Update: Trouble on Broadway averted? 1515 saved?

January 19, 2012
By

Chris Jaszczak on Broadway. (Photo courtesy Travis R. Wright)

 

Update: Sunday evening we received an e-mailed press release saying that the protest to save 1515 Gallery had been changed to celebration of the fact that it had been saved.

 1515 Broadway has been saved! The coffee house and community center is no longer under the threat of a foreclosure eviction. In response to tremendous pressure from the community, Citgroup has reached an agreement with Chris Jaszczak, that will keep 1515 Broadway alive and functioning under his control and ownership.

The coalition consisting of Moratorium NOW! Coalition, People Before Banks Coalition, Occupy Detroit, and Occupy Our Homes, thanks all those who called and emailed Citigroup demanding that the eviction be stopped and expressing your strong support and determination to keep this unique community center open. The community support was key to this victory.

Reached later Sunday evening, Jaszczak said that he wasn’t aware of the press release and couldn’t comment further.

Our story as posted on the 19th is below:

WHEN IT COMES to this little stretch of Broadway a short walk from Grand Circus Park, Chris Jaszczak (JAZZ-ick) has been here forever. Like, living in the building’s spacious second-floor loft since 1985. As in running his art and performance space on the ground level, 1515 Broadway, since 1987. In fact, he’s lived on that block since December of 1979.

“When I came down here 31 years ago,” Jaszczak says, “I was talking about how it would become the kind of neighborhood that exists now. I felt it was inevitable, because I had traveled and seen the way things went with places like LoDo in Denver, Deep Ellum in Dallas, and I believed it was going to happen down here.

“I thought it was at the bottom — and it wasn’t, it got progressively worse. It wasn’t until 1987 to 1989 when it bottomed out.”

The scene back then would be unfamiliar to those now new to downtown Detroit. “The opera house was last known as Grand Circus Theater, and it was being demolished by neglect — abandoned, empty, decaying. The parking lot across street was an abandoned lot. The Milner Hotel was crack central. … It was pretty bleak, particularly at night.”

And so his decision to open the arts space and put on shows there in the high crack era, when only the hardiest people would go downtown, often involved convincing folks that it wouldn’t be so bad to visit 1515. “People would read the reviews and call up and ask where we were, and I knew as soon as I told them [we were in downtown Detroit] there would be hesitation, trepidation, silence. I’d say, ‘We’re on Broadway and John R,’ and they’d go, ‘Ohhhhhh.’

“So I would immediately hit the buttons: 1) Don’t worry. 2) Park across the street, we cleaned it up and we use it. 3) For free. And 4) we’ll watch your car. And they’d go, ‘Oh, that sounds cool.’ If they weren’t foolish enough to leave something in their car.”

The venue’s longevity testifies to Jaszczak’s vision of a community-supported space featuring the abundance of local performers and artists Detroit can lay claim to.

Jaszczak says, “I predicated this place on my belief that there’s no shortage of talent in Detroit. As long as you execute and don’t overshoot, make sure you hit your audience, pay your bills after a show and do another one — that’s how this place has operated. Other than the jeweler and the hatter, nobody’s been here longer than me. I’ve always been self-supporting, and I’ve never gotten a grant, donation or subsidy.”

For a quarter-century, 1515 has hung on, operating as a multi-use, flexible space to facilitate expression, from an early show titled “Demolish by Neglect” (which allegedly rankled then-Mayor Coleman Young) to techno parties to, most recently, plays from the Magenta Giraffe theater company, including Ibsen’s Rosmersholm.

It has been used as a theater, a studio, a sound stage and meeting hall, often breaking even. When it hasn’t, Jaszczak has used his personal funds to pay the bills.It doesn’t hurt that his career in arranging crews for large outdoor festivals, stadium concert shows and traveling exhibits. Plus, he’s been extremely careful over the years to keep the space self-sufficient, with the 1515 Café, added in recent years, serving coffee and more.

Unfortunately, that big show income stream dried up at a critical time when several major shows, including a U2 tour, were canceled a couple of years ago.

A few years before that, during better times, he had mortgaged the building. But when his income dwindled, Jaszczak fell behind on the payments on his 11.25 percent interest mortgage.. Though he’s tried to work with his bank, and has cast about to local leaders and groups for help (to no avail), he’s now facing eviction.

Jaszczak explains: “2008 and 2009 were rough for everybody. Since the stadiums [Comerica Park and Ford Field] have opened, there have been three to six concerts between the two stadiums in summer. That doesn’t even count what we do in other cities. In 2008, we did one, Kid Rock, thank god for that, and in 2009, we did one, Eminem and Jay Z, and that was a one-off too. It was rough, but between my rainy day money and income received from here, I paid all my bills and was current on everything until December 2009, when I first missed my mortgage payment.

“I knew that I was going to fall behind probably four or five months, and I even told the bank [Citibank] that because that income is seasonal for me and I knew when I’d be caught up. Unfortunately, Rothbury, which I had contracted to do in 2010, was canceled. And then 10 days before the North American leg of the U2 tour, Bono hurt his back and had to have surgery, postponing the tour. It put me in position where anticipated income for 2010 didn’t happen. And the bank went ahead and did what the bank had every right to do: begin the process of foreclosure.

