One Year After the Fire, Anxiously Awaiting Future of 70 Mulberry Street

Posted on: January 29th, 2021 at 5:01 am by

May 2020, Photo: Karlin Chan

A year ago last Saturday marked the one-year anniversary of the devastating fire at 70 Mulberry Street, the former school that housed five Chinatown nonprofit organizations. Nonetheless: questions, anxiety, and doubt regarding its future still linger.

On January 23, 2020, as Chinatown prepared to ring in the Year of The Rat and families sitting down for traditional “End of Year” dinners, a “catastrophic electrical failure” as labeled by the New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS), sparked a devastating fire at the old Public School 23. The blaze ultimately raised five alarms and burned for 24 hours, even as firefighters battled.

The charred remains truly shook the community, heartbreaking to those who attended school there or participated in programming offered by the nonprofits housed therein. More so to the hundreds of seniors who had known it as a second home.

Photo: Karlin Chan

Several days after the fire, Mayor de Blasio came down and vowed to restore the structure for a return to community use. However, the opposite transpired in the ensuing months: the community was left in the dark on the city’s plan to rebuild until  DCAS reported to Community Board 3 that the building was a total loss requiring demolition, without offering much supporting evidence.

At the time, I asked the city’s structural engineer in simple terms if 70 Mulberry could be restored, and he replied “YES,” which contradicted the determination by DCAS as a total loss.

Demolition crews appeared a few months later, despite objections from the community, and demands for an independent engineer to assess the building. Opposition snowballed through the spring of 2020, and culminated in a “Save PS23” rally that I co-organized.

The pressure apparently paid off, as the mayor later announced that $80 million is in the city budget for rehabilitating the structure.

Meanwhile, this past year has been marked by a lack of transparency by DCAS. Although the agency promised to keep the former site tenants “in the loop” on every phase of restoration, we later learned there were only two meetings held, yet in an informational format without answers to the many questions posed.

Let’s not also forget the intense lobbying by pro-development advocates who allegedly used below-belt tactics against those opposing the proposed 20-story tower for the site. A development that would include senior housing and trigger a lengthy land review process, which would undoubtedly delay the rebuilding by years. Though Councilwoman Margaret Chin has publicly stated she would let the community weigh in and decide the site’s future, it appears her allies are pushing the development narrative.

At the end of the day, the community’s voice was heard. DCAS has since stated they will allow an independent structural engineer with restoration experience to do an analysis.

The community, meantime, anxiously awaits the DCAS update scheduled for Community Board 3 next month and/or any independent report that may arise.

Recent Stories

Small Business Owners ‘Permanently Close’ to Demand COVID Relief

Local small business groups, along with the Cooper Square Committee, East Village Community Coalition, and Village Preservation are hosting a rally today in the name of economic survival. It’s part of a statewide week of activism to find commercial rent relief in the city. With that, businesses who fear forever closure due to rent burdens […]

Fired Laundry Workers Accuse Liox Cleaners of ‘Union Busting’

The Liox Cleaners chain is facing a raft of opposition in the wake of alleged “union busting.” Tuesday afternoon saw the first of two picketing actions outside the Allen Street location, just north of Delancey. According to the distributed literature, “On February 19, the Liox laundry chain fired the immigrant woman workers of the Wash […]

CB3 Signals Approval of Parkside Lounge Rooftop Expansion

Parkside Lounge now has official community backing for its rooftop expansion. Operating at the corner of East Houston and Attorney Streets since 1997, the bar is struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic. To alleviate, it’s headed upstairs with a plan to add seating on the rooftop of the one-story building. Co-owner Christopher Lee […]

Doughnut Plant Heads to Saudi Arabia with Latest Expansion

After surviving a three-month, pandemic-induced closure in the latter half of 2020, Doughnut Plant is pushing its business model forward. And once again, expanding overseas. The Riyadh, Saudi Arabia locale marks the eighth iteration for the Lower East Side born empire (if you count the Japan outpost), and the first for the Middle East. And […]

‘Crab du Jour’ Hoists New Signage Above Grand Street

In case you missed the small-time signage on Grand Street, Crab Du Jour is now making its presence known. The seafood chain announced its arrival on the Lower East Side in early January, but only now are the pieces really falling into place. It takes the spot left vacant by La Flaca last summer after […]