Sunday, September 09, 2012

Crain's: Forest City to construct prototype module for prefab tower this month, will decide by Christmas; some revisionist history on consultant's role

There are a few new tidbits in a Crain's New York Business article posted today headlined Legoland comes to Brooklyn: Decision looms on plans for world's tallest prebuilt towers in downtown Brooklyn.

(Of course, it's not "downtown Brooklyn.")

Here's the latest timetable for the long-delayed first tower, which would be the world's tallest modular building.:
What remains to be seen, however, is whether it actually gets built. Forest City will construct a prototype module this month and then decide by Christmas on whether to build modular towers or conventional ones. The choice hinges largely on whether Forest City can ink a deal with unions that would require them to take significant pay cuts to help the developer achieve its goal of lowering construction costs by up to 25%. Saving that money is especially important because 50% of the 4,500 rental apartments planned for Atlantic Yards are designated to be affordable or low-income housing. Forest City hopes that its system eventually will become a model for other large-scale developers.

"This could revolutionize how we do construction in the city," said MaryAnne Gilmartin, the Forest City executive vice president who is spearheading the project.
There's nothing as to how this might affect the promised jobs and tax revenues associated with the project. The modular gambit also might be used as a negotiating tactic with the labor unions. But if they're building a module, they already have preliminary cooperation with labor unions.

And saving that money is "especially important" not so much because there's subsidized housing but because a corporate developer deemed it so. After all, New York State approved the Atlantic Yards plan on the assumption that Forest City could build it.

Revisionist history

The article states:
Setting up a factory will be essential for Forest City, not just for this project, but also for any hopes it might have of churning out modules for other developers in the future. Nearly two years ago, Forest City launched its modular journey by tapping SHoP, engineering firm Arup and consultant XSite Modular to devise a plan.
The process actually started nearly three years ago, as I reported, when Forest City began work with a now-defunct firm, Kullman Construction.

After Kullman's second-in-command left, she formed a new firm, XSite Modular, that eventually became Forest City's partner. Kullman filed a lawsuit against XSite that was settled out of court, but not without some drama.

Gilmartin, angry at the breakdown in negotiations with Kullman and another outside part of the team, architect James Garrison, issued a threat, which Garrison described in an email to Kullman's Avi Telyas that was included in the legal file. "I had an unpleasant conversation with MaryAnne," Garrison wrote. "I was told they know the same people I know and they’ll make sure to fuck me whenever possible."

Not only is Kullman no longer extant, XSite bought the Kullman web address.

Factory coming?

To actually proceed, Forest City will have to start a factory, likely in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. In early June, Real Estate Weekly quoted Gilmartin as saying the developer was "four to six weeks away from signing a lease for 100,000 s/f of factory space in the Brooklyn Navy Yard." That hasn't happened.

The plan for the first building is sophisticated, according to Crain's:
Adding to the challenge, the developer insisted that its tower transcend the dull uniformity for which modular buildings are known. Instead, its plan calls for a tower with setbacks outside and 24 different apartment layouts inside. That variety, however, led to a need for 225 different modules, which in turn require a more complicated frame.

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