Breaking Ground at Bulova

Posted on 12 January 2012

Heller_Bulova Watchcase Factory Renovation 12-22-11_7980_LR

The former Bulova Watchcase Factory is one of the largest buildings in Sag Harbor, and an intrinsic part of village history. For over 20 years now, boarded up and empty — save for trespassers wielding cans of spray paint — the building that was once the economic center of Sag Harbor has sat shrouded with many village residents and businesses wondering when it would finally be given new life.

That time has come.
Heller_Bulova Watchcase Factory Renovation 11-28-11_5924_LRCape Advisors, Inc., a Manhattan and New Jersey-based real estate development, investment and management firm founded by Curtis Bashaw and Craig Wood, has broken ground on what is easily the largest redevelopment project in Sag Harbor Village history.

The firm’s project involves restoring and rehabilitating the former watchcase factory into 49 residential apartments. A 112-car underground parking facility will be etched out of the 2.29-acre parcel, which will also be redeveloped with seven new townhouses along Church and Sage streets, containing a total of 16 residential units. The firm also has plans for a landscaped interior courtyard and several private outdoor gardens. The entire property will be re-landscaped with native shrubs and trees as well as flowering and ornamental plantings.

A recreation center is also a part of the design, and will include an indoor pool and fitness room, as well as other amenities.
Heller_Bulova Watchcase Factory Renovation 11-15-11_4886_LRWhile from the outside, the former watchcase factory can be an imposing structure, on the inside the building is warm, arched windows allowing sunlight to fill the space. Solid timbers of southern yellow pine frame the 100,000 square-foot masonry structure, which surrounds a courtyard area allowing for even more natural light in each of the 49-units planned for the former factory building.

According to Arthur Blee, the director of design and construction for Cape Advisors, there are roughly 1,000 windows in the watchcase factory, and the units have been laid out in a fashion that allows the design to take advantage of natural light on all sides, as well as architectural features that already exist within the building.

One two-bedroom unit on the second story contains a total of 25 windows alone. A fourth story octagonal penthouse unit is wall-to-wall windows, and will offer unprecedented views of downtown Sag Harbor and the waterfront.

Heller_Bulova Watchcase Factory Renovation 11-15-11_4967_LR

There are vaults, Wood pointed out, that were originally used to hold the watchcase factory’s precious metals. Precious in their own right and clad in pristine granite, these vaults will be incorporated into some of the apartments as bathroom or kitchen spaces. In fact, noted Blee, these architectural details, like a fan of timbers on the ceiling of a second story corner within the factory building, will allow each unit to have its own character and design. While that presents challenges from a construction standpoint, project manager David Kronman noted that from an aesthetic point of view, it is ideal in its own way.

Blee, walking along a second story corridor, added that historically having this much natural light was likely critical to the factory’s operation, but that despite being over a century old, it translates well in 21st Century design.

“It is almost modern in that way,” said Blee. “It’s a simple aesthetic.”

While businessmen, Blee and Wood are obviously passionate about the project, and in particular the ability they have to reuse as much of the existing factory building as possible. Damaged and partially collapsed additions to the building have already demolished, but will be rebuilt. According to Blee, construction crews are saving and cleaning any reusable bricks — many printed with the word “Nassau” showing their origins on Long Island. Those bricks, along with others that match their color and patina, will be reused in construction.

Inside the factory building, Wood pointed out a section of timber and brick wall space that had been blasted with walnuts to clean them of age and restore them to their original splendor.

This is part of the firm’s commitment to incorporate environmentally sustainable, green practices in the construction. In addition to reusing as many building materials as possible, a green roof is planned for the building using low lying vegetation that sustains itself. The roof will also provide a landscaped area that residents of the watchcase factory will be able to access, while enjoying 360-degree views of Sag Harbor Village and beyond, while the re-development itself will reduce the amount of impervious surfaces on the property by almost half.

Cogeneration electrical systems, water saving devices and even solar panels to heat the indoor pool are also being considered as energy saving features.

An original fireplace will also be restored and will be the centerpiece in a grand lobby that will also feature what Blee thinks was an old steam driver, recovered from the factory building. The crew is saving many artifacts with the hopes of reusing them as design details throughout the building.

