Save The Mes Hall / Save The Drip Project: What We Know Now
Mes Hall Founder Chris "MES" Vinson and Drip Project co-curators Sean Sullivan and Harris Lobel
As the Graffiti Hall of Fame in Harlem prepped for and commemorated its 39th anniversary last week, the mood was far from celebratory just twelve miles north, at 245 Washington Street in the City of Mount Vernon.
That's been The Mes Hall recording studios's home for the past 18 years. It's also where the Drip Project has flourished since 2013. The Drip Project -- an art initiative co-curated by Sean Sullivan and Harris Lobel -- has been inviting celebrated artists to install massive-scale art throughout the site's roughly 45,000 square feet for six years [Read SOLD's Dec-2018 feature on The Mes Hall / Drip Project here].
A puzzling cascade of events unfolded at the sites this week:
Thursday, August 22nd:
1) The Mes Hall's landlord -- Joseph Spiezio of New Rochelle -- places concrete blockades on the property, denying entry to The Mes Hall /Drip Project personnel.
2) Several hours prior to a News12 Westchester segment on the blockades, they are abruptly removed.
Saturday, August 24th:
1) Mes Hall founder Chris "MES" Vinson finds a Spiezio employee white-washing a Drip Project mural by DEZ, a celebrated hip-hop DJ and graffiti artist. A huge swath of artist Subway Doodle's stories-high creature creation is also white-washed.
"Please take a moment and help us save The Mes Hall, a historic arts and music facility in Mount Vernon, NY. After thriving in a sprawling multi-level warehouse at 245 Washington Street for 18 years, the building’s landlord (embattled deposed deputy police commissioner Joseph Spiezio) is suddenly attempting to illegally evict all of The Mes Hall's tenants and demolish the building in an apparent money grab. This all comes in the wake of Spiezio recently finding himself under public scrutiny for his involvement with recently ousted Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas, who recently plead guilty to two campaign finance crimes which may be linked to Mr. Spiezio, a consultant and donor to Thomas’ mayoral campaign."
Sunday, August 25th:
What Is Happening Here?!?
SOLD is working on a more extensive feature as the fates of The Mes Hall and Drip Project unfold. Keep checking back for updates! In the meantime, here's what we know:
Five years ago, Vinson, Sullivan, and Lobel met the property's new landlord, Joseph Spiezio III of New Rochelle. Around that time, Spiezio shared with them his vision of one day turning the sprawling complex of buildings into a soccer facility.
The "one day" pipe-dream became more tangible in Fall-2018, when Spiezio's mentions of tearing the building down became increasingly frequent. But the trio remained largely unnerved: "Nothing was official and no papers were served," Vinson explained in a recent Instagram story.
Another bolster to the their confidence was the strong bond between their landlord, Joseph Spiezio, and City of Mount Vernon's then* Mayor, Richard Thomas. Spiezio had once been Mayor Thomas's campaign advisor. In 2016, Thomas made Spiezio Deputy Police Commissioner of Mount Vernon [he's since been ousted*].
Thomas made The Mes Hall and Drip Project a visible part of his mayoral tenure: In 2018, he asked the Drip Project to provide art for the City of Mount Vernon's 2018 4th of July fireworks show, and Sullivan and Lobel had celebrated artist HEKTAD create work especially for the event.
In December 2018, Thomas unveiled Mount Vernon's Arts, Culture, and Heritage Master Plan, one that would enrich the City's economic development through arts and culture, and asked Vinson to give a speech introducing the initiative. Thomas even got the Parks Department to continually provide lifts for artists creating murals across 255-275 Washington Street's exterior.
[Caption: Chris "MES" Vinson with Marlon Molina, Deputy Commissioner for Mount Vernon's Planning Dept]
But none of these high profile collaborations among the Mes Hall, Drip Project, and City of Mount Vernon put a halt to Spiezio's talk of tearing the buildings down. The landlord's position was disconcertingly vague: "The more I spoke to Joseph Spiezio, the more confused I got. It was always a different story," said Vinson.
