Lawsuit: Shuttered Manhattan restaurant owes NYC millions of dollars

Kristin Thorne Image
Tuesday, February 28, 2023
Shuttered Manhattan restaurant owes NYC $32 million in rent
Pier A began to fall behind in its rental payments to New York City beginning in 2018, according to the lawsuit filed by lenders. Kristin Thorne has more on the story.

BATTERY PARK, Manhattan (WABC) -- An Eyewitness News investigation has found that the Battery Park City Authority is taking to court the owners of a restaurant and event venue in the Battery, which closed in 2020, for not paying millions of dollars in rent to New York City under a 2011 rental agreement.

When Pier A Harbor House opened in 2014, it was hailed as the next best event venue in Manhattan, providing spectacular views of the Hudson River, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty from the building's three-story, 28,000-square foot collection of dining venues.

New York City spent $30 million in city taxpayer money renovating the historic Victorian pier to make way for the venue. In exchange, in March 2011, the owners of Pier A Battery Park Associates signed a 25-year lease with the city promising to make $39.1 million in rental payments to the city over the course of the lease.

Because Pier A closed in 2020, Pier A Battery Park Associates, according to the lease agreement, still owes the BPCA $32 million in rent, although according to court documents, the operators of Pier A dispute they owe the BPCA.

Pier A closed its doors in March 2020 due to the pandemic, but never reopened, although other restaurants throughout the city owned by the same owners of Pier A eventually did, including Harry's NYC, Adrienne's Pizza Bar and Le District.

According to a $16.5 million lawsuit filed by Pier A's lenders against father and son team Harry and Peter Poulakakos and their business partners, Pier A tendered the keys to the Battery Park City Authority in August 2020.

According to the lawsuit, Pier A began to fall behind in its rental payments to New York City beginning in 2018.

"Defendants also misled Plaintiff about Borrower's finances during the course of the Loan, and concealed the fact that, between February 2018 and October 2018, it had completely ceased paying the rent it owed to BPCA under the Lease, until it finally faced total dispossession of the Premises," the lawsuit states.

A judge eventually dismissed the lawsuit saying the lenders' claims against Pier A for fraud and negligent misrepresentation were not sufficiently proved.

Eyewitness News learned of the issues around Pier A while investigating with the Long Island Advocate - Hofstra University's online news site - 12 class action lawsuits workers at restaurants, including Pier A, owned by the Poulakakoses and their partners have filed against the restaurant owners for wage theft.

The Poulakakoses and their partners have agreed to pay more than $1.9 million to dozens of employees and the employees' lawyers in 10 of the lawsuits. In the settlements, Peter Poulakakos and others admit no wrongdoing and their attorneys "sharply" and "vigorously" contest the allegations against their clients' businesses.

Two of the lawsuits - one against Adrienne's Pizza Bar and the other against Le District - are yet to be decided.

Workers at Pier A filed two class-action wage theft lawsuits against the Poulakakoses - one in 2017 and one in 2019. In both cases, the workers claimed they were paid less than minimum wage and that their employers allowed non-tipped employees to share in their tips.

Both lawsuits were settled for a combined $475,000.

The BPCA declined through its public affairs consultant Risa Heller Communications to speak with Eyewitness News about Pier A and what will become of the millions of dollars it believes Pier A Battery Park Associates still owe New York City.

The BPCA also would not comment on who currently owns the Pier A building, but referred Eyewitness News to a July 2022 lawsuit the BPCA filed against Pier A Battery Park Associates.

The lawsuit details claims by the BPCA that Pier A Battery Park Associates should be ejected from the Pier A building or the court should declare Pier A Battery Park Associates, known as the tenant in the lawsuit, as not having possession of the Pier A building.

In the lawsuit, the BPCA is also seeking "money judgement against Tenant and Guarantors for unpaid rents, additional rents, fees, costs and expenses, and other damages due under the subject commercial lease."

Pier A Battery Park Associates responded in September 2022 denying they breached the lease with the BPCA and "deny any liability or damages to Plaintiff."

New York City Councilman Christopher Marte (D-Battery Park City) said he too has been trying to figure out what is going on with Pier A.

"No one wants to see an empty beautiful pier in Lower Manhattan," he said. "I think we should use it for tourism. The city needs the money to bounce back."

Marte said he hopes the litigation between the BPCA and Pier A is settled soon.

"We just want it to be over with, so we can have a plan of action on what to do next," he said.

Warrie Price, founder and president of the Battery Conservancy, said she knows exactly what she would like Pier A used for - a screening facility for tourists who are going to Ellis Island and the Statute of Liberty, which was proposed by the National Park Service when the building was up for grabs. The Poulakakoses' bid for Pier A Harbor House won out.

The tourist screening is currently housed in a large white tent, which Price calls, "that monstrosity of white vinyl."

The tent blocks the view of the Hudson River and, Price said, it gives tourists an inferior New York City experience.

"Let's give the visitors a great experience and move the security into Pier A to open up this waterfront," she said.

Price said she envisions Pier A being a heritage center with historical displays and TV monitors for visitors. She said it would also have refreshments for purchase, so it would be revenue generating as well.

Price said Pier A has already undergone all the necessary studies to become a screening facility.

"We hope that once the litigation is completed that security screening can have a proper home," she said.

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