Paterson approves dance hall and entertainment licenses for Art Factory

City officials on Tuesday night approved entertainment and dance hall licenses for the controversial Paterson Art Factory.

Council members approved the licenses by a vote of 6 to 1. Councilman Michael Jackson was the only one to vote against granting the licenses.

Jackson wanted to investigate the nearly 140 tickets issued to the Art Factory and its owner David Garsia in 2016. Mayor Andre Sayegh’s administration provided him and other council members with resolution papers judicial. Jackson wanted city workers, including inspectors, to testify before the city council, but the Sayegh administration blocked his efforts for the second time.

Sayegh’s outgoing business administrator had told Jackson to submit a list of witnesses he wanted and the administration would consider allowing them to appear before the board.

Jackson appeared to allege the tickets were rejected due to Garsia’s intimate relationship with Sayegh. Sayegh’s controversial group One Paterson held their fundraiser last year at the Art Factory. Garsia obtained a 30-day occupancy certificate from the Sayegh administration before hosting the fundraiser.

City officials said Garsia paid penalties for two tickets and the others were fired. Sayegh’s legal director said some of the tickets were deficient, but a judge upheld the tickets in a ruling. Records show a negotiated settlement to resolve the issue. Part of the agreement reached in February 2019 required the Art Factory to obtain a certificate of occupancy for itself and its tenants within 60 days, officials said.

Economic Development Director Michael Powell said Garsia had submitted 35 applications from tenants for certificates of occupancy.

Chief Legal Officer Farrah Irving said Sayegh administration officials invited Jackson to a meeting to discuss the matter, but he did not show up. Jackson said he told the administration he was not looking to meet, but wanted the relevant officials to testify before the board before a licensing vote.

“If this council is going to be given a license to allow a company to bring a large number of people into an establishment and God forbid something happens. Where is the responsibility? Jackson said.

Jackson pointed to a collapsing part of the Art Factory complex to make his point. He said the wall is supported by pieces of wood.

“You have a brick wall that was backed up a while ago,” Jackson said. “I don’t see how this is considered safe.”

Jackson lacked faith in city construction official Gennaro “Jerry” Lobozzo who testified against the city in the 2017 Art Factory case. Garsia said the wall was “stabilized” and assured that part of the complex would not be open to the public.

The Art Factory has previously been closed due to fire violations. However, Garsia worked with firefighters to address the violations.

“Everything we asked him to do is done,” Fire Chief Brian McDermott said.

Jackson could not influence his colleagues by his arguments.

“There were concerns in the past,” said councilor Lilisa Mimms. Those concerns were taken into account, she said.

Councilor William McKoy said denying licenses to the art factory would be “arbitrary and capricious”, suggesting Garsia may have a cause of action in the courts.

Councilor Al Abdelaziz suggested that his colleagues trying to withhold licenses were engaging in “petty politics”.

Councilman Luis Velez objected to Abdelaziz’s remark. Velez raised questions about the documents submitted as part of the license application. For example, Velez noticed that the certificates did not contain an occupancy figure as is the norm.

Velez also pointed to the occupancy number for each floor listed as 1,000. Garsia explained that the building’s total occupancy capacity is 5,000 people.

Council members Abdelaziz, Ruby Cotton, Maritza Davila, McKoy, Mimms and Velez voted in favor while Jackson voted against.

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