Saturday, July 31, 2010

What's missing in Phase 1? The Construction Coordination Center at Sixth Avenue

On the northeast side of Dean Street east of Sixth Avenue, three of five houses once destined for eminent domain and demolition still stand, a testament to changed arena block plans.

In the original Atlantic Yards plan, Forest City Ratner sought a 100-foot plot of land just east of Sixth Avenue, as I wrote in August 2006, for staging and temporary parking, before serving as the site for the last building constructed.

But a changed arena design, and an abandonment of any plan to build four surrounding towers in four years, means that the need for surface parking and staging is less.

Moreover, FCR and the Empire State Development Corporation avoid potential eminent domain cases against homeowners, and the developer gets to save cash flow by having condemnation for the project proceed in stages.

The lost Construction Coordination Center

Below, from the November 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), a now out-of-date graphic that identifies the site as a Construction Coordination Center.

Now such work is being done from Block 1129, the southeast block of the project site, bounded by Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues and Dean and (what was once) Pacific streets.
Fig17-2 FEIS Construction

At heart of Pollard's challenge to Senator Montgomery, charter schools (and big bucks from charter school proponents)

I got a mailing the other day from Mark Pollard, who's challenging 13-term incumbent state Senator Velmanette Montgomery in the 18th District, which includes Atlantic Yards.

What it doesn't say is that the contest is significantly about charter schools, given that charter school proponents from outside Brooklyn have contributed a large majority of his $87,385 war chest.

(The candidates allso differ on Atlantic Yards, but I didn't see any AY backers contributing to Pollard yet, other than $25 contributions from Delia Hunley-Adossa, chair of the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement Coalition and head of the potemkin Brooklyn Endeavor Experience, and her daughter Saadia. Hunley-Adossa last year challenged incumbent 35th District City Council Member Letitia James, a Montgomery ally.)

Mark Pollard Mailer 27 July

According to the two-page mailer, which doesn't mention Montgomery by name, attorney Pollard is running against the dysfunctional government in Albany, blaming the incumbent for being part of the problem.

He's concerned about small business and health care, second chances for nonviolent offenders, and protecting and expanding educational opportunities.

Who isn't? Montgomery's concerned about those things too.

The charter school money people

Most if not all of the big contributors in the screenshot at right (click to enlarge) are charter school backers.

Let's let Tom Robbins of the Village Voice take it away, in NYC's Charter School Grudge Match: The charter movement's money men target Harlem's Perkins:
But even after their victory, pro-charter advocates decided that their cause would best be served by taking a few scalps to teach future foes not to mess with them. This is no idle dream of political payback. Charter schools have become an adopted cause for a clutch of wealthy hedge fund managers who are fueling campaigns aimed at winning friends and taking out perceived enemies. Already in this election cycle, the deep-pocketed investors have shelled out more than $500,000 to a range of state and national candidates. In the State Senate races, they held a couple of meet-and-greets last month for potential candidates to see if they could handle their missions.

One reception was held at the home of R. Boykin Curry IV, who lives in Trump Parc on Central Park South. Curry helped found two charter schools. He has earned enough from managing other people's money to have bought a chunk of the coast of the Dominican Republic, where he wants to open a "creative person's utopia," as he told The New Yorker a couple of years ago. Guests at his soiree included a few dozen charter school backers, many of them investment managers.

Invited for inspection were Basil Smikle, a political consultant running against [Sen. Bill] Perkins; Mark Pollard, a Brooklyn lawyer challenging Montgomery; and Lynn Nunes, a Queens businessman trying to defeat [Sen. Shirley] Huntley.

...Pollard said he was already thinking of running when the invitation came.

...They're responsible for $80,000 of the $145,000 Smikle has raised; $83,000 of Nunes's $155,000 total receipts; and $65,000—a whopping 70 percent—of Pollard's campaign donations.
On Montgomery

Montgomery has [updated] raised $177,173.60 since 11/7/06, the date when she was last re-elected, with a significant haul from unions and other groups that do business in Albany. As Robbins explained it, the charter school backers are fighting "the dues-rich teachers' unions—the state's largest political funder." He writes:
Montgomery is the polar opposite of the mouthy Huntley. She's been quietly plugging away since 1986 on women's and criminal justice issues in the legislature, work that finally started to pay off when the Democrats won a majority. Her apparent offense to the charter backers is that she piped up with a few questions at the legislative hearing chaired by Perkins in late April. Pollard, a former prosecutor, said that, other than charters, his biggest gripe with Montgomery is that she has stayed too long. "No disrespect," he said, "but after 25 years, it's time for new, energetic leadership."
Pollard's right that any veteran deserves a challenge, and I'd like to see a debate, as long as they come clean about who they're serving.

The political fallout, and the AY angle

In May, City Hall News reported Vote On Charter Schools Questioned, Sen. Montgomery Gets A Challenger. The article noted that Pollard:
Pollard expects the United Federation of Teachers to back Montgomery, but is confident charter school proponents will energize his campaign, like parents of local Kings Collegiate Charter School, which recently played host to Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Pollard also hopes to win the support of Assembly member Bill Boynard and trade unions alienated by Montgomery’s opposition to the Atlantic Yards development.

But so far, most of the political establishment is backing Montgomery. Although Pollard used to work for Al Vann, the Council member is backing Montgomery, saying in a statement to City Hall that, “I think it is unwise for someone with no track record to run against her.”

Friday, July 30, 2010

Wiggle room: In FEIS graphics, ESDC suggested Flatbush Ave. lane closures would be temporary, but text was ambiguous (& referred only to utility work)

So, did the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) study the impact on Flabush Avenue traffic of the need to build a lay-by lane for the arena and thus upgrade Metropolitan Transportation Authority subway vent structures?

On July 27, when I reported on the announcement of a "temporary" 17-month lane closure on Flatbush between Dean Street and Atlantic Avenue, I suggested no.

That morning, I asked the ESDC if it had been studied in the November 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) or the June 2009 Technical Memorandum and whether ESDC had documentation on the rationale for the change and estimates of its potential impact.

Yesterday morning, I got an answer, and it deserves a close look.

