5Pointz Against Non-Union Construction
Another genius hires non-union for a big job, and New Yorkers end up paying the price.
Despite taking over five years to build them, the two towers at 22-44 Jackson Avenue in Long Island City are the subject of many tenant complaints about shoddy construction, incomplete amenities, and worse. The high-rises were built by non-union contractors. -- Google Street View
The iconic Long Island City warehouse known as 5Pointz was an icon of New York City’s thriving and influential street art community. To New Yorkers, it stood as an urban canvas, with large and colorful art scaling its four stories, visible from passing trains. In the early 2010s it was purchased by G&M Realty, a developer of luxury buildings in New York.
The principal of G&M, Gerald Wolkoff, said his firm intended to raze the building and replace it with two new luxury rental towers, one 44 stories high and the other 47. Together they would offer 1,122 new units. He promised to hire union labor to do the job.
He then proceeded to make a series of very bad decisions.
A local art treasure is razed and converted into a towering money pit of tenant woes.
The warehouse was a canvas for local street artists and drew the attention of many, including the international artist, Banksy. It was affectionately nicknamed 5Pointz. -- courtesy Wally Gobetz/Flickr)
First one: Despite loud protests from the global art community—even the reclusive street artist Banksy weighed in to plead for the building’s salvation—Wolkoff had the entire building whitewashed of its colorful exterior murals on a Tuesday in November 2013. The 23 artists who had created that work sued and eventually won a $6.75 million settlement.
Second one: G&M reversed their decision to hire union labor and instead contracted several non-union companies to perform the tear-down and the new build. That’s when things really got ugly.
In November 2013 the developer had the building whitewashed before demolition. The artists sued and won a $6.75 million settlement. -- Google Street View
According to a story in TheReaDeal and the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB), in the nearly five long years it took the non-union contractors to put up the new buildings, the project experienced an astonishing 122 citations from the Environmental Control Board (ECB) and 90 DOB violations. It also received a whopping 138 complaints from locals.
The details of these complaints suggest unsafe working conditions on the site, which is a common state of affairs on non-union job sites. One complaint reported a contractor was putting up scaffolding 60 feet high without a harness or guard rails. The complaint says, “Caller states … they seem to have no experience. Caller is afraid of an accident.”
A deeper read of these complaints reveals a site safety manager’s failure to report accidents, including one in October 2016, when a worker broke his leg in a fall. And at least seven DOB entries describe that despite having a stop-work order in place, work was in fact continuing. “They are doing work when they are not supposed [to],” one complaint reads. “Someone has already fallen out of the building, which is why the order was given but they are neglecting it.”
The Wolkoffs, David (left) and Gerald, principals of G&M Realty which hired non-union contractors to run the now-tragic Long Island City project. -- TheRealDeal
Third mistake: When the towers were completed and ready for leasing, Wolkoff brazenly tried to name the towers Five Points, stealing the moniker of the beloved icon he had defaced. That effort was was rejected by a trademark court, though the name 5Pointz is used casually by publications and listing companies.
Gerald Wolkoff died in 2020 and his son David took the helm of G&M and of the new luxury towers. The father’s decision to hire non-union has left the son with a real mess on his hands.
Resident complaints from the RealDeal article:
“I wouldn’t even recommend this place to my WORST enemy,” a Google user named Christine wrote about 5Pointz in January. “After living here for almost a year now, it is very obvious that this place took a lot of shortcuts while building.”
“Every day it is something new … leaky ceilings, no hot water, no running water, stoves not working, entrance doors un-usable, elevators not running … you name it,” she continues. “If you value your life and sanity do not live here.”
Complaints lodged with the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development cite building-wide hot water and gas outages in late June, mid-November and most recently in January.
Lack of soundproofing is a recurring complaint by tenants saying they’re exposed to drafts, “screeching wind” and the sound of the 7 train that snakes around the towers.
“I look around this building sometimes and I generally feel it is all going to come down,” said a 5Pointz resident who requested anonymity.
“Every inch is just so covered in incompetence and cost-cutting,” he added, noting that key amenities such as the “sky deck” roof lounge remain unopened and the front revolving door feels like “you’re pushing a sled through sand” most of the time.
TheRealDeal also reports that the property has stopped listing apartments for months, which seems extremely unusual in what is now an unprecedentedly hot New York real estate market. They surmise that the buildings may have substantial construction problems that need to be fixed urgently, but G&M is not talking about it.
Add 22-44 Jackson Avenue to the growing list of supposed luxury high-rise buildings put up by developers who believe they’re saving money by hiring non-union labor. At Union-Built Matters we’ve already demonstrated that belief of non-union labor savings to be utterly false. The tragic results of these developers’ misinformed choices speak for themselves. As do the very unhappy apartment buyers who live in these buildings put up by non-union contractors. Their opinion can be summed up by one 5Pointz resident: “I wouldn’t even recommend this place to my WORST enemy.”
Get Our Monthly Newsletter
Stay up to date on what's happening in New York construction. Our news comes from major media publishers, real estate and construction trade insiders, and the people involved in the industry every day. And it's free.