Leaders in Management The Cooperator Honors Three Individuals

On February 8, 2001, The Cooperator presented its annual Leadership in Management Award to three managing agents who went "above and beyond the call of duty" in seeing to the needs of their buildings and residents over the last year.

The awards ceremony was part of The Cooperator’s annual Co-op and Condo Expo, held this year at the New York Hilton and attended by hundreds of residential service providers and real estate industry experts. The awards themselves were presented at a cocktail party shortly after the Expo. This year’s leaders’ efforts ranged from restructuring their building’s financial landscape to refurbishing outmoded rooftop water towers and staying up all night to oversee elevator repairs. The Cooperator recognizes the crucial relationship between shareholders, board members, and managing agents, and would like to further acknowledge the recipients of our 2001 Leadership in Management Award for their efforts to improve their residents’ quality of life.

Martha McDonald-Goupit, Caran Properties

Martha McDonald-Goupit was recognized for her efforts at Montague Terrace Corporation, an 11-story, 21-unit landmark property in Brooklyn Heights. Both the co-op and the surrounding neighborhood are closely-knit communities that pride themselves on high standards of physical upkeep and overall quality of life. When structural problems within the building threatened both the health and comfort of Montague Terrace residents and their neighbors, McDonald-Goupit swung into action, marshaling deft interpersonal skills and an extensive knowledge of construction to contain, control, and correct the situation while preserving both the original architectural charm of the building and the day-to-day comfort of the residents.

When it came to her attention that Montague Terrace’s rooftop water tower was leaking its contents into the penthouse apartment, the passenger elevator shaft, and the elevator machine room itself, McDonald-Goupit took steps immediately to get repair workers on the scene to assess and correct the problem. Just as the repair work was getting underway, however, a major rainstorm not only stopped work on the water tower, but sent enough water down the elevator shaft to disable both the passenger and service elevators. Undaunted, McDonald-Goupit called two elevator repair teams to the property immediately and then remained on-site to assist the building superintendent with fitting a temporary cover over a compromised skylight to stem the flow of water into the building.

Though the storm briefly delayed the repair of the water tower, the project was back underway as soon as the roof dried out, with McDonald-Goupit on hand almost daily to oversee its progress. Mindful of Montague Terrace’s landmark status, McDonald-Goupit retained the services of an architectural firm with considerable experience in landmark renovation to consult on the tower repair project. Under her watchful eye, the repair team replaced the tower’s north and east walls and partially replaced the tower’s structural steel, all while preserving the tower’s unusual ornamental four-by-four-inch brickwork. Upon her recommendation, the building’s board agreed to do preventive work on the water tower’s south and west walls to prevent their deterioration and save the board the cost of completely overhauling them in the future.

It might be expected that such a serious construction project would disturb or inconvenience building residents with noise, dust, and service disruptions, but such was not the case at Montague Terrace. McDonald-Goupit was able to coordinate repair efforts in such a way that the nuisance to residents was minimal and the project finished on schedule, despite inclement weather and the challenge of maintaining the architectural value of the landmark building.

In addition to the leaky tower, Montague Terrace also needed a complete repointing and lintel replacement in its interior courtyard. This issue was complicated by the fact that the courtyard adjoined a neighboring building and would act as a wind tunnel between the two structures, blowing mortar dust and debris into both buildings’ apartments despite the application of plastic sheeting and other barriers.

McDonald-Goupit addressed the dust problem by negotiating with shareholders to cover all dryer vents, air conditioning units, and stove vents to prevent grit from contaminating the building’s ventilation system, and by making daily inspections of the protective measures. McDonald-Goupit also rose to the occasion when residents in the neighboring building launched a fusillade of letters and calls, concerned about what effect the construction would have on their property. Because of her tireless efforts, a potentially volatile situation was defused. None of Montague Terrace’s neighbors filed suit, and what might have become an ongoing antagonistic issue became instead an opportunity for communication, thanks to McDonald-Goupit’s diplomatic aplomb.

Martha McDonald-Goupit’s dedication and diplomacy have kept major projects on schedule, averted potentially antagonistic situations, and improved the quality of life for shareholders at Montague Terrace. Her willingness to go "above and beyond" earned her a place among this year’s Leaders in Management.

Fran Kempler, Eichner Rudd Management Associates, Ltd.

The market downturn of the late 1980s resulted in corner-cutting and neglected maintenance and policy enforcement in many residential buildings throughout New York City. One building feeling the ill-effects of a decade of inattention was 315 East 77th Street, a 61-unit Manhatan co-op. Unregistered sublets ran rampant, hot water was regularly unavailable thanks to a decrepit boiler, and a dozen other problems ranging from ill-fitting basement windows to stagnant sales activity plagued the building.

Enter Fran Kempler, property manager for Eichner Rudd Management Associates, Ltd. Through her application of business savvy and a keen sense of organization, 315 East 77th experienced a remarkable turnaround in a very short time. Some apartments increased in value tenfold after Kempler’s arrival, and all shareholders now enjoy an increased level of safety and overall quality of life.

