Author Archives: Chris Colabella

Gov. Cuomo’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative Helps Long Island Residents

For the fourth year in a row, communities all over the state of New York have been submitting applications for grants through a program helmed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, aimed at updating and improving downtown areas to boost local economies. While sources report that applications are down from the previous year (dropping to 94 from 105), among those applicants are 17 downtown areas on Long Island, down from a record 23 applications the year before. That’s 30 communities so far that have benefitted from a much-needed economic boost, with another 10 soon to join them, with promising projects for those in the construction business to follow.

What Is the Downtown Revitalization Initiative?

Cuomo unveiled the DRI in 2016, proposing a program that would stimulate downtown areas across the state. Its aim would ultimately be to invest in grants (this year, $100 million) that are split between each of New York’s ten regions. This year, the total in grants to be offered is $100 million, adding up to $10 million per recommended application. Recommendations will come down from each of the state’s Regional Economic Development Councils (REDCs). This year, the due date for final recommendation is July 12.


All 10 of New York’s REDCs have nominated their applicants based on several factors that determine the downtown area’s “potential for transformation” including:


  • How compact the downtown area is;
  • Potential for future job growth;
  • Location with regard to housing areas; and
  • Their proposed strategy for development.

What Does Downtown Revitalization Mean for Jobs?

Part of Gov. Cuomo’s aim in the initiative is to reawaken urban centers that need it. It means taking disused, historic buildings and repurposing them for both residential and commercial use—even a mix of the two, in some cases. It’s about turning these places into bustling city centers where people want to live, work, and entertain themselves. Depending upon the community, this could call for:


  • Updating pavement, walking areas, and green spaces;
  • Updating roads to improve the flow of traffic; and
  • Renovating existing structures for active use by businesses and residents.


The possibility of building wholly new structures might not be in the cards. However, in a community chosen for one of these grants, every job that a tradesperson could fill may be called for—in the next year. These projects are ongoing; for instance, Downtown Central Islip, the LI recipient of a 2018 DRI grant, only held their final community workshop on their plan of action back in March.

What Are Communities Doing with Their Grants?

Each community that seeks a nomination must include in their application what they plan to do with the grant. In this way, we can see where that money goes and what potential projects this could create in their proposals and what recipients have done since the DRI’s inception in 2016. For example:


  • The village of Westbury was the first Long Island community to receive the grant. Among their proposed projects included transit-oriented, rezoning near the LIRR Station, improving and updating their recreation center, updates to their roadways and pedestrian areas, and installing a permanent space for arts and events.
  • New Rochelle, Westchester County recipient in round three, included plans to create accessible improvements on existing park spaces, bolster mixed-income residential areas to provide housing at multiple levels of affordability, and develop more mixed-use spaces to seamlessly blend residential, commercial, and community spaces for easy access.
  • Rockville Centre, one of this year’s applicants, is proposing the installation of a new bike bath (including lockers for storing bikes and gear), new green spaces, a teen recreation center, and needed updates and improvements on local infrastructure.


Statewide grants help improve the quality of life for its residents. From infrastructure improvements to more streetlights, the small changes to each part of the state help. Receiving a grant helps offset the costs for the community as well, and enables construction companies to help more communities improve.

The Final Leg of Floating Manhattan Oasis, The High Line, Opens to the Public

In June of 2019, Manhattan’s West Side saw the completion of the work of 10 long years, incorporating architecture with more than 150 years of history. It was a sunny day for Manhattan on the 5th, and to elevated applause and fanfare, the High Line opened the Spur, the third and final leg of its original construction plans, and this unique parks project has at last taken full form.

The High Line—A Vestige of Old Industrial New York, Transformed

The High Line’s history begins well before ground broke 10 years ago. The park itself sits atop the New York Central Railroad spur in the west side of Manhattan, once slated for demolition after the use of trains saw a steady decline in the 1980’s. In the late 1990’s, founders Robert Hammond and Joshua David spearheaded campaigns to save the structures and refit them for public use. Their vision was a bold one: An “unbroken,” elevated line spreading through 22 blocks of the city, “connecting three neighborhoods—the convention center area, West Chelsea[,] and the Meatpacking District,” transformed into a floating park with trees, grass, and flowers, reminiscent of the Promenade Plantée in Paris.

