ArtsDistrict Brooklyn Shutters, Leaving Bills That Vendors Say Went Unpaid

Producers David Galpern and Charles Roy launched ArtsDistrict Brooklyn in 2022, but people interviewed said money troubles were obvious right away.

By: Mar. 11, 2024
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ArtsDistrict Brooklyn Shutters, Leaving Bills That Vendors Say Went Unpaid
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In the summer of 2022, Canadian-based producers David Galpern and Charles Roy launched ArtsDistrict Brooklyn in Greenpoint, Brooklyn at the location previously occupied by House of Vans. But by the time the first audience members entered the doors of the so-called “immersive and experiential arts venue,” third parties claim heaps of unpaid bills were already piling up. I’ve spoken to over a dozen people—some only on background because of potential legal implications—who allege they are owed money related to work they performed for the now-shuttered venue.

“This is the story of three [including Jacob Feldman, ArtsDistrict’s Chief of Business Development] theatrical producers, who’ve done major projects, who came in to revitalize the Brooklyn arts community and were actually knowingly deceiving vendors for revenue,” stated Tyler Mount, CEO of marketing and design company Henry Street Creative, which obtained a $181,970 default judgment against Immersive Management and Services LLC, one of at least a few LLCs affiliated with the endeavor, in November. “That’s what devastates me. We’re talking about them knowingly ruining people’s lives while being completely unresponsive, and that’s where I get irritated.”

Mount took over ArtsDistrict’s social media, which his company developed and claimed ownership of because of unpaid bills, and also created additional websites, to spread the word about the venue’s alleged debts. As listed on the social media feeds, the debts allegedly associated with ArtsDistrict include $627,000 owed to general contractor JBJ Renovations, $15,000 owed to The PR Canvas (theatrical press agent Adriana Douzos’ company), $25,000 owed to individual Andrew Kim for deposits related to his bachelor/bachelorette party and wedding that were supposed to take place at the venue, over $10,000 to custom fabrication company Showman Fabricators (also known as ShowFab), $10,000 owed to Vondom Labs on a deposit for a show that never occurred, and $2000 to Graphics Installation Company LLC. Other listed claims are related to Galpern and Roy’s other businesses.

According to the suit filed by Henry Street, on or around June 1, 2022, Henry Street entered into a year-long contract with Immersive. Under the terms, Henry Street would provide social media and other services and, in return, would be paid a $12,500 monthly retainer plus expenses. Immersive alleged paid for some of Henry Street’s services (albeit usually late) but then failed to make payment on six invoices, even though ArtsDistrict continued utilizing assets created by Henry Street, including a promotional commercial seen in taxis. The suit alleged Immersive was liable for those invoices and the remainder of retainer payments. Representatives from Immersive never appeared and a default judgment was entered.

Immersive Management and Services LLC appears not to have been registered with the New York Department of State when the contract was entered into. The New York State website shows that did not occur until May 30, 2023. Immersive is only one of the LLCs used to contract for services associated with work for ArtsDistrict Brooklyn. Sunbelt Rentals, Inc., an equipment rental company, is currently suing ADBK LLC, another such entity, for $274,875.54 in unpaid rental fees (after filing for a mechanic’s lien, which is a lien against real property for the amount owed). ADBK LLC is indeed registered to do business in New York. JBJ Renovations and contractor BBM Development Inc. also had mechanic’s liens filed related to the property, but those are filed against 11-25 Franklin Street LLC, which is associated with the building owner.

Everyone has a slightly different story with ArtsDistrict. Some folks dealt with Galpern, Roy, and Feldman predominantly, some dealt with others at the venue, some dealt with folks in Canada (including accountants, who handled the payments). It appears for at least a couple of roles, the owners hired people and then hired new people when the other people stopped performing their duties due to non-payment. Onsite staff also turned over. Some people told me they needed to take out personal loans after they weren't paid. Everyone I spoke to reported that there were promises of payments or refunds for a bit and then communications stopped. I reviewed emails and listened to a recording that evidence this.

This was not a story of a venue that launched with proper funding and subsequently hit a snag. Well before the venue opened, there were already signs of trouble. Well-known theatrical entities were involved, including theatrical production and general management company Broadway International Group (serving solely as general manager) and Situation Interactive, adding an extra level of respectability to the endeavor, but the cash crunch was apparent from the start.

Design firm So Midwest, Inc. was hired to do the initial projection design, media server design and create an immersive playback system for the venue that would be utilized for the venue's marquee show, Limitless AI. After holding parts of the work product hostage to get the largest chunks of the bills paid, So Midwest owner Robb Jibson stated that So Midwest only ended up with $7500 unpaid. However, over email, Jibson wrote that So Midwest partners that sold equipment and provided execution elements are still out over $30,000.

“I have a lot of guilt for bringing my friends and professional contacts into this mess,” Jibson wrote. “I would say that most of the vendors on the technical side were there because of us and our reputation. And that hit has been the most costly!”

