Friday Reading: New Domino, The Movie; The Battle For 112 West 34th Street; Green Ghost Houses Of The Tennessee Valley

Friday Reading is back, with a much-loathed gbNYC bugaboo/development getting a star turn on film, a real estate dispute over a green retrofit in Midtown, and some not-very-spooky ghost houses.

As we continue to do our best to get back up to speed here at gbNYC — it’s not easy, given that we’re adding new buildings to re:gbnyc, our new real estate side as well as, you know, doing our other jobs — some stories will continue to fall through the cracks. These are not those stories, however. These are stories that are interesting enough to earn a spot in Friday Reading, a gbNYC feature and one of the most prestigious three-story end-of-the-week semi-regular recurring blog series on the green internets. The competition is heated, as you can imagine. At any rate, three things to read, at your leisure, before we get back to business as usual next week.

  • At this point, it’s fair to say that we at gbNYC are on the record when it comes to New Domino. The ham-fisted mega-development on Williamsburg’s East River waterfront is not a gbNYC favorite. There’s the fact that it’s about as un-green a residential mega-development as one can find in NYC right now. There’s the underhanded, high-handed ugliness of the way in which New Domino was developed, and how that in turn reflects on the broader failure of the Bloomberg administration to hold mega-developers to account for just about anything. All of that, and presumably more. But while New Domino seems to be full-steam ahead — 1,400 parking spots and paucity of affordable apartments and so depressingly on — the contentious development process will at least not go undocumented. Hopefully. At The L Magazine, Henry Stewart interviews Meghan Sperry, the producer behind an in-production documentary on the New Domino development. “Domino exemplifies the complex and controversial process of real estate development in New York and how the current system is failing the majority of New Yorkers,” Sperry tells Stewart. “Williamsburg has experienced the negative impacts of excessive luxury development more than any other neighborhood in the city. Average rents have doubled there in the last ten years and over 10,000 industrial jobs have been lost, yet developers, politicians, and special interests continue to push these mega-projects through.”
  • When Peter and Anthony Malkin, the latter being the man behind the ambitious and admirable green retrofit at the Empire State Building, took over the lease on the 26-story office tower at 112 West 34th Street, the building was nothing much to look at. After the Malkins’ W&H Properties completed an $81 million renovation that included a new energy-efficient glass curtain wall and overhauled building management systems, 112 West 34th Street was Energy Star certified, and the renovation itself was up for a prestigious Pinnacle Award. But while the Malkins should be celebrating a job well done, they’re instead litigating a lawsuit against building owner Charles Cohen, 112 West 34th Street’s owner. Cohen is claiming that the Malkins did not have the right to add that curtain wall — or anything else — under the terms of a lease dating back to 1963, and to kick the Malkins off the lease. At which point Cohen would be able to find a new tenant for a building suddenly worth far more than it was just a few years ago. In the New York Times, Charles V. Bagli tells the story of how one of Manhattan’s more impressive new green retrofits wound up in court. “In concept, this dispute is not all that different from when a landlord tries to evict a tenant for unauthorized alterations, like painting the walls black or installing a washing machine. But in scale, this dispute is much greater,” Bagli writes. “Few could have imagined the phenomenal increase in Manhattan property values that would take place in the 47 years after the 34th Street lease was signed… One real estate broker, who requested anonymity for fear of becoming embroiled in the battle, said that if the lease could be renegotiated today, Mr. Cohen could easily get $9.5 million a year, which is more than 10 times what he is getting.”
  • Finally, from the very excellent Good Magazine — which you might as well subscribe to, since it costs almost nothing and is (as noted earlier) very excellent — comes an intriguing story by Nikhil Swaminathan about some vacant houses in Wolf Creek, Tennessee. What sets these empty new construction homes across from the innumerable other new construction empty homes in the Southeast is that they’re operated by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s wonderfully named ZEBRAlliance (That’s Zero Energy Building Research Alliance) program as laboratories for finding, creating and incentivizing greater efficiencies in home design. “Like the driverless Google cars zooming along California roadways, the Wolf Creek houses function autonomously; they are unpopulated labs in an intriguing experiment about energy efficiency that will be simulating the national average of energy consumption, day-in and day-out, for over two years,” Swaminathan writes. “The rationale behind the research is simple: 40 percent of the nation’s carbon footprint comes from its buildings. In order to reach President Obama’s ambitious goal of reducing emissions by more than 80 percent by 2050, finding cost-effective ways of tamping down home energy use is a must. For their part, the ORNL researchers are monitoring 250 channels of data being spewed out of each of these houses to figure out where consumers, homebuilders, materials manufacturers, and even appliance-makers can most affordably lower their impact.”

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gbNYC is a multi-disciplinary consulting and real estate services firm. In addition to representing office tenants and commercial buyers in leasing and acquisitions, we also provide innovative consulting solutions from a unique, green building perspective. We advise on green building financial incentives, comment on proposed green building marketing strategies, author white papers, treatises, and market analyses, organize seminars on the LEED process and professional accreditation, and provide advice and analysis on green building risk management and the overall state of green real estate, leasing, and construction, in New York City and beyond.

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