Wednesday, December 31, 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.



Sunday, December 21, 2014

Brooklyn Chamber head responds (incompletely) to detractors about 2016 DNC; with fundraising tweak, Congress boosts prospects of Philly, Columbus

In a Daily News op-ed published today, Brooklyn has the diversity and the attractions to make it the perfect host city for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce president Carlo Scissura responds to "detracting mumblings regarding potential problems the convention could cause for New Yorkers."

He writes:
With 25 hotels and more than 2,000 rooms already available in the borough — and another 22 projects totaling 2,208 rooms in the pipeline — there’s no question Brooklyn is well equipped to handle the convention.
Given that the convention should draw 35,000 people, I'm not sure what that means. Is there supposed to be a baseline number within walking distance of the convention location? If so, we should know.

He continues:
Traffic is nothing new for Brooklynites or any New Yorker. It has never stopped us from hosting the biggest events in the world, and the DNC should be no different. The MTA has promised to increase service if Brooklyn is chosen, and with 11 subway lines and the Long Island Rail Road near the Barclays Center, there’s no reason to even bring your car.
If everyone takes public transit, that certainly would relieve many fears. But one big question mark regards the planned shutdown of traffic lanes to allow buses to move quickly from Manhattan.

Good for local business?

Scissura writes:
The biggest falsehood floating around is that the DNC will be bad for local businesses, when in reality it will be a financial boon unlike any Brooklyn has ever seen.
Tens of thousands of additional people will be walking the streets of our borough, and shopping, eating and spending their money in our local businesses. Not only will the increase in foot traffic around the Barclays Center help surrounding shops, but Brooklyn is so popular nationally, there is no doubt visitors will explore our neighborhoods.
It depends what "local" means. Surely the influx of visitors would help many businesses in locations relatively near the Barclays Center--though I wouldn't bet on Dyker Heights or Bushwick, two neighborhoods a good hike from both the arena and midtown Manhattan.

As for "surrounding shops," we don't know how many would be in the "security perimeter" and forced to close. So any statement about the very local impact should be specific.

A boost for Philly and Columbus

The Daily News reported Friday, in Bill passed by Congress could hurt de Blasio's bid for 2016 Democratic convention:
A provision quietly slipped into an end-of-the-year spending bill approved by Congress could dash Mayor de Blasio’s dream of hosting the 2016 Democratic convention in Brooklyn, people involved in the bidding said.
The provision would allow an individual to give a political party as much as $97,200 a year to help underwrite the party’s presidential convention. That’s three times the size of the maximum annual donation previously permitted.
Until now, one of de Blasio’s key talking points for hosting the Democratic gathering was City Hall’s ability to line up donors to pay convention costs.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who leads Philadelphia’s convention bid, said the change helps both Philadelphia and Columbus. He also cracked, “Our roof isn’t leaking,” a reference to accident that stalled the Nets-Heat game Tuesday night.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Four-year modular buildout: Forest City now says B2 tower would be completed at end of 2016, says "same technology" is fine

NY1 had an exclusive last night, headlined After Halting Construction, Forest City Rehires Employees to Finish Tallest Modular Tower.

Even based on the unskeptical reporting, it could have more clearly been headlined "Forest City Rehires Some Modular Employees and Seeks Help Finding the Rest." After all, Forest City has rehired 25 workers and set up a hotline (718-637-5106) to reach more of the 125 remaining ones.

Two more years?

But the real news came at the end, when Jeanine Ramirez reported, "With production set to get underway the company says the building [the 32-story B2 tower] is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2016."

That would be four years after the building launched, and two years after the most prominently announced completion date, which was this month. This past April, developer Forest City Enterprises stated it anticipated that the building would open in December 2015.

The two-year estimate sounds like a cautious one, since the building is about one-third finished, and the whole thing was supposed to take two years. Then again, the factory can't operate until it's better staffed.

And that means that Dean Street will remain constricted for far longer than originally announced.

The falling out

From NY1:
Some 25 workers are back but developer Forest City Ratner plans to rehire all 150 employees who were cut.
NY1 visited the factory last year when production was in full swing. It was a joint venture between Forest City and contractor Skanska. But the two companies had a falling out, blamed each other for the slow pace and took legal action. While that lawsuit is in the courts, Forest City bought out Skanska, gaining full control of the operation.
The partnership FCS Modular is now FC Modular.

Using the same technology?
"This is the best way to rebuild the building is to use the same technology that we started it with and bring the people back to work and get our building finished,” said Executive VP of Forest City Ratner Bob Sanna.
No mention that former partner Skanska said the design/technology is flawed?

Consultant Melvin Lowe, one-time FCR lobbyist, gets three years for conspiracy in unrelated case

I wrote about the conviction in September. Here's an excerpt from today's report from the Times:
A former consultant to the New York Democratic Senate Campaign Committee was sentenced to three years in federal prison on Friday for what prosecutors said was a conspiracy with State Senator John L. Sampson to steal $100,000 from the organization in an invoicing scheme.
The former consultant, Melvin E. Lowe, 53, of Manhattan, was convicted in September of charges including conspiracy, wire fraud and filing false tax returns.
He was hired as a consultant by the committee in 2009 after Democrats won control of the Senate, and Mr. Sampson became his party’s conference leader. Prosecutors said Mr. Lowe filed a fake invoice for a printing company in New Jersey to receive $100,000 from the committee in 2010, then took $75,000 for himself. They said Mr. Lowe used the money to pay for renovations to a house he owns in Georgia.
“Melvin Lowe’s corrupt actions were another example of a political figure in New York State putting his own personal greed ahead of the public’s trust,”Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement. “I hope today’s sentence will send yet another powerful signal to any public official who questions the resolve of this office to root out corruption.
And while Lowe's work for Forest City was not part of the case, it did get a mention in the Journal News:

