Monday, November 30, 2015

Atlantic Yards, Pacific Park, and the Culture of Cheating

I offer a framework to analyze and evaluate Atlantic Yards (in August 2014 rebranded as Pacific Park Brooklyn) 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 in Brooklyn in September 2015, via Curbed

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

Saturday, November 28, 2015

EB-5 gets an unskeptical mention in the New York TImes

From a Sunday Business section story in the New York Times, headlined Chinese Cash Floods U.S. Real Estate Market:
Investments in the United States provide another advantage: a pathway to a green card.
Chinese investors have been particularly aggressive at using a federal visa program called EB-5 that allows overseas citizens to put $500,000 to $1 million into a project that will create at least 10 jobs. Investors can get a green card in about two years. So far this year, 86 percent of the EB-5 visas issued worldwide have gone to Chinese.
Ha! It should be "that will purportedly create at least 10 jobs."

Hubris: developer touts "public benefit" of new infrastructure, though railyard was downsized

The 11/27/15 tweet below from Pacific Park Brooklyn represents remarkable hubris: "Investing in complicated #infrastructure makes for the biggest public benefit."

Do keep in mind that the 2005 deal to build a modernized replacement Vanderbilt Yard to store and service Long Island Rail Road trains was revised, at Forest City Ratner's request, in 2009, and accepted by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The permanent railyard, instead of having nine tracks with capacity for 76 cars, will have seven tracks with capacity for 56 cars. While there would be several improvements, the new railyard would be valued at $147 million, while the MTA's Gary Dellaverson in 2009 said the previous iteration could be worth $250 million, after inflation.

Looking at discounts for Islanders game on Monday

According to the Living Social deal web site, there are some big discounts for Monday's New York Islanders game against the Colorado Avalanche, which is not exactly a premier opponent.

That's $35 for two tickets, via the re-seller Venue Kings. Note that typically sellers on sites like Living Social and Groupon take home 50% to 60% of the fee.

As shown on the Venue Kings chart below, sections 211 and 221 are not bad, since they are not in the restricted-view side of the venue, where, curiously enough, many tickets are not available. (Are those for the Barclays Center to distribute as freebies?)

Surely some tickets on these resale sites come from season ticketholders, but I have to believe some are quietly put on sale by the venue itself.

On the Venue Kings website itself, tickets start at $9.96. Is that a better deal overall??

Actually, if you're buying from Venue Kings (and many other sites), there's a big service fee, so two tickets cost $37.29, which is more than the Living Social deal. On StubHub, tickets start at $9.25, with a smaller service fee, for a total of $26.65 for two.

The official channel

Tickets officially start at $20 (see inset in screenshot below) and $15 on the re-sale market, via Ticketmaster and the Barclays Center. (I didn't check the service fee.) Either way, that makes StubHub, for this event at least, a better deal.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Holiday discounts at the Barclays Center. Lots of them.

Remember, pricing for Barclays Center events, including many Brooklyn Nets and New York Islanders games, is variable.

Below is a partial screenshot from a recent promotion, offering 30% off selected basketball and hockey games.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

"Posing for holy cards": the Nets and the Thanksgiving giveaway

Yes, it may seem churlish to look critically at the Brooklyn Nets' recent charity/media event, helping give out Thanksgiving turkeys and other food to needy families via the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger.

After all, it does short-term good, helping hundreds of needy families, and shows the basketball players in unselfish mode.

But really, do you think the Nets would do this without the reciprocal promise and expectation of significant media coverage (aka "earned media")?

After all, this event, which surely cost the Brooklyn Nets more in organizational time than money--partner Key Food supplied all the food--generated coverage on their own web site (and video), television coverage via WPIX (a Barclays Center partner!) and News12, an article in the Brooklyn Paper (a Forest City Ratner tenant!), and blog mentions in Kings County Politics, the Brooklyn Reader, and NetsDaily. (And maybe more.)

Above right is a telling screenshot from the Brooklyn Reader video: that's Barclays/Nets CEO Brett Yormark in the background, masterminding the media event.

