The latest threat to the quality-of-life of Maspeth residents comes courtesy of the Knockdown Center, a 5,000-person capacity bar & nightclub purporting to be an arts center at the edge of town where housing meets industry. Built in 1903 at 52-19 Flushing Avenue as a factory for the Gleason-Tiebout Glass Company, in more recent years, it was home to the KD Frame & Door Company, which relocated to a factory behind Reiff Park in 2009. The Sklar family owns the door company and has retained title to the Flushing Avenue property. They now seek to take it in a different direction.
The Knockdown Center is named after the knocked-down steel frame door, patented by KD Frame & Door Company. However, it's a strange name to use for a supposed arts center. They are doing a lot more than art shows at this location. Over the past year, they have hosted a variety of events for a targeted demographic hailing from Williamsburg, Bushwick and Manhattan.
Disco Parties and More
These events included several disco parties which drew up to 2,000 people as per the manager's best estimate, a noise festival where earplugs were handed out to attendees (note that the venue does not have soundproofing and people live across the street from it in 2 directions) and less disruptive affairs such as art shows, weddings, and a weekend flea market. Some of the activities have gone on until the wee hours of the morning, with at least one of them lasting until 6am.
In order to get their patrons to the venue, they run a shuttle from the Jefferson Avenue L subway station in Bushwick. They also advertise accessibility by 4 city bus lines. At 2am, these buses don't run very often, and their shuttle bus leaves a lot to be desired in terms of safety. In fact, during the week, it can usually be found parked on the streets of Brooklyn with people living in it and sporting California license plates.
There are many photos on social media sites that reveal bad behavior having taken place at the Knockdown Center during and after their parties. The photos depict: an incapacitated patron being carried out by security guards, drug use, hard liquor consumption (their permits were for beer and wine only), a person stumbling down the railroad tracks behind the building, and sexual acts out in the open. The 104th Precinct is already undermanned and overburdened and doesn't need more problems to handle.
An Arts Center?
Knockdown Center owner David Sklar and manager Tyler Myers (photo, left) appeared before Community Board 5's Land Use Review Committee meeting October 8th to make their case for a liquor license. They stated that they wanted to create an arts center Maspeth could be proud of, yet neither the people in that room, nor the arts communities within CB5, had been contacted, much less consulted, about this undertaking. Knockdown Center reps just appeared one day to ask for a liquor license. If the powers-that-be behind the KDC were sincere about providing a venue for local artists, they would have initiated a dialogue and partnered with them. Instead, they saw fit to read the Wikipedia definition of an arts center to us. I guess they thought this would help us locals understand why an arts center requires a liquor license for 5,000 people. They gave us examples of other arts centers that serve alcohol on occasion, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. Yes, they do serve alcohol ‒ mainly wine and champagne ‒ on occasion. But these world renowned institutions do not host disco parties. They do not employ a converted school bus to shuttle art lovers to their facility. They do not serve beer and pizza as the Knockdown Center does. The creative community here has thrived for centuries without a liquor license. What the Knockdown Center seeks to do is continue monetizing and importing creativity. This has come to pass in Williamsburg, Bushwick and Greenpoint. We are all aware of what has happened to those communities as a result ‒ high rents, displaced residents, overdevelopment, traffic, noise complaints, etc. Do we want to follow suit?
Liquor License for 600+
Thus far, the KDC has relied on temporary place of assembly permits and one-day beer-and-wine liquor licenses to host their events. The liquor permits are limited to 4 per year per venue, so they had no choice but to apply for a permanent liquor license. The most frightening aspect of this is that while they asked the State Liquor Authority for a permit to serve 600 or more patrons, they applied to the Department of Buildings for a Place of Assembly permit for up to 5,000 people.
Crowley the Lone Supporter...Why?
Does a hall serving alcohol that attracts 5,000 people ‒ many of whom have already exhibited anti-social behavior ‒ sound like something Maspeth really needs or should want? Council Member Elizabeth Crowley thinks it does. She testified in favor of the Knockdown Center's liquor license application at Community Board 5 and has publicly supported the venture, even going so far as to say that supporting arts as an economic engine could bring thousands of good union jobs in the film industry to the area.
This is not the case at all. The owner of the Knockdown Center has estimated that about 30 jobs would be created, most of them part-time, non-union and non-film industry related. We don't know how Crowley came up with union jobs in the film industry, but she has no problem telling us that we should blindly support the venture because the brother-and-sister team of Tony Argento and Gina Argento-Ciafone ‒ investors in the Knockdown Center and owners of Broadway Stages film studio in Greenpoint ‒ are good friends of hers. Whenever a politician says something like that, it's wise to look at their campaign contributions.
The Argentos deposited $4,500 into Elizabeth Crowley's campaign account during the time leading up to this liquor license application, so it comes as no surprise that the council member thinks it's a great idea. Borough President-elect Melinda Katz has stayed silent on the Knockdown Center. The Argentos and David Sklar contributed $14,500 toward her campaign as well.
Where we stand right now is that the Knockdown Center has received permits from the Department of Buildings for alterations. These alterations include the installation of 3 bathtubs for some unknown reason, but no parking. Their Place of Assembly application for 5,000 people was rejected by the DOB and withdrawn, as per Community Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano. CB5 unanimously voted to send a letter to the State Liquor Authority asking them to reject the liquor license based on the fact that the venue does not yet have a valid Certificate of Occupancy. The civic organizations COMET, Juniper Park Civic Association and Queens Civic Congress have sent objection letters to SLA citing the behavior that has gone on at previous events held at the Knockdown Center. Assembly Member Cathy Nolan, State Senators Michael Gianaris and Joseph Addabbo and City Council Member James Van Bramer have all written letters of opposition to the SLA as well. (Van Bramer's district currently includes this area of Maspeth, but in 2014, redistricting will move it into Crowley's territory.)
CITY: It's A manufacturing hub
This property is in the Maspeth Industrial Business Zone, an area designated by the City as a manufacturing hub, with the intention of retaining industrial businesses. The owner of the Knockdown Center stated that he had potential buyers and lessees for the site, but their plans included using the property for storage or demolishing the existing structure and he couldn't bear to see that. Warehousing would be a conforming use in a manufacturing zone and would actually have brought real jobs to Maspeth, unlike this supposed arts center. Council Member Crowley took a much-publicized tour of area manufacturers in October, when she vowed to expand the IBZ program, but her stance on the Knockdown Center does not support this goal.
The hurdles faced by the Knockdown Center include obtaining a valid Certificate of Occupancy, Place of Assembly Permit, Cabaret License and Liquor License. Thus far, they have not acquired any of them. We'll be working with community-minded elected officials and civic organizations to try to prevent this from happening.
The SLA takes into consideration the impact a venue will have on public safety, noise, parking and traffic when determining whether or not to issue a liquor license. Here's how you can help. Send your concerns in a letter to:
Hon. David Rosen
Chairman, State Liquor Authority
80 South Swan Street, 9th Floor
Albany, NY 12210