Monday, November 10, 2014

The uneasy, incomplete transition from Atlantic Yards to Pacific Park (aka "Pacific Something or Other")

After writing this piece, I've further tweaked this blog's name to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Report. On 8/10/14, after the project's new name was announced, I changed Atlantic Yards Report to Atlantic Yards (& Pacific Park) Report. But the newly-tweaked name is more precise: they're not separate projects but different frames.

Atlantic Yards? Pacific Park? It's hard to get them straight--and to keep a straight face.

In early August, Greenland Forest City Partners, the new joint venture overseeing the project, rebranded Atlantic Yards, named nearly eleven years earlier, as Pacific Park, purportedly to highlight "the borough’s newest open space" and to focus not on Atlantic Avenue, but on Pacific Street.

It seemed odd to highlight a smaller, partly demapped street as well as unbuilt open space. It seemed like they'd taken lessons from master political advisor Karl Rove, who famously claimed that "we create our own reality."

The name seems a clear tactic by the new owners, led by the Shanghai government-owned Greenland Group (which bought 70% of the project going forward from Forest City Ratner), to distance themselves from controversy.

Uneasy transition

Given the enormous hype for "Atlantic Yards" (see screenshot of brochure at left), the "Pacific Park" transition may take a while.

Consider that Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing the project, still calls it Atlantic Yards, which was the official name in project documents, while also using the rebranded name.

In bi-weekly Construction Alerts, which are first prepared by Greenland Forest City Partners, the nomenclature has been muddled.

The alert sent 9/15/14 addressed the "Atlantic Yards Community," while the one sent two weeks later was finally called the Pacific Park Brooklyn Construction Update, with the note addressing "the Pacific Park Brooklyn Community."

The name Pacific Park was not even used at the Quality of Life meeting held 9/4/14.  But Speaking at the Brooklyn Real Estate Summit on 9/16/14, Forest City CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin used the term "Pacific Park Brooklyn" without a hitch

Then again, even those presumably sympathetic may face some challenges buying in. During another panel at the Summit, former city official Seth Pinsky, now an executive at RXR Realty, talked about his company's purchase of a long-term lease at 470 Vanderbilt Avenue just north of Atlantic Avenue.

"The building historically has been a bit of an island. As Atlantic Yards, which is now called 'Pacific Something or Other' gets developed," he quipped, "that will change substantially."

Atlantic Yards in the public consciousness

The name Atlantic Yards is so embedded in public consciousness that, for example, the New York Times, in an 8/29/14 report on a shutdown of construction at the B2 modular tower, indicated Atlantic Yards in the headline but explained in the article that it was renamed.

In China, sticking with the brand

Curiously enough, for the purposes of raising cheap capital via the EB-5 immigrant investor program, the name Atlantic Yards--associated with two previous rounds of fund-raising--is just fine, as shown in the photo below, from a 10/10/14 event in Shanghai.

A project, not a place

The name change further bolsters a caution I offered in May 2006 and again in January 2009: Atlantic Yards was a project, not a place.

Consider how some news coverage that considered Atlantic Yards a place appears even more odd today.

Crain's New York Business columnist Greg David, writing 6/27/10 about Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, wrote, " Behind the scenes, he orchestrated the approval of a massive mixed-used project at Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, anchored by an arena for the New Jersey Nets basketball team."

CBS, in 2/13/12 coverage of the Barclays Center, described it as "under construction at Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn."

Even parent Forest City Enterprises, in a 7/1/14 news release, stated, "Forest City and Greenland Group Close on Joint Venture at Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn."

Or how about this 8/20/10 New York Times headline, "Show About the Atlantic Yards Finds a Home Near the Atlantic Yards."

Note, by the way, that the Times reported the play as “In the Footprint: The Battle Over the Atlantic Yards,” while the troupe The Civilians, recognizing it was a project, not a place, actually omit the second "the" and call it “In the Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards.”

Now, could it be "The Battle Over Pacific Park"? Nope. People were battling over Atlantic Yards. And they should remember this project as Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park. You can't erase history.

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