Friday, February 28, 2014

No, most affordable Atlantic Yards apartments wouldn't rent for $2,180 to $2,740 a month (that's the 2BR units)

Forest City Ratner is often the beneficiary of lazy and/or sloppy reporting. How many media outlets that covered the ceremonial delivery of the first mods for B2 in December circled back to point out it was mostly a media event?

What about the Daily News article this week that somehow described the development adjacent to the arena as "slated for 2,250 units of affordable housing," ignoring the 4180 not so affordable units? That's why Forest City spends and strategizes on public relations.

But recently Forest City has actually on the wrong side of some sloppy reporting, and people have been misinformed about the exact nature of the affordable housing in the first tower, B2.

Drilling down

As a parenthetical in a long 2/19/14 article on affordable housing, the New York Observer reported:
(Atlantic Yards has drawn flak for devoting a majority of its first “affordable” apartments—projected to rent for $2,180 to $2,740 a month—to tenants making 120 to 150 percent of the AMI.)
Today, on the Brian Lehrer Show, a reporter
picked up the meme, claiming(at about 19:05) responded to the host's question about whether families earning over $100,000 could get affordable housing said "Just look at the Atlantic Yards project. The two-bedrooms there are going to run above $2700. And that's the affordable."

To be precise, there would be two-bedroom units for families earning six figures in two income bands--140% and 160%--and they would rent for $2180 and $2740, respectively. 

I'm responsible for some of that flak, so I know those numbers aren't right. I know it's nuanced, and complicated, but that's what hyperlinks are for.

Those numbers apply to the majority of its first "affordable" 2BR apartments, not the studios or 1BR units, as shown in the graphic at right. (I wrote about this last November.)

It is important to recognize that Forest City promised that 50% of the affordable housing--in floor area--would be for families, and the first tower falls way short. And it's important to recognize that Forest City negotiated to ensure that the affordable 2BR units would be skewed toward the more expensive units.

But that doesn't mean that inaccurate information should be repeated.

Forest City announces net loss: Greenland deal to cost only $148.4M net of tax; arena underperforms, but Q4 uptick; Nets losses drop

In a press release issued yesterday, Forest City Enterprises acknowledged a net loss and poor performance for the 11 months ended 12/31/13 (the firm switched from a fiscal year that did not match the calendar year), including "underperformance" of the Barclays Center and a paper loss on Atlantic Yards.

But the firm instead stressed a "year of transformation," including reducing total debt by $1.1 billion, property dispositions, new partnerships, and the "definitive agreement" signed with the Chinese government-owned Greenland Group to buy 70% of the remaining Atlantic Yards project. It said it was 90% likely the deal would close.

The Atlantic Yards hit

According to the firm, total FFO (funds from operations) for the 11 months ending December 31, 2013 was $22.3 million, or $0.11 per share, versus $267.4 million, or $1.27 per share, for the previous full fiscal year. The firm said:
Major offsets to these positive factors were pre-tax, non-cash impairments of non-depreciable real estate of $339.8 million ($208.0 million net of tax), including impairments at Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn of $242.4 million ($148.4 million net of tax), and Las Vegas land of $97.4 million ($59.6 million net of tax).
(Emphasis added)

Note that, while Forest City in December predicted "a non-cash impairment in the range of $250 million to $350 million," the actual hit, net of tax, would be less than $150 million. In most cases, according to Investopedia, recognition of an impairment leads to a deferred tax asset.

Operating FFO for the 11 months ended December 31, 2013, was $163.4 million, versus $223.6 million for the previous full fiscal year.

For the 11 months ended December 31, 2013, the net loss attributable to common shareholders was $5.5 million, or $0.03 per share, versus net earnings of $4.3 million, or $0.01 per share, in the previous full fiscal year.

CEO comments

From the CEO, in the press release:
"2013 was a transformational year for Forest City in many ways," said David J. LaRue, Forest City president and chief executive officer. "The continued execution of our key strategies is strengthening our balance sheet and reducing risk, improving the overall quality of our mature portfolio, focusing future development in the strongest markets, and ensuring that we strive for efficient, best-in-class operations. These actions are positioning the company for future growth and value creation."
"While we are pleased with this strategic progress, our FFO results for the 11 months were clearly disappointing. Underperformance of the Barclays Center arena and our Westchester's Ridge Hill regional mall contributed to the shortfall, but the largest factors were the non-cash impairments we recognized in the third quarter on our Las Vegas land project, and at yearend on our investment at Atlantic Yards. While these impairments negatively impacted our 2013 results, they reflect our continued strategic focus on core markets and on activating our pipeline of entitled development opportunities.
(Emphasis added)

Performance of our office portfolio was down, impacted primarily by vacancy at One Pierrepont Plaza in Brooklyn. We expect improved performance in our office portfolio in 2014," he added.

Arena underperforms, but uptick

As indicated in the screenshot at right and in the press release, the Net Operating Income (NOI) for the Barclays Center was $31.5 million over 11 months.

On a 12-month basis, that would mean a NOI of $34.4 million.

That sum is far below the $65 million figure expected in 2016 and not that much above the $27.8 million needed for debt service this year (below).

Indeed, as the Wall Street Journal reported in October, Forest City has already adjusted its expectations:
"We've made an amazing first impression," said Forest City Chief Executive MaryAnne Gilmartin, who predicts annual [net] operating income will be $70 million by 2016. "Now, we turn our efforts toward calibrating the operating expenses."
But arena experts say boosting income by that amount will be difficult. There are tight margins in the concert business, and the arena faces a competitive marketplace, particularly from Madison Square Garden, which has been closed since the early summer for a renovation.
Arena NOI over three-month terms
Indeed, in December, Forest City dialed back to $65 million.

That said, Forest City's efforts to control costs have reaped some results. For the fourth quarter of 2013 (Oct.-Dec), the arena had a $13.7 million NOI, while in the previous quarter (Aug.-Oct.), it was $10.76 million. See graphic at right.

Nets losses drop

Forest City, which owns 20% of the Brooklyn Nets, lost $2.8 million on the Nets in 11 months, but $4.67 million over 12 months. In 2012, they lost $5.25 million over 11 months.

But they lost only $89,000 in fourth quarter of 2013, which indicates a significant uptick.

A B2 nugget

According to the press release:
At B2 BKLYN, the first residential tower at Atlantic Yards, located adjacent to the Barclays Center, delivery of the project's modular apartments began in January 2014. B2 will be a 50/30/20 rental building with a total of 363 rental units: 182 market-rate, 108 middle-income, and 73 low-income units, and is anticipated to open in the fourth quarter of 2014.
While in other documentation released yesterday, Forest City did say delivery of the mods began in December, I'll take the statement above as partial acknowledgment the deliveries in December were a media event.

