Sunday, July 31, 2011

Comex Copper Prices Nearing Record High

With copper prices skyrocketing, now would be a good time to take a hard look at your wire needs for the rest of the year.

Copper prices hit $4.52/lb on European futures exchanges this afternoon, fueling speculation that Comex prices for the precious metal will soon approach the all-time high record high of $4.63/lb set back in January. 
Most of the world’s copper demand comes from a single country, China. With China arguably in a real estate bubble, and simultaneously trying to control inflation by tightening monetary policy, it would seem that copper would have fallen out of favor with traders.
Copper trading data indicates that this has not been the case.
Fueled by steadily increasing orders from China, record high prices for all precious metals, and an improving U.S. construction outlook - speculators are shouting "buy, buy, buy!", while worldwide copper supplies continue to dwindle.

By Peter Coyne 
Follow copper trading live at

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Developer lands $700M construction loan for NYC's Tallest Residential Tower

Bank of America agrees to lend $700 million for construction of 1,005-foot-tall building across from Carnegie Hall. The 75-story project will include a hotel and 136 apartments.

This afternoon, Extell Development Co. reached a deal to secure a $700 million construction loan from Bank of America Corp. for a new skyscraper on West 57th Street, said sources close to the transaction.

Extell broke ground late last year without a loan for what will be the tallest residential building in the city. The foundation for the 1,005-foot tower, which will stand opposite Carnegie Hall and be called Carnegie 57, is complete. The property will include a Park Hyatt Hotel and about 136 high-end, ultra-luxury apartments. The city's tallest residential property is currently the New York by Gehry which is downtown at 8 Spruce Street. It is 870 feet tall.

Extell President Gary Barnett said he believed New York's economy was picking up, so the time was right to start building again. Barnett knew he could eventually secure a loan for the West 57th Street project because of its exceptional location, world-class amenities, and a design by noted French architect Christian de Portzamparc. 
Mr. Barnett said his project would be completed in 2013, in time for what he expects will be a booming market. The sizeable loan reflects what has been an improving market for real estate projects in New York as well as Mr. Barnett's development prowess. He is one of the city's most prolific developers.  
Extell Development recently won approval to build a 3.1-million-square-foot mixed-use project known as Riverside Center  (see ElectricWeb | Blogger - July 27, 2011) on the Upper West Side. The project includes 2,500 apartments, retail space and a school in five high-rise towers.

By Peter Coyne /
July 29, 2011

Friday, July 29, 2011

250 West Street Renovation Starts Next Month

Work on the long stalled condo conversion at 250 West Street in TriBeCa - which was halted in 2008 - is scheduled to resume in August, under new ownership

The renovation of 250 West Street is set to begin by the middle of August 2011, with the addition of a $30 million penthouse with a 75-foot-long by 40-foot-wide indoor/outdoor swimming pool, as well as and its own private entry, elevator and three car garage.

Once a three story buildiong when originally built back in 1898, the property underwent it's first massive reconstruction just over 100 years ago when, in 1906, eight additional floors were added atop the original structure.
Located at the corner of Hubert Street, the 371,000-square-foot, 11-story red-brick warehouse will be converted into luxury condominiums over the next 14 months.
Construction is slated to continue through October 2012.
By Peter Coyne /   
July 28, 2011

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Camba Housing to Construct $68M Affordable Housing Project In Brooklyn

A two-building, 209-unit affordable and supportive housing development complex will be constructed on a site owned by Kings County Hospital Center in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, with 146 units for special needs tenants and 63 units for low-income families.
The 195,000 square foot complex will rise on the site where two vacant buildings now stand. The two buildings, which have been vacant since January 2009, will be demolished in September with construction of the two new six-story structures to commence in early 2012.  
Developer CAMBA Housing Ventures, along with partner Enterprise Community Investment, which provides capital for affordable housing developments, recently closed on the $67 million deal to construct the project, dubbed CAMBA Gardens. The complex, located at 690 and 738 Albany Ave., will be LEED Gold and comply with Enterprise Green Communities Criteria, a set of energy-efficiency standards that New York City recently adopted for all affordable-housing properties across the city.
The deal, which took three years to close, was made possible with $24.5 million in low-income housing tax credits, more than $34 million in tax exempt bonds, as well as a $5 million construction loan.
Financing for the CAMBA Gardens project was provided by a large flock of private, public and government entities including: Corporation for Supportive Housing, Deutsche Bank, TD Bank, New York State Homes and Community Renewal, NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development, New York State Homeless Housing Assistance Corporation, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, and the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York Affordable Housing Program.
CAMBA Gardens will also provide on-site services such as case management. Referrals to medical care, mental health care, job training and other services will also be provided by CAMBA, a 30-plus-year-old nonprofit that provides a range of social services. The development is expected to be completed by September 2013.
CAMBA Housing Ventures was created four years ago to focus on building and operating permanent affordable housing with a goal to create 1,000 units by 2015, and is presently constructing a new green affordable housing development in the Spring Creek section of Brooklyn.
By Peter Coyne /
July 28, 2011

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Plans for New Riverside South Tower Unveiled

Extell Development unveiled plans yesterday for Tower 1 at Riverside Center. The 650,000 square foot tower will be the first of five slated for the final parcel in the 77-acre Riverside South development.
Extell Development, which received unanimous approval for its 3 million square-foot Riverside Center development from the New York City Council late last year, showed the public its glassy design for Riverside Center Tower #1 yesterday. The 650,000-square-foot residential tower at 40 Riverside Blvd has been scaled back to 33-stories high and will boast more glass than any of the other new buildings north of it.
The Riverside Center project is the largest development in the neighborhood, and one of the biggest in the city. The five tower project will include at least 2,500 apartments, 210,000 square feet of retail, a hotel, a movie theater, an underground automobile service center, a new K-8 school, and a fountain that you can play in with your shoes off. The projected completion of the project is 2018.
Riverside Center is the final undeveloped parcel in the 77-acre Riverside South mega-project, and will stretch from 59th to 61st Streets, and West End Avenue to the edge of the West Side Highway. Extell expects to develop the parcel over the next eight years.
Extell modified its original design to change the heights of buildings and space them out more, and it is getting rid of its proposal to include a Costco or other big-box retailer.
Under the new proposal, here’s what Riverside Center would contain: 
  •  3.3 million gross square feet.
  •  A new K-8 school on West 61st Street - enrolling up to 1,300
  •  A 250 room hotel off West 59th Street.
  •  A massive underground automobile service center with a street-level showroom.
  •  A shallow fountain and scrim that children and adults could walk into.
  •  More than 3 acres of public space.
  •  12% of the units set aside for affordable housing.  
By Peter Coyne / The ElectricWeb Network
July 27, 2011

