Site spat engulfs ‘Sally,’ ‘Maury’

Studio op, landlord duking it out

NEW YORK — A nasty tenant-landlord dispute between New York TV studio operator MTI/The Image Group and real estate empire Vornado could disrupt the production of Studio USA’s “The Maury Povich Show” and “The Sally Jessy Raphael Show.”

MTI has the contract to build the studio and provide all the below-the-line expertise for the two Studio USA syndicated shows, and had planned to use a large ballroom space the company leases at the Hotel Pennsylvania. Shooting for the two strips is scheduled to begin July 1 and all construction needs to be completed by June 1.

Judge stops construction

MTI, however, has been forced to stop all construction because Vornado, the owner of the Hotel Pennsylvania, convinced a judge to issue a temporary restraining order against MTI. Vornado had argued that MTI had violated its lease by making certain structural changes to the hotel.

MTI alleges that Vornado is trying to force the TV studio company out of the hotel so Vornado, in a partnership with Planet Hollywood Intl., can transform the building into a glitzy entertainment complex called the Official All Star Hotel. MTI originally signed its lease with developer Abe Hirschfield, who since sold the hotel to Vornado. MTI executives said they have 27 years left on the lease.

William Dalessandro, CEO of MTI, denies that his company made any structural changes to the hotel and will appear in court May 8, in an effort to get the judge to lift the restraining order. If the judge does not lift the order, Dalessandro said MTI will immediately appeal the decision.

Danny Finkelstein, the lawyer representing Vornado, did not return a call seeking comment. Vorando is headed by Steve Roth.

Dispute may force suit

But the June 1 deadline for construction completion is fast approaching, and Delassandro said he’s afraid that MTI will not be able to provide the studio facilities for the new season of “Maury” and “Sally,” forcing Studios USA to sue MTI.

Studios USA has indicated to Delassandro that it will take whatever legal action it needs to do to protect its shows, and Delassandro said that a lawsuit of this magnitude could well put his company out of business.

The feud between MTI and Vornado has escalated and become very personal since the March 20 restraining order was issued against MTI. Vornado even had Delassandro arrested for trespassing in the lobby of the Hotel Pennsylvania.

“They didn’t just charge me with ordinary trespassing,” said Delassandro. “They charged me with criminal trespassing, so I’d have to spend the night in jail.”