Skip to main content

As plans for Times Plaza public space emerge, stakeholders say upgrade must be coupled with safety measures

Times Plaza, featuring a landmarked transit structure and a pedestrian pavement extended by the demapping of one street segment, is a small but important island flanked by three major roads: Atlantic Avenue, Flatbush Avenue, and Fourth Avenue.

Improvements to some 4,530 square feet on the west side of the plaza, including planters, portable tables and chairs, and new benches, are on tap, thanks to a state-required contribution by the developers of the adjacent Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project. No budget or timing has been announced announced.

Nearby residents and stakeholders, however appreciative of the upcoming improvements, registered distinct unease at a public meeting last Wednesday night, held at the YWCA at Atlantic and Third avenues.

They said that such changes had to come in tandem with long-delayed safety changes at the intersection, where pedestrians and bicyclists feel threatened by vehicles moving aggressively. Neck-downs extending the sidewalk or more perpendicular crosswalks were suggested.

Planned addition of benches, planters, tables and chairs, lights, and more
Keith Bray, the Department of Transportation’s Brooklyn Borough Commissioner, pledged that such changes (such as an extended median on Flatbush) were, indeed, under consideration. Bray acknowledged the possibility of adding neckdowns but said DOT did not envision closing any lanes to traffic.

Plans are due by spring, he said, pledging to update those interested, as well as Community Board 2. The eastern portion of the plaza, controlled by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and guarded by bollards, is not part of the plan.

But the history of delays, as well as general uncertainty about plans, left some skeptical. “I don't know how to evaluate this project without thinking about safety,” one resident said. After all, as shown in the slide below, there's a lot of traffic nearby on the avenues, and it's not always easy to cross the street.

The history

Times Plaza, named for the nearby offices of the Brooklyn Daily Times newspaper, features a terra cotta-clad Control House built in 1908 as an entrance to the subway, later used for retail purposes, and restored in 2005.

The former Control House and adjacent space guarded by bollards, owned by the MTA, will not be part of the plaza upgrade. But an approximately equal adjacent space, 4500 square feet (1/10 of an acre) will get the upgrade.

That space was augmented by the demapping of northbound Fourt Avenue between Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, a procedure driven by the Atlantic Yards environmental review, which diverted some traffic from the Barclays Center. As shown in the slide below, that added a significant amount of pedestrian space.

The plan

Mike Russell of Stantec, which is working for Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park developer Greenland Forest City Partners, described a relatively simple plan, given the constraints of space and the inability to dig under the sidewalk and disturb utilities: benches seating some 40 people coupled with six planters serving as a “vegetative buffer,” and place tables with a capacity for 20 people. There also will be bike racks, recycling and trash bins, and space for a mobile concession such as a food cart.

(The presentation is on the DOT web site, and at bottom.)

I asked if this would impede pedestrian movement. Russell said “the width of the space where pedestrians could go [is] comparable to what's there now,” which strikes me as worth further examination.

After all, when the plaza is “programmed” for visitors and passersby to linger, that could impede the sometimes significant pedestrian through-traffic.

The upgrade is being paid for by Greenland Forest City, though Bray, when queried, could not identify a budget or a maximum budget.

Oddly enough, the formal reason for the upgrade, disclosed in 2014 in the court-ordered Atlantic Yards Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, is to mitigate a deficit of public space for workers in the area. While workers surely will use the space, no one at the meeting mentioned that formal justification—clearly, the stakeholders are more diverse.

Russell cited a “dynamic scoring pattern” for the sidewalk that’s already been approved for the Brooklyn Cultural District, where the pattern changes to highlight particular aspects of the plaza. The poured concrete will contain an additive to make it sparkle. In-ground light fixtures will be similar to those at the Barclays Center plaza and the Brooklyn Cultural District.

The plaza will be managed by the MetroTech Business Improvement District, which last year got approval to extend its boundaries southeast to encompass the Atlantic Terminal and Atlantic Center malls.

Times Plaza is at very bottom of extended MetroTech BID
I wonder if this new linkage to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park—though the plaza is indeed public—nudges forward the potential to extend the MetroTech BID to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, thus further privatizing control of the property.

The questions

Asked if the Control House could be augmented, perhaps with light, or the public space could be extended past the bollards (or the bollards moved), Bray said said discussions with the MTA would be needed. (No MTA rep was present.)

