Skip to main content

An arena in Coney? DEIS ignores the most recent studies

There was something fishy about Borough President Marty Markowitz's rapid disavowal, in 2003, of his longstanding support for an arena in Coney Island. After all, as Brian Hatch and I
have pointed out, there are strong arguments--transportation capacity, neighborhood revitalization--for an arena in Coney.

And, as I noted, there's something fishy about the quick dismissal of Coney in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) issued by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC).

However, as a study (Report on Three Decades of Locational Analysis for a Brooklyn Arena) from urban planner Simon Bertrang on behalf of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn shows, the ESDC's failure is much worse. The agency, wile relying on a 1974 study that seems to point to Prospect Heights as the only remaining arena site, omits any mention of later studies, in 1984 and 1994, both of which preferred sites in Coney Island.

And, as Bertrang shows in the graphical renderings reproduced here, the arena could fit on available sites.

Executive summary

Bertrang's executive summary deserves quotation in full:
The siting criteria and analysis for the proposed basketball arena in Prospect Heights are summarily dealt with in three pages in Chapter 1 of the DEIS. The major source of information is a preliminary study three decades out of date. The DEIS does not include a comprehensive comparison of potential arena sites in Brooklyn and does not engage in a convincing site survey and feasibility analysis for any site. The location of a sports arena for Brooklyn has been studied repeatedly over the last few decades - and yet the DEIS fails to identify those studies and ignores their results, choosing to focus on the Prospect Heights location to the detriment of a sound economic development and planning process for Brooklyn.

After reading the 1974 study and the successive studies on arena locations in 1984 and 1994, we looked at the current status of the sites identified. Based on the siting criteria proposed in the DEIS and the 1984 locational analysis, we find that the preferred location for an arena remains Coney Island. ESDC must examine Coney Island and other potential Brooklyn arena locations as viable alternatives to a Prospect Heights arena. ESDC and the people of Brooklyn need a clear comparative analysis of appropriate alternatives in order to develop an authoritative conclusion as to the best location for a Brooklyn arena.

There is NO evidence or argument made in the DEIS as to why an arena should be located at FCRC/ESDC’s chosen Prospect Heights location or why a proposed Brooklyn arena must be developed in conjunction with a major residential development. ESDC has made a gross error by ignoring the results of the 1984 and 1994 studies that found Coney Island to be the best site in the borough for a multi-use arena.

It's a historical gap even worse than the failure in the DEIS to acknowledge the role of historic preservation in reviving the neighborhoods around the proposed Atlantic Yards site.

Looking back

The 1974 report by the City of New York, titled Preliminary Study of Feasibility: Brooklyn Sports Complex, does not establish siting criteria, Bertrang notes. (The DEIS does dismiss the other potential sites as unavailable, but as I noted, the construction of KeySpan park--and thus the loss of the preferred Coney Island site--didn't deter Markowitz and others from focusing on a site next door, shown at right, with Abe Stark rink in the background.)

The ESDC can't say it didn't know about the 1984 report, titled The Brooklyn Sports Study: Phase 1 Locational Analysis; the agency's predecessor commissioned it. Bertrang writes:
Ten years later, the Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development picked up where the City left off. It conducts a similar survey of sites, this time eleven instead of ten. Four of these sites, Coney Island, Broadway Junction, Atlantic Terminal and Brooklyn Army Terminal, are the same ones considered by the City in 1974. The report was prepared by Pratt Institute for the New York State Urban Development Corporation, the same entity undertaking the current study and proposal (In or about 1995, UDC changed its operating name to ESDC).

While the earlier study touched on a demographic analysis, an analysis of transportation networks and the existing conditions of the sites, the 1984 report concluded that two Coney Island sites were best, based on a set of site selection criteria.

Some of those site selection criteria have also been used in the DEIS--size, transit/highway access, and proximity to existing infrastructure--but others have not, such as reinforcing the economic vitality of the surrounding community, should be located mostly on vacant/available land, and should be in a community supportive of the proposed arena.

