Reparations for businesses impacted by massive Bakers Centre water-main break remain uncertain

 A scene from two days after the water-main break at East Falls' Bakers Centre. (Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks, file)

A scene from two days after the water-main break at East Falls' Bakers Centre. (Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks, file)

The giant crater has been paved over. The cause of the 13-million-gallon water main gusher has been determined. And the store buildings have been repaired and are open again at Bakers Centre in East Falls.

How much the business owners will receive in damages from the city and their insurance companies is still uncertain, however.

The shopping plaza at 3400 Fox Street, which isn’t even a year old, suffered a rupture of a 48-inch water main in the early morning hours on Jan. 11. The resulting flood led to the evacuation of the adjacent ShopRite and Ross stores, and major damage to the smaller Hair Buzz and Dollar Plus nearby. The break caused an 80-foot by 60-foot hole in the new parking lot as well.

Contributing factors

Excavation of the broken pipe required Philadelphia Water Department crews to dig 50 feet down to retrieve the pieces and send them to an independent forensic lab to investigate the cause. This week, PWD public affairs manager Joanne Dahme said the primary cause of the break was “mechanical stress,” probably due to the heavy construction work that took place when the shopping center was being developed.

The combination of traffic loads, soil movement, and internal pressure contributed to the break, the PWD investigation found.

The broken transmission pipe dated back to 1895. Life expectancy for such water mains is 120 years, so this one was due.

“External corrosion of the pipe was not a factor in the failure,” Dahme wrote in an email. “However, it does appear that internal corrosion did play a role in crack initiation. There is evident internal corrosion pitting along an area of the crack front where it is suspected that the crack initiated. This internal corrosion occurred before the line was cleaned and cement-lined in 1982.”

State cap on reparations

The damage done by the main break is in the millions, according to the businesses affected. The owner of the ShopRite estimated losses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The developer, Michael Grasso, said in January that damage to the parking lot was at least $3 million.

Andy Kim, manager of Hair Buzz, which sells wigs and hair supplies, said his staff had performed most of the cleanup and repair work, with support from the landlord/developer Grasso. Kim said he will be claiming more than $200,000 in damages, but he foresees a long wait to collect.

State law caps the city’s payouts for such incidents at $500,000 total for all the parties involved. Mark McDonald, the Mayor’s press secretary, said the city’s Risk Management Unit is still awaiting claim forms from the Bakers Centre developer and other businesses affected by the break.

A severe main break at 21st and Brainbridge Streets two years ago spurred state Sen. Larry Farnese to introduce a bill to raise the cap for damages to $2 million. The bill is currently with the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Farnese’s office does not know when it will move out of committee.

“We’re optimistic for it, certainly,” said Cameron Kline, a spokesperson for the senator. The bill is “still around, and we’ll keep pushing.”

NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Alan Jaffe at


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