Friday, July 27, 2012

Governor Brokers Deal To End Con Ed Lockout

With a firm push from governor Andrew Cuomo, the utility and the union representing its 8,500 locked-out workers agreed on a new, four-year contract. After weeks of tough negotiations, both sides credited Gov. Andrew Cuomo with changing the tone of the talks Thursday when he called them into his office to discuss the potential impact the storm could have on electrical service.

Consolidated Edison Inc. and its locked-out union workers reached a new, four-year contract Thursday afternoon, ending a 26-day standoff hours before a severe storm was expected to hit the New York City area.

Con Ed and Local 1-2 had made some progress with the help of federal mediators, but both the company and union said that Mr. Cuomo's intervention Thursday helped to bring about the deal. Neither side would immediately release details of the agreement.

Several sources said the union agreed to switch new hires to a cash balance pension plan from a defined benefit one. Con Ed pushed hard for the change, which had been a major sticking point in negotiations. Existing employees will maintain their current pension plan, the sources said.

The contract includes provisions that protect work of current and future union members, a significant issue since the company relies heavily on outside contractors. Con Ed had been seeking to increase workers' contributions towards health insurance to 24% from 17%, but the agreement focused more heavily on cost savings than significant out-of-pocket increases, sources said.

It’s not clear what wage increases the union won, though Con Ed had been offering raises of 10% over four years if the union agreed to give up the defined benefit plan for new hires.

"Under the governor's leadership we came together and resolved those issues," said Kevin Burke, Con Ed's CEO. "What's great is that all of our employees can go back to work and continue to provide the great service to New York that they have been providing for a long time."

Thursday marked the first time that Mr. Burke personally participated in the negotiations. Mr. Cuomo called leaders of the union and the utility into his office Thursday morning and got them to agree that 3,000 electrical workers would return to their jobs immediately.

"The combination of a possible storm and the labor situation at Con Ed was obviously a dangerous situation," Mr. Cuomo said at a press conference at his midtown Manhattan office. "We don't want to see a storm hit New York, down power lines and Con Ed not be at its maximum capacity. That potential danger has been averted."

After that initial press conference, talks continued, and the two sides were able to come to terms on a new contract. "Sometimes a storm has a silver lining," Mr. Cuomo said.

Mr. Cuomo said that his direct involvement in the talks came as a result of the pending storm. But he may also have been influenced by a growing chorus of voices worried that widespread loss of power was only an incident away.

The state Assembly held hearings Wednesday into Con Ed's performance during the lockout. That same day, the City Council's Black, Latino and Asian Caucus held a rally calling on the utility to increase its transparency during the lockout. A hard-hitting column in the New York Times suggested the governor was standing by while the city was at risk of a blackout.

"It wasn't easy," said Harry Farrell, president of Local 1-2. "It was probably one of the toughest contracts I've done in a while. With the governor overseeing this process, it really helped us move this along."

The deal still has to be approved by the union's executive board and ratified by its members. After that, Con Ed's board will vote on the deal, too.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Huge NYU Expansion Approved by City Council

New York University's plan to expand its campus by nearly 2 million square feet in Greenwich Village won nearly unanimous approval from the City Council this week. The City Council overwhelmingly approves the school's plan to add nearly 2 million square feet to its Greenwich Village campus. The "Yes" vote comes after numerous compromises, which have scaled back the school's original proposals by nearly 25%.

The expansion, which had been agreed upon by two council committees last week, was about a quarter smaller than the university had originally sought.

As they voted in favor the expansion plan, council members praised it and credited Councilwoman Margaret Chin for helping to reach a compromise. Opponents, some of whom had to be escorted by officers from the council chamber balcony during the session, insisted that the cuts in the size of the school's planned growth did not go deep enough.

"There's not a single community group that worked on this that's satisfied with what's been arrived at," said Andrew Berman, executive director for the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. Mr. Berman said that his organization would work with the law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher to pursue a legal case against NYU.

Construction on the first of the new buildings is slated to begin in late 2013, or early 2014. As passed, the university's application for expansion includes a commitment from NYU to build a community center and preserve public space for the community.

The sole "No" vote came from Councilman Charles Barron of Brooklyn, who voted against the expansion in each of the related land use bills.

Monday, July 23, 2012

City to Encourage Bigger East Side Towers

New York City is launching a massive upzoning effort to encourage bigger towers for Midtown's east side. The Bloomberg administration is finalizing a rezoning blueprint that would encourage office teardowns and the construction of even bigger commercial towers with premium amenities. With an average age of 73 years, aging building stock will diminish the district's corporate allure.

