C.B. Votes Against Bar in Cultural Center, Owner Cries Foul

IMG_9221Dana Varinsky Clemente Soto Velez.

Community Board 3 has voted against supporting a beer-and-wine license renewal for The Suffolk, the bar that has been fighting to stay in the lobby of the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center. Now Drew Figueroa, the bar’s owner, is crying corruption: he says C.B. 3 shouldn’t have let a board member who also happens to be the cultural center’s executive director participate in discussions about the license application.

Jan Hanvik, the CSV center’s executive director, also serves as chair of Community Board 3’s subcommittee on the arts and cultural affairs. During two meetings of C.B. 3’s liquor licensing committee, he strongly opposed Mr. Figueroa’s application and accused The Suffolk of creating a “laundry list” of problems for the city-owned cultural center, including accepting fake IDs from minors, stirring incidents of violence and prompting numerous noise complaints from neighbors.

Mr. Hanvik recused himself when the full board cast a final vote on the matter last week. “But Community Board 3’s integrity was compromised when it allowed Jan Hanvik to carry on as chair of its task force on arts and culture,” Mr. Figueroa said in a phone conversation with The Local. He accused Mr. Hanvik of being behind a series of “fraudulent 311 and 911 calls” involving noise complaints against his bar and performance space “when there were no scheduled events,” a charge previously made by a former security guard who testified for Mr. Figueroa during a December committee hearing.

Mr. Hanvik adamantly denied the allegation in a second committee hearing earlier this month. Susan Stetzer, district manager of Community Board 3, said that ethics complaints like Mr. Figueroa’s are common in liquor license hearings and noted the city’s Conflict of Interest Board addresses those issues.

“This type of issue has come up more than once,” she told The Local in an e-mail. “When there is a conflict of interest, a board member must declare ‘present not voting’ and declare the conflict. However, it is explicitly stated that the board member may participate in discussion.” She added: “All community boards are very educated on this issue as it is a common issue and we know that a [board] member can participate with disclosure.”

Mr. Hanvik would not discuss the board’s decision, but Mr. Figueroa, who once served as the center’s interim executive director, said he would continue to seek a renewal of his beer-and-wine license from the State Liquor Authority (his current one expires Feb. 28).

The Suffolk helps support Mr. Figueroa’s film-making venures through varied events including flamenco dancing, Cuban jazz, film screenings, fashion shows and art exhibitions and live painting. In 2009, he installed a faux tropical beach on a 700-square-foot lot adjacent to the bar.

“He operates completely irregularly and that’s basically what bothers us,” Mr. Hanvik said. “I’m Mayor Bloomberg’s doorman and we have to know who’s in the building and who’s doing what and we never know with him,” he said. “With everybody else, there’s total cooperation.”

Mr. Hanvik also claimed that Mr. Figueroa’s lease, held since 2002, ran counter to the city’s requirements. “A lease with the city prohibits a commercial venue” to operate in a not-for-profit, he claimed. Asked how Mr. Figueroa had held the lease for so long, he replied, “He had friends in my office and he went to them and said ‘please sign.’” Mr. Hanvik also claimed the city’s Department of Citywide Administrative Services “wants us to do something about this,” but he did not elaborate and a spokesperson for the city agency has yet to respond to an inquiry.

Told of these allegations, Mr. Figueroa replied angrily that his first lease renewal was signed in 2003 by Letitia Rodriguez, then  executive director, and in 2008 by Jasmine Rosario, an interim executive director before Mr. Hanvik arrived at the center. He steadfastly denied Mr. Hanvik’s claim that none of the subtenants at the center are commercial venues except him. “He should check his tenant roster because there are many commercial tenants,” he said. “They make artwork and they sell it.”

Mr. Figueroa said his bar, open seven days a week, had been though many names and changes over the years as “we struggled to reinvent ourselves to survive.” For many months, he admitted, he stopped informing the center of his plans for events after it sued him for rent arrears in January of 2012. He claimed that Mr. Hanvik had “instructed the program director not to communicate with me.” But more recently, he said, he has e-mailed his plans in advance for events to the current program director, Alvaro Mendizabal.

Mr. Mendizabal said he could not comment because of continuing litigation, an apparent reference to Mr. Figueroa’s lawsuit against the center for $20,000 of pay he claims he is owed from his time as program director.

Correction, Feb. 2, 2013: The original version of this post was revised to reflect an error. Susan Stetzer did not specify that ethical complaints are common in liquor license hearings, as originally stated, but rather wrote that “this type of issue has come up more than once” without specifying the committee(s) in which it came up.