Friday, July 29, 2016

Real Deal: Forest City lost some key execs, downsizing staff; execs say all's well (but that's spin)

The Real Deal's Rich Bockmann reports Forest City Ratner: The sequel, subtitled "Key executives leave and layoffs take hold as company makes transition to REIT."

It's an interesting scoop, but I think the situation is even more unsettled than reported, given that some recently departed key executives aren't talking, and the developer's subordinate position in the Greenland Forest City Partners joint venture goes unmentioned.

The company re-sets

A key passage:
But now, in order to work as a REIT [real estate investment trust], Forest City would have to narrow its scope. As the parent company in Cleveland prepared for the transition, FCR saw significant churn: some of it planned, some that came by surprise.

FCR generated net operating income of about $227 million in 2015, investor documents show, up slightly from $218.8 million in 2014 and representing about 37 percent of Forest City’s total NOI. But over the past year, it also cut about 15 percent of its workforce. Some jobs such as accounting, human resources and information technology were consolidated in Cleveland, but other departures were less welcome. 
The main interviewees, CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin and Chairman Bruce Ratner, push back, with Gilmartin saying they still have "a secret sauce in our business... the stuff we do that represents a business that has really high barriers to entry.”

 Translation: wrangling one-off deals from governmental entities.

How much development

In the article, the executives point to all as hunky-dory:
Gilmartin and Ratner say FCR has no intention of becoming less of a developer, and is actually doing more than ever before. Its pipeline includes 1,800 units of housing at Pacific Park, formerly known as Atlantic Yards, as well as a pair of buildings at the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island and the redevelopment of the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island.

But the firm has also disposed of development sites such as 625 Fulton Street, which it sold to the Rabsky Group for $158 million, and is shopping stakes in two condo projects and an office project at Pacific Park. On the acquisition side, it has focused on cash-flow assets, such as a rental property at 500 Sterling Place.
(Emphasis added)

From January 2016 presentation by Greenland 
Forest City Partners to Department of City Planning
Hold on. The only way they can count 1,800 units in the pipeline is to count the stalled B12 (615 Dean) condo building and the delayed B15 (664 Pacific) rental+school site.  See slide at right.

More importantly, though Gilmartin in the interview uses the phrase "when we take partners," that's a very self-serving framing for Pacific Park.

The project is now 70% owned (minus the arena and B2 modular tower) by the Shanghai government-owned Greenland Group, which controls the joint venture Greenland Forest City Partners (though there must be consensus on key decisions).

So it's misleading to suggest that Forest City's own pipeline has 1,800 units or that the REIT itself is shopping stakes in three Pacific Park development sites. That's the joint venture's work.

Forest City Ratner had long taken minority partners, retaining control, but this is different.

Some big departures

Forest City has lost 23 employees compared to a year earlier, with about 110 employees, and some big salaries have been eliminated:
In January, David Berliner, who joined FCR in 1989 and rose to become COO, left with little fanfare.
His responsibilities were spread out among existing employees, both in New York and Cleveland. Sources said Berliner, who ran the company’s arts program, is transitioning out of real estate.
“David had been at the company for 25 years,” Gilmartin said. “He has a passion for other things including art and the art world and he’s made a good living and decided he wants to make a major change. It’s hard because he’s like family, and it’s exciting.”
But why can't he speak for himself? Berliner couldn’t be reached for comment, and that lack of fanfare regarding his departure contrasted with his prominent appointment as COO. Similarly, the departure of longtime director of retail Kathryn Welch came without any celebration.

(Remember how executive Jim Stuckey left suddenly for "new challenges," which actually meant "forced out after harassment allegations"?)

Neither were interviewed, and perhaps they have nondisclosure agreements. Given the lack of replacement for Berliner (at least), this sure looks like a cost-cutting and/or power-consolidating move, as with the quick 2011 departure of former executive Joanne Minieri, who was not replaced. In other words, I think Ratner and Gilmartin are (duh) putting the happiest face on it.

By contrast, Linda Chiarelli, the longtime deputy to construction head Bob Sanna, said her new job at NYU was a new opportunity. Two other construction officials left, as well, which Forest City executives called understandable, given the desire to rise.

