Monday, August 20, 2012

Metro-North Proposal Spurs a New Kind of Bronx Cheer

Metro-North's proposal for four new stations seen as the most important transportation investment in the Bronx since construction of the subways during the early 20th century, and will give the area a big economic boost. The expected $350 million price tag will be a mere drop in the transit bucket when compared with the Second Avenue subway's $5.3 billion tab, and the $2 billion being spent extend the No. 7 train merely one-stop further.

Co-op City, the sprawling cooperative apartment complex in the east Bronx with 35 high-rises, assorted townhouses and more than 60,000 residents, has always been tough to get to by train.

There is the No. 5 or No. 6 subway, but their closest stops are nearly a 20-minute bus ride away, and though there is also an express bus from midtown, its scheduled 45-minute run is seldom achieved. On a bad day, or if you get stuck during rush hour, you can forget it.

Residents are so excited about news that Metro-North is close to approving construction of a Co-op City station. Not surprisingly, the board, shortly after being briefed on the plan by railroad officials, quickly passed a resolution supporting the project.

The response in three other east Bronx neighborhoods that could also get stations has also been enthusiastic, and with good reason. The idea of adding stations along the Amtrak line that runs out of Penn Station and links up with Metro-North's New Haven line in New Rochelle has been a dream of many for years. Only recently, however, pushed by Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and others, has the idea really gathered steam.

In the Bronx, the potential benefits loom large. Just last month, in a formal pitch to the City Council Transportation Committee, the borough president pronounced the plan to be the "most important transportation investment in the Bronx since construction of the subways during the early 20th century."

His speech came less than a year after Metro-North submitted an environmental assessment to the Federal Transit Administration on the possibility of adding stops in Co-op City, Morris Park, Parkchester and Hunts Point—a project that also has the appeal of being relatively cheap. The total cost is expected to be about $350 million, a mere drop in the transit bucket compared with the Second Avenue subway's $5.3 billion tab and the $2 billion being spent merely to extend the No. 7 train a bit deeper into the West Side.

What's more, the new stations in the Bronx would not just make life easier for residents in places like Co-op City. The proposed Morris Park station would be located just a few blocks from four major hospitals: Montefiore Medical Center, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Jacobi Medical Center and Calvary Hospital.

Montefiore alone employs 17,500 people, a third of whom commute from outside the Bronx. It also draws nearly a half-million patients and countless family members and friends each year.

Another stop down the line, the station at Hunts Point would ease access to the sprawling Hunts Point Terminal Market, the largest food distribution center on the East Coast. The market is currently served by the No. 6 train, which has a stop a half-mile away.

"I think it's a fabulous idea," said Myra Gordon, executive administrative director at the Hunts Point Produce Market, pointing out, there are about 600 small businesses on the Hunts Point peninsula, all of which could benefit from easier access for customers and employees. The produce market has roughly 7,000 employees, a third of whom commute from beyond the Bronx.

In fact, according to Metropolitan Transportation Authority data, the Bronx has the highest reverse-commute rate in the country, with people streaming out of the city's only mainland borough to suburban locales in Westchester and Connecticut.

"This is a vastly underserved area," said Jim Cameron, chair of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council. "There are jobs here that are going wanting that could easily be filled by people who live in the Bronx if they could get here easily and affordably."

Talk to most public officials, and the new project seems like a slam-dunk.

"This is such a big bang for your buck," a Metro-North spokesperson said. "The tracks are already there, all you'd have to do is build the stations and purchase a few locomotives."

Unfortunately, there is one other piece of the puzzle that must be put in place first—and it is a big one. The plan is for the new trains to run all the way to Penn Station, which cannot happen until the $8 billion-and-counting East Side Access project is finished in 2018, at the earliest.

In the meantime, Kellie Terry-Sepulveda, executive director of the Point Community Development Corp., while delighted about the stop, is worried nonetheless that its arrival could drive up local real estate prices and possibly drive out small business owners.

"I challenge us to figure out how this will help people who are renters and not owners," she said. "I'm hoping it will be carefully addressed."

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Solar Installers Eye Booming Market in New York City

With New York, New Jersey and the federal government providing an array of incentives, solar firms now face rivals of every stripe -- from builders to plumbers, from electricians to HVAC contractors -- who all started doing solar installations during the building slump. While government incentives and utility company rebates power a sunny view for panel installers. However, will the market deliver?

Last year was one of ups and downs for Soly M. Bawabeh, president of Brooklyn-based solar installer Solar Rainbow Services. Tapping relationships in his family's commercial real estate development business to sell large-scale solar electric systems, his five-employee firm picked up lucrative clients such as Jordache Enterprises and commercial property firm Aetna Realty.

With sales humming, Solar Rainbow acquired a stake in More Core Commercial Roofing in Monmouth County, N.J., last summer, simplyfing the process of marketing solar panels to clients already doing roofing work.

However, a federal cash grant for installing those panels expired at year's end, leading some customers to back out. Mr. Bawabeh is hoping Congress reinstates it. He's grateful, meanwhile, that many of his 2-year-old firm's customers met a deadline to be grandfathered.

“We have a lot of work in the pipeline,” said Mr. Bawabeh, whose given name is, coincidentally, Solar. He projects $20 million in sales this year.

