Saturday, November 30, 2013

On Dean Street, crane work at B2 site closed street for a week

Dean Street between Flatbush and Sixth avenues was closed from Wednesday, 11/20/13 through Wednesday, 11/27/13 to erect a tower crane and dismantle the crawler crane on the B2 construction site.

Below are some photos taken at different days during the week. 

One impact of the closure--which should be replicated, in part, when modules for the tower start to be delivered in about a month--was that bicyclists were routed onto the sidewalk and some drivers attempting to proceed on Dean were stymied with little notice. Also, no one seemed to be directing traffic at the corner.

Monday, Nov. 25

Tuesday, Nov. 26

Wednesday, Nov. 27

Thursday, Nov. 28

OK, Barclays Center hasn't done much for Brooklyn's unemployment rate; Markowitz wants Samsung; Scissura suggests focus on expanding current base

Remember how then-Gov. David Paterson declared in March 2010, "As the buildings rise on Atlantic Yards, the joblessness rate will fall here in Brooklyn."

Or how columnist Andrea Peyser wrote in July 2012, "The arena will pump 2,000 sorely needed jobs into the economy, putting a dent into Brooklyn’s unemployment."

Maybe not so much. Borough President Marty Markowitz issued a statement this week regarding the latest unemployment figures:
“According to the New York State Department of Labor, unemployment in Kings County last month stood at 9.6 percent, a figure higher than that of New York City, New York State and the nation as a whole. As good as Brooklyn is doing, creating jobs for many in our creative economy, this data shows how far we have to go to meet the employment needs of all our residents, from Cypress Hills to Coney Island.

“Anecdotal evidence tells us that our greatest opportunity for growth continues to be in central and eastern Brooklyn. That is why I am renewing my call for this city to put all of its energy into bringing high-tech manufacturing, assembly and warehousing to these communities. We must explore every avenue to economically incentivize major firms and corporations to move their operations to areas like Brownsville and East New York. You cannot put a price tag on the number of quality working-class jobs this initiative would create, as well as the reverberating benefits it would produce for our borough’s quality of life.

“It is time for companies like Apple, LG and Samsung to set their sights on Brooklyn and its incredible workforce!”
Samsung or local company?

Consider, by contrast, an interview in Crain's New York Business,Carlo Scissura gives Brooklyn a business focus: The head of the borough's chamber of commerce leads it into an era of change.

Scussura says there needs to be a focus on "the outer borough's outer borough." He adds:
These are the neighborhoods—East New York, Brownsville, Canarsie—that need dramatic effort. You need the city to make an investment, to say, "We've got 500 food manufacturers operating within our borders and we don't want them to leave, so here's 100 acres of land, and we're going to give them incentives and tax breaks, but they have to create X number of jobs, hire within these ZIP codes, [reach out] to these churches, go to these housing projects." It's gotta be planned or it's not gonna happen. That planning is something I really hope that the de Blasio administration—and even the governor, to some extent—intends to make a major focus.
They're close to JFK, and he suggests export-import companies should join them.

What about attracting a large corporation as an example? Mr. Markowitz has been publicly courting Samsung.
The idea of attracting a major multinational manufacturer of some kind is lovely, but there are businesses in Brooklyn now that need space and support to stay.
But won't that be more difficult to achieve?
No, it's a better and easier business model. These local companies want to stay. Brooklyn is part of their brand.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Barclays retail round-up from the Brooklyn Eagle: Tony Roma progress, Triangle still needs tenant, Shake Shack coming next spring

The Brooklyn Eagle has followed up on some local real estate stories.

From Tony Roma's the new kid on the block near Barclays Center, 11/27/13 , the Eagle reports that 200 people have been hired for the new Tony Roma's in the Atlantic Terrace building catercorner to the arena block, with more than 90% from Brooklyn:
As a consequence of their hire-local strategy, these Tony Roma's franchisees will be ploughing wages into their new community, which is a good thing.
Um, should we know the actual wage level for these five- and six-hour shifts before concluding that wages will be "ploughed"?

They're expecting to open December 10 with about 140 total workers. The 15-year lease was signed before the New York Islanders agreed to move in 2015, and the owners are paying about $60 per square foot in rent, less than one-third the rent  of some spots on Flatbush Avenue on the "busier" side of the arena.

What about the Triangle building? And Bergen Tile?

In Tenant wanted at Triangle Sports building, 11/27/13, the Eagle quotes David Rosenberg of brokerage RKF, who's still trying to find a tenant for the building located at Flatbush and Fifth Avenues, which sold for a seemingly astronomical $4.1 million:
The wedge-shaped building has signage that's visible from three sides – which is factored into the rent. So it would work best for a big restaurateur with multiple operations or a retailer like Nike, Reebok or Puma, a tenant “that clearly has drawing power, puts a value on the branding opportunity and caters to the frequenters of the area,” he said. The asking rent on the property, which is 6,111 square feet in size if you count the roof deck, is in the “general range” of $200 per square foot, he said. He's in talks with “various types of users.”
As for the Bergen Tile building on the north side of Flatbush Avenue, at Dean Street, the owners are demolishing the structure in anticipation of a newly designed apartment building with retail space, which will be marketed in the second or third quarter of next year.

Shake Shack coming... in spring

In To hell with that diet: Shake Shack site construction starting on Flatbush Avenue, the Eagle reports:
Park Slope landlord Michael Pintchik expects to start construction next week “with a little bit of luck, assuming there are no glitches” on the site at 170 Flatbush Ave. that will put Danny Meyer's Shake Shack thisclose to Barclays Center.

And the burger-and-fries mecca could be getting a “very successful Manhattan restaurateur” as a new neighbor, landlord Pintchik revealed to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. That tenant has a lease out for the combined retail spaces at 208 and 210 Flatbush Ave., with plans to build a “Brooklyn-centric” restaurant, he said.
A Shake Shack rep said an opening is planned for late spring of next year.

What's particularly interesting is that the spaces at 208 and 210 Flatbush are part of a space formerly operated by a New York Methodist Hospital walk-in clinic--a use that was clearly rendered secondary when the arena opened.

...The word on the street is that the rent for Shake Shack's Flatbush Avenue space is more than $150 per square foot. Neither Pintchik nor Waters would disclose lease terms.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Wrongheaded on Brian Lehrer: guest suggests de Blasio might be courageous in supporting Atlantic Yards, host suggests mayor will "pressure" developer

Atlantic Yards came up, in a dismayingly wrongheaded way, during a discussion yesterday about development in the waning days of the Bloomberg administration, on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show, about 12 minutes in.

"We know he supported Atlantic Yards, that was controversial, he's not anti-development," declared host Lehrer. "Do you think he's going to be a development mayor?"

"Yes, on one level, I think he is going to encourage development," responded New York Times reporter Charles Bagli. "For one thing, it's exactly how he's going to get to building perhaps 200,000 units of affordable housing... Now, he may extract more in concessions from developers, and we'll see."

"But I don't think you can portray him as anti-development, not by a long shot," Bagli continued. "Some people could even argue it was a profile in courage for a Park Slope resident to support Atlantic Yards. I can't say he was very loud in his support, but he did support a project that was fairly unpopular."

Except de Blasio owed Bertha Lewis, ACORN, and the Working Families Party, so his support needs to be seen in that context. See WNYC's 9/5/13 report on de Blasio and ACORN/WFP.

