Putting an Elegant Face on the World
Hi-Tech Metals Inc. creates architectural metal work to make buildings dazzle
Hi-Tech Metals Inc. (Hi-Tech) doesn’t construct buildings; it adorns them—spectacularly. If you live or work in New York City, chances are that you’ve seen Hi-Tech’s elegant architectural metal work in skyscrapers you’ve wondered at, lobbies you’ve strolled into and department stores you’ve shopped in.
And, if you took the bus to get to any of those sites, you may have waited at one of the 3,300 high-end bus shelters the company has built for MTA New York City Transit. Or, picked up a magazine at one of 60 newsstands around the city the company built for a private contractor.
Hi-Tech doesn’t do the underlying structural beam-and-girder work on buildings. It is known for creating the artistic facings that clients use to dress up those structures, whether they’re steel, concrete or wood.
“We manufacture any kind of high-end architectural metal cladding for customers who want to make their structures dramatic and dazzling,” says Manny Velis, who jointly owns Queens-based Hi-Tech with partners Chris Doulou and Jay Valentino.
“We create entire building facades, interior walls and everything in between,” Manny says. “We do entrances, canopies, lobbies, concierge desks, interior and exterior wall trim, art walls, signage, handrails and column covers. And that’s just the short list.”
“The other side, of course, is that in addition to being artistic, they have to be strong and sturdy to stand up to the stresses of the environment they’re placed in. That’s our job, too,” adds Chris.
“We do projects that range from a few hundred dollars to millions. We like challenges. We have skilled artisans and state-of-the-art equipment to create strong, intricate designs that people find dramatic and inspiring. We’re good at it.”
A new challenge the Hi-Tech team is excited about is high-end COVID barriers and enclosures, a project that arose from the pandemic. A prominent realtor in NYC contracted them to reinvent their office layouts and building lobbies to make them safe, yet decorative. This includes luxurious, oxidized bronze barriers in the main lobby of the One Vanderbilt skyscraper.
“We produce ornamental metals for clients throughout the United States,” Chris says. “But we’re only one exit away from Manhattan, so the majority of our work is for businesses in this region.”
Cases in Point, All Gorgeous
Showcase examples of Hi-Tech artistry are abundant throughout the city. The company’s work includes stainless steel framing for the storefront of Grand Central Market, stainless steel column covers in Madison Square Garden, and interior panels inside Yankee Stadium.
“At first glance,” Jay notes, “installations like storefronts and curtain walls are mostly glass, but it’s the bronze, copper or stainless steel mullions—the vertical and horizontal beams—that give them their beauty and character.”
Standout projects around New York include:
- The U.S. headquarters of Shiseido Cosmetics on Madison Avenue: Hi-Tech created restrained dark-bronze framing for a glass storefront and entrance doors, highlighted by three broad powder-coated aluminum columns and a stainless steel canopy.
- The Equinox building on East 53rd Street: The company produced and installed the dramatic brushed finish stainless steel cladding for the exterior walls and columns, canopies by the entrances, a striking 30-foot-high art-wall display of powder-coated aluminum at the main entrance, and matching wall panels and column covers inside.
- The 1,400-foot-high One Vanderbilt office tower: Hi-Tech fabricated oxidized bronze entrances and canopies and large art display cases in the main lobby.
- The 500-foot-tall 250 Vesey Street office tower: Hi-Tech’s work involved 2-inch-thick, 16-inch-wide, 30-foot-high mullions to frame the 34-story building’s multitude of glass panels and windows.
- Central Park Tower on West 57th Street: The extensive project involved the main entrance canopy, ceiling panels with bronze light fixtures, embossed Belgian stainless steel wall panels, polished stainless steel restroom mirrors and an extended storefront of polished stainless steel.
- The ground floor storefront at the One Penn Plaza skyscraper: Hi-Tech produced 10,000 linear feet of 16-foot-high seamless oxidized bronze cladding for horizontal and vertical mullions, oxidized bronze grilles and 5,000 feet of oxidized bronze exterior trim.
