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Old Building, New Purpose

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Liberty Elevator and Peelle collaborate on interesting and satisfying revitalization project.

With its great views of lower Manhattan and the new World Trade Center skyline, the East River area in Brooklyn has become such a hot spot that the New York real-estate market has nicknamed it “DUMBO” for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.” Old buildings in thriving areas like this are usually demolished and replaced with modern structures. But here, developers are repurposing a number of them. Instead of attempting the difficult task of filling the building with a mega tenant, repurposing these facilities opens the door to multi-tenant opportunities. Light manufacturing, R&D, office space and dining venues operate in the same building, which would otherwise be a vacant eyesore.

The building at 850 3rd Avenue, now Liberty View Industrial Plaza (LVIP), is a former U.S. Navy Supply warehouse. The 1.3-million-sq.-ft. building was constructed in 1916 and included 11 Otis elevators with Peelle doors. After the building exterior was restored to its original design in March 2013, the U.S. Department of the Interior placed it on the National Register of Historic Places. Another recently repurposed building, the Brooklyn Army Terminal, sits further down the block. 

Salmar Properties purchased 850 3rd Avenue in 2011 and is bringing it back to life. Their principals, Sal Rusi and Marvin Schien, both of whom have backgrounds in construction, are not simply interested in repurposing historic buildings, but also in revitalizing communities. Ian Siegel, Salmar’s project manager, stated:

“Liberty View Industry Plaza plans to bring 1,300 manufacturing jobs and numerous retail opportunities back to this part of Brooklyn. This area is known as Sunset Park, and its residents used to support the local military installations. We are already looking for our next project.”

The building will include retail, a major box store, manufacturing, office space, an indoor parking garage and a community garden – a 100,000-sq.-ft. commercial greenhouse on the roof of the eight-story LVIP. It is projected the rooftop community garden will produce one million pounds of organic food each year. “Here in New York, we don’t have acres and acres of unused land to grow fresh food,” said Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, “but Brooklyn’s got plenty of industrial buildings with unused roofs that are perfect for urban farming.” The LVIP thus adds to the borough’s rooftop-gardening trend.

The repurposing project started in early 2012 when Salmar Properties hired Vertical Professional Solutions, LLC (VPS) as its elevator consultant. At this stage in the project, only three of the existing 22 elevators were functioning. The 19 other elevators had stopped between floors – frozen in time with a decade of dust and buildup, as if everyone had just left one day.

After an in-depth survey conducted mainly by flashlight, it became apparent to Michael Nicklous and Robert Buckley, owners of VPS, that this was no longer a modernization project, but a new-equipment project. It would require complete demolition and redesign of the existing hoistway space. Changes included the resizing of car dimensions to accommodate counterweights that previously traveled in adjacent hoistways, the removal of large 10,000 lb. drum machines, the reconfiguration of machine-room space, and the challenge of laying out new machinery that avoided numerous building structural obstacles. VPS sought to provide an elevator design that maximized the available space, adapted to the numerous tenants’ needs, and provided the ultimate level of safety and reliability. 

Peelle replaced the original doors and gates with new equipment using its wireless control system. This work was in coordination with Liberty Elevator of Paterson, New Jersey, which replaced the elevator machine and hoistway equipment. Peelle furnished and installed a total of 144 doors, 18 gates and nine cabs. Liberty Elevator contributed engineering, installation, modernization and subcontractor coordination for the work.

Originally, the project included the Peelle penthouse operator, which opened each biparting door one at a time, utilizing one mechanism located in the machine room, which predated today’s technology of using two operators per door. The project posed some special challenges, because it had to be estimated without the original job data. 850 3rd Avenue was a classified government facility, and therefore, neither Otis nor Peelle kept job files. Once the materials were removed from the hoistway, proper dimensions were determined. Peelle and Liberty Elevator had to suit their modern equipment to hoistways built for products designed almost a century ago.

Liberty Elevator is an International Union of Elevator Constructors Local No. 1 company providing customizable preventative-maintenance programs, cab refurbishments, modernizations and new installations in New York and New Jersey. It is a third-generation, family-owned and -operated full-service elevator company owned by brothers Douglas J. and Darren Muttart and their mother, Janet Muttart. The brothers are fifth-generation elevator mechanics. George Gordon Muttart established National Elevator in 1960, proudly servicing elevators throughout the Northeast. In 1987, Douglas K. Muttart established Liberty Elevator Corp. after completing the historic installation of the elevators in the Statue of Liberty. Twenty-five years later, Douglas J. and Darren followed in their father’s footsteps when Liberty Elevator was awarded the vertical transportation contract to install three new elevators in Lady Liberty (ELEVATOR WORLD, January 2014).

Working with VPS (Liberty’s engineers), the owners and Peelle were also directly involved in the historic revival of the LVIP. Providing the vertical transportation is their way of contributing to the revitalization of this turn-of-the-century industrial area. Space in New York City is difficult to come by – especially enough space to grow fresh produce. Knowing that the elevators will help breathe new life into an area so rich in history was a humbling experience to all involved. “Liberty is excited to once again be contributing to such a positive historical piece of New York history,” explained Douglas J. Muttart.

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