With 14 Fortune 500 headquarters clustered in the office towers on midtown's east side near Grand Central Terminal—the greatest density of such companies in the U.S.—the area looms large in the international business world.

But fearing that midtown east's aging building stock will diminish the district's corporate allure, the Bloomberg administration is finalizing a rezoning blueprint that would encourage office teardowns and the construction of even bigger commercial towers with premium amenities. It may also include a proposal said to be favored by Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden: turning Vanderbilt Avenue, the short block west of Grand Central, into a pedestrian-only street.

City officials are set to release details this week of the proposal to upzone the area with 80 million square feet of office space. City officials haven't determined the size limits on new buildings, although discussions considered expansions ranging from 22% to more than 100% greater than what's now allowed, depending on location and current zoning. The larger sizes would likely be allowed only on midtown avenues and on the streets closest to Grand Central, which sits beneath more than 1 million square feet of unused air rights.

The hope is that the rezoning will trigger the building of enough new Class A towers to keep the city competitive in the global market for top talent and industry in the coming decades. Such buildings could include features like high-ceilinged, column-free floor plans and plentiful sources of power to run high-tech operations.

The administration has been working diligently on the rezoning proposal so it can be completed before pro-development Mayor Michael Bloomberg leaves office in January 2014.

There will need to be serious financial incentives for property owners to take advantage of the new rules for midtown east, but that's a separate discussion from the rezoning plans.

In a preliminary study, the Department of City Planning defined the midtown east area in its broadest terms as stretching from East 39th to East 57th streets between Second and Fifth avenues. The proposed rezoning district wouldn't be a perfect rectangle, however, since the most densely populated residential niches would be excluded. For example, the upzoned area from East 48th to East 57th streets would extend east only as far as Third Avenue. The plan will be presented to two community boards this week.

Only two new office buildings have been constructed in the midtown east zone in recent years: 300 and 510 Madison Ave. The average age of buildings in the zone is 73 years, with 80% of the structures older than 50. In contrast, the average age of a London office building is 43; in Chicago's Loop, less than 50% of the buildings are older than 40.

The city's zoning rules determine a crucial development yardstick called a floor-to-area ratio, or FAR, which ultimately determines the size of a building that can be constructed on a site. In midtown east, some vintage towers built before the current zoning went into effect in 1961 exceed what could be built there now. That means if a property owner demolished one of them, only a smaller property could replace it. To help reverse that development disincentive, sources said the planning department had discussed raising the areas FAR to 18 to 26 from the current 12 to 15.

It's possible that buildings in midtown east could grow even larger than what the city's revised zoning permits. That's because there are 1.35 million square feet of unused air rights above Grand Central that developers could conceivably buy to boost the size of their buildings.

It was unclear how much it might cost to purchase the air rights above the commuter terminal—or how the money would be used.

Community activists fear that larger office buildings housing even more workers will put more pressure on already-stretched city services. For example, the East 51st Street subway platform is narrow and already overcrowded. To activists, how the city plans to handle increased demand for services such as trash removal, electricity and police protection generated by having larger buildings, is of great concern.

However, supporters of supersizing midtown's real estate potential say their efforts make sense because billions of dollars are being spent to improve transportation in the area by building the Second Avenue subway and extending the Long Island Rail Road into Grand Central.

Rezoning alone would not spark a mad dash for the wrecking balls. Property owners need deep pockets to go without rent revenue for several years as they empty a building of tenants, demolish the structure, rebuild bigger and better, then lease the place anew. Most owners likely will be content keeping their solid if stodgy midtown properties as they are.

Although, it could be 10 years before we start to see effects of the project upzoning, some midtown buildings could take swifter advantage of the new zoning opportunities than others could. L&L Holding has said it plans to tear down 425 Park Ave. after tenants' leases expire in 2015, for instance.

Advertising agency Y&R owns and occupies all of 285 Madison Ave., which is for sale. A new owner could opt to tear down the 1920s-era structure, where a woman died last year in a grisly elevator accident, and start over.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Three Hospital Construction Projects on Fast Track

When the city selected Cornell University to build a new $2 billion campus on Roosevelt Island, only 11 acres of public land, plus $100 million for infrastructure were reported. However, as part of the deal, Bloomberg agreed to relocate by October 2013, hundreds of patients from Coler-Goldwater Hospital, that sits on the proposed site. To meet that deadline, the city is now racing to erect several facilities in East Harlem at a cost of $330 million.

East Harlem community leaders are furious that Mayor Bloomberg is rushing to spend more than $300 million to develop three parcels of public land in their neighborhood — all part of what they say is a huge hidden subsidy to Cornell University’s new tech campus to be built on Roosevelt Island.

