Skip to main content

Newsday critic: project would be west (?) of Atlantic/Flatbush intersection

In his 5/22/06 assessment of Frank Gehry's Atlantic Yards project, headlined Time to catch the wave, Newsday critic Justin Davidson makes two basic factual errors. First, he describes the project as 16 buildings covering 21 acres. Actually, it's 17 buildings (16 towers + arena) covering 22 acres.

He makes a more fundamental error, writing:
The developer Bruce Ratner wants to import the New Jersey Nets and erect for them a majestic yet intimate arena on the arrowhead-shaped lot where Atlantic and Flatbush avenues cross. Stretching to the west would be a high-rise Xanadu of offices, apartments, stores and restaurants, turning a dingy-chic wedge of city into a bright new campus. (Emphasis added)

Now that error could have been averted had the critic spent a minimal amount of time reading the documents associated with the project or walking around the proposed footprint. If he can't get the basics right, how could we expect him to engage the broader issues?

Questions of scale

Davidson writes:
Gehry has not exactly endeared himself to the locals. His position is that his design represents inexorable progress, and opponents are, by definition, reactionary. "They should have been picketing Henry Ford," he scoffed at the news conference, which was another way of saying that small-minded people were objecting to a titan of creative thought.
As a matter of fact, that's exactly what he is. To wish that he would design something more self-effacing is to protest that the pyramids of Giza stand out too boldly. Gehry does not blend in. He builds blockbusters. He manufactures his own limelight.

But the issue isn't a question of whether the project is self-effacing or not; it's whether the scale--the sheer size of the project--is inappropriate for the site and would cause undue effects on traffic and other facets of urban life.

Gehry and Ratner

Davidson writes:
It would be a mistake, however, to write Gehry off as Ratner's corporate tool. Few architects are as sensitive to the cultural implications of steel and glass, or to the way human beings move through the spaces he molds. He is expert at accommodating a welter of conflicting agendas and making it seem like it was all his idea. Disney Hall, for instance, addresses and nearly solves an impossible conundrum: how to create an environment for symphonic music that combines democracy and luxe.

Well, Gehry may not be Ratner's corporate tool, but he has agreed to his client's policy of preventing him from meeting with community members, and he has acquiesced to the request that he design the entire project himself, rather than bring in other architects. As for Disney Hall, it may be a good neighbor, but Miss Brooklyn may be more of an "ego trip."

The critic's qualms

Davidson does wag his finger:
The most dismaying aspect of the project is neither the sore-thumbness of the design or even the traffic the complex might create. It's the fact that government has outsourced the building of public space to private developers. Gehry's plans call for an ungated community, enclosed but accessible and sumptuously landscaped by Laurie Olin.

He does not, however, point out that the amount of open space would be much too little for the proposed population, or that the much-ballyhooed open park space on top of the arena has been turned into private space.

Atlantic Center redux?

Davidson writes:
The protesters are technically correct: Atlantic Yards, Miss Brooklyn and the arena all violate the spirit of Brooklyn architecture. But if neighbors succeed in defeating this project, they may eventually regret it. They could get acres of more "sensitive" and "contextual" plain brown wrapping, a development slightly less massive but also far less nuanced than Gehry's. This alternative might look rather like Ratner's last project, Atlantic Center Mall, the architect Hugh Hardy's egregious attempt to tuck a hulk among brownstones and hope it would blend in.

Actually, the last project was the Atlantic Terminal mall that Hardy designed. (Though Hardy's web site says the firm designed Atlantic Center, it appears that was designed by Ehrenkrantz & Eckstut. People get confused.) Is the critic saying the choice is between Gehry and the mall (above)? Doesn't the developer bear any responsibility? Or, in the case of public land, should the community have any voice?

In conclusion

Davidson's concluding paragraph:
But if Gehry's preferred facades of wavy glass and shiny metal have nothing to do with Brooklyn, his hubris and imagination sure do. He and Ratner are not Manhattanizing Brooklyn, as his opponents claim. Rather they are selling the borough on a new boast. Manhattan may get a building or two, but only Brooklyn will have a whole New Jerusalem, signed Frank Gehry.

A whole New Jerusalem? Is Davidson channeling Herbert Muschamp? And does the hubris belong to Brooklyn, or to the developer?


Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…

Former ESDC CEO Lago returns to NYC to head City Planning Commission

Carl Weisbrod, Mayor Bill de Blasio's City Planning Commission Chairman and Director of the Department of City Planning, is resigning,

And he's being replaced by Marisa Lago, currently a federal official, but who Atlantic Yards-ologists remember as the short-term Empire State Development Corporation CEO who, in an impolitic but candid 2009 statement, acknowledged that the project would take "decades."

Still, Lago not long after that played the good soldier at a May 2009 Senate oversight hearing, justifying changes in the project but claiming the public benefits remained the same.

By returning to City Planning, Lago will join former ESDC General Counsel Anita Laremont, who after retiring from the state (and taking a pension) got the job with the city.

Back at planning

Lago, a lawyer, in 1983 began work as an aide to City Planning Chairman Herb Sturz, and later served as the General Counsel to the president of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, Weisbrod himself.