Lowe was found guilty of wire fraud, failing to file tax returns and other charges after a one-week trial in September.
Federal prosecutors said Lowe earned $2.1 million in consulting fees between 2007 and 2012, including work for developer Forest City Ratner and their Ridge Hill development. The developer was not implicated in wrongdoing, but prosecutors said Lowe reported less than $25,000 in income from his consulting fees during those years.
Here's the press release from the U.S. Attorney:
Former Consultant to New York Democratic Senate Campaign Committee Sentenced in White Plains Federal Court to Three Years in Prison for Tax and Fraud Convictions
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, December 19, 2014
Melvin Lowe Sentenced for Conspiring with New York State Senator John Sampson To Defraud the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that MELVIN LOWE, a former consultant to the New York State Democratic Senate Campaign Committee ("DSCC"), was sentenced today to 36 months in prison for conspiring with New York State Senator John Sampson to defraud the DSCC of $100,000, and for personal income tax offenses. LOWE was convicted by a jury in September 2014. United States District Judge Vincent L. Briccetti imposed today’s sentence.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Melvin Lowe’s corrupt actions were another example of a political figure in New York State putting his own personal greed ahead of the public’s trust. I hope that today’s sentence will send yet another powerful signal to any public official who questions the resolve of this office to root out public corruption.”
According to the Complaint, the Indictment filed in federal court and the evidence presented at trial:
LOWE was retained as a consultant by the DSCC after New York State Senator John Sampson was appointed as the Senate's Democratic Conference Leader following the June 2009 "coup" that temporarily shifted the balance of power in the New York Senate from the Democrats to the Republicans. In early June 2010, Sampson asked LOWE to arrange for a covert payment of $20,000 to Michael Nieves, a Queens-based political operative who had previously worked for former New York State Senator Hiram Monserrate and who had helped engineer the resolution of the Senate coup that had brought Sampson to power. LOWE then arranged for a New Jersey-based political consultant to submit a false invoice to the DSCC for $100,000 in printing services. Sampson approved payment of the invoice and the DSCC sent $100,000 to the New Jersey-based consultant. LOWE instructed the consultant to send $20,000 of the proceeds to Nieves, $75,000 of the proceeds to LOWE's consulting company, and to keep $5,000 for himself. The jury heard evidence that LOWE and Senator Sampson had a close relationship of trust that included LOWE giving Sampson an envelope of cash.
LOWE received more than $2.1 million in consulting income from 2007 to 2012. He reported less than $25,000 in income in each of his federal income tax returns for 2007 through 2009, which he did not file until late 2010. LOWE never filed tax returns for 2010 through 2012. He never made any payments toward his taxes for the years 2000 through 2012.
LOWE also caused a bank to make a false statement to his mortgage lender regarding the balance in his checking account. When the mortgage lender sent LOWE’s bank a Verification of Deposit form to verify LOWE's claim that he had $65,000 in his checking account, LOWE caused the assistant manager to claim that LOWE's account had a balance of more than $80,000. At that time, the balance in LOWE's checking account was $2,156.
* * *
In addition to the prison sentence, LOWE, 53, of Manhattan, was sentenced to three years’ supervised release.
Mr. Bharara praised the outstanding investigative work of the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation and the investigators from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York.
This case is being handled by the Office’s White Plains Division. Assistant United States Attorneys Perry A. Carbone and James McMahon are in charge of the prosecution.

Friday, December 19, 2014

"The Chinese Government Is Building Affordable Housing in Brooklyn." (Oh, really?)

It's all about the frame, right? 

So the article from Quartz, The Chinese Government Is Building Affordable Housing in Brooklyn (repurposed on fellow Atlantic site CityLab), was a particularly sheep-like framing of a building that includes below-market housing that's not affordable to most Brooklynites, and is accompanied by the construction of a luxury condo tower.

“We are committed to doing everything we can to keep this neighborhood diverse, affordable and accessible for all New Yorkers,” I-Fei Chang, head of Greenland Holdings Group’s US expansion, was quoted as saying. 

Relying on an imprecise description in a DNAinfo article, the Quart article states:
Half of the 298 units are supposed to be for families that make as low as 40% of the median income for the area—that’s about $33,560 for a family of four.
Thankfully, Quartz offers the opportunity to post an annotation on each paragraph. Here's one I posted:
Chang's quote is pure p.r. , surely fed by (unmentioned) partner Forest City Ratner, part of Greenland Forest City Partners. Poor phrasing: only 5% of total units are for households @ 40% of AMI--most "affordable" units are for households far better off then average Brooklynites.
I linked both to my analysis of affordability and my coverage of the groundbreaking.

Construction noise and the prospect of quieter electric jackhammers

The New York Times yesterday had an intriguing article, With Electric Jackhammers, Plans to Quiet an Earsplitting City Sound:
While most contractors still rely on the clangorous pneumatic drills driven by compressed air that were invented over 150 years ago, some are experimenting with new electric jackhammers that are demonstrably quieter.
City officials are close to embracing regulations that would encourage contractors and construction crews to switch to the quieter models — at least at night.
“It’s a result of an outcry from the public,” said Alyssa Preston, deputy director of air and noise policies for the Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Environmental Compliance.
While experts say it makes a difference--and reduce the "noise trauma" to workers and residents--the General Contractors Association of New York says the quieter jackhammer can't break the densest concrete and would slow construction.

