EDITORIAL: More urgency needed on Albany warehouse

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan speaks to reporters Tuesday about the city’s concerns over the crumbling Central Warehouse.
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Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan speaks to reporters Tuesday about the city’s concerns over the crumbling Central Warehouse.

What do you suppose a 6-foot-tall, 2-foot-wide chunk of concrete would do to you if it fell on you? Something bad, we suspect.

Or what if it landed on a car? Or on railroad tracks as an Amtrak train was passing through? Or on a propane truck?

How stable can a building be when something as big and heavy as a 12-square-foot block of masonry gets loose enough to just peel off a wall and crash to the ground?

What else is going on inside a building that could cause harm to individuals in or near it, or which would further jeopardize the integrity of the structure? Pieces don’t just fall off buildings without underlying problems.

So one has to wonder how long the court system and officials in the city and county of Albany can continue to put up with the condition of the 95-year-old, 11-story Central Warehouse building in downtown Albany.

And how long should government put up with a wily owner who, from his public comments, seems indifferent to the issues raised?

City officials had to declare a temporary emergency last week after a new engineering report found that a portion of one wall of the structure was in “imminent” risk of collapse. That prompted Amtrak to temporarily suspend westbound service along a line that passes very close to that wall.

The report noted extensive deterioration of the concrete structure, both interior and exterior. Officials shored up the building for now at significant taxpayer expense. And the city gave the owner 10 days to address some of the most pressing problems.

The owner, Evan Blum, has been cited for violations before without taking action, city officials say. He also apparently owes the county about $550,000 in overdue taxes.

How much longer should local government officials have to wait before the courts compel the owner to make repairs or force him to give up ownership of the building?

Another collapse of a portion of wall or a shift in the structure could happen at any time while frustrated public officials and the owner continue their legal dance.

The government has tools at its disposal to force reluctant owners to take care of their properties and fix safety violations.

We’ve seen governments fine homeowners for not fixing cracks in the sidewalk in front of their houses. Building owners are regularly cited for violations that might contribute to a fire, like a lack of sprinklers or smoke alarms. We’ve seen governments take over properties for delinquent taxes and failure to address code violations. How is this any different?

At some point, public safety has to take priority over all other considerations.

We clearly have reached that point. Enough is enough.

If the engineering reports support the need for significant repairs or demolition, then our public officials have an obligation to use all of their authority to move full speed ahead to avert an impending catastrophe.

Some say this matter is far from over.

Tell that to the next person who stares up at a falling chunk of concrete from this building as it takes aim at his head.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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