Friday, November 04, 2011

FCR still working on first tower, says arena and transit connection on schedule (no acknowledgment of delays), "working very aggressively" on Carlton Avenue Bridge

At yesterday's Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet meeting, a bi-monthly meeting of involved agencies and developer Forest City Ratner, representatives of the latter expressed confidence about current construction (without mentioning evidence to the contrary), less certainty about future towers (for which the timetable has shifted), and assurances (despite some doubts from elected officials) that the Carlton Avenue Bridge would get done in time for the arena opening next year.

First tower: when and what

Will the first tower, known as B2 and located at the northeast corner of Flatbush Avenue and Dean Streete, be modular construction or conventional?

At the most recent cabinet meeting in September, FCR executive Jane Marshall recalled, “we had a robust discussion about traditional vs. modular... We're still working on both designs... So when we get to that fork in the road, we want to make sure that we’re really ready to make that decision.”

The building permit, however, hints at conventional construction.

“We still believe that, before the end of the year, we will be able to announce which way we’re going and show the the design to the public,” Marshall said. “That's our goal, consistent with our goal to break ground on B2 early next year.”

Actually, the timetable has been shifting. This past July, MaryAnne Gilmartin, the developer’s Atlantic Yards point person, said, “We expect to decide on our construction approach in the coming months, and we anticipate a groundbreaking by year end."

That wasn't the first shift. A year ago, at the 11/4/10 Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet meeting, Gilmartin said the developer intended to release designs and start construction of B2 in the first quarter of 2011.

The Empire State Development Corporation had, in June 2009, said that the first tower, at least, would not be delayed at all.

Next towers?

What about the other three towers on the arena block, two of which are supposed to be exclusively residential?

“We said that we would love to get these buildings into the ground as quickly as possible,” Marshall said, “We have put ourselves a goal of six to nine months after construction of B2, so if we started B2 in the first quarter, we would love to start B3 in the third or fourth quarter of next year, and then six to nine months after that, B4. And so, that’s still our goal.”

She didn’t offer much reason to believe the goal was realistic.

Construction proceeds, delay unmentioned

What about ongoing construction? At the arena, said FCR executive Bob Sanna, the structural steel is 86% erected and the roof should be enclosed by the end of January.

“About 95% of the mechanical equipment that’s required to operate in the building is now in the building and being installed, so the arena is fully on schedule,” he said. “It will be complete in the early part of September.”

As for work on the associated transit connection, Sanna said it’s “moving extraordinarily well. We’re now completing metal decking over the new canopy that covers the stairs.” All the work now is inside, below grade.

Neither Sanna nor any attendee mentioned the latest report from the construction monitor to the bond trustee, which said the transit connection has been slowed, and was behind schedule as of a month ago.

Carlton Avenue Bridge

“As far as the LIRR work is concerned, the major piece of the excavation there is complete, and we continue to do drilling to support the Carlton Avenue Bridge,” Sanna said. “The bridge abutments are currently being constructed at the moment. We have a big pour contemplated tomorrow.”

He added that overtime continues: “We are working in a premium time program... five days a week, ten hours a day,” with an eight-hour day on Saturdays. “We're watching that schedule carefully to be complete in anticipation of the arena opening."

Later, Council Member Letitia James asked Chris Hrones of the Department of Transportation (DOT) if DOT was keeping track of the progress with the long-delayed bridge.

“Our bridges people are monitoring that project,” Hrones said, and looking at both the schedule and the work. However, he didn’t provide any details on those conclusions.

What if there are delays?

At another junction, Council Member Steve Levin asked, “Do we have a projected date of completion, and what happens if it's not open, what if you can't finish it by that time?”

“It is required to be open, and we are monitoring it very carefully,” replied Sanna, who also referenced the DOT’s role. “So we're working very aggressively to ensure that it does open.” He didn't provide a specific completion date.

Levin continued: "What if it doesn’t?"

“We're not contemplating that it will not open,” said Sanna, who noted that “the bridge structure itself is actually in fabrication... We do not anticipate that it will not open.”

“In the world of capital construction, stuff gets delayed all the time, so I’m just wondering,” Levin said.

“That has not been our track record to date,” responded Sanna.

Well, the bridge, which closed in January 2008, was initially supposed to take two years. It was delayed, in part, by Forest City’s redesign of the railyard to save money..

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