Old City Building Demolition ‘Controlled’

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The planned demoliton of a building in the Old City section of Philadelphia Thursday afternoon led to a partial collapse that shocked public saftey officials and local employees who were unaware of the project.

"Today's demolition of 257-259 Market Streets was done in accordance with a plan approved by L&I and with all necessary permits and precautions in place," according to a statement released on behalf of Philadelphia-based Alterra Property Group, which is developing the corner property commonly referred to as Shirt Corner.

Yet as a crew worked to take down several adjoining structures at the corner of 3rd and Market streets, a portion of the building came crashing down shortly after 1 p.m.

"While this controlled collapse was not planned, its possibility had been anticipated due to the building's instability, and necessary precautions were taken," Alterra's statment said.

The Department of Licenses and Inspections issued a demolition permit to Mlavern-based Constructure Management Inc. on Feb. 12, according to the L&I website.

But a policeman on the scene told the Philadelphia Business Journal that Police and Fire Departments were not informed of the planned demolition.

Employees and passers-by in the area were also shocked by the crash despite the precautions taken by Alterra and Constructure.

"I looked outside and there's a bunch of construction workers -- panicked construction workers," said Jim Coughlin, who was working at the Artists and Craftsman Supply store at 307 Market St. when the incident occurred. "We could just hear the giant rumble in the store. And it didn't stop."

"We thought maybe it was a truck accident or something," he added. "And it still didn't stop. Then I just saw a big cloud of brown smoke."

The Philadelphia Fire Department was on the scene within minutes of the collapse.

Officials say no one was trapped by the rubble and there are no reports of injuries.

The unexpected crash harkens back to the deadly collapse of a Salvation Army store at 22nd and Market streets in Center City in June 2012. That fatal incident, which killed six people and injured 13 others, led Mayor Michael Nutter to appoint an independent, blue-ribbon commission to investigate L&I.

In the wake of Thursday's collapse, Glenn Corbett, head of the commission, said, "We are very cognizant of the demolition and vacant building issues around the city. This is high on our priority list."

"The commission is looking at all parts of L&I," he added. "The ultimate goal of all of this is to provide the city and the mayor with a plan to address these issues."

Constructure was demolishing the building to make way for the 54,000-square-foot mixed-use property that Alterra has planned.

The real estate development firm assembled ten different addresses for the retail and residential building, which is scheduled to be complete in early 2015.

A CVS pharmacy is set to occupy 10,000-square-feet of ground floor retail space and another 2,500-square-feet in the basement. The developer plans to build 59 apartments in the upper floors of the four-story property, according to the Alterra website.

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