SCHENECTADY — A deteriorating downtown building has been partially shuttered by the city after being deemed dangerous and unsafe.
The city ordered some tenants of 271-277 State St. out on Wednesday morning, including a fifth-floor resident whose apartment was connected to a fire escape officials determined was missing at least 30 bolts.
“There should not be anyone there,” said Chief Building Inspector Chris Lunn.
The city on Wednesday also erected a chain-link fence on the Erie Boulevard side of the hulking structure to protect passersby from crumbling bricks.
Known informally as the Wedgeway Professional Building, 271-277 State St. is located at the corner of Erie Boulevard and State Street at the city’s busiest intersection.
The city deemed the building dangerous last week after dislodged bricks fell onto the pavement and fire escapes below and ordered building owner William Eichengrun to present a written remediation plan and engineering report by Wednesday.
MARC SCHULTZ/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER A brick that fell from the upper side wall of the Kresge Wedgeway Building on the Erie Boulevard side of the building landed on a fire escape below.
Lunn said he spoke with Eichengrun late Wednesday, who told him he hadn’t retained a structural engineer to assess the building.
Eichengrun didn’t return request for comment from The Daily Gazette.
The city will now commission its own engineering study.
For the order to be lifted, Eichengrun will be required to remedy violations within a designated time frame.
“If compliance is not done, we can issue appearance tickets in court,” Lunn said.
Building code violations are misdemeanor changes that can result in fines or jail time, said city Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico.
Defendants can challenge the charges through a trial. But that option is pursued infrequently by building owners because evidence supporting the violations is often strong, Falotico said.
“For larger commercial buildings, we expect prompt compliance,” he said.
HISTORY OF VIOLATIONS
The Daily Gazette prompted the recent inspections after filing Freedom of Information Law request with the city on Nov. 15 for code violations and “orders to vacate.”
The Gazette’s initial story in Tuesday’s edition appeared to spur an additional look at the structure: The city issued additional violations on Wednesday for the fire escape, an uninspected elevator and broken sidewalks.
An attempt on Wednesday to repair the faulty fire escape failed reinspection, Lunn said.
Two businesses on the State Street side of the structure, Photo Lab and Downtown Convenience, remain open.
But another violation was issued because one of those businesses, the Photo Lab, is unheated, Lunn said.
Eichengrun purchased the structure last year for $847,000 from longtime owner John A. Matarazzo, according to tax records.
The building has a track record of violations that city officials have acknowledged have drawn parallels to the Jay Street fire that killed four, injured seven and displaced dozens of residents in 2015.
The city issued an “order to vacate” last month for unsafe conditions, including electrical hazards and non-functioning smoke detectors, that was lifted five days later.
An inspection on Oct. 23, 2017 of the Wedgeway Professional Building declared units unsafe because they were unheated.
The report also revealed a lack of emergency exit lighting in a hallway and hazardous wiring.
A year later, the city issued 13 violations on Dec. 12, 2018, for numerous deficiencies, including damaged tiles; deteriorating walls and ceilings throughout the building; windows falling out of their frames; leaking basement pipes and improper gas lines.
Inspectors also determined bricks on the building were missing mortar.
Eichengrun was given 30 days to make those repairs, but whether the work has been completed is unclear because the codes officer tasked with handling the structure no longer works for the city.
“The case probably got dropped,” Lunn said.
The city, however, reinspected the structure on Jan. 24 after reports of basement flooding and issued a stop-work order because Eichengrun allegedly didn’t obtain the proper permits to replace the boiler.
Lunn acknowledged there could be more outstanding violations, but without full access to the structure, there’s no way of knowing.
Workers inside the structure on Monday motioned to several doors that had been blocked off, indicating those units were being permanently sealed.
There has been an exodus of tenants in recent years, including Sassy’s Satellite, the Grog Shoppe and Wedgeway Barber Shop, which relocated to a new site on Erie Boulevard earlier this year after 107 years.
State Street Tattoo Co., now locked out of the premises, has submitted plans to the city Planning Commission to relocate to Lafayette Street.
Eichengrun also lacks the necessary rental certificates required to house tenants, according to Lunn, which is a violation of a new law state law that went into effect earlier this month that prohibits landlords from collecting rent without a valid certificate of occupancy.
That document certifies all life-safety issues are non-imminent.
Lunn was unable to make contact with what he suspects is a second resident in the structure, who will return home to find the door underneath the crumbling theater marquee locked and wrapped in yellow tape.
It’s frustrating, he said, that the city has no way to police the occupancy of a building.
He pointed at the tenants who continued to occupy a Georgetta Dix Plaza home two weeks after the city declared the building unsafe due to electrical hazards.
The building burned down in March and residents, including several children, narrowly escaped with their lives.
“I really wish there was a better way to manage order-to-vacates by all city departments,” Lunn said.
Got a news tip? Reach Gazette reporter Pete DeMola at 518-395-3113, [email protected] or @pmdemola on Twitter.