From the Jody Kriss Blog: 3 Cool Gowanus Canal Happenings

Although the Jody Kriss Blog tends to cover real estate news, things affecting housing market, and developments by Jody Kriss and East River Partners, from time to time it also covers news and info related to New York City. Right now there are some really exciting things happening with the Gowanus Canal, and they affect everyone in the surrounding areas.

Background on the Gowanus Canal

Most New Yorkers learn about the Gowanus Canal very quickly upon arrival to the city, but it is one of those things tourists don’t often get to see. Like the rest of New York City, Brooklyn was booming in the 1800s, and the area around Gowanus Creek was surrounded by farms and mills. To help further development in the area and make it easier for companies to transport goods, officials decided to widen the creek into a canal. There were a lot of different plans proposed to ensure that the nearly two-mile stretch of water would remain fresh and clean, but ultimately officials settled on the plan that would save the most money- simply hoping that the tides would keep the water fresh. Construction was completed in 1869 and the companies that congregated on the banks of the Gowanus Canal immediately started dumping waste into the water, including things like mercury, lead, and coal tar, and even raw sewage found its way in. Since then, many proposals have been made for cleanup efforts, but all have failed. The water remains one of the most polluted areas in the entire United States, filled with dangerous pathogens and so low in oxygen that it cannot sustain life or a healthy ecosystem.

1. The Floating Garden

Last fall, a “floating garden” of sorts was unleashed on the Gowanus. The garden is built from numerous materials, including bamboo and coconut matting, with various plants carefully potted inside wide metal pipes that are filled with plastic water bottles. Part of it is solar-powered, as it desalinates water from the canal and also collects rainwater. The designers hope it will help scrub the canal clean, but it’s still very much an experimental project.

2. The 2,000 Gallon Project

Rainwater is an ongoing issue, as it tends to push more sewage into the Gowanus. Although there is a sewage tank below the canal to collect rainwater, there are times it cannot handle the deluge and it overflows. In an effort to catch the water before it hits the tank, developers have started the 2,000 Gallon Project. The concept is very simple. They’re filling several dumpsters with soil and plants and placing them in areas around the Gowanus. Each one should be able to hold 2,000 gallons of water.

3. The First Street Basin Restoration

Between Carroll and Third Streets, and behind the abandoned Brooklyn Rapid Transit Powerhouse (aka the Batcave), is an area that was once a basin attached to the Gowanus. Although no one is quite sure when it fell into disuse and was filled in with dirt, experts believe it was around the 1950s.  As part of the overall cleanup plan for the Gowanus, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced that they plan to restore the basin. They expect to remove around 1,000 truckloads of contaminated dirt and will add 475 more feet of water onto the Gowanus. The catch is, nobody is quite sure what’s down there below the layers of dirt, and the EPA has archaeologists on staff to help them manage any interesting finds, including shipwrecks, according to DNA Info.

The Gowanus Canal cleanup projects are staggered out over a period of several years. Construction on the basin isn’t even slated to begin until 2018, and they plan to keep it blocked off from the main canal until cleanup is complete to avoid recontamination. In the meantime, keep checking back with the Jody Kriss Blog for future updates on the Gowanus project, real estate news, updates on Jody Kriss and East River partner projects, and more.

From the Jody Kriss Blog: Study Shows Airbnb Still Hurting NYC

Jody Kriss and East River Partners often choose to restore buildings throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn, simply because there is a huge need for housing in the area. With a bit of TLC from Jody Kriss and East River Partners, the older buildings can be brought back to life and modernized, so that they suit the needs of people today. A study that was just put out by the Housing Conservation Coordinators (HCC), a tenant advocacy group, as well as MFY Legal Services and BJH Advisors has just uncovered another reason why it’s so difficult for people to find decent housing in the prime boroughs- Airbnb.

HCC Says Airbnb is “Short Changing New York City”

The study, entitled “Short Changing New York City,” reveals that Manhattan and Brooklyn are the boroughs that have been hit the hardest by Airbnb’s short-term rentals. According to their research, about 60% of New York City’s housing is split between the two, but of Airbnb’s more than 51,000 rentals, in excess of 90% are within Manhattan or Brooklyn. The researchers went so far as to declutter the data and only look at “Impact Listings.” In order for a rental to be included in their data, it had to either be a rental of a full house (versus single rooms in a home), be commercial (fit criteria that suggested owners were using it as an income source), or be a regular rental (met frequent booking guidelines).

