Daily digest: NYC Buildings commissioner Eric Ulrich resigns, RIBA names a new chief executive, and more


Daily digest: NYC Buildings commissioner Eric Ulrich resigns, RIBA names a new chief executive, and more

Valerie Vaughan-Dick, incoming chief executive of RIBA. (Courtesy RIBA)

Happy Friday! Below you’ll find a handful of newsworthy odds-and-ends curated by the AN edit team for your end-of-week perusal.

And two important reminders as we wrap up the workweek: First, don’t forget to set back your clocks (hello again darkness) come 2 a.m. Sunday. And second, if early in-person voting is available in your neck of the woods and you haven’t already, please take the time this weekend to get your ballot in.

NYC Department of Buildings commissioner resigns as involvement in gambling probe comes to light

Shortly after reports surfaced that he was questioned in an illegal gambling probe, Eric Ulrich, a former City Council member from Queens who serves as the current New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) commissioner, has stepped down from his post. He had been appointed to the role by Mayor Eric Adams this past May.

In addition to being questioned, news reports published earlier this week revealed that Ulrich’s cellphone had also been confiscated as part of the ongoing investigation led by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office into his possible ties to organized crime and illegal gambling associated with Aldo’s, a pizzeria in the Ozone Park section of Queens.

“This morning, Eric Ulrich tendered his resignation as DOB commissioner in an effort to, in his words, avoid ‘unnecessary distraction for the Adams administration,’” said City Hall spokesman Fabien Levy said in a statement shared by Gothamist. “We have accepted his resignation, appreciate him taking this step, and wish him well. We have no further knowledge of any investigation and, out of respect for his and his family’s privacy, have nothing further to add.”

Ulrich’s exact role in the probe is not known although sources speaking to the New York Times said that it pertains to activities that took place before he joined the Adams administration. As detailed by Gothamist, Ulrich, a Republican, has made local headlines in the past regarding gambling.

The DOB’s First Deputy Commissioner Kazimir Vilenchik, also a recent Adams appointee, will serve as acting commissioner following the resignation of Ulrich. City Hall has said that the DA investigation and Ulrich’s resignation will not impact day-to-day business of the DOB, a massive city agency employing more than 2,000 workers that enforces building and zoning code regulations, issues building permits, responds to structural emergencies, and much more.

H/t to Gothamist, New York Times

RIBA names Valerie Vaughan-Dick as new chief executive following exit of Alan Vallance

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has announced that Valerie Vaughn-Dick, who currently serves as chief operating officer at the Royal College of General Practitioners, will step into the role of chief executive beginning in the new year. Vaughn-Dick replaces Allan Vallance, who announced he would be stepping down in April to join the Chartered Insurance Institute. Vallance had served as chief executive of since 2016 and guided RIBA through what proved to be a turbulent period—one complete with financial woes, presidential scandals, geopolitical upheavals, and, of course, the pandemic—for the 188-year-old professional organization, whose members elected a new president, Muyiwa Oki, in August.

Said Vaughan-Dick:

“I am delighted to be joining RIBA at such an exciting time in its development and to being part of the transition to an even more effective business, where sustainability is top of the agenda.  In this post-pandemic and financially challenging era, the industry needs an agile and dynamic membership body to provide leadership and support on the issues that matter most to the profession and the public. I look forward to working with the Board, Council and the expert staff team to help deliver RIBA’s ambitious plans and ensure that RIBA members are appropriately represented, and their contributions widely recognised.”

Adrian Dobson and Pamela Harding have served as interim CEOs following Vallance’s surprise departure and will hand over the reins to Vaughan-Dick on January 9. In addition to naming its new chief executive this week, RIBA also named Robbie Turner as its new director of diversity and inclusion. Turner replaces Marsha Ramroop, who resigned in March and was the first person to serve in that role at RIBA.

The Los Angeles Times to bid adieu to downtown printing plant 

The Olympic Boulevard printing plant in Downtown Los Angeles that has served as home (in recent years the leased home) to the Los Angeles Times’ manufacturing operations since the late 1980s will be shuttered at the end of next year with plans to transform the 26-acre site into—not a big surprise here—a soundstage complex for film and television production. The lease held by the Times at the sprawling property expires at the end 2023. In a year-and-a-half, the paper will begin printing at a new facility in partnership with the Southern California News Group. Per the Times, 170 employees currently work at the Olympic printing plant; newsroom operations and the paper’s print schedule will reportedly not be impacted by the forthcoming production shift.

“We have had a long-term lease in place, but multiple factors prevent us from continuing to print at [Olympic], including a dramatically changed real estate market, declining volume of printing and the landlord’s intention to redevelop the property,” explained Chris Argentieri, president and chief operating officer of the L.A. Times. “The pandemic accelerated these trends.”

The Olympic facility was purchased in 2019 for $240 million by New York–based Atlas Capital Group. Last year, the developer revealed its plans to convert the property into a film and television production hub, complete with 17 soundstages. That development is expected to complete in 2016.

Currently based in the city of El Segundo, the LA Times is owned by billionaire biotech investor Patrick Soon-Shiong, who acquired the esteemed, 141-year-old publication in 2018 from Tribune Publishing Company (formerly TRONC, Inc.)

Massive tunnel beneath Niagara falls now open for tours

For the first time in history, a nearly 2,200-foot-long tunnel buried deep beneath Niagara Falls (on the Canadian side) can now be explored by the public as part a tour launched this past summer that gives visitors an inside glimpse of the decommissioned Niagara Parks Power Station. Per CNN, the power station was in operation from 1905 until 2006 and remains the world’s only fully intact hydroelectric plant of its era.

Considering that the tunnel is buried 180 feet underground, Niagara Parks recommends bundling up appropriately and donning comfortable footwear. While the massive, century-plus-old tunnel itself serves as the main attraction, at the end of the cavernous space a new viewing platform has also been constructed, offering guests “unprecedented access to a new perspective of the lower Niagara River with unparalleled views of both the Horseshoe and American Falls.” Visitors will descend to the tunnel its spray-tastic new platform via a glass-walled elevator, which is also sure to be a popular draw within itself.

More info on the tour and tunnel can be found here.

H/t to CNN

Cornell AAP launches new, New York City-based degree program in Advanced Urban Design

Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning (AAP) has introduced a Master of Science, Advanced Urban Design program (M.S. AUD) at the Gensler Family AAP NYC Center in Manhattan. Described as offering a “specialized course of study at the intersection of urban systems, ecologies, technologies, and data in order to ask big questions, to address contemporary wicked problems, and to invigorate public realms,” the intensive design research program is directed by Jesse LeCavalier and supported by Cornell AAP faculty active in NYC and at the Gensler Center.

The M.S. AUD is designated as a STEM program in Architectural and Building Sciences/Technology, and is open to those holding a professional Bachelor of Architecture degree, a professional Master of Architecture degree, or a professional degree in adjacent design fields. Students with professional or terminal degrees in related design fields will also be considered. As noted on the program page, the M.S. AUD “supports citizen-urbanists interested in making a difference through design in pursuit of new forms of engaged spatial practice” and graduates “will be agents of urban change, equipped with advanced skills and with expanded knowledge to apply those skills in meaningful ways.”

More info can be found here.