September 17, 2019

Contest to Name Brooklyn Park Lawn Is Halted as It Gets Personal

“Become a part of history and name the lawn at Pier 6!” the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy exhorted on its Web site. “Maybe you have a favorite flower or bird that lives in Brooklyn Bridge Park? Something particularly cool about the view? A little-known fact about local history that deserves some recognition?”

The deadline for submissions was March 20, and the winner would be announced on April 1.

But when a campaign to name the lawn for Chris Hondros, a war photographer from Brooklyn who died two years ago, gathered steam, the conservancy backpedaled. Then on Tuesday, it decided just to call the whole thing off.

“While the idea of naming a lawn in memory of someone is certainly a lovely idea, we’re keenly aware that there are so many deserving and special Brooklyn residents to memorialize, and it felt like naming the lawn for one person isn’t fully representative of that,” said Nancy Webster, executive director of the conservancy, a nonprofit group that supports the 1.3-mile waterfront park.

Mr. Hondros, 41, a senior staff photographer for Getty Images, lived three blocks from the park with his fiancée, Christina Piaia, and was killed in Libya in a mortar attack in April 2011, along with the photographer Tim Hetherington. Mr. Hondros and Ms. Piaia were to be married in Brooklyn in August of that year.

The groundswell of support for the Chris Hondros Lawn started with Patrick J. Whalen, a photo editor at The Wall Street Journal who had worked closely with Mr. Hondros at Getty. Mr. Whalen encouraged supporters to enter the contest. More than 200 did, each suggesting Mr. Hondros as the honoree.

At first the conservancy replied to those suggestions with an e-mail, explaining that the names were meant to be inspired by the topography, or some special feature of the park. Then it canceled the contest.

“We were disappointed that the rules hadn’t been clarified before,” said Ms. Piaia, the executive director of the Chris Hondros Fund, a nonprofit group that supports photojournalism and honors the photographer’s memory, in a phone interview.

But others are not giving up the quest to name a park or special place in New York City in his memory. “I respect their policy,” Mr. Whalen said of the conservancy. “But there are many parks in Brooklyn and all around the city named after people. So I think it’s worth continuing to pursue.”

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Square Feet | The 30-Minute Interview: Michael F. McNally

Mr. McNally also serves on the senior executive team of Skanska AB of Sweden, the parent company. Skanska USA is involved in several projects in the city, including the rebuilding at the World Trade Center.

Interview conducted and condensed by VIVIAN MARINO

Q Skanska USA recently moved its headquarters to the Empire State Building, becoming one of the first big tenants there since its renovation.

A Yes, we’re one of the first single-floor tenants. We have somewhere near 25,000 square feet, all on the 32nd floor. We moved in almost exactly two years ago.

The space is LEED platinum. Green actually saves you money as long as you look in terms of life cycle, like any investor would. We save about 50 percent of our energy here over what we spent at our former space on Madison Avenue, which was about the same size.

Q What is the rent per square foot?

A I think it’s about $50. We have a 15-year lease.

Q So how is business?

A Good. Our backlog is up; the work that we have in front of us has increased. We’re working on over 1,000 projects right now. We are very happy with where we are, but very nervous about where things are headed.

Q How much of your business is in New York?

A Skanska worldwide does about $18- to $19 billion worth of work. We do about $5.5 billion every year in the United States, and somewhere around $2 billion of that is in New York. We’ve got 33 offices around the country; New York by far is the biggest. Of the 1,000 projects, I would say 100 of that is in New York.

Q Let’s talk about some of these projects.

A We’re the construction managers for the Brooklyn Bridge Park. We’re rehabbing the Brooklyn Bridge — repainting, redoing the surfaces in the ramps. That started about a year ago. I think it’s maybe about a year away from completion.

We’re doing two things at the World Trade Center: the underground part of the PATH station, then the steel on the Calatrava entrance hall. We’re also working at the United Nations; the U.N. for whatever reason doesn’t like us talking about it. The No. 7 subway line extension was another job we got this year.

Some of the other big ones: the Croton Water Filtration Plant in the Bronx and the Catskill/Delaware Water Treatment Plant in Westchester. We finished the new Meadowlands stadium a year ago.

Q Do you root for the Jets or Giants there?

A You don’t want to print that! I’m a Patriots fan.

Q Skanska built Gillette Stadium, too, in Foxborough, Mass.


A Yes.

Q Was that your most memorable project?

A As a sports fan, I loved all the stadiums, especially the Gillette Stadium experience, for the Patriots.

Q Are you doing any new commercial developments in New York?

A We only started the commercial development unit a couple of years ago in four cities: Seattle, Houston, D.C. and Boston.

New York is tough from a development standpoint because there’s a lot of competition, so we didn’t try to do that here. If the right opportunity comes up, we will jump in.

The thing for us that has made the commercial development part of our business work is that we don’t borrow money. We use our own money. That’s allowed us to get a toehold in markets.

Q What happens after the developments go up?

A We’ll sell them, mainly to institutional investors who are looking for a return. What we’ll do is, we’ll build them and then we’ll lease them out completely and then we will sell them.

Q Switching gears, about a year ago there was a federal investigation of fraud by one of Skanska USA’s business units in public works projects.

A It had to do with the use of disadvantaged business enterprises as subcontractors. We wound up settling with the Department of Justice for around $19 million. Believe me, we’ll never have that issue ever again!

Q Do you travel to Sweden often?

A About every other month.

Q Do you understand the language?

A A little bit. I bought the Rosetta Stone program, and then I would go to some meetings very proud that I knew a sentence or two and they would all laugh. So I gave up.

Q Say something in Swedish.

A Drick vatten. Drink water.

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