Saturday, July 7, 2012

Soho update: Will the artist certification requirement be eliminated? Well, a committee's working on it.

The Soho/Noho artist certification requirement wars continue.

As discussed here earlier (see, the city passed a law in 1971 that requires at least one resident of every loft in Soho and Noho to be certified as a fine artist by the Department of Cultural Affairs.
The law also says that, without a special permit, commercial spaces must be for wholesale use only.
As nobody’s paid much attention to this law in the last fifteen to twenty years, there are those who think it should be eliminated. 
There are others who think it should stay. 
The problem is that the city does not have to give a certificate of occupancy to a building that doesn't comply with the artist certification requirement.  And there are many Soho buildings that don't have permanent certificates of occupancy.
Without a C of O, a co-op or condo can run into trouble when it wants permits from the city to do work on the building. 
Banks prefer not to lend in buildings that don't have a C of O.
Margaret Baisley, a real estate attorney who has long worked in Soho, is the chair of a committee that has raised $30,000 from Soho loft owners and is looking for a way to get rid of the certification requirement.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the money will be used to conduct a survey to determine how many certified artists still live in Soho and how many retail spaces are being occupied illegally. 

Baisley is in discussions with Baruch College’s Steven L. Newman Real Estate Institute, to begin conducting the survey later this month.

I have made numerous sales in Soho and Noho over the last 20 years.  I do not remember any of them being made to a certified artist. 

However, many were made to Wall Streeters who were attracted by the cachet of a neighborhood considered artistic and rather Bohemian.

As for the wholesale usage of commercial space, a quick walk through Soho leads one to believe that either there are a whole lot of special permits, or a whole lot of retailers are there illegally.  

There are the high-end retailers—Chanel, Prada, Coach and others who moved in when the Wall Streeters did.  And now there are two H & M stores within a couple of blocks of each other on Broadway plus numerous other bargain retail outlets. 

Whether you want a handbag for $3500 or a miniskirt with a lot of sequins for $25, Soho's where you go.  There's one whole store with nothing but Crocs.  Soho is retail heaven.

The artist certification requirement has always been controversial.  There are those who doubt its constitutionality.  And it’s somewhat whimsical.  Certification is only given to “fine” artists, that is, painters, poets and choreographers, not to “interpretive” artists such as actors, musicians and dancers. 

Why a poet would require a huge loft to write in is beyond me; Wallace Stevens wrote some of the 20th century’s greatest poetry on the sidewalks of Hartford while walking to work. 

Paloma Barrara, on the other hand, doesn’t need loft space, according to the DCA.  She can perform grand jetes and pirouettes in a closet for all they care.

The anti-elimination faction feels the character of Soho will change drastically if the requirement is eliminated.  Personally I question their use of the future tense. 

If they think it hasn't already changed drastically from what it was when they bought their lofts, they must never come out of them.

I will follow this committee’s efforts with great interest.

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