A Business That Went Only Up
Founded by Manny and Chris in 1989, Hi-Tech had its origins in the elevator business. The two worked for Velis Elevator Cabs, an elevator manufacturing company owned by Manny’s father and uncle in New York City. While working there, Manny says, “Chris and I realized we could do much more than just elevators, so we branched out on our own.” The elevator cab company is still in business today.
Manny was 23, Chris 25. They started in a workspace occupying 3,000 square feet, with their initial workload brought to them by other contractors. Their annual revenue the first year was $600,000. By 1992, it was nearly $3 million.
Jay was a friend of theirs, who, intrigued by the business, left his job on Wall Street to join the company. As part of an expansion in the late 1990s, he became a co-owner.
“By 1998, we had developed the business substantially and decided to acquire half of a large building in the Maspeth community in Queens,” Manny says. “In 2002, we expanded to the entire building, giving us a workspace of 65,000 square feet.”
Inside the building, skilled artisans work with state-of-the-art machines to manipulate metals in ingenious ways. They use column and pyramid rolling machines to roll flat sheets up to 360 degrees and state-of-the-art hydraulic press brakes to bend large sections of sheet metal.
They use a new Amada computerized punch press to create dozens of custom perforating designs for decorative grilles and a multicam computerized engraver for etching lettering and graphics into metal surfaces to create appealing signage.
Manny and Chris have stayed aggressive. They purchased a 20-foot press break to complete a large job at 399 Park Avenue. It was originally used to fabricate 16-foot-high seamless stainless steel column panels for the building’s main entrance. But the acquisition gives the company “20-foot” capabilities for future projects.
“Most of our clients are subcontractors working on structures and seeking development of architectural metal cladding or frames,” Jay says. “Most projects come in with the designs already set by architects or engineers. Sometimes they’re not very practical or cost-efficient, and we go through a value-engineering process to help them understand what their options are and what’s feasible.
“By design, we have the materials, equipment and artisans to do everything in-house,” Jay says. “We keep more than $1 million worth of materials available on site. Our clients know that when they come to us, we can begin work on their project immediately and give them top-quality products in the best time.”
Hi-Tech is unique; they not only keep basic materials like stainless steel, aluminum and bronze in stock, but also exotic materials like zinc, copper and other specialty alloys.
“There are really no limits to what we can do under our roof,” Manny says. “We have an open-door policy. We encourage architects, contractors and owners to tour our plant and see what we can do. People visit and before they leave, tell us ‘You can do everything!’ ”
Exceptions to the Rule
Hi-Tech normally doesn’t deal with the underlying structures of the projects for which it produces ornamental metals, and it doesn’t install them. That’s up to the subcontractors who hire the company.
However, there are exceptions. Although the company didn’t do the structural work for the Equinox building, it installed the stainless steel cladding, canopy and the modernistic art wall of shaped aluminum panels near the entrance.
“We did the bus shelter project on a seven-year contract,” Chris notes. “We helped design them, value-engineering the original plans with more appropriate metals and hinges. We built the underlying steel structures, cladding them over and assembling them, all except the glass back panels and canopies. The process was much the same for the 6-foot by 8-foot newsstands.”
In typical years, Hi-Tech records as much as $20 million in annual revenues and has a workforce of as many as 130 employees. But, of course, 2020 wasn’t a typical year.
“The pandemic economy presented problems, obviously,” Manny says, “but we persevered to get through the COVID madness. We all (machinists, managers and owners) rolled up our sleeves to make things happen, and we’ve made it through intact.”
Manny notes that his sons, James and Michael, and Chris’ sons, Danny and Tommy, have joined the business, continuing the founders’ traditions and values into a new generation.
“At bottom,” he says, “this is a family-run business, and our customers know we’re hands-on owners who do whatever it takes to produce beautiful, top-quality results, on time and on budget.”