The Greenland deal

According to the press release:
On December 16, 2013, we signed a definitive agreement with Greenland Group Co. (“Greenland”), a Chinese state-owned enterprise, for a joint venture to develop the Brooklyn Atlantic Yards project. If effectuated, the joint venture will execute on the remaining development rights, including the infrastructure and vertical construction of the residential units, but excludes Barclays Center and the under construction B2 BKLYN apartment community. Under the joint venture, Greenland would acquire 70% of the project, co-develop the project with us and share in the entire project costs going forward at the same percentage interest. The joint venture would develop the project consistent with the approved master plan. All due diligence by Greenland has been completed and no other significant contingencies preventing the transaction from closing remain. The agreement is subject to necessary regulatory approvals but it is expected that all approvals will be received, allowing the transaction to close in mid-2014.
We have analyzed the agreement and determined that, upon closing, the joint venture will be accounted for on the equity method of accounting, resulting in the deconsolidation of the investment in Brooklyn Atlantic Yards and its allocation of the site acquisition costs. Based on the facts described above, we have estimated it is 90% likely the transaction will close and the asset will be sold. As a result, we have classified the assets and liabilities as held for sale on our consolidated balance sheet as of December 31, 2013, and recorded the asset at fair value, less costs to sell, resulting in an impairment of $242.4 million ($289.9 at full consolidation) recorded during the two months ended December 31, 2013.

Buses bringing circus attendees block lane of Atlantic Avenue, bus stop; trailer for module delivery partly blocks Sixth Avenue crosswalk

Less than three days after a spokesman for the Barclays Center said that it was not the arena's intention to have trailers for the circus load-in block bus stops and traffic lanes, a similar set of problems cropped up yesterday.

Buses transporting children to the Barclays Center for the circus idled in the Atlantic Avenue traffic lane--not the curb adjacent to the arena--for more than half an hour yesterday, closing that lane.

For more than an hour, buses parked in the B45 bus stop further down Atlantic, according to Atlantic Yards Watch.

On video

Modular delivery encroachment

Also, yesterday, as a resident informed me by sending this photo, the trailer used to deliver one of the "mods" for the B2 modular tower was positioned so a portion stuck out and blocked more than half of the Dean Street crosswalk on the west side of Sixth Avenue.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Somehow my comment to ESD on Atlantic Yards review went to spam; now, no cost-benefit analysis expected, but there will be analysis of modular worker wages

Who would have guessed that the one commenter ignored by the state agency overseeing/shepherding Atlantic Yards would be the journalist who's followed and critiqued the project most closely: me.

When, on 2/7/14, I perused the Response to Comments document issued by Empire State Development, summarizing comments on the Draft Scope of Work for a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement addressing a potential 25-year Atlantic Yards buildout, I noticed my comment was missing.

To get a better sense of potential outcomes, I'd asked for a cost-benefit analysis that took into account various various development scenarios, and asked the state to compare construction worker wages/tax revenues once assumed with those projected under Forest City Ratner's plans for modular construction.

The response from the state, issued yesterday, was no to the first request and yes (as previously stated) to the second.

Following up

I'd sent my email last March to the listed email address: So, earlier this month, I forwarded that email from my outbox to ESD, and got a response from agency spokeswoman Kay Sarlin Wright:
Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We discovered that your email with scope questions had been filtered to a junk mail box associated with the Atlantic Yards email address and had unfortunately not been received by our staff until now. We are currently reviewing your comments.
It's curious that my email--and only mine--would be sent to spam. I asked if that happened to others; Sarlin Wright responded:
We regret that your email was filtered into our spam file and have taken care to review that mailbox and other possibilities. No other emails pertaining to the SEIS were found. We have also made changes to our protocols to ensure this will not happen in the future.
Revision issued

Yesterday, ESD issued an Amended Response to Comments document. While there's no explanation on the ESD's Atlantic Yards web site as to why it was amended, an email to community members from Derek Lynch, the community/government relations manager for Atlantic Yards, stated:
The Amended Response to Comments includes 2 comments that were inadvertently omitted from the original RTC. They are comments #35 and #80 in the Amended RTC.
Those were from me.

Cost-benefit analysis coming?

ESD divided my request into two comments. The first concerned the cost-benefit analysis:
Comment 35: I request that the SEIS provide a cost-benefit analysis that incorporates all public costs/subsidies and contains a range of scenarios for an extended buildout, for example:
 full residential buildout of project with office tower built in 5/10/15/20/25 years
 full residential buildout of project, with no office tower(s)
 partial residential buildout of project, with full # of rental apartments but no/25%/50%/75% of promised condos
 partial residential buildout of project, as above, with office tower(s) built at different times. (Oder)
The response was no:
The SEIS is being undertaken pursuant to the Court Order to evaluate the effects of a prolonged construction schedule of Phase II of the Project. The type of cost-benefit analysis requested is outside the scope of this SEQRA analysis. As outlined in the Draft and Final Scope of Work, the SEIS will assess the potential for environmental impacts during the Phase II construction period through 2035 under the three illustrative construction phasing plans.
That wasn't a surprise. After all, as I wrote earlier this month, when a commenter suggested public benefits would be diminished by a delayed timetable, the ESD's response was that it's irrelevant, mostly:
The socioeconomic benefits resulting from an action—including project-generated jobs, wages and salaries, and total economic output—are not the subject of a CEQR [City Environmental Quality Review] analysis of potential significant adverse impacts, and in general, the delay in the provision of public benefits announced and/or promoted by a project sponsor is not a determining factor in assessing significant adverse environmental impacts. The socioeconomic analysis instead focuses on the potential for significant adverse impacts that may occur from the build-out of Phase II over an extended period of time. With respect to this analysis, “delayed benefits” as described by the commenter will be addressed in the SEIS if those benefits were mitigating factors precluding a significant adverse socioeconomic impact where one otherwise would have been disclosed.
(Emphasis added)

See if you can make sense of that one.

Delayed benefits count only if those benefits--meaning the jobs and tax benefits--were originally seen as mitigations. But they weren't mitigations. They were selling points.

Construction workers in the modular plan

I also asked about construction workers:
Comment 80: I request that the SEIS provide an analysis of the difference between the FEIS estimate of construction worker wages/tax revenues and the estimate of construction worker wages/tax revenues based on a plan for modular construction. (Oder)
The response:
Response: As indicated in Draft and Final Scope of Work, the SEIS will discuss the Phase II construction period’s economic benefits as compared to those reported in the FEIS for Phase II of the Project, as well as any potential changes in construction benefits due to the potential incorporation of modular construction techniques. This discussion will include reporting of the total worker wages and tax revenues under both a conventional and modular construction scenario for Phase II using the Regional Input-Output Modeling System (RIMS II), developed by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis.
That wasn't a surprise, since in response to other comments ESD indicated it would examine those different economic benefits.

But an overall cost-benefit analysis, one that balances costs against benefits? They won't go there.

Bertha Lewis and the G Project: not so credible (also, she claimed Ratner could build all market housing)

Is former New York ACORN head Bertha Lewis, one of Mayor Bill de Blasio's biggest supporters--and, of course, Forest City Ratner's key partner (and backer) on affordable housing, not credible?

City & State columnist Seth Barron convincingly makes that case in To G Or Not To G, an analysis of the "G Project"--Generation Project--organized by the Black Institute Lewis runs, regarding black immigration.

