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UN vacated for years of renovations

There is no mention of the company performing the new wiring job of the buildings. This complex needs a total makeover down to rubble.

UN Embalms Faded Hopes in $1.9 Billion Restoration of Buildings
by James S. Russell

Jan. 29 (Bloomberg) -- The thin, glassy slab of the United Nations Secretariat and the draping stone form of the General Assembly have been a serene presence along Manhattan’s East River for almost 60 years.

This month the last of about 5,500 personnel are moving temporarily to make way for a long-delayed $1.9 billion program of updating and restoration.

The project offered a chance to create a forum suited to a membership that has grown to 192 countries from 70 and must deal with an era of AIDS, crushing poverty, terrorism and war.

What a pity that the UN aimed much lower.

“The project is a baseline infrastructure upgrade, not an expansion or office-improvement project,” said John Clarkson, the deputy to the executive director of the UN’s Capital Master Plan, Michael Adlerstein, at a recent presentation and tour.

By 2013 the building’s guts -- heating, cooling, lighting, safety and other systems -- will be replaced. Otherwise the complex will be treated as a historic monument, and restored as closely as possible to its original condition.

Restoration alone may simply embalm UN hopes -- about nations uniting to address world problems -- that every year seem more remote from today’s reality.

For now, the UN has no alternative but to fix what it has. Having the headquarters in New York, an effort to forestall U.S. isolationism, has fostered parochialism. Local politicians don’t hesitate to turn foreign diplomats’ unpaid parking tickets into international incidents, while U.S. officials squelch any UN building effort requiring their approval.

Blocked by Albany

Numerous attempts to add space at the headquarters have been rebuffed. The latest came in 2006, when the New York State legislature in Albany failed to approve a plan that would let the UN build a 35-story tower.

“Once it was clear that we would not get that approval from Albany, we moved quickly on the renovation,” said Adlerstein, who is also a UN assistant secretary-general.