When Bloomberg revealed in December that he had selected Cornell to build the new $2 billion science school, he claimed the city’s only aid would be 11 acres of public land at the southern end of the island, plus $100 million for infrastructure improvements. He never mentioned East Harlem’s contribution.

However, as part of the deal, Bloomberg agreed to relocate by October 2013 hundreds of patients from Coler-Goldwater Hospital, a city-run long-term care facility that partially sits on the proposed island site.

To meet that deadline — and a possible ground-breaking for the new campus before Bloomberg leaves office — city officials are racing to erect several facilities in East Harlem that will house as many as 700 Coler-Goldwater patients.

They never bothered to ask locals what they wanted done with that land, according Community Board 11, which voted unanimously last week to oppose them.

“We’re not against the Cornell school,” said Matthew Washington, chair of Community Board 11. “We just believe there has to be more support from the city for our own residents” and “recognition of the burden” the neighborhood will bear for these projects.”

The new East Harlem construction includes:
  • $153 million renovation of the former North General Hospital into an acute long-term care facility,
  • a new $131 million nursing facility on North General’s former parking lot, and
  • $51 million for 172 units of new housing on a parking lot at 99th St. and Second Ave., near Metropolitan Hospital, for Coler-Goldwater patients who don’t need constant care.
  • a fourth site, a dormitory at Metropolitan Hospital, could be added to the project.       
Residents say they are amazed at how City Hall fast-tracked these projects.

The mayor issued a rarely used waiver to allow the new 99th St. building to be taller than zoning rules allow, while construction of the new North General building is being permitted six days a week starting at 7 a.m.

City Hall officials say the North General construction had nothing to do with the Cornell proposal.

“HHC announced plans to move to the North General Campus site in June 2010 — more than a year before the applied sciences competition was launched in July 2011,” mayoral spokesman Francis Barry said.

Besides, any renovation of the antiquated site on Roosevelt Island would have cost more than the replacement facility being built at North General, Barry said.

Nevertheless, East Harlem leaders say their neighborhood is getting virtually nothing from all this spending. They say the mayor should assure that Cornell provides special science programs for all East Harlem schools — and a greater share of construction jobs for local residents.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Program Helps Businesses Get the LED Out for Lower Bills

Con Ed rebate programs make green lighting a go for businesses, while owners save on energy costs in the long run. Certainly, switching to green lighting isn't cheap, even after the rebate program. However, many small businesses are taking advantage of the program, anticipating that trimming their electric bills will pay off.

Worried that construction of the Second Avenue subway would disrupt business at the J. Pocker & Son flagship store on East 63rd Street, the company's president, Robyn Pocker, wanted to ensure that her store remained an oasis for shoppers, despite the tumult outside.

She hired a consultant for advice, and one the recommendations was to upgrade the lighting.

It wasn't energy efficient either, so Ms. Pocker took advantage of a ConEdison rebate program—for businesses with an average peak monthly electric demand of 100 kilowatt hours or less—that covers up to 70% of the cost of switching to green lighting. The new lighting transformed the 1,300-square-foot store.

J. Pocker & Son made the switch with the assistance of Green Lantern Industries in Manhattan, one of about 60 subcontractors working with Con Ed. Green Lantern installed LED lighting throughout the city store in January; the total cost was $11,926, but after Con Ed's contribution, the actual cost to J. Pocker was $3,578. Although it's still too early for Ms. Pocker to know how much money she will save, Con Ed said that electric bills are reduced by 15% to 20% on average after such a change.

Certainly, switching to green lighting isn't cheap, even after the rebate program.

However, many smallbusinesses are taking advantage of the program, anticipating that trimming their electric bills will pay off.

About 36,000 small businesses have participated in Con Ed's Small Business Energy Efficiency Program, said a spokesperson for the utility.

The program began in 2009 and is credited with cutting more than 155 million kilowatt hours from the grid in its first three years. Last year, the Public Service Commission reauthorized the company to continue it through 2015.
The Con Ed program has helped boost sales for small vendors such as Green Lantern, headquartered in Times Square. Founder Randall Satin set a $250,000 sales goal for 2009, their first year. Last year's sales exceeded $2.5 million —way over their projections.

The company employs four full-time workers, selling LED bulbs that produce more light per watt than other bulbs and that last about five years. The LED bulbs don't use mercury or halogen gases, like fluorescents do, and they are recyclable. Although the bulbs are pricier than incandescents or compact fluorescents, they cut energy costs significantly.

Fred Vayman, owner of Delta Signs and Flags in Glendale, Queens, also took advantage of Con Ed's program late last year and changed the lighting in his store. “We spent about $100 and are saving at least 30% on electric bills,” said Mr. Vayman, who has two employees.