This kind of work is not new to Cape Advisors, which has completed a number of historic restorations for adaptive re-use in Cape May, New Jersey, including Congress Hall, which was originally built in 1816. Redesigned into a resort, including a restaurant, Congress Hall is one of many historic development projects the firm has completed in Cape May. Locally, Cape Advisors is also handling the renovation of the Baron’s Cove Inn into a resort, although the property is owned by another entity, and most recently has been reported to be contract to purchase The Chequit Inn on Shelter Island.

While this week Kronman did not comment on the firm’s purchase of The Chequit Inn, he did speak in an interview last week about the company’s commitment to communities like Sag Harbor.

“I think as a company we love the classic American resort town and the sense of history they have,” said Kronman. “Not everything is new and we love Sag Harbor’s Main Street. Cape May is different, but very similar in its own way. It developed as America’s first seaside resort. One of our hotels there, Congress Hall, was developed out of an 1878 version of the building, but it was originally built in 1816.”

“We think Sag Harbor is the best village on the East End of Long Island and is classic American, so we do find a lot of similarities there,” he continued.

According to Wood, Cape Advisors hopes to have the restoration and reconstruction of the watchcase factory completed by December of 2013, if not sooner.

While construction has begun, it has mostly entailed demolition of the existing, dilapidated outbuildings. Excavation of approximately 30,000 cubic yards of soil for the regrading of the property and the creation of the underground parking will occur this winter and be finished by Memorial Day. The firm will also shore the property line to stabilize the site, which Kronman said will begin in the next month and must be completed before any mass excavation starts.

During this period, according to plans filed with the village planning board, an average of 15-to-20 10-wheeled dump trucks will leave the site daily to handle excavation and will typically leave the site by 1 p.m.

Three routes will be used by trucks to minimize the impact on any one neighborhood, according to plans filed with the village. Arriving trucks will come down County Road 39 and use Noyac Road to Long Beach Road to Route 114 to access the site at its Division Street construction entrance. Leaving the trucks will take one of two routes – one southbound on Route 114 and through Wainscott to connect with Route 27 in East Hampton. The other will take trucks from Route 114 to Long Beach Road to Noyac Road to Brick Kiln Road to Scuttle Hole and out onto Montauk Highway.

Sediment controls, to prevent any soil from leaving the site, as well as dust and odor controls and a community air quality monitoring program will be implemented during the excavation and throughout construction.

This winter and spring, during the heaviest part of excavation, is when the project will generate the most of its truck traffic, according to plans filed with the village’s planning board.

After years of remediation work, the property has also been taken off the state’s list of Superfund sites, reclassified as a Class 4 site, meaning it no longer is a hazard or public threat.

While the excavation is occurring, the factory building will also have its masonry restored, said Kronman. Construction crews will begin re-pointing bricks in the next few weeks with scaffolding planned for the entirety of the factory building, he said. Restoration of the interior will begin at the same time, he said.

Once excavation nears the depths needed for the garage, the concrete floor and foundation will be poured. That, Kronman added, will hopefully be completed before the summer.

Once a concrete roof has been poured for the parking garage, the seven townhouses and recreation building will be constructed. According Blee, they are viewing the construction of each townhouse, all created in different architectural styles, as the framing of an individual house.

Meanwhile, the roof will be replaced on the factory building. Once the entirety of the factory building is restored, new windows will be installed, and framing, sheet rock and finishes will begin on the interior. The last step in the project is to complete landscaping throughout the site.

“In any restoration project this large, there will be construction challenges, but these are the types of projects Cape Advisors is well versed in and we have been successful, so I think we have a good understanding of what a project like this takes,” said Kronman.

“Another major challenge will be that this is the largest project the village has ever seen or has ever taken place and we will be balancing the concerns of the community, which we want to be sensitive too, while understanding getting this project completed as soon as possible is better for everyone.”

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8 Responses to “Breaking Ground at Bulova”

  1. Susan DeCastro Lester says:

    My Mother and Father worked at Bulova for many years. It is a shame it took this long to restore the building. Good luck with it.

  2. Bonnie Wingate Jackson says:

    My mom spent all my growing up years working in the payroll office at Bulova. The 15 min. I waited for her in the lobby to get out of work at 5 pm. totalled many many hours of my childhood. It wasn’t too hard on me though. I always had a comic book from Race’s Pharmacy and a bag of cookies to munch on from the Bakery next to the movie theatre in the 60′s. Thank goodness new life is being brought back to that building. I just wish it were going to be “affordable” for the locals. I would move into whichever apt. will be right where the office once was. Lots of happy spirits inhabit that space, I believe.

