The Federal Emergency Management Agency has pulled together a Queens home base for its Hurricane Sandy relief efforts in a matter of days.
FEMA, as the agency is better known, is taking 200,000 square feet across 10 of 17 floors in the Forest Hills Tower, located at 118-35 Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills, Queens.
Negotiations began last week with owner Muss Development, and by Sunday the relief agency had begun its move into the building.
“They said, ‘we need to do a deal now and we have to get into the building within a few days,’” said Jason Muss, principal at Muss Development. “A deal that normally takes months went through in 48 hours.”
The Class-A property in the heart of Queens was selected because of its proximity to JFK and LaGuardia airports; easy access to all five boroughs and surrounding counties; and easy access to highways and mass transit.
“The fact that this place is near a subway line and intersects two major highways is an obvious plus,” said FEMA spokesperson William Rukeyser. “We have plenty of square footage and it was empty and ready to be moved into in a hurry with almost no notice.”
FEMA will occupy floors one through eight, 10 and 11 for a lease-term of “several months,” with the option to extend and building rents run in the $30’s, said Muss, who declined to be more specific, but added that some negotiations with other tenants — and an ongoing capital improvement program — for space in the building have been put on hold.
“You’re dealing with people’s lives,” he said, adding that the situation was “beyond anything we have ever experienced.”
It could be over a year before the agency is drawing up final reports and audits and fully out of the building, Rukeyser said; and Muss confirmed that his company would be able to accommodate that if necessary. But the first phase of FEMA’s job is one of disseminating information and material aid; and next comes the financial assessment and consultations relating to claims for fed assistance.
There are already hundreds of people in the building, said Rukeyser, who moved into the building on Monday, where FEMA workers are also sharing space with employees of the Red Cross, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and a number of other government and non-profit agencies.
Rukeyser described the ad-hoc, jumbled feel of the space, with hanging wires where electricians are setting up devices; a Wi-Fi antennae strapped to the ceiling; post-it notes and sheets of paper with various instructions scattered about; and folding tables holding printers and other office equipment.
“It’s never part of the plan to make the space a place of beauty,” he said.
Ken Siegel of Jones Lang LaSalle represented Muss Development; and Mark Greenspan of the CBRE Group represented the United States General Services Administration, which acted on FEMA’s behalf.