Sunday, November 30, 2014

Atlantic Yards, Pacific Park, and the Culture of Cheating (links)

I offer a framework to analyze and evaluate Atlantic Yards (in August 2014 rebranded as Pacific Park) and the Barclays Center: Atlantic Yards, Pacific Park, and the Culture of Cheating.

Note: this post is post-dated to remain at the top of the page. Please send tips to the email address above, rather than posting a comment here.

A model shown to potential immigrant investors in China in 2014,
though not shown publicly in Brooklyn.

From a deceptive 2006 Forest City Ratner brochure,
suggesting 6 acres of railyard would become a 22-acre project.

Friday, November 21, 2014

State official Kenneth Adams meets reality: traffic on Atlantic around Barclays Center crane "a mess"

Note constricted Atlantic Avenue, in blue (click to enlarge)
Kenneth Adams, the Brooklynite who heads Empire State Development (ESD), the state agency overseeing/shepherding Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, makes a point of empathizing (and usually no more) with locals concerns about project impacts, and yesterday offered his personal impressions of the traffic problems outside the Barclays Center.

"I wasn't able to make the [Atlantic Yards Quality of Life] meeting last night," Adams commented yesterday at the end of an ESD board meeting, where the board--at that point, only he was present--got an update on the project and heard from some nearby residents. (I'll have a separate post on that.)

"I had a question for Jane [Marshall]," Adams said, referencing a Forest City executive who was at the Quality of Life meeting but not the ESD board meeting. He was setting up a discussion of the giant crane on Atlantic Avenue set up to help install the planned green roof, aimed at tamping down noise escaping from the arena and improving the esthetics for future residents in the towers bordering the arena.

"This a little bit personal, but I’m just curious. No doubt the green roof is a good thing," he said. "I don’t know how this works, but there's a very big crane on Atlantic Avenue, next to Barclays, which to me looked like is that for working on the green roof."

"The short answer is yes," confirmed Joe Chan, the ESD Executive Vice President in charge of real estate and public-private partnerships.

"I dropped my daughter off [by car] last Saturday afternoon in Fort Greene," Adams continued, " but the traffic on Atlantic Avenue going westbound by Barclays was pretty bad. It was also a Saturday at five o’clock. It looked to me that that crane forces eastbound traffic either out of a lane or, I don’t know. Is that crane there for the green roof? If it has that traffic impact… when does that get resolved, because it was a mess."
The crane takes up traffic lanes and forces a shift in traffic, including use of the curb lane next to the mall
The timetable

Chan said completion is slated for 2015. (Actually, according to the project timeline released in June, below, the Atlantic Avenue crane was supposed to be up only for three months, and gone by now, but it was installed nearly three months late, in late October.)

"Traffic on Atlantic Avenue and the adjacent streets is obviously an issue," Chan said, noting that the Department of Transportation and New York Police Department, based on comments at the meeting would take a look.

"The traffic is insane," commented one resident of the Atlantic Terrace building, Rob DiRenzo, at the Quality of Life meeting. "After the MPT [maintenance and protection of traffic plan] has gone up, there has been consistent traffic, the whole time, it's really affecting the quality of life."

Responding to DiRenzo, Chris Hrones of the Department of Transportation acknowledged that, as the lanes on Atlantic were shifted, "we have to rely on that [north] curb lane adjacent to the mall as a traffic lane, and people tend to still stand there. We'll talk again with NYPD."

DiRenzo pointed out, however, that he'd seen NYPD trucks double-parked there. "I have zero confidence [in a solution]. It's getting dangerous."

How long until a solution?

Following up on Chan's comment at the ESD meeting yesterday, Sam Filler, Atlantic Yards project director, said "The crane's going to be there 'til May 2015." (I'm not sure about that, given the timeline below that indicates a three-month period, but if that's true, it's definitely mission creep.)

"'Til May," continued Adams. "But everyone’s fully aware of the impacts?"

"Yes," said Filler. (Well, not necessarily if that crane is up longer than expected.)

"It's a tough intersection when you hit Flatbush anyway," Adams said.

"There’s other work occurring," noted Filler, citing tunneling under Atlantic Avenue for the west portal to the Long Island Rail Road yard and replacement of a water main.

"When I take [my daughter] to [her friend's] house, I will not drive her any more," Adams pledged.

(I'd add that a Flatbush Avenue crane is supposed to appear for a month, after the Atlantic Avenue crane is decommissioned. That Flatbush crane also will cause traffic problems and, if it is up while the Atlantic crane is up, that will be compounded. Note that the crane on the B3 site, at the southeast corner of the arena block, does not occupy any street space.0

The approval process and the issue of fairness

"Just to clarify," added Chan. "The crane, the crane's siting, and the crane's approval, obviously, had to go through Department of Buildings and [Department of] Transportation. Clearly there are concerns, but the siting of the crane and the MPT plan was shared with the community."

"I'm sure it was," said Adams, with what I'd say was a bit of world-weariness. "My sort of personal experience is irrelevant... At the end of the day, the green roof is supposed to address the sound problems, among other things.. so the solution come May is a positive one. In the meantime, there’s at least to me, that impact.”

Yes, an impact on the community, but no cost to Forest City beyond the business expenses of installing the roof.

Note that, as I wrote last April, the green roof evaded any environmental review, since the installation, after construction of the arena, was not addressed in the first round, and the court-ordered Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement was ordered regarding Phase 2 of the project, east of Sixth Avenue.

The green roof was thus considered part of Phase 1. For the purpose of the review, Phase 1 was an "existing condition," even if it wasn't built yet. At the time, I noted that, despite the environmental and esthetic benefits, a review might disclose that there'd be trucks and cranes and other equipment for a period of time.