Elise Perelman, owner of Lunessa, an artisan jewelry store in SoHo with two employees, hired Green Lantern to change her halogen lighting—which was both inefficient and produced a lot of heat—in December. She replaced it with energy-efficient ceramic metal halide lighting.

She, too, went through the Con Ed program. Her after-rebate cost at the store, which occupies about 350 square feet: $1,800. “That's a big investment for a small business, but I'm so glad we did it,” Ms. Perelman said. “Our energy bills are between a quarter to a third of what we were paying.”

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

New $22M Museum Aims To Jazz Up Harlem

The National Jazz Museum is moving forward with its plan to build a state-of-the-art facility on West 125th Street, across the street from the Apollo Theater, that will turn it into the first institution of international stature devoted to the art form. The new building, more than six times the museum's current space, will get a street-front presence, and a glassed-in performance space above the marquee, so passersby will be able to see musicians playing every evening.

The 10-year-old museum, which exhibits jazz memorabilia and runs educational programs and shows throughout the city, now operates out of the second and fourth floors of a small building on East 126th Street.

Two years ago, the city tapped it to become part of a 67,000-square-foot commercial and cultural development that will be built across the street from the Apollo Theater.

The Mart 125 Redevelopment Project, would transform an abandoned eyesore on Harlem’s main commercial thoroughfare into a mixed-use space.

The Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone is expected to choose a developer for the site by the end of the month, and aim to break ground in early 2013. Meanwhile, the museum is going public with a $22 million capital campaign that will raise the funds needed to build the facility and create a $2.5 million endowment. The museum has raised half the money since it started a year and a half ago.

To get ready for the expansion, the museum is building its staff. In January, it hired a new executive director, Christopher Perry, an attorney who previously ran Boys Hope Girls Hope of New York, an inner-city boarding-school program for disadvantaged youth. That hire allowed Loren Schoenberg, a jazz musician who was the museum's longtime executive director, to become its artistic director and have more time to focus on programming.

Earlier this month, Daniel Beaudoin, a former Columbia University executive who worked as a program officer in the university's Center for Jazz Studies and as the foundation relations officer with Columbia's development department, joined the museum as director of development.

In the new building, the museum will have 16,000 square feet, more than six times its current 2,500 square feet. It will also get a street-front presence, with a ground floor and second level. Officials hope to build a glassed-in restaurant/performance space above the marquee so passersby will be able to see musicians playing every evening.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

$850M Project Ready to Break Ground in Queens

Two new projects are preparing to break ground in Downtown Flushing. The $850 million Flushing Commons and Macedonia Plaza projects will help to revitalize the Borough of Queens, creating about 2,600 construction jobs and 2,000 permanent jobs.The mixed-use development will include condominiums, a town square with a fountain, a YMCA, community center, as well as retail and office space with parking. 

The $850 million Flushing Commons project will transform what is now the 5.5-acre, city-owned Municipal Parking Lot #1, into a mixed-use development including 620 new residential condominiums, a 1.5-acre town square of open space with a fountain plaza, 1,600 parking spaces, a 62,000-sq-ft, state-of-the-art YMCA, 36,000 sq ft of community space, up to 275,000 sq ft of retail space and up to 234,000 sq ft of office and/or hotel space. The project is seeking to achieve LEED certification.

Flushing Commons is a joint venture of Rockefeller Group Development of New York, TDC Development Corporation, a local Flushing developer and Architect, Perkins Eastman of New York. The project was selected as a result of a Request for Proposals issued by the New York City Economic Development Corporation, based on recommendations made by the Development Framework for Downtown Flushing. The Development Framework is a year-long, community-based, planning effort undertaken by the Downtown Flushing Task Force which consists of city and state agencies, local elected officials, advocacy groups, community members and local business leaders.

The second project is Macedonia Plaza - a companion project to Flushing Commons. Macedonia Plaza is a 163-unit affordable housing project being developed on a 35,000-sq-ft portion of the municipal parking lot site by Macedonian Community Development Corporation, an extension of the Macedonia AME Church. The project will also contain 7,500 sq ft of ground floor retail, 5,900 sq ft of community space and 19,000 sq ft of open public space.

Construction fences are now going up in Municipal Lot 1 to make way for the $40 million Macedonia building, with an occupancy date slated for early 2014.

