When I think back on the most interesting construction projects and challenges I’ve handled in my career as a national commercial contractor, without a doubt some of the most memorable have been in landmark-status buildings. In fact, we’re in the middle of one of those projects right now as Englewood Construction relocates American Girl’s flagship store in New York City from its current 5th Avenue address to a well-known landmark property – 75 Rockefeller Plaza.
The new American Girl store is one of many landmark-status construction jobs we’ve had the opportunity to complete, and these projects are always extra-cool. Why? Because these buildings are well-known and prominently located, making it all the more exciting to work in them. Plus, they usually have some combination of historic or architectural significance, beautiful vintage materials and fine craftsmanship – the kind of stuff us industry fanatics just can’t get enough of. But as rewarding as they are, construction projects in protected properties come with their own set of unique challenges, too. Here are three key takeaways from our experiences over the years:
1. Plan for Extra Permitting Hoops
Not surprisingly, construction in a landmark-status property takes the permitting process to an entirely new level. Prior to the usual municipality review and approval of construction plans, the project must already have sign-off from the appropriate landmark authority. For example, in Englewood’s home market of Chicago, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks must do a comprehensive review of drawings to make sure they meet its qualifications, rules and regulations, before the project goes before the Chicago Department of Buildings for permitting. This step can be further complicated if the building has both city and state landmark status, since the project will have to receive approval from those two separate authorities. Because of this extra approval step and level of complexity in the review process, clients need to plan extra time in the planning stages of their project, which potentially impacts the overall construction project timeline.
2. Anticipate Impact on Non-Landmark Elements
Often, the work we do in a landmark building does not directly involve its protected features. For instance, if we’re completing a tenant interior build-out in a property where only the façade or lobby is protected, the impact on construction work can be minimal. Still, the general contractor needs to know and be mindful of the landmark construction criteria at all times, because there are often requirements for areas adjacent to or abutting protected elements. This is the case with the new American Girl store at 75 Rockefeller Plaza, where we are required to match the new store’s flooring elevations to the original landmark conditions, and also tie into the existing storefront glazing system.
Another example is a renovation project Englewood completed involving the lobby restrooms at Chicago’s historic Drake Hotel. The restrooms themselves did not fall under the building’s landmark designation, but every new finish we installed – from lighting, door frames and hardware to flooring and wall finishes – still had to meet specific design and décor criteria in order to preserve the overall look of the hotel’s landmark-protected lobby. As we’re planning and budgeting a construction project in this scenario, we constantly have the landmark criteria in front of us so we can reference materials specifications as well as all relevant construction requirements.
3. Craftsmanship is Key
Construction in landmark properties gets even more complex when our work involves original and unique features directly protected by the building’s landmark status. In these cases, it is imperative for owners and landlords to partner with a general contractor that has an extensive network of proven specialty subcontractors, since the project will likely call for restoration-caliber construction work. A great example of this is a retail space Englewood refurbished at Chicago’s famed Palmer House Hilton. This retail construction project involved meticulously restoring a revolving door and its very elaborate, ornate outer brass security gate, as well as recreating detailed plasterwork within the store itself. We were of course incredibly careful in our subcontractor selection, tapping only the most trusted skilled craftsmen from our national database.
We’ve also managed projects that entail repairing the structural integrity of a landmark-protected stone or marble building façade. There’s no way to reproduce the look of 60- or 80-year-old stonework, so it is up to the general contractor to enlist expert tradesmen who can take those pieces off, refinish them and reinstall them. Not only does the general contractor need to know who to call for this specialized work, but the GC also must have the ability to handle the extra level of complexity and oversight that managing this type of repair work entails. Likewise, owners and landlords should be prepared that meticulous restorations under a landmark designation will almost always involve extra time and cost, impacting the project’s overall construction budget and schedule.
Just as each landmark-status building is unique, so too is every construction job in these one-of-a-kind properties. But with the right construction partner who is experienced in navigating the special considerations and challenges that go along with landmark requirements and criteria, there’s no reason these construction projects can’t go just as smoothly as any other.
Tel: 847-233-9200 x712
You can reach me at CTaylor@eci.build