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.

Historic East Village Synagogue Preserved by Jody Kriss and ERP

Jody Kriss and East River Partners have been quite active in NYC development. While their usual focus is on revitalizing the city’s beloved brownstones and preserving the Big Apple’s aging properties and energizing them with modern touches, the latest project is truly one-of-a-kind. The developers are working in the Lower East Side restoring the last remaining synagogue in a one-time Jewish shtetl.

Saving the East Village Synagogue

Before Jody Kriss and East River Partners came upon the Adas Yisroel Anshe Mezritch Synagogue, it was a far cry from its original luster. Founded by Polish settlers in 1910, the synagogue fell into disrepair over the years and was slated for demolition in 2012. Somehow, the building and its occupants muddled through, though the brickwork was left crumbling and the once stately building exposed to the elements due to broken windows. When the locks broke as well, worshippers put their faith in a higher power, and secured the doors with rope. Then, Rabbi Pesach Ackerman and Jody Kriss worked together to come up with a very unconventional plan.

Jody Kriss and East River Partners’ 415 East 6th Street

The building at 415 East 6th Street needed a lot of help to be restored. As a landmarked structure, it required an experienced and knowledgeable team to handle the renovations, while preserving the historical integrity. With numerous successful condo developments throughout NYC under their belts, Jody Kriss and East River Partners stepped forward to create a one-of-a-kind development. The synagogue remains intact for its small base of worshippers, who will have full access to its amenities on the lower floor. Moreover, Kriss and his team have pledged to provide the funds to cover maintenance on the shul for a full 200 years following the renovation, allowing its iconic stained-glass windows with the Star of David to shine like a beacon on 6th street for generations to come.

Three Luxury Condos Top The Building

Though the main floor will remain a place of worship, the upper floors were converted to condos with all the lavish amenities people have come to expect from a Jody Kriss and East River Partners project. This enables the synagogue to be restored, and provides much-needed housing in the East Village. The second and third floor each host a two-bedroom unit of about 1900 square feet, while the uppermost two floors make up a three-bedroom duplex penthouse, and spans more than 2,500 square feet. The building boasts electronic keypads and video intercoms, as well as high-end appliances. The floors are of oak, with marble donning the bathroom floors, walls, and counters. The kitchens are designed with a chef in mind, featuring thoughtful touches like custom-cabinetry. Residents are also treated to all the area has to offer, such as shopping, cultural activities, and dining.

Downtown Magazine recently interviewed Jody Kriss, and spoke a bit about the East 6th Street preservation, as well as what’s happening with East River Partners and developments across NYC. While there is a lot happening in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and the group has numerous successful projects completed, Kriss can’t pick a single achievement that he’s most proud of. “Creating terrific homes for folks to live in and enjoy,” he explained. “That’s the joy of doing what we do.” If the 6th  Street synagogue revitalization is any indication of things to come, it’s clear his list of achievements to choose from will only grow larger.

Legislative Fail May Halt New Development Across NYC

Developers like Jody Kriss and East River Partners rely on certain legislative codes in order to keep up with demand and to make performing neighborhood renewals more affordable. One of the most-notable is referred to as the 421-a, which offers developers tax breaks for including affordable housing into their projects. Now that lawmakers have failed to renew the policy, developments all over NYC could come to a screeching halt. This isn’t just bad news for developers- it could cause serious issues for millions of people in a city that’s already strapped for general housing, let alone affordable housing.

The 421-a has Been in Effect Since the 1970s

The Pratt Center for Community Development explains that the 421-a was created in 1971 when more people started moving to the suburbs and residential construction stalled. Although the agency tried to claim that the incentive was unnecessary, as a low percentage of developers took advantage of it, their own document showed that an average of 530 new buildings were added every year in Brooklyn alone between 1985 and 2002. The actual number for all of NYC exceeds 4,000 building per year. The city is already facing a housing crisis. Imagine if those 68,906 total buildings didn’t exist because developers couldn’t afford to create them.

