Monday, December 17, 2012

Brooklyn’s vaunted, tainted Barclays Center: focus on plaza obscures missing (revenue-producing) office tower; also, remember RPA's request for public benefits in exchange for concessions

My Reuters Opinion essay last Friday, Brooklyn’s vaunted, tainted Barclays Center, was illustrated, unsurprisingly, with a portrayal of the arena looking east from the arena plaza.

That's a common perspective, but that photo, as with nearly all discussion of the arena, omits a key part of the project: the revenue-producing flagship office tower, aka B1.

As I wrote 10/1/12 in The Atlantic Cities:
[New York magazine critic Justin] Davidson, like the other critics, ignores a glaring absence in current renderings of the three-tower arena block: Atlantic Yards was approved with a fourth tower, a flagship office building at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic, some 50 stories high, covering what's now the arena plaza, with the subway entrance enclosed in an atrium Gehry dubbed an "Urban Room."
However visitors embrace the oculus, the arena was never supposed to stand alone. That flagship tower--long on hold, Ratner admitted nearly three years ago--was key to the portrayal of Atlantic Yards, as it would have delivered both permanent jobs and promised tax revenues.
Remember how the loss of projected office space in 2006 helped trigger a severe drop in revenue estimates?

The RPA role

My Reuters essay was necessarily brief. Still, one of the most illustrative examples was Forest City Ratner's renegotiation of the deal for Vanderbilt Yard development rights, achieved in June 2009 with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

As I wrote:
The MTA’s current spokesman declined to comment on decisions made in a previous administration, which disregarded a call from the mainstream Regional Plan Association to request more public oversight and potential future revenue in return for concessions. The then-MTA chairman declared, vaguely, “I think, in this economy, jobs and an arena in Brooklyn is a public good.”
The RPA is a mainstream planning group, not a radical one. Check out the endorsements from area elected officials and its blue-chip board made of business and civic leaders. Even the RPA was ignored.

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