New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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Great Neck Lobby Appeals to Two Generations

Tom Soter in Bricks & Bucks

Great Neck, Long Island

Redoing the Lobby

Have an unruly class of students? That's nothing next to dealing with the potential problems from unit-owners during a lobby rehab, which most experts concede is one of the single most hot-button issues in cooperatives and condominiums. The old manager's joke sums it up: if you want to get full attendance at your annual meeting, then announce you're redoing the lobby.

Consider age and taste issues. Green, who faced her share of willful individuals during 37 years of teaching in public schools, knew there was a split in the resident's view of the public areas. "We have a varied population here — different ethnicities, different age groups, single people, old people," Green acknowledges, noting: "To keep up with this century, it was time to redo the place. Particularly for the young people — the young families. They were feeling that the place had a dated look. We wanted something fresh and contemporary."

"Many of the people in the building are young, but many of the people on the board have been there for years," observes Tina Tilzer, principal in Arts & Interiors, the firm that worked on the recent lobby and hallway at Cameo Plaza. "That was the tricky part about the building, that the people wanted a younger look, a newer updated look."

First step: research. The initial step would be to set up a design committee to research the options, which generally means finding a professional to do the job. In this case, the board acted as the de facto design committee, with Green taking the lead in guiding it along. "My experience as a teacher helped me in dealing with all the people involved," admits Green.

The board interviewed five different decorators before settling on Tilzer, because, Green notes, "Tina showed us a design that was the freshest and most contemporary." Then, at its first meeting with Tilzer as decorator, Green suggested that the group invite in some residents to the next session.

Listen to other voices. That suggestion came about when Green, who is retired and is a familiar presence in the building, heard rumblings from the younger residents about the public spaces being dated. After a building-wide gathering to announce the lobby project, Tilzer recalls, "There were some interest from three young men who have families here. They asked if they could sit in on a meeting to offer their opinions." Green and the board said, "Sure."

"In my experience," Tilzer says, "that's an unusual step to take, but it was appropriate considering the concerns everyone had."

The move showed how savvy Green and her fellow board members could be. Rather than being defensive, they co-opted potential complaints by having potential dissidents sitting in on the creative process — not making the ultimate decision, but having some input nonetheless. "We wanted to be sure that it was a look that the younger people would like, too," says Green.

The owners want a change. Carrying that idea even further, the board had another meeting with all the unit-owners. "This was after we had met a few times and worked out the materials and the design we were going to use," says Tilzer. "We had a meeting where we presented what we were going to do. It was not a meeting where any decisions were made but one were we explained what we were doing."

Although Tilzer says that most of the residents expressed approval of what was planned, a number of unit-owners "strongly suggested that we do something different with the floors. It was that old brick style floor — ceramic — and we ripped it up. They wanted a newer look. That brick flooring dated the whole building."

Tilzer says Green was "100 percent hands-on" throughout the entire project, and adds praise for superintendent Esco Nisic, who became a kind of project manager. He supervised every installation and contacted Tilzer if anything seemed amiss.

For her part, Green notes that everyone on the board played a role, and reports that Tilzer "took care of everything. She handled the contractors and got the bids. As the decorator, she bought everything," subject to board approval. Notes Green: "She had something for the lobby that we thought was a little bit too light in color, for instance; we changed that. Then she also wanted to spend a little more on the lobby than we thought we needed. We simplified that."

The project, which began in November 2014 and ended in June 2015, came in on schedule and on budget at $240,000, which was drawn from the reserves.

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