Thursday, March 31, 2016

Public amenity or business deal? How odd silence about arena's Resorts World Casino NYC Plaza bolsters "Brooklyn Behemoth"

Resorts World Casino NYC signage over door; click to enlarge
It's pretty hard to miss, the signage over the Barclays Center entrance announcing Resorts World Casino NYC Plaza, as I reported last September.

But the Barclays Center has been curiously reticent about this new sponsor.

Perhaps they're reticent about the taint of gambling.

But I suspect that arena operators, as well as developer Greenland Forest City Partners, seek to avoid attention to the branding of a plaza that GFCP promotes as a public amenity.

And that's part of a strategy to get state permission--after public hearings--to transfer the huge bulk of the unbuilt tower over that plaza at Flatbush and Atlantic avenues across the street to Site 5, which is today home to Modell's and P.C. Richard and already approved for a substantial 250-foot, 439,050-square-foot building.

Site 5 from southern border at Pacific Street;
Bear's Garden in foreground is not part of planned project
The combined bulk, including the potential transfer, would be some 1.55 million square feet, the biggest tower in Brooklyn, nearly as bulky as the 1066-foot-New York Times Tower in Midtown, and far bulkier than the Chrysler Building. I call it the "Brooklyn Behemoth."

It's a gambit, perhaps with the fallback to agree to a "smaller" building, given that row-house Brooklyn is literally across Pacific Street. So it's important to remember that business decisions, not planning principles, drive this deal.

("You don't want a 25-story building next to a single-family home," said the real estate industry's chief lobbyist, Steve Spinola, in 2014.)

The plaza offers crucial assistance in wrangling Barclays Center crowds, thus benefiting owners of the arena operating company. The plaza can be rented out to private patrons. And the plaza sponsorship has been sold.  So people should start saying "Resorts World Casino NYC Plaza."

Unofficial mockup of potential bulk of Site 5 based on Gehry Partners rendering before arena was redesigned in 2009.

No public notice, professed ignorance

I couldn't find a press release announcing Resorts World, which last fall apparently replaced the Daily News as the arena sponsor, though some parts of the Barclays Center web site, such as the page allowing people to rent this privately-controlled space, have not yet been updated. (See screenshot at right.)

Nor could I get answers from those who should know. And at the 10/14/15 Community Update meeting, as I reported, arena representatives were curiously close-mouthed and professed to be uninformed.

"Is Resorts the sole sponsor" of the plaza, I asked, pointing out that the Daily News signage had been diminished.

"I have no idea," responded Forest City Ratner Chief of Staff Ashley Cotton. "We can find out." (They didn't.)

Arena Community Relations Manager Terence Kelly said these were "big operations" and he was "not well informed enough to answer that." He suggested sending a query to arena public relations. manager Barry Baum (who'd already ignored my question).

The long game

I suspect that, however much Resorts World sought the signage and public impact of sponsorship, the Barclays Center made an internal decision or agreement to not call attention to this sponsor, perhaps because of the gambling, but likely for larger business reasons.

Site 5 from Fourth and Atlantic Avenues
At that point, Forest City Ratner was the majority owner of the arena holding company. It then sold that majority--as well as the rest of its share in the Brooklyn Nets--to Mikhail Prokhorov's Onexim, which consolidated full control of both arena and team.

Then, with Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park majority owner Greenland Holdings, the joint venture Greenland Forest City Partners proceeded to float the highly questionable plan to get permission to transfer the bulk from B1, over the arena/plaza, to Site 5.

Cotton at the 3/15/16 Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation meeting cited three justifications for the shift: delivering jobs, keeping the plaza as permanent open space, and "activating" the Atlantic Avenue corridor.

While I wrote wrote most skeptically about the latter issue, I looked at the video again. Here's Cotton's quote: "Number two, a key thing we think we can accomplish with this is keeping the plaza permanent open space."

Naming the plaza


Imagine if Cotton had said "keeping the Resorts World Casino NYC Plaza permanent open space" or "keeping the [sponsor to be named later] Plaza permanent open space"?

It's not a park. It's a private amenity that has some benefit to the public. But it's far more useful to the arena as a tool to leverage public approval for, or at least obfuscation regarding, a planned tower that--tellingly--they have refused to portray in any renderings.

Perhaps only after this Site 5 project is approved--and there must be public hearings and approval by Empire State Development, a state authority controlled by the governor--will we start hearing the name "Resorts World Casino NYC Plaza."

