Sunday, November 30, 2014

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

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

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





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

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



Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Jersey barriers for Block 1129 construction narrow streets, snag traffic; were locals prepared for loss of parking?

Yesterday, workers put down jersey barriers in anticipation of a major construction effort--16-foot high fences to protect the construction site for two towers on the southeast block of the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park site, a block formerly used for surface parking.

(The block is bounded by Carlton Avenue, Dean Street, and Vanderbilt Avenue, with Pacific Street already turned into a private street, used for construction staging.)

We were told that the perimeter must be extended to allow for bracing of the unusually high fences--themselves needed to protect neighbors from noise--but it's hardly clear to me why, for example, such a huge piece of Carlton Avenue (first photo) was needed.

Indeed, the slide explaining the plan (above right) did not exactly explain how far the "Work Zone" would extend west of the sidewalk.
Looking north on Carlton Avenue at Dean Street
When I walked by last evening to shoot the first photos, a disgusted resident, not knowing who I was, commented spontaneously, "This is fascism."

Also note that narrowed Dean Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt led to many traffic snags yesterday (see videos at bottom), given the limited margin for error in case a vehicle parks or stands at the southern curb.

Parking problems

I'm also hearing consternation regarding regarding the timing of the change. Last week, residents were warned “No Parking Thursday" in posted flyers.

However, the jersey barriers were not put up last Thursday. So people kept parking. A late afternoon notice Monday regarding the change in parking gave a very limited window of opportunity for people to move their cars, and several got ticketed. So I'd bet that controversy is not over.

Photos

Looking east on Dean Street at Carlton Avenue (via AYInfo NYC)
Looking west on Dean Street between 6th Avenue and Carlton Avenue (via AYInfo NYC)
Looking north on Sixth Avenue at Dean Street (via AYInfo NYC)
Looking west on Dean Street at Sixth Avenue (via AYInfo NYC)
Videos yesterday (via AYInfo NYC)

Below, looking at Sixth Avenue and Dean Street:




Below, Carlton Avenue between Pacific and Dean Streets, then looking at the contested intersection of Carlton and Dean:



Below, at Dean Street and Carlton Avenue:



Below, at Dean Street west of Carlton Avenue:



Conventional wisdom: Philly > Brooklyn for DNC because of swing state, security perimeter around Barclays Center (would businesses close?)

Well, a day after the press conference/pep rally at City Hall for the 2016 Democratic National Convention to Brooklyn and the Barclays Center, the DC-based Politico's Playbook yesterday offered a prediction, and a scoop:

--CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: We’re goin’ to Philly! Pennsylvania’s a swing state. GOP convention is in Cleveland, making it less likely the DNC will choose Ohio. Brooklyn’s Barclays Center has issues (serious, but not unresolvable) with the security perimeter, which could close a bunch of small businesses for weeks.
Well, that didn't come up publicly, did it?

The Daily News reported last night, Bill de Blasio does not rule out possible local business closings if city hosts DNC in 2016:

Mayor de Blasio on Tuesday did not rule out the possibility that businesses adjacent to the Barclays Center might have to temporarily close if the city hosts the 2016 Democratic national convention in Brooklyn.
The shutdowns might be necessary to create a secure perimeter around the arena if the convention is held there.
It was not immediately clear how many businesses would be affected and how long any closures might last.
“Our job is to maximize economic opportunity, minimize any situation where there would have to be any disruption of business — but that's going to be a process that plays out in the details," de Blasio said.
What might happen? Who benefits?

The Daily News reported:
Kathy Wylde, head of the Partnership for New York City business group and a member of de Blasio's DNC 2016 Host Committee, predicted that "neighbors and business owners will likely need to garage their private vehicles for the duration, and people will probably not be able to drive into the Atlantic Center" mall.
We don't know how far that extends. But Wylde suggested that "the longer term benefits of increased tourism and positive branding for Brooklyn and the Barclays area should more than offset any losses" and Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce Carlo Scissura said he had "no concerns about how it's going to affect the neighborhood.

