Tom Soter in Bricks & Bucks on February 27, 2013
Feb. 27, 2013 — The Apple Store, located on Broadway and 68th Street, is a glass box: beautiful, elegant, and refined – less a computer shop, more an experience. To the north of it sits the Bel Canto, a 76-unit condominium that towers over the store. Neighbors, sure, but when representatives from the two buildings began talking, they didn’t swap stories about Macs or PCs. The topic was real estate, specifically Local Law 11. The issue seemed simple: the 27-story Bel Canto needed to repair its façade, and it needed permission – a so-called “access agreement” – to work over the roof of the five-story Apple Store.
How hard is that?
Very, it turns out. “It took us three years of negotiations to come to an agreement,” recalls Andrea Bunis, the president of Andrea Bunis Management. And after three years of talk, “they only gave us about 90 days to do the work.”
The process started when the board of the Bel Canto got the results of a Local Law 11 façade inspection. There were a number of hazardous conditions that needed to be addressed.
The issue was that, to do the work, the contractors would have to stand on scaffolding that hung over the Apple Store. Not only did that intrude into the smaller property’s air space but the scaffolding also reportedly made Apple wary of falling debris shattering their glass structure.
No one made any jokes about people living in glass houses – at least, not on the record – probably because everyone was too busy trying to work out a mutually acceptable deal. It was left to Eric Cowley, president of Cowley Engineering, to design a system that worked for the Bel Canto’s needs – and addressed the concerns of Apple. (Although Apple is merely a tenant, the property’s owner left the negotiations up to the company.)
“The biggest challenge was how to protect their glass,” recalls Cowley. “I did a drawing to show an entire cover over the Apple Store, with counter-weights hanging on it down to the street. Apple nixed that because they didn’t want scaffolding on 67th Street.
“After that, I came up with a trailing netting system that could be attached to the scaffolding. You worked, basically, with a bag underneath you.” Cowley was informed that the new plan would probably not win approval from the Department of Buildings. The concern was that the wind would catch the nets and throw men off the scaffolding.
Undaunted but with time running out, Cowley devised a cantilevered catch-all system. “Apple wouldn’t allow us to put any load on their parapet wall – the stone is hollowed out, custom-built stone from a quarry in Tennessee. So we devised large brackets that were placed in the side of the Bel Canto that let workers stand on a landing platform that extended out eight feet wide, with netting that was tethered [to counter wind concerns] to the Bel Canto and extended to a point 25 feet from the condo out over the Apple Store’s glass.” Apple also placed “secondary protection” on its store: black padding on top of the glass.
Perfecting the Design
Designing the means of working was complicated, but getting approvals was no walk in the park, either. Every drawing or idea Cowley submitted had to be reviewed by Apple engineers in Holland and England and also go before Apple’s legal team in California. Cowley would present ideas multiple times as each new design brought new questions from Apple. “They had comments and I would respond to those, and back and forth we went.”
Once the final design was greenlighted, the scaffolding and netting had to be put in place.
Luckily, there were few surprises after the job was under way. Cowley recalls working on the project as long ago as 2009, and finishing it in 2012. The actual work involving the Apple Store, however, took 100 days (the access agreement was for 75 days). Since the negotiations were so lengthy, the Bel Canto missed its Local Law 11 filing deadline and had to pay a “not substantial” fine, according to Bunis.
More to Come
The building, populated mostly by young professionals, is located in the Lincoln Center area, close to many subway and bus lines, and bounded by Riverside Park (and the Hudson River) and Central Park.
“This was the biggest job the building did this year,” Bunis notes. “They’re probably going to do some elevator work next year.” Their vision for the future? Says Bunis: “This building was built 35 years ago. The vision is: ‘Repairs are needed.’”
Eric Cowley, Cowley Engineering
This project was started in April 2009 and completed in November 2012.
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