5 Neighborhoods are Taking the Brunt

Not only are Manhattan and Brooklyn being massively affected by the rentals, but five “macro-neighborhoods,” in particular, account for 53% of all New York City Airbnb listings.

  1. East Village/ Lower East Side
  2. Chelsea/ Hell’s Kitchen
  3. West Village/ Greenwich Village/ SoHo
  4. Williamsburg/ Greenpoint/ Bushwick
  5. Bed Stuy / Crown Heights

Airbnb Contributes to the “Housing Emergency”

When rental vacancy rates fall below 5%, the city considers it to be a housing emergency. Once it hits this point, people become displaced and face hardships. Right now, the vacancy rates are somewhere between 3.4% and 3.6% and they have been below 5% for decades. However, if just the high impact Airbnb listings were put on the market for actual residents to rent, it’s estimated that housing stock would increase by 1%.

To be clear, they aren’t talking about the average citizen who goes on vacation and rents out their home while they’re away, or the person who sublets a room, or even the people who occasionally sublet a room to someone on vacation. These stats are only related to the people who are using their homes to gain a regular income by doing short-term rentals. In the West Village/ Greenwich Village/ SoHo area, vacancy rates currently sit at 2.9%. Reintroducing just the impact listings in the area, back into the rental market, would bring the vacancy rate up to 5%. In the Chelsea/ Hell’s Kitchen neighborhoods, it would climb from 4.2% to 5.7%.

For many, these statistics will be no surprise. It was uncovered back in 2014 that more than 70% of all NYC Airbnb listings were illegal. When Airbnb was finally willing to part with their data in 2015, they culled more than 1,500 listings beforehand. It’s clear there is no quick and easy answer for the city’s housing issues. However, Jody Kriss and East River Partners will continue working to revitalize neighborhoods and restore historic buildings, adding much-needed housing stock back into these hard-hit areas.

From the Jody Kriss Blog: 2 Big Reasons to Buy NYC Property Now

From the rates in Brooklyn, where Jody Kriss and East River Partners commonly work, to the Brexit, there’s a lot going on and affecting New York City right now. Numerous economists and real estate experts say it’s the best possible time to make a purchase in the Big Apple, but it may also be a challenging time to get into the market for those who could benefit the most. Here’s a quick look from the Jody Kriss Blog at two big things affecting the market, and why you may want to grab a property now if you’re able.

1. Values are Expected to Climb, Especially in Brooklyn and Queens

Ingo Winzer recently put together a great piece for Forbes Magazine that highlights the changing market in NYC. While we all love Manhattan, it has become difficult people to enter. This one of the major reasons why Jody Kriss and East River partners routinely select development projects in Brooklyn. It’s no longer a fallback plan when Manhattan doesn’t work out. Rather, it’s a premier option, with business professionals and families seeking out iconic brownstones throughout the borough. Winzer points out that the healthcare industry is booming as well and drawing people into the area. He estimates that Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx will see a 20% population increase in the next three years alone. He’s advising people to invest in entire residential buildings and commercial spaces, but the population increases will raise the value of property as a whole, making now the ideal time to purchase.

2. Brexit May Bring More Foreign Investors In

Right now, it’s very difficult to say just how Brexit will affect the global economy. In the immediate aftermath of the announcement of Brexit, the British pound dropped 20% overnight and many experts think the economy will be slow to recover. This makes American properties all the more tempting to foreign buyers because of America’s stability. Primarily in NYC, where property values are increasing. It’s expected that many of those who might have otherwise invested in the UK will be looking to the US for more constancy. The caveat to this, however, is that many have their funds tied up in pounds, which will make purchasing more challenging now that their money doesn’t go as far. As Brexit continues, the demand for property will increase due to these foreign buyers, which will also drive the cost of NYC property up.

Whether you’re considering buying one of the homes that Jody Kriss and East River Partners has thoughtfully restored or are looking for property elsewhere in the Big Apple, it seems that all sources are saying now is the time to make a purchase. It’s ideal for investors, as property values are expected to drastically climb, and a great time for individuals to obtain a new home, simply because the prices may well be as low as they’re going to be for many years to come.

