Skip to main content

State secret? ESDC stonewalls on arena setbacks, but graphics hint building's near street

It's a basic architectural detail that would inevitably become public, but the state agency supervising the Atlantic Yards project won't disclose how far the planned arena would be set back from the street, saying security concerns mandate confidentiality.

Meanwhile, though state documents are vague about the setbacks, graphics, though not necessarily to scale, in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) suggest some parallels to the situation that recently caused alarm in Newark, even though the arena there's a standalone box, while the Brooklyn arena would be enveloped in four towers.

(Graphic from the FEIS. Several other graphics attached to Chapter 8, Urban Design, also show segments of the arena along Atlantic and Flatbush avenues fairly close to the street.)

Newark comparison unresolved

Last month, officials in Newark decided to close streets abutting the about-to-open Prudential Center arena to guard against terrorist attacks. "You can't construct an arena and put it right against a street in a post 9/11 world," said Newark Police Director Garry McCarthy said.

Officials in New York, however, have so far been unwilling to put the issue to rest by disclosing the distance between the Brooklyn arena and the street. That raises the possibility that, even though the New York Police Department (NYPD) has no plans to close streets around the arena block, the contrast with Newark, at least in part, may not be that great. (Unlike in Newark, there's no slack in the Brooklyn street system for closings.) It also allows for the speculation that architectural plans are being revised to create more distance--or barriers--between the arena and the street.

Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) spokesman A.J. Carter told me yesterday, "The NYPD, which has been involved in discussions on the issue, has asked that security and anti-terrorism matters not be discussed publicly. As a result, beyond what is in the GPP [General Project Plan] and the FEIS, we will not discuss setback details."

(The graphic is from the FEIS--note that the green space is on the rooftop of the arena, and there's no indication in other renderings that it overhangs the building. Click to enlarge.)

Curiously enough, though Design Guidelines attached to the GPP provide copious details (example), I couldn't find anything specific about the arena setbacks.

The NYTimes's estimate

Last Thursday, I asked Carter if the state could confirm the New York Times's estimate that "renderings of Atlantic Yards show the arena about 75 feet back from Atlantic Avenue and about 150 feet from Flatbush Avenue."

He responded at the end of the day Friday: "You'll have to ask Forest City Ratner. We don't know what renderings the Times were looking at."

Indeed, a photo of an Atlantic Yards model (above) published 5/12/06 by the Times casts doubt on claims of a 75-foot arena setback from Flatbush Avenue.
(Click to enlarge.)

Design Guidelines inconclusive

The Design Guidelines attached to the Atlantic Yards General Project Plan approved by the ESDC are inconclusive. A passage on p. 9 indicates that a "street wall" need not be at the sidewalk:
“Street wall” shall mean the portion of a building façade facing a street line and located between a street line and a line parallel to such street line at a depth of 100 feet.

Do the guidelines suggest that the street walls for the arena would be along the street rather than set back? It's unclear, though retail would be at the street. From p. 24-25:
iv. Arena. The street walls of the Arena along Flatbush Avenue and Atlantic Avenue shall include glass elements, including a continuous glazed area with a minimum width of 125 feet and a minimum surface area of 7500 square feet, such glazed area to commence at the height of the Arena concourse level. The street walls of ground floor retail uses located along and opening on to the street shall be glazed for a minimum of 70% of such street wall to a height of twelve feet, provided that no glazing shall be required for the sidewalk market along Atlantic Avenue described in Clause (g)(i) below.

The Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush Avenue ground floor street frontages of the Arena Block shall incorporate a variety of retail and pedestrian based activities, including retail space accessible to the street and pedestrian seating areas. Not less than 40% of the Atlantic Avenue, 15% of the Flatbush Avenue street frontages, shall be devoted to retail uses, which may include eating and drinking establishments. The Atlantic Avenue retail requirement shall include retail use in front of the Arena volume which may include a sidewalk market opening on the street, provided that the market shall not occupy more than 180 linear feet of the Atlantic Avenue frontage. The Flatbush Avenue Street frontage shall incorporate a sitting area with a minimum length of 150 feet of which 40% may be in conjunction with an adjoining retail use.


From the Design Guidelines (p. 33):
Arena Block
Height, Setback, Envelope, and Architectural Controls – Individual Buildings
a. Arena
i. Maximum Building Height: 150 feet
ii. Setbacks: The Arena may rise without setback to the maximum building height.
iii. Architectural Controls: The Arena façade shall include transparent elements in the Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush Avenue street walls allowing for views into the arena concourse from the adjoining sidewalks.


FCR silence

Forest City Ratner isn't talking about security. "As a matter of common sense, and at the advice of the NYPD and our own anti-terrorism consultants, we will not ever publicly discuss our security or anti-terrorism measures for very obvious reasons," Forest City Ratner executive Bruce Bender told the Courier-Life chain, in an article published this week.
(Emphasis added)

A security consultant to the project, Jeffrey Venter, gave a similar message in an affidavit in defense of the pending lawsuit challenging the legitimacy of the Atlantic Yards environmental review. He stated:
If information regarding the security design parameters and limits of a major project were to be disclosed to the public, the safety of the arena and surrounding area could be easily compromised.

That argument is worth taking seriously. But there's a difference between security measures and architectural plans that show the distance from a building to the street, information that eventually would be "disclosed to the public."

The ESDC or the developer could have put the setbacks issue to rest, but they haven't. Perhaps the call by eight local elected officials for an independent security study will make public such basic facts.

Comments

  1. Forest City Ratner has never been about doing anything that is in the best interests of the public no matter how serious that may be.

    Forest City Ratner has always been about maximum profit and subsidy for itself and minimum benefit for the public.

    ESDC has never been about a clear understanding of this megadevelopment. Nor has ESDC been about demanding that it be improved or about analyzing how that could be done. ESDC has been about maximum accommodation of Ratner.

    There have been multiple opportunities like this for politicians to peal away from supporting this megadeveloper/subsidy- hog who has no true interest in serving the public. Plenty of those opportunities have been afforded by Ratner’s own poor conduct. Spitzer has never distanced himself from this megadevelopment. The real horror story in this saga is that Spitzer, who ran for office trumpeting public authority reform zest and credentials has served in office displaying anything but.

    And the New York Times has never been about being astute and reporting on any of this.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

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…