City doubles investment in reconstruction of charred Chinatown building

Nearly two years after the multi-purpose building at 70 Mulberry St. in Chinatown went up in flames in January 2020, the city is nearly doubling its investment to rebuild the structure and tack on two floors at the top.

The investment, which Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday, doubles down on a commitment of about $80 million to restore the structure, made not long after a five-alarm inferno engulfed it.

City Councilmember Margaret Chin, whose district covers Lower Manhattan, joined the mayor to discuss the potential for the Chinatown building. Chin once attended the elementary school that formerly existed there.

“It will represent a brighter future for this community who have … suffered so much from the COVID,” Chin said.

The building houses a few nonprofits, but is city-owned. The plan is to return the space to community use, and preserve the facade of the building. 

“We talked to the community, we heard what the community thought was right for the future of this crucial site, the community wanted more,” de Blasio said. 

The building at 70 Mulberry also housed the collections of the Museum of Chinese in America, with over 85,000 objects. The museum has an online database of some of their collections, but many of the historical artifacts were destroyed in the fire. 

“MOCA is deeply saddened and shocked by the devastating fire at Chinatown’s beloved 70 Mulberry. The MOCA team stayed on site until hoses stopped last night. We have reached out to emergency conservators. Thank you for the outpouring of community support re: MOCA archives. We will update as we get more information,” the museum team wrote via social media on the night of the fire. 

They documented every part of the crisis until they reopened a year later. Over the course of that year, the museum team found that 95% of their archives survived the fire.

“We will finally see my former elementary school become a vibrant community center for generations to come,” Chin said.

When Chin arrived in the U.S. in 1963, this is the building where she learned English, she said in a press conference just after the fire. Now it is the home of the history of Chinese immigrants. 

“There is still a long road ahead of us, but the outlook has just been made much promising as the City has taken a substantial step toward re-building 70 Mulberry Street”, said Echo Wong, Board of Director of the United East Athletic Association (UEAA). 

 “We look forward to the additional space for the community that the new funding commitment has made possible, and the added programming potential it creates,” Wong said. 

The UEAA thanked the mayor for staying committed to a pre-COVID promise, after speculation that that pandemic would slow the process down for too long.