Wyndham Garden Chinatown Poised to Open; 128 Hester Tenants Still in Limbo

The 19 story Wyndham garden Chinatown looms over an empty lot at 128 Hester Street.

According to Wyndham Hotels’ web site, its new 19-story, 106-room property is opening this summer at 93 Bowery.  The Wyndham Gardens Chinatown, the site proclaims, “starts with a structure similar to a giant shard of blue glass that cuts through the Manhattan skyline to create an unforgettable presence in the new Chinatown.”

The residents next door at 128 Hester Street, who fled their apartments three years ago on orders from the Fire Department, no doubt agree the hotel’s presence in the neighborhood has already been unforgettable.  Earlier this week, tenant advocacy organization Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE) called a news conference to urge the hotel and its developers to finally compensate eight displaced families for the loss of their homes.   While acknowledging that Wyndham is only the operator (and has not been involved in a long-running legal dispute), AAFE Executive Director Chris Kui expressed hope that the hotel’s impending opening would hasten a resolution.

128 Hester Street.

First, a recap.   Residents were forced out of 128 Hester in August of 2009, after the building became destabilized, allegedly due to the hotel construction next door. Nearly a year later, the State Division of Housing and Community Renewal ruled that the owner of both the hotel and the neighboring lot, William H. Su, should compensate the tenants, saying, “the unsafe condition of the building was a direct result of the owner’s construction activities adjacent to the property and the total neglect of the structure caused the building to deteriorate.”  But after Su filed a lawsuit, the state withdrew the ruling. Today, the parties remain at a standstill.

From AAFE’s perspective, Mr. Su has stalled, and refused to show up at meetings meant to work out a deal for the former rent-stabilized residents of 128 Hester. The organization has launched a petition drive to put pressure on Su, as well as Wyndham.   But Stuart Klein, who represents Mr. Su, has a different perspective.

In an interview yesterday, Klein said Mr. Su and his partners bought 128 Hester in 2007 because the previous owner refused to stabilize the building.  He sunk well in excess of $100,000 into the property, and worked with the Buildings Department to address its concerns. The owner has every intention of rebuilding, and presumably, allowing the tenants to return to their homes. But according to Klein, city building regulations have made it impossible for new construction on the site to occur.

John Gorman, the attorney representing the tenants, said he knows nothing about any difficulties the owner might be having acquiring new building permits. The priority, Gorman said, is winning compensation for the residents, who have been displaced from their community for many months.

City Council member Margaret Chin, who attended the AAFE press conference said, “we must make sure the landlord is accountable. (Making sure the tenants are taken care of) is his responsibility.”

A settlement conference was scheduled for today. We’ll let you know what happens.