When Kempler took over as property manager, her first order of business was to reduce the number of sublets in the building, which at the time of her arrival accounted for 60 percent of the building’s occupancy. Upon investigation, Kempler discovered that a substantial number of sublets were unregistered and were in arrears with their fees. Working closely with the board, she collected sublet fees from these residents and then implemented a new, stricter sublet policy setting a three-year limit, after which a shareholder must sell the unit. Kempler also re-organized the building’s fundamental policies, including its move-in procedures, which eliminated moves in or out on Sundays and holidays to minimize nuisance to residents.

Kempler also instituted a marketing plan after studying prices throughout the immediate area. This, combined with the physical improvements she organized, sold an unprecedented number of units in just the first year. Prior to Kempler’s efforts, 315 East 77th had seen minimal sales activity. Her efforts jump-started what seemed to be a stagnant situation, and the increased revenue from the collected sublet fees and sold units improved the building’s overall fiscal picture. Kempler was also able to refinance the building’s mortgage as a ten-year loan, reducing its rate from 8.5 to 6.91 percent.

Along with shoring up the financial end of the endeavor, Kempler also addressed the building’s structural and cosmetic needs. Among her innovations were exterior bike racks and basement storage units that were both a convenience for shareholders and another source of revenue for the building as a whole. To combat the problem of constant heat and hot water interruptions and a malfunctioning elevator, Kempler organized a repair program that was designed to address problems in a timely manner and effect repairs with minimal service interruption. The building’s old boiler was completely overhauled in the process, and Kempler was able to negotiate a five-year warranty for the existing equipment, eliminating the heating system’s periodic breakdowns and avoiding the need to assess shareholders for a new system. The building’s basement windows were also in serious need of replacement, and Kempler saw to that as well, cutting the building’s heating costs and saving shareholders even more money.

The effort and attention of Fran Kempler turned a problem-riddled building into both a lovely place to live and a fiscally-sound corporation. By attending to major issues without losing sight of the smaller but no less important details, Fran Kempler increased the value and comfort of her building, winning herself the title of Leader in Management.

Robert Wilson, Andrews Building Corporation

Small buildings in old neighborhoods often make up for their charm and historic significance with laundry lists of maintenance and structural problems. Robert Wilson is no stranger to this trade-off. As a property manager with Andrews Building Corporation, he specializes in Lower Manhattan’s co-ops, condos, and rentals. The fact that many of the buildings Wilson oversees are over 100 years old and made of cast iron does not mean that they can run themselves without ever needing attention. Even when Mother Nature is at her most gracious, these buildings can pose a unique challenge in terms of upkeep, but throw in shareholder politics and a natural disaster or two, and the stakes rise exponentially.

One of Wilson’s success stories begins in a seven-story loft building at 17 Thompson Street in SoHo. Situated in a notoriously low spot in Manhattan, the building was thrown into chaos during a major construction project designed to bring the building up to code for its Certificate of Occupancy. An autumn deluge coincided with high tide on the Hudson River and storm drain-blocking construction on the West Side Highway to send thousands of gallons of water gushing into the building and surrounding street, flooding the entire first floor and jeopardizing not only residents’ floor lofts and belongings but also the building’s mechanical systems. As the watermark on the building’s exterior climbed to the two-foot mark, the Fire Department arrived to pump out excess water while the storm drains slowly did their work.

Upon examining the building’s systems in the wake of the flood, Wilson found that most mechanical services had been affected by the water. The basement room that held the elevator mechanism was awash, the passenger cab was flooded, the individual gas-fired boilers and common hot water heater were malfunctioning, and the glass domes covering the electric meters were swimming in brackish water. ConEdison had temporarily cut the building’s gas supply, so the first order of business was to install an emergency electric hot water heater in the lobby. Meanwhile, clean-up teams were working feverishly in the basement to pump out what was left of the floodwater, address the sanitation issues left by the flood, and keep the area clear of opportunistic molds and fungi.

While plumbers and cleaning crews worked on the pipes and basement, Wilson brought in an elevator repair company to do a 30-day renovation of the lift’s mechanical system and a general contractor to install a sprinkler and intercom system. Wilson simultaneously handled some illegal sublets, lapsed building administration filings, intra-building feuds, coordinated contractors, architects, and engineers, and steered the property through Certificate of Occupancy compliance work.

Today, the Thompson Street building has consistent heat, hot water, electric service, a renovated elevator, and plans to move all mechanical systems out of the basement and onto the roof, all thanks to Wilson’s herculean efforts during a time of crisis.

Robert Wilson is someone building residents can count on when disaster strikes and a cool head is needed to correct the situation. He has settled resident feuds, balanced owner-to-sublet ratios, revamped building systems, reclaimed years of unpaid maintenance fees, and even turned vacant lots into community gardens. For these accomplishments, as well as his commitment to his properties and his shareholders, Rob Wilson is truly a Leader in Management.

All of this year’s honorees personify what makes a superior managing agent: concern for the community, keen powers of interpersonal communication, diplomacy, and resourcefulness in the face of adversity. The Cooperator salutes our three award-winners and wishes them the best of luck in the upcoming year.

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