Skip to main content

A caution on that BrooklynSpeaks/DDDB press release: wouldn't deferring railyard development prolong blight?

On Monday, before the community meeting with Empire State Development CEO Kenneth Adams, BrooklynSpeaks and Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) issued what I think was their first-ever joint press release, headlined What ESDC must do now to make Atlantic Yards work for Brooklyn.

It was very much BrooklynSpeaks language--DDDB never wanted to make "Atlantic Yards work for Brooklyn" but rather to stop the project. So perhaps it was an exercise in pragmatism.

The recommendations, including opening up the project site to additional developers, would require ESD to amend the project plan and numerous contract documents.

There's never been any sign of the political will to do so. If the state wanted to ensure that the project gets done without opening it up to additional developers, it could have impose tougher deadlines and fines to push Forest City Ratner.

Gentle deadline

And the joint recommendation to defer development on the railyard because of a costly platform--which the developer already has 15 years to start--implicitly endorses that gentle deadline to which the state agreed.

In other words, everyone now seems to agree that the railyard, the most prominent claim to blight on the oddly-drawn Atlantic Yards footprint, can remain a blighting influence.

(Astonishingly, FCR in March 2009 told the Empire State Development Corporation that "the vast majority" of benefits for the community would be "entirely realized in the remote circumstance of MTA's default scenario," in which no platform were built.)

The statement
Construction of the Barclays Center arena is moving ahead, but the completion of Phase I and all of Phase II of the Atlantic Yards project risks being significantly delayed. Sadly, the promises of jobs, economic vitality for the area, income for the City of New York, affordable housing, and open space all seem unlikely to be realized for decades, if not generations.

BrooklynSpeaks and Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn want successful development of the Atlantic Yards site. We want what the State and City want: the economic development, the jobs, and the public benefits that a healthy development can provide—not in the 25 years now understood by all as being likely, but within the next few years as needed.

The project’s present path won’t lead us there. Although economic conditions may be discouraging for development, it is the project plan itself that is the constraint. Conceived at a time when financing was readily available and the market was ripe for a large new development, the project was planned from west to east, merging the difficult and expensive site development with the easy. As a result, the project plan has burdened what is feasible with that which has become infeasible, and risks bringing development to a halt. The project’s dependence on luxury housing hampers forward movement and adds exposure to market fluctuations that might otherwise be avoided.

In most ESDC projects, flexibility and managing risk are part of the plan. Without altering the intent or spirit of the Atlantic Yards project, ESDC should now consider pragmatic changes that will foster success and accelerate its benefits.
  • Build first on currently developable parcels, deferring the costly Vanderbilt Yards platform.
  • Develop affordable housing in the manner and context of recent successes nearby.
  • Open the development to additional teams in order to distribute the investment, the risk and the total work effort.
  • Bring the community and its elected representatives to the table so we can all work together and win.
(Emphasis added)

Looking more closely

Well, the most currently developable parcels are on the arena site, and Forest City has 12 years to finish three towers. If the state wants those parcels developed faster, then it could/should change the language.

Forest City won development rights to the railyard by pledging $100 million in cash--and then later renegotiating to $20 million down, with the rest to be paid over 22 years--because its entire bid package was said to be worth much more.

And because it included a plan to build a deck to ensure that the railyard parcels were developable.

I'm not sure what "affordable housing in the manner and context of recent successes nearby" actually means--Atlantic Terrace, developed by a nonprofit group (that's a member of BrooklynSpeaks)?--but it's worth a discussion. Surely Forest City would say the density of the project is driven by its infrastructure and other sunk costs.

The Development Agreement does require the first residential building on Block 1129--the southeast block of the project site, currently planned for interim surface parking--to begin within a decade.

The BrooklynSpeaks/DDDB press release implicitly suggests that the timetable for Block 1129 be speeded up. Forest City Ratner likely doesn't want any timetable changes, but if there are any, that would be the easiest to accommodate--it's a lot easier to build on "terra firma," as FCR executive MaryAnne Gilmartin has said.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

At 550 Vanderbilt, big chunk of apartments pitched to Chinese buyers as "international units"

One key to sales at the 550 Vanderbilt condo is the connection to China, thanks to Shanghai-based developer Greenland Holdings.

It's the parent of Greenland USA, which as part of Greenland Forest City Partners owns 70% of Pacific Park (except 461 Dean and the arena).

And sales in China may help explain how the developer was able to claim early momentum.
"Since 550 Vanderbilt launched pre-sales in June [2015], more than 80 residences have gone into contract, representing over 30% of the building’s 278 total residences," the developer said in a 9/25/15 press release announcing the opening of a sales gallery in Brooklyn. "The strong response from the marketplace indicates the high level of demand for well-designed new luxury homes in Brooklyn..."

Maybe. Or maybe it just meant a decent initial pipeline to Chinese buyers.

As lawyer Jay Neveloff, who represents Forest City, told the Real Deal in 2015, a project involving a Chinese firm "creates a huge market for…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…