Monthly Archives: December 2019

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.