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Last As Usual

The rallying cry of Willets Point landowners and labors has been “Neglect Not Blight” ever since the Bloomberg administration revealed its latest redevelopment plans for the neighborhood. The city wants to replace the 61-acre neighborhood of auto body shops, scrap yards, and small manufacturers—which the mayor and other officials consider blighted—with residences, retail, and a convention center.

Locals contend that if the neighborhood is blighted at all, it is because the city has allowed it to get that way, a point they hope to make at a public hearing tomorrow before the City Planning Commission. But the project’s critics fear they will have no time to be heard. Along with the Willets Point rezoning plan, the commission is taking up two massive and massively contentious plans: the rezonings of the East Village/Lower East Side and Hunter’s Point, both of which will be heard first.

Dan Feinstein, president of Feinstein Iron Works, said the Bloomberg administration is using the same tactics it has throughout the planning process to marginalize those who work or own land in Willets Point. “They put us third,” he said. “They put us last, as usual. They don’t want to review this, they want to ram it through. This is like Vladimir Putin moving the tanks into position on the Georgian border.”

Tomorrow’s hearing is one of the last stops for the three plans before they go to the City Council for a final vote. Previously, they passed before the local community boards and borough presidents, all of whom have advisory votes—as opposed to the binding vote of the commission—and supported the project.

However, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer gave his support conditionally to the East Village/Lower East Side plan saying that, in addition to more affordable housing and harassment and eviction protections, he wished the commission had separate hearings for each rezoning. “They are on a mission to get things done,” Stringer told Metro. A spokesman for Queens Borough President Helen Marshall told AN she had no issue with the arrangement.

Beyond having their grievances heard last, those wishing to speak out on Willets Point face a number of other issues. “Certainly the more hours the hearing goes on, the less alert the panel could be,” said Michael Gerard, counsel for the Willets Point Industry and Realty Association, a group representing local businesses and landowners. Gerard also said it can be difficult to organize witnesses, both experts and locals, given the uncertain start time for the hearing. Rachaele Raynoff, a spokesperson for the Department of City Planning, said the city’s 311 hotline will be set up to provide updates on the proceedings, but Gerard said this was far from an ideal solution.

Another issue is location. Unlike the recent hearings for the Manhattanville and 125th Street rezonings, which were held at City College campus in Harlem, tomorrow’s hearings will be held in Lower Manhattan, at the Tisch Auditorium at NYU Law School. “Washington Square is a long way from Willets Point,” Gerard said.

Eve Baron, director of planning at the Municipal Art Society, said the auditorium was at least a step up from the cramped quarters the commission usually resides in at its headquarters in the civic center. She also applauded the decision to have Mandarin, Cantonese, and Spanish translators on hand for those who needed them to testify. But she said the combined hearings still presented a major issue. “Call it two steps forward, one big step back,” she said.

The city maintains that it had no choice but to schedule the meetings together because of the constraints of the land review process, which carries a timeline for each step of the public review with strict deadlines, and that there has already been much public debate of the issues. “These are enormously important projects for the communities in which they exist,” Deputy Commissioner for Economic Development Robert Lieber, who is overseeing the two Queens projects, said in a statement. “Delaying these important public hearings will do nothing to increase public input, and having them on separate days will only make it more difficult for those who want to speak to more than one of them.”

Still, the commission certified the two Queens plans on April 21, three weeks before the certification of the East Village/Lower East Side rezoning on May 5. Asked why this was not taken into consideration, or why Willets Point, arguably the most contentious of the three plans, was being heard last, Raynoff declined to comment.

Whatever the reason, even those going first can sympathize. “If I was from the other two, I’d be concerned about speaking, too,” said Susan Stetzer, district manager for Manhattan Community Board 3, much of which will be affected by the East Village/Lower East Side rezoning. She also said the city promised her that her constituents would have as much time as they needed to speak. If previous rezonings are any indication, their testimony alone could take most of the day.

Whatever happens tomorrow—and you can expect a full report from AN, barring a midnight or later conclusion, as some already fear—it may not ultimately matter. The plan remains opposed by a majority in the City Council, with local representative Hiram Monserrate leading the fight from the start. Today, 31 members sent a letter [text] to the commission saying they are in “absolute opposition” to the Willets Point rezoning.

A spokesman for Monserrate, Wayne Mahlke, said the decision for a combined hearing is just the city’s attempt to strong arm the public. “The councilman is concerned that putting the three projects together is a way of pushing the project through without getting community input,” Mahlke said. “The city needs to correct the problems of the past and deal with these people who work here rather than pushing them aside once again.”

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Turning Pavement Into Paradise
The park would meander through downtown, surrounded by a new mixed-use development and other new buildings.
Courtesy EDAW

Thirty-eight years after Joni Mitchell penned her lyrics about paving over paradise with a parking lot, two dozen summer interns—gathered by planning and design firm EDAW—have helped plan a landscaped park over the mother of all parking lots. Namely, a bleak stretch of the 101 Freeway that slices through a trench in downtown Los Angeles, dividing some of the city’s most walkable and historic areas like Olvera Street, Chinatown, and Union Station from the downtown government and business districts.

The interns presented their plan, which they call Park 101, to a large crowd in front of the Caltrans building in late June. The scheme proposes placing a two-thirds-mile-long deck, or “cap,” on the 101 Freeway between Alameda and Grand avenues to the east and west and Temple Street and Cesar Chavez Avenue to the north and south. This would facilitate a 100-acre park, as well as 1.9 million square feet of mixed-use development on land lining the freeway that would help pay for the project’s infrastructure. Within the park itself, the interns designed an amphitheater, a folded landscape with a ridgeline trail, and several winding walkways.

If built, the scheme would be developed in three phases, starting with the infrastructure and park, followed by the mixed-use development, and then by what the interns called “the tallest and greenest skyscraper on the west coast” to help anchor Disney Hall.

