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Mark Lanes Strikes Back

The war between Century 21 Department Stores and Mark Lanes continues to heat up.Both businesses want control of the property, 423 88th Street, where the bowling center is located — Mark Lanes to continue as the last remaining bowling alley in the neighborhood, and Century 21 to demolish the bowling alley and erect a three-story parking garage. And, as Century continues to push its plans forward, Mark Lanes has pushed back – offering to buy the property in order to save the bowling center, an offer that its manager said has been turned down.Currently, Mark Lanes occupies the premises under a lease arrangement, which has six more years to run, according to Jennifer Beshara, the bowling center’s manager and the daughter of its owner. Beshara said that offers have been tendered to the bowling center to buy out the remainder of its lease.“So far, we’ve said no,” she reported. But, she contended, the pressure is on. “We don’t have to accept the offer,” Beshara said, “But they make it impossible for you to stay. They’re not for the community. They’re for their pocket.” While saying, “They give you heartaches,” Beshara declined to be more specific as to what those heartaches entail.Offers NixedIn the most recent developments, Beshara reported that both an offer to purchase the property on the part of bowling center management and a suggestion that Mark Lanes and Century 21 somehow share the property, “Split it down the middle,” had been rejected last week.“We’re trying to do anything to keep it up and running,” Beshara explained. She said that the bowling center would accept an arrangement whereby 18 of its 36 lanes would remain operational, leaving the remainder of the structure for Century 21 to utilize. “We were shot down by them,” Beshara said flatly. “They said they had the clout to get the garage built,” she reported.Beshara said that these offers had been addressed to attorney Myron Fishbach at Fishbach Hertan, who represents the building’s owner, listed on the most recent deed of sale as Michael Sonnabend LLC, at 888 Seventh Avenue, in Manhattan. All business dealings go through Fishbach, Beshara said.Beshara said that she was fighting to keep the alley open because so many area residents depend upon it as a safe and enjoyable recreation option. “We’re trying to fight this,” she said. “Where else is the community going to go?“Parents and families tell us they don’t want their children to be on the street,” Beshara went on. “The Guild for Exceptional Children comes four or five times a week. Where are they going to go? We have birthday parties, church groups, schools. If the bowling center closes, it’s going to be unfortunate for the community.”To that end, Beshara said the bowling center had started a petition drive, and said that area residents who want to support the bowling center could come in and sign petitions, and could contact their local elected officials with their concerns. There is also an on-line petition, started by a local bowler, Tom Brice.Store’s PerspectiveWhen contacted for comment, Jeffrey Jasner, an executive vice president with Century 21, defended the store’s intentions. “Our customer continue to ask us for more parking spots,” he stated. “We still believe the best thing for the community is to add parking.”Asked about the bowling center’s offer to buy or share the property, Jasner said, “The bowling alley has not reached out to me personally. I don’t know if they reached out to our attorney. They may have.” Jasner said he would try to find out, but did not forward any additional information to this reporter by press time.A big question, in recent weeks, is whether Century 21 already owns the property where the bowling center is situated. While the impression of many local residents is that the department store is the owner of the property, Jasner had said last month that Century was “under contract” to purchase it. He had also said, at the time, that whether a parking garage was built there or not, “Whoever bought it and is selling it to us has already come up with a plan between them and the bowling alley that the lease for the bowling alley will be expiring.”Roadblocks AheadEven if Century 21 owns the property, it is by no means certain that they can build the parking garage they envision. This is why, this past December, representatives of the store approached Community Board 10 with a preview of their proposal.While they could build a parking facility for about 140 cars as of right, in order to build a structure that would accommodate approximately 280 cars, as well as a floor of selling space, the store would require some sort of zoning relief, such as a variance, which would be required to go through a lengthy process and be approved by various levels of government.The need for government approval is one reason why City Councilmember Vincent Gentile, who has been working to try to save the bowling alley, thinks there may be some room for negotiations.Gentile reported that he was, “In the process of contacting Century 21’s attorneys, and we’ll see where we go from there. They have to deal with government at some point, so it would behoove them to work with me, have some sort of negotiations with me for the benefit of the community.”Gentile said that, based on information he had gotten, “I think the impression that’s been given of a third party owning the building was clearly off-base. If what I’m told is correct, it may be a subsidiary, but it’s clear Century 21 owns the property.”Weighing BenefitsThe issue, said Gentile, comes down to weighing the value of having a bowling alley as opposed to the benefits of added parking. “The question is, does the benefit of more parking outweigh the benefit of keeping the last remaining bowling alley in Bay Ridge?” he said. “It’s not a slam-dunk that more parking trumps the bowling alley.”For one thing, Gentile said, the nearby municipal garage provides a significant amount of parking. “Anecdotally, my impression is that other than around holiday time, there is parking available there,” Gentile remarked. “That’s not to say more parking wouldn’t be beneficial. But, what’s the cost? In this case, the cost is eliminating the only bowling alley left in Bay Ridge.Asked if he was optimistic about the chances of saving the bowling alley, Gentile said he was, “Hopeful that we can do something.“I’ve taken a look at the 500 names on the on-line petition,” he went on. “There’s definitely widespread support to keep Mark Lanes going. It serves the needs of everyone from the young to the handicapped to seniors to men’s and women’s bowling leagues. It really addresses the recreational needs of a lot of different groups in the community, and that’s not something you want to give up easily. The bowling alley, like the Alpine Theater, is just another example of what Bay Ridge is about – the small town ambiance, the things we identify with, growing up.”It’s important, added Gentile, to keep such amenities, “To have continuity with the past.” Gentile is also involved in negotiations to try and save the Alpine.By press time, a call to Fishbach, the attorney for the property owner, had not been returned.

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