Monday, July 16, 2012

NYC's First Outlet Mall Planned for the Bronx

A Manhattan real estate company is planning a Woodbury Commons-like outlet mall at the Whitestone Multiplex Cinemas site in the Castle Hill section of the Bronx. The Lightstone Group, which paid $30 million for the 1 million-square-foot property in May, has met with borough officials to discuss workforce development and potential spots for local restaurants at the mall, among other issues. If those plans bear fruit, the product would be the first such mall anywhere in the city.

A spokeswoman for The Lightstone Group said that the company is "exploring options for redevelopment of the site," but would not confirm plans for the outlet mall. She said that the multiplex cinema would continue to operate indefinitely until plans are finalized for the site's future. What's more, the company has an extensive track record as a buyer and developer of outlet malls.

Lightstone, which paid $30 million for the 1 million-square-foot property in May, has met with borough officials about workforce development and spots for local restaurants at the mall, among other issues, according to Marlene Cintron, president of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corp.

"We welcome abnd support them," Ms. Cintron said. "We can't wait to have another shopping Mecca in the Bronx."

Finalized or not, plans for a mall seem to be taking shape. Ms. Cintron said Lightstone "purchased the property with the purpose of turning it into a Woodbury Commons-type outlet mall" and that Bronx Community Board 10 officials have already been briefed on the plan.

Lightstone would not need any government approvals to build the mall because it is an as-of-right site that is already zoned for all commercial uses except large outdoor amusements. The living wage issue, which derailed plans for a mall at the huge Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx, would not come into play because Lightstone is not seeking city subsidies, borough officials said. Because the site is near Westchester Creek, Lightstone would have to adhere to sightline and other waterfront requirements set forth by the Department of City Planning.

"This mall and one going up in Bay Plaza are really going to change the shopping options in the east Bronx, Queens and Westchester," said a spokesman for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., referring to a 780,000-sqaure-foot mall anchored by a Macy's that is under construction four miles to the north at Bay Plaza in Co-op City. "We think this is a good thing."

Community Board 10 is generally in favor of the outlet mall, but it has some concerns about the added traffic. The site is near the Bruckner Interchange, the worst traffic bottleneck in the nation, according to Inrix, a company that collects and analyzes such data. There is also a new Target going up in the neighborhood, and plenty of existing truck traffic from a Home Depot and big PepsiCo bottling plant.

The Whitestone Multiplex Cinemas, located at 2505 Bruckner Blvd., opened in 1983. Before that, The Whitestone drive-in theater operated on the site for nearly twenty years.

Lightstone is a privately held real estate company headquartered in Manhattan. It has an extensive portfolio of retail, multifamily, hospitality, office and industrial properties across the U.S. Last year, it purchased a residential development site in Long Island City for $19.3 million.

In 2003, the company purchased Prime Outlets, a chain of outlet malls, for $638 million, turning itself from "an owner of second-tier apartment buildings into a noteworthy player in real estate," selling the chain to Simon Property Group in 2010 for $2.3 billion. Lightstone then formed Paragon Outlet Partners, a development company that is building outlet malls in Texas and California.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Another Luxury Hotel to Rise in NoMad Area

SBE Entertainment is teaming with New York-based Moin Development on a new 190-room luxury hotel at 444 Park Ave. South, at the corner of 30th Street. The $85-million project includes a full gut of the existing 14-story office building, add six floors,and then construct a 20-story hotel with three bars, a restaurant and a rooftop bar. It would be the first SLS Hotel in NYC, and is slated to open in mid-2013.

The red-hot NoMad area, will soon welcome yet another new hotel to the territory. Sam Nazarian, the Los Angeles restaurant and nightclub owner, plans to open the $85 million SLS Hotel New York, the first in the city for the luxury brand.

His company, SBE Entertainment Group LLC, is teaming with New York-based Moin Development Corp. on the 190-room project at 444 Park Ave. South, at 30th Street. They will gut and add on to an existing office building to construct a 20-story hotel with a rooftop bar, according to Nazarian, chairman and chief executive officer of SBE. It would be the third SLS Hotel in the U.S. and is slated to open by mid-2013.

SLS Hotel New York will open in an area that’s become a hotbed for new hotels. The Gansevoort Park Avenue is one block south, part of a crop of much buzzed-about newcomers on or around 29th Street including the Ace, NoMad, Lola and Eventi hotels.

SBE, which also owns Hyde nightclubs and the Katsuya and Cleo restaurant brands, has said it wants to build SLS into a chain of boutique hotels that would attract high-end leisure and business travelers. New York City hotels had an occupancy rate of 76 percent this year through April, the third-best among the top 25 U.S. markets, behind Miami and Oahu, Hawaii.

SBE took six years to find a suitable deal in New York City, and competed against such companies as Hyatt Hotels and Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group for the Park Avenue property. Nazarian agreed in March to the joint venture in which Moin will own 90 percent and SBE will have the rest.

