Bill Morris in Board Operations on July 4, 2013
At the Dwyer, a 51-unit condominium that opened in Harlem in 2006, sponsor John Cross has not disappeared entirely. But he has gone gracefully into the margins, much to the delight of the condo's unit-owners and board members.
Cross, a native of Michigan, came to New York in the 1970s to make it as an artist. He pounded nails to pay the bills, and when his art dream failed to take flight, he started getting deeper into construction — renovating lofts, rehabbing abandoned buildings, eventually building market-rate condos from the ground up, beginning in the 1990s.
"My goal at the Dwyer was to sell the apartments, keep one for myself, and make some money," says Cross. "The sales fell through on three apartments, so I decided to keep them."
Today, Cross lives part-time in a top-floor apartment, rents out his other three apartments at market rates, owns one of the building's two commercial spaces, and holds one seat on the seven-member board, which oversees the entire building. (There is also a five-member board that deals only with the residential part of the building.)
While Cross has no designs on owning a large chunk of the building's apartments or controlling the board, he questions the conventional wisdom that paints all sponsors as greedy bogeymen. "If a sponsor retains 30 percent of the units and they're managing the building, wouldn't you think he would be deeply committed to the building?" he asks. "But that isn't the response you get from unit-owners. Does the typical response make sense?"
From his experience rehabilitating old buildings and erecting new ones in the city, Cross has learned that friction is inevitable. "There are always problems," he says, "particularly in new buildings, where people are all enthusiastic. They may have unrealistic expectations. So it takes a lot of cooperation and hard work by the sponsor and unit-owners to make a building work. We've had problems here, but we've worked them out because everyone cooperates."
The Harlem Meer
"We are very, very fortunate in having John as our sponsor," says Carlie Meer, the Dwyer's board president. "He's the developer-sponsor, but he also owns a unit that he lives in with his wife. That's a double-edged sword for him. People see him all the time, so they feel [they can ask him] to fix things. But it's been five years — it's beyond the period when that can be expected. Still, John has been very accommodating."
In the end, the sponsor's interests might not always be at odds with those of the board and the residents. "When the board and the sponsor share a sincere interest in the building's success, it may still be an acrimonious relationship but eventually the building works," Cross says. "This is a lovely building. People throw parties and show movies on the roof. The place has a great vibe — because people are willing to cooperate."
Photo by Tom Soter. Click to enlarge.
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