Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What happened to the two "central" and "critical" towers closest to the transit hub? Never mind

The demise of Frank Gehry's arena block design, and the realignment of the planned arena from a diagonal to a north-south placement casts significant doubt on the future of Building 1 (aka Miss Brooklyn), the office tower (with attached Urban Room, now missing from renderings, below) once destined for the western wedge between Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, as well as the tower at the western point of the footprint, Site 5.

They once were "central" and "critical" to the project and thus, presumably, to the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) approval, so we'll have to see what emerges when the ESDC releases a revision of the Modified General Project Plan (GPP) at its meeting June 23.

(The graphic above is outdated; click to enlarge.)

Forest City Ratner and the ESDC should be asked about the fate of both Building 1 and the tower at Site 5, the site now occupied by P.C. Richard and Modell's, bounded by Pacific Street and Flatbush, Atlantic, and Fourth avenues. Neither appear in the latest renderings (right) of the arena block.

From the GPP

From the Modified GPP approved in December 2006 (p. 11):
The development of both Site 5 and Building 1, with high density buildings, is central to the goal of the Project to transform this very public and prominent area by creating architecturally significant buildings that would ring, and be connected to, the transit hub, and by developing uses that would activate and create a vibrant streetscape experience for the public.

Site 5 and Building 1 play critical roles in achieving these goals. The subway entrance on 4th Avenue and Pacific Street would serve the new Site 5 development. 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. As reflected in the Design Guidelines, from an urban design perspective, the density and massing of these two new buildings were developed to relate to the existing landmarked Williamsburgh Savings Bank building, which is also connected to the transit hub to the north. The Williamsburgh Savings Bank building and Building 1 would be the most prominent structures visible to the public from the north, south and west and would interact with each other when viewed from different perspectives.


Site 5 already by the wayside

When, in May 2008, new Gehry designs for the arena block were released, they omitted any rendering of Site 5. Despite the claim in the GPP that the building played a critical role, the ESDC shrugged off the apparent delay.

ESDC spokesman Warner Johnston told me in May 2008, "Site 5 was never contemplated to be one of the first buildings and will be done in a future phase."

He's right that that buildings on the arena block, rather than across Flatbush Avenue, were the first buildings expected in Phase 1. However, Site 5 has long been part of Phase 1.

Given that the City and State Funding Agreements signed in September 2007 give the developer 12 years (after the delivery of property via eminent domain) to build 1.5 million square feet in Phase 1---some 44% smaller than promised less than a year earlier--it's possible that nothing will be built on Site 5.

But the ESDC still would be able to exercise eminent domain.

Arena block configuration coming soon?

The Modified GPP also indicates that the configuration of the arena block, at least the version designed by Frank Gehry, would be set at the time of construction:
The Arena will either be the first or second building on which construction would begin within Phase I. However, because of site constraints and construction phasing requirements, it is expected that components of the various improvements on the Arena Block will be constructed within the same phase. Thus, while the Arena is being constructed, below grade components of the other buildings and portions of the infrastructure will also be constructed.

Does this mean that we'll know on June 23 what buildings are planned, given the indications from infrastructure? Or could the new design support buildings that aren't as connected to the arena and its infrastructure?

Great architecture promised

Keep in mind that, according to Forest City Ratner's bid to the MTA for the Vanderbilt Yard (see p. 61 of this PDF):
Forest City recognized early on that great architecture was an imperative for this exceptional site. In December 2003, noted architect Frank Gehry agreed to work with Forest City to design the proposed new Arena and a Master Plan including housing, office space, retail space, and open space. Gehry teamed up with the renowned landscape designer Laurie Olin to develop concepts for the public open spaces.

In the Master Plan, Gehry and his team have been careful to balance the needs of existing communities with those of the people who will live, work in, or visit the new complex, and attend events at the Arena.


(Click to enlarge)

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