One public mention in a press release

Interestingly enough, I recently did find exactly one Barclays Center press release , dated 10/8/15 and thus well before my question, mentioning this new sponsor.

The press release, announcing the start of the New York Islanders' season in Brooklyn, stated that arena doors would open with "live mannequins on the Barclays Center Resorts World Casino NYC Plaza."

The Nassau Coliseum reopening date is now March 2017; Islanders games there not a "done deal"

From Newsday's Robert Brodsky yesterday, Nassau Coliseum reopening expected in March 2017:
Developers who are renovating the Nassau Coliseum have removed the arena’s old seats, gutted the entranceway and removed extensive amounts of asbestos, but say it will take until March 2017 to reopen the arena, three months later than originally planned.
Also note:
[Nassau County Executive Ed] Mangano said Wednesday that the six Islanders games would “provide an outlet for our Long Island fans to view their favorite team right here. . . . And who knows what the future holds?”
But NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the games are not a done deal.
Indeed, as I've reported, the team renovating the Coliseum has consistently overhyped the certainty of the Islanders' return, which won't be decided until the arena reopens.

Also see this Randi Marshall column, Inside the ruins of Nassau Coliseum:
The ghost of the New York Islanders hung over Nassau Coliseum Tuesday, as representatives from Nassau County and Nassau Events Center, the firm renovating the arena, took reporters on a tour of the work they've done so far.
Also see Newsday video here, Inside Nassau Coliseum's renovations.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Design charrette Saturday for Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park middle school: facilities, common space and street design

From the backers of M.S. OneBrooklyn, Help envision a new middle school in District 13 at the M.S. OneBrooklyn Design Charrette:
When a new public school begins construction in Prospect Heights at the Atlantic Yards site later this year, community members will already have put forward a vision for how the facility can best meet the needs of the middle school students of Brooklyn’s District 13 today and for the future.
At this event hosted by the organizers of the M.S. OneBrooklyn campaign and the Brooklyn Public Library, District 13 community members, designers, planners, and representatives from the New York City Department of Education will come together to imagine a new middle school to be located at the northeast corner of Sixth Avenue and Dean Street. Breakout sessions will allow attendees to explore requirements for facilities, common space and street design to create a 21st century learning environment, as well as to identify and address safety concerns in the environment where the school will be situated. The results of the charrette will be compiled into a report for presentation to the Department of Education and the School Construction Authority.
The M.S. OneBrooklyn Design Charrette will take place on Saturday, April 2 at the Brooklyn Public Library Central Branch from 1:00PM to 3:00PM.
Marvel Architects; arrow added by AYR points
to row houses; unseen arena at left
The school will be located in the lower floors--and below-ground space--of 664 Pacific Street, aka B15, a 27-story market-rate residential tower east of Sixth Avenue, between Dean and Pacific Streets. Developer Greenland Forest City Partners is building the shell for the school, which will be funded and outfit with public funds.

The closest neighbors, as well as two community boards, raised questions about the school's location, given that it's across the street from the Barclays Center and very near both police and fire stations.

As I reported in December, when asked where buses would pull up without curb cuts, architect Jonthan marvel g that city education agencies "aren't planning how the buses are going to arrive. It's not part of the design of the layout of the school. It's going to have to happen as a management issue."

"That can evolve over time, as the building gets occupied and used," he said, suggesting onlookers "take a leap of faith."

That prompted some skepticism, given the track record of the nearby arena loading dock, which has not operated seamlessly as promised.

So the discussion on Saturday regarding the issue of safety might be particularly interesting. (I can't make it.)



Tuesday, March 29, 2016

From the latest Construction Update: passage around B3 (Dean/Sixth) site to be constricted, as sidewalk closes for walkway

According to the latest two-week Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Construction Update (bottom), issued yesterday at 4:39 pm (one business day late) for the two weeks beginning March 28, the passage around the B3 construction site at Dean Street and Sixth Avenue is expected to be constricted as the construction fence is extended.

According to the document, the MPT (Maintenance and Protection of Traffic) "may be bumped out according to approved site safety plans during this reporting period. The Dean Street sidewalk in front of the MPT will be closed and a pedestrian walkway will be maintained." No diagrams were provided.

Also, at the Vanderbilt Yard, "Installation of 24” diameter caisson piles for foundations will resume during this reporting period." While not described as such, this could be noisy.