Monetizing Dean Street loading dock: VIP ticket packages to Barclays Center now include below-arena parking (what could go wrong?)

An announcement from Arena Digest headlined Fan Experience Options Added to Barclays Center tells us:
A partnership between Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment (BSE) and QuintEvents will result in some new fan experience options at the Barclays Center. The pairing of the two sides is expected to lead to the implementation of customized event offerings.

Across all of its platforms, BSE will work with QuintEvents to deliver unique experience packages. In addition to sporting events, BSE will leverage its Brooklyn Direct programming division to bring fans closer to exclusive artists at Barclays Center.

Fans can visit to view select BSE Experiences for BROOKLYN BOXING™ events,BROOKLYN HOOPS™college basketball games, Brooklyn Nets games, special events, and concerts, including Barbra Streisand’s return home toBrooklyn onAug. 11 and 13. Experience packages will include a variety of special perks such as walking to the ring with top boxers, such as World Middleweight Champion Daniel Jacobs; private sound checks for shows booked through BSE’s Brooklyn Direct programming platform; exclusive artist meet & greets; parking where celebrities park; one of a kind experiences with Nets players, Islanders legends, and college basketball coaches and personalities; VIP dinners; and access to private entrances.
(Emphasis added)

Access to the loading dock

OK, let's go to that QuintEvents link.

For the Platinum VIP price of $6,990 per person, a huge Barbra Streisand fan can get front-row seats, a pre-concert VIP dinner, a meet & greet with Barbra her self, and the opportunity to drive in to the Dean Street loading dock elevator and go down stairs to park at the event level.

What could go wrong?

Surely, as per the last nearly-four years, all vehicles entering the loading dock will be carefully coordinated by a dispatcher.

There will be “a secured, private, web-based scheduling system,” top manager Steve Rosebrook said in 2012. “If you're not scheduled to come into the building, you're going to get turned away.”

Or, as it's happened, they idle on Dean Street, blocking traffic. Last November, I reported, with video, how congestion on Dean caused by a vehicle waiting for the loading dock caused vehicles to drive on the sidewalk.

Nicole Jordan of Empire State Development, the state authority overseeing and shepherding Atlantic Yards Pacific Park,offered an explanation that conveyed apology without penalty.

"I was informed by Barclays that there was a miscommunication somewhere between the loading dock downstairs and staff at street level managing vehicle intake. Barclays recognizes that this condition is unacceptable and is working internally to eliminate congestion build up on the arena block."

Now, they're adding to the potential for congestion.

As B3 crane is removed, Sixth Avenue between Dean & Pacific closed to through traffic for much of the weekend

On Saturday and Sunday, Sixth Avenue between Pacific and Dean streets will be temporarily closed to through traffic, so the crane at B3 (aka 38 Sixth Avenue) can be disassembled.

The closing is planned for 9 hours on Saturday (6am-3pm) and for 15 hours on Sunday (6am-9pm).

Traffic will be detoured to Carlton and Vanderbilt Avenues as shown in the graphic below. The east sidewalk of Sixth Avenue will remain open to pedestrians. Traffic Enforcement Agents and flaggers are supposed to be on site to assist with vehicular and pedestrian movements.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

At Times Plaza Saturday, pop-up plaza; DOT meeting next Wednesday on Atlantic/Flatbush safety; what about impact from Site 5?

Here are three important things to remember about the fraught intersection of Atlantic, Flatbush, and Fourth avenues.

First, this Saturday 3-7 pm, Transportation Alternatives’ People First on Atlantic Avenue campaign hold a Pop-Up Plaza, aiming to "transform lonely Times Plaza into a fun space with music, art, and food — and make it a safe place to cross!"

Then, next Wednesday, Aug. 3, the New York City Department of Transportation, which is already working on a plan to upgrade the plaza (but was told it had to come with safety improvements) is holding a workshop from 6 to 8 pm at the YWCA, 30 Third Avenue.

Finally, I'm wondering whether that workshop can address the unofficial--but, I'd bet, very much pending--plan (as I reported in City Limits) for a huge two-tower Pacific Park Brooklyn project at Site 5, currently occupied by the big-box stores Modell's and P.C. Richard.