Jody Kriss Blog: Why 1/3+ of Manhattan’s Buildings Couldn’t Be Built Today

Jody Kriss, developer with East River Partners, works primarily on restoring historic structures across Brooklyn and Manhattan. As most New Yorkers know, a lot of these buildings do not comply with today’s building code requirements, and they need quite a bit of work before they’re ready for a modern family to move into. A team of writers from the New York Times recently reported data that reveals how much codes have changed, and they realized the differences are extensive. By today’s standards, around 40-percent of the buildings that currently exist in Manhattan would never come to fruition if the developers tried to get permits to construct them today. Here’s a brief overview of some of the buildings that would be nixed, and why.

Many Buildings are Too Tall

The Financial District’s Equitable Building, which sits at 120 Broadway, is truly a marvel. However, it’s also a massive 538 feet tall. It’s said it cast a seven-acre shadow when it was constructed in 1915. Many of the buildings in its vicinity were much shorter at the time, and received no sunshine at all as a result. Over worry that structures like the Equitable Building would become the norm, the city decided to enact its first building codes. These codes addressed height, as well as “setbacks,” which mandated that later buildings would have to have a tapered shape, or steps, as they rose in height. Manhattan is packed with buildings that don’t fit today’s standards, especially on the Upper East and Upper West sides.

Other Buildings are Too Dense

The housing shortage in New York City has caused some serious headaches over the years, which Jody Kriss and East River Partners have corrected on many of their projects- offering the spacious floorplans that that are necessary for comfortable living. However, many of the city’s older buildings still bear the markings of their age, and are overloaded with apartments in a feeble attempt to make space for everyone. These cramped living conditions led to numerous hazards, including fire dangers and general health concerns. Some of the most notable examples of this are referred to as “dumbbell tenements.” When the city mandated that builders incorporate a clean air source into every inhabitable room, they opted to keep the structures close together, while allowing just enough space for an air shaft between them. This enabled early builders to cram even more apartments in the tiniest footprint possible. The worst offenders for overcrowding are the West Village and Chelsea.

While these buildings add to the overall charm of New York City and give us a sense of nostalgia, the building codes have been put in place to help make the city more livable. This is, in part, why the work that Jody Kriss and East River Partners does is so important. By preserving the historic structures, NYC retains its unique vibe, but it also gains the high-quality living spaces that are in such short supply these days.

From the Jody Kriss Blog: Stabilized Rent to Freeze Again?

Jody Kriss of East River Partners focuses on rejuvenating neighborhoods and making some of New York City’s oldest treasures not only livable again, but with added luxurious touches, ideal for today’s modern professional. However, there is still much debate throughout the city on what must be done in regard to solutions for people who require simpler housing options. The New York City Rent Guidelines Board (NYCRGB) is about to make another momentous decision that could affect more than a million renters throughout the city, as well as landlords and owners of rent stabilized housing. The following Jody Kriss Blog gives a brief synopsis of the history, and perhaps future, of NYC’s rent freeze.

Rents Were Frozen on Subsidized Housing One Year Ago

As a globally-recognized business hub and a major entryway into the country, NYC has always struggled to provide enough homes for its citizens. In the past five years alone, the population has boomed 4.6%, according to the NYC Department of City Planning, adding 375,300 more residents. By their estimates, the city has not seen this kind of growth since the roaring 20s. At the same time, too few new homes are being added, and many of the existing structures are falling into various stages of disrepair. People genuinely struggle to find any kind of housing at all, which naturally increases the cost of housing. Arguments about the actual benefits of rent subsidized housing aside, more than one million people are taking advantage of the city’s programs, and have concerns that their rents will increase some to keep up with demand and the costs to keep the older buildings livable. Last year, the NYCRGB decided to freeze these rents, so people renewing their leases would not see an increase.

Rents May Be Frozen for One More Year

There will be a total of five public testimony hearings, the first of which will occur on June 9 in Jamaica, Queens. Others will be held in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Manhattan. The final vote of the NYCRGB will be held on June 27,  and proposals include another freeze on stabilized rent, or up to a 2% increase on one-year leases, while two-year leases could see a 0.5% to 3.5%  increase. On the one hand, landlord advocates had been hoping for relief, and a 4% to 6% hike, while many of the tenant groups are vying for a freeze, and some even requesting a reduction. The board that will make the final decision consists of a team of nine, chosen by Mayor Bill de Blasio, and includes former United States magistrate judge Kathleen Roberts as the Chair.

