Stay and bear a sky-high rent spike — or set up shop somewhere else.
Over a dozen businesses in the shadow of the Kingsbridge Armory facing drastic rent hikes in August were as of Wednesday, July 23 still mulling those bleak options.
The shops at 2-12 W. Kingsbridge Road and 2643-47 Jerome Avenue — including a popular diner, gift shop and copy center — heard what choices were on the table at an emergency meeting convened at Community Board 7 Tuesday, July 22.
Mulling move elsewhere
Staff on the board gave out a list of vacant sites in the area where the shops might be able to relocate. They also distributed a list of lawyers that could represent the stores for free in a potential dispute.
The Kingsbridge Road Merchants Association, a coalition of the strip’s shops, was expected to meet later that week to hammer out a strategy.
If the shops do decide to leave, staff from the city Department of Small Businesses said at Tuesday’s meeting that they would provide free legal help and work with local business improvement districts to help find the shops new leases somewhere else.
Property owner horror stories
But for now, the stores in the Armory’s shadow are still unsure of their next move.
The only thing they agree on for sure is that they are fed up with their dealings with Levites Realty Management, the Yonkers-based real estate company that sent them notices in early July announcing the rent hike.
The stores say they had been stymied in their attempts to get long-term leases ever since a new property owner — identified in city records only as New Kingsbridge LLC — took over the building a few years ago.
All of the mom-and-pop shops are directly across the street from the long-dormant Armory, which city officials announced in 2013 would be developed into the world’s largest ice skating complex, bringing thousands of visitors a day to the area.
One storeowner said that Levites Realty told him that even if he came up with the newly hiked rent, the new owner would not want to keep them in the building.
“He told me, no matter what, he’s not giving me a lease,” said Ahward Narine of Pace Copy Center, who recently received notice that his rent would rise from $1785 to $4000 in August.
Holding out for a meeting
Levites have yet to respond to calls from this newspaper, and did not show at Tuesday’s meeting after being invited.
But the board’s chairperson said she still held out hope that the new owner would be willing to meet with them and negotiate.
“We need to sit down in a room with the owner and discuss what is feasible,” said Adaline Walker-Santiago, chairperson of Community Board 7. “Maybe raise the rent 20, 30, percent, something they can manage.”
Big $$$ in poor nabe
While the current business owners in the area continue to sweat it out, the new property owner has already put the commercial site on the lease market for some of the highest prices in the borough.
A listing on the website loopnet.com for the property — advertising a “prime corner location” — is asking $100 per square foot.
That’s far over the median commercial rent in the borough, though not as high as in nearby Fordham Road, where some rents run as high as $200 per square foot.
The Kingsbridge Road/Jerome Avenue property as a whole is 19,000 square foot — meaning such a deal would net the new owner $1.9 million in annual rent.
And all in a community which, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, has a median income of under $33,000 a year.