Thursday, January 31, 2013

Pacific Street between Sixth and Carlton to become one-way westbound, as parking on north side removed for railyard work

There are changes planned for Pacific Street between Sixth and Carlton avenues perpendicular to the Atlantic Yards arena block, and they involve less parking, different traffic, and railyard work.

The first clue came in a report (below) from consultant STV, which works for Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing Atlantic Yards.

The report said that the Department of Transportation was considering eliminating street parking on Pacific while Forest City continues to upgrade the Long Island Rail Road's Vanderbilt Yard.

That plan apparently has been modified.

Changes coming next week

A neighborhood resident forwarded me an excerpt from a preview of two-week Atlantic Yards Construction Alert scheduled to be released on Monday.

Pacific Street, which now has cramped two-way traffic, especially on event nights, will go back to  westbound one-way traffic, thus making it easier to stage construction vehicles for the B2 tower on Pacific Street east of Vanderbilt Avenue, a demapped street adjacent to the arena parking lot.

For perhaps two years, all parking on north side of Pacific will be eliminated until construction is completed. This should cut down on the number of black cars and limos idling on the street. Still, Pacific Street will remain attractive to anyone seeking parking, including construction workers.

All trees on the north side will be removed for construction, but replanted when construction is finished. Construction is not expected to go overnight.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

NYPD: Barclays Center running smoothly overall, except for problem of idling limos; Quality of Life Committee meeting Feb. 7

Police overseeing the Barclays Center say things have gone smoothly overall, but some neighborhood complaints still surfaced last night at the monthly meeting of the 78th Precinct Community Council, held at the precinct, located at Bergen Street and Sixth Avenue a block from the arena..

Richard Goldstein, president of the Carlton Avenue Association, said a neighbor had reported that limos and black cars are illegally parked at hydrants regularly on “game nights”--presumably event nights--but not getting ticketed. (The law says there should be 15 foot radius from the center of the hydrant in each direction.)

Deputy Inspector Michael Ameri directed Goldstein to speak to the sergeant assigned to the arena and said complainants should call 311.

Desmond Atkins of Community Board 8 reported consistent complaints about such hired vehicles idling on streets east of the arena.

Community Council President Pauline Blake responded that the such vehicle complaints are the predominant ones emanating from the arena and, pointing to areas south of the arena, said “your community is not the only one impacted... we're trying to see what solutions can be worked out.”

Alfred Chiodo, an aide to Council Member Letitia James, said he’d heard that the limos are not taking advantage of designated free parking on Atlantic Avenue.

Ameri said that “we implemented a strategy... we’re working with TLC [Taxi and Limousine Commission], we’re working with Barclays.” (There’s no automatic summons, however, if the car is occupied.)

Quality of Life Committee meeting

Ameri said the strategy would be re-evaluated at the next Atlantic Yards Quality of Life committee meeting.

The next committee meeting will be held on Thursday, February at 6:30pm at Brooklyn Borough Hall. The meeting is open to the public for observation but participation is limited to invited representatives from community groups.

Overall smooth ride

"Overall, we haven't, in my opinion, had any major interference, major gridlock... crime has been minimal,” Ameri said, with “minimal” complaints regarding such things as vending, noise, and public urination. (There were several urination complaints early on. Ameri made no public mention of regular open scalping outside and occasional rampant pot smoking inside.)

DNAinfo reported:
The few crimes at the Barclays Center have been limited to property thefts, such as cell phones stolen from the employee locker room, Ameri said. Cops have also seen minor issues like disorderly conduct and ticket scalping, he said, and police responded to a crowd of rowdy Justin Bieber fans in November.
The “biggest issue is black cars,” Ameri said, suggesting it “maybe wasn't anticipated as much” by city and state agencies. (Actually, the Transportation Demand Management plan assigned enforcement to the police, without checking to see whether that would be a priority.)

Ameri said the precinct, with expanded boundaries and got new officers when it assumed policing of the arena and nearby malls, is up some 25% officers. He said from ten to 30 officers are typically assigned to arena events--there were many more on opening weekend, I’d say--dependent on the size and nature of the crowd.

Blake responded to what she interpreted as suspicious that the arena may be drawing away officers from patrolling the community. “I don't think that's happening because we are too smart” to let that happen, she said, observing that Ameri will make sure to keep a balance. Ameri said that, when there’s no event, ”we have more officers than we ever had.”

Upcoming lectures at Pratt Manhattan on public space and transportation


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Forbes: value of Nets leaps 48%, to $530 million, upon Brooklyn move (were all those subsidies needed?)

From Forbes on the Nets
The annual Forbes list of NBA team valuations came out last week, and while the Knicks and Lakers got notice for being worth more than $1 billion, the 48% rise in value of the Brooklyn Nets, bringing the team value to $530 million even before assessing the full impact of the new arena and location, is astonishing.

Forbes reported:
The increase is due to higher revenue from television, new and renovated arenas, and the NBA’s new collective-bargaining agreement, which reduced player costs from 57% of revenues to roughly 50%. The labor deal also increased the amount of money high-revenue teams provide low-revenue teams.
Also, player costs went down because of the lockout, though the latter didn't affect some locked-in revenues.

Nets value leaps

The Nets were big winners:
The move from New Jersey to the $1 billion Barclays Center has transformed the team from one of the league’s financial laggards to one of its elite, with luxurious floor level suites that rent for $550,000 a year.
(Actually, the arena cost $845 million, as Forbes states elsewhere.)

Shouldn't this news make New York City and State officials rethink their pattern of agreeing to renegotiate deals for the Vanderbilt Yard and other subsidies/project benefits?

According to the Forbes page on the Nets:
The Nets posted the NBA’s second-biggest operating loss in their final season playing in Newark’s Prudential Center, but it is a new era for the Nets after their move to Brooklyn and the opening of the Barclays Center. Jay-Z, a small investor in the Nets, opened the arena to rave reviews with a series of eight concerts in the fall. The team is adding the NHL's Islanders as a tenant starting in 2015, which will help offset the arena's operating expenses. Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov owns 80% of the Nets and a 45% stake in the arena, while real estate developer Bruce Ratner owns a controlling interest in the Barclays Center and will operate the arena. Ratner also owns 20% of the basketball team.
Note that the Nets are worth $292 million alone--near what each of Prokhorov and Ratner put in, albeit before paying for losses--based on NBA revenue sharing.

Now the revenue sharing figure may adjust down because of the Brooklyn move, but surely the team's value attributable to city and market size, to arena, and to brand--all far, far lower than the comparable figures for the Knicks--will grow.

In other words, Ratner and Prokhorov--buying into a new arena, and new market--made a very smart deal, however long it took. (They don't own the arena, just the operating company. Remember, the arena is "publicly owned," for purposes of issuing tax-exempt bonds.)

And since Ratner and parent company Forest City Enterprises have considered selling the team, now might be a good time to take some profits--or, they could wait and see the value grow even further.

(Here's one blogger who contends that, in the past, Forbes has actually undervalued teams, which sell for even more than estimated value.)