What might be coming to Site 5

The proposed plan, as shown in the slides below, involves 1.1 million square feet, including 188,000 square feet of retail, possibly a large hotel, and large amounts of residential and possibly office space. Servicing such a building requires trucks and possibly buses, and the residents/visitors/workers would also be factored in.

(The developer says the plan is outdated but wouldn't answer more specifically about what elements were off the table.)

In other words, safety improvements at this intersection surely must address the Site 5 project.

Notice how green the not-green Times Plaza is portrayed. Ditto for the arena plaza.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

de Blasio takes another affordable housing victory lap; experts skeptical (+ AY disconnect)

A mayoral press release yesterday (after a New York Times exclusive) announced Mayor de Blasio: NYC Sets Affordable Housing Record, Highest Production Since 1989, with the subheading "23,284 affordable homes financed in Fiscal Year 2016 – second highest in history." (This follows up on last year's triumphant press release.)

The lead:
NEW YORK—Mayor Bill de Blasio today announced that his administration secured 23,284 affordable apartments and homes during Fiscal Year 2016, the second highest production in New York City history and the most since Ed Koch was mayor.
The Mayor’s Housing New York plan now is ahead of schedule, with 52,936 affordable homes financed so far, enough for 130,000 New Yorkers. Affordable housing for the very poorest New Yorkers – those earning less than $24,000 per year – surged with 3,500 new apartments. More than 4,000 affordable homes for low-income seniors are also underway.
The City is protecting neighborhood affordability on every front. The City is investing more than ever in NYCHA and its 600,000 tenants, evictions have declined 24 percent in two years, and the Rent Guidelines Board just passed its second consecutive rent freeze affecting 2.5 million tenants.
But how much of an impact can this make? Consider that preservation, while certainly important, doesn't help those hoping to get an affordable apartment, and the city has started only 17,341 units, according to the chart in the press release.

Note this paragraph:
One-quarter of all affordable housing financed since 2014 will reach New Yorkers making less than $31,100 for an individual or $40,800 for a family of three. Of these homes, 50 percent are for New Yorkers making less than $19,050, or $24,500 for a family of three. This progress reflects the traction of new programs and initiatives targeting the very lowest-income families, including the formerly homeless.
That's progress, but how significant? The chart below counts "starts" as either new construction or preservation. So we don't know how many new apartments there were for extremely low and very low income households.

The middle-income anomaly

Of course--though it's often not mentioned--"affordable" means that people pay 30% of household income on rent, so it can range from low-income to middle-income.

So, why did I highlight middle-income housing? Because in the upcoming two "100% affordable" buildings in Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, 65% of the units, or 390, are middle-income units.

That's not where the need is greatest. Nor is it the focus of de Blasio's program. As announced in 2014, only 11% of the total were supposed to go to that cohort.

From Housing New York, Mayor de Blasio's 10-Year Plan, 2014
Several elected officials praised de Blasio's progress, including Assemblymember Walter Mosley and Council Member Brad Lander.

The coverage

In De Blasio Administration Says It’s Ahead of Schedule on Affordable Housing, the Times reflected the administration's line, but then noted criticism from housing activists and pointed out that "nearly a quarter of affordable apartments preserved with city financing last year were in two Manhattan projects, both devoted to middle-class tenants: Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village, on the East Side between 14th and 23rd Streets, and the Riverton Houses, in East Harlem."

The article concluded:
“We are pleased to see that the administration has increased the pace of production of housing for low- and extremely-low-income New Yorkers,” said Barika Williams, deputy director of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, a nonprofit advocacy group. “But the need and demand for that kind of housing has only increased. And it won’t be met by the administration’s housing plan.
AM New York, in Mayor Bill de Blasio announces affordable housing progress, met with mixed reviews, supplied significant skepticism, pointing to the amount of new construction:
“The key figure for me is NOT 23,284 — which includes 17,187 units that received additional subsidies to extend already existing rent caps — but 6,097,” the number of new affordable homes actually built, said Matthew Lasner, co-author of “Affordable Housing in New York: The People, Places and Policies That Transformed a City.” 
While de Blasio’s affordable housing creation is 11% higher than the average annual output of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, it falls short of De Blasio’s stated goal of 8,000 new units per year, said Lasner, an associate professor of urban studies and planning at Hunter College.
The 421-a issue

