Inquirer Exclusive: Owners pressed for faster demolition before fatal collapse

22nd Market Street collapse.

5 June 2013 collapse of two buildings on Market Street, resulting in six fatalities.

By The Inquirer‘s Bob Warner – A new cache of e-mails tied to the Center City building collapse sheds light on one of the basic questions about the deadly June accident: why the owners pressed forward with plans to tear down a four-story brick building amid serious safety concerns about the one-story Salvation Army thrift shop next door.

The e-mails exchanged by representatives of STB Investments Corp. offer clues to their thinking even as they were warning the city and the Salvation Army of the perils the demolition posed to the thrift shop and to its occupants.

The e-mails are among many documents turned over to Philadelphia prosecutors as part of an ongoing grand jury investigation into the collapse.

Here are some of the clues contained in those e-mails, copies of which The Inquirer obtained:

Richard Basciano, the 87-year-old real estate investor who is the principal owner of STB of New York City, wanted things to move faster at the site – and he visited in person to check up on it.

richard_basc

“Richard and his wife passed by . . . yesterday. He is SHOCKED that this project is not done,” Thomas J. Simmonds Jr., property manager for Basciano, wrote on April 29 to Plato Marinakos Jr., the local architect who acted as STB’s liaison to the demolition contractor.

Marinakos had said the demolition work would be finished by the end of April. Now he told Simmonds it would be done by the first week of May. But the building at 2136-38 Market was still standing on May 31 when Basciano, according to other e-mails, checked again.

“Richard is on the phone now; he passed by the job site and observed no one working,” Simmonds wrote to Marinakos and others on May 31. “Please advise – he will be visiting the site over the weekend.”

Another e-mail reported that Basciano did visit the site that weekend, on Sunday, June 2. That time, “Richard and his wife stopped by and seemed please[d],” Marinakos reported to Simmonds. “I am glad he saw more progress today.”

That same weekend, without notice to the Salvation Army, the demolition contractor had brought in an 18-ton motorized excavator – “that yellow machine,” a thrift shop employee later called it. “If they had told us they were going to rip the building down with a machine like that, the Salvation Army would have done something,” the charity’s lawyer, Eric A. Weiss, has said.

Continue to full article (access code B89T).

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