To Vaughan Davies, EDAW director of urban design and creator of the assignment for the interns, what matters is making a connection. The Bunker Hill Redevelopment Project, which transformed downtown Los Angeles in the 1950s and 60s, “focused on buildings,” Davies observed. “There was no focus on the public realm” with buildings like Union Station stranded by an imposing freeway. The project is “about people taking back the city,” said Davies. “If you’re going to do it, do it big.”

Members of the 101 Park steering committee included representatives from Caltrans, METRO (LA’s transit authority), the LA planning department, the Community Redevelopment Agency, city council members, and the mayor’s office. The total cost of the park and its infrastructure is projected at $700 million. Financing for the project may prove as fleeting as a Mitchell song, but the interns—culled from schools across the world—worked with several Los Angeles politicians and agencies, which could help draw support for ever-diminishing public funding.

Davies points to the proposed mixed-use project as an effective funding source, and also suggests a new BID (business improvement district) or TIF (tax increment financing district) to help bolster the project’s financial feasibility. “It needs to be a business plan, not just a green plan,” he said.

METRO has already applied for a Caltrans Community Planning Grant on behalf of EDAW to support and continue the planning process for Park 101. And according to a spokesperson for EDAW, the park’s implementation could be overseen by local organizations with rights to the land, including Caltrans and the county and city of Los Angeles. To that end, the firm has already been presenting the plan to neighborhood groups to gather stakeholder input.

AN

New York City once boasted the largest port in the country, if not the world, and while the massive container complexes in Elizabeth and Bayonne remain the largest on the East Coast, it is safe to say New Yorkers have all but forgotten about their once mighty waterfront. Over the last decade or two, that attitude has slowly changed, as parks have sprouted where piers and factories once stood—and in some cases, they rise atop those that still remain. With a century’s worth of pollution finally leaching away, an idyll has returned to the waterfront.

Still, the waters of the Hudson and East rivers remain all but off limits, be this more through stigma than actual danger. Short of the occasional yacht, sailboat, or brave (make that wise) sea kayak, the New York shoreline remains a mystery. For 17 years now, the Municipal Art Society and the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance have been fighting to change that, and they were at it again last night with the launch of their annual summer boat tour. The cruise offers an almost alien view of the city, one of neglect and potential, of rebirth and real estate.

Setting sail promptly at six o’clock (this reporter, along with speedy architect Fred Schwartz, were seen running up to a receding gangway), the Circle Line ferry pulled away from Pier 83 into the admittedly drab and murky waters of the Hudson. (As one passenger explained, the West Side piers correspond to their streets, plus 40.) The air was still muggy, but as the boat picked up steam, a breeze overtook the decks and the 600 or so passengers began to relax, enjoying their paninis, soft pretzels, and cans of Corona Light.

Chugging down the western shore of Manhattan, MAS outgoing President Kent Barwick and MWA President Roland Lewis—replete in matching seersucker suits—took over the MCing duties. “We want to welcome you all aboard and just say that we hope you enjoy yourselves and what is a very different but no less important view of the city,” Barwick said.

That was the prevailing sentiment for the night: how the city was finally returning to its waterfront, how that mission could be furthered, but also how it could be jeopardized. Approaching the tip of Manhattan, Barwick was quick to point to Jersey City and Battery Park City, both ahead of their time in riverfront reclamation, but also dangerously close to privatization, which could still be a potential problem for some of the cruise's later destinations, like the Williamsburg waterfront and Brooklyn Bridge Park, both of which are still developing. “This cannot become a wall of condos,” Barwick said.

Councilmember Dan Garodnick happened to be on board as a passenger, but he was asked to say a quick word about another promising waterfront project, the Eastside Waterfront Park, which he spearheaded over the last year with the help of the MAS. (Asked if there was any word yet from Tishman Speyer on its Stuytown lawsuits, he said no, then looked at his watch and added, “Today’s the 30th, so they’ve got one more day.”)

A special trip was made up Newtown Creek to get a look at the new “egg-shaped digesters” recently completed by Polshek Partnership. Lewis praised them as an example of how the sewage treatment facility, which serves a 25-mile area including Brooklyn, much of Queens, and Lower Manhattan, could be beautifully designed, just as any other piece of infrastructure.

And what boat tour this summer would be complete without a stop by Olafur Eliasson’s waterfalls? While some critics have called them wasteful and underwhelming—at least from the land—from the water, they truly look spectacular. It could be that from this perspective they look more natural, but it is also the recognition that, as Barwick said at the beginning, everything looks better on the water.

Hopefully, more New Yorkers will come to realize this as well. Lewis was quick to note that at one point in its history, New York enjoyed 110 ferry lines crisscrossing the water. With congestion on the streets and subways only getting worse, Lewis said, this is one of the best options for alternative transportation in the city, and also one of the most affordable. If nothing else, it will provide New Yorkers with some much needed perspective on what can at times feel like a rather landlocked island. Just be sure to watch out for that kayaker down there.

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Block By Block
Courtesy Cultural Landscape Foundation

The story of New York development in recent years has been defined by mega-projects, the large-scale urban moves unleashed by a rip-roaring market, sweeping rezonings, and once-in-a-generation super-deals. But the current economic meltdown has made for a very different mood. Certainly not chastened—this is still New York, after all—but circumspect, even cautious. A number of ambitious projects we featured here in the past—the proliferating towers at Queens West, or the 14-acre Sky View Parc in Flushing—are still gallantly moving ahead. Yet other grand plans have been parceled out in phases, pared back, or quietly put on ice.

To take stock of this changing landscape, we’ve gathered a selection of new projects—large and small, flashy and unfussy—that are filling in the streetscape and skyline, from hotspots like Williamsburg to newly beckoning corners of the Bronx. Together they offer a portrait of a city shaped less by the bravado of master builders than the block-by-block business of architecture. And that might not be a bad thing at all.

Produced by Jeff Byles, Danielle Rago, and Olivia Chen.

All images courtesy respective developers.

