The Waterfront Pier, Encore Caterers, Zuppa’s Restaurant / Joe Spiezio / Nick Sprayregen
YONKERS, NY — The first gasp of air to bring Yonkers out of its slumber took place almost two decades ago. Let it be clear that “slumber” was defined by the terms of the day as they related exclusively to Yonkers’ economic and fiscal circumstance at that time. Yonkers societal cohesiveness was strong; its function in that respect was not in question, yet an atrophying inner city, coupled by a waning tax base called for solution. The Terence M. Zaleski Administration, emboldened by Yonkers well-positioned geographical location, having moved beyond its own political instability, housing issues, and a 10-year desegregation battle, recognized the economic development panacea sweeping quietly across the nation, assigned the responsibility of spurring economic development onto the shoulders of Chuck Lesnick, then Director of Economic Development for the City of Yonkers.
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Lesnick’s political connection to
Congresswoman Nita Lowey would have her lead him to the Honorable U.S.
Senator Patrick Moynihan, who in turn directed the first economic
development funds to Yonkers after a long hiatus of such largesse. The
Waterfront Pier would be brought to its former grandeur by the infusion
of government grant funding making it the first of a myriad of projects
undertaken in ensuing years to return hoped for economic vibrancy to
The Pier would sparkle under a
fresh swath of paint for some time, despite its not being a high
caliber job. It would too soon disintegrate before the climate
encountered along the Hudson River waterfront. Years later, the Pier
required almost $10 million to resuscitate its structure into its
present form, a New York Water Taxi dock, and home to Peter X. Kelly’s
acclaimed restaurant “x2o.”
John D.Spencer, who would succeed
Zaleski as Mayor of Yonkers in 1996, after having won the 1995
election, pressured Zaleski to dismiss Lesnick, including Joe Apicella,
then engaged as Assistant Director for Waterfront/Downtown Development
for the City of Yonkers, at that time. Having met Edward A. Sheeran,
a self-proclaimed “guru” of previously failed ventures in Ireland as
part of his resume, Spencer would appoint Sheeran executive director of
the Yonkers Industrial Development Agency,
director of the city’s Office of Economic Development, as well as
Special Assistant to the Mayor. Sheeran, adept at concocting brilliant
boondoggles was permitted and enabled to draw visions that always fell
short of their expectations and promise, facilitated by carte blanch
support by the mayor..
The stalwart names that would
underwrite Yonkers resurgence brought name recognition and success
among the initiates: Classic Residence by Hyatt, Home Depot, Costco,
Stew Leonard’s, and Ridge Hill. Collectively, they have returned little
that would relieve the Yonkers taxpayer from the growing tax burden
except for Payment in Lieu of Taxes. Those that wish to dispute the
facts are best armed with facts and figures which inexcusably
substantiate little of substance or comfort to the city’s coffers.
Such were the deals that haunt us
today. The backroom handshakes, the antithesis of democratic process,
prostituted by financial gain, prodded into the “deal” sold without
concern for community sensibility or sensitivity.
The recent departure of Encore
Caterers, resident at the Roosevelt Ballroom on Hudson Street reveals
the continuing ineptitude of government vis-à-vis the process to
reinvigorate Yonkers to the days, three generations old, over which
many still remember and yearn.
The Roosevelt Ballroom is the
reincarnation of the once hailed Philipsburgh Performing Arts Center
(PPAC), whose cavernous hall was resurrected from oblivion into a hall,
live and work residence, with the infusion of funds from the Greyston
Foundation and St. John’s Episcopal Church. With great fanfare and
celebration, PPAC opened under the supervision of Mathilda Hohensee, a
neophyte from Syracuse who was totally out of her league. Ms. Hohensee
was relieved of her position as executive director of PPAC in November
2004 to become a Director of Development at Mercy College in Dobbs
Ferry, New York. A dumping groud for employing those who must be
silenced. Contact with Ms. Hohensee after her departure was met with a
stern, “I can’t speak about it!” The Rev. S. Burtner Ulrich, a founder
of PPAC and chairman of its board oversaw the eventual bankruptcy of
PPAC to the tune of over $3 million. Richard Halevy, Communications
Director to the Mayor of Yonkers was assigned oversight of PPAC. He has
to this day refused to discuss the circumstances that brought the over
100 year old structure to a shambles.
City Hall’s removed, though
heavy-handed involvement in PPAC’s direction, had City Hall point a
condescending and demeaning collective finger of blame upon the Sharing
Community whose residents are accommodated each overnight at the
residence abutting the edifice of St. John’s
Episcopal Church. The accusation was that the people who were resident
of the Sharing Community, when milling about the area, often scared
people who might have considered PPAC a destination were it not for the
indigent population accommodated across the street from PPAC.
