They also also pledged to hold inter-agency meetings to make sure governmental agencies were on top of things--though the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) new Project Manager seemed fuzzy on a previous pledge to do so.
About 70 people attended, with a good portion of them somehow officially involved, from elected officials' offices, government offices, and the developer. The event was low-key and, though it was allotted two hours, lasted only 90 minutes.
(Above, moderator Carlo Scissura, Borough President Marty Markowitz's chief of staff. Photos by Tracy Collins.)
The big picture
There were a lot of good questions, and a reasonable amount of responsiveness, if not complete candor. There were several questions that were not exactly on topic--the arena plaza design--but they were addressed.
(Also see coverage of MaryAnne Gilmartin's assertion that plaza security procedures will match those at the developer's malls, and her claim that the income ceiling for four-person households would be about $90,000.)
Arana Hankin on ESDC role
Speaking early on was Arana Hankin: "I just joined the Empire State Development Corporation about a month ago, I was working in economic development policy in downstate for a number of years. As Director of the Atlantic Yards Project for the Empire State Development Corporation, my role will be to ensure that the developer abides by not only the Modified General Project Plan, but also the community air monitoring plan, the environmental commitments memo, the development agreement, the design guidelines, and a multitude of other agreements that were executed to ensure that impacts to the surrounding community are as minimal as possible."
"This is a public-private project and the state will continue to play an active role in this project while holding the developer accountable," she continued. "Under my leadership, ESDC will ensure that the obligations and commitments are fulfilled. the ESDC has staff at the site every single day to ensure that the construction site remains safe for construction workers and for pedestrians who are encircling the site. And also to ensure that trucks are using proper truck routes, that the wheels are being cleaned before they leave the site, that the rodent mitigation plans are being implemented properly, that dust does not arise from the site during excavation and demolition, among many other environmental checks and balances that we oversee…. ESDC also works on a regular basis with the city Department of Transportation to mitigate traffic impacts, and we monitor the construction schedule on an ongoing basis."
"Now that construction is under way, it is essential that we are communicating with the community regularly, and we are hearing from you how construction is impacting your neighborhoods, she said. "To that end, Forest City Ratner has agreed to participate in regularly scheduled community forums... ESDC and Forest City Ratner will be working with local electeds and Community Boards to set up community meetings to ensure that the community stays informed and is being heard. The structure and schedule of these meetings will be announced shortly, and we look forward to your participation."
Later, moderator Carlo Scissura, Borough President Marty Markowitz's Chief of Staff, read a question that referred to a pledge made earlier in the session: "Weren't intergovernmental working group meetings supposed to start three years ago; what happened to them?"
Hankin, who probably didn't have that on her radar screen, responded obliquely, "There has been a number of meetings that occurred in the past. Going forward, because of construction obviously is in full swing right now, we're going to be holding regularly scheduled meetings going forward."
Scissura followed up: "I also want to add, as Councilwoman [Letitia] James said earlier, Borough President Markowitz and Councilwoman James, with the support elected officials and Community Boards, will be holding quarterly cabinet-style meetings with all the agencies, with Forest City Ratner, the elected officials, ESDC, and Community Boards. … If someone in the public has a question or a concern, you should bring it to elected officials, or to the Community Boards, and they will bring it to the cabinet meetings. And those will begin, we hope, in mid- to late October."
City Council Members Letitia James and Brad Lander
James, Council Member for the 35th District, spoke after Hankin's first statement above. "A number of us in the community, including myself, have a number of questions and issues and we hope that going forward we can continue the dialogue with Forest City Ratner and ESDC," she said. "I have been working with Borough President Marty Markowitz and his staff to create a mechanism so that construction-related issues can be addressed in a timely fashion. Next month, we will see the first of regular service cabinet meetings bringing together elected officials, Community Boards 2, 6, and 8, Forest City Ratner and ESDC."
"I have reached out to FCR and asked for an update." James continued. "WMBE opportunities for local businesses... local hiring, traffic issues, security issues, issues with respect for open lots, and hopefully they will not be used as parking lots. Strategies on how to address traffic when we have game night. I am hoping and urging Forest City Ratner to have an RFP for local organizations to compete for programs on the plaza."
Note that, while James is an opponent of the project, enough of her constituents want jobs that she feels she must be a watchdog over Forest City Ratner's commitment to hire women and minority workers and women- and minority-owned firms.