 

Manhattan

Above 59th Street 

37-41 HILLSIDE AVENUE
Location: 37-41 Hillside Avenue
Developer: North Manhattan
Construction Company
Architect: Johnson Jones and
Mario A. Canteros
Size: 16 floors, 89 units
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2010


AMSTERDAM AVENUE SITE
Location: Amsterdam Avenue and West 100th Street
Developer: TBA
Architect: SLCE Architects
Size: 56 units, 72,000 sq. ft.
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2010 


180 EAST 93RD STREET
Location: 180 East 93rd Street
Developer: Greystone Property Development
Architect: Barry Rice Architect
Size: 7 floors, 9 units
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


535 WEST END AVENUE
Location: 535 West End Avenue
Developer: Extell Development Company
Architect: Lucien Lagrange Architects
Size: 20 floors, 22 units
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


GEORGICA
Location: 305 East 85th Street
Developer: The Ascend Group
Architect: Cetra/Ruddy
Size: 20 floors, 58 units, 134,000 sq. ft.
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


2075 BROADWAY
Location: 2075 Broadway
Developer: 2075 Holdings
Architect: Handel Architects
Size: 19 floors, 196 units
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2009


Manhattan

Between 14th Street
and 59th Street 

250 EAST 57TH STREET
Location: 250 East 57th Street
Developer: World-Wide Group
Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Size: 2 buildings, 13 floors and 58 floors
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2011–2013


1775 BROADWAY
Location: 1775 Broadway
Developer: Moinian Group
Architect: Gensler
Size: 26 floors, 625,000 sq. ft.
Type: Commercial (reclad)
Completion (est.): 2009


250 WEST 55TH STREET
Location: 250 West 55th Street
Developer: Boston Properties
Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Size: 40 floors, 1 million sq. ft.
Type: Commercial
Completion (est.): 2010


800 10TH AVENUE
Location: 800 10th Avenue
Developer: Alchemy Properties
Architect: FXFowle
Size: 96 units, 130,000 sq. ft.
Type: Residential (conversion)
Completion (est.): 2010


CLINTON PARK
Location: 770 11th Avenue
Developer: Two Trees Management
Architect: TEN Arquitectos
Size: 911 units
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2011


53W53RD
Location: 53 West 53rd Street
Developer: Hines Interests
Architect: Ateliers Jean Nouvel
Size: 75 floors, 120 condominium units, 100 hotel rooms, 50,000 sq. ft. gallery expansion
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2012


55 WEST 46TH STREET
Location: 55 West 46th Street
Developer: Extell Development Company
Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Size: 40 floors, 800,000 sq. ft.
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2011


455 WEST 37TH STREET
Location: 455 West 37th Street
Developer: Rockrose Development
Architect: Handel Architects
Size: 23 floors with two levels of underground parking, 421,164 sq. ft.
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2009


HUDSON YARDS
Location: West 30th to West 33rd streets, 10th to 12th avenues
Developer: Related Companies
Architects include: Kohn Pedersen Fox, Arquitectonica, Robert A.M. Stern Architects, Elkus Manfredi Architects
Size: Approximately 5,000 units, 5.3 million sq. ft. (residential), 5.5 million sq. ft. (commercial), 1 million sq. ft. (retail and hotel)
Type: Mixed-use
Completion Phase I (est.): 2014


450 HUDSON BOULEVARD
Location: 450 Hudson Boulevard
Developer: Alloy Development
Architect: Della Valle Bernheimer and Architecture Research Office
Size: 1.1 million sq. ft.
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2013


MANHATTAN WEST
Location: 9th Avenue between West 33rd and West 31st streets
Developer: Brookfield Properties
Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Size: 5 million sq. ft.
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2013


316 11TH AVENUE
Location: 316 11th Avenue at 30th Street
Developer: Douglaston Development
Architect: The Stephen B. Jacobs Group
Size: 34 floors, 369 units, 387,500 sq. ft.
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2009


GANSEVOORT PARK
Location: 420 Park Avenue South at 29th Street
Developer: Gansevoort Hotel Group with Centurion Realty
Architect: The Stephen B. Jacobs Group
Size: 18 floors, 225 units, 200,000 sq. ft.
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2009


HL23
Location: 515 West 23rd Street
Developer: Alf Naman Real Estate Advisors
Architect: Neil M. Denari Architects
Size: 14 floors, 11 units
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


ALMA
Location: 30 West 21st Street
Developer: Beck Street Capital
Architect: Karl Fischer Architect
Size: 11 floors, 11 units
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


15 UNION SQUARE WEST
Location: 15 Union Square West
Developer: Brack Capital Real Estate
Architect: Office for Design and Architecture with Perkins Eastman
Size: 12 floors, 36 units, 97,000 sq. ft.
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


PRIMA
Location: 130 West 20th Street
Developer: EG West 20th
Architect: H. Thomas O’Hara Architect
Size: 36 units
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


57 IRVING PLACE
Location: 57 Irving Place
Developer: Madison Equities
Architect: Audrey Matlock Architect
Size: 12 floors, 9 units
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009

 

 

Manhattan

Below 14th Street

385 WEST 12TH STREET
Location: 385 West 12th Street
Developer: FLAnk
Architect: FLAnk
Size: 7 floors, 12 units
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


THE LEE
Location: East Houston Street at Pitt Street
Developer: Common Ground
Architect: Kiss + Cathcart, Architects
Size: 12 floors, 263 units, 99,000 sq. ft.
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


350 WEST BROADWAY
Location: 350 West Broadway
Developer: RFR Holding
Architect: Moed de Armas & Shannon
Size: 10 floors, 8 units
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


BOWERY RESIDENCES
Location: 351 Bowery
Developer: 351 Bowery Associates
Architect: Scarano Architect
Size: 15 floors, 14 units
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2009


FIVE FRANKLIN PLACE
Location: Five Franklin Place
Developer: Sleepy Hudson
Architect: UNStudio
Size: 20 floors, 55 units
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


