Behind the charming boutiques of Main Street in Manayunk sits a crude shell of a building. The property, which runs along the Manayunk Canal on a strip of land called Venice Island, is what's left of a 19th-century textile mill. It's basically four jagged, graffiti-covered walls with no roof and nothing inside — as if someone had started demolishing from the top and worked down, but never finished.
"It's pretty gruesome," says Mike Yanofsky, who works on Main Street and was taking an afternoon stroll along the canal's boardwalk when we caught up with him.
He noted the nearby construction of a new Venice Island recreation-and-performing-arts center and wondered, shouldn't something be done about this eyesore?
He's not the only one concerned. Kevin Smith, president of the Manayunk Neighborhood Council, says that although the eyesore is often "out of sight, out of mind," the undeveloped land surely is not conducive to Venice Island's $46 million revitalization, which includes the recreation center and an underground stormwater-management basin.
Jane Lipton, executive director of the Manayunk Development Corp., says the site is not only ugly but dangerous, because kids have found a way to get inside. They climb on the walls and skateboard on the vast, open site.
That's not a new development: Dan Diamicis, who grew up in Manayunk, used to hang out at the mill before it was just a few walls, when it was still a rotting building. He said kids called the property "Tetanus Shot" because of all the rusted nails and building parts lying around.
"Now, it's just like a wasteland," Diamicis said.
Help Desk learned that Licenses & Inspection declared the old mill "imminently dangerous" back in 2005 and told the owners it had to be demolished — which is how it ended up as just a bunch of crumbling, graffitied walls. Was the demolition a botched job? And if so, why didn't L&I do anything about it? We got some answers.
KINDA SORTA IMMINENTLY DANGEROUS: When a property is considered "imminently dangerous," that doesn't necessarily mean the whole structure is doomed, says L&I spokeswoman Maura Kennedy. L&I sends out a notice specifying which parts of the building must be demolished.
What was imminently dangerous in the mill's case? According to the 2005 violation notice, it was the "stone foundation wall thru out the building."
That's the "lazy way to write it," says Kennedy. (There have been major management changes at L&I under the Nutter administration.) It would be more thorough to detail exactly which walls have to be demolished.
Kennedy says L&I inspected the site in 2010 and cited the current owners, Waterford Development Associates LP, for high weeds and graffiti. The remaining walls are stable and not considered imminently dangerous, Kennedy says.
LITIGATION HIT THE WALL: OK, so the walls aren't about to fall down. But they're still ugly, right? Why isn't the property owner doing anything about it? We called Dennis Maloomian, CEO of Realen Properties, which owns Waterford Development.
Here's his short answer: If you own an undeveloped site, you're required to keep it secure. Keeping up the walls was the easiest way to do this, Maloomian says.
He says his company tries to keep up with the graffitists by painting over the vandalism. But his attempts are often futile.
"All we do is give the graffiti folks a clean slate," Maloomian says.
There's a longer answer, too. Realen Properties has big plans for the Venice Island site. You can see the mockups for the proposed luxury residential property on the company's website. But the Manayunk Neighborhood Council has been fighting Maloomian's plans for more than a decade now, saying that there are safety concerns with the island and that the development would be visually disruptive.
Currently, the fate of the partially demolished site lies in the court system's hands.
Maloomian isn't going to make any moves on the property until he knows what he's allowed to do with it. That means, for now, the ugly walls will remain. But there's hope yet.
Kay Sykora, director of the Schuylkill Project at the Manayunk Development Corp., is leading an effort to make the site "feel better." Her original plan was to work with the Mural Arts Program and get a mural on the site. Sykora says Maloomian was open to this idea. But now, she says it doesn't seem that those plans will pan out. She's looking into other options. n
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