Essentially, the text of the ESDC documents left enough wiggle room for the closure currently planned, but the attached graphics indicated that Flatbush Avenue lane closures would be temporary.

The asterisk, however, is the FEIS mentioned only the impact of utility work, not the upgrade of vent structures.

Intermittent closure

The ESDC stated:
The FEIS disclosed that the construction work for the Atlantic Yards Project would result in significant adverse traffic impacts due principally to bridge and lane closures during the construction period. See, e.g., FEIS at 17-38. More specifically, the FEIS disclosed that the construction work would likely result in the closure of a travel lane on Flatbush Avenue. See, e.g., FEIS at 17-44 & FEIS Figure 17a-2.
FEIS Figure 17a-2 is embedded below in full and excerpted at right. Yes, it indicated closure of a travel lane on Flatbush, but an intermittent closure.

Looking at the text

The text of Chapter 17, Construction Impacts, however, is more ambiguous. On p. 38 it indicates that lane disruptions would be a contributor to adverse traffic impacts:
The detailed construction traffic analysis shows that significant adverse traffic impacts would occur at numerous locations throughout the construction period. However, these impacts would be attributable primarily to factors other than the added traffic from construction trucks and worker vehicles. The permanent closure of several streets within the project site, the lane disruptions during utility installation and rail yard improvements, and the reconstruction of two bridges over the rail yard were determined to be the main reasons for changes in area travel patterns and traffic diversions. These traffic diversions, when combined with construction- generated traffic, would concentrate traffic at specific intersections near the project site and result in the projected significant adverse traffic impacts.
...As described below, all significant adverse traffic impacts identified at the outlying intersections would be mitigated by the early implementation of proposed mitigation measures. However, certain significant adverse traffic impacts identified at 10 intersections adjacent to the project site would remain unmitigated.
On p. 44, it refers to utility work, which I don't think is the same as vent structures:
During the first half of this construction phase, substantial utility work would continue, requiring the closure of curb lanes along Atlantic Avenue between Flatbush and Cumberland Avenues, and Flatbush Avenue between Atlantic Avenue and Dean Street, as reflected in the preliminary MPT plan shown in Figure 17a-8... Along the east side of Flatbush Avenue between Atlantic Avenue and Dean Street, utility installation would require the temporary taking of the curb lane. To maintain peak traffic flow along Flatbush Avenue, this closure may need to be limited to only off-peak or nighttime hours. The appropriate MPT for this roadway segment would be determined in consultation with DOT.
(Emphases added)

At left is an excerpt from Figure 17a-8, which indicates a right-late closure in off-peak hours.

However, as noted in the text, a limited closure was merely contemplated as a possibility, not as a certainty.

Leaving wiggle room

The ESDC message referenced the contemplated MPT (Maintenance and Protection of Traffic):
The FEIS indicated that the "appropriate MPT for this roadway segment would be determined in consultation with DOT." Consistent with the FEIS, NYCDOT reviewed and approved the MPT for Flatbush Avenue. To minimize the potential for traffic impacts, instead of reducing the northbound movement of Flatbush Avenue to two lanes during the morning rush hour, the MPT provides for three travel lanes for the north bound side of Flatbush Avenue during the morning rush hour and three travel lanes for the south bound side of Flatbush Avenue during the evening rush hour. ESDC's environmental consultant (HDR) reviewed the NYCDOT-approved MPT and determined it to be reasonable from a traffic standpoint, in light of the FEIS disclosures, the traffic volume data for the affected roadways, and the analysis presented in the Technical Memorandum, which analyzed the hypothetical impacts of reducing a segment of Flatbush Avenue to two lanes during the pre-game and post-game periods, in which traffic volumes are comparable to or exceed the traffic volumes anticipated during the construction period in which the MPT will be in effect. The traffic engineers for the project will monitor the roadway network after implementation of the MPT to determine whether any adjustments to the MPT are warranted.
(Emphases added)

Given that the city and state reviewed an MPT, that suggests it was prepared by a consultant for developer Forest City Ratner.

The term "reasonable" is the magic word that indicates to judges, if faced with reviewing the decision by an agency like the ESDC, that they should not substitute their judgment.

Also, note that the Technical Memorandum's analysis of "the hypothetical impacts of reducing a segment of Flatbush Avenue to two lanes during the pre-game and post-game periods" refers to a segment below Fifth Avenue, so not the same as the segment that will soon have a closure:
A screening analysis was performed to identify the potential for the absence of a lay-by lane south of 5th Avenue to result in new significant adverse traffic impacts at the Flatbush Avenue/5th Avenue intersection. The analysis focuses on the weekday and Saturday pre-game and post-game peak hours when the highest amount of curbside pick-up and drop-off activity adjacent to the arena is expected to occur. As a worst-case condition for this screening analysis, the northbound Flatbush Avenue approach was assumed to operate with only two moving lanes approaching 5th Avenue, a condition that would occur if vehicles were to illegally stop in the curbside lane.... With only two travel lanes, northbound Flatbush Avenue at the Flatbush Avenue/5th Avenue intersection would continue to operate at an acceptable LOS B or C in all pre-game and post-game peak hours when demand for curbside space adjacent to the arena is expected to be greatest.
Construction Impacts chapter and Technical Memorandum

17 Construction Impacts FEIS

Technical Memorandum June 2009

FEIS graphics

Fig17a-1 Construction

Fig17a-2

Fig17a-3 Construction FEIS

Fig17a-4 Construction FEIS

Fig17a-5 Construction FEIS

Fig17a-6 Construction FEIS

Fig17a-7 Construction FEIS

Fig17a-8 Construction FEIS

Photos and video: construction work near Flatbush Avenue and subway

Excavation work on the arena block will come very close to the subway below Flatbush Avenue--remember, the arena wall would be less than seven feet away. Raul Rothblatt took some photos of ongoing work yesterday.





And here's his video, shot from the Sixth Avenue Bridge, looking west toward Flatbush.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Phone calls from Utah firm about Atlantic Yards: is Pacific Crest Research back? and is this about the Senate race or just AY p.r.?

It looks like the shadowy, Utah-based polling firm Pacific Crest Research (PCR) may be back and involved in tapping/shaping public opinion about Atlantic Yards.

