“It’s great to have standouts and to award them accordingly. It’s even better to have as many finalists as possible, because the community still wins.”
By Steve Dwyer
One of the highlights of the 2022 Big Apple Brownfield Awards (BABA) distribution process—presented to nine worthy projects and sponsored by the New York City Brownfield Partnership (NYCBP)—was a trend for “community support services,” which saw two recipients this year.
In fact, the term “community” is considered a North star for what the Partnership’s priorities are and what it continues to strive to accomplish.
Highlighting the 2022 BABA were projects recognized for such associated community-driven categories as community space, community outreach and community advocacy and engagement.
They joined the remainder of the honorees for their advocacy for open space, economic development, innovative remediation and environmental responsibility. But, the emphasis on community is no news flash for an organization that has long advocated for and championed it over its existence.
“The ‘community’ is the easy buzzword to throw around these projects, because it is almost always the focus of the Partnership,” says Erik Draijer, Project Manager for PVE Engineering LLC, New York and member of the BABA selection committee.
When asked what stood out with this year’s projects compared to the past, Draijer told me that while he wasn’t as heavily involved in the past as currently, from his “limited sample size it’s clear that the global pandemic had an effect on local brownfield redevelopment. As the industry was able to progress through COVID’s impacts, it was clear this year that plenty of new opportunities were created in commercial real estate. Reviewing the nominations and awarding these projects is yet another tool for our industry and community to understand if and how the pandemic has changed the market,” comments Draijer.
He emphasized that what “hasn’t changed” is the desire from everyone involved in these projects “to produce a positive impact on the community, economy and environment. It’s truly a pleasure to be involved and to experience that desire from fellow mentors, clients, competitors, and colleagues.”
Promoting excellence in brownfield redevelopment by honoring successful brownfield projects in New York City, the BABAs recognize both brownfield clean-up and redevelopment projects that have had positive effects on the community, and have demonstrated excellence in the following areas: Supportive and Affordable Housing, Brownfield Opportunity Area Connectivity, Collaboration, Community Outreach, Economic Development, Environmental Protection, Green Building, Innovation, Open Space and Sustainable Remediation.
In addition to recognizing Brownfield projects, the Partnership also recognizes individuals who have made a significant impact on brownfield redevelopment in NYC through its Distinguished Service Award.
This year’s content had a decided accent on fostering community betterment. The winners included: Northeast Towers Annex Apartments won for community outreach; Lincoln at Bankside for its open space strategy; Terminal Logistics Center for economic development; The Smile for community advocacy and engagement; Harriet Tubman Building for community space; Archer Green for environmental responsible building; Estela for innovative remediation; and both The Corden and New Covenant House Headquarters for community support services.
The community underpinning was indeed a key pillar. For the community space award, The Harriet Tubman Building, located at 1403 Gateway Blvd. in the Far Rockaway section of Queens, was honored as an affordable residence that placed an accent on its expansive shared amenities, including a 1,200-square-foot community room, a children’s play room featuring art installations by nonprofit SugarLift and a 2,000-square-foot public playground, which enrich the lives of residents and people living in the neighborhood.
The 75,049-ft. residence features 63 units of 100% supportive housing, providing residents access to tailored social services by Win (formerly Women in Need), the largest provider of supportive housing for families in New York City.
The residence’s on-site programs address individual medical and clinical needs, such as mental and behavioral health services, counseling targeted to support the youngest residents, educational opportunities, job and career readiness development programs and more, as many residents have come from temporary homeless shelters run by Win.
The project team was comprised of Greenport Affordable Housing LLC, Tenen Environmental, MHG Architects, and Women in Need (WIN). The 19,400 ft site was developed prior 1912 with a residential building. The building was demolished before 1980 and then utilized as a parking lot and playground.
Part of The NYC Brownfield Partnership’s mission is to help New York City’s development community understand how to safely redevelop brownfields, but also effectively with a sustainable mission.
During the redevelopment process of The Harriet Tubman Building, a total of 5,600 tons of soil/fill were excavated and removed from the vacant site and contributed 1,780 tons of clean soil to the NYC Clean Soil Bank, which redirected it to clean soil stockpiles and construction sites throughout the city. A Track 1 unrestricted use cleanup was achieved.
In addition to the supportive housing units, the development also includes a 1,200 ft. community room and 2,000-ft. public playground. WIN provides safe housing, critical services and programs needed for families to succeed on their own. The building is staffed with case workers and support staff to provide counseling, educational and employment services as well as skill-building and recreational activities.
All units have set aside income limits of 60% of Area Median Income (AMI) with 10% of the units set aside at 40% of AMI. Tenants were referred by the City Department of Homeless Services and many came from WIN’s temporary homeless shelters.
