Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park in 2015: Islanders arrive, Nets sink; buildings rise; modular revelation; a "new neighborhood... from scratch"?

Yes, I know this is late, but it incorporates some early-in-2016 episodes that connect to 2015. The 2016 forecast will appear tomorrow.

When I wrote my Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park 2015 predictions  a year ago, I cited the likelihood of multiple towers under construction and the sale of Forest City Ratner's share of the Barclays Center and Nets.

The view from Vanderbilt Avenue below the southeast block 
Indeed, the project is very much on the map, but the arena sale appeared to be a loss for the developer. Then again, parent Forest City Enterprises needed to divest so it could transition to a real estate investment trust, or REIT.

Another seemingly big issue was the--now quickly forgotten--decision by the Democratic National Committee to hold the 2016 presidential nominating convention in Philadelphia, not Brooklyn, where logistics would have been much tougher.

The sports teams, the arena, the renamings

The New York Islanders did arrive, as expected, but with a bumpier transition than anticipated, with pushback from some fans regarding poor sightlines and higher prices, and lower than expected attendance, at least initially.
Hyping the Islanders

NBA 2015 All-Star Game weekend events came to the Barclays Center, but it was a relatively subdued year, business-wise, such that an announcement, buried on New Year's Eve, revealed that the arena was losing money. (That should tick upward.)

The Brooklyn Nets had their ups and downs, with the departure of high-profile Deron Williams and Kevin Garnett leading to a strained marketing premise.

Gloomy predictions for the 2015-16 season were confirmed earlier this month--2016 round-up news early!--with the firing of Coach Lionel Hollins and the demotion of General Manager Billy King.

If there was no dramatic renaming, a la Pacific Park Brooklyn, in 2015, there were three clever renamings that were pitched as launches, as if the previous, problematic/failed ventures were forgotten: The Vault became the Billboard Lounge; the Cushman & Wakefield Theater became the Tidal Theater; and the new-for-hockey Draft Ops Club quickly became the West End Club once a cloud covered fantasy sports. 

550 Vanderbilt: 17 stories, 19 floors
Construction ramps up

Big chunks of the project site are under construction: B2 (461 Dean, modular) and B3 next to the arena, and B11 (550 Vanderbilt), B12 (615 Dean), and B14 (535 Carlton) on the southeast block. Site clearance continues for the B15 (664 Pacific) building across from the arena, between Dean and Pacific. Railyard work continues.

The last parts of the contiguous site--north of Flatbush Avenue--were taken by eminent domain, including 19th century houses. (The last round of eminent domain, for Site 5--currently home to P.C. Richard and Modell's--is under way.)

"At some point--maybe not in 2015 but surely by 2016--residents and visitors will get a stronger sense of how massive this project will be," I wrote.

Yes, they have. The 202-foot, 17-story (or is it 19-story?) 550 Vanderbilt tower reached its full height at the southeast end of the project, and an entire storefront on the Flatbush Avenue side of the arena. The real estate market has recovered so much that, not only have prices risen, the expected per square foot prices exceed previous estimates.

Though ally Bertha Lewis once called the project "Atlantic Yards or Pacific Heights or whatever," some relentless salesmanship put Pacific Park on the map. In an outbreak of stunning effrontery, the developers even called Pacific Park a "new neighborhood," and suggested--in eerie echo of words that got original architect Frank Gehry in trouble--that this might be a way to build a neighborhood "from scratch."

They also released open space designs, regularly calling the privately managed, publicly accessible space a "park."

Unfinished green roof
The B2 modular tower, and the associated factory, re-started, with the tower steadily rising. But revelations emerged--thanks to my FOIL request--that lower floors had been ravaged by water and mold. That makes it less likely any other project buildings will go modular, and evidence emerged that the factory, which has threatened to shut down, might survive only by changing its mission.

The arena's green roof, despite lots of buzz (including an unwise Reason to Love NY, from New York magazine), remains unfinished, and curiously stalled. The Brooklyn Nets' new training facility in Sunset Park did not open as expected in September, though it is now due in February. Expect much fanfare.

Construction of the West Portal to the railyard continued, and it was belatedly revealed that, oh, Atlantic Avenue would be congested a lot longer than previously disclosed. That left an opening for an odd addition to the arena scene: the advent of DropCar, a valet parking service, as well as a piece of public space somehow deeded to VIP parking.

Oversight issues

The Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC), a subsidiary of Empire State Development, finally emerged, the product of a June 2014 legal settlement that led to a faster-than-previous (though slower than originally promised) project buildout. 

