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Don’t Call It a Club

It was someone else’s idea. But she loved it.

Adelaide Polsinelli, board president of the 350-unit 2 Fifth Avenue, read a magazine article about Bob Friedrich, who had set up a “Presidents’ Co-op Council” in Queens. Utilizing the internet, 32 board presidents in eastern Queens posted questions to the group about how to improve the care of their buildings; other members responded with suggestions.

The idea fascinated her because it seemed to be a great potential resource of information. She had recently had a bad experience (she calls it “a terrible path to destruction”) in which she had tried to get a flip tax passed in her co-op. “What really stuck with me,” she recalls, “is when people asked me, ‘What are other people doing?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know.’ So I had to find out.”

A lifelong resident of Greenwich Village, she knew of many co-ops in the neighborhood and began exploring the possibilities of setting up what she called a “presidents’ round table” (“‘Presidents’ Club’ sounds too much like Mickey Mouse,” notes Diane C. Nardone, a member). She started by writing a letter outlining the idea and hand-delivered it to the doorman of 25 co-ops in the area. By suggesting a discussion group consisting of other board members, she explains, “I could offer people a reason for communicating with me. I said to them, ‘Maybe once every quarter, we could sit down and share problems. We all probably have solutions, so we all shouldn’t feel like we’re operating in the dark. Why re-invent the wheel?’”

One of her first enrollees was Nardone, president of the Brevoort, a co-op at 11 Fifth Avenue. Polsinelli had heard about Nardone’s installation of green roofs and plans for a cogeneration plant, so in addition to leaving her a letter, she e-mailed her. The two met and, recalls Nardone, “we talked about the issues in the neighborhood. I agreed to work with her.”

Besides Nardone, Polsinelli also picked up Dorothy Adler, president of the Brevoort East, at 20 East 9th Street. Adler says she had already been thinking along the same lines – and had even talked with Nardone about 11 Fifth Avenue’s greening projects – so it was a natural fit.

With three presidents on deck (she also picked up Terry Azar from Georgetown Plaza at 60 East Eighth Street), Polsinelli then went on the real estate website Property Shark to see if any other area presidents were listed. She found a number of them and using their names in a new letter, enticed two more presidents. The six of them met, and “found that each of us knew other presidents, and we extended personal invitations to them.” That increased their numbers significantly: a year after Polsinelli had read about the idea, she had assembled fifteen presidents in buildings housing 1,500 to 2,000 residents.

The first gatherings were freewheeling discussions of anything and everything, from local laws to the types of energy-saving light bulbs people used in the halls. Says Polsinelli: “We were like kids in a candy shop,” exchanging information with glee, as one question and answer led to another.

“There are so many issues coming up,” Polsinelli notes. “In the current economic environment, what about sublets? How do you raise maintenance? What about greening programs – there are so many out there – what’s been done?”

Soon, they were meeting at the end of each month, alternating the gathering place among the different buildings. They also brought in guests – engineers, architects, bankers, community advocates – and tailored the speakers to the needs of their buildings. An energy planner came once, for instance, and was prepared with a list of the buildings repped by the presidents – ranging in size from 70 to 300 units – so that he could customize ideas for each property.

Adler thinks the group also has some potential clout in collective bargaining with such companies as Verizon or Time Warner. “We’ve got a great resource there,” says Adler.

There is also the possibility of using their masses to improve the neighborhood. “One board member said there was an abandoned newsstand on Eighth [Street] and University [Place]. It was an eyesore. The city refused to remove it,” Polsinelli notes. “They said, ‘No one’s complaining.’ So, we decided why don’t we get our 2,000 residents to complain? We think we can make some positive changes in our community by using our collective power.”

Nardone agrees, citing a discussion the group had with the leader of the Business Improvement District in the neighborhood. “We talked about getting shareholders out to restaurants to make business stronger; we chose the first week in May and will promote it among our shareholders. We’d like to help neighborhood businesses.”

And what happens when term limits or retirement force a member to stand down? “It’s been a wonderful congenial atmosphere and very informative,” says Adler. “We regularly report back to our boards and hopefully future presidents will see the value in what we are doing.”

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