The former Tony’s Meat Market has become the poster child for all that ails Schenectady.
Politicians have stood in front of the burned-out building on Broadway to argue that vacant buildings like it must be demolished to improve the neighborhoods.
On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer became the latest politician to stand outside the building and call for its demolition.
Schumer, D-N.Y., used the location to announce his support for a $3 million loan that would allow Schenectady to demolish about 80 buildings.
The loan is through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The city applied this summer, and on Tuesday the local office said it was recommending the application to the central office in Washington, Development Director Richard Purga said.
That’s the normal path for the application, and it’s taking about as long as expected, Purga added.
Schumer said he wants to speed it up.
“My job is to get them to say yes, and to say yes soon,” he said. “We urgently need this loan.”
Pointing at the former Tony’s Meat Market, he noted it burned in 2009.
“That’s more than four years ago, and yet there is no progress,” he said.
The landlords live outside the area, and they haven’t paid taxes, he added.
“That’s what we’re up against,” he said. “It’s like a cancer.”
The only trouble: Demolishing Tony’s Meat Market isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Unlike many of the city’s blighted buildings, it is not owned by the city. And according to police and fire officials, the building is part of an ongoing investigation. The 2009 fire was determined to be intentionally set, and police began investigating another criminal case involving the building, Fire Chief Michael Della Rocco said. That case has never been described publicly.
In 2012, police said the building could not be demolished until investigators were certain they had collected all the evidence they need. On Tuesday, Della Rocco said he didn’t need any additional arson-related evidence, but police had a different investigation ongoing at the site, which could affect demolition.
“It’s still an active case,” he said, adding. “We don’t need to process the scene anymore.”
Mayor Gary McCarthy has run into problems like this with many buildings the city has tried to sell after foreclosing on delinquent taxpayers. He said recently he’s learned one thing from the process: Every building has its own set of complications that slows everything down.
In the meantime, the owners have not paid any taxes. They stopped paying nearly a year before the fire.
City records show Deseshwar Girdahari and Dhanmatti Laldharry owe $38,590 to the city for taxes from 2010 to the present. The city sold the 2009 tax liens on the property to American Tax Funding.
During his tour of Broadway, Schumer visited employees and customers at a nearby diner, where he argued the removal of Tony’s Meat Market would improve the business corridor. Leaving the buildings up, he said, encouraged crime, put firefighters at risk and discouraged new homeowners.
He said people considering houses nearby might think again after seeing the building. Pieces of tarp dangle from the eaves, and the roof timbers are exposed to the elements.
The building also attracts criminals, he said, calling it a “place where gangs hang out” and a “safe haven for drug peddlers.”
And if it were to be catch fire again, he said, firefighters would face danger trying to extinguish the flames in an unstable structure.
Looking at the building, he said he understood how expensive it would be to save the structure.
“You can’t just sell them to somebody or give them to somebody,” he said.
Schumer also said the city couldn’t get the loan unless it also planned to rehab some buildings.
The city plans to meet that requirement by demolishing the former Department of Social Services building on Nott Street, which is owned by private developer the Galesi Group. The company bought the building from the county in a deal in which it does not have to pay taxes on it until the project is underway.
But the Galesi Group said they could not afford to do a project there unless the city helped them with rehab costs or demolition. City Council members included the project’s $500,000 demolition bill in the loan application.