PATCO’s Franklin Square Station Project Secures Government Funding, On Track To Begin Construction Next Summer

The Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) has secured funding to help with the renovation and reopening  of Philadelphia’s the Franklin Square Station.

The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded DRPA more than $12.5 million for renovation and reopening of the PATCO Franklin Square Station. The money is a Better Utilizing Investment to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant program, which is used to invest in projects that will “have a significant local or regional impact.”

The DRPA will finance the rest of the cost of the proposed $30-million project to reopen the station, which has been shuttered for 40 years.

The architecture and engineering design phase is nearly complete, according to officials, and construction on the station–that has been closed since 1979–is expected to begin in late 2020. DRPA has set an opening date of Summer 2023, according to the PATCO press release announcing the funding.

The renovation and construction will improve the station’s civil, structural, mechanical, and electrical systems and  provide access in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the release that also said for riders to reach the concourse area, a new head house building will be constructed where the previous head house was located at the corner of 7th and Race Street.

The glass roof on the “head house” would not only allow for natural light but also a green roof of vegetation to help manage stormwater runoff and provide insulation.

When it reopens, Franklin Square will be the first stop on the Pennsylvania side of the Ben Franklin Bridge for the rail line that connects South Jersey to Philadelphia.

Queens Plaza Park (Sven) Residential Tower Passes Halfway Mark in Construction

The 25th tallest structure forming in the metro area, Queens Plaza Park (also dubbed Sven) passed its halfway mark in recent weeks, finally beginning to resemble the signature curved shape that’s appeared in concepts since the project first made news as far back as 2015

Were it not for delays, it would have been the first supertall skyscraper outside of Manhattan. Originally conceived as a hotel an economic downturn led to the site’s multiple changes of hands. Its current holders include the Durst Organization as developers and Handel Architects as the main designers. 

Sven at a Glance: Taking Shape in Long Island City

Located at 27-29 Queens Plaza North and one of several buildings that will rise in the complex, Sven’s design includes a curved, concave appearance. Its unique role will be to frame the landmarked Long Island City Clock Tower, presently undergoing renovations that include 50,000-square feet of commercial and retail space. Sven curently stands a dizzying 67 stories, with a glass curtain wall rising over the structure in recent reports as construction continues at a steady pace. When finished, the semi-circular skyscraper will include, among other things:

  • Nearly 1 million square feet of space in total.
  • Over 950 residences, more than 200 of which will be designated as affordable housing. 
  • Design choices by Selldorf Architects, deciding the interior’s aesthetic from the ground floor to the penthouse. 
  • An outdoor pool and a 20,000-square foot fitness center.
  • A private residential library for all tenants to use, as well as a children’s playroom and a demonstration kitchen.

According to the architect’s website, other notable features include a facade at the main residential entrance that directly echoes the look of the Clock Tower, as well as half an acre of park area to the north of the building. 

What Remains Before the Project is Completed?

With a year at the most left to finish, much of the buildings outer facade has yet to be completed. Views from Roosevelt Island and elsewhere show the general shape is visible, but the many windows catching light from every angle are only beginning the installation. Structurally, the skeleton is there, and this should imply that the interiors, with all wiring, surfacing, and other smaller projects to be finished, are near to commencing. 

Along with interior and exterior features to finish, the park area to develop, as well as parking, forming the swimming pool, landscaping, and other demands are going to call for a number of hands and a litany of tradespeople. 

This particular arm of Queens Plaza Park should be wrapping up construction sometime in 2020. However, this is only one building among several area transformations on the horizon, as a 2001 rezoning opened the area up for development, as reported back in 2015. What further projects are in store for the area have yet to be announced, but new developments may bring still more residents and jobs in with them. 


Employment and Spending Data Analyses Offers Cause for Celebration—and Concern

In the last two weeks, the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) released two reports, which combine to show a mixed picture of construction industry employment and spending.

