Hotel? What hotel?
A politically connected banquet hall operator’s plan for an 11-story lodge on Prospect Avenue met with virtually no opposition at its first public hearing on Thursday night — as locals lavished praise on the controversial project’s sweetener: a 400-space public garage.
“The biggest problem here is parking,” Irene Lo Re, the head of the Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District, told a mostly supportive crowd of 40 people. “We can’t turn our backs on 400 spaces.”
Developer Michael Halkias, owner of the Grand Prospect Hall catering center between 15th and 16th streets, has also touted his “Grand Prospect Hotel” plan, but even he was pitching it as a garage project at the meeting at Public School 10.
During a rambling opening statement, Halkias likened the garage to a “magnificent cake” that he hoped to serve to the community. The hotel, he said, is simply, “the cherry on top.”
It’s no surprise that Halkias is highlighting the dessert rather than the broccoli — he needs a city zoning variance to build anything taller than six stories.
And he’s spent decades courting the good will of the borough’s political establishment. Records show that Halkias and his wife Alice have given $16,150 to various local candidates since 2000.
The vast majority of that — $9,850 — was given to Borough President Markowitz, whose support will be needed as the project moves through the public review process.
Indeed, Halkias’s lawyer said the developer would push his project through a public review process overseen by such officials as Markowitz and other recipients of the Halkiases’ largesse rather than through a different process that would require the developer to show that his project is vital because of “economic hardship” rather than simply a desire to build or the benefit of 80 additional jobs that the project promises.
Not everyone at the meeting was hypnotized by Halkias, whose catering hall’s motto is, “We make your dreams come true.”
“This isn’t as altruistic as it sounds,” said Prospect Avenue resident George Loiodice, who said he’s dreading the additional traffic that the project would bring.
“I understand about jobs and the hall being an institution, but people who are gung ho don’t live next door like I do.”
And others have complained about a flier that Halkias sent out to neighbors that touted the project, yet included a threat to bring in “low-end clientele [in] large numbers” if the hotel plan is defeated.
“The need for profitability will override any consideration of lifestyle, even if it may be undesirable — only profitability and group size will matter,” Halkias said in the flier.
That tone appalled some residents.
“It sounds like a threat to me, and I don’t like being threatened,” 16th Street resident Bo Samajopoulos said earlier this week. “Is he saying that he is going to bring lowlifes here on purpose just to screw with us?”