Friday, February 21, 2014

Forest City Ratner's new Chinese partner will help revamp Barclays Center roof. Are architectural/environmental "enhancements" a fix to limit escaping bass?

It's been barely acknowledged, and clearly obscured, but the Shanghai-based Greenland Group, Brooklyn developer Forest City Ratner's new partner on Atlantic Yards, will help fix the Barclays Center roof.

In response to my query, Empire State Development (ESD), the state agency overseeing/shepherding Atlantic Yards, said Forest City "is considering improvements that would enhance the architectural and environmental attributes of the roof."

What could that mean?

Well, right now the roof --once billed as public space, with green elements--now offers a logo'd advertisement for Barclays. Also, it serves as a sieve for noise, allowing bass from particularly loud concerts to penetrate residents' apartments.

So, enhancing the "environmental attributes" could mean prettying up that roof with some vegetation, taking a cue from that green roof over the subway entrance in the arena plaza.

That might boost the value of the apartments overlooking the arena, including the B2 tower, slated to open in December. After all, who wants to pay $3,300+ for a one-bedroom and look down at a logo?

After all, few of SHoP's renderings in the press handout for B2 show any hint of the roof, and the "night [helicopter] view from Flatbush Avenue," at right, omits the logo.

As for enhancing, the "architectural attributes," well, the arena's built. The roof is built.

How could the roof need an expensive design improvement--and, if it's part of the Greenland deal, it won't be cheap? The only architectural enhancement I could imagine would involve tamping down that pesky bass. (Yes, there were defective bolts on the building's exterior, but that involved the facade, not the roof.)

As I've written, that's been a periodic problem--and source of a $3200 fine--during the arena's initial 17 months of operation. Also, arena operators arena spent more than $500,000 to install 1,800 acoustic baffles last year.

Arena "excluded" from Greenland deal

The process has hardly been transparent.

When, on 10/11/12, Forest City and the Chinese government-owned Greenland announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding regarding the Atlantic Yards project, the companies said the "joint venture would cover both phase one and phase two of the project--excluding Barclays Center and the first housing tower, B2--including infrastructure, a platform and residential units."

In December, documents from parent Forest City Enterprises, including a Form 8-K and a Form 10-Q submitted to the SEC, plus three press releases, similarly said the pending joint venture would exclude the Barclays Center and B2.

Not quite.

While the Greenland Group won't own any of the arena--the operating arm of which is owned 55% by Forest City and 45% by Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov--it will play a crucial role regarding the roof.

From the Final Scope; click to enlarge
Role revealed

On 2/7/14, ESD let slip some information about the roof, in the Final Scope for a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement, a pending, court-ordered review of the potential community impact of the 25-year buildout ESD quietly approved--but didn't disclose--in 2009.

The Final Scope noted that the planned joint venture, which is still subject to some regulatory approvals, would address all buildings going forward, complete construction of the new LIRR rail yard, build the platform over the rail yard to achieve vertical development, create the planned eight acres of publicly accessible open space, "and make certain modifications to the Barclays Center roof."

What does it mean?

What does "certain modifications" mean? I initially speculated that the changes could regard integration with towers yet to be built, or better sound insulation, or even a new Greenland logo to accompany the Barclays Center one.

My query to ESD was met with the one-line response regarding "architectural and environmental attributes."

So I wouldn't bet that integration with the towers or a new logo are on the table.

But an enhanced (green?) roof could be a two-fer for Forest City Ratner: they could present it as an environmental and esthetic boost, while aiming to fix a pesky problem.

I'll bet Forest City plays down the latter, since it would acknowledge a significant flaw in the arena design. Maybe that's why they omitted the roof revamp in those initial statements about the Greenland deal.

Local impact?

The time to perfect the roof, of course, was when the arena is under construction. Depending on the size and scale of the roof revamp, the work could require disruption on the sidewalks, arena plaza, and/or adjacent streets.

If so, that'll be another Atlantic Yards element--like the impact of the escaping bass--neither disclosed nor acknowledged in any phase of the environmental review.

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