How tall is Extell’s luxury tower at 250 South St. going to rise? That’s apparently for the prolific development firm to know and for residents to find out.
Executives with Extell and Lend Lease, the construction firm managing the project, appeared at a quarterly community meeting Wednesday night, but new information was scarce. Long ago the company detailed plans for an approximately 800-unit luxury condo tower alongside the Manhattan Bridge, but has consistently refused to confirm the exact height. The most recent Buildings Department filing puts it at 72 stories.
The meeting was held in the community room at Two Bridges Tower, the mixed-income rental building alongside the construction site. It was moderated by Tenant Association President Trever Holland and Susan Stetzer, district manager of Community Board 3.
State Sen. Daniel Squadron was on hand to set the stage for the evening’s question and answer session. In brief remarks, he told the residents, “This project makes a lot of us uncomfortable in a lot of ways,” but alluding to the fact that Extell required no special permission to construct its massive tower, he added, “it is a project they are allowed to build.” Representatives of the company, Squadron noted, agreed to meet with community members, even though it’s not required. For this reason, he urged participants to stay focused on “construction issues,” rather than using the meeting as an opportunity to bring up other topics. In a previous session, local activists showed up to vent their concerns about luxury development and the loss of affordable housing.
On Wednesday, there was none of that, but the Extell team was peppered right from the start with questions about the scale of its project. Stetzer immediately interjected, saying, “They are not willing to answer the question… I understand residents want to know and I agree you should know,” but she echoed Squadron’s plea to stay “on topic.”
A member of the audience, however, asked, “Why? This is ridiculous. Why won’t you answer?” Raizy Haas, an Extell executive overseeing the project, answered, “This is a construction meeting and we are not here to address that tonight, but you’re still wanting an answer.” She continued, “We’re building two buildings, a fair market and an affordable building and the number of stories is still a work in progress…When we are ready to do that we are more than happy to come back and share it with you.”
There were other questions. Residents complained that pools of standing water in the excavation area are attracting mosquitos and giving them hives. The plaza outside Two Bridges Tower has for months been sinking. The same goes for sections of Cherry Street. People have noticed cracks in their walls, experienced trouble opening and closing doors and have been dealing with mailboxes that are jammed shut. And then, of course, there’s the ear-splitting noise coming from the pile driving operation.
Anthony Abbruzzese, senior vice president of construction, said the pile driving would be over in the next couple of months, meaning that the noisiest phase of construction will soon come to and end. Crews are expected to start building the superstructure by the end of the year.
Abbruzzese said Extell is committed to repairing all damage it causes at Two Bridges Tower. He said that the plaza has been temporarily fixed and that it will be fully replaced when construction is complete in the year 2019. In response to concerns about safety and the stability of the Two Bridges rental building, Abbruzzese explained that seismographic monitors are in place and, he said, engineers are ready to deal with any structural problems that might occur. Haas added, “We’re confident that once the foundation is complete we won;t experience any more cracking.”
There was a question about construction jobs at the huge project. Stetzer said a meeting is scheduled Monday with Extell and community stakeholders to discuss that topic. “Unions are involved,” she said, and there will be a system in place to hire locally, both during construction and once the project is complete. The Lower East Side Employment Network, a consortium of non-profit organizations, is playing a role in other major LES developments, including Essex Crossing. It’s likely they’ll also be brought in to coordinate training and local hiring on the South Street project.
People who live at Two Bridges Tower Wednesday night complained not only about Extell but about the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, co-owner of their building. The organization has its own engineer monitoring the property for possible structural problems. Residents, including Holland and tenant leader Elaine Hoffman, said Two Bridges has not communicated with them the details of several engineering reports that have been conducted in recent months.
We spoke yesterday with Two Bridges President Victor Papa, who said all residents were sent a letter last month. The letter explained that the building remains safe and that the organization is constantly monitoring the situation. Papa said their engineering firm is in regular contact with Extell’s engineers, and that teams are on call 24 hours a day to deal with any structural issues that might occur.
At the meeting, Extell executives said they could not answer questions about the fate of the old Pathmark pharmacy building next to their construction site. Last year, CEO Gary Barnett said he would like to build on the site. His company possesses a long-term lease in a portion of the shuttered building. As previously reported, Two Bridges Neighborhood Council and Settlement Housing Fund own the property and intend to build affordable housing there. Yesterday, Papa said a lawsuit involving another party (developer Roy Schoenberg) still hasn’t been resolved. Until that happens, he said, Two Bridges is not in a position to share plans for the new project.
Extell is scheduled to meet the neighbors again in October.