Skip to main content

Atlantic Yards, 2026? Business leader doubts ten-year buildout prediction

As the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) prepares today to approve the Atlantic Yards project, we should consider the very real possibility—echoed yesterday by a prominent project supporter—that it could take twice as long as promised.

If so, that raises significant questions about the delayed provision of open space and affordable housing, the persistence of a large interim surface parking lot, and the adequacy of the ESDC’s review of the project.

According to developer Forest City Ratner, “assuming the project receives the needed public approvals, FCRC anticipates breaking ground in late 2006 on the arena and at least two residential buildings. The construction will be phased over 10 years.”

In its environmental review, the ESDC used a ten-year analysis, saying it was conforming to state law—despite requests that the agency should take a broader view. (The ESDC approval must be followed by approval from the Public Authorities Control Board, which may stall Atlantic Yards at least until the term of incoming Governor Eliot Spitzer.)

Transportation effects

The time frame affects the analysis of the project's impact on transit and transportation. While a slower buildout means that the effect of the development might be absorbed more slowly, that longer time frame also would include more developments in the area. Transportation experts say the ESDC already low-balled the number of projects it included in its environmental review and thus underestimated traffic problems.

Yesterday, I caught up with Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, which represents the city’s largest private-sector employers.

She was participating in a breakfast discussion of congestion pricing, an idea, already implemented successfully in London, that’s been embraced by business groups, transportation wonks, and leftish types as way to limit traffic into Manhattan’s Central Business District (CBD) and steer more money to public transit.

The peak-hour imposition of new tolls, charges for using reserved highway lanes, or increased parking charges in the CBD could stem some of the traffic coursing through Brooklyn on the way to free East River bridges. The counter-argument is that it’s a burdensome “tax” on outer borough drivers. (StreetsBlog has a solid report on the session.)

Congestion pricing & AY

Congestion pricing, the ESDC said in its Atlantic Yards review, is "beyond the scope of this project."

To what extent, I asked Wylde, does the absence of congestion pricing make her rethink support for a project like Atlantic Yards. (“Unlike many other developing areas of the city, the transportation infrastructure needed to accommodate Atlantic Yards is largely in place,” she had testified.)

“Well, Atlantic Yards development is over a long period of time," she responded. "So hopefully we’ll have some solutions on the congestion side before we hit that critical mass, in terms of additional traffic."

"You’re talking about a 15-year, 20-year buildout,” she added.

“They say ten years,” I pointed out.

“Not a chance,” Wylde responded, with a smile.

More than a decade?

Indeed, Wylde merely articulated what many believe. After all, as the New York Observer recently reported, Forest City Ratner's MetroTech Center project in Brooklyn was supposed to be finished within five years after groundbreaking in 1989, but the last building originally planned didn't open until 2003, nine years late.

The Observer reported:
“The quality that Forest City has is that they are very disciplined about moving forward in stages,” said Rich Moore, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets who covers Forest City Enterprises. “They build one office tower and see if they are doing well, and if they are not, there is always the option of waiting until the market catches up to them or of altering their plans.”

Phase 2, the 11 buildings east of Sixth Avenue, would contain all of the eight acres of publicly accessible open space and more than 75% of the 2250 affordable apartments. And if an underground parking garage isn't built, then the interim surface parking lot planned for the southeast block--between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues and Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Street--could persist for a while.

And wouldn't the construction of Phase 1, the arena block, generate significant traffic itself? Transportation analysts Carolyn Konheim and Brian Ketcham this week warned that the proposed traffic mitigation for the arena would affect only Nets games, not other events.

ESDC: ten years

The ESDC, however, isn't buying any of this concern.

Both the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN) and Brooklyn resident Margot Gibson both raised the issue of the ten-year buildout to the ESDC:
The dates for analysis are inadequate. Community responses to the Draft Scope proposed looking 20-40 years ahead to assess potential impacts. While such lengthy time horizons may not be feasible for every measure, they are essential to assess major project impacts. The most glaring error is that the DEIS fails to measure project impacts beyond the day the project is completed. A longer time frame is also needed to take into account the probability (and likelihood) of delays in development, and changes to the phasing.

The agency responded:
In accordance with established CEQR Technical Manual methodology, the DEIS analyzed the proposed project’s effects for the 2010 and 2016 analysis years, which is when the proposed project’s Phase I and full Build program, respectively, would be in full operation. Analysis of its impacts in the 2016 build year discloses the long-term impacts of the project. Further unrelated changes in Brooklyn outside the project site may occur after 2016, but impacts from such changes are not ascribed to the project, in accordance with the analysis methodology set forth in the CEQR Technical Manual. Should the project phasing and/or program change in a magnitude necessary to warrant a modification of the General Project Plan (GPP), the proposed project would require additional environmental review to reassess the impacts on environmental conditions.

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.