Lower Manhattan limps back to life after superstorm
Other parts of New York City drew headlines after Superstorm Sandy killed dozens of residents and wrecked beachfront homes. But the city's Financial District continues to suffer after surging sea water made electrical panels and other infrastructure unusable, even after power was restored.
They don't call it lower Manhattan for nothing. The area, largely an evacuation zone, was swamped, though the New York Stock Exchange was spared.
"There were waves on Wall Street, and it all ended up here," said Mike Lahm, a building engineer who rode out the storm at 120 Wall Street.
Nearly a month after Sandy, some high-rises that are home to investment banks, large law firms and luxury apartments have bounced back. But others remain dark and vacant.
Landlords have warned full power won't be back for weeks, if not months, leaving businesses and residents uncertain about when - or whether -they'll return. JP Morgan Chase, the Daily News and the American Civil Liberties Union are among tenants still operating in satellite locations after getting washed out of their headquarters.
Heavy flooding also hit a complex of multimillion-dollar apartments whose well-heeled owners reportedly include Gwyneth Paltrow and Meryl Streep.
"What you're looking at here is a mass exodus," downtown resident Gail Strum said.
On paper, her assessment sounds too pessimistic. The city Buildings Department declared only nine buildings in lower Manhattan unsafe because of structural damage from the storm, and the power company, Consolidated Edison, says all buildings citywide had access to electricity and steam power by November 15.
A real estate consulting firm that's tracking the lower Manhattan recovery, Jones Lang LaSalle, says 49 of the 183 office buildings in the business district were closed because of mechanical failures. By the latest count, at least half were back in full operation, even if it has meant relying on temporary power. More are expected to follow.
"We see that as a very healthy pace," said John Wheeler, a Jones Lang LaSalle executive.
One success story was 120 Wall Street, a 34-story skyscraper that's home to non-profits such as the National Urban League and the United Negro College Fund.
Even before Sandy hit, landlord Silverstein Properties secured portable diesel generators. Using a mix of generator power and restored Con Ed service, engineers had the elevators, lights and heat up and running by mid-November.
To the tenants, "It's as if the building's operating normally," said Jeremy Moss, a vice president with Silverstein Properties.
But fearing future flooding, 120 Wall Street and other buildings are facing an even bigger, more expensive job: Moving critical infrastructure to higher floors or even roofs.
The lower Manhattan disarray has also reached the courtroom. Last week, a resident of a still-evacuated luxury high-rise filed a $35 million lawsuit against his condo board and management company, accusing them of "gross negligence" in the wake of Sandy.
The management company, Cooper Square Realty, fired back in a letter from its chief executive, David Kuperberg, claiming that contractors recruited from as far away as Wisconsin and Michigan have been working nonstop to tear out wet walls, carpeting and wallpaper to prevent mould; installing new generators; rebuilding a water pump; and mopping up residue left by oil-tainted salt water.
At South Street Seaport, a cluster of early 19th-Cntury mercantile buildings converted to retail shops and apartments, the tourist area remained a ghost town late last week. Many businesses were still boarded up with plywood.
Some residents have electricity back but no heat or hot water.
One of the few businesses to open its doors, Meade's bar and restaurant, had no customers at lunchtime.
"We're open, but who are we open for?" said 28-year-old bartender Nichole Osborne. "All of my regulars are displaced."