From Brooklynian, selected comments:
  • just got off the phone with someone, based in utah, who peppered me with a lot of questions about the yards project, and whether i agree that forest city ratner's doing a great thing for the slope and the community as a whole. i assume ratner's paying for the survey since many of the questions seemed tilted in his favor.. but i had some free time, and it was a very cathartic experience....still, to be doing a survey like this, the developers must be really worried about something.
  • I took the survey and it was obviously sponsored by Ratner. I told the guy that I really shouldn't be taking the survey as my husband used to work for FCR and says the affordable housing phase of the project ain't never gonna happen.
  • I took the survey too and also think it was sponsored by Ratner. Whenever they asked whether finding out something positive e.g., about job creation changed my mind, I just responded that I didn't believe any of it (the good stuff) would happen.
The background

None of the commenters on Brooklynian mentioned the name of the firm, but the Utah connection offers a significant hint. Remember, in 2006, I got two calls from the company, the second “a very brief public opinion survey on some very interesting issues in Brooklyn.”

The second wasn’t a push-poll, since there was no attempt to present new information and sway me about a candidate or an issue. But the topic was mainly the highly contested 11th Congressional District race and the signs pointed to developer Forest City Ratner as the entity concerned enough to ask such questions.

Why now?

It could be that FCR is simply trying to gauge public opinion in anticipation, for example, of the its next phase of p.r. statements regarding the project.

It could be that FCR is trying to help candidates such as Mark Pollard, who's challenging incumbent state Senator Velmanette Montgomery, an Atlantic Yards opponent (though the big backing for Pollard in that race comes from charter school proponents).

After all, in one 2006 call, I was asked some general questions, but most focused on the race between last-minute challenger Tracy Boyland and Montgomery.

Or maybe it's another client with another motive.

Who's Pacific Crest Research?

It was very difficult four years ago to learn much about the company. As I wrote, I asked a supervisor who’d commissioned the poll. He said staffers aren’t told, and that only the president of the Pacific Crest Research knows. His name is Matt Hewitt.

And guess what--the link above to the PCR website (which once indicated a Fairfield, CA address) no longer works.

But the company is still in business, according to the screenshot at right from the Utah Department of Commerce.

Prokhorov on cover of Russian Forbes, spinning team purchase; in Letters page of USA Today, saluting LeBron James

The Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, principal owner of the New Jersey Nets, is on the cover of Forbes Russia’s August “Stars and Money ” issue, which contains a subtitle: “Mikhail Prokhorov and American Basketball: Who Will Be the Winner?”

Note that Prokhorov claims he bought the Nets for $200 million, which is inaccurate, as it refers only to the direct cash payment. As summarized by Sports Business Journal via NetsDaily in March:
As reported, Prokhorov's Onexim Group has agreed to put down $200 million in cash; assume about $180 million in franchise debt from Forest City Enterprises, Bruce Ratner's parent company; eat $60 million in costs--including losses--sustained while the team remains in New Jersey; and purchase up to $106 million in junk bonds needed to finance Barclays Center infrastructure, for a total of around $550 million.
In the end, Prokhorov put less money down, offering a $75.8 million loan rather than, as reported, buying $106 million in taxable bonds.

From Russian Forbes

The article, titled “I Told America I Come in Peace” contains the following highlights, translated by njnets.com:
* “I hope that this asset, which I bought for $200 million, will be worth at least $1 billion in five years. We got in at the right time.”

* “Brooklyn is a country unto itself. Even the Americans themselves say that. It’s the center of immigration. It has a unique energy to it. Tens of millions of people who now live in the US came through Brooklyn. When I’ve travelled around to different cities, people have come up to me and said, ‘We’re Brooklynites.’ Give us a great Nets team and we’ll root for them.'”

* “The structure of the deal is such that, before the move to Brooklyn, we plan to have a certain budget deficit. That’s built in. But from the time we move to Brooklyn, the team becomes profitable.”

* On what the profit will be in two years:

“Around $20 milllion. That’s a conservative estimate.”

* On Phil Jackson being interested in Nets’ coaching job:

“He said he wanted to drink vodka with me. But the problem is I don’t drink vodka! (He laughs). By the way, that’s one of the stereotypes, that, if it’s a Russian, there must be something screwy going on. We’re going to break the stereotypes.”

* On whether this project is about business or image:

“When you’re talking about the business of sports, you can’t leave out passion and love. That’s why, in this business in particular, I need to be maximally careful, so that my passion and love for basketball don’t interfere with my business reasoning. It has to do with balancing my own internal interests and here I will be very self-disciplined.”
In USA Today

Prokhorov is wobbly enough in English basketball lingo to have described draft pick Derrick Favors as a "powerful forward" (rather than "power forward"), but that hasn't stopped him--or his handlers--from working the Prokhorov message in print.

Maybe it's an effort to position the Nets to snag future free agents, or maybe it's just a way to keep his name in the paper. After all, one of the Nets' biggest selling points remains its owner.

From USA Today, Roundup: NBA team owner backs LeBron James' decision:
The players are signed, the "Decision" is made, but the passions around this year's extraordinary class of NBA free agents refuses to die down. What surprises me is the amount of negative commentary directed at the three top free agents (especially LeBron James) who decided to play on the same team and to create a great franchise together. Of course, any club owner dreams of having those players, including me, but all questions of how the announcements were made aside, I respect their choice, and no one has the right to judge them.

I want to say that I support LeBron, the best athlete in the NBA. He had a truly difficult choice to make. Any move he made was sure to be viewed as wrong, and to leave many unhappy fans. Basing his decision on achieving results on the basketball court shows that the sportsman won the day, not the showman or the businessman. What is wrong with that?

We are seeing the birth of a new, dynamic team with such star players, and all of us can await the new season with great anticipation. I wish them success and give them my moral support. I will be happy for us to beat the Miami Heat in the conference finals, maybe not this season, but in the very near future.

Mikhail Prokhorov; Moscow

The writer is the principal owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Legible version of the subway monitoring plan surfaces, shows arena wall less than 7' from subway; if vibrations get too intense, work must stop

How do you build an arena very close to six active subway lines?

Very, very carefully, apparently.

