News

Regina Rex Out Amid Gallery Shakeup at 17-17 Troutman

by Mostafa Heddaya on May 12, 2014

1717trout

17-17 Troutman Street, at the Ridgewood/Bushwick border in Queens (photograph by the author for Hyperallergic)

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.

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Installation view, ‘Corey Escoto: Volume for Volume’ at Regina Rex (February 2013) (photograph by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

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.

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  • Art2k14

    Regina Rex has been talking about moving and looking at new spaces for at least a year, they weren’t kicked out, or at least they didnt mind. But, the landlord is taking advantage of it by kicking the other galleries out. going to kick out the art studios next, turn it into condo’s. Will happen in 4-7 years at most. You’ll see. No one has ever staffed the door at the openings, I’ve also never seen any police or fire come, and this article is mostly bs.

    • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

      So, you’re suggesting everyone we talked to didn’t tell the truth?

      • Art2k14

        RR has been looking to leave the bldg for a while so were they really going to fight this? Eviction was more like a forced opportunity. You re right, they were kicked out with the others, but were also looking to get out.

        I’ve never seen door monitors there. Maybe they did it this a few times. I haven’t been to every event but I have been to at least 1-2 a month for the past 3 years. If there was a door watcher, it was not consistent, and not at all in recent months. So no. They are not telling the whole truth.

        The landlord could lie about how many times the police and fire were called, unless he is the one making the calls to log complaints “proving” the galleries are a problem. I never saw police or fire show up, again maybe it happened a few times but not every time. You could call the precint or FDNY station and find out how many calls and visits since the galleries started. Journalists fact check right?

        For the condos, the LL would sell to a dev willing to steam roll the zoning and hearings. No income stream disrupt for the LL, and devs has long term money and plans. 30 or 50 years, not 1 2 3 4 5…

        • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

          No one is doubting RR wanted to leave, but considering they didn’t decide on any options, I’m sure they didn’t appreciate being forced into this situation. I agree that I haven’t seen door monitors but I have seen people at the front helping people to ensure people get in (I’m guessing it was organized on a more ad hoc basis).

          In terms of the complaints, that is the landlords claim, but the DOB records are real. The number of calls isn’t really crucial, it’s just an email that, as the writer said, could not be verified because no one in the landlord’s office could verify it to him.

          Not sure why you are so peeved.

    • Shawn Gallagher

      While it is technically possible to create condo units for commercial use, I doubt Steinberg is planning that. Selling individual units to industrial or commercial users in this market makes little business sense for all the legal work involved in have a condo declaration prepared.

      As noted above, conversion to residential would require a zoning variance which would have little political support and therefore no chance of passing the City Council, who would have the final vote.

      Seems to me that this landlord is extremely risk adverse and has no qualms bullying tenants to secure a maximum rental stream while having the building attract as little attention from the City’s regulatory agencies as possible.

  • http://taliashulze.com/ Talia

    I don’t know if condos can happen that easily. For one thing going condo would disrupt the landlords income stream in the long term, and secondly because the zoning hearing for that won’t be pretty.

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