Though a forum for occasional moments of oversight, notably regarding the bizarrely limited notice behind Atlantic Yards meetings, and potentially a useful vehicle, the AY CDC had little impact. For example, neither it nor ESD had any role overseeing the transfer of Forest City's share in the arena operating company. No board member attended the regular Community Update meetings (though Jaime Stein ends a representative and regularly asks questions at board meetings). The AY CDC, for example, never drilled down on the limited affordability of planned apartments nor asked questions about problems at the modular tower.

Car using Dean Street sidewalk
Elected officials occasionally expressed concern, such as asking for assurances before Prokhorov bought the arena, but for some, there was far more their enthusiasm for "affordable housing" (despite its lack of affordability).

Construction and arena operations remained a headache for the project's closest neighbors--would you believe a stalled truck caused cars to use the sidewalk--and a long-promised app to track impacts has yet to appear.

The Greenland Group, the Shanghai government-owned majority owner of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park (except the arena and B2 tower), remained behind the scenes, but Greenland USA's head, based in Los Angeles, resigned quietly--was disappeared?--on a Friday night.

Community ripples

After the 2014 legal settlement, some civic groups that had a watchdog--if not oppositional--role, drew back. Stepping up somewhat was a new configuration involving the project's nearest neighbors, those feeling the brunt of impacts: the Barclays Center Impact Zone Alliance.

More able to draw broad support, however, were groups supporting a middle-school in the school being built in the B15 tower, though the closest neighbors were more wary of the location.

Some new businesses emerged near the arena, including a cereal bar inside a sneaker store, and others departed, but the coveted Triangle building at Fifth and Flatbush avenues remained empty.

The announced, but delayed, plan for community groups' discount use of the Barclays Center didn't get off the ground, as far as I know, but the Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance did continue to build community connections--and warm feelings for the arena--by distributing more than $100,000 from a new foundation.

A lingering lawsuit regarding trainees promised construction careers as part of a Community Benefits Agreement plan was settled confidentially, so quiet no one but me bothered to write about it. Other lawsuits involving Forest City Ratner and its former modular partner Skanska continue to percolate.

The bottom line

Atlantic Yards has been full of surprises, but there was no huge surprise in 2015, just some smaller ones like the revelation of mold in the modular building.

What was belatedly clear--no real shock--was the continued lack of real transparency from the developer and government, despite gestures toward transparency.

Perhaps the most telling quote came from Marion Phillips III, a Senior VP for ESD, who described the periodic Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting as "a developer meeting," facilitated by the state.

Indeed it is. But it was earlier a Quality of Life (Committee) meeting in which residents got to help set the agenda. Not any more. Like a "neighborhood from scratch," the precursor gets forgotten.

January 2015

Mayor de Blasio claims affordable housing victory, but Atlantic Yards looks different. Developers like to talk "affordable middle-income housing."

Forest City crows about corporate citizenship, but there's a lot left out.

Nearly three years late, the first BAM-arena collaboration, involving David Byrne and color guards. The collaboration had been hyped as 3-4 shows a year.

Despite high rank worldwide, Barclays Center's second full year shows drop of 27% in tickets sold, 28% in gross revenue.

EB-5 promotion in China
Forest City Enterprises announces plan to convert to a REIT, plans 2015 asset sales including shares of Nets, arena.

No surprise: EB-5 fundraising for "Atlantic Yards III" invokes 535 Carlton groundbreaking, de Blasio photo op, royal visit.

Goodbye, Kenneth Adams: Buffalo developer Howard Zemsky named to head ESD.

Construction fence squeezes Carlton Avenue between Dean and Pacific, slowing traffic, damaging trees.

Barclays Center signs deal with LIU to revive Brooklyn Paramount; seems to compete with revamped Kings Theatre.

My Times op-ed: "Holding the Democratic Convention in Brooklyn? Fuhgeddaboudit." (New Barclays Center Impact Zone Alliance. Letters in response, and my rebuttal.

February 2015

At midseason, Sports Illustrated grades the Nets a D. Prokhorov deputy Irina Pavlova laughs when reminded of Prokhorov's championship-or-get-married vow.

Nearly all condemnees in project footprint have left; state moves toward residential eviction, though evidence suggests low-ball home valuation for Jerry Campbell.

At first Atlantic Yards CDC meeting, guarded optimism; Board revealed as having two CBA members. BrooklynSpeaks expresses confidence in AY CDC.

Iron worker dies in construction accident at Barclays Center.

All-Star Weekend features more neighborhood impacts than initially disclosed.

Does the Barclays Center help local businesses? WNYC says it's mixed (and IBO says city numbers fuzzy).

The DNC goes to Philadelphia, as press finally recognizes concerns about security, logistics. Should MSG have been the choice?

