Demolition permits plunge in November, signal further development slowdown

The number of demolition permits in New York City fell sharply in November compared to a year ago, indicating a continued construction slowdown in the five boroughs.

The city’s Department of Buildings issued 72 initial demolition permits in November, 65 percent fewer than the 205 issued the same month a year ago, and a steep decline from the 164 issued in October, according to an analysis of city records by The Real Deal. Initial demolition permits do not include demolition permit renewals.

Demolition permits are considered an indicator of future development in the city. Overall, the number of  building permits has been on the decline. The Real Deal reported in October that the number of new building permit applications in September fell to three, the lowest number since 2001.

During the recent building boom, the number of demolition permits rose from 3,386 in 2002 to a high of 6,480 in 2006. The number fell in 2007 to 5,582 and there have only been 2,112 permits issued in 2008, according to the analysis of DOB data.

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There were just six initial demolition permits issued for Manhattan last month, representing three development sites, including a one-story building at 506-512 West 36th Street in the Hudson Yards district. The DOB put a stop work order on the site, but the building was torn down last month, a former business in the building said. The other locations are 124-126 West 23rd Street in Chelsea and 45 Wadsworth Avenue in Washington Heights, the records showed. In November 2007, there were 22 demolition permits in Manhattan issued, covering 24 sites, the records showed.

The industry has viewed the decline in permits with apprehension, said Felice Farber, a spokeswoman for the General Contractors Association of New York, which represents several demolition contractors among a membership comprised mostly of public infrastructure developers.

“Our members have noticed a falloff in demolition work,” she said.

Frank Macchio, president of the Whitestone, Queens-based general contractor Construction Services Associates, said the decline in demolitions hurts contractors like his company.

“If you don’t knock it down you can’t build something new,” he said. “The horizon for new development is a bit bare. Unless financing is loosened up, the entire industry will be affected.”