Flintlock Construction Services LLC.

Anyone quoting the phrase “there’s nothing new happening under the sun” while Flintlock Construction Services LLC is in operation will find themselves sorely mistaken. This open-shop contractor traces roots back to a four-generation construction family, rich in history but continuously evolving into the future.

The 14-year-old company builds upon the groundwork laid by its patriarchs. Brothers Andrew and Chip Weiss tell us their great-grandfather was a builder of single-family homes in New York City’s outer boroughs. In the early 1980s, the brothers worked alongside their father and grandfather as private building developers.

In 1990, the pair started to branch off into their own field on the family tree. Chip Weiss worked as a developer of affordable housing while Andrew Weiss handled the contracting, forming a seamless duo with separate jobs but one goal.

“My brother and I came into the company in the early 1980s and by the 1990s started diversifying into fee general contracting while continuing to build for our own account,” says Chip Weiss, Flintlock’s co-owner. “It was really my brother Andrew who went out into the fee contracting world through affordable housing [that was] government financed in the early ’90s, when there was not too much private construction in New York.”

With a new millennium approaching, New York City saw a renewed interest in private development. The brothers segued from affordable housing into high-end residential condominiums in Manhattan. Soon after, the company “firsts” rolled in. According to the company, Flintlock is the first open-shop general contractor in New York to:

  • Complete a new building taller than 11 floors
  • Complete a new building taller than 24 floors
  • Complete a new building taller than 31 floors
  • Utilize a tower crane

Flintlock developed a niche as an open-shop contractor who could build structures taller than the average open-shop contractor that typically sticks to buildings within the six-story range. According to Chip Weiss, the company is one of approximately three open-shop contractors in New York with this capability.

“As land prices started to accelerate in the past decade, it became uneconomical for projects in the $10-[million]-to-$30-million range to be built in the traditional way,” according to Chip Weiss. “There was a need for companies like ours to develop in the ecology of the construction industry.”

Though there was a demand for Flintlock-type companies, the supply wasn’t so easily accessible. No one in New York would rent or sell Flintlock the necessary hoists and cranes needed to go above 75 feet in height. That type of equipment is usually reserved for union contractors, but in a skyscraping city like New York City, limited height requirements means limited opportunity.

Travelling a bit farther west and stopping in the middle, the company made a breakthrough and purchased two hoists from Chicago with U.S. Crane and Rigging, a New York crane operator. In 2001, the company reached 11 stories, the first open-shop contracting outfit to do so. Then it was up to 18 stories and soon 25. The company lingered in the mid-20s for its story range for a bit until it was able to rent or buy a tower crane form Europe via a generous deposit, allowing it to reach the 30-story mark in 2007. To date, the tallest building it has constructed is 33 stories.

For about five years, Flintlock focused on luxury condominiums. When the market became oversaturated, the Weiss brothers moved into another sector in need of contractors.

“New York City is really underserved in the hotel segment compared to other major destinations like Las Vegas, Miami and New Orleans, even,” Weiss says. “Particularly as the condominium market really became saturated around 2007, developers in New York turned to hotels as an economically viable alternative.”

Accommodating Hotels

For the past five years, Flintlock has perfected the art of building hotels and recently finished a full-service, 4.5-star hotel. Flintlock served as the builder and the Weiss brothers as co-developers. Originally named the Fashion 26 Wyndham Hotel at 152 W. 26th Street in Manhattan, this $37 million structure occupies 21 stories and 100,000 square feet.Weiss says it was originally designed as a “3.5-star, run-of-the-mill hotel.” However, the development team made a decision to bring in a new designer who was skilled in the art of high-end architecture halfway through the development process.

The designer, Glen Coben of Glen Co., implemented a fashion theme into the design, inspired by the hotel’s proximity to the New York Fashion Institute of Technology. The hotel’s finishes and feel were turned upscale, and as the contractor, Flintlock needed to deliver.

“On the construction side, we had to adapt to the higher level of finish being brought in, which we did by bringing over some specialized finishing superintendents and setting up a high-end finish team,” Weiss says.

The result was a 21-story hotel with a semi-circular driveway – a feature very difficult to get approved in the city, according to the Weiss brothers – a 125-seat ground level restaurant and rooftop bar with a view of the Empire State Building. The overall development of the hotel cost $88 million and the luxury upgrades paid off, the company says.

Just five months after its April 2010 construction finish, the hotel was sold and reflagged as a full-service Hilton Hotel, resulting in a $30 million profit split between the developers. As Andrew Weiss explains, monetary compensation wasn’t the only reward the company took away from the job.

In 2007, just as development of the Fashion 26 hotel commenced, the New York City building code modified its rules for underpinning neighboring structures when constructing a new building. Previously, builders could underpin a neighbor’s foundation without their permission.