As a recently acquired document (excerpted at left; click to enlarge) shows, the foundation wall of the planned arena, at at the arena property line, would be less than seven feet from the wall of the IRT subway line, specifically the tracks for the 2 or 3 trains going north along Flatbush Avenue toward Manhattan.

That means some very careful monitoring is required, as described in plans first made public here.

Plans initially denied

On May 24, I wrote about a Subway Indemnity Agreement signed by Brooklyn Arena LLC and the New York City Transit Authority, not only must proceed "in a good and workmanlike manner" but also must be subject to a monitoring plan, thus protecting critical transit system assets.

That's crucial, because portions of subway tunnels next to the arena site were described in 2007 as in "critical condition" and required repair "in the immediate future" and the "near future"--repairs Forest City Ratner is now obligated to make, though the cost is unclear (and could generate a request for future public support).

But the plan, at least as reproduced in the document, was illegible.
And, when I filed a Freedom of Information Law request for a legible copy, I was told no such copy exists.

Airing a complaint

So I wrote about that absurd situation and, a few weeks later, unbidden, I received a package from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which contained hard copies of the documents at issue: four huge blueprint-style documents, about 44" by 36".

Three are reproduced below, thanks to high-resolution photography by Jonathan Barkey. (The fourth page included general MTA instructions.)

Click on the MTA Arena Monitoring Plan to get the get the most legible versions, capable of magnification.

What it means

But what's in the monitoring plan?

I'm hardly an expert on such work, so perhaps others will take a close look, but here's a summary.

Drawing M-1, the overview, points to the area, at the left of the document, where work and monitoring will take place, near the tunnels housing the B/Q and the 2/3/4/5 lines.

The notes at the bottom left of the document, reproduced at right (click to enlarge), refer to Mass Transit Improvement Drawings dated 10/23/09, which I have not seen. Subway monitoring, to be performed by a monitoring agency retained by the developer, involves seismographs and tiltmeters with remote meters, the installation of which may require closure of adjacent tracks.

The work involves monitoring of vibrations continuously during demolition, pile drilling, excavation and placing compacted backfill within 50 feet of the subway.

If vibration limits are exceeded, the contractor "shall modify pile installation or excavation procedures as required." Work must stop if the subway movement reaches 1/4".

First drawing: the overview

From MTA Arena Monitoring Plan

Second drawing: proximity underground

The second document shows the proximity of the arena structure, the two subway tunnels, monitoring points, and a proposed vent structure--likely the upgrades to the MTA vent structures now under construction.

From MTA Arena Monitoring Plan

Third drawing: another view of proximity

This document shows that the arena foundation wall would be 6' 8.5" from the subway wall.
From MTA Arena Monitoring Plan

Advisory opinion

After my first FOIL request was denied, but before I received that unbidden package of documents, I wrote to the state Committee On Open Government (COOG).

Earlier this month, I got an advisory opinion from the COOG :
We are in receipt of your request for an advisory opinion regarding the application of the Freedom of Information Law to a request made to the Metropolitan Transit Authority. Specifically, you requested a legible copy of a six page report within a subway indemnity agreement that you found on this agency’s website. You were informed that no legible copy existed and that the copy you obtained on the website was the only one that existed.

In this regard, when an agency indicates that it does not maintain or cannot locate a record, an applicant for the record may seek a certification to that effect. Section 89(3)(a) of the Freedom of Information Law provides in part that, in such a situation, on request, an agency "shall certify that it does not have possession of such record or that such record cannot be found after diligent search." It is emphasized that when a certification is requested, an agency "shall" prepare the certification; it is obliged to do so. If you consider it worthwhile to do so, you might request a written certification in accordance with § 89 (3)(a).

COOG MTA Letter July 12, 2010

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"Temporary Change of Traffic Pattern on Flatbush Avenue" means one lane will be closed at least 17 months; did ESDC bury the real reason for change?

The Empire State Development Corporation yesterday sent out a Community Notice (embedded below) announcing a "Temporary Change of Traffic Pattern on Flatbush Avenue" that will begin on August 1 and affect the area between Atlantic Avenue and Dean Street, a western boundary of the Atlantic Yards project.

Temporary? It will last at least 17 months, through early 2012. That's on the extended side of "temporary."

Change of traffic pattern? That means that one of six lanes on Flatbush will be closed. A "reversible center lane [will] provide a third travel lane in the peak direction." Expect new No Standing Anytime signs and traffic agents will be assigned to facilitate the flow of traffic.

(Click on graphic to enlarge)

Burying the real reason?

According to the notice, the work aims "to accommodate upgrades to the MTA vent structures along Flatbush Avenue."

Sure, but that seems to be the secondary reason.

According to the June 2009 Technical Memorandum, excerpted below, the vent structure upgrades were driven by the need to build a lay-by lane, thus allowing for "pick-up/drop-off and loading/unloading activity adjacent to the arena."

Was this predicted?

Was all this expected? Not really (as far as I can tell), which means the impact on traffic was not studied in the November 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).

The FEIS, in Chapter 17, Construction Impacts, makes mention of the closure of lanes on Flatbush Avenue, but not to accommodate upgrades to the vent structures.

Moreover, that work was supposed to take a year, and the closure might occur during only part of the day.

From the notice:
To accommodate upgrades to the MTA vent structures along Flatbush Avenue, a part of the Atlantic Yards project, beginning on Sunday, August 1, 2010, the traffic pattern on Flatbush Avenue (between Atlantic Avenue and Dean Street) will be altered. These changes will improve pedestrian conditions on the northeast side of Flatbush Avenue while maintaining three lanes of vehicular traffic in the peak travel direction. These changes will be in place through early 2012.

These blocks of Flatbush Avenue will be temporarily re-striped from six to five travel lanes. Two travel lanes will be maintained in each direction at all times, with a reversible center lane to provide a third travel lane in the peak direction. On weekdays, from 7 AM to 10 AM, there will be three northbound travel lanes and two southbound travel lanes; at all other times (including nights and weekends) there will be three southbound travel lanes and two northbound lanes. Pedestrian pathways will be maintained on each side of Flatbush Avenue, subject to intermittent overnight closure based on construction activities and safety concerns.