And that raises questions about a pattern in which Lewis has made not-so-credible statements regarding Atlantic Yards, as shown below in a previously unreleased video.

Pursuing a new agenda

The Black Institutes “action tank” has produced a video spot featuring de Blasio's wife Chirlane McCray, whose grandparent immigrated from Barbados, and children Dante and Chiara. Writes Barron:
Mayors’ wives and children do not typically endorse specific charities or nonprofits. Donna Hanover and Joyce Dinkins, the city’s previous two first ladies, appeared in occasional commercials on behalf of noncontroversial causes such as breast cancer or literacy, but rarely if ever on behalf of a specific organization tied so closely to a political associate of one of their husbands, nor one that takes a peculiarly ethno-nationalist approach to broad policy questions.
Lewis, co-founder of the New York chapter of the Working Families Party, and the former head of ACORN, created the Black Institute in order to promote issues of concern to African-Americans, including education, economic fairness and immigration. The language of the Black Institute’s website strikes a distinctly pre-post-racial tone, somewhat reminiscent of the Black Nationalist rhetoric of the 1970s.
Is Lewis out to lunch?

Barron notices a particularly incredible claim, then finds Lewis doubling down rather than backing off:
The website also makes the odd claim that “the African American vote for the first time exceeded the White vote in 2012,” a contention Lewis repeated last September in a speech before the Black Congressional Caucus, stating, “African-Americans outvoted white Americans. Oooh. That’s the fear of the white man.”
From The Black Institute 
In regard to the G Project’s implicit concern that black political power faces a decline in relation to growing Latino and Asian influence, Lewis stated unequivocally to City & State that blacks outvoted whites in the 2012 national election. Asked if she was speaking about the percentage of voter turnout among blacks, which was indeed higher than whites, Lewis said, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Darling, look it up. Black votes outnumbered white votes: More black people cast votes than white people.”

From the U.S. Census Bureau
According to the U.S. Census, in 2012 white non-Hispanics cast 98 million votes, blacks cast 17.8 million votes, and Hispanics cast 11.2 million votes.
Indeed, as shown at right, those facts are easily checkable.

The Advance Group connection

Barron discovers another tie between Lewis and the mayor:
It is interesting to note that the Black Institute shares office space with the prominent consulting firm the Advance Group, which has deep ties to Mayor de Blasio, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and WFP candidates generally. Until her recent departure from the Advance Group, both the firm and the Black Institute had the same spokeswoman, Chelsea Connor, who handled press inquiries for both organizations. The Advance Group, run by Scott Levenson, made headlines recently for its campaign work in the 2013 elections, during which the firm apparently took campaign dollars from individual campaigns as well as from outside groups supporting the same candidates through independent expenditures. Assurances that there was no improper coordination of resources have been met with skepticism by some observers (and possibly regulators)
Levenson's bio on the Advance Group website mentions his previous work for Jesse Jackson, David Dinkins, Mark Green, and Ruth Messinger, but not his work as national spokesman for ACORN.

Unearthing a pattern?

It's not clear why Lewis had to simply make up the facts noted above. But it's a reminder that Lewis comes out of a theater background, and can appear to be be dramatically convincing when it serves her needs.

Consider her performance at a Community Board 2 meeting (I believe it was November 2004), filmed by the producers of the Battle for Brooklyn documentary. This was early during the public rollout of Atlantic Yards.

"I’m the executive director of New York ACORN and we have negotiated what we believe is the real jewel in this crown: not an arena, a 50/50 housing program, the only program of its type in this country," Lewis said, at the beginning of the video clip.

(Video from Battle for Brooklyn producers)

"No other developer has ever committed to 50% of their housing," she continued, praising Forest City Ratner. "As of right, which they could do, they could all do market housing, [but] 50% of it is affordable.

(Emphasis added)

Not true.

Forest City couldn't build housing in the first place on most of the site, since it was zoned for manufacturing.

Moreover, the part that was zoned for housing allowed only relatively small buildings. They couldn't build the giant Atlantic Yards project they were touting.

That's why Forest City needed a state override of zoning for Atlantic Yards, to allow housing, and to allow the bulk and density they wanted.

And Lewis helped rally public opinion and get them that override.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Report: Barclays Center traffic impact not as bad as feared, delaying a few intersections but not crippling system; previous study examined full Phase 1, locals say Fifth Avenue not studied, Nets games not worst scenario

The impact of Barclays Center operations on traffic is not nearly as bad as feared, a consultant reported Monday, causing significant delays at only a handful of already congested intersections, slowing traffic on Flatbush and Atlantic avenues but hardly crippling the system.

And the consultant recommended some minor changes in road striping and signal timing to chip away at those problems.

The Post-Opening Traffic Study (below), which a city Department of Transportation (DOT) official introduced with enthusiasm, came with more than a few caveats, however.

The Atlantic Yards traffic nightmare some feared was based on the cumulative impact not just of the arena but the towers around it, which remain yet unbuilt. And the study mostly ignored Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, despite significant congestion there.

An attendee at the Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Committee meeting pointed out that Nets games, which were studied in 2006 as the “reasonable worst case scenario” for traffic, are actually fairly manageable, given that fans rely significantly on public transit. Rather, certain concerts and family shows draw a lot more cars.

The study was not released before the meeting, and there was no handout for attendees, so it was impossible for any local resident or the press to analyze the document.

Study background

As part of DOT's approval process for the original environmental review, the agency asked Forest City to study the impacts of the project. So the developer’s consultant, Sam Schwartz Engineering, conducted an analysis of 56 intersections before the arena opened, then returned on a weekday and weekend after it was operating.

“I think what you'll see is consistent what I believe is the general consensus,” said the DOT’s Chris Hrones. “Yes, there may have been specific impacts at intersections, but it hasn't been what some would call a traffic nightmare.”

He acknowledged that they couldn’t directly compare the findings with the EIS, but noted that the 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS)  projected unmitigable impacts on 25 intersections, far more than currently.

Dan Schack of Sam Schwartz Engineering noted that some conditions represent changes that were not predicted, such as the plan, not implemented, to widen Sixth Avenue. Also, the FEIS studied a wider range of intersections.

He noted that, as in a report issued by his firm last year, the traffic patterns are less intense than predicted, since fewer people drive, more walk, and arrivals are more spread out than was predicated in the FEIS.

In the study, staffers counted vehicle movements, assessed pedestrian crossing volumes and bicycle volume, installed automatic traffic recorders, and measured the time it took for vehicles to traverse specific legs of Flatbush, Atlantic, Third, and Fourth avenues. The focused on the hours before and after events.

Study results

There are no Saturday afternoon games—the predicted worst case in the FEIS—so they studied a game on a Saturday night, 4/6/13, when the Nets drew 15,585 against the Bobcats. They also studied Tuesday, 4/9/13, when the Nets drew 15,000 against the 76ers.

(Note that the arena is smaller than studied. The FEIS considered 18,000 patrons--see page 12-31--while noting that even a sellout means 90% attendance. Indeed, some Nets games now are sellouts, with tickets for all 17,732 seats distributed. At 90% attendance, that means 15,959 people. With reported attendance of 15,000, as in one of the games studied, 90% means 13,500 attendees.)

