New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community
Bill Morris in Board Operations on June 29, 2018
John Feeney understands that a building is a living thing, an organism. And like all living things, a building must adapt – to changes in the ages and tastes and needs of its residents, to changing governmental rules, to changing times.
Feeney’s building, at 1095 Park Avenue, was designed by the legendary firm of Schwartz & Gross and built in 1930, when clothes were washed by hand in the basement and left to drip-dry and then get hand-ironed in a “drying room.” Eventually electric washers and dryers arrived, then those conveniences migrated from the communal basement into the privacy of many of the 18-story building’s 61 apartments.
“As people’s interests and demands for amenities evolve, we figured we have the space, so why not use it?” says Feeney, who moved into the building with his wife and daughter in 1997, joined the seven-member co-op board a dozen years ago and is currently serving as president. “We don’t see ourselves competing with new condos. We’re not that animal. First of all, we’re a co-op, a typical white-glove Park Avenue co-op. We’re committed to a high level of service and to maintaining the building.”
And also, he might add, to making sure the building adapts to the shareholders’ changing needs. To that end, the board commissioned the architect Ethelind Coblin to prepare a master plan that would maximize use of common areas in the basement while maintaining compliance with the building codes. Based on the options Coblin presented, the board decided to relocate bike storage into the former drying room, then open up a wall and expand the gym into what had been the bike storage space. “We went through numerous iterations, with budgets,” says Coblin, who moonlights as president of her own co-op board. “Once they settled on an option somewhere in the middle, the board honed the proposal down to keep the numbers under control. Boards have to consider what the shareholders can bear. Everybody on this board cares, and everybody pays attention. They respect one another. You don’t always see that.”
Feeney agrees. “We’ve got an active board, and we stay in touch by putting ourselves in the shoes of our various constituents,” says the retired investment management executive who, at 59, keeps fit through daily workouts. “We have a range of ages, and it’s intuitive to know what’s important to one group but not another. We didn’t canvass shareholders, but the heavy use of the gym means it’s something people want.” And so the board is moving ahead with plans to reconfigure the precious basement space and double the size of the gym.
Band-Aids are not in this board’s toolkit. When doing facade work, for instance, the board goes beyond requirements of the Department of Buildings and the Landmarks Preservation Commission. When redoing the lobby, the board insisted on scrupulous refurbishing of Schwartz & Gross’s original details, plus energy-saving upgrades such as LED lighting. This attention to the organism’s long-term health pays off, but it doesn’t come cheap.
“The reality is that, with all the fixed costs, it’s hard to keep maintenance flat,” says Feeney. “I think we do a good job of keeping it in check by keeping increases on a tame slope.” The co-op’s reserve fund is kept healthy by a longstanding flip tax and other revenue sources, and the board has imposed assessments when absolutely necessary. Feeney says, “I like to think we’re doing smart things with our reserve fund."
Some knowledgeable people believe they are. “The building,” says the real estate website StreetEasy, “is impeccably maintained throughout.”
John Feeney likes the sound of that.
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