Electricity Restored, Downtown Office Buildings Work to Rebuild Confidence

Monday, February 04, 2013

The biggest office building in New York City – actually, the biggest office building anywhere east of the Mississippi River – is a structure you’ve probably never heard of: It’s 55 Water Street. It's a 1970s-era skyscraper just steps from the East River.

The lobby is glossy and clean, but about half of the eighty elevators are out of service, or under repair.

The building’s Vice President and manager is Harry Bridgwood, a former police detective who has curly grey hair, and keeps a pump bottle of hand sanitizer on his desk on the 24th floor.

Bridgwood’s office used to be in the basement. Until it was inundated on the night of October 29th.

“The force of the water as it went into the loading docks and the garages and flowed like a mini Niagara Falls,” Bridgwood said. “And it compromised elevator shafts. These are things that people don’t think about on a regular basis.”

Bridgwood supervised around 100 electricians and 100 elevator mechanics doing double-shifts, while water was pumped from the basement. It was a mad dash to reopen the building. Along the way, an accidental fire sent more than two dozen people to the hospital.

“It never seemed that there was a clean-cut advancement without some setback,” Bridgwood said.

Tenants were invited back in on December 4th, and the building’s owner, the Retirement Systems of Alabama, began charging rent again.

New York real estate companies are typically shy about showing any kind of weakness, but Bridgwood’s unusual bond with his employer has given him the freedom to talk with the press.

The relationship began nearly 20 years ago with an unlikely assignment. In the mid 1990s, Bridgwood – then working as a police detective – went undercover, gathering information about mob activity in the commercial carting business. His cover: manager of 55 Water Street.

For two and a half years Bridgwood gathered facts until prosecutors had the evidence they needed to send the city’s reputedly biggest trash hauler to jail.

The CEO of the Alabama pension system was so impressed, he offered Bridgwoood a job.

“He had tons of common sense,'' Dr. David Bronner told The New York Times, in 1997.

Bridgwood says his close relationship with Bronner helped him deal with Sandy.

“Right from the beginning my chairman… said ‘we gotta put a plan in place to keep this building viable.’”

The plan includes permanently raising 55 Water Street’s underground electrical equipment to the third floor. The owners will also pay for a system of underground flood walls, built into the sidewalk, which can be raised in advance of a storm.

It’s an expensive way to say you’re here to stay.

But Sandy forced around 50 downtown office buildings to close, particularly in the area along Water Street, and building owners must restore the confidence of potential tenants.

“I don’t think anyone contemplated Sandy 5 years ago or ten years ago. I think in the future landlords and tenants will negotiate a lot more carefully to make sure that their rights are protected in the event the next Sandy rolls in,” said Daniel Ansell, an attorney with Greenberg Traurig.

Some current tenants have been slow to return, including 55 Water Street’s biggest tenant, Standard & Poor’s (its name is displayed in big letters above the entrance.) S&P hasn’t given a reason for staying away, but people in the real estate business say persistent problems with internet connectivity are a problem.

“There are issues that are largely out of the landlords’ control… with how significant the damage was to the telecom infrastructure that Verizon had here,” said John Wheeler a managing director at Jones Lang LaSalle.

Standing near the entrance reserved for S&P workers, Bridgwood noted the barren feel of the place, in sharp contrast to its pre-Sandy condition.

“You could come here at any given time and see a governor, a politician from another country, coming to get their bonds rated, big corporate people,” he said.

An S&P spokesman says the company will return to 55 Water Street around the middle of February. 


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Comments [9]

Richard from New York

I didn't know I could rent office space in the Pentagon

Feb. 18 2013 11:54 AM
Mark Goldstein

Flooding at 55 Water Street is the least of S&P's concerns. See yesterday's NY Times.(

Feb. 06 2013 02:54 PM
Jim D from NYC

55 Water St. is big enough to have its own zip code, 10041. One of the more interesting consequences of the flood was the soaking of 1.3 million stock certificates and bearer bonds, representing billions of dollars, held in a basement vault by the Depository Trust Co. Peeling apart all those soggy papers, and restoring or replacing them, is going to be a huge undertaking.

Feb. 05 2013 07:13 PM
Verina from Tribeca

Why does nobody in the media talk about the South Street Seaport? Some places have reopened , like Cowgirl Seahorse, because of a huge effort and the help of friends and volunteers, but most of the area is still in terrible shape, most stores boarded up. Even the chain stores, like Gap, are still closed. Are they having second thoughts about the location? There is a story here, people!

Feb. 05 2013 06:34 PM
SG from NYC

If the falcons are as smart as they have been in the past, they will move uptown to Riverside Chuch. Downtown still reeks with diesel...BTW, chemicals front and center at 55 as well says one canary from the proverbeial mine.

Feb. 05 2013 02:38 PM
Bjorn from East of the Mississippi

The Pentagon has almost double the square footage...

Feb. 04 2013 11:37 AM
beaglelover from Queens, NY

The Teachers Retirement of NYC is housed at 55 Water St. and I would like to commend the employees who have carried on elsewhere for this very long time. MY pension check and other matters were efficiently attended to and I'm sure it was under trying conditions for the employees. So BRAVO!!!

Feb. 04 2013 09:58 AM
GW from Manhattan

Isn't the Pentagon the "the biggest office building anywhere east of the Mississippi River"?

Feb. 04 2013 07:55 AM
Jonathan Jeffries from Washington Heights

New Yorkers, and people all over the world of the Internet, know 55 Water Street for a different reason than Standard and Poor's: Peregrine Falcons.
We who love birds love to watch each year, if we are lucky, as the peregrine pair nest somewhere in the upper reaches of the building. Our hearts stop as the chicks, who were just balls of fluff a few weeks before, flap their wings and ....disappear!! we all wait for news of each little fledgling's fate ...
We all get empty nest syndrome.
It's thrilling, and I hope that 55 Water Street and its owners down in Alabama know how wonderful a sight those birds are and will continue to allow them to come and stay rent free.

Feb. 04 2013 07:37 AM

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