"And he did it for the affordable housing component, which has yet to be realized," Lehrer followed up, "and that'll be another challenge for him, to keep the pressure on the developers there to actually make good on that promise."

Yes, there's a logic to supporting big development if it provides some spinoff benefits. De Blasio has suggested he prioritized benefits over project impacts. OK. But he ignored another tension: good government vs. sweetheart deals.

Indeed, the benefits, like the commitments purportedly "guaranteed" by the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) de Blasio has rhetorically championed, were always in doubt.

Look at de Blasio's record on Atlantic Yards: he has not criticized developer Forest City Ratner for failing to appoint the Independent Compliance Monitor promised as part of the CBA.

Nor has he said anything about how there are very few family-sized subsidized units in the first tower, and the distribution is skewed to middle-income households. Can you say $2740 for an "affordable" 2BR?

So it was uninformed of Lehrer, who should know Forest City CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin is on de Blasio's transition team, to suggest the new mayor will be challenged to "keep the pressure on" the Atlantic Yards developers. More likely de Blasio will speed the affordable housing by providing more subsidies or tax breaks.

Ex-Carpenters official Zarzana, Atlantic Yards cheerleader, pleads guilty to extortion

Photo by Adrian Kinloch, Brooklyn Day rally 6/5/08
I reported 4/19/12 that Salvester (Sal) Zarzana, former head of a Carpenters Union Local and a prominent cheerleader for Atlantic Yards, was charged with extortion and identified in a federal indictment  as a soldier in the Genovese organized crime family.

The Daily News reported last night,
Three Genovese wiseguys and two associates pleaded guilty Thursday [sic] to shakedowns of construction contractors and a labor union.

Reputed soldier James Bernardone, 45, agreed to step down as secretary treasurer of Local 124 as part of copping to extorting a contractor. Sal Zarzana, an alleged made man, pleaded guilty to the same extortion scheme.
Sentencing is 3/14/14, according to the New York Post. The extortion scheme was unrelated to Atlantic Yards. The indictment described an extortion conspiracy charge and an extortion charge relating to a construction site "located at the intersection of Gold Street, Johnson Street and Flatbush Avenue" in Brooklyn--which could be the sites for the Oro or Avalon Fort Greene towers.

At "Brooklyn Day"

An image search for Zarzana turns up several shots from the 6/5/08 "Brooklyn Day" rally  in support of Atlantic Yards. Zarzana was the only speaker to target elected officials who were opponents or critics of the project. “There’s a bunch of politicians we need to straighten out, like [City Council Member] Tish James,” he nearly screamed, near apoplexy.

Interestingly enough, he stood very near then-state Sen. Carl Kruger, who's also in prison.

Below is a video shot by the Carpenters Union, with Zarzana in the cover frame. His part starts about one minute in.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Yes, city Code of Conduct was violated during MTV VMAs outside Barclays Center

There was not a lot of discussion of Atlantic Yards at last night's 78th Precinct Community Council meeting.

I asked about the progress of the announced effort to crack down on illegal parking around the Barclays Center, and was told it would be discussed next Wednesday, 12/4/13, at the Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Committee meeting, 6 pm at the 78th Precinct, Bergen Street and Sixth Avenue.

VMAs and the Code of Conduct

Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association also updated attendees on one lingering question about the MTV Video Music Awards, held at the end of August at Dean Street and Sixth Avenue.

The block association, he said, met with the Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment and was told that the Code of Conduct applicable to film shoots and community outreach was in effect during the weekend, confirming a lingering question.

"We did find numerous examples of violations," Krashes said.

For example, he said, the Code of Conduct required MTV to name a specific individual to handle on-site issues and provide a contact phone numbers. No name was provided, and the toll-free phone number MTV offered, he said, linked to a staffer whose job, it seemed, was to steer celebrities on the red carpet.

At the Barclays Center, many empty seats for Legends Classic college tourney

The Brooklyn Nets, despite their losses, have come close to filling the Barclays Center this year (and tonight they play the Los Angeles Lakers), but college basketball--not so much.

When I emerged from the subway near the Barclays Center last night at about 7:20 pm, not long after the first game of the Legends Classic college hoops doubleheader began, a scalper offered me tickets.

He started at $20, but quickly agreed to $5.

I asked to see the tickets. They were comps, marked $0.00. Indeed, several people told me the arena was giving out many freebies. So it's understandable some recipients were trying to make a few bucks.

When I returned to the arena plaza at about 9:30, around the time the second game was starting, between Stanford University and the University of Pittsburgh, the below photo shows the view peeking through from the main doors.

Presumably there were more people for the first game, but I'm sure arena operators didn't want the building to be that empty. (For planning purposes, they had estimated 10,000 people might attend.)

As the screenshot above right shows, tickets started at $15, plus $5.35 in fees, probably too high a price point for midweek college games featuring non-elite teams. Wouldn't it be better to charge $5-$10 to paying customers rather than paper the house?

A few attendees noticed the emptiness:

Indeed, as the below photo shows, there was hardly a crowd in the better seats, either.
Photo via David Greenwald/Twitter

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

ESD to pay $300,000 (of Forest City Ratner's money) to lawyers who won Atlantic Yards timetable case

From my article in the Commercial Observer, State to Pay $300,000 to Lawyers Who Won Atlantic Yards Timetable Case:
Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing the Atlantic Yards megadevelopment in Brooklyn, has agreed to pay $300,000 in fees to lawyers representing two community coalitions that won a lingering lawsuit over the project’s timetable.
The lawyers successfully challenged the agency’s decision, in 2009, to extend the potential build-out of the project to 25 years, while only studying the impact of a five-year delay on a project long billed as taking 10 years.
The fee is actually paid by Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner, which, as is customary, agreed to pay for litigation, as well as an environmental review ordered by the state agency. The $300,000 represents about 83 percent of the sum requested by the attorneys.
However it seems like a loss, the $300,000 may simply be the cost of doing business for Forest City, which, had a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement been ordered in 2009 as the community groups requested, might have faced a stall in construction of the Barclays Center and thus continued massive losses on the New Jersey Nets, which at that point were owned mainly by developer Bruce Ratner and partners.
The winning petitioners were Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, which fought Atlantic Yards, and a group of civic groups under the BrooklynSpeaks banner that have generally tried to mend the project rather than end it.
Read the full article to learn why such a victory is unusual, why Empire State Development decided not to appeal, and why the Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement is going slowly

Also note that the funds distributed in the settlement not only reimburse the winning attorneys, but also leave the prevailing parties with some additional cash, potentially to be used for further Atlantic Yards-related challenges.

Average "affordable" 2 BR in first Atlantic Yards tower would rent for $1946 (1 BR: $1161), according to 2012 figures, which should rise; market 2 BR: $4403

From 12/7/12 financing commitment and agreement 
between HDC and FCR, via BrooklynSpeaks; click to enlarge
We know--as I wrote in an August 2012 article for City Limits' Brooklyn Bureau--that the two-bedroom "affordable" units in the first Atlantic Yards tower would be disproportionately geared to middle-class families, not low-income ones, with rents more than $2,700 a month.

But neither developer Forest City Ratner nor Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing Atlantic Yards, has published the full list of expected rents for the 181 affordable units in the B2 tower, scheduled to open late next year at the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Dean Street.

Here it is, at right, via the New York City Housing Development Corporation (HDC), pointing to 16 subsidized 2 BR units at $2740 a month.

