Friday, April 25, 2008

Arena subway access without the Urban Room? ESDC says it's OK

I suggested yesterday that, unless certain parts of the flagship tower Miss Brooklyn (aka Building 1) are completed, the Atlantic Yards arena would open without the Urban Room, the glass-clad atrium that would serve as a combination building lobby, arena entrance, subway entrance, retail/restaurant space, and public gathering space, not to mention surfaces for signage and lighting.

On second thought, it looks impossible that the Urban Room could be completed separately from Miss Brooklyn. And the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), while touting the Urban Room as "a significant public amenity" in the General Project Plan it approved 12/8/06, some ten months later, in the State Funding Agreement that recently surfaced, changed its tune.

The agreement requires developer Forest City Ratner only to provide "subway station access" to the arena, not the Urban Room "destination" (a term from the Final Environmental Impact Statement, or FEIS) that wowed some architecture critics.

The ESDC states, in the Project Description chapter of the FEIS: The glass-enclosed Urban Room would be located at the base of [Miss Brooklyn].

New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp, in his 12/11/03 rave review, embraced the concept:
There is also an "urban room," a soaring Piranesian space, which provides access to the stadium and a grand lobby for the tallest of the office towers.


(Images from Atlantic Yards web site.)

Arena without Urban Room

Developer Forest City Ratner now intends to open a residential building along with the arena, as reported yesterday. A look at the renderings confirms that it would be very difficult to build just the Urban Room. New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff, in his 3/21/08 lament about changes in the project, leaving just the arena as a priority, observed:
The atrium, once a vital public space, will be reduced to a barren strip of pavement.

In this week's Brooklyn Paper, project critic (especially on security issues) Alan Rosner points out in a letter that if the Urban Room is to be built without Miss Brooklyn, "Bruce Ratner will have some major redesign costs." It would be less costly, Rosner writes--and far more likely, I conclude--to wait until the tower is built.

However, Rosner suggests that, in the absence of the Urban Room, there won't be a place for crowds of pedestrians exiting from the new subway station: "The silence suggests that neither the ESDC nor Ratner are concerned." Why the ESDC agreed to this might be aired at an upcoming hearing of an Assembly oversight committee. (The rest of Phase I is supposed to be built within dozen years, which means that the Urban Room should ultimately be built.)

Initial promise

An initial fact sheet about the project promised both that Miss Brooklyn would not block the Williamsburgh Savings Bank--not true, it turned out--and that the Urban Room would be the entrance to the transit hub:
The northernmost building on the site, an office building, will be set back slightly from the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues, to maintain the view corridor to the Williamsburg Bank building. The point of this triangle will become part of an “urban room,” a new exterior space formed by raising the office building on pilotis (a term coined by famed architect Le Corbusier, pilotis are columnar structures designed to raise the mass of a building off the ground).
Travelers will enter or exit the transportation hub as well as the Arena and the northernmost office building through the urban room, which will also contain retail shops.


Design Guidelines

Part 1 of the Design Guidelines, part of the ESDC's General Project Plan (GPP), indicates that one of the principal entrances to Building 1, including the office component and hotel component would be via the Urban Room. (The hotel component appears to be shelved for now.)

Part 3 of the guidelines provides an architectural drawing (right), which shows the Urban Room integrally connected to Building 1.

Much praise

The ESDC, in its Final Scope of Analysis, a prelude to the environmental review, called it a "grand civic space."

The ESDC's FEIS, in the Project Description chapter, offers an impressive portrait:
A prominent feature of the pedestrian experience on the arena block is the “Urban Room,” which would be located at the southeast corner of Flatbush Avenue and Atlantic Avenue at the base of Building 1 (see Figure 1-6). The “Urban Room,” would consist of a large, at least 10,000-sf publicly accessible atrium that would serve as a dramatic gateway to the arena and provide a place for people to congregate. The Urban Room would serve multiple purposes depending on the time of day and the activities taking place. On weekday mornings, the Urban Room would serve as the principal access to mass transit for the neighborhoods to the south, east, and west of Atlantic Avenue. On evenings and weekends (and when there are no arena events), the Urban Room would be activated by the restaurant on the second level mezzanine and the hotel uses. Thus, this glass-enclosed space is expected to serve as an entrance to the office space and hotel in Building 1, the restaurant and cafe, the arena (its ticket booths would be located here), and a new access point to the subway via an underground connection. There would be approximately 10,000 square feet of space that would be available for the public. The Urban Room would serve as its own destination when programmed with small concerts, cultural events, art shows, and readings that would be open to the public. Within the Urban Room, a cafĂ© would be centrally located on the street level for ease of access for pedestrians going to and from the subway and the street during both event and non-event periods. The second level mezzanine of the Urban Room would be accessed externally by a grand stoop at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues or internally by a stair and an elevator.

(Figure 1-6 is the second rendering above)

State Funding Agreement

Part 33 of the State Funding Agreement (right) simply states: Developer shall be required to provide reasonable assurances... that the new subway station access that will adjoin the Arena will be completed an operational at the time the Arena is opened for operation.

That says nothing about the Urban Room. So, for the first year(s) of arena operations, maybe there would be a temporary above-ground facility--an Urban Shed?--linking to subway access.

That's not ideal for Forest City Ratner; the Urban Room would be a billboard for advertising, as well. However, the sponsorship deals for the Barclays Center, coupled with the current major losses at the Izod Center in New Jersey, make a Nets move to Brooklyn far more fiscally important to the developer than the presence or absence of the Urban Room.

GPP on subway connection

The ESDC's GPP states that the project would include a "subway connection on the south side of Atlantic Avenue... with sufficient capacity to accommodate fans entering or leaving and event at the Arena."


The GPP also praises the Urban Room, calling it
a significant public amenity comprised of a large, glass-enclosed public space, providing access to the subway station, the Arena and Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues. This space would accommodate the major flows of people to and from the subway system during the day and night, serve as a direct subway entrance to the Arena and allow for a variety of public uses and programmed events throughout the year.... Building 1 would provide a significant new subway entrance from the Urban Room and the street that would directly serve the Arena, commercial office space, hotel, and new residential uses.

But without Miss Brooklyn, it looks like there's no room for the Urban Room.

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