In other words, it surely would have been easier to install when the arena was being built.

It now seems clear that the state--more partner than overseer on Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park--missed or ignored a potential opportunity to extract concessions from Forest City in exchange for allowing the green roof. (Though it didn't require environmental review, there are often ways to set up potential roadblocks.)

If Forest City would improve its business positioning--both for the arena and the towers--thanks to the new green roof, why wasn't it reciprocally required to do something to offset the impact, in terms of enhancing the neighboring community?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

At the Quality of Life meeting: dismay over parking, new buildings well-received, update on new Atlantic Yards CDC

Last night's Atlantic Yards Quality of Life meeting, held at Brooklyn Hospital near Downtown Brooklyn, contained an update on several issues, including modular construction, but the biggest issues for the audience were the wholesale removal of parking in and around the southeast block of the site, which triggered dismay, as well as an architect's presentation regarding two new towers, which was well-received.

Dismay over parking for residents

In order to attenuate noise from construction, Empire State Development has required a 16-foot fence--twice the height as typical--around the southeast block, Block 1129, bounded by Dean Street, Carlton Avenue, and Vanderbilt Avenue.

The fence and its support not only removes 85-100 parking spaces, it removes the on-site surface parking used by some arenagoers. In other words, the tight fit for the project--which requires the larger construction fence--means that parking gets sacrificed.

"This is obviously going to eliminate a lot of parking, there's no way around it, we apologize for it," said Forest City Ratner Chief of Staff Ashley Cotton.

One resident, Robert Puca, said he now circles "for hours" to find parking, and asked if the state could allow temporary permits for residential permit parking--a plan previously rejected by the city and state--so residents don't compete with arenagoers for street parking.

He got no assent.

The mass of the project is "a given," said resident Steve Ettlinger, citing previous statements by those involved in the project. "I and a lot of people thought it was ill-conceived, it was so large," he said. "If the buildings were smaller, or set back," the problems would go away.

He suggested--as I'd agree--that the choice was made by the developer.

Cotton responded that "through extensive environmental review and an act of state government, these [dimensions] became a given."

Tension between arena parking, local parking

Cotton said eventually 1200 parking spaces will be created for the project--far fewer than originally projected--with 860 on the southeast block under three buildings. "It is residential and public parking, you guys can all buy parking there."

Also, according to the Final Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement, "there is expected to be 300 parking spaces [on site] available to accommodate Arena demand during all phases of construction. That expectation does not seem to have been met.

Asked where arena goers would park during construction, she said, "In the interim, there’s plenty of parking in the neighborhood already, as we know, the lots aren’t full." (Unmentioned: arenagoers seek free parking on the street.)

"We're basically going to have to pay" for parking, Puca said.

The issue, added resident Jennifer Bacon, is competition with arenagoers even with paid parking. She said it was impossible to get into garages when there are bottlenecks before or after arena events. 

No one offered a solution.

The two new towers

Rick Cook, architect of the next two towers 535 Carlton and 550 Vanderbilt, got a generally positive reception after describing how his firm CookFox tried—while building much larger buildings—to take cues from the surrounding neighborhood in terms of materials, colors, rhythms, and patterns.

“We believe very deeply we will be designing more dense cities,” he said, noting the green spaces adjacent to and on different levels of the building. “To make people feel good, we need to make them more connected to nature.”

All true, though the amount of open space, given the increase in population, remains well below city goals.

He said his firm was constrained by ESD Design Guidelines regarding the size of building and its articulation.

“For us, these are the most important sites in this whole project,” he said. “They have the strongest obligation to make the transition from this new neighborhood that’s being built to the existing neighborhood.”

He said there would be “neighborhood-type retail” at the base of each building. In both, the green space behind the building will be visible from the sidewalk. (But no one said you could walk through the building to the open space.)

“I represent a studio of designers who care very much about your neighborhood, because they are your neighbors,” referencing the fact that 55% of his office lives in Brooklyn. (A map indicated their residences; no one lives within the area directly impacted.)

“We do really hope that when these buildings are complete, that you guys will be proud of the effort that your neighbors put in to crafting these buildings,” he said.

Questions on the towers

The towers, Cook said in response to a question from Assemblyman Walter Mosley, would be built via conventional construction. That’s been known for months, ever since delays in the B2 modular tower surfaced.

(Mosley was the only elected legislator in attendance, though District Leader Olanike Alabi also attended.)

Cook also said that his firm is both the design architects and the architects of record for the tower

Several people complimented Cook on the choice of materials, especially in contrast with the more garish B2, even as one said, “I’m not happy this building's going up.”

One asked for 535 Carlton to be set back to respect the line of houses on the street ot the south. Cook said his firm was following the Design Guidelines.

There will be parking on Dean Street, just east of Carlton Avenue, for the block, but no parking entrance for 550 Vanderbilt.

No one pointed out how the renderings seem drawn to minimize the size of the towers.

Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association did suggest that there be a standalone meeting regarding the architecture and noted that there are no renderings of the towers from Dean Street, which would require closer-in view “It would be really helpful to get a holistic perspective,” he said.

“To make images that feel right on the street is quite time-consuming,” Cook responded.

Krashes recommended Cook return for a presentation.

“We've been invited back by CB 8,” Cotton responded.

ESD report: condemnation

Sam Filler, currently the Atlantic Yards Project Director (though likely to be replaced by the new AY CDC Director), said that ESD via eminent domain has taken title to the nine remaining properties in the project footprint, five commercial and four residential. (I thought it was only three residential.)

“You’ll probably be reading in the press about Storage Mart,” he said, referring to a DNAinfo article that later appeared about how ESD taken over its operations and is assisting occupants to find new storage.

