Skip to main content

BrooklynSpeaks principals say it's about strategy

Yesterday, the day after the BrooklynSpeaks web site finally launched, backers of the project spoke at a press conference in Brooklyn--less than an hour after the City Planning Commission, in its only review of the project, essentially ignored many of the flaws in Atlantic Yards pointed out by BrooklynSpeaks, including interim surface parking and open space that looks more like the backyards of buildings.

While the site developers, led by the Municipal Art Society (MAS) and eight other groups, aim to get concerned Brookynites to send letters to public officials, many questions yesterday regarded the groups and their goals. Recently the Boerum Hill Association (BHA) issued a tough set of principles regarding the project, including no use of eminent domain, but BrooklynSpeaks accepts the arena and mentions eminent domain only as a concern that some have expressed.

"Each of our groups has things we feel strongly about," said the BHA's Sue Wolfe, indicating that she didn't consider the two stands contradictory. "We felt that this was more powerful" as a way to get the message out.

The Park Slope Civic Council, said president Lydia Denworth, still might vote on eminent domain. "We don't think it precludes us from participating in this."

DDDB criticism

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, which leads the fight against the project, issued a critical welcome:
However, while the BrooklynSpeaks group takes a position on a few of the relevant issues, they have failed to hear the voice of the community on the issues of the arena, eminent domain abuse, city oversight of the proposal, the unknown public cost, the severe environmental impacts, and the lack of affordable housing guarantees.

Middle ground?

Michelle de la Uz of the Fifth Avenue Committee, whose DeGraw Street headquarters in Gowanus hosted the press conference, lamented--as she had at the Sept. 12 Atlantic Yards community forum, a sense of polarization, in which people were listed only as for or against the project. "We hope to have a more civil discourse," she said.

Do the BrooklynSpeaks principles represent an acceptance of Forest City Ratner as the developer for this project, rather than a challenge to the project's legitimacy and the process by which the developer was allowed to proceed? It seems so. Then again, Denworth was asked if the BrooklynSpeaks members would support Atlantic Yards if the request for changes is met.

"Perhaps," she said. "But I feel that between here and there, there's a whole lot of distance to be covered." Without the relatively moderate position distinct from an all-or-nothing lawsuit expected from DDDB and allies, she suggested, "You might get stuck with what they're planning."

"This has not been a public process," Wolfe said. "If this is delayed, maybe there will be an opportunity for a public process." The MAS's Kent Barwick suggested that a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) might be created for ongoing review of the project.

Relations with DDDB

Asked about the role of DDDB, project principals spoke carefully. "DDDB's position is one that's valuable," said de la Uz, who noted that several organizations in BrooklynSpeaks had joined DDDB in a lawsuit challenging ESDC demolitions and the role of an ESDC lawyer who formerly represented Forest City Ratner.

But, she added, "When our agendas align, it's important that we form coalitions."

Denworth said that "work that DDDB has done is very valuable," but suggested the DDDB strategy is primarily legal. (Ultimately legal, perhaps, though the organization and mobilization goes beyond courtroom issues.)

Some of the groups are members of the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN), an umbrella organization formed to respond to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. "This is to complement the work of the CBN," said Deb Howard of the Pratt Area Community Council (PACC).

Affordable housing

Given that the BrooklynSpeaks principles call for increased affordable housing for poorer Brooklynites, would the two housing advocacy groups seek to play a role in AY affordable housing?

"I didn't place PACC in this position so we'd have a piece of the pie," Howard said. While de la Uz said she never ruled anything out, "I we're not going to compromise our other values."


While the principles oppose superblocks, BrooklynSpeaks accepts the demapping of Pacific Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues. "If Brooklyn wants an arena, and this is a pretty good place for one, that portion of Pacific Street has to be lost," Barwick said. Still, as he acknowledged in June, it's difficult to assess what exactly Brooklyn wants.

DDDB pointed out that, given the somewhat murky presentation of this issue on the BrooklynSpeaks site, the group "should be explicit in their support of the arena and their acceptance of the use of eminent domain for the “Atlantic Yards” proposal (which is required to construct an arena)."

Future strategy

At the end of the press conference, the representatives spent some time talking with each other, as it was one of the first few times they'd met as a group. As they work on outreach, they likely will work to harmonize their message.

Some people referred to the principles as "mitigation," as if to complement the role of the ESDC. Others said they represented "real change." Given that BrooklynSpeaks says that plan "must be changed substantially or rejected," it sounds like more than mitigation.

Dissent and agreement

ADDENDUM: I neglected to point out that the Prospect Place Block Association, a member of the BrooklynSpeaks constituent group Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, protested that it was not consulted on the development of BrooklynSpeaks. Given that the block association opposes the arena and eminent domain, the association's Atlantic Yards task force "feels the Brooklyn Speaks initiative does not go far enought."

I've also heard there's some dismay among members of the CBN because--as I pointed out last week--this announcement takes away from the significant critique of the DEIS that will be submitted on Friday.

Bob Guskind of the Gowanus Lounge suggests:
The truth is, we're depressed that you didn't try to work this out privately and didn't come up with a division of labor, at it were, on Atlantic Yards before this all went public. But, it's not too late. It would be for the best if everyone involved in trying to shape the outcome of this fight were to hash out their differences and divide up the work.
How? Well, BrooklynSpeaks ought to acknowledge that eminent domain is not an appropriate tool for developing Atlantic Yards, even if it's politically simpler to ignore the issue. Legal action to block Atlantic Yards on the basis of eminent domain and other issues is entirely appropriate and BrooklynSpeaks ought to support those efforts. That turf, however, is best left to Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and its supporters.
We do think it's valuable to push for signficant changes in the project, including a redesign with significant public input, as a fallback. This is necessary for the public good, should the legal strategy not stop the development.


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…