DNAinfo, in City Claims Record-Breaking Affordable Housing Despite Loss of 421-A Break, noted the challenge with the lack of restoration of a certain tax break:
[Deputy Mayor Alicia] Glen said one of the worst consequences of the loss of 421-a is the inability to build affordable housing in expensive neighborhoods.
"That's tragic, and Albany needs to be held accountable for that," she said. "Our ability to do the kind of mixed-income building and neighborhood planning that's a sort of tent of our Housing New York plan is definitely at risk."...
Glen said the administration is "ahead of schedule," though they created only 6,097 new units in FY2016, which was 28 percent fewer than in the previous fiscal year and fewer than they would need to be on track if they were aiming to build 8,000 units per year to meet the goal of 80,000 in 10 years. 
[Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki] Been also suggested that the higher number in FY2015 was a "bump up... because of the natural rush to get into the ground" before the 421-a tax break expired.
The Observer, in De Blasio Administration Now Says It Can Hit Its Housing Goals Without 421a, reported:
Nonetheless, numerous experts have told the Observer that the mayor’s grand designs are largely dependent on getting the state to create a new 421a program. The centerpiece of his housing agenda is Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, which obligates market-rate developers to set aside a percentage of new rental apartments for middle and low-income tenants.
But without 421a, there is little incentive for developers to build rental units.
“When you look at a budget for a building, if all of a sudden your taxes are running at 30 percent of your operating expenses, there’s not a lot of room for profit,” real estate attorney Steve Hochberg explained to the Observer earlier this year. “The concept of what the mayor planned was meant to go hand in hand with a 421a.”
A union head warned that the only profitable unsubsidized developments are now condominiums. And unless a new version of the exemption arrives, developers just won’t build the low-income units de Blasio’s plan requires.
Affordable Housing Surges in New York City
City has financed the construction or preservation of 53,000 low- or moderate-income apartments since January 2014
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing in New York City is on track, city officials said Tuesday.

The city says it has financed the construction or preservation of 53,000 low- or moderate-income apartments since Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, took office in January 2014 under an initiative he has made the centerpiece of his administration.

The city has secured financing for about a quarter of the 200,000 units 2½ years into the 10-year plan, the mayor’s aides said.


After East New York Zoning Change, City Pushes Nearby Job Growth
Brooklyn Reaches for the Sky
Appeals Court Rules Against Retroactive Affordable-Housing Requirements
Officials said the city built or preserved 23,284 affordable units in the fiscal year that ended June 30, the most since 1989 when Ed Koch was mayor. While advocates have criticized the administration for not targeting enough low-income New Yorkers, aides to the mayor defended the administration’s record.

Alicia Glen, Mr. de Blasio’s deputy mayor for housing and economic development, said the program had created, “an orchestra of affordable housing.”

“It’s all coming together,” Ms. Glen said at a City Hall briefing on the initiative Tuesday. “You’re talking about massive, game-changing stuff. This is, you know, getting shit done at a level the city has never seen with respect to housing.”

This past fiscal year, the city completed the financing on 6,097 new units of housing, down nearly 30% from last year’s figure of 8,485 units but up nearly 25% from fiscal 2013, the last full year of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration.

Ms. Glen and Vicki Been, commissioner of the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said the number of units created or preserved in fiscal year 2015 was unusually high because developers rushed to move forward with projects before the expiration of a lucrative tax credit program, known as 421-a, that lapsed this year amid inaction from Albany lawmakers.

The city also preserved 17,187 units of affordable housing this past fiscal year, a figure that includes high-profile deals at two older developments in Manhattan.

In one deal, 5,000 units at Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village will remain covered under the city’s rent-stabilization laws for the next 20 years.


Have something to say about an article in Greater New York? Email us, along with your contact information, at Letters will be edited for brevity and clarity. Please include your city and state.

In another deal, 1,000 units at Harlem’s Riverton Houses will remain stabilized for the next 30 years in exchange for about $100 million in tax breaks.

Barika Williams, deputy director of the nonprofit Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, said the city wasn’t building enough housing at the lowest income levels.