Jody Kriss and East River Partners will remain largely unaffected, regardless of the board’s decision. Instead, the developer plans to focus on creating more homes overall, to help minimize New York City’s shortage and give people more options that suit their lifestyles. “We have a lot of great projects in the works,” Jody Kriss said in a statement. “East River Partners will continue revitalizing communities and helping to bring back the integrity of the city’s historic buildings.”

Welcome To The Synagogue-Condo

If you lived here, you could be praying by now: Where New York real estate meets financially strapped congregations.

If there’s one story that sums up the changes afoot on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a once heavily Jewish neighborhood, it’s the saga surrounding the Anshei Meseritz synagogue.

The Orthodox shul at 415 E. Sixth St. is a relic of a time when “tenement” synagogues — so named for the narrow lots they inhabited — filled the neighborhood. But in recent years, faced with a shrinking membership, the congregation had been searching for a way to stay afloat.

Its salvation lay within its crumbling 100-year-old building.

While the Orthodox population in and around the Lower East Side has shrunk considerably, the value of the properties they own are skyrocketing. As New York City’s property market becomes a safe-deposit box for the world’s one percent, luxury residential buildings have become commonplace across the city, including once-downtrodden areas like the Lower East Side — today the average cost of a two-bedroom condo there is $2.35 million, according to StreetEasy.

In order to make ends meet, many houses of worship (churches, too) are striking deals with developers. Some have relinquished their air rights — allowing for construction atop their structures — or in some cases sold their buildings entirely to make way for demolition.


The exterior of the Anshei Meseritz synagogue, which has undergone a renovation and will soon have condos above the synagogue. (Wikimedia Commons)

These decisions are never easy — a building’s historic merit can add another layer to an already emotional and complicated transaction.

At Meseritz, its saga began in 2008, when the Kushner Companies seemed prepared to demolish the structure and build a six-story building, with two floors reserved for the synagogue. The plan drew protests from preservationists and pitted synagogue members against one another.

Eventually the building was saved from demolition — in 2012 it was designated part of a historic district, which meant the exterior had to remain intact.

But the congregation’s financial issues remained.

Enter East River Partners, a new developer with a plan that was something of a compromise: a hybrid synagogue-condo that preserves exterior details such as stained-glass windows and the original door, but is completely redone on the inside and with a new penthouse up top. When the building is completed in the next few months, the congregation, which has occupied the building since 1910, will return, taking the basement and ground-floor level. Atop the synagogue are three luxury condo apartments  — two with original stained-glass windows — ranging in price from $2.95 million to $4.395 million.

The developers have agreed to pay the congregation at least $20,000 annually for the next 198 years, in addition to a $600,000 payment up front and an $180,000 allowance to design and rebuild the sanctuary. The developer will keep profits from apartment sales.

Though the plan drew ire from some locals, the developers say they are more than happy with the outcome.

“It’s a terrific part of the history of Judaism in the city,” says Jody Kriss, president and co-founder of East River Partners. “It was important to the congregation and to the rabbi [who has since died], and a unique opportunity for us to keep the synagogue going.”

What’s more, the developers have received more recognition for the project than any they’ve done.

“It’s a creative use of the property,” Kriss says.

Such “creative uses”are often a win-win for the developer looking to make a buck and a synagogue struggling to pay for upkeep of increasingly expensive properties. But it’s not always smooth sailing.

The Young Israel of Manhattan on the Lower East Side had its 200-year-old building razed in 2010 to make way for a synagogue-condo hybrid. Its transaction coincided with the housing market collapse and the building never happened. An empty lot has stood in the spot for years, and the congregation has relocated to a nearby synagogue.

One problem, says developer Michael Bolla, is that synagogue board members are rarely well-versed in real estate deals this complicated. The Lower East Side can be a particularly tricky place, says Bolla, who was part of a group that converted the old Jewish Daily Forward building into condos several years ago.

“You have a lot of ex-communists doing commercialism,” he says. “The boards can be horribly difficult.”

Like Kriss, Bolla sees potential profit in keeping these buildings and their historical — and often beautiful — features somewhat intact. He estimates that about 20 percent of the people who moved into the old Forward building — actress Tatum O’Neal and an heir to the Versace fortune, among them — did so because of its historic significance. The last condo to sell there, in 2015, was a two-bedroom that sold for $2.5 million, according to StreetEasy.

Developers “don’t understand that these assets actually have more value when you restore them — they’re easier to sell than just boxes,” Bolla says. “There’s something to them that people have an emotional response to, and what sells real estate is emotion.”