99 CHURCH STREET/FOUR SEASONS HOTEL AND PRIVATE RESIDENCES
Location: 99 Church Street
Developer: Silverstein Properties
Architect: Robert A.M. Stern Architects/SLCE Architects
Size: 80 floors, 175 hotel rooms, 143 condominium units
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2011


375 PEARL STREET
Location: 375 Pearl Street
Developer: Taconic Investment Partners
Architect: Cook + Fox
Size: 32 floors
Type: Commercial (reclad)
Completion (est.): 2009/2010


BEEKMAN TOWER
Location: Beekman Street, between William and Nassau streets
Developer: Forest City Ratner Companies
Architect: Gehry Partners
Size: 76 floors, 903 units, 1.1 million sq. ft.
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2010


NOBU HOTEL AND RESIDENCES
Location: 45 Broad Street
Developer: Swig Equities
Architect: Rockwell Group/Moed de Armas & Shannon Architects
Size: 62 floors, 77 units, 128 hotel rooms
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2010


Brooklyn

TOREN
Location: 150 Myrtle Avenue
Developer: BFC Partners
Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Size: 37 floors, 240 units, 260,000 sq. ft.
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2009


HOTEL INDIGO
Location: 237 Duffield Street
Developer: V3 Hotels
Architect: Karl Fischer Architect
Size: 22 floors, 172 units
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2010


166 MONTAGUE STREET
Location: 166 Montague Street
Developer: United Management Realty
Architect: RKT&B
Size: 10 floors, 24 units
Type: Mixed-use (conversion)
Completion (est.): 2009


PARK TOWER
Location: 33 Lincoln Road
Developer: Henry Herbst
Architect: Gilman Architects
Size: 23 floors, 90 units, 180,000 sq. ft.
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2010


80 DEKALB
Location: 80 DeKalb Avenue
Developer: Forest City Ratner Companies
Architect: Costas Kondylis and Partners
Size: 34 floors, 365 units, 333,000 sq. ft.
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


ATLANTIC AVENUE
Location: Atlantic Avenue and Eastern Parkway
Developer: Habitat for Humanity
Architect: Dattner Architects
Size: 3 buildings, 4 floors, 41 units, 53,000 sq. ft.
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


GOWANUS GREEN
Location: 5th and Smith streets
Developer: Gowanus Green Partnership
Architect: Rogers Marvel Architects
Size: 774 units, 675,000 sq. ft. (residential)
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2014


GOWANUS CANAL HOUSING
Location: Bond Street between Union and Degraw streets
Developer: Gowanus Canal Joint Venture
Architect: RKT&B
Size: 11 buildings, 350 units, 355,000 s.f. (residential), 10,000 s.f. (commercial)
Type: Mixed-use
Completion: In design


80 METROPOLITAN
Location: 80 Metropolitan Avenue, Williamsburg
Developer: Steiner NYC
Architect: GreenbergFarrow
Size: 6 floors, 123 units
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


Queens

L HAUS
Location: 11-02 49th Avenue, Long Island City
Developer: The Stahl Organization
Architect: Cetra/Ruddy
Size: 122 units
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


THE STAR TOWER
Location: 28-02 42nd Road, Long Island City
Developer: Roe Development Corporation
Architect: DeArch
Size: 25 floors, 180 units
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


10 COURT SQUARE
Location: 10 Court Square, Long Island City
Developer: Rockrose Development
Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Size: 25 floors, 961,698 sq. ft.
Type: Commercial with ground-floor retail
Completion (est.): 2011


MURRAY PARK
Location: 11-25 45th Avenue, Long Island City
Developer: TerraMax
Architect: Fogarty Finger
Size: 7 floors, 28 units
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2010


EAST COAST 4
Location: Queens West Site 2 at Center Boulevard
Developer: Rockrose Development
Architect: Arquitectonica
Size: 39 floors, 737 units, 1.1 million sq. ft.
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2011


ARVERNE BY THE SEA TOWN CENTER
Location: Rockaway Beach Boulevard between Beach 67th and Beach 69th streets
Developer: Benjamin Beechwood
Architect: Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects
Size: 28,000 sq. ft.
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2009


Bronx

COURTLANDT CORNERS
Location: East 161st Street between Courtlandt and Melrose avenues
Developer: The Phipps Houses Group
Architect: Dattner Architects
Size: 323 units, 362,000 sq. ft.
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2010


BORICUA VILLAGE
Location: East 163rd Street and 3rd Avenue
Developer: Atlantic Development Group
Architect: Hugo S. Subotovsky Architects
Size: 7 buildings, 8 to 13 floors, 689 units, 47,000 sq. ft. retail
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2009/2010


THE SOLARA
Location: 1259 & 1275 Grant Avenue
Developer: Grant/Briarwood
Architect: Danois Architects
Size: 2 buildings, 10 floors, 160 units
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


TIFFANY STREET APARTMENTS
Location: 922 East 169th Street and 1140 Tiffany Street
Developer: Atlantic Development Group
Architect: Atelier 22
Size: 2 buildings, 8 floors, 94 units, 110,000 sq. ft.
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


ST. ANN'S TERRACE
Location: St. Ann’s Avenue and East 159th Street
Developer: Jackson Development Group
Architect: Hugo S. Subotovsky Architects
Size: 8 buildings, 8 to 13 floors, 600 units
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2011


KINGSBRIDGE ARMORY
Location: 29 West Kingsbridge Road
Developer: Related Companies
Architect: GreenbergFarrow
Size: 5.6 acres, 550,000 sq. ft.
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2013

 

Mr. Ross’s Neighborhood

When The Related Companies swept in to negotiate with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for a 99-year ground lease over the agency’s West Side railyards just days after the winning bidder Tishman Speyer Properties had pulled out, the developer hadn’t had time to tweak its proposal to reflect a changed team. But CEO Stephen Ross told reporters that his company, with Goldman Sachs and other investors backing it, would build towers around straightforward connections from an existing waterfront park, an emerging elevated park, and a planned grand boulevard. Or, as Ross put it, “a great New York neighborhood,” seen through the prism of current planning.