The Second Amended Memorandum of Environmental Commitments for Atlantic Yards, signed last June, requires the use of electrical-powered equipment, "whenever feasible," but does not--likely because of the timing--mention electric jackhammers.

Numerous other noise-mitigation practices are required, but the requirements are generally described as "where practicable," which leaves a lot of wiggle room. And the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project site is a tight fit.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

On Saturday, Sixth Avenue closed so crane for green roof can be "reconfigured" (Updated)

Updated with more details.

A community notice sent out last night from Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park developer Forest City Ratner indicates that, for several hours during on Saturday, Sixth Avenue between Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Street will be temporarily closed for reconfiguration of the construction crane on Atlantic.

(The time period given is 6 am to 11 pm, but the notice indicates the closure will be for "a few hours.")

It is not being moved, but rather the boom is being shortened. 

If this was planned, why wasn't it in the most recent Construction Alert? "Reconfigurations take place as needed in the construction process," I was told by Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing/shepherding the project.

It was not a response to problems such as the leak in the roof during Tuesday's Nets game. The crane, I was told, "is expected to be removed in the spring." It was originally supposed to be up for only three months.


The untimely passing of a Nets superfan: "Gamblero correctly identified that the Nets were a blank slate, there for the taking."

From Bryan Joyner in The Classical, What Jeffrey Gamblero Knew, about the untimely death of a Nets superfan:
I should note that I found Gamblero to be singularly annoying, a perfect point of fixation for my frustration with the bland, anodyne Nets. Even now, the team doesn’t really have fans as much as they have a bunch of people who go to the games and root for them while debating food options.
....It’s clearer now. A graffiti artist and poker player who moved from one successful hustle to the next, Gamblero correctly identified that the Nets were a blank slate, there for the taking.
...Vanchiro may not have been the team’s official mascot, but he cared about the Nets as much as anyone, the players and front office personnel very much included. Three years in, we in Brooklyn are still not quite sure what the Brooklyn Nets are, as a franchise. Jeffrey Vanchiro, for better and worse, knew from day one.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Year of the Sheep, Part 2: Greenland press release touting "high-end" 550 Vanderbilt condo building gets wide play

After several New York elected officials and a good number of media outlets signed on to Mayor Bill de Blasio's myopic framing of the 535 Carlton launch--an all-affordable rental building with units too expensive for most Brooklynites--as an affordable housing victory, now comes a second wave of lockstep behavior, in the Chinese media.

From Greenland press release;
English text is machine translation
That's because developer Forest City Ratner's new Shanghai government-owned partner/overseer, the Greenland Group, is a behemoth in China, and this is a very big deal for Greenland, establishing itself around the world.

Press release focuses on Chairman Zhang

Consider that this press release from Greenland was essentially repurposed in numerous Chinese language outlets, including here, here, here, here, here, and here.

As shown at right, the press release features photos of Greenland Chairman Zhang Yuliang at the podium and then shaking hands with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The press release does not mention 535 Carlton, which launched Monday, but does highlight 550 Vanderbilt, the condo building that was supposed to have a groundbreaking yesterday--I didn't get confirmation--and is already being marketed to Chinese buyers, without official sanction.

"High-end" 550 Vanderbilt

The key passage in the Greenland press release, according to the (crude) machine translation, is:
The start of the Pacific Park project being located in Brooklyn, New York, near the stadium and Barclays Brooklyn's largest shopping mall. Transport facilities, 12 subway lines, 16 bus, Long Island Railroad station, surrounded by Wall Street in just 10 minutes to Manhattan subway ride away. The total area of ​​about 64,500 square meters, total building area of ​​nearly 600,000 square meters, planning and construction of large-scale integrated communities. 
Project includes the construction of 14 buildings in 6067 and the sale of residential rental apartment units, commercial office and hotel. Community planning and construction of complete facilities, including New York City public high schools, health centers, elderly centers, eight acres of open parks, public art activity area, shopping centers, etc., which can be sold in the first high-end residential project named Vanderbilt Bildt Street, (550 Vanderbilt Ave.) 550, equipped with a private hall, library, children's play room, a cafeteria, meeting rooms, private dining packages, sports center, rooftop outdoor barbecue facilities.
From the English-language press: Greenland's big deal

The English-language press focused on the China market produced more varied coverage. China Daily offered Ground broken in NYC:
Chinese real estate developer Greenland USA and US partner Forest City Ratner Companies broke ground on Monday for a 298-unit affordable housing project in downtown Brooklyn.
The 18-story project for low, moderate- and middle-income households is expected to open in fall, 2016. Tenants will be selected through a city-administered lottery process.
"New York enjoys the reputation as the capital of the world, and its prosperity lightens the dreams of international investors, including Greenland Group," said Zhang Yuliang, chairman of the state-owned Greenland Group, parent company of Greenland USA.
As indicated, this is a very big deal for Greenland, which a year ago paid for a billboard announcing its presence in Times Square.

The China Daily article closed:
Norman Oder, a blogger and activist who has been opposing the Atlantic Yards project is also skeptical. He said the so-called "affordable" housing, though cheaper than market prices, might still be unaffordable for ordinary people.
Well, I'm clearly a critic of Atlantic Yards, but if I just "opposed" it I'd be a knee-jerk reporter. I don't think you need a critic of activist to do the math regarding affordable housing.

After all, Daily News City Hall Bureau Chief Jennifer Fermino--someone I've never had any contact with, btw--produced similar skepticism.

From the English-language press: less of a profit for Greenland?

