City Must Pay to Reinstall SoHo Art

Court declares art organization, not building owner, owns artwork on exterior wall of SoHo historic district building. In September 2004, Judge Deborah A. Batts allowed the Board of Managers of Soho International Arts Condominium to proceed with its Fifth Amendment takings claim against the City, pending an inquiry as to who owned the well-known minimalist sculpture by artist Forrest Myers that had been attached to 599 Broadway since 1973. (See CityLand’s past coverage here.)

The City argued that 599 Broadway was the current owner of the artwork because City Walls, Inc., a non-profit organization that played a significant role in financing and installing the three-dimensional structure, had abandoned the artwork when it ceased to function as a corporation. In the alternative, the City argued that 599 Broadway had obtained title through adverse possession.

After a trial, Judge Batts ruled that City Walls owned the artwork, finding that in 1973 the Board of Estimate granted permission for the artwork’s installation on condition that the applicant, City Walls, retain title. The court further ruled that, if 599 Broadway was ordered to reinstall the artwork on its exterior wall, it would constitute a taking and 599 Broadway would be entitled to just compensation.

Addressing the City’s argument that City Walls had abandoned the artwork when it ceased to function as a corporation, Judge Batts found that City Walls had not ceased to function as a corporation simply because it owed taxes. It could still hold title and owe debt. As for the adverse possession argument, the court found no evidence of actual, open and notorious, and exclusive possession – all necessary elements to sustain a claim of adverse possession.

Bd. of Managers of SoHo Int’l Arts Condo. v. City of New York, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9139 (S.D.N.Y. May 19, 2005) (Batts, J.).

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