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Two Stalled Tower Projects Come Back To Life

Two bankrupt construction projects came back from the dead this week as new owners fast track development along 23rd Street.
Edgy Design for New 23rd Street Tower
Luxury residential developer Anbau Enterprises plans to build a new 22-story tower on a parking lot at 41 W. 23rd Street, between Fifth and Sixth avenues.
Anbau Enterprises paid $18.5 million for the lot near Madison Square Park and plans to use an edgy design left over from the bankrupt hotel project which was originally slated for the site.
Before the recession, Horizen Global, a small real-estate company with grand design ambitions, planned a billowing glass hotel by local architect Carlos Zapata, who also designed the Cooper Square Hotel downtown. Like Frank Gehry's 8 Spruce Street and the IAC building in Chelsea, Mr. Zapata's glass curves stand out from the historic neighborhood.
The building would be located in the 28-block Ladies' Mile Historic District, and needed approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. In September 2006, Community Board 5 asked the City Planning Commission not to grant the developers the special permit they needed due to the building's size and use, claiming proposed new building would significantly destroy the continuity of the elegant and historic street as well as the aesthetic character of the Ladies' Mile Historic District.
The planning commission approved the permit anyway, with modifications. But before Horizen could begin construction in 2009, the bank foreclosed and eventually took back the property. The land has been in foreclosure limbo for years.
Mr. Zapata's distinctive design will remain. "We like the design and think it will be a great addition to the other towers in the Flatiron District. In fact, some people refer to it as the 'Tower District,'" said Stephen Glascock, president of Anbau Enterprises. Mr. Glascock is an architect by training and many of the company's previous projects have earned design awards.
Before the recession, Anbau developed 110 Central Park South and 136 West 22nd Street. Presently, Anbau is constructing 124 West 23rd Street, a 16-story condo that's been delayed for two years due to the market.
The area around Madison Square Park has become a prominent target for developers looking to snap up stalled construction projects such as the troubled condo project at One Madison Park.
By Peter Coyne /
July 26, 2011

21-story Apartment Building Planned for Gramercy Park Site
Toll Brothers plans to build a 21-story apartment building with ground floor retail on a failed construction site located at the southwest corner of 3rd Avenue at 22nd Street, in Gramercy Park. Construction is estimated to commence in Spring 2012, with sales estimated for Fall 2012.
The nation's leading builder of luxury homes, was the winning bidder at bankruptcy auction for the failed condominium project located at 276-280 Third Avenue. Its winning bid was $35.5 million.
By Peter Coyne /
July 26, 2011

Monday, July 25, 2011

Deadline Nears on Moynihan Station Project

Facing a year-end deadline, the developers of a long-planned expansion of Pennsylvania Station into the neighboring Farley Post Office are telling government officials that they're straining to make the terms of their five-year-old deal work, according to people familiar with the matter.

A venture of developers Related Cos. and Vornado Realty Trust originally agreed in 2006 to pay the state more than $310 million for rights to develop retail in the rear of the building, among other benefits. But lately, they've told government officials they believe the agreement struck earlier won't work with those uses alone, the people said.

Seeking other options, in recent months the developers have tried to get the City University of New York interested in a land swap plan with the Tribeca-based Borough of Manhattan Community College, the people said.

The developers would have built it a new campus in the back of the post office, and in turn, the developers would have been able to build apartments with unobstructed Hudson River views on the school's valuable land of the five-block campus along the West Side Highway. But those talks appear to have fizzled recently, as CUNY officials showed little interest, people familiar with the discussions said.

The developers have also shown the site to Nordstrom Inc. and Target Corp., people familiar with the matter said. Neither retailer has committed to the building. According to a timetable that was set last year, Related and Vornado are supposed to set the final terms of their financial agreement with the state by the end of 2011.

The cracks that are beginning to show in the deal raise new questions about the future of the ambitious plan to create a new home for Amtrak in the eastern portion of the Corinthian column-lined post office. This plan has proved elusive for more than two decades due to funding shortfalls, clashes between government agencies, and economic downturns.

Overall it's slated to cost more than $1 billion and other sources of funding, besides Related and Vornado's piece, also have to be identified before the new station can be built. The transportation and real estate project has long been a dream of planning groups, preservationists and economic-development officials.

After the original Penn Station was demolished in 1963 to make room for Madison Square Garden and an office tower, many have wanted to recreate a grand entrance to the city. The expansion project also is viewed as a way to spark new development in the dreary area currently surrounding the station. The new station would be named after Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan who championed it until his death in 2003. The project also has been supported by three mayors and five successive governors, but none have been able to gain traction.

It received its first tangible boost last year, when the state moved to begin construction on a first infrastructure-heavy phase of the project that involves an expansion of an underground concourse. It will be financed partly by federal stimulus funds.

The commercial deal with Related and Vornado is a key part of the project. While they agreed on the outlines of a plan five years ago, it never closed. The agreement in 2006 got sidetracked when the developers pushed a $14 billion plan to move Madison Square Garden to the rear of the Farley building and expand and remake the existing Penn Station. That plan, which would have unlocked about 5 million square feet of development rights tied to a redo of the station, fell apart in 2008 when the Garden decided to stay in place.

Vornado and Related are among the biggest commercial property developers in the country, but their pairing in this deal has been viewed as unusual. They are both run by forceful personalities—Vornado by Steven Roth and Related by Stephen Ross—and they both have competing projects nearby. Government officials refer to them as "the two Steves."

Retail has long been assumed to be the default use for the western half of the building, which runs between 31st and 33rd Streets and borders Ninth Avenue. Under the 2006 agreement, the developers would get rights to build that space as well as a boutique hotel for a total of 750,000 square feet. Also under the deal, they would get 1 million square feet of development rights to build a mixed use tower on a site owned by Vornado nearby. "It's such a valuable proposition," says Bob Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association, which has urged progress on the project. "Obviously the brass ring there is the development rights that are going to be transferred off the site."

Instead of retail, Mr. Yaro's group has pushed to convert the back of the Farley building to convention space, although he acknowledged the state likely does not have the money to fund that right now. "We would much prefer to find a better use," he said.

By Eliot Brown / The Wall Street Journal
Published: July 25, 2011

Construction of Apple Store Planned for Grand Central Terminal

Grand Central Terminal’s iconic main concourse, with its ceiling of glittering stars, will likely welcome another icon later this year: a single, glowing white apple.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials offered a glimpse Monday morning at the Apple store proposed for the train station, near the terminal’s east staircase. Apple plans to start building the gadget shop immediately, should the agency’s board give its approval Wednesday. Construction is expected to take about four months.