“As soon as it became apparent 2010 would be a troubled year, I started asking for mortgage modification. I also did something I had never done before: went to sources I felt could help me. All I needed was bridge financing. I went to the Economic Growth Corporation, the DDA, the CBDA, the Downtown Partnership. … I couldn’t get through the door — it was to no avail and it took several months.”

Jaszczak says, “I’ve never complained about it, I’ve never begrudged anybody else. The circumstances just put me in a position where I needed help, some money to get caught up on my mortgage, because I knew 2011 was going to be good.”

By the time the redemption period ended in June 2011, I was in a much better position, and I had no other debts, so as time has gone by, I’ve been making increasingly better and better offers. I’ve offered in excess of the mortgage modification guidelines.”

Jaszczak’s attorney, Jerry Goldberg, says the offers  made to Citibank are “more than reasonable, on reasonable terms, and they have refused to entertain them. Citi needs to sit down with him and let him stay in that home.”

What makes all this the more galling is that Jaszczak’s initial bet on the neighborhood has proved to be dead-on. After weathering through so many rough years,  he was able to witness the area’s stunning revival, with such neighbors as Small Plates, Detroit Beer Company, Michigan Opera Theater occupying the renovated old Grand Circus Theatre, the two new stadiums, the new downtown YMCA and more springing up.

Now Citibank says that Jaszczak must move.

Late last year, the plucky little space had become a hangout for members of Occupy Detroit, who were camped out in nearby Grand Circus Park. And when the occupiers had to leave the park, they began holding regular meetings at 1515.

Jaszczak never charged them for use of the space.

Now as he faces eviction, the activists he hosted — along with a  host of others — have organized in attempt to help keep him from losing what he has spent decades building up. The campaign, “Save 1515 Broadway,” is an effort to stop Citibank from proceeding with eviction, and to pressure Citi to reinstate Jaszczak’s mortgage.

They’re hosting a press conference at noon on Wednesday, Jan. 25, at 1515 Broadway, followed at 6 p.m. the next day with a community support rally.

The good news is that Jaszczak’s income has rebounded, and, with the help of his lawyer, he was able to make an offer to pay his arrears if the bank would restore his mortgage at a “standard interest rate.” In their press release, organizers of the protest point out that Citibank, “a bank that has received tens of billions of dollars in federal taxpayer bailouts on express condition that they aid borrowers, would rather destroy a community institution than deal equitably with Chris.”

Jaszczak says, “All I ask is that same rationale being used on me by the bank be used on them. I signed the contract with the bank, at an exorbitant interest rate, and I fell behind and was in violation of my contract — and bank did what it could do.

“Well, the bank took billions of dollars from the federal government in 2008 and also entered into a contractual agreement to use some of that money to help people who were in exactly my position. They got the money. And the money they’ve used for mortgage modification in comparison to the money they got is minuscule. What criteria do they have that I don’t meet?

“Unlike the majority of people in my position, I have revenue, income, work. I make money and have the ability to pay, and I have been making escrow payments for months. They got my account balance as recently as a month ago so they could see I had the ability to pay the amount I said I could in excess of guidelines.”

In fact, Jaszczak even recruited a wealthy friend who offered to pay the note and buy the building outright. Attorney Goldberg says that the offer was scuttled because of debris falling from the nearby Wurlitzer Building, which made getting fresh insurance for 1515 almost impossible.

“Why won’t [Citibank] accept our offers? The reality is that the building is worth more than I owe. The only explanation is they want to make more money, and can make more money by taking control of it and selling it. And, unfortunately for me, there’s nothing in the legislation telling the bank they have to do it. Ultimately, it’s the bank’s decision.”

Metro Times attempted to contact counsel for Citibank but did not hear back by press time.

The judge, who had consistently asked the parties to come to an understanding out of court, ruled in the case on Dec. 8, granting the bank’s motion to take possession and evict Jaszczak. Luckily for Jaszczak, the ruling was left unsigned, giving Jaszczak seven-and-a-half more weeks to lobby the bank. The organizers of the protest and press conference hope to help do just that. And it’s a pretty broad and seasoned group, including not just Occupy Detroit, but Moratorium Now! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions & Utility Shutoffs, the People Before Banks Coalition, and Occupy Our Homes.

As attorney Goldberg puts it, “We feel we have a legitimate case. Citibank is a multibillion-dollar corporation that received billions of taxpayer dollars. We’ve made them an offer that far exceeds the requirements they’re bound by and — we haven’t heard back on our most recent offer. It would be a tremendous loss to the community. It’s an institution. Where is there a coffee house downtown where people can interact in a positive way? There’s no other place like that? This is typical of the indifference Citibank shows to the people. So come forward and lend your support — and let Citi know there will be consequences.”

To get involved, call 313-744-7912 for more information or email bonnieabh@aol.com.

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  • http://twitter.com/theofficialmrw Marcus White

    I wonder if some of us artists can get together and produce a show/benefit to help raise awareness/resources

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