By George Capsis
When Molly Bender—the sister and heir to Bill Gottlieb’s extensive collection of shabby but valuable buildings in and around the West Village—died, her daughter upon discovering she was not in the will sued her brother Neil Bender claiming he was not fit to manage the Gottfried holdings “by reason of substance abuse, dishonesty, improvidence and want of understanding of the duties and requirements of a fiduciary office.”
Molly’s husband (also her heir) was sued by The United Jewish Appeal for squandering $3.5 million in trust to the charity on luxury cars and a five months stay in Boca Raton.
At the time of Bill Gottlieb’s death in 1999, his brother, Arnold came up from Florida to co-manage the properties while they searched for a will. Molly accused him, in court, of trying to steal the estate and court records document at least one fistfight.
Neil Bender now owns the perhaps 100 buildings estimated at one billion dollars.
Shortly after I wrote this, I reviewed it with a real estate broker who knew Neil Bender.
He offered that Neil, like his uncle Bill, was an immoderate consumer of alcohol, and he recalled an incident when Bill could not get his drinks fast enough so came behind the bar to help himself.
To accommodate his drinking, Bill Gottlieb opened the Caribe bar and restaurant on Perry Street and even today you can see half a dozen vans in the Charles and Hudson parking lot with the Caribe name and address on them which I assume are used to service the many decaying buildings in the Gottlieb empire. The fact that these ancient vans going back to at least 1999 have never changed the Caribe logo or address is indicative that Neil Bender has followed his Uncle’s philosophy “sell nothing, fix nothing.”
Neil has partnered with Aurora Capital and a review of their site reveals they are a “boutique” investor in pharmaceutical companies—so why are they rebuilding Gansevoort Street?
A November 9th Times article reveals that a partner of Aurora, Jared Epstein, conceived the idea of rebuilding while walking his dog on Gansevoort Street, and later was delighted to learn that one man—Neil Bender—had inherited it from his uncle Bill Gottlieb.
But Neil, well indoctrinated with the Gottlieb dictum “never sell, never develop, never fix,” would not for a very long time even come to the phone. But finally he agreed to a partnership in which he puts up the land and buildings and Aurora as the leading partner does the funding and hires the architect and builds it.
“Developer” is a dirty word in the West Village so at all the presentations before the Community Board and the Landmarks Committee you have the very nice Todd Poisson of BKSK architects. As an added treat, you have an architectural historian, Cass Stachelberg, reminding us that there once was an elevated railway coming down 9th Avenue past Gansevoort Street and the once taller buildings were cut down to save on heat and real estate tax.
The two larger buildings being proposed look like they were built around 1890. The detailing, the choice of brick, and the coloring makes you think they have always been around and it just got spiffed up.
But to aging Villagers who have seen their hospital turned into Rudin luxury co-ops and another developer ready to bribe the failing Hudson River Park with $100 million for air rights to build Emerald City with over 1500 apartments, the shabby, low lying Gansevoort Street is one of the very last streets that gets the sun.
Some years ago when she was still alive, I walked up the two flights of stairs to the Gottlieb office to confront Molly Gottlieb on why she did not replace the chain link fence around the defunct gas station on Charles and Hudson which had bulged by being carelessly hit by the Caribe vans. The fence was impeding pedestrian traffic, but it was as if I was talking a strange language because Gottliebs don’t fix things.
Indeed, that still lingering Gottlieb philosophy has been rewarded. He has become an unintentional preservationist, since on his own Neil Bender would never build on Gansevoort.
The REAL developer, Jared Epstein, did a foolish thing when he was being interviewed by the Times—as he was trying to sell the project to the Times reporter he said to himself “he is not buying this historic restoration pitch” and blurted out “Believe me we have enough money, so it’s not about that.”
The chain link fence bulges even more now and the 6th Precinct cops—sensing landlord indifference—diagonal park on the sidewalk.