Rainbow Room gets eviction notice

Citing economy
January 10, 2009 1:31:17 PM PST
The Rainbow Room has been given eviction papers.Rockefeller Center's owners said Friday they had ended the Cipriani family's lease for the ritzy Manhattan watering hole and its revolving dance floor because of unpaid back rent.

Tishman Speyer Properties gave Cipriani until Monday to vacate the 65th and 64th floors of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, where the Rainbow Room, the Italian-themed Rainbow Grill restaurant and a business club are located.

Cipriani said it wasn't leaving, calling the eviction notice a "frivolous" attempt by the owners to convert the iconic venue into more profitable office space.

"Cipriani will continue to operate the Rainbow Room" until its current lease expires in 2013, the restaurant empire said in a statement. "Unfortunately, we are dealing with an uncompassionate and greedy landlord who has not made any efforts to resolve our differences in a reasonable manner."

A Tishman Speyer spokesman said the firm hopes to find a new restaurant, not office space, to take over the storied space.

"The Rainbow Room is one of our city's great institutions, and we will immediately begin the process of finding another great restaurateur to operate the space in the first-class manner that New Yorkers and visitors deserve," Tishman spokesman Robert Lawson said.

Cipriani, blaming the recession, said last week it would suspend business at the Rainbow Grill as of Monday. The Rainbow Room - famous for its Art Deco ambiance, dazzling city views and elegant dance nights with a big-band orchestra - was to stay open.

Tishman Speyer and the Italian restaurateurs have been in a two-year dispute over rent, officials from both sides said.

Cipriani signed a 10-year lease for the space in 1998, for $4 million a year. Tishman reappraised the property last year, said it was worth $8.7 million and started charging that amount in February 2007, extending the Cipriani lease for five more years, officials said.

Cipriani paid until August, when independent arbitrators were left to decide the rent. A panel decided last month that a fair price was $6 million a year.

Cipriani spokesman Ben Branham said Tishman Speyer was fighting back against the arbitration ruling and could refund the family some rent paid before August.

"Tishman Speyer attempted to charge an outrageous amount of rent that no tenant could afford, consistent with their campaign to force Cipriani out of the space," he said.

Cipriani asked the city Landmarks Preservation Commission in August to give the Rainbow Room landmark status during lease negotiations.

About 300 workers would lose their jobs if the Rainbow Room shuts its doors. It opened in 1934, in the midst of the Great Depression.

Generations of celebrities, from Frank Sinatra to Keith Richards, have performed and partied there. New Yorkers donned tuxedoes and evening gowns to dance in front of full-length windows overlooking midtown Manhattan.

The venue has been used more frequently for weddings, fundraisers and private parties since Cipriani took over its management. The restaurateurs manage several other upscale spots across the U.S. and Europe, including Harry's Bar in Venice.

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