The Related proposal, which no longer has an anchor tenant, includes 440 units of affordable housing (out of 5,500 overall, including condos and townhouses) and a new school. It nods to widespread concerns about maintaining the city’s infrastructure by proposing two cogeneration plants beneath its towers. And it provides public space by focusing on three linear parks: the existing Hudson River Park to the west, the emerging High Line to the south and east, and the planned Hudson Boulevard to the north. Gone, at least from public display at the press conference, is the media-heavy “MySpace Pavilion” that the developer presented last fall when bidders showed off drawings in a Midtown storefront. That idea evaporated when Related lost News Corporation as an anchor tenant in late winter.

“We’re going to have to revisit the plan and adjust it,” said Ross, “but the most important part will be creating a great space and a great park for a great New York neighborhood.”

This is not a team inclining toward risk with a $1 billion investment that requires a $2 billion platform. Instead of the drama of something like the suspension-bridge meadow that Steven Holl designed for Extell Development’s failed bid, the document describes “the look, texture, and feel of a traditional New York neighborhood…with taller, denser buildings around a formal plaza and declining in height and density to the west.”

And instead of Chicago’s Murphy/Jahn leading the masterplanning, Related has named architects who know the territory. Kohn Pedersen Fox, which worked on plans for the Jets stadium that the city proposed for the site in 2003, takes the lead. Other players are Robert A.M. Stern Architects, whose headquarters overlook the site from West 34th Street, and Miami’s Arquitectonica, which designed the Westin Hotel on Eighth Avenue. The wildcard, Amsterdam-based landscape fantasists West 8, are learning the local ropes as designers of Governors Island—another long-delayed project for which Ross’ onetime business partner Dan Doctoroff emerged as a design champion.

As for worries about how to connect the neighborhood to the rest of Manhattan, Ross and MTA negotiator Gary Dellaverson were all smiles at the press conference. Dellaverson insisted that the city “has committed to borrowing [money]” to create a boulevard and extend the 7 subway line into the site: if the 7 extension fails to materialize by 2015, Related gets to suspend rent payments to the MTA.

“Certainly transportation is a key element,” Ross told reporters. “But we’ve been assured that the 7 line will be delivered for this project.”

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Crit: Libeskind’s Ode to Life
Bruce Damonte

Mark Darley
 

The Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM), which opened June 7 in downtown San Francisco, has been a long time coming. Daniel Libeskind took over the project in 1998 after the CJM and its first architect, Peter Eisenman, parted ways. Due to the dot-com bust and a merger/de-merger with the Magnes Museum of Berkeley, the CJM’s first freestanding building took a decade to complete. It belongs, therefore, to the same phase of the architect’s work as the Jewish Museum Berlin. And like the German museum, the California museum resembles an iceberg come to rest in the midst of a metropolis. Beyond that formal resonance, though, Libeskind sees the two buildings as representing divergent aspects of the Jewish experience. If the German museum casts the tragic figure of the Holocaust on Berlin, the California museum, according to the architect, “is all about celebration, about living history, about making connections.” In designing the 63,000 square foot museum Libeskind based the plan and massing on the forms of the two Hebrew letters–chet and yud–that make up the Hebrew word for life–chai.

Libeskind’s ode to life is crammed into a busy block of skyscraper hotels just south of Market Street, and its chai-shape rises out of the remains of an electric power station designed by Willis Polk shortly after the Great 1906 Earthquake. The result is a clash of old and new, of red brick and blue steel, of creamy terra cotta ornament and razor-sharp angles, a clash that’s intended to comment on the life of architectural ideas. Not by accident, the one spot the restless yud touches ground is alongside the apse of adjacent St. Patrick’s Church, yet another earthquake survivor. Here Libeskind provokes a clash of shapes in order to evoke the loftiness of human aspiration. At the eastern end of the church, the apse is a faceted projection toward holiness.  Libeskind’s precariously balanced polyhedron is also a spiritual probe of sorts, a metaphor for the museum’s mission of exploring the culture, art, and history of Jews in Northern California as well as the meaning of Judaism in the contemporary era.

The dialectical pairings continue inside, where the spacious entrance lobby is framed by Polk’s brick wall and the chet part of Libeskind’s chai. Here the brick wall sheds ornament for structure, a gigantic frame of steel I-beams that supported it during construction and now provides seismic bracing. Along with other reconstructed remnants, such as steel catwalks and trusses, the wall conjures up the might of San Francisco’s industrial past. Across the lobby, Libeskind’s otherwise unassuming white drywall connotes a lengthier past. Illuminated Hebrew letters spell Pardes, the word for a garden beyond that also speaks to the journeys into Judaism that await museum visitors.

On two levels, the museum’s principal spaces—the lobby, café, and store, three galleries, a multi-purpose room, an educational wing—spill out of the circulation core, where the main staircase and elevator are located, and where the chet and yud embrace one another. Unlike Libeskind’s Denver Art Museum, where slanted walls intrude into practically every gallery, the two principal CJM galleries are relaxingly rectilinear. The third gallery, however, located on the second floor of the yud, combats right angles at every turn. The overwrought space is further destabilized by thirty-six diamond shaped windows that allude to a masterpiece of the Soviet avant garde–the house that Konstantin Melnikov, in 1927, designed for himself in Moscow.

In spite of the architect’s by-now familiar dissonant shapes, the Contemporary Jewish Museum works. Because of its small size, its mix of old and new elements, and its rhythms that oscillate between the restless and restful, Libeskind’s CJM presents a nuanced and enlightened architectural experience. Visitors will doubtless require considerable education on the geometry and meaning of the chai. But encouraging curiosity about a building to blossom alongside its exhibitions is certainly a positive tack to take in contemporary museum design. Given the museum’s mission, to connect the millennial traditions of Judaism with the contemporary culture of California, what better place to start than in a word that’s imbued, to paraphrase German playwright and poet Friedrich Schiller, with the beautiful spark of God.

