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Building collapse in Elmira renews plan to address ‘zombie properties', absent landlords

A vacant mixed-use building collapsed in Elmira on S. Main Street earlier this month.

The two-story building was in-between three open businesses: Anne’s Pancakes, MarShell’s restaurant and Georould’s Pharmacy Center and one other vacant, mixed-use building. Anne’s Pancakes, a neighborhood favorite, was separated from the crumbling property by a narrow alleyway.

Although it had to close down for a day, Elmira Mayor Dan Mandell said the people who were at Anne’s Pancakes when the building fell were safe. Marcus Page of MarShell’s restaurant said nobody was in their business during the collapse because they are a dinner-only eatery, however they lost a day’s worth of business.

Mandell explained there are similar vacant properties in the city that often go through several owners who purchase them at auction and are left unattended.

“They'll purchase them and then they'll find out what they bought,” said Mandell. “And [you know,] a lot of times we have to go in and code gets a hold of them, cites them and at some point they realize they bought a dead horse and it goes back onto the auction again. They foreclose on the property and the county picks it up and it's sold back on the auction.”

Currently, the lot where the building stood is now fenced in and it is “business as usual” for pedestrians, street traffic and patrons of the businesses along the block. Attempts to reach some of the business owners were unsuccessful.

It is now up to the property owner of the building that collapsed to remove the debris left from the demolition and repay the city for the cost of the demolition. It is unclear how much the city spent. Attempts to reach the code enforcement office went unanswered.

Mandell said his administration is working to address similar empty properties throughout the area that are in various states of ruin.

“When I was first elected, the first thing was to get our budget in shape. Next, was to bring development into the city, which we have,” explained Mandell. “And now the last thing we [got] to do is improve our housing stock. Not all our housing stock is like that, a lot of our housing stock is good. But we do have pockets of blight that [needs] to be addressed.”

According to Mandell, he and Elmira City Councilmember Gary Brinn are working on a plan to take care of what he called “zombie properties”.