Real estate speculator Richard Basciano called it his dream: replacing his rundown, vacant buildings in the 2100 block of Market Street with a sparkling residential-commercial complex that would be a gateway to Center City.
Basciano's grand plans were lost in a cloud of dust and debris on June 5, 2013, when one of his buildings collapsed while being demolished, burying the adjacent Salvation Army thrift store at 22nd Street and Market, killing six people and injuring 13.
But two city officials testified Tuesday that after meeting Basciano and his development team early in 2013, they were skeptical his dream would ever become reality.
"He didn't come in showing me he was a serious developer, he came in as a serious property owner," testified Alan Greenberger, a Drexel University architecture professor who was deputy mayor for economic development in the Nutter administration.
He described a series of meetings between January and May with Basciano and top aide Thomas Simmonds, and a ranking local officer of the Salvation Army, about Basciano's plans to redevelop the 2100 block of Market.
Greenberger said he left with the impression the Salvation Army was not interested in swapping its store for another Basciano property two blocks west on Market.
He testified that Basciano did not seem to grasp the complexity of a development project the scale of his proposed Gateway.
Greenberger testified that he suggested that Basciano work with an established developer.
"I walked away with the impression he wanted to do this by himself," Greenberger said.
Greenberger and his former deputy, John Mondlak, the city's current deputy director of real estate development, were called as witnesses for the Salvation Army as testimony resumed in the 11-week-old Common Pleas Court civil trial of lawsuits in the building collapse.
The suits allege that Basciano and his STB Investments Corp. hired an incompetent demolition contractor to raze his vacant four-story building next to the thrift store.
The plaintiffs also say Salvation Army officers ignored weeks of warnings about a potential collapse from Simmonds and did not tell store workers or customers of the imminent danger next door.
Simmonds has testified that his warnings of an "imminent collapse" and "loss of life and limb" were "puffing" to persuade the Salvation Army to give STB demolition workers access to the store roof.
Demolition of Basciano's Hoagie City building had left an unsupported three- to four-story brick wall towering above the one-story thrift store. That wall that toppled and crushed the store.
Greenberger and Mondlak testified that they agreed to meet with Basciano in their roles as city officials whose job was to encourage and, if possible, assist real estate development.
Both testified that they stepped back after it became clear that Basciano and Simmonds and Salvation Army officials were at an impasse and that Basciano's project was far from reality. They testified that they did not mediate disputes between private parties.
Mondlak also corroborated Salvation Army officials' testimony that they did not believe the dire warnings in Simmonds' emails were real.
After Simmonds' and Basciano's first meeting with Greenberger, Simmonds began copying both city officials on every email to the charity.
Mondlak told Philadelphia jury that Simmonds' emails were "so outrageous, I had no reason to talk to him about them."
"They were completely outlandish, over the top, and unprofessional," Mondlak said.