Saturday, September 26, 2015

Looking at Bisnow's Atlantic Yards roundup: a "place-making juggernaut" (?) and some errors/omissions

There's not much new in the THE BARCLAYS CENTER SHAKEUP: JAY Z’S OUT, CHINA’S IN AND ATLANTIC YARDS LIVES ON, from the real estate publication Bisnow, published 9/24/15.

And there's a good deal ignored, such as the actual affordability of the planned subsidized housing, the continuing temporary certificate of occupancy, and the reasons for the arena's new green roof.

But there are a few interesting observations--and mistakes--as well as some clues to how business-friendly publications may frame the project.

The only person quoted is Forest City Ratner CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin--where's new majority owner Greenland?--who calls Barclays Center "a place-making juggernaut," citing 5.5 million visitors. 

That's an interesting term, because, while the number of visitors is undeniable, the "place" is very much in process--not just the under-construction towers, but also unresolved retail, such as at the long-lingering, prime location building at Flatbush Avenue, Dean Street, and Fifth Avenue that once housed Triangle Sports.

The evolution and the rebrand

Writes Billy Gray:
Three years after its debut, the Barclays Center is still drawing crowds and name-brand entertainers. A concentrated building boom has suddenly given Downtown Brooklyn a skyline of note (with a proposal recently unveiled for a tower that would dwarf the Empire State Building) and a bevy of cultural gems. Yet housing at Atlantic Yards (interestingly rebranded as Pacific Park) has lagged, its construction hurdles documented (with no small amount of glee) by local micro-bloggers just as even flashier mixed-use developments in Midtown and Williamsburg have grabbed the spotlight amid murmurs of a coming residential oversupply in DTBK.
Local micro-bloggers? That's a jab, but not accurate.

"Interestingly rebranded"? How about "strategically rebranded," as I've suggested, given the taint associated with Atlantic Yards. Later Gray acknowledges that issue, writing:
At first, there was little explanation of the change. But Gilmartin has since said since Atlantic Yards was “always a working title” and that the rebranding came about to distance the complex from the defunct rail yards it has overtaken that bore the same name. (Perhaps an even bigger development site above old rail yards, these ones on Manhattan’s Far West Side, was another justification.) It was also tempting to read the Pacific Park moniker as an attempt to shed the decades’ worth of baggage accumulated during the project’s still-bumpy road to realization. 
Um, the "defunct rail yards" 1) are still working and 2) formally called the Vanderbilt Yard, never "Atlantic Yards," which was a brand name for a development.

Financial success?

How well is the arena doing? Gray acknowledges the combination of big names but "more sobering financial data," without assessing the future. Nor does he assess how and whether Greenland got a bargain when it bought a 70% stake in the project going forward (excluding the Barclays Center and B-2 modular tower).

Gilmartin cites “significant progress” at the B-2 modular tower, though there's no mention of the history of leaks and mold. As to the future of modular, why not quote Gilmartin as acknowledging it's unclear.

The new "park"

This part is rich:
Gilmartin called an eight-acre park whose master plan was recently revealed “the spine of” the development. “There will no longer be a dearth of green space in the heart of Brooklyn,” she says. The creation of the park will proceed over the next decade. 
First, it's not a park. Second, while the amount of green space is growing, the ratio per resident would actually decline, because of the 14,000 new residents.

Affordable errors

If the affordable apartments "are not completed by 2025—10 years earlier than initially required—Forest City will have to pay a $5M fine," according to the article.

That's wrong on two counts.

First, the $5 million fine would have applied only to delays in the next two buildings, which did launch; rather, the fine for delay will be $2,000 per month per unit.

Second, 2025 is not "10 years earlier than initially required," though that same error has been made multiple times, including by ESD Chair Howard Zemsky. Rather, the project, when approved in 2006 and again in 2009, was supposed to take 10 years. Then the Development Agreement gave a 25-year "outside date," or 2035.

A revised schedule agreed to in 2014--part of negotiations with community groups who claimed a rather imperfect victory--set a completion deadline of 2025. That makes for 10 years earlier than the previously extended outside date, but not "10 years earlier than initially required."

Looking forward and looking back

Writes Gray:
The steroidal growth of Downtown Brooklyn beyond Pacific Park has shed the development’s struggles in an especially harsh light.... The Downtown Brooklyn Partnership estimated earlier this year that a staggering 13,000 affordable and market rate units were in the pipeline, inevitably tacking on the real estate jargon of that influx making downtown a “24/7 neighborhood.” 
Yes, and no. First, Downtown Brooklyn was rezoning in 2004, *after* Atlantic Yards was announced, and the AY site is in Prospect Heights, most of it a good distance from Downtown Brooklyn.

His conclusion:
Ironically, though, the anger lavished on the project seems to have distracted people from the more seismic changes redefining the broader borough. It’s not always easy being the frontrunner, and Pacific Park’s freighted history has, to an extent, lingered through its problematic present. Its ultimate success may hinge on how those affordable units allay a housing crisis in the increasingly chic borough and for that burden Pacific Park has itself to blame.
To some degree, that's true, but it's also true that Atlantic Yards was more bold, aggressive, and neighborhood-invading than the other projects--and it came via a process that was wired from the start.

Hence, the resistance. Were such a project suggested now, after such development, there'd a different reaction, with both sides likely more able and willing to negotiate. Remember, the "anger lavished on the project" was in proportion to the implacable arrogance of those proposing it.

As for the ultimate success of AY/PP, those affordable units--many not so affordable--will be a drop in the bucket, as we have long known.

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