The hotel will be designed by Philippe Starck, who also worked on the SLS Hotel South Beach in Florida.

Nazarian envisions adding SLS properties in uptown Manhattan and the Soho neighborhood and is scouting New York locations for Redbury, his new high-end, extended-stay brand. SBE, which also operates an SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, expects to make a deal this year for an SLS in Seattle.

In May, SBE obtained $300 million in funding to redevelop the landmark Sahara Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. It is scheduled to open in 2014 as the SLS Las Vegas. But NYC, which Nazarian, 36, has loved since he attended NYU, is his top priority.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Electrician Killed On The Job By Drunk Driver

A boozed-up, unlicensed driver struck and killed an electrician working on a Queens highway last week. Frank Avino, 63, of Ronkonkoma, was hit around 11a.m. last Wednesday, as he was setting up cones in the left lane of the Grand Central Parkway, near Jewel Avenue. Mr. Avino, a Vietnam vet who worked for Welsbach Electric, died at the scene. The 26-year-old driver was taken into custody and charged with vehicular manslaughter, DWI and resisting arrest.

Avino, a electrician for Welsbach Electric Corp., was doing work for the New York City Department of Transportation at the time of the accident. Welsbach has a contract with the city to install and maintain streetlights in Queens, including on the Grand Central Parkway.

“Our deepest sympathies go out to his family and to his loved ones. This incident reminds us of so many other tragedies on our streets caused by speeding and by drunk and reckless driving, and we will not let up in our efforts to fight each on every front,” said DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.

"He was a great guy, a family man, and a grandfather,” said a co-worker who witnessed the accident.

“What a way to go. You can protect yourself all you want, but if there’s a drunk driver who swerves into the road, there’s nothing you can do.”

Mr. Avino had just celebrated his son’s college graduation in May. "He was the best guy in the world. He's a great uncle, my Aunt's heart and soul, and a dedicated father," said his niece, Christina Ventola.

The driver, Munshi Abdullah, who hails from Qatar, was charged with vehicular manslaughter, DWI and resisting arrest. Authorities said Abdullah, was driving without a license.

“He was drunk as a skunk,” said one police officer at the scene. "He just destroyed a family. I hope they throw the book at him."

Friday, July 13, 2012

Superintendent Who Underpaid Workers Gets Jail Time

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is sending a clear message to government contractors who bilk their workers. From now on, those who knowingly violate state labor laws won't simply walk away with paying a fine - they'll face criminal charges and jail time. That's what the co-owners and Superintendent of a construction firm learned the hard way this week.

A construction manager who underpaid workers by at least $800,000 on infrastructure projects at La Guardia Airport and a housing development in the Bronx was sentenced Friday to four months in jail.

William Mazzella paid less than half of what he owed to workers on public works projects he managed for Decora Construction, a Mahopac, N.Y., masonry subcontractor, according to state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Decora Construction submitted certified payroll reports to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the airport, stating that all workers were paid the legally required prevailing wages of between $51.54 and $70.54 per hour.

Mr. Mazzella, the on-site superintendent of Decora, actually paid the workers $18 to $25 per hour, according to a felony complaint filed in the case. Judge James Reitz of the County Court of Putnam County handed down the sentence Friday.

The attorney general got involved after the Port Authority's inspector general discovered the underpayments while checking a security issue. While investigating the La Guardia case, Mr. Schneiderman's office discovered Mr. Mazzella was not paying required prevailing wages at a Bronx project managed by the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

Mr. Mazzella pleaded guilty in May to grand larceny and a violation of labor law, both felonies. In related charges, Francisco Tavares, a Decora owner, pleaded guilty to grand larceny; and his ex-wife, Aurora Perreira, pleaded guilty to falsifying records. They were previously sentenced to five years probation. As a condition of probation, they may not work on public construction projects in the state for five years.

An attorney for Mr. Mazzella did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Decora's phone has been disconnected.

"This sentencing will serve notice to all contractors that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will not tolerate wage fraud or any other criminal misconduct on public projects," said Robert Van Etten, the agency's inspector general.

The case against Decora is the latest example of Mr. Schneiderman taking an aggressive approach on wage and hour violations, often seeking criminal charges.

In recent months, an investigation that followed the death of a Guatemalan immigrant in a Brooklyn tortilla factory led to a guilty plea from the company's owner. The owner of a Queens catering hall who paid workers as little as $2 an hour and a Bronx recycling center that failed to pay minimum wage also entered guilty pleas. A Brooklyn garment manufacturer was arrested for tampering with witnesses before a hearing on wages owed to workers.

