Skip to main content

Caveats regarding the real estate media (#9 In Brownstoner's list) and the "Men of Myrtle"

In Brownstoner's list of the Top 50 "most influential people who have shaped Brooklyn neighborhoods," the Media (including me) snag the #9 slot and, while I won't quibble with the ranking, I do think the congratulatory air deserves some caveats.

Brownstoner states:
If a tree falls in the woods and nobody hears it, does it make a sound? No matter, with hundreds of reporters and bloggers in Brooklyn even the mere crack of a twig can turn into a fever pitch, and as a blog, we see media as a collective force since its work product is consolidated on our pages (yes, we know this is shameless cheating). Battles over projects like the Downtown Brooklyn redevelopment, Atlantic Yards and Coney Island are played out in the media daily, swaying public opinion, galvanizing activists, and selling the borough to buyers and investors. Speaking of buyers, a National Association of Home Builders study found during the boom years, over half said media reports had an impact on their decision -- where to buy, when, and at what price. An updated study was done during these bust years, and a spokeswoman told us the number was much higher but declined to release the figure. In Brownstone Brooklyn, with three of the nation's bloggiest communities, buyers especially have the edge, and may even discover a neighborhood they wouldn't have previously considered. A few of the many local notables: New York Post reporter Rich Calder and Daily News reporter Jotham Sederstrom break Brooklyn stories in the tabloid wars, and Brooklyn Daily Eagle columnist Dennis Holt and Brooklyn Paper editor Gersh Kuntzman disagree about almost everything in the local rags. Our publisher Jonathan Butler started Brooklyn’s most-read blog (our commenters, the New York magazine noted, encapsulate the “Brooklyn Wars”), and a city-wide hit with the Brooklyn Flea, bringing an average of 5,000 people into Clinton Hill every weekend. Other notable bloggers include Robert Guskind, founder of Gowanus Lounge and Brooklyn editor of city-wide Curbed, and Norman Oder, who has broken multiple stories on his Atlantic Yards Report. And speaking of Atlantic Yards, No Land Grab is the site that has tirelessly compiled every iota of media since the fight began.

Missing: the Times's Bagli

While in the list as a whole Brownstoner understandably tried to avoid personages of city-wide influence, the single most influential journalist covering real estate is Charles Bagli, real estate and development reporter for the New York Times. Only Bagli, it seems, can get Bruce Ratner (#1 on Brownstoner's list) to sit down mano a mano, driving the citywide (and even national) discourse with articles about the Atlantic Yards stall and, less credibly, the phantom scaleback.

If and when Bagli turns his attention to the New Domino project in Williamsburg, for example, maybe the city will recognize the project is much less about historic preservation than, as with Atlantic Yards, a request to build bigger than currently allowed. (In this case, it's a city rezoning, rather than, as with AY, a state override of zoning.)

What's missing

While, as Brownstoner states, the Downtown Brooklyn redevelopment, Atlantic Yards, and Coney Island all have gotten significant airing in the media, it's embarrassing that the citywide media could have misread a New Domino waterfront opening event on October 19; rebloggers at Brownstoner (and elsewhere) followed along.

"Nowhere in the country do so many people get so little local coverage," Brooklyn College professor Paul Moses has observed about Brooklyn's place in the local mediascape, given that Brooklyn, which would be the country's fourth-largest city if it were independent, does not have a comprehensive daily newspaper.

Yes, the publications, including blogs, cited by Brownstoner, have covered in great detail the development game, including issues of pricing, DOB violations, landmarking, and architecture, as well as events at community meetings. That's been valuable. (Also, though the commentary on Brownstoner can get snarky, it clearly generates readers.)

But it hasn't been always complemented by some deeper reporting less tied to higher-end neighborhoods. For example, it took months before the concept of "predatory equity"--investment funds making speculative investments in rental housing, intending to raise rents significantly-- got any traction among city officials, after local activists made the point, and months before the term hit the New York Times. (How often have we seen "predatory equity" on Brownstoner? None, as far as I can tell.)

And, while blogs have on the whole added to the discourse, the focus (my own included) on specific controversies can obscure the fact that other worthy issues deserve attention, such as the long-delayed Ingersoll Community Center. We need new bloggers to produce original material, not merely to echo and/or comment.

And what about the big stories that are under the radar? Surely we've all seen ads for United Homes; is the lawsuit against them, which claims predatory lending practices, bogus or just the tip of the iceberg? (It was referenced in a comment on Brownstoner.)

Developer-friendly list?

I'm not the only one to notice other flaws in Brownstoner's list. While there are some interesting names--for example, restaurateur Jim Mamary and a couple of land-use attorneys--as one commentator noted, "I know this is Brownstoner, and thus a blog that focuses in on real estate issues. But it seems like there are an awful lot of developers on this list."

Well, any list is subjective, and Brownstoner's treatment invites shorthand. Still, the summaries can be a little developer-friendly. One example:
18.The Men of Myrtle. The hopes of Downtown Brooklyn as a residential hub hinge on the critical mass of buildings rising at or near the intersection of Flatbush and Myrtle Avenues. The Oro, the 309-unit tower brought to you by United Homes, was the first to be completed, but a second Oro tower next door has been hanging in the balance. Next online has been The Toren, a 38-story, SOM-designed tower developed by BFC that's managed to stand out from the crown by emphasizing its design and green-ness. Avalon Bay is hard at work on its 650-unit rental project across the street. Pulling up the rear at 202 Myrtle Avenue is the first phase of John Catsimatidis' planned four-part complex which will hopefully provide some much needed supermarket and drugstore retail. A block away on Flatbush, work at the Isaac Hager's Flatbush Flatiron has been mightly slow lately. (Hager's also busy over on Kent Avenue in Williamsburg.)

Let's note that the Toren (a Brownstoner advertiser) has also stood out for its use (abuse, according to the Village Voice) of non-union labor.

If Catsimatidis will "hopefully provide some much needed supermarket and drugstore retail," that's because he tore down existing such retail and residents have been frustrated it's taken so long. And, as noted above, Oro developer United Homes has also been questioned.

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…

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…