For the first time in months, Hilly Kristal got some good news Wednesday afternoon regarding CBGB, the seminal cradle of punk rock he founded more than three decades ago.
A months-long legal dispute between him and his landlord — the Bowery Residents' Committee — concerning $90,000 in outstanding back rent ended when a Manhattan civil court judge ruled in Kristal's favor. The decision effectively strips Muzzy Rosenblatt, the BRC's executive director, of his most convincing bargaining chip.
Ongoing lease renewal negotiations between his organization, a nonprofit that funds programs for homeless people in New York, and CBGB were halted several months ago because of overdue back rent. Rosenblatt told MTV News in March that the $91,000 would need to be paid before negotiations could resume with the rock-and-roll landmark's management.
For Rosenblatt, the fact that Kristal owed the back rent and refused to cough it up epitomized one thing: that CBGB was a poor tenant. But Kristal's maintained all along that he'd have paid the money had the BRC billed him properly; that $90,000 total represented years of scheduled incremental rent increases Kristal said he was wholly unaware of. He was, however, prepared to pay the amount — if and when Judge Joan M. Kenney decided he had to.
But she ruled he didn't. In her decision, Kenney wrote, "It would be unconscionable for this court to allow [the BRC] to proceed with its intent to evict CBGB because it failed to notice monies were outstanding."
"All along I said, 'I'm not paying this money now. I have the money, and if I'm supposed to pay it, I'll pay it,' " Kristal said. "They sued me, I didn't sue them. We wanted to have a meeting and they kept putting up blocks, telling the press, 'They owe us money, they owe us money.' It was an excuse."
When called for comment, Rosenblatt said he was unaware of the decision.
"We won the first battle," Kristal said, as Against Me gave a soundcheck in the background. "It's wonderful, good news. But I expect that they're going to appeal. It's going to be a fight. As Yogi Berra said, 'It's not over till it's over.' "
Kristal said he hopes to be able to move forward with the lease renewal negotiations, but wasn't quite sure how Wednesday's court ruling would impact future talks. "I've always felt that no matter what, this guy didn't want to negotiate," he said. "I think this is going to leave a sour taste in his mouth, and that he'll govern all of his forces and fight hard."
In a statement issued Wednesday night, Bruce Springsteen guitarist Steven Van Zandt, who's been active in efforts to save the club, said, "We're thrilled with Judge Kenney's decision, which confirms what we've always known: CBGB's does not owe any money to their landlord. This issue of nonpayment of back rent has been shown to be completely false. At this point we hope to move forward with lease renewal negotiations and see no reason as to why talks should be stalled any longer. We're hopeful for a speedy resolution with the BRC, and urge Mr. Rosenblatt to meet with Hilly Kristal, a request that has been ignored time and time again."