AsiaOne Business, based in Singapore, offered China's property developer plans major project in NY:
Yan Yuejin, a researcher at E-house (China) Holding, was more cautious. He said the rents of the affordable housing means it will take time to recover the investment.
Greenland's strength is focused more on developing "landmark" commercial properties, and it will also take time for the company to understand local practice and nurture local capability, Yan said.
"The value of the project for Greenland might be in 'testing the waters'. It wants to better understand demand in the US market, so it may focus less on profitability," Yan said.
That's interesting. In other words, not unlike EB-5 investors who accept a lower interest rate because they want green cards most of all, Greenland is calculating the importance of establishing itself in New York and the United States.

Greenland's big plans

From the Wall Street Journal:
“We will focus on deepening our presence in existing markets,” Mr. Zhang said in an interview this week at New York City’s Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets basketball team and where the company is developing a project. “It isn’t like we have a presence in 10 places now and will have to expand to 20. We’d increase our investment in cities where there is potential for growth, in the big cities. We will maintain a stable pace of increasing our real-estate investments abroad.”

New Downtown Brooklyn Partnership video touts 2016 DNC bid, steers clear of Prospect Heights

For locals, the Barclays Center is in Prospect Heights, at the edge of Downtown Brooklyn. For the developers of the Project Formerly Known as Atlantic Yards, the arena is in the odd new micro-neighborhood of Pacific Park.

For backers of the bid to bring the 2016 Democratic National Convention (DNC) to the arena, however, the Barclays Center is very much in Downtown Brooklyn.

Hence the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership's new 1:50 video, released at the same time a new website seeks New Yorkers' backing for the convention. The website is paid for by the 112-member host committee, which has already raised $15 million toward the $100 million goal.

The video features such luminaries as arena developer Bruce Ratner and Nets' CEO Brett Yormark, as well as people from various companies, organizations and schools in Downtown Brooklyn--supporting the bid. (The DBP is co-chaired by Forest City Ratner CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin, and the company has long had significant influence.)

The video text states:
Show your support by sharing this video using the hashtag #DNCNYC and visiting the City's DNC website at http://dnc2016.nyc/ for more information.
Downtown, not Prospect Heights

The video was produced in partnership with BRIC. Yes, it's the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and its members/supporters/contacts, so there's no Prospect Heights presence.

Still, it's notable that no residents or businesses from Prospect Heights--the zone where the convention would have the greatest impact--appear.

I'm sure there are more complicated feelings than the blanket support expressed in the video.

By the way, one guy, "Brooklyn resident Norman Ryan," gets to stand in for "127,000+ residents." That's a stretch.

I assume that number aims to encompass not only Downtown Brooklyn (maybe 15,000 residents) but the adjacent row-house
neighborhoods.

The video



Among the messages on the signs:
  • "It would mean more customers for my business"
  • "More patrons for our theaters and galleries"
  • "A chance to spark our next big ideas"
  • "A chance to tell the world our comeback story—a truly American story" 

The latter sign was held by the Nets' Mason Plumlee. I'm not sure he qualifies. But at least he's still with the team. Nets players who get trotted out for public appearances--I'm thinking Jorge Gutierrez at the MetroTech tree lighting a few weeks ago--sometimes get traded away.

What next?

Brooklyn is a finalist with Philadelphia and Columbus for the convention. New York offers the biggest media platform and the wealthiest host committee. It may pose logistical issues--few hotel rooms in Brooklyn, travel challenges to the arena--and isn't a swing stage.

The Democratic National Committee should make its selection in January or February.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Year of the Sheep: at groundbreaking for new tower, de Blasio and supporters hail "100% affordable housing," avoid pesky details about cost

Inside construction fence: ceremonial signage and
view of existing row houses across Carlton Avenue
Next year, a Chinese diplomat reminded onlookers at the ceremonial groundbreaking yesterday for the "all-affordable" 535 Carlton tower--launching the renamed Atlantic Yards as Pacific Park Brooklyn--is the Year of the Sheep.

The participants in the groundbreaking dutifully hailed Mayor Bill de Blasio's mantra, "There are very few phrases I like better than 100% affordable housing, so this program is off to a good start."

And while the timing does fulfill a pledge made in June to get housing started by the end of this year--actually, also an existing contractual requirement--and the new tower does come closer to meeting the goal family-sized units, the building skews from the "original promise" to allot the subsidized units among five income "bands," with only 20% for the best-off cohort.

Before the ceremony, a flatteringly gentle view of tower
Instead, 50% of the units in this and the next subsidized tower would go to households earning 165% of Area Median Income (AMI), or more than $140,000 for a family of four.

That means two-bedroom apartments costing more than $3,000, surely below market for new construction in a prime Brooklyn location, but hardly the low-cost housing so many people rallied for at public hearings.

But de Blasio's press release--which also quoted several elected officials and community activists--avoided the actual cost of the apartments, not to mention the unaffordable condo building going up today. (Of the 4500 rentals in the project, half will be affordable. There will be 1930 condos, likely 200 affordable.)

Present at the event were Council Members Laurie Cumbo, Brad Lander, and Steve Levin, plus Borough President Eric Adams, while Assemblyman Walter Mosley was quoted in the press release.


The consensus signaled not only of the potency of the "affordable housing" mantra but the importance of getting toward de Blasio's ambitious target of 200,000 units of affordable housing created or preserved.

