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CBGB’s Fate Uncertain As Final Hours Of Lease Tick Away

On Tuesday night, punk band the Bouncing Souls will perform within the legendary walls of one of the cradles of punk rock, CBGB. With the iconic New York club’s lease winding down to its September 1 expiration, it could be the last live set this decades-old landmark gets to experience. On the eve of E Street Band member and “The Sopranos” actor Steven Van Zandt’s last-ditch CBGB Forever event at Washington Square Park, there has been little measurable progress in the fight to keep Hilly Kristal’s little spot in the Bowery alive. What organizers of the “Save CBGB” movement had hoped would be a celebratory event, featuring former Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale’s band Institute, Blondie, Chesterfield Kings, the Charms, a repeat appearance by the Bouncing Souls, and others, could wind up being little more than an epic wake for CBGB. CBGB Forever, which is being called a “rally” to inspire New Yorkers to save the club, runs from 3 to 7 p.m. Donations will be accepted at the event, and that money will be used to pay Kristal’s legal expenses, in the event that CBGB is removed from its current location, or will be donated to the BRC if he’s awarded a new, workable lease. A handful of speakers and musicians will also be on hand, including Talking Heads Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, filmmaker Jonathan Demme and actor Joe Pantoliano. “Nothing has changed,” said Muzzy Rosenblatt, executive director of the Bowery Residents’ Committee, a nonprofit that provides housing and social services to the homeless — and also is Kristal’s landlord. “They still owe us rent, which was one of many isues.” Rosenblatt, of course, is referring to the $91,000 in back rent that earlier this month a New York judge determined Kristal did not owe (see “CBGB Doesn’t Have To Pay $90,000 In Back Rent, Judge Rules”). Throughout the drawn-out legal dispute, that figure has been a popular reference point for Rosenblatt, who halted lease renewal negotiations several months ago, claiming the $91,000 would need to be paid before talks could resume. “I have no crystal ball,” he continued. “I don’t know what to expect anymore. I try not to get into hypotheticals. All we’ve ever wanted was responsible behavior. So far, that’s been an issue. What’ll happen on September 1, I don’t know. When it does, we will react appropriately.” The two sides don’t seem close to reaching a new lease agreement. Rosenblatt wanted to more than triple Kristal’s current rent, to over $50,000 a month. Kristal has said such a dramatic hike would sink the business. Rosenblatt has also grumbled about what he perceives to be numerous building violations at CBGB, above which he provides temporary housing for hundreds of homeless people. Citations have been issued to the club for some of those violations, he’s said, but none have been resolved. Kristal has expressed interest in moving CBGB, perhaps even to Las Vegas, if he’s evicted from 313 Bowery. Earlier this month, Kristal requested a face-to-face meeting with Rosenblatt, in a draft proposal designed to reignite talks (see “Talks Resume In Fight To Save Punk Landmark CBGB”). He offered a 15 percent rent increase as well as a third-party guarantor for future rent payments, by way of a newly established nonprofit called the Bowery Project. In addition, Van Zandt pledged to organize annual benefit concerts for the BRC. “If there is no new lease, their obligation as tenants would be to vacate the premises once the lease expires,” said Rosenblatt. “There have been communications they had sent us, what they thought was a preliminary proposal. It wasn’t complete. We told them where it was deficient. We told them that in any event, discussions of any new lease would depend upon [them] first being compliant under the existing lease, and they have ignored all of that. I don’t know what they’re doing. That’s their business, not mine. I just know that what the BRC’s interested in is a responsible tenancy that doesn’t jeopardize our mission or our work to help thousands of homeless men and women.” Kristal could not be reached for comment. Because video footage of the club was utilized in his failed Olympics bid, supporters of the “Save CBGB” movement figured they’d have a sympathetic ear in Mayor Michael Bloomberg. They’ve petitioned his office, asking that he intervene (the BRC receives $30 million in annual funding from the city of New York), but Bloomberg remained silent on the issue for months — until a press conference Tuesday afternoon (August 30). “CBGB, it’s a great New York City institution,” he said while hoisting a “Save CBGB” T-shirt. “It’s more than just another club. We are trying to bring both sides together. … But if we cannot, what we’ve said to CBGB is that we will try to find another location. We do not want to lose this institution in New York City. It’s part of our culture. They bring a lot of business here. I don’t think they belong anyplace else other than New York City. If the owner of the building that they’re in cannot be convinced to come to an agreement with them, then we will do something else.” (Chris Harris)