With New York, New Jersey and the federal government providing an array of incentives, however, Mr. Bawabeh faces rivals of every stripe, from builders to heating, ventilation and air-conditioning contractors, who started doing solar installation during the slump in building.

Bigger players are circling. Sungevity, a 200-person solar-panel installer based in Oakland, Calif., is talking to customers in Brooklyn. “The activity we're seeing now is nothing compared to what we'll see in the next year or two,” said co-founder Alec Guettel.

Meanwhile, Solar Universe Network, a national solar-panel franchise based in Livermore, Calif., with territories in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, is also eyeing New York, which has high utility rates and attractive incentives. It is on the hunt for owners of service businesses with sales backgrounds who could do well in the solar field.

“Some of our best franchisees are guys who did custom car interiors,” said Chase Sorgel, director of marketing and customer acquisition for Solar Universe Network.

New York State has 375 registered solar installers, following a big upswing in 2009, according to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. With NYSERDA-funded training programs in more than 20 community colleges, vocational schools, union halls and elsewhere, and another 13 locations being set up, more installers will be hawking their services this year.

Clean-energy jobs

The Brookings Institution last summer ranked New York the top city in clean-energy jobs, with 152,034. The 786 solar photovoltaic jobs in 2010 were a tiny fraction of them, but were up from 252 in 2003.

New Jersey, which has robust solar policies, dwarfs Gotham in solar capacity, but some see the city's potential.

Antenna Group, which bills itself as the nation's largest clean-technology public relations practice, announced an expansion from San Francisco to New York last April.

“The New Jersey incentives are creating a lot of opportunity,” said General Manager Caroline Venza. “It's only natural that you see that activity extended to New York.” All this action, though, raises the specter of hope outstripping reality.

“Will the market go away or collapse? I don't think that will happen,” Mr. Sorgel said. He anticipates that larger players will dominate, however. “The small guys will find it harder and harder to compete.”

The biggest factor fueling the growth is a requirement that New Jersey energy utilities help the state meet a mandate, passed three years ago, to fill 22.5% of its power needs with renewable energy by 2021.

For each megawatt of solar energy they generate, companies and residents earn solar renewable energy credits, or SRECs, which they can sell to utilities. Required to generate a set amount of renewable energy each year, utilities can purchase the credits to meet the minimum.

“That drives the market,” said Michele Siekerka, assistant commissioner for sustainability and green energy at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. “You've got folks out there saying, 'I need to buy SRECs. Who's got them?' ”

Also fueling the burgeoning local industry are three incentive programs in New York state encouraging installations in residences, businesses and nonprofits. Another initiative, launched in 2011, is pouring $150 million over five years into projects in which large companies will use solar energy, with $125 million targeted for New York City and southern Westchester County. NYSERDA is paying 50% of project costs up to $3 million per site. Many solar installers handle the paperwork needed for customers to collect on the incentives.

On top of this, the federal Department of Energy announced in 2010 it had committed more than $200 million to fostering research and development in solar energy and water power.

Solyndra got its infamous $535 million loan guarantee from the DOE to finance construction on a solar manufacturing plant in Fremont, Calif., before declaring bankruptcy last August. Although the Solyndra debacle has raised skepticism about publicly financed solar projects, expectations in the industry for the New York region remain undiminished.

New York City indeed could be a great spot for solar—on all those building rooftops.

But, will the market deliver?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Luxury Living in the Cathedral of Commerce

The Woolworth Building’s neo-Gothic tower, one of New York City’s most recognizable landmarks, is about to be turned into luxury condominiums, a transformation that would be second only to placing penthouses atop the Chrysler Building or the Empire State Building. A $150 million renovation project will transform the top 30 floors into super luxury apartments.

The world’s tallest building when it opened in 1913, the Woolworth Building was called the “Cathedral of Commerce,” its copper-domed tower soaring 792 feet into the skyline. Now, in a $68 million deal made final last week, the tower will be turned into about 40 luxury apartments, including a five-level penthouse in the cupola.

In a condominium market still recovering from the Lehman Brothers crash in 2008, some developers have focused on conversions as a way to create new luxury apartments that cater to an eager, astronomically wealthy clientele who in the past few months have spent tens of millions of dollars on sumptuous apartments. With its historic status downtown, the Woolworth Building has the cachet to give it an edge over its competitors.

An investment group led by Alchemy Properties, a New York developer, bought the top 30 floors of the landmark on July 31 from the Witkoff Group and Cammeby’s International, which will continue to own the lower 28 floors and lease them as office space.

The agreement promises to reinvent the tower that telescopes up at 233 Broadway, between Park Place and Barclay Street, as one of Manhattan’s most sought-after addresses, adding yet another chapter to the history of this Cass Gilbert-designed monument to Frank W. Woolworth and his five-and-dime empire.

Apartments will begin at 350 feet above ground level, offering panoramic views of Lower and Midtown Manhattan, Brooklyn and New Jersey. The condominiums, with ceiling heights of 11 to 14 feet, are expected to be completed by 2015.

Penthouses will be among the highest-altitude residences in the city, soaring above 700 feet.

An abandoned 55-foot-long basement swimming pool, originally part of a health club, will be restored as an amenity for residents. A new entrance on Park Place will serve residents with an elevator bank separate from that used by the office tenants on the lower floors.

Not many people in the world would get to say they live in the Woolworth Building — one of the city’s most recognizable buildings.