"I have been informed that the project's first residential building will have 50/30/20 affordable housing program," James said.
If so, that conforms to the general configuration of the subsidized rental program and appears to be the first of the six scenarios contemplated.
If so, note one tweak. In all three scenarios contemplated in the Housing Memorandum of Understanding Forest City Ratner signed in 2005 with ACORN, 5% of the AY rental units, and thus 10% of the affordable units, would be for households with incomes between 30-40% of Area Median Income. That number has been reduced to 3% (and thus 6% of the affordable units) under Scenario 1.
Lander: need to discuss bigger issues
Brad Lander, Council Member for the 39th District, followed James. "I'm especially encouraged with what we've just heard from the Borough President's office, from the ESDC, and from Council Member James about plans for an ongoing series of dialogues," he said. "But I also want to acknowledges something I feel is an obligation... This is the second time that I'm going to participate in asking you to focus on questions about a particular piece of the project... the public plaza. We did the same some months back around the street closures."
"And I sort of feel an obligation now, because there are a lot of other important questions… about how traffic will be handled… community benefits, the timetable, development moves forward, that are relevant to me," he added. "We're working hard to make sure there's an opportunity... for those broad set things to be heard, discussed, and dialogued…. This is a long haul… It's something we have to figure out how to do together."
Steve Levin, Council Member for the 33rd District, arrived later and spoke briefly.
Forest City Ratner EVP MaryAnne Gilmartin
Gilmartin spoke before architect Gregg Pasquarelli of SHoP. "It's almost exactly a year ago we released the new design images for the Barclays Center arena," Gilmartin said. "Since then we've been working very hard on all aspects of the project, including actual construction of the arena, which began last spring, and other parts."
"First, on the arena and other work under way. The Phase I Long Island Rail Road work is complete, moving the Long Island Rail Road yard to its new location," she said, not mentioning that it's a temporary yard.
"The yard work necessary to put the Carlton Avenue Bridge back in service will be starting this fall and will be complete in time for the arena opening," she said. "There are only two buildings standing on the arena block. Both of them are currently being demolished. We expect the site to be clear in November."
Arena to open in summer
"Foundation work is progressing. Excavation is 75% complete, foundation work is about 40% complete," she continued. "We can see the arena shaping up, with curved walls denoting the shape of the bowl. There is currently steel being fabricated. We will start to erect that steel later this fall."
"We have started work on the new transit entrance that will welcome everyone to the new Barclays Center," she said. "We expect that the Barclays Center will open at some point in the summer of 2012, with basketball being started there that fall."
Construction and employment
"To date, we have awarded $52.6 million in contracts for arena infrastructure, railyard relocation, demolition, and mitigation," she said. "Of this, $21.8 million, or 41%, has been awarded to minority owned firms and 4.2% [sic; she meant $4.2 million], or 8% percent, to women-owned firms."
"The infrastructure work, consisting of $13.9 million, was done entirely by MWBE firms. Today we are exceeding our goals for minority and female hiring... A full 47% of all work on the site to date has done by minority and female construction workers."
Later Gilmartin explained that there were only about 100 workers at the site right now, though obviously other workers have cycled in for projects.
Note that one of the largest of those firms is a well-established woman-owned firm from Long Island, A. Russo Wrecking. In other words, while hiring that firm conforms to the letter of the Community Benefits Agreement and the goals set out in state contracts, it does not necessarily conform to the spirit of the CBA, which aims "to encourage systemic changes in the traditional ways of doing business on large urban development projects."
"Next steps," Gilmartin said. "We are working on B2, a first residential building on the arena block. We hope to announce the architect and the design of that building, which will include affordable housing, in early 2011."
"B1, the office building, will require an anchor tenant before we start construction, as we have said previously," she said. "In the interim, our goal is to create an amazing beautiful place on the plaza."
Gilmartin, aiming to mitigate some of the bad publicity that stemmed from Bruce Ratner's comments at a press event a day earlier. "We explained the possibility that the project might be delayed by economic conditions and be built over a longer period than ten years," she said. "That being said, Forest City's plans for the buildout are as follows. We are currently working on moving forward with the three residential buildings on the arena block.
