Skip to main content

Brooklyn Speaks to modify AY project--but which Brooklyn?

Essentially acknowledging that the Atlantic Yards project is a done deal, even before the most significant criticisms of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) emerge, several community groups in Brooklyn have lined up with the Municipal Art Society (MAS) to seek changes to the scale and design of the development. A new web site will be unveiled Saturday,

As the New York Times reports today, in an article headlined Brooklyn Group to Propose Changes to Yards Project:
The group will prescribe substantial reductions in the project’s size and an increase in the percentage of subsidized housing allotted to poor families, among other changes, but will not take a position against eminent domain.
The groups, including the Pratt Area Community Council, the Municipal Art Society, the Boerum Hill Association and the Park Slope Civic Council, will unveil the proposed changes on a new Web site,, on Saturday, with less than a week until a state-mandated public comment period ends.

Several of the groups are members of the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN), the umbrella organization formed to recruit experts and present a detailed critique of the DEIS.

Heated debate

Unmentioned in the Times is the heated debate ongoing in Brooklyn, with some groups representing significant constituencies near the proposed project site, notably the Fort Greene Association and the Society for Clinton Hill, refusing to endorse the new venture yet.

Some groups endorsing Brooklyn Speaks are essentially repudiating some of the principles for responsible development for the Vanderbilt Yard that they endorsed, including no use of eminent domain and a project evaluated via the city's more stringent land use process, not the state's fast track. And the Boerum Hill Association just weeks ago reiterated major criticisms of the project, including the use of eminent domain.

The Times did quote Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) spokesman Daniel Goldstein as pointing out that, if the principle is to respect the neighborhood, "by ignoring eminent domain and the arena, they are disrespecting the neighborhood.” The MAS opposes the demapping of streets, such as Pacific Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues, but accepts the demapping of shorter streets for the arena.

How much of a scaleback?

What will BrooklynSpeaks say? Many of the principles will derive from the MAS's June critique of the project, including the creation of real public parks, not private enclaves, and the avoidance of superblocks.

The Times said the web site will call for scaling back the project’s square footage. It's unclear whether a target number will be mentioned. Any number would then become a negotiating point to compromise from--rather than a goal. But even a 50 percent reduction could leave the project as dense as the country's most dense census tract, so there's an argument for a cut of that magnitude as a ceiling.

The politics

The Times article suggests that "The new effort follows a series of legal and political setbacks for opponents of the project," citing a failed lawsuit and the recent losses by insurgent political candidates who emphasized their opposition to the project.

On the other hand, it's not clear what leverage--other than the MAS's capacity to earn the ear of some political leaders--this new group would have. After the Empire State Development Corporation approves the project later this year, it must receive the blessing of the three-member Public Authorities Control Board and one member, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, will be pressured to call for modifications.

Brooklyn Speaks will aim to collect signatures supporting its principles--and some of its leaders may be able to claim credit for negotiating a compromise that, to some degree, may have been in the cards already. Architect Frank Gehry said in January that the project is "coming way back."

A hint that a compromise is welcome came from Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, who told the Times that the developer was “pleased to see that these groups want to talk about ways to improve what we believe is a very exciting project for the people of Brooklyn."

If the BrooklynSpeaks coalition wants more affordable housing allocated to the poor, then Forest City Ratner may seek these groups' support for additional subsidies.

What will those who wish to take a harder stand do? One person told me they may join the Brooklyn Speaks campaign, endorse the criticisms of urban design, but add their own criticisms as well.

Whose momentum?

Project critics also have not yet gained much momentum from the public hearing and two community forums held by the Empire State Development Corporation, each of which featured a majority of union supporters of the project. Then again, the pendulum may shift when the CBN submits its extensive criticisms of the DEIS before the Sept. 29 deadline.

The CBN has provided sketches of its criticisms on its web site. Among the litany:
--Many parts of the DEIS read like promotional material for the development, not a balanced analysis of impacts
--In the areas of traffic, transportation, noise, and construction impacts where the DEIS says there will be significant adverse impacts, the mitigations proposed are minimal and ineffective
--The DEIS states many times that this is an example of “transit-oriented development.” But building next to mass transit by itself doesn’t make this or any other development “transit-oriented"

Meanwhile, the MAS's focus on design issues slights some larger questions of process, issues that DDDB has sought to raise in postcards (right) to Assembly Speaker Silver. Brooklyn Speaks apparently ignores the single-source developer deal behind the Atlantic Yards project, the failure to adequately assess the fiscal impact, and the flaws in the DEIS.

(Note that the MAS has criticized the process, but that's more of a lament than a reason to oppose the project.)

Supporters of Brooklyn Speaks apparently believe that the effort is pragmatic politics, given the current constellation of forces, and that the modifications they seek would avert a much worse outcome. Meanwhile, DDDB and some allies will be rolling the dice with a lawsuit over eminent domain and, likely, the legitimacy of the environmental review itself.

As Brooklyn Speaks and DDDB offer dual letter-writing campaigns, DDDB is also raising money for the legal action.


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…

At 550 Vanderbilt, big chunk of apartments pitched to Chinese buyers as "international units"

One key to sales at the 550 Vanderbilt condo is the connection to China, thanks to Shanghai-based developer Greenland Holdings.

It's the parent of Greenland USA, which as part of Greenland Forest City Partners owns 70% of Pacific Park (except 461 Dean and the arena).

And sales in China may help explain how the developer was able to claim early momentum.
"Since 550 Vanderbilt launched pre-sales in June [2015], more than 80 residences have gone into contract, representing over 30% of the building’s 278 total residences," the developer said in a 9/25/15 press release announcing the opening of a sales gallery in Brooklyn. "The strong response from the marketplace indicates the high level of demand for well-designed new luxury homes in Brooklyn..."

Maybe. Or maybe it just meant a decent initial pipeline to Chinese buyers.

As lawyer Jay Neveloff, who represents Forest City, told the Real Deal in 2015, a project involving a Chinese firm "creates a huge market for…

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…