"Paying workers less than the law requires and then lying about it in official documents is not a mistake or a paperwork problem—it is criminal behavior," Mr. Schneiderman said.

About 70 workers will share in restitution totaling $800,000. The money was withheld by the city's housing agency and the Port Authority against contract payments.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

FDNY's New Generation of Facilities: EMS 27

The FDNY has built only a handful of EMS stations since the EDC program made the ’90s prototype obsolete, so the design for EMS 27 can help make the case for a new generation of EMS facilities. City Hall also recognized the importance of the project:  Samir Shah, program director for the Department of Design and Construction (DDC, notes that it’s been a “mayoral priority.”

From: ARCHITECT May 2012
By  Ian Volner

EMS 27
Bronx, N.Y. / WXY Architecture + Urban Design

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The Bronx neighborhood of Woodlawn is near enough to New York’s border that if you trip one way, you’ll fall over the city line. Trip another and you may hit your knee on a tombstone: 300,000 of them occupy Woodlawn Cemetery, on the area’s southern periphery.

Woodlawn’s living residents, outnumbered as they are, are a hearty bunch. Though living far from the bright lights of Manhattan, these mostly middle-class and immigrant strivers rely on municipal services provided by City Hall downtown. Now, with the arrival last August of an innovative Emergency Medical Services (EMS) station designed by New York–based WXY Architecture + Urban Design, Woodlawn has found itself with one of the brightest jewels in the city’s infrastructural crown.

“A lot of people in EMS, they think of this as being like the flagship station,” says lieutenant George Trager, a paramedic attached to the new EMS 27 on East 233rd Street. Before last summer, Trager and his 60-odd colleagues were scattered in facilities across the city, many of which were cramped, aging, and inadequate. The difference between their old and new digs, says the 16-year veteran, is “like night and day.”

EMS stations are peculiarly hybrid creatures. Combining various elements of a firehouse, a clubhouse, and a parking garage, they have to serve as all-purpose depots for roving bands of EMTs and paramedics on 24-hour patrol. Ambulances return to refuel and resupply; crews check in at the beginning and end of each eight-hour shift, and senior staff stop by to monitor operations in the field.

For the new Bronx location, the designers and assorted governmental stakeholders were charged with stuffing these complex functions into a very tight envelope. EMS 27 occupies a footprint of less than 3,000 square feet and is wedged between an auto shop and a dusty scrap lot. Like the nearly century-old fire station it replaces, the new building runs through the narrow block from front to back, facing onto a high-traffic corridor on one side, and a quiet residential stretch of Woodlawn on the other.

Claire Weisz, AIA, founding principal (with partner Mark Yoes, AIA) of WXY, was acutely sensitive to this contextual double bind. “We were concerned that the neighborhood, which had fought for this building, didn’t end up with the same fa├žades for both the houses and the [main] road,” she says. Accordingly, EMS 27 presents two faces to the world: to its neighbors, it’s a demure composition of glass and zinc panels, easily mistaken for a contemporary condominium; for drivers on the busy thoroughfare, its row of raked, irregular louvers establishes a lively play of sun and shadow that’s even more striking at 40 miles an hour.

The shimmering brise soleil, hoisted over a base of glazed brick, helps to mask a complex mechanical system that nearly bursts out of the building frame. “No inch of the building is wasted here,” notes Samir Shah, program director for the Department of Design and Construction (DDC), the city’s representative on the project. Everything from a control booth and computer room, to decontamination units, to a narcotics storage closet with a blood-vessel-scanning lock are all stacked one atop the other on the building’s five above- and below-ground floors. A training room that doubles as a dining space in the penthouse and a connecting outdoor terrace (unique to New York’s EMS stations) add just a touch of luxury, as does a fitness room below—though all, in an ironic instance of momento mori, command sweeping views of the nearby graveyard.

The building’s height, itself unusual for an EMS station, gave WXY the chance to make a virtue of the difficult site and hefty program. “By being that compact,” Weisz says, the EMTs “get to realize more social engagement.” By that, she means that the station’s overlapping functions—punctuated in WXY’s scheme by internal overlooks and atria—foster human interaction. The same applies outside the building’s walls, which the architects strove to open up with more apertures, more glass, and less bricks and mortar. “At the same time we were trying to make this a private space, we didn’t want to isolate them [the personnel] from the neighborhood,” she says. “We had to make that leap.”

Excellence in Design and Construction
Ramsey Dabby is chief architect for New York City’s Fire Department (FDNY), the parent agency of the city’s Emergency Management Services (EMS). As point man for the FDNY on the Bronx project, he worked hard to make the building the pride of EMS—but being innovative, he notes, isn’t always easy. “ ‘Pushing the envelope’ is a tricky phrase in the department,” Dabby says.