The renovation project will cost approximately $150 million, atop its $68 million purchase price, a representative for Alchemy Properties said. Although apartment prices have not been set, they will probably sell for around $3,000 a square foot. That could mean $7.5 million for a 2,500-square-foot unit. The penthouse at the pinnacle would command much, much more.

By comparison, the average price per square foot of apartments sold in the second quarter of 2012 in the Woolworth Building’s ZIP code — 10007 — was $1,250, according to data from real estate appraisal firms.

Recently, $2,000 a square foot has become the new normal for iconic buildings in Manhattan, with apartments in the Woolworth tower will beginning on higher floors than most traditional prewar buildings.

In 1998, the Witkoff Group and Cammeby’s International formed a partnership to buy the Woolworth Building for $126.5 million. They at one point considered remaking the tower as office space with country-club exclusivity. As part of that plan, the top 25 floors, ranging from 3,500 to 8,000 square feet, were gutted. They have been vacant for several years.

There has been much speculation over the years about potential buyers, including Italian businessmen and an Israeli investor group. In the end, four serious buyers looked at the property, according to people with knowledge of the deal who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The deal has been kept quiet since negotiations began in April.

Nothing Alchemy has done quite compares with the challenge of transforming a signature piece of Manhattan real estate into residences, but the physical size of the project, at roughly 100,000 square feet, is similar to other developments the group has handled.

Alchemy has developed 30 properties in the New York metropolitan area, and most of its residential projects have been boutique buildings with just a few dozen apartments.

Even owners of newer skyscrapers that tower over the Woolworth Building seem in awe of it. Bruce Ratner, chairman of Forest City Ratner Companies, which developed the 870-foot, Frank Gehry-designed residential rental at 8 Spruce Street — currently the city’s tallest residential building — marveled at the view of its shorter neighbor from a penthouse window at the Gehry building recently.

“The Woolworth Building is what is really extraordinary,” Mr. Ratner said. “What I always say to Frank is that this building dances with that building.”

Thursday, August 16, 2012

$400M Media Campus Proposed For Navy Yard

Douglas Steiner has big plans for the Brooklyn Navy Yard Hospital complex. Along with the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, he wants to turn the derelict medical campus into a technology, media and film hub. He also envisions using 20 acres as a studio back lot. Steiner is certainly putting his money where his mouth is, committing $375 million to help to finance the 10-year project, which could create 2600 construction jobs.

Hidden behind weeds and broken bricks, amid the hum of traffic from the nearby Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, lie 20 acres of abandoned grassy hills, crumbling Greek Revival mansions and Second Empire structures that few New Yorkers have ever seen.

After decades of neglect, this hidden corner of the 300-acre Brooklyn Navy Yard, known as the Naval Annex Historic Campus, may be ready for a long overdue makeover.

The nonprofit Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation and a private developer, Douglas Steiner, have reached an agreement, contingent on city, state and federal financing, to convert the hospital complex into a media, technology and film hub. Mr. Steiner, who owns the adjacent Steiner Studios movie and television production center, would connect the site to his property to create a 50-acre lot to be called a media campus.

The project, which would cost nearly $400 million and take 10 years to build, would use the nine historical buildings on the site and create five new structures for a total of 328,000 square feet, housing media companies and academic programs. There would also be 100,000 square feet of new stages for film and TV, including the first underwater stage in the country and the first back lot on the East Coast to feature a New York City streetscape.

The developers estimate that the project will create 2,500 direct jobs, many of which would be high-paying union positions; 1,500 indirect jobs from ancillary services like carpentry and dry cleaning, and 2,600 construction jobs. When completed, the 50-acre media campus would employ some 6,000 New Yorkers, its backers say.

Mr. Steiner, whose Steiner Studios is the Navy Yard’s largest tenant, has, since it opened in 2004, committed $185 million to build and expand it. He has agreed to commit just shy of $346 million for the hospital complex. He would be responsible for shoring up the historical buildings, erecting the new structures and finding the tenants.

To make the plan viable and to build out the site’s infrastructure, including water, sewers and electricity, the developers are seeking $35 million from New York State and New York City and $2.5 million from the federal government.

Over the years, the site has been the focus of a series of failed proposals, most recently as a possible location for the city’s applied sciences campus, which eventually went to Roosevelt Island. Nevertheless, the developers say they are hopeful that this project will have more traction.

There is growing demand for office space from technology and new media industries here, as well as the entertainment industry — 23 prime-time television shows are based in New York City, compared with seven in 2002, according to the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. In addition, the area has the right geography — this is the only place in the city where you could build a 50-acre media campus that will create the kinds of 21st century jobs that are critical to the city’s economy.

The public financing is an important piece of the project: Last month the developers applied to the Empire State Development Corporation’s Regional Council for $17.5 million. It is petitioning the city for an equal amount, and expects feedback on the proposal in the fall.

Julie Wood, a spokeswoman for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, said, “The Brooklyn Navy Yard is an economic success story if there ever was one, and we are very proud that our investments there have yielded high-quality jobs in some of our fastest-growing industries, like film and TV production.”

“The medical campus,” she added, “has long represented a prime opportunity for development and we’re very excited about the potential of this project.”

The 60,000-square-foot Greek revival hospital, built in 1838 from marble quarried by prisoners from Sing Sing, would be the campus’s centerpiece. “My dream is to have an anchor tenant like Google or Apple,” said Mr. Steiner, who also envisions turning some of the smaller buildings on the site into writing bungalows that could be leased by production companies, producers and directors.

