Skip to main content

Deconstructing the latest softball Ratner interview: plans for affordable housing are even shakier than before, and Ratner's tense even with a friendly publication

This New York Observer article, Waiting for Bruce: The Commercial Observer Tours Atlantic Yards Arena, is such a nada-burger that it deserves some off the cuff annotation.

The article is in italics, my commentary not. I'm not sure why it was published other than a generalized desire by the Commercial Observer, which is owned by a real estate mogul, to play nice with Bruce. (Well, here's the justification, I guess: slideshow.)

A chauffered Lexus LS sedan pulled up to the corner of Dean Street and Flatbush Avenue and out slid Bruce Ratner from the back seat. He was 15 minutes late.

In a navy suit with a merino v-neck sweater over a dress shirt with no tie and an open collar, he was also underdresed for the sunny but windy chill swirling across the $1 billion Barclays Center that his firm Forest City Ratner is well into building at the Atlantic Yards site in Brooklyn.

“I thought it was going to be 50 degrees,” Mr. Ratner said, immediately noticing the cold.

This is what's called "setting the scene." But there's not much drama--unless the implicit revelation that Mr. Ratner, is indeed, a warm-blooded animal, or his blatant use of non-public transit. But the writer had to wring out a transition.

So much at the site hasn’t gone according to plan. Mr. Ratner has waded through years of lawsuits launched by landowners who were eventually booted from buildings on the yards via emminent domain, community groups and others that oppose the 22-acre development. If that wasn’t enough, the project, one of the largest developments in city, has had to weather a deep recession and its lingering aftereffects, which have put a damper on demand and pricing for the 16 residential buildings slated for the site.

Emminent domain, indeed. We don't learn that, along with the eminent domain cases, another line of cases challenged the environmental review and, at the last juncture, won a victory, requiring the state to conduct a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS). An appeal will be heard February 14.

Mr. Ratner managed to break ground on the basketball arena – which will be home to the Brooklyn Nets – in 2010, just before tax free bonds the state had permitted him to issue in order to finance the arena’s construction at below-market interest rates were due to expire. 

Well, not exactly. The issuance of the tax-free bonds faced an end-of-2009 deadline. The groundbreaking could come later, which it did. And one of the reasons he managed is that the state chose not to conduct a SEIS, which would have delayed the re-approval of the project until 2010.

The timeline for other components of the project, including the construction of three residential towers that will hug the arena, is less clear.

Not to mention the fourth tower, long slated to house office space and thus "jobs."

“I think we’ll break ground sometime this year,” was all Mr. Ratner would say, referring to the first residential building that is slated to rise at the site, a tower on the corner of Dean and Flatbush whose base will cantilever over a rear entrance to the 14,000 seat Barlcays Center. 

Wait a sec. The arena will house 18,000+ for basketball, and for concerts. The seating area shrinks only for major league hockey. More importantly, Ratner already seems to be stretching the groundbreaking even farther, adding to a string of delays.

The first building will be something of a barometer, Mr. Ratner suggested. The offerings in the other two buildings, he said, be they studios, one bedrooms, or larger apartments, will be based off the market’s reception of the spaces that Forest City Ratner will offer in the first tower.

Y'mean, if market-rate tenants don't want studios and one-bedroom units in the first tower, Ratner will take a risk and build two-bedroom and three-bedroom units in the next two? Doubtful. And if the first building is somewhat successful, that means the configuration, with few larger units, will continue, despite promises in the Community Benefits Agreement to provide larger "affordable" units to help families.

Mr. Ratner bristled when asked to make further reaching projections of progress on the Atlantic Yards site. Standing inside the arena and gazing into its nearly finished bowl of seats, The Commercial Observer’s gaze couldn’t help but trail farther, through a large entryway being used by construction vehicles. Beyond was the rest of the site, a stretch of train tracks and dirt recessed below grade that runs east for several blocks between Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Street.

That's not the rest of the site. That's some of the site. There's more site on the block bounded by Carlton and Vanderbilt Avenues, and Dean and Pacific Streets. And on 100 feet east of Sixth Avenue, between Dean and Pacific. And on Site 5, now home to Modell's/P.C. Richard.

“We’re here to talk about the arena,” Mr. Ratner snapped when asked when those portions of the development would begin.

He's snapping now, even when faced with a reporter from a friendly publication? This is reminiscent of his 11/8/09 quotes to another friendly publication, Crain's New York Business, "Why should people get to see plans? This isn't a public project." and “Can you tell me when we are going to need a new office tower?”

One could forgive Mr. Ratner’s edginess given the opposition he has faced. Sensing that he had perhaps recoiled a little too fiercely, his demeanor quickly loosened.

“You have to understand, my words have been twisted around in the past,” Mr. Ratner said.

One might remember all the money Mr. Ratner's been spent on political contributions, public relations, strategic charity, and lobbying. As for twisting his words, he does pretty well on his own, putting his name on a questionable 2008 op-ed for the Daily News.

“And then all of a sudden I’m getting sued,” he added, seeming to refer to a recent suit by a group of workers who claim they were promised union jobs by Forest City Ratner for enrolling in a training program, but subsequently weren’t offered employment.

Well, the Observer might have taken the suit seriously. The promises allegedly were made by FCR's Community Benefits Agreement partner BUILD (Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development).

Mr. Ratner said that the company had studied 16 arenas around the country, specifically Bankers Life Fieldhouse, formerly Conseco Fieldhouse, the home of the Indiana Pacers. The problem with most arenas, such as Madison Square Garden, according to Mr. Ratner is their elevation, which forces the flow of patrons all in one direction and creates congestion.

The court at the Barclays Center is below grade, so when fans enter from ground level, depending on where they sit, they will be split between heading either up or down to their seats.

“We broke up the flow of traffic,” Mr. Ratner said. “At a place like MSG, you have everybody heading up at the start of the game and then down at the end. It creates a jam and it’s confusing. You’re forced to kind of follow the crowd just to know where you’re going.”

Is this all he's got? This is old news. We get it. The arena has some advantages, for arena-goers. The impact on the neighborhood, on the other hand--that's produced a lot of forboding.

Mr. Ratner also pointed out that games will be partially visible from the plaza in front of the arena.

“It’s going to be the only court in the league where you can literally watch the game from the street outside,” Mr. Ratner said, pointing out the arena’s embrace of the surrounding community.

Embracing the community, say, by failing to produce the promised Transportation Demand Management plan remotely on time.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

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…

So, Forest City has some property subject to the future Gowanus rezoning

Writing yesterday, MAP: Who Owns All the Property Along the Gowanus Canal, DNAinfo's Leslie Albrecht lays out the positioning of various real estate players along the Gowanus Canal, a Superfund site:
As the city considers whether to rezone Gowanus and, perhaps, morph the gritty low-rise industrial area into a hot new neighborhood of residential towers (albeit at a fraction of the height of Manhattan's supertall buildings), DNAinfo reviewed property records along the canal to find out who stands to benefit most from the changes.
Investors have poured at least $440 million into buying land on the polluted waterway and more than a third of the properties have changed hands in the past decade, according to an examination of records for the nearly 130 properties along the 1.8-mile canal. While the single largest landowner is developer Property Markets Group, other landowners include Kushner Companies, Alloy Development, Two Trees, and Forest City New York.

Forest City's plans unc…

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…