“It was a tremendous amount of effort by those volunteers, and they loved doing it,” said Coletti, who explained he decided to close it to protect the public image of the NYBC.
In the construction industry, putting forward a positive image is a difficult task when press coverage usually dwells on accidents, protests and occasional indictments.
“What constitutes ‘news’?” asks Richard Anderson, answering, “News is something out of the ordinary. Even at the safest, the best-managed jobsite is still going to be out of the ordinary. Meanwhile, the vast majority, the 98.8 percent of the activities go without a hitch. They’re well-managed sites. There are no accidents. They’re clean. They work on schedule. No one’s going to jail.”
While the NYBC has been committed since its founding to improving the industry’s image, Coletti says that the idea that the organization supports any pro-construction measure is a “misconception.”
When media and real estate mogul Mort Zuckerman tried to court NYBC’s support for a building at the current Columbus Circle site of the Time Warner Center, Coletti told him, “Mort, with all due respect, I don’t think that we can support that building. That’s one of the ugliest buildings that I saw in my life.”
According to Coletti, Zuckerman replied, “Nobody ever said that to me.”
The press, Coletti says, used NYBC’s rejection of the project to attack it until it died, but he says the Congress was never credited for taking a principled and unexpected public position opposing what would appear to be a natural ally.
Yet public image, once the Congress’s founding concern, now has declined in importance, beneath lobbying efforts, political action committees and the foundation.
Richard Anderson says that he wants the New York Building Congress to assert its industry as the city’s economic engine, which deserves public investment.
“If you take the total built environment of the industry as a whole that we try to cover, it’s 25 percent of the city’s economy, which is more than $75 billion annually,” Anderson says, explaining his figures include real estate.
By the time of centennial, Anderson has two major goals for NYBC – to hire a full time economist to display the construction industry’s economic contribution to the city and to quadruple the organization’s membership for the second time since its first surge 15 years ago.
If achieved, it would be a dramatic fulfillment of the Congress’s original vision.
Kohn wrote of its inception: “We started out with the idea that the building industry was disorganized, and the only hope for effective improvement in the industry was… through cooperation of all of its elements.”
By the centennial, Anderson aims for an NYBC that is organized beyond any point of its history, asserting its role as one-fourth of the economic engine of the city at the center of the world.