DOB new building filings spike in April despite coronavirus concerns

New building filings rose sharply last month, despite coronavirus pandemic

By Atticus O’Brien-Pappalardo

New York City developers filed 107 new building construction plans in April, a significant increase from the 59 filings a month earlier. Indeed, the number of filings was the second highest in the last 16 months. The only month with more was June of 2019, when 168 plans were filed, partly due to requirements of the 421a tax exemption.

Even as new information arrived daily about the catastrophic impacts of the pandemic, last month’s filings were relatively evenly spread out throughout the month. PincusCo looked at all new building (NB) filings of 2,000-square-feet and above. For residential buildings, the analysis covered those with four or more units.

This increase is substantial, and was in many ways unexpected. The continued coronavirus pandemic brought many construction projects to a complete standstill in April. Only projects deemed “essential”, such as hospitals, transit, affordable housing, and homeless shelters, were allowed to continue. Additionally, much of the workforce has been operating remotely, creating new complexities when designing new projects. Impacts such as these, along with the obvious worries about extended economic hardships, all suggested — it turns out incorrectly — April would see a decline in filings.

The total square feet of all NB filings also spiked last month. Developers filed plans for 4.9 million square feet of new construction in April, a 43 percent increase from the 2.8 million square feet filed in March. As was the case with the total volume of projects, April’s square feet total was the second highest in the last 16 months, once again only June of 2019 had a higher total.

Total residential units across all filings also rose, from 2,713 in March to 3,813 in April. The number was by far the greatest so far in 2020, which increased each month in the first quarter, and was the third-highest total in the last 16 months.

The data could indicate that developers anticipate demand will begin to increase, or simply that they want to get the filing out of the way regardless of when construction will actually begin. The fact that lending has all but completely dried up may support the idea that developers are content with knowing these projects won’t get started or completed any time soon. There hasn’t been a construction loan in NYC recorded since April 3, and some banks have stopped processing loans entirely. Similarly, there have also been clogs in supply chains due to coronavirus, leading to a decline in the shipment of building supplies, on top of an existing decrease in demand.

Whatever the reason, it is clear that developers were comfortable filing plans for projects of significant size in April, as the month’s five largest filings were all larger than 300,000 square feet.

Rockrose Development was responsible for filing the largest new building plan of the month, on April 20. The plans call for a 609-unit, 418,092-square-foot residential building at 98 Dekalb Avenue in Fort Greene. The filing was Elghanayan family’s first Brooklyn development to date.

Extell Development filed plans for the second largest project on April 8, calling for a 354,350-square-foot office building at 180 East 125th Street in East Harlem. The 120-foot tall, 9-story, office building will be refinanced with the help of a $500 million loan from JPMorgan Chase.

The third largest filing came from the Leser Group on April 3, with plans calling for a 325,437-square-foot retail building at 2440 Fulton Street in Ocean Hill. According to the building plans, the third floor of the proposed retail building will also have office spaces.

Brookfield Properties’ and Park Tower Group’s joint venture, filed on April 3, was the fourth largest project. The plans call for a 374-unit, 318,594-square-foot residential building at 35 Commercial Street in Greenpoint. The tower will have two eating and drinking establishments on the ground floor, according to the building plans.

Rounding out the top five is the NYC SCA’s plans, filed on April 29, calling for a 307,904-square-foot school building at 53-16 Northern Boulevard in Queens.

NOTE: a previous version of this story incorrectly reported the number of residential units in April

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