| – Photo via The Harlem Eye
Ten days ago, student activists and the Columbia administration clashed over the 125th Street establishment Floridita, as the university intervened to kill a NY1 story about the restaurant’s fight with Floridita owner Ramon Diaz. The university claimed to still be in negotiations with Diaz over the termination of his lease (thanks to eminent domain), while Diaz claimed that the university had not negotiated with him since the fall.
After reviewing the evidence, it looks like NY1 isn’t buying what Columbia’s selling: according to SCEG organizer Andrew Lyubarsky, NY1 has decided to run a story after all, “tenatively scheduled for Thursday morning” about both the restaurant and the students defending it, including an interview with Diaz.
SCEG activists, not to be outdone, presented a petition to the administration earlier this evening, asking “that Mr. Diaz’s current lease be honored until its legal expiration in 2015, regardless of whether or not the ESDC has the right to utilize eminent domain to terminate it prematurely, unless the termination is by mutual agreement with Mr. Diaz” and that you accommodate the Floridita restaurant either within the expansion footprint or in a neighborhood site agreeable to him under reasonably and mutually-agreed upon terms.” Activism – it never ceases! Full petition (and the letter presenting it) after the jump.
Dear Ms. Fountain,
Please find enclosed to this email a formal written petition to the administration on behalf of the students who attended the event at Floridita Restaurant on Saturday, February 14th. These are only the student attendees from that event, and we have not circulated the petition widely. We plan to collect more signatures/undertake other actions if these concerns are not addressed. We believe this to be an important story, and, as you likely know, Mr. Diaz and the students will be the subject of a NY1 story this week.
It is our opinion that if Columbia wishes to resolve this conflict with Mr. Ramon Diaz quickly, there is a relatively simple solution. Mr. Diaz is obviously concerned that his receipt of the letter from ESDC informing him that Block 1995, Lot 31 (which is the property that contains Floridita restaurant) constitutes a threat that he will simply lose his lease if Columbia decides, for whatever reason of its own, that it does not suit its institutional interests to accommodate Floridita. As you can imagine, the university’s repeated refusal to comment publicly on the letter only aggravates such fears on his part.
If the university is willing to send him an official letter or make an official statement to the effect that, provided Floridita remains a tenant in good standing, the university guarantees that it will not seek to terminate the business’s lease early except in the context of a mutually agreeable relocation deal within a reasonable distance from the expansion area, we are confident that this issue has been resolved. In fact, such a stance can be inferred from your public statements, but since none of them offer any kind of guarantee for Floridita, even if they remain a tenant in good standing, from our perspective they are tantamount to nothing.
I would also like to reiterate SCEG’s position that you are misrepresenting reality when you and other university spokespeople claim that you have been meeting with Mr. Diaz regularly to address these issues. In the Spectator article on 02/16/09, Ms. Victoria Benitez claims that “We have met with Mr. Diaz on numerous occasions since October 2008. When the long-term plan for this former industrial area requires the space we will engage in discussions regarding relocations. … That conversation seems premature at this stage, but we are certainly prepared to have that conversation in time as well.” We understand that you personally have made similar claims in emails to students and in conversations with NY1.
Mr. Diaz informs us that the only Columbia officials he has met with since October 2008 are facilities employees concerned with repairs on his roof and an issue relating to an open construction permit – in other words, issues that are immaterial and unrelated to the concerns that students have been raising. While it is certainly the prerogative of the Office of Government and Community Affairs to continue to state otherwise, we will continue to tell the media that we believe this to be a lie.
We do not necessarily demand a meeting on this issue as we believe that we have made our position clear and that the solution to this conflict is relatively simple. However, if there is a desire from the administration to meet about this issue, we certainly would be willing to put together a meeting at a mutually agreeable time.
The text of the petition is below:
Dear Mr. Phil Silverman and Ms. Laverna Fountain,
We, the undersigned, as students of Columbia University, are extremely disappointed at the tactics employed by the university in its negotiations with Mr. Ramon Diaz, owner of Floridita restaurant, located on 3297 Broadway, in the expansion footprint for the planned Manhattanville campus. We are signing this to confirm attendance at an event on Saturday, February 14th, 2009 in support of Mr. Diaz.
It is our understanding that you made verbal promises to accommodate Mr. Diaz in or around the expansion site and used his support to justify the university’s plans in West Harlem, only to turn around and begin claiming that the university has no responsibility to include his business.
On your website, you claim that “we at Columbia University take pride in our community and embrace opportunities to give back to the neighborhood we call home.” Floridita is a community institution that has served this neighborhood since 1965, and your treatment of the restaurant is inconsistent with your stated ideals.
As such, we demand:
1) That Mr. Diaz’s current lease be honored until its legal expiration in 2015, regardless of whether or not the ESDC has the right to utilize eminent domain to terminate it prematurely, unless the termination is by mutual agreement with Mr. Diaz
2) That you accommodate the Floridita restaurant either within the expansion footprint or in a neighborhood site agreeable to him under reasonably and mutually-agreed upon terms.