A city program intended to bring good design to public buildings has largely succeeded in its goal, but not without costing a pretty penny. Projects that are part of the Department of Design and Construction’s Design Excellence program, created by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2004, often come in way over budget and behind schedule, according to an analysis by DNAinfo.
One major example is the NYPD’s 121st Precinct on Staten Island (seen above), designed by Rafael Viñoly. The design is striking, resembling a stapler. But the cost overrun is even more shocking: It started as a $4.5 million project, but by the time it opened in 2013, the cost had ballooned to $73 million.
The Spring Street Salt Shed by the Holland Tunnel ventilation tower in Hudson Square started as a $10 million project, but ended up costing $23 million.
Those are just two examples. Part of the problem is that when the project is conceived, cost estimate is provided before an actual design is created. The DDC is apparently unhappy with the current situation. "The initial goal of the program was to keep design just as important as schedule and budget without causing the delays or overruns. But it is now as if design has taken over everything—with schedule and cost taking second and third place," a DDC source told DNAinfo.
At the same time, DDC defends some of the cost overruns. "In fact, many of the changes in the budgets are due to market conditions, changes in project scopes, regulatory requirements, changes in building codes, fire protection codes and the cost of materials," the agency said. "This is the same as in any building project, no matter how small or large."
Former DDC Commissioner David Burney, now a teacher at the Pratt Institute, defended the program and its use of big name architects, saying "[good design isn’t] only for the wealthy, only for the oligarchs or the one percenters."
Still, the DDC seems to want the situation to improve while still allowing the program to continue. "If you are a New York City design firm working for DDC and you can't submit a design for a project that can be delivered on time and on budget, you should be fired," a DDC source said. "If you'd like to eat up cost and schedule, go work for Vornado or Silverstein. Don't eat up taxpayer dollars."
The program reminds one of the City Beautiful movement around the turn of the last century, which resulted in gems like the old City Hall subway station, pictured below.