UNION CITY - Buildings aren't supposed to have lives, let alone come back from near-death experiences, but that's exactly what's happening with The Doric on Manhattan Avenue in Union City. Its colossal stance near the intersection of the 14th Street Viaduct leading out of Hoboken and into Union City has allowed building residents to call it "the island" because of its solitary positioning and the fact that it overlooks Hoboken and Weehawken. But its nickname also serves as an indicator of something else not too far removed from the root of its struggle to stay alive. The Doric, much like some deserted island, has struggled for years to stave off a potential abandonment by ownership, investors and tenants. It is only recently after getting healthy funding that it is beginning to feel the affects of a second chance for survival, with millions of dollars' worth of renovations. The 23-story luxury cooperative was erected in 1970 and initially served as an apartment building, but switched to a co-op in the early 1980s. At its opening, the building, which was named after the elegant Doric columns in its main entrance, was plush with luxurious carpeting, a water fountain, numerous statues and a promising future. But financial problems culminated in 1990 when neglected repairs aroused the anger of tenants who abstained from paying increased rents. The building's demise had started even earlier than 1990 - 10 years earlier, in fact, when it was converted to a cooperative. At that time, many tenants were given the opportunity to buy or continue renting one of the building's 435 one-, two-, three-bedroom or studio units, and some bought their apartments. They believed that because the building was under joint ownership, there would be several financing sources for The Doric's longevity. Units were sold quickly and the mid-1990s had seen more than half of all units sold. Along with American Landmark Management, a sponsoring realty company, co-op owners who became shareholders now owned the building's assets. A co-op board composed of shareholders, tenant representatives and the sponsor was formed to oversee the management and maintenance of the building. Nancy Mulligan, Doric on-site manager since 1997 and a representative from American Landmark Management, which took part ownership of the building after it became a cooperative, said last week that changing laws and inspection violations also contributed to the building's quick spiral into financial mayhem. After the building sponsor and shareholders unsuccessfully tried to rouse the comatose building with investment injections and borrowed funds they hoped would remedy the much-needed repairs, they decided to raise rents. This decision was met with much uproar from tenants who already believed they were paying too much. Tenants successively began refusing to pay rents, or they simply moved out. Mulligan said that without adequate funds, the building took to its deathbed in May 1996 when it declared bankruptcy. With many shareholders now locked into ownership of units in a building that seemed doomed for financial ruin, drastic steps needed to be taken. Mulligan and American Landmark, along with shareholders, sought an injunction by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to increase rents and were allowed to do so by the Union City Rent Control Board in August of 1998. The argument presented by the building's owners at the time was that since they had dished out funds from their pockets that sometimes went into the thousands, it should only be fair to have renters now pick up some of the financial slack. Mulligan said that an assessment of shareholders and sponsors along with borrowed funds allowed a settlement of more than $4.3 million to pay off existing debts owed to the building's first lender and halt the building's auction. Increased rent revenues also set in motion a $3 million renovation of the building's garage and small-scale renovations. However, renters complained that they were the only ones carrying the financial burden. And in January of this year, renters again protested over increased costs for use of the building's garage, which jumped from $65 to $125 a month. New life
But Mulligan said that rents are very unlikely to continue rising now that full financing for $10.5 million was secured this past February. With much of that money going towards "capital improvements," said Mulligan, "We have no projected increase in maintenance for the next 10 years." However, tenants like Harshada Oza, a Doric co-op owner who seems content with the building's newfound grace, believes that rents will keep going higher. But she only offers this lingering hint of discord between renters and owners when talking about the advantages of buying at the building rather than renting. "Here you lock in your monthly expenditures," she said. Another resident, Bhavana Vadhar, has owned a one-bedroom apartment for the past 13 years. She shares the apartment with her husband and two children, an eight and an 11-year old. "The space is big," she quickly said, sensing the obvious question to follow. "We didn't think to sell or move." But she and others being interviewed last week described the bankruptcy period as "sad," and "scary." Looking back on the building's troubled times during bankruptcy, Mulligan said, "It was a little bit of a challenge, but everything worked out." Once the building's vital signs are steady, Mulligan will look to leave. "We help buildings get out of trouble," said Mulligan about American Landmark. Building renovations have included the repair of its garage, installing fire doors on every floor, an upgrade of heating, cooling and electrical systems and a complete renovation of the 24-washer and 18-dryer laundry room. The building is now having all terraces repaired, installing a grass and garden area with benches, lampposts and a water fountain, new brick walkways, cleaning the white brick exterior and upgrading remaining apartments with cosmetic altercations. The pool is also set for opening after repairs, said Mulligan. Skyline view
The building also boasts a 24-hour concierge, terraces, free heat, air conditioning and electricity, a laundry room, a dry cleaners and a dramatic view from just about any apartment, said Mulligan. There is a scene in the movie "Studio 54" where the main actor is standing on an apartment building looking at the Manhattan cityscape. "That was our building they used," Mulligan said. Getting ready to board one of the five elevators still in operation without much need for repairs since the building opened, Mulligan said, "It's so ironic, this building did something so right and other things so wrong."