Megdal: The end of Prokhorov’s Nets experiment. Nets have league's worst local TV ratings.

March 2015

Yes, they're still spending: Forest City's Atlantic Yards affiliate was seventh in 2014 city lobbying.

The "pad" outside the loading dock
A partial re-set for 2015-16 Brooklyn Nets season tickets: many prices down, though cheapest ($25) seats all gone.

Forest City gets a nice article about how hospitable it is for women to work. But the backstory is more complicated.

Guess what fell through the cracks: the "pad" next to the arena loading dock was never analyzed, even as operation spills onto the street.

Buses crowd Flatbush Avenue, residential blocks near Barclays Center to serve daytime event for Jewish students/educators. Police say it won't happen again.

Forest City says 10th floor modules in B2 prefab tower must be realigned before building higher. Questions about lower floors linger. In May, "limited interior work" planned on modules.

"Congeniality over conscience": Jewish leaders wrote letters in support for criminal Rapfogel. Dissecting Bruce Ratner's fatuous, shameless letter.

DBNA launches video challenge to highlight arena's obscure Meditation Room.

At second meeting of Atlantic Yards CDC, questions about monitoring project, managing big arena events, and adjusting that giant green wall.

April 2015

Turns out "The Most Powerful Man in Politics – Outside City Hall" is Jonathan Rosen, mayoral advisor and Forest City consultant.

Bitter lawsuits divide former Nassau Coliseum project partners Forest City Ratner and Blumenfeld Development Group.

The unexplained factor in Atlantic Yards sale to Greenland: Forest City knew modular plan was troubled. But land value has since risen, leaving bottom line murky.

In lawsuit by trainees claiming they were promised union construction jobs, Forest City/BUILD win key pre-trial victory.

Greenland's world ambitions
So much for promises: student hoops at the Barclays Center are pretty much either an all-star game or pay-to-play.

After Nets are blown out by the Hawks in the playoffs, CEO Brett Yormark thanks "the Brooklyn community and our entire fan base for your unwavering support"

From “China’s Greenland” to the “World’s Greenland”: the vigorous (and potentially precarious) ambitions of the new Atlantic Yards majority owner

As EB-5 regional center program faces renewal vote, questions of reform. Or should it just be killed?

May 2015

Inside Forest City/Greenland agreement: credit line for railyard (offset by EB-5 funds); loan to buy land; development fee. Despite deceptive pitch to Chinese investors, $249M in immigrant investor funds will help pay for railyard.

Part of marketing partnership, WPIX opens studio at Barclays Center; arena CEO touts "content."

MetroTech BID expands to encompass cultural district around the Brooklyn Academy of Music, as well as Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Terminal and Atlantic Center malls.

After Barclays Center quarterly results dropped, Forest City again downgraded revenue expectations, to $55M. The company cited a "steady-state concert schedule."

As CUNY's Medgar Evers College holds commencement at Barclays Center, Ratner to get honorary degree. BRIC, opening Celebrate Brooklyn season, honors Forest City's Berliner.

Flatbush Avenue outside arena narrowed for one month as green roof crane installed.

EB-5 promotion in China
Ratner's Nassau Coliseum plans, a series, including the curious politics of a Community Benefits Agreement, the astonishing pitch in China for EB-5 investment, and the company's defense of a sketchy fundraising partner. Press release refers to "respected Barclays Center developer Bruce Ratner." My Newsday op-ed: Nassau must be wary about plans for Coliseum.

Locks changed, 24-hour guard, moving van: an eviction on Dean Street for "a school" (+ 27-story tower, 330 market-rate rentals).

In advance of AY CDC meeting, block association questions ESD's responsiveness.

As of February, disruptive night work was not planned, but guess what: schedule creep (and overnight noise).

Barclays pays $2.4 billion for manipulating foreign exchange market. I later argue, in City & State: When Barclays Admitted a Felony, It Should Have Lost the Brooklyn Arena.

At AY CDC meeting, discussion of new app to report community impacts; ESD admits "little" institutional knowledge.

June 2015

Average price for Islanders' tickets rising 70%; despite Yormark spin, they're selling many obstructed seats.

Forest City, naming new modular leader, pushes for "new business partners" and "new business opportunities."

Barclays Center green roof, originally due by July, is supposed to be done by September. It's not.

Open space between buildings
Open space (not "park") designs released, depict project as complete, portrayed as gift to Brooklyn. "Just like a normal accessible park"? Misleading rhetoric and incomplete information. Phasing revealed for open space: southeast block by 2018, promenade at east likely by 2020; continued construction staging.

