Skip to main content

AY myth 2: the cutbacks weren't in the cards

The Atlantic Yards Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) is out, but prior to any analysis, I'll attempt to correct two prevailing myths. The first concerned the source of the Design Guidelines.

Forest City Ratner twice this year has garnered headlines and praise for reducing the size of the Atlantic Yards project in small increments, the most recent officially announced today.

But most of those cuts were envisioned all along, which suggests that the reductions were more tactical than anything else.

(Right, the 3/31/06 announcement.)

Indeed, a document acquired in a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request from the Department of City Planning (DCP) shows that the current proposed scale--about 8 million square feet--nearly matches a chart presented to DCP on 1/12/06, as do the heights of most of the buildings. (The document I accessed was stapled to an email from a Forest City Ratner staffer to DCP.)

In other words, we got played. The project, announced at about 8 million square feet in December 2003, was increased to 9.132 million square feet in July 2005, and was cut by the developer on 3/31/06 to 8.659 million square feet.

Response to criticism?

In fact, the New York Times got played as well, offering its prestige to front-page article 9/5/06 that leaked news of an emerging scaleback of six to eight percent. The Times didn't point out that the rumored cut--the biggest news on the planet that day, apparently--would only bring the project back to square one.

It suggested the cuts were a "response to criticism" rather than a tactic. Nor had it or any news outlet found the document that explained how it was all in the cards.

But it was. Architects produce multiple versions of the same plan, and Frank Gehry had produced several options to present to the Department of City Planning on 1/13/06.

What happened next? Nothing obvious. But as the chart below shows, the cuts in building sizes announced 3/31/06 were already on the table. And most of the cuts recommended in September by the City Planning Commission--and then quickly "accepted" by the developer--were already on the table, as well.
(Click to enlarge)

[As noted by Matthew Schuerman in his follow-up, the current plan most closely matches Option 20B, and the planning commission didn't even take up Forest City Ratner on an option to cut Miss Brooklyn 25 feet, to 595 feet.]

CPC recommendations?

Yesterday, the FEIS stated that the City Planning Commission (CPC)"made a number of recommendations with respect to the modification of the project program that was the subject of the DEIS." That refers to the CPC letter.

A close look at the DCP chart shows that, for example, cuts on Buildings 2 and 8 announced on 3/31/06 were already envisioned. And the CPC's recommendations for cuts on buildings 3 and 6 matched plans already established.

One of the few changes that was not in the cards involves a cut in the building planned for Site 5, home of P.C. Richard/Modell's. Announced at 404 feet, and with no plans to cut it, it was reduced to 350 feet on 3/31/06 and to 250 feet in the CPC recommendation, partly because it would block views of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank.

A predictable strategy

Ron Shiffman, a former member of the City Planning Commissioner and a current member of the Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn advisory board, had it scoped from the start. As the Times reported:
Mr. Shiffman speculated that the small reductions being contemplated are “more of a show than a substantive reduction,” aimed at politicians who do not want to stop the project but do want to claim credit for having gained concessions from the developer. “This is similar to the playbook and strategy that Ratner has used for all of his developments,” Mr. Shiffman added. “I think this is predictable, and that they concluded that the politicians needed something to go back to their constituents with.”


Indeed, it's not just predictable, it's obvious.

Gehry, in response to criticisms about the plan last January, told an audience in Manhattan, "It's coming way back."

Actually, it came back only a few fractions. But Gehry knew that various scalebacks were in the cards.

Could it come back more? Quite possibly. Surely there are other options.

Original document

(Below, the DCP document as originally scanned, before some cuts and highlighting.)


Comments

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.