Mr. Steiner is also proposing several academic buildings at the site. Long Island University’s graduate screenwriting program has a location at Steiner Studios, and Mr. Steiner is currently building a center for the Brooklyn College Graduate School of Cinema.

In addition, Mr. Steiner is hoping to build a Hollywood-style back lot, where filmmakers could recreate quintessential New York locations, like Chinatown in Manhattan or the interior of a subway station, that are otherwise hard to capture on film. The hope is that the back lot would not only spur more film production but also become a draw for tourists.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Genome Center's New HQ to Get Power From 375 Pearl

After scouring more than 100 sites in the city, the New York Genome Center announced plans for a new, cutting-edge facility in SoHo. The new, $47 million home for the New York Genome Center on the corner of Grand Street at 101 Sixth Avenue is expected to be a game changer. The seven floor, 168,000 square foot facility will create more than 500 jobs and transform science and healthcare in New York and beyond.

"What we hope to build is the largest genomic sequencing, bioinformatics and data storage facility in the world for human genetic data. What that will mean is both new approaches in terms of research to discovering new diagnostics and treatments for disease, but also applying them in the clinic," explains Nancy Kelley, executive director of the organization.

Currently operating out of a pilot lab inside Rockefeller University on the Upper East Side, the New York Genome Center is an independent, not-for-profit organization supported by Rockefeller and 10 other big name institutions including Columbia and Mount Sinai Medical Center.

"By pooling their resources they can make sure that the capital investment is constantly being made to keep the new technology on the latest," Kelley says. "The mapping of the human genome project ended in 2003 and cost $3 billion. Today you can sequence it, the whole human genome of an individual in about two weeks for less than $5,000."

The New York Genome Center's new home will be open in April of 2013.

However, the new headquarters would have been impossible were it not for another building, 375 Pearl Street.

The Building That Juices Genomes

Most New Yorkers know the 32-story structure at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge by the Verizon sign that adorns it. Last year, the Sabey Corp. bought the building for $120 million. A rare feature that owes its existence to the building’s origin as a switching center for the New York Telephone Co. drew Sabey: access to a huge amount of electricity.

"Access to that power is in our view probably worth more than the building because you just can't replicate that infrastructure," said Dave Sabey, CEO of the Seattle-based company.

Much has been said about the city's emergence as a tech hub. Far less attention has been paid to the electricity needed for the ever-growing data demands of business. Few buildings have 375 Pearl's electricity access. One exception is Google's Ninth Avenue building, a former Port Authority headquarters and freight station.

The Pearl Street data center, dubbed Intergate.Manhattan, will ultimately be able to draw as much as 40 megawatts of electricity. The juice will help power the genome center's immense data volume. Each sequenced genome will generate 130 gigabytes. After two years, the center expects to have five petabytes (5 million gigabytes) of info. Most will be stored at Sabey's data warehouses in Washington state (where electricity and space are cheaper) and connected via a secure network to 375 Pearl, which will act as a hub for scientists at the center's Sixth Avenue centerpiece.

The center is a collaborative effort of 11 health care research institutions. "Not one of these research institutions has the money to buy the computing infrastructure necessary to really be able to model these massively complex interactions between genetic communities," Sabey said.

He said other industries, especially finance, are likely to follow suit as these industries becomes ever more data-heavy and speed-dependent.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

PA Cracks Down on Drinking by WTC Construction Crews

Miller time may be over for good. Faced with a series of construction accidents at Ground Zero and a problem with daytime drinking by construction workers, the Port Authority is going on a public-safety bender, trying to tear World Trade Center construction workers away from the bar.

The agency is upping the budget for its inspector general and adding investigators to the unit as part of a sweeping crackdown on workday drinking among WTC hard hats, according to Port Authority chief Pat Foye.

The Inspector General has been quietly deploying undercover agents to the bars around the World Trade Center and is planning to keep up the pressure. Already, more than 20 construction workers have permanently lost their WTC credentials, and more can be expected to do so, Foye said.

“Look, vodka and steel beams and a construction site don’t mix,” Foye said. “We are not going to tolerate it. This has been a longtime problem in the construction industry. But this is the most complicated construction project anywhere.”

Foye declined to say how much the Port Authority is spending on the crackdown or how many investigators are being added.

Plans for the crackdown began taking shape a year ago, after whistle blowers exposed the WTC crews’ drinking problem when area workers observed the steady stream of construction workers who thought “lunch hour” meant “happy hour.”

But officials put the effort into high gear after a series of recent construction accidents at the site of the 9/11 terror attacks. While it wasn’t clear whether the incidents were directly related to boozing, the Port Authority isn’t taking chances.

In February, 40 tons of steel crashed 40 stories to the ground. Then, in late June, a worker was impaled on a length of steel after falling five feet, and a day later, glass rained down on the street after a beam crashed into windows 46 stories up.

The accidents all occurred at 4 WTC, one of the towers being built alongside 1 WTC, nicknamed “The Freedom Tower.” “There is no place at the World Trade Center for risky or irresponsible behavior of any kind,” said Bud Perrone, a spokesman for the developer, Silverstein Properties.

But the PA has its job cut out for it, according to one hard hat who already lost his clearance to do construction at the WTC.