When the code changed, it gave neighbors the justification to request multimillion dollar gratuities in exchange for permission to underpin their building. The neighbor of Fashion 26 made a monetary request the company had to refuse.

In response, Flintlock developed a technology of upturning the footing through excess space in the basement. The technique also increases safety by avoiding the risk of damaging the neighboring building.

”We spent quite a bit of time trying to do innovative foundations where we didn’t have to underpin the neighbor’s building,” Andrew Weiss says. “With this technique, in the future we [aim] to avoid underpinning on developments and other projects after learning this.”

This type of cost-saving innovation is a direct correlation to Flintlock’s ability to think like a developer. As contractors with a developer’s history, the Weiss brothers can understand an owner’s concerns whether they have interest in the project or not.

One thing we bring to the table is that we are also developers ourselves,” Chip Weiss says. “Andrew and I have or have had interest in four of the hotels that we built. We sold two of them and were fortunate to have one sell five months after we built it.“We ourselves have experience in the entire range of the development process that we can bring to the table,” he adds.

Taking a Tryp

A separate hotel project of which the brothers also are co-developers has resulted in yet another Flintlock first. It is the contractor for the first Tryp Hotel in the United States. Formerly, Tryp was owned by the Spanish hotel company Sol Melia until Wyndham Hotels purchased the brand. There are 92 Tryps throughout Europe and South America.

Flintlock began converting a vacant garment center building that once housed a knitting factory in May 2010. The brothers not only used their own cash on the project, but brought on some of its key subcontractors as part owners as well. Between Flintlock, its elevator subcontractor, mechanical subcontractor and carpentry subcontractor the group owns 40 percent of the project. The company has brought subs in as developers once before.

“For a construction project, this is interesting because it really provided an alignment of interests that’s not usually found between the owners, contractors and key subcontractors.”

One of its subcontractors, which is not a co-developer, is the company Metal Glass Solutions. It has worked on about seven projects with Flintlock, including the Tryp and Fashion 26 hotels, for which it provided entrance canopies, windows and storefront windows.

The cost to develop Tryp is $42 million, and the 173-unit hotel is almost ready for its finishes. All the mechanical systems have been installed, and two of the four elevators are complete. The other two are 90 percent complete and the team is closing up the walls and beginning tiling. The end product will house specialized room features like family-style rooms with a fold-down bunk bed that can sleep six people in one room. Tryp also will feature fitness residence rooms that contain elliptical trainers and treadmills.

Pure-air rooms will create an ideal atmosphere for those with elemental sensitivities with its use of hypoallergenic fabrics and bedding and systems that filter out 99.5 percent of particulates. The rooms are covered with vinyl flooring that looks like real wood. Flintlock first used the wood-substitute in the restaurant at the Fashion 26 hotel.

“We saw how well it held up to restaurant use and how many people thought it was real wood,” Chip Weiss says. “And there’s a trend right now with people worrying about bedbugs to try and get away from carpet in hotel rooms.”

For those looking to venture from these relaxing confines, the hotel also will feature a lobby that flows casually into the hotel’s restaurant. Weiss says it was a purposeful feature designed to encourage guests to linger in the lobby as a social space rather than pass through en route to their rooms. Another lively aspect is the rooftop bar, which is awaiting approval from the city. Weiss says rooftop bars are popular in Manhattan. As a contractor with a developer’s interest, Flintlock often incorporates this feature on its hospitality jobs.

“We’re recommending them to our clients on hotel projects we’re involved in wherever possible,” Weiss says. “A rooftop bar will get two to three times the rent per square foot as a ground level restaurant.”

Sticking With It

As an open-shop contractor, Weiss explains that the hotel market in Manhattan has remained fairly strong for the company. Like many construction markets, this segment experienced a dip in 2009, but it seems the momentary lapse in projects has ended.

“We were fortunate to have a backlog of nine projects – all hotels – in 2009,” he says. “All of our projects were funded and we finished them all during 2010. We were really just finishing projects in 2010 and nothing was really starting.” In 2009, the company had a revenue of $63 million, and in 2010 the revenue decreased to $23 million.

However, a key condominium project has increased this year’s backlog to $62 million. Weiss says the company will likely pick up a few more condominium projects in the next few years as that market begins to round the bend. Currently, the company is in the midst of negotiating about six or seven hotel projects that it estimates will further increase its backlog to approximately $150 million for 2011. All of these projects are in New York.

Made in New York

In the past, the company travelled for projects in suburban New York and about seven years ago even ventured as far as Houston. “We used to go outside of New York,” Weiss says. “But we’re better off staying small and readily focused where our logistics are. We’re really only going to be building in Manhattan south of 59th Street for the next three years or so.”

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