Real estate boom lifts Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park condos: prices 18% over 2009 projections for 2015, which were aggressive.

City, state, electeds help Forest City spin "100% affordable" building geared mainly to $100K+ households as a "model."

Gilmartin says that only after B2 opens can Greenland evaluate modular construction.
550 Vanderbilt advertising

"Everything you love about Brooklyn" is marketing for 550 Vanderbilt condo, which gets some fawning Times coverage. Ad calls it "a contextual extension of the surrounding neighborhood." But the tower is far more imposing than portrayed in a deceptive rendering. Gilmartin later says the project is "about the beautiful landscape that is Brooklyn, the relative low-rise nature of the neighborhood."

Selling Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park condos in China: amenities include public school, "public park."

At hearing on planned school, parents, electeds urge it be middle-school only; some residents warn about dangerous impacts near arena, construction. SCA rep knows nothing about impacts of B1 construction on arena egress.

July 2015

Hockey News says Islanders' deal in Brooklyn is unique, as arena guarantees annual sum. Will fan base shift to Brooklyn?

As $15 fast-food pay advances, Barclays Center, finally coming clean, reveals arena jobs start at $10.50/hour. It's not "living wage."

Ratner contributes $20K to Cuomo in most recent fundraising period.

So what if Prokhorov owns the Barclays Center: arena operations could clash with construction imperatives.

August 2015

From City Limits: Documents Reveal Woes at Pioneering Atlantic Yards Building. Mold,

Block party murals
Updating the retail picture: Flatbush Avenue gets a $6 cereal bar!

Wrestling, and its amped subculture, comes to the Barclays Center.

Dean Street block party is "fun," except for neighbors awakened at 5 am; distorted map fosters corporate branding; colorful murals determinedly unmoored from project. That "intricate" map celebrating Pacific Park vastly distorts project's prominence.

Barclays Center "aligns" with new Billboard Lounge, which seems to replace the Vault.

550 Vanderbilt condo building costs far more to build than rentals, could yield solid profit.

September 2015

After extensions from lender, Forest City to prematurely pay off $45M loan for troubled modular tower, plus $11.6M subordinate loan.

News flash: Nets player finally moves to Brooklyn. Thaddeus Young gets waterfront condo.

From "Hello Brooklyn" to "Represent Brooklyn": diminished Nets now emphasize team's fans.

In Bisnow's roundup, Gilmartin calls arena a "place-making juggernaut." As third anniversary approaches, Barclays Center is still on a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy..

As Islanders unveil "Brooklynified" alternate jerseys, pols offer free publicity.

B12 rendering, 615 Dean Street
B12 condo tower emerges, 278 feet, with huge units, dwarfs neighboring buildings, but materials aim for context.

Vexing delays: Atlantic Avenue near Barclays Center will be constricted through late 2017, nearly twice as long as promised.

Goodbye, Modell's & P.C. Richard; final condemnations are coming (in six months) for Site 5 development.

A profile of de Blasio: "He only cares about more affordable housing."

October 2015

Prokhorov to buy 85% stake in Nassau Coliseum operating company. Already the deal is revised.

Gehry's biographer puts on kid gloves regarding Ratner, buffs some of "Frank's" rough edges. Book party at Ratner building.

The Nets season opens. The promotions already seem heavy. Expectations are low. "The post-hype Nets begin again," and it's brutal. Note Billy Kingmaker blog from gleeful Celtics fan.

Now we know what the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership seeks: permanent incentives for office space.

Barclays swaps Cushman & Wakefield for Tidal as arena "theater" sponsor (but not naming rights buyer). Just like the Vault?

Forest City plans a new fluid harmonic disruptor at B2 modular tower, not a tuned mass damper.

Selling the $6.86 million penthouse at 550 Vanderbilt.

Outside arena
At AY CDC, a push for more transparency; are Community Updates "developer meetings"?

The railyard runaround: MTA says only approval was for work proposed before June 2014

Something different is in the works for Site 5. Hints of huge development, akin to Time Warner Center?

The marketing slogan: "If you could build the ideal New York neighborhood from scratch, what would you do?"

Questions about advertising on arena plaza and transit entrance, little explanation in response. It gets called "accessory signage."Advertising finally removed from green roof of transit entrance.

Evasiveness regarding street closing for big Tidal concert. Yes, it gets closed, with mission creep.

Note Resorts World Casino Plaza signage
The Islanders debut in Brooklyn, with mixed fan vibe, hype from de Blasio, Nets. New horn nixed. As the Islanders "Brooklynize," it's different than the Nets.

Resorts World seems to have taken over sponsorship of the arena plaza. Officials deny knowledge.

