BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | A wealthy Soho co-op owner is trying to score a “takedown,” literally, against his even more monied neighbor.
The Department of Buildings has determined that Ray Dalio, the billionaire founder of Bridgewater, the world’s biggest hedge-fund firm, has constructed an illegal penthouse addition — one that his millionaire ad magnate neighbor Federico Pignatelli charges has damaged and is continuing to damage his home.
The two men each own a luxury loft apartment at the West Broadway Arches, at 468 West Broadway, between W. Houston and Prince Streets.
Pignatelli says D.O.B. “turned a blind eye” as Dalio — America’s 42nd richest person, per Forbes — during the pandemic, built a structurally unsafe additional floor atop the six-story building. The illegal penthouse added 200,000 pounds of weight to the rooftop — the equivalent of 36 SUV’s. What was blithely dubbed a penthouse “pergola” in plans filed with the city was actually a “humongous,” 1,000-square-foot steel structure, Pignatelli says.
During the pandemic, the ad executive relocated to Los Angeles, where his daughter has a home with a garden, because, he said, he did not want to be trapped indoors. He returned to Soho to find, to his shock, the massive new penthouse and damage to his home.
Pignatelli said the illegal work forced him out of his apartment in May 2021. His loft currently remains vacant — Pignatelli says it’s unsafe for anyone to live there right now.
Meanwhile, Dalio’s son Mark and his wife are reportedly currently living in the new 300-square-foot, seventh-floor penthouse. However, the structure does not have a required certificate of occupancy.
D.O.B., though, recently completed an audit of the building and officially revoked Dalio’s ability to further build the illegal floor and issued a permanent stop-work order. According to a spokesperson for Pignatelli, this means Dalio has only one option — to take down what he has put up in order “to make the site safe.”
In a statement, Pignatelli said, “I am pleased to see that the Department of Buildings has completed a thorough investigation, and has acted competently by revoking the previously issued permit for a minor renovation that instead burgeoned into illegally building a 4,000-square-foot duplex with an entire new penthouse and deck floor. The officially undeclared scope of work was $296,000, when in actuality it was approximately $4 million. It was declared as minor work and, as a self-certified job, it avoided D.O.B. unwelcome inspections, so as not to be caught. This was a real construction fiasco that has caused me to be homeless for the past three years. We are confident that, through the city agencies’ processes and the legal system, justice will be fully delivered.”
Richard Donald of RSD Engineering, whom Pignatelli has retained to represent him in the dispute, said, “The design and construction performed on the co-op’s roof were rife with fundamental errors, omissions and flaws leading to unsafe conditions that could never properly be repaired. It is good that the Department of Buildings took action, as the structure’s potential failure and collapse were a ticking clock.”
According to a D.O.B. spokesperson, however, the agency has not — at least not yet — issued an emergency declaration for Dalio to demolish or otherwise remove the penthouse. Basically, while removing the rooftop addition is one option to address the situation, Dalio can also still apply to legalize the structure and get new permits to do so.
If Dalio does not either remove the structure or try to legalize it, it could result in additional violations and penalties. If D.O.B. believes the penthouse poses an immediate hazard to New Yorkers or neighboring properties, the department could issue an emergency order for its demolition; after that, if the owner doesn’t then remove the structure, the city could bring in contractors to do an emergency demolition.
One question, though, is who is actually the “owner,” in this case, since the West Broadway Arches co-op technically is the owner of the unit.
To construct the penthouse, it was perched atop eight ancient, spindly, vertical, 6-inch-by-6-inch, wooden support pilings, two of which are — contrary to the filed plans — actually inside Pignatelli’s own apartment. These old wooden vertical pilings sport large holes drilled into them in spots from years gone by, along with other notches and imperfections, which make them even less stable, Pignatelli’s team warns. The building was once used for manufacturing safes.
Pignatelli charges that the added tonnage from the rogue rooftop addition caused new cracks to form in these 140-year-old pilings, as well as in his walls and ceilings. The new weight load’s pressure also made Pignatelli’s formerly level floor slope toward Dalio’s apartment, plus literally exploded a large mirror that was set into his bathroom wall and also created water leaks and flooding from the roof, he says.
The flying shards of glass from the exploded mirror, Pignatelli noted, “could have killed me or my daughter or severely disfigured us.”
Furthermore, according to Pignatelli’s team, there is no permit on file with D.O.B. to approve all the construction materials for the penthouse being hoisted by crane to the rooftop. Instead, the ad mogul said, Dalio’s team brazenly presented Pignatelli with “a fake document” dated Dec. 31, 2020 — New Year’s Eve, no less — for use of the crane.
“We know that they did not pull any permits during COVID,” Pignatelli said.