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Times
Jeff Byles

Most of New York City is well aware of yesterday’s death-defying stunts at the New York Times Building, where two climbers scaled the facade of Renzo Piano’s latticework tower before being taken into police custody on the roof. When asked about the paper’s plans to climb-proof the building (and its now tantalizingly ladder-like ceramic rods), a spokesperson for the New York Times Company replied that “design modifications are under consideration.” With that in mind, AN asked some of the city’s most inventive architectural minds how they might tackle this urgent design challenge.

The obvious person to address the tower’s dangers was the Genoan master himself, Piano, as well as his executive architects FXFowle. Both declined comment, as well as numerous other architects unwilling to criticize a comrade’s work.

For those who did speak up, however, the suggestions could not have been more inspired. The most common refrain? Let the climbers have their way. Channeling Louis Kahn, Markus Dochantschi, principal of studioMDA, said, “Climbing is what the facade wants to encourage, so I think the Times should provide lots of harnesses so that more people can climb up safely.”

Ada Tolla, a principal of LOT-EK, took the idea one step further. The firm would establish one day out of the month when the public would be invited to scale the structure, turning the Times’ potential disaster to its own advantage. In the interest of public safety, Tolla added, trampolines could be placed around the base of the building. “If somebody falls, they could just bounce back,” she said, “rather than break their heads.” (Surprisingly for the firm, there was no mention of shipping containers.)

Joshua Prince-Ramus, founder of REX Architecture, wondered whether the Times or building co-owner Forest City Ratner were even liable for others’ foolish actions. “Why do they care?” he said. “Someone falling off your balustrade is very different than someone actively climbing your building.” And while he did not personally endorse the idea, Prince-Ramus did point out that carabiners had been installed at his Seattle Public Library—designed while he was still a member of Office for Metropolitan Architecture—so rock climbers could do the window washing, not to mention saving $1.5 million on the project’s bottom line.

As an attractive, low-impact solution, the paper could consider climber-deterrent shrubs or vines, said Florian Idenburg, an architect with Brooklyn-based firm SO-IL. “There’s a thorny rose which I suggest you would grow along the whole bottom of the building, between the rods,” he said. “If you would want to climb up, you have to work your way through this dense growth of roses.”

Idenburg did not have a species ready to hand, but AN’s horticultural experts suggest the notoriously tenacious Rosa multiflora, known for its impenetrable thickets and wide tolerance for varied light conditions. (Idenburg might want to take his own advice, though, given that the New Museum he helped design while with SANAA is equally climbable, even if it does lack the views of its crosstown sibling.)

In a variation on this theme, Gregg Pasquarelli, one of the principals of SHoP Architects, suggested blades. "Big, sharp blades," he said. "Like on a guillotine." 

The most practical solution may have come from the current director of OMA’s New York office, Shohei Shigematsu. “I think I have an answer,” Shigematsu said. “They should build a canopy on some level, on the third or fourth floor.” He said this would also help provide protection from falling ice, a problem the building experienced last year.

Might you, dear reader, have a better idea? Fire away.

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Powering Down
Christopher Payne

In another sign of the rapid changes along Brooklyn’s industrial waterfront, the Kent Avenue power station in Williamsburg is currently being demolished. The monumental masonry power plant, designed by Thomas Edward Murray, was built in 1907 for the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company and is owned by Con Edison. “We have permission to demolish it. It is being demolished in phases,” said Alfonso Quiroz, spokesman for the utility. “We have no specific plans for the site.” Like the Waterside Power Station site south of the United Nations, which was also designed by Murray, and demolished last year to make way for a development by Sheldon Solow, the cleared Kent Avenue site promises to attract significant interest among developers.

Preservationists hope to persuade Con Edison to halt demolition, which is currently not visible on the building’s exterior. “From what I understand, demo permits have been pulled, but it’s not too late to save the building,” said Lisa Kersavage, director of advocacy and policy at the Municipal Art Society. The Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance also believes the building should be saved, noting that the Brooklyn industrial waterfront was named one of the eleven most endangered sites in America last year by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “Con Ed is supported by the rate-payers of this city,” said Roland Lewis, president of the alliance. “There is a selfish interest and a public interest at stake.”

Both Lewis and Kersavage implied that cultural institutions, such as museums, may be eyeing the building, but declined to cite any specific interested parties. “Look at the Tate Modern in London. This could be a wonderful location for a cultural institution,” Kersavage said. But Quiroz said that Con Edison is moving ahead with demolition plans and is not negotiating with any cultural institutions that may wish to rehabilitate the building. “There is no discussion,” he said.

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Into Thin Air
Courtesy San Francisco Planning Department

On April 30, the San Francisco Planning Department unveiled a rezoning proposal that would increase building heights south of Market Street beyond the current 550-foot limit, essentially shifting the skyline’s center from the existing business district north of Market Street to the south, toward the new Transbay Transit Center.

The proposed rezoning, further outlined at the Transbay Citizen’s Advisory Committee meeting on May 8, will be presented in greater detail in a draft environmental impact report scheduled for spring 2009. The rezoning is the culmination of years of civic plans that are only now coming to fruition. The city’s 1971 Urban Design Plan, reiterated  in the 1985 Downtown Plan, had originally proposed increased heights south of Market Street, reinforcing the idea of a high-density street wall along the city’s main spine.

With this new set of guidelines, city planners are attempting to contrast the city’s undistinguished skyline with the creation of an urban topography that plays against the undulating natural landscape. At a scenic vantage point, three “mounds” would be identified: Telegraph Hill, the Transbay Transit district, and Rincon Hill, with Folsom Street as the lower “saddle” between the latter two.

Pelli Clark Pelli’s recently unveiled Transbay Transit Center Tower—measuring somewhere in the vicinity of 1,000 feet—would act as the crown of the new city center, with surrounding towers forming a lower “ringed zone” 150 to 200 feet away. Nothing is set: The planning agency is hedging its bets, presenting a variety of height scenarios ranging from maintaining the existing 550-foot cap to the 1,200-foot upper limit as proposed by the Pelli scheme.
 