A relocation firm called Cornerstone and a property management firm called Reedmar are now helping ESD with the other properties. “The residents and the businesses will be provided alternative locations where they can move their businesses or find other housing arrangements,” he said.

That, of course, leaves open the questions as to whether those alternatives are commensurate.

ESD report: new AY CDC

Regarding the new Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation, aimed to oversee public commitments regarding the project, Filler said the appointments should be announced in early December. Nine of the board members are gubernatorial appointments, while five other officials have appointments.

The board will meet during the week of December 15. The board will appoint officers and adopt bylaws. It will have a 15-20 minute public comment period, which will be a feature of each meeting. And there will probably be some staff reports regarding construction and environmental design.

Joe Chan, ESD’s Executive VP for Real Estate and Public-Private Partnerships, said the the AY CDC meetings also will have reports back from the Quality of Life meetings.

Some in the audience said such meetings should be held closer to the site.
ESD’s Nicole Jordan said “the reason it was moved here was because spaces in the community were booked up” but she’s looking at other venues in 2015.

Transparency requests

Resident Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council reminded ESD of the request that CDC make available the environmental monitoring reports produced by its consultant HDR. “It really would be a benefit to all stakeholders.”

Filler said that staff reports will include a quarterly report from HDR, which will be made fully public. (HDR also does more frequent reports, as well.)

Krashes suggested that board members and surrogates have access to meetings between state officials with the environmental monitor and the owner's representative. “The option of without notice, attending these meetings, would increase community confidence,” he suggested.

“We'll take it into consideration,” said Chan. (I wouldn't bet on it.)

Arena green roof

Regarding the green roof planned for the Barclays Center, aimed to beautify the view and tamp down on escaping noise, Cotton said that it will be completed in Summer 2015, “it's right on schedule.”

It is supposed to be finished by August 2015, though the crane installation was two months late.
On the new OEM

Cotton gave a brief update on the on-site environmental monitor, or OEM, required by the state as a separate hire by Greenland Forest City as opposed to an in-house staffer. “We hired a firm called Remedial, they have been in place since some time in October,” she said.

Krashes said his understanding was that the state negotiated the OEM’s scope of work, and asked if the state would release it.

The state did not negotiate it, responded Forest City’s Jane Marshall, but rather commented on it.

Krashes repeated his request. Chan said “we can take it back” for consideration.

Krashes asked about the relationship of Remedial to the firm Roux, with which it shares an office and which has worked for Forest City, “it's like the fox guarding the henhouse.”

He noted that Roux was previously functioning as owner's representative for Forest City.

Cotton said no. Remedial was created to provide engineering services to Roux. While they share offices, they have separate ownership, she said.

“Roux has been involved in the project since the beginning. It specializes in environmental cleanup.. That firm, Roux, does not do construction monitoring, environmental monitoring," she said. "While there’s a relationship there, we don’t think there's any problem.”

That was a little ambiguous. According to the notice when Remedial was hired, Greenland Forest City Partners stated, "While you may know that Roux has been involved in this project from the beginning, as FCRC's owners representative, and specializes in the development of environmental plans to address contamination issues on development sites, Roux does not provide construction monitoring services."

So, was Roux serving as owner's representative regarding environmental cleanup only? When I know more, I'll update.

Forest City re stalled B2 tower: "Any alignment issues that may exist… is an easy fix"

At last night's Atlantic Yards Quality of Life meeting, held at Brooklyn Hospital near Downtown Brooklyn, Forest City Ratner noted they have now taken control of the modular factory from former partner Skanska, but could not predict when the next module would be lifted to re-start construction at the stalled B2 tower.

“We’ve stated again and again, the process was not the problem, our partner was,” Forest City Ratner Chief of Staff Ashley Cotton said. That, of course, remains the subject of litigation, as the two firms have filed dueling lawsuits regarding up to $50 million in cost overruns.

“Am I right that some of the mods are out of alignment,” asked resident Robert Puca, referencing what seems to be visible to passers-by.

“So I know that a lot of people have asked this question, it’s been written about,” Cotton responded.

"Any alignment issues that may exist… is an easy fix," she said. "I know what you mean, that’s why I don’t want to say you’re imagining it, but I have been assured again and again that we know exactly what's going on there, and that will be fixed."

Skanska, by contrast, has warned that "No one knows if the building is going to leak."

DNC host committee includes Gilmartin, Ratner

From Capital Real Estate newsletter (emphases added), the unsurprising news that the two top Forest City Ratner executives, whose Barclays Center would host the 2016 Democratic National Convention, are on the host committee:
D.N.C. BID — "De Blasio unveils 101-member D.N.C. host committee," by Capital's Sally Goldenberg: “Mayor Bill de Blasio has named banking and business executives as well as real estate bigwigs and labor leaders to the host committee he's assembled as part of the city's effort to host the 2016 Democratic National Convention....
Here are some of the people he named to the committee: Jeff T. Blau, The Related Companies; Richard Born, BD Hotels; Ric Clark, Brookfield Office Properties; Douglas Durst, The Durst Organization; Helena Durst, The Durst Organization; MaryAnne Gilmartin, Forest City Ratner Companies; Barry M. Gosin, Newmark Grubb Knight Frank; Jonathan Gray, Blackstone; Jeffrey R. Gural, Newmark Grubb Knight Frank; Marc Holliday, SL Green Realty Group; Hamilton E. James, The Blackstone Group; Gary LaBarbera, Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York; Kenneth Lerer, Lerer Ventures; Leonard Litwin, Glenwood Management; Michael E. Novogratz, Fortress Investment Group;
Bruce C. Ratner, Forest City Ratner Companies; Scott H. Rechler, RXR Realty; William C. Rudin, Rudin Management Company, Inc.; Harendra Singh, Singh Hospitality Group; Rob Speyer, Tishman Speyer Properties; Joseph Spinnato, Hotel Association of New York City; Daniel R. Tishman, Tishman Construction Corporation; Peter Ward, The New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council; Kathy Wylde, Partnership for New York City; Donald Zucker, Donald Zucker Co. The full list, for Capital Pro subscribers:

Job Opening: Director, Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation

Just posted yesterday by Empire State Development is a job opening for a new position: Director, Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation. The pay is from $70,000 to $75,000 annually--approximately the previous salary for the manager of community government relations post, and below the salary for the in-house Project Director.

