Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Traffic-free plaza unveiled, with bollards (despite NYPD claim), but the big story concerns Ratner's timetable admissions; the Times whiffs

The big news yesterday, led by the Brooklyn Paper and WNYC, was not the publication of oddly traffic-free Barclays Center plaza designs with a new subway entrance and the giant oval oculus at the center (remember, there's a meeting tonight at 6 pm), but Bruce Ratner's admission he has no timetable for the project.

As WNYC's Matthew Schuerman pointed out, "the city, state and Forest City all conducted or commissioned economic impact analyses that assumed a 10-year build out."

(I've previously pointed out that such analyses, such as the one conducted by the New York City Economic Development Corporation, depend on an over-optimistic ten-year time frame. And note the "vaportecture" in the official renderings, by SHoP Architects.)

And, Schuerman noted, "Ratner’s associates repeatedly used the 10-year time frame in talking to the press and the public." (I also pointed to Ratner's 2010 contradiction of his 2008 op-ed as well as a changing story regarding the first tower. But I wasn't allowed into the press conference.)

New York Magazine's Chris Smith also noticed that the contrast between the "unveiling" of a plaza versus the planned office tower, as well as the suspended timetable.

DDDB response

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn issued a press release:
"Ratner's not-so-pretty drawings of a barricaded, exhaust-enveloped plaza—including the absurd rendered fantasy of a traffic-less Atlantic and Flatbush intersection—is not the Atlantic Yards news of the day. The news of the day, which is not surprising but is very troubling, is that Bruce Ratner admitted that he has no plans whatsoever to build the affordable housing he promised or the office tower he promised. It is crystal clear that Atlantic Yards is nothing but a scam, a money-losing arena, surrounded by massive parking lots, in the middle of a housing and unemployment crisis," said Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn co-founder Daniel Goldstein.
(Note that Goldstein is exercising the free speech rights he didn't sign away, though he agreed to step down as DDDB spokesman--whatever that means in this context--as part of the settlement he signed in April.)

Bollards, meet Oculus

No one but No Land Grab's Eric McClure noticed that the design includes bollards that police said wouldn't be necessary.

Still, in New plans for Brooklyn Atlantic Yards project released, the New York Post's Rich Calder offered some skepticism:
Greg Pasquarelli, a partner at ShoP Architects, which designed the plaza, told the Post he "wouldn’t be shocked" if the next big community fight regarding the Atlantic Yards project "is to save the Oculus" once people get to use it.

But it’s still a far cry from the rising public atrium, or "Urban Room," that fronted a glass-walled arena in star architect Frank Gehry’s original design for Atlantic Yards.

Calder even checked on the claim that the plaza could house the Brooklyn Flea:

But he may have been jumping the gun. Jonathan Butler, the flea market’s co-owner, said he "never met Bruce Ratner — nor has anyone from his team approached us about this idea."

"The central location is clearly attractive from a market organizer’s standpoint, but I suspect the traffic situation would pose some logistical challenges," said Butler, sarcastically adding: "I could definitely use some advice on obtaining tax-free bond financing for our tents though."
Arena delays?

The Record's John Brennan raised the possibility that the arena wouldn't open in time for the 2012 season as scheduled, in Ratner says Barclays Arena will be ready for Nets' 2012-13 season:
Ratner estimated an opening date of "July or August of 2012," but he was asked whether the Nets might play any games in Newark in 2012 if the arena isn't finished on time.

"The answer is that we are going to finish on time," the developer replied. "Nothing is ever 100 percent, but in the construction area, things go pretty smoothly. And we left ourselves some time between July and Nov. 1, so I don't think that's going to be an issue."