Once approved, its redesign came from the combined efforts of:

  • Landscape Architect James Corner as the project lead;
  • Diller Scofidio + Renfro, a design firm known for incorporating visual and performing arts with architecture; and
  • Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf.

This collaboration pulled in the artistry of multiple disciplines to create a unique and environmentally friendly addition to Manhattan’s diverse map. With its completion, we see the New York City landscape take another confident step into the future with entertainment and architecture that is current, green, and authentically Manhattan in flavor.

What Makes the High Line Different from Other Parks?

The High Line is an unusual way to experience the Manhattan skyline for visitors, from a vantage point that citizens and visitors alike lost access to when the trains stopped running in the 1980’s. It features:

  • An elevated park and rail trail, stretching the length of the old New York Central Railroad spur;
  • A man-made greenway, which is urban land deliberately left undeveloped to preserve recreation space and the environment;
  • Pedestrian access via stairs, elevators, and escalators; and
  • With the completion of the Spur, space for art installations.

The Unique Features of the Spur

The Spur was built in two parts, with part one seeing completion in 2014, but its final section has been awaited with anticipation. This part of the park features the High Line’s characteristic urban garden aesthetic with several additions that make it a stand-out addition to the park and the cherry on top of the sundae:

  • It boasts the largest gardens of all three sections currently open.
  • Its Coach Passage features 60-ft cathedral ceilings, where the Spur connects to Hudson Yards, the most extensive private real estate development in the country.
  • The Piazza features “panoramic views” of the lengths of 10th Avenue and 30th street.
  • Finally, the Plinth will be a space for showcasing new art, scheduled to rotate every 18 months and will first feature Simone Leigh’s Brick House, according to the High Line’s blog.


NY Seeks to Reduce Bird-Collision Deaths Through Evolving Construction Standards

Every year, the movement patterns of migratory birds bring scores of our avian friends through the New York City metropolitan area, one of their many northern stops as they traverse what U.S. Fish and Wildlife refers to as The Atlantic Flyway. This does not lead to a mere uptick in sightings for birdwatchers, however. NYC sees anywhere from 90-200k bird fatalities each year that come directly from a single source: colliding with windows on high-rise buildings.

This phenomenon adds up to nearly one billion bird deaths nationwide every year. Here at home, politicians are creating legislative bodies to curb bird deaths happening in their neck of the woods. One major method under discussion is the use of bird-safe glass in new construction. While there is an additional cost to building with this glass, analysts suggest that reduced energy costs and maintenance related to collisions can help to make up the difference.

What Is the Bird-Friendly Building Council Act?

In May 2019, New York’s Senate passed Bill S25A, which establishes a 15-person Bird-Friendly Building Council. The council is to consist of:

  • A diverse membership of “wildlife conservation organizations, state and federal wildlife agencies, architects, landscape architects, window manufacturers and distributors, commercial building managers, and academia.”
  • Representation for wildlife conservation organizations like “the American Bird Conservancy, New York City Audubon, New York State Audubon, and the Long Island Audubon Council.”
  • Representation for federal wildlife agencies like “the Division of Migratory Bird Management of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife.”

Its job will be to determine state-wide rules for new construction and renovation of older structures that suit its goals to curb bird collisions. They will also aim to identify and prioritize existing and upcoming projects that pose a greater danger, new and developing technologies to reduce crashes, funding for additional research toward sustainable, bird-friendly materials.

How Does Bird-Safe Glass Help?

Glass is not merely transparent to birds; instead, they see whatever is reflected in them, which means they are more likely to see the sky, treetops, and other things reflecting on the surface that are not there. They will fly into buildings expecting to keep going into the open sky, or to land somewhere that is not there. Building or renovating with Bird-safe glass helps to prevent this in several ways:

  • The use of an ultraviolet coating, silk screening or fritting breaks the window up into patterns visible to birds.
  • Spacing the use of these treatments or types of glass using the “2×4” rule warns birds away because what they see are spaces that are too small for them to fly through.

The cost of bird-safe glass usually only comes up to about a 5-percent cost difference between it and standard glass.

Is It Effective?

The Jacob Javits Convention Center is an essential and local example of these principles in action. Home to New York Build Expo, its 1.8 million square feet of space sees human visitors of all walks of life in droves every year. If you have been there in person, especially before its renovation project started in 2009, you may also remember a facade made almost entirely of windows and reflective surfaces.

