New York halts most construction

Only transit, hospital and affordable housing will continue

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images, and iStock)
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images, and iStock)

After facing pressure from city officials and workers, the state is shutting down all construction except work on infrastructure, healthcare facilities and affordable housing.

The Empire State Development Corp. updated its guidelines Friday, saying only work on “roads, bridges, transit facilities, utilities, hospitals or health care facilities, affordable housing, and homeless shelters” will be considered essential. The qualification is a dramatic change from the blanket exemption included in an executive order Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed last week. Under the order, employees of all non-essential businesses are prohibited from reporting to work. Now, workers on condo and commercial sites will need to stay home, unless there is emergency construction that needs to be done, i.e. work that would endanger the public if left unfinished.

Those who violate the new rules could face fines of up to $10,000.

The move comes after city officials called for a stop to all non-essential construction, arguing that workers were needlessly imperiled on some sites. Earlier this week, Mayor Bill de Blasio questioned making condo construction a priority. The governor indicated Thursday that he was considering a change to what is considered essential construction.

Some sites, including part of LaGuardia Airport and Moynihan Train Hall, have temporarily stalled work due to sick workers. SL Green Realty confirmed that one worker at One Vanderbilt had tested positive for Covid-19 Thursday but had self-quarantined since March 14. The case did not shut down work on the office tower. Related Companies’ 50 Hudson Yards also had a worker with Covid-19, according to multiple construction professionals, though the company did not return multiple messages seeking comment on how the situation was handled.

As the pandemic intensified in New York City, construction work at several luxury condominiums continued, raising questions about whether the work should be considered “essential.”

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In a statement March 18, a spokesperson for the developers behind 200 Amsterdam Avenue — a luxury 52-story tower embroiled in litigation and facing possible deconstruction — defended the decision to continue work at the site.

“We are carefully following New York State and City guidelines and will continue to prioritize health and safety precautions on site while construction work is permitted in New York City,” they said.

Contacted Friday, representatives for the developers, SJP Properties and Mitsui Fudosan America, did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the policy change.

The governor’s decision to limit construction in the city is one of many restrictions put in place in recent weeks as the crisis in New York becomes increasingly urgent. As of Thursday morning, there were more than 37,000 known cases of coronavirus across the state, and 385 deaths. The U.S. now has more confirmed cases than anywhere else in the world.

Other cities and states have similarly restricted construction. Washington state’s governor asserted Thursday that residential and commercial work didn’t qualify as essential. Boston was the first major city to halt most construction, an order it put in place last Monday.

Write to Kathryn Brenzel at and Sylvia Varnham O’Regan at