Applications are due by 12/03/14, and the new AY CDC is supposed to be up and running by the third week of December. That's a short window for hiring--unless they already have an in-house or governmental candidate already in mind.

The job listing suggests a significant role for the AY CDC President (or Chair), who will be appointed by the governor and, I suspect, will be a governmental employee.

It also suggests a potential tension between serving the interests of the governor and ESD as well as the oversight and monitoring of the project. See "Provide strategic support, advice and positioning for the AYCDC President and related ESD Staff" as well as in development of ESD/Atlantic Yards Project communication strategy; actively contribute to website & utilize methods of the social media

From the job listing:
Minimum Qualifications Education Level required: Bachelor’s Degree in business, public policy, planning, real estate, or equivalent; Master’s Degree a plus
Experience required: 5+ years as a Project Manager for large real estate development projects working with government entities and private developers. Prior experience with site construction, architectural/design issues, and/or community outreach required. Local NYC experience preferred but not required.
Knowledge required: Very strong management skills; proven success with complex public/private developments with high public and community visibility. Excellent computer skills required. Must have ability to maintain meticulous records of communications, project progress, etc.
Duties Description
•Support AYCDC President as liaison to AYCDC’s Board of Directors and with Empire State Development (ESD)
•Oversees preparation of project materials necessary for review by AYCDC Board
•Coordinate all functions necessary to scheduling and holding meetings of the AYCDC board
•Act as primary responder to expressed concerns about construction and quality of life issues
•Receive and/or monitor incoming calls/emails to ensure appropriate response is delivered and messages are relayed to appropriate staff
•Checks and monitors work in progress against approved schedule, contract documents and approved project plan
•Manage relationships with stakeholders (elected officials, community groups, non-governmental actors) who have direct interest in the Atlantic Yards Project
•Provide strategic support, advice and positioning for the AYCDC President and related ESD Staff
•Track issues of concern and relevance to Brooklyn communities in project area, and develop creative resolutions to constituent complaints
•Work with the developer, State and City agencies as needed, to resolve community issues, under the direction of the AYCDC President and related EDS staff
•Assist in development of ESD/Atlantic Yards Project communication strategy; actively contribute to website & utilize methods of the social media
•Represent ESD at community events and meetings in the Brooklyn community
•Perform other job related duties and projects as required by the AYCDC President and or ESD Executive Management
•Manage procurement and Project imprest account matters

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Quality of Life meeting tonight: agenda, slides, and some potential issues (arena "mob," parking removal, green roof timing)

Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing/shepherding Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, yesterday circulated the agenda for the Quality of Life Meeting tonight at 6 pm at Brooklyn Hospital Auditorium, 3rd Floor, 121 Dekalb Avenue.
1. NYPD Community Update - Capt. DiGiacomo (78th PCT)
2. Department of Transportation (DOT) – Chris Hrones
3. Empire State Development (ESDC) – Samuel Filler
a. Relocation Update
b. Atlantic Yards Community Development Corp. (AYCDC)
4. Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC) – Ashley Cotton
a. Design Presentation 535 Carlton & 550 Vanderbilt by CookFox
b. On-site Environmental Monitor (OEM)
c. Construction Update
--i. Barclays
--ii. Demolition & LIRR
--iii. 461 Dean Street (B2)
d. Arena Operations
e. Update Maintenance and Protection of Traffic (MPT) Block 1129
5. Q & A
Among the issues that may come up:

  • the architects' will present the designs (misleading in the renderings)  for the two upcoming towers, on Dean Street at Carlton Avenue and at Vanderbilt Avenue
  • what's going on with the planned Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (first meeting? members? staff? budget?)
  • what exactly happened when a "mob" rushed the arena during a recent rap show? (NYPD has been closemouthed, as has been the arena)?
  • when have the remaining property owners/occupants agreed to leave after condemnation?
  • what's happening to parking in and around the southeast block of the project site, now that two towers are planned for construction, and a 16-foot sound-attenuating fence will encircle the block?
  • how far is the arena green roof behind schedule?
  • what's to be expected from NBA All-Star weekend next February

The slides

Quality of Life Committee Presentation 11-19-2014, Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park

Parking was cut, but what about the interim?

The amount of permanent project parking was cut by two-thirds, as described further below, but it's murky to me what was supposed to happen with parking in the interim. Consider that, in the Final Supplementary Impact Statement, Chapter 3L, Construction Land Use and Neighborhood Character, ESD stated:
In all of the three illustrative construction phasing plans, Block 1129 would be used to provide surface parking spaces in a temporary condition until they are located below-grade in conjunction with the build-out of the project buildings (Buildings 11, 12, 13, and 14) on Block 1129. 
...Figures 3A-4 through 3A-6 [see here]  show the progression of land use changes on the Phase II development site under Construction Phasing Plan 1. Under this plan, the four proposed buildings along Dean Street between Carlton Avenue and Vanderbilt Avenue would be built out first, from west to east between 2018 and 2024. This would transform Block 1129 from an interim surface parking lot for the Barclays Center arena and a construction field office to a fully built-out block including residential buildings with ground floor retail, associated adjacent open space, and 1,796 to 1,846 below-grade parking spaces with access from Dean Street and Carlton and Vanderbilt Avenues. 
Actually, according to those graphics, it's not at all clear that surface parking would remain.