“The numbers in the plan and the numbers the administration is hitting are not lining up with the need,” she said.

Ms. Been said the lowest-income units were the hardest to produce, but that the city had made progress.
City Insists Its Controversial Affordable Housing Plan Is Working
Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen announced on Tuesday that the city's latest affordable housing numbers prove that Mayor de Blasio's controversial Housing New York Plan—which relies heavily on providing subsidies to private developers in exchange for a percentage of below-market rate units—is ahead of schedule.
According to City Hall, the administration has created or preserved a combined 52,936 units of affordable housing since the plan's launch in 2014. The mayor's goal of 200,000 affordable units by the year 2024 only calls for 50,000 units at this stage.
"Many people in the housing development and real estate fields in New York and nationally thought [this] was a fairly crazy and overly ambitious goal," Glen said on Tuesday. (Mayor de Blasio himself was absent, having traveled to Philadelphia for the Democratic Convention.)
Advocates have argued that these numbers represent too little too late. Before Mayor de Blasio's housing plan was implemented, the city was short 550,000 affordable apartments for families that make less than $42,000 per year. For that income group, the plan calls for 16,000 new apartments, or less than 3% of the need. Meanwhile, NYC's population is booming. And thanks to loopholes in the existing rent laws, the Alliance for Tenant Power estimates that the city could lose 100,000 affordable units by 2019.
Over the fiscal year ending in June, the city says it created or preserved 23,284 affordable housing units—up from 20,325 units in fiscal year 2015, and the most affordable housing the city has generated since 1989.
The majority of the new or preserved units are in Manhattan—16,935 of them, followed by 16,507 in Brooklyn. According to HPD, they're concentrated in neighborhoods including East Harlem, Brownsville in Brooklyn, and Highbridge and Belmont in the Bronx.
Here's the breakdown, by affordability:
(via Mayor's office).
Preservation far outstripped ground-up construction last year, in large part thanks to the city's financing on two major preservation projects: Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village, between East 14th and 23rd Streets, and the Riverton Houses in East Harlem.
The preservation process does not insure permanent affordability—when a building is "preserved," its owner receives a cocktail of loans and tax breaks that expire after between 15 and 30 years, taking any affordability requirements with them.
In the case of Stuy Town, the city helped finance a deal between the complex's then-owners and Blackstone Group, a massive international investment firm that manages some $93 billion in properties. Ultimately, Blackstone agreed to preserve the relatively affordable rents of 5,000 of the complex's regulated units. In exchange, the investor was guaranteed one million square feet of extremely valuable air rights.
For city officials, Stuy Town is proof of the success of a housing plan that hinges on private investment.
"Some people would have said, 'What are you doing? Why are you in the middle of private market transactions? That's not the role of the government.'" Glen said on Tuesday. "We were very clear when we came into office that we were going to be strategic and [intervene] where we could."
"Blackstone is a notorious private equity company that is going to... be making money hand over fist," argued Cea Weaver, research and policy director for New York Communities For Change, a coalition of housing advocates for low-income New Yorkers. "The more we go down this path, the more we're empowering private investors to control a public resource."
Reporters pointed out this week that, less Stuy Town and Riverton, the city actually preserved fewer affordable units than it did last year.
Glen said that while there aren't projects the size of Stuy Town in the pipeline, the city will "work harder" in order to achieve similar numbers in the future.
"I can't say that [it will be 17,000], but I'm sure it's not going to be [as low as] 11,000," she said.
(Denn Ice / Flickr)
Vicki Been, head of the city's Housing and Preservation Development (HPD), emphasized today that 25% of the units produced to date, 12,970 of the total, are set aside for New Yorkers who make less than 50% of the Area Median Income, or $40,800 for a family of three. Of that total, 6,817 are set aside for extremely low income families, those that make less than $24,000 per year.
"These are the very hardest units to produce," she said.
For context, a full third of the city's households have an annual income of less than $35,000.
The Mayor's team indicated Tuesday that it is doing the best it can under the circumstances. "Land and construction costs [are high]," Glen said. "We don't have a gazillion city-owned buildings to put into the sausage maker. We have to be much more creative and work with the private sector."
At the moment, there are no plans to develop deeper city subsidies for the constriction of affordable housing.
"The fact that developers continue to want to do business with us and are able to make their margins work given where the subsidies are, generally speaking we don't have to raise subsidy levels right now," Glen added.
Advocates have argued that the city could do a better job of documenting and assessing the vacant properties already in its control, which might be converted to deeply affordable housing at a lower cost. This spring, HPD confirmed 897 vacant apartment units in just one city-owned housing program. In 2012, the advocacy group Picture the Homeless counted more than 3,500 vacant buildings across the five boroughs.
Asked if the city had plans to count and assess all of its vacant properties, Been said it did not.
"When my inspectors are on the ground they're always looking for signs of vacancy, and then... we reach out to the owner and try to understand what is going on," she said. "The city does not have a registry of vacant property, but we monitor it very carefully."