The value of TV

In The Celtics Score: How Boston's Value Doubled To $730 Million In Just 10 Years, Forbes explains how the Boston Celtics have done very, very well.
From Forbes on the Nets
In an era of ballooning television contracts fueling leaps in sports franchise values across every league, it’s easy to see why someone would–allegedly, mind you–offer up a ridiculous number for a team based in Boston, perhaps the most rabid sports market in the Western Hemisphere and home to a legacy that includes 17 NBA world championships. After ten years and hundreds of millions in added value under [Wyc] Grousbeck, the Celtics are primed to be flipped. You can’t blame someone for asking.

“It speaks to how valuable teams are becoming because of media rights,” he says. “Sports deliver the most valuable demographic to advertisers.”
This passage, in an article on The NBA's Billionaire Owners, doesn't quite make sense:
Wealthy owners certainly carry more value in smaller markets. Money for things like arena fix-ups, which [Paul] Allen largely financed for Portland’s Rose Garden, and brand new buildings to escape New Jersey in, which the Brooklyn Nets got thanks to [Mikhail] Prokhorov’s partial buyout of Bruce Ratner, can get done despite relatively limited cash flows.
Yes, Prokhorov bought most of the Nets and a 45% share of the arena operating company, but the arena relies even more on naming rights/sponsorships and other cash flow to pay back the $511 million in tax-exempt bonds.

Barclays Center still dripping rust

OK, the Barclays Center's done pretty well, as the Bruce Ratner encomia yesterday reminded us, but the arena is still dripping rust, as indicated by this video of the Atlantic Avenue side, shot last week.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Daily News: Ratner's One Pierrepont Plaza office tower gets taxes lowered $160K/year in reassessment

From the Daily News, Another break for Ratner: Barclays Center owner gets tax savings on Brooklyn Heights property:
The Tax Commission shaved off $7.8 million of the assessed value of a separate Brooklyn Heights office building owned by the controversial developer at 135 Pierrepont St. after FCR requested a reassessment, city records show.
As a result, the Bruce Ratner firm's tax bill dropped by an estimated $802,000 over five years.
That was the second tax reduction granted for the 19-story property in two years, records show.
In 2011, FCR knocked down the building's assessed value by $4.8 million, saving an estimated $496,000 in taxes over five years.
The tower, also known as One Pierrepont Plaza, opened in 1987 and was built to keep Morgan Stanley back offices in New York City rather than be lost to New Jersey.

Reassessment is not uncommon, but it would be interesting to see the underlying documents to understand the rationale. Yes, the building's getting older, but hasn't the area become ever more coveted?

Ratner steps back as Forest City CEO as Gilmartin steps up; remember how Forest City was restructured in 2006 so Ratner could do more philanthropy?

Matt Chaban, the new real estate reporter for Crain's New York Business (ex-NY Observer), has a scoop headlined Bruce Ratner to step down as Forest City CEO: Developer of the vast Atlantic Yards project in downtown Brooklyn will be succeeded as CEO by company's Executive Vice President MaryAnne Gilmartin:
Brooklyn's biggest developer, Bruce Ratner, is preparing to step down as chief executive of Forest City Ratner, the New York City subsidiary of his family's Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises. Taking his place will be MaryAnne Gilmartin, who became executive vice president in 2007. The switch will elevate her to Mr. Ratner's clear No. 2, as he continues on in his role as chairman.
With no comment from inside Forest City and no explanation of exactly how much the 68-year-old Ratner will give up--and how that might reconfigure the executive chairs below Gilmartin--there's not much more to the story.

But it is true, as Chaban writes, that it has been a "banner 2012 for Mr. Ratner"--not just the opening of the Barclays Center and the groundbreaking for a modular tower, but (unmentioned in Crain's) the surprising coup of luring the New York Islanders to the basketball-focused arena, thus ensuring another 41+ dates a year for a not-always busy venue.

Also significant is the astonishing rise in value (according to Forbes) of the Brooklyn Nets, which will make it that much easier for Forest City Enterprises, Ratner's parent company, to sell their share in the team, as has been contemplated.

Ratner's accomplishments, and the help he got

A source tells Crain's, "He's done an incredible amount for the city, and he's got a great team in position to keep up that great work."

As I commented: 
Ratner has accomplished much, but didn't even the NYTimes describe him as having a "reputation for promising anything to get a deal, only to renegotiate relentlessly for more favorable terms"? 
The last time Ratner made a move: philanthropy

On 8/4/06, Lumi Rolley of NoLandGrab analyzed an 8/3/06  Forest City Enterprises press release headlined, Forest City Announces Negotiations to Restructure Forest City Ratner Portfolio:
Forest City Enterprises, Inc. (NYSE:FCEA) (NYSE:FCEB) today announced that it is negotiating with Bruce C. Ratner to restructure their combined interest in a total of 30 retail, office and residential operating properties and certain service companies that currently are owned jointly by Forest City and Ratner. All of the properties included in this portfolio except one are located in the New York City metropolitan area. Currently Forest City owns a majority interest in its New York portfolio. Upon closing of the proposed transaction, Forest City will be entitled to substantially all of the remaining economic benefits of the underlying properties. The parties also are negotiating the restructuring of certain jointly owned projects under active development which will be valued when each development is completed. Beyond these development projects, Forest City will have the right to all future development.
Rolley's take:
What the press release fails to state in layman's terms is that Bruce Ratner's company was just purchased and assimilated into the Cleveland mothership.
Read: Bruce leveraged himself to the hilt on Atlantic Yards and the NJ Nets, and had to sell his company in order to keep afloat a project that hasn't yet been approved....
The question of why he felt he had to sell his equity to FCE is a good one. All signs lead to FCE wanting to increase their ownership position in exchange for the increased exposure on Atlantic Yards.
Judging from the fact that the press release didn't come out and clearly state that FCR is being wholly acquired up by FCE, we may see some positive spin from the developer in the future.
On 8/11/06, Rolley wrote, The spin is in, showing how a helpful investment analyst told two reporters that Ratner was going to spend more time on philanthropy!

From The Real Estate Observer, Bruce Ratner, Philanthropist?:
"What happened was that Bruce was getting to the point in his life where he wants to do some philanthropy," Rich Moore, managing director at RBC Capital Markets, told us. "There is no liquidity to joint ventures because he has to sell a building in order to make any money."
From the NY Sun, Ratner To Cash In on Stake in His Company:
“It will be the same people, the same entities, the same decision makers. He will run FCR just as he ran it before,” Mr. Moore said. “Basically, this was more designed for Bruce personally to have more liquidity to make philanthropic donations.
“He is getting older, and it is time for him personally to do things a little differently,” Mr. Moore said.
As Rolley wrote, "It's practically as credible as, 'the Congressman will be leaving office to spend more time with his family.'"

Needless to say, Ratner has not focused on philanthropy in the last six-plus years.

The aftermath

Forest City Completes Restructuring of New York City Portfolio
CLEVELAND – November 8, 2006 – Forest City Enterprises, Inc. (NYSE:FCEA) (NYSE:FCEB) today announced that it has completed the restructuring of the Forest City Ratner Companies portfolio. The portfolio is composed of Forest City Enterprises’ and Bruce C. Ratner’s combined interest in a total of 30 retail, office and residential operating properties, certain service companies and seven identified development opportunities, as well as the pursuit of new real estate opportunities, all in the greater New York City metropolitan area.
As previously announced, Bruce Ratner has contributed his ownership interests in the 30 operating properties, the service companies and participation rights in all future developments (except those named below) to a newly formed limited liability company. Forest City paid $46.3 million in cash and issued 3,894,000 units in the new limited liability company to Bruce Ratner. These units may be exchanged (after a one-year lock-up period) for an equal number of shares of FCEA stock or cash based on the value of FCEA stock at the time of conversion. For the first five years only, units that have not been exchanged will receive their proportionate share of an aggregate annual preferred payment of $2.5 million plus an amount equal to the dividends payable on the same number of shares of Forest City stock. After five years, the annual preferred payment on the outstanding units will equal only the dividends payable on Forest City stock. In addition, Forest City will indemnify Bruce Ratner for any tax liability he may incur as a result of the sale of any of these properties during the 12-year period following the closing of the transaction.

