Marianne Schaefer in Bricks & Bucks on October 9, 2019
It sounds like a story from those bad old days of abandoned buildings and arson fires and “Ford to City: Drop Dead.” The century-old tenement buildings at 166-170 Mulberry Street in Little Italy were falling apart. “Absolutely everything about the buildings was a wreck,” says the current property manager, Noel Dent of Veritas Property Management.
In 2012 – in a move reminiscent of 1982, or even 1972 – the city sold the crumbling, 27-unit buildings to the residents for the insider price of $250 per unit. They then formed a Housing Development Fund Corporation co-op, hired Veritas, and sold the eight vacant apartments for $250,000 apiece, raising $2 million in vital capital.
“It was a very tedious procedure over many years,” says board member Anthony Landi, whose family’s ties to the building go back three generations. “Perseverance is the key word here. We kept after the city and we kept after the city some more for many years to sell us the building. We finally got a very dilapidated building.”
With $2 million in hand from the apartment sales, the fledgling co-op board and its new management company got busy. “We totally refurbished the entire building,” says Dent. The first step was to build three storefronts to create a new revenue stream. “In 2014, we rented out the storefronts, and they bring us a very tidy sum of money,” Dent says. “Mulberry Street gets about 1 million tourists every year, and these stores all sell tourist-based merchandise. They do good business and can pay a nice rent. It makes things easier for the co-op.”
Then the gut renovation began. The contractor put in a hallway connecting the two buildings and punched through the floor to get access to the basement. Then crews had to re-pipe the whole building with new electricity and gas lines. The envelope of the building also required major work: the back wall needed new bricks from top to bottom, while the facade was partially re-bricked. Then came a new roof, new windows, and rebuilt lintels. “We had to build a parapet on the roof,” says Dent. “It was weird. You could just walk off the roof.” Apartments got new doors, hallways were renovated, and a laundry room and 27 storage lockers were installed in the basement.
The inconvenience was considerable. Residents had to live without gas for more than six months – cooking with toaster ovens, rice cookers, and hot plates – and the work dragged on for almost three years. On any given day there would be about 20 people working on the building, in common areas and inside apartments. “Of course, some people were not happy with the noise and the intrusion,” says Landi. “But for the greater good, everybody put up with it. There was the light at the end of the tunnel – a beautiful building. We all had a vision and knew eventually it would be a great property.”
When the building was finished, the board attacked the rat-infested backyard, which was transformed into a bucolic urban oasis. “It’s one of the most beautiful backyards in Manhattan,” says Dent. Only one job remains: building a roof deck.
“It was well worth the hassle,” says Landi. “I feel very blessed to live in a building where my great-grandmother and my grandmother lived. My mother grew up here in this building, and now it’s my home. And it’s beautiful.”
PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – ENGINEER: Sullivan Engineering. ARCHITECT: Mortar Architecture + Development. CONTRACTOR: Central Construction Management. MANAGER: Veritas Property Management.
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