As a commenter responded, "Some people will make a lot of money. Other people will be traumatically inconvenienced."

I don't see how "positive branding" for the area is going to help small businesses. Or the arena's nearest neighbors. The likelihood, based on past experience, is an unevenly distributed set of costs and benefits, with the latter accruing to the arena, the mayor, and other politicos gaining the spotlight--plus hotels, restaurants, and other tourism-related outlets throughout the city.

The arena a winner

City and State dubbed the mayor, and by extension, the arena among this week's Winners:

Bill de Blasio – The Barclays Center just keeps on winning in Brooklyn, and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio gave it another laurel by making it one of three finalists to host the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Sure, Philadelphia is still the city most likely to host the Dems, especially now that the Republicans will host their convention in Cleveland, diminishing Columbus's chances as a competitive bidder. But Brooklyn and the city’s funkiest mayor in decades have impressed the nation with a new brand of hospitality. Bonus points for de Blasio: He even allowed the press to attend the announcement.
Isn't it curious that all this good buzz for the Barclays Center comes as developer Forest City Ratner is putting up for sale its 55% share (of the arena operating company)? No wonder Bruce Ratner is backing the DNC bid.

Who knows: it's possible that, if and when the DNC comes to Brooklyn, the convention might be held in a venue 100% owned by a Russian oligarch. After all, Mikhail Prokhorov currently owns 45%.

Groundbreaking for 535 Carlton scheduled for December 15, likely before new AY CDC meets

From Curbed:
A December 15 groundbreaking date has been set for the next Pacific Park (nee Atlantic Yards) tower, 535 Carlton Avenue [at Dean Street]. The entity developing the COOKFOX-designed building is now calling itself Greenland Forest City Partners, as it's a partnership between Forest City and the Chinese investment group that bailed them out. 
Symbolism note: the groundbreaking--for a 100% "affordable" building--will likely occur before the first meeting of the new Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation, which, we learned last week, is supposed to debut the week of December 15. I believe the meeting will be in the evening to allow for public attendance.

(In September, a state official said the goal was no later than December 15. Does that mean the meeting will be precisely that day?)

A groundbreaking does not mean actual construction, so the new AY CDC should be up and running before construction begins in earnest. Then again, disruptive construction activities have already begun, well before the AY CDC.

Also, a December groundbreaking is scheduled for 550 Vanderbilt, the condo tower at the southeast corner of the project site.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

At press conference touting DNC bid, happy talk about Brooklyn and Barclays Center (and nothing about Russian/Chinese ownership)

It was a time for happy talk about Brooklyn, the Barclays Center, and the potential for a 2016 Democratic National Convention, with no recognition (at least in the public presentation/pep rally, below) that the last major special event--the far smaller MTV Video Music Awards--played havoc with the arena's closest neighbors.

On the afternoon a group of Brooklynites, including some living/working near the Barclays Center, were invited to City Hall for a meeting with Mayor Bill de Blasio's office about the 2016 convention, New York/Brooklyn was named one of the three finalists, along with Philadelphia and Columbus.

That meant the meeting became a photo op for the press.

From a macro perspective, the question for the Democratic National Committee is whether the megaphone of an event in the nation's media capital, coupled with a capacity for major fundraising, trump the perceived need to win a swing state and/or shuttle conventioneers from hotels to the venue.

Photo: Tucker Reed
Joining de Blasio and Sen. Chuck Schumer at the podium were Borough President Eric Adams, Council Members Laurie Cumbo and Brad Lander, and Rep. Yvette Clarke.

Missing from the photo op--and I'm not sure whether they were indisposed, not invited, or not on board (or perhaps just not at the podium)--were Public Advocate Letitia James, state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, and Assemblymembers Walter Mosley, Jim Brennan and (-elect) JoAnne Simon.

