New York City parks deal disaster

June 4, 2009 3:31:33 PM PDT
It's simple: if contractors don't work, they can't survive. It's been nearly 10 months now since a Yonkers construction company signed a lucrative bid with the New York City Parks Department. Now, the firm says bureaucratic foot dragging and delays are about to put them under. You'd think that the New York City Parks Department would be a pretty reliable client, but the construction company says think again. The firm says it's already had to lay off more than a dozen people, and that may be just the beginning of the end.

"Financially, they are killing me," said Steve Nikas, the owner of the construction company. "They destroy my company."

His company is Tuckahoe Construction, a small firm that thought it had hit the big time by winning a $1.5 million contracting deal last fall with the New York City Parks Department. The job, refurbishing two parks. One was Clove Lakes on Staten Island. The other was Owen Dolan in the Bronx.

"I ask, when we start, when we start, no answers, no nothing," Nikas said.

"We get no answers, just empty promises," said Freddy Marji, a partner at the construction company.

The 9-year-old firm has worked on several successful projects for New York State, including the Poughkeepsie armory, so it seemed a natural move to bid on projects for New York City. The partners claim it's been one delay after another by the Parks Department, costing the firm thousands of dollars a day as they idly wait to work.

"We just want to work, our men just want to work," Marji said. "We have no choice but to lay them off, we're going to go down."

Although no money has come in from the city, Tuckahoe Construction still had to put up a $2 million insurance bond to get the parks contract.

"So now, by them holding our bonds, we cannot perform any work elsewhere, because we're only allowed a certain number of bonds," Marji said.

At the end of April, the construction company says it finally was told to start work on the project in the Bronx, but a few days later it came to a screeching halt because the Parks Department didn't have approved plans or permits. Tuckahoe wonders why all that wasn't taken care of beforehand or before they signed the deal.

In a statement to Eyewitness News, the Parks Department said, "The Parks Department vigorously disagrees with the position of Tuckahoe Construction. Work may begin at both sites. All permits are in place."

The partners claim they checked on Thursday on the Staten Island project and found incomplete plans submitted by the Parks Department.

"How would the Parks Department feel if we stopped their paycheck for 10 months and we told you guys, sit down and wait, and maybe sometime or somehow, I'll start paying your paycheck?" Marji said.

The Parks Department says it can't comment further because Tuckahoe Construction has threatened legal action, but it's worth noting that the permits for the Bronx park were suddenly available as of Thursday.