Thursday, March 01, 2007

Legal Gag Removed, Coney Island's Lola Staar Speaks Out

Dianna Carlin remembers the community meeting held at the behest of developer Joe Sitt in Coney Island in 2005. Mr. Sitt walked into a room at the Coney Island Museum eating cotton candy (perhaps for effect or, perhaps, because he wanted some sugar) and strolled right up to Ms. Carlin.

"God, Lola Staar," she remembers the developer saying. "He said, 'Hi, you don't recognize me. I'm Joe Sitt.' He talked to me like he was my best friend." She recalls that as the only female entrepreneur in the group and as a relative newcomer to Coney Island she was a little taken aback by the greeting. (Actually, she uses the word, "horrified.") Great, she says she thought, now everyone will think I'm working with the developer.

Still, she says, "he took the time and cared enough to come and talk. That impressed me. Maybe in retrospect it was for show."

Less than two years later, Ms. Carlin, who operates the Lola Staar Boutique in Coney Island and online, would find herself locked in a bitter eviction dispute with Mr. Sitt. She would sign a lease and, two days later, end up being served with eviction papers by Mr. Sitt's firm.

GL reported in early February that Ms. Carlin had been evicted from her boutique, but she could not speak us at the time. Yesterday, with legal action concluded, and Ms. Carlin slated to leave her boardwalk store by the end of March, she related a story of confidentiality clauses in leases that Thor is requiring Coney Island tenants to sign and of becoming a pawn in the high stakes power game of changing zoning in the neighborhood to allow luxury watefront condos.

While neighboring businesses on the boardwalk signed new leases with Mr. Sitt, Ms. Carlin says she balked at a confidentiality clause. (Such clauses are becoming common in transactions involving developments that could generate public controversy.) The clause would subject violators that talk about the redevelopment of Coney Island to fines of $10,000, according to an article that also appears today in the Daily News. It bans participation in parades, marches and other events until three years after the lease is terminated. The ban could "keep tenants from speaking during a city-mandated public land review process this year," Jotham Sederstrom writes in the Daily News.

Ms. Carlin told GL that she tried to negotiate an exception to the gag rule because she couldn't see remaining silent. "I’m so passionate about Coney Island," she says. "I wanted to voice my opinion of the redevelopment." Eventually, she relented and at a meeting with Thor, signed the lease, confidentiality clause and all. She recalls it as being "a fairly friendly meeting." Mr. Sitt was said to be out of town, but she says she was told he would sign as soon as he returned.

The next day she says she got a call from a Thor Equities employee requesting a meeting. When he arrived for the appointment, she was served with eviction papers. She says she was shocked by the eviction and placed multiple calls to Mr. Sitt, who had told her at the meeting with local businesses to "call me anytime." Mr. Sitt did not return her calls. Later she said that someone with knowledge of the Coney Island situation told her she'd become part of the game of hardball that Thor was playing to try to win zoning concessions to allow it to build luxury highrise condos in Coney Island.

"I was singled out and evicted," she says. "They're saying 'we're serious about evicting all these businesses and demolishing this land. We’ll destroy Coney if we don’t get [the rezoning].'"

"I had a very good relationship was developing a business plan with them," she says. "I wanted to do a roller rink in the new development. I really believed I would contribute fabulous things to the redevelopment."

Many observers of the Coney Island scene that say the demolitions that are already underway are a tactic to ratchet up pressure to move quickly on a favorable rezoning community. Ms. Carlin agrees, saying the developer will leave empty land that will frighten away visitors, add more depressing vacancy and be a magnet for crime and other activity. "It's obvious what they're trying to do," she says, even arguing that the city should close Stillwell Avenue and West 12th Street and put up temporary carnival rides to keep the area lively and safe.

Even though she's been evicted, Ms. Carlin is already making plans for the new summer season in Coney Island. She says she's investing in a "temporary" structure--a shipping container like Uniqlo used in New York City when they were promoting their new store. She got in touch with Lot-Ek, the architecture and design firm that has done work for Uniqlo among others, and they are donating the design services for the new Lola Staar Boutique.

"It’s going to be a new, fabulous Lola Staar empire," she says. "I was going to say 'forget about Coney Island,' but I'm so committed to it. I want Joe Sitt to walk up there and see this beautiful pink palace and know he couldn’t beat down Lola Staar."

Related Posts:
Coney Island Death Watch: Lola Staar Boutique Evicted
Speak No Evil: Thor Tenants Required to Sign Confidentiality Clause

(There will likely be a number of stories in blogs and in the print media about Ms. Carlin and about the "confidentiality clause" in coming days. There is a very good story about it by Jotham Sederstrom in the Daily News today.)



Anonymous Anonymous said...

oooh, we love lola staar!!! i hope you make it back to the boardwalk!!

7:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh no! i love lola staar! love the t-shirts. how could they evict the best part of coney island??

8:02 PM  

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