Pier Pressure In Chelsea?
(New York- WABC, November 11, 2005) (WABC) -- We have an Eyewitness News Investigators exclusive. And tonight, there are allegations of pier pressure, involving the politically connected Chelsea Piers management.
It is the primary lease holder of the massive site on Manhattan's West Side.
But some businesses say when they have complained about the management, they have suddenly found themselves the target of an investigation.
The management holds leases from Piers 59 to 62. The Investigators' Sarah Wallace has the exclusive report.
It's fair to call this, the developing war of the West Side. It may be a coincidence, but certain people who've challenged Chelsea Piers management say they've suddenly found themselves on the wrong side of the law -- hit with inspections and violations from various government agencies.
At first glance, everything appears picture perfect at Pier 59 studios at Chelsea Piers. The $20-million dollar facility, started 11 years ago, is the largest photo studio complex in the world.
But behind the scenes, it's not a pretty picture. Pier 59 Studios President Federico Pignatelli claims conditions here are dangerously deteriorating -- literally rotting and missing pilons. It's also symbolic of Pignatelli's declining relationship with the management of Chelsea Piers who he rents from.
Pignatelli: "The minute I went against them, just to preserve my legal rights, basically has been the beginning of hell."
Last year, after an engineering study he commissioned confirmed his concerns about the pier's declining structure, Pignatelli sued Chelsea Piers for failing to properly maintain the the piers and for substantial overcharges and expenses he says weren't his. Since then ...
Pignatelli: "We have been basically been under siege."
Sarah: "So you have been raided?"
Pignatelli: "Oh, yes, absolutely.I mean, police, vice squad, fire department, building department."
A series of violations, even vacate orders primarily dealing with Pier 59's private roof top restaurant and deck, which Chelsea Piers claims operated as an illegal nightclub.
A fire inspector swore under oath the management demanded that Pier 59 be shut down, that Pignatelli was a gangster. The management denies any defamation.
Pignatelli: "It is not coincidental that as we file a lawsuit against Roland Betts, we have one agency after another cracking down on us."
Roland Betts, a founder of Chelsea Piers, and his partner are well-known for their Republican political connections.
Pat Green: "The fire department's been called on us, the police department's been called on us."
It's déją vu for Pat Green, another longtime tenant of Chelsea Piers who operates the Brewery restaurant, now a very valuable space.
Green: "They figure that rather than collecting rent, they'll take the whole space."
Sarah: "Do you think they want you out?"
He says his problems also began with a legal battle involving alleged overcharging.
Meryl Wenig, The Brewery's attorney: "I would say it's a bullying tactic. ... If it's a coincidence, it's a very coincidental coincidence."
And yet another coincidence -- this one dealing with a fierce battle to develop nearby Pier 57. Last fall, the board of the Hudson River Park Trust, which oversees development of this shoreline, was debating whether to award a contract to Chelsea Piers, or to its rival, a partnership involving restaurateur Giueseppe Cipriani.
Suddenly, Cipriani's other businesses, including his restaurants, received a rash of visits and violations by several city and federal agencies. In spite of that unwelcome attention, Cipriani's group still won the bid for Pier 57. We repeatedly requested interviews with Chelsea Piers management.
Chelsea Piers spokesperson: "It's pending litigation and we're not going to coment."
A lawyer for Chelsea Piers told us in a statement: "None of the allegations regarding declining conditions at the pier are true, nor is there any pattern of punishment or retaliation against anyone."
Pignatelli isn't swayed, and isn't backing down: "If you have agencies that are basically moved on command by people that are politically connected, against normal citizens, businesses, well then this is not really a democracy."
The legal battle rages on. Meantime, Chelsea Piers sent us an email saying it has spent $7 million on repair and maintenance since 1996 and that the piers are "maintained in structurally sound condition."
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