City Hall reports nearly 53,000 new and preserved affordable housing units


07/26/16 05:27 AM EDT

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The de Blasio administration closed financing on more than 23,000 below-market-rate homes in the past fiscal year, an effort helped by the preservation of Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan and the frenzied pace of development as a lucrative tax break was set to expire in Albany.

City Hall has so far financed 52,936 units of low- to moderate-income housing since de Blasio took office, city officials said Monday. That is enough housing for 130,000 New Yorkers, they said.

Story Continued Below

One third of the total, or 17,341 of the financed units, will be new construction. The rest will be preservation of existing apartments. The preservation of Stuyvesant Town last fall ensured that about 5,000 apartments would be affordable to existing tenants for two decades to come.

The mayor set a goal for himself of building 80,000 new apartments for low- and middle-income tenants, preserving an existing 120,000 such units and creating 160,000 market-rate homes by 2024. (Should de Blasio win re-election, his second term would end 2021.)

Two-and-a-half years into his first term, the latest numbers put de Blasio on track to reaching his goal. But the recent expiration of the 421-a tax abatement presents a significant challenge for City Hall.

While below-market-rate housing can still be financed with other government subsidies, the city was counting on a tax break like 421-a for mixed-income rental buildings. Without it, many of the city's most prolific developers have said they will simply create condos with no affordable housing.

City officials could not say how many of the new units took advantage of the 421-a tax break. In March, the mayor's housing agency reported that more than one-third of the 13,929 affordable units financed at that time were to receive the 421-a subsidy.

Carl Weisbrod, the city's planning commissioner, said 421-a is just one component of the total.

The city budgeted for $8.2 billion in capital costs over 10 years.

"It's a good plan and the city is investing a huge amount of resources," he said. "Money goes a long way and we're allocating over a 10-year period, just in capital resources alone, double what was allocated in the previous 10 years."

He also said the administration has had a "laser focus on housing."

"There's no question that the expiration of 421-a got a lot of people to sort of get in before the window closed," he said. "That was a big issue too."

The city is anticipating another 12,000 apartments to be created over 10 years through the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy, which requires low- to moderate-income housing in exchange for a city-issued rezoning that gives developers more overall density.

The plan passed the City Council in March, despite opposition from community boards and borough presidents. It was approved in conjunction with a rewriting of the zoning code to ease rules that restricted residential development. That too was intended to create more low-income housing, particularly for senior citizens.

The city's plan provides homes for tenants earning a variety of incomes.

More than half the units — 54 percent — are for three-person households making $40,801 to $65,250, according to city statistics. Thirteen percent are for three-person families who earn less than $24,500 a year. Fourteen percent are reserved for families of three making $97,921 to $134,640.

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Another mess outside arena: stopped truck idles on Sixth Avenue, blocking traffic

Oh sure, the Democratic National Convention would have just gone fine in Brooklyn.

Actually, I'm not sure developer Forest City Ratner really wanted the convention to come to the Barclays Center (where, at the time the DNC was under consideration, the developer was selling tis 55% share of the operating company). After all, it would have shut down construction of Greenland Forest City Partners' Pacific Park Brooklyn project.

Because they couldn't have had project-related trucks idling outside the arena, blocking traffic on Sixth Avenue, as shown in the Instagram and video below from Wayne Bailey. Note the quote overheard from the driver: he didn't know where to go.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Around B3, photos show pedestrians pushed into street with no safeguards, questionable sidewalk closure, easier path for trucks

Imagine if the Democratic National Convention were being held at the Barclays Center? On top of creating a frozen zone that would impact blocks of retail businesses and residences, they surely would have had to shut down Pacific Park construction.

