Despite complaints for months of an errant crane and other unsafe work conditions at the Trump Soho construction site; despite biweekly inspections by the city’s Department of Buildings; despite a previous tragedy on another of the general contractor’s worksites; despite all these warnings and precautions, it was not until the death of Yuriy Vanchytskyy, a construction worker from Greenpoint who fell 40 stories when a portion of the 42nd floor collapsed on January 12, that Bovis Lend Lease’s crane fell silent on the 46-story project. But they are still at large throughout the city.
Construction accidents are nothing new. And though their numbers had fallen in the city in recent years, last year they shot up by 83 percent. Tony Avella, chair of the city council’s zoning and franchise subcommittee and an outspoken critic of the Department of Buildings, sees this as the result of two factors.
On the one hand, Avella said, there are so many projects underway that talented contractors are spread thin and hard to come by, and on the other hand, there is such pressure to complete these projects before the market grows worse that the breakneck pace has created an untenably dangerous work environment. “When will this city learn?” he asked. “When will this city learn to put safety before money?” It is not just small projects but major ones as well, including incidents at the New York Times Building, One Bryant Park, and the new Goldman Sachs headquarters in Battery Park City.
The city’s Department of Buildings is still trying to determine the exact cause of the collapse at the Trump Soho at the corner of Spring and Varrick streets. If numerous reports are correct— it is still not official that it was the project’s crane carrying a massive concrete hamper that caused the accident—it would not be the first issue with the crane. Since the project began rising in July, there have been complaints to the department at least once a month since September and as recently as January 5, a week before the accident, that the crane was erratic, either hitting nearby buildings or dropping debris.
At least eight previous violations had been filed concerning the crane by the department, though it was allowed to continue “once the contractor [had] a preventative plan in place,” spokesperson Kate Lindquist explained. Lindquist said they had been placed under increased scrutiny but appeared to be in compliance. “Buildings has been and will continue to step up enforcement at the site,” she said. Despite the department’s redoubled efforts, Lindquist could not explain how the accident happened with inspectors on the watch.
Bovis Lend Lease was also the contractor at 130 Liberty Street, the former Deutsche Bank Building that was heavily damaged on 9/11. When a fire broke out there (“Many Question in Ground Zero Fire,” AN 14_09.05.2007), two died in part because a faulty standpipe robbed them of necessary water to combat the blaze. The standpipe was missed during a routine inspection. Calls for comment to the Trump Organization and Bovis Lend Lease were not returned.
Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and one of the loudest critics of the Trump Soho, said the city has long been complicit in the disastrous handling of the project. He decries the deal cut by the city council and mayor that allows the condominium project to masquerade as a hotel by restricting the number of days it can be occupied to 100.
Adding insult to injury, while a lawsuit filed by the Soho Alliance and a claim to the Board of Standards and Appeals wend their way through the city’s bureaucracy, the project has hurtled ahead at a pace of two stories a week, which many believe contributed to the dangers on the site. The further along the project is, the harder it becomes to defeat or overturn. As Berman wrote in an open letter, “This building was already a monument to greed and hubris; now, sadly, it will be a monument to tragedy as well.”
Ali, a hot dog vendor who has worked for years at the corner of Broome and Varick streets, heard but did not witness the collapse firsthand. But he has seen other accidents, such as the flight of a half-dozen plywood panels off the top of the building, which damaged several cars nearby. He has a simple explanation for the troubles plaguing the project: “I think people jinxed the building. They didn’t want it in the first place.”