Apple is paying Charlie Palmer’s Metrazur restaurant $5 million to vacate its space on the terminal’s east balcony more than eight years before its lease expires. The MTA will get significantly higher annual rent: $1.1 million from Apple vs. $263,997 from Metrazur.

In addition to the space currently occupied by Metrazur, Apple will move into an adjacent, currently vacant balcony on the northeast side of the terminal.

“It maintains Grand Central as the iconic structure and place that it is,” Metro-North Railroad President Howard Permut said at a meeting of the MTA board’s railroad committee. That committee oversees Metro-North, which controls the terminal.

During his presentation, MTA Real Estate Director Jeffrey Rosen announced both the Apple store and a new Shake Shack for the terminal.

By Andrew Grossman
July 25, 2011, 11:39 AM ET

Friday, July 22, 2011

Hudson Yards Development Inching Towards Construction

Luxury designer Coach is close to signing a lease on the Hudson Yards development, providing the cornerstone tenant needed to kickstart the massive construction project at Hudson Yards, Crain's New York reported.
Coach, which has been negotiating with Hudson Yards developer Related Cos. for several months, might sign on an office space of 600,000 square feet at the property near 10th and 12th avenues between 30th and 33rd streets as soon as next month.
The master plan for the entire $15-billion, 12-million-square-foot project includes three office buildings; nine residential towers with 5,000 units; a 750,000-square-foot, glass-encased mall; a school; a cultural center; and 12-acres of open space. The project will take as long as 15 years to complete. The developer has said the project's first office tower could open as early as 2015.
Currently, the 26-acre Hudson Yards space, owned by the MTA, is a storage yard. The largest undeveloped space in Manhattan received city approval at the end of 2009 for the Related Cos. to develop it as office towers, apartment buildings, and parks.
While the Hudson Yards area remains raw, the opening of the second stretch of the High Line, which now runs all the way up to West 30th Street, makes the site attractive for prospective tenants like Coach. The strip by Hudson Yards' future development has recently drawn more foot traffic since the High Line's extension to 30th Street. The company is currently based in the garment district at 516 W. 34th St., a property the firm owns. The No. 7 subway extension to West 34th Street and Eleventh Avenue, expected to open at the end of 2013, is also expected to help draw interest.
Related signed a contract with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to develop Hudson Yards in spring 2010, but the developer still has to reach a number of economic benchmarks before it can close and sign the 99-year ground lease and begin construction. Some in the community believe that it's unlikely that the area will experience a full resurgence until the Hudson Yards area is developed.”
By Meredith Hoffman /
July 22, 2011 11:09am

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

NYC Trade Unions Confront a Rise in Nonunion Projects

A luxury apartment building is rising at 23rd Street and 10th Avenue, and, across town, one is being created inside an old Salvation Army building overlooking Gramercy Park. Other residential buildings and hotels are going up on 11th Avenue, West 18th Street and East 23rd Street.

All are signs that New York City’s real estate industry is clawing out of the recession. But they are noteworthy for another reason: they are being constructed without any union labor.

For most of the last century, the city’s construction unions were a symbol of labor strength in a pro-labor town, and their involvement in large projects was almost never in doubt. But just as public employees’ unions across the country are in the fights of their lives, the city’s major building unions are facing their own moment of reckoning.

While they are still a major presence, their share of the city’s $20 billion to $30 billion in annual construction work has dropped significantly in recent years. There are no official statistics; according to unionized construction companies, two out of five construction jobs in the city are now nonunion, though unions put the number at one in four. All agree that for many years, at least 85 percent of building jobs were union ones.

And the companies and unions are about to enter what may be their most tense contract negotiations in years, with the employers demanding large concessions and already angering labor leaders by taking their campaign directly to the workers with a Web site and in small group meetings around the city; subway ads may also be forthcoming. “There’s enough pressure on everybody,” said Bobby Bonanza, business manager for the Mason Tenders District Council, which represents about 13,000 workers affected by the contracts. “We don’t need another Wisconsin in this town.”

The employers have backed off an initial demand for wage cuts, but they are still aiming for a 25 percent cut in labor costs, by reducing benefits and changing some work rules. They say these changes would allow them to better compete with nonunionized companies, which are winning jobs from developers because their costs are 20 to 30 percent cheaper. “A combination of market erosion and the recession has permanently changed the financial structure of real estate in New York City,” said Louis J. Coletti, president of the Building Trades Employers’ Association. “This is not about a race to the bottom. It’s about our common enemy: nonunion contractors.”

All told, the negotiations involve 30 different unions and as many as 60,000 steamfitters, ironworkers, crane operators, laborers and carpenters. Union leaders say they have made numerous concessions since the recession started, including wage freezes on non-Manhattan projects, that have reduced overall labor costs by as much as 20 percent. But, they say, employers are now trying to increase profits by cutting benefits and exaggerating the loss of market share at a time when the national political climate has turned against unions.

Not so long ago, starting a large construction job, particularly in Manhattan, with nonunion labor was considered a provocation likely to ignite a pitched battle with carpenters, ironworkers and laborers intent on closing down the job. But during the building boom of the late 1990s and most of the last decade, there was enough work to go around that union workers were not terribly bothered if some jobs went nonunion.

But as the cost of land and construction materials skyrocketed, some developers began to become more cost-conscious and began looking for savings in labor costs, particularly by choosing cheaper nonunionized contractors. And lenders began to scrutinize costs more closely.

The unions and unionized employers argue that union laborers are more skilled and safer than nonunion laborers, and that it is far easier to mobilize large numbers of workers when they are organized. But over the last few years, nonunion construction companies like Flintlock became skilled in putting up midsize 10- to 30-story buildings, the kind of building where, along with interior finishing and renovation, the unions have been losing most of their market share.

Unionized contractors still have a lock on megaprojects like big office towers, including those under construction at the World Trade Center. But union leaders, construction executives and developers are closely watching a project in Long Island City, Queens, where H. Henry Elghanayan, a residential developer whose company traditionally uses union contractors, is expected to select a nonunion outfit to build a large complex with 700 apartments. “If traditional construction managers that stuck with the unions start losing nine-figure jobs,” said one executive of a union contractor, who refused to be named so as not to further anger the unions, “that’s a game changer.” Mr. Elghanayan said in an interview that he had yet to select a contractor. But, he added, “Everyone’s pressing to get total development costs down.”

David Von Spreckelsen, vice president of Toll Brothers, said his company built the first of two towers at its Northside Piers project in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with union contractors. But as construction costs escalated in 2008, Toll Brothers turned to a nonunion contractor for the second tower, prompting unions to protest with five giant inflatable rats. The company now has three apartment buildings under construction in Manhattan with nonunion labor.