This past June, Pignatelli held a press conference at Chelsea Piers, where his advertising company, Pier59 Studios, is based. Red bubbles drifted around the edges of a massive LED MegaWall — that the studio uses to create virtual backgrounds for ads — as giant slides dissecting the rooftop wrongdoing were displayed on it.
“I’ve been essentially a victim of my neighbor,” Pignatelli said then. “The day after I returned [from L.A.], I discovered there is a huge construction on my roof. … I knew nothing about it — and I’m his neighbor. Not a hint.”
Pignatelli related how, when he moved into the building in 1991, Sting owned the next-door unit.
“A wonderful person,” the ad titan recalled.
Another musician followed the “Roxanne” singer. Then, in 2013 Dalio bought the unit. Pignatelli said Dalio subsequently approached him three times, offering to buy his unit.
“Three times I refused,” he said. “I really love the place. I love Soho. Soho is a very special place.”
Engineer Donald gave a detailed presentation of the structural damage caused by the added penthouse floor.
Just the new planters alone that Dalio put in on the rooftop represent an additional 12.5 tons of weight, he noted. In addition, he stated, “The skylight structures [added to Dalio’s unit] dramatically weaken the structure.”
“This is an earthquake zone,” the engineer emphasized. “No one knows when an earthquake will hit. … There’s nothing that stops this deck from swaying right or left. … At the end of the day, this is not a safe apartment to live in.”
Howard Zimmerman, a second engineer, backed up Ronald on the danger posed by the rooftop addition. Zimmerman, who actually did a study on the building 11 years ago, said, “Nothing should be put on the roof because it’s already overcapacity.”
A seismic expert, Dr. Anil Agrawal, a professor of structural engineering at City College of New York, spoke more about how the building was now dangerously compromised should a quake or tremor strike New York City. Kobe, in Japan, did not have a strong earthquake for 500 years, but in 1995 was hit by a massive one that killed more than 6,000 people, he warned.
“The building is already weak,” Agrawal noted. “It was not built for earthquakes. Now we put a heavy mass [on it], which actually makes it much weaker during an earthquake.”
At the press conference, Pignatelli charged that Dalio and his consultants “seemingly misrepresented and falsified” several documents with D.O.B. and the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission and “blatantly ignored previous engineering reports” concerning the historic building.
Specifically, the permit that D.O.B. issued in December 2020 was what’s known as an Alt 2, which is only for minor renovation, and was declared at a value of only $396,000. Yet, according to Pignatelli, instead the project clocked in at $4 million. Since the work was an Alt 2, or allegedly small in scope, it was “self-certified” by Dalio’s engineers, meaning not by the city, in a kind of a code of honor. Had the project’s full cost been accurately reported, it would not have been allowed to be self-certified, according to the aggrieved co-op owner.
Dalio’s plans on file made it appear that the work would be a simple renovation (for his existing unit’s kitchen and bathroom and the like), yet instead he added a whole new floor — the seventh-story penthouse — plus did major work inside his existing apartment. D.O.B. has, in fact, revoked the entire permit, including for the interior work in Dalio’s apartment — which included adding a number of skylights, which Pignatelli, echoing Donald, charged have further compromised the building’s structural integrity by turning the rooftop into “Swiss cheese.”
Conor Allerton, director of land use for Councilmember Christopher Marte, was patched into the press conference on the LED MegaWall.
“This is not an isolated incident but systemic,” Allerton declared of the rogue rooftop unit. “It’s putting profits over people and jeopardizing people’s safety. We should not have allowed this to happen in the first place. We saw what happened to that garage on Ann Street,” he said, referring to the April 18 building collapse that killed one person in the Financial District.
As for 468 W. Broadway, the sweeping, full revocation is reportedly “particularly unusual” since D.O.B. could have ordered only a partial revocation. The ruling came after the D.O.B. audit division spent a year of analyzing the project’s drawings and calculations.
The permit revocation was actually issued at the end of July. D.O.B. followed up by issuing a partial stop-work order in September — also hitting Dalio with another violation for not having taken steps either to remove the structure or file amended plans.
“What we are asking is for the Buildings Department to be proactive, not reactive,” Pignatelli said. “If it’s wrong, it has to be taken down.”
The Pier59 Studios chief is currently suing for damages against Dalio, his engineer and his architect, as well as the building’s co-op board. Meanwhile, the co-op board is suing Dalio.
In addition, Pignatelli is now taking his case to the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals in another effort to force the takedown of his neighbor’s penthouse.
For his part, Dalio briefly told The Village Sun over the phone that he was aware the Department of Buildings has issued a ruling on the penthouse but that he did not want to comment on it.
“Mr. Pignatelli has so far filed 34 lawsuits,” he said, before the line went silent.