From Chapter 3H, Construction Transportation:
As discussed in Chapter 4D, “Operational Transportation,” fewer on-site parking spaces are now expected to be provided on Block 1129 for Arena patrons than were assumed in the 2006 FEIS, though there is expected to be 300 parking spaces available to accommodate Arena demand during all phases of construction. These 300 parking spaces would generally be available to construction workers, because Arena events do not typically coincide with the hours during which construction activities would occur at the project site.
From Chapter 3A, Construction Overview:
Portions of Block 1129 and the bed of Pacific Street between Carlton Avenue and Vanderbilt Avenue are currently used for construction staging including storage of equipment and materials, and truck staging. Entrances to the staging area are via Vanderbilt and Carlton Avenues onto the closed portion of Pacific Street. The use of Block 1129 and the bed of Pacific Street between Carlton Avenue and Vanderbilt Avenue as staging areas minimizes the number of trucks waiting on the street for access to the construction area. Block 1129 would continue to be used for staging activities at the beginning of Phase II construction, although the area used for staging would diminish as the buildings and open space on Buildings 11, 12, 13, and 14 are developed. It is expected that the bed of Pacific Street between Carlton Avenue and Vanderbilt Avenue would continue to be used for construction staging until necessary to be used for open space construction at this location when the seven buildings on Blocks 1121 and 1129 are completed. In such cases, the staging and laydown of materials would occur along the perimeters of the construction sites within delineated closed-off areas.
In addition, temporary parking for construction workers may be provided on Block 1129. If required, to avoid overtaxing nearby on- and off-street facilities, the project sponsors may provide on-site parking to construction workers at a fee that is comparable to other parking lots/garages in the area. The use of Block 1129 as a temporary parking area would diminish as the buildings and open space on Buildings 11, 12, 13, and 14 are developed. In such cases, temporary parking for construction workers may be provided in permanent parking lots under Project buildings that are already completed or at nearby on- and off-street parking facilities (e.g., garage at the Atlantic Center)
From Chapter 1, Project Description:
In addition, the SEIS considers two proposed changes to the project program for Phase II: a proposed shift of up to approximately 208,000 gross square feet (gsf) of floor area from Phase I of the Project to Phase II of the Project, and a reduction of the number of parking spaces on the project site from 3,670 spaces as analyzed in the 2006 FEIS to 2,896 spaces.
Upon Phase II completion, the Project (both Phases I and II) would  provide up to 2,896 below grade attended parking spaces on the project site. As currently envisioned, in Phase I, these include: approximately 50-100 spaces in a below-grade facility on the Arena Block with access from Dean Street and 400 spaces in a below-grade facility on Site 5 with access from Pacific Street. In Phase II, these would include: 450 spaces in a below-grade facility on Block 1120 with access from Carlton Avenue; 150 spaces in a facility below Building 15 on Block 1128 with access from Pacific Street; and 1,796-1,846 below-grade spaces on Block 1129 with access from Dean Street and Carlton and Vanderbilt Avenues (see Figure 1-5).
Parking ultimately cut

In the end, they cut parking even more, according to an amendment to the Modified General Project Plan:
The Proposed Amendment also proposed reducing the number of parking spaces (the 2009 MGPP requires 3,670 parking spaces upon Project completion) to reflect lower anticipated parking demand based on experience with the operation of the arena since its opening in 2012 and on lower expected demand from the residential units. The Proposed Amendment presented two alternatives for public comment. Under the “base case,” parking requirements would be reduced from 3,670 spaces to 2,896 spaces to reflect lower arena parking demand. Alternatively, under the “Reduced Parking Alternative”, parking requirements would be reduced to 1,200 spaces to reflect both lower arena parking demand and reduced parking requirements for the residential units. In connection with these alternatives, the Parking Key Plan attached as Exhibit D to the 2009 MGPP would be deleted in its entirety and be replaced by a new Parking Key Plan. Two Parking Key Plans were attached to the March 2014 Proposed Amendment to the 2009 MGPP to facilitate public comment: one corresponding to the “base case” described above, and the other corresponding to the “Reduced Parking Alternative”.
...The Reduced Parking Alternative would reduce the number of parking spaces on Block 1129 from approximately 2,070 spaces under the 2009 MGPP to approximately 900 spaces. T

The Times mangles the modular story: only part of the battle over B2 is over

OK, it's not the biggest article in the Atlantic Yards saga, but it's notable how the New York Times mangled Forest City Ratner Buys Out Partner in Brooklyn Residential Tower, which was published online yesterday and is not in today's paper.

I suspect that reporter Charles Bagli, who was busy writing an unrelated longer article for today's paper, was given a brief amount of time to write the Brooklyn story, and nobody cared to get it right.

The lead:
The battle over one of the slowest moving residential towers in New York City’s history is over.
No, not at all. Just the battle over control of the factory producing modules for B2. The dueling lawsuits over cost overruns continue.

The article continues:
But it may be weeks before work resumes on the modular building, which rises only 10 of its intended 32 floors at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Dean Street in Brooklyn, 24 months after work began.
It is the first residential building at Forest City Ratner’s 22-acre, $4.9 billion Pacific Park development near Downtown Brooklyn.
On Tuesday, Forest City formally settled the bitter dispute with its erstwhile partner, Skanska, that had brought work on the tower to a standstill for the past three months.
Actually, they settled only part of the dispute. While the potential reopening of the factory does allow work to re-start, it's still misleading to suggest that the "bitter dispute" over the factory is unrelated to the ongoing lawsuits over cost overruns.