“I hate to tell you, but those bars are all packed,” said 48-year-old Michael Galvani of Wantagh, LI, who was caught drinking beers with his burger on July 18.

Monday, August 13, 2012

NYU to Open Wireless Research Center in Dumbo

The Polytechnic Institute of New York University will open a research center for wireless technologies in a further bid to bolster a technology hub in downtown Brooklyn. When NYU Wireless opens, researchers will focus on developing the next-generation cellular technology. Doctors at NYU Langone Medical Center, meanwhile, are expecting the research to contribute to game-changing advances in medicine as well.

About 23,000 square feet of research space is scheduled to open at the downtown Brooklyn campus this winter. The center—called NYU Wireless—will combine research in wireless technologies, computing and medical applications.

"NYU Poly has always had some good researchers in wireless," said Theodore Rappaport, founder and director of the research center. "What we're doing now is ramping it to critical mass and creating a new research environment."

The center, launched in partnership with NYU and National Instruments Corp. of Austin, Texas, represents the next step in NYU's efforts to cement its presence in the area. In April, NYU and the city announced a deal to create an applied-sciences institute at the former transit authority headquarters at 370 Jay St. Columbia University and Cornell University also are expanding their engineering programs in the city.

It also will help bolster the number of companies in what the city has called a technology triangle, stretching from Downtown Brooklyn to the Brooklyn Navy Yard to Dumbo, said Alexandria Sica, executive director at the Dumbo Improvement District. The area is currently home to more than 500 companies in roughly 1.7 million square feet of space, according to a survey commissioned by local economic development groups.

"The clustering of this sector is really important," Ms. Sica said. She added that the center "will really spark a whole new field of entrepreneurs."

More than 100 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers as well as 25 engineering, computer-science and medical professors are already doing research on campus. Projects range from cellular networks to medical imaging.

"Wireless is starting to enter its Renaissance," said Mr. Rappaport, who started academic wireless centers at University of Texas and Virginia Tech.

NYU Langone Medical Center Goes Wireless

When NYU Wireless opens in Brooklyn's Dumbo neighborhood this winter, researchers will focus on developing the next-generation cellular technology. Doctors at NYU Langone Medical Center, meanwhile, are expecting the research to contribute to game-changing advances in medicine as well.

The 23,000-square-foot facility will be staffed by NYU Langone physicians, in addition to engineers, computer scientists, faculty and students from the university, the NYU School of Medicine and NYU Polytechnic Institute. The institutions last week announced they had received $10 million in public and industry funding.

"We have great minds sitting around the table trying to decide what to tackle first," said Dr. Marc Bloom, director of perioperative technology at NYU Langone.

Among the medical research projects: devising faster, less-invasive imaging to study organs such as the brain or heart. Advances could include new MRI scans that take only a few seconds and capture a beating heart in real time. That technology would let doctors performing a procedure such as cardiac ablation see if they correctly zapped the heart muscle cells to stop an irregular heartbeat. Brain surgeons could see if they had removed enough of a tumor.

"We'll get better, cleaner pictures inside the body in less time," Dr. Bloom said. Another project involves being able to insert tiny monitoring devices in patients that will be able to tell doctors how well a joint replacement is holding up, whether an epilepsy patient is about to have a seizure, or whether a cardiac patient is in danger of having a heart attack.

"With this technology, we will be able to check a body system, measure whether our intervention is functioning, and see if there is any improvement in the patient's health," Dr. Bloom said.

Outside the body, the same technology that NYU Wireless is developing for better cellular networks will be used to improve communications inside the hospitals.

The institute's work will be funded by a $2 million National Science Foundation grant. NYU is investing $3 million in startup money and another $4 million to build out the space.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Tech Building Boom Reaches Queens

New York's technology boom has a new beachhead, and it's in Queens. The challenge of meeting steep rents in Manhattan's tech-oriented Chelsea, SoHo and Flatiron neighborhoods has already pushed the start-up scene into parts of Brooklyn. Now, efforts under way in Long Island City aim to turn the waterfront area into a mini-silicon alley.

Long Island City may one day see spillover from its proximity to Cornell University's sprawling applied-sciences campus, to be built on Roosevelt Island starting in 2014. "As start-ups spin out and naturally settle across the river in Long Island City, it will transform western Queens by bringing in new talent and resources," Mayor Michael Bloomberg predicted last year.

However, the early adopters aren't waiting for any future boom to find its way to Queens.

The area is still largely industrial and many streets are desolate, but the Hunters Point section is visibly changing. Construction crews working on high-rise rental buildings roam the area as joggers make their way through a newly opened portion of the waterfront.

Plaxall Inc., a manufacturing company, said it has applied for state funding to convert a building in Long Island City's Hunters Point section into an incubator, the shared office spaces used as low-cost launching pads by young businesses.

The Long Island City area offers the advantage of short commutes to Midtown along with cheap rents for large industrial spaces that suit growing companies—especially those in manufacturing.

Shapeways, a 3-D printing company, opened a distribution center in the Hunters Point area earlier this year and has plans to build a factory nearby. The start-up, which also has offices in Manhattan, expects to have 25 employees in Queens by the end of next year.

Significant hurdles remain before Long Island City arrives as a technology hub in its own right. A city-made map meant to promote New York's emerging digital landscape currently lists only seven companies in the area.