The dilemma was at first believable
until this reporter got involved in attempting to expedite a resolution
to benefit every cantankerous perspective in the equation before then
Deputy Mayor Phil Amicone would face the November 2003 election.
Amicone promised that he had the funds in place to accommodate the
indigent population housed at the Sharing Community but had not yet
been apprised of a secure location that would meet the needs of the
community to secure the facility, and would be close to the Sharing
Community building at which this same population was fed daily. Having
met and spoken previously with Real Estate Broker Jeffrey Landsman, I
called to ask if he had the expertise and inclination to involve
himself in finding a facility that would meet Deputy Mayor Amicone’s
parameters and those of the Sharing Community and their constituents.
Landsman agreed to get involved. Within weeks he located three
properties, of which Rev Anthony Hoeltzel of the Sharing Community
agreed met every criterion, including affordability. Advising him more
than once that he must seal the deal prior to the election, Rev
Hoeltzel would retreat from his initial concerns and did not pursue a
resolution that looked to all as pertinent to being concluded. This
reporter was so exasperated by the derailed effort, that I called the
Rev Hoeltzel, “You are nothing more than a poverty pimp!,” and slammed
the phone onto the cradle. The paradigm of blame has not changed one
iota since 2003.
The most recent argument to come to
light revolves over the disagreement between Zuppa Restaurant and its
landlord Joe Spiezio, III. Not having seen the
lease held by Spiezio’s corporation for the Gazette Building, it does
seem implausible that Spiezio’s offering a 20 year lease to the tenant
(Zuppa’s Restaurant) is incongruous with a lease in which Spiezio has
an option to buy. That being the case, Spiezio could buy the property
at any time up to the 15 years claimed by Zuppa Restaurant and thereby
continue to control Zuppa’s tenancy beyond 20 years time frame. But as
is often the case in the economic and political environment in Yonkers
what has been divulged is not all that must be told to understand the
issues at play. Spiezio is understood to want to sell the lease to Nick
Sprayregen of Rising Publications, owner of The Home News & Times.
Sprayregen is also a well respected developer who has bought much of
the property from Warburton Avenue to Market Place along Main Street
and along Larkin Plaza. Spiezio’s Gazette Building is glaringly not yet
his to claim.
Zuppa Restaurant went into a
financial trough last year, to such an extent, that they were seriously
considering departing Yonkers borders for premises they had opened in
Irvington. While advocates for Amicone’s Administration, Zuppa was
feeling the pain of talk devoid of substance; they were hurting because
the density in Yonkers downtown was insufficient to sustain the
viability of Zuppa’s Restaurant, Patty J’s, Belle Havana, The Pier
View, among others. City Hall came to the rescue. They advised Zuppa’s
Restaurant that they would rescind a $50,000 water bill that was due.
City Hall relieved Zuppa’s Restaurant but did not relieve the landlord
(Spiezio) of the water bill. It is the landlord that is responsible for
the water bill. Had City Hall wanted to relieve Zuppa’s Restaurant of
the water bill, they had to have advised Spiezio that he would not have
to pay the $50,000 water bill he was being charged for Zuppa’s usage of
water. But, City Hall had had enough with Spiezio. They wanted him out.
They promoted Sprayregen take over the property to get Spiezio out. The
latest twist is that they are promoting Zuppa’s Restaurant in their
attempt to wrestle control of the property from Spiezio.
Editor’s note: Spiezio has not spoken to this reporter despite repeated attempts since the filing of the lawsuit.
These examples have been delineated
to divulge the undisclosed funds used by City Hall to prop up “pie in
the sky” schemes in which the heavy-handed arm of government is
extended to friends and family; witness Ed Sheeran over the conduct of
the Yonkers IDA in years past, Richard Halevy over PPAC, Spiezio over
The Gazette Building, Nick Sprayregen over The Gazette Building and
other real estate parcels, among so many more.
Economic development projects are
failing about us. Everyone must wonder why? Over 10 businesses having
opened and closed their doors in the Yonkers Downtown in silence.
Inexperience and lack of management and marketing skills cannot be
ascribed to the demise of all of them. More importantly, how much money
has been spent to subsidizing businesses to forestall their shutting
Yonkers must engage itself in
negotiation with developers to the mutual benefit of the investor and
to the benefit the City overall. If the rationale to proceed is not
lucid and salient for discussion before an informed populace, it is
unlikely to be worthy to be moved ahead. Is City Hall and the City