“When you can link a project to a historical moment in time, especially if it’s a thing of great beauty, that can translate into a large profit,” he adds.

Lest you think the synagogue-to-condo conversion is only occurring on the Lower East Side, take a look at Lincoln Square Synagogue, a beacon of modern Orthodoxy on the Upper West Side. In 2013, the congregation moved 100 yards south to new digs after selling its original building, a 1970 travertine structure in need of repair, to a developer.

According to The New York Times, the synagogue struck a deal with American Continental Properties, a developer, for a land swap — 180 Amsterdam Ave. for 200 Amsterdam — and about $20 million to help finance the project. The synagogue’s original building still stands and already has switched hands. SJP Properties and Mitsui Fudosan America, Inc. now plan to build a 51-story luxury condominium tower with 112 residences on the site.


Shearith Israel — the oldest congregation in North America — is renovating its community house and converting part of the building to condos. (Gryffindor/Wikimedia Commons)

Shaare Zedek, a traditional egalitarian synagogue on W. 93rd Street, is about to embark on its own construction project, which will see its 1923 building demolished to make way for a 14-story construction. The bottom three floors will be for the synagogue and the top floors for condos.

Congregation Shearith Israel, the oldest Jewish congregation in North America, is in the midst of replacing its community house, which is next door to its landmark synagogue building. That building was demolished last year to make way for new construction which, according to PBDW Architects’ website, will include a residential portion consisting of  “three full-full floor apartments and a duplex incorporating the penthouse with views overlooking Central Park.”

The new community space will include a banquet room, classrooms and study spaces, as well as a new entrance to the synagogue, making the entire facility wheelchair accessible.

“In today’s changing landscape, synagogues, churches and most all houses of worship are searching for new funding opportunities to support their operation and their mission,” says the synagogue’s executive director, Barbara Reiss.

Additionally, Shearith Israel has a large collection of historic archives that need to be preserved, as well as four historic cemeteries in New York that need to be maintained.

“Our commitments go above and beyond the pressures all synagogues increasingly feel,” Reiss says.

“Our core mission is not real estate investment,” she says emphatically. “It’s serving the Jewish people.”

Original Source:

Jody Kriss Blog: Study Shows East NY is a Rehabber Hotspot

As a premier developer in New York City, Jody Kriss of East River partners is always looking for neighborhoods and residences that need a bit of work so they can be livable and the cross sections of the city vibrant communities once more.  Everyone comments on the housing shortage, but fails to cover is the number of structures that are dilapidated, but could serve as housing again with thoughtful design and implementation. A prime example of this is 415 East 6th Street, a historic synagogue that Jody Kriss and East River Partners carefully preserved, while helping the city gain more residential units.

The Center for NYC Neighborhoods recently published a study that shows East New York and Bedford-Stuyvesant opened up more similar opportunities for homebuyers than any other areas in 2015. Though the study is looking at it from a negative angle, there are a lot of positives that are being overlooked. The creation of new, modernized, and livable spaces, helps provide New Yorkers with more options than they had before, at a time when any type of housing is in short supply. Moreover, the homes that are being renovated are lacking, which is why home-rehabbers and developers are able to get them at fair prices and restore them. With that said, the amount of homes being put on the market again is a good thing for New York City, especially for those who have been living in crumbing spaces for so long. Overall, though, the Center for NYC Neighborhoods came up with some very interesting and reassuring information.

Many Neighborhoods Gained a Significant Number of Updated Properties

In the industry, a house flip is considered any home that is bought and sold again within a 12-month period. The agency tallied up neighborhoods all over NYC and made note of the places that received the most attention in terms of creating living spaces that provide a higher-quality of life for their residents.

  • 94 in East New York, Brooklyn
  • 91 in South Jamaica‐Baisley Park, Queens
  • 81 in St. Albans, Queens
  • 75 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn
  • 74 in Springfield Gardens, Queens

Developers are Also Earning Money and Fueling the Local Economy

Obviously, when dealing with home rehabbing projects or development, the labor and work must be sourced locally. So, as more homes are brought up to present standards, the local people have gainful employment, and the money earned by local developers goes right back into the community. Right now, specific areas are showing great improvements in value, which is why developers are able to see good returns.

  • 125% in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn
  • 117%  in Flatbush‐East, Brooklyn
  • 106% in Bushwick, Brooklyn
  • 106%  South Jamaica‐Baisley Park, Queens
  • 105% East New York, Brooklyn

For areas that have long been underserved in terms of livable, quality housing options, the results that the Center for NYC Neighborhoods put together for 2015 are fantastic. This is also a good time for home rehabbers and developers, as working on these types of projects is not only profitable, but beneficial for city growth as a whole.