Last week, AGC released an analysis of federal employment data from October 2018 to October 2019 that showed construction employment increased in 65 percent of U.S. metro areas. Despite the overall positive numbers nationwide, the Northeast took a hit. New York City had the largest number of job losses over that time period, losing 6,200, or four percent, of its construction jobs, according to the report. (Fairbanks, AK, had the biggest decrease by percentage, dropping 13 percent which was a loss of 400 jobs.)

The report also showed hourly craftworker positions remain difficult to fill despite the overall job gains. In response to that, the AGC officials “urged the Trump administration and Congress to make it easier to bring in workers for specific jobs that cannot be filled domestically and to strengthen career and technical education opportunities for students seeking alternatives to college.”

second analysis released this week showed construction spending declined .8 percent in October from September. The $1.291 trillion spent in October 2019 remained better than spending in October 2018 by 1.1 percent but, this year, decreases in private nonresidential, multifamily and public projects were too much to override an increase in construction of single-family homes, according to AGC’s analysis of federal spending data. The association blamed trade conflicts for the negative impact.

“Trade friction drags down U.S. economic growth,” AGC’s chief economist Ken Simonson said in a statement, adding, “Businesses that have been hurt by existing tariffs and retaliatory actions by U.S. trading partners or firms facing uncertainty over future trade policy are likely to hold off on construction projects.”

Construction Firms Sue New York and MTA for Unfair Contractor Regulations

A set of “emergency regulations” for New York construction firms and contractors happened to find their way into a city budget proposal earlier in the year (N.Y. Senate Bill S1509c, January 18, 2019) and extended twice by Mayor Cuomo, and the reception has boiled from cold and reserved tension to heated contempt for some builders in the state. 

The apparent aim of the regulations is to penalize firms and contractors for delays and expenditures that go over budget for infrastructure projects. In late November, the Alliance for Fair and Equitable Contracting Today (AFFECT), a not-for-profit organization that represents engineering and construction firms, filed suit against the state and the Metropolitan Transit Authority, alleging the unconstitutionality of the new regulations. 

The Emergency Regulations and the Issue, Explained

The regulations in question create a debarment statute, which would obligate the MTA to enact 5-year bans on contractors from bidding on future projects if the firm in question didn’t finish the project in what is deemed a “timely manner” or if production costs exceed their budget by greater than 10 percent. 

As outlined in the full text of AFFECT’s suit, the issues with the regulations are as follows: 

  • The regulations in question, despite two renewals, were not published until November 6, 2019. This adds up to nearly a year of these rules being legally enforceable, with no public commentary or debate before they were even proposed, a possible violation of Due Process. 
  • The regulations affect contracts signed and established before they were legally in effect, which allegedly violates the Contract Clause. 
  • Debarment becomes a possibility if contractors don’t complete a project within a proposed timeframe or appears they might fail, when budgets are exceeded by 10 percent, or when a contractor only tries to claims costs that exceed that 10 percent. 
  • AFFECT cites that there is no discretion granted in the application, even if there’s evidence that the firm “acted in good faith, or that the debarment would be unfair or contrary to public interest.”
  • Debarment can also affect any affiliates of the firm, even if they had absolutely nothing to do with what brought about the issue in question (another possible violation of Due Process).

AFFECT states that debarment is a “death penalty” to contractors because it doesn’t just affect their work in the state of New York; it can also blackball them from projects nationwide. Project bids are frequently considered alongside a bidder’s debarment history, which means a firm banned from further bids in New York might be unable to secure public works projects anywhere. The group further argues that these regulations substantially harm construction firms’ First Amendment rights by making it dangerous to petition their government and make claims in good faith without repercussion. 

Is There a Ready Solution?

As CISLeads discussed and reported in early October, delays and budget overages are more likely to be the case for open-ended infrastructure projects, which:

  • Have no set deadline and are to be completed with as much time is needed;
  • Are shown to take an average of 500 days to complete;
  • On average, can finish up at nearly double the proposed budget; and
  • Despite these long timelines often have set bids and budgets. 