And this week, the developer of the Atlantic Yards megaproject in Brooklyn said it was seriously considering using a prefabricated method to build its residential high-rise. While most of the workers would be unionized, there would be fewer of them and they would earn less money because much of the labor would be done in a factory, where wage scales are lower than on the site.

The construction unions have long been the backbone of the city’s blue-collar middle class. A journeyman carpenter, for example, is now paid $46 an hour, with health, pension and other benefits bringing the total cost to $85. The total compensation for mason tenders, a less skilled position, is $58. “We make a good salary, probably more than most office workers,” said Marc Spring, a union plumber for 25 years whose father was a union plumber for 40 years. “But we work harder than they do, out in the elements.” Mr. Spring acknowledged that “times were tough,” one reason that his local had already made concessions. Still, Mr. Spring said, he resents the constant talk of givebacks. “I don’t see how the developers aren’t making money,” he said.

Besides some benefit reductions, the employers want changes in some decades-old work rules, beginning with overtime. Workers now earn double pay for overtime; the construction companies want to reduce it to time and a half.

On most jobs, the workday starts when workers arrive at ground level, but on large jobs with many men sharing a hoist, it can take another half-hour to reach the actual work site on a high floor, and another half-hour to descend at the end of the day. Employers are proposing that workers be paid only from the time they reach their station to the time they leave it, and some unions have already agreed to this change.

They also want to end a requirement by the operating engineers, who operate cranes, bulldozers and other heavy equipment, that three workers be in place to work even when only one is needed. Although they are a tiny fraction of the work force, they are the highest-paid, often earning well over $200,000 a year, including overtime. James Conway, an official of Local 14 of the Operating Engineers, declined to comment.

The employers, however, are wary of pressing too hard, because a strike by just one union could be enough to shut down many of the city’s major construction projects. And despite the animosity among the unions and their employers, Ruth Milkman, a sociology professor at the CUNY Graduate Center who studies unions, said they have an important common ground. “Once you allow nonunion, lower-cost bidders to undercut the unions, it threatens everybody,” Professor Milkman said. “So there is a mutual interest at work here.”

By Charles V. Bagli
The New York Times

Bloomberg requests proposals which could create more than 7,000 construction jobs

The Bloomberg administration Tuesday unveiled its request for a new engineering campus. It's the beginning of a long-term quest to challenge the West Coast for supremacy in the tech world.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Tuesday details of a request for “universities near and far” to submit proposals to build or expand a science and engineering campus in the city—a project he called “one of the most promising economic development initiatives in the city's long history.”

In a speech at the Crain's Future of New York City conference, the mayor said a 1 million-square-foot applied science campus could create more than 7,000 construction jobs and spin off some 400 new companies, creating 22,000 permanent jobs. Some $6 billion in economic activity could be generated, resulting in roughly $1.2 billion in new tax revenues added to city coffers. “During the 1980s and 90s, Silicon Valley—not New York—became the world capital of technology startups, and that is still true today,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “But if I am right, and we succeed in this mission, it won't be true forever.”

The city is offering real estate on Governors Island, Roosevelt Island or at the Brooklyn Navy Yard at virtually no cost, and is pledging up to $100 million in infrastructure upgrades. It expects that contribution to be “matched several times over” by the winner or winners. Sources say the city could end up selecting two separate projects, and that Roosevelt Island is attracting the most interest, followed by the Navy Yard.

Roosevelt Island is believed to be the most attractive site because of its proximity to Manhattan, its public transportation and easy access to Queens neighborhoods that could accommodate startups launched by engineering students. Governors Island has infrastructure and transportation challenges and the Navy Yard is not accessible by subway. Applicants can also propose other sites.

According to the request for proposals, the winning entry must lay out a plan to develop research that will lead to the formation and expansion of companies in the city in industries with substantial growth potential. It calls for institutions to propose graduate-level programs on the campus and mechanisms to transform research into commercial activity. “We understand we will not catch up to Silicon Valley overnight,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “But—as with everything we do—we are taking the long view.”

The initiative was launched at the end of 2010 when city officials asked educational institutions for expressions of interest in building a new engineering and applied sciences campus. The city received 18 responses from 27 institutions around the world, including Cornell University, Stanford University and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. They outlined ideas ranging from environmental sciences to nano-engineering. All of the institutions that expressed interest are eligible to respond to the request for proposals.

Cornell, which in the expression of interest phase proposed four hubs, including one encompassing technology for healthier living, sent a large contingent to hear the mayor's Tuesday speech. The university has put together a trustee task force to lead its bid, including Irwin Jacobs, the co-founder of Qualcomm; Andrew Tisch, co-chair of Loews Corp.; and Abby Joseph Cohen, a partner at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. All are Cornell alumni. “We have been in New York City a long time,” said David Skorton, the university's president. “This is part of our DNA.”

Stanford issued a statement Tuesday afternoon saying it planned to make a proposal by the October deadline. The university's initial interest has centered on an engineering, computer science and business program based on Roosevelt Island. The university outlined plans for 200,000-square feet each of residential towers and academic buildings centered around an open green space, with cafes, retail shops, an auditorium and gym on the edge of the East River. "Stanford University brings its entrepreneurial culture, excellence in engineering and technology, proven track record of partnering with industry and history of successfully transferring research advances to the marketplace," said President John Hennessy.

Responses to the call for proposals are due in October, with a winner or winners to be chosen by the end of 2011. Projects will be judged based on economic impact and feasibility (40%), respondents' track records (40%) and their connections to the local community (20%). Ground could be broken in 2013. The opening of the first phase of the project, which includes at least 250,000 square feet of development, is scheduled for 2015.

Mr. Bloomberg described the effort as the city's “most ambitious attempt to counteract a decades-long economic trend that once threatened the very future of American cities”—the decline of manufacturing jobs. New York managed to survive an 81% drop in manufacturing jobs, to 150,000, between 1966 and 2001, when Mr. Bloomberg was elected. But it did so largely on the back of Wall Street, becoming dependent on its booms and suffering from its inevitable busts.”

The request for proposals issued Tuesday is an attempt to shift the city's reliance away from Wall Street and toward a future based on technology. In remarks at the conference, Bloomberg L.P. Chief Executive Dan Doctoroff said New York is “on the cusp” of establishing itself as a player in the tech world. “This can really be the catalyst for making that a reality for the long term,” he said.

By Daniel Massey / Crain's New York Business
July 19, 2011 5:12 P.M.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Copper Prices Jump on New Construction Report

Comex copper added to its gains after a stronger-than-forecast report on U.S. housing starts.

Comex copper added to its gains after a stronger-than-forecast report on U.S. housing starts, says Stephen Platt, senior account executive with Archer Financial.

