Downtown Digest, week of June 4, 2012

One World Trade Center survives small blaze

Wooden decking supporting the 89th floor of One W.T.C. caught fire shortly after dawn on Sat., June 2, according to an Associated Press report.

According to the news report, the Fire Department of New York (F.D.N.Y.) received the emergency call at 7:15 that morning and rushed to the construction site to help on-site workers extinguish the blaze. While the workers had put out most of the fire themselves, firefighters were still at the scene spraying the area an hour after they were called for help. By about 9 a.m., the fire was completely out.

Patrick Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the site’s owner, subsequently released a statement to the press saying that the incident was “very localized” and that there were no injuries or structural damage to the building.

“Everything worked exactly as it should have,” according to Foye, thanks to the help of the Port Authority’s police department and Tishman Construction in addition to the F.D.N.Y.

Foye described the scene, saying, “After discovering smoldering plywood on an upper floor, workers used hand-held fire extinguishers to control the situation, and the F.D.N.Y. responded to extinguish the condition.”

Nevertheless, as a result of the incident, the Port Authority along with the other relevant parties are conducting an “after-action review” to assess the response to the fire and proceed to make any recommendations for improvement.

“The Port Authority has standing weekly meetings with the F.D.N.Y. to provide updates on construction progress and site operations,” said Foye. “As [the incident] proved, these briefings are invaluable to ensuring the utmost coordination for all activities on site.”

Downtown’s first nonprofit post-9/11 renews local venue lease 

On June 1, Dance New Amsterdam (D.N.A.), a local dance education and performance center, victoriously announced it will be staying put in the Sun Building, after all.

The lease agreement follows three years of ongoing negotiations between the center’s executive and artistic director Catherine Peila and her landlord, real estate and management company Fram Realty. Had a settlement not been reached, D.N.A. faced eviction and closure, since it couldn’t have afforded the monthly rent that would have escalated to $90,000 per month in the year 2020, according to the nonprofit organization.

D.N.A.’s new lease reduces its monthly rent payments considerably and saves the company upwards of $4 million over the next several years, according to Peila, who described the process as “exciting” and “fulfilling” and held a press conference in its 130-seat theater last week to relay the good news.

Peila was hired in 2008 to restructure the organization, which at the time was in deep financial trouble, according to D.N.A. The company is responsible for maintaining its two-floor space at 280 Broadway, including bathrooms, floors, heat and theater equipment for an estimated 32,000 artists, educators and audience members who use it.

“We are now better positioned to further stabilize, implement educational programs and support artists’ creative process from studio-to-stage and beyond,” said Peila, adding that D.N.A. would “continue to fight to stay alive and thrive in Lower Manhattan.”

NYS Senator Daniel Squadron, who helped facilitate the discussions between D.N.A. and Fram Realty, applauded the agreement, saying it’s “a testament to the fact that it’s possible to find paths forward for community-based cultural organizations and the invaluable work they do.”


Cuomo nominates longtime ally to chair B.P.C.A.

NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo will nominate former lieutenant governor candidate Dennis Mehiel to become the Battery Park City Authority’s next chairman, according to the New York Daily News.

Mehiel will take the seat that was vacated by former city controller William Thompson, who resigned the B.P.C.A. chair position last month to prepare for his upcoming mayoral bid.

Last year, Cuomo appointed Mehiel — who originally made his name and fortune as the founder of a corrugated shipping container company — to serve on the board of the Empire State Development Corp.

Since 2009, Mehiel has contributed $92,000 to Cuomo’s political campaigns, according to the Daily News. His wife, Karen, has also donated $44,862.


Seven boaters rescued after capsizing in the Hudson

A small rowboat capsized in the Hudson River on the afternoon of Tues., June 5, stranding seven people who had to be rescued, officials said.

The boat, which left from Village Community Boathouse on Pier 40, included two instructors and five students. Boathouse board member Rob Buchanan told the Daily News that, as they made their way down the river, the rowers passed outside the restricted basin in which boats are supposed to stay.

The Boathouse couldn’t be reached for comment by press time.

A heavier tide outside the restricted zone smacked the boat into Pier 25, near Battery Park City, causing it to fill with water. Five rowers were able exit the boat and cling to the side of the pier, but two began to float away, according to officials. Witnesses called 9-1-1 after watching the boat flip over and seeing its passengers in danger.

All of the rowers were wearing life jackets. According to a city Fire Department official, the two people drifting away with the tide were picked up by the F.D.N.Y.’s Marine 1 Alpha rescue boat. The five passengers clinging to the pier, meanwhile, were rescued by the N.Y.P.D. Harbor Unit.

“It was a really smooth joint operation by both agencies,” the F.D.N.Y. official said.

No one was seriously hurt, although one person was taken to the hospital with minor injuries, according to the F.D.N.Y.


Feds shut down 26 intercity bus companies

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced on Thurs., May 31 that it had shut down 26 intercity bus operators, declaring them imminent hazards to public safety, marking the largest single safety crackdown in the agency’s history.

According to data provided by the federal D.O.T., the 26 bus operators were subsidiaries of three primary companies, two of which were based in New York City.

Apex Bus, Inc. and I-95 Coach Inc., both based in New York, were shut down along with, their ten and six subsidiary operators, respectively. The third company, New Century Travel, Inc., was based in Philadelphia and controlled ten bus operators.

Safety investigators from the D.O.T.’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (F.M.C.S.A.) found that all of the carriers had multiple safety violations, including hiring drivers without valid driver’s licenses and failing to conduct alcohol and drug tests of the drivers. In addition, the companies operated vehicles that had not been regularly inspected and repaired.