  3. Evan Rotner says:

    Bonnie Jackson wishes that there could have been affordable units for locals. A protracted attempt was made by some “Locals” to have affordables included in the project. Unfortunately the Developer resisted these efforts with the questionable position that affordables could not be afforded by the Developer. A detailed financial anlysis (mine),based on the Developer’s data and Plans, shows that the anticipated profit on the project iss 50%; inclusion of affordables would have cut profit to about 35%. With some creative planning by the Village, the Developer’s loss on the inclusion of affordables could have been recaptured – by including, for instance, high market value units on the roof of the Bulova, overlooking the Sag Harbor Roads. Too bad the Developer’s creative sensitivity to the Village’s historic character and the Village’s capacity for planning in the public interest, did not extend to the Village population’s current need for affordable housing. Would there still be an opportunity to reopen a discussion with the Developer?

  4. 73-WORKER says:

    I remember Miss Elizabeth Hall, the production manager there at the watchcase factory. Reminded me of Mrs. Rayburn the principal on Leave it to Beaver. Nice lady, but I wouldn’t want to cross her! Nice era. Real blue collar town, now gone forever.

  5. Anthony Ernst says:

    Mr. Rotner points out that a great opportunity was lost in a village where many public servants and employees of local businesses have been forced to leave for lack of housing.

    I hope that the Express will follow up on this story and tell us how much will these luxury units be sold for.

  6. Warren Kerr says:

    As I recall there was not much early support for this project and many fought it all the way through. At a time when things could have been more civil and affordable housing could have played a bigger role in the negotiations most were preoccupied with stopping the project cold. Money has been put aside for housing now let’s see how well the town utilizes it. Perhaps the paper could follow up on that.

  7. Bill Chaleff says:

    Written by me in 2007 and still is an accurate assessment of this project. Bulova will effectively operate as a gated community.
    Nothing like this should ever happen again!

    27 September 2007

    Planning Board
    Village of Sag Harbor
    New York 11963

    Gentlemen of the Board ~

    How this body – and the other Village entities that have various aspects of the Processing of the Watchcase Factory application under their jurisdiction – respond to their various charters, which all have as their basic mandates the protection of the best interests of the Sag Harbor Community, will be their historical defining moment. This will be so because the breadth and depth of the impact on the Village by the development of this parcel will be so enormous as to change drastically and for decades into the future the very character and nature of Sag Harbor.

    What is this character and nature that is placed under siege by this application? Sag Harbor is the last bastion of the Hamptons Villages that all used to be diverse and healthy working communities before the previous decades changed them into resort communities; Villages that no longer have restaurants and stores that serve the year round community, or housing that is affordable for the working professionals and their children, or cultural facilities and events that serve local needs. Sag Harbor is the sole Village that still retains a five and dime store on Main Street and a beloved barbershop, a Laundromat and a coffee shop. Sure, the Village has its boutiques, real estate offices, sushi and carriage trade specialty shops, but what other Hamptons has several restaurants that offer lunch for working people, a pizzeria, an alternative movie house that is not another national chain, and not just one but two used book stores among others?
    Being an architect and planner, I can not fail to mention the national jewel that is the gently curving Sag Harbor Main Street. That distinctive curve makes it a street that can’t be taken in all at once, despite its relatively short length, and so it pulls you in and along, a pedestrian’s dream with sidewalks wide enough for people, trees, and benches, the diagonal parking reminiscent of a time when horses might be hitched nose in to the sidewalk. The buildings each proudly proclaiming their various birthday periods were not built all at once like a Disney reproduction, or all renovated to a recent popular style, but instead are a model graphic display of the natural unfolding process that is the hallmark of authenticity both in nature and in the built environment. The other Hamptons have been “colonialized” into a same dull gray shingleness that just happened by chance to be the favored eclectic style of the last two decades. In spite of the devastating fires that swept many times through the Village, Sag Harbor has original colonial structures, federal, Greek revival, Italianate, Egyptian, gothic, and Victorian buildings – and that’s just up through the 19th century. The Village also boasts buildings that are deco, colonial revivalist and Victorian revivalist and non-descript examples from the 50’s through the 70’s. Importantly there are also many work-buildings from periods past.
    Why is Sag Harbor so different from the other Hamptons in all these aspects? It is because the people of this Village mirror the built environment they shaped and preserved, The Sag Harbor community has always been a healthfully diverse one, its history markedly different from its neighbors who were for the most part strictly agrarian and maritime peoples. Sag Harbor was not only a whaling center and deep water port which insured influxes of people from all over the world, but was also a manufacturing center, and home of the first U.S. Customs house. Even when the resort/second home idea took root here, it was different from the way it developed in the other Hamptons. Sag Harbor became home to wealthy and working-class African-Americans and also Native-Americans. It also became a haven to many artists and, particularly, writers.