The cash and units exchanged for Bruce Ratner’s interest are net of $42.5 million of preferred returns in favor of Forest City. This transaction also takes into account $384 million of non-recourse project debt (as of January 31, 2006) attributable to Bruce Ratner’s ownership. All but $16.8 million of this debt is already reported on the consolidated balance sheet of Forest City’s GAAP financial statements.
....Forest City will conduct its New York operations in the same manner as it has for the past 20 years. Bruce Ratner will continue to be president and chief executive officer of Forest City Ratner Companies. He will continue to lead the Atlantic Yards project, with responsibility for the successful execution of the planned redevelopment. Bruce Ratner’s economic interest in this development opportunity will be realized through his substantial ownership of the units described above. He will also become a member of Forest City’s Board of Directors by no later than February 1, 2007. 

The Loew's Kings Theatre rehab begins; how much will it become borough venue for graduations?

Photo by Kathryn Kirk/Borough President's Office
On 1/23/13, officials held a groundbreaking for the restoration of the the 3,200-seat Loew’s Kings Theatre in Flatbush, built in 1929 and closed since 1977. It's the largest indoor theater in Brooklyn, and its ornate French Renaissance Style design is remembered fondly by old-timers (and was the site of Borough President Marty Markowitz's first date).

From a Markowitz press release:
Following preliminary work untaken by ACE Theatrical over the last three years, New York City has executed a 55-year lease with the Kings Theatre Redevelopment Corporation – a consortium of ACE Theatrical, Goldman Sachs and the National Development Council – to begin the full redevelopment and rehabilitation of the theatre. The project was financed through funding from the City, Marty Markowitz, the Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group and United Fund Advisors.
...“Restoring the glory of the Loew’s Kings Theatre into a combination of the Beacon and the Apollo all rolled into one has long been a dream of mine and the Flatbush community—and now it is time for the theater’s triumphant ‘encore.’ Not only will the new facility be the largest indoor theater in the borough—hosting everything from concerts and plays to special events and graduation ceremonies—it will be an engine of economic growth along Flatbush Avenue and for all of Central Brooklyn.”
...The $93.9 million project is estimated to create more than 500 construction jobs and 50 permanent jobs. In addition, each performance will create additional temporary jobs for theatrical freelancers. As part of the project, the theatre will be expanded from its original approximately 68,000 square-foot space to approximately 93,000 square feet to enable it to be used as a live performance venue, with a suitable backstage area not originally part of the movie theatre. Once renovations are complete in late 2014 the theatre is expected to host between 200 and 250 performances a year.
What about graduations?

As I pointed out three years ago, it will be interesting to see how much the Loew's Kings becomes the go-to venue for Brooklyn high school and college graduations, which is, of course, a function that the Atlantic Yards arena was supposed to fulfill. (One consultant's report predicted a very high cost of $100,000 per event, though arena developers later said that was overblown.)

Likely the Loew's Kings will be cheaper. Then again, it's not adjacent to any subway station, so it's not as accessible as the arena. So far, the arena was used for a New York Police Department swearing-in ceremony last month for 1159 new officers. (I haven't seen any reports on what the city was charged, and whether that represents a discount.)


The Loew's Kings is expected to have much more of a local/borough audience. Indeed, the Draft Environmental Impact Statement expects a "modal split of 50 percent by auto, 14 percent  by taxi, 18 percent by subway, 9 percent by bus, and 9 percent by walk."



Sunday, January 27, 2013

Kicking off mayoral campaign, de Blasio casts himself as a reformer. He never fulfilled promise to monitor Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement.

In his mayoral campaign kickoff today, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, according to the Times, cast himself as a reformer:
“Let’s be honest about where we are today: a city that in too many ways has become a tale of two cities, a place where City Hall too often has catered to the interests of the elite rather than the needs of everyday New Yorkers,” Mr. de Blasio said.
...Mr. de Blasio applauded the mayor’s anti-obesity and antismoking initiatives, as well as his national push for immigration reform. But he also hammered the mayor — and obliquely, a major Democratic rival, Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker — for the “back-room deal” that allowed Mr. Bloomberg to seek a third term.
But de Blasio has his own blind spots, such as reliance on the ACORN and Working Families Party activists who supported Atlantic Yards to the hilt. That means he's been unwilling to hold developer Forest City Ratner to the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement it signed, even though he pledged to do so.

de Blasio on Atlantic Yards CBA

Consider de Blasio's remarks at the the 8/23/06 hearing on the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement:
I support the project because I believe that we're at a crisis in New York City when it comes to affordable housing... And I think we're in a crisis when it comes to economic development and providing real jobs for the community. But I also want to stress as much as I believe this project will help move us forward in terms of economic development and especially affordable housing, I also believe very strongly the need for accountability in relationship to the Community Benefits Agreement. I think the Community Benefits Agreement is historic. I think it sets a model that I hope will be followed throughout New York City going forward... but it must be adhered to. And it's the responsibility of all of us and especially as we elected officials, to ensure that it is scrupulously adhered to.
Has there been accountability in relationship to the Community Benefits Agreement? Forest City Ratner has not hired the long-promised Independent Compliance Monitor.

Has the agreement been scrupulously adhered to? See above. 

Or note that the subsidized housing in the first Atlantic Yards tower, while 50% of the units, evades another pledge: that 50% of the affordable units, in floor area, be assigned to family-sized units, 2BR and 3BR. 

Of 181 subsidized units, only 36 will be 2BR units. Moreover, the distribution of those larger units will skew significantly toward households earning six figures rather than be spread evenly among the five affordable-housing "bands."

Has de Blasio done or said anything about these issues? No. And he's been rather friendly toward Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner, source of campaign support.

(I interviewed de Blasio at length about Atlantic Yards in September 2007, and asked him about the CBA in July 2011, though not about the first tower.)

All Things Considered covers purported EB-5 investment into Barclays Center, gets much wrong

An All Things Considered article yesterday headlined Investing In Citizenship: For The Rich, A Road To The U.S. addressed the EB-5 immigrant investor program. There was more skepticism than usual in the piece, but it still badly mangled the Atlantic Yards angle. From the transcript:
First, let's show you how the program works. It's officially called an EB-5 visa. We let 10,000 people apply here if they have the cash. Last year, 7,600 took us up on the offer. If you want to see the kind of places where the money goes, you can turn on your TV set when the Brooklyn Nets are playing hoops.....
The team just moved to Brooklyn, and they needed a place to play, and the developer had a plan. Take a crummy neighborhood with abandoned railroad tracks, put in housing, offices and that glorious new stadium for the Nets, Barclays Center. Bloomberg News reports that more than $200 million of the loans to build the project came from foreigners who were using the investment to get into the United States. The business plan predicts that in the end, it will create more than 5,000 jobs. That's how it's supposed to work.
My comment (yet to be approved):
Weak reporting, NPR.