Architects’ and planners’ responses to the plan largely favored the possibility of increased density in the city and a more dynamic, even sculptural, skyline. But they also cautioned that the new construction be sensitive to its surroundings and were wary of the ongoing tension between the city’s aspirations as a metropolis and local planning politics constraining its development to incremental urban gestures.
 
UC Berkeley planning professor Peter Bosselman, who participated in the development of the 1985 plan, pointed out that the creation of these artificial “hills” will be difficult to manage in the face of developer pressures. Already, he pointed out, there are projects underway that would undermine the idea of a “saddle” between the Transbay mound and Rincon Hill.
 
Glenn Rescalvo, principal at Handel Architects—which is designing the 60-story Millennium Tower under construction next to the Transbay Terminal—asserted that the area’s success will be driven by the architectural quality of the surrounding projects. “When you build tall, you have to respond to everything else,” said Rescalvo, who did not speak highly of most tall buildings going up around Rincon Hill, and suggested that future development build taller around these projects and shift the focus to the Transit Center. Dana Merker of Patri Merker Architects pressed new construction to take into account the context of existing and future development, and to develop a sculptural vision of the city landscape as a whole.
 
The zoning process, scheduled to last at least 18 months, will aim to address unanswered questions regarding the planning proposal and clarify the vision not just for the Transbay Center and Rincon Hill, but the scheme’s wider urban implications.
 
For instance, little has been said so far on how the increased height limits will change the character of the existing district; how new high-rise buildings should relate to each other and to buildings in the area; how new development will connect to Mission Bay, the ballpark, and the Embarcadero; or how the new landmarks will change the face of the city as a whole.
 
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Into Thin Air
The San Francisco skyline stands to be transformed by new development around the Transbay Terminal.
Courtesy San Francisco Planning Department

On April 30, the San Francisco Planning Department unveiled a rezoning proposal that would increase building heights south of Market Street beyond the current 550-foot limit, essentially shifting the skyline’s center from the existing business district north of Market Street to the south, toward the new Transbay Transit Center.

The proposed rezoning, further outlined at the Transbay Citizen’s Advisory Committee meeting on May 8, will be presented in greater detail in a draft environmental impact report scheduled for spring 2009. The rezoning is the culmination of years of civic plans that are only now coming to fruition. The city’s 1971 Urban Design Plan, reiteratedin the 1985 Downtown Plan, had originally proposed increased heights south of Market Street, reinforcing the idea of a high-density street wall along the city’s main spine.

With this new set of guidelines, city planners are attempting to contrast the city’s undistinguished skyline with the creation of an urban topography that plays against the undulating natural landscape. At a scenic vantage point, three “mounds” would be identifiable: Telegraph Hill, the Transbay Transit district, and Rincon Hill, with Folsom Street as the lower “saddle” between the latter two.   

Pelli Clark Pelli’s recently unveiled Transbay Transit Center Tower—measuring somewhere in the vicinity of 1,000 feet—would act as the crown of the new city center, with surrounding towers forming a lower “ringed zone” 150 to 200 feet away. Nothing is set: The planning agency is hedging its bets, presenting a variety of height scenarios ranging from maintaining the existing 550-foot cap to the 1,200-foot upper limit as proposed by the Pelli scheme.

Architects’ and planners’ responses to the plan largely favored the possibility of increased density in the city and a more dynamic, even sculptural, skyline. But they also cautioned that the new construction be sensitive to its surroundings and were wary of the ongoing tension between the city’s aspirations as a metropolis and local planning politics constraining its development to incremental urban gestures.

UC Berkeley planning professor Peter Bosselman, who participated in the development of the 1985 plan, pointed out that the creation of these artificial “hills” will be difficult to manage in the face of developer pressures. Already, he pointed out, there are projects underway that would undermine the idea of a “saddle” between the Transbay mound and Rincon Hill.

Glenn Rescalvo, principal at Handel Architects—which is designing the 60-story Millennium Tower under construction next to the Transbay Terminal—asserted that the area’s success will be driven by the architectural quality of the surrounding projects. “When you build tall, you have to respond to everything else,” he said.

Rescalvo did not speak highly of most tall buildings going up around Rincon Hill, though, and suggested that future developers build taller around these projects and shift the focus to the Transit Center. Dana Merker, of Patri Merker Architects, agreed, pressing for new construction to take into account the context of existing and future development, and to develop a sculptural vision of the city landscape as a whole.

The zoning process, scheduled to last at least 18 months, will aim to address unanswered questions regarding the planning proposal and clarify the vision not just for the Transbay Center and Rincon Hill, but the scheme’s wider urban implications.

For instance, little has been said so far on how the increased height limits will change the character of the existing district; how new high-rise buildings should relate to each other and to buildings in the area; how new development will connect to Mission Bay, the ballpark, and the Embarcadero; or how the new landmarks will change the face of the city as a whole. 

Eric Lum


The general consensus among planners and architects is that the san francisco skyline lacks distinction.
all images courtesy SF planning Dept
 
city planners hope a new rezoning, centered around the transbay terminal, will help create a more natural skyline reminiscent of san francisco's undulating hills.
 
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Lost City in the Woods



Architect and photographer Christopher Payne is fascinated with the afterlives of buildings. A chronicler of ruins, he has photographed disused factories on the East River, the High Line on the West Side, outmoded transit electrical substations throughout Manhattan, and, for the past few years, shuttered insane asylums and state hospitals across the country. Payne’s latest subject is the buildings and landscape of North Brother, a derelict hospital island in the Bronx under the jurisdiction of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, far removed from the cycles of development and change that are transforming the city. Evidence of habitation and of the island’s checkered history is literally disappearing into the woods.