The chart again reminds us that the devil's in the details, that vaunted 50% market/50% subsidized housing program more precisely includes 20% low-income and 30% moderate- and middle-income. No wonder elected officials trying to speed up the construction of affordable housing would like the housing geared more to more lower-income families.

2 BR units: too few, too costly

The subsidized 2 BR units will range from $648 to $2740 in rent, with an average of $1946. And that number's based on 2012 Area Median Income (AMI), which surely will be higher as of 2014.

Sure, $1946 is below market for a new 2 BR at that location--Forest City expects $4403 for the market-rate 2 BRs--but it's much more than what most people rallying for the affordable housing hope for. As one ACORN member testified poignantly in 2009, "The people in my building cannot afford $2,000/month rent."

As I reported in 2012, Forest City Ratner agreed to increase the number of subsidized 2 BR units from 20 to 36 under pressure from HDC, but only by disproportionately assigning those units to households in the highest affordable "band," those earning up to 160% of AMI: $132,800 for a family of four, or $119,520 for a family of three. (At that point, there were to be 17, not 16, of the most expensive subsidized 2 BR units.)

Family-sized deficit

The average subsidized 1 BR will rent for $1161, while the average subsidized studio will rent for $1078, so the clear deficit is sufficient and lower-priced family-sized units.

With 76 studios, 69 1 BRs, and 36 2 BRs, the building departs significantly from Forest City's pledge in the Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding, incorporated into the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement, that half of the affordable housing--in floor area--be devoted to 2 BR and 3 BR family-sized units.

So, while getting Forest City to increase the number from 20 to 36 was a victory of sorts for HDC, it remains well below what the developer promised.

Doing the math

Here's how I calculated the average rent, multiplying the rent level in each of the five "bands" times the number of units in each band:

  • Studio: (5 x $494) + (26 x $640) + (15 x $939) + (15 x $1437) + (15 x $1810) = $81,900/76 = $1077.63
  • 1 BR: (5 x $533) + (28 x $689) + (15 x $1187) + (16 x $1809) + (5 x $2276) = $80,086/69 = $1160.67
  • 2 BR: (1 x $648) + (9 x $835) + (5 x $1433) + (5 x $2180) + (16 x $2740) =$70,068/36 = $1946.33

Who's affordability for?

Former ACORN chief organizer Wade Rathke wrote 10/18/06, warning about the difference between affordability that reached "the pre yuppie demographic, not people who are systemically poor."

"Affordable in our vernacular means low and moderate income families and individuals," he wrote, leaving out middle-income households. Yet he thought Atlantic Yards would be a solution:
Affordable in reality, whether on the concrete corridors of Nashville or the controversial Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, may just be a “starter” place for the upscale, young demographic wannabes, rather than an answer to the crises of affordable housing that ACORN confronts daily. Unless of course there is a housing deal to actually put real lower income families in the properties which is exactly what the deal with Ratner is in the Atlantic Yards proposal with ACORN, and needs to be what we start putting together in Nashville and so many other cities.
Yes, there would be 20% low-income households in the Atlantic Yards rental units, making up 40% of the affordable housing, or 73 of 181 subsidized units. But with only ten low-income 2 BR units in the first tower, it's a stretch to call this deal a model.

Income eligibility guidelines, as of 2012

Note that AMI, which includes wealthy suburban counties, does not represent Brooklyn income, which is considerably lower.
Income "bands" for B2, first Atlantic Yards tower under construction

Monday, November 25, 2013

At church meeting, a call for pressure on planned Atlantic Yards sale and new accountability

meeting yesterday at Brown Memorial Baptist Church in Clinton Hill aimed to alert community members to elected officials' efforts to put conditions on the planned sale of 70% of the remaining Atlantic Yards project. (I wasn't able to attend, but I do have some video coverage.)

One key message: Atlantic Yards is a test case for balancing community concerns and a developer's bottom line, and the developer for now is winning.

"We were promised permanent living wage jobs, and housing, and that's not what's happening right now," meeting host Gerald Marcus Harris of the Brown leadership team told the more than 100 attendees.

Michelle de La Uz, executive director of the Fifth Avenue Committee, explained the work of the BrooklynSpeaks initiative and said that if developer Forest City Ratner completes the sale to the Chinese government-owned Greenland Group, that means they'd be "cashing out before any of the major promises" are delivered.

"Broadly, we're talking about accountability," said Gib Veconi, who said that Atlantic Yards is unlike other public-private partnerships, because most do not have community representation on an oversight body.

Because of that, he suggested, "we've seen the deal change," from a full project buildout--he said an arena and 15 buildings (but it's actually 16) to "an arena and three buildings by 2022... from 2250 affordable apartments to just 300 by 2022." Note that latter numbers are what's required, but Forest City says it aims to build faster.

Veconi noted that Forest City promised 15,000 construction jobs, but there were "about 600 at the height of construction." (Forest City says 880 during arena construction, but all numbers are unreliable, given the developer's failure to hire the Independent Compliance Monitor promised in the Community Benefits Agreement).

Affordable housing

While there are 2,250 units of affordable housing promised, that doesn't mean 2000 families will get to stay in Brooklyn, since, of the 181 affordable units in the first tower now under construction, B2,, less than half will be affordable to people who make the average Brooklyn income (about $46,000), with only ten of them two-bedroom units suitable for families.

There will be 36 subsidized two-bedroom units but most will be available to moderate- and middle-income households.

The Greenland transaction is "a real concern, given the fact there is almost no oversight over the Atlantic Yards project... We're very concerned that... a foreign government will have more say on whether affordable housing gets built in Brooklyn than the elected officials who represent us."

So elected officials have asked that the sale not be approved until alternatives are studied, a new set of written commitments put the affordable housing on the original ten-year schedule, and oversight is reformed.

Attendees were asked to sign a petition that also appears on the BrooklynSpeaks site.
Dear Governor Cuomo:
Forest City Ratner promised the people of Brooklyn 2,250 affordable apartments at the Atlantic Yards project in exchange for hundreds of millions in public subsidies. Then it pushed back completing that housing for 25 years. Now Forest City wants to pull its money out of the project by selling a majority interest to a foreign developer.
That's an outrage to thousands of families in danger of displacement, and it's a raw deal for the taxpayers of New York State.
Brooklyn's elected officials have said the State should allow the sale only if there are new guarantees for affordable housing to be delivered when originally promised and appropriate oversight to make sure they’re enforced. I agree, and call on you to direct the Empire State Development Corporation not to let the deal move forward until those conditions are met.
I'd note that neighbors of the project want oversight for a much broader set of issues, including arena operations and project construction.

The local impact

Given the mismatch between the affordability of apartments and local impact, it's likely the project--as currently planned and scheduled--will have little impact on Community Board 8.

de la Uz explained that Area Median Income, established by the federal Department Housing and Urban Development, includes more affluent suburban counties, and AMI has continued to rise.

For example, New York AMI in 2000 was $57,000 for a family of four, but in CB 8, it was $35,000, so 60-80% of AMI would be affordable to Brooklyn residents. In 2010, New York AMI was over $70,000, but in CB8, it was $45,000. (The latter is actually a faster rise, despite what was said at the forum.)

So to truly impact the local community, "you have to go to a deeper level of affordability, 50% of AMI or below," she said. Meanwhile, CB 8 has gone from 93% African-American in 1990 to 65% in 2010.