Intersection/Prospect Heights project aims to start dialogue on neighborhood change.

From the Real Deal: pros/cons of local vs. imported modular construction, plus doubts about whether Forest City can "export." Exterior panels flap again on B2 modular tower.

Forest City executive Yu hopes for 8-year buildout, likens open space to Chicago park three times larger.

November 2015

Paterson promised New York State would be "scrupulous in our monitoring," but neighbors document clogged street, demolition dust.

Developer buys auto-related lots catercorner to NE edge of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, plans apartments on Atlantic Avenue.

Three doomed Dean Street houses
What's wrong? In move to Brooklyn, attendance at Islanders games is down.

The demolition begins on Dean Street, with "blighted" 495 Dean. Passerby: "effing property stealers."

Video: congestion on Dean Street caused by truck waiting for arena loading dock causes cars to take detour via sidewalk.

Transparency? Asbestos abatement notice cites Sunday, late night work, but is absent from Construction Update.

Greenland's Chang, point person on Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, resigns suddenly, in news released on a Friday night.

Nets "hit rock bottom" as they lose to Lakers, whose fans dominate Barclays Center.

Nets announce D-League team to play at Coliseum after first season next year at Barclays.

Forest City says B2 modular building cost rises $30M, cites need to re-staff factory, suggests incomplete units.

Forest City sells 625 Fulton site for $158 million; price suggests railyard was a bargain.

Newsday: Prokhorov should meet with Nassau official regarding Coliseum. Oh, three other partners are gone.

Sam Schwartz's Street Smart: too smart for own good regarding Barclays Center transportation plan.

December 2015

664 Pacific; arrow points to houses on Dean
Greenland nixes (?) future pre-fab buildings at Brooklyn site; Forest City warns of layoffs at modular plant. Modular factory may change from high-rise residential to building components.

Lawsuit against Forest City, BUILD over "sham" Atlantic Yards jobs program ends in murky settlement for 19 plaintiffs.

So, even the much-praised Los Angeles Community Benefits Agreement had its problems.

Daily News visits "swanky new West End Club" at Barclays Center; Draft Ops branding forgotten after fantasy sports shut down.

664 Pacific unveiling runs into concerns about tower's scale, tight fit of school in neighborhood. Official rendering, more imposing perspective from model,

Photo suggests VIP parking in No Standing zone outside arena on Atlantic Avenue. As DropCar named Barclays Center's official valet service, formerly public street becomes monetizable dropoff zone.

Barclays Center workers, SEIU 32BJ seek commitment for enough hours to qualify for benefits.

My PBS NewsHour essay: What’s really at stake in the EB-5 investor visa overhaul: honesty.

EB-5 renewed through next September with no changes; win for NY developers. Schumer played big role. Forest City, partner U.S. Immigration Fund big spenders on EB-5 lobbying, paying D'Amato's firm. EB-5 follies: Schenectady casino project not job-creating. EB-5 follies: New York Wheel claims different job totals, depending on audience.

de Blasio's defense of donations from developers = "the ends justify the means" (which sounds like Markowitz).

Why is 550 Vanderbilt listed at "17 stories" but has "19 floors"?

Brooklyn "again has a hometown team": how Brooklyn Historical Society hockey exhibit advances the narrative. With lower attendance than expected, Islanders games have smaller impact, but crowds briefly rowdy and loud. After Rangers/Islanders game, cursing crowds, fights, drumming, and chanting.

"Bitch, I will cut you": tension with hockey fans leads to reported Barclays Center security flameout. Barclays Center dials back on aggressive alcohol policy for hockey games, which snuck past potential overseers.

Elected officials ask Empire State Development to intervene in sale of Barclays Center (operating company) to get guarantees for community benefits and responsiveness. So do neighbors. Both get ignored.

Deal for Nets/Barclays completed, now valued at $1.7B; arena seemingly a loss; Moody's reveals dangerously low debt coverage; Prokhorov pledges community continuity.

Atlantic Yards/Nets/DBNA Community Foundation emerges, with $100K+ of awards for community groups; board revealed. I have some questions and qualms.

January 2016

The January 2016 Barclays Center event calendar shows how the Islanders make a difference

In new Fodor's Brooklyn, the notable who gets to talk Prospect Heights is... arena CEO Brett Yormark.

Not a surprise: the Nassau Coliseum reopening might be late.

Barclays Center bombshell: arena lost $9 million in FY 2015, revenues behind estimates; arena sale price below book value. Document buried on New Year's Eve. Responding to Forest City's critique of my Barclays Center loss analysis. "Epic train wreck"?

As Nets flounder, marking demise of Prokhorov's strategy, coach fired, GM reassigned.

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