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NEW YORK CITY-An ad-hoc coalition formed by a small cadre of construction-industry heavyweights and including representatives from every local trade association has been meeting without fanfare at ground-zero command centers to plan a large-scale restructuring of the entire New York City building process. The under-the-radar group aims to fast-track cleanup operations at the World Trade Center site while immediately ramping up development of three million sf of office space.

Louis Coletti, chairman & CEO of the Building Trades Employers’ Association and co-chair of the Construction Industry Partnership, is the driving force behind the group, which has held three organizational meetings since Monday with delegates from the city’s 23 trade associations, their affiliate organizations and representatives from the Real Estate Board of New York and the city and state governments.

“There are two levels to this,” Coletti says. “First, we need to get an agreement between labor and management for the cleanup at the World Trade Center site. Second, we are going to simultaneously rebuild three million sf of space. We have been working with the Real Estate Board to identify the specific locations so that we can mobilize manpower and contractors to see how we’re going to finish up existing work. We’re also going to reach out to building trades throughout the country to bring people in.”

Several organizational strategies are already in motion. REBNY has agreed to identify potential development sites throughout the city. It is collecting information through its Web site and will feed the information to Coletti and Ed Malloy, president of the Building & Construction Trades Council of Greater New York.

“The Real Estate Board is charged with identifying building owners outside of the recovery zone so we can get them a list of nearby contractors,” Coletti says. The master list of vacant space will be used to centralize and coordinate the deployment of labor and management on a citywide basis.

REBNY president Steve Spinola confirms Coletti’s plans as well as the board’s participation. “We’re going to do anything we can to plan the work that’s going to be done over the next few years. Lou’s group permits the coordination of the people who actually do the building: the contractors and the unions.”

“We have suspended any normal mediation and arbitration procedures on existing construction sites,” Coletti tells GlobeSt.com. “They will be handled immediately with final decisions made by me and Ed Malloy and will be binding on all trades.” A committee has also been assembled to take charge of cleanup issues. It includes Malloy, Frank McArdle, managing director of the General Contractors Association of New York and Ray McGuire, general counsel for the Association of Contracting Plumbers. “They will negotiate all contracts for the cleanup,” Coletti says. Their primary responsibility is collective bargaining.”

With many ongoing projects back on track, upcoming cleanup operations need to be coordinated to make the most of the labor force. “Most of the skilled tradesmen have already gone back to their jobs. So we need to coordinate the manpower with the management that will be needed shortly on the cleanup.”

What the group is waiting on with regard to the cleanup is governmental approval. “Where we go from here is the unanswered question. We’ve asked them to tell us.” Coletti says city and state officials are expected to provide the authorization requirements and funding sources that will enable the group to move into place as soon as recovery operations and disaster assessments have been completed.

Coletti says apprenticeship classes are being organized to ramp up the labor force and hints at a larger project under discussion, “broader than the three million sf,” though he won’t comment further. But it is getting the city’s office-space inventory back in shape that is Coletti’s first mission and he says no city is as equipped as New York to get such a large-scale job done right.

“The building trades’ biggest asset in response to a crisis is that the New York City construction industry is organized. It’s like one-stop shopping dealing with these issues. We can pull the entire construction industry together, put teams together quickly. You can’t do that in any other city in the country.”

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