There is a drive to build a tech-savvy brand for Long Island City, but so far, the neighborhood hasn't perfected the swagger seen on the other side of the river. Monthly tech meet-ups hosted by the nonprofit Coalition for Queens have drawn 150 to 200 attendees with a meek pitch: The venue is just a five-minute ride from Grand Central.

Still, the proselytizing managed to convince Ben Guttmann, chief executive of the education start-up Digital Natives Group. He signed a lease at a building owned by Plaxall last month after talking to another local entrepreneur at one of the meet-up sessions.

"We realized Queens is very affordable," Mr. Guttmann said.

Plaxall pegs the average annual office rents in Hunters Point at about $15 to $25 per square foot. Manhattan's tech centers, where established companies like technology giant Google Inc. and blogger network Tumblr Inc. have large footprints, see offices rent around $56 per square foot in Flatiron and over $40 per square foot in Chelsea, according to research by brokerage firm CBRE Group Inc.

While it lacks the amenities of Union Square, waterfront development has made Long Island City more appealing to some technology entrepreneurs. "Being able to go out for lunch with the best view in the city was a big selling point," Mr. Guttmann said.

"When we moved here, there wasn't a local supermarket or a drugstore," said Elias Roman, co-founder and chief executive of Songza, a digital music business based in Long Island City since 2007. Employees at the company usually eat lunch at Food Cellar & Co., an organic grocery store, and have meetings on the boardwalk by the water.

"It's been an incredible process to see the neighborhood fill in and now to see start-ups want to be a part of that," Mr. Roman said.

Nevertheless, the western-most neighborhood in Queens is still a long way from duplicating the tech successes of Manhattan or Brooklyn. "It's as if we've been a little bit behind the curve, but now we're really taking off," said Gayle Baron, president of the Long Island City Partnership, an economic-advocacy group.

"I think that tech companies have been moving outside of Manhattan at least since 2000. Why it will stick now is because of the fact that more support services are being explored."

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Bright Ideas: Focus on LED Technology

LED Technology Is the Key to Future Smart Buildings
Cost and functionality have traditionally been two big hurdles for the widespread use of LED lighting technology in commercial buildings. With technical improvements and increasing awareness of LED energy efficiency benefits, there has been some limited adoption in parking and exterior applications.

Nevertheless, the convergence of building automation and information technology that is transforming the facilities management industry -- and helping define the smart buildings market -- presents a significant opportunity for deployments in LED (light emitting diode) applications.

Smart buildings are defined by integrated controls and automation that optimize how equipment operates to manage costs and improve efficiencies. Lighting is one of six key smart building technology segments, as outlined by IDC Energy Insights, that enable building systems to respond to internal policies, weather, or even utility price signals to balance the occupants' needs, in this case for lighting, and business objectives.

We've outlined three distinct benefits a business can reap with a smart building lighting system. Moreover, when the lighting technology is a LED, the benefits are amplified and illustrate an opportunity for investment that can trump the push back on upfront cost.

Energy Efficiency: LEDs have long been touted for their superior energy efficiency benefits in comparison to other lighting retrofit options. This benefit is counterbalanced by the challenge for consumers to incur a significant cost premium.

The industry continues to evolve with innovation improvements in chip and driver technology, the components engineered to deliver light, are helping drive down this pricing challenge.

Even more, when integrated into a smart building lighting solution, the automation and controls of the LED system amplify energy savings potential by optimizing lighting in response to daylight and occupancy.

Operational Efficiency: The energy savings generated by an LED system can be quantified in terms of a reduction in demand and illustrated in real dollar savings by comparing utility bills.

A smart building LED system also generates significant operational improvements, but these benefits are often referred to as reduction in soft costs because they are more difficult to quantify due to the link to behavioral changes.

The operational savings come by giving facilities managers greater visibility into how their equipment is operating and identifying key problems to help direct maintenance efforts through analytics that recognize when equipment is failing.

LEDs last far longer than traditional lighting and can lower the total cost of operation for a building. In addition, they offer superior technology for extending energy efficiency benefits through dimming.

Corporate Benefits: The enhanced energy savings generated by using LEDs help building owners meet strategic greenhouse gas emission reduction, corporate social responsibility and sustainability goals. The energy conservation that generates these benefits is inherent in LED technology and enhanced by building automation and control architecture for energy demand.

So what needs to happen to see widespread adoption of Smart Building LED solutions?

The challenge today is to promote a shift in the decision-making paradigm over investment opportunities for lighting retrofits. A total cost of ownership perspective on investment opportunities is an important shift in thinking for promoting the utilization of smart building solutions including LED retrofits. This framework will enable decision-makers to account for the overall system benefits including operational savings and corporate business goals generated by smart building technology.

Overall, smart building LED solutions represent a mature energy management strategy for building owners looking to drive down costs and streamline operations and maintenance. Increasing awareness of the value of sophisticated energy management systems and technology innovations emerging from the LED industry will make such solutions an increasingly viable investment for a growing audience.


LEDs Perform Brilliantly in Consumer Reports Tests, CFL's Stumble.

LEDs have a lot to offer... for a price. Unlike compact fluorescents, the light-emitting diodes in Consumer Reports' latest light bulb tests brightened instantly, even at frigid temperatures, and turning them on and off frequently didn't affect them. That test killed most CFLs. And there's no mercury in LEDs, making cleanup easier and safer if a bulb breaks. But you'll pay for those advantages. The tests found that not all LEDs shine.