Re Brooklyn Nets/Barclays Center, NPR said, "Take a crummy neighborhood with abandoned railroad tracks." 
How about a gentrifying neighborhood, a "great piece of real estate" (to quote the then-CEO of developer Forest City Enterprises), and a working railyard for which the development rights were never put out for bid, even as land in NYC became so valuable it became feasible to build a deck for development over the yard.
EB-5 investments are supposed to be $1 million, but are cut in half to $500K if in a rural or high-unemployment neighborhood. The Barclays Center/Atlantic Yards project is *not* in a high-unemployment neighborhood. How'd they manage to finagle it? They gerrymandered the map. This was the subject of a front-page New York Times article.

And it's still considered OK.

As for the purported investment into the Barclays Center, the issue gets trickier: it was was misleadingly promoted in China and S. Korea as an investment *into* the arena. Developer Forest City Ratner told BusinessWeek the investment was going into infrastructure. Documents suggest that, instead, it was used significantly to refinance a land loan: replacing high-interest financing with low-interest financing.

How does that create jobs? Only on paper.

There are two issues here. First, is it OK to let rich foreigners buy their way into the country? That may rankle, but other countries do it, so the U.S. is competing. (But why not follow countries like Canada, which have plain vanilla programs in which immigrants invest directly into a government fund.)
Second, does the investment do more to create or serve to enrich the middlemen--the immigration agencies, lawyers, and, and deal packagers--as well as the entrepreneurs who hire them?
In many cases, it's the latter.

"The business plan [for the Barclays Center/Atlantic Yards investment] predicts that in the end, it will create more than 5,000 jobs."

Funny, that plan has never been made public. The calculations are based on "multipliers"--i.e. a certain investment is calculated to spur a certain number of jobs. Thing is, the immigrant investors get credit for *all* the jobs "created" by their investment. In the case of the Brooklyn arena project, the investors ($200M+) were supposed to get credit for more than $1 billion of investment.

But most of that $1 billion had already been committed, including public subsidies, and by no means was dependent on seed money from abroad.

Cities and states *love* EB-5. They're getting cheap financing for local developers/entrepreneurs at no cost to themselves. The cost is the *opportunity cost* of "selling" visas. The question is why our federal government sells them so cheaply, and with so little concern about whether the public truly benefits.

The EB-5 program deserves far more careful investigation.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Asbestos work Monday and Tuesday at site of first Atlantic Yards tower

From 7am to 3pm on Monday, January 28 and Tuesday January 29, work crews at the site of the first Atlantic Yards tower, B2, will be removing a newly discovered source of asbestos found buried under ground.

The news came in a Supplemental Report to the previous two-week construction alert issued by Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing Atlantic Yards, after preparation by developer Forest City Ratner.

It's not clear exactly where the buried boiler, source of the asbestos, was found, but the B2 site, at Flatbush Avenue and Dean Street adjacent to the Barclays Center arena, was formerly occupied, in part, by both a gas station and a residential building.

The announcement:
During excavation at the site, the foundation contractor uncovered an unknown boiler that was previously buried below ground by others. Samples collected from boiler insulation suspected to be asbestos containing material (ACM) confirmed the presence of asbestos.

An emergency notification was made to the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP), and emergency project approval number EN-0098-13 was issued by the NYCDEP.

The abatement of the boiler ACM is scheduled to occur on Monday January 28th and Tuesday January 29th.

Prior to the abatement, the necessary asbestos warning signs will be posted at the site. Properly protected and certified workers will construct a remote decontamination tent in close proximity to the boiler. A tent enclosure equipped with negative pressure ventilation will be constructed around the boiler. The ACM will be removed by wet methods and loaded into bags within the containment tent for proper off-site disposal. Third-party air monitoring will be conducted during and following completion of the abatement activities. All abatement and monitoring procedures will be conducted in accordance with NYCDEP and New York State Department of Labor asbestos regulations. Upon completion of the abatement and prior to final air clearance the enclosure, all tent surfaces shall be wet cleaned, High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) vacuumed, and lightly encapsulated. Following receipt of the clearance from the third party air monitor, the containment tent and decontamination tent will be collapsed and properly disposed with all abated material.





Friday, January 25, 2013

Public meeting set for Feb. 27 to hear comments on draft scope for Atlantic Yards SEIS; written comments until March 14

How much worse would a 25-year Atlantic Yards buildout be than the ten-year buildout long promised and the 15-year scenario studied in 2009 when the project was re-approved?

Well, the state will hear comments on the design of a court-ordered Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) next month.

On 12/20/12, Empire State Development (ESD) issued a 20-page Draft Scope for a SEIS nearly six months after the state Court of Appeals rejected an attempt to appeal an appellate court's unanimous affirmation of a lower court's order to study the potential impact of a 25-year Atlantic Yards buildout.

Today, ESD announced:
A public scoping meeting has been scheduled to obtain comments on the draft scope of work for the DSEIS. The meeting will be held on February 27, 2013 from 5:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M. at St. Francis College, Founders Hall, 182 Remsen Street, Brooklyn, New York. Copies of the draft scope of analysis may be obtained from ESD’s Web site, www.esd.ny.gov/AtlanticYards, or may be requested through the contact information provided below. Comments on the draft scope of work may be presented by members of the public or any interested party at the public scoping meeting or submitted in writing to: Empire State Development (Attn: Atlantic Yards), 633 Third Avenue, 37th floor, New York, NY 10017, atlanticyards@esd.ny.gov. Written comments will be accepted until 5:00 P.M. on March 14, 2013.
Note that this is a preliminary meeting, to discuss the scope of the SEIS, not its content.

After a Draft SEIS is issued, a public hearing will be held to take comments. In August 2006, the hearing on the Draft EIS was epic.

These days, passions around Atlantic Yards have subsided considerably. That said, it's a reasonable bet that the hearing on the Draft SEIS will be more substantive--since people can react to a document, not just a design--than the scoping meeting.

At mayoral forum, Atlantic Yards draws scorn for prioritizing Barclays Center over housing; more subtle criticism is lack of family-size units (and pace)

Atlantic Yards was the subject of some scornful comments in the first mayoral debate, held last night at St. Paul Community Baptist Church in East New York, and while the episode hardly made event coverage, it did spark on Twitter.

The Daily News reported:
“It’s great that we have a new basketball arena ... but I haven’t seen one new unit of affordable housing,” [publisher Tom] Allon said, referring to the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn. “We can’t say the basketball court comes first. Housing has to come first.”

“We’ve got popcorn vendors and no apartments,” [Comptroller John] Liu added, to wild applause.

Other coverage, not mentioning Atlantic Yards, in City and State, New York Times, NY1, and New York Post.

The event, sponsored by Metro Industrial Areas Foundation and the Daily News, drew more than 1,000 people, presumably mostly from the working-class church constituency.

I suspect that part-time jobs in the arena, however welcome they are to people out of work or able to rely on others for housing, are not seen as legitimate careers.

Housing pace, and nature

According to one eyewitness, the boos began as soon as the arena was mentioned. I suspect it's because the audience knows that the arena has come first. (The first tower is targeted for mid-2014.)

