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MUSEUM IN BIZARRE BID TO WRECK BUILDING

By JOHN LEHMANN

January 4, 2002 -- A New York museum is trying to kick out the owner and tenants of newly restored apartments on the Lower East Side - so it can spend $2 million in taxpayer money to convert the building into "historic" tenements.

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum on Orchard Street has struck a preliminary agreement with the state to condemn the neighboring five-story brick building - even though the owners have just completed a multimillion-dollar refurbishment.

The building, at 99 Orchard St., houses 15 apartments, which are fetching $1,650 a month in rent, and an acclaimed Chinese restaurant, Congee Village Restaurant.

But under the museum's plan - which is being supported by the Empire State Development Corp. - the museum would acquire the building by eminent domain and use it to expand its facilities and tours showcasing immigrant life in the 1800s.

One of the building's owners and residents, Lou Holtzman, 52, whose family has owned the building since 1910, said yesterday he was outraged the state would close down a flourishing business and drive out tenants.

"I can't understand how this is for the public good," he said.

"You would think the museum would have some appreciation of how immigrants to this country established businesses over decades and added to their communities.

"My mother ran a shop in this building from the 1940s to the 1980s - in the days when the Lower East Side wasn't the most popular neighborhood."

Holtzman, a recording engineer, co-owns the building with property investor Peter Liang.

Holtzman's wife, Mimi Holtzman, said the museum's plan to install four tenement apartments in the building was like a "Disney World creation."

"How can you build tenement-style apartments and then say they have historic worth?" she said.

In planning documents obtained by The Post, the museum - which often works on immigrant projects with Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty Park - said the apartment building was built as a pair to the building which now houses the museum.

The museum planned to spend $1.35 million to acquire the building from its owners and reimburse tenants and another $2.338 million to renovate it, the documents said.

The owners believe the building alone is worth more than $3 million.

The document said "historic" tenements would be installed as part of the renovation, along with a theater, classrooms and a storage facility.

The plan said $2 million was "committed" to the project in a grant from the City Department of Cultural Affairs

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