The 421-a Originally Expired in June, but was Extended Until January 15

Renewal of the legislation hinged on an agreement between the Building and Construction Trades Council and the Real Estate Board of New York. The Trades Council has been fighting aggressively for higher wages and bigger benefit packages for construction workers. When the two could not reach an agreement back in June, Governor Andrew Cuomo decided to give them until January 15, at which point the 421-a would be suspended until the matter was settled. No agreement was reached. DNA Info published some numbers crunched by the Independent Budget Office. If the Trades Council gets its way, construction costs will go up by about 13 percent, or $45,000 for each and every unit built. On a grander scale, this means that the 80,000 units that are part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing plan will cost about $2.8 billion more to come to fruition.

Developers Scrambled to Qualify Before Time Ran Out

As the New York Law Journal points out, the loss of the 421-a doesn’t hurt anyone right now, but experts agree that future development around the city could seriously suffer in the long run. The Wall Street Journal tallied up all the permits that were applied for in the month preceding the anticipated loss of the incentive. Nearly 300 permits were issued, affecting 7,781 housing units. More than half, a whopping 59 percent, were for buildings in Brooklyn, and about one-quarter of them were from Queens. The uncertainty over the possibility of losing the 421-a led developers to have a record-breaking year for applications. While the previous chart-topping year was 2008, with 33,11 permits, 2014 blew it away with 56,248.

Jody Kriss and East River Partners tend to focus on restoring historic properties. Unexpected and luxurious touches are integrated into their projects, while maintaining the integrity of the architecture and honoring the neighborhood appeal. Because of the types of properties East River Partners is involved in, the loss of the 421-a will leave their ongoing work largely unaffected. However, Jody Kriss explained in a statement, “We are fortunate that our condo projects are largely unaffected by the expiration of the 421-a program. But the program is extremely important to the development community in the city and the uncertainty surrounding its extension has made it very difficult to build new homes since developers are operating in and uncertain regulatory environment”

3 Outstanding Brooklyn Neighborhoods Chosen By Jody Kriss

Brooklyn is arguably the most charming of the five boroughs in NYC. It’s close enough to Manhattan for easy commutes, but it allows for a slower-paced lifestyle. It’s comprised of more than 30 neighborhoods, each one offering something a little different. When Jody Kriss and East River Partners set out to restore and renovate some of Brooklyn’s historic homes, they largely focused on a few of the borough’s most outstanding neighborhoods. If you’re considering a move, these are 3 outstanding Brooklyn neighborhoods chosen by Jody Kriss:

1. Park Slope

For several decades, Park Slope has been earning a reputation for quality, though nowadays it tends to draw young professionals who want a family-oriented neighborhood to raise their kids in. It’s a very picturesque area, with Prospect Park’s lush greenery providing a safe and inviting place for gatherings. It is one of the very few places in all of NYC that offers a small-town feeling. There’s even a year-round farmer’s market just off of Prospect Park. Park Slope is also home to two prestigious schools, Public School 321 and a private institution, the Berkeley Carroll School. Many iconic brownstones, such as the ones that Jody Kriss and East River Partners worked on, line the avenues. Park Slope has historically been one of the more expensive neighborhoods in Brooklyn to move into. The latest market trends from Trulia indicate that the median sales price sits at about $1.2 million, whereas Brooklyn, as a whole, is closer to $700,000.

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2. Carroll Gardens

Near Brooklyn’s central-west waterfront sits Carroll Gardens. Due to its proximity to Boerum Hill and Cobble Hill, locals often throw all three together and call them “BoCoCa.” It has become a hotspot for urban professionals, though people who move there tend to put down roots. One local resident told the New York Times that it’s the kind of place where strangers will invite you in when they see you out for a walk. Generally, it’s a simple offer of coffee or a pastry, but, “Sometimes they would invite us to dinner,” he added. Public School 58 and the New Horizons School are also performing fairly well, with both earning an “A” on recent progress reports. As with Park Slope, brownstones are a popular draw, though Trulia reports that the median home price now sits slightly above Park Slope, at about $1.3 million.

