallery in the building in 2010, has encountered occupancy issues before under Steinberg. In October 2007, an evacuation ordered by the city left many tenants out cold, “bewildered by the way in which they were forced to vacate and outraged that they had received no warning,” according to a report in the New York Times. The Times noted then that the building, which is not zoned for residential tenancy, had accumulated a number of Department of Buildings (DOB) violations; public records today indicate that the industrial-zoned building has received 187 DOB complaints and violations, with 11 violations currently open.
An email obtained by Hyperallergic allegedly sent by Steinberg to tenants in early April suggests that the pressure on galleries came about due to the objections of others in the building, with non-gallery occupants repeatedly complaining about gallery activities to a number of city agencies (sic throughout):
Due to the latest attack against this building by tenants in this building, by calls to the building dept 12 times and fire dept 4 times and also other agencies, we conferred with the owners , our lawyers and architects, we decided not to renew any lease until further notice,”
I really worked very hard and tried being the best landlord, and because I wanted to enforce some rules I laid out, I was given in return, a personal attack against me, my personal trust, and called all kind of names,
Unfortunately, Changes will be coming soon, and it will effect everyone in the building
David Steinberg could not be reached for comment on the authenticity of the letter; the person who answered his office line today said she knew nothing about his work and that he was out of town through May 21.
In December 2013, several of the building’s galleries, including Regina Rex, met with Steinberg “to allay some of his reservations about the galleries and as a group, voluntarily instituted measures such as staffing the front door (on a rotational basis) during events to again, assuage some of his concerns,” according to Enrico Gomez of Parallel Art Space, who was present. “We have been maintaining these measures since then, but who knows if it has helped,” Gomez told Hyperallergic in April.
The souring of relations with galleries represents a departure from the building’s public messaging: the 1717troutmanstreet.com homepage prominently lists its galleries and describes the building as “teeming with artists studios, galleries and arts related businesses.”
An artist who leases a studio in the building told Hyperallergic that her experience as a tenant has largely been positive. “My rent goes up something like 5% every year (whatever the legal amount is on commercial spaces). My space is in good repair, so I don’t really have any complaints,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Yet rents in the building have apparently risen sharply, in keeping with market trends, from just over one dollar per square-foot five years ago to as much as $3–4 dollars per square-foot next year.
Of the five remaining galleries at 17-17 Troutman, only Parallel Art Space, which signed a three-year lease in 2012, isn’t set to decamp in the near future. The remaining galleries — Bushwick Print Lab, Harbor Gallery, Ortega y Gasset Projects, and Underdonk — will remain in the building through Bushwick Open Studies at the end of this month, Art F City reported.
With reporting by Hrag Vartanian.