In the weekday, pre-event peak hour, 11 of 56 intersections had lane groups with impacts--meaning delays from three to five seconds compounding existing congestion at Levels of Service (LOS) D, E, and F. (The worst were at Dean and Fifth, Flatbush and Hanson, and Flatbush and Nevins, indicated in red, above, where the LOS of F--more than 80 seconds to get through an intersection--was delayed by at least three seconds.)

By contrast, the FEIS had projected impacts at 23 of those intersections in this time period, he said.

In the post-event peak hour, they found impacts at only three intersections, while the EIS predicted impacts at 8 intersections.

From CEQR Technical Manual, Appendix
In the Saturday pre-event peak hour, they found impacts at 12 intersection, while the EIS predicted impacts at 23 intersections (on a weekend afternoon). In the post-event peak hour, they found impacts at only 5 intersections, while the EIS predicted impacts at 29 of those intersections after an afternoon game.

A LOS of D at a signalized intersection means it takes 35 to 55 seconds to get through the signal. A significant impact means an additional delay of 5 or more seconds.

A LOS of E at a signalized intersection means it takes 55-80 seconds to get through the signal. A significant impact is a delay of 5 or more seconds.

A LOS of F at a signalized intersection means it takes more than 80 seconds to get through the signal. A significant impact is an increase of 3 or more seconds.

Measuring the impact on vehicle travel time, they found minor delays—and in some cases no delay—on several routes, while a few, notably Atlantic Avenue going east and Flatbush going south before a weekday event delayed for 2.5 and 2.8 minutes. There was a similar increase after the game.

From the FEIS

Chapter 12 of the 2006 FEIS, Traffic and Parking, listed adverse impacts after Phase 1 in 2010, as then projected, and full buildout in 2016:
Of the 93 intersections analyzed, a total of 58 intersections (all signalized) would have significant adverse impacts in one or more peak hours with the development of Phase I of the proposed project in 2010. With completion of the proposed project in 2016, a total of 68 intersections would be significantly adversely impacted. A total of 46 intersections would have significant adverse impacts in the weekday AM peak hour in 2016, 27 in the midday, 44 in the PM, 39 in the 7-8 PM pre-game peak hour, and 17 in the 10-11 PM post-game peak hour. On Saturdays, 41 intersections would have significant impacts in the 1-2 PM pre-game peak hour and 49 in the 4-5 PM post-game peak hour in 2016. The relatively high number of impacts during the Saturday peak hours would be due, in part, to the fact that curbside parking regulations are less restrictive on weekends, and therefore fewer travel lanes are typically available than during the weekday peak hours. With implementation of the proposed project’s traffic mitigation plan, unmitigated impacts would remain in one or more peak hours at a total of 35 intersections in 2016.
What next

After discussions with DOT, Schack’s firm recommended several improvement measures. For example, on Nevins Street at Atlantic Avenue, the street is striped as one lane for southbound traffic, but it functions as two lanes. So DOT will is tripe a left-turn lane and install a a no-standing regulation.

On Flatbush at Fourth Avenue, only one southbound Flatbush is striped for turning, and that’s caused some delays. Soon the center lane will be striped so right-turns can be made. (That’s what already happens in practice, according to Hrones.)

Other changes will be made at Flatbush and Pacific Street, where parking will be restored on the north side of Pacific, and Dean Street and Carlton Avenue, where curbside parking will be restored on Dean, because so few drivers are turning left to use the arena surface parking lot.

There will also be small signal timing changes on Dean Street at Carlton Avenue and at Vanderbilt Avenue, giving eastbound traffic on Dean a little more time.

Hrones noted that they didn’t recommend changing signal timing on major corridors like Atlantic and Flatbush, because it could have significant repercussions.

Pending problems

Hrones acknowledged that the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Dean Street, where there were delays in all four hours studied, remains “very complicated,” because it essentially includes Flatbush, as well “We want to see if signal timing adjustments could help.”

Residents in the audience had some questions. “Why did you not look at Fifth Avenue corridor,” observed Erika Clark, noting “exceptionally heavy traffic on event nights” from Sterling Place down to Union Street.

“If we can resolve that sort of triangle” at Fifth, Dean, and Flatbush, Hrones said, “it could have positive repercussions all the way down.”

Another resident said, “I don’t consider a Bobcats game a high impact event.” Rather, high impact events include the circus, big concert and other events when arena staffers arrive in the early afternoon. “From 2 to 4 pm, the traffic is crazy,” she said. “You can't move on Fifth and Dean.”

Hrones said Nets games were studied in the EIS, and Schack said Nets games are the most predictable high volume events.

Hrones said DOT will look more broadly in the future. However, when asked if DOT would conduct a study at an intermediate point, after Phase 1 is complete, he said no.

“I think we'd probably be asking for a study when the project's actually complete,” Hrones responded.

“25 years from now,” commented resident Peter Krashes, citing the outside date for construction. (Forest City’s new Chinese partner says it would go much faster.)

From the audience, Assemblyman Walter Mosley was heard to mutter, “You can't do that.”

Hrones said they’d asked “to monitor the impacts of Phase 1 and Phase 2. It didn't require Forest City every two years to do a study.” (Actually, this study does not cover the impacts of Phase 1.

Mosley suggested closer attention. Hrones agreed DOT would continue to look at the arena. As for Forest City and its consultants, they used significant resources to gather data, he said, “but I don't think we're going to come to them every couple of years to replicate this study.”

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

After recurring complaints about circus load-in, errant trucks, Forest City, arena operators say they're trying; still no clarity on uses for arena "pad"

Confronted with some untoward neighborhood impacts, the message from Barclays Center operators was again "we're trying," though there are no apparent internal or external sanctions.

From Atlantic Yards Watch
Take the example of circus trailers blocking nearby streets, including a bus stop on Atlantic Avenue near the arena, last Thursday, on the day the circus came to the Barclays Center for an 11-day stint.

Speaking at a meeting last night of the Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Committee, which meets about every two months to discuss project-related issues, arena Community Relations Manager Terence Kelly said "
bad weather compounded an already large-scale operation" that involved a 40-hour load-in.

"We certainly did our best to remedy the situation," he said. "We take it seriously, and we really do want to operate in good faith and keep those clear and not keep them an ongoing and persistent problem."

Jim Vogel, a Pacific Street resident and staffer for state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, was not placated. "This is not the first time we've had load-in problems," he said. "We don't have to wait for this to be a problem pattern that's repeating, it's already repeating."

He reminded Kelly that the arena had once touted a "coordinated structure" to avoid such problems. "We haven't seen it," he said.

"Noted, he replied.

Living on the "pad"

Dean Street resident Peter Krashes noted that, according to a Ringling Brothers staffer, circus performers were living in trailers on the "pad," the surface space just east of the arena, sandwiched between the site for the B3 tower, which currently contains bike parking.

