At long last, Tony’s Meat Market has been demolished.
The building at 2033 Broadway was badly damaged by fire in 2009, but the owners had stopped paying taxes a year earlier and never rebuilt. A blue tarp was left stretched over the roofless building, where it slowly became tattered and eventually swung in the wind like a flag, calling attention to the derelict structure.
Eventually, residents started asking the city to demolish it, but there was always a reason to withhold the wrecking ball. The city didn’t own the building. A cause for the fire had not been determined. In 2012, police were still saying they needed it to remain standing to preserve evidence.
As the years went by, those explanations wore thin. In 2011, Alliance Party mayoral candidate Roger Hull used the building as a backdrop when he announced his goal of demolishing many blighted properties in the city. Tony’s Meat Market was the poster child for that project, he said, surrounded by successful businesses on a major thoroughfare. Yet it was falling apart, dropping pieces on the sidewalk, into the street and onto businesses on either side.
Business owners worried the debris would hurt customers. Residents blamed the wreck for other empty storefronts in the area, saying it discouraged economic development.
When U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer visited the site a year ago to announce he would help the city get a loan to demolish properties like it, residents did not greet him as a savior. In fact, they grumbled that the whole process had already taken too long — and then the bureaucratic process of applying for the loan took another 11 months.
Schumer and Mayor Gary McCarthy were on hand Tuesday when the building finally came down, but residents who cheered from the sidewalk had their own opinion on whom to thank for the work.
“Thank God for Vince Riggi. He fought for it for five years,” said Beverly Mace, referring to a city councilman who lives in the neighborhood and campaigned four years ago with Hull.
Mace could see the building from her living room window. Her husband, Thomas, added that it could be seen from quite a distance.
“When you come up the hill, it looks like you’re going into the slums,” he said.
He, too, thanked Riggi. But while Riggi has championed the demolition of the building, he clearly had little power as the one-member minority of the City Council.
Nothing was done until McCarthy applied for a $3 million demolition loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. He and Schumer unveiled a plan to demolish at least 80 properties throughout the city — the biggest such project in recent city history.
And then it appeared the project wouldn’t happen. City officials were given the impression they could only use the money to knock down buildings they already owned. Schumer played a critical role then in getting the project back on track. He got HUD to agree that for such a large project, the city could acquire a few properties at a time, demolish them and then acquire more. That would save the city the cost of securing and maintaining properties for months before demolition.
At a press conference before the demolition Tuesday, Schumer said HUD’s rules were intended for much smaller projects. For a large project, it wouldn’t make sense to require the city to acquire the properties before they even got the loan, he said.
He added that he hoped HUD would consider that for other cities, too.
“For large projects like this, they should make a permanent change [in the rule],” he said.
Schumer was in town to endorse state Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg, in her re-election bid.
McCarthy thanked Schumer on Tuesday for his help, saying that although Schumer knew the demolition project would help Schenectady, “some days I wasn’t sure Washington quite got that.”
By the time the loan money finally got to the city, Tony’s Meat Market was nearing collapse. Demolition workers began work before the press conference Tuesday, carefully pulling away pieces of the building as they tried to get it to fall to the left, away from an adjacent law office.
After they pulled off the porch, the entire building swayed to the right, coming within feet of the occupied law office.
But they slowly pulled off parts of the side, and the front finally fell exactly the way they’d intended. Only one board touched the law firm.
Workers at United Appliance Parts, directly across the street, watched in fascination from their picture window, thrilled by the demolition.
“We’ve been staring at it every morning. It’ll be nice to see it gone,” said employee Richard Milian. “It’s got to go. It’s always a danger.”
Residents called the city once when metal flashing was dangling off the side of the building. On another occasion, Milian ran into the road to clear debris.
“I saw a whole sheet of siding come off, and it fell in the street,” he said. “God forbid if someone got hit with that.”
Other residents blamed the property for bringing down the neighborhood.
“Would you want to open a business on Broadway with this?” said resident Stephen Snyder, who recently counted 10 vacant storefronts along Broadway in the area.
But before the debris was even hauled away, business owners were eyeing the site for other uses — particularly parking. There are very few spots in the area, leaving many customers to park at the nearby CVS or in church lots.
The law office owner has already told the city’s law department she wants to make an offer on the property. The owner of a nearby diner is interested, as well.
Schumer said that showed the power of demolition.
“Now it’s a valuable property,” he said. “There’s always interest, when it’s a good neighborhood.”