Thursday, April 17, 2014

Latest report: Atlantic Yards would be a 20-year buildout (actually, 22 years), rather than "comparable" to 2006 plan

There are a couple of very interesting tidbits in the 4/16/2014 Forbes article about B2, Building The World's Tallest Modular Apartment Tower.

First, the article says the building is slated to be finished by December, with no mention that it seems to be behind schedule. Given that the process to create a module takes 20 days, it's certainly possible to be built quickly, be we don't know how long it will take to build and deliver the remaining 819 modules.

Second, the project buildout is said to last 20 years.

It's not specified when that 20-year period ends, but if we count the December 2012 groundbreaking for B2, that means Atlantic Yards would be finished in December 2032. 

That's less than the 25-year outside date (end of 2035) in the Development Agreement signed at the end of 2009, which triggered the project start in 2010, but that would mean a 22-year overall buildout, including the arena, not a 20-year one.

Other timetable claims

That 22-year buildout doesn't comport with the statement, in the pending Draft Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement, which was charged to study the impacts of a worst-case scenario, a 25-year buildout:
The joint venture documentation includes a target development schedule for Phase II construction that is substantially shorter than the one being analyzed in this SEIS. The schedule is comparable in duration to the schedule studied in the 2006 FEIS. 
The uninformed caption suggests the arena block makes up
all that needs to be built in 20 years
The 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement analyzed a ten-year schedule, but consider that "target development schedules" have a tendency to be wrong." Remember Bruce Ratner claiming in 2008, "We anticipate finishing all of Atlantic Yards by 2018.

Also, I wonder if that "documentation" involves a misinterpretation of the statement last November from Chairman Zhang Yuliang of the Greenland Group, Forest City's expected joint venture partner in Atlantic Yards, that (in the Wall Street Journal's paraphrase) "he expected the development would take about eight years to complete."

After all, Skanska has said the plan is to build eight towers in eight years.

James's criticism

That means Public Advocate Letitia James's criticism needs to become a more nuanced. The Daily News reported yesterday on a meeting James had with reporters yesterday:
She also blasted construction at the taxpayer-subsidized Atlantic Yards arena, saying the project needs to be revisited since it's going to take too long to build. Developer Bruce Ratner agreed to build 2,250 units of affordable housing along with an arena and luxury condos. He's received roughly $760 million in tax breaks in return.
"This cannot be a construction site for 25 years," she said, adding that an environmental impact statement needs to be done.
Well, the project is being revisited, but there is no attempt by the state to seek other developers because it would be too complicated to unravel deals signed to Ratner's advantage.

An Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement is in process, but it reinforces the status quo.

The overarching issue, James should know, involves power and oversight: will the state allow any new structure for citizen input and oversight over the project, or will the developer--no longer Forest City but the upcoming Chinese government-dominated joint venture--remain in the driver's seat.


Potted history

The Forbes article includes a couple of examples of Atlantic Yards down the memory hole.

Note the caption at right, that says trucks bringing the mods make half their trips at night to avoid traffic. Actually, the initial plan was to deliver one at night.

While that will cut down the number of daytime deliveries and potential traffic disruption on Flatbush, it also sets up a scenario of potential disruption during the night for residents on Dean Street and nearby Sixth Avenue.

And neither scenario was studied in any official oversight document.

Also, the article states:
FCS Modular, a joint venture between New York City real estate developer Forest City Ratner (which was forced to build the affordable housing as part of its Barclays Center deal)...
Forest City Ratner wasn't forced to do anything. It proposed the 50/30/20 plan for the rental units in an effort to sway public opinion and gain control of a coveted site.

Saving money

The article suggests that the industry is watching, given that modular may help lower costs and increase supply around the city:
A 1,000-square-foot apartment in New York costs an estimated $330,000 to build; FCS estimates it will knock 15% to 20% off that this go-round–and as much as 30% off with more experience.
Note that they're not building any 1000-square-foot subsidized apartments, at least not in the first tower.

The article says cross-trained workers can speed up the factory work, "a big departure from New York City union construction practices, which mandate ridiculousness like framers finishing all their work before an electrician can even tackle the same area." Unmentioned is the savings by eliminating certain skilled trades, the subject of a lawsuit.

Forbes also reveals savings in building materials, because FC Modular buys directly, in volume:
The company directly purchases some 1,400 components. By controlling the process, FCS has found some great suppliers, including a company in China that produces smooth sheets of engineered quartz scored to look like tile, eliminating the need for grout in the bathroom “pods.” 

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