Safety concerns at upscale apartment project in Center City

September 6, 2013 7:11:04 AM PDT
A major Philadelphia renovation project is coming under fire.

The developers of Goldtex Apartments are turning a once-abandoned eyesore into a sleek in-town building.

But there are concerns the stairs leading up to some of the loft spaces may present a major safety hazard.

We've been told those lofts, once advertised as an extra living space, have only been approved for storage.

We took cameras inside the building to get the real story.

"Could you put your bed up there?" we asked a sales representative.

"Yeah, if you wanted to," came the reply.

Our video shows the inside of the newest building in Philadelphia's trendy Loft District along 12th and Vine: a $38 million renovation of the former Goldtex textile building.

The high-gloss brochure advertises studio and one-bedroom apartments with pull-down stairs leading to a 'loft space,' decorated with a couch and chairs.

But as our video shows, there's one problem. When the stairs are down, they block the only way in and out of the apartment.

"It would be a hazard to anyone living in those apartments," said firefighters' union president Joe Schulle, "because if you create an extra bedroom in that space, the steps are going to be down at all times. And there is no access in or out of the room once the steps are down."

Action News producers took a tour of Goldtex and recorded their visit.

The video shows the sales representative struggling with those stairs, which lock into place when they are down and can only be lifted from the front of the stairs, inside the apartment.

"What size bed did you say could fit up there?" we asked.

"It depends on how you want to set it up. Like, probably, definitely a twin. You could do, like, a double if you wanted to," came the reply.

The sales rep tells us several times we could put a bed in the loft and tells a different producer it can be used for an office or guest room.

"We are setting this up as like an office space sort of," says the sales rep. "Desk, chair, like small den. Some of the one-bedrooms, it is actually few feet bigger. And we had, in our last model home, we actually had a small pullout."

"If they're locked into place, it's going to be difficult that you might be to the point that you have to cut them or muscle them back up into place," said Schulle. "It's not going to be easy to do. Particularly when there's a fire, and it's blackout conditions and you can't see in front of your face."

But in spite of a warning letter sent to L&I from the firefighters' union, Philadelphia's Department of Licenses and Inspections confirms they have approved the building's plans, and issued a temporary certificate of occupancy for the 8th floor.

A spokesperson writes, "L&I has informed the building owner multiple times that these spaces are not intended as living spaces and must be used as utility spaces only."

So we went to Goldtex owner and developer Mike Pestronk for answers.

"We have one of your people on camera saying that people could put a pullout couch up there or people could put an office up there," I told him.

"One of our leasing agents? Well, that was a mistake. You know, they were mistaken," he replied.

"But didn't you guys build it to be and intend it to be livable space?" I asked.

"No," Pestronk said.

"Even with the pictures on your website, that's not what you intended?" I continued.

"There's one picture on our website that has it, it's being removed," he replied.

But pictures provided to us by an insider also show cable and phone jacks installed in the so-called 'utility space.'

I pointed this out to Pestruck, saying, "So, I mean, realistically people are going to use that space as living space."

"Potentially," he replied. "We can't do daily inspections of residents' apartments to determine how they are using their space."

Pestronk points out that L&I has permitted their plans.

In a letter we obtained, L&I Commissioner Carlton Williams said,

"We can only address this if we have proof that they have people actually living in those spaces. If they are advertising, they are misleading their potential tenants. However, false advertisement does not give us the proof needed to cease any portion of the building."

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