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3. Fort Greene

Fort Greene is often recognized for its brownstones as well, though newer developments include mixed-use towers. During the 1950s and 1960s, the area was largely populated by artists and musicians, though few of the original inhabitants remain today. According to the New York Times, around 85% of the homes have changed hands since 1985. The housing crisis caused a large number of foreclosures and, as the area improved, many others left for less-expensive areas. Fort Greene is often thought of as an up-and-coming neighborhood, as it has come a very long way in recent years, though it still holds a lot of its ethnic and cultural roots. Residents take advantage of the sprawling Fort Greene Park, and  enjoy an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants, though fresh additions, like the Polonsky Shakespeare Center, are providing more refined alternatives. The schools are still developing somewhat, with the Academy of Arts and Letters on Adelphi Street earning a “B” on its latest progress report. According to Trulia, the median price for a home is about $1.24 million, though it’s likely to increase as more developments are made.

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It’s fairly easy to see that, although there are some dips and rises, these three neighborhoods are following the housing trends seen across all of Brooklyn. The hard work that developers like Jody Kriss and East River Partners have put in have helped increase housing stock, but the areas remain in high demand. Now is a great time to get into the neighborhoods, though experts expect market trends to continue, which means it will only become more difficult to grab a property.


East River Partners on the History, Lore, and Love of Brooklyn Brownstones

When people think of NYC, one of the first things that they picture is Brooklyn’s historical brownstones. The iconic rowhomes that line the streets of some of Brooklyn’s more affluent neighborhoods have become synonymous with the city over time, and have won the hearts of Americans everywhere. We’ve seen them in Hollywood hits like “You’ve Got Mail” and a Manhattan home once even disguised itself as a Brooklyn brownstone for “The Cosby Show.” Celebrities, like Neil Patrick Harris and Sarah Jessica Parker, have proudly displayed their brownstones in feature articles, forever cementing in our minds that these timeless residences are reserved for an elite class. Are they truly unattainable for the masses, and if so, how did they come to be?

Brooklyn Brownstones Rose to Popularity During the Romantic Era

While most people call any kind of rowhome a “brownstone,” the term technically refers to townhomes that have a brownstone facade. Prior to the mid-1800s, Brooklyn was largely deserted. It’s said that the famous Dakota Hotel was aptly named as such because the area it was built in resembled the Dakota Territory- barren and uninhabitable. As new developments crept in, rowhomes began to pop up everywhere, but simple brick would not do for the new affluent crowd. As the New York Historical Society points out, brownstone was the ideal façade, largely because of price. Other popular choices, such as granite, limestone, and marble, were very expensive and difficult to obtain. A brown sandstone quarry, which sat on the Connecticut River, proved to be an excellent source. Because the sandstone could be carved easily and transported by water, it helped improve the aesthetics of buildings all over NYC.

East River Partners, LLC and Jody Kriss Focus on Brownstones

Quality brownstones are in short supply, and those that hit the market these days can sell in a single day. Even though America and NYC have been in love with brownstones since they first appeared, they have struggled to remain in top form. Early builders rushed the masonry, which meant that residents were trying to manage cracking and crumbling facades within a decade or two of the buildings rising. NYC’s constant battle with affordable housing also left building owners will no funds to make necessary renovations and repairs. Over the years, the problem has only gotten worse, across all of NYC’s buildings. Finally, developers like Jody Kriss and East River Partners are coming in and restoring the buildings to their original splendor.

Brownstones are Now the Ideal Choice for Brooklyn Families

There’s a huge movement in Brooklyn right now to restore the iconic buildings. East River Partners tends to focus more on buildings that were largely dilapidated before renovations. As Jody Kriss has explained, they often clear out much of the interior of the brownstones, and start from scratch. This enables them to create stunning homes, with the modern touches today’s buyers want. In an interview with Samantha Rowan, Kriss explained, “In Brooklyn, the public schools tend to be better, so you see parents going there because private schools in Manhattan are so prohibitively expensive.” Between quality education and affordability, Brooklyn is seeing a major boom in families. This is in line with a NY Post report that indicated more than half of those buying in Brooklyn right now are in their 30s. Even though about 40 percent of them are Brooklynites already, nearly one-in-five are coming in from Manhattan.

Due to the hard work of developers like Jody Kriss, many of the brownstones in Brooklyn have already been thoughtfully restored and renovated. Going forward, we may be seeing more of what NY Daily News calls “Brownstone 2.0.” Kriss gives a nod to this in his Rowan interview explaining, “The brownstone type of building is so well-received, that we’re actually looking at building a whole bunch of new ones.” Without a doubt, they’re sure to be as popular as their historical cousins.