The Sunshine Hotel, once home to hundreds of down-and-out New Yorkers, may soon shut its doors, depriving the Bowery of one of its last remaining SROs. Ironically, the hotel was the center of attention just last month, when a controversial modern art installation connected its lobby to the outside street with a thick yellow tube so passers-by could communicate with hotel residents. Now that same lobby features a sign offering residents help (and money) to move.
The owners of the Sunshine—the Bari family, who also own Bari Restaurant and Pizzeria Equipment across the street—say they are no longer admitting new residents and are offering to buy out current ones. “The sign hasn’t been too successful,” said Milton Montalvo, manager of the Sunshine. Nevertheless, with no incoming residents, the number of occupants will diminish over time.
Bruce Davis, who has lived at the Sunshine for 13 years, said he hasn’t taken the Baris up on their offer but knows tenants who have. “They’re not trying to run me out,” he said, “only the ones they think they could have trouble with. I heard some guys got a couple hundred. I heard one guy got a lot more.”
The hotel, located at 241 Bowery is connected internally to 243 and 245 Bowery; the three buildings are joined on the upper floors and the adjacent sections are known as the Lakewood and the Annex, respectively. Montalvo says the plan is to condense all residents into the Annex in order to free up the other two for development. With 36 rooms in the Annex, 45 rooms in the Lakewood, and 100 in the Sunshine, the total occupancy was once anywhere from 250 to 300. Now it’s down to 44, according to Montalvo. Still, he said, “the process [of clearing the building] could take years.”
“I’d like to have the place empty so I could develop it,” admits owner Anton Bari, who decided to phase out the SRO about a year ago, when Mayor Bloomberg hiked property taxes by 18 percent. That’s a bit different from what Bari told the New York Times in July, when the paper discussed the tube installation and the pending arrival of its sponsor, The New Museum of Contemporary Art, which is set to open next door to the Sunshine Hotel in 2006. “We’re not looking to throw anybody out,” Bari said at the time. “If they had to leave here, they’d be lost.”
Since the Times article ran, Bari said, potential buyers have been sniffing around the Sunshine. “We’ve had a lot of offers, three or four a week.” That comes as no surprise to Susan Cohen, senior staff attorney with Legal Services of New York’s Manhattan office, who has worked with SRO tenants for 15 years. “SROs are disappearing as the economic pressure to use properties more lucratively increases,” she said. “There’s no affordable housing, and as property values increase, the pressure on low-income residents increases monumentally. It’s happening all over the city.”
But Bari maintains he has no intention of evicting residents. “I would have to go to court to evict them. It’s easier to make a deal with them. Some guys have taken us up on our offer, but most of them leave on their own,” he shrugged. “I can wait ‘em out.”