Construction projects plug away even with city shutting down

For now, construction continues.

As the coronavirus outbreak quiets New York City—closing offices, idling taxis and shuttering bars—workers in bright-yellow reflective vests, hard hats and steel-toe boots are still showing up.

Wednesday morning, the pounding of jackhammers and the blaring beeps of trucks in reverse broke the eerie quiet on the waterfront in Williamsburg, where work continues at Domino Park.

It was the same in Queens and Manhattan, where offices and residential buildings are under construction.

At the the iconic Waldorf Astoria on Park Avenue, workers were busy fixing the facade. The hotel is being turned into high-end condos.

Near the Brooklyn Bridge, roughly 300 workers are putting up a luxury condominium at 130 William St. The developer, Lightstone, is expecting to receive a shipment of cabinets, vanities and marble slabs from Italy—which he ordered before the virus shut down the country.

“Three hundred guys spread over 66 floors is not a lot,” said Scott Avram, the Lightsone executive who oversees the project. “You’re not confined to an office. They’re already wearing gloves and masks and hats and glasses, and they’re already not working in close proximity to one another.”

Quieter sites

Boston has suspended all construction projects in the city, while San Francisco’s new shelter-in-place order has left cranes and construction sites deserted.

In New York, it’s largely business as usual, though some workers have been calling out because they’re worried about the virus, said Elizabeth Velez, chair of the New York Building Congress, an industry trade group.

“The work is ongoing, but it’s getting quieter on construction sites as we grapple with the issue of ensuring we have enough staff to be able to work and mitigate against the risk,” Velez said. “So far, there’s no plan to delay.”

Some New Yorkers are just now realizing how loud construction can be, especially because many are now working from home. City Councilman Keith Powers, who represents part of Manhattan, said his office has been getting calls from constituents about all the noise.

‘Devastating’ impact

With many commuters avoiding Manhattan, the crowd at Grand Central Terminal was eerily sparse Tuesday afternoon, while major construction projects nearby continued. At One Vanderbilt, a massive office tower being built just west of the terminal, clanking metal and drills resounded through streets that were quiet save for the occasional car horn or siren.

A few blocks north, workers were toiling away at JPMorgan Chase’s new tower. One guarded the site sporting a white helmet and a giant black face mask.

In the Hudson Yards area, about 500 crew members were working on the Javits Convention Center. That could change soon, with local officials considering stricter rules that would require most New Yorkers to stay home.

If construction projects in the city are halted, the economic repercussions could be devastating. There are currently more than 6,800 active construction sites across the city, employing tens of thousands of workers.

Shutting down the projects could bankrupt construction firms and lead to massive layoffs, issues that other industries are contending with as the virus roils the U.S. economy.

“The economic impact of what happens to projects that aren’t moving is devastating” said Carlo Scissura, president and chief executive of the New York Building Congress. “There are so many things that are critical to the lifeblood of the residents of New York. You can’t just say Shut down everything.”