Monday, June 20, 2016

On video, Gilmartin spins the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park saga (which requires annotation)

Well, BISNOWTV EXCLUSIVE: MARYANNE GILMARTIN (FOREST CITY RATNER) FROM THE NEW CORNELL TECH CAMPUS - PART 1 is not really journalism. It's "content." Specifically, it's sponsored content for a publication that makes its money from events.

The blurb says "Kenneth Weissenberg, partner at EisnerAmper, and MaryAnne Gilmartin, president & CEO at Forest City Ratner, discuss the new Cornell Tech Campus, the Barclays Center, and creating new neighborhoods in New York City."

Except EisnerAmper, "one of the nation's leading audit, tax and advisory firms," is a Bisnow Content Partner, which means this is big mutual advertorial. Weissenberg serves fat pitches to Gilmartin, whose performance is Yormarkian in its casual disregard of countervailing, complicating facts.

Which is why I will interpolate comments (in italics).

After talking about the Cornell project on Roosevelt Island and the history of MetroTech,  at about 3:22 of the video below, interviewer/branding partner Weissenberg brings up Pacific Park, which--surely prepped--he dubs "transformative."

The ironies of blight

MAG: "I like to say that Barclays, and the Pacific Park project was catalytic to everything that happened in Brooklyn, but Brooklyn's rising was due to, really, the people and the unbelievable neighborhoods that make Brooklyn. (So, why was a site in gentrifying Prospect Heights considered blighted? Oh, to enable eminent domain.) The project really sits at the confluence of some of the most beautiful neighborhood in all of America. So the fact that there was a 22-acre swath of land (there wasn't; Forest City drew the map, so the state could help it acquire property it sought) that could really knit neighborhoods together and create place was a tremendous opportunity for us. I like to say, if it's not complicated, we're probably not interested. This is probably the uber example of what development, placemaking involves."

What caused delays?

MAG: "It took over ten years to put the entitlements together (no, the project was announced in 2003, the purchase process began in 2002, and the arena groundbreaking was in 2010; one final parcel of land remains in litigation) and to ready the land for vertical construction. We had over 35 legal actions (at least she's not saying "lawsuits," as was common; maybe there were 35 hearings) that really resulted in extraordinary delays (her boss, Forest City Realty Trust CEO David LaRue blamed the recession above all) and cost increases."

Long-term effort?

MAG: "This is a high barriers-to-entry business, and it's not for the faint of heart. So we are hopeless developer (I think that means committed to their work) and we are committed to long-term value creation (which is why they sold the arena operating company to Onexim and also 70% of the rest of the project, minus the B2 modular tower, to Greenland Group?), so for us, this project has been well worth the wait and the toiling to build it."

Arena as cornerstone?

MAG: "We began with Barclays, because that was the cornerstone of the project (no, there was a 2009 deadline to have tax-exempt bonds issued, and a money-losing basketball team that needed a new home), to create a building with public purpose (which, according to critic Paul Goldberger, has "more naming opportunities here than in a suburban synagogue"). What is amazing about the building is that it's world class, it's among the most beautiful, high performing arenas in all of the country, if not the world. It has a great architectural lineup that was responsible for creating the beautiful steel, the rusted steel that is evocative of Brownstone Brooklyn. My favorite aspect of the building is, when you pop up out of the subway, you can actually see the scoreboard (you mostly see advertising), so the building is welcoming to people outside its front door and inside."

A new hub?

"You've created a hub in Downtown Brooklyn (arguably extending the edge of Downtown Brooklyn, with the project essentially in Prospect Heights) that wasn't there before," says the interviewer.

MAG: "I think you're right. (such a tough interview!) In fact, we say that the oculus, when it was built was the largest oculus in the world, the oculus is to Brooklyn (in 2012, they claimed the plaza had the same role) as the clock is at Grand Central, a meeting place. So we do think it's become a place where people get together and connect, even if they're just using the unbelievable transit connection that exist beneath Barclays."

On schedule?

MAG: "So Barclays was the beginning, and we're at a point now where I'm tremendously proud of the speed with which we're putting up vertical buildings (except they're significantly behind schedule). We got a partner, a Chinese partner (actually, a Chinese boss, since Greenland Group owns 70%), and this was a groundbreaking deal, because at the time we made this deal, there was no name in the Chinese language for joint venture. So we were creating something in America that had never been done with a real estate company. So if you fast forward, in just a few years, we made an extraordinary partnership arrangement, there's been a ton of equity plowed into the real estate, and we have now 1,800 units of housing being built (that total requires counting the B12 and B15 towers, which have been designed but not gone vertical) and of that, over 800 of them (actually, 782: 181+298+303) are affordable. And that is, for Brooklyn and for all of New York City, extremely important (actually, more than half the units would go to middle-income households, a tiny fraction of the city's population), if you want to have a livable 21st-century city."

The modular tower

"You're doing a new project in a modular building, the tallest modular building," stated Weissenberg.

MAG: "Yes, I'm proud to say it is the tallest modular building in the world today. For us, it's successful if I took you through the building and you would say to me, 'MaryAnne, I don't see how this building was put together 65% off site, three miles away, in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It feels like a regular, beautiful luxury rental building." (Except for all the repairs that had/need to be done.)

Less impact from modular?

MAG: "Half of it's affordable, half of it's market rate, but the building's success is the fact that, for community benefits, less impact to the neighborhood. (which implies that the rest of the project, being built conventionally, is quite impactful, and sometimes things even fly off). It should've been a speedier construction, but with anything innovative, it often doesn't go the way you expect. (or the way they promised, many times) So we've had a number of bumps (yeah, very big ones) along the way."

Do the numbers work?

MAG: "The building stands up, it's high performing. You can put 65% of if together in a factory, and you can pick it with a crane and place it in a way on site that makes it super, super efficient. Now we just need to prove the numbers and, of course, in our business, it's about the numbers. (This specific building is a failure on the numbers.) We have a set of (aspirational) numbers that demonstrate that the simultaneous activities and the fact that it is so efficient prove it out. I'm very hopeful that the next project will finish the story around high-rise modular in New York." (OK, this first modular building was supposed to be proof of concept. Now the second one would be. After all, they want to amortize their significant R&D costs.)

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