“These aggressive enforcement actions against unsafe bus companies send a clear signal: If you put passengers’ safety at risk, we will shut you down,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

F.M.C.S.A. is taking further steps to ensure the companies that were shut down cannot continue to operate under other names. A new federal rule published in April expands F.M.C.S.A.’s authority to take action against unsafe bus companies that attempt to evade enforcement by “reincarnating” into other forms or by illegally continuing their operations through affiliate companies.


9/11 Memorial launches online recovery timeline

On Wed., May 30, the National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum launched a web-based interactive timeline of the rescue, recovery and rebuilding efforts that followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Ground Zero Recovery Timeline — which spans from Sept. 12, 2001 to May 30, 2002 — creates a multimedia landscape using images, oral histories and video chronicling the relief work performed at the W.T.C. site. Recovery operations formally ended on May 30, 2002, marked by a ceremony in which the iconic “last column” was removed from the site.

The initiative is a sequel to the 9/11 Memorial’s original timeline, which chronicles the events of the day of the attacks.

The new timeline is meant to pay tribute to the “tremendous service” of all those who participated in the post-9/11 recovery efforts, according to 9/11 Memorial President Joe Daniels.

Daniels said of the workers, “They were the first to lead the transformation of the W.T.C. site from a place of tragedy to one of remembrance and rebuilding, and the 10-year anniversary of May 30, 2002 is an important chance to thank them for their dedication.

The Museum is also developing a Recovery and Relief Workers Registry and Scroll of Honor, which will be a permanent installation near the “last column” in the future 9/11 Memorial Museum.

“The Scroll of Honor and interactive timeline will be innovative tools for teaching that the story of 9/11 is not just about that one day, but also about the way people came together in the days, weeks, months and years after,” according to 9/11 Memorial Museum Director Alice Greenwald.

The timeline can be viewed online at http://timeline.national911memorial.org.


9/11 Memorial recognizes first responders and thanks children for donations

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and 9/11 Memorial President Joe Daniels held a tribute event on Wed., May 30, at the 9/11 Memorial to additionally honor the thousands of first responders and recovery workers who came to Ground Zero following the 2001 terrorist attacks. By registering for the event, recovery workers in attendance helped to begin building the Recovery and Relief Workers Registry and Scroll of Honor.

Students from all five NYC boroughs also gathered at the 9/11 Memorial on Thurs., June 5 to present a check for $57,000 in support of the conservation of the Survivor Tree — a callery pear pulled from the Ground Zero rubble after the 2001 attacks that was nursed back to health — as well as learning opportunities for students at the memorial. The funds were raised by way of a Penny Harvest, which began in Sept. 2011 and encouraged approximately a million students from more than 200 schools to donate a penny.


Local nonprofit seeks justice for displaced Hester Street tenants

Local organization Asian-Americans for Equality (A.A.F.E.) announced the launch of its “Justice for 128 Hester” campaign on Mon., June 4. The campaign was founded to support eight Chinatown families, totaling 29 people, who resided at 128 Hester St. until they lost their homes in August 2009 due to neglect by the building’s owner, William Su.

After purchasing the building in July 2007, Su did little to correct serious problems with the living conditions, thereby jeopardizing the lives of the families there, according to an A.A.F.E. news release. Su then reported his own violations to the city Department of Buildings (D.O.B.) in order to expedite the property’s demolition.

Su couldn’t be reached for comment by press time.

According to the A.A.F.E. release, the D.O.B. reported that the structural deterioration of 128 Hester St. was partially due to the construction of the 18-story Wyndham Hotel which, also owned by Su, is located on an adjacent property at 91-93 Bowery.

The NYS Division of Housing & Community Renewal ordered Su to pay relocation fees for the tenants on May 26, 2010, but he refused to comply and continues to do so, A.A.F.E. said.

An open petition created for the “Justice for 128 Hester” campaign urges Su and Wyndham Worldwide to either rebuild 128 Hester St. and restore all rent-regulated tenants to their respective units, or provide permanent relocation units for the tenants within the neighborhood. Were Su to comply with the relocation request, A.A.F.E. would also expect the landlord to provide adequate compensation for the costs of moving.


D.O.T. responds to noise complaints over Brooklyn Bridge construction

In an effort to reduce construction noise coming from the Brooklyn Bridge, the city Department of Transportation (D.O.T.) has shifted its work schedule to curtail weeknight hours and implemented new noise mitigation measures, according to a letter from D.O.T. Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.

The letter, dated May 8, was sent to NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who had written to Sadik-Khan several times on behalf of Lower Manhattan residents who were disturbed by the construction work. In Silver’s most recent letter to the D.O.T., dated March 22, he wrote that previous measures taken to reduce noise were not sufficiently effective.

Citing the highly residential nature of the areas close to the Brooklyn Bridge, Silver also called on the D.O.T. to stop issuing variances that authorize noisy work outside the permitted hours of Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

In response, Sadik-Khan wrote that new modifications regarding noise levels include the installation of mufflers and sound curtains as well as the relocation of recycling equipment to areas that are farther away from residential buildings. The D.O.T. will also be replacing equipment such as jackhammers, saws and rivet busters, which typically generate the most noise.

Sadik-Khan also wrote that the bridge’s construction team had expanded work hours on weekend days in order to cut down on weeknight work and advance as quickly as possible in the area closest to Southbridge Towers (S.B.T.), whose residents Silver mentioned specifically in his correspondence.

Finally, Sadik-Khan noted that, in the most recent report from the site, it was indicated that significant progress had been made on Ramp A of the bridge, the closest ramp to S.B.T. As that work progresses, she wrote, it will move away from S.B.T. and its surrounding community, most likely improving conditions for residents there.


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