Hailed as a hero for restoring the Divine Lorraine Hotel, developer Eric Blumenfeld has been photographed on its rooftop, skyline behind him, racking up praise for revitalizing North Broad Street.
Across town, however, folks at Abbotts Square Condominium, at Second and South Streets, aren’t so thrilled.
A lawsuit filed by the Abbotts Square Condominium Association accuses the developer of violating terms of a 2013 agreement that his firm signed about the construction of new apartments, replacing the condo’s gated, upper-level parking garage.
It claims that Stobba Associates L.P. ripped out two of four stairways used as emergency fire exits and demolished a ground-floor service corridor to create space for a new grocery store.
“We’re not just complaining about construction noises at 2 o’clock in the morning. We’re not talking about inconveniences,” said Carol Klein, a former president of the Abbotts Square Condominium Association’s executive board.
“We’re not trying to stop the market. We want a market to come here. But taking out the fire stairs and taking out our move-in corridor, that’s detrimental to us. That’s our lifeline. Our safety is at risk.”
Stobba is a Blumenfeld-controlled company that owns the commercial spaces at Abbotts Square.
Only weeks ago, nearby business owners complained that the long block of empty stores at Abbotts Square was bad for South Street.
Abbotts Square is a mammoth, eight-story, L-shaped building on South Street, between Second and Third, and it extends from South to Lombard along Second Street. It was built in 1983 by Blumenfeld’s father, Jack Blumenfeld.
But it is a house divided.
The Abbotts Square condo association owns the fifth through eighth floors.
Blumenfeld’s operations – including Stobba Associates, Headhouse Flats Condominium Association and Abbotts Resurrection L.P. – own the lower-level garage up through the fourth floor.
Blumenfeld agreed to build a new emergency fire tower before starting construction of 47 new apartments, now called Headhouse Flats, the suit said.
“Defendants could not find the time or resources to immediately construct the new fire stair that could save the lives of human beings,” the complaint said.
Blumenfeld called his relationship with the condo association "dysfunctional."
"What they describe as fire towers were not legal fire towers," Blumenfeld said. Still, he argued, “I have made this building safer.”
As a developer, he has to move fast, Blumenfeld said, and when he demolished the service corridor, there had been an agreement in concept. The association disagreed.
The demolished service corridor dissected space needed for the new Bfresh grocery coming to Second and South.
"I gave them an elevator," he said. "They use my elevator to get to their condos. I gave them a renovated rear lobby, a maintenance room, and a lunch room. I give and give and give, and what do I get in return? I’m being held hostage, and they’re trying to get their ransom.”
Filed last September, the suit is now in mediation. “I think it’s 99 percent resolved,” Blumenfeld said.
A new fire stair tower was finally built last November after David Perri, the commissioner of the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections, got involved.
Perri, the L&I Commissioner, personally toured Abbotts Square at least twice after Klein emailed him.
“It’s one of the most bizarre building situations in the entire city,” he said.
“You have two different condominium associations that horizontally split this building in half. One handles the top half and another the bottom half. The problem is they all share the same exit stairways, fire alarm system and sprinkler system. It’s like having Siamese twins that don’t get along.
“They absolutely had a right to be concerned about the exiting in that building,” Perri added. “They had a huge travel distance to evacuate that building. It’s a whole city block.”
About 300 people live in the 171 condo units and tenants are moving into the new apartments on the fourth floor.
Klein said she still loves living at Abbotts Square after 20 years, but plans to move for personal reasons. She and her late husband rented before buying a seventh-floor unit in 2000. They enjoyed their balcony views of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and the nightlife on South Street.
But construction caused numerous fire alarms, electrical outages and noise from drilling through concrete late at night.
“It’s almost like an ongoing pothole crew,” condo owner John Gilliam said of the problems. “You fill one and another pothole develops.”
Blumenfeld said he wishes the association would work with him, rather than fight him.
“I love Abbotts Square,” he said. "I just want to make peace, and I want to make it a great community."
Once the new grocery store opens, he said, “The building and the whole neighborhood will benefit. Things that are worthwhile take time. Greatness takes time.”