City will spend $80 million to rebuild Chinatown building ravaged by inferno

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The exterior of 70 Mulberry St., as shown in March. The building was gutted by a five-alarm inferno on Jan. 23, 2020. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

One of the most important cultural hubs in Chinatown, destroyed in a massive inferno back in January and partially demolished later, will be rebuilt with the city’s help, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.

De Blasio announced that the city’s Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) will provide $80 million toward the reconstruction of 70 Mulberry St., which housed several education centers and more than 85,000 items belonging to the Museum of Chinese in America.

Along with providing funding, the city also will create an advisory committee from local residents and leaders dedicated to the project. The city will also embark on a three-month visioning process seeking public input about the site’s future.

“In January, Chinatown lost the beating heart of its community: 70 Mulberry Street,” de Blasio said. “We’re working hand-in-hand with the community to preserve this building’s rich history and bring it back to life again.”

“Working with the residents of Chinatown, we have secured the funding necessary to rebuild this treasured site at the heart of the community,” added Lisette Camilo, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services. “This historic building is important to the entire neighborhood and we want local voices to help drive its redevelopment.”

The former tenants of 70 Mulberry St. who relocated after the fire will be welcomed back once the building’s completed, de Blasio said. The city is now working to preserve any salvageable material to ensure “a redevelopment that acknowledges the history and significance of the site.”

The advisory committee will include the displaced tenants as well as representatives of local elected officials and Manhattan Community Board 3.

“After the 70 Mulberry fire collapsed the building’s upper floors and displaced its 5 long-serving nonprofits, Chinatown immediately lost critical senior, cultural, career development, youth, and adult literacy services that immigrant families depended on for generations,” said City Council Member Margaret Chin. “COVID-19 stressed our shared urgency to bring this building back, restore the historical elements that the community has grown to cherish, and welcome these displaced nonprofits home as soon as possible. This is a good step to making that a reality, and I thank the Mayor for taking this action.”

Displaced tenants expressed relief that the building would be brought back out of the ashes, and anticipation for their eventual return.

“We recognize that this is a difficult fiscal year, so we greatly appreciate the $80 million allocation for the rebuilding effort,” said Wayne Ho, president and CEO of the Chinese-American Planning Council. “The seniors of the CPC Chinatown Senior Center are eager to return home to 70 Mulberry St., which for more than 40 years has provided a hot meal, human services, arts and cultural activities, ESOL classes, and more to over 300 seniors per day.”

“The Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) is emboldened and encouraged by the prioritization that Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) Commissioner Lisette Camilo have placed on rebuilding 70 Mulberry St. for the Chinatown community,” added Nancy Yao Maasbach, president of the Museum of Chinese in America. “DCAS’ commitment to preserving salvageable components of the existing structure and upgrading the building construction for broad community use reassures MOCA that the $80 million funding investment in 70 Mulberry, its tenants, and the community will contribute to a stronger New York City overall and will provide dividends for generations.”