Friday, March 20, 2015

The crucial (temporary) Barclays Center plaza and the missing B1; what happens if/when tower arrives (6th Ave. alternate entrance)?

I'm leading a walking tour Sunday of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park/Barclays Center/Prospect Heights (via Municipal Art Society), and present several posts in preparation. One thing to remember: the project remains very much in process. Some impacts feared, expected, or welcomed have not emerged because they were calculated on a larger/full buildout.

Perhaps the most glaring architectural difference between Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park as planned and as it has emerged is the absence of "Miss Brooklyn," aka B1, the flagship office tower.

Some 511 feet tall and containing 1.1 million square feet, intended to loom over the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.

(See list of building heights and square footages; note that B1 was reduced from 620 feet to 511 feet to be shorter than the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, though the point is somewhat moot today, with taller buildings in Downtown Brooklyn.)

Miss Brooklyn/B1 would be huge. Consider how even when the rendering above right, by original architect Frank Gehry, managed to minimize the bulk of the building, it still looks big. That's the arena buried behind it, remember.

What happens if/when it arrives?

So if and when B1 arrives, it will dramatically change our perceptions of the project. What architect/planner/SHoP partner Vishaan Chakrabarti calls the "high-low city"--the interplay of bulk and space--would become the "high-high city."

The construction also may awkwardly shut down the arena entrance, in part or in full, and shift some foot traffic to little-trafficked zones on the north and east flanks. I describe that further below.

All this should remind us, as I wrote in December 2012, the plaza view was never planned. But now people are attached to the plaza.

It's crucial to the functioning of the arena, allowing crowds to gather, and providing a transition for those approaching along Atlantic and Flatbush avenues from denser Brooklyn.

It's certainly reasonable for Chakrabarti to point out the advantage of such contrast, but it's also ahistorical, since the office tower was a crucial contributor to the projected new tax revenues. In other words, had Atlantic Yards been presented without that tower, the numbers would not have worked.

A changing plan

Originally, the plan was to bury the arena in four towers. Then, when developer Bruce Ratner ditched the Gehry design for a smaller arena, the four towers around it were detached, and would be built on a different timetable.

Since then, the renderings of the arena block by SHoP have depicted three residential towers, but not B1.

Note how the rendering at right, from helicopter perspective, doesn't exactly capture the street-level view of these quite large buildings.

Could the promised Urban Room, an atrium within Miss Brooklyn for people to gather, and encompassing the subway entrance, work for arena visitors?

Perhaps, though not as permeably as the plaza. (I imagine it also would be policed/patrolled differently to drive away some people gathering in a climate-controlled space.)

Look below and see how a tower would change our perspective on the plaza.

Is B1 coming?

In early February, Forest City Ratner CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin was asked about plans for B1.

"I think we're still in planning stages of B1," Gilmartin stated. "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 Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation, set up to channel public input regarding the project.)

She did not specify that it would be an office tower as long planned. It might be a residential tower.

I wonder whether Greenland Forest City Partners might use the public acceptance and appreciation of the plaza to leverage a swap: let us keep the plaza, as long as we get commensurate valuable development rights somewhere else. That would be a double gift from the public.

Then again, Forest City may not be operating an arena for long. A new owner of the arena operating company should arrive, as Forest City has put its 55% share up for sale, and Nets majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov may sell his share. That arena operator likely would want to keep the plaza, and urge Greenland Forest City not to build B1.

What happens to arena as B1 gets built?

In the 2006 Memorandum of Environmental Commitments for Atlantic Yards, signed by Forest City in 2006 along with project approvals, there was no mention of an alternate entrance, because at that point B1 was supposed to be built and contain the Urban Room.

That changed. Information on a temporary new main entrance was in the 12/21/09 Amended Memorandum of Environmental Commitments (below), posted by the Empire State Development Corporation and laying out Forest City Ratner's obligations (p. 22):
In the event development of Building 1 is delayed so that it will be constructed after the arena commences operation, FCRC shall, for the period of construction of Building 1: (i) relocate the main arena entrances to the north and east side of the arena...
(Emphasis added; I first wrote about this 2/26/11)

The north side of the building is Atlantic Avenue, where there are several doors--some little or unused for entry--and a narrow sidewalk. There's little room for crowds.

There's relatively more space at the east side of the arena, at Sixth Avenue and Pacific Street, pictured above. Currently signage says the Sugar Factory is coming, but it's already operating, at least for arenagoers during events. Presumably if those doors are used as an arena entrance, the store will have to adjust or relocate.

I can't imagine that these two locations--at the north and east ends of the arena--could fully compensate for the loss of the plaza entry. So, I'd predict, the already established secondary entrance on Dean Street east of Flatbush Avenue would bear more of the brunt.

And because that will be between two residential buildings that should open by early 2017, Greenland Forest City would have an interest in not annoying its tenants. (Forest City is building B2, at Flatbush and Dean, while the partnership is building B3, at Sixth and Dean.) But I doubt it can be worked out painlessly.

(The plan also appears on p. 29 of the Second Amended Memorandum of Environmental Commitments, signed 6/10/14.)

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