As I wrote in March 2013, community and charity events from the Nets and the Barclays Center are like "posing for holy cards," as a former food industry executive put it, regarding his company's sponsorship efforts.

In Brooklyn, there's a "sports entertainment corporation" trying to make money, distracting from more complicated issues like worker pay, the discontinued promise of $15 tickets, construction/operational impacts, and some sweet land deals.

Those are the kinds of stories the arena and Nets do not present to media outlets.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Video: dust from 535 Carlton dumpster drifts into neighborhood

So, what's the source of dust coming from the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park construction site?

According to the video shot today by resident Wayne Bailey, dust is coming from dumpsters at the 535 Carlton construction site, which extends out into the street, between Dean and Pacific streets. That means the dust not only streams out to passers-by, it starts pretty close to the houses across Carlton.

(Yes, there's a guy working on the site without a hardhat, telling his colleagues to "look out" for the annoying guy filming them.)

The promise of a Dust Management Plan

According to the Second Amended Memorandum of Environmental Commitments, required by Empire State Development of developer Forest City Ratner (and its new joint venture partner):
Prior to the commencement of construction activities for each major work phase, FCRC or its contractor(s) shall prepare a Dust Management Plan that identifies: the location of the fixtures to be used in controlling dust at the site (including without limitation hydrants or other points of water supply), any wheel washing stations, gravel placement locations, hoses, dust suppression agents and any other equipment and material to be used in complying with the dust suppression requirements of the MEC. FCRC shall require its contractors to adhere to such plans. ESD and the ESD Environmental Monitoring Firm shall be provided with the opportunity to comment on the Dust Management Plan and require revisions if warranted, prior to its implementation in the field.
There's no mention of dumpsters, actually, but surely the implication is that this dust too is supposed to be controlled, just as dust from trucks is suppressed by wheel washing and mounds of dirt are supposed to be covered with a tarp.

Remember, the modular plan was supposed to involve less waste, and thus less dust.

The 5 am concrete pour has been rescheduled to Saturday, it seems. Why the weekend work?

Remember that 5 am concrete pour at the B3 site that was supposed to happen yesterday?

It didn't happen, for reasons unexplained.

Now it is likely to occur this Saturday, with up to 90 trucks accessing the tower construction site at Dean Street and Sixth Avenue, beginning at 5 am, according to the Community Notice below.

There's no explanation why a weekend, when neighbors might want to be sleep late, is acceptable when, presumably, there are five other days in the week when the pour might occur.

The notice

Community Notice
Saturday, November 28, 2015
B3 - 48 Sixth Avenue

Please be advised of the possibility that on Saturday, November 28, 2015 contractors will be working beginning at 5AM throughout the day on a large concrete pour relating to 38 Sixth Avenue. [The document erroneously said 48 Sixth]. This work is pending final permitting and logistics, but we wanted to make you aware before the holiday.

Pursuant to their permit, contractors will be completing concrete pours as part of the foundation work. The pours are expected to involve up to 90 concrete trucks, all of which will access the site via the Dean Street & 6th Avenue gates. Truck staging will take place within the project site and/or along 6thAvenue between Atlantic Avenue & Dean Street.

As always, please feel free to reach out to our offices with any questions or concerns.

Thank you for your time.

Pacific Park Brooklyn Community Liaison Office

Empire State Development

What's wrong? In move to Brooklyn, attendance at Islanders games is down

ESPN chart, click to enlarge
What's going on here?

The New York Islanders, upon their move to Brooklyn for the 2015-16 season, were not only expected to take advantage of a suite-filled new arena that would drive revenues, they were also expected to reconstitute their fan base.

That was supposed to make up for the loss of some Long Island-based fans no longer willing to drive (and seek parking) or take the LIRR by drawing more from Brooklyn and the boroughs.

So far, that hasn't really happened--though there are some partly plausible explanations.

According to ESPN, the Islanders are averaging just 12,407 people per game, 28th in the 30-team league, in the arena with the league's second smallest capacity, 15,795, which includes some very bad seats.

That's 78.5% of capacity, 25th in the league, while in their final season at the Nassau Coliseum, they averaged 15,334 fans, or 94.8% of capacity.