(Here's coverage in the Times, Daily News, Post, Wall Street Journal, Observer, )

Getting the ducks in a row

NY1 reported:
The mayor let the media in only momentarily.
"We looked to the Barclays Center. We looked to Brooklyn to be the home of the convention," the mayor said.
Those in the closed door session told us the meeting was about logistics.
"Everyone is really enthusiastic in terms of what it means for the city, what it means for jobs," Schumer said.
"Really to let everyday New Yorkers know how imperative the convention is—dollars and cents," said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.
"The mayor, rightly so, wanted to touch people who live in the area who run businesses around Barclays center—cultural institutions—to say, 'Listen, this is the beginning of a conversation,'" said Ashley Cotton of real estate company Forest City Ratner.
MSNBC reported:
“Symbolism matters, but it’s about third or fourth place. First is money. The second issue infrastructure. How many taxi cabs do they have? How easy is it to get to the hotels and back? How fast can you build out the convention? Those are all the things that matter,” former DNC Chairman Howard Dean, who oversaw Denver’s selection for the 2008 convention, told msnbc. “The most important thing is: Do you have confidence in the host committee to be able to run this convention?”

...Logistically, however, New York’s convention bid is complicated by the fact that most of the city’s hotels are in Manhattan, while the main event would take place at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
The mayor speaks

de Blasio, starting about 22:50 into the video below, thanked his guests and cited the "tremendous unity, all across New York City, people who wanted to see this happen."

He claimed that the DNC "recognized some of our strengths... we are a diverse city, stronger for our diversity... we're the nation's media capital... and we're a city moving in the right direction... we're a city that's more inclusive than ever."

He said the Barclays Center was "a tremendous venue." Then he cited Brooklyn itself: "the story of Brooklyn, the meaning of Brooklyn, the personality of Brooklyn,  means so much. It sends a message about where we all need to go.... We see Brooklyn's story as America's story, a story of possibility, of hope, of diversity, of a new start."

"So Brooklyn matters because Brooklyn has shown the way, this amazing renaissance over the last few decades, a place that was often the underdog, now the envy of the world," he said, somehow unmindful of the severe inequalities in the borough, as noted in a sobering Brooklyn Community Foundation report.



New opportunities

"The business opportunities are going to be extraordinary in every part of the city," de Blasio claimed. "And we particularly want to make sure that the communities around the Barclays Center have a tremendously positive experience" with much work created and "a lot of money spent on construction, on office space, on security."

The convention would boost hotels, restaurants, entertainment, and shopping. He said the 2004 Republican convention "injected over a quarter billion dollars into the economy."

His host committee "will raise over $100 million to make sure this convention is everything it needs to be," the mayor said.

"We want to make it a win-win for all the communities around the Barclays Center, for Brooklyn, and for all five boroughs."

Enter Schumer

New York's senior senator was the only other speaker for the cameras. "He is synonymous with Brooklyn," said de Blasio in his introduction. "Everything good about Brooklyn shows up in the way he approaches his work and what he does  for all of us." (What?)

"Is Brooklyn in the house?" Schumer led off with his old-guy appropriation of a pop culture meme.

"Why will Brooklyn, and should Brooklyn, prevail?" he asked rhetorically. " Because we are the future."

He lapsed into campaign mode: "In America, we have to make a comeback. Middle-class incomes are declining. But we're going to come back. And Brooklyn tells that story. Brooklyn was down in the dumps, Brooklyn came roaring back, just like America will. And that's why Democrats should have their convention in Brooklyn."

Does he think Brooklyn "came roaring back" to a 35% child poverty rate?

"And this convention means a four-letter word: JOBS," Schumer said..

Talking up the arena

Schumer even touted the arena for having half the seats below grade: "you don't have to go up."

"Unlike Sarah Palin, when I say, you can see the Barclays Center from my house, it's true," said Schumer, who lives in a high-floor apartment on Prospect Park West, nearly a mile away.

