Senegal accused of not paying the architect of the NYC project

Renderings of the Senegal House (left) and 235 East 44th Street (right (Credit: Urbahn Architects and Google Maps)

Months after the Senegalese government paid $ 25 million for a bulk purchase of condos in a controversial Midtown tower he developed, a project architect says the country owes him millions of dollars in unpaid fees.

New York-based Pope Diedhiou filed a $ 2.4 million lawsuit after a years-long effort to collect payment, he claims. Filed last week in federal court in New York, this is the second time that Senegal has faced legal action over the development.

Diedhiou was Senegal’s representative on the project from 2007, as the country prepared for to acquire the property at 235 East 44th Street, records and court documents show. He was appointed by Paul Badji, Senegal’s permanent representative to the United Nations, according to an agreement he filed in court.

According to the lawsuit, Diedhiou said his work on the project between 2008 and 2014 included interior design and architectural services, in addition to handling approvals, tax payments and other financial matters. Over the years, he claims to have paid a total of nearly $ 130,000 in personal expenses for items such as insurance, legal fees and business trips to meet Senegalese officials in the capital Dakar and in Paris.

Although Diedhiou admits never having a written contract, he notes that he has rendered his services to some of the most senior officials in the country. These included former Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade and his wife, Viviane; as well as a special advisor to the president and three former ministers.

JR Skrabanek, a partner at Thompson & Skrabanek who represents Diedhiou in the lawsuit, argued that a legal obligation had been established during several meetings and years of work carried out by the architect.

Senegal’s officials at the highest level have told Diedhiou “several times” that he will be paid, Skrabanek said in an interview. “He’s been asking to be paid for a long time and they just pushed him away forever,” he said.

Senegalese officials in the United States did not respond to requests for comment.

Wade’s Midtown condo project has drawn criticism from him, according to Adama Gaye, a Senegalese political commentator and journalist. He fled the country as a result of his Stop last year for denouncing the president and now lives in Egypt.

“This project started from the whims of Abdoulaye Wade, the quasi-monarchical president of Senegal, without consulting the National Assembly or the population,” writes Gaye in a press release. “This original sin, overshadowed by corruption and cronyism, pursued him.”

Wade also ordered a controversial $ 27 million monument in Dakar – built by North Korea – which was unveiled in late 2009. Diedhiou, who immigrated to the United States from Senegal 30 years ago, says he is the nephew of prominent Senegalese architect Pierre Goudiaby , who has worked on prominent projects including the Dakar monument, which was built with public funds.

The 19-story Manhattan Tower, located a few blocks from the United Nations and completed in 2016, was envisioned as a hub for Senegal’s diplomatic efforts in New York, according to Diedhiou.

Half of the building, nicknamed “Maison du Sénégal”, was to be used to accommodate foreign dignitaries in facilities including offices, entertainment areas and auditoriums. The country would also rent about half of the building as office space, earning money and a venue for events, Diedhiou recalled through his lawyer.

The upper floors of the building included residences for diplomats, and a lavish triplex, labeled the Presidential Suite, was planned for the top of the building, according to Diedhiou’s plans prepared in 2010 and filed in connection with his trial.

Wade lost his campaign for a third term for president in 2012, but his successor, Macky Sall, continued the Midtown Project, which ran into legal issues in New York the following year. In the spring of 2013, Glacier Global Partners sued the country for allegedly abandoning a joint venture to develop the tower and opting for another partner. The costume was disposed of within six weeks and the records are sealed.

Last spring, Senegal redeemed about two-thirds of the building – which was divided into commercial and residential condo blocks – from its development partner, Pride Builders, for a total of nearly $ 25 million.

From the floor plans of the building, it appears that Maison Senegal has not materialized. Instead, the tower has been converted into rental apartments with two-story commercial space at the base of the tower. The planned presidential suite is now a leisure space for tenants. Charged rents range from $ 2,700 to over $ 6,000 per month, according to StreetEasy.

For Gaye, the project symbolizes failure, whether or not it generates income.

“No matter how useful it is to the country in the end, it is a symbol of the bad economic governance that plagues the country,” he said.

Write to Erin Hudson at [email protected]

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