Of course, the cost of seats rose 70%. But if the Islanders have already sold more than 8,000 full season-ticket plans, well, that's not a lot of casual fans adding to audience.

Now the Barclays Center, which is in charge of Islanders tickets, is straining, for example offering a $15 food and beverage credit for tonight's game against the Philadelphia Flyers, which would offset seats costing (when I checked) $45 each.  See graphic below.

Then again, seats via the arena web site for tonight start at $25, while on StubHub they start at $20. And the arena/Islanders also find ways to quietly give tickets away to fill seats, as noted by one fan.

Don't trust the numbers

Note that official attendance figures are typically exaggerated. As the Times reported, the arena/team listed the Islanders' debut home game against the Chicago Black Hawks "as a sellout, but there were many rows of empty seats, especially in the lower bowl."

Buffalo's Art Voice reported 11/5/15, "Sunday’s attendance was announced at 11,278, although it appeared that about 8000 were actually in the house which has a capacity of just over 15,000." 

What's the explanation?

Indeed, the Times's Allan Kreda, on 11/21/15, observed Islanders Are Adjusting Faster to Their New Home Than Their Fans Are:
Against the conference-leading Montreal Canadiens on Friday, the arena had swaths of red-clad fans rooting for the visitors. They yelled, “Go, Habs, go” after each Montreal goal as the Canadiens skated to a 5-3 victory.
The influx of opposing fans may have helped generate a crowd of 15,171 at Barclays, which has the league’s second-lowest capacity at 15,795, including many seats with obstructed views.
There are partly plausible explanations, including the lack of Saturday night games, the competition with the baseball Mets, and the lack of Eastern Conference opponents. Attendance should go up during the holiday season.

Still, as Kreda reported, ticket resellers report low interest, likely tied to the arena's location, which, while accessible via public transit, is less accessible to the traditional fan base.

Trying to Draw In Fans, Islanders Dip Into New Palette,  Kreda reported earlier in the month, citing a small sample of fans who like the Islanders' new third jersey, in black and white (echoing the Nets), a color scheme that has infuriated some Islanders die-hards. The Times reported:
[Arena CEO Brett] Yormark said that on average, about 5,700 fans were taking the Long Island Rail Road to the team’s games in Brooklyn. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority relayed an average closer to 5,000. But either way, the number is significant.
Ah, that's Yormark, always spinning.

Play-by-play announcer Howie Rose, according to Newsday, doesn't like the new jerseys, and tweaked Yormark for claiming that black-and-white were the borough's official colors. Yormark has since claimed they're the borough's "adopted" colors, which of course equates the borough with the Nets.

One solution: cheaper bad seats?

Why are there obstructed views? Because the original arena design, which could have easily accommodated a hockey rink, was downsized to save money and, it was said, to preclude major league hockey. So they had to retrofit the arena, which means many sections with limited view seats.

Obstructed seats, from the Barclays Center, via The Brooklyn Game

NY SportsDay's Joe McDonald suggested:
Something also needs to be done with the obstructed seats. Instead of charging 40 bucks and have a large portion of the arena empty, why not charge $5. Put the fannies in the seats and make money from the concessions. And remember you are forcing your Long Island fans to pay the LIRR fees, so maybe something cheap will get them out too.
Indeed, PuckDaddy blogger Greg Wyshynski wrote, Islanders at Barclays Center: Where terrible seats meet good intentions:
That level of self-awareness is rare among Islanders fans making their first foray into Barclays. There has been widespread anger and frustration with the move, not only because the arena features some of the oddest and most terrible sightlines in pro sports, but because the arena’s policies haven’t always been that welcoming to Islanders fans – witness the recent crackdown on fans watching warmups from the lower bowl. You need a special ticket to get downstairs before the game.

But sometimes, if you're sitting in Section 201, you get a ticket to come downstairs during the game.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The demolition begins on Dean Street, with "blighted" 495 Dean (passerby: "effing property stealers")

Contractors for developer Greenland Forest City Partners today began hand demolition of two-story 495 Dean Street, one of two 19th-century houses long owned by the family of Jerry Campbell, which were taken via eminent domain (with the financial compensation yet unresolved, as far as I know).

