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BRICKS & BUCKS

Don't Brawl. Take a Vote

Tom Soter in Bricks & Bucks

New York City

Lobby Makeover

Lobbies and hallways are considered the most controversial remodeling jobs a co-op or condo board can undertake. Steve Greenbaum knows. As the director of property management at Mark Greenberg Real Estate (MGRE) for more than three decades, he’s seen his share of public space renovations – and the very public angst that goes with them.

“That’s always a big thing,” he notes. “In my history in this industry, I've seen very demure buildings get into fistfights in lobbies over color choices and furniture selection. That is where everybody has a different set of tastes and a different set of wishes.”

About four years ago, MGRE came up with an unusual solution to this problem: prepare two (or more) designs, put them on display, and have the residents vote on them.

“We came up with the idea when we were going to do a lobby project at the Park Lane North in Queens, on Union Turnpike,” says Greenbaum. “It seemed like we had an overwhelming number of volunteers for that committee. Everybody said, ‘Oh, are we going to get to see what the lobby looks like before you do it?’”

A major discussion about the process ensued among the board members, who agreed it would be a great idea to open up the decision-making process and have the residents vote on a selection.

Greenbaum says that it is not more costly to prepare two (or more) separate designs because “the designers usually bring you at least a couple of selections to choose from anyway. The real trick is to make sure that the board is happy with those selections, because you want to make sure that either one is fine and neither one is offensive.”

MGRE is currently showing off four proposed designs for the lobby at a 107-unit co-op at 209 East 56th Street in Manhattan. As far as the five-person board and the managing agent are concerned, this method involves more work. The choices must be set up in the lobby and notices have to be sent out to all the residents announcing it. Then the votes ­– written on pieces of paper attached to the presentation and placed in a box by the voters – have to be tabulated.

For the current presentation, MGRE designed easels, which have pictures of the wallpaper, color chips, and cut-outs of the carpet. Since the carpets have a lot of texture, the display also includes two- by three-foot samples on the floor below.

In most of the past presentations, the turnout has been large and the comments varied. “You'll always get one or two people who say, ‘You know, I hate the carpet, but I like the wallpaper. Can we move the carpet from Model ‘A’ and move it to ‘B’?” Greenbaum notes. “Or someone else will say: ‘I like the colors, but I don't like the texture of it.’”

At Park Lane North, the choices were not radically different, featuring essentially the same design, but different color schemes. At the job currently underway at 209 East 56th Street, there are different textures – one is a striped carpet, the alternative is a textured carpet. Both are “aesthetically pleasing,” notes the agent. That, of course, is a subjective opinion – like every other opinion about a lobby or hallway makeover.

Greenbaum says the process has worked extremely well. “It's more time-consuming and it's more involvement than you normally have with your shareholders on an issue like this,” he says, “but it's much more inclusive of your shareholders.”

Even the people who don't win the vote are pleased. “I heard that from some of the shareholders,” says the manager. “They're happy that they were a part of the process.”

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