Fire-Ravaged 70 Mulberry Street Could Become 20-Story Tower

Posted on: April 20th, 2020 at 5:02 am by

Photo: Karlin Chan

With all eyes focused on the Covid-19 pandemic – response and death toll – it seems the mayor may have pulled another fast one on Chinatown.

While the community abides by the Governor’s “Stay at Home” directive, crews have been busy these last few weeks at 70 Mulberry Street, where a five-alarm blaze destroyed the upper floors back in January. The workers are removing debris and sections of roof and flooring deemed unsafe and in danger of collapse. This past week, final preparations were made to start demolition of the exterior walls of the top floors of the Chinatown community space, formerly home to PS23.

Yet, word on the street is that they will not stop there. In fact, there is unconfirmed chatter that the mayor and others have signed off on a full demolition of the city-owned site. (There are no demolition permits on file with Department of Buildings.)

It was a day after the devastating mid-January fire gutted the top floors of 70 Mulberry that Mayor de Blasio stood beside other electeds across the street and vowed to restore the building; but as it turns out, just empty words.

To date, a fire marshal’s or building integrity report has yet to be made public. Apparently those in the community who may benefit from a total demolition and new structure have reportedly been quietly lobbying. Indeed, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of NY is lobbying for a 20-story replacement tower with affordable housing, retail, and community resources such as a nursing home. While a new structure with added space for nonprofits and senior programs may sound nice, the property tax assessments on surrounding buildings would force many mom-and-pop property owners into insolvency.

Constructed in 1893 by architect CBJ Snyder, who was the Department of Education superintendent of buildings – it was the first large-scale public school in NYC and served as a prototype for the 700 schools he would design in a 31-year career with the city. The school served generations of immigrants in the heart of the historic 5 points neighborhood.

In recent decades, the historic building served as community use, with four Chinese nonprofits anchoring. However, the building is city-owned and the mayor does have final determination on its future. A full demolition would spell uncertainty for displaced nonprofits and a senior center which served hundreds of lunches daily.  In addition, the economic hit (and recovery) the federal and local governments took as a result of Covid-19 will likely take years and finding funds to develope the sight would not be on a front burner.  At the end of the day Chinatown may be left with a hole in the ground going into the next decade.

Mayor de Blasio’s track record of broken promises remains intact.

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