That said, the candidates did not score points for subtlety. As noted by Pete Nagy of New York Communities for Change (a backer of the housing, as successor to ACORN), the first building has already broken ground. And, as I noted, it's supposed to have 50% subsidized units.

That said, the more subtle criticism, as I pointed out on Twitter, is that the first building will not come close to the promise of 50% of affordable space devoted to two- and three-bedroom units.

In other words, however much the building is "affordable"--and a good number of the moderate- and middle-income units would be too expensive to many seeking "affordable housing"--it will mainly serve singles and couples.

Also, as noted (below) by Prospect Heights activist Gib Veconi, the potential 25-year buildout means the housing would have less impact on the neighborhood.

On Twitter




The issue of timing and cost

In an essay yesterday on Prospect Heights Patch headlined Why Affordability Matters at Atlantic Yards, Veconi wrote that the of the "180 'affordable' apartments [in the first tower], only nine will be suitable for families earning the median income for Brooklyn or below."

He suggested that the tower may be more costly than other affordable housing, given a $560/square foot cost, compared to $300/sf for other developers.

I think there's evidence the building is more expensive, but I'm not sure that's an apples-to-apples comparison. First, the comparison buildings are surely not high-rise, nor at such a tricky site location. Second, the $180 million cost includes $34 million for land, so the cost per square foot comes down nearly 20%. [Update: Veconi points out that the $300/sf cost includes land. Still, land costs vary around the city/borough.]

Veconi writes that it seems to be a trend:
“HDC financing was designed at a time when there was more City-owned land available for affordable housing,” one non-profit developer explained to me. With little available public land in Brooklyn, new affordable housing will increasingly have come as a portion of the units in high-rise developments built on private land. These projects are much more costly to build, and their developers are happy to leverage existing subsidy programs as they assemble financing. The result is that the apartments created will tend to reinforce current trends of displacement, not counter them.
The upshot, he suggests, is not merely more subsidies but a real competitive bidding process, one that could be fostered by the alternatives study required by the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS).

That could happen, though I suspect the SEIS will report that Forest City's modular plan has the best chance to deliver the 2,250 units in a timely manner--in other words, the innovation would trump the capacity to have faster development by having sites bid out to other developers.

Housing trumps all?

Housing is important, but it should be seen as part of a larger picture. As I wrote last October, it's timely to revisit Ron Shiffman's 6/3/06 essay for DDDB, Atlantic Yards: Staving Off a Scar for Decades:
While this area along the Atlantic Avenue corridor could accommodate higher densities, density is a relative term. The density proposed by Forest City Ratner far exceeds the carrying capacity of the area’s physical, social, cultural, and educational infrastructure. The Atlantic Yards density is extreme and the heights of the proposed buildings totally unacceptable.
...A private developer shouldn’t be allowed to drive the disposition of publicly owned or controlled land without a participatory planning process setting the conditions for the disposition of that land.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Video: Forest City executive misleads Council, claims that steel fabricator for Atlantic Yards modular housing is union shop

Did a top executive from developer Forest City Ratner--which proudly stresses that it only builds in New York with union labor--mislead Council Member Letitia James when she asked whether the fabricator of steel for modular housing as a union shop?

Evidence suggests yes.

The exchange came during the lengthy Committee hearing January 22 on modular construction, as excerpted in the video below. (Turn up the volume.)

James asked if any elements of B2, the initial tower being built at Atlantic Yards, would be built outside the city and state.

Yes, replied External Affairs VP Ashley Cotton, identifying the steel chassis of the modules. She noted that it's "incredibly noxious, industrial sort of work," not typically done in New York.

"Where will it be built?" asked James.

"Fredericksburg, Virginia," responded Bob Sanna, Executive VP and Director of Construction and Design Development. Cotton repeated the location. (Actually, the firm Banker Steel, which also made steel for the Barclays Center arena, is headquartered in Lynchburg, VA.)



"And is that site a union shop?" asked James, at 0:33 of the video.

Cotton pushed the microphone toward Sanna.

"Yes, for our steel fabricators, yes it is," he responded.

Seconds later, at the 0:42 mark of the video, Cotton turned back toward Sanna and briefly shook her head, a gesture that suggested correction or reproach. She did not, however, publicly inform the Committee on Housing and Buildings.

Checking with Banker Steel

Virginia is a right-to-work state and company owner Dan Banker, who supplied a plane for Republican candidates to fly around the state in October 2009, doesn't fit the profile of a union supporter or partner.

So I contacted Banker Steel to ask if it was a union shop. I got an evasive response from spokesman Emanuel Guerreiro: "You can find out more about Banker Steel at www.bankersteel.com. Any questions relating to B2 should be addressed to Forest City Ratner."

The firm's web site doesn't indicate union workers, nor does a job announcement, as in the screenshot below.

Yesterday, I received confirmation from a labor source in Virginia that Banker Steel is not a union shop.

Update 3/30/14

At right is a resume from a former Director of Human Resources at Banker Steel.

It indicates the firm is a non-union shop.

Checking with Forest City

Before then, early in the morning, I contacted Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, citing Banker Steel's evasiveness, and asking him to clarify Sanna's comment. He didn't respond.

Later in the day, I sent the above video to Cotton, asking for clarification. She didn't respond.

I also sent the video to Council Member James, commenting that evidence suggested Forest City had lied.

Her response: "All I can say is I am not surprised."

Why it matters: Forest City's rep as union supporter

This matters for two reasons. First, Forest City has both pledged to use union labor and harvested significant, vocal union support for its projects.

The hearing, in a bit of a twist, highlighted certain unions who feel they're getting a bad deal from Forest City's modular plans--because cross-trained workers in the modular factory will do work that licensed trades otherwise must do, apparently with the permission of the Department of Buildings, a very contested issue.

So any mention of non-union work would have further fueled antagonism toward the developer among the dozens of union workers in the hearing room and in an overflow room.

Why it matters: obscuring Forest City's savings

Second, given the enormous amounts of steel required in this building, which relies not only on a steel frame but a steel chassis for each module, Banker Steel will wind up doing a significant fraction of the work.

How much hasn't been quantified, but consider that, according to the press release below, Banker Steel has expanded a Lynchburg facility by 45,000 square feet for a workshop dedicated to fabrication of these modules, and plans to hire 50 new employees, possibly more.

Forest City plans to hire 125 union workers, along with 25 supervisory employees, at its 100,000 square foot modular factory in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. (There are and will be additional workers at the B2 site, though I'm not sure one report of 190 total local workers on the project is accurate.)

So, if there are 50 off-site workers in Virginia--plus supervisors and existing staff--and 150 off-site workers in Brooklyn, that suggests that at least 25% of workers building the modules are actually non-union, further saving Forest City money.

Of course, buildings use prefabricated materials all the time--local workers don't assemble toilets, for example, but buy them from suppliers. And nobody made a big deal of counting how many Banker Steel employees contributed to the steel for the arena facade.

In this case, though Banker Steel provides a notably larger fraction of B2 materials and labor. So it's important to know the firm's status, and to get a straight answer from Forest City.

The Banker Steel press release

Barclays Center event calendar for February released: 13 events, 28 days

The Barclays Center on January 22 released its Event Calendar for February (below). As with January (bottom), the schedule is relatively thin compared to the months of October, November, and December.

