Thursday, January 03, 2013

Atlantic Yards in 2013: the continued need for scrutiny, lingering legal battles, emerging community impacts, and perhaps a wild card (Islanders move early?)

This year began with a reminder that, however much most people and the press think the Atlantic Yards saga is over, it's not: the Barclays Center apparently opened with defective bolts, but that was neither fully disclosed to the Department of Buildings nor revealed by the state agency overseeing the project or the construction monitor reporting to the bond trustee.

In other words, Atlantic Yards, after a very busy 2012, still deserves scrutiny. (After all, there's a Culture of Cheating around the project.) And that's why lingering questions about public input--and a potential governance entity--remain.

Given developer Forest City Ratner's apparent willingness to fudge construction issues, the construction of the world's tallest modular building, B2 at Atlantic Yards, merits attention, whether or not anything obvious goes wrong.

The building is not supposed to be completed until mid-2014, but its progress should serve as a template for the rest of the Atlantic Yards towers, up to 15 more.

Promises and questions: railyard

The year 2013 offers another opportunity to assess the promises regarding the project. “It really will be catalytic," City Planning Commission Chairperson Amanda Burden said in October 2006 about Atlantic Yards. "It is audacious, and it is aggressive, but you can’t leave an open railyard at the heart of Brooklyn.”

Of course, most of that "open railyard" remains, and Forest City Ratner last October said that a deck over it--an expensive precursor to construction--is a long way off, as they plan to first build four towers over the surface parking lot.

Promises and questions: CBA

Other questions remain regarding Forest City's promises to the community. The developer never hired an Independent Compliance Monitor to evaluate its own performance, and that of its hand-picked partners, under the "historic" Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA).

Such a monitor might have spotted the financial problems faced by Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development (BUILD), which closed last year. Forest City has recently said a monitor would be hired for the construction phase. We'll see.

Given that BUILD is now defunct, Forest City lacks a CBA partner for the job-training component. Will another be named?

The CBA spawned a community tickets program in which community groups get access to arena events. (The program was advertised as limited to specific community boards, then expanded quietly through the borough.) We'll see if that program expands beyond Brooklyn.

The CBA was also supposed to lead to a program in which community organizations hold events at the arena. No progress has been announced yet.

Supplemental EIS, further studies

A lawsuit, finally resolved last year, requires New York State to study the community impacts of a potential 25-year construction plan, including one in which the first buildings constructed beyond the arena block are on that parking lot.

While ubiquitous consultant AKRF can be expected to deliver a report that will not ruffle many feathers, the mere process of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS)--with public hearings, public comments, studies of traffic counts, and responses to comments--should put more on the record regarding Atlantic Yards.

Meanwhile, Forest City Ratner and the DOT are supposed to study arena traffic impacts and the effectiveness of the Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plan. Those are the only post-opening requirements, though presumably the patterns will change when the hockey Islanders move to Brooklyn.

Community impacts

The impact of arena operations will continue to be measured, and tested. Atlantic Yards Watch should continue to serve as a forum for tracking impacts.

The largest lingering issue is the presence of limos and livery cabs, which idle and illegally park on neighborhood streets. While the city has proposed a solution, it doesn't yet work.

Beyond that, arena operations cause honking and a general scrum on neighboring blocks, notably Fifth Avenue in Park Slope.

Still, the full impact of the Barclays Center has hardly been seen.

There are several retail locations--notably the former Triangle Sports building at Fifth and Flatbush avenues, and the un-rented retail space at the Atlantic Terrace building at Atlantic and South Portland avenues--likely to be occupied by high-volume food-and-drink establishments. Hooters, anyone? Shake Shack?

Lingering legal battles

While the SEIS case has been resolved, two other lawsuits remain. First, the lawyers who won that case have asked for legal fees. The result could lead to a replenishment of sorts for community legal coffers, thus funding future potential litigation regarding the environmental review.

Also, the lawsuit against Forest City and BUILD filed by participants in a coveted pre-apprenticeship training program lingers; the plaintiffs have asked for back wages as well as damages from un-met alleged promises regarding jobs and union cards.

Wild cards

Atlantic Yards always involves some surprises. In 2012, arena operators recruited some very high profile performers unlikely to return annually. But some others may well arrive.

The New York Islanders announced a move in 2015, the end of their lease at the Nassau Coliseum. But with the season apparently already lost due to labor-management tensions, the Islanders have already lost some touch with their fan base.

I wouldn't be shocked if they paid to get out of their lease and established themselves in 2013 in Brooklyn, and as the Brooklyn Islanders.

The Nets are looking for a coach. The legendary Phil Jackson is apparently tops on their list, and he'd add celebrity and validation to a franchise that, after spending big bucks on player contracts, severely underperformed in December, at least. (Last night they won big.)

AY & politics

Will Atlantic Yards be an an election issue in 2013? I doubt it. Council Member Letitia James certainly will cite her opposition in her run for Public Advocate, while Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, running for Mayor, likely will get a pass on his vague support for the Atlantic Yards CBA.

Atlantic Yards benefits and impacts are murky enough for almost any political position, as of now. But a new building, and an opportunity to appear at public events as an arena guest, surely tilt the balance.

Borough President Marty Markowitz, enormously satisfied with a new team and arena, leaves office at the end of this year, with no announced plan. Will he get a job at the arena he loves?

2 comments:

  1. The New York Islanders will never change their name because of their historic NHL American Championship tradition unmatched by any other American NHL franchise. If the New Jersey Giants and Jets can call themselves New York, Brooklyn will have to get over itself like New Jersey deals with teams calling itself New York Red Bull or Metro Stars.

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  2. ny711ot6:33 PM

    Um...not so fast...Islanders will remain but the merchandising oppty with Brooklyn in the mix too great a draw for Wang.
    Wishful thinking....

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