The market has been drawing support on ideas that China’s demand is holding up.

Then Tuesday morning, the Commerce Department reported June housing starts in the U.S. climbed 14.6% to an annualized 629,000 units, well above expectations for around 580,000. “It did respond to the numbers,” Platt says. "That did provide some support.”

As of 7:54 a.m. EDT, Comex September Copper was 7.45 cents higher at $4.48 a pound and has been as high as $4.49.

Visit to track copper prices in real time.
Research by Allen Sykora / Kitco News

Monday, July 18, 2011

Stalled $28M Construction Project Revived Under City Program

A Hole in the ground in Queens, once planned to sprout 117 market-rate condos, will be reborn as a mixed-income residential development, courtesy of the Housing Asset Renewal Program.

A second stalled condo project will be revived under a city program designed to convert dormant sites into affordable housing, the city announced Monday.

A stalled Long Island City, Queens, project will become a 117-unit mixed-income residential development with 108 affordable rental apartments for middle-income New Yorkers. The project, located at 23-10 41st Ave., was originally designed as a market-rate condominium. Under the Housing Asset Renewal Program, the city and Bank of America will provide Queensboro Development, the project's developer, with a low-interest construction and permanent loan for a total of $28 million. The program will provide $7.6 million, or $70,000 per unit, in subsidies for the project. For the city, one of the key points is that the subsidy per unit is far less than the $100,000 to $125,000 per unit needed to build new moderate-income rental projects.

“It was a total hole in the ground, and now more than half of the planned units will be affordable, far exceeding the requirements of Housing Asset Renewal Program,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who launched the housing renewal program in July 2009. “This project has been challenged, and now through a public-private partnership, we a turning it into a positive for middle-income families and the neighborhood.”

Queensboro Development, the third owner of the project, bought the site for $6.4 million in June 2009, at a 33% discount from its previous owner, who took it over in 2007. The site, made up of three lots, was originally assembled by a joint venture in 2005, and the initial developers spent $9.7 million on the acquisition, demolition, excavation and pre-development of the condo project. Queensboro, which applied for the housing renewal program early last year, will invest $6.3 million in equity in the project..

The new project will be made up of 17 apartments for households with incomes of $79,200 a year or less for a family of four and 91 units for households with incomes of $102,960 or less for a family of four. The rental unit mix will include 31 studios, 42 one-bedroom units and 36 three-bedroom apartments. The project will also include eight market-rate condo units for sale. It will also have roughly 16,481 square feet of retail space and 30 parking spots..

“This deal is important because we're starting to achieve a greater scale in terms of size of projects,” said Mathew Wambua, commissioner of the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development. The first Housing Asset Renewal Program deal closed earlier this year, and it will create a 46-unit affordable rental building in Brooklyn.”.

It has taken longer than expected for the city program to get traction, said Mr. Wambua, noting that banks have been reluctant to deal with bad construction loans on their books and low interest rates have allowed banks to sit on those assets. “Banks could extend and pretend,” he said. “Now we are turning a corner, and some banks are willing to acknowledge bad assets.”.

The deadline for developers to apply to the housing renewal program was originally December 2009, but the city extended the deadline and is still currently taking applications. Mr. Wambua said the program has the capability to create another 214 affordable rental units. The Housing Asset Renewal Program can subsidize up to $75,000 per unit for a rental project and $50,000 for a condo project. So far, all projects considered for the program are rental projects because the homebuyer financing market is still very tight, Mr. Wambua said.

Construction of the Long Island City project has already begun and is slated to be completed by spring 2013.

By Amanda Fung / Crain's New York Business
July 18, 2011 10:53 a.m.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Construction Material Costs Outrun Finished Building Prices In June, Subjecting Contractors To Price Squeeze Despite One-Month Dip In Costs

Latest Producer Price Index Figures Show Contractors are Paying More for Diesel Fuel, Metal Products; Association Officials Urge Congress, White House to Rethink Pending Cuts for Infrastructure Repairs.

Construction costs again outpaced other producer prices in June but contractors remained unable to recoup the costs through higher bid prices, according to an analysis of producer price index figures released today by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials said the ongoing cost squeeze will put new pressure on construction firms to reduce staff and possibly close.

Despite a one-month dip in the prices of some key materials in June, construction costs rose on a year-over-year basis at the highest rate since 2008,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Worse, prices are rising amid continued layoffs and construction spending levels that hit an 11-year low in May.”

Simonson noted that the producer price index for all construction materials inched down 0.1 percent in June but increased 8.3 percent over the past 12 months, whereas the index for finished goods fell 0.7 percent for the month (0.4 percent, seasonally adjusted) and climbed 7.0 percent over 12 months. Meanwhile, the price of finished buildings was unchanged in June and rose only 2.0 percent or less over the past year, depending on building type.

Simonson said outsized year-over-year price increases for construction were attributable to the indexes for diesel fuel and metals. The index for diesel rose 1.4 percent in June and 50 percent since June 2010. Among key metals, prices for copper and brass mill shape climbed 0.4 percent and 26 percent, respectively; aluminum mill shapes rose 0.4 percent and 17 percent; and steel mill products dropped 1.7 percent in the latest month but increased 7.0 percent from a year earlier.

“All of these materials are in worldwide demand, with supplies that are either tight or threatened by international turmoil,” Simonson commented. “In contrast, materials that go strictly for construction have dropped in price as demand remains weak.” He cited as examples the price indexes for gypsum products such as wallboard, which fell 2.8 percent in June and 7.4 percent over 12 months; lumber and plywood, 0.9 percent and 4.1 percent; and concrete products, 0.1 percent and 0.2 percent.

Association officials said that given the continued economic pressures on the construction industry, Congress and the White House should reconsider planned cuts for infrastructure maintenance that will only increase taxpayer burdens over the long-term. “Allowing our highways, bridges and public structures to degrade will make matters worse for the construction industry and force taxpayers to pay more to fix broken buildings and infrastructure,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer.

View the latest producer price index tables for construction at

The Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America
Press Release: July 14, 2011

Friday, July 15, 2011

Cuomo OKs plans for U.N. to build

The governor gave the United Nations his blessing to replace a park with a commercial tower. However, the international body won't decide until fall whether to proceed.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation on Friday that allows the United Nations to construct another building on what is now a park. The transaction is part of large, complicated plan to fill a 21-block gap in the East Side waterfront promenade that runs between East 38th and East 60th streets.The money received from the sale of the park land, combined with funds the city would garner from selling two office buildings, would be used to the extend the promenade.

After receiving an official request from the City Council, the state Legislature last month passed a law that lets city and state officials sign a “memorandum of understanding” by Oct. 10 and allow for the future demolition of Robert Moses Playground so the United Nations could build a tower on the site's 29,000-square-foot blacktop. The park is on First Avenue, across East 42nd Street from the international body.