"And all those folks from the neighborhoods, who we're going to bring on board, we'll make sure that everything works out just fine," he said. "When the Barclays Center was built, people said, every time there's a Nets game, every time there's a concert, there will be bottlenecks. There isn't. Everything is handled great. I live there, I know, I come home."

But that's because, among other things, there are far fewer people driving from New Jersey, far more walking from Brooklyn, a smaller arena than originally promised, and a smaller buildout--without the four towers around the arena--than originally analyzed.

Schumer also claimed it takes him 15 minutes to drive home from midtown at night. "And who wouldn't want to be in New York," he continued, citing Nathan's hot dogs and Junior's cheesecakes.

"It's a special place to have a convention that symbolizes the great future of New York and America," he said.

The symbolism

A Democratic National Convention in Brooklyn would symbolize a lot of things, some in contradiction, such as wealth and poverty, the revival of Brooklyn neighborhoods, the hollowing out of middle-class jobs, the boom in walkable urbanism, and the lack of voter engagement in a one-party city.

Oh, and an arena now 45% owned by a Russian oligarch--he could own more by the time of the convention--that's part of a larger project (excluding the arena and one tower) owned 70% by the government of Shanghai.

Isn't anyone thinking about that?

From the latest Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Construction Alert: overnight steel deliveries for arena green roof now starting this week

According to the latest Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Construction Update (below), dated (and distributed) 11/24/14 and covering this week and next week, large steel truss deliveries for the Barclays Center's green roof are now supposed to start this week, during overnight hours.

The previous alert said the deliveries were supposed to begin last week. Only after inquiries did I learn that there will be 40 total deliveries, but the state was unable to estimate how many nights that would encompass.

Also coming is a 16-foot construction fence around the southeast block of the project site, Block 1129, with the parking lot operation slated to close on or about 11/29/14. As far as I can tell, the recent environmental review did not indicate the full loss of parking.

Below, verbatim excerpts from the document:
Arena Green Roof
• Steel installation has commenced, with large steel truss deliveries expected to commence during the week of November 24th. Deliveries are being made to both the B3 and Atlantic Avenue crane locations. Deliveries to the B3 crane location will be staged on the Dean Street and 6th Avenue sidewalks. The adjacent pedestrian pathways will remain closed while steel trusses are being picked and/or while trusses deliveries are being made. Flagmen will be present to direct pedestrians away from the work area.
• Given that they are oversized loads, deliveries of the large steel trusses will be made during overnight hours in accordance with DOT regulations.

LIRR Yard Activities - Block 1120 & 1121
• Contractor has completed mobilizing the drill rig to the eastern portion of the Atlantic Avenue MPT. Drilling of SOE piles on the eastern side of 6th Avenue will begin during this reporting period. It is not currently anticipated that this work will be at night.
• Work related to the cutting and capping of the 36” NYCDEP trunk water main located on the south side of Atlantic Avenue has been completed. 
Block 1129
• Soil characterization borings required to facilitate soil disposal related to future building construction at the B12 and B13 sites within Block 1129 will continue during this reporting period.
• 752 Pacific Street building has been fully demolished. Contractor will continue to sort demolition debris and truck off site to its recycling facility during this reporting period. Particulate monitoring will continue during these activities and soil will be kept damp as needed.
• Contractor will begin installation of 16’ fence around Block 1129. Work will commence at the Carlton Avenue and Pacific Street intersection. Notice of the installation of this construction fence was given to the community – copy is attached.
• The parking lot operation was shifted to the eastern end of the lot to accommodate the demolition of 752 Pacific Street. Given the impending commencement of construction of the B11 and B14 residential towers, the parking lot will cease operations on or about November 29th.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Cash receipts for Barclays Center show $11 million drop in ticket revenues between Q3 of 2013 and Q3 of 2014

It's too soon to declare a definitive trend, but ticket revenues at the Barclays Center for the third quarter of 2014 were way down compared to the third quarter of 2013.