Saturday work may continue at B2 (461 Dean Street, modular), B3, B11 (550 Vanderbilt Avenue), B12 (615 Dean Street). Night and weekend work is expected at the Vanderbilt Yard, as described below.

Other new work is described below, verbatim.

B3 - 38 Sixth Avenue
• Preparation of hoist installation will begin during this reporting period.

LIRR Yard Activities - Block 1120 & 1121
• Delivery and installation of the LIRR Employee Building are expected to be completed during April 2016. Delivery of the building sections is expected to take place during overnight hours during the week of April 4, 2016 with setting of the sections taking place during the day. Vehicles will access the site at Pacific and Vanderbilt and will be stored overnight in the Pacific Street staging area. Installation of the substation equipment may require overnight, extended weekday work hours, and/or weekend hours to complete.
• Building and platform foundations and foundation pile installation will resume during this reporting period.

Night and weekend work is expected at the Vanderbilt Yard:
• Weekend Electrical Utility work (conduit and conduit support installation) is being performed inside the LIRR Tunnel and will continue during this reporting period.
• Weekend Yard and West Portal work that requires coordination with LIRR operations may be performed during the reporting period. Work is expected to include excavation, foundation forming/rebar work for the employee facility crash wall and West Portal steel erection.

B14- 535 Carlton Avenue
• Installation of hydronic piping for boilers.
• Installation of waterproofing and flashing.

B15 (6th Ave and Pacific Street)
• A two-story garage remains on site and is expected to be demolished, upon receipt of all necessary approvals.

Community Update Meeting shifted to April 13 at 6 pm

A message from Empire State Development:
In consideration of the Presidential Primary Election “Primary Day”, we are rescheduling the April 19th Atlantic Yards aka Pacific Park Brooklyn Community Update Meeting. The meeting will now be held on Wednesday, April 13th.
@ 6:00 PM
Shirley Chisholm State Office Building
55 Hanson Place, 1st Floor Conference Room
Brooklyn NY 11217
Remember, this used to be the Quality of Life Committee. Then it became a Community Update Meeting. Or, perhaps, as shown in the announcement below, the Quality of Life Community Update Meeting.


Monday, March 28, 2016

Catching up: appeal failed in lawsuit challenging DOB's approval of modular construction

This is way late, but worth noting for the record. Remember that appeal last year by two trade organizations challenging the New York City Department of Buildings' approval of modular construction for Forest City Ratner's modular building, B2, or 461 Dean Street?

As I wrote 5/1/15, the Appellate Division, First Department seemed only moderately engaged with the challenge to the DOB's conclusion that modular construction could proceed in a factory using cross-trained workers without the presence of licensed plumbers and fire suppression contractors. Indeed, the lower court's somewhat questionable unwritten ruling was quickly upheld, and no appeal was filed.

That building, with half market-rate rentals and half subsidized rentals, should open later this year, with a lottery for the affordable units expected very soon.

Questions linger regarding the integrity of the building, according to legal papers from Forest City's former partner Skanska, as well as a state monitor's reports of leaks and mold. But those questions focus on issues of construction methods/implementation, not plumbing or fire suppression issues.

The official statements

According to a 2/23/16 Forest City Realty Trust 10-K filing:
In 2013, two trade organizations representing New York City-licensed plumbers and mechanical contractors sued the City of New York, challenging a determination by its Department of Buildings (“DOB”) that certain piping work performed in a modular factory need not be performed by licensed plumbers or mechanical contractors if such work was monitored by a licensed professional engineer and otherwise complied with the technical requirements of the New York City Building and Construction Codes. Piping work at our modular factory is being performed by non-licensees monitored by a licensed professional engineer in accordance with DOB’s determination. We intervened in the proceeding, and in December 2013 the Court dismissed the suit. However, these trade organizations appealed the Court’s determination. By decision and order entered May 21, 2015, the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department, affirmed the court below. Petitioners did not appeal this decision, and the time has passed for them to do so. It also remains possible that other construction industry organizations could bring similar suits challenging the DOB-authorized fabrication methodology used in our factory.
Here's the 5/21/15 decision in Matter of Mechanical Contrs. Assn. of N.Y. v New York City Dept. of Bldgs:
Order, Supreme Court, New York County (Eileen A. Rakower, J.), entered December 20, 2013, which denied the petition seeking to annul respondent agency's April 9, 2013 determination that the Administrative Code of the City of New York's requirements that certain plumbing and fire suppression work be performed only by, or under the direct and continuing supervision of, a licensed master plumber and licensed master fire suppression piping contractor, respectively, do not apply to off-site, factory-based assembly of modular construction units, unanimously affirmed, without costs.