The legislation was necessary because it takes state approval to eliminate a park, yet law makers won't be in session during the fall when the U.N. is expected to decide whether to move forward with the plan. The memorandum would allow local state representatives to require conditions be met before a deal could proceed. The plan would also be subject to the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

"For over 60 years, the United Nations has been an important part of New York, bringing jobs, tourism, and economic development to the city," Mr. Cuomo said, in a statement. "This law allows the U.N. to expand its facilities, bringing hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment and helping it better serve its vital mission."

Meanwhile, the city last month tapped the firm AECOM to provide engineering, design and planning services for the project and to study both its cost and feasibility. In the past, experts have estimated the project could cost between $150 million and $200 million. There is currently no funding for it.

Additionally, the city will soon begin infrastructure work on an East River pier located between East 38th and East 41st streets that was once leased to Consolidated Edison Co. and could anchor around 34,000 square feet of new public space. The work, which will include rehabilitating the pier's piles and decking, will be funded by a $13 million payment from Con Edison that was part of earlier requirements under its previous lease.

A completion date for the revamped pier and new park space will be determined as the early design work progresses, an Economic Development Corp. spokesman said.

By Theresa Agovino / Crain's New York Business
July 15, 2011 3:37 p.m.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Judge Halts work at 510 Fifth Avenue

A state Supreme Court judge has ordered renovations halted at a landmark office building at Fifth Avenue and 43rd Street that preservationists call a model of modernism. A former bank that was originally part of the Manufacturers Trust Company, it was designed by Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in the era of the gray flannel suit.

Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice Lucy A. Billings issued a temporary restraining order on Tuesday in response to a lawsuit brought by preservationists. The advocacy group Citizens Emergency Committee to Preserve Preservation filed the lawsuit, which charges that the building’s owner, Vornado Realty Trust, abetted by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, has disregarded restrictions designed to protect the interior. That transparent interior, designated a landmark in February, features illuminated ceilings that were intended to minimize glare and shadow; twin escalators; a side entrance to preserve the Fifth Avenue glass curtain wall; and a circular stainless-steel vault door. But two months later the commission allowed Vornado to change some of these elements in reconfiguring the space for a store, Joe Fresh. The changes include moving the escalators and carving two entrances into the Fifth Avenue facade.

The preservationists said the demolition work, which began in June, had exceeded the limits set by the commission. But city officials said the work had complied with the permit and that the interior alterations were approved after thorough consideration. “We approved a project that will restore several important features of the space, including its signature luminous ceiling and transparency, and allow for modifications to adapt the building to a new use,” said Elisabeth de Bourbon, a commission spokeswoman. She expressed confidence that the court would uphold the commission’s original determination, “which came after an extensive public process.” Vornado declined to comment.

Theodore Grunewald, founder of a coalition to save the building and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said in an interview, “Vornado, through the commission, has robbed this bank of its key architectural, historical and symbolic elements, the unique things that set it apart and define it as a masterpiece.” He added: “It’s a supreme example of midcentury International Style. It’s up there in the top 50 globally and certainly the top 20 nationally, and in New York there are only three that compare to it: the Seagram Building, Lever House and the Pepsi-Cola Building.”

In awarding landmark status to the building’s interior, the commission called the structure “a major example of mid-20th-century modernism.” (The exterior of the 1954 building was designated a landmark in 1997.) The recent designation report described the building and its minimalist interior as “one of Fifth Avenue’s most memorable structures” and “a work that influenced the course of American bank design.”

The commission highlighted the strong diagonal line of the escalators connecting the first floor and the mezzanine, which is recessed from the street and “appears to float, creating the impression that both levels occupy a single, monumental space.” The lawsuit challenges the commission’s approval of structural changes “as effectively rescinding the interior designation” and seeks to have the building restored to its previous condition.

Several architecture experts have argued for preserving the building, among them Terence Riley, an architect and the former chief curator of the department of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art. “Its glass-and-steel construction all but eliminated the distinction between inside and outside,” Mr. Riley said of the building in an affidavit. He went on to applaud a design that featured what he called “the apparent paradox of a transparent building to safeguard people’s money, the presence of a great steel safe visually accessible to the passers-by but of course not actually accessible,” among other elements that make the landmark “much discussed.”

By Robin Pogrebin / The New York Times 
July 14, 2011

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

New York City Construction strike postponed 1 week

A Wednesday walkout by concrete workers was pushed back at least a week as contractors and union officials agreed to keep negotiating. Big projects could still stall if progress doesn't appear.

A threatened walkout by 2,700 concrete workers was averted—at least temporarily—when their unions and the Cement League agreed Tuesday night to continue negotiations for another week. It’s the second time the two sides have extended their talks since the workers’ contract expired on June 30. Union officials said last week that the league had made a last and final offer that would amount to a pay cut for the workers, who earn about $40 an hour.

The workers had said they would strike starting Wednesday if the league, an industry association, did not improve its offer, but the eleventh-hour extension averts a strike that would have stalled work at 34 sites across the city, including, potentially, the World Trade Center memorial.

Alex Castaldi, business manager of the Cement and Concrete Workers District Council, said a bargaining session has been tentatively scheduled for Friday. He said that the workers decided to continue talks “out of sympathy for affected contractors who are not sitting on the negotiating committee and the whole situation with Ground Zero.”

With workers scrambling to get the 9/11 memorial ready in time for the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, any work stoppage at the site could generate a public backlash that both sides wish to avoid. Mr. Castaldi said the unions and a separate industry association, the Long Island-based Concrete Contractors of New York, reached a tentative deal that includes unspecified wage increases. He hopes it will serve as a template for a deal with the league. Bryan Winter, executive director of the Cement League, declined to comment, saying employers preferred to conduct negotiations in private.

Wages have been the sticking point between Mr. Winter’s group and Laborers’ Locals 6a, 18a and 20 of the Cement and Concrete Workers of New York. The league’s final offer included a wage package that would, in effect, result in a 25-cents-an-hour decrease over a three-year contract, according to a union official who has knowledge of the negotiations.

The unions will not accept that, having given up a raise two years ago to help kick-start construction in the face of the downturn, and because the league agreed to 3% annual increases in a deal reached earlier this month with two operating engineers unions, the official said. International Union of Operating Engineers Local 14 made concessions on work rules in exchange for the raises; its members will hold a ratification vote Thursday.

The contractor at the World Trade Center memorial, Navillus Contracting, is not a member of the league, and a building trades source said the unions offered to continue working if Navillus agreed to sign any deal that is eventually reached with the league. Navillus did not respond to requests for comment, and it was unclear if it would have accepted that offer. Despite the potential impact on the memorial construction schedule, city officials have declined to intervene, saying the dispute is between private parties.