Campbell was evicted in May from the neighboring, three-story house, after he lost title via eminent domain.

The two-story building, which had lost its roof and most of the second floor by the time I stopped by, is one of three houses left on a 100-foot stretch east of Sixth Avenue that was claimed, as best as I could determine, not because blight magically attached to that parcel.

Rather, at least in initial plans, developer Forest City Ratner planned to use the entire lot between Dean and Pacific Streets for construction staging when the arena was being built simultaneously with four towers.

That plan became financially infeasible, and the downsized arena was decoupled from towers that were supposed to share footings and mechanicals.

The three houses at left, along with a commercial building at Pacific Street and Sixth Avenue, are being demolished for B15 (aka 664 Pacific Street), a 27-story luxury rental building--oh, and with space for a 100,000 square foot public school.

A bitter commentary

As I stood opposite the demolition site on Dean Street, a guy with headphones walked by, muttering loudly enough to be caught on the video below.

I don't know if he was commenting with any specific knowledge of the situation faced by Campbell, or whether he was reflecting the feeling that something is amiss regarding land use issues. "Stealin' somebody else's property, that's all they doin'," he declared. "Fuckin' property stealers."

Falling, and rising

In the distance, the B11 tower, aka 550 Vanderbilt, rises steadily.

Lead time, for once: next Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting scheduled for December 9

A message yesterday from Empire State Development:
Greenland Forest City Partners (GLFC) and Empire State Development Corporation (ESD) will host the next Community Update (formerly known as Quality of Life) meeting. 
Wednesday, December 9, 2015
6:00 - 8:00 PM
Shirley Chisholm State Office Building
55 Hanson Place, Brooklyn NY 11201
1st Floor Conference Room 
We will present an overview of the upcoming construction activities surrounding the project. Please plan to arrive promptly in order to provide time for presentations and questions and answers from the community members. If you have any questions please contact Nicole Jordan at . Thank you for your continued commitment to the overall success of this project.
The 16-day lead time for the announcement represents belated progress. After community complaints last month regarding the confirmation announcements for scheduled meetings, three members of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation, Jaime Stein, Barika Williams, and Bertha Lewis stressed the importance of sufficient notice.

Joe Chan of Empire State Development suggested, "Why can't we commit to a bare minimum in terms of public notice," suggesting "at least 14, 21, 28 days notice."

The progress regarding lead time, however, does not dispel the recognition that, as state official Marion Phillips III put it, "it's a developer meeting," facilitated by the state. Once the Quality of Life sessions treated community members as valid partners, and community groups and local officials helped set the agenda.

The need for better construction updates: Atlantic Avenue crane wasn't removed until last night, actually

Ok, the Atlantic Avenue crane for the Barclays Center green roof was supposed to be disassembled this past Friday overnight, ending at 10 am Saturday.

That didn't happen. Rather, the work--I'm not sure when it actually began--was finished yesterday afternoon and early evening, according to photos taken by resident Wayne Bailey, and flatbed trailers were waiting along Atlantic Avenue, including a bus stop.

Bottom line: we need a real-time update of construction activities from Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park developer Greenland Forest City Partners, as well as Empire State Development, the state authority overseeing/shepherding Atlantic Yards.

We also need responses to Bailey's monitoring, including reports yesterday of a mysterious smell outside the 666 Pacific Street site, which is being prepared for demolition.

The crane last night; note removal of blue construction fence outside Atlantic Avenue entrance to Barclays Center

Trailer outside Barclays Center waiting for crane disassembly

Trailer on Atlantic Avenue (apparently) waiting for crane disassembly

Flatbed on Atlantic Avenue (apparently) waiting for crane disassembly

Prokhorov counsels patience, avoids questions about Nets' attendance, etc.

From the Record, Mikhail Prokhorov weighs in on Nets slow start:
The Record asked Prokhorov about several problems hanging over the Nets, including their lack of future first round draft picks; the drop-off in attendance.
Prokhorov was also asked if he’s worried the Nets might lose fans to the suddenly-surging Knicks, and if his franchise missed an opportunity to gain traction with New York fans over the last few years when the Knicks were struggling.
But Prokhorov did not address any of these questions in the email.

