Griffin Campbell
Griffin Campbell

I hate writing about contractors.  Out of all the people that issue ridiculous threats to me, it’s mainly from the scum of the earth dirtball contractors and their subs that wanna get closer to “real”.   So, I don’t write about them unless their shit gets way over the top to the point where more than 20 people are pissed off.  I can handle lawsuits, I attract lawsuit threats like a glue trap.  In the world of construction though it’s filled with stupid mooks who didn’t get far in life past their stint in Catholic school.

But that’s not the case here.

Griffin Campbell, the contractor who caused the Market Street building collapse was sentenced today to 15-30 years in prison.

The judge was not kind.  He stacked the sentences for each one of the fatalities and injuries consecutively.  This means tomorrow morning he will be put on a bus and sent to SCI Graterford or another lockup upstate, far away from Philly.

Campbell is of course only one small piece in a tapestry of failures that led to the tragedy on Market Street.  The primary culprit is of course the guy who ordered the cheapskate demolition in the first place, property owner Richard Basciano and his holding entity STB Investments.

Richard Basiano [NY Daily News]
Richard Basiano [NY Daily News]

Basciano is among the worst of blightlord-sleaze in this country.  He acquired his Market Street parcels from the estate of Samuel Rappaport, another notorious (and infamous) Center City blightlord. With cowboy hat and loud beltbuckle, Rappaport wined and dined Philly pols, sent cash in envelopes to city officials and employees while he scooped up real estate from under their noses.  Even after Rappaport died his property management skills still managed to terrorize Philly residents.  One of them was a parking garage off Pine Street with a dodgy facade that partially collapsed and killed Common Pleas judge Berel Cesar. It’s only fitting that Basciano entered the picture to continue the Rappaport property management model.

Immediately after the Market Street collapse Basciano went into hiding in his Symphony House pad.  He had good reason: the survivors of the victims soon discovered that Basciano was at the property site during the collapse, personally overseeing the work.

Basciano is getting a come-uppance that the criminal justice system is unable to provide.   STB Investments and Basciano are currently deluged with the perfect shitstorm of personal injury and liability lawsuits.

One of the new civil cases filed against Basciano comes from Liberty Bar and Grill and its former proprietor, Michael Kenish.  In that complaint, Kenish states that debris from the collapse damaged and forced the closure of his business.  He is seeking restitution to be made whole on lost income from unplanned street closures.

Basciano himself is up there in age.  That photo of him I put on this thread is from at least ten years ago, back when he was lauding over an article about himself for riding the porn wave of New York’s Times Square’s former heyday of sleaze to its current Madison Avenue/Disneyplex commercialdom it is today, and the revaluations of real estate values that came along with it and made him the “porn king”.

While Basciano might feel proud of what he did with his New York portfolio, he will go to his grave as a murderer here in Philly.  He murdered those people, each and every one of them.

I really hope Richard has something planned for his internment—like cremation or a burial deep inside of a tomb.  If it’s just a grave and a headstone I think that’s a perfect place to set up a remote memorial for what he’s done to our city, to the victim’s families, and the scars he will leave behind after he is dead.

Today Griffin Campbell is going to state lockup to cover for Richard’s crimes.   That is wrong.  That isn’t justice.   No one is celebrating this.  It is Basciano who needs to be put away.

For now we will have to settle with the satisfaction that there are well over a dozen law firms who can smell his money for miles away and want every stinking cent of it right now and long after he is dead.  Whoever gets the hot potato of dealing with Basciano’s estate after he finally croaks is going to be getting a tsunami of court notices in the mail.  I wonder who wants to inherit that headache.

Let that be a lesson for you cheap bastards who cut corners and make others pay for it with their lives.

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Would you believe it?  A major policy of former mayor John Street is being picked up and will be put into action in Baltimore, the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative.  The Baltimore Sun says it all

Calling Baltimore’s abandoned rowhouses “hotbeds for crime,” Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday announced a nearly $700 million plan to tear down thousands of vacant buildings and replace them with new developments — a level of investment in Baltimore’s poorest neighborhoods some say is unprecedented.

NTI was a $300MM program put in place under the former mayor to demolish the hood.  Scores of homes were leveled in areas across the city with an eye towards blight reduction and crime rates; most NTI demolitions occurred in the western neighborhoods of North Philadelphia.  Towards the end of the program some of the money was drained to assist subsidized housing developments.

The key difference between Baltimore and Philly?  Who is paying for it and the size and the scope of the program.  Philadelphia paid for NTI by writing out massive amounts of bond debt.  With no dedicated revenue to back up the bond payments this severely limited the scale of the program because of the debt load that the city could handle.

In Baltimore we’re talking $700MM committment and it’s going to come from the state with Bmore mayor Rawlings-Blake pledging to toss in another $94MM.  Baltimore is quite a bit smaller than Philly and this has the potential to mow down not just a couple of blighted neighborhoods, but perhaps a half-dozen of them or more.

One of the neighborhoods targeted is Sandtown, where Freddie Grey lived.

Both initiatives have the same starting theory: mowing down crack and heroin dens should obviously reduce crime.  It offers fewer opportunity for wayward young kids to get into trouble.   At least, that’s how programs like this are sold to the public by officials to make the prospect of years of demolition palletable.

