Sunday, August 18, 2013

Before and after Bloomberg: Times map suggests Barclays Center marks "preference for building," but unbuilt railyard suggests ambiguous legacy

The New York Times Metropolitan section today is a special issue on the Bloomberg years, and provides some useful, if flawed, visual evidence regarding the changes in the city.

On the front page of the first section is a teaser, which includes the Barclays Center as the emblematic piece of construction in Brooklyn. The caption states:
BROOKLYN The Atlantic Yards at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues in 2006, now the site of the Barclays Center.
That's ambiguous, and misleading. There was never a place called Atlantic Yards; rather it's the brand name for a 22-acre site, of which a small fraction is pictured. Developer Forest City Ratner does not even control chunks of the site, namely the majority of the railyard.

Nor is the Vanderbilt Yard--again shown only in part--called Atlantic Yards. The caption would better have read: "A portion of the Atlantic Yards site..."

An arena not at scale

Take for example, the graphic below, which, however useful, neither shows the arena at scale nor explains its financing.


Under "A Preference for Building," the text reads:
"We have beaten the odds and the obstructionists over and over again," the mayor triumphantly declared in his State of the City address in March. He chose an appropriate venue: the Barclays Center, the new home of the Brooklyn Nets, which was a lightning rod for his all-out development police. A vigorous opposition was beaten in the courts and the City Council in much the same way he often steamrolled opposition to his comprehensive rethinking of development. His 120 rezoning proposals were approved by the Council. The city arranged cheap public-backed financing for developers at a rate that dwarfed that of his predecessor, including bonds that helped build Barclays, as well as new stadiums for the Yankees and the Mets.
That's not accurate. Though the City Council approved subsidies as part of a large budget package, there was no up-down vote on Atlantic Yards, because the city, with Bloomberg's agreement, allowed a state agency, the Empire State Development Corporation, to oversee the project and override city zoning.

Nor did the city arrange bonds that helped build the Barclays Center; that was the work of the Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation, a subsidiary of the Job Development Authority, an ESDC alter ego.

Perhaps more importantly, as the graphic and photos below show, there was much not built, which suggests a more ambiguous legacy. None of the towers promised as part of Atlantic Yards will be finished during Bloomberg's tenure. (The first is due late next summer.)




Nor is there any building on the railyard, which requires an expensive deck.

And it was Bloomberg's appointees on the MTA board who led the charge to accept a revision of the railyard deal, giving Forest City Ratner 22 years to pay for the railyard rather than pay the promised $100 million at a deadline.

Shortly thereafter, the deadline to build the entire project was changed from an anticipated ten years to a contractual 25 years.

Fixing the map


There are also some odd things about the Times map, as excerpted at right.

(As a Times graphics editor wrote on Twitter, there are "pitfalls of abstracting from large datasets," and I recognize some sloppiness comes with the territory. I think it's important to point out the errors, though I consider the errors regarding bonds and the name "Atlantic Yards" more significant, as well as the framing that does not acknowledge how much of the project remains unbuilt.)

First, there's no Bank of New York Tower, about 300-feet tall, over the Atlantic Terminal mall (opposite the arena, to the "northwest" on this map), though it's indicated in both photos above.

Second, the Barclays Center, which peaks at 137 feet, is portrayed as just about the same height as the four-story buildings across Sixth Avenue immediately to the east (or "south) on this map.

It's also portrayed as much smaller than the ten-story Atlantic Terrace building catercorrner across Atlantic Avenue, which is probably about 100 feet tall, and the ten-story Newswalk loft building--the large building in red ("south" on the map) opposite the railyard--which is probably [updated] 150-160 feet.

Note that Newswalk should not be in red, as it's a conversion of an existing (albeit briefly closed) building, rather than new construction, as the map key indicates. The Williamsburgh Savings Bank, which also was converted, does not appear in red.

Also, oddly enough, the next block to the east (or "south on the map) is mostly cleared for use as a parking lot, but the Times map includes not only the extant six-story yellow building at 752 Pacific Street formerly owned by Henry Weinstein, but the long-demolished, sprawling Ward Bakery, which extended from Pacific Street to Dean Street.

Claim recurs

In another part of the section, regarding Yankee Stadium, the same inaccurate claim about bonds recurs:
Mayor Bloomberg arranged financing for three expensive venues for city sports teams, including the new Yankee Stadium. Billions in tax-free city-backed bonds gave owners cheap loans, and the city spent hundreds of millions more for infrastructure changes.

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