The findings reported suggest that structuring infrastructure projects around single and bundled projects can reduce costs and are likely to finish in a more timely manner. Mayor Cuomo also suggests that a “design-build” policy for future projects, which privatizes not only construction but also the designs for infrastructure projects, will save money, though there is some argument that it is not more effective. 

The data might be suggesting overall, however, that stopping budget overages and completing projects in a timely manner begins in the planning stages before firms even step in to make their bids, yet the first legislated solution to this issue has been to punish the firms. They will have to wait and see if the courts agree with this move. 


Long Island Update: Belmont Arena Development Commences, Defeats Temporary Restraining Order

Back in September, CISLeads reported with some optimism that the forthcoming Belmont Arena, the soon-to-be new home of the Islanders hockey team, would bring business and sports back to the area. Along with plans for a 19,000-person capacity arena, a 250-room hotel, and 350,000 square feet of retail space, the project itself was projected to create 3,500 jobs. 

Breaking ground a month later, the project has seen at least two lawsuits in the hopes of halting construction, first in the area of the planned hotel, and now more recently from the citizens of nearby Floral Park. Previous suits claimed that environmental impact reports filed for the project failed to take into account noise and traffic for nearby residents. 

What Were the Details of the Restraining Order, and What Happened?

In October, sources revealed that the citizens of Floral Park filed for a temporary restraining order for certain aspects of Belmont Arena construction with the potential to halt or severely delay completing parts of the project on schedule. 

Their suit hoped to bar developers from doing the following: 

  • Constructing underground walls on-site or “sheet pile driving.” 
  • Stop using the east part of the north lot in Belmont Park for staging construction and other project-related equipment and vehicles.
  • Stop using Plainfield Avenue (in Floral Park) for moving construction vehicles.

Attorneys for the village argued that the above issues have led to a number of adverse impacts on the local environment for citizens, including upsets to traffic and noise pollution from constant work. They believe the environmental impact report skipped over key hurdles and ignored these potential outcomes. 

Project overseers, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), state that their environmental impact study took place over a period of two years and insist that it was more than thorough enough. A state Supreme Court justice ruled to agree with ESDC in early November, denying the restraining order. Judge Roy Mahon ruled that local construction was not proven to be causing “irreparable harm” as their suit is quoted to have alleged. 

Belmont Arena – The Progress So Far

To the relief of developers and contractors on the project, no halting, even a temporary one, appears to be in the cards. Sterling Project Development’s managing partner Richard Browne stated in court papers that had the judge not ruled as he had, even a small delay would have prevented construction from finishing in time for the Islanders 2021-22 season. “Every day counts,” he said.

As of right now, Belmont Arena’s development has been running on a tight schedule. Just two months since the official groundbreaking on September 23rd, most official news since then has involved season ticket holders and locals celebrating the event. 

As of the writing of this article, live cam footage of the site shows a vast area teeming with construction vehicles and a landscape swiftly changing in preparation for the complexes that will rise in the next couple of years. 

The project continues ever-on, and with enthusiasm from Islanders fans cheering contractors on and an eye constantly on their efforts, curious onlookers can watch the planned arena unfold in real-time, with no scheduled delays in sight.


Morris County Courthouse Expansion Enters Design Phase

The long-awaited Morris County Courthouse Expansion has taken another step forward.

Last week, the schematic design phase began after the county freeholders awarded AECOM with the project. This decision followed years of proposals and discussions, according to the Daily Record.

While county officials may have debated the best and most cost-effective way to move forward, there was no question that an update was required. The oldest structure in the court facilities still in use was built in 1827, with several expansions and additions since—the last coming in 1989.

AECOM, based in Clifton, is charged with designing an environmentally friendly and energy efficient new secure criminal court facility and modern court space that would be attached to the County Administration and Records Building in Morristown. The company shared its design for the site off Schuyler Place, which is currently open air parking lot.

Solving one possible issue, the new design will not require the removal and replacement of the Morris County Tourism Bureau or Deidre’s House facility for young victims of abuse and neglect, according to the county’s announcement of this next step. Both of those buildings are on Court Street and adjacent to the site of the new criminal courts.