After all, as these Instagram posts showing conditions on 7/18/16 around the 38 Sixth Avenue (B3) site remind us, it's dicey just for locals. That building is flush to the Barclays Center.

Sidewalks on both sides of Dean Street between Flatbush and Sixth avenues were closed, with unhelpful signage--seemingly ad hoc--and no intervention by pedestrian managers, forcing pedestrians into the street, with no protected area.

The sidewalk was closed, workers said, because pedestrians were still in danger from debris falling from the building under construction, but those workers nonetheless took breaks, without helmets, in that area. (Were they just creating a private zone?)

Consider: if there'd been a convention, and construction shut down, the sidewalk still might have had to close.

The final photo shows that the exit from the B3 site should allow trucks to exit down Sixth Avenue to Flatbush Avenue rather than use residential Dean Street, which was approved last year as an alternative. (Trucks are supposed to go the shortest distance to a truck route.) Why no further evaluation?

Concrete truck barreling down Dean Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt from B3 on Monday, July 18th at 9:26 AM. Lower photo is the truck exit at B3 at 9:30 AM the same day. That photo is from 6th Avenue looking north into the construction site. We've been told there is a turn somewhere that it is difficult for trucks to make, and that is why DOT allows B3 contractors to step outside DOT truck route regulations. This has been going on for at least a year without a clear explanation why it is necessary. We've heard it is because a turn is too sharp for the trucks to make. Originally we were told it was this one out of the construction site, but the photo shows these concrete trucks could drive south on 6th (and conform to DOT regulations) without a problem. In fact I haven't seen a single circumstance in a year in which 6th Avenue couldn't have been used. Can someone once and for all say what the specific problem is? Why can't the State, the developer or NYC DOT answer a straightforward question in a straightforward way? I guess kicking the ball down the road almost always pays off. #bciza #pacificparkbk @pacificparkbk @nycmayorsoffice @nyc_dot @nypd78thpcc @hdr_inc @STVGroup @atlanticyards_pacificpk_report @matrixneworld @nyc311
A photo posted by @pplegacy on

Monday, July 25, 2016

Forest City's fabulist Greene: buildings "very low density," modular provided a 20% discount

Forest City Ratner's Adam Greene is apparently willing say what it takes to create a new reality--the Brett Yormark of real estate. Consider his statement to the Daily News in June:
“The buildings were designed to be of the neighborhood,” Greene said. “They're very low density. There's a lot of sensitivity about scale. It has the scale of a (Robert) Moses plan but with the sensitivity of Jane Jacobs. This is designed to grow out of small stoops.”
That doesn't make a shred of sense. With 6,430 apartments over 22 acres, that's 292 apartments per acre. The ratio gets higher if you cut out the arena plaza and arena air space: call it 19 acres, which would mean 338 apartments per acre.

Small stoops? Jane Jacobs? Note that 535 Carlton (B14), pictured at right across the street from row houses with small stops, is the shortest and least bulky of the project's buildings.

The successful modular plan?

Now Bisnow, reporting 7/22/16 on Bisnow’s Residence of the Future panel, DEVELOPERS, FINANCIERS LOOKING FOR CLARITY IN A CHAOTIC RESIDENTIAL MARKET, tells us:
For Adam and his Prospect Heights master plan, for example, the solution was good design, with oversized windows to change the perception of the space. He also extolled modular construction—like Forest City is building at Pacific Park—pointing out that building units in a weatherproof factory gave his company a 20% discount and predicting the method would soon be the norm.
What? Building modular was supposed to save 20% if it worked as planned, since work could proceed simultaneously on site and in the factory.

But the plan sure did not work with 461 Dean Street, aka B2, which, rather than save time in construction, has taken twice as long.

Forest City Ratner had to buy out its investment partner, had to pay off a tax-exempt loan early (and not draw down the remaining expected tax-exempt financing) and has taken an huge paper loss (aka "impairment") on the building, the cost of which has grown.