In the 1880s, the island was home to a contagious disease hospital and was a model of reform-era hygiene and efficiency, earning the praise of the muckraking journalist Jacob Riis. Among its inhabitants was “Typhoid” Mary Mallon, the cook and notorious source of several outbreaks, who died there in 1938. The island was also the site of one of the nation’s worst nautical disasters, the 1904 downing of the steamship General Slocum, which sank just offshore carrying German immigrants on a holiday outing. Nurses and patients on the island rescued nearly 250 passengers, but more than one thousand people died. The tuberculosis hospital was completed in 1943, but was quickly repurposed to house World War II veterans who were attending college in the city through the GI Bill. By 1952, the island became a treatment facility for juvenile drug addicts before being abandoned altogether in 1964.

Today North Brother has largely slipped from public consciousness. It does not, for example, appear on the MTA Subway map: The place where the 29-acre island would be shows only water. “The city has an uncountable number of histories and events that are lodged, hidden away in some archive or someone’s memory,” said Randall Mason, a professor of historic preservation at the University of Pennsylvania who has studied the island extensively. “But things have a way of coming back; they resurface.” He cites the African Burial Ground as an example. “Places become invisible if they’re not used,” he said. The Parks Department classifies North Brother as a nature preserve. Department representatives visit only a few times a year and the public is prohibited because of safety concerns.

While photographing sites for the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, Payne first saw the island from afar. “I felt like I had found a lost city in a jungle, and yet here I was in New York City,” Payne said. His boat, he realized, was too big to get close to the island’s ruined dock. “Here was this lost world, a hundred feet away, that I couldn’t get to.” On a second trip, he found its buildings—a hospital, power plant, boiler, morgue, housing, cistern, and other infrastructure—receding into the landscape. “It’s strange to look at old photos and see how it functioned, how clear it was, a modern, open campus,” he said. “It’s amazing how quickly Nature reclaims what’s Hers.” In his photographs, trees sprout from the foundation line of the solitary staff house as layers of brick peel away from the facades. Brightly painted interiors are visible through the shards of glass in the robust-looking art deco tuberculosis hospital.

For the Parks Department, the island’s most important resident is the Black-crowned Night Heron, a rare bird that has slowly been returning to the region since the passage of the Clean Water Act in the 1970s. North Brother is part of a chain of small islands throughout the region called the “harbor herons complex,” according to Bill Tai, director of natural resources for Parks. The much smaller South Brother Island came into the Parks portfolio this November, when the federal government bought it for $2 million and turned it over to the city. Acknowledging the island’s history and its crumbling architecture, Tai called North Brother “the most interesting of the heron islands.” He added, however, that “maybe its highest and best use is to preserve it for wildlife.” Parks is sympathetic to the island’s history and the concerns of preservationists, and according to Tai, the department is hoping to do a partial restoration of the dock to make it occasionally accessible for small groups, and has secured $500,000 in funding toward that goal. Restoration of one of the smaller buildings as an interpretive center may be possible, but he noted, “We have very reduced budget forecasts, so it’s not a very high priority.”

In this era of public-private partnerships, piecemeal development, and limited public resources, the state of limbo in which the island sits is not altogether uncommon. The scale and significance of its architecture, once accessible by frequent ferry service, is a disquieting reminder that such limitations were not always commonplace. For Payne, abandoned public buildings hold a particular attraction, not just for the romance of their ruin but as vestiges of civic aspirations long since jettisoned.

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And Then There Were Four


brookfield hudson
Brookfield’s Manhattan West. COURTESY SOM
 

Since the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced five bidders to buy air rights over its Hudson Yards that span the lower West 30s from 10th Avenue to the river, the Brookfield Properties bid has stood apart from the others. It rejected the MTA’s guideline to create a platform over the yard, arguing that it could keep the rail lines in service by locating buildings on the avenues and their entrances at street level. It also employed 11 architecture firms, including SHoP Architects and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, in a proposal that won the affection of members of the local community board and passersby at the MTA’s December exhibition. All of this has made the developer’s decision to abandon the bid raise eyebrows in the architectural community.

One reason that Brookfield may have dropped its scheme is that it violated the city’s 2005 zoning for the eastern portion of the site, meaning that a fresh rezoning would likely add at least 15 months to the schedule.

“Everyone who has worked on this will tell you they would like to relook at that zoning,” said a source associated with another bidder, who asked for anonymity. “I thought Brookfield’s proposal was entirely feasible from an urban design point of view, and there were good, intelligent principles in it.” 

Those principles may yet drive some of the site’s planning. It will take at least a decade to build out the project, and no developer will want to sink a lot of capital into it without knowing the prospects for Moynihan Station just to the east. So most observers (and some participants) expect players to lean on or borrow from each other in executing the project. That means Brookfield could get back in, as an investor in a single building or by virtue of its control over the site’s eastern gateway.

Brookfield recently secured $105 million in predevelopment financing for Manhattan West, a 5.4 million-square-foot mixed-use project featuring twin SOM skyscrapers. That project, on a deck from 9th Avenue to Dyer Avenue, will abut Hudson Yards, so Brookfield will still affect how construction crews, buses, and pedestrians eventually cross from Moynihan Station (or Penn Station, if it doesn’t change) into the Hudson Yards site.

The local community board and other well-organized civic groups in Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen have advocated a plan integrating Moynihan and the Brookfield site into plans for Hudson Yards. Their advocacy has already led the MTA to release design proposals to the public: After the authority selects a bidder, support for the Brookfield idea may bring that model back into the picture. 

brookfield hudson
The Hudson Yards version of the SOM towers.COURTESY ARCHIMATION
 

“We’re all wondering whether there’s going to be room for change in urban design,” said someone who has participated in the bid process since last year. “The community itself is looking for it. The problem is, I don’t think anyone is going to take the time to build consensus.”

Governor Eliot Spitzer, at a February 28 speech, promised resolution of Moynihan Station’s unsure financing: MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin said the agency will consider bids this month. As economic assumptions change, Brookfield’s choice to sit out the term-setting on Hudson Yards may prove wise later on if zoning problems make the project seem less financially; it doesn’t mean the company won’t get involved at a later point. 

ALEC APPELBAUM