"The pad has been an unpleasant fixture, and an unexpected fixture for the community," Krashes said. Last May, when complaints were raised about performers living on the pad, Arana Hankin, then Atlantic Yards project director for Empire State Development, said she'd look into it, but there was no follow up.

AYR photo 2/23/14
"I can tell you, we want to see those things minimized," said Krashes. "I think it might be against the law."

"We’ll look into it," responded Paula Roy, who succeeded Hankin. "I'm not aware it's breaking any requirements. Whether there's a list of specific uses for the pad, I'm not aware of that."

"I can tell you it is illegal," Vogel asserted. "More to the point, I'm disturbed by your answer, because it's something we've seen before... The line keeps getting pushed back... We were told that the pad would only be used for load-ins, period, and only when necessary, only when there was overflow."

Forest City Ratner Chief of Staff Ashley Cotton noted that the pad was surface space required by the National Basketball Association to stage a bus during NBA games.

"Then we tried to use it, with no idling," she said, "to make sure, if there is an overflow use of some sort, we might as well keep it on our property, right? We don't want to take up up public space." 

She said Forest City similarly used the satellite uplink parking lot across Sixth Avenue between Dean and Pacific Streets. While it's designated for TV trucks, it also accommodates overflow uses. "We're trying to use the property we control."

"The pad stays, it's a requirement of the NBA," she said. "It will get enclosed by B3."

Krashes suggested there was some mission creep regarding both spaces, noting that the pad also seems to be used for staff and VIP parking. "We see a wide range of people parking there," he said. "It was not anticipated, not explained."

"I think Paula and I should regroup and make sure that the pad rules of the road" are clear, Cotton said. "We have used it to keep uses on our property."

Errant trucks

Atlantic Yards Watch photo
Wayne Bailey, a representative of the Newswalk building, reminded Forest City that--as noted on Atlantic Yards Watch--some trucks making modular deliveries at the B2 site have continued east on Dean Street rather than turning left on Sixth Avenue to Atlantic Avenue.

Cotton said they've done everything they can to remind drivers, such as signs.

Another resident noted, "I stop the trucks sometimes and ask them... They tell me they have no instruction from the loading dock."

Kelly observed that, with the B2 construction fence forcing traffic on Dean eastbound from Flatbush avenue into one lane, "there's a smaller margin of error than typical for any arena in the country."

While he said he understood that there may be truck drivers who say they weren't instructed, but "it's not to the best effort of people who work in the building and security guards on the pad. I speak with them on a regular basis.:

"I think year after year we've improved and show after show we've improved," he said.

And that, as typical, left it all up in the air.

Other issues

Also at the meeting was a report on efforts to limit bass escaping from the arena. I'll write later about a report that indicates that, on Nets game days at least, traffic isn't as bad as once feared.

Forest City says arena acoustical panels part of three-way effort to limit escaping bass (though locals still hear it); no news on roof revamp

A Forest City Ratner executive last night acknowledged that yes, the company had installed 1,800 ceiling panels in an effort to deter escaping bass, but said the panels--which cost $500,000, as I wrote--were not aimed to block sound but rather to improve arena acoustics so musical acts stopped asking sound engineers to turn up the volume.
Ceiling panels, 2/16/14

Speaking at a meeting of the Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Committee, which meets about every two months to discuss project-related issues, Chief of Staff Ashley Cotton said the acoustical baffles were one of three "corrections" deployed in recent months.

"It turns out the way the arena was built, there was distortion in the upper bowl of the arena, which was causing artists to say It doesn't sound right, turn up the volume," Cotton reported. At the same time, she said, "we were getting complaints from the rafters, people saying it was too loud."

So the arena hired a "sound concierge," aimed to help touring acts figure out how to get the best sound without going too loud. 

Also, Cotton said, "we have built in even more, in our contractual agreements with the artists, compliance with the city’s sound code." She didn't offer specifics.

Also, they've installed the ceiling panels, which, as I wrote, began after an application to the Department of Buildings was filed 8/28/13, with an expiration 12/4/13. “We think this has been incredibly helpful, particularly with musicians with heavy bass," said Cotton.

Is it working?

Asked by an audience member whether arena operators had evaluated the improvements, Cotton noted that the Sensation electronica show in October 2012 generated a violation from the Department of Environmental Protection  (which ultimately wasn't sustained), but the Sensation show in October 2013 did not.

"We're certainly aware of complaints since Sensation," Cotton acknowledged. "The system needs to be fine-tuned going forward."

Actually, according to Atlantic Yards Watch, there was a complaint regarding the more recent Sensation from a resident of St. Marks Avenue in Park Slope, who wrote, "Disturbed by distinctive bass sound thumping at 1AM inside bedroom with closed windows several blocks away."

And while Atlantic Yards Watch has logged fewer noise complaints in recent months than a year earlier, there have been complaints regarding loud noise from both the Jay-Z and Kanye West concerts. (The lesser number may result from some fatigue on the part of those reporting and logging the complaints.)

Dean Street resident Peter Krashes pointed out that bass also seems to be escaping from the lower parts of the arena, given reports from residents in basement or ground-level apartments near the arena.

Why no disclosure?

For months, Forest City reps had said they were working on fixes regarding the escaping bass. Cotton was asked why they didn't report on the baffles sooner. (The last Quality of Life Committee meeting was 12/4/13, well after the most recent Sensation concert.)

"We wanted to make sure that the whole package was put together," Cotton responded. "So today was the first Quality of Life meeting where I could report out.... Over the past few months, we've been working on these improvements." (Or, perhaps, my article forced their hand.)

No agenda was distributed beforehand, and the meeting was scheduled with less than a week's notice, so barely any residents attended the meeting, held at Brooklyn Hospital on DeKalb Avenue. 

(Other issues raised, which I'll address in subsequent posts, include problems with the circus load-in at the arena and a report that indicates that, on Nets game days at least, traffic isn't as bad as once feared.)

What about Greenland's roof revamp?

Cotton was whether the work she reported was part of the roof revamp project that's expected to be part of Forest City's pending joint venture with the Chinese government-owned Greenland Group.

The answer was no.

Cotton briefly acknowledged reports that "we're considering some architectural and environmental changes" to the roof, but said she had no news about it.

She did note that, because Forest City is building the B2 tower adjacent to the arena, "we have as much motivation as residents in the neighborhood" to fix escaping noise, "so we will keep fine tuning."

Monday, February 24, 2014

Despite concerns, state won't study impact of post-event pedestrian surges; also unlikely is look at impact of roof revamp

If Forest City Ratner's new Chinese partner, the Greenland Group, will help revamp the Barclays Center roof, what might be the impacts? That question is among those expected to be brought up at the meeting tonight of Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Committee (6:30, Brooklyn Hospital).

But I don't expect it to be examined formally by Empire State Development (ESD), the state agency overseeing/shepherding Atlantic Yards, because it's not part of the court-ordered Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS)--and it was, understandably, not part of any previous review.

 (That doesn't mean there won't be some memo to the "Atlantic Yards file" that declares roof construction workable.)

