Skip to main content

In Coney Island Visions report, new ideas, express dreams, and AY avoidance

Observing that the city's truncated Coney Island plan--an apparent accommodation to developer Joe Sitt--"greatly reduces the area set aside for open-air amusements and puts too much faith in 'entertainment retail,'" the Center for an Urban Future yesterday issued a report called Coney Island Visions, asking thinkers from a variety of fields about Coney Island's future.

The effort is a partnership with the Municipal Art Society (MAS), which recently began the Imagine Coney initiative. While the MAS is soliciting advice from everybody (here are my suggestions), the Center for an Urban Future consulted amusement industry veteran, writers, architects, urban planners, and historians. Most have not been involved in the details of the development debate but were asked to provide a broader picture.

Avoiding AY

The first person quoted in the report brought up Atlantic Yards is an example of what not to do.

Jonathan Lethem, author of Motherless Brooklyn & The Fortress of Solitude and an opponent of Atlantic Yards, said he thought the Brooklyn Cyclones baseball team had made a big impact. (Well, maybe during the baseball season.) He continued:
One of the things that’s perverse about this is that maybe Coney Island would love to have something like this [an arena for the Nets]. While it’s a real sore thumb here close to downtown Brooklyn, it might be a marvelous result to have a professional sports team there.

He was asked if developer Joe Sitt, "who grew up in the area," had come up with the right ideas. Lethem's response:
Being from the place does not necessarily make you the best caretaker of its meaning in a larger sense, [Brooklyn Borough President] Marty Markowitz being a key example. I think sometimes people who are of a place are too eager to erase the scruffy complicated meanings that have attached to it in favor of something quite slick, which I think is the kind of mistake that Markowitz was prone to with his encouragement of [Atlantic Yards developer Bruce] Ratner. Obviously there’s so many reasons he fell in behind that proposal, his authentic Brooklyn-ness didn’t let him see the limitations of something so monolithic and futuristic.

He added:
One of the positive things, when you say that some of the space is owned by the city and some is private. That’s good. The nightmare of Atlantic Yards is that Ratner bought everything up.

An express train

The single best idea, to me, came from Lisa Chamberlain, executive director, Forum for Urban Design:
One thought is to have an express train from Times Square to Coney Island and do some cross branding. Call it surf and turf. Times Square is probably one of the most visited place on earth. But at least now, Coney Island is visited almost exclusively by people from this region. Few tourists go there.

Express service has been suggested for years, notably in Alex Marshall's article Play Ball in the August/September 2001 edition of Metropolis. And, of course, express service would bring a Coney arena within the realm of possibility.

Indeed, Ron Shiffman co-founder, Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development (and a member of the Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn advisory board), pointed out that Coney in the 1980s had been selected as a site for an amateur arena:
Coney Island may be a good alternative to consider if the Nets are to come to Brooklyn. Locating the Nets there and having the kinds of attractions there in the off months that bring a lot of people to the area would be an asset for area merchants and for the city.

Intriguing ideas

Here are some of the comments I found most intriguing.

Eric Zimmerman, founder of video game development company Gamelab:
I was thinking of an emerging genre of games that take place in public spaces and use new technologies like cell phones or GPS locators. These are sometimes known as “Big Games” or alternate reality games. And these games would take place in and about the space of Coney Island.

Mike Wallace, professor of history at John Jay College of Criminal Justice:
One wouldn’t want a reified, abstract, cartoonish version of Coney Island—to preserve a few remaining shells when the entire web of experience and meaningfulness is gone....

Whoever’s doing this should talk to Vietnamese, Ecuadorian, Pakistani immigrants and try to figure out what it would take to get them there.

Lars Liebst, CEO, Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens:
Why don’t you create a pier? Why don’t you start up a boat from downtown New York that could go over there, so the access to that area will be much easier....

You shouldn’t just look at it as an amusement area. Look at it as a whole area where you could add cultural activities, where you could do something about hotels and restaurants. You shouldn’t just do another Six Flags, because if you do, forget it.

Michael Sorkin, principal, Michael Sorkin Studio:
If any place were a good place for a competition, this is it! A wide open architectural competition. One wants to exercise the absolute limits of creativity in a case like this. The aura is so powerful.

Charles Denson, author, Coney Island: Lost and Found and executive director/co-founder, Coney Island History Project:
They should recreate the Steeplechase Pavilion: a winter garden in the winter and a grand interior space in the summer. The main thing is the amusement area should be low-rise so it permits evolution. Once you put in high-rises, it stops the evolution. As new entertainment technology becomes known, if it’s low-rise, you can adjust.

Karrie Jacobs, architecture critic:
What seems probable given all this new investment is you’re going to have one big amusement operator come in and replace this ragtag bunch of amusements with something big and new and shiny—and economically that may be successful, but I really hope they find a way to preserve the vernacular of Coney Island. Maybe the city should institute a zoning mechanism—a vernacular bonus—that would encourage a big amusement operator or developer to lease some percentage of their holdings to the small operators, new and old, so that some of the flavor of the neighborhood can be preserved.

Words of caution

Shiffman, the last interviewee, closed with some words of caution:
I’m not hopeful because I don’t really see anybody organizing or working with those directly impacted–local residents, merchants and the communities that Coney Island serves. Developers are doing it from the perspective of their needs and the City Planning Department doesn’t really care about engaging in a community planning effort. There should be a major initiative to develop an inclusive community plan there. I would want to make sure that the kinds of things that are developed there attract people of all ages and all backgrounds and aren’t somehow screened and sanitized. It would be a shame if we screened out the kids who have traditionally come out there because they like rap music or any other type of music that attracts a diverse audience. Any development or plan for Coney Island has got to be inclusive and it’s got to include all groups in the planning process.

Perhaps the flurry of discussion will foster a more inclusive plan.


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…