And it's certainly curious that the Times, unlike other news outlets covering the story (Crain's, Capital New York, Daily News, Bloomberg), didn't manage to point out that the project now called Pacific Park is long known as Atlantic Yards.

The article continues:
Forest City bought Skanska’s 50 percent stake in the modular business and the factory in the Brooklyn Navy Yard that both companies had established for the project, according to a terse statement issued by the partners-turned-adversaries. 
Neither company would disclose the amount paid, but the settlement does not end the legal battle between the two sides over cost overruns.
As shown on the screenshot at right, the article for some stretch of time last night contained two contradictory paragraphs, one saying the settlement "ended the litigation" and the other saying it did "not end the legal battle between the two sides over cost overruns."

The latter was ultimately cut (after I called the Metro desk), but, actually, the whole article needed a revamp.

The article continues:
MaryAnne Gilmartin, the chief executive of Forest City Ratner, said the company was assessing the conditions at the factory and determining how many of the 157 employees and managers at the factory, who had been furloughed as a result of the dispute, were interested in returning to work.
Forest City also hopes to break ground before the end of the year on two additional residential towers at Pacific Park.
I'd say they plan to break ground, since the process seems well under way.

In general, though, it bears watching to see how soon the modular factory resumes, and what can be done about the allegedly/seemingly flawed construction so far.

H/t to Crain's for this credit (though I actually had it Sunday):
The modular subsidiaries of Forest City and Skanska USA Building, itself a division of a Swedish construction giant, jointly made the announcement Tuesday morning. Word of the impending purchase had been reported Monday by the blog Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Report.

Updated: Atlantic Yards informational update on agenda for ESD meeting tomorrow (now with memo)

At the end of a rather long agenda for tomorrow morning's board meeting, Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing/shepherding Atlantic Yards, will tackle "Atlantic Yards Informational Item – Update on Status of Project."

Presumably that will include the planned groundbreaking for two towers as well as the emerging Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation.


Thursday, November 20, 2014, at 9:30 am
Where: Empire State Development
633 Third Avenue – 37th Floor Conference Room
New York, New York 10017

This meeting is open to the public. Web casting of the meeting will be available.

Due to 633 Third Avenue building procedures, those attending in New York City please RSVP by 5:00 pm today. Members of the press call (800) 260-7313; Members of the public call (212) 803-3794.

Below is the one-page memo in the board materials. It notes that groundbreaking for the next affordable tower is expected to be in December.

The Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation is expected to hold its first meeting during the week of 12/15/14, and ESD will hire a full-time Project Director for the AY CDC.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Statement: Forest City buys out Skanska's share of troubled modular factory

As I wrote, Forest City was on the verge of buying out Skanska's share of the troubled modular factory at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and thus presumably/potentially restarting production of modules for the stalled B2 tower at Dean Street and Flatbush Avenues. And today it happened.

A joint statement today from Forest City Ratner and Skanska:
Today FCRC Modular, LLC and Skanska Modular LLC announced that FCRC Modular, LLC will purchase the ownership interest of Skanska Modular LLC in their jointly owned modular factory business in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, FC+Skanska Modular, LLC, for an undisclosed amount.

The agreement, achieved through mediation with Roger J. Peters, Esq., marks the end of the companies’ partnership at the modular factory and makes FCRC Modular the sole owner and manager of the modular business.

Litigation between the companies over the B2 Project will continue and is not impacted by this agreement.
That litigation involves some $50 million in claimed damages for cost overruns.

Was Forest City's Gilmartin appointed to WNYC board because of "passion for public radio" or fundraising help?

So, why was Forest City Ratner CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin appointed to the board of WNYC?

As shown in the press release cited by Noticing New York's Michael White, WNYC President and CEO Laura Walker, commenting on the appointment of Gilmartin and three others, said they "bring vast experience in business, media and non-profit governance that will advance both the work of the Board and the mission of New York Public Radio.”  

Meanwhile, Cynthia King Vance, Chair, Board of Trustees, New York Public Radio, said “These accomplished leaders bring a passion for public radio and new and valuable perspectives to a highly engaged Board of Trustees."

Well, now.

I bet it has more to do with raising money.

How much may this harm WNYC in credibility? The jury is still out.

Forest City has a passion for shaping perception--such as the erasing-history effort to rename Atlantic Yards as Pacific Park

So even the capsule biography of Gilmartin, surely supplied by her office for the press release, is part of that effort. According to the press release, Gilmartin "led the efforts to build Barclays Center and Pacific Park Brooklyn, a 22-acre mixed-use development."

Actually, Pacific Park Brooklyn hasn't been built yet. The first tower is stalled. The second break ground next month.

Impact on WNYC

White, who wrote, Is Forest City Ratner, As Victor, Writing Our History?, worries that talk show host Leonard Lopate "could likely be replaced by someone who, on the spectrum, is more more likely to be confused with a corporate lapdog than Brian Lehrer, perhaps friendlier to developers like Ratner than even Charlie Rose." 

He pointed out that, "while public radio has done better in the past to escape the influence of Ratner and the real estate industry, the same cannot be said of New York City’s WNET public television station where criticism of the city’s real estate is never heard, but Forest City Ratner has gotten great promotion on Charlie Rose."

I'm not as alarmed as White--after all, it's a big board--but I do think it's cause for concern. (And he does point to the oddly whimsical segment on Brian Lehrer that featured Gilmartin, Walker, and Ariana Huffington talking about sleep.) 