"Why is this important?" de la Uz asked rhetorically. "For every five or ten years the project gets delayed, that means the folks that needed the housing when it was first approved are no longer around."

She noted that there's a 50% preference in a housing lottery for residents of the local community boards, but there's much more demand than supply. For 59 affordable apartments in the Atlantic Terrace building the Fifth Avenue Community sponsored, more than 5000 people applied.

Marjona Jones of the Brown Community Development Corporation reminded attendees how many attended protest rallies before the Barclays Center opened. "What happened after that? Nothing. Governor Cuomo was silent, the mayor kept talking about how great it was."

"We may need to leave because we're being priced out and pushed out," she said. "If we can't hold FCR accountable around this project, how are we supposed to hold a foreign corporation that has no investment in Brooklyn, that knows nothing about the working people in Brooklyn." Several people clapped.

"That was first time I've heard that much unity from elected officials," she said of the recent press conference, noting demands for a speedy timetable, with larger, family-friendly units, and "real affordability."

Personal concerns and the larger message

Several attendees lamented the loss of affordable housing in gentrifying neighborhoods, including efforts to raise rent-regulated rent via MCIs (major capital improvements).

Atlantic Yards won't solve the crisis, de la Uz acknowledged, "but it sends a signal to the development community" regarding public concerns. "If you're going to get hundreds of thousands of dollars [hundreds of millions, actually]  in direct and indirect subsidies, if you're going to get preference in terms of density, the ability to take over public streets, use eminent domain then we expect a fair exchange, and that's not what's happened here."

"Other developers are looking at how this development has been rolled out," Jones said. "We have to remain vigilant." She added that elected officials are "getting heat from the other side...we have to stand with them."

Renee Collymore, the female District Leader for the 57th Assembly District, criticized groups that signed the Community Benefits Agreement (which is not part of any state documents). "A lot of these groups are already in the pocket of the developer," she said.

Next Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Committee Meeting is Wednesday December 4

Expect discussion of noise, idling, illegal parking, and more at the next Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Committee meeting, which will be held Wednesday, December 4 at 6 pm at the 78th Precinct Court Room, 65 6th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11217.

(Some of those issues also should come up tomorrow night at the monthly meeting of the 78th Precinct Community Council, at 7:30 pm, in the same location, especially since the NYPD pledged a month earlier to crack down on illegal parking.)

According to Derek Lynch, Manager, Atlantic Yards Project, Community/Government Relations
for Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing/shepherding Atlantic Yards:
This [Quality of Life Committee] Meeting is a forum for representatives from the community and civic groups to engage Empire State Development, Forest City Ratner Companies and Barclays Center operators regarding issues affecting the quality of life for residents and businesses in close proximity to the arena.
Please remember to designate only 1 representative from your organization to directly participate and RSVP that individual’s name and contact information to me, at
In addition, please email me items that you would like to see discussed at the next meeting by Monday, December 2nd.
The meetings are open to the public for observation, but, as noted, only designated representatives are supposed to participate. In practice, visitors sometimes get to be heard.

Meetings are supposed to be bimonthly. The last one was 9/26/13.

The Nets lose again, but what does it mean?

With yesterday's 109-97 loss to the Detroit Pistons, the Brooklyn Nets are now 3-10. Some people consider that doom. I'd give them an incomplete and suggest that many people like sports because it gives them narratives that can turn on a dime.

But the Nets' start also should remind people to do a "civic pride" check. Do Brooklynites feel some diminishment because the Nets have injured players, a rookie coach, and an underachieving team? Will we feel more fulfilled if the Nets turn it around? C'mon.

Wrote Capital New Yorks' Howard Megdal 11/19/13 regarding the play of backup point guard Shaun Livingston:
So for now, these are Shaun Livingston's Nets. They're 3-7, which is only daunting until realizing that the Nets have played 10 of 82 games. For some perspective, they started last season 14-14, mediocre enough to get coach Avery Johnson fired in roughly three times as many contests. They still cruised to a playoff spot.

That only changes should Williams and the other stars fail to get healthy in time to help the Nets this year. But Pierce and Garnett are essentially irreplaceable from the roster. Same with Lopez--I mean, Reggie Evans started at center Monday night.

But Shaun Livingston looked like the starting point guard anyone who saw him years ago assumed he'd be. That also doesn't matter all that much now, when the city is focused on the follies of the Knicks. But it could prove crucial to the effort the Nets make to take over the city next spring.
More somberly, Daily News columnist Filip Bondy wrote last night:
Kidd got so low on Sunday, he gave yet another postgame talk to the players about their miserable third quarter, huddled with team execs and then told the media he might be better off benching his starters for longer stints.
“Should have let ‘em play the whole game,” he said about the reserves who tried so hard in the final period.
Kidd took a backhanded shot at his starters, and then Paul Pierce took one back, saying the Nets aren’t making proper adjustments at halftime.
“Teams aren’t going to play the same in the second half as they do in the first half and we’ve got to realize that,” Pierce said.
...There may be a bottom rockier than this, but it is hard to imagine such a landing place. The Nets lost at home to a terrible-shooting Piston team that really has only effort and bulk on its side.
...The GM didn’t expect that would become an issue, but here we are just a month into a once noble experiment and it’s time to start thinking demolition already. Ultimately, Kidd may take the blame for this, if only because nobody else can be moved, and because the Nets are not responding at all to whatever he is telling them at halftime.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Today, at Brown Memorial, meeting to "block the sale of land our tax dollars paid for to a foreign company with no stake in producing Affordable Housing for Brooklyn"

So, how might elected officials get leverage for their effort to block the planned sale of 70% of the remaining Atlantic Yards project to the Chinese government-owned Greenland Group unless a new schedule for affordable housing is instituted?

A meeting today at Brown Memorial Baptist Church in Clinton Hill on the "Affordable Housing Crisis," sponsored by the Fifth Avenue Committee and Brown Community Development Corporation CDC, focuses on Atlantic Yards, with a petition to "block the sale of land our tax dollars paid for to a foreign company with no stake in producing Affordable Housing for Brooklyn."

The meeting is at 1:30 pm at the church's Fellowship Hall, 52 Gates Avenue, between Waverly and Washington avenues. (Full poster is at bottom.)

"Join the campaign to force them to build housing sooner rather than a generation later," states the meeting announcement, below, which also notes "Participate in your local Community Boards and Block Associations and "Learn about housing already available."

Affordable housing is and was, understandably, the strongest selling point for Atlantic Yards. Still, as constituted (4500 rentals, with 50% market, 30% moderate- and middle-income, and 20% low-income, plus 1930 condos, a portion of which will be subsidized), it's a question as to how much the project would truly fight gentrification.
Income "bands" for B2, first Atlantic Yards tower under construction
See the income eligibility "bands" for the first building, above, and note that the Fifth Avenue Committee, as part of the BrooklynSpeaks coalition, has called for a greater degree of affordability as well as a reduction in scale for the project.

Both of those would impact developer Forest City Ratner's bottom line, as would the main "ask," which is that the housing be delivered in the original ten-year timetable rather than the 25 years that Empire State Development, the state agency, gave Forest City in 2009 renegotiations.

As Forest City reduces its risk and likely takes some profit, say elected officials, it's time to enforce a new timetable. The developer surely doesn't want that, since it cuts into the bottom line, but it's a victory of sorts for Forest City if the main ask regards the timetable without adding the issue of greater affordability and a reduction in scale.