These changes necessitate the temporary removal of the southeast-bound B41/B67 bus stop on Flatbush Avenue at Fifth Avenue. Passengers can use the bus stop on Flatbush Avenue (at Bergen Street) for southeast-bound B41/B67 service or the bus stop on Flatbush Avenue (at Atlantic Avenue) for southeast-bound B41 service. Northwest-bound bus service will not be affected.
Temporary closure scrapped?

The Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), in Chapter 17, Construction Impacts, estimated work on Flatbush Avenue--not mentioning the vent structures--would occur over perhaps a year: "Phase 1B Construction, 4th quarter 2008 through 4th quarter 2009."

The FEIS also suggested that the closure could occur during only part of the day:
During the first half of this construction phase, substantial utility work would continue, requiring the closure of curb lanes along Atlantic Avenue between Flatbush and Cumberland Avenues, and Flatbush Avenue between Atlantic Avenue and Dean Street, as reflected in the preliminary MPT plan shown in Figure 17a-8 [below]... Along the east side of Flatbush Avenue between Atlantic Avenue and Dean Street, utility installation would require the temporary taking of the curb lane. To maintain peak traffic flow along Flatbush Avenue, this closure may need to be limited to only off-peak or nighttime hours. The appropriate MPT [Maintenance and Protection of Traffic] for this roadway segment would be determined in consultation with DOT.
(Emphases added)

So it looks like the Department of Transportation (DOT) agreed to a solution sought by the state and developer.

Impact after arena construction

The Final Environmental Impact Statement, in Chapter 12, Traffic/Parking, describes the impact of the project:
FLATBUSH AVENUE
The east sidewalk along Flatbush Avenue would be set back between Dean Street and Atlantic Avenue to provide for a 10-foot-wide lay-by lane along the east curb to accommodate pick-up/drop-off and loading/unloading activity adjacent to the arena. This segment of Flatbush Avenue would operate with three travel lanes and the lay-by lane in the northbound direction, and two travel lanes and a curb lane in the southbound direction.
From the Technical Memorandum

The June 2009 Technical Memorandum states:
As described in the FEIS (and as shown in Figure 4), it was proposed that the east sidewalk along northbound Flatbush Avenue on the arena block would be set back between Dean Street and Atlantic Avenue to provide for a 10-foot-wide lay-by lane along the east curb to accommodate pick-up/drop-off and loading/unloading activity adjacent to the arena. The Flatbush Avenue lay-by lane described in the FEIS had two lay-by sections: a northern section just south of Atlantic Avenue that included a bus stop and approximately eight parking spaces, and a southern section just north of Dean Street with approximately six parking spaces. Construction of these two lay-by sections would require the relocation and reconstruction of a series of existing subway vents along Flatbush Avenue between Dean Street and Atlantic Avenue. Due to the complexity in relocating these vents, a modified design for the lay-by lane entails the relocation of a smaller portion of the existing subway vents. As shown in Figure 5, the lay-by lane just south of Atlantic Avenue would remain unchanged, however, there would be no lay-by lane created along northbound Flatbush Avenue between 5th Avenue and Dean Street. The lay-by lanes on the other three sides of the arena block would not change.
It also states:
Change in Lay-by Lane Configuration on Flatbush Avenue
Under the plan for the arena block described in the FEIS (as shown in Figure 4), the east sidewalk along northbound Flatbush Avenue would be set back between Dean Street and Atlantic Avenue to provide for a 10-foot-wide lay-by lane along the east curb to accommodate pick-up/drop-off and loading/unloading activity adjacent to the arena. This segment of Flatbush Avenue would operate with three travel lanes and the lay-by lane in the northbound direction, and two travel lanes and a curb lane in the southbound direction.

The FEIS assumed approximately 61 vehicle spaces of lay-by lane capacity on the arena block under the plan assessed in the FEIS. This included approximately 14 spaces along the east side of Flatbush Avenue—8 to the north of 5th Avenue and 6 to the south; 7 spaces along Dean Street; 6 spaces along 6th Avenue; and 34 spaces along Atlantic Avenue. These estimates assumed 22 feet per space, and exclude the curbside space within the Flatbush Avenue/Pacific Street intersection that would be newly signalized and reconfigured with a new crosswalk under the traffic mitigation plan as outlined in the FEIS (see Figure 19-1 in the FEIS). Also excluded is 150 feet of curb length along Flatbush Avenue north of 5th Avenue assumed to be occupied by a bus stop for northbound B41 and B67 buses, as well as the northbound B63 that would be re- routed to operate along Flatbush Avenue between 5th and Atlantic Avenues.

In addition to taxis, black cars, and buses serving remote parking garages and ‘park & ride’ lots on Staten Island during Nets games, the FEIS assumed that pick-up and drop-off activity by commuter vans serving the new subway entrance on the project site would also be accommodated in the lay-by lanes proposed along both Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues.

As currently envisioned, a lay-by lane would be located along the east side of Flatbush Avenue between Atlantic and 5th Avenues, but the east sidewalk along Flatbush Avenue between Dean Street and 5th Avenue would not be set back and a lay-by lane would not be provided along this block. (As a result, the east sidewalk on this block would be wider than the design analyzed in the FEIS.) Instead, no stopping would be permitted along northbound Flatbush Avenue between Dean Street and 5th Avenue and this block would function with three northbound moving lanes with no parking lane. North of 5th Avenue, the lane configuration of Flatbush Avenue would remain unchanged from what was analyzed in the FEIS.

Overall, the current plan would reduce the number of lay-by spaces along Flatbush Avenue by a total of approximately 6 spaces. Along the arena block frontages, approximately 8 spaces would remain on Flatbush Avenue (compared to 14 under the plan assessed in the FEIS) and 47 spaces would remain along the lay-by lanes on Atlantic Avenue, 6th Avenue, and Dean Street. In addition, substantial curbside space would continue to be available in the proposed lay-by lanes along Atlantic Avenue adjacent to Blocks 1120 and 1121 and along the north curb of Pacific Street adjacent to Block 1120 (see Figure 12-5 in the FEIS).
Flatbush Avenue MPT Community Notice

From the FEIS

The figure below indicates lane changes on Flatbush Avenue. It also indicates the closing of the Sixth Avenue Bridge, a plan that has since been rescinded, given the reconfiguration of a smaller arena and thus arena block.
Fig17a-8

London-based sponsor signed for 38 four-seat loge boxes at Barclays Center; Jackie Robinson legacy invoked for Prokhorov's team

So, an arena named for a UK-based company, the Barclays Center, has another partner, another UK-based global firm, the Willis Group, aiming to expand its foothold in the United States.