If modular will be the norm, well, wouldn't they have announced new contracts for the modular factory? As of this past March, the lack of such contracts led to the loss of many workers.

The cost of density

Another issue raised at the panel was the cost of density:
The panelists of Bisnow’s Residence of the Future said while the market was holding for now and co-living communities, modular construction, and amenities keep spaces interesting and innovative, chaotic market forces and stifling regulations could do some serious damage if a solution isn’t found.

...“Even building for density doesn’t help,” ...Greene added. “It obviously depends on how you design the building, but more density means more bathrooms and kitchens, meaning higher costs.”
Interesting. Aren't there economies of scale once you get bigger?

Perhaps he was also acknowledging that a modular building is taller than a conventional one because each unit comes with both a ceiling and a floor, so that means redundancy.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

At Queens Museum, "Highest and Best Use" shows growth of Downtown Brooklyn towers

Photo of Highest and Best Use, Queens Museum
Work by Lawrence Mesich; click to enlarge
Hey, what's going on here? You really have to click on the photo to enlarge it and, frankly, see the work in person, since it can't fully be captured.

In the Queens International 2016 exhibition (closes July 31!) at the Queens Museum comes Highest and Best Use (388 Bridge St.), From the blurb:
In Highest and Best Use, Lawrence Mesich wryly examines the ongoing effects of the 2004 rezoning of Downtown Brooklyn. The digitally manipulated photographs in this series elongate the facades of each newly-built residential tower that breaks the current building height record for Queens’ neighboring borough. The title, a real estate valuation term, invokes the absurdity of how developers describe the ostensible success of this incremental change in zoning laws.
(Emphasis added)

The change in zoning was more than incremental--it was a gold rush. On his web site, Mesich explains that this is an ongoing project:
Highest and Best Use wryly examines the ongoing effects of the 2004 rezoning of Downtown Brooklyn. A rash of lucrative residential developments have pushed out long-time residents and businesses and overtaxed area resources at an alarming pace, while the need for new commercial space continues to be underserved. The opening of the area's air rights has set off a height race among developers, with each successive new building breaking the height record of the one built immediately before it.
The digitally manipulated photographs in this series extend the facades of each newly built residential tower that breaks the current height record for the borough. The title of the piece, a real estate valuation term describing the optimal use of a property which produces the highest possible profit, was invoked by Tucker Reed (President, Downtown Brooklyn Partnership) in a statement to the press while the group was promoting its assessment of the rezoning in 2014. The elongated facades coupled with absurd, oblique industry terminology produce a counter-narrative to the rezoning's ostensible success.
This is an ongoing series; a new image will be generated for each building that breaks the current height record for the borough.
About 388 Bridge and the Atlantic Yards implication

Between Fulton and Willoughby streets, 388 Bridge bills itself as Brooklyn's tallest residential building, though at 595 feet it's about the height of the nearby Avalon Willoughby West and, oddly enough, does not appear in the slide below, prepared by Greenland Forest City Partners (GFCP).

As noted in my recent article for City Limits on plans for Site 5 of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, GFCP has floated plans to build a two-tower project that could extent 785 feet--the tallest building in Brooklyn at the time, though it will be eclipsed by a "supertall" next to Junior's. See the slide from GFCP's presentation.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The new Pacific Park Brooklyn "neighborhood" meets the reality of a map

From the web site for 461 Dean (with similar language for 535 Carlton):
461 Dean is the first residential building to open at Pacific Park Brooklyn, a new neighborhood that extends from 4th Avenue to Vanderbilt Avenue. Pacific Park includes everything you need and want from a neighborhood; great transportation, green outdoor space, retail shopping, local restaurants and so much more. Pacific Park Brooklyn, welcome home.
Well, let's put aside for the moment the fact that the 22 acres of Pacific Park itself doesn't yet include any green outdoor space or retail or restaurants, beyond what's in the arena.

Consider the incredible claim that the "neighborhood" extends from Fourth to Vanderbilt avenues. If so, then how coherent and cohesive could a neighborhood be that is bisected by wide Flatbush Avenue?

And what about those question marks I added, marking territory between Dean and Pacific streets that are nonetheless between Fourth and Vanderbilt? They're not within the project site, nor a discrete "neighborhood."