TEAM. Sciame (l.) and Calatrava.
(Photo courtesy of F.J. Sciame development Inc.)

...of the New Victory Theater. Currently under way are the $65-million expansion of the Pierpont Morgan Library and the $46-million Historic Front Street at the South Street Seaport, near 80 South Street. For that, Sciame also is the developer with two partners.

Sciame is known for having the eye of an architect, the skills of a contractor and the instincts of a deal-maker. Clients like "the breadth and depth" of his teams, as well as excellent and timely performance and concern for design, quality and economy. "He’s almost a patron of the projects he works on, like a modern Medici," says Stephen V. DeSimone, president of DeSimone Consulting Engineers, the local structural engineer of record for the tower.

"Every architect in New York City wants to have a building built by Frank Sciame," says one architect.

Sciame is the 2004-05 chairman of the New York Building Congress. Richard T. Anderson, the group’s president, calls his temporary boss "an extraordinary person, with an incredible ability to capture the total picture."

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Sciame’s chairmanship is just one of his myriad activities. Among other commitments, he serves on the boards of the City College Fund, the South Street Seaport Museum and the New York Landmarks Conservancy. He chairs the Seaport North Community Business Association, which he helped organize.

What keeps Sciame’s engine revved, besides his wife Barbara of nearly 29 years and his four children, ages 17-24? One clue is the writing on the corridor wall leading to the office squash court. Hand-picked by Sciame, a great believer in inspirational sayings, they are from The Winner Within, by famed basketball coach Pat Riley. "You must give every bit of energy you have to win by an inch," says one. "You must be willing to raise the stakes, take on responsibility and follow through doggedly until the job is done," says another.

One of Sciame’s favorite off-the-wall sayings is "non-illegitimi carborundum." He says it means "don’t let the bastards grind you down." The phrase helps him get through the rough times in construction, an industry he calls, "unfairly difficult," at least in his favorite city, New York.

The 2000 purchase of 80 South Street was not Sciame’s first move based on gut instinct. His first deal was the purchase for $1 of a landmark row house in the ailing seaport district. He expanded and renovated the property, which was crumbling at the time. It now is worth millions.

High-Wire Act

Sciame’s all-time most daring enterprise is the tower. If all goes well, construction could begin as soon as late next year or early 2006 and take two years.

TOWER POWER. Calatrava designed Sciame’s cube tower to echo the Brooklyn Bridge towers. (Rendering courtesy of Santiago Calatrava S.A. & David Sundberg/Esto)

Sciame’s reputation among architects actually led to his introduction to his architect. In 2002, when Calatrava’s Manhattan townhouse renovation needed a push, Calatrava’s architect recommended Sciame as construction manager.

In the two years since, their relationship has blossomed. "He’s the real thing," says Calatrava. "I have never met someone as passionate or as enthusiastic."

Their mutual admiration aside, the road to the residential tower commission, for which Calatrava is architect and design engineer, was bumpy. In 2003, after producing two study models in quick succession, Calatrava returned Sciame’s check. He explained that, regrettably, he was unhappy with his initial concept and due to other obligations, unable to pay proper attention to the project.

Six months later, Sciame got a call from Calatrava. "Were there any height restrictions on the building?" he asked. "Virtually none," was the answer. Those were the magic words. "Calatrava’s enthusiasm returned," says Sciame. "I forwarded a larger honorarium and we were on our way."

The rest is history in the making.