Demolition Begins on Garage Next to Market St. Collapse Site

Demolition underway on Friday, Dec. 16, 2016, of the former "Stop and Go" parking garage next to the site of the 2013 Market Street collapse catastrophe. (Published Friday, Dec. 16, 2016)

An excavator armed with a massive claw on Friday ripped apart the western wall of a parking garage next to the site of one of the darkest moments in recent Philadelphia history.

The parking garage at 2126-30 Market Street is directly east of a vacant, grassy parcel once the location of a Salvation Army store where seven people died June 5, 2013. They were among 19 people crushed by a four-story wall of a building being demolished for owner Richard Basciano.

The new demolition project is underway as the months-long civil trial against Basciano and others connected to the catastrophe is on holiday recess. Already 11 weeks in, the trial is expected to last until at least early February.

It is unclear how long it will take to demolish the structure at 2126-30 Market Street. The contractor handling the job is well-known Geppert Brothers, of Colmar, Montgomery County. The 90-year-old demolition company has handled immense projects in the region, including current work on the Sharswood neighborhood revitalization in Brewerytown.

A message left for company officials was not immediately returned Friday afternoon.

Basciano sold the garage to Brandywine Realty Trust for $16.6 million in June 2015, according to city property records. The real estate company, with assets of more than $5 billion, owns the property through a limited partnership called 2100 Market LP.

Company President Gerard Sweeney did not return a message left for comment.

Brandywine plans to build a ground-level valet parking lot at the site, which sits in the middle of Market Street between 21st and 22nd streets.

Speculation about the company's longterm goal for the property includes a plan for a high-rise building -- not unlike the project Basciano envisioned when he owned a considerable amount of the southside of Market Street on that block.

As demolition tore apart the parking garage Friday, a chain-link fence surrounded the entire property, including the collapse site. The front facade of the building remained, with three large, familiar signs that read "Stop and Go Parking" and "Stop and Go One-Stop Parking."

The location has become a focal point at times during the collapse civil trial, as attorneys for the plaintiffs questioned Basciano about his location at the exact moment of collapse: Was the elderly developer talking with his demolition contractor Griffin Campbell at the site, or was he using the bathroom at the parking garage?

Basciano's exchange about his use of the bathroom at the garage led to one of two angry outbursts by the 91-year-old.

Attorneys also grilled Basciano about phone records that allegedly showed Basciano and his wife calling the manager of the parking garage at the same time minutes after the collapse.

The defendants are Basciano and his company STB, his project representative Plato Marinakos, Campbell, Campbell’s excavator operator Sean Benschop, and the Salvation Army.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys have claimed that officials with the Salvation Army ignored signs that the demolition was “imminently dangerous” and posed obvious risks to the company’s employees and customers.

Campbell and Benschop were the only two people criminally charged and are each serving lengthy prison terms for involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment.