THE TOP STORIES OF 2008

Written by admin on . Posted in News West Side Spirit.


As 2008 draws to a close, we thought we’d paw through our archives to dig up some of the more interesting stories we reported this past year. From crane collapses to gubernatorial sex scandals to buzz over a plethora of new fine-dining options, there was rarely a dull moment in Manhattan, especially on the West Side. And with a new president, citywide elections and a worsening financial crisis on the horizon, 2009 looks just as hectic. Below are our highlights, in no particular order.

• Good Grub: Foodies packed in to Daniel Boulud’s latest culinary foray, Bar Boulud, a casual (by Boulud standards) dining spot specializing in wines and terrines that was the chef’s first foothold on the Upper West Side. Boulud was probably the most obvious sign of a culinary renaissance that gained momentum in 2008, with Dovetail, eighty one, Fatty Crab, The Mermaid Inn, West Branch and several other foodie-worthy restaurants opening their doors in the neighborhood this year.

• Broadway, Closed for Business?: In recent years, it’s been increasingly easy to find a bank or drug store on Broadway, and increasingly difficult to find a mom- and-pop shop. High rents were mostly to blame for the slew of businesses that recently shut their doors, including Lord of the Fleas, Café La Fortuna, Morris Brothers, Embassy Florists, Maryann’s, Malaysia Grill, Broadway Fruit & Vegetable, Ivy’s Books and Murder Ink (and the list goes on and on…). Many spots along the Upper West Side’s Main Street even remained vacant, as landlords could afford to hold out for new tenants who could pay top dollar. Meanwhile, residents and elected officials began to wonder if commercial rent control or stricter zoning regulations should be used to preserve the eclectic mix of stores that have come to define the thoroughfare’s retail landscape.

• The Fall of Saigon Grill: First the strike, then the $4.6 civil suit million judgment—now allegations of fraud and cover-ups? Apparently it was not a labor-friendly year over at Saigon Grill, a favorite pan-Asian dining spot on Amsterdam Avenue and West 90th Street. Owners Simon and Michelle Nget were arrested on Dec. 3 and arraigned on more than 400 charges. Meanwhile West Siders, a typically labor-friendly bunch, were split on the issue. While protesters included a Facebook group with the name “Saigon Grill is tasty, but slave labor cotton was soft,” others shrugged and continued to chow down on summer rolls and Bun Xao.

• Subway Headaches: In addition to the usual random delays, packed cars and suddenly skipped stops, West Siders endured construction headaches at 96th Street, where the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is in the process of giving the station a major facelift. The project, started in March 2007, was expected to cost $80 to $85 million and take three-and-a-half years to complete. But the final product is designed to provide street-level access and include a glass skylight, similar to the station at 72nd Street. As the saying goes, no pain, no gain.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Gov. David Paterson, the MTA’s Elliot Sander, Borough President Scott Stringer and others unveil Tishman Speyer’s soon-to-be-scuttled plan for the Hudson Yards. Photo By: Andrew Schwartz

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Gov. David Paterson, the MTA’s Elliot Sander, Borough President Scott Stringer and others unveil Tishman Speyer’s soon-to-be-scuttled plan for the Hudson Yards. Photo By: Andrew Schwartz

• The Unexpected Governor: Once a State Senator representing parts of the Upper West Side, David Paterson was suddenly tapped for the top executive job in New York when his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, was caught up in a call-girl scandal. Barely a moment after being sworn in, both Paterson and his wife, Michelle Paige Paterson, came clean with their own adulterous skeletons (plus a little coke-and-marijuana disclosure from the governor). Most of us will never look at the Days Inn on Broadway and 94th Street the same way again.

• Crime Concerns: Last December, the city opted to keep rookies in high-crime “impact” areas, rather than distribute them throughout city. This left relatively low-crime precincts, like the 20th (which covers West 59th to 86th streets between the park and the river) without any new recruits. By July, though, an additional 15 officers were added to the precinct, according to Council Member Gale Brewer. And while crime overall is down in the precinct, 2008 looks like it will end with at least 20 percent more burglaries than 2007.

• Seal Spotting: For a brief period last winter, a seal (or maybe a few different seals?) was spotted several times sunning itself at the 79th Street boat basin. A plethora of fish probably lured the animal(s) to the area, according to urban park rangers. Like any West Sider, seals stick with a good takeout joint when they find one.

• Congestion Pricing: West Siders seemed to be split on whether or not to charge drivers who ventured south of 60th Street an $8 fee. Some feared their neighborhood would become a parking lot for those who would drive only as far as the congestion border, then switch to mass transit. Others through the plan could help alleviate asthma rates in Harlem and northern Manhattan and would get more people out of cars and on to public transportation or bikes. Alas, the proposal, which would have incorporated mass transit improvements along with congestion fees, never got a vote in Albany.

• Giants Win the Super Bowl: In what was arguably the best football game ever played, the underdog New York Giants stole a surprise victory from the New England Patriots. The tri-state area celebrated with the first ticker-tape parade of the Bloomberg administration. The Yankees and the Mets…well, there’s always next year.

A win for workers at Saigon Grill. Photo By: Andrew Schwartz

A win for workers at Saigon Grill. Photo By: Andrew Schwartz

• Hudson Yards Headaches: After an initial deal with Tishman Speyer suddenly fell through, the city and state scrambled to line up another company to develop the Hudson Yards, a 360-acre plot of land and rail yards bounded by West 42nd Street and 30th Street from Eighth Avenue to the Hudson River. Related Companies and Goldman Sachs stepped up to the plate this past May and took over the project, but given the state of the economy, we won’t hold our breath for any major progress.