It also signaled the mutual interdependence among de Blasio, developer Bruce Ratner, the Greenland Group (Forest City Ratner's new Shanghai government-owned partner/overseer), and selected affordable housing activists, who chose not to point out the contradictions between the promises and plans for the building.
Refreshments pitched to Chinese audience

Most of the press also didn't mention the cost of the apartments, including DNAinfo, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Observer, the Epoch Times, and Capital New York.

More incisive coverage came from Crain's and especially the Daily News, which framed it as De Blasio hails 'affordable housing' complex in Brooklyn with $3,500 apartments. (The Daily News has often produced fawning coverage of Atlantic Yards, but City Hall bureau chief Jennifer Fermino has been tough on this issue.)

The groundbreaking also was a coming-out party for Greenland, a $58 billion behemoth operating on four continents, and clearly wishing to make a big splash with projects in New York and Los Angeles.

There was bare mention of the promised Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AYCDC), aimed to provide advice and oversight, which was supposed to have started this week but won't meet until January 30.

Before the ceremony

The video below, shot at the corner of Carlton Avenue and Dean Street before the groundbreaking, shows the context of construction, and the "Great Wall of Carlton" 16-foot-high fence aimed to tamp down construction noise but also encroaching on most of the street.



The introduction

The event began with a video, narrated as if in soft focus by architect Rick Cook, talking about how he chose local materials such as brick and masonry, for the design of the tower. It appears on the new Pacific Park Brooklyn web site.

"Hello Brooklyn," Ratner began yesterday, citing--in carefully chosen language--"a building that will be `100% affordable for a wide range of New Yorkers.

The site for the ceremonial digging of shovels
He hailed "our most critical partner, Mayor de Blasio... from the very beginning. There were not a lot of supporters at the beginning, and there were not a lot of supporters who stuck it out."

Not a lot of supporters? Heck, the support from Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Gov. George Pataki, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver meant potential critics like the Regional Plan Association stood down.

Ratner hailed the agreement signed in June to change the timetable, with a new 2025 completion date, ten years faster than the 2035 "outside date" negotiated in 2009 after previous pledges to build the project in ten years.

That new timetable was spurred in part by a threatened lawsuit on fair housing grounds, which might have impeded the deal for Greenland to take 70% of the project going forward.

Also key to the deal was clearly the de Blasio administration's agreement to allow affordable housing income ranges skewed toward much better-off households than as promised in the Atlantic Yards Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding and Community Benefits Agreement (CBA).



Mayor de Blasio

de Blasio began, "There are very few phrases I like better than 100% affordable housing, so this program is off to a good start. Bruce--this is someone who truly cares for Brooklyn and for the city."

"In June, we had a series of conversations about the need to move forward, and to move forward rapidly, with this development to get to the original vision and achieve what so many of us hoped for who supported it from the beginning," de Blasio said, as if unmindful of the "original vision."

"This groundbreaking is a symbol of our accelerated commitment to realizing the full dream of this development," he said. "At 535 Carlton, to me this is exactly what we came here to do: 298 units, all affordable. This is a symbol of what we intend to do with our affordable housing plan over and over and over and over."

That prompted the tweet below from Gib Veconi, a longtime Atlantic Yards critic who's been far less critical since he helped negotiate the June agreement as a representative of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council and the BrooklynSpeaks coalition, and a query from me.




"I am a Brooklynite at heart," de Blasio continued. "For our community, which has seen not years but decades of rising costs, gentrification, this development offers the chance to have a huge number of affordable units that people from this community can live in and continue to be Brooklynites. And that to me is a fundamental goal. That people can stay in the city that they love."



"I did support this development from the beginning. I saw what was happening," he said. "We have to build affordable housing. This is allowing us to do that on a very substantial scale."

"The housing wasn't moving fast enough," de Blasio said, acknowledging critics. "[Ally] Bertha [Lewis] and so many community leader said, we need this to be done the way it has been outlined."

So 535 Carlton "will have twice as many affordable units," he said, ignoring how it will be countered by 100% market rental and condo buildings, which will outpace the affordable buildings. He did cite the "big increase in the number of two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments... that to us is how we fulfill the original vision."

de Blasio poses with a supporter after the ceremony
Finally, he mentioned that community residents "called for a creation of a Community Development Corporation, and that is also a part of this new plan... that will speak for the community... that we in the city will work with closely." He didn't mention it was delayed.

de Blasio Q & A

After the event, some photo-taking, and the ceremonial shoveling of dirt, de Blasio returned to the tent and took some questions.

I tried to probe: "You said in your speech that this met the original Atlantic Yards vision. However, 20% of the original affordable housing promise was the highest income band. This building, 50% is the highest income band. So how does that meet the original promise?"

"This is the first of many buildings. This parallels the reality with our affordable housing plan writ large," de Blasio responded. "In the year 2014, we're on track for over 16,000 new units... as you see the plan progress, neighborhood by neighborhood, you're going to see buildings that are 100% affordable, you're going to see buildings that are a lower percentage, you're going to see buildings that are primarily for folks on the lowest side of the income scale, you're going to see buildings that are mixed."




"Here, the original vision, in terms of tiered income scale, we intend to achieve," he concluded, ignoring the specifies of the tiers. "This building is 100% affordable, it's tiered, but we intend for the whole project to ultimately be fulfilled."

Deputy Consul General Cheng Lei

Not only were government officials from New York involved in the groundbreaking, but also China's Deputy Consul General in New York, Cheng Lei.

There were cameras and journalists representing not only the New York media but numerous Chinese-language outlets.

The investment, he said, "represents a vote of confidence by China" in New York. "Confidence is simply more precious than gold."

It also might be said to be a smart and profitable investment in a more stable investment environment, and a publicity coup.

