On paper, Strum's assessment sounds too pessimistic. The city Buildings Department declared only nine buildings in lower Manhattan unsafe because of structural damage from the storm, and the power company, Consolidated Edison, says all buildings citywide had access to electricity and steam power by Nov. 15.
A real estate consulting firm that's tracking the lower Manhattan recovery, Jones Lang LaSalle, says 49 of the 183 office buildings in the business district were closed because of mechanical failures. By the latest count, at least half were back in full operation, even if it has meant relying on temporary power. More are expected to follow.
"We see that as a very healthy pace," said John Wheeler, a Jones Lang LaSalle executive.
One success story was 120 Wall Street, a 600,000-square-foot, 34-story skyscraper built near the East River that's home to nonprofits such as the National Urban League, the United Negro College Fund and the Eye-Bank for Sight Restoration.
Even before Sandy hit, landlord Silverstein Properties got ahead of a scramble for recovery resources by securing portable diesel generators each capable of providing 2 megawatts of power. Afterward, the building brought in its own fuel tanker from Pennsylvania — and a security team from Florida to guard it — so it could keep the generators going during the gas crunch.
Using a mix of generator power and restored Con Ed service, engineers had the elevators, lights and heat up and running by mid-November.
To the tenants, "It's as if the building's operating normally," said Jeremy Moss, a vice president with Silverstein Properties.
What tenants don't see in the bowels of 120 Wall Street is a thicket of temporary, exposed wiring that runs everywhere. The warning "LIVE WIRE. KEEP OUT" is spray-painted in red on the door of a room housing switches, fuses or circuit breakers after it was submerged. The air is clammy and musty — "the smell of the East River," said Lahm, the building engineer.