Post-event surges

Other elements of Barclays Center operations also fall through the cracks. After more than a year of operations at the arena, it's clear that post-event surges of patrons leaving stress the sidewalks and subway entrance(s) more than pre-game conditions, because attendees tend to arrive over a long period of time.

But ESD won't study post-game conditions, as noted in the Response to Comments document (below), posted along with the Final Scope for an SEIS. (The Draft SEIS will come in the spring.)

Two comments addressed post-event conditions, combining the impact of arena events with the new construction:
Comment 48: An updated pedestrian analysis in the SEIS should study post-event conditions in the project site. (Brooklyn Speaks)
We’ve got a lot of new information about Phase I. We know that the sidewalks have been overstressed. We know that the post event analysis, the post event games after an arena event is by far the worst time for pedestrians. There are surges. (Krashes)
The response was again to focus on pre-game periods, when commuters and event-goers combine:
Response: The pedestrian analyses in the SEIS will focus on the weekday AM and PM commuter peak periods and the Saturday midday, as these are expected to be the peak periods for Phase II residential and retail travel demand. The weekday 7-8 PM pre-game is included to assess the potential effects of Phase II residential commuter demand during a period of peak arena activity. Post-event conditions are not included in the pedestrian analyses as these would not typically be peak times for travel demand from Phase II development.
Another addressed the arena block:
Comment 44: The SEIS should detail the changes to the arena and arena block layout and assess them for the new conditions they create, particularly post-event. (Brooklyn Speaks)
The response:
Response: The 2035 Future Without Phase II transportation analyses in the SEIS will reflect conditions on the arena block based on current plans. The transportation analyses will focus on the peak periods for demand from the residential and retail uses that would be developed under Phase II. The post-event periods are not considered peak periods for these Phase II residential and retail uses and will therefore not be included in the analyses.
Impacts of construction

Another comment addressed construction:
Comment 97: The TDM did not take into account the dangerous situations caused by 15 years more of pedestrian walkways being moved onto streets, along with the narrowing of sidewalks. This is of particular concern nearest the arena where, especially in an emergency or at the end of a popular concert with younger clients, sidewalk capacity needs to be maximized, not minimized. All pedestrian safety issues during the extended Phase II construction are further compromised by the current issue of arena event attendees and their hired cars (buses, limos, black cars, etc.) parking illegally in areas immediately around the arena, a problem that the arena operators, in the aggregate, have been unable to eliminate as of March, 2013. (Ettlinger)
The response:
Response: The SEIS will address the capacity and safety needs of pedestrians during the Phase II construction period. The SEIS will discuss the use of sidewalk bridges and temporary walkways to provide pedestrian flow around the construction site. See also the response to Comment 129 [which addresses compliance].
This doesn't necessarily address the arena block.

Less sidewalk space

The comment:
Comment 99: In 2009, the construction of the arena and non-arena buildings were delinked. As a result, the amount of available sidewalk and street corner space on the arena block will be significantly reduced for twelve years longer, depending upon the construction period of B1. (Krashes)
The response:
Response: The SEIS will study the potential effects of extended Phase II construction activities. The SEIS will assume that Buildings 2, 3, and 4 will be complete prior to the start of construction of Phase II. In the analysis of construction impacts of Phase II of the Project, the SEIS will also take into account the potential for some overlap in the construction of certain Phase I and Phase II buildings. The SEIS will assume that Building 1 and Site 5 will be constructed at some point during the construction of Phase II, and will be considered part of the No Build Condition.
This allows for examination of the impact of construction of, say, Building 1, the tower slated to rise over the arena plaza. But it doesn't acknowledge the roof.

Pedestrian corridors

Several commenters raised questions about pedestrian corridors, which will, according to the state, be studied:
Comment 102: The SEIS should detail and assess how arena patrons are going to be managed through the construction of each building in Phases I and II. (Brooklyn Speaks)
The response:
Response: As described on page 2 of the Draft Scope of Work, the Draft SEIS is being prepared pursuant to the Order of the Supreme Court for New York County to examine the potential environmental impacts of the completion of Phase II of the Project in 2035. The SEIS’s construction analysis will identify the anticipated roadway and sidewalk disruptions at the project site and describe the anticipated route protection for motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians during different phases of the Phase II construction under the Extended Build-Out Scenario. It will also assess how on-going construction activities during Phase II construction may affect pedestrians (including event patrons) walking in the areas adjoining the Phase II construction.
Another comment addressed pedestrian corridors:
Comment 104: Project documents identify the east-west and north-south corridors as significant features in the project's open space plan. In addition to providing pedestrian infrastructure, these corridors serve as connections between neighborhoods and, for that reason, were specifically identified by the FEIS as blight mitigations. The SEIS should examine the delay in the completion of these corridors, including:
 Whether delay in providing neighborhood connections continues existing blight;
 Whether delay would reroute pedestrians on to other streets;
 The utility of partial construction of the corridor, which might be a dead-end walkway; and
 The impact of the loss of pedestrian traffic to neighborhood businesses. (Brooklyn Speaks)
The response:
Response: The SEIS will evaluate whether any of the potential construction scenarios will create a change to the pedestrian experience that is sufficiently significant to require greater explanation and further study. If warranted, an analysis of urban design and visual resources will be prepared. The SEIS will also include a qualitative assessment of pedestrian trips generated by the projected construction workers and discuss how on-going construction activities during Phase II construction may affect pedestrians (including event patrons) walking in the areas adjoining the Phase II construction. In addition, the SEIS will include a neighborhood character assessment that will consider whether a prolonged construction schedule for Phase II would create conditions that would lead to substantial residential or business disinvestment in the areas surrounding the project site. It should be noted, however, that the pedestrian connections are Project benefits, and extending the time for providing those benefits would not be a significant impact of the Project. No changes have been proposed to the pedestrian connections in the Project open space as set forth in the Design Guidelines.
Atlantic Yards, Response to Comments on Draft Scope for Supplementary EIS, Feb. 7, 2014 by AYReport

Huge step: Jason Collins, NBA's first openly gay player, signed by Brooklyn Nets

It's a huge step in the world of sports, the Brooklyn Nets' signing of Jason Collins, a veteran NBA journeyman, who came out last year and left many wondering whether his openly gay status would deter team's from signing him, especially since he was hardly a star.

But the Brooklyn Nets, with a coach and teammates who knew Collins over his seven seasons at the New Jersey Nets and other teams, needed another big body, one who could play defense, and Collins was available, having kept himself in shape, waiting to see how rosters shook out. And, without scoring a point, he helped the Nets to a win.

