Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Decoding the FCR press release on Site 5, the arena, and "Building 1"

The Forest City Ratner press release that followed yesterday's Daily News exclusive confirms some things only hinted at in the coverage.

Notably, the building at Site 5 seems to have vanished, the arena would be surrounded with more metal than glass, and the billing of Building 1 (formerly called Miss Brooklyn) as slimmer still doesn't obscure the fact that it would be nearly twice as bulky as the Williasmburgh Savings Bank, one foot taller at 512 feet.

And Frank Gehry, under the control of the developer's p.r. department, gushes about the potential for the flagship tower, though he avoids calling it, as he did two years ago, "my ego trip."

Also, despite developer Bruce Ratner's statement in a press release that "we mark a significant chapter in Atlantic Yards’ progress," the new image gallery released yesterday is significantly less ambitious than the one released nearly two years ago, in May 2006, given that it includes only three buildings, omits Site 5, and omits any designs for Phase 2.

The failure to produce any more images casts further doubt on the developer's plans for the project at large.

The vanishing Site 5

As suggested by the graphics released to the Daily News yesterday, which I contrasted with past graphics (see above and right), the tower at Site 5, between Pacific Street and Flatbush, Atlantic, and Fourth avenues, has vanished. It's the only part of the footprint west of Flatbush.

There were hints it was coming. Last October, Joanne Minieri, FCR President and Chief Operating Officer, told investors, “Atlantic Yards Development Company, LLC is the entity in which Forest City owns 58.2%. That entity will be the owner of the master plan for the real estate development of over 21 acres in downtown Brooklyn with 6.5 million square feet of residential and commercial development rights.”

I wrote that it’s possible that another entity, in which Forest City is a partner, owns the development planned for Site 5, now the home of P.C. Richard/Modell’s, which was subject to a second Memorandum of Understanding (because there were two investment groups). Indeed, Gilmartin described the project outside the arena as “15 buildings,” which again seemed to be excluding Site 5.

After I reported on that speech in February, a company spokesman told Crain's New York Business that Site 5, would be developed separately.

How separately? The answer seems to be very, since Gehry's designs don't address the site, though previously they did so. The Site 5 tower was also ignored in the AY financial projections prepared by the developer.

Elegant, slimming, festive?

Despite the loss of the Miss Brooklyn moniker, the flagship tower was nonetheless described in feminine terms. Ratner cited “Frank Gehry’s elegant design." Gehry gushed, "The design for Miss Brooklyn, which we now call Building One, has become very special for me. In response to the new program, it has evolved and has become slimmer, more elegant and more festive."

The Daily News reported:
The 34-story structure - once expected to rise higher than the Williamsburgh Savings Bank - will now be dwarfed by it.

It would be one foot shorter, as DDDB reminds us, and it would be nearly twice as bulky, 650,000 square feet vs. 362,269 square feet.

Gehry added, "I am very eager to continue working on this project with my partner Bruce Ratner.”

Gehry's gush, just after Bruce Ratner declared in a NY 1 interview, speaking generally, "The architecture is important, but it's not that important," seems directed first at naysayers like New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff, who in March urged Gehry to walk away from a project that might be significantly altered.

In the second place, it seems directed at potential anchor tenants.

The B1 placeholder

Gehry said, of the flagship tower, "We now call it Building One." Actually, it was always Building One; see for example comments in September 2006 from the Department of City Planning and check the official site plan.

Could Pratt Professor Brent Porter's contention, in the Brooklyn Paper last month, that "Gehry’s frontal design is, to put it discreetly, simply naughty," have had any impact on the dropping of "Miss Brooklyn"? What about Gehry's declaration that the building is "my ego trip"?

It's more likely that B1 is just a placeholder, ready to be jettisoned if and when an anchor tenant is recruited. In fact, the building would be Class A office space, competing with Manhattan rather than Brooklyn.

A "targeted marketing campaign... reaffirm[s] that the office building will not be built on speculation," the press release said. That's another way of saying "we're behind."

The press release quoted leasing agent Cushman & Wakefield as calling it "an exceptionally powerful and distinguished piece of architecture." See alternate comments on Curbed, as well as from Brooklynites quoted in today's Daily News, some of whom called it a "disaster."

Heavy metal

The press release states:
The Barclays Center, the future home of the NBA Nets franchise, has also received an updated design. Frank Gehry’s swooping blue metallic exterior surrounds the Center and is in keeping with his world-renown distinctive style.

There was no mention of warnings that glass walls close to the street raise security concerns similar to those that closed streets outside Newark's Prudential Center.

But the press release did announce that luxury suites would go on sale at the Barclays Center Showroom located in The New York Times building on the evening of May 15.

No condos at first

While Phase 1 is expected to include hundreds of condos, the first residential tower would have 350 units of rental housing, as reported in yesterday's Daily News. The press release added that 50% of the units would be affordable.

Ratner stated:
Each day, working with our public sector partners, we are advancing Atlantic Yards with an emphasis on all the important public benefits—especially the affordable housing—which we are all committed to making a reality for Brooklyn.”


Note the importance of the "affordable housing" mantra, as well as the reference to "public sector partners"--does that refer to the need to get to the head of the line for scarce affordable housing bonds?

The press release states:
Becoming the new standard in mixed-income living in New York City, B2’s residential amenities include a 24-hour doorman, fitness center, secure bike racks and resident lounge.

Regarding 80 DeKalb Avenue, which would have 20% affordable housing, an FCR executive said, "It will have doorman/concierge services, a 150-car garage, a lifestyle center that includes a gym, a library and a lounge and retail at the ground floor level." It will be interesting to see how they compare.

Trustworthy construction schedule?

The press release states:
Forest City affirmed its construction schedule for both phases of the development, stating its goal was to break ground on the Barclays Center in 2008 and B2 in 2009. Both of these buildings are expected to open at the same time. The next residential tower, B3, is expected to break ground in 2010 and, B4, the final residential tower within phase one is expected to break ground in 2011. A minimum of 30% of the estimated 1,500 units on the arena block will be dedicated to low- and middle-income New Yorkers. Phase two is anticipated to be completed by 2018.

“We have established an aggressive but manageable construction schedule and we are confident we will get it done,” continued Mr. Ratner. “Atlantic Yards will revitalize an area of Brooklyn which has sat fallow for over 50 years...


Fallow? There's always been a working railyard. The Ward Bakery, known as Pechter's, operated through the 1990s, and [updated] a storage company used part of the building after that. Old buildings were turned into condos. Other buildings were waiting for rezonings or for the market to continue its work.

Fair warning

The press release closes with some required (and useful) boilerplate:
Statements made in this news release that state the Company’s or management's intentions, hopes, beliefs, expectations or predictions of the future are forward-looking statements. The Company's actual results could differ materially from those expressed or implied in such forward-looking statements due to various risks, uncertainties and other factors.

In other words, if the project's not finished by 2018, don't be surprised.

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