Another project that was tied to community was an innovative community outreach BABA presented to Northeastern Towers Annex, a 10-story apartment building that includes 159 apartments affordable to extremely- and very-low-income senior households, including 35% formerly homeless, on a brownfield site remediated through the New York City Voluntary Cleanup Program.
It was overseen by the NYC Office of Environmental Remediation (NYC OER), and developed by the Fifth Avenue Committee (FAC), a nonprofit Community Development Corp. that partners with Northeastern Conference HDFC (NECHDFC) and Mega Contracting.
The effort entailed a host of meetings with the local Civic Association that lead to local resident involvement in the design of the property open space, garden area, fencing, parking lot and grounds lighting and the set aside of 5 parking spaces for a local school.
FAC and NECHDFC also met with the Queens Community Board 12 (QCB12) District Manager and Land Use and Executive Committees who provided input on local property management companies and spoke with Mega regarding local job training/placement/readiness programs for site construction jobs.
FAC also met with local elected officials. In addition to lending their support they also provided additional funding to enable the installation of a solar canopy, furniture and planting on the roof deck, a front desk and pedestrian pathways through the landscaped areas.
FAC and NECHDFC spoke with local senior center directors and seniors at local churches and those living in adjacent senior housing built in the 1970’s for programming suggestions. Northeastern Towers Annex was designed specifically to meet the needs of the seniors, with a focus to enable “aging in place,” as two thirds of the apartments enable caregivers to live in the unit while maintaining the residence privacy.
The building has double the required percentage of fully accessible apartments for those with mobility, hearing and/or visual impairments. Common areas include a Community Room with audio visual equipment, a computer room, an exercise room, and a space for visiting health care providers. The 2nd through 9th floors each have a laundry room adjacent to a resident lounge to encourage socialization.
The building also includes an enclosed all windowed area on the ground floor and a 5th floor landscaped/fenced roof deck to enable seniors who might otherwise become disoriented or lost to have a usable outdoor space.
Community Advocacy and Engagement was aptly handed to The Smile, a redevelopment project located at 146 East 126th St. in the East Harlem section of Manhattan. The project team was comprised of Blumenfeld Development Group, Ltd., FPM, and the Bjarke Ingels Group.
This site was developed prior to 1896 with multiple buildings. Past uses of the site include a police precinct, a furniture storage building, retail, a printing store, a theater, a pharmaceutical manufacturer, and residential space. Immediately prior to redevelopment, the site contained a 123,000 ft2 mixed use building with retail, office space and a parking lot.
Remediation efforts included a total of 18,350 tons of soil/fill excavated and removed from the property, as well as the installation of an engineered composite cover system, vapor barrier system, and a sub-surface ventilated garage which features an air exchange system. A Track 2 Residential cleanup was achieved. Additionally, air and noise mitigation eorts were incorporated into the project to avoid any potential significant adverse air quality impacts and ensure an acceptable interior noise environment.
Asking Erik Draijer if there were any “nuanced trends” that stood out with the ’22 BABA’s, he told me that that one was “infrastructure. A handful of nominated projects addressed the industrial supply chain congestion to resolve local infrastructure deficiencies, with the hopes it would reach a global influence,” he says.
He notes that it was “impressive to learn about projects that created state-of-the-art logistics centers and industrial assets from underutilized, contaminated land. Affordable housing, along with green space, has been a focus since I became involved. There may have been an increase in affordable housing projects over the last year and beyond as NYC’s 421-a tax exemption program expired in June of this year. We will see the carry-over through 2024 as these projects continue towards completion, but it’ll be interesting to see if and how it changes the industry moving forward.”
Erik commented that the other trend to follow is how NYC’s 2020 Energy Conservation Code is implemented into redevelopment—"which solutions developers choose and how beneficial green space may be for this Act and Local Law.”
Among the nine winners, I asked Erik about some of the worthy projects that didn’t win but came close. “The nominee turnout was great this year, with the Community Advocacy and Engagement Award originally generating 14 total nominees. That made the selection process very difficult. Luckily, the fabulous event committee collectively made a decision to award several projects as winners, as well as altering the award into more specific community-based award categories.”
Indeed, this was unique for this year, but was not the first occurrence in the history of the BABAs, he says. “The Community Advocacy Award category was subdivided into Community Support Services, Community Outreach, Community Advocacy and Community Space Awards, and still had several winners in a few categories. Sincerely, all projects were worthy finalists for these awards. It is great to have standouts and to award them accordingly. It’s even better to have as many finalists as possible, because the community still wins.”