Skip to main content

Dissecting the Daily News's dopey, suck-up Atlantic Yards editorial (complicated by its own reporting)

Today's New York Daily News editorial, Atlantic becomes pacific as buildings rise at Brookyn rail yard, is riddled with errors, half-truths, and omissions, starting with the typo in the headline, which, of course, should be corrected to "Brooklyn." (The link, for those who have the Genius annotation software, has all my critiques embedded.)

I critique the text below (Daily News in italics), paragraph by paragraph, but, actually, the strongest critique comes from the Daily News itself, since the newspaper's own recommendation algorithm suggests some critical, investigatory articles about the project, which suggests that Pacific Park is not at all "pacific" (meaning peaceful).

See the graphic at left, and the links to the following articles:
But the Daily News editorial board has always supported this project, so much so it once gushed, A super design for a great project.

From the article: misreading the site

Once called Atlantic Yards and now rebranded Pacific Park, the city’s most controversial and hard-fought real estate project is finally coming to fruition in booming Brooklyn.

None of the buildings going up are over the Vanderbilt Yard. The rail yard is 8.5 acres of a 22-acre project. About half of the Barclays Center is built over--in the trackbed of--the rail yard. The current construction is on terra firma. Future construction over the railyard requires an expensive deck.

It was rebranded to keep people from remembering its controversial history.

“Coming to fruition” means the state of being real or complete. It's definitely not close to complete. But, yes, the housing is finally real.

Construction workers last Wednesday topped a 32-story residential tower at 461 Dean St., not far from the Barclays Center arena.

How about flush against the arena, as the photo suggests.

Remembering the plan

Set for occupancy in the fall, fully half of its 363 apartments will have affordable rents, and tenants will be selected by a lottery that closes on June 27. There will be 24-hour doorman service and a washer-dryer in all units.

If this sounds implausible, so did the plan developer Bruce Ratner advanced a decade ago to build a 22-acre complex plus arena on fallow space over a Long Island Rail Road yard at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Aves.

The plan was announced in December 2003. That's off by nearly 2.5 years. It wasn't predominantly over a railyard. As to "fallow space," how about: extremely valuable space, were an expensive deck built after the property was put out for bid in a proper RFP process. Which didn't happen.

Relying on the developer (and failing to identify the joint venture)

Last week, the Daily News Editorial Board toured the site to find that, after dozens of lawsuits and the national economic meltdown, Pacific Park is at last taking shape — with Ratner meeting a commitment to deliver affordable units upfront.

"Toured the site = "took in Forest City's spin." For an alternative perspective, why not consult the Daily News's own reporting, linked on the same page!

Dozens of lawsuits? Nope. You should get a list before repeating that canard.

Wait a sec. First, he barely got the first building off the ground in time to avoid sanctions, in 2012. Then, after the project timetable was in 2009 extended to allow a 25-year buildout, it was revised in 2014 to have all the affordable units done by 2025.

So that commitment is being met, but 1) "affordable" is merely defined as a below-market building participating in city subsidy programs, not the configuration in the long-promised Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding or Community Benefits Agreement and 2) that commitment has been made more flexible, allowing the developer, no longer Ratner (except for 461 Dean) but Greenland Forest City Partners, which is 70% owned by a Shanghai government-owned fund, to deliver a greater percentage of *less* affordable units. See When Affordable Rents Push $3,000.

It's curious that the name Greenland, nor Chinese state ownership, is not mentioned here.

Heck, see the Daily News's own coverage of the first "100% affordable" building, De Blasio hails 'affordable housing' complex in Brooklyn with $3,500 apartments.

Ignoring modular reality

The building at 461 Dean is the world’s tallest tower built using modular construction, meaning kitchens, bedrooms, living rooms and bathrooms were manufactured in a factory at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and then delivered for assembly.

No mention about how this building, once touted as revolutionary, saving time and money versus conventional construction, instead took twice as long and far more money. Or that it was plagued by leaks and even mold. Or that Forest City (which, unlike with the rest of the towers, owns this one outright) is embroiled in bitter litigation with former business partner Skanska. Or that Forest City once pledged to build the *entire* project via modular technology, but now that's off the table.