Greenland, he said of the state-owned company, would be "not only building this affordable housing with adequate efficiency and quality but shouldering its true corporate responsibility... that will generate tangible benefits to all New Yorkers."

He noted that this year "marks the the 35th anniversary of diplomatic relations" between the U.S. and China, then wished everyone a prosperous Year of the Sheep.



Greenland executives Zhang and Chang

Introducing Greenland Chairman Zhang Yuliang, Ratner--in language that recalled his salute to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who bought the money-losing Nets and 45% of the arena---called him "a friend in a real way... we met a little over a year ago... instantly got along
this deal was cut in about half a day.... The term sheet was about a page long, it was a handshake kind of deal. I decided we'd be friends, and we are friends."

Greenland, he said, had "tremendous expertise," a fellow developer with ten to 15 people from China in Forest City offices in Brooklyn, "next to our people... it's not just an investment, it's a partnership."

Again, in language reminiscent of the Prokhorov deal, he said, "We are really one team... I have to compliment Chairman Zhang... it bodes very very well for the future of this country and the future of this world."

Zhang, speaking in Chinese in a declamatory style (and with a British-accented translator to his left), stated, "In the last winter, our corporate image was displayed on the Times Square electronic billboard, and in one year's time, we're here."

"This is a joyous occasion," he said in not-so-joyous tones, claiming the project would "add schools and parks." Actually, one school, and privately owned open space.

I-Fei Chang, president of Greenland USA, spoke in English. "We are new to this market," she said, citing the developer's track record of skyscrapers around the world.

After citing the visit of "Will and Kate"--the British royals--to the Barclays Center, she declared, "We will continue to invest... in Brooklyn.. not just today, not just tomorrow, but very long term."

"We are very happy to work together towards bringing the much needed affordable housing to the community," she said, clearly well-schooled in the appropriate rhetoric. "We are committed to doing everything we can to keeping this neighborhood diverse, affordable and accessible for all New Yorkers... affordable housing, new retail opportunities, and more publicly accessible open space."



MaryAnne Gilmartin and Kenneth Adams

"Today is about opportunity, opportunity for our company, opportunity for our venture, but it's also about responsibility," declared Forest City Ratner CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin. "And we take that responsible. very seriously... this important milestone symbolizes for our company one of the most intense monumental and global collaborations."

She noted that financing for the tower via the New York City Housing closed "about an hour ago." She praised several company executives, including Robert Sanna, Melissa Burch, and "Ashley Cotton for her wisdom and her stewardship in communicating our plan to the community."

She also thanked various CBA partners in the audience. Apparently all is publicly friendly, though another executive once called at least one partner "snakes."

Kenneth Adams, CEO of Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing/shepherding Atlantic Yards, said that the Greenland investment reopened the Atlantic Yards "development agreement, signed many many years ago, when the project first began."

Actually, the project was announced in 2003 and first approved in 2006. The Development Agreement was signed in 2009 after the project was renegotiated."

Not only was the timeframe shortened, the negotiation "created an opportunity... which was really quite significant.. a new chance for the community to voice concerns, and interest in the project, and to that a debt of gratitude to the local elected officials that are here, to BrooklynSpeaks, Dean Street Block Association, and many other civic organizations and people for a long time involved in the project that also in June were all part of this very active reworking of the development agreement."

"As a result of their advocacy," he said, "a third achievement was the creation of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation, which in the new year will provide a new organization for ongoing community input and guidance of this project in the years it's built out."

Actually, the Dean Street Block Association (DSBA) specifically dropped out of a BrooklynSpeaks component organization because it didn't feel the AYCDC was sufficient. I later got a statement from the DSBA:
“Dean Street Block Association was “part of a very active reworking of the development agreement” in the sense that we have long criticized oversight of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park because it routinely allows the developer to shift risk to the public and community. Through the period leading up to the approval of the FSEIS and MGPP in June our members sent a strong message about the problems we need addressed. Given our input, we do not feel our concerns were addressed adequately."



I queried Adams before the meeting about the delay in the AYCDC, referencing my observation that it suggested an imbalance between the imperatives of getting the project built and the structure that was supposed to give confidence to the community.

"We certainly hoped the meeting could've come together in December," he responded. "A delay of a few weeks doesn't suggest to me there's an imbalance the way you describe. What I remind you is that [staffers] Sam [Filler], Nicole [Jordan], Marion [Phillips III], myself, the apparatus, continues to monitor construction impacts and any concern.. and it keeps going on. We still do all of that. The additional function of the CDC, it's delayed for a few weeks, but we're still on the case."

Borough President Eric Adams

Adams laid on the rhetoric about affordable housing: "A unit [sic] of 100% affordable housing is sending a clear signal to countless numbers of Brooklynites who are asking the question, Would Brooklyn, and is Brooklyn, going to remain affordable? This building is an exclamation point: yes it is."

"Pacific Avenue [sic]will unite our communities," he said, suggesting the housing would ensure that all could participate in Brooklyn's bounty.



Bertha Lewis

Lewis, former head of New York ACORN, now leader of The Black Institute, and the person who helped devise the affordable housing deal, bowed to de Blasio and to Zhang when she got on stage.. "To the People's Republic of China," she said in something of a Charlie Chan accent, "welcome to the People's Republic of Brooklyn."

"Bruce and MaryAnne never ever ever never gave up," she declared. They're truly development gangsta."



She saluted Ismene Speliotis of the Mutual Housing Association of New York (and formerly ACORN Housing), who "came up with the tiered income requirements... you're a housing genius." She didn't mention the departure from the original promise.