In part of its years-long project that added up to billions in updates and expansions, the Javits Center became a bird-friendly zone with:

  • Vegetation on the roof to create green space and break up reflective surfaces; and
  • Replacing thousands of windows with fritted windows. These have a pixelated pattern that is less reflective and easier for birds to detect.  

Along with reducing collision-related bird deaths by 90 percent, the renovations also contributed to a marked reduction in energy costs. Implemented and completed before recent legislative changes, it stands as a prime example of what a more eco and bird-friendly New York City could be.

Executive Order Could Restart Constitution Pipeline, Other Projects

The Constitution Pipeline, a 125-mile project that would transport natural gas from Pennsylvania throughout the Northeast, has been in limbo since 2016 when the state of New York blocked it through the Clean Water Act. But in April, President Trump signed an executive order aimed at keeping states from being able to halt pipelines and other energy infrastructure projects for environmental reasons. The order could change the fate of the Constitution Pipeline and other projects around the country.

Under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, companies must obtain certifications from the state before they can build federally-approved infrastructure, like pipelines, within that state’s borders, according to, which further explained that states can refuse to issue the certifications if they determine the project will have a negative impact on water quality within their jurisdiction, even if the project has gotten the green light from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Trump’s executive order would change the rules surrounding that section of the Clean Water Act and having the Environmental Protection Agency issue new permitting guidance to states.

The order has refueled the debate about this project and others, according to The Daily Star.

NJ Gas Tax – Take 2

Another NJ Gas Tax Increase Starts Today.   How Much Revenue Will Be Generated and Where Will That Money Go?

It has been almost two years since then governor Chris Christie increased New Jersey’s gas tax by nearly 23 cents per gallon in an effort to refill the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) which finances road, bridge and mass transit projects throughout the state. The controversial deal allowed the governor to end his freeze on construction projects. Today the state’s gas tax was automatically increased another 4.3 cents, because the revenue from that 2016 tax increase did not meet projections, therefore construction projects could not go on as needed.

The tax just didn’t have the economic impact proponents said that it would. Even if the $2 billion projected revenue was unrealistic, as many suggest, there was a decline in fuel consumption that would have kept it from meeting even more modest goals. According to an analysis by AAA, after the 2016 tax increase, drivers bought less fuel in NJ. The group also found that gas consumption rose in Pennsylvania and Delaware during the same period. Gas stations near the Delaware border, where the price of gas is now less than NJ, watched as cars passed by, no longer making that once automatic stop to fill the tank  before crossing into another state.

Throw in more fuel efficient cars and the increase in purchase of electric models, and the pump has panned out to be the place to fill the TTF piggy bank after all.

The lower than expected sales contributed to the tax revenue missing the $2 billion projection by nearly $43 million in the 2016 fiscal year and more than $125 million in 2017. In 2018, it will miss projected revenues again. Because of the way that 2016 legislation was written, the automatic 4.3 cent increase per gallon kicked in today to help pay for the state’s $2 billion in transportation projects, some of which are urgently needed.

Taking a look at just one part of the crumbling infrastructure—the state’s bridges—shows the dire need to get projects underway. The American Road and Transportation Builders Association’s (ARTBA) 2017 bridge report shows 8.8 percent of the state’s bridges are “structurally deficient.” That’s 596 bridges (down from 609 a year earlier). The money generated from this gas tax increase will try to address some of those issues.

In June, an agreement was reached on the state’s part of the financing for one of the biggest of those bridge projects—the new Portal Bridge in Kearny will receive $600 million in bonds from the TTF to be repaid over a 30-year term. The Portal Bridge is part of the Gateway Project that includes two new Hudson River tunnels.

The gas tax helped increase funding for smaller, local bridge projects. The Local Bridges, Future Needs program just awarded $47.3 million in grants for county bridges. It was the largest amount of money given toward bridge grants ever, according to the NJ Department of Transportation. The gas tax increase allowed the grants to nearly double, from the $25 million in prior years. Each of New Jersey’s 21 counties will receive at least $1 million through the grants. Money will be used for railing recoating, realignment, and replacement. The biggest award went to Monmouth County, getting $6 million to go toward four bridge reconstruction projects. Union County was granted $2.2 million to replace four bridges, as well.

While revenue from the tax is being used on expansion and new projects, there is debate about the fairness of how the funds are distributed. In South Jersey, for example, complaints site fewer projects in the area. Others have been disappointed that the types of projects receiving the funds do not benefit state contractors, but instead lend themselves to bids from very large, sometimes foreign-owned, companies.

