Construction has been selected to be in phase one of the four phases established in New York state for the reopening of businesses in the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even during the height of the forced economic slowdown and social distancing aimed at slowing the spread of the virus, some construction activity was allowed to continue. Public works projects, including road, water, sewer and other infrastructure repairs and enhancements were on the approved list as were developments that would provide affordable housing and construction projects associated with health care.
With the NY PAUSE plan on which the shutdown was based due to expire on May 15, there has been speculation that a region-by-region phased reopening of commerce in the state would begin as soon after that date as specified criteria are met.
In addition to construction, manufacturing was slated to be in the first phase of reopening.
Phase two would incorporate professional services, including finance and insurance, retail, administrative support and real estate businesses including rentals and leasing.
Phase three would include restaurants and other food service operators and hotels and other providers of accommodations.
The fourth phase would include businesses related to the arts and entertainment and education.
The parameters that would have to be met in a given geographic region in order for reopening to begin include:
• a 14-day decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations, or fewer than 15 new hospitalizations a day for the virus;
• a 14-day decline in virus-related hospital deaths, or fewer than five deaths a day;
• new hospitalizations remaining below two per day for each 100,000 residents;
• local hospitals having a vacancy rate of at least 30%;
• at least 30% of intensive care unit beds being vacant;
• at least 30 virus tests conducted each month for every 1,000 residents in the region; and
• at least 30 people doing contact tracing for each 100,000 residents in a region.
Each region would have a “control room” where decisions would be made by county executives, chairs of boards of legislators, town supervisors, hospital officials, state leaders and others.
In White Plains, some activity was observed recently at a construction site in the heart of downtown where The Mitchell, a 434-unit development running from the corner of Mamaroneck Avenue and East Post Road to Mitchell Place is being built. The project by Lennar features 27 units of affordable housing.
Not far away, construction activity continued at the site of White Plains Hospital’s 252,000-square-foot outpatient center at Maple and Longview Avenues.
Projects that were shut down as the epidemic grew will be waiting to restart. Also in the pipeline are developments that were approved just before the crisis hit and some projects that received approvals from municipalities as the pandemic continued. In most cases, the municipalities shifted the project reviews and public hearing processes from hearing rooms to online meetings.
The White Plains Common Council on May 4, while holding a virtual meeting, added a project to the city’s “active” column with unanimous site plan, special permit and environmental findings approvals for the adaptive reuse of the former AT&T building at 440 Hamilton Ave.
Rose Associates had originally received one-year approvals for the project on Sept. 4, 2018. It acquired the project from a previous developer, American Equity Partners, which had received approval for a residential conversion in March 2017.
Rose’s approvals expired and in February the developer submitted a new application to the city. There were no substantive changes in the proposal. The plans call for converting the existing 339,000-square-foot office building at 440 Hamilton Ave. into a residential development with 255 apartments and 3,400 square feet of ground floor retail space fronting on Hamilton Avenue.
The applicant proposes to construct a penthouse level on top of the existing 12-story building, increasing the overall height of the building by 12 feet. There would be another 213 apartments in a building to rise at the intersection of Barker and Broadway. There would be a total of 468 apartments with 8% in the affordable category.
A six-level parking garage with 575 spaces would replace the current parking lot. There would be on-site open space for residents, including a dog park. The land and recreation facilities were not deemed adequate for the anticipated 835 new residents and the developer is to pay a fee-in-lieu of $1,433,500.
White Plains is most certainly not the only municipality with a lineup of developments that has gotten longer during the outbreak. Yonkers’ projects include the Lionsgate movie studio along with a number of proposed apartment, including Rose Associates’ plan for 440 units on the Altman Lighting site along the Hudson River.
Port Chester has the proposal for the long shuttered United Hospital Site, also involving Rose Associates, under consideration along with smaller downtown developments. And numerous other municipalities have projects in various stages, just not yet under construction.
“Because of these backlogs, we’ll have a good positive effect on the economy fairly quickly,” John Cooney Jr., executive director of the Construction Industry Council of Westchester & Hudson Valley Inc. told the Business Journal.
“There’s been some disassembly of the labor but it can be reassembled quickly and they can get started again quickly. Some staffs have been laid off, but those that have not are operating and the back offices have been operating remotely and they can continue to function that way.”
Cooney noted that the construction industry was not entirely shut down because public works, health care and affordable housing projects were deemed essential and allowed to continue. If 20% of the units in a residential development were priced in the affordable category, then the entire project was classified as affordable housing.
“Transportation infrastructure, water, sewer, state, municipal infrastructure has remained an essential business and our contractors for the most part have continued to operate,” Cooney said.
“There’s been some softening but that group has learned how to operate with COVID-19 and operate safely. So, there’s been a lot of innovation done there. The activity level on the private side, building construction for the most part, has been diminished. That group is anxious to get started and is willing to incorporate all of the best practices that the civil side of our industry, the infrastructure side, has adopted.”
Cooney said that there’s hope that idle construction sites represent just a temporary gap in work flows.
“There are truly some revenue losses. What hasn’t been done cannot be made up in this year, probably,” Cooney said.
“We work off of backlogs and our backlogs for the most part were very healthy so that will start up quickly so our impact on the economy will be felt right away. What happens to that pipeline going forward will predicate how sustainable our start will be. But our start will be, because of these backlogs, felt by the economy. We’ll have a good positive effect on the economy right away. The money’s spent fast.”