Olive branch for Sixteenth Street Synagogue comes with hefty price tag

By Zachary Kussin | December 31, 2012 03:00PM

UPDATED: 7:11 p.m., Dec. 31: A Flatiron District synagogue that was originally slated for eviction on Jan. 7, then last week granted a temporary emergency stay of eviction, may have found its saving grace. But there’s a hitch: the property’s owner says $7.5 million in back rent, taxes and other costs dating back five years is due, The Real Deal has learned.

The synagogue in question is the Sixteenth Street Synagogue at 3 West 16th Street, which found itself stuck between two feuding real estate developers: the property’s owner, Jack Braha, and Steven Ancona, who was leasing space in the building.

The eviction was aimed at Ancona, whom Braha alleges did not perform on his net lease for the synagogue space, but the congregation has found itself a casualty of the dispute. Last Monday, a New York State Supreme Court judge granted the synagogue a temporary emergency stay of eviction, pending the resolution of its claim of a one-third ownership stake in the property.

The eviction would have paved the way for the development of luxury rental apartments.

However, in an email, Braha said that the synagogue could stay if the two parties that originally promised Sixteenth Street the space — Ancona and Magen David of Union Square, a separate synagogue that had occupied the second floor of the building — pay the landlord what he is allegedly owed.

“It’s really terrible that [the synagogue] was screwed out of what they thought was a deal made between themselves and Steven Ancona,” said Braha, adding that he does not want to evict them, although he maintains that he has the right to repossess the property.

If the rent is paid, Braha said, anything can be done with the building, including having the synagogue use the whole property.

“If I get that paid now, I will reinstate [the] lease — this allows them to use the building,” he said, adding that anyone is welcome to pay the alleged dues.

The $7.5 million price tag includes five years of rent, valued at $1 million per year; five years of annual property taxes, valued at $100,000 per year; and $2 million originally needed to convert the top four floors of the six-story building into condominiums, according to Braha.

Ancona did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In a written statement, Jonathan Nachmani, the president of Magen David, said that his congregation never signed an agreement with the Braha family or Ancona. “[Braha’s] most recent proposal is nothing less than preposterous and coercive,” he said, adding that his congregation supports the other synagogue’s efforts to stay at the space.

However, Braha claims that Magen David benefited from its second floor lease that Ancona personally guaranteed from the day that Braha purchased the building. Braha added that asking for rent, taxes and funds to complete the building’s residential portion is what Ancona and Magen David agreed to before he bought the property.

Richard McBee, Sixteenth Street’s president, said that Braha’s offer for the synagogue to have the other parties pay up is nothing beyond what the landlord has proposed during years of litigation and that it is out of the synagogue’s control.

“For him, it’s like this is handed down from Sinai,” said McBee of Braha and the lease agreement. “If you hold only to that lease agreement, there’s so much money owed, it’s impossible to reach it.”

McBee said the synagogue and its lawyers will still go to court next Monday to argue their co-ownership claim.