The Willis Group, an insurance firm that took over the former Sears Tower, has a five-year deal to sponsor "the Barclays Center’s 38 Loge Boxes," which are four-seat boxes distinct from the 104 suites.

No price for the deal was announced, though the Post quoted Street and Smith’s Sports Business Journal as saying the annual value of other Barclays Center sponsorship deals range between $1 million and $3 million.

That means that the publicity value for Willis of the news announced yesterday, including a strategic announcement first in Sports Business Journal, then a press release, may go a good ways to approaching its annual fee.

Dodgers redux?

Note this claim from Willis:
"Brooklyn is a great global brand that’s reaching new heights with the Barclays Center. The borough has earned a storied place in sports mythology, from the heroics at Ebbets Field to being the birthplace of legends such as Vince Lombardi, Joe Torre and Joe Paterno," said Joe Plumeri, Chairman and CEO of Willis. "Willis helps manage the world’s most complex risks, and we look forward to both helping the Barclays Center through its multi-faceted construction process and, when the arena is opened, to working with Mikhail Prokhorov, Bruce Ratner, Brett Yormark, Jay-Z and their team to carry Jackie Robinson’s legacy forward and bring a new generation of champions to Brooklyn and New York."
(Emphasis added)

Would you believe that Russia's second-richest man would be carrying Jackie Robinson's legacy forward?

See Scott Turner's (of Fans for Fair Play) November 2005 takedown of the difference between the Nets and the Dodgers.

Even the Rev. Al Sharpton, speaking at the groundbreaking in March, saw a distinction. "When I was growing up in Brooklyn, my mother used to tell me about how it made her feel, that she could go to Ebbets Field before I was born, and see Jackie Robinson play. Jackie Robinson was the first black to own--to be able to play in major league baseball. He played his first games right here in Brooklyn and broke the color line in terms of major league baseball players. I'm glad I lived to see the color line in ownership broken in Brooklyn, where we've gone from Jackie to Jay-Z, where we can not only play the game but we can own a piece of the game. So my mother saw Jackie and my daughters will see Jay-Z--we have come a long way."

Members of the public should root for an owner, one who owns a tiny piece of the team?

Sharpton somehow neglected to point out that in June 2006, the majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, Robert L. Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television, announced that Brooklyn-born Michael Jordan would become the second-largest investor--two black men running a basketball team.

Construction started last fall?

Note the continued historical revisionism, as stated in March:
While construction has been on-going since last fall, a ceremonial groundbreaking was held in March 2010 to mark the next phase of construction of the arena, which is expected to open in late spring/early summer 2012.
Well, construction activities may have been ongoing since last fall--and had begun earlier--but only after a challenge to condemnation was dismissed in March was the groundbreaking announced.

The press release
BROOKLYN SPORTS & ENTERTAINMENT ANNOUNCES WILLIS GROUP HOLDINGS AS A MAJOR PARTNER OF THE BARCLAYS CENTER IN BROOKLYN

BROOKLYN, NY - Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, a sales and marketing arm of the Barclays Center, today announced that Willis Group Holdings plc (NYSE: WSH), the global insurance broker, has become a major partner of the planned Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

The partnership with Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment marks another bold branding move for Willis in the U.S. market. The broker, with operations around the world, doubled its size in North America with the 2008 acquisition of Hilb Rogal & Hobbs, and in 2009 significantly increased its global brand awareness by securing the naming rights to the former Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) in Chicago. Aligning itself with the Barclays Center, one of the most important new sports and entertainment facilities in America, represents further momentum for the Willis brand in New York City and, indeed, everywhere professional basketball and other events staged at the arena command worldwide attention.

As part of its integrated marketing platform within the arena, the Willis brand will be displayed prominently as the exclusive sponsor of the Barclays Center’s 38 Loge Boxes. The Willis name also will appear in all marketing and advertising associated with this premium seating, including a significant presence on Barclayscenter.com.

"We are thrilled to become partners with Willis and to help enhance its brand in Brooklyn and throughout New York City," said Brett Yormark, president and CEO of Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment. "The Barclays Center will serve as a powerful catalyst in driving new business to Willis, which has built its reputation by providing world-class client service and global expertise. Offering unlimited networking opportunities, the Barclays Center will soon be recognized as a place where business gets done."

"Brooklyn is a great global brand that’s reaching new heights with the Barclays Center. The borough has earned a storied place in sports mythology, from the heroics at Ebbets Field to being the birthplace of legends such as Vince Lombardi, Joe Torre and Joe Paterno," said Joe Plumeri, Chairman and CEO of Willis. "Willis helps manage the world’s most complex risks, and we look forward to both helping the Barclays Center through its multi-faceted construction process and, when the arena is opened, to working with Mikhail Prokhorov, Bruce Ratner, Brett Yormark, Jay-Z and their team to carry Jackie Robinson’s legacy forward and bring a new generation of champions to Brooklyn and New York."

Willis will provide insurance and risk management services to the Barclays Center and will play an integral role as an associate sponsor of the Barclays Center Business Alliance, the premier business association for the arena’s partners.

"Willis and the Barclays Center are a natural fit," said Joe Gunn, New York Regional Partner for Willis. "Willis is all about challenging the status quo in the insurance industry and advocating fiercely for our clients around the world. We sense that same energy and excitement in our partnership with the Barclays Center, which will soon take New York and Brooklyn by storm and change the professional sports and entertainment landscape in this town. We couldn’t be more excited about our partnership, or more proud to provide the insurance and risk management services that will help Barclays Center become a reality."

Joshua King, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Willis, said, "Like our deal for the naming rights to Willis Tower in Chicago, our involvement in Brooklyn is part of a strategic marketing program to elevate our brand and connect in a powerful way with clients, prospects and the community at large รข€“ here in New York and around the world. We look forward to a great partnership that will benefit all parties as we work together to make Barclays Center the home of future champions, and at the same time, raise the Willis flag even higher."