The upshot is clear: having the hockey Islanders play at least 41 home games (plus pre-season and potential playoffs) will be a great boon to the arena.

Worth noting: only 1,000 people are expected to attend the 2/10/13 basketball matchup at noon between locals Long Island University and St. Francis College. LIU's own arena (aka Wellness Center) seats 2,500, and is just up the block.

Also note that the 2/28/13 concert of Jewish cantorial music is expected to be set in the arena's theater configuration.


The January calendar


Latest Atlantic Yards Construction Alert: excavation work at site of B2 tower

On Tuesday, Jan. 22, Empire State Development released the periodic two-week Atlantic Yards Construction Alert, dated 1/21/13 and prepared by developer Forest City Ratner.

The alert notes excavation work, as well as drilling, at the site of the modular tower B2, at Flatbush Avenue and Dean Street.

It also indicates that work has been nearly completed at the Dean Street Playground Comfort Station, built by Forest City as "part of the construction impact mitigation requirements." Utilities are expected to be turned on during these two weeks.

The alert mentions "punch list" work at the comfort station and at the Long Island Rail Road yard, but not "punch list" work at the arena site itself. However, such work is expected to continue at the arena until the end of February, according to the construction monitor who reports to the arena bond trustee.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

At Council hearing, Department of Buildings slammed for allowing Forest City to build modular without licensed trades; did developer get city to bend rules?

Is the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) bending the rules to allow Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner (FCR) to prefabricate housing off-site without the supervision of licensed plumbers, electricians, and steamfitters?

That's what both unions reps and their contractor counterparts charged yesterday at a lengthy oversight hearing yesterday (link to video) on modular housing held by the City Council's Committee on Housing and Buildings. And some said it was done at Forest City's behest.

"So, the bottom line is we're compromising safety for the bottom line?" asked Council Member Letitia James at one point.

"When it comes to exempting modular housing from the requirements of the [Building] Code, I think the answer to that is yes," replied Stewart O'Brien, executive director of The Plumbing Foundation.

Council Chairperson Dilan
Representatives of the DOB and FCR were not around to respond, having already testified. The developer stressed the myriad expected benefits of high-rise modular construction, as its B2 tower at Atlantic Yards would, at 32 stories, be the world's tallest modular tower, with 363 units, half subsidized.

(DOB did not respond to my late-day query for comment. Forest City directed my query to DOB.)

Committee Chair Erik Martin Dilan, who took pains to say he favored affordable housing and couldn't speak to any alleged intervention by Forest City, stated, "But what I do see occur is clear non-compliance with the code. We will ask the Buildings Department and the Mayor's Office why they think this has occurred, because I think it should be corrected."

Dilan also observed that the hearing "is being done without fanfare, without press." Most attendees at the hearing, held at 250 Broadway near City Hall, were union members. Forest City's lobbyist was one of the few who stayed all 4.5 hours.

Graphics from Forest City presentation
Union fissure, varied support

The hearing exposed a lingering fissure in union ranks over the Atlantic Yards modular plan. When news of Forest City's plans emerged in March 2011, several unions expressed dismay and concern about compromised safety and lowered wages, especially since they'd vocally rallied for the project.

Since then, Forest City signed a deal with the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, whose president, Gary LaBarbera, said at the groundbreaking last month, "It will create union construction jobs with good wages and benefits that may have been at risk if not for the strong labor-management partnership that exists between Forest City Ratner and the Building and Construction Trades."

At the hearing, longtime supporters of Atlantic Yards affordable housing, including former ACORN head Bertha Lewis, forcefully urged faster adoption of such prefabricated techniques, seeing it as a solution to the housing deficit. (The Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding ACORN signed also obligated Lewis to support the project.)

As those testifying critically about the DOB were mostly beefy white guys of a certain age, Lewis, a middle-aged black woman, made scornful reference to the building trades' history of excluding people of color. (James, a critic of Atlantic Yards, skeptic of the DOB, and supporter of affordable housing, later uttered the obvious: "There's a subtext... the issue is obviously race and class.")

Also submitting testimony in favor of prefab construction was the powerful Real Estate Board of New York, which said Forest City's innovations--adapting modular for high-rises and working out an agreement with unions--could "be an important and effective way to address our city's chronic shortage of affordable housing." The Association for a Better New York, another business group, also supported modular.

Lower wages but other benefits


Forest City hopes to ultimately save 25% off conventional construction, thanks to lower wages in the factory (operated in partnership with Skanska at the Brooklyn Navy Yard), higher productivity in an indoor setting, and time savings--20 months vs. 30 months--by working simultaneously on-site and off-site. Some 60% of the tower will be constructed off-site.

"They get paid less," Forest City's Melissa Burch said of the 125  union factory workers, "but there are benefits to that. They have a steady, 40-hour-a-week job, and to the extent this is successful, they will be working in the factory 52 weeks a year."

They will be cross-trained, so carpenters, for example, will do tile work and put in electrical components. "We hope this is a long-term solution for Atlantic Yards," Burch said, and "a new business for New York City." The job would be safer, create less waste, and cause less community noise and disruption. The first building is aimed for LEED Silver.

Dilan asked about the wage difference.

Forest City executives (l.-r.) Cotton, Burch, Sanna
"It's probably about half?"Burch responded, uncertainly.

"I don't know that it's necessarily half," followed up Forest City Executive VP Bob Sanna. "We have negotiated an average wage in the factory that is approximately $36 an hour, with benefits." He said that's "completely in line" with other manufacturing of building components and that the rate "is probably 10 or 15% less than if the person were employed on site."

That later drew a heated response from John Murphy, Business Manager of Plumbers Local Number 1, who said that the wages were actually 70% less than those for plumbers, who must go through more than 1,000 hours of classroom training and 10,000 hours of on-the-job experience.

Forest City's plan, he said, has "the potential to turn a very highly skilled trade that takes years of training, practice, and experience into unskilled assembly work," which could be shipped out of state. (Council Member Lew Fidler, a longtime Atlantic Yards supporter hand, suggested that the Council find ways to "incentivize" local fabrication.)

James asked at one point, "If this were built conventionally, how many union members would there be on site?"

"I don't have those numbers on me," replied Ashley Cotton, Forest City External Affairs VP.

The developer has long been fuzzy on an apples-to-apples comparison. At a public meeting last November, Burch stated that “Modular construction will require approximately the same number of man-hours as conventional construction."

However, Cotton could not answer how many construction workers were needed to build the building in terms of job-years, a common term used to evaluate jobs promised for the project. (Projections included 15,000 job-years and 17,000 job-years.)

Nor has there yet been a comparison between the promised construction workers benefits (compensation x job-years) and those currently contemplated.

Code change?

O'Brien (l.) and Murphy
The most serious charges were lodged by O'Brien of The Plumbing Foundation. The city, he said, has changed the code requirement that people performing plumbing work must be in the "direct employ" of licensed firms which are then accountable and responsible for their employees' work.

"In April 2011, the DOB issued a Bulletin [bottom] which seemingly allowed employees of non-licensed firms to perform plumbing work in large units being fabricated in a factory and later assembled into high-rise residential buildings," he said. "The use of non-licensed personnel to perform plumbing work in high-rise buildings was never permitted before."

