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What you need to know for 06/26/2017

Nicholaus Building owners target city over demolition

Nicholaus Building owners target city over demolition

Claim seeks $5 million in damages
Nicholaus Building owners target city over demolition
Demolition remains of the Nicholaus Building at State Street and Erie Boulevard in Schenectady on April 10, 2017.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

SCHENECTADY — The owners of the former Nicholaus Building have filed a new notice of claim against the city, the latest shot in a legal volley during which no party has taken responsibility for the building’s demise.

Viroj and Malinee Chompupong, who own the parcel at the corner of Erie Boulevard and State Street where the iconic building stood for more than 150 years, allege the city negligently knocked the structure down the night of April 7. The notice of claim, filed Wednesday, is a precursor to a possible lawsuit.

RELATED: Hamilton Hill building demolished

The claim seeks $5 million in damages for the demolition. The building owners previously filed a notice of claim against the city seeking an unspecified amount for the initial damage to the building.

Schenectady officials contend they did everything they could to save the building, and said the owners made no effort to fix the structure.

“The claim has no merit,” city corporation counsel Carl Falotico said Thursday morning. “The city has been transparent about what took place to require this demolition.”

[What's next for Nicholaus Building site?]

The Nicholaus Building was demolished the night of April 7, almost a year to the day after when it had to be evacuated after it began shaking.

It remained cordoned off and untouched until April 7, when a Clifton Park engineering firm notified city officials that, around mid-March, the building had shifted, the west wall and foundation were further deteriorating and the building was in danger of collapsing.

The city asked MJ Engineering and Land Surveying, P.C., if it could wait a week or 10 days to address the problem. An MJ representative recommended immediate action, according to a letter from the firm to the city dated April 7 that was obtained by The Daily Gazette.

Falotico previously said he contacted the owners’ attorney hours before the building was torn down as a courtesy, and the building owners unsuccessfully tried to get a judge to prevent the demolition.

“I’m surprised that when we provided them with information that the building was a risk to the public that they decided to try to get a judge to keep the building standing,” Falotico said. “I think it’s clear that they really don’t have any concern for the citizens of Schenectady, that this is just a tool they’ve been using for financial leverage in their other lawsuits, and they wanted to keep the building standing for long as they could.”

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Lawsuits have dogged the site since April 2016, when the building began shaking and the walls and ceilings cracked. This happened just weeks after the building next door was demolished to make way for new apartments.

The Chompupongs, who live in Latham, filed a lawsuit in December claiming various organizations associated with the apartment development — including the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority, Highbridge/Prime Development, C2 Design Architecture and others — were negligent and caused the Nicholaus Building to sustain severe damage.

The city of Schenectady brought charges against the Chompupongs in the fall and began prosecuting the owners for code violations. It dropped that prosecution after the building came down, but it now plans to seek $168,000 to cover demolition costs.

The owners of Thai Thai Bistro, which was a tenant in the building until it became uninhabitable, are suing the city, the Chompupongs and construction companies involved with the apartment project, claiming negligence and breach of contract. The restaurant reopened in a new location in Niskayuna in December.

Officials said days after the building’s demolition that the fate of the property rests with the owners, who said at the time that they did not know what they would do with the site.

As for the $20 million apartment development next door, officials said it will move forward as planned, though an exact start date for construction is yet to be announced.

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