New York’s Zombie Buildings
So many stalled non-union projects, not dead, but not really alive either.
The hotel in construction near Penn Station was supposed to be finished in 2021. But it's still 10 floors short of its planned height, there are no visible signs of work happening, and the open date is no where in sight.
Have you walked past a large construction site in the city where the work seems to have just stopped? If so, you’re not alone, because there are many enormous, supposedly luxury, non-union projects that now sit idle in New York—large skeletal structures locked in time, going nowhere.
These zombie projects rob New York of residence space, retail revenues and taxes, not to mention the assault on our eyes. Here’s a quick summary of just a few of the most obvious messes, where they are and what’s going on – or not going on – with each.
You may have passed by Madison Square Garden and noticed the huge eyesore there, the unfinished 33-story hotel to-be once owned by The Chetrit Group. This new hotel at 255 West 34th was supposed to be finished in 2021 and was to be managed by the group that currently runs two Manhattan Intercontinental Hotels and the Crowne Plaza Times Square.
But here we are two years past the original completion date and only 23 of the 33 floors have been built. When checked on a recent weekday in May, Union-Built Matters found no apparent signs of construction activity at the site.
Real trouble with the hotel seemed to begin at the end of 2022, with the project far from complete, when Chetrit failed to pay off a $110 million loan. In January the bank financing the whole effort, Maverick Real Estate Partners, seized control of the unfinished eyesore. The Chetrit Group responded by accusing Maverick of illegally taking the property and they have sued Maverick for $20 million in equity.
It’s been estimated that it will take another $106 million to finish the project. Who knows when you’ll be able to make a reservation there.
These zombie projects rob New York of residence space, retail revenues and taxes, not to mention the assault on our eyes.
The Waldorf Astoria has been plagued with legal troubles, work stoppages, and funding challenges.
The Waldorf Salad of Missteps
In 2021 a contractor that had worked on the remodel of famed Waldorf Astoria hotel, quit the project in frustration. That contractor called the effort a “rudderless ship.” He said that the remodel, originally scheduled to be completed in 2019, might actually take until 2025 just to finish model apartments—referring to the show rooms, not the units that will actually be lived in. Those will supposedly take longer.
How did the city’s symbol of luxury, where Marilyn Monroe once lived and where Grace Kelly got engaged to Monaco’s Prince Rainier III, become such a disaster? Perhaps the non-union builder Trident General Contracting has an answer.
Trident faced allegations of discrimination. One employee described “a discriminatory environment where supervisors frequently used racial and homophobic slurs.” Also, in the span of two months, two different workers suffered gruesome injuries allegedly from faulty, not-to-code equipment.
And in 2018, the chairman of Anbang Insurance, the Chinese company that owns the property, was convicted of fraud and sentenced to prison in China. Dajia Insurance Group took over the project. And three years later, contractors started quitting.
In case you’re wondering, non-union, all of it.
The supertall condo at 125 Greenwich Street is one of the many non-union projects stalled in New York.
125 Greenwich Street
In 2019 the 88-story luxury condo designed by Rafael Vinoly at 125 Greenwich Street was almost finished (Vinoly is also the designer of the controversial 432 Park). That’s when trouble started.
Investor Michael Shvo led a new development team into the project and proposed that the 125 Greenwich building should be the “432 Park Avenue of downtown.” Italian soccer superstar Marco Borriello bought an unfinished $7 million, 80th-floor apartment.
But then Mr. Shvo was convicted of art and tax fraud and dropped out of the project, which led to disputes among the remaining partners, and lawsuits involving local and Chinese lenders.
Now in an apparent rescue, chief developer Fortress Investment Group and sponsor Bizzi & Partners have secured new financing and have started up the project again at last. They have partnered with Plaza Construction, a non-union builder. If you’ve been paying attention in this editorial, that seems to predict more troubles. We’ll keep an eye on it.
For years there has been no progress on the construction of the leaning condo tower in the seaport.
New York’s Leaning Tower
The 670-feet-tall condo tower on the edge of the East River boasted a menu of over 80 super-luxury apartments that would sell for $7 million and more. One perk listed for residents was exclusive access to a yacht owned and moored by the building.
But this luxury project has been beset by non-union mistakes from the beginning. To start with, builder Fortis Property Group allegedly didn’t conduct proper bedrock studies before laying the foundation, according to the developer Pizzarotti, LLC, which they say is the cause of the tower’s apparent lean to the north. A 67-story building shouldn’t lean. Fortis stands by the work.
Then in 2017Juan Chonillo, a 43-year-old father of five, and a construction worker on the project, died from a fall in a what seems to have resulted from a ridiculously careless accident by the contractor.
Now, while Pizzarotti and Fortis fight in court over who is to blame for the foundation (or whether the foundation is even flawed) and banks sue contractors over fraud, the enormous husk of a building casts its skeletal shadow on the East River and no one can say when construction will begin again or when those $7-million homes will welcome their new owners.
There is a very long list of more projects like these that have been approved, funded, begun, and then stalled because the developers have chosen to do business with the wrong companies. In so many of those cases, those companies are non-union contractors. If you are lucky enough to be able to afford New York City real estate, save yourself a lot of trouble, look at building that were put up by unions.
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