Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Correction: Forest City's plan is to build over East River Plaza, not Atlantic Center mall

I erred, and apologize:  Forest City informs me the plan is to build over East River Plaza, not Atlantic Center. See background here.

So please consider the below as background for the plan, if/when it emerges, to build over Atlantic Center. It is approximately the same amount of space.

Forest City Ratner has begun dropping hints that it's preparing to build 1 million square feet--perhaps in three towers--over the Atlantic Center mall, a long-hinted plan that was never formally part of Atlantic Yards but directly adjacent to it.

The Atlantic Center Mall is just north of the arena
That could add some 1,000 apartments--maybe all market-rate--to the coming density of the Atlantic Yards project, which would include 6,430 apartments in 14 to 15 towers, plus another tower (if ever built) devoted to office space

BisNow reported yesterday, almost in passing:
Forest City Ratner keeps interior design and construction in house, which makes taking on entitlement risk a little less scary, says the company's Melissa Burch. Forest City Ratner is starting the ULURP process to activate 1M SF of air rights over a retail center, she says.
The process is apparently still in the very early stages, with several questions--about scale, affordability, timing, construction methods, financing--yet to be answered. And while the "retail center" was not specified, the only potential location, as far as I know, is that mall.

It's also unclear if the towers would be residential, but residential is a far hotter market than office space right now.

[Updated and clarified] I contacted Robert Perris, District Manager of Community Board 2, who had not heard of a pending land use application. He in turn got in touch with the Department of City Planning, which informed him, “We are not currently aware of a ULURP application related to the project mentioned in the newsletter."
Photo of 2005 mode=

How ULURP works

The Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP, begins with a filing sent "to the affected Borough President, Community Board and the City Council." It then must be certified by the Department of City Planning (DCP), which sends certified applications to the Community Board, Borough President and the City Council.

That triggers a public hearing, and a Community Board recommendation, then a Borough President recommendation, and a City Planning Commission hearing and vote to approve, modify, or disapprove. 

Then it goes to City Council, where the position of the Council Member--in this case Laurie Cumbo--usually steers modification or approval. The mayor gets involve only in case of a veto, which can be overridden by  2/3 vote of Council.

Pending questions

How many towers will there be--three? four? More towers mean relatively smaller buildings.

Where would entrances be: on the outer (mall) side or would the blank walls on the inner (Fort Greene) part of the mall be opened up?

Will any units be affordable? I'm not sure any affordability is required, but it might be prudent politics to include some subsidized units. Or if Forest City seeks any special privileges beyond its already established development rights, that could require some affordability.

I'd bet that local elected officials "win" a compromise that includes some affordability.

How will the towers be built? Forest City had said it wanted to build all of Atlantic Yards using modular construction, but, due to direction from its new joint venture partner/overseer, the Chinese government-owned Greenland Group, will build the next few using conventional construction.

That said, the kinks in the modular factory may be worked out by the time the Atlantic Center towers get built. And, eyeballing the site, it strikes me that, given the limited staging area near the mall, it might very much make sense to build modular.

How will the towers be financed? Will Greenland help? Maybe. Will Forest City use the ever-popular (and ever-sketchy) EB-5 program to get cheap financing by hawking green cards to immigrant investors, as it has with Atlantic Yards? I'd bet yes.

Past plans

As I wrote in May 2006, radio host Brian Lehrer asked then Forest City Ratner executive Jim Stuckey about the company's plans to build new towers above the Atlantic Center mall, which were hinted at by models displayed at a recent press conference

Stuckey replied that, when the Atlantic Yards Memorandum of Understanding was signed in February, 2005, "we signed a Memorandum of Understanding to build over the Atlantic Center mall as well." 
2006 model
What he didn't say was that the first MOU was announced publicly, and the second--which transfers some rights to build at Site 5 across Flatbush Avenue (currently home to P.C. Richard/ Modell's)--was not announced until Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn discovered it through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Stuckey told Lehrer, "The fact is that this was studied in the downtown plan’s EIS." 

Well, the proposed construction was incorporated into the baseline condition for future downtown development, but the Environmental Impact Statement provided few details on how closely it was studied.

Past concerns

According to local activist Jim Vogel, as early as a neighborhood meeting concerning Atlantic Yards, held by the Park Slope Civic Council in March 2004, the mall towers and the Site 5 tower were in the models.

"When I saw the models I asked one of the 12 [Forest City] people at that meeting what I was looking at," said Vogel, who was representing Brooklyn Vision, which monitors development and planning issues. "At that point they said there would be four towers: two 12-story ones over the 'uphill' section and two 16-story ones over the Atlantic Avenue section."

Because no environmental review that addressed the new towers over Atlantic Center, Vogel--who was then Secretary of the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods--wondered how the Atlantic Yards EIS can accurately estimate their cumulative effect. "If they are serious about these towers they have to be declared and their effects in relation to the Atlantic Yards development properly evaluated."
Forest City's 2012 update

In a June 2006 article in the Observer, Matt Chaban pointed to Forest City's acceleration of plans to redevelop the Atlantic Center and Atlantic Terminal malls with revamped retail:
One piece in the possible architectural transformation of the two malls is more than a million square feet of development rights Forest City still holds on the property. Together, the two malls equal a little less than 800,000 square feet, meaning an expansion could more than double the space.
This does not necessarily have to be retail development, as the Atlantic Terminal building already has an office tower on top, known as 2 Hanson Place. As Norman Oder pointed out back in 2006, preliminary designs for the Atlantic Yards project revealed three towers atop the mall, tucked away in the background and unmentioned in discussions of the project.
Ms. Gilmartin said time would determine the best use of that extra square footage. “It’s a rubix [sic] cube of the grandest proportions,” she added. 
I'd bet that time is pointing to residential.

No comments:

Post a Comment