The much-despised sidewalk shed has a lot in common with the weather. Everybody complains about it, but nobody ever does anything. That may be changing.
Ben Krall, CEO of a company called Urban Umbrella, is in the business of making sidewalk sheds that are works of art – at least compared to the plywood and steel eyesores that now cover 300 miles of city sidewalks, mandated protection for pedestrians when work is being performed on a building’s exterior. And Krall says that, after some stiff initial resistance, co-op and condo boards are waking up to the benefits of the more attractive – and more expensive – sheds produced by Urban Umbrella.
“What we’re seeing is that co-op boards and shareholders will get together and agree to pay for it out of the monthly maintenance,” Krall tells Habitat. “We’re doing a co-op now on East 66th Street that has two high-end retailers on the ground floor. They’re trying to make the building more pleasant for residents – and also protect the business of their commercial tenants.”
He adds, “The majority of inquiries I receive every day are from building owners who want to keep their ground-floor commercial tenants happy. A lot of building owners – both rental landlords and co-op and condo boards – are old school. But times are changing. When we started this business in 2016, nobody thought our sheds were necessary.”
At 20 West 22nd Street, an Urban Umbrella shed sports white columns, LED lights, and a translucent ceiling that lets the sun shine in. “It looks like a work of art," Robert Finkelstein, a broker for the building’s managing agent ABS Partners Real Estate, tells Crain’s. “Because it is.”
Another Urban Umbrella shed was installed while finishing touches were completed on a new Marriott Hotel near Times Square. "It wouldn't have been good for the Marriott brand or for us to open with a green plywood shed in front," says Chris Lewis of hotel owner and operator OTO Development.
"There is an alternative to what everyone is sick of seeing all over the city," says Urban Umbrella's designer Andres Cortes. "There's no law that says sidewalk sheds have to be ugly."
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