[*This July, Thomas was removed as Mayor on charges of grand larceny, including misappropriation of campaign funds. Spiezio was forced to step down as Deputy Police Commissioner after driving with a suspended license in New Rochelle this February.]
[Caption: Interviewing Former City of Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas on June 22nd]
A Mystifying Conversation With (Former) Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas
This June, I attended the "Mount Vernon Arts Festival," a small summer party thrown by the City at The Mes Hall / Drip Project. I saw Vinson, recounted the rumors I'd heard about the The Mes Hall / Drip Project's numbered days, and asked him for clarity.
"The Mayor [Richard Thomas] is walking towards you right now," Vinson replied. "You should ask him."
I was stymied: shouldn't Spiezio have already shared his plans for the buildings with Vinson, his tenant? If the Mayor knew of those plans, why hadn't he revealed them to Vinson? The two had now been within yards of one another for several hours at the same party.
I asked Thomas, who said the site was being "transformed ... into a new place for public use."
"What kind of place?"
A storage facility, Thomas indicated.
Joanna Pan: "Will The Drip Project move elsewhere in Mount Vernon?"
Richard Thomas: "The Drip Project has an open invitation to use Mount Vernon as a canvas. And that's where -- you know -- we made it clear they have very few limits on what and where they can -- you know -- paint. We want people to be inspired, we want them to have creativity, we want them to connect in multiple ways, and the Drip Project is a catalyst to creating anew."
JP: "And The Mes Hall -- you're working with Chris to have the Mes Hall either stay here or move elsewhere in Mount Vernon?"
RT: "Well, we want them to remain here in Mount Vernon, and we want them to get bigger. And our commitment is to back whatever project they decide to pursue so they can go ahead and plant their roots deeper here in Mount Vernon. We get to see Mount Vernon rise, but we get to see the Drip Project grow."
How could the Drip Project "grow" if the buildings were to be torn down and replaced with a storage facility? How could The Mes Hall ever hope to "get bigger" and plant their roots "deeper" if they were soon to be evicted?
1) In the first News12 Westchester segment, Spiezio presents the station with an eviction notice dated 7/31/2019 (photo). The document is fake, says Vinson. Was neither shown nor delivered; fails to cite tenant by name.
2) Spiezio says the site is now under the direction of a new landlord, and Vinson did receive a different notice dated August 7th (photo). But a lawyer he consulted with said the document is of questionable merit as the named TAC CG Mount Vernon, LLC may be an agent of the former owner.
3) Vinson told SOLD Spiezio always had him remit his share of the rent in cash, exclusively.
5) Spiezio to News12: "It is illegal to put graffiti in Mount Vernon." Since when does a city Mayor provide lifts to graffiti artists getting up illegally? Or ask vandals putting up work without permission to speak at a townhall meeting?
6) Spiezio came to The Mes Hall/Drip Project with baggage. In 2002, he formed a real property entity called the "Trolley Barn" with partners Nicholas Tarsia and Harold P. Cook, III. The three commenced renovations to convert the site into mixed-use commercial and residential condos. Spiezio was designated Managing Member, with certain operations responsibilities. A subsequent lawsuit filed by Tarsia and Cook reveals: "Spiezio repeatedly violated his position of trust ... Through artifice and deceit, Spiezio has intentionally diverted millions of dollars of corporate assets from LLCs to himself, his family members, entities under his ownership and control, and others."
7) Another Spiezio/Trolley Barn item, this one from 2008: Workers were hired by Spiezio to renovate the Trolley Barn, the Centuck Shopping Center, and Spiezio's (Yonkers) office. They even spent weekends working on his New Rochelle home. The workers' attorney says Spiezio held back 20% of their pay -- ostensibly "for taxes" -- then pocketed the money. "Spiezio also allegedly used racial slurs and even threatened to kill one of the workers."
SOLD is still unraveling this story; keep checking back for updates!
[Caption: Spiezio provided this Eviction Notice to News12-Westchester. Vinson says it's fake.]
[Caption: Notice dated 8/7/19 of questionable legal merit]
[Caption: Saturday, August 24th -- partially white-washed Drip Project art by Subway Doodle]