After 3,000 hours of testing Consumer Reports found some LEDs earned near perfect scores, but also found dim bulbs, ghastly light color, and LEDs that don't cast light in all directions. So choose from the light bulbs recommended in the ratings - or buy Energy Star-qualified LEDs, which must meet stringent standards that are independently verified.

And if you're concerned about the bigger picture—the environmental impact of energy-saving bulbs—LEDs have a greater edge over CFLs, according to a recent report from the Department of Energy.

The study looked at the energy and environmental effects of manufacturing, assembly, transport, operation, and disposal of LEDs, CFLs, and incandescent bulbs. LEDs had a significantly lower environmental impact than incandescents did. The main reason cited was that incandescent bulbs consume so much electricity that to generate all that energy substantially affects the environment, making them the most harmful to the environment. Look at it this way. Watts indicate energy use and to get about the same amount of light output, you can choose a 60-watt incandescent, a 14-watt CFL, or a 12.5-watt LED. Now consider that there are an estimated six billion light bulbs installed in American homes.

LED prices are dropping, but most that were tested cost between $25 and $60 without rebates. Even so, a $25 LED can save you about $130 over its 23-year life, compared with an incandescent. Consumer Reports concludes that the advantages of LED's significantly outweigh the price.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

$300 Million Northside Piers Tower Breaks Ground

Edge developer Douglaston Development has taken the lead on building 3 Northside Piers in Williamsburg, recently re-dubbed 1 North Fourth Place. While the third tower at the Edge itself remains on hold, Douglaston started breaking ground on the $300 million, 40-story rental tower this week.

Unlike the first two Northside Piers towers, which were built by Toll Brothers, the third is being built by Edge developer Douglaston Development in partnership with L&M Development Partners. The 510-unit rental building will have fittingly Edge-like amenities: pool, lounge, screening room, weight-training room and business center.

The tower was originally supposed to be part of a three-building complex developed by Toll Brothers, L&M Development Partners and RD Management, but after sales were slow -- even after price cuts -- in the first two Northside Piers buildings, Toll Brothers backed out of the project. L&M and RD will help on Douglaston's version of the tower.

"The Williamsburg market is strong, but for most of us developers, it's not a place where we were making a lot of money," said David Von Spreckelsen, a senior vice president at Toll Brothers.

"There's so much product, competing for price against each other."

Douglaston still has a third tower of its own to build at the Edge complex. The developer never broke ground on the third building after sales started sluggishly in the 565 units that comprise the first two structures.

However, sales have picked up in recent months, and The Edge is now more than 80 percent sold.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Developers Line Up for Bed-Stuy’s Famed Slave Theater

After the fate of the famed Bedford-Stuyvesant Slave Theater languished in limbo for 14 years, buyers with big plans are now stepping up, with hotels, theaters and condominiums proposed for the Fulton Street site. The redevelopment project could top $80 million and create hundreds of construction jobs.

One developer wants to construct a hotel and a second theater behind the Fulton St. cultural venue that was a haven of civil rights activism in the 1980s, while another is a condominium developer.

The developer would renovate the long-defunct theater and buy Halsey Street properties behind it to construct a Red Roof Inn as well as the theater, a $74 million project all told.

The purchase offer is one of five that the estate of late Brooklyn Civil Court Judge John Phillips, is considering as the Slave faces a court auction to pay off $190,000 in liens. The auction — which was supposed to take place Aug. 9 — was pushed back to November after the approximately $2 million purchase offers were nailed down last week.

At least one other would-be buyer vows to return the shuttered Fulton Street building to its use as a theater. New Brooklyn Theater, a group formed by theatrical producer Sarah Wolff and director Jonathan Solari to restore the Slave, is gaining traction online with a Kickstarter campaign to raise $200,000 for a down payment.

The group isn’t one of the five that made formal offers to Boykin — but hopes for a place at the negotiating table after five months in talks with Boykin. “We want to make this a center for Brooklyn artists,” Wolff said. “This building is waiting to be saved.”

The group’s 60-day Kickstarter campaign, launched on August 5, has so far raised $18,159. “If we come out the winner, the community will win,” she said.

Other potential buyers are unlikely to reopen the padlocked building as a theater. One is a clothing retailer, said the Rev. Samuel Boykin, who is the Phillips’ nephew and in charge of the estate.

Another is a Brooklyn condominium developer, Ore International, a lawyer involved in the auction told Wolff. The developer has done condominium conversions of row houses and new residential construction in Clinton Hill, Carroll Gardens and Prospect Park South.

Boykin has been struggling for three years to sell the theater. Unpaid tax bills on the Slave and two other properties total $3.4 million. “We owe the government a lot of money,” said Boykin.

For the sake of his uncle’s legacy, Boykin would like to choose a buyer who will make the Slave a theater again — but can do so only if it’s “financially feasible,” Boykin said. “We have to escape the guillotine. The buyer who can show they can close on this sale,” he said, “is the buyer we want.”

Friday, August 3, 2012

Checking In: Celeb Hotelier Goes Public

Ian Schrager checked out of the New York hotel scene amid the financial crisis in 2010 when he divested his stake in the Gramercy Park Hotel. Now he's staging a comeback and wants to regain his status as the largest private hotelier in New York City. The celeb hotelier is 'in contract' to build two NYC hotels, and close to securing deals to develop five others under his new brand Public.