Consider that, according to documents made available to bondholders, for the third quarter completed at the end of September, the arena had $17.7 million in suite and sponsor installments and $14.5 million in ticket sales. The total: $32.15 million.

By contrast, for the third quarter of 2013, as I wrote last November, the Barclays Center reaped a similar $17.9 million in suite and sponsor installments but a more robust $25.4 million in ticket sales. The total: $43.3 million.

That's about an $11 million decline in ticket revenue. (I am not certain if these figures include the Brooklyn Nets.)

Net operating income does not drop commensurately, because the arena has also cut costs since its first year of opening. Also, venue schedules fluctuate, as does the timing of ticket sales, depending on how early an event is announced.

Fewer tickets sold

Still, it's likely an issue of some concern, and a sign that the Barclays Center cannot necessarily maintain the steady statistics that made it the leading arena in the country in terms of concerts and family shows.

As I wrote in July, the arena again ranked first nationally among venues in the number of tickets sold for concerts and family shows for the first half of 2014--but the total is less than half the comparable number for 2013.

In 2013, the Brooklyn arena ranked third worldwide, with 657,423 tickets over six months; this year the figure was 11th, with 302,726 tickets in the first six months. according to Pollstar magazine.

Longer-term revenue trends?

Note that the first half of 2014 is not reflected in the third-quarter ticket sales figure of $14.5 million, but may be part of a similar trend.

While last November I was able to report more definitively on longer-term trends--with quarterly ticket sales no less than $22.5 million--in this case, I can't, because the web site disclosing information to bondholders does not offer statements of cash receipts for the three quarters previous to the third quarter of 2014. It's unclear why.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Inside/out, two different views of belatedly open Sugar Factory at Barclays Center (plus departure of Let's Yo!, Kaz An Nou, Marco's)

After more than two years of delay, the Sugar Factory candy store finally opened Saturday, 11/15/14, at the eastern end of the arena.

The interior looks like a fine place to buy/sell candy. Surely, the entrance from the interior of the Barclays Center is festive.
Photo: Sugar Factory
From the exterior, however, it's still dead at the end of the arena where Sixth Avenue meets Pacific Street, as the photo below taken 11/17/14 indicates.

At one point, presumably, they expected to have a retail entrance for people walking by. That, at least for now, is not tenable, since there's little foot traffic and a lot of construction work nearby. Perhaps that will change when towers are built adjacent to the arena.


Let's Yo! replaced temporarily by DWill
Let's Yo! gone

Also note--and I missed it for a while--that Let's Yo!, a retail outlet on the Flatbush Avenue side of the arena, closed last summer, after barely six months of existence.

Maybe frozen yogurt is way overhyped, maybe the lease terms were quite demanding, maybe both.

But it's interesting that no one has yet filled that rather prominent space--too expensive?

Nearby, on 6th Avenue, Kaz An Nou closes

As noted on DNAinfo, the French Caribbean eatery Kaz An Nou closes today after five years on Sixth Avenue between Bergen Street and Dean Street, less than half a block from the southeast corner of the arena block.


"It's just a few weeks from the 5 year anniversary of our signing the lease for Kaz An Nou. So much has happened for us in those 5 years, and the neighborhood is barely recognizable (see pre-Barclays Center pic from when we first opened- remember when Freddy's was there?!)," the owners wrote on Facebook.

Indeed, at far left in the photo they posted on Facebook, you can see the green awning of Freddy's Bar & Backroom, and beyond it the four story brick Spalding Building--both, of course, demolished.

"When we approached our landlord mid-lease to discuss plans to expand our business, we were ignored and that has continued for the last couple of years," the Kaz An Nou team continued. It became obvious that we weren't welcome and we made the decision (as if we had a choice) to not go to battle for a lease renewal."

There may be a "next adventure" for the owners. There will be an auction furniture and equipment on Tuesday, 11/25/14.

