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Anger in Chinatown Over a Huge Jail Project: ‘We Are the Dumping Ground’

Construction has not yet started on what could become the world’s tallest jail, a 300-foot-tall tower on a site in Manhattan’s Chinatown where the remnants of a former detention center still stand.

But local residents and businesses say they’re suffering through its prelude: a noisy, dusty and earthshaking demolition to lay the groundwork for the jail, in a neighborhood still reeling from the pandemic.

Since demolition began last spring, large cracks have formed along the wall of a neighboring senior center, where residents shut their windows to block out dust. Longtime businesses have warned that they may have to close because of reduced foot traffic or costly renovations. A pediatric health center has already moved, citing constant noise and ceiling leaks.

Now, community groups that opposed the new jail are pushing for more accountability at the demolition site, formerly home to the Manhattan Detention Complex, also known as the Tombs. Locals are bracing for a yearslong construction process that they fear will become only more disruptive.

“This is a worst-case scenario,” Christopher Marte, the city councilman who represents the neighborhood, said at a community board meeting on March 20. He noted the widening cracks in a wall at the Chung Pak senior housing center next door, a mixed-use building that also includes a day care center, medical facilities and other commercial tenants.

The cracks are not a structural threat to the building, according to city officials and the demolition contractor, Gramercy Group Inc., which has said it will repair the damage. But tenants fear that the looming tear-down of a second building on the site could cause more damage.

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