Paper: Philly building owner warned of dangerAP , Associated Press
Jul. 13, 2013 7:12 PM ET
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Representatives of a downtown Philadelphia building owner repeatedly warned city and Salvation Army officials that demolition of the building could endanger the adjacent thrift store weeks before last month's collapse that killed six people, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Saturday.
The Inquirer report (http://bit.ly/15CWcrs) said its review of emails and letters indicates that the warnings didn't prompt the city to step in — and didn't stop the owner from continuing demolition of the empty four-story building, which fell onto the adjoining thrift store June 5.
According to the paper, Thomas Simmonds Jr., property manager for owner STB Investments Corp., complained to a deputy mayor's office about an impasse in negotiations with the Salvation Army, which was seeking assurance that the demolition wouldn't proceed until legal agreement was reached about several issues. Those issues included protection of the thrift store roof, partial removal of a chimney and repairs to the common wall and sidewalk.
"This nonsense must end before someone is seriously injured or worse: those are headlines none of us want to see or read," Simmonds wrote in a May 22 email, according to The Inquirer.
A phone listing for Simmonds tried by The Associated Press on Saturday was not in service and an attorney for STB did not immediately respond to an email from the AP seeking comment. The attorney, Peter Greiner, told the Inquirer that Simmonds and STB would not comment because of pending litigation over the collapse.
According to the Inquirer, the correspondence indicates that STB, which was seeking access to the thrift store property, asked city officials to intervene with the Salvation Army to enable completion of the demolition "in a professional, legal manner."
In that email, Simmonds wrote the situation "poses a threat to life and limb" because the Salvation Army had not responded to his communications.
The day before the collapse, a Salvation Army lawyer in Harrisburg was pressing for assurances that STB would protect the store, the paper reported.
The Inquirer said the correspondence also indicates that STB promised in May to use a safer demolition method than the one that was actually used. An STB attorney outlined a plan to use a boom truck that would extend a long metal arm with a large bucket in which workers would stand to demolish the building, the paper reported.
However, officials have said heavy equipment was used at the site. A subcontractor is charged with six counts of involuntary manslaughter after police alleged that he was impaired by marijuana and painkillers while operating heavy equipment just before the collapse.
City spokesman Mark McDonald told The Inquirer that the deputy mayor urged the parties to work out their differences and was told that they would meet. He said he didn't know if the city Licenses and Inspections department had been told about a potential problem at the site.
Salvation Army attorney Eric Weiss disputed STB's contention that his organization wouldn't permit access to the store, calling the contention "nonsense" and the issue a "red herring."
"We were looking for an overall agreement . . . for assurance of what they're going to do on four basic issues," he told the paper. "All we were saying is: 'Give us an answer, please. What are you going to do?' And they never did."
Information from: The Philadelphia Inquirer, http://www.philly.com