The Department of Building's determination that "modular . . . assembly performed at a location other than the jobsite is not plumbing or fire suppression work as . . . defined in the Administrative Code and that those terms do not apply to work done offsite prior to its incorporation into a building or jobsite," is rationally based, is not arbitrary and capricious, and is entitled to deference (see Matter of Feigenbaum v Silva, 274 AD2d 132, 136-137 [1st Dept 2000];see also Matter of Excellus Health Plan v Serio, 2 NY3d 166, 171 [2004]; Kurcsics v Merchants Mut. Ins. Co., 49 NY2d 451, 459 [1980]). A modular construction unit is not of the same kind or class as the non-inclusive list of examples of a "structure" provided for in New York City Construction Code (Administrative Code of City of NY) § 28-101.5 (see e.g. 242-44 E. 77th St., LLC v Greater N.Y. Mut. Ins. Co., 31 AD3d 100, 103-104 [1st Dept 2006]). Concur—Tom, J.P., Friedman, DeGrasse, Richter and Kapnick, JJ.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

As Long Island Nets unveil plans, concern about Coliseum delays prompts local pushback

So the Brooklyn Nets' new D-League team, the Long Island Nets, this week unveiled their new logo and uniforms for the coming season, which will be played at the Barclays Center--likely twinned with NBA games--before moving to the revamped Nassau Coliseum.

(The read, white, and blue evokes the old Long Island-based New York Nets.)

But the news sneaking out is that the Coliseum will not be ready by the end of 2016, as originally predicted, and will reopen in 2017.

That first came up in a 1/5/16 Newsday article, which reported that Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, who backed the Forest City Ratner-led Nassau Events Center effort to revamp the Coliseum, acknowledged the project would open in the “first quarter of 2017," though luck might bring it sooner.

As Newsday reported, a scheduled 12/10/16 Kentucky basketball game versus Long Island's Hofstra University would have to switch to the Barclays Center if the Coliseum isn't ready. The Nassau Events Center is now owned 85% by Mikhail Prokhorov's Onexim.

But upon the Long Island Nets announcement, Newsday reported 3/24/16, Nassau Coliseum will be ready for Long Island Nets in 2017, Brett Yormark says, without mention that the arena is supposed to open this year. Of course it will be ready in fall 2017.

Concern about Coliseum delays

Newsday did report some concern:
Yormark was adamant that significant progress has been made on the building, though there has been recent speculation that the project was not moving along as expected. This week, the Association for a Better Long Island called on Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano to rescind the lease on the building, which belongs to Forest City Ratner, saying that the renovations had stalled.
Mangano yesterday tweeted a picture of a stripped Coliseum and said that more than 1,000 pounds of debris had been removed. He said he will not rescind the lease.
The Association for a Better Long Island made its announcement on Facebook:
The ABLI is calling on Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano to rescind the lease on the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum currently held by a Russian oligarch and allow the Long Island development community to resubmit their respective visions for the future of the Coliseum.
ABLI Executive Director Desmond Ryan stated, “It is time the County Executive publicly acknowledges what is privately recognized by business leaders and real estate executives throughout the region: That the Ratner coliseum plan is moribund. Bruce Ratner is no longer engaged and the Russian holder of the lease clearly has no desire to move forward as his own finances may reflect the unsteady economic conditions of his native country.
“It is not an admission of failure to pull the lease back. Such an affirmative action would serve notice that the Mangano administration will not allow this incredibly important parcel to be marginalized and controlled by those who do not have the best interest of the county, the taxpayer or our economy as their first or even second priority,” continued Ryan.
Note that ABLI past president/board member Ed Blumenfeld, a short-term partner with Forest City Ratner on the redevelopment of the Nassau Coliseum environs, is now an antagonist in a bitter lawsuit.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

A new Atlantic Yards CDC board member (and the departure of a CBA partner)

This is among multiple articles covering issues raised at the March 15 Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC) meeting.

Several board members were absent from the 3/15/16 meeting of the AY CDC, the first meeting in five months, but it was a bit surprising to see a new face on the board.

Without any public announcement or explanation, attorney Daniel Kummer, former chairperson (and current member) of Brooklyn Community Board 6 appeared as a board member. Given the lack of public announcement, I'm assuming the other board members were informed ahead of time. Still, it was confusing to onlookers in the know.

