Thursday, October 18, 2012

Forest City's drip-drip housing plan; yes, they're going modular, but no big announcement yet, as financing apparently awaits (and what about the job count?)

Forest City Ratner has been somewhat coy about whether the first Atlantic Yards tower would be built via modular technology, a technological pathbreaker and business risk, given that, at 32 stories, it would be the tallest modular building in the world.

There's been no official announcement and, after the Architects' Newspaper reported that architects SHoP confirmed modular, they backed off. But multiple sources have told me that modular indeed is the plan for the building--groundbreaking Dec. 18--and a recent article also confirmed that.

That implies they have union assent--a big deal, given that unions demonstrated loudly for the project, but now would get far fewer high-wage jobs onsite, though there would be lower-wage jobs in the factory.

Why the delay? I can guess multiple reasons:
  • they're waiting for financing, as acknowledged
  • they may be waiting for an innovation grant or subsidy
  • they may be waiting for union sign-off on how to frame the announcement
  • they don't want to call attention to the decline in promised high-wage union jobs
From the Post

The Real Deal, 10/16/12, quoting the New York Post (not online), Atlantic Yards to set modular record:
Forest City Ratner is slated to set a record in modular construction, the New York Post reported. Not only will the company develop 15 buildings at Atlantic Yards using modular construction, but according to MaryAnne Gilmartin, the company’s executive vice president of commercial and residential development, the construction of B2, a 34-story pre-fab building, will shatter the current record of 24 stories.
...Gilmartin told the Post that Forest City Ratner has had a “breakthrough” in its modular development plans, saying that it has to do with how each module is “tied” to each other. “We have new intellectual property in our technique, and it is able to go high and maintain its light weight,” she told the Post.
A financing hitch? 

The article notes a potential hitch:
But a challenge of finding financing for B2 remains, though Gilmartin said she’s “confident” the company “will end up with a lender… that is… excited by the prospect.”
It's not surprising that lenders might be wary of untested technology, perhaps for safety reasons, but also because market-rate renters might be skittish about being guinea pigs for such new technology.

Also, after reports of crowds on Dean Street at Flatbush Avenue--the exact site of the building--after Barclays Center events, as well as the sensations of bass inside apartments a block away, market-rate renters might have other reasons to be skittish.

Savings on time and money--and fewer jobs

The Real Deal excerpt closes:
Due to the use of pre-fab construction, 60 percent of the work will be conducted in an off-site location, cutting six months from the general 18-month schedule and saving 20 percent of costs.

However, opponents say that the number of promised construction jobs at Atlantic Yards haven’t been brought.
It's false framing to blame "opponents" for doing the work of journalists who should be doing the math, pointing out that there would be fewer jobs, especially on site, and lower spending on workers.

As I wrote, Bruce Ratner claimed that modular construction would "probably" require the same number of workers.

But the numbers just don't compute. According to published reports, there would be 190 factory jobs, representing 60% of the total jobs for the first building. That suggests another 127 jobs onsite.

If 317 workers can build the 363-unit tower in a year, as proposed, that suggests .88 job-years per unit. (It's not clear each worker would work the full year.)

For the 6,430 total units planned, that would mean 5,658 job-years--or little more than one-third of Forest City's longstanding projection of 15,000 construction job-years.

All that math is rough, but it's a start.

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