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Time Warner Center Landlord Takes Possession of A Voce After Years of Financial Decline

The owners were in the process of reviving it

A Voce Serena Dai

The Time Warner Center location of A Voce — once a Michelin starred restaurant and a respected name in the fine dining world — may soon close after years of falling sales, a bankruptcy filing, and a tumultuous legal battle between the restaurant’s two high profile owners, according to court documents. The restaurant is co-owned by a subsidiary of Time Warner Center’s management company Related Realty and restaurateur Marlon Abela, who acted as the operator via his London-based restaurant company MARC. According to court documents, sales at A Voce have been in decline since as early as 2011, and the restaurant is now close to $4 million in debt. Initially, Related and MARC actually wanted to revive the restaurant, committing millions to upgrading and re-concepting. But in the course of a year — from delays in the renovation plans to thousands in unpaid rent and two class action labor lawsuits — the relationship soured. Last Thursday, the court ordered that landlord A/R Realty, a company partly owned by Related, could take possession of the restaurant space.

A Voce was a project between Abela, a prolific British restaurateur with multiple Michelin starred restaurants, and Related’s Ken Himmel, a development world restaurateur who’s credited with turning the Columbus Circle mall into an unlikely fine dining destination. (He’s also spearheading the restaurant portion of the highly anticipated Hudson Yards project.) Abela’s team would operate the day to day, and Related would have a stake in the game. The second outpost of the restaurant originally gained acclaim from local critics and a Michelin star under chef Missy Robbins. But A Voce has been on the decline for years. Robbins left. The space experienced "chronic leaks" that led to closures, and a fire in 2014 meant more than two months out of commission. It lost its star and started to lose money too. Financial troubles got worse in the last year as A Voce faced two class action labor lawsuits for unpaid wages in the last year, cases settled for a total of $425,000. In April, the restaurant stopped paying rent; in June, Related-owned company A/R Realty filed an eviction case. Two days before the first eviction court hearing, MARC and Abela filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy for the restaurant — against the wishes Himmel, leading to a legal battle in bankruptcy court instead.

Photo: Horine

But just a year ago, Himmel and Abela were playing nicer. They both knew that A Voce was struggling and had plans to upgrade the space and the concept, including changing the menu, the space, and the service, according to court documents. Together, Related’s subsidiary Columbus Italian LLC (the company that co-owns the restaurant), landlord/Related company A/R Realty, and MARC invested $1.7 million to the project. In February, Himmel and Abela agreed to commit another $1.8 million.

Meanwhile, the restaurant was losing money. Besides unpaid rent, in May it became clear that operating losses were worse than originally budgeted. (In 2016, the restaurant’s sales declined by 18 percent from the beginning of the year to June, according to Related’s team.) By the spring, Himmel called it "substantially" lower then projections and refused to help pay for further losses. Delays continued with A Voce 2.0, and Related blamed Abela’s team. In March, Related Realty’s president Peter Peterson sent a testy email to top people at MARC and called the slow pace of A Voce's upgrade "painful."

But Abela said Related set them up for financial failure with a "significantly flawed" space, according to Abela’s court filings. It suffered from "shoddy construction" and "chronic leaks from 2010 to 2015," forcing A Voce to shut down for more than 40 days and leading to the loss of "an estimated $652,000 in revenue and significant good will." Abela also blamed A Voce’s 2014 fire on poor construction on the developer's end, saying that Related improperly installed the exhaust system. The restaurant closed for 65 days after the incident. Besides an estimated $1.5 million in lost revenue and cash for repairs, Abela pointed to the fire and subsequent closure as part of the reason A Voce lost its Michelin star in 2014.

And Abela claimed that A Voce is not the only Time Warner Center restaurant suffering. "All, or virtually all" of the restaurants in the Time Warner Center have had "significant sales shortfalls," bringing into question who’s responsible for such issues, Abela wrote in an email to Himmel in June. He also pointed to Related’s huge new project at the Hudson Yards as a distraction from issues at TWC. "I respectfully suggest that the notion that A Voce’s problems at TWC are MARC’s alone will not be accepted by any objective, reasonable audience," the June email says.

It’s not yet clear what Related will do with the A Voce space or when it will close. Abela and Related have other projects together, and Abela mentioned in the June email that the relationships for those restaurants are going well, though it’s not clear how they’re doing now. Related did not immediately have a comment, and MARC did not respond to requests for comment.

A Voce - Columbus

10 Columbus Circle, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10019 (212) 823-2523 Visit Website

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