In addition to Barclays, the naming rights partner, the Barclays Center currently has 11 major partners, including: Willis, ADT, Cushman & Wakefield, EmblemHealth, MetroPCS, MGM Grand at Foxwoods, Jones Soda, Haier America, Phillips-Van Heusen, Anheuser-Busch, and High Point Solutions.

About Willis

Willis Group Holdings is a leading global insurance broker. Through its subsidiaries, Willis develops and delivers professional insurance, reinsurance, risk management, financial and human resource consulting and actuarial services to corporations, public entities and institutions around the world. Willis has more than 400 offices in nearly 120 countries, with a global team of approximately 17,000 employees serving clients in virtually every part of the world. Additional information on Willis may be found at www.willis.com.

About Barclays Center

The state-of-the-art Barclays Center, to be located at Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues, will host more than 200 events annually, including professional and collegiate sports, concerts, family shows, and NETS Basketball. The arena will offer 18,000 seats for basketball and up to 19,000 seats for concerts, and will also have 104 luxury suites, including 15 Brownstone Suites (16 seats each), 68 Loft Suites (10 seats each), 11 Backstage Suites, six Studio Suites, and four Party Suites. The arena will also include six clubs and restaurants, and the onsite practice facility at the Barclays Center.

While construction has been on-going since last fall, a ceremonial groundbreaking was held in March 2010 to mark the next phase of construction of the arena, which is expected to open in late spring/early summer 2012.

The Barclays Center, designed by the award-winning architectural firms Ellerbe Becket and SHoP Architects, will be one of the most intimate seating configurations ever designed into a modern multi-purpose arena, with unparalleled sightlines and first-class amenities.

For more information on the Barclays Center log on to www.barclayscenter.com.

For the New Domino, newly unveiled MOU casts doubt on affordable housing promises

Last week, I raised questions about the guarantees of 30% affordability in the New Domino plan in Williamsburg (which approaches a full City Council vote on Thursday).

Now Williamsburg Greenpoint News+Arts advances the story, reporting:
Unlike the Greenpoint-Williamsburg rezoning of 2005, which spelled out the inclusionary housing goals and benefits in the zoning text, the affordability aspects within the New Domino proposal are in a separate letter, a non legally binding document called a memorandum of understanding (MOU).

...In the case of the New Domino plan, the “out” lies not just with the city but with the developer CPCR as well. From a copy of the actual MOU (see at end of article) for the proposed New Domino plan, exclusively obtained by WG News + Arts, paragraph 9 in the text clearly states:

“Whereas, this MOU is not a legally binding instrument and is only intended to set forth the understandings of the parties without creating any legally enforceable rights or obligations.”

If it sounds too good to be true, remember that in other famous MOUs that have so far not been fully met, if at all met, like the second MOU attached to the Atlantic Yards proposal, developers were actually required to pay fines and restitution if the deal were to fall apart.
With Atlantic Yards the issue was less the nonbinding MOU (about which I wrote in September 2006), but the many loopholes in the Development Agreement that allow delay.

City officials mum

Today, the New York Post follows up in its Brooklyn blog, as usual not crediting those who had the story first:
City officials yesterday declined to explain why the zoning text wouldn’t include language guaranteeing 30-percent affordability.

But Susan Pollack, project manager for “The New Domino” plan, said the MOU “which we have signed, is the format the city selected to codify and memorialize our commitment. “ She vowed to deliver on the 30-percent guarantee.
Actually, she's Susan Pollock.

Monday, July 26, 2010

In the Boston Review, an Atlantic Yards-centric review of The Battle for Gotham

The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs, by Roberta Brandes Gratz, is the subject of a thoughtful 2900-word review in the Boston Review, Clear and Hold, by Brooklyn resident and Princeton grad student Casey Walker.

Atlantic Yards gets a significant cameo in the book's Conclusion (its tenth chapter), but it is the focus of Walker's review, which states:
Atlantic Yards is a familiar urban story: surrounding neighborhoods are braced for upheaval; architects have come and gone; redesigns have been announced, lambasted, tweaked, disowned; lawsuits multiply like kudzu; millions of dollars are all but blowing through the air; and the likely date of actual completion is anyone’s guess (Forest City Ratner, the developer, contends the Barclays Center will be finished by 2011, but the Web site does not give a timetable for the rest of the project).
Actually, they're saying 2012, now.

Questions that never got answered

Walker, who wisely recognizes the merits of “infill” development in the railyard, sets out the issues that arose:
The question, of course, is what form that development should take. Should new additions be in scale with the surrounding neighborhoods? Should they be done piecemeal or all at once? Do we need several architects or is one sufficient? How much attention should the city and borough pay to the interests of local boards? Should new construction be limited to the rail yards, or should the development be bigger?

To me, these questions always have been theoretical. It was never hard to see who would prevail. Despite the lawsuits, protests, and holdouts spearheaded by the major opposition group—Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn—Forest City was simply too rich and too shrewd, and its political support was too deep. Its large-scale approach to development would not meet any serious challenges. Atlantic Yards will be a Robert Moses throwback: a massive project, done all at once, unsparing of existing structures, with a skyline soaring above the rooftops of the three and four story brownstone buildings that make up much of the surrounding neighborhoods.
If it is done all at once, I and some others will be very surprised, given the gentle deadlines in the Development Agreement.

The unequal playing field

Read on for thoughts of the city as a delicate organism, Walker's acknowledgment that some big projects (like Rockefeller Center) did work, and Gratz's conclusion, via Walker, that "the continuing influence of Robert Moses is a sign that the battle for a Jacobsian city is continuous, and always fought on an unequal playing field."

Atlantic Yards down the memory hole, again; DCP official suggests the project was an example of public participation

It was a throwaway moment, almost, at Land Use and Local Voices, a conference July 21 co-sponsored by the Municipal Art Society and Manhattan Community Board 1.

But it was another example of how Atlantic Yards may be falling down the collective memory hole, and how even a top bureaucrat at the Department of City Planning doesn't understand the project, suggesting it as an example of effective public participation for some.

