Fire-struck Mount Airy property sold 20 months later

A vacant Mount Airy property deemed “a blight on the community” by neighbors was sold Wednesday in a Philadelphia tax sale. 

Colin Laren, a partner with Rochelle Arms LLC, bid $67,000 for 22 E. Mt. Airy Ave, just about half of the property’s current value, according to city records.

The building, one half of the former Black Olive restaurant, needs some serious TLC.

Just before 5 p.m. on June 14, 2011, a fire broke out at 24 E. Mt. Airy Ave., the former site of the Black Olive restaurant. While no one was injured in the blaze, later determined to be an electrical fire, the flames ripped through a section of the roof of 22 E. Mt. Airy Ave, exposing the property to the elements.

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The property hasn’t been touched since, save by officials with the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections, who tacked violation notices to the front door.

Standing outside the First District Plaza’s third floor ballroom, Laren said he didn’t come to the sale with specific plans for the property. He noted that he’ll likely make repairs and then sell it to another interested party.

“There’s a chance we might want to rent it,” he added.

Either way, Hollie Malamud-Price, executive director of the Mt. Airy Business Improvement District, is “thrilled” the property has sold.

“I’m hoping that the person who purchased the building will address its dilapidated state quickly and not let it sit for an undue amount of time,” said Malamud-Price.

Malamud-Price also hopes that the sale means that the BID will finally be able to collect more than $2,300 worth of unpaid assessment fees dating back to 2007. The money, she said, represents nearly two percent of the organization’s budget.

“[That money] can buy a lot and provide a lot of services,” she said.

The building, which sits just off of Germantown Avenue, Mt. Airy’s main commercial corridor, was sold to recoup thousands in unpaid real estate taxes dating back to 2005 – $16,335.02 to be exact.

The building, along with 24 E. Mt. Airy, is owned by Ina Walker, who was recently sentenced to six months in prison after she confessed to stealing more than $500,000 worth of public funds to cover a slew of private of expenses.

Walker and Hugh C. Clark, a co-defendant in the federal case who also plead guilty, used funds intended for the Cedarbrook-based New Media Technology Charter School, which the pair founded, to help bankroll a private school, a health food store, a web-based business and the Black Olive restaurant, formerly located at 22-24 E. Mt. Airy Ave.

The two also used New Media money, allocated by the School District of Philadelphia, to cover meals and credit card bills.

The pair also defrauded the Wilmington Savings Fund Society, a federal savings bank.

In July 2006, Walker was awarded a $357,000 business loan to purchase 22-24 E. Mt. Airy Ave. Walker never repaid approximately $339,000 in loan repayments.

Walker and Clark, who was sentenced to two years in prison, were charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, theft from a federally funded program and bank fraud.

The space at 24 E. Mt. Airy Avenue is expected to be put up for sale by the Sheriff’s Office sometime in the next four to five months. Laren said he was not sure Wednesday if his company would bid on the property.

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