Skip to main content

Did FCR tell government it stopped work at the Vanderbilt Yard? Barely. And why was that train trestle stalled?

So, what did Forest City Ratner tell government agencies when it decided in early December to stop work at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA) Vanderbilt Yard.

Not much.

After filing Freedom of Information Law requests with both the MTA and the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), the only evidence of communication was a phone call, documented in an email report from ESDC ombudsman Forrest Taylor, in which an FCR representative told him they had "completed the work needed thus far." (Click on graphics to enlarge.)

Notably, the documents also point to a stalled construction of a train trestle, with no explanation of how much had been completed nor of when it might be completed.

When queried how far along the trestle might be, ESDC spokesman Warner Johnston responded, "With regards to how much has been completed, FCRC would know." But Forest City Ratner hasn't been doing much information-sharing lately, as DDDB reminds us.

What's missing

No documents provided to me refer to the impact of lawsuits, which was the ESDC's initial public explanation for the work stoppage.

The documents also refer to a temporary train trestle bridge in the middle of Block 1121, bounded by Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Street and Carlton and Vanderbilt Avenues.

Johnston explained, "It will eventually extend the entire length of Block 1121 to connect the East Portal entrance of Block 1121 to Block 1120." As the photos taken Monday by Tracy Collins show, the trestle seems to be in very preliminary stages, so it's certainly questionable that FCR had "completed the work needed thus far."

The MTA's response was brief: it has no records responsive to my request. So either Forest City Ratner didn't say anything, or whatever communication that occurred was so casual as not to be documented.

Clues from field inspections

Interestingly enough, the ESDC also supplied me with copies of several Atlantic Yards Field Inspection Reports, conducted by Henningson, Durham & Richardson Architecture and Engineering, P.C. (HDR), the agency's environmental monitor.

Those reports suggest that Forest City Ratner had nearly completed some phases of work at the railyard, but also leave enough gaps that support the speculation the developer simply ran out of money and cut off all work.

Note that the reports are based on inspections of ongoing work, not an analysis of the potential work plan. In other words, Forest City Ratner could, for example, tear down the Spalding Building it owns, but has chosen not to do so, instead using the building for offices and (I've heard) to house some workers. After all, should the Atlantic Yards plan fail, the units in the renovated building could easily be re-sold.

Railyard work trails off

An 11/26/08 memo from HDR to ESDC indicates that the only work at the railyard was construction of the train trestle, progressing west to east.

An 12/4/08 report, written a day after I reported that work had stopped at the Vanderbilt Yard, states:
On Thursday December 4th, I met with Staci Zegler to discuss upcoming activities taking place in the railyard. Staci informed me that excavation work is 95% complete and the drilling of all SOE [Support of Excavation] and foundation piles has been completed as well. The only work taking place in the railyard at this time is the construction of the train trestle is continuing, progressing west to east.

The report, under the heading Soil Remediation, also states:
During my discussions with Staci, she informed me that we should expect to receive a DVD of all final soil manifests in mid-December.

A week later

A 12/12/08 report states:
There was no work occurring in the railyard at the time of this site visit.

That begs some questions: Had the final 5% of excavation work been completed? Had the train trestle been constructed?

The report also explains that the developer plans to inject RegenOx, which destroys contaminants, into two railyard lots and must alert the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It states:
HDR will request from FCRC a copy of the EPA notification.

11 days later

A 12/23/08 report again states there was no work occurring in the railyard. And it references some lingering issues:
a. HDR has requested from FCRC a copy of the EPA notification. FCRC has yet to respond.
b. HDR has followed up with FCRC to determine if the injection will be performed via wells, and, if so, confirm that FCRC will properly close the wells and inform the EPA of when and where the wells are closed. HDR is currently waiting for a response from FCRC.

(Emphases added)

Three weeks later

A 1/13/09 report repeats the text directly above, indicating that HDR still awaits a copy of the EPA notification and a response regarding the use of wells.

Also, even though the DVD regarding soil manifests was expected in mid-December, it had not arrived.

Who's in charge?

It's unclear what this all means. Is the failure to respond promptly to HDR a sign of a temporary problem or a more long-lasting one? Could an injection of cash easily restart the developer's work? Why doesn't the ESDC know how much of the trestle has been completed, and why?

While it's not implausible that the work could restart, should there be victories in court by the state and increased cash flow for the developer, the confusion about the trestle and the failure to follow through on announced communications (the DVD) or to respond to requests from HDR raise a question: is the developer in charge, or the state?

Those would be good questions for an oversight hearing on Atlantic Yards.


Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

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…

So, Forest City has some property subject to the future Gowanus rezoning

Writing yesterday, MAP: Who Owns All the Property Along the Gowanus Canal, DNAinfo's Leslie Albrecht lays out the positioning of various real estate players along the Gowanus Canal, a Superfund site:
As the city considers whether to rezone Gowanus and, perhaps, morph the gritty low-rise industrial area into a hot new neighborhood of residential towers (albeit at a fraction of the height of Manhattan's supertall buildings), DNAinfo reviewed property records along the canal to find out who stands to benefit most from the changes.
Investors have poured at least $440 million into buying land on the polluted waterway and more than a third of the properties have changed hands in the past decade, according to an examination of records for the nearly 130 properties along the 1.8-mile canal. While the single largest landowner is developer Property Markets Group, other landowners include Kushner Companies, Alloy Development, Two Trees, and Forest City New York.

Forest City's plans unc…

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…