If you lived in New York in the summer of 2003, chances are you know exactly what you were doing on Thursday, August 14th, at 4:15 in the afternoon. That’s when the ripple effects of the failure of an Ohio power plant caused most of the Northeastern United States and Canada to plunge into darkness. Well, it plunged into darkness where this reporter was—the windowless men's room of a Rockefeller Plaza office building. Fortunately, the sun was still shining, and I was already washing my hands.
Residents of North Shore Towers, however, a residential complex of three 34-story towers on the eastern extremity of Queens, were unaware that anything was wrong. North Shore Towers manufactures its own power at its own co-generation plant—how’s that for an amenity?—so outages that disrupt the rest of New York have no effect there. While darkness fell on the rest of the city that August evening, North Shore Towers, already tall and built atop the highest natural point in Queens, shone like a triple beacon.
“During the blackout, people knew to come here,” says Errol Brett, an attorney and the longtime general counsel for North Shore Towers. “It was hot, and they came for the air conditioning.”
The night of the blackout made clear what had long been obvious: North Shore Towers is not your average co-op. It is, in effect, its own municipality, with its own zip code, its own movie theater, its own shopping center, its own library—and a $45 million-a-year budget. And while managing such a property requires dealing with issues that all property managers contend with—noise complaints, internecine squabbling, late maintenance fees, and so forth—the job, like the property, is much bigger.
“In effect, we’re a small city. We have issues with vendors, with city, state, and federal governments, with running the power plant,” Brett explains. “It’s not just waiting for a call that Mr. Smith is making noise, and Mr. Jones is getting angry. But we get those as well.”