Two fireman died and three others were injured fighting the warehouse blaze at York and Jasper streets yesterday. But many are saying it didn't have to happen—that both the city and the owners knew the property represented a risk.
About a week ago, Hidden City's Ryan Briggs wrote an eerily prescient article about the building and its increasing disrepair. He spoke with East Kensington Neighborhood Association president Jeff Carpineta, who, along with his neighbors, had actually been hopeful when New York-based development company YML bought the former Thomas Buck Hosiery Co. warehouse. Briggs wrote: "Three years later and the building has scarcely been touched, continuing to suffer from increasing dilapidation and chronic break-ins. Carpineta fears that arson might claim the building, like similar structures that have burned in recent years."
A week later the building went up in flames and two men are dead.
There were plenty of people who knew YML was grossly delinquent in property maintenance and taxes. Christopher Sawyer, who goes by the name Arctic Splash on Philadelphia Speaks, investigated the building six months ago and created a spreadsheet with information from the Office of Property Assessment. He worked with neighbors to call 311 about the innumerable dangers the building represented, and logged reports of those calls. Nothing was done.
For his March 30th post, Ryan Briggs managed to get the elusive Michael Lichtenstein, of YML, on the phone to talk about the property.
“There are at least 200 development projects in Philadelphia, if not 500, that are stuck because of the economy, and this is just another one. If you can invest money and bring a couple million dollars, that would be great,” he said. ... YML owes $60,000 dollars in unpaid property tax and multiple liens that have accumulated on the property over the years, according to the Office of Property Assessment. Lichtenstein acknowledged that he was the person responsible for tax payments, but when asked about back taxes on the property, he laughed and said he “couldn’t remember.” Later, he said, “as far I know, the taxes are being paid.” Asked who was responsible locally for managing and maintaining the building, Lichtenstein said he “didn’t know,” but was sure “the building is being kept up.”
He's not laughing now, we'd bet. Or is he?
· Heartache and Violence [Hidden City]
· Passing the Buck [Hidden City]
· After 2 firemen die, city, neighbors point fingers [Daily News]
· Two firefighters die battling Kensington warehouse blaze [Inquirer]