Ratner added that he and other arena executives "hadn't really approached" backup plans if construction lags. But the Nets' deal to play two seasons in the Prudential Center in Newark, starting this fall, contains an option to play in Newark in 2012-13 if necessary.
The Times whiffs

The New York Times's Charles Bagli was particularly accommodating, writing, in Latest Design Is Unveiled for Atlantic Yards Plaza:
The developer Bruce C. Ratner on Tuesday unveiled the latest design for a large public plaza and subway entrance to accompany the $900 million Nets arena he is building near Downtown Brooklyn, saying the plaza would “quickly become one of Brooklyn’s great public spaces.”
Actually, there was barely an "earlier design" for a plaza, because it was a pretty general rendering. They never previously claimed to be unveiling a particular plaza design.

Bagli also wrote:
Mr. Ratner, chief executive of Forest City Ratner, took possession of the 22-acre Atlantic Yards property in May, after years of delay and community opposition.
First, enough with the personalization. Ratner didn't take possession of anything. More importantly, there are several properties in Phase II of the project that have not been subject to eminent domain and thus are not owned by the state and leased to Ratner.

Bagli also wrote:
It has been clear for some time that he would not be able to complete the project within the original 10-year time frame.
Sure, it's been clear to anyone who took a look, but the state has claimed in court that the ten-year timetable was reasonable, and Ratner has always said his firm aimed to complete the project in ten years. (Ratner wouldn't complete it himself, will he?)

As the graphic at left suggests (click to enlarge), I have three comments pending, on the timetable, the "possession" of the site, and the failure to disclose the Times Company's business relationship with Forest City Ratner.

While the other two dailies included print coverage, the Times did not.

Staying on message

Some other coverage emphasized the message of the day. The Daily News, in Plans for public plaza outside new Nets arena unveiled, set to open in 2012, reported:
Developer Bruce Ratner can't predict when a massive office tower planned for the Atlantic Yards project will go up - but in the mean time, he'll build a sweeping public plaza outside his new Nets arena.
Office tower assured?

The New York Observer accepted some Ratner optimism, in Fashion Week Coming to Atlantic Yards?:
Though it will someday be capped by a sizable office tower, a new SHoP-designed public plaza at the entrance to the under-construction Brooklyn Nets arena was unveiled today. The key features of the roughly 39,000-square-foot plaza are a greenroof-capped subway entrance and a large oculus at the prow of the arena with programmable, wrap-around displays. Everything from live game footage to Prospect Park live-cams has been contemplated.
It may be capped by an office tower, but that's not certain.

EB-5 visa program proven?

The Observer's Matt Chaban was the only reporter to mention the EB-5 visa angle:
Mr. Ratner briefly addressed reports by the Altantic Yards Report about the sale of visas to attract investment to the project, saying it is a proven program dating to the 1990s.
A proven program in this case?

Dutiful Crain's

Crain's reported, in New Atlantic Yards Barclays Center plaza unveiled:
Mr. Ratner is hoping that the plaza will serve as public space for the Brooklyn community since it could also eventually be used for outdoor cafés, a farmers' market, a flea market or outdoor movies.

An oculus in the canopy of the arena will stand over part of the plaza, allowing light to come in, “like at the Pantheon in Rome,” said Gregg Pasquarelli of SHoP Architects, which worked on the plaza design.

The plaza will be temporary though, as the goal is to eventually build an office building instead. But its construction will depend on the economy and on a rebound of the office space market.

Unmentioned: a good chunk of the promised tax revenues would depend on the office tower.

What about the traffic?

From NY1, with video:
Developers say once the Barclays Center is complete in two years, there will be minimal traffic in the heavily congested area and also a spacious public plaza with views right into the Nets basketball arena.

...It's expected to be welcoming not only for those attending a game but also for shoppers and commuters. The plaza features a new exit from the Atlantic/Pacific Street subway station and the LIRR.
The voiceover more accurately said "their animation shows minimal traffic in this heavily congested area..."

Actually, the exit does not link to the LIRR unless LIRR commuters pay a subway fare.

Another look at traffic

DDDB combined a low-traffic rendering with the video I took of traffic on the day of the Atlantic Antic, an unusually congested day.

