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Construction manager builds on niches.

A bit of real estate trivia: According to the Guiness Book of World Records, which Manhattan construction project required the most scaffolding ever?

Answer: The recently completed $65 million exterior restoration of the Manhattan Municipal Building, which commanded the use of more than 39 miles of steel tubing and constituted an $8 million scaffold, hoist and netting contract for a Bronx firm.

George A. Fuller Company, the construction managers hired by New York City's Department of General Services to supervise the repair and cleaning of the 40-story national landmark, made the decision to immediately scaffold and encase the building primarily for safety reasons -- stones were literally falling off the building.

Scaffolding the entire building also expedited the job by allowing many tasks to be done simultaneously.

Coming in six months ahead of schedule and $3 million under budget, the 75-year-old structure will soon be showing off its new face at an official unveiling ceremony.

But Wilfred G. Mango, George A. Fuller president and C.E.O., accepts no congratulations for the project's speedy fulfillment. According to Mango, all the firm's jobs finish early and under budget.

"It's synonymous with George A. Fuller," chimed Fuller Vice President Lynda L. Tepperman.

At a time when speculative and private-sector development projects seem an endangered species, Fuller, founded in 1882, is relying on its abilities to work with government and restore historically and architecturally significant properties for fruitful sources of business. They are also using their international experience to look overseas for opportunities.

Fuller has completed more than 7,000 construction management and general contracting and consulting assignments for the building and renovation of hotels, hospitals, high-rise office and residential buildings, institutions, and athletic stadiums. In 1991, the firm handled more than $700 million in contracts.

After the scaffolding was in place at the Municipal Building, Fuller had the rusting steel frame, which had begun to cause the granite to crumble, cleaned and coated with epoxy. The damaged areas on the facade were replaced with granite blocks from Italy. The project's architect, Wank Adams Slavin, suggested fixing most of the stone rather than replacing it.

The firm has recently concluded its assignment as project manager for the $18 million renovation and expansion of the Guggenheim Museum. While the building is less than 40 years old, Mango said, the climate control that is needed for the paintings and the unusually circular Frank Lloyd Wright design had caused the plaster exterior and the interior of the building to settle, crack and leak.

"'A' it didn't age well, and 'B' they needed more space," said Mango, a former vice president in the construction group of ITT who joined Fuller in 1978.

Following the specifications of architects Gwathmey Siegel, Fuller managed the construction of a nine-story addition and repaired the damage. In the process, Fuller went into the archives and examined Wright's principles and conceptions for the building. In many places, Fuller was able to fulfill his visions with materials and techniques that were not available in the mid-50's.

"It was a fantastic bit of workmanship in there [for example,] some of the handrubbing of the plaster," said Mango.

Government as Client

While Fuller did its share of the major corporate and speculative projects of the roaring 80's -- Zeckendorf's Gotham Apartments, Canterbury Green in Stamford, the Shearson Lehman Hutton headquarters, and HBO's headquarters, they did not "ignore" their governmental clients, Mango said. Now, when the market is slow, he said, they have a definite advantage over those who have never worked with the public sector

"That's a knack -- dealing with government," he said. "You have to understand their sensitivity to the public. Their clientele is the public. You have to understand bureaucracy's want for paperwork."

The firm broke a record back in the late 60's and early 70's when it managed the construction of Empire State Plaza, the complex which houses the New York State capitol and other governmental office buildings.

"That was the largest construction management job in history," Mango said.

Fuller has renovated and built new schools for New York City's School Construction Authority since its inception in the late 80's. Their assignments from the authority now include prototype primary schools, a school for handicapped children in Queens and a number of rehabilitations.

Other current assignments from governmental agencies include: renovations at Queens College and LaGuardia College for The Dormitory Authority; renovations at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center and Kingsboro Psychiatric Center for the State of New York Facilities Development; and access for the handicapped at 315 polling places for The New York City Department of General Services.

In Boston, Fuller is building a new 400,000-square-foot federal courthouse designed by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners.

International Player

Fuller is also finding assignments in Eastern and Western Europe, South America and the Middle East. They are about to open an office in Paris.

"Historically, we've worked internationally," Mango said. "This is not our foray out of the United States ... Of the pure builder, we've probably done more overseas than anyone."

In Kuwait, Fuller is joint venturing with American International Contractors to rebuild the AliAl-Salem Air Base, which was damaged by air and ground attacks during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Previously in the Middle East, Fuller's projects included: The United States Embassy in Jordan, the Dhahran Health Center in Saudi Arabia and the Semiramis Inter-Continental Hotel in Cairo.

They are building a Hilton Hotel in Mexico City, a five-star hotel in Caracus, another hotel in Costa Rica, and a private housing project in Israel.

Fuller is among those American builders who are braving the new and murky waters of construction and development in Eastern Europe. According to Mango, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, is allocating some $10 billion in construction projects in Eastern Europe and Russia.

"As far as Western Europeans and the United States, very few projects have been built by us," he said.

While exploring other projects and partnerships, Fuller is acting as a full-service developer and builder for a new office building in the City of Moscow.

But, while U.S. builders and developers are beginning to export their skills, Mango said, there is little involvement from American financial institutions. "They're real estate shy," he said. "They're trying to act as investment bankers.

"We've been acting as Europeans and getting our financing from Austrian banks ..."

Mango is confident, however, that the firm has what it takes to stay busy on the home front.

"We're going to emphasize the government and increase our push in the corporate," he said.

Fuller, which began as a general contractor and expanded into construction management, has put its seal on such prominent structures as The Lincoln Memorial, The Flatiron Building or Fuller Building -- it was once the company's headquarters, the Plaza Hotel, New Jersey Meadowlands Sports Complex, and the United Nations Plaza Hotel and Office Building.
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Title Annotation:George A. Fuller Co. supervises restoration of Manhattan Municipal Building, New York, New York
Author:Fitzgrald, Therese
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Sep 30, 1992
Previous Article:Lachman: 'demand-based' activity to return in 1995.
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