The Real Deal New York

Sixteenth Street Synagogue loses courtroom bid to stop eviction

January 08, 2013 07:00PM
By Zachary Kussin

From left: Jack Braha and the Sixteenth Street Synagogue

UPDATED, 10:30 a.m., Jan. 11: A New York State judge today denied the Sixteenth Street Synagogue’s efforts to extend a temporary reprieve from eviction proceedings at its Flatiron home. The Ashkenazic Orthodox congregation had received a temporary stay of eviction from the court on Dec. 24, pending the resolution of its claim that it owns a third of 3 West 16th Street, the building it has called home for nearly seven decades.

The synagogue was caught between two feuding real estate developers, and was originally slated to face eviction on Jan. 7, as The Real Deal reported last month. The developers are Jack Braha, who owns the six-story property, and Steven Ancona, who had a net lease on the building.

Today’s decision paves the way for Braha to evict the synagogue and turn the building into luxury rentals, unless Ancona or Magen David — a Syrian Sephardic congregation that previously occupied the property’s second floor — meets his demand for $7.5 million in alleged back payments. “I still open the door with the same olive branch that they can reinstate the lease and I’ll give them terms to pay back the $7.5 million … over the course of my lifetime,” Braha said.

However, the synagogue has vowed to appeal the decision, and claims that Braha’s supposed olive branch is nothing more than what the landlord had proposed over years of litigation.

“This action by the court forces our hand to pursue other options in our fight for our synagogue’s life and our own future as a community,” representatives for Sixteenth Street said in a statement. “We will be filing a motion in the Appellate Division. We are most certain that the truth will prevail when all is said and done.”

Braha claims that the temporary stay was issued under false pretenses, and said that the eviction was aimed at Ancona, whom he alleges did not perform on his net lease for the building. Ancona and Magen David had promised Sixteenth Street their space, Braha claims.

“I feel bad for [the synagogue],” Braha said, “but they’re chasing me instead of the people who made the deal with them: Ancona and Magen David.”

Jonathan Nachmani, the president of Magen David, said in a statement last week that his congregation never signed any agreement with the Braha family or with Ancona.

This week, the board of Magen David reiterated Nachmani’s sentiments, saying in a written statement “We are deeply troubled by the efforts of the Braha family and in particular Jack Braha to distort the facts surrounding the dispute regarding 3 West 16th Street … at no time did [Magen David] enter into any formal agreements with the Braha family, the Sixteenth Street Synagogue or any other entity regarding 3 West 16th Street.” The statement continues to say that Magen David has tried bringing in third parties to mediate this dispute, but has not had success. Magen David even said they, along with the Sixteenth Street Synagogue and Ancona tried to buy out Braha for the price of the property, out of pocket, and with interest, but they said this was rejected.

In a prepared statement, Ancona said that he took on the original development project — to convert the four upper floors into condominiums — as a pro bono endeavor to preserve  one synagogue, foster the growth of another and provide the project’s investors with a profit. He said he pledged all of his own potential profits to the synagogues.

“The way things have turned out is deeply disappointing to me,” Ancona said in the statement. “One positive is that the building’s value has significantly increased over the years. I sincerely hope there is still a way for this matter to be resolved amicably. In the meantime, I will vigorously defend the claims against me and the tenant entity.”

A call to Braha’s attorney, Edward White, was not returned.

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