There’s certainly a downside, besides the debt.   Building trades contractors seriously overbilled the city for work performed.  The Redevelopment Authority which oversaw the demolitions had none other than John Dougherty running the agency–talk about a fox running the chicken coup.  When Ed Rendell was mayor he was able to knock down 10,000 homes with just $88MM; 6 years later with a much bigger budget it achieved an efficiency below 60% thanks to the overspending.

Four years into the program NTI transformed itself.  City Council, agencies and activists started to see NTI more as a honeypot to pay for all sorts of pet projects rather than follow Street’s original vision.  Street also didn’t propose a rigid structure for what purposes the money was to be used for.  This left the decisions to the whims of City Council.  Towards the end of the funding term last year almost $30MM remained unspent.

All-in-all, NTI is seen as a failure.   Demolitions were well underway when Philadelphia saw its homicide rate spike in the summer of 2006.  NTI also avoided confronting property speculators–those people who actively own blighted property and are far more interested in holding the deed.  Condemnation orders were slow to come or would not be issued at all. This resulted in some vacant and abandoned homes disappearing on city blocks but not other ones.  The program also didn’t focus on VLCIPs (Vacant and Large Commercial/Industrial Property).   Philadelphia is still littered with half-collapsed factory building blight which has never been touched.

Ultimately the largest failure of NTI was in its own namesake.  It wasn’t really a transformative program.   The policy which has boosted rehabs and new residential construction in blighted areas of Philly still remains the 10-year tax abatement program, a product of the Rendell Administration.  That policy too is controversial; some people would rather be happier with class and racial self-segregation  in its neighborhoods than see the gentrification that creates plural demographics and will only tolerate a demolition program so long as it keeps the deeds to condemned property out of the real estate market.

I can’t really say I want to congratulate Baltimore on this one.   We went down this road and it didn’t go well.  Maybe Maryland’s Republican governor who is paying for this and its Democratic mayor who is happy to accept the cash can figure out a better way to do it than we did.

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Looks like the Spirit newspaper is on to something, and it doesn’t look good for our local branch of the Catholic Church….

The Spirit has recently obtained court records showing that O’Donnell & Naccarato, the engineering firm hired by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to evaluate the structural viability of St. Laurentius Church, has recently misrepresented inspection findings in another similar situation.

In a nutshell, the Archdiocese fed a load of hogwash on worshippers that St. Laurentius Church, an icon in Fishtown, is in immediate danger of collapse, which the ArchD wants to demolish.  Right.  Now.

It’s not that difficult to get an engineering firm to give an assessment you’re paying them to give.   My guess is that the ArchD will not entertain the idea of Fishtown neighbors hiring their own engineering firm to independently assess the St. Laurentius property to verify the facts found by Naccarato. can be just shit sometimes.   Here’s a story they ran Thursday on a multi-unit building that had a partial roof collapse in South Kensington.   Snow + melt + heavy + bad neighborhood (well, the Inky thinks this is North Philly when it’s really just South Kensington) = roof cave-in.  Ho hum, right?

Luckily, Property [Phillymag] has a better take on what happened.

The Putnam Building is the official name of this loft building
The Putnam Building is the official name of this loft building (1627-31 N 2nd ST)

This building had actually been restored as a loft/studio space many moons ago when Kensington South CDC bought it in 2002.  From the Market-Frankford EL you can see the rear of the building, with tenants’ potted plants and the like.  On in the inside I’m assuming it’s one creative fiesta of amazing.

When spaces first became available the building started appearing on websites that indie-artsy-minded folk visit (click for bigger), including this one where a group of “volunteers” assessed the building’s structural elements and its condition…

“this was a very solid building”… with a not so solid roof drainage system

Did nobody think to check the roof for reinforcement and drainage?  Alas, too late now.  I certainly hope non-profit landlords can swiftly get repair contractors and scaffolding up quickly before the damage spreads to structural elements.  Surely the sight of tenant rents drying up will be more than enough motivation to get the repairs done as soon as possible.

I’m wondering if Kensington South CDC is still thinking highly of that Community Design Collaborative report.

Were you a tenant in this building?   E-mail PDQ at

2317-25 N FRONT ST, on flames, just next to the former Bucks Hosiery Factory which burned to the ground.
2317-25 N FRONT ST, on flames, just next to the former Bucks Hosiery Factory which burned to the ground.

A mortgage satisfaction piece found in City records have uncovered a strong association with the owners of the Kensington fire building and a number of other properties.  They include:

30-36 S 52nd Street

5235 Chestnut Street

5237 Chestnut Street

5239 Chestnut Street

2315 N Front Street

2317 N Front Street (site of the current fire)

2319, 2921, 2323, 2325 N Front Street

934-36 W Lehigh Avenue

2649-53 Germantown Avenue

4061-75 Lancaster Avenue 

A rapid tour through this portfolio shows that most of it is large retail commercial space that’s mostly the home of the Family Dollar and Rainbow chain stores.  The mortgage document was signed by a man named Alvin Miller.  The deed to the property reveals that the building used to be owned by Miller Family Limited Partnership until being sold to the Brooklyn owners.

Mortgage Satisfaction – Front Emerald Partners