While the complete project is expected to cost $106 million total, the new courthouse is $62 million with an additional $44 million for renovations to the existing historic courthouse and five-story Administration and Records Building.

There is no exact timeline set yet. This Phase I of this proposed six-phase project is estimated to take 18 to 24 months.  In 2017, Dewberry-NJ Designers PC provided freeholders with a report called “Master Plan of Space Needs and Facilities Assessment,” which proposed the project be six phases with completion by 2030, according to the Daily Record.

MTA and Midtown Manhattan Tuck in for 20-Year Infrastructure Project

Midtown, one of Manhattan’s most active and tumultuous neighborhoods in the area of Grand Central Station, will at last see much-needed infrastructure repairs beginning May of 2020. 

What has everyone talking is the size and breadth of the project, which is not projected to come to a close until 2040. While there is some concern regarding closures due to the construction both above and below ground, developers have assured that this will be done “a few blocks at a time” to keep obstructions to a minimum. Locals, especially those working and living along Park Avenue, will likely want to keep abreast of developments as they come and adjust their routines accordingly. 

The Basics of the Project

In total, the project has a budget of around $2 billion, before any considerations for inflation

This, over a period of two decades, is expected to cover a number of necessary repairs and updates. This will include:

  • Repairs to the MTA train shed. This is a matter that’s been under serious discussion for at least the last year. The two-story underground terminal for Grand Central’s Metro North cars has been victim to water damage from leaking water and salt. A major challenge in updating this beyond simple patches that delay a larger repair is that it sits directly under Park Avenue. Tishman Construction Corp is slated to handle phase one of this portion of the project.
  • The tunnels will be overhauled for connections to Grand Central. These are specifically those that run under Midtown East, including a 1.8 mile viaduct through Park Avenue. 
  • Bridge repairs. Bridges that support the thoroughfare’s side streets, running from East 45th and East 57th, will, at last, see some needed TLC. 

More details have yet to be released regarding what else this will entail, but readers can expect to see them unfold as groundbreaking approaches in the coming months. 

Besides 20 Years, What Will It Take to Finish? 

It’s difficult to predict where two decades of construction will go, in full, but while some are wringing their hands over the protracted timeline, it’s good news for developers and contractors. While it is doubtful that any one company or group of companies will helm every phase, it means 20 years of competitive bids and the potential for structured, steady work ahead for everyone involved. 

The train shed repairs, which is likely to be the most forthcoming of the different project phases, looks to be challenging in its own right in the number of different disciplines that may be called for. There’s talk of taking up parts of the road above, so demolition is likely. 

Repaving is likely only one small part of the kind of work that will need to be done with concrete, brick, and masonry both above and below ground. It is likely that addressing the tunnel and bridge repairs will come with similar issues, but it’s not just the stone that makes up these places. Electrical, plumbing, drainage, and track will also come into the equation. 

Whatever the case, keep a weather eye out for new developments for the foreseeable future.

Happy Days Farm in Exton, PA, Under Contract; Development Plans May Finally Move Forward

The 246-acre Happy Days Farm in Exton, PA, is now under contract by Audubon Land Development. But the plans for the development of the site at the Downingtown Interchange of the Pennsylvania Turnpike are unknown.

The Happy Days site has sat untouched by construction for years while projects were proposed then abandoned. The Vanguard Group bought the property 20 years ago with the initial intention of using it to expand its corporate campus. It instead chose to do that somewhere else, leased the property and never developed the land.

The company put the property up for sale in the spring and its location made it incredibly attractive to developers. In fact, before Vanguard, multiple developers considered the property for retail and mixed-use sites.

The site is zoned for industrial and commercial use, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. That includes farming and the Vanguard tenant has been continuing to operate it as a working farm. The barn and fields of crops would obviously disappear, though, should the sale go through and Audubon move forward with development.

A commercial real estate management and development company based in southeastern Pennsylvania, Audobon’s projects include everything from offices and warehouses to retail centers, retirement communities, and hotels.

