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BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | A day after a metal roll-down gate partially fell off a long-vacant building near the western end of Canal St., contractors were at the site constructing a plywood fence around the building in preparation for its renovation.
John Mele, property manager for the Pontes, the owners of 502 Canal St. and the two buildings immediately to its west, 504 and 506 Canal St., was at the scene and said that the plan is to fix up all three of the buildings, all three-to-four-story structures dating from the 1800s.
“Landmarks wants these all renovated,” he said, referring to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.
Dennis Healy, who was also at the scene, noted sadly that it would mean he’d have to close up his discount bike shop, which is in the ground floor of 504 Canal St.
“That’s the end of the bike store for me,” he said.
Healy said it was his understanding that all three buildings would be demolished and that he and his family members would have to vacate.
However, Mele said, the buildings are landmarks and thus cannot be razed, and instead will be renovated and restored in a historically sensitive manner.
Mele said, it was true, the bike shop probably would not be allowed to return. Asked about the fate of the residential tenants in 504 and 506 Canal St., he said he didn’t have an immediate answer.
Mele said that Healy’s father, mother, aunt and two cousins live in 506 Canal St.
Healy’s father, Frank Healy, 87, a former Teamster, grew up on Renwick St. and remembers when the first building on the block got steam heat.
A contractor wearing a yellow hard hat at the site on Thursday, who said he would be overseeing the renovation job for the three buildings, said a report by some news outlets that an interior wall of 502 Canal St. had collapsed on Wednesday was not true.
“No, I don’t know where [they] got that,” he said. “Trust me, if a wall fell down inside, the building would be on the ground.”
Indeed, the building at the southwest corner of Canal and Greenwich Sts. has been uninhabited and in deteriorating condition for years. One local resident from around the corner on West St. who was passing by and stopped to speak briefly to the contractor said the building had been ringed by a protective sidewalk shed for, she figured, at least eight years.
The contractor said another local woman told him the corner building used to house a liquor store long ago.
The contractor, who declined to give his name, said the renovation work was being done for the “new owner who has leased the property,” and said that referred to all three of the buildings.
As for the buildings’ future use, he said, “It’ll be residential, it’ll have to be residential.”
He said the renovation job on the corner building would take about a year, while the next-door buildings won’t need as much work.
“It’s the one building,” he said. “It’s a minor renovation next door — they’re in good shape.”
David Reck, president of Friends of Hudson Square, lives up the block on Greenwich St. from the cluster of small Ponte buildings. He said the three historic houses were individually landmarked sometime around 2000.
He said the contractor’s stating that the buildings had been “leased” to a “new owner” actually made sense, given how the Pontes — major property owners in Tribeca and Hudson Square — do business.
“The Pontes tend not to sell,” Reck explained. “They retain ownership of the land. Which presents issues: The buildings can be co-oped but not condoed.”
Reck said that after Hurricane Sandy, pieces of 502 Canal St.’s exterior were strewn about, and that the Department of Buildings noted that it was one of the buildings that was seriously damaged by the superstorm.
Reck expressed relief to hear that the trio of low-rise houses — especially the one on the corner — will be fixed up.
“Oh, absolutely,” he said. “Why do you want an eyesore in the neighborhood?”
The sidewalk shed around 502 Canal St. seems like “it’s been around for an eternity,” he said, adding, “The buildings have been slowly rotting into the ground.”
In general, right now there’s a renewed surge of activity in Tribeca and Hudson Square, he noted. Three stalled projects on Renwick St. recently got back underway, he said. According to a construction worker at one of the sites, one of the projects reportedly may have had “Madoff” financing problems.
A hotel project is under construction just north of Reck, and a block east on Hudson St. a rooftop extension has been added onto a huge old manufacturing building in preparation for Pearson publishing to move in.
“All of this area is going to blossom in the next five to 10 years,” he said.
Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, said his group had been working for the past several months to try to get 502 Canal St. saved and restored.
Apparently, it may have taken last week’s bad P.R. of the roll-down gate partially falling off the building — possibly combined with some inaccurate reports in other media that an interior wall had collapsed — to finally get the ball rolling.