"We anticipate having funding in place to start the first building at Dean and Flatbush in the spring of 2011, the second six to nine months later, and the third about the same time after that," she said.
Note that the Development Agreement gives them a lot more time--ten years for the third tower to start--before penalties kick in.
"And then we move on the Phase 2, the development of the project east of Sixth Avenue. Let me be clear," she said. "Forest City is a company with great determination and deep roots in Brooklyn. We are 100% committed to delivering the entire Atlantic Yards project and all of its benefits, to the borough of Brooklyn."
(As opposed to benefits to shareholders?)
The next segment is not on video at this point. Gilmartin said the ten-year timetable was established as a feasible building schedule and also as a worst-case scenario for construction impacts. (She didn't mention that, as reported by WNYC, all benefit analyses assumed a ten-year construction period.)
"We are contractually obligated to use commercially reasonable efforts [to advance the project] and we are doing that every single day," she said. (Of course, "commercially reasonable" is a fuzzy term.)
"We all must recognize two significant things happened," she said. "The project was delayed by litigation, and the Great Recession happened to all of us." Thus, they are are working in "a very difficult and different economic environment."
This next segment is on the video. "The project plan, which includes B1, the office building, calls for an enclosed Urban Room, which will be a public space, a transit entrance, and access to the arena," she said.
"Since we will not be building B1 until we have a tenant... we look to turn this plaza, which is a unique pedestrian pocket created by the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues, into a public space that can be used for a variety of different activities, a transit entrance, and still an arrival point for the arena."
"We're very excited about the programming opportunities for this space," she said. "We're looking at the possibility of a farmer's market, movie nights, and other events and festivities. I think you will find SHoP's work interesting from a design standpoint. It complements the great work they've already done on the arena, and it incorporates international influences through many different design directions."
The architect speaks
Gregg Pasquarelli of SHoP Architects then discussed the plaza plan. (His presentation is in two videos.)
"The best way to talk about architecture is to look at drawings," he said, and thus pointed to a series of them.
"Just to summarize, here you see the arena, B2, B3, B4… and right here is the public plaza… as we showed last year, it becomes a kind of entry point… It was very important… that the arena had permeability, transparency, retail spaces, spaces to see in and out, that it wasn't a big wall cutting through the neighborhood."
About the oculus
"The canopy was a critical part of the design.. became a front door... gate, entryway... We wanted something dramatic and civic in its gesture and its scale… we didn't want something that would cast a huge large shadow… one of the ideas we had was to put this oculus or hole in the roof… which would frame views and be an iconic element."
"The oculus is a device used by architects for many many thousands of years," he said. "The oculus that we are looking at is quite large in scale... The inner ring has dynamic signage... as you come through the transit exit, it really frames the building and sky and becomes this iconic part of the design.
About the plaza
"For the plaza, these were the key goals…. we had to negotiate through a very difficult site condition… everything from subway grates to location of the transit entry… DEP sewer easement… and area where the entry to the station has limited amounts of load… we wanted to make sure the standard wide 20 foot New York City sidewalk was continued."
"At the same time, we looked at different types of circulation patters of pedestrians… commuters… fans… and then just local traffic… when you add the three together, it brought a very clear picture to us… one kind of pedestrian activity… and then, on the tip portion, you have more linear kinds of pathways."
"We saw that as a way to think of the plaza in two separate parts," he said. "The idea was that that the three quarters in the front needed to be more of an open plaza… and the place for more seating… would be in the front quarter."
Pasquarelli then compared the size of the plaza, at 39,000 square feet, with graphics of some other plazas/spaces. It seems larger than the plazas associated with Brooklyn Museum, Grand Army Plaza, and Lincoln Center, and smaller than Union Square.
"You see, it's quite a significant space, it's something that's very civic, something we're very excited about the public being engaged with," he said.
"As far as precedents, SHoP does a lot of public space design around the world," he said. "We looked at hundreds of different precedents around the world, spaces in front of arenas, in front of civic buildings…. not only to look at things that work very well, but also the things that don't work very well… and figure out how they can be adapted."
"The current design... one key things about the design of the arena we talked about last year, the court is sunken below ground... keeping this permeability or transparency... from the public space, one can see into the bowl, and can see the scoreboard... something we don't know that's at any other arena, but something that's really fantastic."