In 1994, the Brooklyn Sports Foundation and the Temporary State Commission on Brooklyn Recreational Facilities commissioned the Brooklyn Sportsplex Development Plan to evaluate a project on the site of the former Steeplechase Park.

(This was not a full study, rather a closer look at one of the two preferred sites from a decade earlier.)

The Coney sites

While Bertrang shows that an arena could fit on the "Gateway site" owned by KeySpan Energy, within walking distance of the Coney Island terminus, that site isn't so attractive today. Not only would it require a pedestrian bridge over Coney Island Creek, the arena would be isolated--a mini-Meadowlands in Brooklyn--rather than part of the urban fabric.

More feasible would be the "Waterfront site," which retains space for an arena, either in the parking lot of Abe Stark Rink just west of KeySpan Park, or using a footprint slightly to the west, assuming the acquisition of adjacent privately-owned and underutilized parcels. (Also, the rink, which opened in 1970, could be razed.)

Siting criteria

The chart here deserves some footnotes. While Bertrang notes that the Prospect Heights location lacks land availability, that's because several property owners are unwilling to sell to Forest City Ratner, and some will sue to block eminent domain. He adds:
In addition, the proposed Prospect Heights site requires the demapping of two city streets and the relocation of the Vanderbilt Avenue railyard at considerable public expense.

The question of community support isn't simple. There is significant opposition to the project in Prospect Heights. While Coney Island leaders, including City Council Member Dominic Recchia, have expressed support for an arena in Coney, Recchia has also endorsed the Atlantic Yards plan.

Key difference

Still, there's a glaring difference between the mass transit capacity at Coney Island--where trains can be positioned at the end of the line to quickly load crowds--and that at the busy but already crowded hub at Atlantic Terminal. Bertrang writes:
The Coney Island subway lines have low existing passenger loads and substantial reserve capacities. In addition, the Stillwell Avenue station is a newly renovated jewel – with wide ramps and platforms designed to handle a surge in crowds and efficient vertical movement from platform to street. The Atlantic Avenue/Pacific Street station on the other hand has no reserve capacity – the platforms and trains are overcrowded, the platforms narrow and the maze of underground corridors connecting the various platforms confusing. If mass transit’s capacity to absorb new riders, especially the kind of surge in riders associated with the beginning or end of an NBA game in New York City, is taken into account, the Coney Island sites are far superior.

What about proximity to a Central Business District? Bertrang calls that criterion the "least convincing" one in the DEIS, noting that a mixed-use development need not include offices but could, in Coney, be part of an entertainment district. (Note that an arena next to KeySpan Park, above, would be even closer to the subway than at the Gateway site.)

Indeed, as I wrote, Forest City Ratner earlier said the project couldn't be built in Coney Island because of the need to build office space near a downtown transit hub. However, the developer initially projected about 2 million square feet of office space and 10,000 office jobs; now the office space has been cut by more than two-thirds, and the job projection by three-quarters.

Bertrang writes:
The City’s new vision for Coney Island is a year round entertainment district with exactly the kind of “strong mix of urban land uses” that ESDC prefers for an arena location.

Moreover, an arena in Coney Island would help revitalize the area--indeed, the neighborhood still awaits major investment and refurbishing or replacement of vast public housing complexes.

Bertrang suggests redevelopment in Prospect Heights "with appropriately scaled development" would be appropriate and welcomed. He adds:
However, nothing in the economic development goals of the Prospect Heights neighborhood necessitates an arena - in fact, an arena may be a drag on the project – creating an infrastructure headache, requiring the expensive relocation of the rail yards, and necessitating the use of eminent domain and the delays associated with its application.

Unmentioned here, or in the DEIS, is one of the main reasons for the arena: to leverage state and city funds, and political support, for a much larger development project. As the Slatin Report last month quoted a pro-development city official:
The arena, the official complained, is a "Trojan Horse" that the developer used to sneak an overly dense project into Brooklyn.

More criteria

As previously noted, an analysis by Michael Sorkin compared the proposed West Side Stadium site to other sites, and Coney Island, among some other sites, was judged superior. While a stadium is not an arena, many of the arguments apply, and the Prospect Heights site falls short.


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…