Bright future ahead of New York construction despite pandemic challenges, say agency leaders

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moderator carlo securra
lModerator Carlo Scissura, president and CEO of the NYBC

New York Construction News staff writer

Leaders of several New York public agencies have expressed optimism about business opportunities and future construction work as the city recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking at an online panel discussion organized by Anchin on Nov. 12, the State of the Construction Industry presentations revealed that improvements in procurement processes, public-private partnerships, and increased opportunities for minority and women-owned contractors are in the picture as infrastructure projects move from planning to construction.

Reuben R. McDaniel, president and chief executive officer of the Dormitory Authority – State of New York (DASNY) says the pandemic may have slowed some things down but much work is in the pipeline. He delivered the panel’s keynote presentation.

There are “probably “12 to 15 projects right now in and around the city,” he said. “We’re very excited about what’s going on.” Conditions are challenging at New York’s universities this year, “but we expect them to be back and fully on board in the years to come.”

Progress with design-build and public-private partnerships has accelerated, McDaniel said.

“I think the acceleration of the design bill, the acceleration of P3 in the new York area is going to be one of those things that we look back on and say of all the bad things that happened, you know that something really came up positively” from the pandemic.

James Whelan, president of the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), said the pandemic has seriously impacted real estate transactions – they declined $1.4 billion since last year.

“And next week, we’ll be issuing a new report having to do with the construction pipeline based on new building permits that shows we’ve hit a low we haven’t seen since the Great Recession a few years back,” Whelan said.

However, on the positive side, “there’s large scale projects under discussion, that you know, we need to have the fortitude to see through” such as the Empire State complex and completing work on the World Trade Center site.” There’s also the Gateway rail tunnel program and the LaGuardia air train connection, he said.

And “on the city’s side it’s a matter of how they smartly use their capital budget, because that could really be a great motivator to driving jobs and economic development, which is really going to be the key to bringing the economy back.

Rachel Loeb
Rachel Loeb, COO of the NYCEDC

Rachel Loeb, chief operating offer of the New York City Economic Development Corp. (NYCEDC), described how public agencies worked with the private sector to coordinate pandemic responses and how the life sciences projects offer significant opportunities for the future.

Gregory Ross, CEO of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), says his agency is seeking to raise $40 billion in investment to create affordable housing. There are compliance and technology challenges, which will involve abandoning “the technologies that exist in these buildings now.” Things like central boiler systems, distribution lines, plumbing, and electrical need to be updated to save energy and improve living quality.

“Through the pandemic we have been hit as much as anyone,” Russ said. “We’ve slowed down significantly, including our day-to-day work, but we’re kind of going back to construction,” where work is recommencing on “a good number of our properties”.

“The future of the NYCHA, if we can raise the capital, we have a chance to position ourselves to contribute to this recovery,” he said.

Lorraine Grillo
Lorraine Grillo, CEO of the NYCSCA and commissioner of the NYCDDC

Lorraine Grillo, CEO of the New York City School Construction Authority (NYCSCA) and commissioner of the New York City Department of Design and Construction (NYCDDC) the NYCDDC has been “continuing our infrastructure work throughout the pandemic because it really is essential to the City of New York.”

“We are designing,” she said. “There are a number of projects that are restarting, but it’s slow.

“I will tell you that and I think the city is being very smart and cautious about how money is spent, but I will say, we’re proceeding, we’re beginning (work on) all of those projects and we’re beginning that effort on the School Construction Authority side in the next couple of weeks,” Grillo said. “In the next couple of weeks, you’ will see our capital plan for this year, which looks very, very good for the industry. The investment is there – it continues to be there.”

Grillo said the SCA has been leading with initiatives to improve opportunities for minority and women-owned contractors. “We teach them how to work with the city and we mentor them through the life of a construction project,” she said.

“We have anew chief diversity officer at DDC” and are working to expand opportunities there as well, she said.

When moderator Carlo Scissura president and CEO of the New York Building Congress (NYBC), asked panelists what they think will be the biggest infrastructure project they hoped that incoming president Joe Biden should support, several responded that they believe the Gateway Rail Tunnel project will create the most opportunities.

The planned phased expansion and renovation of the Northeast Corridor (NEC) rail line between Newark, New Jersey and NYC is expected to cost billions of dollars. The projected cost in 2017 for part of the initiative – new tunnels under the Hudson River and for the repair of the North River Tunnels — increased to $12.9 billion, up from a previous estimate of $7 to 10 billion, according to published reports.

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