"As well this idea of this oculus being this space you can look up through as you're moving around… The canopy goes out between 80 and 90 feet... There's about another 75 feet from the edge to the transit arena… then the transit and seating zone is another 120 feet."
He said they wanted to incorporate the design into a single sculptural element, the transit entrance, and put some green on the roof.
As for paving, they wanted to use a very durable material. "The idea was to look at the different kind of traffic areas and almost map those with different paving systems," he said. "In the area where we have very high traffic, we have a very tight pattern.. the area with the high traffic, it's a tighter, smaller piece... it's very directional… as you get out to the sides.. it's a transition into a more random pattern of concrete paving."
The second video continues Pasquarelli's presentation. He noted that "none of SHoP's work really relies on big bright lights... We believe in a softer, more integrated kind of lighting.... This was a plaza that was a bit of an inspiration to us… embedded lights… Plaza Del Torico Spain.... you don't have large floodlights blinding you... the idea is to use the same patterns, where we would have certain zones where you have more lights and certain zones where you'd have less lights."
He said they were testing four versions of small pin lights, to see how they react in different weather conditions.
He then explained how the sedum roof on the transit entrance would rely on just rainwater. Sedum also would be in the planter boxes, which would have a seating area on the inside.
The plant changes color during the year. "We feel it goes along with the weathering steel, the wood, the concrete paver… something that makes a a beautiful composition and helps to soften what is arguably a tough spot, where Flatbush and Atlantic come together."
"There was some concern about people being able to climb up on this roof, when the Nets win a championship someday… implemented a railing... the seating, itself, parts of Riverside Park South have these kind of very soft seats...also some bench seating out near bus stops."
As for wayfinding and the MTA signage, SHoP is working with the firm Pentagram. "There are four signs, but two types, he said. "One larger one that's out at the tip, really meant as a neighborhood navigation."
There would be three at the edge of the canopy, aimed at directing visitors into the arena itself.
The main sign would be made of the same material as facade of the arena, about nine feet tall, softly lit, with a map of Brooklyn neighborhoods, "and some of the other information needed to direct you into the arena."
"The MTA signage will be what's the same as what's on the Atlantic Terminal," he added.
As for programming at the plaza, Pasquarelli stressed that none of the suggested ideas are specific... Rather, they aim to test the concept of flexibility.
"Forest City Ratner is very interested in working with the community to find out what the right kind of programming is," he said.
"We just looked at examples around the city... whether it's something as simple as cafe seating… Wouldn't it be great to have to have a live digital feed of Prospect Park on the inside of the oculus?"
He said they measured the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket and the Brooklyn Flea, and found that both could fit.
Also possible are fashion shows "or maybe a movie night, which we think would be fantastic… bring chairs, blankets,... you could actually project the film on the inside of the oculus... what would actually happen be determined in the future in combination with the community."
Then, showing an animation from Atlantic and then Flatbush, he addressed a criticism that had been made of some renderings.
"We very specifically didn't want to put a lot of cars into this, because it's complicated to do, and we wanted to be focused on the architecture and design," he said. "So you can either say we're unrealistic or its seven in the morning on Sunday."
He concluded, "We really worked very very hard to work within the parameters, to try and make something that was open, had flexibility, that worked with the arena, that had durable materials, and would be something that people would really embrace, to have this amazing 39,000 square feet of open space."
First round of Q&A
The first question was a tough one: What are the examples of traffic islands as credible urban space?
"It's a good question," responded Pasquarelli. "It's definitely something that's a concern. The one that we thought of right away, a brand new one… just got put in at 9th Avenue between 14th and 15th Street... it's much smaller than this… it is unbelievably successful... people sit there from morning until night, enjoying themselves, meeting people, they even have samba classes on this tiny little traffic island."
"Another thing we thought of is larger spaces that are right next to two large roads," he said.
"When you think of Union Square, which is obviously bigger space… but is on 14th Street and Broadway, which would be two similarly trafficked roads," he said. "There are ways to make great public space that are surrounded by traffic. Is this a bucolic park? No, not at all. It's a plaza, it's urban, and it has a lot of activity on it. But the idea was to make something that was engaging, that people felt really comfortable coming to, that was safe and bright and open."
Why couldn't trees be used as sound buffers?
Pasquarelli said they considered it, but "there's an incredible amount of infrastructure" that deters plants.