The Star-Ledger's Dave D'Alessandro wrote:
The first sentence of [GM] Billy King’s announcement at 3:15 PM Sunday read, “The decision to sign Jason was basketball decision,” and hopefully that’s the last time a general manager will ever have to state something so silly – you mean it wasn’t for his yodeling skill? Sure, we see why Billy mentioned it: Cynics call this is a ratings grab, but that’s equally silly. Collins is a 12th man on a 10-day contract. Nobody was asking whether it was a publicity stunt when the Clippers and Pacers brought in Hedo Turkoglu and Rasual Butler.
If he can play, he’ll play. And then another gay player will come along, and, frankly, probably play much better. By then, hopefully, we’ll have crossed over from the condescending virtue of tolerance to authentic respect, as the great cleric Forrest Church put it.
The Daily News's Mike Lupica quoted an ex-NBA star and now broadcaster: 
The Times put a teaser at bottom 
“This is a good day in terms of breaking another barrier, but we gotta get to the point where people stop worrying about this,” Charles Barkley told me on Sunday, “where we don’t worry about who’s gay in the locker room and who’s not and who might be. I just hope Brooklyn did this for the right reasons, and not to stay relevant in the New York papers.”
If you have watched the way the Nets have done business since Mikhail Prokhorov became the owner of the team, it is a fair thing to have some healthy skepticism about all that.
So far, the Nets have played it right, so until and unless we see some aggressive marketing of Collins--who's a spot player, remember--they get the benefit of the doubt.

And while the Jackie Robinson references are a stretch--though a convenient geographical echo--it took a good measure of institutional rigor and class to sign Collins. It doesn't hurt that Brooklyn and New York City are a lot more tolerant than, say, Oklahoma City.

The business decision

The Brooklyn Game explained:
The decision to sign Jason was a basketball decision," Nets general manager Billy King said in a statement. "We needed to increase our depth inside, and with his experience and size, we felt he was the right choice for a 10-day contract."

The ten-day contract keeps Collins until March 5th. The Nets can sign Collins to one additional ten-day contract then, and will have to decide then if they want to keep him past March 15th for the rest of the season.

There's a strong push in the organization to hold on to Collins for the rest of the season. They've made a practice of not playing center Kevin Garnett in back-to-back games, increasing the need for depth at the center position. Because of this, the Nets want added insurance for the second half of back-to-backs, a team source confirmed. Out of seven back-to-back sets in the rest of the season, only one comes in the next ten days, and only one more in the following ten. 
Collins joins the team as their 14th man, and the team stressed that his sexuality and a chance at making history had nothing to do with their decision.

"(It was) a basketball decision only... I think we all understand the historic implications but that was an afterthought," a team source told The Brooklyn Game.

Collins's ten-day contract will cost the Nets $50,000 in salary, and roughly $250,000 in luxury taxes.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver released this statement on the signing: "Jason told us that his goal was to earn another contract with an NBA team. Today, I want to commend him on achieving his goal. I know everyone in the NBA family is excited for him and proud that our league fosters an inclusive and respectful environment."
The Daily News's Stefan Bondy suggested:
Besides, it’s not entirely true that this is all basketball-related. Sure, the Nets need a big man to play spot minutes, rebound and defend the paint. Sure, Collins is a veteran with a strong basketball IQ and a willingness to fight to protect the rim.
But this is also about one friend, Nets coach Jason Kidd, helping out another, doing what friends do and keeping a faith that was forged when they were teammates in New Jersey. To be clear, Kidd wouldn’t have signed off on this move if he felt it didn’t help the team. But like anybody else, he’s not immune to injecting personal feelings.
The bigger picture

Wrote Cyd Zeigler in the gay sports web site OutSports:
With the signing, the NBA is the first of the Big Four sports leagues in the United States to have an active openly gay player. To be sure, they already had that distinction last spring when Collins first came out publicly. But then he was at the end of a contract and no playing time was in sight.

This is completely different. This is a team signing a player knowing he's gay. It's a team owned by a hip-hop mogul, a former NBA star and a Russian.

Even more importantly, the Nets are a team fighting for a playoff spot. Currently tied for fifth in the Eastern Conference, they are only four games out of the dreaded ninth spot. This isn't a team looking for a publicity stunt to sell tickets: This is a team looking for home-court advantage in the first round and a shot at the NBA Finals.

This is huge.

Just last year, people said this was impossible.
Bondy pointed to the need for another cultural change:
Gay slurs and insults have infiltrated nearly every locker room at some point, nearly every court and field. Take Sunday’s situation, for instance: Collins was expected to make his debut against the Lakers at the Staples Center, the same place Kobe Bryant once called a referee, “a f---ing f-----.” Bryant doesn’t have to hate gays to use that word. Neither did Amar’e Stoudemire when he tweeted it to a taunting fan.
It’s part of a culture in sports, a macho vernacular. In a locker room, the use of a homophobic slur is equal to insulting his manhood. We hear it all the time uttered casually in that context, even after the tremendous strides made over the last 10 years in acceptance and awareness. It’s a stereotype Collins will hopefully help to disprove over 10 days as he tries to earn another contract. And “earn” is the operative word, because there are many who feel he doesn’t deserve this opportunity and this is just a publicity stunt from the attention-starved team from Brooklyn.
On tape

Collins was professional and classy in his pre-game press conference.

On Twitter

The Twitterverse was significantly positive, with tweets from New York's mayor, Brooklyn's Borough President, and later, the Public Advocate (a longtime Atlantic Yards opponent):

A longtime Atlantic Yards opponent offered kudos:
Also note, via The Brooklyn Game, One Stop Shopping for All Your Homophobic Jason Collins Tweets.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Barclays Center tops Pollstar vote, but falls behind MSG as busiest arena

Everyone knows the Barclays Center had a very good first year, not in profits, but in selling tickets and generating buzz. 

In 2013, the arena's first full year, subscribers to Pollstar, the international concert database service, voted Barclays Center Arena of the Year, topping BOK Center (Tulsa, OK), Bridgestone Arena (Nashville, TN), Madison Square Garden Arena (New York, NY), SAP Center at San Jose (San Jose, CA), and 
Staples Center (Los Angeles, CA).

Barclays executive Sean Saadeh was a finalist for Facility Executive of the Year. In 2012, Barclays Center was Pollstar's Best New Major Concert Venue, while Madison Square Garden was Arena of the Year.

MSG reclaims title

In an exclusive 2/17/14, the New York Post reported Garden greener: MSG reclaims title of No. 1 US facility:
The Garden has reclaimed its title as the busiest arena in the country, selling 35 percent more tickets to concerts and family events than its Brooklyn rival from Oct. 24, when MSG reopened, through the end of the year, according to industry statistics.
MSG sold 256,379 tickets over that span compared with Barclays total of 189,467 tickets, according to Pollstar magazine.
That wasn't particularly surprising, since MSG had been renovating, but the Post cited a boast from Brooklyn arena CEO Brett Yormark as being "in an even better position in year two."

Actually, Barclays sold about 7 percent fewer tickets to concerts and family shows in its second fourth quarter--unsurprising given there was no eight-show Jay-Z run.

Barclays had more concerts, actually, in the quarter since MSG reopened, but MSG has the advantage of two pro teams, which means Barclays catches up somewhat when the Islanders come in 2015.

