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Chelsea Piers: During and After Superstorm Sandy

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Picture 2The day before Superstorm Sandy was expected to hit the East Coast, Greta Wagner, the general manager of the Sports Center at Chelsea Piers in New York City, recalled that she and her team had made their normal storm preparations. Electronics had gone onto tables, outdoor fixtures had been secured, and an overnight crew was assigned to keep an eye on the expansive sports complex.

“We really didn’t think it was going to be as bad as it was,” said Wagner. “We’d gone through storm prep before, but when the water came in, it came in fast and furious.”

On October 29, 2012, Chelsea Piers’ overnight crew witnessed a series of catastrophes. Mike Braito, the general manager in charge of construction and engineering for the Chelsea Piers Sports Complex, explained that water had begun rising and entering the buildings from both the river and street sides. As the water progressed, Braito and his team had to be quick on their feet.

“As the water levels rose and flooded key mechanical and electrical rooms, we had to safely and systematically shut down the golf tower systems, elevator systems, ice rink systems, kitchen systems and equipment, and finally the main power in the building,” explained Braito. “We then operated on our emergency generator until the time the water rose about the base of the generator. At that point we shut it down and remained in the dark until morning. I moved all of the staff up to the third floor of the office building where we stayed through the night.”

CPiersQuoteThe next day, Braito and his team came down to ground level and saw a facility completely transformed. “We lost every single thing from five feet down,” said Braito. “Every piece of drywall, electronics, equipment, elevators — everything was destroyed. It was quite horrifying.”

Wagner, who had spent the night bunkering down at home, rushed to Chelsea Piers soon after Sandy had died down. “I came in the next morning, and seeing everything destroyed — it was pretty disheartening,” she said.

Although disheartened, Wagner, Braito and the rest of Chelsea Piers’ management team knew they had to take action, and fast. “We quickly realized we had to get rid of everything that was wet,” said Braito.

Staff members — from the front desk staff to personal trainers — came in droves to pitch in. They gutted everything, including flooring, equipment and fitness accessories — all of which were driven away by the truckload. “We had about 200 people working for 10-15 hours every day to get everything out,” said Braito. “Our labor force was second to none.”

After all of the damaged materials were removed, Braito brought in a construction team of about 150 workers to start reconstruction. Wagner began ordering everything that would need to be replaced. “It was a massive undertaking,” said Wagner. “We received a lot of help from vendors, and our neighborhood gyms opened their doors to our members while we were closed. Everybody was so supportive.”

Wagner detailed particular support from New York Tech Industries, Inc., which helped Chelsea Piers repair and recover any salvageable equipment. “Tech Industries was amazing, since we had so many electrical issues [with equipment],” said Wagner. “They really came in and helped us get everything back up and running.”

Within a five-week period, the Chelsea Piers Sports Complex went from devastation to recovery, and reopened to members on December 3, 2013. Overall, the 28-acre facility had experienced damage costs that amounted to millions. “It was an amazing amount of work in a short amount of time,” said Wagner. “People couldn’t believe the transformations that were going on each day.”

Although the damage to Chelsea Piers was crippling, Wagner said member and employee loyalty remained unbroken, and even strengthened after all was said and done. “When we reopened, it was like a party,” said Wagner. “It was the most expensive team-building experience ever, but we came out better for it. Our loyal members are now more loyal.”

By Rachel Zabonick

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Rachel Zabonick-Chonko

Rachel Zabonick-Chonko is the editor-in-chief of Club Solutions Magazine. She can be reached at rachel@peakemedia.com.

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