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Construction May Resume at Building Where Crane Crash Killed 7 People

By Amy Zimmer | March 23, 2011 4:25pm

By Amy Zimmer

DNAinfo News Editor

MANHATTAN — The 18-story concrete shell at 303 East 51st St. stands fallow and unfinished, a somber reminder of the devastating crane collapse that killed seven people there in March 2008.

Construction workers are expected to return to work at the site by summer, according to community leaders briefed on the plan.

"It's a piece of good news, I think, because we had to get rid of that eyesore. It's a blight on the community," said Bruce Silberblatt, a retired building contractor and member of the Turtle Bay Association, who attended a development task force meeting with the new builder last week at Community Board 6 — exactly three years after the deadly incident.

Though the Department of Buildings still has a stop work order on the site, officials from HFZ Capital Group — which bought the foreclosed property last year for a reported $40 million — told residents they plan to remove parts of the structure before building upwards.

Turtle Bay residents have long wondered what would happen to the unfinished tower. Many feared the whole shell might have to come down since the building had violated zoning laws by extending 8 feet too far to the east, residents said.

"I thought they would have to take the whole thing down, but they're going to just cut down 8 feet and cut the balconies," Silberblatt said. "They're going to build steel columns up to the 18th floor and once those columns are in place they can remove part of the structure."

The building is only expected to rise 360 feet rather than its predecessor's plans to rise more than 500 feet — nearly the same height as the United Nation's Secretariat Building, infuriating many residents who didn't want that icon overshadowed.

Dawn Naba, 37, who works and lives opposite the building, was happy to hear something would soon happen at the site. She hopes it will infuse some life into the area where several businesses remain closed since the accident.

"I don't care if it goes up or down, but looking at a skeleton of a building out my bedroom window is pretty depressing," said Naba, a waitress at an Italian restaurant. "I'm basically looking at desolation every day and this is an affluent area. It's not like Gary, Ind. This is one of the busiest areas in Manhattan and things are vacant."

From his window down the street, Silberblatt recalled worriedly watching the construction of the original building. He filed complaints with the Department of Buildings, including one raising questions about the crane's bracing just 12 days before the fatal accident.

Silberblatt is pleased that the plan for the new structure, will put the tower crane on Second Avenue rather than on the narrower 51st Street, as the original developer did.

"It's going to be a bit noisy and dirty but it's not going to be like they're tearing down the whole thing," Silberblatt said. "I think they came up with the best plan possible. They promised to keep the community involved … unlike the previous developer."

Mark Thompson, chair of Community Board 6, said he was "very optimistic" that a "very professional and competent" developer is now working on the project.

"Even though we're optimistic, we'll definitely be on top of it 24/7," he added.

Thompson said the developer is expected to make a presentation to the community board in May once it gets permits — even though the project can be developed as-of-right without board approval.

HFZ declined to comment.