Saturday, November 03, 2007

The bonsai Bryant Park and other fudges from the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership's video

Everything sounds better with a British accent, right? So when celebrated actor Ian McKellen narrates a promotional video for the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership (DBP), maybe we're just supposed to lap it up like good colonists--or maybe like the New York Post, which broke an "exclusive" sans analysis. (More commentary and a video link from GumbyFresh.)

We can figure out why the video doesn't mention that the planned Willoughby Square park (right) is the site of an eminent domain fight, but the claim that it would be "a beautiful public space similar to midtown's Bryant Park" begs for some fact-checking. Bryant Park is eight acres. Willoughby Square would be 1.25 acres. More precisely, it would be a bonsai Bryant Park.

The AY deception

Near the beginning of the video, we're told Atlantic Yards "will transform acres of railyards" into an arena, office towers, and housing, a common fudge about which the New York Times, at least, has confessed error, since the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard would be less than 40% of the site. Also note that in the video we only see two of the 16 towers.

Atlantic Yards is described as having "signature office buildings," though likely just one (or maybe two) of the towers would include office space. And that statement in the script obscures how the project morphed from including 2 million square feet of office space to just 336,000 square feet (and perhaps 375 new jobs), less than one new building in Downtown Washington.

Making the best of the rezoning

The video does a bang-up job of avoiding the news that the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning, intended to spur office construction, didn't quite work as expected. Instead, with the assistance of 421-a tax breaks subsidizing luxury construction, it will make some residential developers a nice return and bring some wealthier people downtown.

The city once expected 4.6 million square feet of office space by 2013, even though the rezoning would have allowed an additional 2 million more square feet. Now the prediction is 1.5 million square feet by 2012, though the DBP fudges it by combining office and retail space--which are very different--and calling it 3 million square feet.

It's an impressive set of changes, on one level, but it sure could use more analysis. (Who's losing?) And, as noted previously, the line of towers marching up Flatbush Avenue (a "boo-levard," in McKellen's parlance) will indeed suggest to many that the skyline should "naturally" continue into Prospect Heights with the AY project.

[added]

From the Brooklyn Paper

The Brooklyn Paper, under the headline New Downtown Face: Vision of the future, reported:
Absent from the Partnership’s presentation was mention of the city’s original plan for Downtown Brooklyn to become a booming business district. Where the Partnership once saw 4.5 million square feet of new office space, it now predicts 1.6 million.

“The 4.5 million square feet was the total capacity that could be created,” said Partnership President Joe Chan. “We don’t really see it as a failure. The growth of the commercial sector was one goal of the [2004] Downtown Brooklyn Plan. The other was the creation of a 24/7 community. Clearly, on the residential end, we’re doing better than we ever thought we would.”


Well, the 4.5 million square feet was once the expected total, while the total capacity was nearly 50% more. And the main source of the affordable housing cited in the plan is attributed to Atlantic Yards, which is in essence a private rezoning outside the boundaries of the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning.

In other words, the city rezoned Downtown Brooklyn, offering increased development rights to build office space and also housing; most developers chose housing, the more lucrative path, with the aid of further tax breaks. But no affordable housing was required in exchange for this increase in land value.

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