"We brought this error to the attention to the DOB in a meeting on Dec. 19, 2011," he continued. "Attending were representatives of the licensed trades and the highest-ranking officials of DOB. DOB stated that it was not its intent to change the clear provision of the New York City Building Code. DOB said it would reissue the Bulletin to make clear that plumbing work must be performed by employees of licensed firms. Over the next 12 months, we repeatedly requested the issuance of that revised Bulletin or, if DOB changed its mind, an explanation of why DOB thought that high-rise modular construction was exempt from the direct employ Code provisions. DOB did neither."

After that December meeting, O'Brien recalled, "Some of our contractors said, Oh, yeah, Forest City Ratner reached out to us. They said, 'No, no, no. We took care of that at the Department of Buildings. Only the site work has to be done by employees of licensed firms.'"

"Clearly, there was interaction between the developer and the Buildings Department to change how they read the code," O'Brien said.

"I don't think it's a matter of interpretation... All I heard today was a lot of tap-dancing, I didn't hear a straight reason," he said of the DOB's relatively brief testimony. He scoffed at analogies to fabrication of a boiler or a jacuzzi: "This not a boiler... this is a unit with a life safety system, electrical work, plumbing work, fire suppression work. They can't change the code. That's what you guys are for."

"Something or somebody changed their mind, and I can only believe it was for cost-savings reasons," he said. "It certainly wasn't for safety reasons."

"Ratner," uttered one Plumbers Union member.

O'Brien said the cost changes were "minute" given the overall savings planned. Then again, Murphy, when I queried him, said that a building the size of B2 would typically have 30 to 40 plumbers on site but in this case only would have about a dozen, doing the connection work that can't be done in the factory.

Murphy told the committee: "Each and every time my organization has a conversation with Forest City, we asked Who's the licensed plumbing firm? They said, That's been worked out. Each and every time, it's been worked out. So we're here today to find out with whom."

"Bloomberg," uttered a plumber.

What DOB said

Two DOB officials constituted the first panel. Dilan asked if licensed professionals were required.

Fariello (l.) and Sehgal (c.)
"The work that is done off-site... has several options," responded General Counsel Mona Sehgal. "You don't have to do it through a licensed plumber, electrician, et cetera. There are options that we have in our code that allow for alternative methods that you have to come us and let us know... there has to be certain quality assurances that you provide to us... with respect to inspections, monitoring, then as you long as you have fairly robust quality controls, you can go ahead and do that work off-site. Licensee requirements kick in when the work is installed at the job site."

Dilan asked if the agency was prepared "for handling this different type of housing?"

"I think we're prepared for with this full process," First Deputy Commissioner Thomas Fariello responded. " We may have to ramp up our folks when we get more of these [towers] coming to us. We have a high-rise [inspection] unit, and they're going to monitor all high-rises, as they're going up. We're going to have them relate to, it's coming in a box and coming off a crane... I think we're well suited."

Fidler asked what research the DOB had done on the structural integrity of modular construction.

"This was a concern of ours," Fariello said, regarding B2. "We had a structural engineer do what's called a peer review... another engineer that we approved to do a review of the first engineer's work."

Council Member Brad Lander, who said it was important to have more clarity during this moment of technological change, asked for more information about that additional engineering review. Fariello said he'd provide it.

The DOB: temporary rule lingers

"As I understand it, the rule is temporary," Lander said, "and went along with a rule-making process that's supposed to lead to a final rule. Am I right about that?"

"Yes," Fariello replied. "We didn't get to the rule yet. The Bulletin is what we've been using."

"You're in the process of developing a rule," Lander continued. "Do you have a sense of when the rule will be promulgated?"

"No," Fariello replied. "I can get back to you."

"Will the rule look differently or more thoroughly at the possibility of high-rise modular?" Lander asked.

"Yeah," Fariello replied. "When the bulletin was created, there was no one contemplating high-rise to us. So, as we evolve as a department, as new ideas come to us, new projects, we're certainly going to have that in mind." (Note that, if Forest City had not formally presented plans for modular in April 2011, they had surfaced in the press.)

Lander observed that, if the department needs additional resources, Council should make sure they're provided: "We need a final rule in place that does contemplate high-rise modular."

Querying Forest City

Why had no one else tried modular high-rises in New York?

It required significant investment and time, responded Cotton.

Council Members James (l.) and Elizabeth Crowley
James asked about the impact of Superstorm Sandy on the Navy Yard, which flooded.

"We had some work going on in the Navy Yard during Sandy," Cotton responded carefully. "We're certainly aware of the impacts that the storm had. Our factory wasn't complete, I think there are lessons to be learned."

"This project was subject to a state environmental review process," James noted. "Was there any environmental review with respect to modular housing"

"Not that I'm aware of," Cotton responded. "The environmental. review was done many years ago. At that time, we weren't planning this tower this way."

She noted that the steel for the tower is manufactured out of state, at Banker Steel in Lynchburg, VA, but that's "noxious, industrial sort of work" not typically done in New York.

Asked to comment on a news report that deemed modular construction ambitious and risky, Cotton responded, "It's ambitious, we don't think it's risky."

Steel vs. concrete

Sanna said Forest City and its partners examined the modular tower in Wolverhampton, UK, that's currently the world's tallest modular.

"We are using structural steel brace frames and then bolting the modules and connecting those modules together; they're using a concrete core," he stated. "We felt there were many more routes for discrepancy, the steel-to-steel tolerances could be much more exact." He noted that the steel chassis and brace frame are both being made by Banker Steel.

Forest City's plans to not use concrete drew critical testimony from Joseph Kaming, representing the Cement League, an associations of union contractors that put in place structural concrete. (His testimony was seconded by the United Cement Masons' Union.)

"All can celebrate new thinking," he stated, but argued that tall modular buildings exacerbate some of the problems--fire safety, durability--seen in smaller modular buildings.

The city, he said, "should thoroughly review and establish specific individualized standards for tall modular buildings if they are to be permitted. Such construction is unique and does not fit into the existing Building Code."

He said toxic, fire, and electrical testing was needed, as would be "fire channeling or chimney effects peculiar to stacked construction." He requested an environmental impact statement as a precondition to any application or permit approval, full compliance with existing code, and a new Building Code section regarding modular construction.

"We do not believe the Buildings Department has conducted a legal and proper review of the Atlantic Yards' 32-story residential tower which would justify its approval," he said.

Asked if his organization had filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request for details about the tower, Kaming said the DOB didn't answer. He said the Cement League recognized that pursuing the issue with a lawsuit could jeopardize relations for some members, which deal with DOB regularly.

"When you start transporting something that is 14 feet wide and 35 feet long," he said of the modules, "and begin to lift it in a structure, with wind considerations, that is an entirely different matter. You probably are aware Forest City Ratner has specifically identified the dimensions of the system so they don't have to hire a licensed rigger... because a licensed rigger would add to their cost."

Kaming acknowledged that modular units have their place, but deserved an independent review. "That's why an environmental impact statement, if in fact they had been honest and talked about modular housing," he said, "would have had to include modular housing at the outset. Because it's a different category of structure."


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Nets-Knicks game makes tabloid back covers (and Jay-Z/Beyoncé front of Post), as Ridge Hill gets a pass

The Brooklyn Nets narrowly won the big game yesterday with the New York Knicks, evening the season series, closing the gap to one game behind their rivals, and capping a remarkable 11-2 resurgence under Coach P.J. Carlesimo, who replaced Avery Johnson, fired less than a month ago.

