Monday, February 09, 2015

Despite Forest City handout predicting office space at B1 site over arena plaza, Greenland lists "16 residential towers"

Also see coverage of the AY CDC board membership and the first meeting of the board.

Despite indications in document distributed Friday at the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation meeting that the flagship B1 tower over the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues--the site of the Barclays Center plaza--would include office and hotel space, and the Site 5 nearby also would include office space, I think it's very much in question--as I've previously written.

After all, Greenland USA, the American arm of the Greenland Group and the 70% owner of the project going forward with Forest City Ratner, states on its LinkedIn page (right) that the project "will consist of 16 residential towers." (It also identifies the total project cost as $6 billion, not $5 billion.)

The handout below, which offers projected start dates for all but the Site 5 tower, notes that building start and finish dates are subject to change.

Nor does the Development Agreement signed by the developers and Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing/shepherding the project, require that office space actually be built.

And while the affordable housing is required to be built by 2025, ten years faster than the previous 25-year "outside date" of 2035, it's still possible for the developers to take until 2035 to build the office space, and/or, I'd guess, additional market-rate housing on those sites.

Either way, there's a discrepancy between the approximately 500,000 gross square feet projected in B1 in the 2009 Modified General Project Plan--including 336,000 gsf of  office space and 165,000 gsf of hotel use --and the 760,190 gsf planned for B1 in the handout below.

Handout from Forest City Ratner; note that green indicates office space
Building an office tower is not financially sensible now, but the market could change. It's also possible that new subsidies, or a breakthrough in modular construction, could make it feasible.

Or perhaps Greenland, wanting to make a further splash in the world's media capital, would take more risks in building an office tower, and focus on getting it built.

Drilling down, and speculation

At the meeting, Forest City CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin took questions from the board and then the public. So I asked about plans for Site 5, given the absence of a timetable, and their confidence in the estimated timing for B1, said to start in November 2016.

"There are plans of course for Site 5," Gilmartin said, not offering any more details. (Construction would require the final round of eminent domain, as the property housing the big box stores P.C. Richard and Modell's would have to be condemned.)
"I think we're still in planning stages of B1," Gilmartin continued. "The issue is the obvious one:. landing the building at the prow of the arena, given that the open space has become a public amenity. We are noodling over that. We are entitled to build a building… with our partner Greenland. We are working through that. When we know what we're doing, we'll come and talk to you."

(In this case, "you" meant the AY CDC, I'm pretty sure, not this journalist.)

Note that she did not specify that it would be an office tower.

Future challenges and tensions
Yes, building an office tower over the open space, especially since it serves as the place for arena crowds to gather, would be a challenge.

Remember the September 2010 comment by ShoP Architects partner Greg Pasquarelli, whose firm designed the plaza and the arena facade, that he "wouldn’t be shocked" at a "save the Oculus" movement if it were endangered.
If they build that tower, it sets up several up tensions, most notably with the operator of the arena, which will not be Forest City Ratner if they successfully sell it, as well as the owners of the Brooklyn Nets, also up for sale. Construction surely would complicate arena access.

It also would kill the "high-low city"--the contrast between big buildings and open space--provided by the arena plaza, as posited by Vishaan Chakrabarti, architect, academic, and SHoP partner.

Comparing the buildouts

The schedule in the graphic above is much the same as an earlier document (below) I've previously published, except for the following changes:
  • the B2 modular tower is now estimated to be finished in 2016, not December 2015
  • the B3 affordable tower would start in June 2015, not March 2015, and open in January 2017, not October 2016
  • B1 would contain office and hotel space, rather than just office space

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