The last cement-related strike in the city occurred in 2008 when a walkout by a union representing hundreds of cement truck drivers brought major construction projects to a halt. There is less construction activity in the city now, especially in the residential sector, which relies heavily on concrete workers, so a strike’s impact would not be as deep.

By Daniel Massey / Crain's New York Business
July 13, 2011 12:55 p.m.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Time is Running Out on 100 Watt Lamps

You have only about six more months to stock up on 100-watt light bulbs before the government ban goes into effect on January 1st.

These bulbs, which have been perfectly suitable for close to a century, have been banned in favor of compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) that provide less-pleasing light, are poisonous when broken and are unsuitable for jobsite applications - but supposedly can save the average home $50 a year in electricity costs.

The Department of Energy has made the assertion that by outlawing the 100-watt bulb, they're actually providing consumers with lighting choices. But the question remains, if the CFL is so great, then why does the government have to force people to use them?

Another option are LED bulbs that are bright enough to replace energy-guzzling 100-watt light bulbs set to disappear from stores in January. Their demonstrations at the LightFair trade show in Philadelphia earlier this year mean that brighter LED bulbs will likely go on sale next year, after the government ban takes effect.

The new bulbs will also be expensive — about $40 to 50 each — so the development may not prevent consumers from hoarding traditional 100 watt bulbs.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Mercury vapor released from broken compact fluorescent light bulbs can exceed safe exposure levels

Once broken, a compact fluorescent light bulb continuously releases mercury vapor into the air for weeks to months, and the total amount can exceed safe human exposure levels in a poorly ventilated room, according to study results reported in Environmental Engineering Science.

The amount of liquid mercury (Hg) that leaches from a broken compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) is lower than the level allowed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), so CFLs are not considered hazardous waste. However, Yadong Li and Li Jin, Jackson State University (Jackson, MS) report that the total amount of Hg vapor released from a broken CFL over time can be higher than the amount considered safe for human exposure.

They document their findings in the article “Environmental Release of Mercury from Broken Compact Fluorescent Lamps.” (

As people can readily inhale vapor-phase mercury, the authors suggest rapid removal of broken CFLs and adequate ventilation, as well as suitable packaging to minimize the risk of breakage of CFLs and to retain Hg vapor if they do break, thereby limiting human exposure.

Tests of eight different brands of CFLs and four different wattages revealed that Hg content varies significantly from brand to brand. To determine the amount of Hg released by a broken CFL, Li and Jin used standard procedures developed by the EPA to measure leaching of mercury in liquids and used an emission monitoring system to detect Hg vapor.

“This paper is a very nice holistic analysis of potential risks associated with mercury release from broken CFLs and points to potential human health threats that have not always been considered,” according to Domenico Grasso, PhD, Editor-in-Chief and Vice President for Research, Dean of the Graduate College, University of Vermont.

By Mary Ann Liebert / Environmental Engineering Science
July 6, 2011

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The plot thickens: Concrete workers could strike next week

The plot thickens as cement and concrete workers greet a wage cut with stone faces. Other unionized construction workers have already nailed down agreements with contractors.

More than 2,700 concrete workers could walk off their jobs next week, stalling construction at sites including the World Trade Center memorial, a concrete union official said.

The workers, who earn about $40 an hour, are still without a new contract, a week after negotiations with an industry association were extended past a deadline.

Wages are the sticking point between the Cement League and Laborers' Locals 6a, 18a and 20 of the Cement and Concrete Workers of New York, according to the union official, who has knowledge of the negotiations. The league is offering a wage package that would, in effect, result in a 25-cents-an-hour decrease over a three-year contract, the official said.

The unions will not accept that, especially given that the Cement League agreed to 3% annual increases in a deal reached last week with two operating engineers unions, the official said. They also gave up a raise two years ago to help kickstart construction in the face of the downturn, the official added. “That was their last, best and final offer,” the official said. “Cement and concrete workers will be on strike effective Wednesday morning. They [the league] can avert a strike by changing their offer. They have until late Tuesday night.”

A source close to the building trades was less definitive, saying, “There is the potential for a [work] stoppage if they can't reach an agreement by some point in the middle of next week.”

Bryan Winter, executive director of the Cement League, would only say that negotiations are continuing. Officials at two of the three unions and at the Cement and Concrete Workers District Council did not respond to requests for comment.

A strike could shut down work at 34 construction sites across the city. It's not clear if work at the World Trade Center memorial would be affected, as Navillus Contracting, the concrete contractor there, is not a member of the league, but the union official said a stoppage could shut down work on that project, regardless of any public backlash.

The building trades source said the unions offered to continue working if Navillus agrees to sign any deal that is eventually reached with the league. But Navillus has yet to respond to the so-called “me-too” offer. Navillus did not respond to requests for comment, and the union official denied the offer was on the table.

Work on developer Larry Silverstein's World Trade Center Tower 4 would not be affected because of no-strike pledges included in a labor agreement on the project.

In the run-up to the June 30 expiration of some two dozen contracts between contractors and construction unions across the building trades world, much of the attention was focused on the operating engineers. The operating engineers reportedly gave in on some work rules affecting manning of cranes and double time for operating of large cranes in exchange for the raises. It's unclear how rank and file operating engineers will vote when the contract comes up for ratification Thursday.

But a week after the deadline, the focus for now has shifted to the concrete workers, who are, surprisingly, the lone holdout.

The last cement-related strike in the city occurred in 2008 when a walkout by a union representing hundreds of cement truck drivers brought major construction projects to a halt.

By Daniel Massey
July 8, 2011

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Lighting Science Group lighting homes for 2011 Solar Decathlon

Four collegiate entrants to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon 2011 will use lighting solutions offered by Lighting Science Group of Satellite Beach, Florida.

Using the company’s LED lamps will be design teams from Parsons The New School for Design and Stevens Institute of Technology; the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Old Dominion University and Hampton University; and Middlebury College.

The Solar Decathlon challenges 20 collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive.

The winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.

This year’s competition will be held in Washington, D.C. (Sept. 23 – Oct. 2).

Electrical Wholesaling
July 7, 2011

Friday, July 1, 2011

Major construction strike averted

Tentative contract agreements between contractors and the unionized operating engineers were reached just before Thursday's midnight deadline, preventing a $10 billion strike.

International Union of Operating Engineers Locals 14 and 15 reached new three-year deals late Thursday with contractor associations, averting a strike that could have brought unionized construction in the city to a standstill. In a statement, Louis Coletti, president of the Building Trades Employers' Association said the unions "made major adjustments" in order for the sides to come together. He declined to elaborate beyond the statement. Details of the agreements were not immediately available.

