[Updated 1:21pm, with comment from Extell] Among the many depictions of Hurricane Sandy, the image of the One57 crane, bent backwards like a wilted stalk, is among the most indelible. In the aftermath of the collapse, construction engineers and city officials are working to fully secure the crane. Meanwhile, questions about what caused the incident and what it will mean for the high-profile Extell project and its developer, Gary Barnett, are largely unanswered.
At press time, the crane continued to dangle 74 stories above West 57th Street, which had been evacuated between Sixth and Seventh avenues. Steam, electricity and gas in the surrounding area were shut off, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said yesterday.
Although the crane is stable, engineers from the Department of Buildings, construction manager Lend Lease and crane operator Pinnacle are trying to determine the best way to fully secure the apparatus, which could involve fastening it to the building, said Tony Sclafani, a DOB spokesperson.
The department’s preliminary findings point to a blast of wind as the reason the crane’s boom bent backwards. The ongoing investigation will focus on the position of the crane and the role of wind, Sclafani said.
Strong winds yesterday prevented DOB engineers from entering the building, although they have done a step-by-step inspection along the full height of the crane, he said.
“We apologize for the considerable inconvenience experienced by our neighbors, but safety is paramount,” Extell said in a statement. “We are thankful that no one has been hurt.”
Extell said that Lend Lease “took all recommended measures to position the crane in anticipation of a hurricane,” which were approved by DOB, and that the two companies and city agencies will begin a “recovery procedure” as soon as the Fire Department of New York gives the go ahead.
Lend Lease employees have been on site since before the storm, according to Mary Costello, a spokesperson for the construction firm, who said the company believed the crane operator followed protocols for storm preparation. The DOB investigation will have “the full cooperation of all,” Costello said.
Barnett has largely declined to comment.
So far, the DOB is focusing on wind as the major culprit, rather than problems with Extell’s or Lend Lease’s safety precautions. “At this time, there is no indication that any thing was done improper or incorrect,” Sclafani said.
But the city could also be implicated, said construction attorney Barry LePatner. “If the city has not promulgated enough requirements to ensure this kind of situation doesn’t happen in the future, they should do so at the earliest opportunity,” he said.
It is possible to take down a construction crane with another crane, and considering how much advance warning property owners had of the coming storm, LePatner wondered why the city did not order the One57 crew to at least take down the parts most susceptible to wind hazards.
On Friday, three days before the storm made landfall, DOB Commissioner Robert LiMandri ordered property owners to stop all exterior work by Saturday evening. The department suspended all work permits and urged builders, contractors and developers to suspend crane operations and secure crane equipment, among other things.
When asked whether the One57 builders received any specific instructions, Sclafani said that DOB staff “worked closely” with major construction sites to help prepare for the storm. The city has 23 other active tower cranes, all of which remained intact, Sclafani said.
“It is up to the city to set the rules to determine the standards for ensuring public safety,” LePatner said. “And if the city had the proper rules, when they’re looked at and when they examine what was done on that particular project, either those rules were met or they weren’t.”
If Extell and Lend Lease violated city rules, they could face fines and other penalties, as well as criminal sanctions if the violations were intentional, LePatner said.
Considering that no one has been injured, and there is little property damage from the broken crane, the biggest legal fallout for the One57 developers may come from nearby businesses suing over lost profits from the street closure, sources said.
“I am sure they will rightfully face many lawsuits for their negligence,” said Ronn Torossian, a well-known public relations executive whose office at 888 Seventh Avenue, between 56th and 57th streets, was initially evacuated.
Last night, the 888 Seventh Avenue was moved outside of the evacuation zone and into a restricted zone, which means that police and fire officials may restrict access to the building at any time, according to an email from the property manager.
The building is also home to Vornado Realty’s headquarters. Carnegie Hall, the Carnegie Tower offices and the Metropolitan Tower condos were also evacuated. Torossian called on Barnett to compensate the city and individuals for the costs of dealing with the accident.
“While the city starts to recover, I’d love to go to my office and sit at my desk to work,” Torossian wrote in an email on Tuesday. “But due to the crane teetering high above [West] 57th Street, I am unable to enter my office, which faces the crane.”
Torossian said he also expects the crane collapse will affect real estate values at One57.
But Andrew Gerringer, a managing director at the Marketing Directors, said he does not anticipate the incident will scare off under-contract buyers or would-be buyers. As of September, Barnett reportedly had $1 billion worth of condos under contract at the tower.
“This is something nobody on earth could have foreseen,” Gerringer said, referring to the crane collapse. “People will watch it on the news, they’ll judge for themselves that, really, it has nothing to do with the building itself.”
At the same time, the building’s image as a haven for billionaires may have been somewhat sullied. The news headlines, photographs, tweets and live video feeds reminding global real estate watchers of the precariously suspended crane will remain part of the One57 story.
On the other hand, Gerringer suggested that could be a positive: “Maybe they’ll call it the building that withstood the 100-mile gusts!”