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Woman, 37, hurt in LIC warehouse stair collapse

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A staircase collapsed at Long Island City’s 5 Pointz artists warehouse Friday, sending a jewelry designer plummeting roughly 30 feet and throwing the future of the spray−painted industrial complex into question.

The woman, identified in news reports as Nicole Gagne, 37, was rushed to Bellevue Hospital, where she was listed in critical condition Monday. Gagne, a Vermont native, moved to the city in 1990 to attend the Parsons School of Design, according to the Web site of her company, Leoworks Modern Jewelry Design. Gagne rented studio space at 5 Pointz, police said.

The exterior concrete­and−steel staircase, which leads to the top floor of the building fronting Davis Street, disintegrated at the third story around 5:15 p.m. Friday as Gagne walked along it.

“It was a huge noise,” said sculptor Larissa Deckermanzhi, who rents space in the building. “I looked through my window, saw two girls screaming and saw the huge cement thing go.”

The other person was evidently not caught up in the collapse.

Deckermanzhi said the staircase was heavily used by people interested in the array of graffiti art spray−painted on all the building’s exterior walls.

A full vacate order was still on the building Monday. A city Department of Buildings spokeswoman said the preliminary investigation determined the collapse was caused due to neglect or failure to maintain the building.

The building owners, Elmwood, N.Y.−based G&M Realty Inc., have several outstanding violations for illegal construction and occupancy of the structure for its conversion to art studios. A spokesman for the real estate company said an architect is working to resolve the violations.

The G&M spokesman also said the company would take down both of the building’s exterior staircases, but angrily denied the DOB inspectors’ finding, noting the company employs a superintendant and three assistants to maintain it.

“G&M has people there all the time around the building, taking care of it for the artists,” he said. “It’s absolutely not neglect.”

Sculptor Mary Kearny, who rents space at 5 Pointz, hoped she would be able to continue working there.

“It looks old, but nothing like that ever happened before,” she said, noting she has a good relationship with the building management. “When something is wrong, the super comes and fixes it. I think it’s safe inside.”

But G&M was not sure of the building’s future after the accident.

“That’s up to the Building Department,” the spokesman said. “We’d love to see the artists stay.”

Joseph Conley, chairman of Community Board 2, said the building has helped cut down on the graffiti elsewhere in the district and given artists an affordable place to work as studio rents increased around the city.

“If it’s a safe building, it should continue,” he said. “The people that operated it, the Wolkoffs, are very honorable people.”

A formal graffiti program has existed at the building since at least 1996, when G&M executive Jerry Wolkoff struck a deal with organizer Pat DeLillo, calling it the Phun Factory. Artist Jonathan Cohen, known as Meres, took over the graffiti project in 2002, renaming it 5 Pointz.

Cohen did not return a request for comment by press time Tuesday.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 6:34 pm, October 10, 2011
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