Renovation of stately co-op pits gum surgeon against board

Periodontist prefers rusty window frames to closing office: lawsuit

New York /
Jan.January 20, 2021 08:30 AM
17 West 54th Street and Stuart Froum (Google Maps, Linkedin)

17 West 54th Street and Stuart Froum (Google Maps, Linkedin)

A periodontist at a landmarked Midtown co-op is fighting a window renovation that he argues would close his dental practice and cost him half a million dollars.

Stuart Froum is up against the co-op board of 17 West 54th Street, which says he is gumming up a badly-needed $16 million overhaul of the building’s decrepit windows.

On Dec. 7, days before the renovation was to begin, attorneys for the practitioner filed for an injunction to keep his office open, and state Supreme Court Judge Barry Ostrager granted a temporary restraining order. Three weeks later, attorneys for the co-op fired back with a 30-day notice to cure — warning that the 76-year old dental surgeon’s lease would be terminated if he didn’t cooperate with the window installation.

In a memo filed last week, attorneys for Froum called the default notice a “pressure tactic” which amounted to a threat of eviction.

Froum, a dental surgeon whose practice occupies a ground-floor unit at the cooperative, is the sole shareholder whose windows haven’t been replaced. The work, his attorneys argue, would close “an essential surgical facility during the height of the worst pandemic in generations.”

His attorneys estimate that closing his office would cost Froum $500,000 in lost income and other costs.

Attorneys for Froum declined to comment. Attorneys for the co-op did not return a request for comment.

Froum’s office stayed open, as allowed, during New York City’s spring lockdown. From March 16 to June 12, with the city largely shut to stop the spread of the coronavirus, Froum performed 110 emergency surgeries — which his lawyers said kept those patients out of badly needed hospital beds. Since then, he’s seen more than 500 patients.

Froum has operated his dental practice in the Rockefeller Apartments — where a penthouse currently asks $2.5 million — for more than 30 years.

The 12-story building, which sits across from the garden of the Museum of Modern Art, features rounded bay windows, fireplaces and an internal garden courtyard. Commissioned by John D. and Nelson Rockefeller, and completed in 1936, the landmarked International Style building was built for well-heeled business people working at the nearby Rockefeller Center.

The co-op, which was landmarked in 1984, was built with 15 percent more light than building codes required at the time. Once gleaming, the steel-framed windows have deteriorated over the past 85 years. In 2018, a plan was crafted to overhaul them.

Mark Jones, the president of the co-op board, said in an affidavit that the windows are an eyesore — and Froum’s, in particular, are hard to ignore.

“There is also the harm, even if intangible or difficult to quantify, of the discordant and dilapidated windows on the front of the 54th Street building, immediately adjacent to its entry, that devalue the building and offend the other shareholders,” Jones said.

But the planned renovation is more than a cosmetic fix, the co-op’s attorneys argued. In 2017, the Department of Buildings issued a violation in part because of the windows’ rusty frames. In 2018, the building incurred another violation for a cracked pane on the seventh floor. Both violations are resolved.

Attorneys for the Rockefeller Apartments say the window replacement project is the product of years of research and investigation to assemble a team to replace more than 625 windows. If the completion of the project is put off much longer, they argue, the team of architects, engineers, asbestos abatement specialists and project managers may move on to other work.

Attorneys for Froum, however, argue that “ship has already sailed,” and the construction team has already disbanded.





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