New Valley Hospital Starts Construction

After years of battling with residents over the proposed expansion of the current Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, the New Valley Hospital broke ground this month at its Paramus site.

A parade of politicians, shovels in hand, spoke at the ceremony, touting the future of the area’s healthcare system with the coming state-of-the-art, 372-bed facility. Construction on the 910,000-square-foot facility is expected to take more than three years. It will be a green building, that ranges from three to seven stories and rooftop gardens.

Along with the hospital building, there will be a five-story parking garage with more than 430 spaces. Twenty percent of the 28-acre site will be dedicated to open, green space.

The project is expected to create 600 construction jobs and cost $800 million.

Across the street from Valley’s cancer and same-day surgery center, the New Valley Hospital is scheduled to open in 2023. Once it does, the current hospital will provide outpatient services, including operating an urgent care center. The North Van Dien Avenue location could become the site of affordable housing in the future.

Smithtown Park Areas and More to See $10 Million in Major Refurbishes

In Suffolk County, the community of Smithtown is hoping to see incoming improvements in the next couple of years. Their hope, says Town Supervisor Edward Wehrheim, is that phase one “incrementally” addresses some standing projects that have been waiting a long time to get underway. 

Among many projects awaiting completion (or even just updating) include the local water manes, Flynn Memorial Park, the town’s senior center and animal shelter, and more. This comes on the back of efforts in recent years to fund and refurbish other park areas in the Suffolk area, including Nesconset’s Joseph Andreoli Park and Gaynor Park and Veterans Memorial Park in St. James, both of which just celebrated grand reopenings after over $1 million in funding. 

What Are the Main Details of the Budget?

The major buzz about this latest budget proposal centers mostly around its increase in comparison to previous years. Compared to last year, the city would be seeing a $4 million increase, and this is said to feed a number of municipal needs, including:

  • At least $1.5 million in the operating fund tax levy is going toward absorbing spikes in health insurance costs for city employees.
  • $4 million is split into two packages goes toward Flynn Memorial Park. 
  • Another $2.4 million will fund water main replacement at St. James’ Lake Avenue. 
  • The senior center in town, as well as the animal shelter and nearby properties at Jericho turnpike will receive about $850,000 in landscape and structure updates that should give the area have a more communal, “campus”-like feel. 

A vote on the funds is expected to come late November 2019, according to the most recent sources available.

Flynn Memorial Park’s Facelift

The updates to the Daniel J. Flynn Memorial Park come with a goal in mind, something reflecting its richer history in community development. Once a stop for the region’s top ball teams, it has fallen into more significant disrepair over the years, with no major changes made since its dedication in 1979. The plan is the restore this hub for sports fans to its former glory. 

Some immediate improvements developers have planned are:

  • Regrading and resurfacing all four of the park’s fields;
  • LED field lighting;
  • New fencing and a new drainage system so that games can resume more quickly after rain;
  • A hub building containing bathrooms and concessions stands on the ground floor; and
  • A new playground in a central location will be erected to replace the one recently demolished.

What Will It Take to Complete These Projects?

Along with all the changes to take place in Flynn Memorial Park over the next two years, laborers will also have to contend with the water main installation and the exterior updates to the locations near Jericho Turnpike. Those that take on the upcoming projects will have several jobs to complete. 

  • Landscaping appears to be one of the most notable projects coming up in most areas: whether it’s resurfacing ball fields, updating the scenery, or simply covering over any installations made underground, it will be present at virtually all sites in early and late stages of the projects.
  • Building exteriors around the senior center and nearby sites, in keeping with a “campus” feel, will likely be resurfaced to reflect a similar aesthetic. Working with concrete and bricklaying is definitely likely to come up.
  • The drainage and water main changes call for similar expertise—pipes and drainage will be installed, and this will call for excavating old systems in need of replacing and temporarily displacing anything that sits on top of it. 

Teams that can tackle all of these and more should be looking forward to another 1 to 2 years of steady work in the future.