Community Advisory Board meeting today

White highlights tonight's WNYC Community Advisory Board (CAB) meeting at 7:00 PM at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights:
The Community Advisory Board is supposed to take comment from the public about the station’s operations. At their last meeting the CAB groused that far too few members of the public come to their meetings. (With Gilmartin's appointment they may be on the verge of ironic solution.) would seem that Ms. Gilmartin’s appointment to her policy-setting position on the WNYC board should be of vital concern to the CAB. To argue, contrarily, that it is only a board appointment and that the CAB should wait and be concerned only when station policy actually changes after enough board members of Ms. Gilmartin’s ilk have been appointed would be to say the CAB should react to close the barn door only after there has already been an irreversible escape of the horse.
He suggests that CAB members face a conundrum, because they are subject to the approval of the Board of Trustees,

At hearing on bonds for new tower, Forest City executive speaks "with great excitement for the future of affordable housing in New York"

There was nothing new beyond rhetoric at the very brief hearing segment yesterday devoted to tax-exempt bonds for 535 Carlton Avenue, the next building in Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park to break ground.

After all, a fact sheet (below) had already been distributed with details about the project, including the request for up to $73 million in tax-exempt bonds, which save the builder significant sums compared to conventional financing, and are part of the financing for affordable units.

Forest City Ratner VP Melissa Burch, representing Greenland Forest City Partners, led off her brief statement but saying, "It is with great excitement for the future of affordable housing in New York that I present 535 Carlton Avenue at Pacific Park."

It's curious that Forest City is flogging this tower--in which half the units would go to middle-income households who'd pay some $3,000 for a two-bedroom unit--as "the future of affordable housing."

Also, Burch noted that, after Greenland USA and Forest City Ratner closed on a joint venture for the project, they also reached an agreement with New York State and New York City "to accelerate the buildout of Pacific Park Brooklyn."

That's a bit of a tweak to history.

Actually, the agreement was more precisely to accelerate the buildout of Atlantic Yards (as noted in the screenshot at right), since it took more than a month to change the project name to Pacific Park Brooklyn.

The agreement requires that all 2250 units of subsidized housing be completed by 2025 and requires that least 590 units be started by June 2015. The 590 units will be in 535 Carlton and 30 6th Avenue, the latter at the southeast corner of the arena block.

No comment

No one besides Burch offered comment on this application, unlike the more contentious hearing in 2012 regarding the first tower, B2.

After all, it's not that easy to attend such hearings during the day time. And it was not exactly promoted particularly vigorously. While HDC now does announce such hearings on its website--a contrast with 2012--I had to ask for material regarding this project.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Rain and open windows on B2 modular tower

It rained yesterday. So why have windows on the B2 modular tower been left open? (Other modules have panels, or temporary sheeting.)

Even if everything inside is wrapped in plastic, that can't be good.

Greenland claims U.S. projects funded via EB-5 have "created 20,000 jobs" (!?!)

The Wall Street Journal reports, in China’s Greenland Group Expects Overseas Revenue to Double in 2015: Company the Most Aggressive Chinese Property Developer to Expand Abroad Since 2013:
SHANGHAI—Chinese state-owned conglomerate Greenland Holding Group said Monday it expects to reach its targeted 20 billion yuan ($3.27 billion) in overseas revenue this year, and that its overseas revenue will double in 2015.
Shanghai-based Greenland has been the most aggressive Chinese property developer to expand abroad since 2013, investing a total of $20 billion purchasing land and other real-estate projects in nine countries including Australia, the U.S., the U.K., Canada and South Korea.
Greenland, which isn’t listed on the domestic stock exchange, said it is targeting its overseas revenue to make up a larger portion of the company’s revenue, to exceed 25% of its revenue by 2020....
“In the U.S. for example where our development projects are funded by EB-5 visa funding, preliminary calculations show that these projects have created 20,000 jobs,” Greenland said in a statement.
Oh, really?

Job creation

The EB-5 visa program, in which immigrant investors seeking green cards park $500,000 in a low-interest loan for a purportedly job-creating investment, has rather loose requirements. Those numbers include indirect and induced jobs, all according to a report from a hired economist, not an independent source.

To quote Fortune:
A December 2013 study by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general found that the government “cannot demonstrate that the program is improving the U.S. economy and creating jobs for U.S. citizens.” A February 2014 paper by the Brookings-Rockefeller Project on State and Metropolitan Innovation concluded that “knowledge of the program’s true economic impact is elusive at best.”
EB-5 deception

Keep in mind that, for "Atlantic Yards III"--the holdover name for the Project Now Known as Pacific Park Brooklyn--the promoters of the EB-5 investment improperly used a U.S. State Department official and otherwise produced a deceptive pitch.

EB-5 absurdity

In other words, as with the second round of Atlantic Yards fundraising, a foreign government is profiting by marketing a scarce U.S. public resource--green card slots under the EB-5 program--to its own citizens.

The other Greenland project in the U.S. is Metropolis in Los Angeles.

A meeting today on tax-exempt bonds for next tower; Quality of Life meeting Wednesday features architects of new towers

As I wrote, there's a public hearing today on tax-exempt bonds for 535 Carlton, built at the corner of Carlton Avenue and Dean Street, the first tower to be built by the Greenland Forest City Partners joint venture (and the first under the name Pacific Park Brooklyn), with 298 subsidized apartments.

The hearing, which also will cover applications for numerous other tax-exempt bond requests, will be at 11:30 a.m. in the main Conference Room of the New York City Housing Development Corporation (NYC HDC), 110 William Street, 10th Floor, in Manhattan. (It will also be webcast and on toll-free phone.)

