Months of relative silence between the opposing sides in the acrimonious CBGB lease dispute have ended, giving hope to those fighting to save the seminal punk club.
Days after a press conference at CBGB, where owner Hilly Kristal detailed a monthlong, eleventh-hour campaign to spare the rock and roll landmark (see "Benefit Events Planned For CBGB"), a proposal was presented to the Bowery Residents Committee, which manages the building, in an effort to revive the stalled negotiations.
In his proposal, Kristal requested a face-to-face meeting with BRC Executive Director Muzzy Rosenblatt. "We want to have a sit-down with him, with my attorney and his attorney," Kristal said on Monday (August 8), "and see if he's going to be sincere."
While neither side is discussing the specific terms of the draft proposal, those close to the negotiations claim Kristal's offer includes 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; the organization would maintain a bank account containing at least $100,000. In addition, E Street Band member and "The Sopranos" actor Steven Van Zandt has pledged to organize annual benefit concerts for the BRC, a nonprofit that funds programs for the city's homeless.
Rosenblatt had initially wanted to double CBGB's rent to $40,000, but Kristal said the BRC is going to have to come down a bit if the club's going to remain open: "It's not going to work [if that amount doesn't come down], because it can't. I'm not going to borrow money to stay here." But by the same token, Rosenblatt said he's puzzled why the rent increase is such an impossible feat for Kristal.
"The club seems to be popular, they seem to be making millions of dollars with the shirts, at the door, at the bar," he said. "I don't understand why they can't pay the rent. We have been asking for a fair rent. What the BRC is saying is what we've always been saying. We're not asking for anything new. What we want in place is a structure that provides for adequate security, that should past practices of non-payment of rent return, they are much more expeditiously remedied, without it jeopardizing our activities that help homeless people, and that the rent be a fair rent. I won't subsidize CBGB at the expense of homeless people. We're talking, but a new lease would require the past bad practices be fixed, a new structure going forward, a fair rent and much more expeditious remedies that are less costly."
Talks between the two men froze late this winter, when a disagreement over $100,000 (which Rosenblatt claims Kristal owes the BRC for years of incremental rent increases) landed in court (see "CBGB, Punk-Rock Mecca Of The World, On The Verge Of Extinction"). The matter has yet to be resolved. If Kristal fails to negotiate a lease for his club by the end of the month, Rosenblatt expects he'll be out come September 1.
"The lease is up August 31 — that's not news, that's been the date for 12 years," he said. "I expect that they will abide by their obligations. That's what I've always expected."
Kristal said he's been approached by several Las Vegas politicos, who would like to see him move the club to their fair city. Of course, moving CBGB to a different zip code, or out of its current shell, is unthinkable, Kristal said.
A series of benefit concerts has been scheduled at CBGB, to be capped off with a free concert at New York's Washington Square Park on August 31.