The legendary hotelier and former owner of Studio 54 is "in contract" to build two Manhattan-based Public hotels, the value-oriented brand he launched in Chicago in October 2011. The deals replace a canceled project announced last year to open a Public at 855 Sixth Avenue in Herald Square with Durst Fetner Residential.

At one time, Ian Schrager was the largest private hotelier in the city. Reached at his roomy Greenwich Village office last week, Mr. Schrager stated, "I wouldn't mind achieving that status again. I'm still ambitious."

Though Mr. Schrager declined to divulge many details,  the famed boutique hotel pioneer, said he is close to securing deals to develop five hotels under his new brand Public, which rejects much of the hip hotel-design concepts he helped to popularize more than two decades ago. He did confirm that all the hotels would be new buildings and added that other properties could land in Williamsburg and Coney Island—neighborhoods the East Flatbush, Brooklyn, native has become enamored with in recent weeks.

The latest activity comes on top of a deal he inked with Marriott International to help design its Edition hotel brand. Construction to convert the landmark Clock Tower building at 5 Madison Ave. begins later this year.

Mr. Schrager, who turned 66 last week, probably would have gotten heartburn if someone had told him earlier in his career that he'd be the architect of two hotel chains. The godfather of the boutique hotel was disdainful of anything that smacked of cookie-cutter corporate, touting instead the individuality of his properties such as Morgans, the Paramount and the Royalton with their one-of-a-kind appeal.

That was before Bill Marriott made him a lucrative offer in 2007 he couldn't refuse: to design Edition, Marriott International's first boutique-hotel brand.

Marriott could have tapped anyone for the job but chose Mr. Schrager because he was a pioneer in that category, whose ideas have been copied by everyone from Starwood Hotels & Resorts' W hotels to, well, Marriott. Edition is meant to be an answer to W.

Mr. Schrager has developed about 15 one-off hotels during his career—none of which he still controls today. In the case of the Gramercy Park Hotel, that property took a hit during the downturn when it defaulted on a loan.

Creating the Public brand has improved his ability to attract institutional funding. For one thing, Mr. Schrager's involvement with Marriott has given him institutional credibility, so lenders are more willing to back such projects.

The Public in Chicago, like Mr. Schrager's earlier hotels, has sophisticated design elements and features a destination restaurant, the Windy City's storied Pump Room, run by celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Room rates start at about $200 a night during the summer, although the same hotel room in New York could probably command twice as much. The property also introduced a new riff on room service, promising to deliver meals within 10 minutes. A paper bag with the order is placed outside the guest's room, eliminating the need to tip.

The service, called Public Express has already inspired a copycat in the Four Seasons Hotels, which recently announced a 15-minute room-service option.

Conceiving ideas that eventually become industry standards is among Mr. Schrager's greatest strengths. Now that he has the ear of corporate brass at Marriott, he is making unsolicited suggestions on how to increase the room rates at the company's budget chain, Courtyard by Marriott, by introducing classier food and beverage service.

"Ian is great at design and promoting a property, bringing in revenues and making these projects very exciting," said Richard Born, a principal of BD Hotels who was briefly a partner with Mr. Schrager in a proposed hotel that eventually became 40 Bond St., a residential building where Mr. Schrager resides with his wife and 2-year-old son.

However, Mr. Schrager also has a team of 25 in his company, including partner Michael Overington, who began his career with Mr. Schrager as an engineer at Studio 54 and now heads development at Ian Schrager Co.

"When I first started out, I suppose I was a one-man band," said the hotelier. "But I'm not anymore."

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

NYC Construction Giants in Criminal Probe for Billing Fraud

The FBI is investigating the billing practices of four New York City construction giants, just months after Bovis Lend Lease admitted to years of fraudulent billing, paying $56M in fines  Federal prosecutors now have Turner Construction Company, Tishman Construction, Plaza Construction and Skanska USA, under their magnifying glass. 

A grand jury subpoena has reportedly been issued to AECOM, the parent company of Tishman. That news comes after charges filed against Bovis Lend Lease in April ultimately led to an admission of guilt and $56 million in fines.

Turner Construction Company issued a statement confirming that they, among other major construction contractors, had been issued a subpoena by the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York last December.

"Turner fully complied with the subpoena and will cooperate with any further inquiries from the authorities," the statement said. "Turner is well-recognized for its commitment to corporate integrity and high standards of business practice."

The four companies currently under investigation are involved in a number of large-scale public projects, including the extension of the #7 Subway line.

"The message should be clear to all who are engaged in similar contract billing fraud: You are in our sights. And the defense that ‘everyone does it’ will not be a shield against law enforcement."
— Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York
James Abadie, a former principal of Lend Lease's New York office, pleaded guilty to overbilling clients for more than 10 years, including projects with federal, state, and municipal funding, in April. He faces up to 20 years in prison. Fraudulent practices typically involved billing clients for labor overtime, hours that had not actually been worked by foremen.

Federal investigators would not stop there, warned Janice Fedarcyk, assistant director of the New York field office of the FBI, in a press release.

"Whether projects are publicly or privately funded, padding contracts and skirting the law are crimes," Ms. Fedarcyk said in the statement. "And we are watching."