Ticket price difference

On 10/16/13, Forbes reported Music Battle NYC: Madison Square Garden Average Ticket Price Is $11 Above Barclays Center, citing the huge impact of Jay-Z's run:
While not a perfect comparison, the above data tells us that demand for Jay-Z in Brooklyn is significantly higher than it is in Manhattan. Of the 21 acts that have played both venues, only eight have had a higher average ticket price for Barclays than Madison Square Garden.
...The Who at MSG evokes the golden era of the venues’ reign, and a time when arena rock was just discovering itself. After all those years and legendary shows, it’s hard to imagine that the World’s Most Famous Arena lost its superlative mojo in just one year. Based on the average price for acts that have played both venues, it hasn’t. While the Garden came in at an unfamiliar second place in Billboards report, Madison Square Garden had an average price $319 for all the acts that played both venues, which his $11 more than the Barclays average price for those same acts. That’s a razor-thin margin of victory, and one that Garden will have to work hard to maintain in what’s surely the highest-stakes music battle NYC has ever hosted.
TiqIq further offered, "a breakdown of performers who’ve played both venues, and their average secondary market ticket prices." The screenshot below is just a partial version of their chart:

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The circus returns to Brooklyn. Why no elephant walk? Maybe it's fear of protests.

So, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® is back, bringing circus trailers to Brooklyn for 23 shows between Feb. 20 and March 2. As I wrote, there were trailers all over the neighborhood, parked illegally in bus zones and blocking traffic, awaiting load-in to the arena.

What we didn't see, either last year or this week, was an elephant walk, despite developer Bruce Ratner's 2010 claim that “I can’t wait to see circus elephants marching down Flatbush Avenue and into the Barclays Center.”

Maybe that's because the elephant walk would have amplified the protests, last year and this year. The Dodo reported 2/20/14:
The circus, which brings elephants, tigers, kangaroos and other animals in tow, has provoked the ire of animal advocates, who plan to host large protests during each show outside the arena in downtown Brooklyn.
A trove of organizations will be in attendance, including NYCLASS, In Defense of Animals, PETA, Animal Defenders International and others.
An activist's take

As reported last year by Animal New York:
Katie Arth, a campaigner with PETA, believes Ringling Brothers may be canceling the walk to avoid the public seeing the state of the animals. “We know Ringling Brothers has cancelled walks in other cities, most likely because the don’t want people to see the lameness of some of the elephants that are forced to perform,” she said, pointing to an incident in which Department of Health monitors spotted unhealthy-looking elephants walking to the circus in DC.
Even so, in March 2013, the circus got a big article in the Times that explained elephants were driven to the arena in trucks and rode down to the event level in the giant elevators.

Stunning tales of Downtown BK real estate boom: Junior's site worth $50M; Catsimatidis site worth $200M

Junior's, the cheesecake restaurant at the corner of Flatbush and DeKalb avenue, will sell its newly valuable property and reoccupy the ground floor of a luxury residential building, and also set up a second location, likely close to the Barclays Center.

The Rosen family, as reported in the 2/18/14 New York Post, Junior’s move a cake walk, bought the property in 1981. City records say 1985, and indicate a mortgage of $575,000.

According to Bob Knakal of Massey Knakal, the site--now 17,000 square-foot restaurant on an 8,548 square-foot site--can be turned into 102,500 square feet of luxury condos, or perhaps 100-130 units. Post sources said the building could get between $45 million and $55 million.

The Brooklyn Paper paraphrased owner Alan Rosen as saying "Junior’s will open a second location Downtown, closer to Barclays Center."

Given that Junior's is already close to the Barclays Center, why would it need to move? Well, they do need a place to operate in the interim. And surely a location, say, at the old Triangle Sports building at Fifth and Flatbush avenues would allow Junior's to take advantage of arena crowds.

And let's face it, the profit from the current building site are so huge that Junior's can afford high asking rents near the arena. (Maybe they can afford to pay their employees more, and provide health benefits, which is why Junior's employees have been pushing for a union.)

The Catsimatidis fortune

Another smart/lucky land buyer was John Catsimatidis, CEO of the Red Apple Group, which owns real estate, oil refining, convenience stores and two supermarket chains: Red Apple and Gristedes.
The New York Times 2/19/14 offered THE 30-MINUTE INTERVIEW: John A. Catsimatidis:
Q. And there’s development in Downtown Brooklyn, around Myrtle and Flatbush Avenue.
A. In 2007 we were going to build this as one big project — it was a $500 million project — except none of the banks had $500 million. They had the problem. I bought this property about 30 years ago — three city blocks. We paid about $400,000. Now it’s been estimated, just the land alone, at $200 million.
Four residential buildings. We built the first one. It’s a rental, about 110 units — studios, one-, two-, three-bedrooms — with a Red Apple supermarket and a CVS store at the bottom.
We began construction on the next building in November — we’re up to the fourth floor. We should be finished by this fall. There will be around 220 to 230 rental units. Then I pressed the button on another building. We are supposed to start the foundation by March or April.
Then the minute we put the foundation in we start on the fourth building, a 40-story tower. It will be rental, but maybe we’ll put condos on the top 10 floors. We’re reserving our rights.
(Emphasis added)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Bruce Ratner on Morning Joe: "affordable housing" goes up to $100,000 (that's a lowball estimate)

Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner was a guest this morning on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" and, as usual, the hosts were fawning.

"The man who built the Barclays Center has a new blueprint for Brooklyn" was the intro. After some crosstalk with financier Steve Rattner, host Mika Brzezinski exclaimed, "This man is so nice, and we need to go watch a concert at his place."

"It's amazing what's going on out there. you're in the center of what's going on," chimed in host Joe Scarborough, remotely.

"It's a miracle, honestly," Ratner said, citing growth in Brooklyn's apartment market and people claiming Brooklyn identity.

Then, with the onscreen words "Empire in the Making: Ratner's modular buildings," Ratner went through his practiced explanation for his modular plan, aimed to control prices and maintain quality by "basically building most of the building in a factory."

"It's fascinating," commented  Brzezinski.

What's "affordable housing"

Another host asked Ratner, "What is your definition of affordable housing?"

"That's a really good question," Ratner responded. "Some people say it's lower income, up to $30,000 for a family of three or four."

"We consider affordable to include middle-income [households]," he said, with incomes up to $90-100,000."

(Actually, for a family of four, a middle-income household goes up to $132,800, and that's under 2012 income guidelines, which surely will have increased when the first tower opens in December.)

"We need something called workforce housing," Ratner said, for people like police officers and firemen, "basically teachers, people who earn a reasonable income but can't find housing near the city. It's a difficult problem. We've got a shortage of land."

That's true, but that's hardly the full story. For one thing, the Atlantic Yards affordable housing deal was promoted by ACORN, an organization with a low-income constituency.

Projected rents, as of 2012, for first tower
For another, even Forest City, in the early days, was making a distinction between subsidized "affordable housing" and subsidized "middle-income housing."

As I wrote in July 2006, Forest City executive Bruce Bender said in a press release that "the affordable and middle-income housing program will be handled via a lottery system as required by City rules."

Generally speaking, "affordable" means paying 30% of household income in rent. So "affordable" can mean a significant range of incomes and rents, as indicated regarding the first tower.

That also means that Forest City pushed hard to ensure that the configuration of the first tower--"affordable" but not so affordable--would skew, in the family-sized units, toward middle-income households.

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.