Centennial Celebration
Tribeca Landlord Ignored Fire Hazards For Months Before Monster Blaze, Records Show

The Patch - September 09, 2017

by Simone Wilson (Patch Staff)

George Butsikaris allegedly failed to fireproof a strip club in the basement of his historic building.

TRIBECA, NY — Brooklyn-based landlord George Butsikaris, the longtime owner of a Tribeca building gutted last Friday night in a monstrous, hours-long fire, ignored the city's demands that he fireproof the building for months, Department of Buildings records show. Safety hazards were discovered more than half a year before the mega-blaze during an NYPD raid of what appeared to be a strip club in the building's cellar.

Of the 200 or so firefighters who battled the fire at Murray and Church streets Sept. 1, at least a dozen were rushed to hospitals with minor injuries, according to the FDNY.

Luckily, no one else was hurt. But the structure itself was absolutely ravaged. Friday's fire ripped through all five stories of the office and retail building at 24 Murray St. over three-and-a-half hours, city officials said — leaving it uninhabitable with "extensive" fire and water damage. (For more local news, sign up to receive Patch's newsletters and alerts for your NYC neighborhood.)

"This is a tragic loss for Tribeca," one local preservation group said.

The FDNY has since deemed the fire "accidental." It was traced back to the kitchen ductwork at Pho King, a Vietnamese restaurant on the ground floor, a spokesman said. These ducts run all the way up to the roof.

But the building may have been a ticking time bomb. According to city records, the landlord let fire hazards fester for months.

Butsikaris has been fined more than $8,500 for a series of safety violations discovered back in January 2017 at 24 Murray St. (also known as 26 Murray St., 27 Park Place and 107 through 113 Church St.), records show. During a raid, city inspectors found that a nightclub called Remix was operating downstairs without a permit. The club had no fire alarms, no max-capacity signage and no safe exit route in case of a fire, inspectors noted — and, perhaps worst of all, its columns, beams and ceilings had not been fireproofed with flame-resistant materials, as is required.

Repeated attempts by the city to force Butsikaris to fix the building and pay his fines in spring and early summer were unsuccessful, records show.

Joe Castellana, who rents space in the building for his business, Contamar Shipping, told the Tribeca Tribune after Friday's fire that he'd been complaining to his super “for a while” about ductwork that “needed to be cleaned." He said a nasty, smelly substance had been leaking from the ducts onto tiles on the second floor.

Patch was unable to reach Butsikaris or other head staffers at his company, George Butsikaris Realty, by phone or email Wednesday. A woman who answered the line at his office (pictured below), located in Brooklyn's Bay Ridge neighborhood, said there was "no one" available to speak to a reporter, but said she'd take a message. We'll update this post if we hear back from a company rep.

Butsikaris made headlines in 2005 for buying a beloved old Prozys-Army Navy Store in Hackensack, New Jersey; in 2012 for buying a Key Food in Queens and reportedly threatening to turn it into a CVS (he still hasn't); and in 2015 for buying a $9 million-plus shopping plaza in Buffalo, New York.

Aside from that, his holdings are hazy. Like a growing number of landlords in NYC, Butsikaris often registers the buildings he buys not under his own name, but under the names of limited liability companies, or LLCs. Records show he uses other classic tactics to obscure his identity, too — such as transferring beleaguered properties from one LLC to another, misspelling important words and employing frontmen to sign his deals.

At Butsikaris' building in Tribeca, which he's owned since at least the early '90s, neighbors complained for years about the Remix nightclub, formerly known as Quest. Many suspected it was really a strip club.

("Cruise the bottom floor past the jalopy Buddha and his swimming fish to the checkered floor," reads a review of the venue on ClubPlanet.com. "The self-obsessed will love the copious mirrors, good for checking yourself out and spying on possible suitors. Bright colors, posh sofas and a mood of zen will make any party-goer feel right at home in this Tribeca gem.")

So it didn't come as a huge shocker when an ex-bartender claimed in a 2016 lawsuit that she was "subjected to nudity, prostitution, and people performing sexual acts" while working "private sex parties" at Remix.