Ratner promises better safety on Gehry tower


Two weeks after metal and plywood rained down from the 76-story Beekman Tower, the project’s managers promised concerned residents that the building was now safe.

“We are confident this will not happen again,” said Joe Rechichi, a senior vice president with developer Forest City Ratner.

On Jan. 25, winds gusting over 90 miles per hour shredded the orange construction netting that wrapped the tower’s open floors and sent metal turnbuckles and plywood boards hurtling toward the street. No one was injured by the falling material, but the city closed many streets as a precaution and there were several reports of damaged property.

“In 30 years, I never saw something like this,” said Boris Faiguenbaum, construction general superintendent for contractor Kreisler Borg Florman. “This was completely above and beyond what we expected.”

Faiguenbaum said the project team knew high winds were coming on Jan. 25 and they secured all loose materials. But sustained winds over 70 miles per hour near the top of the building caused a safety cable to oscillate, which in turn caused the 8-inch metal turnbuckles to pop off. Pieces of plywood that were bolted down in at least five places also came loose.

“That’s never happened in New York that we’re aware of or that the [city Dept. of Buildings] is aware of,” Rechichi said at Community Board 1’s Seaport/Civic Center Committee meeting on Tuesday.

The D.O.B., which sent a representative to the same meeting, stopped work on the site on Jan. 25 and did not allow it to restart until Feb. 4, after meeting with the contractor. New safety improvements include doubled netting, locks for the turnbuckles and extra bolts securing the plywood.

Steven Figueiredo, with the D.O.B., said the city is pleased with the new measures.

“It’s been a very good site,” Figueiredo told the Seaport Committee.

Figueiredo said the D.O.B. would look into strengthening the city’s building codes to apply the lessons learned at Beekman to other high-rise projects.

John Fratta, chairperson of the Seaport Committee, worried that the high winds predicted for Wednesday’s snowstorm could endanger the public again, despite the new safety measures. Figueiredo replied that the city inspected the building on Tuesday and would have a team on call just in case an issue arose.

Rechichi said the building would be safer once the Frank Gehry-designed, undulating stainless steel facade was done being installed.

“We want to enclose that building as fast as possible,” Rechichi said. “An open building is a lot more unsafe than a closed building.”

A Ratner spokesperson said the building would be entirely enclosed this summer.

Ratner plans to start leasing the Beekman Tower’s 903 apartments in the spring of 2011, and the K-8 Spruce Street School in the base of the building is scheduled to open in fall 2011, Rechichi said. The building will also contain an ambulatory care center for New York Downtown Hospital.

Last month’s falling material was not the first time the project has attracted community outrage — but usually it’s for a different reason.

“Some people don’t like the height,” C.B. 1 District Manager Noah Pfefferblit said Tuesday night, “but that’s another issue.”

— Julie Shapiro