After I inquired, I learned that Kummer was appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to replace board member Sharon Daughtry, who, after attending the first of five board meetings last year, missed the next four.

Two days ago, I followed up by asking why Daughtry left, but haven't heard back yet, but it seems clear it didn't fit her schedule and/or wasn't a priority. The governor appoints nine of 14 board members, and most are governmental employees.

Daughtry runs the Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance (DBNA), which has long been funded by original project developer Forest City Ratner, and manages an arena tickets giveaway to nonprofit organization and participates in a developer/arena-funded foundation that supports local nonprofits.

Daughtry, daughter of DBNA chair Rev. Herbert Daughtry, was one of two board members who also represented Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) partners of Forest City. That struck me and others as a glaring conflict of interest (but apparently is not).

The other CBA partner is Bertha Lewis, formerly of ACORN and now head of the Black Institute. At AY CDC meetings, she's asked a few questions that might challenge the state/developer, though she has not raised criticisms of the not-always-affordable "affordable housing," which was the subject of ACORN's participation in the CBA.

The original press release, 2/6/15

Below is the original press release for the AY CDC, which I didn't see last year (and, obviously, was not sent to me). Board members are supposed to serve three-year terms.

Note that Kenneth Adams has departed, as he no longer heads Empire State Development, and has been replaced by Buffalo resident Howard Zemsky, for whom the AY CDC rules had to be changed to allow a non-NYC resident.

Interestingly enough, beyond the name Atlantic Yards Community Development, which was established in June 2014 before the project's name was changed by new owner Greenland Forest City Partners, the press release makes reference to "Atlantic Yards" rather than "Pacific Park."

EMPIRE STATE DEVELOPMENT ANNOUNCES BOARD OF DIRECTORS FOR ATLANTIC YARDS COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION
AYCDC Board Members Will Provide Input On Development, Housing, And Community Impact, As Well As Enhance Oversight And Monitoring Throughout Completion Of The Atlantic Yards Project

Empire State Development (ESD) today announced the Board of Directors (Board) for the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AYCDC) to provide input on development, housing, and community impact, as well as enhance oversight and monitoring, throughout the completion of the Atlantic Yards project. A new subsidiary of ESD, the AYCDC was created in conjunction with a comprehensive plan to accelerate the development of Atlantic Yards and fast track the timeline for the project’s delivery of affordable housing. The plan shortened the completion timeframe to build 2,250 affordable apartments by ten years from 2035 to 2025. The first meeting of the AYCDC Board Members occurred Friday, February 6.
The Board, which will govern the AYCDC and be responsible for the delivery of public commitments related to the project by making policy recommendations to ESD, will consist of fourteen total Members, nine of whom are appointed by the Governor, and five of whom are appointed respectively by the President Pro Tem of the New York State Senate, Speaker of the New York State Assembly, Mayor of New York City, Borough President of Brooklyn, and Speaker of the New York City Council. The fourteenth Board Member is expected to be announced in the coming weeks.
“The Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation will enable local elected officials and community members to provide key input throughout the duration of this project,” said Kenneth Adams, President, CEO & Commissioner of ESD and Chair of the AYCDC Board of Directors. “I look forward to the good work of the Board of Directors and to the meaningful and continued engagement of the community.”
All AYCDC Board Members are appointed to serve three year terms and must reside in New York City. The list of AYCDC Board Members and their biographies follow below.