    How does the current Watchcase Factory application threaten this community?

    1. The Proposal is for 80 units of apartments that are all to be marketed at a minimum of a million dollars each. While it is illegal to discriminate against people because of their national origin, color, sex, sexual persuasion, or age – it remains legal to discriminate according to one’s fiscal condition. So we know who will be in these units, but more importantly we know who will not be in this Shining Star Model of Progressive Adaptive-Reuse.

    2. The WatchCase Proposal comes at a critical time in the history of the Village. It comes long past the time when the Village teemed with perhaps twice its current population and when most of those people were not professionals but blue-collar or “soiled-collar” workers – the illiterate, the under-class, the proletariat. Now, when the Village sports a population of only the “higher” classes – after over a decade of many saying there is a severe affordable housing problem – the conventional wisdom finally accepts that there is indeed such a housing shortage and that it is a serious problem. Why? Because it’s not just blue-collar people who can’t find decent housing in the Village, but teachers, engineers, emergency medical technicians, and their – our – children. So this Proposal will displace and eliminate the scarce opportunity to provide affordable housing units. In fact, the WatchCase Developer claims to have scouted the Village and its immediate environs in order to find an alternate site on which to build affordable units and – are we surprised? – came up with nothing.

    3. The conventional wisdom has also finally integrated the idea that social and economic diversity are the benchmarks of a healthy society. It is with pride that Sag Harborites look back on their colorful history, a history that is particularly noteworthy and one that could only be created by the richly diverse community that always was Sag Harbor. Shutting out affordable housing means limiting the economic and socially diverse composition of the Sag Harbor community. Limiting diversity erodes the social and economic health of the community.

    4. The Proposal ignores the Village’s need for additional affordable retail and office space. Just as only the wealthy can afford to live here, high rents for retail and office space insure that only businesses that market expensive goods and services may exist here. Sag Harbor is on the edge of losing its bookstores, coffee shop, pizzeria, and barbershop. Can the supermarket be far behind? An interesting sidebar here is that the Developer has claimed that the fiscal burden of providing affordable housing is too great for the project, yet the funding stream created by including commercial uses – which add hardly any measurable septic load – is ignored.

    5. While the extreme measures of Architectural Preservation that are inherent in the Developer’s adaptive reuse of the Watchcase Factory are to be applauded, less in the spirit of the Village’s History are the pseudo-eclectic duplexes that are proposed for Sage and Church streets. Each previous generation always built the most advanced and modern buildings of their day. The best architecture always reflects the issues of Time and Place; that’s why the Village is able to sport such a richly varied tapestry of styles and types, and why the Village is an architectural national treasure – from it’s fanlights to its Egyptian revival Whaler’s Church. Our obligation is to build the best we know how to today. Buildings that address the issues of our time. Are we so lacking in our confidence to do so and so weak with our imaginations that we don’t even try? How sad. But technically well-built Stage Set buildings are not an acceptable substitute.

    6. The Proposal is cloaked in an attractive Mantle of Greenness and certified with the Official LEED stamp of the United States Green Building Council – the most popular and professional Green Building Rating and Certification Organization. (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.) While the Proposal complies with the technical requirements of such Certification, it does so by squeezing through a loophole in the Rating System that ignores Social, Economic, and Cultural Diversity. Interestingly enough, acknowledgement of the importance of this issue pops up in another LEED Section known as LEED ND, the “ND” represents Neighborhood Development, but the Proposal is filed under LEED NC – New Construction, with its emphasis on energy performance – and not ND. One may verify all of this at: http://www.usgbc.org/LEED/Project/RegisteredProjectListDetail.aspx?ID=10013917

