Contract disputes delay Pier A opening


BY Michael Mandelkern

Isolated at the southernmost tip of Manhattan, Pier A has weathered cracks and leaking water and has been vacant for over 20 years. The Battery Park City Authority foresaw a makeover by early next year with an accompanying plaza and possible surplus, but the loss of two contractors has resulted in some budget uncertainty and will lead to a possible four-month delay for the project.

McGowan Builders, the B.P.C.A.’s previous general contractor, upped its asking price from $5.2 million to $6.9 million in the midst of the project. The company left on May 5 because the B.P.C.A. refused to renegotiate.

“It was simply a matter of that the contractor hadn’t taken our contract to their legal counsel,” said Gwen Dawson, vice president of strategic planning for the B.P.C.A. “I have no reason to think they did this intentionally…certainly nothing hostile.”

Interested parties have until July 30 to apply for the now-vacant general contractor position.

The B.P.C.A. dismissed its old construction manager, phbCatalystgroup, just two days before McGowan Builders left. The construction manager “was apparently not sufficient,” said Dawson, citing a lack of resources and manpower.

Realizing the B.P.C.A. would have to invest more than originally planned, phbCatalystgroup was paid for the hours it served and was relieved of its duties on May 3.

LiRo Group, a construction services company, swiftly replaced phbCatalystgroup and “there wasn’t a delay,” said Dawson.

According to James Cavanaugh, president and chief executive officer of the B.P.C.A., the new contract is “slightly more expensive” than the previous one. And unlike the first time the B.P.C.A. issued a general contractor bid, it is now more familiar with Pier A’s infrastructure.

The LiRo Group, phbCatalystgroup and McGowan Builders all declined to comment.

Despite two subsequent contract disputes, the B.P.C.A. still has enough of its $30 million grant from the New York City Economic Development Corporation to renovate Pier A.

“We’re not in any jeopardy at all…we’re below budget,” said Dawson, who emphasized that there is still money left in the project’s contingency fund.

Cavanaugh said he is “well confident” that $30 million is enough to fund the Pier A restoration, which has been pushed back from next April to late Summer 2011.

During a full B.P.C.A. board meeting on July 20, Fernando Mateo, a recently appointed B.P.C.A. board member, expressed skepticism over the business relationship with McGowan Builders. “I was just concerned… I questioned the practice of how the contract was awarded,” he said days after the meeting.

He wondered how the B.P.C.A. couldn’t sense that McGowan Builders’ bid was suspiciously low, asking Anthony Woo, the B.P.C.A.’s vice president of construction, how it didn’t “raise a flag.” Woo defended the decision, pointing out that McGowan Builders had “good references” and a clean history.

Cavanaugh backed Woo. “It is not at all uncommon process to reject a low bid. But sometimes you don’t see it,” said Cavanaugh.

“The bid from McGowan wasn’t grossly out of line,” added Dawson after the meeting. “Everything is always a learning experience.

But we took the appropriate steps and [acted quickly],” said Dawson.

The B.P.C.A. didn’t originally plan on building a plaza to surround Pier A until a few months ago when it set $4 million aside to formulate a blueprint for the plaza under the assumption there would be savings. But the B.P.C.A. may have to reprioritize.

At this point it is “way too early” to predict the size and appearance of plaza, said Cavanaugh. Although Pier A might be restored by next year, the plaza is uncertain.

“The most important thing is to restore [Pier A] and get a good tenant that will animate it,” emphasized Cavanaugh.

Cavanaugh said lacking a general contractor right now is “not critical” to renovations since the B.P.C.A. has a construction manager. But a general contractor is needed for the final phase of restoration, which includes plumbing, fire protection work and exterior alterations. Pier A will look “very much like it does today,” said Cavanaugh, but more sturdy.

Pier A won’t be open to the public until a vendor sets up shop, another indefinite timetable, although Dawson expects it to be a public site for the first time in 2012, depending on how long the vendor takes to move in.

The B.P.C.A. began issuing requests for qualifications to interested tenants last November with a February deadline. Applicants were asked to provide supplemental information in June and the B.P.C.A will choose a vendor sometime this fall.

The Department of Docks and Harbor Police ran Pier A from 1884 to 1886. The Fire Department of New York took over in 1964. Pier A’s historic clock, which was installed in 1919, is a memorial to fallen World War I soldiers.

Linda Belfer, chair of Community Board 1’s Battery Park Committee, said she hasn’t formally been briefed on Pier A in over two months. Her committee may not be addressed until September.

“This will affect us more than anyone else. Our reactions tend to be foreshadowing of how the outsiders and tourists will react,” she said. “Right now it’s extremely barren, nothing is happening there [the space between West Thames and Pier A]…it’s really ugly.”

Belfer hopes the plaza will have a seating area, assorted greenery and be suitable for both recreational and active play.

“In the back of everybody’s mind…the allocation [$30 million Pier A budget] wasn’t enough,” said Belfer in reference to the contract disputes. “It’s like kicking yourself in the behind.”

t the renovation projects.