Aerial Photos Call into Question City’s Decision to Fully Demolish 70 Mulberry Street

Posted on: June 1st, 2020 at 5:08 am by

Photo: Karlin Chan

On the evening of January 23, as Chinatown residents prepared for the Lunar New Year, a devastating five-alarm fire decimated the former PS23 at 70 Mulberry Street. Nearly five months later, many in the neighborhood continue to question the city’s choice to fully demolish the facility.

Especially after the emergence of aerial photos showing the charred interior.

True to form, elected officials held press events in the immediate aftermath of the blaze, including an onsite cameo by Mayor de Blasio, who “vowed” to restore. It took five weeks before the nonprofit tenants – Museum of Chinese in America, Chinatown Manpower Project, HT Chen & Dance, United East Athletics – could return and conduct salvage operations.

However, transparency about the fire or plans for the city-owned building were seemingly nonexistent until a Community Board 3 Land Use meeting last month. Department of Citywide Administrative Services deputy commissioner Quintin Haynes presented pictures of the burned building and said full demolition was well underway due to the severity of infrastructural damage to supporting wooden joists and beams.

Photo: Karlin Chan

All along, residents had been told that removal of the roof and top three floors was necessary to prevent imminent collapse. Not a removal of the whole structure.

The CB3 full board adopted a resolution last week calling for continued demolition of top floors down to the historic stonework. Yet recommended that an independent structural engineer assess the feasibility of saving the remainder of the historic facade. (One was hired the next day.)

However, amateur aerial footage of the site doesn’t appear to comport with the DCAS assessment. For instance, steel girders and support beams are clearly visible; and major damage can be seen on the Bayard Street side, from the third floor upward. But most of the roof was intact and you could even see a worker standing on it.

Coincidentally, it appears demolition crews have accelerated the pace of work. Is the city pulling a fast one on the community? A reputable source had disclosed that DCAS allegedly pressured some of the nonprofits to endorse a joint letter calling for full demolition lest it be years longer before occupancy.

Is there more here than meets the eye?

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