    The “NC” application is pretty strange in itself, if not filed under the most appropriate classification – ND – the project should have at least been filed under the “EB” – Existing Buildings – application, for even the EB application gives more weight to community impact concerns than the NC rating system, so the Proposal carefully skirts these issues while managing to acquire the Magic Mantle of Official Greenness. I would call this the most insidious and most audacious example of “Greenwash,” and I am embarrassed for my colleagues at the US Green Building Council who let themselves be used and manipulated in this way. Such an application erodes the credibility of both the Applicant and the US Green Building Council. Greenwash continues to be a major problem as the Built Environment hurriedly stumbles towards true green reform, and the Public should be wary of the differences between validated real green projects and pretenders and other “wannabees.” As with all certification and licensing programs, savvy consumers know that such certification papers are only the starting point for evaluating the competency and authenticity of various practitioners and programs.
    The threat to the community here that this Proposal will set an example and precedence for other project applications on the Sag Harbor horizon that will cite the USGBC green certification as a way of mustering support, while true health through diversification is ignored.

    7. The Proposal values Automobiles over People. While the whole idea of a Village is that “Life takes place on foot,” and that pedestrian chance encounters are the true magic and attraction of our Sag Harbor sidewalks, accommodation and balance are thrown away in this Proposal where millions of dollars will be spent for an underground parking lot for 120 vehicles. While asserting on one hand that the economics of the Proposal precludes the construction of affordable housing units, on the other hand it doesn’t seem to preclude the most expensive kind of parking garage construction, easily in excess of $100,000 per vehicle. And, of course, these vehicles must be accommodated on site. So the Proposal is for an $80,000 per affordable unit $1.3 million pay-off towards having these 16 units built on some mythical off-site location, but also includes over 12 million dollars to provide expensive protection for 120 Mercedes, BMWs and SUVs. How can the various Village Boards and Regulatory Authorities approve and issue permits for such elitist nonsense and not be embarrassed?

    8. An additional major amenity is also included in the Proposal and shown on the Site Plan – a gymnasium/natatorium/recreation center. The Application proudly details that fact that the full Olympic-sized pool will sport a fully-glazed retractable roof. Again, is this the kind of modest construction that reinforces the Developer’s claim that economics precludes the construction of 16 affordable unite in the Proposal? And what of the recreation center? While its roof is covered with photovoltaic panels, could there not be affordable apartments above the recreation center and then the photovoltaic panels capping all? Not enough money for both? Really? Oh, it doesn’t actually matter because those who might live in such affordable units wouldn’t be allowed to use this marvelous amenity anyway. We know this is so because if these occupants were welcome to use these facilities, then so would the rest of the Village – and we know this is not the case. These facilities are for the exclusive use of the 80 market-value unit occupants.

    9. Finally, the Site Plan of the Proposal is deceptively simple. Half-way down the length of Church Street, a new street is proposed that appears to cut the “superblock” in half, and thus better integrate the Project into the scale of the existing Village street grid and thus appear to welcome the community in and encourage vehicular and pedestrian traffic through the very center of the site. But let’s look carefully at what really is happening here. It turns out that this new public street is actually only ingress and egress for the private underground parking lot and special service drop-off and pick-up for the luxury units. There will actually be little or no cause for anyone else, whether pedestrian or motorist, to use this street as there will be no stores or any other destinations for anyone who doesn’t live there. So this public street will realistically function primarily as a private drive and service access.

    To sum up, the Proposal is seriously flawed on the programmatic level and if implemented as described on the Drawings and Application, will be a large destructive element in the very heart of Sag Harbor Village that erodes rather than reinforces Community, and will give the Village a huge initial push on the slippery slope towards the Disneyfication of the Village and finally mark its change from the Authentic to another of the Resort Communities that sadly virtually all of the other Hamptons have become within the rapid span of but a single generation.

    The Responsibility lies with the Town Officials to judge the appropriateness of each Project Application. It seems to me, that while detail and manner of execution are important, a simple list of criteria should include the following questions:
    Will the Proposal increase or decrease the life and vitality of the Village?
    Will the Proposal increase or decrease Community?
    Will the Proposal increase or decrease the Health and Well Being of the Community?
    Will the Proposal increase or decrease the Diversity of the Community?
    Is the Proposal Sustainable?
    Is the Proposal Appropriate?

    And most importantly……

    Have all practical alternates and variations been considered?

    Only when these issues are resolved favorably should the review process move on to the next level of details concerning the specific aspects of the Project. The Bulova Watchcase Factory is a proud building with a great heritage. Its potential to help grow the very heart of the Village is enormous. Let no small private interest interfere with the proper development and maintenance of the Public Realm of Sag Harbor Village!

    Respectfully,

    Bill Chaleff, A.I.A., LEED A.P.2003


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