Also departing, Marco's

DNAinfo also reported:
The Italian trattoria Marco’s, the most recent addition to the family of eateries on Flatbush Avenue that includes Franny's and BKLYN Larder, will close in mid-December, its owners announced Thursday.
Owners Francine Stephens and Andrew Feinberg wrote on Marco's website:
Ever since opening little more than a year ago, Marco’s has been a labor of love. Our vision was to create a trattoria version of franny’s – simple and rustic Italian food, the best ingredients from local farms and served in a beautiful and welcoming dining room. Unfortunately, as amazing as the food is and as warm and skilled our service, the business simply hasn’t been profitable enough to keep the doors open. So on December 13, our team will cook and serve our last meal there.
We are eternally grateful to our outstanding team, led by Chef Danny Amend and GM Martin Gobbee. We will always be incredibly proud of our collective work at Marco’s. We are also immensely appreciative of our guests who have dined with us and made memories here. It has truly been a pleasure cooking for you. While this is not the end we hoped for, we will use this moment as an opportunity to learn, grow and strengthen our company.
As for the space at Marco’s, we are considering a few possibilities and will be sure to keep our guests posted on any news. And of course, franny’s and Bklyn Larder remain open and continue to thrive in our beloved neighborhood of Park Slope.
Marco's, which Times critic's Pete Wells dubbed "Franny's sophisticated brother," opened in the space at 295 Flatbush Avenue (between Prospect Place and St. Marks Avenue) originally occupied by Franny's, about two blocks from the arena. Franny's moved to a larger space a few blocks deeper into Park Slope.

It's hard to reach any definitive conclusion, but I would point out that Marco's, which is a sophisticated restaurant with a somewhat pricey menu, was aiming more at neighborhood crowds than arena crows. 

Is the future of that stretch of Flatbush more like Morgan's Barbeque, which aims more evenly at locals and visitors, and at a lower price point?

From Gehry exhibition in Paris: what Atlantic Yards might have been (and with tower, not plaza)


A reader visiting Paris sent me the photo below, a model of Atlantic Yards that's part of the Frank Gehry retrospective at the Centre Pompidou. (It's from the 2008 iteration of the arena block, though, interestingly enough, the blue titanium wrapping the arena is less wavy and thus far less flamboyant than in the renderings.)

It's astounding, of course, to recognize the difference between the original (and approved) project plans, with an enormous tower at the tip of the project site, and the version as currently built, with a plaza providing the "high-low" city.




According to a listing, from the website of the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau, ParisInfo:
Frank Gehry, the exhibition runs from 10/8/14 to 1/5/15:
Architectural genius.This exhibition is an exceptional event, as this is the first time the Pompidou Centre has organised a retrospective of the work of Frank Gehry, one of the great figures of contemporary architecture. His visual and architectural language has evolved considerably during his career, making him one of the major figures of the twentieth century. As he set up his office in Los Angeles in the early 60s, his first projects were primarily based on a process of architectural reduction. He gradually used simpler materials to create, thus returning to design history.
Another summary

From the Pompidou Centre page, an interview with Gehry leads off with this summary of his work:
The lines of force in the career of one of the key figures of contemporary architecture.
The name of Frank Gehry in itself embodies the image of contemporary architecture. Globally recognised for projects that have now made him an icon, his work has revolutionised the aesthetics of architecture, and its social and cultural role within the city. Gehry began to work on his approach in Los Angeles. In the Sixties, he mixed with the Californian art scene and became close to several artists, including Ed Ruscha, Richard Serra, Claes Oldenburg, Larry Bell and Ron Davis. His encounter with the works of Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns opened the way to a reconfiguration of his architectural style, and notably began to introduce the use of poor materials such as cardboard, sheet metal and industrial wire netting. The extension of his own house in Santa Monica was a real manifesto for this new approach. From then on, all Gehry's projects questioned his own means of expression. This position as a bridge between art and architecture led him to write the most recent history of Los Angeles – now a legendary work. At a time when post-modernism was all-conquering, Gehry, on the contrary, avoided it. He talked about this in a celebrated dialogue with the film director Sydney Pollack, who made a biographical film on him in 2005. Gehry's work – both his architecture and the urban vision it conveys – is informed by two preoccupations: how to humanise architecture, and how to find a second wind after the first industrial crisis. For Gehry, who is both an architect and a great urban planner, shows us the city through his buildings. The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, one of the most speaking examples, was built as an emblem of architecture's ability to reenergise the economic fabric of the territory. The Centre Pompidou retrospective provides an overall interpretation of his work for the first time in Europe through more than 60 models and nearly 220 original drawings. In a chronological circuit divided into themes, it retraces the lines of force in the career of one of the key figures in contemporary architecture in the second half of the 20th century.
More from the interview

