Skip to main content

The new New Domino is a bold new plan everyone seems to like, but the devil's in the details

The old vision
The New Domino plan for the Williamsburg waterfront, taken over by DUMBO-famed developers Two Trees Management after CPC Resources faltered, has been transformed with several new benefits and, crucially, made a good bit larger.

As the second-largest development plan in Brooklyn after 22-acre Atlantic Yards, the 11-acre New Domino has even more similarities than it did when announced in 2007: the role of SHoP Architects, brought in to rescue/revive another plan, and the persistent public relations services of BerlinRosen. (At less than half the size of Atlantic Yards, it would take 15 years to build. Note that AY could take 25 years, despite many promises of ten years.)

The new vision, from even higher in the sky;
notice extended height of southernmost tower (r.)
and obscured sibling tower just behind it
What was once proposed as a fairly symmetrical ensemble of boxy residential towers that accentuated the restored 19th century factory (via Rafael Viñoly) would become a more dramatic collection of taller, thinner, more interestingly shaped buildings, including an office tower to accommodate workers in Williamsburg, increased open space, and perhaps the same amount of affordable housing.

The news coverage has been uniformly positive, with reporters even cheerleading.


The Daily News's headline was On the waterfront: Domino Sugar factory to get office makeover and more than 2,000 apartments 660 affordable apartments, parks - and a floating pool in the East River, citing 3,500 jobs in the 600,000 square feet of office space, as well as a commitment to independent retail.

“It meets all the community’s major needs — affordable housing, jobs and open space,”  Community Board 1’s Jason Otano told the paper. “I think it’s a winner. The open space--probably not actual park space--would grow from 3.29 acres to 5.25 acres, thanks in part by taking the space once proposed for a tower.

Presumably an even bigger set of buildings that provided similar results also would be a winner.

Looking more closely

OK, it's an interesting look. But when there's a spot rezoning, you have to keep your eye on the ball.

They're not just bringing jobs, housing, open space, waterfront access, and dramatic architecture. After their predecessors got a spot rezoning--permission to build way bigger than before--Two Trees is asking for even more buildable space. That means another trip through the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), crucially before the Bloomberg administration leaves office

Maybe that's justifiable, especially adding office space to a neighborhood starved for it. But it should be subject to scrutiny, and some math. (Williamsburg's Neighbors Allied for Good Growth opposed the original New Domino plan as too big. And it's still adding lots of density far from the subway.)

Also in question is the affordable housing. Two Trees claims a commitment to the 660 units promised, which would be slightly less than the 30% promised.

But I've seen no coverage yet of whether "affordable" would merely conform to city programs (and thus be unaffordable for many locals) or whether it would aim at a larger percentage of lower-income households, as initially proposed. If so, does that imply a city commitment for more subsidy per unit than for other projects?

And while SHoP's uber-confident partner Vishaan Chakrabarti admits the plan isn't contextual, he asserts, with more legitimacy than tact, "Contextualism is an opiate for the masses."

If so--and the waterfront is surely a place to push the envelope on contextualism--we'll need some street-scale renderings a little more comprehensive (and from the neighborhood to the east) than those distributed in the coordinated media push.

Also, as the Wall Street Journal's Eliot Brown pointed out, Chakrabarti in his earlier days was both more contextual and, at least regarding the areas studied for his 1993 master's thesis, less bottom-line oriented:
Land use planning should emphasize the social needs of the city, including the clear need for affordable housing. Physical intervention should be sensitive to the existing scale of the city, with an emphasis on regulating height, streetwall, and block structure rather than expression and materials. Land consolidation should be illegal after a specific threshold, which could easily be determined through analysis of a city's typical block size.
... Proponents of large-scale urban redevelopment have yet to prove that such projects "trickle down" wealth.
How much bigger? 

The plan involves only building a tower 598 feet, nearly 50% taller than the previous 40-story limit, plus, according to Crain's, two 590-foot towers linked by a bridge. There would be 2,284 apartments, up from 2,220 as passed (not necessarily down from 2,400, as one report says, though 2,400 was once proposed) and 630,000 square feet of office space, up from 100,000.

Below is the comparison chart produced by Two Trees, which says the approved plan *was* 2,400 units, and also adds open space in its calculations:

Given that it was announced at 2.86 million square feet and now would be 3.3 or 3.4 million square feet, my math says that's a gain of 440,000 or 540,000 sf, though the flacks, according to one reporter, say it's just 272,000 zoning sf or 230,000 gross square feet, the size of a medium-sized building. NY1 reported:
"The existing plan has about 3 million square feet of built space, and our plan is very much in the same ballpark," said Jed Walentas of Two Trees Management Company.
How much is that worth? TerraCRG says residentially-zoned Williamsburg development property goes for $160 per buildable square foot, which (using 272,000) adds up to a $43,520,000 value.

But Two Trees' Jed Walentas told the Brooklyn Paper that office space would rent for less than half that of residential space, though ultimately it would, in the Paper's paraphrase, "creat[e] a vibrant atmosphere that’s alive at all times of day, eventually making the project more profitable."

Then again, commercially zoned industrial buildings in Williamsburg went for $135/sf and in East Williamsburg for $252/sf, according to TerraCRG, so any numbers need an adjustment.

Beyond that, presumably the waterfront location and insta-iconic architecture also would add value.

The Domino Effect's take

Wrote Brian Paul 2/16/13 on the blog of The Domino Effect, the documentary about the project:
Is it really possible that a private, for-profit developer like Two Trees could want to re-establish mixed use on the waterfront? After the 2005 rezoning was expressly designed by the Bloomberg administration’s Department of City Planning to cater to developers? After paying $185 million for the Domino Sugar site?
I believe the answer is yes, with an asterisk. First, the asterisk is that Two Trees will likely want to build at least one very, very tall tower of luxury residential. Perhaps as tall as 60 stories. It should be noted that this kind of height would be completely antithetical to the vision of the 197-a community plan, which always called for strictly contextual building heights.
Yet such a tower of mammon could be the key that unlocks the rest of the parcel to much more diverse mixed-use development. I feel the need to note here that this hypothetical tower of mammon would be totally unnecessary if not for CPCR and Isaac Katan’s incompetence and greed in flipping Domino from a $55 million land cost to a $185 million without a dime of improvement to the site. City government should have never agreed to the rezoning of Domino without a viable financial plan for development. As a result, Two Trees is forced to overcome this sunk cost that could have been much lower.
Architecture trumps all?

New York Magazine critic Justin Davidson declared Oooh, Williamsburg: A so-what plan is trumped by daring:
It's hard to argue that [Walentas's] motivator is greed, since the new proposal whittles away some market-rate apartments, keeps all the affordable units, adds less-profitable offices, shuts out megaretailers in favor of small stores, and increases the open public space by almost 60 percent. Maybe Walentas really wants what he says he wants: a round-the-clock New Dumbo... Yes, the new Domino would mean more creeping Manhattanization, but that sure is better than the alternative: the New Jersification of Brooklyn.
It may not be greed: Two Trees is known for long-term thinking, and has some deep pockets. But his motivation surely isn't eleemosynary, either. The devil will be in the details. (Also, I'm not sure that O-shaped buildings signify Manhattan rather than Rem Koolhaas's Beijing.)

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…

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website Matzav.com explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

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…