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Back in 2007, when I was nominated to be board president of Bell Park Manor-Terrace, an 850-unit garden apartment complex in eastern Queens, the 47-acre property faced numerous challenges. Chief among them was the acrimonious relationship between the board and many shareholders. The owners apparently felt that the board operated as a “secret society” that ignored their concerns and questions.
I took the criticisms to heart – and not just because I was president. I have lived in this cooperative for much of my life (after World War II, my father settled in the co-op then known as United Veterans Mutual Housing Co. and run by New York State; it went private in 1990). Although I moved out when I was 17, I returned to live in the 50-building co-op some years later. After a successful career in the music industry running a music/entertainment business, and then owning a video production company, and finally as a board member at North Shore Towers, a Floral Park co-op, I think I know how to work with people and get things done.
To address the complaints from the shareholders, I started by opening up the lines of communication. I made it a top priority to write a “President’s Message” each month, with a subheading that explains my intention: “Your Front Row Seat in the Board Room.” I feel it’s important to keep everyone in the loop.
Eventually, through regular communication and hard work, we got a lot accomplished:
(1) We started a home enhancement program that allows residents to convert storage rooms into finished basements, literally doubling the size of their apartments. We also have given permission for residents to install front or rear decks, balconies, new windows, sliding glass doors, private entranceways, and finished attics for storage. I spent months with an architect and with the Department of Buildings to make this come to fruition.
(2) We introduced an updated website and newsletter.
(3) We added state-of-the-art playgrounds with a key-fob entry system.
(4) We upgraded our laundry rooms with new washers and dryers, fresh paint, and new electrical wiring – all at the expense of the vendor.
(5) We got our own recommended real estate broker.
(6) We electrified our garages (enabling residents to have well-lit garages and electric-door openers).
(7) We built a beautiful party room for our shareholders.
(8) We developed a strong relationship with our police precinct and civic community.
(9) We added new roofing, paved driveways, porches, etc.
(10) We saw that high-tech security cameras were installed throughout the entire complex.
Our shareholders appreciate the effort. To date, we are only the second co-op in Queens allowing shareholders to convert apartments over storage rooms into finished basements. A family that might want to move into a private home for its children’s sake doesn’t have to anymore, considering all the new space.
I could never have accomplished a thing, however, without my extremely smart and pragmatic board colleagues. We may not always agree, but in the end, when those tough decisions have to be made, we take care of business.
I do have one regret, though. In 2007, we embarked upon a large asbestos abatement project. Considering our size, one can imagine how costly and inconvenient a project like this can be. We had a shareholders meeting where many residents were furious with the board for not giving them enough notice. The residents were angry about the additional financial burden that was being imposed, as well as the intrusive inconveniences, such as having to completely clean out their garages and storage areas. I do regret that we didn’t give the shareholders enough time to absorb the situation. Ever since then, we always give plenty of notice along with detailed explanations for any major projects. Transparency and honesty are paramount here.
With all the changes and implementations that took place, I personally had to take a lot of heat and criticism from the shareholders. “There goes Bobby again with his crazy ideas!” I understand. Many people are scared of changes. Shockingly, however, as I walk through my community I now receive compliments – “Hey, Bobby, keep up the good work” or “Make sure you tell the board how good a job they are doing.”
I guess not having a maintenance increase this year didn’t hurt!