• Park West Village Progresses: Despite an effort to revoke permits based on a zoning challenge, construction of “Columbus Village,” a residential and commercial development rising near West 99th Street and Columbus Avenue, continued unabated. Good-bye C-Town groceries, hello Whole Foods, Borders and Modell’s. Two independent schools will also move in to the space: Solomon Schechter School in 2009 and The Mandell School in 2010. Meanwhile, safety concerns from nearby P.S. 163 forced the elementary school to reduce space for recess and other outside activities while construction continued during the spring months.

• Cranes Collapsing: Every construction site started looking like a death trap after two major crane collapses this year. The first, on March 15, left seven dead, destroyed an East 51st Street townhouse and severely damaged several other buildings. Later it was disclosed that the construction project using the crane had improperly received building permits, a revelation that led former Buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster to step down. Then on May 30, a second crane on East 91st Street tumbled to the ground, leaving two workers dead and damaging a nearby building. Investigators placed blame on an improperly repaired turntable. West Siders looked up warily at their own cranes, including Kodiak models at Columbus Village near West 99th Street, and at the Harrison development on West 76th Street.

• District 3 Rezoning Fight: As crowding reached a crisis point at P.S. 199, the Department of Education undertook a several-month rezoning process to find the elementary school more breathing space. Increasingly heated meetings focused on whether or not to move the Center School, a middle school also housed in P.S. 199’s West 70th Street building, to another building. Race and class overtones left plenty of bruised feelings on both sides, but the District 3 Community Education Council eventually backed the middle school move for next year: Center School will move to the P.S. 9, and The Anderson School, currently in P.S. 9, will relocate to the M.S. 44 building. M.S. 44, it was announced soon after, will be closed due to poor performance and replaced with a new middle school in fall 2009.

• New-York Historical Society Abandons Plans for Tower: After a firestorm of public criticism, the storied Central Park West museum said in July that it would not pursue a controversial $100 million condominium project. Dr. Louise Mirrer, the institution’s president, said a smaller plan, to include renovations to the façade, entrance and galleries, better fit the society’s needs.

• Riverside South Drama: Extell faced a fair amount of push-back after tentative plans for a Costco at Riverside South were unveiled and scuttled soon after; other possibilities for the space have included a movie theater and auto showroom. Community Board 7 even caught flak for convening a working group to discuss the project without formally inviting the public. But the public was most definitely invited to a series of meetings hosted by the board in December that examined several aspects of the development, as well as to a scoping meeting scheduled for Jan. 8, 2009, at the City Planning Commission, 22 Reade St.

• Little League, Big Wins: Though a trip to Williamsport, Penn. for the Little League World Series was not in the cards, the West Side Little League had a season of unprecedented success and sent two all-star squads to the district tournaments. Both ended up taking home titles.

• Shake and Skate: A second outpost of Danny Meyer’s beloved Shake Shack opened on Columbus Avenue and West 77th Street, luring in crowds of drooling West Siders hungry for burgers and other artery-clogging fare. As an homage to its neighbors, the restaurant even introduced the “Upper West Slide,” a shake with vanilla custard, strawberry puree, banana and shortbread cookie, and the Natural History “Crunch-stellation,” with vanilla custard, malt, chocolate crunchies hot fudge and caramel. Diners could then work off the calories across the street at the American Museum of Natural History brand new, faux-ice skating rink, outside the Rose Center for Earth and Space.

Chowing down on Shake Shack burgers and fries. Photo By: Andrew Schwartz

Chowing down on Shake Shack burgers and fries. Photo By: Andrew Schwartz

• The Real Estate Market Starts to Soften: Reflecting the larger economic climate, property prices in Manhattan began to dip, with the average prices of a Manhattan apartment declining 11.3 percent between the second and third quarters of 2008. Rentals also started offering perks to attract (or keep) tenants. Everything from spa days to complimentary cocktail parties was on the table.

• Democrats Win Big (Sort of): After letting go of home-state favorite Hillary Clinton, Blue New Yorkers headed south and west to stump for Barack Obama in several so-called swing states, where we’re sure our efforts were what clinched the race. Also on Nov. 4, New York Democrats took the State Senate for the first time in 40 years—or did they? The party’s control of the body has been threatened by three Democratic senators, dubbed the Gang of Three, who balked at backing leader Malcolm Smith. A deal to appease the rogue senators fell apart and leadership of the State Senate is still uncertain.

• Third Terms All Around: After a pitched battle, Mayor Michael Bloomberg successfully won a shot at a third term, securing support from 29 of the 51 City Council members. Three Council members proposed an amendment to require a voter referendum, which would have overridden the Council’s term limits extension, but the measure failed. The change means that all city officials, except district attorneys, will be allowed to run for three terms in 2009. Dan Garodnick voted for the amendment but against the bill, while Jessica Lappin voted against the amendment and the bill.
• Food Pantries Squeezed: In yet another sign of the trying economic times, city food pantries reported an increased demand coupled with a cut in government funding. After a survey found that more than 80 percent of Manhattan food pantries and soup kitchens have experienced a higher demand for food over the past 12 months, Sen. Charles Schumer called for an emergency plan to increase federal funding for food stamps programs, food banks and tax breaks for corporate and individual donors.

With additional reporting by Dan Rivoli.

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