By Konrad Putzier
One of Williamsburg’s latest hotels is being built in Poland. You read that right. And a developer on the Bowery may soon follow its lead.
Polcom Modular, a Polish modular construction firm, is assembling the modular units for a 254-room pod hotel at 626 Driggs Avenue. Once assembled, the units will be shipped to New York and installed in July or August, according to developer Charles Blaichman. Construction is expected to finish by the first quarter of 2016.
People familiar with the matter told Real Estate Weekly that Polcom is also in talks to deliver modular units for the planned 19-story CitizenM hotel at 185-189 Bowery, developed by Brack Capital Real Estate (BCRE).
A BCRE spokesperson declined to comment and Polcom did not respond to requests for comment. Polcom has previously built the modular units for three other CitizenM hotels – two in London and one in Amsterdam.
Blaichman, who is developing the Williamsburg hotel with Waterbridge Capital and Ironstate Development, said he picked Polcom because of its experience with hotel construction. “They weren’t cheaper, but they have vast experience in doing hotel interiors,” he explained. “They had really thought out the engineering part – it was very similar to what we were interested in.”
Blaichman added that the developers had initially been looking at modular manufacturers in the U.S., when Polcom’s representatives contacted them and asked if they might be interested in working together. He added that shipping the units from Poland is cheaper than having them delivered from Indiana — the location of Polcom’s U.S. competitor for the contract.
The hotel will be run by BD Hotels, and is designed by Garrison Architects.
Polcom’s arrival could be the harbinger of a new era of modular construction in New York City.
Although the technique has grown in popularity in recent years, it is still a costly and somewhat unreliable niche product. For example, Forest City Ratner’s modular housing project by the Barclays Center in Brooklyn has been delayed for months over cost over-runs and technical difficulties.
At a recent panel hosted by the Institute of Architect’s New York chapter (AIANY), leading architects complained that the slow progress of modular construction is in part due to the industry’s small scale and fragmentation.
“The reason (modular construction) doesn’t grow is because (manufacturers) are wedded to the idea of moving the largest possible modules down highways,” said David Wallance, a senior associate at FXFOWLE Architects.
He claimed that the high cost of transporting large modules has trapped manufacturers in local markets and prevented them from unlocking economies of scale. As a result, he argued, the handful of modular manufacturers in the north east are all relatively small and expensive mom-and-pop shops.
The solution, according to Wallance, is to build all modules in the shape and size of shipping containers, allowing for cheaper transportation. In effect, Wallance envisions a future where modular units can be cheaply assembled on an industrial scale and then transported to New York City by boat.
The Williamsburg pod hotel at 626 Driggs Avenue appears to be a first step towards that future.