Collapsed Carroll Gardens gym building had more than a decade of complaints of instability

carroll gardens building pre collapse
Body Elite Gym on Court and Union streets before collapse.

The Carroll Gardens gym building that collapsed on the afternoon of July 1 had previously received thousands of dollars worth of fines from 15 years of complaints about the building’s instability, according to public records.

The Department of Buildings has fined the owner of the former three-story building which housed Body Elite Gym on Court and Union streets at least five times, totaling $15,685 in penalties over the past two years, according to records by the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, the agency which handles the fines. Four of the five fines, which range from $1,280 to $5000 each, were for failing to keep the building up to code.

DOB has also received several complaints since 2005 about a wall on the building’s ground floor that allegedly bulged dangerously. The bulge on the Union Street side of the building is even visible on Google Street View images ranging as far back as 2009.

Two Google Street View images of the wall’s side showing a slight bulge, from 2009 (top) and 2019 (bottom).Google

On Thursday morning, workers had dismantled the building’s remaining wall on the south side, and police and firefighters still cordoned off the block around the fallen structure as workers hauled away the debris in trucks.

One longtime resident of a row house adjacent to the building, who was forced to evacuate her home Wednesday night and was still waiting to be let back in as of Thursday, said the gym’s side looked unstable for years and she routinely crossed the street to the bank on the other side.

“I just knew not to walk on that street, I crossed to TD Bank to walk down Union [Street], just so I wouldn’t be next to this,” said the woman, who only gave her name as Mary. “It didn’t look right to me.”

Workers hose the remaining debris of the gym on Court and Union streets on the morning of July 2.Photo by Kevin Duggan

On June 10, DOB inspectors found construction workers removing bricks from the ground floor of the building and issued a partial stop work order, demanding they install a sidewalk shed and hire an engineer to study the stability of the entire building, according to spokesman Andrew Rudansky.

Workers installed the shed a few days later, but the agency never received an engineer’s report, according to the spokesman. 

The inspector at the time did not issue a Full Vacate Order for the building, which would have required the official deem it unsafe to be inside at the time, according to Rudansky.

The DOB also didn’t issue a so-called Immediate Emergency Declaration for Demolition of the structure, a more extreme measure usually reserved for buildings that are visibly about to collapse, such as burned-out houses after a fire or leaning structures, according to the agency representative. 

DOB and other city agencies are still on the scene investigating the cause of the tumble, according to Rudansky, who added that they were glad no one was seriously hurt. 

“We are relieved that no one was seriously injured in yesterday’s collapse, and our investigation into the cause is ongoing,” he said in a statement. “Additional enforcement actions are pending the results of our full investigation.”

The building had been home to the gym for 36 years, according to a post on the muscle palace’s Facebook page late Wednesday night, which said the business’s team was devastated and shocked by the collapse, which luckily only left one person with minor injuries, according to the Fire Department.

“As tenants of 348 Court Street for 36 years the space we called home suddenly came crashing down in a pool of devastation,” the post reads. “We have been devoted to the community we served. Words can’t describe the overwhelming shock.”

The post went on to say how grateful the business owners were that no patrons were inside the building because it was closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are extremely grateful that the gym was closed due to COVID and no members were inside,” the post said.

As tenants of 348 Court Street for 36 years the space we called home suddenly came crashing down in a pool of…

Posted by Body Elite Gym on Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The owner of the building, Union and Court Realty Corp. — which also owns the adjacent building that houses a health food store and wraps around the rear of the destroyed structure — lists Ki Hyo Park as its chief executive officer. Park could not be reached for comment by press time.

The landlord reportedly told the head of the gym, Robert Alimena, that he had recently started repairs on the building to fix the cracks and the bulge, which Alimena was told was a “cosmetic issue” that did not need serious mending, according to the New York Times.

Alimena did not return a request for comment.

A now-deleted June 12 Facebook post on the gym’s social media page showed that the gym was having construction workers do an “exterior makeover” on its Union Street side of the building. The section of removed bricks at the base from the DOB order two days prior is also visible in the picture. 

“Still working and constantly updating. We are getting an exterior makeover. Doing all the things we haven’t had the chance to do and making the most out of our downtime,” the post read.

A photo from a now-deleted June 12 Facebook post by the gym shows construction work on the Union Street side and a section of brick missing near the base of the building. Body Elite Gym

Mary — the building’s neighbor — mused that all the heavy exercise equipment might have caused the building’s crumbling structure to give way. 

“Obviously the structure was not sound. Then you add in heavy gym equipment — bad idea,” she said.

The co-owner of an Italian pastry shop across the street said he hadn’t noticed anything unusual about the building’s structure before other than the recent exterior construction work, but lamented the loss of a local business.

“It’s hurtful, it’s unbelievable. Everybody loved this gym, he was a family person,” said Salvatore Fiorentino, the son of the owners of Pasticceria Monteleone BK.