Note that the elected officials also asked that the sale be deferred until "after a study of alternatives to expedite construction and that "the Governor, ESDC and Forest City Ratner publicly commit to improving the accountability of the Atlantic Yards project to the public, stating their support of legislation to create a dedicated local development corporation to oversee the project."

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Blame Kidd? As Nets "hit another rock bottom," some target neophyte coach (but how much is his fault?)

Yes, the Brooklyn Nets did beat the defending champion Miami Heat, suggesting it was a reasonable bet to build a squad to win this year, with owner Mikhail Prokhorov willing to pay a huge luxury tax for some aging stars.

Since then, they've been terrible, beset by injuries to their older (Andrei Kirilenko, Jason Terry, Kevin Garnett) and not-so-old (Brook Lopez, Deron Williams) players, with no time to gel as a squad. Last night's 30-point loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves left them 3-9. Nets hit another rock bottom in Minnesota, ESPN reported.

They have some bright spots, like the play (though not last night) of bench pick-ups Shaun Livingston and Alan Anderson, as well as rookie Mason Plumlee, but the big names are surely disappointments. And it's more than that, as ESPN's Mike Mazzeo wrote: "Missing your best players makes it tough. Getting outplayed makes it nearly impossible."

So there's been enormous speculation about whether it was wise to hire star point guard Jason Kidd as coach just days after he announced his retirement from professional basketball as a Knick.  There's a Twitter account, albeit with little more than 100 followers, called Fire Jason Kidd. The wisecracks keep coming.
The Daily News's Stefan Bondy reported, Jason Kidd says Nets aren't getting his message after being steamrolled by Timberwolves:

Somewhere in Russia or wherever he’s doing business these days, Mikhail Prokhorov is wasting a lot of money for an assembly of players looking older by the quarter. At least he can afford it. The Russian owner hasn’t uttered a peep since the victory over Miami on Nov. 1, while the Nets are insisting Kidd’s job is not in jeopardy.

One saving grace for the Nets is the Knicks are equally lousy, and they seem to have less potential than the Nets. And if the Nets--who've hardly been able to show what they can do as a team--can beat Miami or Indiana or San Antonio and/or advance in the playoffs, much will be forgiven.

How much to blame Kidd?

The question is how much patience Nets brass and Prokhorov have, and whether the team's struggles--however explainable if not excusable--should be laid on the coach.
Unscientific poll from Brooklyn Game readers

Devin Kharpertian of The Brooklyn Game wrote 11/21/13 that Kidd couldn't be blamed for the team construction--for which GM Billy King still deserves credit--or the injuries, though he hasn't been great at calling plays or motivating players. But he has, as was planned, a cast of top assistants:
Kidd will stay the year. Even if they crash and burn for 71 more games, the Nets won't give up on what they acknowledge was a long-term experiment this quickly. He could've begun his career an assistant coach, like so many other players have done on their way to the head job. But here's the trick: other than the title on his business card, isn't that exactly what he's doing? And if so, who does this mess land on: Kidd for taking the position, the front office for signing him to it, or his assistants for not backing him up?
On 11/21/13, the Daily News's Bondy wrote Jason Kidd starting to sound delusional as Nets dodge reality:
The Nets have taken an approach with themselves and the media to focus on the positive, believing it’s better to encourage than to kick in the behind.
The problem with that is Jason Kidd is starting to sound delusional.
“Every time we take the floor I feel like this is the moment it’s going to turn,” the coach said. “Because guys have done everything we’ve asked, and gotten better each time we’ve taken the floor.”
There are reasons to believe the Nets will turn around this mess, but their steady improvement is not one of them. It would be much easier to argue the Nets have just gotten worse, especially since the high mark was the second game of the season in a victory over Miami.
Still Bondy suggested the Nets would survive:
In the end, Brooklyn might be saved by the crummy Atlantic Division and its forgiveness of poor records. Every team is at least two games under .500, and an automatic top-four seed goes to the winner.
Columnist Adrian Wojnarowski wrote on YahooSports 11/22/13 that Kidd gets an incomplete:
Repetition matters for a coach the way it does for a player. In his first job, Kidd has a blessing and curse: great talent, greater expectations and perhaps the potential for the harshest judgment a rookie coach has ever endured.
...Players have been coming and going so often, there's been little chance to develop cohesion and trust. People can kill Kidd for running so much isolation, so few plays, but that's been far more a product of the roster's void of cohesion than the coach's incompetence.
In Sports on Earth, Colin McGowan wrote The Jason Kidd Experiment, acknowledging the confusion:
Everything is crashing down on Jason Kidd. ESPN’s David Thorpe, during a Truehoop TV segment in which he graded various coaches’ performances, called him the worst coach in the NBA. Howard Beck of Bleacher Report talked to a scout who told him that Kidd doesn’t do anything in terms of calling plays on offense or defense. Kidd blamed himself for a blowout loss against Portland on Monday. It’s hard to determine the degree to which a coach is responsible for a team’s success or failure, but both the media and Kidd seem to agree: He’s not adapting smoothly to his new vocation.
Even if the Nets continue to comport themselves on the court like grumpy basset hounds and play a style of basketball that offends the notion of style, there’s a lot about them that’s interesting. The premise alone sings: A legendary coach on the floor retires and takes over a squad composed of his aging contemporaries and a backcourt with the most disproportionate talent-to-charisma ratio in the league. They’ll be worth paying attention to throughout the year, perhaps especially if they implode.
The character question

Kidd is a lock for the Hall of Fame, but his off-the-court "character" issues likely won't be ignored. The Daily News reported 11/3/13:
If Jeff Van Gundy had his way, Jason Kidd would still be serving his suspension for DWI, and might be forced to miss the entire season.
The former Knicks coach ranted against the NBA for dishing out light penalties for serious offenses such as DWI’s and domestic abuse.
Kidd, one of the greatest point guards in the history of the league, was arrested for drunken driving last year and served a two-game suspension to start the season, missing games against Cleveland and the home opener vs. Miami on Friday.
It put in a little relief the unfortunate choice of sponsor for a Nets poll regarding Kidd, at right.

So far Kidd seems to be handling the team's struggles stoically if somewhat pollyannishly. But it's worth going back to what Mike Vaccaro wrote in the New York Post 10/5/13, What will Nets do when Kidd messes up again?:
From the moment the Nets hired Jason Kidd, they understood they were going to start the 2013-14 season before he would, that the consequences for the drunk-driving charges levied against him 14 months ago were coming, that old bill coming due.
...The crime itself was as much a lapse of common sense as it was of the law, a reminder that even someone who made just south of $190 million as a basketball player can inexplicably opt for a steering wheel instead of a car service. He wants to put it behind him, and so do the Nets, and once he has paid his the debt to the league as he has to the community, that’s certainly his right.
This, however, is what lingers:
The reality that as carefully as King and the rest of the Nets’ brass have crafted this coming season, there is, and will be, one wild card that is impossible to completely ignore, or define...
Kidd didn’t lead a perfect life during his 19 years as a player, we know that. There was an old domestic violence charge before he was traded to the Nets. There was the gangplanking of Byron Scott, a mutiny during which Kidd was the captain. There was, of course, that SUV he drunkenly drove into a telephone pole out East.
The question now is different:
What happens when he suffers a lapse of judgment or wisdom now that he’s a boss, now that he’s in charge of a roster of highly evolved professionals, now that he’s being paid for that very same judgment that has been shown wanting every now and again across a very public basketball life?
An in-depth profile