The text of the interview offers a massaged version of Gehry's words, rather than a verbatim transcript from the video:

A couple of excerpts, which are based on my observation/transcription of the video.

At about 2:25, Gehry explained his enduring sense of insecurity and work ethic: "[We were a] very poor family, so no chance for any kind of luxurious surroundings, it was always small rooms, shared with more people--with my sister and my father and mother. And hard working hours. So, I think a kind of a work ethic that you're instilled with, not feeling entitled, ever. Even now, here, I don't feel entitled, I don't, it's built into my psyche."

At 17:15, he said, "I think I could be great in China, because they have such bad craftsmanship."

The latter was completely absent from the provided transcript.

He was not asked about Atlantic Yards. Too complicated? Or taboo? Note that, according to one press report, there's nothing about the Atlantic Yards controversy in the show.

Friday, November 21, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How long until a solution?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The approval process and the issue of fairness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 20, 2014

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

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

Dismay over parking for residents

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

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

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

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

He got no assent.

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

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

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

Tension between arena parking, local parking

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

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

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

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

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

No one offered a solution.

The two new towers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions on the towers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Krashes recommended Cook return for a presentation.

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

ESD report: condemnation

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

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

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

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

ESD report: new AY CDC

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

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

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

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

Transparency requests

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

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

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

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

Arena green roof

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DNC host committee includes Gilmartin, Ratner

From Capital Real Estate newsletter (emphases added), the unsurprising news that the two top Forest City Ratner executives, whose Barclays Center would host the 2016 Democratic National Convention, are on the host committee:
D.N.C. BID — "De Blasio unveils 101-member D.N.C. host committee," by Capital's Sally Goldenberg: “Mayor Bill de Blasio has named banking and business executives as well as real estate bigwigs and labor leaders to the host committee he's assembled as part of the city's effort to host the 2016 Democratic National Convention....
Here are some of the people he named to the committee: Jeff T. Blau, The Related Companies; Richard Born, BD Hotels; Ric Clark, Brookfield Office Properties; Douglas Durst, The Durst Organization; Helena Durst, The Durst Organization; MaryAnne Gilmartin, Forest City Ratner Companies; Barry M. Gosin, Newmark Grubb Knight Frank; Jonathan Gray, Blackstone; Jeffrey R. Gural, Newmark Grubb Knight Frank; Marc Holliday, SL Green Realty Group; Hamilton E. James, The Blackstone Group; Gary LaBarbera, Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York; Kenneth Lerer, Lerer Ventures; Leonard Litwin, Glenwood Management; Michael E. Novogratz, Fortress Investment Group;
Bruce C. Ratner, Forest City Ratner Companies; Scott H. Rechler, RXR Realty; William C. Rudin, Rudin Management Company, Inc.; Harendra Singh, Singh Hospitality Group; Rob Speyer, Tishman Speyer Properties; Joseph Spinnato, Hotel Association of New York City; Daniel R. Tishman, Tishman Construction Corporation; Peter Ward, The New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council; Kathy Wylde, Partnership for New York City; Donald Zucker, Donald Zucker Co. The full list, for Capital Pro subscribers: http://bit.ly/1p1Ot2M

Job Opening: Director, Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation

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

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

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

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

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