As the graphics at right and below indicate, the news made the back page of the city's two tabloids.

Well, it was the big Sports story locally.

Then again, it's curious how none of the city's newspapers have the interest and/or resources to write about the bizarre situation in Yonkers, where Barclays Center developer Forest City Ratner managed to create an apparently improper parking regime--meters and tickets--on private streets at its Ridge Hill complex.

The first couple?

Meanwhile, while most news outlets understandably put President Barack Obama (and First Lady Michelle Obama) on the cover, the New York Post went with... Beyoncé and Jay-Z.

The article was headlined Barack who!? Pols fawn over Beyoncé, Jay-Z at inaugural:
Washington’s power brokers were star struck yesterday — not by the president or first lady but by the entertainment world’s first couple, Beyoncé and Jay-Z.
Fawning politicians scrambled for the their cellphones to snap photos of the sexy siren and her hip-hop-mogul hubby at President Obama’s inauguration.
...Among those swooning was Rep. Peter King, the Long Island Republican who normally spends his time railing against terrorists. He was caught snapping Beyoncé as she and Jay-Z strolled out of the Capitol — right past him — to take their seats.
...Twitter exploded with Beyoncé-mania as she belted out the anthem, leaving Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas clapping vigorously and fans on the Mall demanding an encore.
[Update: It turns out that Beyoncé lip-synched the national anthem.]

Well, America does like to be entertained. But surely Bruce Ratner, when in 2003 he signed Jay-Z up to own a fraction of team, never expected such good fortune.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Marty Markowitz, 2007: support for Atlantic Yards "focused solely on... maximizing those benefits for our residents and businesses”


In a 3/3/07 letter to the New York Times,  Borough President Marty Markowitz wrote to criticize an op-ed by Atlantic Yards opponent Jennifer Egan:
“I wish that some evolution of her position had been evident, from flatly rejecting the project at all costs to working to improve it moving forward. As is the case with virtually every elected official in Brooklyn and New York City, my support is focused solely on making a project that benefits all Brooklynites and New Yorkers a reality, and on maximizing those benefits for our residents and businesses.”
The response on NoLandGrab:
But like many of the proponents of Atlantic Yards, we wish that some evolution of HIS position had been evident, from openly accepting the project at all costs to taking the community into consideration.
Now, nearly six years later, can we say that his support has been "focused solely on... maximizing those benefits for our residents and businesses”? How about shilling for EB-5 investments that save Forest City Ratner tens of millions of dollars?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The latest episode in the "Road to Brooklyn" series: "Road to Barclays"

"We'll be done by September... ish," says a hardhat in the opening of "Road to Barclays," the latest "Road to Brooklyn" video on Jay-Z's YouTube channel.

They did get done in time for the 9/28/12 opening, but (unmentioned) without opening up to the community as promised, and with some serious shortcuts regarding construction protocols.

Through time-lapse photography and a roving camera, we see various pieces of the arena, which has brown steel cladding, we're told, "designed to evoke the image of brownstones" and an oculus that stretches 80 feet over the arena plaza. (There's no mention that it was never supposed to be there, but rather an office building and Urban Room.)

Craig Hammerman, identified as "City Planner" rather than District Manager of Brooklyn Community Board 6, says, "There's no spotlight" at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush. "Everybody is looking at it, all the traffic engineers, all the folks that work at city agencies, and this area has never received this level of attention from government, and we likely will be the beneficiaries of that attention."

Well, there are some trade-offs, like tax breaks and subsidies.

"I love the fact that there is 50 million trains there," says Damaris Lewis, a model who's a huge basketball fan and has appeared in previous episodes.

Moving ahead

At ribbon-cutting ceremonies a week before opening, there's no mention of protests but rather beaming developer Bruce Ratner, exclaiming "Here we are." He gets a hug from Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz.

"I think we over-delivered for Brooklyn, which was obviously the goal," declares Nets/arena CEO Brett Yormark, ever on message. Isn't the goal delivering revenue?

We're told the wi-fi will work for everyone, compared to other arenas--one sign of the Barclays Center as being a step ahead.

We see massive crowds outside the arena on opening night, then superstar Jay-Z performing, wearing in a Nets jersey.

The triumph is complete.

There's no mention, of course, of snags like dripping rust or defective bolts. Nor how the whole thing came about. The arena is here. In 100 years, as Ratner has said, "No one will care what we had to do to make it happen."

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Wear Brooklyn At? Nets gear repped by armed robber

The rapid penetration of Brooklyn Nets gear has been celebrated on sites like The Brooklyn Game, with posts like Rep Your Nets and Wear Brooklyn At.

The image below, from a video embedded in New York Times post on an armed robbery at a Bedford-Stuyvesant deli, probably wasn't what Nets brass had in mind.



Then again, some small fraction of people wearing Yankees gear get busted. So maybe it's another sign of the team's arrival.

About those Yankees caps

The Times reported 9/16/10 on the phenomenon of criminals disproportionately wearing Yankees caps.
One criminologist said the trend might be a result of what could be called the Jay-Zeffect.
The rapper Jay-Z has worn a Yankees cap for years — on his album covers and in his videos — and has helped turn the cap into a ubiquitous fashion accessory for urban youths (“I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can,” he boasts in one song).
Criminals might be wearing Yankees merchandise not because they are fans of the team, but because they are fans of the cocked-hat look popularized by Jay-Z and other rappers, said the criminologist, Frankie Y. Bailey, an associate professor at the University at Albany, who is writing a book about the role of clothing and style in criminal cases.
“He wears it and makes it look cool,” Ms. Bailey said of Jay-Z and the cap. “It’s almost like the Yankees have acquired a kind of street rep, a coolness.”
It is but one of several theories. Sports marketing analysts say it is a matter of numbers: the Yankees sell more merchandise than any other baseball team.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Campaign contributions: Ratner gave to AG Schneiderman (after BUILD closed), Kings County Democrats

There wasn't a lot Atlantic Yards-related, actually, in the latest six-month campaign disclosures filed this week by candidates in New York city and state.

But a search of the database brought one contribution from the latest period and two I didn't notice last year. On 11/18/12, developer Bruce Ratner gave $5000 to Attorney General Eric  Schneiderman's 2014 re-election campaign.

That happened to be just a few weeks after the closing of Community Benefits Agreement signatory BUILD (Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development), which had been the subject of a complaint to the Attorney General. (There's been no reported action on the complaint.)

Was there a connection? Who knows--Ratner was already giving to the AG. In May 2012, the developer also gave $5000 to Schneiderman's 2014 re-election campaign.

Earlier, in October 2010, Ratner gave $12,500 to Schneiderman's campaign that year. (Did that have any impact on the AG's unwillingness to pursue--or even talk about--an investigation of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership?)


Giving to Lopez

And in June 2012, Ratner gave $4000 to the Kings County Democratic County Committee, then headed by County Chair Vito Lopez. He was succeeded in September by Frank Seddio, after harassment charges surfaced against Lopez.

Another relation

Ratner's wife Pamela Lipkin, who has sometimes contributed on behalf of her husband's interests, gave $4950 to Democrat Bill Thompson's mayoral campaign. Is she truly a fan of Thompson? Dunno.