When Charlie Rangel, Eliot Spitzer, David Paterson and other bigwigs broke ground on Fifth Avenue for the new Museum for African Art in September 2007, they didn’t know that their shovels would cause such damage.
Tenants living next door, scared by a huge and ominous five-story-high crack in their apartment building, have filed suit in housing court, saying the museum construction poses a threat to their lives.
The suit is the latest salvo in an increasingly bitter battle between the old apartment building and the politically connected museum, which is literally shaking the foundation of the tenants’ lives. The 19 people who are suing live at 8-18 East 110th Street. The museum is at 1280 Fifth Avenue.
Former Democratic mayoral candidate and city comptroller Bill Thompson’s wife, Elsie McCabe Thompson, is the president of the $80 million museum. And Bill Thompson lobbied extensively on behalf of his wife’s project, the Voice‘s Wayne Barrett reported earlier this year. Mayor Bloomberg has also steered millions of subsidies to the museum, whose artifacts are now languishing in Long Island City. The museum is scheduled to open next year, almost four years after the groundbreaking.
Meanwhile, life has been frightening for the tenants next door. The crack, which starts in the building cellar and runs in a continuous line up to the roof, is big enough in some places for a hand to fit through.
The crack was first noticed two years ago and is widening, the suit alleges. Tenants say they fear for their health and safety. In January, the city’s Environmental Control Board slapped the developer with the most serious building violation and ordered the company to immediately make all repairs.
The developer, Park View Fifth Avenue Associates — a name for the partnership between the museum and Brickman Associates — had agreed to pay for the repairs associated with the giant crack, says Sateesh Nori, the Legal Aid lawyer representing the tenants. So far, the museum has paid between $40,000 and $50,000 to make repairs on the building, says museum spokeswoman Lucy O’Brien.
Still, museum officials have consistently denied that construction is at fault for the damage.
“While no one named in the suit believes that the shifting that occurred at 8 East 110 Street is due to construction of 1280 Fifth Avenue,” O’Brien told the Voice in a written statement, “all parties . . . are working together to ensure that the issues are fully addressed. Structural work has been completed, and the parties are waiting to ensure that no further shifting occurs before the final aesthetic work is undertaken.”
Though they blame the museum for the crack, the tenants are also none too happy with their own landlord, the nonprofit developer Hope Community Inc. In the suit, they accuse the company of sitting on its hands in response to repeated complaints.