Quality of Life meeting Wednesday

Also, a notice from the Dean Street Block Association notes that architects some project towers are expected at the Quality of Life meeting on Wednesday:
Please attend the upcoming Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Meeting for information, or if you have questions about the significant changes to our neighborhood anticipated to start in weeks. It is an opportunity to speak directly to the architects of some of the buildings in the project, and raise any concerns you may have about impacts from construction. This will be your only opportunity before work is anticipated to accelerate. 
The architects of 19-story 535 Carlton and possibly taller 17-story 550 Vanderbilt Avenue, (both between Dean and Pacific Streets), will be in attendance. The construction of these buildings will be added to the ongoing work on the arena roof, the tunnel under Atlantic Avenue, LIRR rail yard work, and stalled B2. Details of construction will be provided including temporary elimination of on and off-street parking, narrowing of streets, sidewalk closures, nighttime work, construction staging and potential cutting of street trees.

Details of the changes are attached in two community notices [see here and here] addressing changes in the east and west parts of the project. For additional information feel free to contact our block association using this link:

Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Meeting
Hosted by Forest City Ratner and Empire State Development.
The meeting will have a presentation on upcoming construction activities and a question and answer period.
When: Wednesday, November 19, 2014 @ 6 PM
Where: Brooklyn Hospital,
Auditorium, 3rd Floor
121 Dekalb Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11205

Discounts for Nets games and college hoops via LivingSocial

Via LivingSocial
The Barclays Center doesn't like to talk about discounting, but it offers actually offers discounts on a lot of platforms.

Consider the following two discounts via the deal platform LivingSocial.

Tickets to Brooklyn Nets games versus the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls were apparently jacked up too much.

So now they're on a significant discount, from 24% to 37.5% for the cheap seats, and 26% to 35% (plus a $75 credit at the 40/40 Club) for the more expensive seats.

Keep in mind that, according to various accounts, Living Social takes 40% of the sale price, so the Nets actually reap far less than the discounted ticket price.

Via Ticketmaster
The Progressive Legends Classic

Tickets to the Progressive Legends Classic on Monday, November 24 or Tuesday, November 25 are 46% off, at least if you think $76 is a reasonable face value for college hoops.

Actually, they're selling seats directly for $15 (plus service charge, as noted at right), and for the lower bowl.

In other words, they're trying to move some of the higher priced seats even as there are lots of good seats cheap.

Why didn't they lower the price of some seats in the first place?

Via LivingSocial

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Forest City seems ready to buy out Skanska's interest in closed modular factory; deal could close tomorrow

Forest City Ratner seems ready to buy out former partner Skanska from its share of the troubled, shuttered factory at the Brooklyn Navy Yard that was producing modules for the stalled B2 tower at the corner of Dean Street and Flatbush Avenue.

That deal--between the companies' modular subsidiaries--presumably would hasten the process to re-start the factory and resume construction, which has reached only ten of 32 floors.

The two partners, who've filed a total of three lawsuits, blame each other for delays and cost overruns in the tower. Skanska, which as manager of the factory shut it down in late August, on 9/23/14 terminated the overall contract to build B2, including the purchase order for the modules.

The reopening of the factory presumably could resolve one lawsuit, but the other two--regarding who should pay for the cost overruns--are on a schedule requiring papers to be filed by 12/9/14.

Deal closing tomorrow?

A letter dated Thursday, 11/13/14, from Skanksa attorney Bruce Meller to Justice Saliann Scarpulla (and filed with the court, bottom) indicates that closing on the deal was scheduled for tomorrow, 11/17/14, though "there remains a lot of work to be done."

He wrote:
Presently, the members of the Limited Liability Company, FC+Skanska Modular LLC ("FC+S") have accelerated the buy/sell provisions of the Limited Liability Company Agreement ("LLC Agreement"). The parties have agreed to a stated price, pursuant to which FCRC shall acquire Skanska Modular's interest in FC+S in accordance with the provisions of the LLC Agreement.
According to Section 13.2 of the LLC Agreement, the process begins with a proposed price from the Offeror (in this case Forest City). Then the Offeree (in this case Skanska) has up to 60 days to sell for the Proposed Offer Amount or to buy out the Offeror for the price that was offered.

Judicial conference this week?

Meller disclosed the news while informing Scarpulla that Skanska believes a request by Forest City Ratner Modular for a judicial conference on November 19 is no longer necessary. Forest City disagrees.

Meller wrote that "both parties are proceeding as rapidly as reasonable, and we expect that the transaction will close without a need to involve the Court." But if the closing has not occurred by November 19 and Forest City insists that the conference proceed, Skanska wanted to respond to Forest City's contentions.

A dispute

Meller's letter also addresses a previous letter from Forest City, which asserted that Skanska Modular engaged in "efforts to prevent the reopening of the factory which is at the heart of the parties' dispute."

Meller asserted that Forest City improperly used of § 3.7 of the LLC Agreement:
Section 3.7 embodies the "corporate opportunity doctrine" pursuant to which one member has the ability to offer to FC+S the opportunity to perform work upon stated terms and conditions. If FC+S declines to proceed with the opportunity upon the stated terms and conditions, FCRC has the right to proceed with the opportunity on the same stated terms and conditions.

Simply put, as of October 23, FCRC had presented one opportunity to FC+S and, after it was rejected, attempted to proceed with a different opportunity than the one offered to FC+S. Further, in apparent recognition that its actions were not in accord with the LLC Agreement, FCRC forwarded to Skanska Modular's Directors a different 3.7 proposal on October 31, 2014.

No further action was taken on that proposal, as within a few days thereafter, the parties made the buy-sell agreement described above.
Section 3.7 states that those utilizing the "Exclusive IP [intellectual property]" developed by the modular company have to present that business to use the company. If the company board says no, the Member (there were two members), could then pursue the project via a license agreement.