Glass hard to come by to replace plywood windows in Brickell
By Charlotte Libov
Four months later, Hurricane Wilma is largely a memory. But serving as a constant reminder are the skyscrapers along Brickell Avenue still pockmarked by plywood patches on shattered windows. Replacing all that glass has posed a challenge to those trying to deal with the problem.
Among buildings where replacement glass is just arriving is the Espirito Santo Plaza at 1395 Brickell Ave., according to Grant Killingsworth, the leasing agent.
"So many people comment on the glass, but they have the wrong perception of what is going on," Mr. Killingsworth said. "One of the problems is that the Miami-Dade County building code requires that replacement glass be of the same type that was damaged. So we have to go back to the original vendor or get the original type of glass. So everyone is putting in glass that was already pre-approved, and the No. 1 hurdle is dealing with the existing supply of glass.
"Our vendor had a 60-day back order prior to the hurricane, so after the hurricane, we had to work very hard to persuade them to put us at the top of the list," he said.
The building's tenants have been understanding and the boarded windows have not deterred new clients from their interest in the building, he said.
"If you're going to look for an office building from Homestead to Palm Beach, you'll be having the same problem. People realize it's a temporary problem. What we gain in sunshine, we have to put up with in broken glass," Mr. Killingsworth said.
Henry "Hank" Bush of Bush Development Group, which owns the 12-story Ocean Bank Building at 1000 Brickell Ave., was fortunate in that Wilma shattered only six of his windows. Much of the credit goes to the original owner, Allen Morris, who "overbuilt" the white-and-tinted glass structure in 1968, Mr. Bush said.
There were subcontractors onsite doing work, so he was able to replace the glass within about a month. But Mr. Bush said he sympathizes with his fellow landlords and managers on Brickell and downtown where damage occurred.
"We hear it constantly: People saying, 'It's been months since the storm. Why can't these people just order some glass and replace it?' Well, it isn't that easy," he said.
According to Mr. Bush, replacing the window of an office building - particularly the skyscrapers that line Brickell Avenue - isn't as simple as popping in a window at home.
"Often, in the buildings around here, the window is attached to the exterior in a special way, and it varies from building to building. Also, in an office building, the glass is almost always customized. They have to be measured and ordered, and it's very expensive, so no one is going to order it," he said. "In addition, you had hurricane damage all the way along the Gulf Coast. So, in some places, they are saying that the glass won't be replaced until the summer.
"The landlords and the building owners don't like it. If there was a quicker solution, they would do it because nobody wants to look around and see plywood," he said.
First, he said, it's a reminder that we are in "hurricane alley." And second, "on the other side of the plywood is someone's office, for which they are paying top dollar."
One of the few buildings where window replacement is well under way is the Four Seasons, the 70-story, 221-room hotel, residential and business complex at 1425 Brickell Ave.
"Although it looks like there was a lot of damage, most of it was to the exterior panels," said Matthew Hall, vice president of sales and marketing for owner Millennium Partners. "We have two panels, and the exterior panel is the sacrificial panel. So it looks a lot worse than it is."
He said his company, which also built the Four Seasons complex in Manhattan, "has built a lot of high-rise buildings, so they have very good relationships with glass manufacturers and we were able to push our way to the head of the line.
"We have crews working on it," said Mr. Hall. "They go up and down, using the columns that the window cleaners use to go up and down the building. I'm not sure exactly what our finish date is, but I'm sure we'll be the first one done."