As for sound buffering, it's a trade-off in safety.
How will security infrastructure affect pedestrian movement?
"It's only bollards," Pasquarelli replied. "They're spaced, as they are, around many other public buildings in New York."
Atlantic Terminal station has giant boulders, an attendee pointed out.
"We're not making that mistake," responded Forest City Ratner's Jane Marshall. "These are very simple standard bollards, that were approved by the security board and countererrorism."
See more from the Brooklyn Paper, but also note that city police said bollards were not anticipated.
[In the photo above, from left to right: Scissura, James aide Alfredo Chiodo, FCR executive Scott Cantone, Marshall, Gilmartin (facing away from camera), Hankin, and ESDC planner Rachel Shatz (partial view).]
Office tower timing
When will the Building 1 office tower be built? Does the agreement allow for three buildings to be built in first phase without the office tower?
The ESDC's Hankin responded, "Forest City Ratner is required to build all three residential towers in Phase 1. Otherwise they will incur penalties."
The terms are pretty gentle.
"They are also required to build an Urban Room," Hankin added. "They will build the tower on top of the Urban Room once they have secured the tenant."
Another question regarded the security approval process. Marshall said there had been meetings with the Department of Transportation and NYPD's counter-terrorism unit.
Bike storage facility
Where's the bike facility located?
Marshall said it's supposed to be in Building 3, to be located at Sixth Avenue and Dean Street. In the interim, it will be on that site plaza.
(In other words, rather than Freddy's being "an escalator now," it would be a bike parking facility.)
One person asked about the locations of arena entrances and exits. The video shows the response.
There are two entrances on Atlantic Avenue, the primary entrance on the plaza, and a third entrance on Dean Street. (I think that's for VIPs, the people who get to park on the southeast corner of the seat and walk through a residential block.)
The loading dock will be on Dean near Sixth.
Someone asked about the number of public events. "There are about 235 events a year, some multiple in a day, some of them just at night," Marshall responded.
Office tower footprint
A questioner asked about the footprint of the planned office tower.
"The B1 office building will go partially on the tip and will set back partially over the arena, in terms of its bulk," Marshall responded. "The core of the office building could be right in the middle of the oculus, it could be a sky lobby."
"The Urban Room is required to be built there. So the tip is essentially, by design guidelines, a public space anyway," she said. "So this plaza, which is 24/7 public space… there will be an office lobby... but the space, the plaza space, will still be publicly accessible 24/7…and will have similar uses.. but be glass enclosed."
Below the plaza, does the transit center also have a large mezzanine area?
"Yes, it has a very generous area," Marshall responded. "It was sized by transit technical people in terms of volumes of arena traffic... they take into account how wide a turnstile is... I think there are over 12 turnstiles."
Second round of Q&A
When did Forest City Ratner decide not to build B1? If they found an anchor tenant today, how much time would it take?
Gilmartin didn't offer a specific date, but noted that, "with commercial vacancy rates in New York City exceeding 10%, and the replacement cost of what it takes to build an office building and the rents that one could charge, the economic equation does not pencil out."
"That means that we will wait for the recovery of the commercial office market, which in New York City tends to be cyclical--it could be five years, it could be eight years," she said. "It's very difficult to know when that moment is."
"It depends on what's happening in downtown and midtown Manhattan.," she said, in a statement that's not on the video.
Her conclusion: "It's very difficult to imagine anytime soon that the office rents that one could charge in Brooklyn would justify new construction."
An audience member asked if there would be another exit from the transit hub to serve the residential buildings.
No. "One does not have to come out of that exit," Gilmartin pointed out. Indeed, Building 3, and maybe 2 and 4, are closer to the Bergen Street station on the 2/3 line.
Impact of construction
An audience member said that the state review indicated that construction on the arena block would result in significant adverse impacts on the Dean Playground just east of Sixth Avenue. "How can this function as a usable public space?"
The ESDC's Shatz responded. "I believe the noise impacts being referred to were not only during construction but during operation of the project. In this case, Forest City plans to build their residential towers sequentially," Shatz said.
"So there will not be the cumulative construction noise impact of 2, 3, and 4 simultaneously," she said. "Also, you can see that the arena does buffer these 2, 3, and 4 sites."