Brue Ratner and SHoP Architects Greg Pasquarelli's fever dream of Atlantic/Flatbush traffic:


Video of the real thing:


The press release

FCRC and SHoP Architects Release New Design Images of Plaza and Barclays Center

(Brooklyn, NY) - September 28, 2010 - Forest City Ratner Companies, the developer of Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, and SHoP Architects today released the new design for the Plaza at the Barclays Center at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues.

The Plaza, which will serve as the primary entryway to the arena, integrates a new transit entrance with environmentally conscious landscaping, intimate seating areas and flexible open space that can be used for community programming and arena events. The Plaza will be sponsored by ADT, one of the founding partners of the BarclaysCenter.

"The Plaza at the Barclays Center will quickly become one of Brooklyn's great public spaces," said Bruce Ratner, Chairman and CEO of Forest City Ratner Companies. "The Plaza will create a new destination while also allowing for a smooth flow of pedestrian traffic to and from the arena as well as to the many subway lines at the Atlantic Avenue subway station. The unique transit entrance, along with the Sedum room and plantings and distinctive pavement that will create the experience of diverse walkways, will establish the Plaza as an iconic part of the larger Brooklyn landscape."

The Plaza is 38,885 square feet, 74 percent open space and 26 percent soft landscape and seating, primarily around the transit entrance that will serve as the centerpiece of the Plaza. As part of the design preparation for the plaza area, SHoP Architects conducted significant research of public space designs around the world to incorporate best practices related to movement, lighting, and sustainability.Â

"The remarkable pedestrian pocket created by the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues is a natural transit way," SHoP's Gregg Pasquarelli said. "The Sedum roof transit entrance, along with the Sedum planters, will signify the importance of mass transit to this area of Brooklyn as well as to the entire City. The use of greenery will also allow for a changing, seasonal look in terms of color and an element of natural warmth in an otherwise very urban setting."

In designing the Plaza, SHoP looked at multiple uses of the plaza, including local, commuter and fan traffic and then analyzed how these pedestrian communities interacted under different use scenarios. In addition, the architects had to incorporate into the design security and safety issues, including weight load restrictions for the area over the subway station. "It is the diversity of movement and use that gives a public space a unique feel," Pasquarelli said. "We wanted to capture that movement in our design features and also enhance that movement and the experience of the space by using materials that seem natural to the different parts of the plaza."

Mr. Pasquarelli explained as well that the design features for the space offer exciting possibilities when B1, the office building slated for the tip, along with the building's open urban room, is introduced sometime in the future.

The roof of the transit entrance, along with two-semi rings of planters that wrap around the entrance, will be planted with Sedum, a large genus of flowering plants that are known as stonecrops. The plants, which are indigenous to the northern hemisphere, will create a living, wave like ambiance and provide seasonal colors. The planters closest to the transit entrance will also include curved, Ipe seat benches. The planters, along with other benches at the periphery of the plaza, will be reinforced for security and traffic safety.

The architects designed as well three different types of pavement treatment to reflect the different use areas along the plaza: sidewalk space, a random mix of concrete pavements, and a concrete carpet that will run from the transit entrance to the arena.

In-ground lighting will also illuminate sections of the plaza, providing additional directional assistance as well as creating distinctive areas within the plaza. The Barclays Center Oculus, which will extend over a 5,660 square foot section of the plaza closest to the arena, is 117 feet by 56 feet and 36 feet from the top of the plaza paving. The Oculus will also contain a state-of-the-art display screen that can be programmed for games, events and other activities on the plaza.

"We of course want the Plaza to function well as a gateway to the Barclays Center," Mr. Ratner said. "But it was also designed much like a park so it can be programmed for community events and diverse activities, such as a greenmarket and holiday fairs."

Images from the press preview are available at http://arena.shoparc.com/. Username is PressRelease and the password is Arena2010.

The architects will also present the design review at a public meeting tomorrow, September 29, 2010 from 6 to 8:00 p.m. at Brooklyn Borough Hall in the Court Room.

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