Posted on 20 November 2011.
Mo Rum worries how the upcoming road work in Hell's Kitchen will affect his business. (Photo: Rachel Rogers | City Beats)
Carl Capotorto looked like he was in shock at a block association meeting held on Nov. 7.
“I’m overwhelmed. I’m trying to figure out where I can move,” said Capotorto, 52.
He has lived in Hell’s Kitchen for 16 years, but is now considering relocating because of a water main replacement project that will tear up the street in front of his apartment on West 51st Street.
The meeting, hosted by the West 47th/48th Streets Block Association and Community Board 4, was the first time many of the approximately 50 residents in attendance were hearing about the project. The Hell’s Kitchen initiative is headed by the city Department of Design and Construction and is scheduled to begin in February and is one of many planned to improve the city’s water system, some of which are already in progress.
Residents and shopkeepers have expressed alarm at the scope of the project and the number of problems that would come with it. Noise was a primary issue for residents already frustrated by recent ConEd construction in the area. Local stores fear a loss of business and products damaged by dirt and fumes from construction. The fact that the plans are not well known throughout the community has also upset Hell’s Kitchen shopkeepers.
The approximately 100-year-old water mains are being replaced on portions of 48th, 49th, and 51st streets between Broadway and 10th Avenue to update the infrastructure. They will also connect the west side to Tunnel 3, a project that began in the 1970s to bring water down from the Hillview Reservoir just north of the city. To connect the 8-foot deep water mains to the tunnel about 450 feet underground, a shaft will be excavated on 10th Avenue between 48th and 49th streets.
One of the biggest concerns is noise. The project consists of four phases, so work will take place at different locations over the five-and-a-half years. But this did not assuage Community Board Member Jean-Daniel Noland’s apprehensions.
“Eight months of noise can be pretty disturbing,” Noland said.
A Hell’s Kitchen resident for 20 years, Noland worries the disturbances he has experienced in the past with ConEd projects, such as being kept up at night and feeling his building shake, will plague the area. He hopes to negotiate the work hours approved by the city, which currently include 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends.
Having already dealt with past construction and the raucous bar scene, Capotorto was also worried about the impending disruption.
“I love this neighborhood,” Capotorto said. “I feel attached to it very deeply, but it’s become impossible to live there.
The design department takes precautions to lessen the noise, like using jackhammers with mufflers and monitoring noise in the field, according to Tom Foley, the assistant commissioner at the department. The city’s Department of Environmental Protection will also test noise levels periodically.
In spite of these precautions some shopkeepers in Hell’s Kitchen are expecting to lose business.
“I certainly don’t look forward to it,” said Mo Rum, 42, who opened Scent Elate on West 48th Street six years ago.
Scent Elate sells an assortment of soaps, candles, and essential oils. Clothes and accessories are displayed in a vestibule in front of the store. When the department begins work on the road, Rum sees it greatly affecting his business. During past roadwork projects, people have tracked in tar on their shoes. And because fabric absorbs odors from the construction, he said he wouldn’t be able to sell clothing because there is no room to display it inside the store.
Barry Shain, the sales manager at Alpha Engraving Company on West 51st Street, is also worried about the financial losses.
“There’s no regard for the effect on business,” Shain said.
As an on-site engraving company, Alpha Engraving markets its city locations and says it provides fast service so patrons do not have to ship their items elsewhere, according to Shain. He thinks this project will ruin street traffic, discourage walk-in clients, and make accessibility difficult for regular customers.
“I sell convenience. This reduces the value of my service because it becomes inconvenient,” Shain said of the department’s plans.
Hell’s Kitchen shopkeepers and residents need only look downtown to see what they’ll experience in coming years. The Chambers Street Reconstruction Project is another part of the city’s overall water main renovations. It began in August, with work currently being done on Chambers Street between Greenwich and Church streets. Half of the two-lane road is cordoned off, and the top portion of the street removed, exposing tubing for utilities.
“I think it’s affected the lunch crowd,” said Beau Faulkner, 36, a manager at the Chambers Street restaurant Mudville Nine. He added that afternoon customers have decreased because the roadwork dissuades them from walking down the street. The eatery has maintained the dinner crowd, including its regulars and destination clientele.
Sylvia Anonova, 51, has had an experience similar to Faulkner’s. She works at reception at the ABI School of Barbering, Manicure, and Cosmetology, which has been on Chambers Street for nine years. Business has slowed since the construction started, and the work does not seem to be progressing, Anonova said.
“Today I see nobody’s here,” Anonova said one Monday in November. “They’re fixing very slow.”
At the block association meeting in November, Norberto Acevedo, Jr., the design department’s citywide community liaison, said a project representative will be appointed to facilitate communications between the agency and residents. The representative’s job is to keep residents abreast of the work as it progresses and of disruptive events such as the water being shut off.
But some Hell’s Kitchen business owners are already frustrated with a lack of information.
“They don’t notify us,” said Rum.
He and Shain were informed of the project by City Beats. Rum said he would probably go to the next meeting, which Community Board 4 plans to hold in January when the department should have more details about scheduling.
The Alpha Engraving showroom will likely move to the company’s second location on West 58th Street, Shain said. As for the machinery set up in the West 51st Street store, Shain is not sure what will happen.
“My lease is up in two years,” Shain said. “I’ll probably not be renewing.”