She also honored late ACORN leader Jon Kest, who "wanted to provide a template and a model for the rest of the country."

"There's some og's, some original gangstas who had the idea of putting together a Community Benefits group," Lewis said, citing several people in the audience.

They included former Assemblyman Roger Green, James Caldwell (of the new defunct BUILD), Norma Maupins of Brooklyn Endeavor Experience, Joe Coello of the Downtown Brooklyn Educational Consortium, Len Britton of the NY Association of Minority Contractors, Charlene Nimmons of Public Housing Communities, and the Rev. Herbert Daughtry and family members from the Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance.

Patti Hagan, outside the ceremony
Not publicly cited were the two people most responsible from the community side for the revised deal in June: Veconi, of BrooklynSpeaks, and Michelle de la Uz, of the Fifth Avenue Committee. de la Uz did appear in the press release, below, hailing the affordable housing.

"The local community desperately needs access to affordable housing and this is a meaningful step forward in fulfilling that need,” she stated.

She has also publicly acknowledged the need for more affordability reaching average Brooklynites.

A protest outside

Though there remains considerable dismay about the project from the closest neighbors, and skepticism and doubt from others, there's little energy and time for organized criticism.

The latter was symbolized yesterday by longtime project opponent Patti Hagan, a nearby resident who launched the opposition in 2003.

She carried a sign with an outline of planned towers (at Sixth Avenue, not Carlton Avenue, actually), declaring "535 Ratlantic Yards-China dwarfs this neighborhood," indicating that the latter is Prospect Heights, a reference to the claim that Pacific Park Brooklyn somehow represents a new neighborhood.

She told me and a few other reporters after the event that her presence on the sidewalk/street near the entrance to the event tent generated pushback from a Forest City representative and that police ordered her to move across the street.