In the November 2013 issue of Men's Journal, Paul Solotaroff wrote Jason Kidd: The Playmaker Gives Up the Ball:
After a career marked by on-court brilliance and off-court trouble, Jason Kidd is now the Brooklyn Nets' rookie coach, trying to lead a collection of aging, high-priced veterans to a championship on a team owned by a Russian billionaire.
...For a franchise whose history is littered with wagers that rarely, if ever, cashed, bringing Kidd aboard was the biggest risk of all. An epic fail could set them back a decade.
But if anyone is ready to do this and do it here – come flying out of the gate, make the Conference Finals, and win the hearts and minds of entitled fans in the most noxiously fickle sports town on the planet – it is Jason Frederick Kidd; he's like a post-racial, post-you-up James Bond. Put him on the line at the Boston Garden with chants of "wife beater" ringing in his ears, and he calmly drains two free throws for a playoff win. Trade him to Dallas, a floundering team with a me-first superstar, and he persuades Dirk Nowitzki to share the ball en route to the Mavs' first title. "The word pressure is not in my vocabulary," he says, walking into the Nets' grubby practice center off Route 17 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. "I use challenges, and I've won some and lost some of those. This job is really just another challenge."
Solotaroff discusses the dark side, including Kidd's "rep for being a coach killer," his marital problems, and the DWI arrest:.
"Bad decision," he said, stiffening at the mention of the crash. "Lesson learned." 
Not exactly the voice of dear-bought wisdom or glad-to-still-be-alive contrition. But Kidd has always been wiser on the court than off it.
Solotaroff wrote in conclusion:
In the end, though, Kidd's fortunes will rise or fall on the play of his temperamental point guard, Deron Williams. Williams has been brilliant and baleful in equal measure, an All-Star who has clashed with two coaches and underperformed at crunch time. Kidd will get him to play defense, which he's done indifferently; stop dribbling so much in half-court sets; and pass the ball sooner on the break. It should make for great theater, assuming the two see eye to eye. If they don't, though, it'll be Kidd who takes the fall this time. The star with the ball is always the last man standing.
The Nets made a big investment in players and coach. And while it certainly makes sense to give Kidd more time, at some point team owners and general managers do change coaches. For all the reasonable reassurance that Kidd's jobs is safe, remember that the Brooklyn Nets went through two coaches--Avery Johnson and P.J. Carlesimo--in their first year.


Wrote the Daily News's Bondy 11/23/13:
But it’s not too early for this statement: the most expensive roster in NBA history is not a championship team, not as constructed without a time machine. All that offseason talk about raising banners was replaced Friday by Kevin Garnett implying a shakeup is on the horizon.
You think he regrets waiving his no-trade clause?
"You’re going to have the business of basketball come into play, I’m sure, and management is probably going to do what they’ve got to do,” Garnett said, unprompted.
Eighteen-year veterans don’t bring management into the conversation during run-of-the-mill, early-season struggles. Garnett understands the expectations, and the Nets have looked awful.
Perhaps owner Mikhail Prokhorov will fly in on his private jet and blow up the whole thing. He’s paying handsomely for that right, even if canning the coach or the GM this time is an admission of a colossal mistake.
Here’s perspective: the Nets fired Avery Johnson, the reigning Coach of the Month, after a bad stretch of 14 games last season. They then dropped P.J. Carlesimo after he went 33-19 as an interim coach.
These Nets are 3-9, losers of seven of their last eight heading into Sunday’s home game against the Pistons. They may not have their own first-round draft pick until 2019, which you should re-read and let sink in. Forget cap space and free agents. Kidd —who just signed a three-year contract — looks lost on the sideline, searching for answers from a roster lacking the athleticism to be competitive on a nightly basis.

Friday, November 22, 2013

What happens after Barclays Center neighbors file a noise complaint? Not much.

One Barclays Center neighbor said the noise emanating from the Kanye West concerts this week was "[a]part from the Justin Bieber fans... the worst noise in my opinion since the arena opened." Another told me the noise could be heard within the Newswalk building at a point very near Carlton Avenue.

That's a problem.

But what happens when people file 311 complaints? They get blown off by the cops, and it's not really NYPD. It's not like the police have the equipment that the Department of Environmental Protection has--and occasionally brings--to measure noise violations.

(The DEP has levied one fine, which the Barclays Center paid, but has been unable to levy more, despite widespread belief by neighbors that violations continue.)

So expect some noise issues to come up at the 78th Precinct Community Council meeting next Tuesday, Nov. 26, at 7:30 at the precinct, at 6th Avenue and Bergen Street.

But it's likely police and precinct council officials will say Barclays Center issues should be brought up at the next Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Committee meeting. Such meetings are supposed to be bimonthly. The last one was 9/26/13, and the next meeting has not yet been announced.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Idling trucks/buses at 3:20 a.m. outside arena after Kanye West concert, neighbor reports; leaking bass shakes items inside apartment

The two Kanye West concerts in the last two nights at the Barclays Center produced some severe headaches for nearby residents. As one resident of Sixth Avenue below Dean Street reported, the noise of idling buses and vehicles "has been so bad that it’s been enough for me to actually get up (I’d failed to get back to sleep for a while), make a complaint to 311 and record video."

He went up the block to the arena at 3:20 am last night and recorded five buses and two trucks idling. "The trucks moved after I walked around," he stated. "I spoke to one of the bus drivers and he said they’d been told to wait and idle by the venue."

Leaking bass

"Before the concert even finished, the music was louder than I’ve heard before from the arena with the bass actually shaking items in our apartment," he reported. "I could also hear it outside at the corner of Bergen [Street[ and Flatbush [Avenue] at around 10 pm."

"Apart from the Justin Bieber fans this has been the worst noise in my opinion since the arena opened," he added.

Mayor-elect de Blasio names Gilmartin, Lewis to his 60-member transition team; did press give candidate a bye?

As part of his 60-member volunteer transition team, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio yesterday named MaryAnne Gilmartin, President and CEO, Forest City Ratner Companies and Bertha Lewis, President and Founder, The Black Institute--and, more importantly, Forest City Ratner's partner on the Atlantic Yards affordable housing since she headed New York ACORN.

de Blasio has long had a relationship with Lewis--he owes her and the associated Working Families Party big-time for his entire political career. And it's understandable that he'd have a relationship with Gilmartin, given the importance he's placed in getting Atlantic Yards affordable housing done.

But her prominence confirms just how important that relationship is--one I suspect will pay off with carrots, not sticks, regarding Atlantic Yards.

From the announcement

His transition office issued a news release:
Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio today announced the appointment of 60 experienced leaders and experts to his transition committee that will assist him in building a progressive, competent and diverse city government.
“These leaders are volunteering their expertise in every issue and area of municipal affairs,” said Mayor-Elect de Blasio. “Together, they will join Transition NYC Co-Chairs Carl Weisbrod and Jennifer Jones Austin in helping me to assemble a team that’s devoted to building one great city where everyone shares in our prosperity.”
“My charge to the transition team is to identify women and men from every part of our city and walk of life that share a commitment to progressive and competent city government,” said de Blasio. “They will be advising me based on their wealth of experience and knowledge of specific issue areas and government agencies.”
I'm not sure Forest City Ratner's "commitment to progressive and competent city government" trumps it's commitment to a "responsive and accommodating city government."