From The Jody Kriss Blog to the NYSE: Happy 113th Birthday

Jody Kriss of East River Partners has the pleasure of visiting some of New York City’s finest historic buildings, as he searches for those that need TLC to bring them back to their former glory. Some of his favorites to restore are the city’s iconic brownstones, which are just as popular among families today as they were when they were built. However, today, the Jody Kriss Blog would like to pay homage to one of the Big Apple’s most recognizable commercial structures: The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) building.

18 Broad Street Opened in April of 1903

The NYSE has been around a lot longer than 113 years. At this point, the exchange has been in existence for 223 years in total, and 18 Broad Street is actually its 17th home. In 1792, the NYSE began with just 24 brokers agreeing to trade only amongst themselves, though the group naturally grew, and established the “New York Stock & Exchange Market Board” in 1817. Rapid growth and disasters, such as The Great Fire of  1835 that claimed the group’s last meeting point, caused it to shift venues repeatedly over the first half of its lifetime. By 1901, the NYSE began searching for an architect to create a one-of-a-kind-structure as its new home.

The Structure has Been Dubbed the Most Expensive Building in the Industry

Eight different architects came forward with unique concepts for the structure. Ultimately, George B. Post was selected, and demolition of the property’s existing structures began in 1901. The project was slated to run around $4 million, but after two years of construction, it topped out at close to $9 million, making it the most expensive building ever created for the securities industry. The massive trading floor was one of the largest spaces in the entire city at that time, with its 109-foot by 140-foot hall and ceilings stretching 72 feet into the air. The exterior was designed to be commanding, featuring six Corinthian columns and a marble façade. Its neoclassical architecture remains just as impactful today, and is instantly recognizable by people all over the globe. Oak and mahogany are layered in the opulent interior, with more than 400,000 feet of these and other woods incorporated into the design. Sparing no expense, 18 Broad Street is also one of the first buildings in the entire world to have been outfitted with an air conditioning system from its inception. Just shy of 20 years after opening its new home, the NYSE expanded into a second location at 11 Wall Street. Both buildings were added to the National Historic Landmarks registry in 1978.

“The New York Stock Exchange building is one of the finest in the world,” Jody Kriss said in an interview. “It’s a piece of our history that was built well and has persevered through the years.” Undoubtedly, generations to come will be awed by the impressive structure. Happy 113th birthday to 18 Broad Street!

From the Jody Kriss Blog: Review of the WTC Transportation Hub

With many successful development projects across NYC, Jody Kriss is no stranger to the city’s stunning architecture. Though Jody Kriss and East River Partners tend to focus on honoring the design of historic structures, their developments have one major thing in common with the new WTC Transportation Hub; mindfulness of modern elegance and opulence. But, did Santiago Calatrava’s Oculus deliver on expectations?

The Oculus Strayed from its Original Design

Calatrava, a seasoned architect from Spain, has a fantastic track record when it comes to designing transportation-related structures all over the globe. For many, rebuilding the WTC area has been a spiritual and emotional experience, and Calatrava intended to honor this with his initial concepts. Originally, the structure resembled a dove being released from a child’s hand and was expected to cost about $2.2 billion to create. Commissioned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, with input from the local police force and various other entities, Calatrava’s initial designs were repeatedly altered to address “security issues.” Back in 2005, Chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Anthony R. Coscia explained that the changes “were all done in a way that stayed faithful to the original vision,” but even then, New York Times reporter David W. Dunlap wasn’t buying it. “It may now evoke a slender stegosaurus more than it does a bird,” he wrote, and based on reactions from visitors to the completed structure, it seems he was spot on with his assessment.

Visitors are Divided on Opinion

The total building costs came to about $4 billion, which New York Times reporter Michael Kimmelman estimates is about twice the amount it took to see Grand Central Station come to fruition, when adjusting for inflation. He refers to Calatrava as a “one-trick pony,” and goes on to say “the Oculus reveals itself all at once from awkward, tongue-shaped balconies,” and adds “The trip downstairs becomes a letdown.” From bad to worse, he picks apart the Oculus, “In its scale, monotony of materials and color, preening formalism and disregard for the gritty urban fabric, the hub is the sort of object-building that might seem at home on the Washington Mall.”

