April 10, 2012 By Steven Greer
At the recent Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) town hall meeting, CEO Gayle Horwitz blamed the city for the long delays in opening of the Asphalt Green community center. She said that building inspectors were not looking at the proper boilers, etc. (see full video of her talk, below). However, sources close to the BPCA told BatteryPark.TV that the loss of the dedicated construction and architect crew of the BPCA, caused by the mass firing of 19 staff by Chairman Bill Thompson and CEO Horwitz, are the real causes for the construction delays.
Kevin Finnegan was the acting head of construction projects for the BPCA before he was fired last November. Kevin Chin was also on the construction team, along with two architects, Stephanie Gelb and Peter McCourt. All four were part of the 19 fired on the same day, without warning, last November.
A source close to the BPCA, who has been following the construction of the Asphalt Green complex, said, “The boiler and fire inspection folks are always a nightmare to deal with. Everyone in the city has the same issue, and they had the same problem at Site 3. But you can work through the bureaucracy and get it done. You mean to tell me that they had to use temporary heat all winter because they couldn’t get a boiler inspection? That is simply not credible. The real problem is that the building was still open… I went by a few months ago and the building wasn’t even closed up on the ball field side. I drove by again this week and it was still partially open. That indicates slow construction on BPCA’s part… To blame it on the city’s permitting process is ludicrous.
I noticed she also brought up Con Ed as a potential obstacle going forward. Again, they can be frustrating but you just have to work it. But you also need experienced managers who can pick up the phone and make the right calls. She fired them…
There are many reasons why the building was going slowly, but they come down to a failure to make timely decisions with regard to coordination issues with the developer of the base building. This is something I heard time and again from (BPCA staff). I would not doubt if there are also delays due to fire code issues. The plans for the community center were filed on the last day that the old city code was in effect, but were not stamped in by the fire department until a few days later. So you have a situation where it is unclear whether the new code or the old one is controlling. This is an issue that needed to be resolved last year so that the fire department and building department do not come in at the last minute and say the community center is out of compliance. If you start hearing about the “failure” of the fire department and building department to sign off on a temporary certificate of occupancy, you can bet it is over some code issues…
Pier A is also going slow as molasses and with significant cost overruns, and again BPCA has not P.E.s or architects on staff to provide proper direction. It would be like you opening up a medical clinic and staffing it with nothing but nurses and physician assistants. They can handle a lot of stuff, but when the big issues arise it is essential to have an M.D. on hand.”
BatteryPark.TV spoke with Kevin Finnegan, one of the BPCA construction experts fired last year. He said that the Asphalt Green construction is more complicated than if it were a standalone building since it is attached to a residential apartment building, and “You’re going to have a lot of confusion about the permits, when they have to be filed, which ones have to be filed, etc.”.
When asked whether the loss of the dedicated construction staff had contributed to city building permit construction delays and confusion, he explained that his job role often required him to act as an expeditor between the third party construction crew and the city. “The BPCA uses the LiRo Group as an outside consultant for construction projects and a separate “expeditor firm”. Frank Franco is the senior person at LiRo. Whether some of the continuity got lost when we were let go…on a project this complex, Frank would have called up, explained the problem, and I would have called the city and had the permit issue likely handled in a day. In fact, we did this with the ball fields. There actually was not an address that existed so no permits were able to submitted…If we had gone through the normal routes, it would have taken six or seven weeks…by me making a phone call to the Department of Buildings, we had it straightened out in a day. We had a permit the next morning. Very much so, that is what would have happened here at the (Asphalt Green community center had we been still employed at the BPCA).”
Mr. Finnegan could not comment on whether any actual physical construction problems arose since he left the project back in November and has not visited the site since then. When asked about construction delays at Pier A, Mr. Finnegan laughed and said, “On that one, (our in-house architects who were fired) could have helped out a lot.”
The Battery Park City Authority exists to oversee the construction of the area, yet the current leadership of the BPCA lack construction experience. CEO Horwitz has experience in the Macy’s retail store, then at the City Comptroller office under Bill Thompson. Chairman Bill Thompson is a lifelong politician and running for New York City Mayor in 2013 as he maintains his full-time job at the BPCA.