Instead, he sent a message of patience for his struggling team.
Devin Kharpertian of the Brooklyn Game suggested that Mikhail Prokhorov’s most interesting answers were the ones he didn’t give.

Added Net Income (aka Bob Windrem) of NetsDaily:
Prokhorov, of course, is as hamstrung by the Nets lack of flexibility as those he works for. There's little he can do under the CBA to improve the team's situation. Some in the organization think that he and Nets chairman Dmitry Razumov will not let the Nets be "really bad," but no one is suggesting just how they would do that.

A college basketball tourney at Barclays. A "very sparse crowd."

From Tim Bontemps in the Washington Post, Ben Simmons has assumed the mantle of the NBA’s next great hope:
For the 51 NBA scouts and personnel executives in attendance — a significant portion of the very sparse crowd that partially filled Barclays Center’s lower bowl Monday night — it was a glimpse of what [LSU's Ben] Simmons, an Australian who is projected to be one of the top picks in the 2016 NBA draft, is capable of.
So how many people attended the FanDuel Legends Classic last night? The overall attendance was not reported.

Yes, it was a cold night. And a Monday night a few days before a holiday. And maybe the problems with FanDuel, a big-spending fantasy sports site that suspended its New York operations in the wake of a cease-and-desist order from New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, played a part.

I wondered if the price was too high. For tonight, the final day of the two-day tournaments, seats--lower-bowl seats--start at $15.00, as noted in the graphic at left.

This seems suggest that seats should be $5, or $10, (and without service charge).

Then again, at some point, the increase in revenue triggers an increase in staff. And low-spending fans may not spend much at the concessions.

The creative team behind the Barclays Center is surely thinking about it. Maybe we'll see discounts tickets bundled with a modest amount of food and beverage credit, which then triggers more concessions spending. They're already doing something like that with the New York Islanders.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Proposal in Albany would require consultants like BerlinRosen, close to de Blasio and Forest City, to register as lobbyists

It hasn't made big headlines yet, but a significant change is percolating in Albany, where the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) is proposing to  require "strategic consulting firms" like BerlinRosen and SKDKnickerbocker--which, respectively, work for and have worked for Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner--to register as lobbyists.

Chris Bragg of the Albany Times-Union broke the news last Thursday, in JCOPE clarifies proposal targeting ‘strategic consultants’:
Some of New York’s most successful “strategic consulting” firms – such as Manhattan-based BerlinRosen and SKDKnickerbocker – have close relationships with politicians who are their campaign clients, and also represent interests with business before these clients. But their employees hardly ever register as lobbyists.

These firms maintain, however, that they do not actually ask those elected officials to make policy decisions benefitting those interests, and focus on public relations enhanced by insight into the thinking of public officials.

But JCOPE’s advisory opinion, if eventually passed, would expand the definition of lobbying beyond how its traditionally been interpreted by the industry and regulators. It is intended to cover not just direct lobbying, but consultants that use their connections to powerful officials to grease the wheels for direct lobbying – or for “door opening,” as JCOPE director of lobbying and senior counsel Martin Levine described at a commission meeting on Tuesday.
This proposal must be voted on, after public comments, which can be made until December 4. 

The news was treated as a victory by True News blogger Gary Tilzer, who has regularly pounded on the issue, trumpeting, "For Two Years True News Has Beaten the Shit out of Berlin Rosen."

NY1, which in April produced an investigation on the relationship between BerlinRosen and Mayor Bill de Blasio, last Thursday produced Political Consulting Firms in NY State May Soon Need to Register as Lobbyists, noting that, when  de Blasio announced a new plan for housing for the homeless, he did so in the lobby of a residential development run by a BerlinRosen client.

The New York Times on Nov. 5 published a front-page investigation, Mayor de Blasio’s Hired Guns: Private Consultants Help Shape City Hall, exploring the role of multiple firms. It has not yet reported on JCOPE's new proposal.