Troubled demolition company applies for NYC Union Square demolition job to make way for tech hub, prompting criticism
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Troubled demolition company applies for Union Square demolition job to make way for tech hub, prompting criticism
Breeze National has been contracted to demolish 114 East 14th Street. (Sam Costanza for New York Daily News)
A contracting company with a checkered past is slated to do demolition work on a controversial new Union Square project that neighborhood groups fought to stop, public records show.
Breeze National, which has come under fire for alleged mob ties and a spotty safety record, filed a permit application to perform a “full demolition” at 114 E. 14th St. last month, city Buildings Department records show.
The move has critics in an uproar.
“This company should be the last choice for doing this kind of work,” said Andrew Berman, director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. “The demolition is going to be done by a company with a completely shady and scary track record.”
Berman expressed concern that the work could “potentially endanger people around the site.”
Rendering of the Union Square Tech Hub
Rendering of the Union Square Tech Hub (NYCEDC)
A 22-story tech hub is set to rise at the city-owned site as part of a deal in which the city granted a 99-year, $2.3-million annual lease to RAL Development. The building being demolished was home to a P.C. Richard & Son appliance store that closed a year ago.
The new building, expected to open next year, will include a digital skills training center, market-rate office space for established tech companies and affordable office space for startups along with retail space, according to the website CityRealty.com.
But the deal has drawn broad condemnation from groups like Berman’s that contend it’s a giveaway to a developer that donated generously to de Blasio’s campaign fund and his now-defunct non-profit Campaign for One New York.
RAL alone gave the Campaign for One New York at least $10,000 in 2015. Its head, Robert Levine, kicked the mayor’s 2017 re-election campaign $400. And Andrew Rasiej, the CEO of Civic Hall, a key partner in the project, donated $4,950, just under the maximum contribution allowable under law.
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Breeze’s affiliate Breeze Carting was singled out by the city’s Business Integrity Commission in 2006 when the agency denied the company a trash-hauling license because it found it lied on its application. At the time, Toby Romano Sr. served as the head of both Breeze National and Breeze Carting — with his wife, son and daughter each holding a 20% stake in the carting business, according to BIC records.
The following year, the commission denied Breeze Carting another application because Romano Sr. refused to accept a monitor after he was identified as a Luchese crime family associate. The commission also noted that he had been “convicted of federal felonies consisting of making or promising illegal payoffs to an (Environmental Protection Agency) asbestos inspector.”
Despite the setbacks, Breeze National has done well for itself over the years – it was paid $3.9 million for Ground Zero clean-up work and raked in $17 million for the demolition of Shea Stadium.
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In 2012, one of its workers died during a demolition mishap in Harlem but that didn’t stop the city from hiring the company to tear down an abandoned Brooklyn NYCHA complex the following year for $5.8 million.
A construction worker is carried out of a work site at W. 130th Street and Broadway, where two people were injured and one person died in a wall collapse on March 23, 2012.
A construction worker is carried out of a work site at W. 130th Street and Broadway, where two people were injured and one person died in a wall collapse on March 23, 2012. (Michael Schwartz for New York Daily News)
The following year, a contractor accused Breeze of leaving contamination at an Upper East Side school. The school entered into a confidential settlement with Breeze and the other contractor last year.
The company has been forced into settling several OSHA violations over the past three years, including fines for “lead, inorganic fumes & dusts,” agency inspection records show.
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Breeze’s current president, Toby Romano Jr., acknowledged the violations but said for a company that’s handled 5,000 jobs since its inception, Breeze has a stellar record.
He pointed to its 81 experience modification rate — an industry standard for safety. According to the Safety Management Group, a workplace consulting company, the lower the rate the better, with a one rating considered the industry average.
Romano Jr. also noted that after his father handed control of the company over to him in 2010, he accepted a monitor and has had an unblemished record since.
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“All I want to do is go to work and do a good job,” he said. “All this stuff is old news. It is not who Breeze is. I worked very hard for that.”
The Buildings Department has not approved the permit application yet but the number of violations Breeze received over the past year — 13 — is not unusual for a firm its size.
“To protect the public, prior to the start of any demolition work, DOB will scrutinize the demolition plans and senior inspectors will perform detailed inspections of the site to ensure that the work can be completed safely,” said Joseph Soldevere, a spokesman for the Department of Buildings. “We will also monitor the job for safety compliance once the work begins.”
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Local City Councilwoman Carlina Rivera (D-East Village/Lower East Side), told the Daily News she wants the city to keep a close eye on the project.
“We expect the Department of Buildings to complete a thorough vetting and review process to ensure that any companies involved with the demolition and construction of this project conduct themselves to the highest safety standards possible. As I do with any construction project that takes places in our congested section of Lower Manhattan, I encourage any resident who notices concerns with this project to contact my office immediately,” Rivera said in an emailed statement to the Daily News.
Editor’s Note: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story contained an outdated quote from Councilwoman Rivera from February 2018. That quote has been removed. The News regrets the error.
By Michael Gartland
| new york daily news |