Jim Vogel, an aide to state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, pointed to a letter sent last year to DOT about safety at the intersection.

“The answer we got was that we'd be hearing very shortly,” by last fall, about the results of the DOT study, he said.

“We are a little delayed in that timeline,” Bray acknowledged. “We are going to be addressing that.”

Asked about planned programming, the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership’s (DBP) Ryan Grew said it was still under consideration. He said they’d look at other spaces where people pass through quickly. He cited lunchtime concerts at Willoughby Plaza in Downtown. Later, Josef Szende of the Atlantic Avenue BID proposed instead visual art, given the cacophony at the intersection.

The tables and chairs, Grew said, would be either locked up at night on the site, or put in DBP storage. Given the difficulty in getting water to the site, concessions—which help offset maintenance costs—“would have to be lighter weight.”

Joanna Oltman Smith, of the 78th Precinct Community Council and Community Board 6, said she understood “the desire to expedite the project by using design elements already approve,” but suggested safety concerns should lead to “harder infrastructure... low planters with ornamental grasses is not going to do the trick.”

Will there be advertising on bollards, asked resident (and Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park monitor) Wayne Bailey, mindful of the advertising that appeared on the bollards on the arena plaza. Bray said there were no plans for such advertising but acknowledged he didn’t know if they’re permitted.

A photo taken last Wednesday night, after the meeting
Pacific Street resident Mae Taliaferrow noted continued problems with public urination from arenagoers in Times Plaza as well as nearby at the Brooklyn Bear’s Garden and the exterior of the adjacent Modell’s store. Grew and a DOT official pledged enforcement and clean-up.

Summing up, S.J. Avery of the Park Slope Civic Council’s Forth on Fourth Campaign, which aims to improve Fourth Avenue, observed, “While people are interested in something here, many of us are concerned about approving this, absent a better sense of the safety plan... and why the MTA is not involved.”

Bray said he recognized the importance of integrating all the elements, and drew some applause at that recognition. Representatives of local elected officials, including Council Member Brad Lander and Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, also pledged to help. with the MTA.

A couple of flashbacks

This plaza has gotten some interesting attention over the years. From a 10/16/15 New York Times account, Aldo Tambellini’s ‘Atlantic in Brooklyn’ Chronicles a Grittier Time:
This area was far different when Aldo Tambellini made “Atlantic in Brooklyn” in 1971. Using what was then new portable video camera equipment, Mr. Tambellini recorded the parade of humanity passing on the streets below his studio at Flatbush and Atlantic. The edited footage was first shown in 1972 on three monitors at the Kitchen, and is on view here in six giant video projections, on three walls, that run for one hour.
And yes, there were efforts a decade ago from people who hoped to spruce up the plaza--though tat that time, the space was controlled only/mainly by the MTA and likely not as flexible. Not that officials were into it. From a New Yorker profile of then-Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, 4/25/05
When Markowitz met some Boerum Hill residents who suggesting planters and greenery that might go near a restored subway kiosk near Atlantic Terminal, one proposed that Forest City Ratner—a major donor to Markowitz’s concerts—might supply some funds. “Does Ratner want to prove he cares?” another resident asked. “I haven’t asked him,” Markowitz replied testily.


Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

At 550 Vanderbilt, big chunk of apartments pitched to Chinese buyers as "international units"

One key to sales at the 550 Vanderbilt condo is the connection to China, thanks to Shanghai-based developer Greenland Holdings.

It's the parent of Greenland USA, which as part of Greenland Forest City Partners owns 70% of Pacific Park (except 461 Dean and the arena).

And sales in China may help explain how the developer was able to claim early momentum.
"Since 550 Vanderbilt launched pre-sales in June [2015], more than 80 residences have gone into contract, representing over 30% of the building’s 278 total residences," the developer said in a 9/25/15 press release announcing the opening of a sales gallery in Brooklyn. "The strong response from the marketplace indicates the high level of demand for well-designed new luxury homes in Brooklyn..."

Maybe. Or maybe it just meant a decent initial pipeline to Chinese buyers.

As lawyer Jay Neveloff, who represents Forest City, told the Real Deal in 2015, a project involving a Chinese firm "creates a huge market for…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…