Analyzing affordability

It’s on track to join a 100%-affordable rental tower at 535 Carlton Ave. and a condo on Vanderbilt Ave. opening this year. Over the next decade, they are slated to be complemented by 13 more residential and commercial towers.

The original plan, for *all* the housing, was 50% market, 50% affordable, aka "below-market," aka "income linked." (That's not the same as "low income.") Then they added 1,930 condos on top of the 50/50 rentals.

So it's important to know that a "100% affordable" rental is not an improvement on the promise but rather a reconfiguration: it will be complemented by a 100% unaffordable (aka market-rate) rental building at a later date, rather than producing to 50/50 buildings.

Which, actually, are 50/30/20 buildings: 50% market, 30% middle- and moderate-income, and 20% low-income. There are supposed to be 5 "bands," or income cohorts, with the highest middle-income band comprising 20% of the affordable units. Instead, with 535 Carlton, as well as the next "100% affordable" building, that high middle-income band comprises 50% of the affordable units.

Misreading history

From the moment that then-Mayor Bloomberg signed an agreement with Ratner’s firm Forest City Ratner in Aug. 2003, the project was ground zero in a protracted struggle between guardians of old-school Brownstone Brooklyn and the visionaries of a New Brooklyn.

WTF? There was no agreement signed in August 2003 (though surely there were meetings). The project wasn’t announced until December 2003. A nonbinding Memorandum of Understanding between Forest City, the city, and state was signed in February 2005.

The key thing in the public approval process is that the city’s role was subsumed by the state: the allowed the override of zoning, the avoidance of ULURP (the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure), and other benefits for the developer.

Or, perhaps, more responsible and democratic development vs. less responsible and democratic development. #CultureOfCheating. Forest City got a state override of zoning that allowed them to build as large as they thought necessary. That was unavailable to any other developer.

Meeting the requirements

Even today, community groups remain concerned that Forest City Ratner will violate affordable housing requirements. The agreement mandates a minimum of 35% of units be affordable as the project is built out. Once 1,050 have been constructed, just 25% must be affordable.

They remain concerned because Greenland Forest City Partners, which owns the project and is steered by Greenland, has not announced any plan to meet that 35% commitment, given that it intends to switch one tower to commercial use.

Rents are a moving target

Of the 1,800 units currently under construction at Pacific Park, 800 — 44% — have rents pegged to families with incomes ranging from $20,675 to $144,960, with rents ranging from $559 to $3,012, depending on family and apartment size.

Not clear that $3,012 is the top rent for the affordable units planned. That figure is the top rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the first tower, based on current Area Median Income (AMI). That may well go up by the time the units in other buildings actually open.

As noted, the units skew toward middle-income households, not where the need is greatest. No wonder Tom Waters of the Community Service Society recently said, "Those apartments aren't meeting the most serious needs of the city, at all."

Whom to blame?

Eventually, the entire Pacific Park complex will contain 2,200 affordable housing units — albeit ones that will draw half their tenants from surrounding neighborhoods demographically unrecognizable from their 2003 state, with former residents since priced out.

It's supposed to be 2,250 units, but whatever.

So, blame the delays only on opposition? What if Forest City had produced a different plan? What if state contracts had required a ten-year buildout rather than gave Forest City 25 years of slack? What if Forest City truly aimed to build in ten years as opposed to, as its executives had said, as the market allows?

What if Greenland Forest City's *current* affordable housing actually conformed to its original promise, rather than skewed significantly to middle-income households? That has nothing to do with delays or opposition, but rather the city's willingness to allow the project to *not* conform to the original configuration.

Was de Blasio right?

Although confronted with intense community opposition, then-City Councilman (and, later) Public Advocate Bill de Blasio backed the development, citing among other things its potential for producing affordable housing. As it turns out, he was right.

He was right? Any project built on public property, with a state override of zoning, should have produced significant affordable housing.

Instead, de Blasio relaxed the standards for affordable housing to deliver many units, in the next two "100% affordable" towers, that are less affordable than promised. All to be able to claim "affordable housing." 

He long said he supported the project as long as the much-hyped Community Benefits Agreement was enforced. Instead, the developer never hired the required Independent Compliance Monitor, and de Blasio never said a peep.

Comments

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…