New York City’s Dept. of Design and Construction has shortlisted three design-build firms to submit bids for a new downtown Manhattan jail that is part of the city’s larger initiative to close the Rikers Island facility and replace it with borough-based jails by 2027.

With the state enacting public sector design-build use in late 2019 through passage of the New York City Public Works Investment Act, the approach now is a bigger part of contracting strategy at DDC. The agency announced on Oct. 21 details of its new design-build program, which departs from the traditional low-bid method it was required to use historically.  

“We plan to implement design-build gradually and then observe and modify the program as we go,” DDC said in announcing the change. “This Notice of Intent for a limited group of projects alerts firms to begin forming their design-build teams for DDC projects, and we’re prepared to help in that regard, particularly as it relates to minority- and women-owned business enterprises.”

Research from the Center for Urban Future stated New York City’s design and construction process was “badly in need of reform,” citing months-long delays and cost overruns in building city libraries and parks. The DDC’s focus on design-build is intended to alleviate these problems.

“The design build program being developed by DDC is the first of its kind for the city, which was finally authorized to use this project delivery method only this January,” said DDC spokesperson Ian Michaels.  “Until then, we’d been constrained by State law to use the design-bid-build approach.”

For the Manhattan jail, located  between the Chinatown and Tribeca neighborhoods in lower Manhattan, DDC selected New York City-based units of Gilbane Building Co., Leon DeMatteis Construction, and Plaza Construction for its shortlist. They now will compete through a request-for-proposal process for the new jail.  DDC said it will deliver RFPs to the pre-qualified firms within the next few weeks.

The shortlist announcement signals a first major step forward in the city’s controversial $8.5 billion Borough-Based Jail Program, which has faced public opposition and legal challenges.

Last month, a state Supreme Court judge ordered the project be halted after community groups, including Neighbors United Below Canal, sued the city, saying that the community-based jail program needed further review. Despite the judge’s ruling, the program has moved ahead.