Board Members Appointed by the Governor
Kenneth Adams (Chair) is President, CEO & Commissioner of ESD. Mr. Adams came to ESD from The Business Council of New York State, the State’s leading business association, where he served as President and CEO from 2006 to 2011. Prior to leading the Business Council, Mr. Adams was President of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and Director of the MetroTech Business Improvement District. He was the founding Executive Director of New York Cares.
Julene Beckford is Associate Counsel at Empire State Development. Previously, she served as Counsel for the Law Office of Gary M. Reign, Esq. Prior to serving as Counsel for the Law Office of Gary M. Reign, Esq., she served as Pro Bono Law Clerk for the New York State Bar Association.
Joe Chan is the Executive Vice President for Real Estate Development at Empire State Development. Previously, he was President of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. Prior to serving as President of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, he was Senior Advisor to the New York City Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Rebuilding.
Rachel Gold is the Deputy Commissioner for Legislation, Policy, and Federal Affairs and Special Counsel at New York State Department of Labor. Previously, she was Assistant Attorney General for the New York State Attorney General. Prior to serving as Assistant Attorney General, she was an Account Executive for Yoswein New York.
Elizabeth Harris is the Assistant Secretary for Agriculture and Markets to the Governor. Previously, she was Director of Heart of Brooklyn. Prior to serving as Director of Heart of Brooklyn, she was Executive Vice President for UNC Partners, Inc.
Shawn Austin is the Chief Marketing Officer for Liberty Mutual’s Accident and Health group. Previously, he was Global Head for Group and Specialty, Accident and Health, at American International Group (AIG). Prior to serving as Global Head for Group and Specialty, Accident and Health, he was Senior Vice President for AIG @Work.
Sharon Daughtry is the Executive Director of the Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance. Previously, she was Executive Director of Sister-to-Sister. Prior to serving as Executive Director of Sister-to-Sister, she was Associate Director of Jacob Riis Neighborhood Settlement Community Center.
Tamara McCaw is the Director of Government and Community Affairs at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). Previously, she was Community Affairs and Audience Development Manager at BAM. Prior to serving as Community Affairs and Audience Development Manager, she was Audience Development Manager at BAM.

Board Member Appointed by the President Pro Tem of the New York State Senate
The Reverend Monsignor Kieran E. Harrington is Vicar for Communications at the Diocese of Brooklyn. He also is President and Chairman of DeSales Media Group and serves as Rector of the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Prospect Heights.

Board Member Appointed by the Speaker of the New York State Assembly
Linda Reardon is Vice President of the RBA Group. She began her career at the New York City Department of Transportation.

Board Member Appointed by the Mayor of New York City
Jaime Stein is a Visiting Professor of Urban Environmental Systems Management at Pratt University. Previously, she was an Environmental Policy Analyst for Sustainable South Bronx. Prior to serving as an Environmental Policy Analyst, she was the Coordinator of Environmental Education and Policy for the New York City Soil & Water Conservation District.

Board Member Appointed by the Borough President of Brooklyn
Bertha Lewis is the Founder and President of The Black Institute. Previously, she was Chief Executive Officer and Chief Organizer of ACORN. Prior to serving as the CEO of ACORN, she was the Executive Director of affiliate for ACORN.

Board Member Appointed by the Speaker of the New York City Council
Barika X. Williams is the Policy Director for Association for Neighborhood Housing and Development. Previously, she was Project Associate for NYU’s Metropolitan Center for Urban Education. Prior to serving as Project Associate, she was Research Associate at the Urban Institute.
In addition to the Board Members, ESD today announced that Marion Phillips, III, will serve as President of the AYCDC. Tobi Jaiyesimi will serve as Director of the AYCDC.

From Brooklyn Magazine: "The Rise and Fall of Smith Street" (and the FU money)

In Brooklyn Magazine's 3/22/16 The Rise and Fall of Smith Street, food writer Sarah Zorn addresses a glaring, if likely temporary, situation: Smith Street, once an inexpensive thoroughfare where chefs and indie businesspeople could stake a claim, has become so trendy and corporate that landlords are warehousing space and waiting for big spenders.

“It was a work site, one that neither the city nor the residents seemed in any hurry to fix,” trailblazing restaurateur Alan Harding recalled. “There was literally a big trench down the middle, hastily covered over by metal plates. There was a lot of scaffolding, and of the few retail businesses, many were fronted by full-on bulletproof glass. Because of a lack of interest, the remainder of the ground floor storefronts had been converted into apartments. Seriously, if you peeked behind the privacy plywood that had been put up on the windows, you could see hot plates and shower stalls.”

But Betty Stoltz of the South Brooklyn Development Corp. got landlords to make sure those apartments became stores, and the revival began. Since 2012, when Dassara movied in, owner Josh Kaplan, older businesses saw their long-term leases expire and rent has gone up: "Now there are national designer clothing brands with loss-leader spaces paying rents a small business like ours could never consider. An area code suddenly gains cachet and the ‘fuck you’ money comes in and the ecosystem gets totally thrown out of whack. The idea of establishing a sustainable business becomes beside the point.”

Beyond landlords warehousing space, the opening of Trader Joe’s and some other retailers have drawn traffic to parallel Court Street, once considered musty compared to Smith Street.

