Simply Seafood, the last tenant in the otherwise-abandoned mall at lower Manhattan’s Pier 17 has been ordered by a Manhattan Supreme Court judge to vacate the building so the property can be demolished. John and Joe Demane, the father and son owners, opened their food-court clam bar in the building in 1995. Until this week, they had been operating every single day, despite the derelict surroundings and low customer turnout.
The Howard Hughes Corporation, which controls the property as well as many other Seaport leases, has permits in place to tear down the building and replace it with a behemoth “world-class shopping, dining and entertainment venue.” A groundbreaking ceremony was held last month: Mayor Bloomberg and City Council member Margaret Chin posed with executives and shovels on the blue carpet. The mall had been waning for years, and the shops that managed to survive destruction during Sandy last year closed up for good in September.
The empty mall.Photo: Hugh Merwin
But the Demanes held out because they believed they had a legitimate lease that extended through 2020. For a few surreal weeks, Simply Seafood was open for business inside the abandoned mall, and getting there meant navigating a post-apocalyptic scene out of The Walking Dead: You needed to find the mall’s lone unlocked door and tell one of the many guards stationed around the property you were there for “Simply Seafood” — saying anything else meant you didn’t get any further. Once inside, you had to get on one of the endlessly looping escalators and head upstairs. On the third floor, past the deserted Spy Shop kiosk, just beyond the gutted Cajun Cafe, Simply Seafood was open at the end. At night the space was partially lit with a work lamp.
Despite the labyrinth, Simply Seafood had been open from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. every day, serving crab salad and shrimp cocktail. Why bother? The Demanes’ lawyer advised them not to change a thing: Keeping irregular hours, or even just closing up early on slow nights, increased the chances that Howard Hughes could have used abandonment laws. As if to emphasize that point, there was a security camera pointed squarely at the tiny stand. The Demanes sold fried clam strips and $6.99 plates of fish and chips; whatever was left in the freezer, essentially. A coalition of neighborhood groups, including New Amsterdam Market, organized a party for the restaurant last Saturday.
The last order of fish and chips.Photo: Hugh Merwin
But yesterday, a Manhattan Supreme Court judge determined that Simply Seafood owed more than $200,000 in back rent and utilities, stemming from the time the Demanes joined the lawsuit against the now-defunct Rouse Company. The ruling also stated that the restaurant had misreported its sales in figures supplied to the landlord, and owes the Howard Hughes Corporation back rent, plus interest and utilities. In an e-mailed statement, the Tribeca Tribune reports, the developer called Simply Seafood an “illegal, hold-over tenant” and said demolition will go ahead as planned. “While the Howard Hughes Corporation inherited this situation from the previous landlords,” it continued, “we are pleased that it has been resolved after a long and arduous process.”
While Sheriff’s deputies may take possession of the space as early as next Monday, the Demanes’ lawyer tells DNAInfo that the family plans to appeal the decision. In the meantime, Howard Hughes has not identified any of the tenants who will set up shop inside Pier 17’s glass-walled replacement, but the developer’s website touts a “grand reopening” date of 2015.
A security guard watches over one of the mall’s many cordoned-off areas.Photo: Hugh Merwin