Questions still remain.  Will this new increase further reduce consumption, negatively impacting projects?  Will it be enough to keep the TTF fully funded?

By Chris Colabella and Kara Yorio


NY’s MWBE Program Is Problematic, But What Is the Solution?

The current Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (MWBE) program in New York State isn’t working as it was intended. It has created obstacles and difficulties for both general contractors and MWBEs. Proponents and critics can often agree on that. There is debate, however, about which part of the program is most problematic and to whom.

Are the 30 percent MWBE goals a burden on general contractors who say they can’t find qualified MWBEs to meet the quota and end up forced to hire a company that ends up too small or inexperienced to properly do the work or must file a waiver and delay the process?

Or is it more onerous on women and minority owned businesses who can’t get certification to qualify, saying the process is too difficult and the state needs to provide assistance to businesses trying to apply?

In 2014, Governor Andrew Cuomo increased the goal for using MWBE businesses on state contracts from 20 to 30 percent. That is the highest percentage in the nation. Under that current state law, MWBE goals only apply to state-funded contracts issued by state agencies and authorities. Cuomo pushed for expansion for 2019 that would have expanded the program to local contracts or any funded by the state. It also would have provided annual goals for specific minority groups. But those changes were not in the approved budget. As a matter of fact, the MWBE Article 15 program, scheduled to expire at the end of this year, was only extended for one year, instead of the previously expected five. That has some proponents of the program fearing it might be gone altogether soon.

The N.Y. State Senate is holding hearings “to examine the Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises program, and consider potential legislative solutions to create a more effective and efficient program to enhance New York’s business climate.”

People from both side of the issues have attended the hearings and testified to the difficulties with the program and proposed their ideas for a solution. Some suggest adjusting the goals by region, pointing out that demographic disparities from one area to another make a statewide mandate impractical.  Or as one person said at the hearing in Watertown, “Brooklyn and Watertown are not the same.”

Another issue creating problems, according to Crain’s New York Business, is that “unlike the largely white-owned incumbent construction firms, MWBEs are rarely unionized though they must pay prevailing wages on state-subsidized work.”

One area contractor says he doesn’t think MWBEs can find or know where to look for the jobs in many cases. He proposes general contractors find a way to help them know about projects out to bid, even if it costs them a little money to do it. Regular events designed to have GCs meet MWBEs rarely result in working relationships, he says.

The New York State Contract System ( website has a directory of certified businesses. It also has information to help businesses apply for certification, and on trainings and grant opportunities.

As the debate continues and 30 percent statewide goal remains—at least through the 2019 budget—the state senate will continue to listen to the industry’s issues with the program. The remaining hearings are:

September 26 at 2 p.m. Stage 14, Finger Lakes Community College, 3325 Marvin Sands Drive, Canandaigua. For more information, contact Kristin Frank at (518) 455-2366

October 16 at 11 a.m. Senate Hearing Room, 250 Broadway, 19th Floor, New York. For more information, contact Graham Wise at (518) 455-1765 or Anthony Capozzi (607) 773-8771.

Oral testimony is given by invitation only.

By Chris Colabella and Kara Yorio

P3’s Bring Opportunity and Uncertainty

When Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill expanding the opportunities for Private-Public Partnerships (PPP or P3) projects, many expressed great hope that this opportunity—with the private companies assuming the financial risk and long-term maintenance of the project—can be the answer to the state’s infrastructure crisis, as well as a boon for construction jobs.

“We’ve seen many municipalities in New Jersey struggle to repair roads and bridges, build new borough facilities and redevelop their communities,” said Jack Kocsis, CEO of Associated Construction Contractors of New Jersey. “This new law now gives them the means to cost-effectively finance much-needed construction projects.”

With the new legislation, a state or local government agency, as well as school districts, can contract with a private company for a project.

“It could be a local library, highway construction, transit-related, the whole raft of infrastructure,” Murphy said when he signed the bill at The College of New Jersey’s Campus Town development, a project built collaboratively with private-sector partners.

Previously New Jersey only allowed P3s with public colleges and universities.

“Democrats and Republicans alike recognize the tremendous benefits that can arise when public officials and private sector partners work together,” Murphy said. “By doing so, we give state, county, and local officials the much-needed flexibility they need to improve their communities while creating good-paying new jobs – in most cases good, union jobs – while leveraging private capital to invest in public infrastructure.”