The entire article is well worth a read. Here's one trenchant comment:
The rot had already begun to set in when I first moved to the neighborhood ten years ago, a victim of its own popularity. It has been a very slow crawl to the death knell. I think this skirts the real issue: the changing demographics of the neighborhood. As more and more of the UES white collar class discovered they could buy a whole brownstone in hip, cool, trendy Brooklyn for the same price as a house and school taxes in Scarsdale, the retail sector began to chase this new money. In the end, Starbucks and Lucky Jeans will be all that is left standing precisely because that is what these people want – the familiarity, comfort and safety of the chain store and cookie cutter New York experience.
And here's some contrast:
As a happy oldster who remembers 1980s Smith Street, when it was crack vials, knifepoint robberies, and a few dying neighborhood social clubs, I just have to say that it was NEVER a high-value neighborhood real estate-wise. This article is correct that the kind of buildings and density just isn’t built in there. Sometimes you can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, even if your name IS Thor.
There was a sweet spot, however, when the street was safe and affordable.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The need for real-time response: work at Dean/Sixth poses hazards, and "No accountability looks like this"

This is among multiple articles covering issues raised at the March 15 Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC) meeting.

One knotty issue raised at the 3/15/16 meeting of the Atlantic Yards Development Corporation (AY CDC) was the need for timely reporting about construction impacts, given the six-month lag in producing overall assessments of the recent quarter's incident reports. (There's even less assessment of arena operational impacts.)

But the need for real time assessment/feedback remains. Consider the Instagram posts below, from two days ago, from Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park neighbor Peter Krashes.

They suggest "one of the worst cluster fks on Dean between Flatbush and 6th that I've seen in a long while," he reported, as a closed pedestrian passage, illegal parking, and tree trimming combined to pose hazards to pedestrians. Then contractors installing an electrical system closed the street, with no apparent coordination between projects.

There was no signage to alert pedestrians, no announcement at bus stops, and no clear alert to neighbors (though the latest Construction Update warn of unspecified temporary closures of the sidewalk).

"No accountability looks like this," he wrote, adding that various official representatives were present. "There were plenty of people you would think would know to immediately correct the situation on the ground: ESD [Empire State Development], STV [a state consultant], and Sam Schwartz [the developer's contractor]. Plus the contractors. Who is in charge? Who has the protocols to fix problems in a timely way."

Those are reasonable questions. I asked ESD yesterday for any comment, but haven't heard back yet. I'll update if I get one. But it again raises the importance of real-time reaction in the field, as well as a willingness to address concerns publicly in real time.

A photo posted by @pplegacy on

















Thursday, March 24, 2016

Michael West at AY CDC: "Forest City Ratner cannot act as an exploiter of our communities"

From Devotion NYC
This is among multiple articles covering issues raised at the March 15 Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC) meeting.

It came near the end of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation meeting, and generated only mild follow-up. But in the board's one year existence, the few community members willing to comment at a daytime meeting have mainly addressed community impacts.

This time, Michael West of the fledgling organization Devotion NYC, came to excoriate Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park developer Forest City Ratner (now part of Greenland Forest City partners) for exploiting Central Brooklyn communities that once supported the project's Community Benefits Agreement (CBA).

It's not the first expression of disillusionment by a former supporter, or even the loudest, but it may be the most sustained (though perhaps tamped down if Forest City responds with more information and funds for CBA implementation, though I wouldn't bet on it, given the failure to produce promised data or hired the Independent Compliance Monitor who was supposed to start a decade ago). West has already begun attending community board meetings.

(Previous examples of disillusionment include a 2011 protest led by Martin Allen of P.P.E.E., harsh words in 2012 from former stirring speaker Umar Jordan, and a 2011 lawsuit from former trainees promised union construction careers via a CBA pre-apprenticeship training program, which was quietly settled last year.)

Addressing the board

West, who at this meeting did not mention that he used to be an officer in Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development (BUILD), the now-defunct CBA signatory that started the failed pre-apprenticeship training program well after he left, began his comments at about 1:37:46 of the video below.

"I'm with Devotion NYC," said West. "We're an economic advocacy and education organization focused on  low and moderate income communities. We have three basic premises: that low- and moderate-income  members need to develop their economics by buying and selling to each other... Corporations that use the the tax resources... should reinvest in those communities by providing business opportunities and employment opportunities. Finally that political representatives need to focus on that... or communities need to hold them accountable to economic development, using those two methods."

While Devotion NYC has focused on Atlantic Yards, its blog also cites an effort to hold Goldman Sachs accountable for community reinvestment activities.

