Supreme Court Appellate Division denies synagogue’s stay of eviction

Congregation's "demise is a foregone conclusion," developer says
By Zachary Kussin | January 11, 2013 06:00PM

The Sixteenth Street Synagogue congregation, which for 67 years has worshipped at 3 West 16th Street, today was denied the interim stay of eviction that it had been seeking. In addition to that New York State appellate court ruling, the synagogue’s president, Richard McBee, this morning received an eviction notice stating that the Ashkenazic congregation would have to vacate its space by January 16.

“This is such a vibrant community,” McBee told The Real Deal. “For this kind of thing to be happening is inconceivable — it’s almost not real.”

Synagogue officials will be back at court Monday to continue arguing for an eviction stay and to present their claim for one-third ownership stake in the property.

As The Real Deal previously reported, the Orthodox congregation was slated to be evicted on Jan. 7 to pave way for the owner to turn the building into luxury rentals, but had received a temporary stay of eviction late last month pending resolution of its claim that it has a one-third ownership stake in the building. However, as previously reported, a New York State judge denied the synagogue’s fight to extend the eviction reprieve earlier this week.

The synagogue is caught in between two feuding developers, Jack Braha, the owner of the property and Steven Ancona, who had a net lease on it. From the beginning of the recent eviction events, Braha has alleged that Ancona did not perform on his lease, and because there was nothing set in writing to protect the synagogue, the synagogue would also be evicted.

Braha also says that Magen David, a Sephardic congregation that previously occupied space in the same property, along with Ancona, had promised Sixteenth Street Synagogue its space through a verbal agreement. “In Jewish law, it’s still an agreement,” said Braha. In several statements to The Real Deal, Magen David has emphasized that they never entered into any formal, signed agreements with the Braha family, the Sixteenth Street Synagogue or any other entity at the building. In addition, a Magen David official told The Real Deal today, there was also never any verbal agreement. Magen David continues to voice its support for the Sixteenth Street Synagogue to stay at its space.

Earlier this week in a prepared statement, Ancona told The Real Deal: “The way things have turned out is deeply disappointing to me … 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.” He added in that same statement that he took on the original development project — to convert the four upper floors of the six-story building into condominiums — as a pro-bono project to preserve one synagogue, foster another and give the investors a return on their investment. Ancona told The Real Deal today that if he has anything to add, it would be after the Jewish Sabbath, which ends at sundown on Saturday.

Braha confirmed today’s appellate court’s denial, and said that the synagogue continuing to go to court is an obstacle for completing his rental project. “Clearly it adds to the timeline and the cost,” he said. “To me their demise is a foregone conclusion — it’s a matter of when. It’s not an ‘if,’ it’s a ‘when.'”