At its best, a P3 is a win for all, saving municipalities money, getting vitally needed infrastructure upgrades or important community projects done sooner and creating jobs in the construction industry. But it doesn’t always go so smoothly. Not all projects are eligible for P3s and the contracts are complicated. The results have not always been as hoped either.

At least 30 other states had legislation for use of P3s in widespread projects, but many have run into trouble. In Texas, the private company that operated a toll road went bankrupt forcing the state to step in and assist in financing. In Chicago, a deal required taxpayers to reimburse the private company when parking meters didn’t produce expected revenues.

There have also been concerns about a lack of oversight with everything from potential environmental issues to transparency to ensure fair competition in bidding–would large companies, perhaps from out-of-state come in and do all the work, or could the high risk taken on by the private companies keep some from bidding at all?  Another big concern was labor protections. Most of these issues, however, were addressed during the legislative process and are reflected in the law.

“During the legislative hearings, UTCA (Utility and Transportation Contractors Association of New Jersey) was successful in obtaining important amendments to protect the interests of our industry. The Association has been working with our partners for several years on P3 legislation and thanks to that successful effort, New Jersey has an important new tool for financing infrastructure,” UTCA said in a statement following the bill signing in August.

Kocsis agreed that the key protections are in place.

“In addition, the new law contains strong, time-tested contractor and labor protections ACCNJ has promoted for decades,” he said. “Equally important, this P3 legislation will not replace traditional project delivery, but rather supplement existing procurement and project financing methods.”

It will take time, various projects-and likely some failures-to know how to use P3s most effectively and to the benefit of the public and all parties involved and to decide if the optimism was warranted and this type of partnership is, in fact, the best long-term answer.

By Chris Colabella & Kara Yorio

Solving the Shortage of Workers in Construction

As of July 2018, the construction industry’s unemployment rate in the United States is 3.4 percent, the lowest it has been in at least two decades. Jobs have been multiplying almost too quickly to be filled by qualified workers. These shortages can lead to roadblocks in projects by adding to the expense and length of construction.

Congress and the White House have been making efforts to bring more skilled laborers to the workforce with actions such as reauthorizing the Perkins Act. Also, programs are being brought to high school students and young adults to teach them the necessary skills to begin a career in construction.

To stomp out the labor shortage fire before it catches wind, companies in the industry are taking the initiative by seeking out groups of people to train who otherwise aren’t being utilized to the fullest as a resource in the industry. This means reaching out to groups such as young adults, at-risk-youths, veterans, and women, to bring them the training necessary for a career in construction. Read Brian Gallagher’s article in to learn more.

Proposed Changes Could Knock Down Environmental Roadblocks

The United States Interior Department, on Thursday July 19th, 2018, has proposed changes which will lessen the environmental roadblocks for construction projects to obtain approval. Environmentalists are taking up arms against this motion as the potential changes would leave threatened species with less protection. The Interior Department is clashing the interest of economic development with the fight for environmental conservation.

More specifically, the proposed changes are to the Endangered Species Act of 1973 in an effort to make it easier for construction projects to get approval in areas with a fragile environment. It is also working to remove protections from threatened species as well as make it more difficult to move a species from threatened to endangered status. David Bernhardt, the deputy secretary of the Interior Department, is adamant that the proposals would not gnaw at wildlife protections. This plan is to be finalized after 60 days of public commentary.

Read more at The NYTimes

Mayor de Blasio places the DDC and the SCA in one woman’s hands

Lorraine Grillo, as of Monday July 16th, 2018, is not only NYC’s president of the School Construction Authority (SCA) but also the city’s commissioner of the Department of Design and Construction (DDC). Ms. Grillo has been president of the SCA for 8 years and has an impressive track record to call upon. According to Katie Honan with the Wall Street Journal, Grillo will take over as DDC’s commissioner after years of delayed projects and “cost overruns”.

As the new commissioner, Grillo plans to bring her seemingly successful tactics from the SCA with her to make the fixes necessary to the DDC. Ana Bario, the former commissioner of the Department of Design and Construction, has joined the Department of Environmental Protection in light of Ms. Grillo’s appointment. Hopefully, Grillo is the leader the DDC needs.

See the original NYC Press Release .