BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Here’s some gouda news about that damaged Little Italy building that was slated for emergency demolition.
No. 188 Grand St. — which until recently was the home of Alleva Dairy, the nation’s oldest cheese shop — looks like it has a strong chance of being saved after all.
Andrew Bench, a representative of Stabile Realty, the property’s owner, said the Department of Buildings has O.K.’d a plan to stabilize the old tenement, which dates to 1900.
Things came together quickly at a meeting on Tuesday between Bench, Stabile’s engineers and D.O.B. The approved emergency repair plan will be done in such a way to minimize the time workers must spend inside the building — initially, at least.
“The Department of Buildings has given us permission to conduct emergency repairs to stabilize the building,” he said.
“Essentially, we’re going to cement the entire structure together. We’re going to pump this tremendous amount of concrete into the basement, which will fix all the structural problems.”
As for the hole in the wall that opened up on Mulberry Street when an old interior chimney crumbled on Wed., Jan. 10, he said, “The collapsed wall is fairly low on the list of priorities.”
In other words, it’s the 2,500-square-foot basement that is the focus.
If, after the massive concrete pour, the building is then deemed stable, the wall repair and anything else that needs fixing will be done. The facade repairs will hopefully be done “within weeks not months,” he said.
Bench said they hope to do the pour this Friday, with the concrete then taking three to four days to cure. Fourteen cement trucks will line up and, one after the other, pump in a special slurry mix that will flow like water and fill up any voids, creating an 18-inch-thick layer of new concrete. The pour will take one day.
Handling the work will be Celtic Contracting, which Bench praised as “the best in the business.”
In March, Alleva Dairy vacated the space after reaching a settlement with Stabile over back rent the cheese shop owed from the COVID slowdown period. In July, Stabile leased the ground-floor space to Amici Restaurant Group, with plans for Amici to renovate it for use as a new eatery. However, Bench previously told The Village Sun the lease forbids the tenant from doing any renovations without first obtaining valid city permits. Yet, he said that during a walk-through of the site in October, it was clear that Amici was doing work on the space. According to Bench, Amici was then told to stop the renovation work — but allegedly continued. D.O.B. has said that illegal and unauthorized work was going on and caused the partial collapse.
As for whether the tenant was digging out and deepening the basement floor illegally, Bench said, “No comment — because of possible litigation.” However, according to reports, this was being done.
The emergency repair plan also will include monitoring the building with a high-tech system of lasers and optics. Prisms will be attached to the building’s corners and sides and a network of stationary lasers will be set up to shoot beams at them to check for vibration and movement.
“It’s pretty rare to have this level of monitoring,” Bench noted.
As for the projected cost of all the work, he said he couldn’t give an estimate at this point.
Stabile Realty has owned the corner property for more than 100 years. In the 19th century, the Stabiles owned two whole blocks of Little Italy, plus the Banca Stabile. Today, the family — which is located in Pennsylvania, where Bench is Allentown’s district attorney — owns only two buildings from that former real estate empire.
Ironically, “stabile” in Italian means “stable” in English, perhaps auguring well for the emergency stabilization effort.
“We’re undertaking the repairs out of love for the building and community,” Bench said. “We were motivated to do this by people coming up to us and saying they wanted it to be saved.
“All credit to the Department of Buildings for giving us the opportunity to try to save the building,” he added. “We are so incredibly grateful that we were given the chance.”
Among local groups involved in the effort to keep 188 Grand St. standing is Bowery Alliance of Neighbors a.k.a. BAN. Michele Campo, a BAN member, said she braved Wednesday morning’s freezing weather to go by the fenced-off site to find out the latest. To her relief, the supervisor of the demolition crew there told her that all the parties were actually right then at D.O.B. headquarters hashing out a plan to save the historic structure.