Contractor Damages Historic Buildings
Site Being Readied for Downtown Wilmington Project
By ADAM TAYLOR / The News Journal
WILMINGTON -- A demolition contractor working without the required permits on a $50 million downtown redevelopment project recently tore down parts of historic buildings that city preservation officials had ordered to remain intact.
The contractor, East Coast Minority Suppliers, was fired from the Renaissance Centre retail, office, residential and parking project in June. The firing stalled demolition work at the site for weeks.
Since then, the developers of the 1.14-acre block bounded by Fourth, Market, Fifth and King streets decided that what the contractor did by accident should be done on purpose. They have decided the historic facades of the buildings are too fragile and expensive to repair and want permission to tear them down, then replicate them.
That proposal, which will go before the Wilmington Design Review and Preservation Commission next month for approval, is not going over well with city officials.
"We expect that they go forward with the project as it was originally approved and designed, which includes the original historical facades remaining part of this project," city Communications Director John Rago said.
Robert Ruggio of The Commonwealth Group, the Wilmington-based developers for the project, wrote to the city last month to request permission to raze the entire block, rather than saving the original facades. Ruggio and Brock Vinton, another top Commonwealth Group official, could not be reached Friday.
Neither could Rock Brown, the owner of East Coast Minority Suppliers of Wilmington. City Licenses & Inspection Commissioner Jeffrey J. Starkey said Friday that inspectors shut down Brown's company in May because the company was working without demolition permits.
In addition, Brown's com-pany tore down some parts of the properties that were supposed to stay put, city Senior Planner Pat Maley said.
Maley said she had a conversation with Brown before he began work, and said that Brown was under the mistaken impression that he was supposed to raze the entire block. So she is glad that the code inspectors shut down the work, because she feared that even more historic buildings might have mistakenly been demolished.
Another demolition company owned by Brown ran into trouble three years ago while working for the Wilmington Housing Partnership, a city-run nonprofit agency working to revitalize city neighborhoods.
Workers from East Coast Shelly Construction severely damaged a house next door to a corner row house it demolished. The adjoining home was damaged because a joist that connected the two homes that should have been severed before the demolition began was left intact when the work began, partnership Executive Director Jerry Cain said at the time.
The family who lived in the damaged home was displaced because of the error.
The current project includes plans for a 325-space parking garage and a building with at least 140,000 square feet of office space, as well as residential and retail buildings. The project is expected to be completed by the spring of 2007.
"The early stages of this project have certainly been fraught with problems," Maley said.
Maley and Starkey said other contractors were removing asbestos from the roofs of some of the buildings in an improper manner. Neither city official could immediately identify the contractor involved, but said that instead of hosing down the tops of the buildings and using tarps and chutes, workers simply used sledgehammers atop the buildings, sending asbestos dust flying into the air.
Matt Volk, who is working on the project for the developers, could not be reached Friday.
Renaissance Centre LLC, a group led by Vinton, has paid $2 million of the $2.5 million purchase price for the block to the city and the Wilmington UDAG Corp., a city-run grant and loan agency.
Hopefully this won't slow things down too much. As for leveling the block and rebuilding, as long as they do a reasonably good job at replicating the originals, who cares? Also, this stuff should have been picked up in the engineering report. Sounds like a half-assed job on Commonwealth's part.
I just hope they can save this one as an original.