Much of the structural steel fabricated for the new New York Times Co. headquarters in Manhattan can be sold at auction, a New Jersey Superior Court judge ruled on March 17.

The order allows the liquidation trustee for Interstate Iron Works. Corp., the fabricator-erector which shut down three days before Christmas, to sell the steel to the highest bidder at an auction scheduled for March 23 and March 24 in Whitehouse, N.J.

That raises the possibility that AMEC Construction Management Inc., the Times project's prime contractor, will be among the bidders, say lawyers involved in the matter.

AMEC had claimed ownership of the steel, saying it had paid all that was due to Interstate. But Interstate's main lender, Valley National Bank, claimed ownership as security for its lien and loans to Interstate. The company's chief executive, Robert Abramson, claims AMEC owes millions more for the steel and for delays in the project.

The delays helped drive the cost of the steel higher as steel prices rose rapidly in late 2003 and in 2004, claims Abramson.

Attorneys for AMEC had been negotiating a possible buyout deal for the steel in the days leading up to the order by Judge Kenneth MacKenzie, who has been sorting through the claims in a courthouse in Morristown, N.J. AMEC has claimed that it needs the steel this month and that ordering it anew will delay work another 3.5 months.

As soon as MacKenzie's order was in hand, "the price just went up," says Stephen Ravin, the trustee for Interstate's assets.

Attorneys for AMEC could not be reached for comment. Other fabricators have been preparing steel for the job but AMEC still is looking for an erector.

A total of 6,000 tons of steel will be auctioned along with Interstate's state-of-the-art fabrication shop, cranes, trailers and real estate.

The steel for the New York Times project is now likely to be part of the auction, says Randy Fridkis, president of Continental Auction Group, N. Palm Beach, Fla. More information on the auction is available at