By Sarah Trefethen
The star-studded ritual that is the NYU Schack Institute’s annual Capital Markets conference went on as planned last Wednesday, in spite of the devastation wreaked on the city by Hurricane Sandy and the snowflakes and strong winds of a nor’easter swirling outside.
And when some of the city’s top developers gathered for the event’s culminating panel (“We are the Golden Apple,” it’s called,) they were eager to discuss the elephant in the ballroom. “Our industry is going to be at the forefront of how we reimagine this city, and it’s a big question,” said William C. Rudin, of Rudin Management Company.
Once the humanitarian fallout of Hurricane Sandy has been addressed, the developers argued, the city should turn its attention to planning for future storms.
New construction can be built to withstand flooding and severe weather events, according to Stephen M. Ross, of the Related Companies. Related’s Hudson Yard development — if it existed — would have ridden out the storm with ease, he said, because it will be built on a raised platform above the old rail yards.
“But when you look back you see we have a city with a lot of older buildings a lot of older infrastructure, and the issues are significant,” Ross said. “How are we going to deal with those issues to make sure we’re not in the position we’re in today?”
New rules and regulations will be part of the solution, according to Ross.
“It’s going to cost a lot of money but I think New York is, you know, if they can do it in New Orleans we can certainly do it in New York,” he said.
The buildings of the World Trade Center development have their critical systems installed above the level of the flood waters, said Larry A. Silverstein, of Silverstein Properties. “Seven’s stuff is way up high… we were lucky in that regard.”
But much of the rest of downtown was not so fortunate. As of Monday afternoon, 29 percent of lower Manhattan’s office space was still closed because of the storm, according to the data beavers at Jones Lang Lasalle. At the time of last week’s panel, that percentage was over on third.
“The truth of the matter is, to put back what is there today doesn’t make any sense,” Silverstein said.
“It’s something that clearly is going to need intense focus. Because what you got as a result of the storm is $50 billion or $60 billion or $70 billion of property damage — nobody knows exactly what it is and we won’t know for a while. But the impact on human beings the impact on life — it’s a tragedy what people are going through today.”
The panelists went on to review a typical range of concerns, from the need for political leadership to the cost of construction in the city, but there was little concern thay challenges — from climate change and federal taxes to organized labor — would not be overcome.
“I learned a long time ago: with all New York’s problems, never bet against New York,” Silverstein said.