2nd Ave. neighbors fear Chase bank demo damage

Neighbors fear the landlord will demolish this former Chase bank branch, potentially destabilizing — or worse — their own homes.  Photo by Tina Benitez-Eves
Neighbors fear the landlord will demolish this former Chase bank branch, potentially destabilizing — or worse — their own homes. Photo by Tina Benitez-Eves

BY TINA BENITEZ-EVES | A new tenant has not been found for the former Chase bank at 130 Second Ave. since the branch closed Nov. 13. Now, the two-story building, erected in 1952, might come down altogether.

Owners of the site at the corner of St. Mark’s Place, Icon Realty Management, filed permits for demolition on Feb. 19, and now residents at the adjacent 128 Second Ave., who have had long-term legal issues with the landlord, are worried that the razing of the former Chase branch might also lead to the condemnation of their homes.

“We’re concerned that they will ruin the foundation of our building,” said John Serdula, a 128 Second Ave. tenant since 1998 and head of the building’s tenant association and an active member of the Icon Coalition, a group of tenants who have been addressing landlord-related issues within the neighborhood.

“We’re scared that they will say our building is condemned and tear down everything and build a high-rise,” he said. “When a building is damaged to such a degree, you can’t live there anymore. It’s frightening.”

Serdula believes he has reason to be concerned. He and other tenants at No. 128 have been in an ongoing legal battle with Icon for years, which peaked following the Second Ave. gas explosion last March. Days after the explosion, an investigation in the basement of the building — which housed the now-closed Stage Restaurant on the ground floor — resulted in all the tenants being left without heat or hot water for several months. The residents took Icon to court, and while the heat and hot water has been restored, Serdula is wary of the landlord’s plans with his building.

However, an Icon representative told The Villager it’s too soon to tell what will be done with the site, but that they are covering all their bases.

“We’re not set to demolish,” said Chris Coffey. “It takes forever to get permits to do certain things. Sometimes you like to keep your options open to figure out what you’re going to do. It’s general practice for developers to file the right paperwork for a variety of things.”

Last fall, Chase closed two of its East Village branches, including 20 Avenue A., which merged with the bank at 106 Delancey St., and 130 Second Ave., now merged with the Chase two blocks north at 156 Second Ave.

The St. Mark’s Place site is still listed by Icon as suitable for a restaurant, bar, office space, retail or gym, at about $73,000 a month, or $876,000 per year. The  two-story space includes a 2,395-square-foot basement, a 2,542-square-foot ground floor and a 2,649-square-foot second floor, according to an Icon property listing.

“We don’t have any plans at this point to drastically alter the character of the space,” Coffey said. “We’re looking at various options and will figure it out over the next few months.”

Although construction of the Second Ave. subway in the East Village is a ways off — it’s part of Phase 3 of the project, stretching from 63rd St. to Houston St. — the original route included a station at St. Mark’s and Second Ave., halfway between the 14th St. and Houston St. stations. That station, though, is no longer part of the plan. But if the M.T.A. moves forward and adds back the St. Mark’s stop, Icon said it would work with the city to designate the proper space allotted to a possible subway station, according to its rep.

“Icon routinely works with the city,” Coffey said. “It’s just part of the day in, day out of what we do. I really think that with the site, it’s too early in the process. There are no plans at this time. We’re looking at different things and will see what happens from there.”

Whether or not demolition, in fact, will take place is unclear. Serdula definitely expects to see a high-rise go up in place of the former bank. It might even happen at No. 128, too, according to Serdula. In December, Serdula said Icon hired individuals to survey the building. When asked what they were doing it for, they said it was to possibly “build up,” according to Serdula.

“If you told me three to five years ago what I would have to deal with day to day, I would be like, you’re making this up,” Serdula said of his suspicions of the new construction. “It’s shocking.”

Coffey said that there shouldn’t be any issues with tenants in the adjacent building.

“The same way Icon works with the city and relevant agencies, they will obviously do so with the tenants on this site when we get to that point,” he said. “I think we’re putting the cart before the horse.”