Major explosion causes building collapse, fire on Second Ave. at East 7th

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By Maria Rocha-Buschel

A building on Second Avenue near East 7th Street has collapsed due to an explosion and fire earlier this afternoon, the FDNY confirmed. The collapse occurred at 123 Second Avenue and  FDNY said that 121 Second Avenue had also partially collapsed, but it was unclear whether this was a direct result of the explosion or occurred later. Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a press conference on Thursday evening that 119 and 125 Second Avenue have also been affected, and FDNY said that the emergency call came from 125 Second Avenue at 3:17 p.m. Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said that the area around 119 Second Avenue was vacated because of a possible collapse of that building as well, as a result of the fire that extended there following the explosion.

The FDNY does not know the cause of the incident yet but police at the scene said that it was consistent with a gas explosion. The mayor confirmed that explosion appears to have been caused by plumbing and gas work that was going on in 121 Second Avenue, but the investigation is still ongoing. The mayor added that the FDNY is dealing with a seven-alarm incident and have contained fires in all four of the buildings so far. 

Second Avenue was closed from East 14th Street to Houston after the explosion. The affected buildings included a number of apartments as well as restaurants Sushi Park at 121 Second Ave. and Pommes Frites at 123 Second Ave.

Notify NYC reported that the New York City Unified Victim Identification System (UVIS) was activated in response to the fire. Anyone concerned about the welfare of someone who may have been affected by the collapse and are unable to contact them should call 311. From outside of NYC, relatives and friends can call (212) 639-9675. The American Red Cross has also opened a reception center at P.S. 63 at 121 East 3rd Street in Manhattan.

“Today our community’s heart is breaking,” Council Member Rosie Mendez said in response to the tragedy. “My thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this tragedy. I am working closely with emergency services, my colleagues in government and with community leaders to respond to this horrible event. I thank the people of New York for the outpouring of concern and support. We pray for the victims and their families.”

On Thursday evening, Con Ed also issued a statement, noting the building had failed an inspection.

“Con Edison is working with fire officials and other agencies at the scene of today’s explosion and building collapse on 2nd Avenue near 7th Street in the East Village neighborhood in Manhattan,” the utility said.

“Earlier today, Con Edison personnel were at the location to evaluate work the building plumber was doing inside 121 2nd Ave. in connection with a gas service upgrade. The work failed our inspection for several reasons, including insufficient spacing for the installation of the meter in the basement.

“We had no reports of gas odors in the area prior to the fire and explosion. A survey conducted yesterday of the gas mains on the block found no leaks. We continue to work with all agencies on the investigation into the cause, and we are praying for the recovery of all the injured.”

Editorial: Small businesses are everyone’s business

Businesses, particularly small ones that help shape a neighborhood’s identity, are always on the minds of New Yorkers, who’ve grown weary of seeing them disappear in favor of banks and chain stores.

However, there are, finally, some opportunities to help small businesses. One opportunity is of course, presented by the more pleasant weather that comes with spring (well, hopefully soon, anyway) and the chance to check out all the new places to shop, eat or drink that have popped up in the post-holiday months and to re-discover tried and true favorites.

Another opportunity New Yorkers have to help protect the retail diversity of the city is to reach out to elected officials and ask them to support legislation aimed at helping small businesses.

As reported in this week’s issue, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer has drafted legislation that would give retail tenants a fighting chance at staying put when it comes time for lease renewal. It’s not exactly commercial rent control, but even giving small businesses the option of sitting down to negotiate rather than just allowing them to get abruptly kicked out would be a pretty significant shift of power.

A recently launched effort by blogger Jeremiah Moss of Vanishing New York called #Savenyc is aimed at collecting people’s stories about their favorite small businesses, which, like waiting lists for affordable apartments, seem to be a dying breed.

And here at Town & Village, we’d like to think we’re no slouches about supporting local merchants and restaurants either, with monthly new local business roundups and also the Shopping Local series of articles profiling businesses both old and new. While we’ve let that series, begun in the months after Hurricane Sandy, lapse, we are proud to announce its return in upcoming issues. If you’re the owner of a small business we haven’t yet gotten to, or if you know of a business you think deserves some publicity, please send your suggestions to us at editor@townvillage.net.

Brewer throws lifeline to mom-and-pop shops

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer discusses her legislation at the Upper West Side location of Halal Guys. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer discusses her legislation at the Upper West Side location of Halal Guys. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Legislation would make it mandatory for landlords to negotiate with retail tenants

By Sabina Mollot

New legislation could curb a trend of mom-and-pop businesses being replaced by banks and chain stores.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said she’s drafting legislation that would make it mandatory for a building’s owner to at least allow a retail tenant a chance to negotiate to keep his or her space.

“The future of street level retail stores and restaurants — I call them storefronters — has begun to look murky,” Brewer said on Monday. “Every day, the press has another story about a kids’ clothing store or a shoe repair shop closing to make room for a chain or a bank.”

The bill, which is being sponsored by the City Council’s Small Business Committee Chair Robert Cornegy at Brewer’s request, along with giving tenants a chance to negotiate, would also give the tenant the option of a one-year lease extension with a maximum rent increase of 15 percent. Additionally, a building owner, if planning on evicting the tenant, would have to give the tenant notice of that intention 180 days before the end of a lease. “So businesses will have enough time to find new space and make a transition, hopefully in the same neighborhood,” said Brewer.

Brewer also said she wanted to help business owners threatened by rent increases the option of purchasing the storefront through “condo-ization.”

“Many of the long-standing small businesses that are here today are only here because they had an opportunity to buy the building,” she said. “There was a time where you could buy a building, but that opportunity today is dim.”

While this is technically already possible under current law, Brewer said there are ways the city could be helping the process along. It may be possible, she added, to create a condo if the business portion of the building is split from the residential portion. Additionally, if 51 percent of the property or more is occupied by the business, it could qualify for a federal Small Business Association loan of up to $5 million.

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Letters to the Editor, Mar. 26

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Two sides to every cyclist/driver dispute

To the Editor,

I was disappointed that you reported “Cyclist wanted for assault” (Police Watch, T&V, March 19) without adding quotation marks around “Assault,” to indicate that the person has only been alleged to have committed a crime.

The article itself made it clear that the automobile driver’s claims were prima facie preposterous:  “A 54-year-old man was in his car when he was cut off by a bicyclist,” you reported. The average car weighs 4,000 pounds. The average bike weighs 20 pounds. How can it be that the driver can legitimately claim he was cut off by a bicyclist?

More appropriately, your article could have said the driver “claimed he had been cut off by a bicyclist.”

More likely, what happened was that the driver of the car was passing too close to the cyclist, or otherwise driving in a reckless fashion.  Words were exchanged, and the driver likely threatened the cyclist with bodily harm. Whether or not the cyclist used his bike lock to defend himself, possibly striking the automobile’s window in the process, is a matter for a jury to determine, after weighing the evidence. The prosecutor will need more than the angry driver’s word for it.

Often, there are two sides to every story.  If we are to make New York City livable again, we probably should give cyclists the benefit of the doubt before indicting them for a felony without hearing their side of the story.

Name Withheld, ST