"Shedding” some baggage

The recent removal of metal cornice, along with necessary repair work, has cleared the way for the sidewalk shed at 210 Seventh Ave. to be taken down. Photo: Scott Stiffler
City takes action at a longtime derelict site

Boarded up and bereft of tenants, an unsightly Chelsea building is getting safety and aesthetic upgrades, the result of emergency actions by NYC's Department of Buildings (DOB) and Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

Long the bane of locals, the sidewalk shed (aka bridge) in front of 210 Seventh Ave., which snakes around the northwest corner of West 22nd St., has been approved for removal by HPD contractors — ending its embarrassing reign as an eyesore, but, in the process, eliminating what has served as a destination for people who have chosen to live on the streets instead of seeking shelter.

“It's a dark, abandoned, derelict, miserably dirty site,” said Pamela Wolff, a spokesperson for the Council of Chelsea Block Associations, and a board member of the Chelsea West 200 Block Association. “The building has no power, no source of water, no gas.”

Combined with four unoccupied buildings on the diagonal southeast corner (similarly derelict structures, slated to become affordable housing), the “lack of any living presence” in the “unheated shell” at 210 Seventh, Wolff noted, “creates a pretty desolate space” in the neighborhood. “And it's been that way for so long. Years.”

The building has been shuttered since 2002. It once housed Chelsea's Espresso Bar, a beloved ground-floor business featured in 1996 by New York magazine (“a bit more down-home than Starbucks”). A March 2012 report by The Real Deal noted the funky java joint was owned by building owner Errol Rainess' late wife, whose death some in the neighborhood speculate has a connection to the property's frozen-in-time status. Others theorize it's retribution for City actions taken after complaints about the lack of nighttime lighting within the shed (since added), and garbage strewn along the length of the property (a problem to this day).

Not so fast to project, said Ed (he would only give his first name), a longtime property owner who lives in the immediate area. Ed works in real estate and “has met the owner a couple of times,” during which they've had “brief conversations ... I know he's aware that he was foregoing millions and millions in rents over a long period of time.” Couching his comments as not necessarily applicable to this particular case, Ed continued. “There might be a business reason, where it wasn't too bad to have a property that is losing money at a particular time, for tax reasons. Or it may just be his attention is elsewhere ... That's not an unheard-of phenomenon.”

One thing is certain: The building owner currently owes the city $624,130 in penalties associated with violations issued by DOB, noted a source with knowledge of the situation. Chelsea News was not able to reach the owner for comment.

Both HPD and DOB have had extensive contact with Rainess over the years, and DOB inspectors have been at the building numerous times. The DOB first issued an Emergency Declaration, requiring the installation of a shed, in Sept. 2010. Installation was completed the following month.

In early Feb. 2017, after observing hazardous conditions, the DOB ordered Rainess to make repairs to the fašade. By the middle of March, follow-up violations were issued, because he failed to comply. By mid-Oct. 2018, the situation had further deteriorated, compelling the DOB to issue another Emergency Declaration, which allowed HPD take action. In early Dec., a permit was issued for HPD contractors to remove 35 feet of metal cornice, and conduct repair work to the shed, as well as the building's windowsills, window lintels, and defective or loose bricks.

“When there are hazardous conditions found at buildings like this, where the owners refuse to act, HPD will step in to take the necessary measures to ensure the safety of New Yorkers,” said HPD spokesperson Elizabeth Rohlfing.

Which brings us to the present. After a Jan. 4, 2019 visit to the site, DOB inspectors confirmed that HPD's repair work is complete, and the building no longer poses a hazard to the public. As a result, the DOB has rescinded its Emergency Declaration, clearing the way for HPD contractors to remove the sidewalk shed, which should happen within two to three weeks.

NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson, whose area of coverage includes Chelsea, said, “For many years, the derelict property at 210 Seventh Avenue has been a blight on our community. This abandoned property and its scaffolding are an unacceptable public safety and quality-of-life menace for the people of Chelsea. After working on this issue for years with the de Blasio administration and my colleagues, I'm happy that it's close to being resolved. This has gone on for too long!”

Area residents are pleased to see 210 Seventh's sidewalk shed era come to an end, but expressed concern about the fate of those who gather underneath it. “I'm in sympathy with them,” said Wolff. “If they can find any halfway decent shelter, they should take advantage of it.

Notified by Chelsea News of the shed's impending removal, Muzzy Rosenblatt, CEO and President of the Bowery Residents' Committee (whose vertical campus is located at 131 West 25th St.), said, “We have, from time to time, gone there when the situation has gotten extreme,” but they've “not had much success moving people. I think they realize they're not blocking the entrance of a business or residence, so the protection the sidewalk bridge gave was helpful to their survival needs.”

Rosenblatt noted that BRC's official contractual obligation to the City is for subways, and the “organization technically responsible” for that area is the Manhattan Outreach Consortium, contracted by the NYC Department of Homeless Services (DHS).

“Our outreach teams canvass this area multiple times per week to engage New Yorkers who may be homeless and encourage them to accept services, said Isaac McGinn, a DHS spokesperson. “We remain undeterred in our efforts to engage clients proactively until we make the connection that will help them transition off the streets.”