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Century-Old Park Avenue Co-op Gets a Facelift for the Ages

Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on June 29, 2022

Carnegie Hill, Manhattan

Facade Safety & Inspection Program, Local Law 11, co-op board, landscaping.

The newly landscaped courtyard (left) and the porte-cochere at 1185 Park Ave.

June 29, 2022

When they got ready to tackle their latest cycle of mandatory facade repairs, the nine members of the co-op board at 1185 Park Ave. decided this was no time to cut corners. So the board named three of its members to a committee — Ary Freilich, Geoffrey Colvin and Amy Benenson — and charged them with running the project.

The challenge was massive. The 16-story, 165-unit building covers the block between 93rd and 94th Streets, with three street facades, a rear alley facade — plus four facades on the inner courtyard. In addition, there were nearly 500 pieces of decorative terra cotta that had to be replicated under the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s strict rules, the courtyard landscaping needed refreshing, and the 1929 neo-Gothic building, designed by the architectural firm Schwartz and Gross, needed a thorough cleaning.

“We tried to thread the needle,” says Freilich, who works in real estate investment and was recently elected board president. “We wanted to be respectful of the high-quality architecture, but we’re not willing to throw money away. What made the difference was that we had very heavy board involvement. We were constantly forced to make judgment calls.”

That involvement began early. “We went through a very extensive vetting process with vendors,” says Colvin, who also works in real estate investment. “But the buck stops with the board, so we rolled up our sleeves and got involved in all aspects of the project.” He adds that past boards have been diligent about maintaining elevators, gates, courtyard lighting and the two guard houses in the porte-cochere. 

In the planning phase, the committee members worked closely with the architect, John Favazzo of Howard L. Zimmerman Architects & Engineers, and with the project manager, Doug Williams of Yates Restoration Group. Once work began, the committee had weekly meetings with its professionals, which kept the work flowing.

“Having them there allowed us to make decisions on a week-to-week basis instead of waiting around for answers,” Williams says. “John Favazzo and I spoke several times a day. All of us understood that this was a very special project, and we would all have to operate at a very high level.”

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There were surprises, of course. When they realized the metal window frames in the fire stairwells needed to be painted, for instance, the committee decided to do the work now, while the sidewalk sheds and suspended scaffolds were in place. The same logic guided the decision on cleaning the building’s skin.

“We ended up doing a major cleaning of the courtyard walls and 75% of the other exterior facades,” Freilich says. “It would have been much more costly if we had come back a year or so later and had to put the scaffolding and sheds back up.”

Despite such control of the so-called soft costs, this project wasn’t cheap. The final price tag was a stiff $7 million, and yet the board did not have to impose an assessment or maintenance increase — because the co-op’s robust reserve fund is fed by budget surpluses and a 2% flip tax on the sale price of apartments.

As the project draws to a close, the board has been getting positive reviews from shareholders. One reason for that, Freilich believes, is that few laymen notice repointed bricks or new lintels. But this project had some eye-grabbing aspects, particularly the cleaning of the facade and the rejuvenation of the courtyard landscaping, which was overseen by the committee’s third member, Benenson, an architect.

“People are very satisfied,” Freilich says of the project’s eye appeal. And, Colvin adds, they’re satisfied with the board’s approach. “The board was extremely active,” he says. “I think that’s why we were able to bring this project in on time and under budget.”

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS — ARCHITECT: Howard L. Zimmerman Architects & Engineers. CONTRACTOR: Yates Restoration Group. PROPERTY MANAGER: Douglas Elliman. LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT: Hollander Design. TERRA COTTA SUPPLIER: Gladding, McBean.

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