Friday, November 06, 2015

The Site 5 surprise: hints of huge development (BK's Time Warner Center?) opposite arena (updated: claim *not* a shift of square footage, but then it is)

Update February 2016: Guess what: those leaked plans were correct; they do aim to build a giant tower, with more than 1.5 million square feet, on Site 5, combining the bulk from both sites. The Bisnow article was not a mistake, just a premature leak. So Forest City Ratner requested a correction in something that was correctly reported.

Update July 2016: They aim to build a tower project, with two towers totaling 1.14 million square feet, on Site 5, with 188,000 square feet of retail, at least according to a plan shared with Department of City Planning in January 2016.


Update Nov. 6  from Forest City Ratner spokesman: "FYI, the BisNow piece was corrected since it mistakenly said all 1.6M would be on Site 5. That is what is allowed for the entire [B1 + Site 5] project. Also, as you know the condemnation process for Site 5 is still in the early stages."

Site 5 at the farthest west part of the project footprint
Last month, state officials dropped a big hint that the tower at Site 5, currently the home of Modell's and P.C. Richard (which face eminent domain), may be tweaked. The location is between Flatbush and Fourth Avenues, and Pacific Street, opposite the Barclays Center.

I speculated that the tower, slated at 250 feet and under 400,000 square feet, might be enlarged as some portion of the 1.1 million square feet allotted for B1--the tower slated for the arena plaza--would get shifted.

Well, there's news that something very big is planned for Site 5.

Bisnow published this tidbit Nov. 5 in a report on a panel, headlined WHAT'S BEHIND BROOKLYN'S GROWING PAINS:
Forest City Ratner EVP Kathryn Welch says FCR's getting ready to break ground on its "Site 5" project in Downtown Brooklyn, with plans for 1.6M SF of office and retail space, where she says the goal will be to bring in high-end retail like Brooklyn's never seen—something like the Time Warner Center, as she puts it.

Here's the updated report today (without acknowledgment of correction):
Forest City Ratner EVP Kathryn Welch says FCR is working on assembling the land for its "Site 5" project across the street from the Barclays Center. The site could have Class A office space and Kathryn says the goal is to bring in high-end retail like Brooklyn's never seen—something like the Time Warner Center.
Site 5 (arrow) in model at Pacific Park sales center
Big shifts, complicated process

If that report is correct--and we don't know that it is--that would shift the entire square footage once planned for B1 to Site 5, making an enormous--and to my eyeball, unrealistic--building. (The City Point project in Downtown Brooklyn near Junior's is 1.9 million square feet.)

Also, Forest City can't break ground on the project, because 1) eminent domain hasn't gone through and 2) even a smaller increase in the Site 5 square footage beyond the maximum allotted would require a vote by the gubernatorially controlled Empire State Development to amend the 2009 Modified General Project Plan.

A quadrupling of the scale surely would require an additional layer of environmental review--either a Technical Memo (which would not trigger public participation) or a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

It's also possible that the "Site 5" project does mean a combination of the B1 site and Site 5. (Update: it was, pretty much.)
Looking north on Fourth Avenue to Site 5; city-owned building at right, as is library in center
Or, I speculate, perhaps the project would skip across Pacific Street to build over--or in place of--the Pacific branch library of the Brooklyn Public Library and the city-owned building next door. (A reader reminds me that building was rented as a Medicaid office and was sold last year.)

Maximum Building Heights & Square Footages
via Empire State Development; note that B1
has been reduced to 511 feet (click to enlarge)
All this may be posturing of some sort, and preparation for institutional and legal wrangling that could take years.

It's worth remembering that the Site 5 tower was once seen as a junior counterpart to the B1 tower, which was to be the project's flagship. Now there's a significant belief that the plaza helps the arena work. But Forest City--via the joint venture Greenland Forest City--wouldn't simply give up the square footage; they'd want to shift it.

2006 DCP comments

In September 2006, the City Planning Commission sent comments to the Empire State Development Corporation regarding the pending Atlantic Yards plan.

It recommended a reduction in the size of the tower by 100 feet and about 180,000 square feet, and that was accepted. (The Site 5 tower was originally 400 feet tall, then 350, and finally 250.)

The CPC wrote:
Site 5, located on a site bounded by Atlantic, Fourth and Flatbush avenues, is proposed for a height of 350 feet and to contain approximately 572,000 zoning square feet. The Commission recognizes the prominence of this site, which is located across from both the Williamsburgh Savings Bank and Building 1 of the Arena block, as well as directly adjacent to the low-rise buildings west along Atlantic Avenue and the terminus of the Fourth Avenue corridor. The Commission believes that Site 5’s height should be carefully assessed within this context. Given this location, the Commission therefore recommends that Site 5 be reduced to a height of 250 feet with a reduction of approximately 180,000 zoning square feet to approximately 392,000 zoning square feet in order to provide a more varied composition of building heights and to provide a stronger transition to the Fourth Avenue corridor to the south.
Another plan: office and condos?

The "Time Warner Center of Brooklyn" idea isn't the only one floating out there. The Real Deal reported 11/4/15, NYC office development ain’t what it used to be: experts, including:
[Forest City CEO MaryAnne] Gilmartin said that Brooklyn’s office-conversion market has been helped by tax benefits and that rents are beginning to rise to the level she thinks will spur new, ground-up development — though that may take some creative thinking. 
“In Brooklyn it’s a particularly puzzling problem,” she said. “I like to remind everyone that it costs exactly the same amount to build an office building in Brooklyn as it does in Manhattan.”

“In the world of vertical living and livable cities, it is now an acceptable proposition to look at an office building that has a core that performs both as an office building and a condominium tower at top,”Gilmartin added. “I think these kinds of creative solutions are going to have to be brought into the equation for the math to work.” 
Remember, few developers will start an office tower without an anchor tenant. But if condos can be financed, they could get the building off the ground. Or, maybe, retail.

Tentative plans as of August 2014

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