(Note that Gilmartin and Lewis were not mentioned in the New York Times round-up.)

Why was press late on de Blasio?

Capital New York yesterday reported:
Speaking on a panel of political journalists and consultants at the CUNY journalism school on Tuesday night, NY1's Errol Louis suggested that the media initially dismissed Bill de Blasio's mayoral campaign because they underestimated his support among black voters.
The press, he said, assumed that Bill Thompson would get a majority of the black vote and saw de Blasio as an outerborough white ethnic candidate, in the mold of Ed Koch or Anthony Weiner. But that's not how the voters saw de Blasio.
"It turned out he was a black candidate, in terms of voting," Louis said.
"People identified with the wife, people identified with the daughter, people identified with the son, people identified with the family as a whole," he told Capital after the panel.
POLITICO's Maggie Haberman said "De Blasio is coming in as one of the least-scrutinized mayors in history," suggesting that, "beyond a few signature policy initiatives—universal pre-K, for instance—the media had not investigated what a de Blasio administration would look like.

Well, as I wrote 10/31/13, we should blame the New York Times, in part, because a team of reporters practicing he-said, she-said journalism gave de Blasio the undeserved last word despite a record of slipperiness and absence on Atlantic Yards.

The Barclays Center releases event calendar for December 2013

The Barclays Center December has released its December event calendar, with 27 events, including one double-header and one triple-header college basketball tourneys.

The max attendance is expected for Nets basketball games, with 16,500 expected--presumably accounting for no-shows despite official sellouts. (The arena seats 17,732 for basketball.)  The 14,000 expected for Beyonce is either a lowball figure or based on a concert configuration that puts certain sections out of commission.

Note that in 2012 the arena expected 14,000 for Andrea Bocelli, but now expects 10,000. Tickets are on discount.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Starting this morning, Dean Street between Flatbush/6th closed for a week from 9 am to 6 pm for installation of tower crane for B2 construction; last-minute notice after vague information

A Community Notice sent late yesterday afternoon to some Prospect Heights residents (and sent directly to me and others at 10 pm, right) told them that Dean Street next to the arena block would close this morning for a week:
DEAN STREET BETWEEN FLATBUSH & 6TH AVENUES WILL BE CLOSED for one week, starting Wednesday, November 20th through Wednesday, November 27th to erect a tower crane and dismantle the crawler crane on the B2 construction site located at the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Dean Street.
Please note that although the street closure will be from 9 am to 6 pm, this work is expected to start at 7 am.
Access to the Barclays Center loading dock is being coordinated via 6th Avenue. Vehicles requiring access to the loading dock will be directed by flagmen, which will be provided by the both the arena operations team and the B2 construction team. 
For additional information, please contact the Atlantic Yards Community Liaison Office at 1-866-923-5315 or
(Emphases added)

No clear warning

There was no clear warning that this would be coming, since any previous information suggested it would happen last week and was vague about the length of time to be closed. From the latest two-week Atlantic Yards Construction Alert, dated 11/11/13 but released 11/14/13:
• Subject to receipt of all approvals/permits erection of the Tower Crane and the removal of the crawler crane will be pushed into the week of November 11th. Once approval is issued from the DOB, Dean St will be closed as required; from 9 am to 5 pm. Access to the Arena’s loading dock will be coordinated via 6th Ave. during the time Dean St is closed. This will be coordinated with the Arena's staff.
Note that "closed as required" was a vague term that I (and presumably others) read as one day, which obviously was a misreading. But the previous two-week Atlantic Yards Construction Alert, dated 10/28/13 said "during the week," which did not imply the full week:
Subject to receipt of necessary permits, erection of the tower crane and removal of the crawler crane will take place during the week of October 28th. This work will require the closure of Dean Street from 9 AM TO 9 PM. Access to the Arena’s loading dock will be coordinated via 6th Avenue.

Quarterly disclosure to bondholders: $43.3 million in both ticket sales and suite and sponsor installments

The Brooklyn Events Center, the Barclays Center operating company, yesterday released its latest (and fourth) quarterly disclosure to bondholders, indicating $43.3 million in both ticket sales and suite and sponsor installments. 

That's a small but not necessarily significant dip from previous quarters, mainly because of suite and sponsor installments. Tickets tales are up compared to the previous two quarters, but not the first one.

See screenshots below, moving backward in time.

Third quarter, 2013

Second quarter, 2013

First quarter, 2013

Fourth quarter, 2012

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

As revamped New Domino plan (from SHoP and Two Trees) proceeds, planner suggests closer look at housing, open space, and jobs

It's time for another look at the New Domino development in Williamsburg, partly because it's the second-largest project in Brooklyn after Atlantic Yards, and partly because the changing plans, promises, and players (and journalistic inattention) in some way follow the AY template.

Consider the 10/17/13 New York Times article At Brooklyn’s Domino Sugar Site, Waning Opposition to Prospect of Luxury Towers, which essentially called for resignation:
It is the consummate landmark for 2013 Williamsburg: a monument of the Brooklyn neighborhood’s industrial past that a developer has decided to transform into luxury high-rise buildings, knowing that people will pay to live in them for the unmatched views, the industrial-chic glamour and the neighborhood, the most up-and-coming of them all.
The Domino Sugar refinery, whose colossal machinery fell silent for good in 2004, is known across the East River in Manhattan for the neon “Domino Sugar” sign that presides over its sooty brick walls. Now the factory, which opened in the 1880s, is seen as a turning point for a neighborhood that has drifted far from its working-class roots. Some neighborhood advocates say the development plan, which the New York City Planning Commission is expected to certify next week to begin the public review process, could become a model for socially responsible development; others believe it could be the final stroke for the gritty, intimate Williamsburg they have known.
Many residents are simply resigned to the march of glass-and-metal luxury towers down the East River. If the Domino site must be developed, the thinking seems to go, the latest plan, a $1.5 billion Two Trees Management project, may be the best that can be hoped for.
“The fact of the matter is, this neighborhood’s changed so much in the last 10 years, and I don’t necessarily see it stopping,” said Matthew Viragh, the owner of Nitehawk Cinema, a popular independent movie theater a few blocks from the factory. “If Two Trees doesn’t develop this, somebody else will, is sort of my mentality, unfortunately.”
And ended with a quote from Jed Walentas of Two Trees:
Besides, there may not be much of a choice. Though the public review process will most likely begin early next year, Mr. Walentas emphasized that if his plan was not approved, Two Trees had a right to build the previous design.

“There are lots and lots of folks that think there’s too much density on the site,” he said. “Some of them are realistic about the fact that that debate is over.”
What's the debate?

That's a remarkable framing, which suggests there's no difference between the 2010 plan by Community Preservation Corporation Resources and Rafael Viñoly Architects and the proposed version from Two Trees and SHoP Architects, which designed not only the revamped Barclays Center but is also designing the first Atlantic Yards towers.

The new design has "more parkland, more office and retail space" and, while the proposed towers are taller than the earlier proposal, "they are also thinner, with giant cutouts that Two Trees says will allow views and light, preserving a sense of continuity with the neighborhood."