Showman Fabricators President Bob Usdin said his company was hired to build an audience structure for the venue and a rotating cylinder that could house an act when open and serve as a projection surface when closed. Right away, the owners fell behind on payments for the $700,000-$800,000 job. Like Jibson, Usdin refused to deliver the product until his company was almost completely paid. He ended up out only about $10,000 of overtime work.

Usdin relayed: “When we played hardball, they were all upset and [said]: ‘How could you do this to us? We're acting in the best faith possible!’ And we sort of said: ‘Well, listen, you didn't communicate with us up front and then you lied to us a couple of times. So, as a result, your punishment is that we're not going to ship until we get pretty much all of our money.'”

Jon McMahon, owner of concessions and event management expert company MFBevents, was originally contacted so he could provide his liquor license to the entity, but, after refusing, he ended up consulting with ArtsDistrict to help them obtain their own liquor license and implement it (hiring staff, introduction to vendors, etc.). He still has a past-due bill for approximately $5,000.

“I got off an initial Zoom call and it was clear they had no idea what they were doing,” McMahon said. “So we were very aggressive about getting paid up front in three stages. So they nailed me on the last stage.”

In July 2022, the venue launched with three shows: Limitless AI by Turkish artists Ferdi and Eylul Alici and Flight and Séance by UK-based immersive theater company Darkfield. None solved the money woes.

After the initial launch, Bob Garcia was hired to oversee operations and hopefully turn the financial picture around through ticketed events. He quit another job and came to New York City for this one. The ArtsDistrict team paid for his Airbnb and six weeks of his services, but hadn’t paid him for five when he quit. (He said they still owe him $50,000 under his initial agreement.) He said when he began, Con Ed was threatening to turn off the electricity, the roof leaked, and there was not adequate heating or cooling. Garcia explained that he had never previously worked for a business without any operating capital and that torpedoed his time at ArtsDistrict.

“I gave them a storyline and a forecast,” Garcia stated. “I said to them: ‘This is the revenue I can generate for you, but without providing me operating capital, I can’t make it work.’ You can’t book an artist without putting down at least a 10% deposit, if not a 50% deposit, on what the guarantee is. You can’t hire a security company and commit to them being your security without paying them. They had so many vendors that weren’t [being] paid. That was their biggest problem. Their first step was trying to make the payroll for the week. Their second step was trying to pay off the vendors that were threatening them.”

Garcia explained that vendors were never paid timely and in full during his tenure, but rather portions of bills would be paid based on which vendor was most necessary in the short term. He said he gave notice in December 2022 after over a month of not being paid himself and the owners refusing to listen to him about the allocation of a large deposit for an event he booked.

In January 2023, Arts District announced a partnership with event promoter Teksupport, which began presenting concerts there. But the money woes seemingly continued. People spoke to me of equipment being seized and employees walking out. Outside contractors allegedly continued to change over.

Andrew Kim and his fiancé Ploymai Siribansop wanted to have a high-tech wedding and thought the venue would be ideal. In the middle of 2023, Kim put a $15,000 deposit toward an April 2024 wedding date. To test out some ideas for the wedding, Kim put an additional $10,000 for a September 30, 2023 bachelor/bachelorette party, which was essentially a party for 150 of their friends. But, before even the preliminary event, things truly began to fall apart at the space.

In early September, the landlord showed up during an event and caused a scene, leading panic to spread in the local artist community. (Feldman assured Kim and others this scene was not over non-payment of rent, but that was the natural public impression.) Negative reviews popped up on Google Reviews based on alleged staff payment complaints and the non-return of Vondom Labs’ deposit.

A couple of weeks in advance of the September 30 party, Kim arrived to test out some ideas at a pre-approved time, but no one from the venue showed. According to Kim, this is because the staff was not getting paid. (I confirmed with a former staff member that full payroll was not being met around this time.)

Kim and Siribansop hustled to find another location for his party. Meanwhile, Feldman and an ArtsDistrict employee named Ernie Rubenstein assured Kim and Siribansop they would get the deposit for the party back. They were also told repeatedly that the venue was transitioning to Teksupport fully overseeing operations and that they could meet with TekSupport about plans for the wedding. But Kim said he never received any money back and the ArtsDistrict team stopped responding to his requests for the funds.

“It eats at me that the money is gone, but I just need to forget it,” Kim said, adding that the couple had to turn their focus to planning the wedding.

TekSupport did present some shows at ArtsDistrict in November and December, but now the venue appears to be totally closed. I reached out to Galpern and Roy and received a call back from a spokesperson for the team. She informed me that the venue was “going to a new vendor and, currently, [the ArtsDistrict team is] working with their secured creditors to fulfill all of their obligations.” Secured creditors are only those creditors where the credit was backed by collateral, meaning not most of the people owed money. She later sent a statement that seemed to broaden the pool of people that might receive money to all “third parties.” The statement reads: “ArtsDistrict Brooklyn rejects unfounded allegations and inaccuracies. Third parties have either been settled, are in negotiations or will soon be brought to the table for talks.”

Only time will tell if the statement matches with reality. One would hope that all third partiesnot only the parties mentioned in this story, but others I spoke to or heard about that still claim they are owed funds—will be paid in full. That is the right course of conduct, it simply does not seem likely. 

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