Suit Against Art Students League Board Decision To Sell Air Rights Fails On Appeal

Rendering of Proposed Mixed Use Tower, located at 217 West 57th Street, New York. Image Credit: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture.

Rendering of Proposed Mixed Use Tower, located at 217 West 57th Street, New York. Image Credit: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture.

Art Students League’s members argued that the process by which approval was gained to sell air rights violated League’s by-laws. On February 12, 2014, members of the Art Students League voted to sell air rights allowing an adjacent development by Extell Development Company. The vote took place after multiple meetings allowing members to speak on the proposal. Extell purchased 6,000 square feet of development rights, as well as the privilege to cantilever a portion of the new tower over the League’s headquarters for $31.8 million.

Landmarks had approved the proposal’s impact on the individual designated League headquarters in 2013.

Members of the League who opposed the air rights sale sought a preliminary injunction against the League and its Board of Control, claiming that the vote to sell was invalid, as a majority of all the League’s members did not cast votes in favor of the sale. The League’s Board of Control argued that only a majority vote by active members were necessary. Any individual in the League’s large member base who had become an inactive member could become an active member by voting in person at a member meeting or by submitting a written request for reinstatement to the Board. Justice Melvin L. Schweitzer denied the injunction, finding that the Board reasonably interpreted the by-laws as applying to active members, and denied further claims that the Board had misled members.

In another decision following the denial of the preliminary injunction, Justice Schweitzer granted the League summary judgment dismissing the claims against it by the opponents of the air rights sale. Justice Schweitzer found that the Board acted in good faith at all times and in the best interests of the League

The sale’s opponents appealed the decision. The First Department rejected the appeal, finding that construction had progressed to a point where it could not be undone without causing undue hardship, costing more than $200 million.

Caraballo v. Art Students League of New York, 2016 N.Y. Slip Op. 00883 (1st Dep’t Feb. 9, 2016) (Attorneys: Robert S. Smith, for Caraballo; Michael J. Volpe, Chaim Z. Kadegan, for League).

By:  Jesse Denno (Jesse is a full-time staff writer at the Center for NYC Law)

3 thoughts on “Suit Against Art Students League Board Decision To Sell Air Rights Fails On Appeal

  1. The rendering of the proposed tower by Extell Development next to the Art Students League, using air rights from the league where my great aunt was a member until the day she died a few months ago, is a disgusting ruination of the New York City skyline, completely out of scale with current buildings and similarly destructive to the city as 432 Park Ave. How could an arts organization endorse such a plan? TAKE IT DOWN! Please keep New York’s skyline in human scale and stop building super-tall towers in our city. They serve no purpose for current and future residents and workers, and will most likely be uninhabited for years. By the way, was any low- or no-income affordable housing built in exchange for the right to build this horrible thing? Without any public benefit, the project should be banished.

  2. This is a huge defeat for the Art Students League and another example of why NY’s art and not for profit institutions are disappearing. The National Academy of Art is now selling its buildings on the upper east side. If the League Director Goldberg continues overspending, running the school at a $1 million deficit annually and the Board President Barbieri builds his promised $30 million expansion without fundraising as he proposed, the numbers show that the League membership will have no choice but to sell the 57th street building as well.

    The League’s Board President who was hired by the League to oversee the $11 million renovation in 2003 has not accounted for how this large sum was spent. The school remains in shambles. After the renovation Barbieri attended the required three months of classes to become a member and spearheaded the sale of air rights to Extell.

    He remains Board President for over 10 years in spite of the majority of members voting him out in December 2015. Unfortunately the vote was split between presidential candidates, and the Board refuses to show these candidates the mail-in-ballots by members as proof that Barbieri won the vote as required by the League’s Constitution and By-laws. The campaign and Board election was riddled with violations by the Board and Administration of the League Constitution and By-laws.

    The members have been asking for access to the books and records from the Board for years to no avail.

    I fear that unless the Media or the Charity Bureau of the Attorney General’s office steps in the membership has no other option than to address these issues through the Court system. For that we need pro bono help.

    The Art Students League of NY gave me access to qualified teachers back in the day where I could paint by the side of other talented ambitious artists and I’m grateful for that opportunity. I hope it’s Mission and traditions are preserved and the building secured for the benefit of future generations of artists.
    Marne Rizika
    ASL2025 2015 Candidate for President of the Art Students League of New York.

  3. What the opponents of the sale were objecting to was the fact that the manner whereby the sale was conducted was illegal. By deliberately deceiving the members about how the vote was conducted, the Board also hoodwinked the judge into believing that the whole membership agreed to this sale, when, in fact, well over half the membership showed themselves clearly against it. It violated not only the League’s own Constitution, but also the New York State Not-for-Profit Corporation Law. There was never a move by the opposing members to undo the already completed Extell construction.

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