The deal was announced shortly before a midnight deadline and came after months of tension leading up to the expiration of some two-dozen contracts spanning the construction industry. Union leaders had portrayed a public relations campaign by contractors as counterproductive. “We’ve said from the start that negotiations are conducted at the bargaining table. Not anywhere else or by anyone else who is not party to collective bargaining,” said Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York. “We are pleased that the pessimism of those predicting a strike has proven to be as misguided as the extreme rhetoric and demands that ultimately yielded to the real-world approach brought by organized labor to solving problems and improving competitiveness.”

Painters, steamfitters and mason tenders had already reached deals, but an agreement with concrete workers has proven elusive. Negotiators representing the Cement League and Laborers’ Locals 6a, 18a and 20 Cement and Concrete Workers of New York extended their deal past the midnight deadline. A labor source said the league had been seeking an across-the-board wage freeze over the life of a new three-year deal, which covers about 2,700 workers.

Bryan Winter, executive director of the league, would not comment on specifics of the negotiations. He said discussions are continuing. “We’re taking it day by day,” he said. “Both sides are trying to reach an agreement.”

Unionized carpenters, who are under a federal monitor, were expected to have their current agreement extended beyond the deadline as court proceedings play out. But most of the attention in the run-up to the deadline had been on the operating engineers, who control the heavy machinery—including cranes—that keep construction sites running. Contractors sought significant concessions from International Union of Operating Engineers Locals 14 and 15 in an effort to get rid of work rules they deem unproductive.

The labor source said Thursday that the operating engineers had put a “substantial offer” on the table in an effort to reach a settlement. Officials with Locals 14 and 15 did not respond to repeated requests for comment throughout the talks. A source close to the union said officials wanted to present the deal to their members before commenting.

Because the operating engineers are key cogs in the construction process, if they walked off their jobs, it would have idled more than 11,000 workers at private-sector projects costing nearly $10 billion, according to the Real Estate Board of New York.

A strike would likely not have affected work at the World Trade Center site, the labor source said, as the operating engineers indicated to the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey that they would not walk out at Ground Zero. With the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks coming up, a work stoppage there would have cost the union support from elected officials and the public.

The last operating engineers strike occurred in 2006, when an attempt by the General Contractors Association to win changes in work rules sparked a weeklong walkout just before the Fourth of July. Thousands of workers were sent packing, and billions of dollars in projects came to a standstill. A settlement included minor concessions and hefty raises. Now that the Operating Engineers have signed, attention turns to the cement workers. A 10-day strike in 2008 by a union representing hundreds of cement truck drivers brought major construction projects to a halt.

Thursday night’s deal does not resolve the long-term future of the unionized construction industry. The two sides warred in the months before the deadline, fraying relationships built up over decades. With nonunion construction gaining an increasing share of the city market, the question of whether the two groups can put their differences aside in an attempt to fight the nonunion threat will be crucial.

Early signs indicate that it might be difficult to patch things up. Developers have said they need to reduce the 20% to 30% cost differential between union and nonunion work to about 10%. And in his statement, Mr. LaBarbera signaled that the unions have their own view of how those savings could be achieved. “We must now move on to addressing the serious concerns that have been raised with respect to how management inefficiencies are inhibiting recovery, growth and good job creation in our industry,” he said.

The battle over the operating engineers may have been settled. But a broader fight may have just begun.

By Daniel Massey / Crain's New York Business
June 30, 2011 [Updated 12:42 P.M.]

Local 3 member confirmed as new President of the Central Labor Council

Vincent Alvarez receives a unanimous vote to run the organization, just a year after resigning as chief of staff over objections to the preceding leader.

Vincent Alvarez, who resigned last year as chief of staff of the Central Labor Council after raising questions about the ethics of its president, was unanimously elected Thursday night as the next leader of the organization.

A 21-year member of Local 3 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and a native of Staten Island, Mr. Alvarez won the esteem of union leaders over two decades of volunteer work with the Council. And his move to stand up to former Central Labor Council President Jack Ahern—and ultimately resign over Mr. Ahern's use of a limousine and other questionable leadership decisions—helped cement his reputation within labor circles. I pledge to you that working together as one movement—public sector, private sector and building trades—we will redouble our efforts to find effective solutions to complex problems affecting working people," Mr. Alvarez said in an address to the 318 delegates who elected him.

Before electing Mr. Alvarez, the delegates voted to approve a constitutional amendment allowing the umbrella organization representing the city's unions to have a full-time president. Previous presidents also held leadership positions with other unions, and two—Brian McLaughlin and Mr. Ahern—ended up embroiling the organization in scandal.

Mr. McLaughlin was sentenced in 2009 to 10 years in prison for racketeering, and Mr. Ahern resigned his position in March under pressure after concerns emerged about his leadership, including a report from his own international union that questioned his expenses, which topped $200,000 a year. Delegates also elected Janella Hinds, a member of the United Federation of Teachers, to the newly created position of secretary treasurer. Ms. Hinds has been a labor activist for 15 years and served on numerous negotiating committees with the federation.

Mr. Alvarez, 42, is the first Hispanic president of the Council since it merged with the AFL-CIO in 1959. His father emigrated from Cuba, and his mother is Irish-American.

For years, he volunteered to coordinate the annual Labor Day parade. Central Labor Council insiders often joked that his salary, which was $0, should be doubled because of all his work. About four years ago, he was finally hired by the Council to serve as its chief of staff, a position he resigned in November. He remains a dues-paying member of Local 3 and had been working at the state AFL-CIO since he quit the labor council. “He is the most honest and decent guy you'll ever meet,” said Ed Ott, a former executive director of the Council who is now a distinguished lecturer in labor studies at the City University of New York's Murphy Institute. “This is what the Council needs. It will reassure the members that the place is now in good hands.”

Other Central Labor Council staffers followed him out the door, putting in motion a process that prompted state AFL-CIO President Denis Hughes to temporarily take the reins of the organization. For several months, Mr. Hughes had been working to put a process into place that would help the Council regain its footing and ensure problems that plagued it in the past are not repeated.

Mr. Alvarez, whose four-year term starts immediately, becomes president at a time when the city's unions are facing stiff battles over pensions, layoffs and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s attempt to open stores here, among other contentious issues. He was elected the same night some two dozen construction union contracts expired following a contentious run-up to the deadline. “Our city, state and country are continuing to struggle through one of the most difficult economic periods in the last 80 years,” Mr. Alvarez said. "It's time the New York City labor movement raises its collective voice and says 'enough is enough' to policies that adversely affect working people.”