Still, she acknowledged the bottom line: "It is in the confluence of two major avenues. You're going to have noise from traffic, it's an urban space, it can't be avoided."
From the Final Environmental Impact Statement:
Three open spaces would experience temporary significant adverse impacts from construction-related noise. The Brooklyn Bear’s Pacific Street Community Garden would be impacted during 2008 and 2009 from construction on Site 5, the Dean Playground would be impacted over three years (2008, 2009, and 2011) from construction of the arena block and Building 15, and South Oxford Park would be impacted from 2008 through 2012; however, with respect to the Dean Playground, the impact would be partially mitigated by the provision of an amenity to the park users.That reflected the original construction schedule, which did have all three towers being built at the same time.
When will street trees be planted?
Streetscape design and street furniture all gets vetted by the security working group, which involves several agencies, said Marshall.
The "entire package is part of the opening condition of the arena... obviously it's called site work, technically, but we think of it as streetscape."
Marshall said participants debated putting in trees in planters but decided they "are not a very attractive sidewalk treatment, and they obstruct traffic."
Why "dynamic" signage? Isn't it more civic to have something more esthetic and timeless?
"Well, it's an arena," responded Pasquarelli. "There's going to be a need to for signage… to have it be changeable. I think that placement in the oculus actually contains it. It could be events going on inside... it could be an art installation, it could be graphic color."
He offered some perspective. "When you think about signage on arenas around… the world, this is one that's much more like a piece of art, or an art installation, than would be typically found on an arena, and is something we absolutely were pushing for… to make something more subtle and and integrated into the building and more internally facing rather than blasting out at the neighborhoods."
Actually, signage on the Urban Room--150 feet high and 75 feet wide--might just do that. This would not be on that scale.
Would the arena have solid walls diminishing neighborhood life?
"You've got the bases of residential buildings surrounding a good portion of the perimeter of the site," Pasquarelli said, pointing to retail and restaurants.
(Of course, they have to be built.)
How many local people have been hired?
"Our agreement is that one out of every four union jobs on site will be available to the community," responded Gilmartin. "And, um, the definition of the community--minority jobs for the community--of those jobs, because it's not just the Community Boards that were mentioned, 2, 6, and 8--approximately 40% of the one in four jobs have been jobs that have been held by folks in those three community boards."
(Here's the Community Benefits Agreement; I don't see quite that specificity.)
"Right now, job numbers obviously are less than what they will be, as construction gets full throttle with the arena," she said, "our commitment in the one in four jobs being available to minorities and community residents is our commitment and we'll continue to honor that commitment."
Can you give an idea of the number now?
"There are approximately 100 people working on the site now, and there 40 jobs that have been made available to minorities under our agreement," Gilmartin said. "Of those 40 local jobs, not just the community boards in the area, 19 have been from 2, 6, and 8... Those are roughly the numbers."
Third round of Q&A
What happens in interim conditions?
Marshall responded, "The existing elevation for building 4 is low-grade, by about 15 feet, so that condition will remain. Also, the Long Island Rail Road's substation is remaining there until we build the future phases of the yard. There are three more phases of the yard. Phase 2 is to begin in November, to open the Carlton Avenue Bridge [due by arena opening]; then we go into Phase 3 and Phase 4, and I believe the substation is scheduled to be moved at the end of Phase 2 and the beginning of Phase 3, approximately until the arena opens. That below-grade condition will exist, at least until the arena opens and then when we design and build Building 4, at that time, there will be a residential entrance on 6th Avenue and retail, probably some on Atlantic."
"For Building 3, that's dirt right now, it's at grade, and we are are decide some sort of plaza, which have a bike facility on it," she said. "We haven't designed it yet. We are required to have 400 bikes, the capacity to allow people to park and lock their bikes... If we start to develop Building 3, we'll have to find another space for 400 bikes, and in that case it will be a construction site and not a plaza."
Have you considered elevated pedestrian bridge over Atlantic Avenue?
Shatz responded, "Yes, I believe we did consider that, when we were developing traffic mitigation… As I recall it, because of the existing constraints of the traffic geometry and network, it was determined not to be feasible."
Other questions (not on the video) involved whether the Dean Street bike lane would be eliminated (no) and where to sign up for the affordable housing (contact the Community Liaison Office: 866-923-5315 or firstname.lastname@example.org).