Paul Goldberger of Vanity Fair provides a wholly different point of view, calling the Oculus “the exhilarating nave of a genuine people’s cathedral.” He believes that Calatrava’s design consists of “curving ribs of steel to make a space that is uplifting, full of light and movement, and capable of inspiring something that has been in particularly short supply at Ground Zero, which is hope.” It’s hard to believe that the two reporters are even discussing the same structure.

It seems as if Goldberger and Calatrava share the same sentiment: that this is a highly-unique and opulent structure, created expressly for the people of New York. Very few municipalities have invested in providing something so grand for average citizens. “This person who is coming to New York to work very hard, one day may be living in a very modest house and may also be working in a very modest job, but for me, this person is very important,” Calatrava explained in an interview with Architectural Digest. For him, the structure was about honoring hard-working people and showing them how important they are to the community, and inspiring hope with symbolism found throughout.

No matter where you stand on the matter, one thing is certain. The Oculus is a piece of art, open to interpretation and subjective to tastes. The debate over its beauty and message will linger on for generations.

Jody Kriss Guides: Obscure “Features” Found in NYC’s Historic Buildings

As a premier NYC developer, Jody Kriss visits a lot of New York’s older buildings to determine which ones have the best bones for luxury renovations. While the Big Apple is known for majestic skyscrapers and quaint brownstones, the fact that many of these structures have been in use for hundreds of years means that some seemingly obscure features can be found in the older abodes. Just as today’s iPhone would surely create raised eyebrows in the early 1900s, a lot of the “technology” of yesteryear boggles the minds of today’s homeowners. Of course, if you’re in the market for one of Jody Kriss’ luxury developments, you aren’t likely to come across any of these gems, but surely these “features” commonly found in NYC’s older buildings are things most of the modern world is happy to do without.

1) Interior Windows

Many of NYC’s older buildings have windows for seemingly no reason. They’ll commonly appear on interior walls of a home and may even be placed on a bedroom wall that faces a hallway or other interior room. While not great for privacy, the windows once served a valuable purpose. As tenement living took center stage in NYC, buildings became cramped and densely populated. This worsened the spread of serious illnesses, like tuberculosis. In 1901, city codes were rewritten so that all rooms would have some form of ventilation. Even though traditional windows that provide fresh air from the outside were more ideal, lawmakers put in a clause that allowed landlords to fulfill their legal obligations by installing interior windows between rooms. To this day, they’re also called “tuberculosis windows.”

2) Kitchen Baths

Occasionally, some NYC homes still sport bathtubs in the kitchen. This is a throwback from the same piece of legislation that spurred interior windows. The earliest structures were built before running water made its way into homes, so when the laws changed to stipulate that landlords had to provide running water, they’d make it simple and run a single line into the main living area or kitchen. In order to cut costs, people began adding bathtubs to their kitchens, just to take advantage of the plumbing. In 1929, additional legislation passed that stated “Every wash basin, bath, shower, sink and laundry tub shall be provided with an adequate supply of hot and cold water.” This further encouraged landlords to forego the additional work and expense of hosting bathtubs in the bathroom and the trend of kitchen baths continued for another 30 years or so.

3) Speaking Tubes

Anyone who has seen “The Boy” movie in theaters was no doubt left unsettled by the existence of listening devices in the walls. Believe it or not, these are real contraptions, installed in many older buildings across America. They’re called “speaking tubes” and were commonly used as a way to communicate with household staff prior to intercoms. Some homes also have them installed as a way to talk to visitors at the front door, perhaps from an upper floor landing.

4) Milk Doors

Many a renter has been left mind boggled by a small passage with a door, which is usually cut through an exterior wall near a service door. The spaces are large enough for a child to fit through, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in modern life where safety and security are concerns. These are generally called “milk doors” or “milk chutes,” and they were used as a depositary area for the milkman. Homeowners would leave their empty bottles inside to be picked up, and the milkman would replace them with fresh bottles. Sometimes, they were used for other types of deliveries, but it almost always related to food.

Most of these features were born from necessity of the time or were utilized to cut corners and costs when updating properties. Although you’re likely to find an intercom system in a project developed by Jody Kriss, it’ll be of the modern variety, and thankfully, all bathtubs are tucked away in bathrooms, which look more like private sanctuaries than family hubs. Not surprisingly, this tends to be preferred among today’s homebuyers.