The full event, on video



The official press release
FULFILLING PLEDGE, MAYOR DE BLASIO JOINS BROOKLYNITES TO BREAK GROUND ON 100 PERCENT AFFORDABLE BUILDING AT PACIFIC PARK
298-unit project begins just six months after agreement among City, State, Greenland Forest City Partners, and local community
COOKFOX designed 535 Carlton Avenue to include more units sized for families, provide apartments for New Yorkers ranging from low- to middle-income
NEW YORK—Mayor Bill de Blasio today joined local officials and community leaders to break ground on a new 298-unit, 100 percent affordable building at Pacific Park Brooklyn. The building, 535 Carlton Avenue, is being developed by Greenland Forest City Partners and is the second affordable housing project built at Pacific Park Brooklyn, formerly known as Atlantic Yards. A third building, also 100 percent affordable and negotiated by the de Blasio administration will break ground in 2015.
Official photo via NYC Mayor's Office 
The new building will contribute to the Mayor’s plan to build and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade. Today’s groundbreaking reflects a commitment Greenland Forest City Partners made with Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio and local community groups in June 2014 to build 2,250 affordable apartments by 2025.
“Last summer, we made a promise to this community that we would jumpstart affordable housing here and get shovels in the ground by the end of the year. Today, we’re delivering. We intend to take every opportunity, push every partner, and stretch every dollar further as we take on this affordability crisis,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“This groundbreaking is a symbol of the State’s commitment to ensuring affordable housing for all New Yorkers. Earlier this year, we announced that we would fast-track the delivery of much-needed affordable housing here at Pacific Park, and today we’re delivering on that promise. This is great news for the local community—especially Brooklyn residents who will see new, affordable buildings being constructed in their neighborhoods,” said Governor Andrew M. Cuomo.
“We are excited to bring our international expertise, efficiency and dedication to world-class design to this exciting project. Today’s ceremony marks an important first step, which will help shape the landscape of New York City for years to come. We are grateful to our partners at the state and the city for their vital contribution to this project, and to our partners at Forest City Ratner for their work to bring this Pacific Park Brooklyn to fruition,” said Zhang Yuliang, Chairman of Greenland Group Co.
“I would like to thank in particular our partners and colleagues at Greenland Forest City Partners. We sought a development partner because we hoped to accelerate the construction timeline for the project. In an incredibly short period of time, we’ve been able to do that, because of the expertise and commitment brought by a group of extraordinarily talented and driven professionals. We are grateful as well to Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio for their commitment to affordable housing, and their willingness to work with us to achieve an expedited schedule,” said Bruce Ratner, Executive Chairman of Forest City Ratner Companies.
The first building at Pacific Park, B2, broke ground in 2012 and has 50 percent market-rate apartments, 30 percent middle-income and 20 percent low-income units. 535 Carlton has greater and deeper affordability. It is 100 percent affordable, with 50 percent middle-income, 20 percent moderate and 30 percent low-income units. It will be home to a vibrant mixed-income community, serving low, moderate and middle-income residents. And more than a third of apartments at 535 Carlton Avenue are sized for families.
Residents will be selected through a lottery system overseen by the New York City Housing Development Corporation. The New York City Housing Development Corporation is providing a $73 million tax-exempt first mortgage for the building, funded by Citi Community Capital. HDC is also contributing $11.75 million in subsidy financing. Pacific Park Brooklyn is a state-regulated development established by a General Project Plan adopted by the Empire State Development (ESD) Board of Directors in 2006 and governed by ESD. Pacific Park Brooklyn will include 6,430 units of housing, more than one-third of which will be affordable.
Designed by the award winning architectural firm COOKFOX, 535 Carlton will become an extension of the surrounding neighborhood of Prospect Heights. Incorporating ideas of biophilia and through a series of terraces and setbacks, the building creates a transition from the sidewalk and pedestrian scale of Prospect Heights to create an appropriate “bookend” that frames the new public park. The rear of the building will open onto a new, eight acre public open space designed by Thomas Balsley Associates. More information about Pacific Park Brooklyn is available on the newly designed web site launched today: http://pacificparkbrooklyn.com.
“The construction and preservation of affordable housing is a priority in Brooklyn, which is why this groundbreaking of close to 300 units in Prospect Heights is such an important milestone. It furthers my mission to ensure our borough can continue to be home to everyone from everywhere. I look forward to continuing to work with Greenland Forest City Partners on affordable, sustainable and high-quality living in Pacific Park,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.
“Just a few months back, we announced an agreement to deliver all 2,250 affordable units, 10 years earlier than originally anticipated, and I applaud Greenland Forest City Partners for reaching this notable first step. We look forward to working together as the Pacific Park build out continues,” said Kenneth Adams, President & CEO of Empire State Development.
“I’m proud of the work that HDC has done to help deliver on the Mayor’s promise to jump-start development at Pacific Park and bring much needed affordable housing to the community,” said HDC President Gary Rodney. “535 Carlton will be a place where New Yorkers from low- to middle-incomes can live together, raise their families, and grow with this vibrant neighborhood. I thank the Mayor and Governor for their leadership and the development team for their partnership.”
“A groundbreaking represents a commitment to the future, in this case a future that is inclusive of a wide-range of people and reflective of the diversity of this great borough and city. Today is possible because of the work of an extraordinary group of people and partners who understand the need to move quickly and at the highest possible level of design,” said MaryAnne Gilmartin, President and CEO of Forest City Ratner Companies and President of Greenland Forest City Partners.
“Today’s groundbreaking is a celebration for all New Yorkers, and is a result of the tireless dedication of our partners within State and City government. We’re extremely proud of Pacific Park’s impact on the community through mixed-use development, affordability for a wide range of families, diversity, open space, and leading design,” said I-Fei Chang, CEO & President of Greenland USA and CEO of Greenland Forest City Partners.
“We could not be more pleased that we are part of a project that brings together housing for such a wide-range of New Yorkers. Brooklyn is home to the majority of our firm, and we have brought to Pacific Park Brooklyn a point of view that reflects our love for this borough. It is an extraordinary opportunity for us to create a new sense of place within the very strong context of an existing and unique sensibility. Most of all, we are excited that we have been tasked with approaching the issue of affordability using high-design in form, function and sustainability,” said Richard A. Cook, Founder and Partner at COOKFOX.
“The public park that is part Pacific Park is not an appendage to the development. It will be at the very heart of this project, a place where design and nature can come together, creating space for recreation and contemplation,” said Thomas Balsley, Founder and Design Principal of Thomas Balsley Associates.
“Today, as we break ground on this extraordinary building, we also recognize a promise that we made when we first announced this project in 2003. Pacific Park Brooklyn will be built on the shared belief that as a City, we can rise together. It is a vision for a City where rich and poor can live together, and where we all do better together,” said Bertha Lewis, President of the Black Institute.
“This groundbreaking is a momentous next step in the development of Pacific Park. These affordable units are essential to addressing the housing crisis in our city and ensuring accessibility to the project for all community members. I look forward to the ribbon cutting ceremony for 535 Carlton Avenue and many more affordable housing developments to come,” said Assembly Member Walter Mosley.
“The groundbreaking at Pacific Park is the realization of our City’s promise to preserving not only the affordability of communities across Brooklyn, but its economic and cultural diversity. Today’s groundbreaking is symbolic of our ability to work collaboratively with the residents of this community to build a stronger New York for all. It is an essential step to ensuring that New Yorkers can continue to call this city home without being uprooted from their communities,” said Council Member Laurie A. Cumbo.
“Fifth Avenue Committee (FAC) is pleased that 535 Carlton is breaking ground today and that Greenland Forest City Partners is on its way to fulfilling one of its key recent commitments made with NYS and BrooklynSpeaks—starting construction of at least 590 units of affordable housing by June 30th, 2015. The local community desperately needs access to affordable housing and this is a meaningful step forward in fulfilling that need” said Michelle de la Uz, Executive Director of FAC.
“This is a testament to what’s possible, in terms of real affordability for New Yorkers. Pacific Park Brooklyn is a model for the shared vision of a New York that works for all,” said Jonathan Westin, Director of NY Communities for Change.
A note on Westin's statement

Keep in mind that in advocating for "real affordability," he earlier this year supported a program with a minimum of 50% affordable housing, which is what was promised with the Atlantic Yards rentals:
There are many ways to achieve a significant number of 50/50 developments. Affordable housing developers, private sector developers and housing experts at the Mutual Housing Association of New York have developed a few possible scenarios that are viable and pragmatic, based on existing underwriting assumptions with some progressive adjustments:
1) For high-cost areas of the city (particularly Manhattan), depending on the up-zoning the proposed models can provide up to 50 percent of the units are market rate and 50 percent are targeted to low-income households (those earning 30-60 percent of AMI);
2) For the outer boroughs and areas in the city where land costs are lower, a 100% of the developments can be affordable: 50 percent of the units for low-income households (those earning 30-60 percent of AMI) and 50 percent for moderate income (for families earning up to 100 percent of AMI)

Neither of those scenarios applies to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, since, of the 2250 affordable units, only 40%--not all as in the first scenario--would be for low-income households.

Even the more ambitious second scenario differs significantly from the 100% affordable building launched yesterday, since half the units would be for moderate income households earning up to 165% of AMI.