New York City Museum to Couple: We Want Your House

By National Center for Public Policy Research | July 7, 2008 | 8:21pm EDT

(Editor's Note: The following is the 15th of 100 stories regarding government regulation from the book Shattered Dreams, written by the National Center for Public Policy Research. will publish an additional story each day.)

For 14 years, Lou & Mimi Holtzman have been living next to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum at 97 Orchard Street in New York City. The museum, chartered in 1988, illuminates how New York City's immigrant families lived circa 1863-1935. It
attracts about 90,000 visitors a year.

According to museum president Ruth J. Abram, the museum needs more space. She'd like Lou and Mimi Holtzman's building at 99 Orchard Street to provide the space. She'd also like the taxpayers to pay for it.

The Holtzmans, however, do not want to sell. Lou's family has lived in the building since the early 1900s.

The reasons Abram wants the space are many and varied. She'd like space for classrooms to teach English to immigrants. She'd like to have room for programs to teach local residents about the history of their neighborhood. She'd like "state of the art"storage space. She'd like to install an elevator. She'd like more room for "immigrant artists" who are "searching for places to express their experiences."

Abrams says these things must be done in the Holtzmans' building "because it is a sister building and shares a party wall." But storage and classroom space don't need shared walls. And the elevator is necessary only because the museum doesn't want to widen doorways (for wheelchair access) at its present facility, because doing so would alter the "configuration and fabric of the building."

Abrams also would like to have room for more visitors, who currently pay $7-9 per person for tours during the museum's limited tour hours.

Ironically, Abrams also would like more space so the Museum can hold programs that "promote tolerance and teach citizenship skills," even though both those values must be violated if the space is to be obtained against the will of the owners and at taxpayers' expense.

Abrams even cites the September 11 terrorist attacks as a reason to expand the museum, because the museum is comforting to visitors.

Not taking the Holtzmans' "no" for an answer, the museum has asked the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), a state agency, to condemn the Holtzmans' property and acquire it for the museum through eminent domain provisions. These provisions allow governments to condemn private property for the greater public good. When property is taken through eminent domain, building owners are to be compensated by the taxpayers.

Newspaper accounts report the museum originally sought to buy the building for $1.35 million and spend over $2.3 million to renovate it. The Holtzmans, however, believe the building alone is worth between $7 and $9 million - particularly since they and a partner have just completed a multi-million dollar renovation of the 15 apartments and a restaurant in the building. The typical rent for a 375-square-foot apartment in their building is $1,600 per month.

The Holtzmans have the support of the local community board and several state assemblymen, but the ESDC has not yet ruled on whether to proceed with eminent domain proceedings.

Sources: The New York Times, The New York Post, Lou Holtzman, The Tenement Museum
Lou and Mimi Holtzman

Copyright 2003, National Center for Public Policy Research


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