Across New York, there has been a renewed effort in recent years to make design quality a priority in public buildings. But in an environment rife with institutional forces, design can be a chit in the political process.

In the 1990s, FDNY’s EMS stations were designed on a “prototype” model, as Dabby describes it—“solid, substantial buildings made out of masonry.” Starting in 2006, however, the Department of Design and Construction (DDC) codified its Excellence in Design and Construction (EDC) criteria: As with the federal Design Excellence program, this protocol places a stronger emphasis on the unique architectural character of city projects, and that opened the door for emerging firms like New York–based WXY Architecture + Urban Design. “Design excellence was set up to say, ‘Now take these written rules, but try something new,’ ” says principal Claire Weisz, AIA.

That made the stakes in Woodlawn particularly high. The FDNY has built only a handful of EMS stations since the EDC program made the ’90s prototype obsolete, so the design for EMS 27 can help make the case for a new generation of EMS facilities. City Hall also recognized the importance of the project: The DDC’s Samir Shah notes that it’s been a “mayoral priority.”

The completed building seems to satisfy the hopes of the EMTs and paramedics who work there. “This makes us finally feel respected,” says EMS 27’s Lt. George Trager, who hopes that subsequent stations will follow EMS 27’s lead. Shah says he certainly expects some features—augmented social spaces upstairs and a basement (which is not currently standard in EMS stations) that separates the building systems from the already-crowded workspace—to become a frequent request from EMS end-users in future. But the FDNY’s Dabby is quick to stress the fundamentals. “What you should be doing is creating houses that can take abuse,” he says. “These aren’t for ballerinas.”

Project Credits
Project EMS 27, Bronx, N.Y.
Client FDNY; consultant contract was held by NYC Department of Design and Construction
Architect WXY Architecture + Urban Design, New York—Claire Weisz, AIA, Mark Yoes, AIA, Layng Pew, AIA (principals); Adriel Mesznik, Christopher Kupski, Severn Clay, Justus Asselmeyer (key personnel)
Mechanical/Electrical Engineer Buro Happold—Michael McGough (engineer of record)
Structural Engineer Buro Happold—Craig Schwitter (engineer of record)
Civil Engineer HAKS—Ken Mangam (engineer of record)
Geotechnical Engineer URS Corp.
Construction Manager The Liro Group and HAKS (joint venture)
General Contractor Brickens Construction
Lighting Designer Buro Happold
Size 13,000 square feet
Cost $8.6 million

Materials and Sources
Adhesives, Coatings and Sealants Sika Corp.; USG Corp. (Sheetrock); Dow Corning; Emseal
Air Barriers and Waterproofing W.R. Grace & Co. (Perm-a-Barrier)
Appliances General Electrics (Profile range, fridge, microwave); Scotsman (ice maker)
Ceilings Painted metal deck; custom-fabricated stainless steel panels

Concrete Jenna Concrete Corp.
Exterior Wall Systems Rheinzink (Interlocking zinc panels)
Flooring Forbo Flooring Systems (Marmoleum dual tile)
Glass PPG Industries (Starphire and Solarban); Safti First (SuperLite II-XL)
Gypsum National Gypsum (Gold Bond Gypsum, Hi-Abuse XP, and Shaftliner)
HVAC AAON; Mitsubishi Electric Cooling & Heating; Trane
Insulation Roxul CavityRock; Johns Manville; Firestone Building Products (insulation board); Dow Chemical Co. (Styrofoam Insulation Board)
Lighting Litecontrol; LDPI; Philips Lightolier; Gammalux Systems; Eclipse Lighting; Encore
Masonry and Stone Endicott Clay Products Co. (Manganese smooth Ironspot brick); Trenwyth (Trendstone ground face CMU)
Metal Composite metal deck slabs; Light-gauge metal framing; Steel railings and miscellaneous trim

Millwork Mitchell’s Restoration
Paints and Finishes Sherwin-Williams Co.
Tile Ceramica Bardelli; American Olean
Plumbing and Water System Burnham Commercial (boiler); American Standard Brands (fixtures)
Roofing Firestone Building Products (RubberGard EcoWhite EPDM)

Structural System Structural steel with composite metal decking
Wayfinding Deb Romain Consulting
Windows, Curtainwalls, and Doors Kawneer (storefront); Safti First (fire-rated doors and lites); Marathon High Performing Doors (Hydrarol overhead door); McKeon Door (overhead fire door); TNA Architectural Products (hollow metal doors)