James Capalino has played in bigger leagues than community boards, and he’s faced tougher opponents than a group of 50 or so well-organized Chelsea residents, local businesses and art galleries determined not to have one more club in their neighborhood.
He managed two successful Mayoral races for Ed Koch and was the Commissioner of General Services in his administration. He has represented hotelier Ian Schrager. He’s lobbied for Lockheed Information Management Services, a reincarnation of the company at the center of the Koch administration’s Parking Violations Bureau debacle, and was successful in obtaining a lucrative contract for it from Mr. Koch’s successor, David Dinkins.
Mr. Capalino can be very convincing, and on April 4 he helped persuade Board 4 not to send a letter to the State Liquor Authority opposing a liquor license for DCT Garden, a club the Japanese pop band Dreams Come True is planning to open.
Mr. Capalino, who is handling community relations for Dreams Come True and their company, Tambourine Entertainment America Inc., fought an uphill battle to protect his clients’ projected $10 million investment in the club. Wildly popular in Japan, the band is hoping to build an American following and has already purchased the former theater at 519 West 23rd Street and started renovations, aiming for an August opening date. Since there are already more than three liquor licenses within 500 feet of DCT Garden’s location, Tambourine must convince the S.L.A. that the liquor license is in the public interest. Their argument: The performance space will be a cultural center, enriching Chelsea’s diversity.
That view was hotly contested during two hours of impassioned testimony from dozens of neighbors. “These people are not here to enrich our lives; they’re here to enrich themselves,” homeowner Richard Regen told the board. “I’ll be next to this monstrosity they’re trying to pawn off as a cultural institute.”
In addition, some opponents said the music of Dreams Come True which one of Tambourine’s few supporters described as a mix of Elton John, Enya and Björk -is actually quite Americanized and doesn’t do much for cultural diversity.
The anti-Tambourine crowd pleaded that despite the company’s professed good intentions to run a neighborly operation, noisy crowds and vehicles would pile up in their streets. They feared their children would not sleep. They brought an attorney and a traffic consultant, and they were backed by two developers putting up residential units nearby, which they fear might be harder to sell or rent next to a ruckus-making establishment. They wore white T-shirts with the word “Tambourine” on the front, crossed out in bold black.
And still Mr. Capalino won.
But the 21 board members who voted against the letter opposing Tambourine believe it’s practicality that won. After years of seeing liquor license after liquor license granted despite its protests, Board 4 has now changed its tactics. These days, board members prefer to maintain a negotiating position with a club or restaurant they think will get into the neighborhood despite their objections, by approving the application and attaching a list of stipulations to mitigate the impact on neighbors. Once the establishment adds these stipulations to its liquor-license application, the owners become (somewhat) accountable, board members said.
“We really have no teeth without stip[ulation]s,” said Kevin Kossi, co-chair of the board’s quality-of-life committee, which handles complaints about neighborhood disturbances, to his fellow members.
In addition, some board members felt that DCT Garden whose total occupancy tops out at 406 for its two lower floors of dance-performance space, one floor of offices and two restaurants serving upscale Japanese fare on the fourth and fifth floors isn’t too large to manage through stipulations.
The board referred the matter back to its committee, which handles liquor-license applications, asking it to come up with a list of stipulations (such as sound-proofing standards) that would be acceptable to the neighbors.
“We are confident that by incorporating these stipulations into our application and by making them part of the S.L.A. record, that they are enforceable and that they’ll be binding on us,” Mr. Capalino told The Observer after the board’s decision.
However, the anti-Tambourine faction, Chelsea Owners and Tenants for Neighborhood Preservation, was skeptical of the board’s new strategy, which has been employed in only a few cases thus far, leaving its effectiveness to be seen.
“It’s like having stipulations to have a quiet helicopter landing,” the group’s attorney, Nicholas Ward-Willis, told The Observer after the board’s vote.
He added: “‘Dreams Come True Becomes a Nightmare’ there’s your headline.”
New Polish For Pool
Central Park’s bald-headed stepchild is about to get a whole new head of hair. The Pool, an idyllic waterway near 100th Street in the northwest corner of the park, has long been under-appreciated and underdone. But a plan recently approved at the Board 7 meeting on April 3 to refurbish the area’s landscape might very well put a whole new shine on the park’s bucolic hideaway.
The Pool has always been a favorite sanctuary for Upper West Siders looking to get their meditative groove on. A hot spot for silent midday retreats, the hidden waterway has certainly seen better days. The Central Park Conservancy’s $1.5 million reconstruction plan, approved by Board 7, aims to change that.
The money will go toward resuscitating and expanding the water body and surrounding landscape, repairing surrounding paths, reconstructing the boulder grotto along the southwest corner of the Pool and adding several benches along the shores. Assuming Conservancy planners get the final go-ahead from the city’s landmarks and art commissions in May, architects project that the actual construction might begin as early as this summer.
For most Central Park fanatics, the romance of a boat ride on the Lake, the Pool’s glamorous sibling to the south, is about as good as it gets. Yet the Pool, as Central Park’s only naturally occurring water basin, is more than just an also-ran: Its sublime, willow-lined shores have a place in park history all their own.
Park founders Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux first staked a claim to the Pool’s original natural-water source, a stream named Montayne’s Rivulet, back in the late mid-1800’s, when work on Central Park first began. The Pool feeds the Loch, a wide running stream that courses the park’s northern end beneath the Glenspan Arch and supplies the Harlem Meer. It is also one of the few spots in the park that remains virtually unchanged by the Parks and Recreation Department’s never-ending reconstruction projects.
“In the 1940’s, people wanted to make the area more streamlined,” said Rachel Kisker, assistant landscape architect for the Central Park Conservancy. “Over the years, people have changed the edges and the plants around, but it more or less stayed the same as when Olmstead first constructed the landscape.”
Until 1961, that is, when a water main near the Pool burst and reduced the total water area to a quarter of its original size. “This area was devastated by the break in the water main,” said Bob Herrmann, co-chair on Board 7’s parks, libraries and cultural affairs committee. According to Ms. Kisker, the sudden decrease in water area led to a serious reduction in the overall quality of the water. Besides declining water quality, the land around the Pool was worn bare by years of unchecked foot traffic along the area’s pathways.
Bald spots or no, once they find it, Central Park visitors come back to the Pool over and over again. Despite its second-string status, it has always been a special place for parkgoers in the know. “This project is really just a way to restore and enhance the Pool. It’s a popular spot,” said Ms. Kisker. “It’s very intimate. It’s very peaceful. I think people treat it as a very special pocket of Central Park.”
April 11: Board 6, New York University, 550 First Avenue, Alumni Hall A, 7 p.m., 679-0907.
April 12: Board 5, the Fashion Institute of Technology, 227 West 27th Street, Buildling A, eighth floor, 6 p.m., 465-0907.
April 17: Board 1, New York Law School, 47 Worth Street at Church Street and West Broadway, 5:30 p.m., 442-5050; Board 11, East Harlem Multiservice Center, 413 East 120th Street between First and Pleasant avenues, auditorium, 6:30 p.m., 831-8929.
April 18: Board 8, Good Shepherd Church, Roosevelt Island, 7 p.m., 758-4340.
April 19: Board 2, Saint Vincent’s Hospital, 170 West 12th Street, between Sixth and Seventh avenues, 10th floor, 7 p.m., 979-2272; Board 9, Community Board Office, 555 West 125th Street, between Broadway and Old Broadway, 6:30 p.m., 864-6200.