Two Trees will not segregate the 660 planned affordable units in separate building, though nearly one-third will be in the first, inland tower. The Times reports:
A small but vocal protest group, Save Domino, has tried to harness the affection for the building among younger residents with social media and eye-catching protests... The group has an ambitious alternative plan: buy the site and turn it into art galleries, a science center and affordable housing. Its leaders say they have at least one committed investor, but it is unclear whether they will have enough money or whether they can persuade Two Trees to sell. (Mr. Walentas says the site is not for sale.)
Looking at the numbers

But it took a post yesterday by urban planner Brian Paul, a producer of the Domino Effect movie, to break down what he calls "TWO TREES’ HOLLOW PROMISES."

Paul praised the commercial space and commitment to non-chain “neighborhood” retail and, though he thinks the plan is too big, he focused in this case on evaluating housing, jobs, and open space. Firest, he explains how the plan has changed, with Two Trees now asking for 236,515 additional square feet.

What does that mean to the developer? Paul calculates an extra $5.9 million in commercial rent annually, while the height premium on residential should be at least $5 million+ annually.

Thus, "It is conservative to estimate that the additional height and density proposed by Two Trees at Domino would net the firm at least an additional $100 million in revenue over 10 years."

Maybe Two Trees disagrees, but these numbers must be part of the conversation, rather than "the debate is over."

Affordable housing, open space, and jobs

Paul points out that there's a huge mismatch between the official measure for affordable housing, Area Median Income (AMI), and the actual income in Brooklyn Community Board 1. He notes that the 2010 proposal had 510 of the 660 units were for 60% AMI or lower, with significant numbers of two- and three-bedroom units.

Those "promises were formalized by a non-binding 'memorandum of understanding' that Two Trees has said it will not follow." Remember, the Atlantic Yards promises were also in a non-binding MOU.

While Two Trees promises “660 units of affordable housing,” Paul points out that that number is less than the originally promised 30%, the floor area is less, there'd be "only a handful of two-bedroom units" and zero three-bedroom units, and few units at 40% AMI, with the rest at higher income.

He writes:
If Two Trees wanted to build with the local community in mind, they would keep all AMI’s at 60% and lower, and build fully 30% of the floor area as affordable housing to allow for more two bedroom apartments and the inclusion of three bedroom apartments for families.
While there would be two more acres of open space, most "would be taken up by the proposed extension of River Street through the site as a 'private drive.'" Also, though the Times described it as "more parkland," most would be privately managed.

Also, while the commercial space would help create “3,000 new jobs,” Paul notes that it's "intended for companies in the tech and new media sectors," jobs held mostly by "young white men," not the working class residents of Williamsburg, many people of color and foreign born, who've relied on factory jobs.

Impact fees and the future

Paul warns that a shuttle bus to the L train--the previous plan only had a shuttle to the J--means an increased burden on an already overcrowded station. His message:
New York City is so far behind best practices in development and planning. We need to start undertaking comprehensive urban planning in order to make sure that growth is equitable, sustainable, and rational in relation to the greater public interest. If developers like Two Trees want to build thousands of units on the Williamsburg-Greenpoint waterfront, the cost of the improved infrastructure should not rest wholly on the regular New York City taxpayers. It’s not a radical proposition.
The Bloomberg era is over. This project will be the first ULURP to greet our new Borough President, City Planning Chair, Council Speaker, and Mayor. This project will be their first opportunity to send a message that the old Bloomberg way of doing business, of huge giveaways to the real estate industry at public expense, is over. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Absent among elected officials putting pressure on Atlantic Yards: state Senator and BP-elect Eric Adams, who evades question of delays, backs modular plan

Update: a couple of people have told me Adams was out of the country. I still submit that his comments to NY1 indicate he's not ready to join the effort pressuring Forest City and that he could have been part of the press release had he felt it appropriate.

There was one conspicuous absence last Friday when a broad range of elected officials urged that the Atlantic Yards Development Agreement be revised to require the affordable housing to be built on the originally promoted ten-year schedule before the developer is allowed to sell 70% of the remaining project to the Chinese government-owned Greenland Group, and that the ongoing Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement study alternatives to Forest City's plan.

That absence: state Senator and Borough President-elect Eric Adams, who represents a district near the site and, of course, will soon represent the borough.

Those officials present were Assemblymembers James F. Brennan, Joan L. Millman, and Walter T. Mosley; State Senator Velmanette Montgomery; City Council members Letitia James and Stephen Levin, and Council member elect Laurie Cumbo. Those supporting the effort, but sending representatives, were U.S. Representatives Yvette Clarke, Hakeem Jeffries and Nydia M. Velázquez; Assemblymembers Karim Camara and Joseph R. Lentol, and Council Member Brad Lander.

Adams at 1/22/12 press conference; photo/ Tracy Collins
I don't know if Adams declined participation, or simply wasn't asked. (I'll update when I know more.)

January 2012 criticism

Either way, it's a strong contrast from the 1/22/12 press conference Adams called, with Jeffries and Camara backing him, urging a new governance structure for the project and expressing outrage at the slow pace.

"One of the major problems we've had historically is that too many people have used taxpayers' dollars to give promises, and did not deliver," Adams said at the time, at a press conference seen as an opportunity for the Senator, seeking higher office, to gain some attention. "This developer has become the poster child of how we will not do business [any more] with taxpayers' dollars."

Since then, the first tower is finally under way, after a series of delays that cannot be attributed to opponents.

But a major gap between Atlantic Yards promises and performance remains, and it's understandable why the elected officials would want to impose new conditions, given the improved economy and Forest City's potential gain from the new investor. "Our state cannot allow FCR to cash out," said Michelle de La Uz of the Fifth Avenue Committee last Friday, "before the majority of public benefits are delivered."

For Adams, I suspect, the main difference is that he's now in office, and the Barclays Center and Atlantic Yards may prove to be more constituent--a place for press conferences, as with current Borough President Marty Markowitz--than object of criticism.

Adams faces the question

On NY1's Road to City Hall on 11/15/13, the same day as the elected officials' press conference, host Errol Louis brought up the issue briefly, at 3:27.

"Let's talk about what's going on at the Barclays Center and Atlantic Yards development project," Louis said. "There have been accusations that the affordable housing has been delayed for far too long. Your predecessor, Marty Markowitz, was a big booster of the overall project. Where are you on all of that? What's going to happen next?"

That wasn't the most specific question, and Adams responded evasively to the question and with clear support for the project.

Adams's evasion, and enthusiastic support

"We have to develop the housing, and not only because we need affordable housing--we must build up--but also, we need the jobs," responded Adams, not responding to the issue of delays, or the implied question about imposing new conditions on the developer.

"We need to look at what Bruce Ratner is doing, with his great, really cutting-edge, trying to build up using pre-fab housing, can we do this throughout in the borough of Brooklyn, and can we encourage others to do that as well," Adams continued. 

In other words, he's adopted the not-implausible position that modular housing may be a solution to lowering the cost of union-built construction. 

But at the same time he's looking past, for example, Forest City's failure, in the first tower, to devote 50% of the affordable housing, in floor area, to two- and three-bedroom units, as promised in the Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The MOU is incorporated into the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), and Adams is also ignoring Forest City's failure to hire the Independent Compliance Monitor promised in the CBA. Both issues were brought up by elected officials last Friday.

"We can move those factories," Adams continued. "Jobs like that can go to Brownsville, you can actually train young people and those who have unemployment issues, you can train them to actually do the housing that's being done. So I'm encouraging Bruce to continue and move forward, we must do the housing in that area."

So, it sounds like Adams is on a first-name basis with Ratner, and he's got no qualms.