(Here's general coverage of the conference, from Streetsblog and Capital.)

Setting the stage

During a panel analyzing what's distinct about the city's land use process, moderator Ethel Sheffer, former president of the New York Metro Chapter of the American Planning Association, addressed panelist Sara Logan, Chair, Housing and Land Use Committee, Bronx Community Board 6, a mostly Hispanic area in the central Bronx with a significant fraction of people on public assistance.

How can people participate in the land use process, Sheffer asked, and do they feel burdened by hosting facilities that do serve a citywide purpose?

Logan lamented that "participation in our community is not as big as it in Manhattan," but added, "for those of us that do care, we are involved." She said the Community Board sought a moratorium on additional facilities for drug addicts or homeless people, as "we've had enough."

Sheffer asked Armando Carbonell, Senior Fellow and Chairman, Department of Planning and Urban Form, at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, to comment.

"I'm not aware of a city that's really figured this one out," Carbonell responded. "I think the real challenge is treating homelessness not as a problem to be contained, but in some about people who need things, and those needs need to be addressed, but it’s very difficult.
"

The segue to AY

Next up was Sandy Hornick, Deputy Director for Strategic Planning, NYC Department of City Planning, who said he had two comments. His second acknowledged the difficulty of siting such facilities.

But his first was an odd segue into Atlantic Yards.

"To tie leadership and participation together, I think in a city like New York, effective leadership inevitably means, somehow, bringing in enough of the constituencies to make that leadership effective," he said. "Let's use the example of original Mayor [Richard] Daley in Chicago: we don’t have that kind of concentrated power, and since Robert Moses, we have a conscious design not to let anybody ever get that kind of power again. We spread it out, and the only way to do it is a participatory way, that you build enough constituents that support it."

"And to just use a project that wasn’t really a [Department of] City Planning project, the Atlantic Yards project was extremely controversial-- by the way I live 1000 feet from it and did not work on it," he said.

(Actually, he lives about 1500 feet from it, by my calculation, just a little closer than I do.)

"But the people who did it--there were clearly some constituencies who chose never to participate in the process, to always oppose it," he said, "and there were other constituencies who chose to get something out of the process and may, if [it] really goes forward, may get all those commitments of affordable housing, and so on. But the nature of our process requires participation.
"

What did he say?

Let me try to analyze Hornick's off-the-cuff and not very considered comments.

There were clearly some constituencies who chose never to participate in the process, to always oppose it

What process does he mean? The city's land use process was bypassed. Those who opposed and criticized the project participated very much in the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) review of the project. They filed numerous comments, which were both responded to and ignored.

In fact, they participated in the official process more than did project supporters. The latter simply cheered for the project as it stood, or mutated. The former tried to analyze the impacts.

(As I wrote 9/19/06, the final community forum crystallized into farce, when a job-seeking single mother asked opponents in the audience, “Why are you talking about the environment?” The Sierra Club's Timothy Logan responded, "Because it’s an environmental impact hearing.")

there were other constituencies who chose to get something out of the process

Those constituencies got something out of a process, but it wasn't the process, because the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) resulted from a private agreement between Forest City Ratner and several community groups, most with no track record. That private agreement was concluded before the official ESDC process began, and it was used to justify an override of zoning for the developer.

At a later panel during the July 21 conference, CBAs were roundly criticized.

may get all those commitments of affordable housing

Well, the individuals who supported the affordable housing are, statistically speaking, unlikely to gain access to it, given that a relatively small amount of housing--perhaps half of the subsidized units--that would be affordable to the constituency of ACORN, and housing will be distributed by lottery. (ACORN, of course, would gain institutionally from managing the housing, or the selection process.)

The affordable housing is less a commitment by the developer than a claim on (perhaps) scarce public subsidies to build it.

But the nature of our process requires participation.


OK, but Atlantic Yards wasn't our city process, so there was no opportunity for even truncated participation under the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

So the three affected Community Boards, which would have had an advisory role under ULURP, were ignored, despite expressions of opposition and concern.

The problem: a fait accompli

I think Hornick's example ran aground when he brought up Daley and Moses. The ESDC process may be closer to that of Daley and Moses than it is to the city process. (Remember, planner Alexander Garvin wrote that the Urban Development Corporation, the ESDC's official identity had "truly amazing powers" when it was approved in 1968.)

Introducing his example, Hornick said:

We spread it out, and the only way to do it is a participatory way, that you build enough constituents that support it.

That's exactly what didn't happen with Atlantic Yards.

It was a done deal from the start. Remember Chris Smith's August 2006 cover story in New York magazine:
Every time I begin to buy into the lyrical people-have-the-power rhetoric of the opposition, to fantasize that Goldstein’s impending eminent-domain lawsuit has a prayer of succeeding, or to get revved up about the density trivia, someone smacks me back into reality. Most recently, it was a prominent Democrat. “In some cases, an army of Davids could take down Goliath,” he said. “But not this one. It’s a fait accompli.”

Sunday, July 25, 2010

In Forbes video, Yormark spins suites: it's about "creating a sense of urgency and scarcity to that customer"

In the Fobes video below, Nets Sports and Entertainment CEO Brett Yormark spins suites.

In the context of the overall economy, how would you describe the market for suites, Yormark is asked.

"It's certainly getting better," he responds. "I think the NBA does it as good as anybody else. They have annual meetings with respect to premium seating and suites, where we're doing a lot of best practice exchanges... But I think overall it's about creating more value. It's getting out of the box, being creative, running events, creating a sense of urgency and scarcity to that customer, and making sure you have the right message."

A sense of urgency? The suites have not exactly been selling well, given that, in 20 months, sales nudged from "about 30 percent" to less than 34 percent and the top price declined more than 21 percent.

What are their innovations?

"For us, it starts with our product mix," Yormark responds. "We have larger suites, smaller suites, and then we have our premium suites... And then it's about presentation. Not only we do have a great showroom... but we also have a traveling model... and we show that entire presentation on an iPad."

"We have a two-year move to Prudential [Center in Newark[, and then obviously the Barclays Center in the spring of 2012," Yormark says.

We'll see if that timing works out, given that the Prudential lease is renewable for two years.