"I wanted to talk about Atlantic Yards Community Benefits from a business point of view," he continued. "In the Community Benefits Agreement, there were several promises made to our community for our support, we gave Forest City Ratner a lot of support, we came out and rallied for them. We came out and held countless community meetings for them. We gave them $1.5 billion of our taxes." (As I wrote, that total is uncertain, but subsidies and tax breaks are hundreds of millions.)



"We were in turn were promised 35% of construction jobs for people of color and 10% of those construction jobs for women," he said. There's been no credible reporting on the figures, given the lack of government monitoring and the failure to hire the compliance monitor.

West also cited 50% "of condos" (actually, rental housing) and, referring to discussion of the meeting of 35% of the housing units, said he didn't know where that came from.

Actually, once Forest City swapped office space for condos--or maybe not--the overall affordable housing percentage went down to about 35%, but the 35% reference at the meeting regarded the percentage of affordable housing during a certain construction period.

"Job training and apprenticeship programs for community members," West continued. "30% of construction and 20% of the service contracts after construction would go to minorities and women contractors." (Note that even formal compliance can mean the hiring of long-successful mainstream firms that have nothing to do with the Central Brooklyn-based organizations that signed the CBA.)

"We were promised, in the CBA," he added. "15% of retail space for minority and women-owned businesses. as well as low-interest loans and other kinds of promises." (Of course, retail space is yet to come.)

Getting critical

"That when Forest City Ratner reneges on that contract, they're hurting our communities economically," said West, in a statement that pointed to the difficulty, in CBAs, of defining the boundaries of community. "They're hurting us by preventing us from developing our businesses, preventing us from developing our own jobs. And that, when a company comes into our community, like Forest City Ratner, and made the contract that they made, they're supposed to fulfill the contract, and they haven't fulfilled that contract."

"We're asking our governor to intervene," he said, which had a layer of irony given that he was addressing a board dominated by gubernatorial appointees, and which is a subsidiary of a gubernatorially-appointed authority, Empire State Development (ESD).

As ESD's Marion Phillips III told him his time was up, West revved up: "That's what we are about, economic justice. Forest City Ratner cannot act as an exploiter of our communities, or as a parasite corporation."

Board oversight?

Though ESD Chair Howard Zemsky, a Buffalo resident, then said he had to leave, the meeting wasn't quite finished. Board member Barika Williams, an affordable housing advocate, noted the need for responses from Forest City--actually Greenland Forest City--not only regarding the phasing of the affordable housing units, but also "where they are" regarding CBA commitments.

Phillips, ESD's Senior VP for Community Relations, demurred regarding the latter issue. "The CBA is very unique, in the sense that the state and this body is not party to that," he said. Indeed, in 2014, responding to comments (in the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, or SEIS) regarding failure to hire the Independent Compliance Monitor, ESD said, "ESD is not a party to the CBA. The SEIS will not examine commitments that the project sponsors have made in the CBA.

"I have been meeting with Forest City to make sure they work with the CBA group," Phillips said, referring to the extant organizations that signed the CBA, not groups like Devotion NYC. "We can have them come to discuss that at a later date."

A bit later in the meeting, at 1:46:45, Williams noted plans by Greenland Forest City to move 1.1 million square feet of development rights from the tower slated at the arena plaza to Site 5 across the street, creating a giant mixed-use tower with office space.

"They're talking about these changes in commercial and jobs, and there's already being questions raised about the current commitment around commercial and jobs--I think those things are linked," Williams said. "So I think we do need an update on where they have been on their CBA economic development commitments to be able to then evaluate that next chunk of commercial and job piece that they're potentially proposed."

She didn't get a response.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Architect presents B3 tower, another high-rise aiming to blend into local fabric

This is among multiple articles covering issues raised at the March 15 Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC) meeting.

So, what will the B3 tower, aka 38 Sixth Avenue, look like? (Remember, Freddy's Bar & Backroom was once at that corner of Dean Street and Sixth Avenue.)

Though the 23-story, 219-foot, 303-unit building at the southeast corner of the arena block launched months ago, developer Greenland Forest City Partners had not--unlike with all other buildings under construction--shown the public a presentation.

That changed at the 3/15/16 Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC) meeting, where Taek Kim of SHoP Architects (who by the way worked 2006-11 for Gehry Partners) described the building, in a presentation reproduced at bottom (and originally here).

It has 100% affordable housing, though not so affordable, given that 65% of the units are for middle-income households earning six figures. And it also has an oft-promoted (though not so much by the architect) promised health care center.

The main takeaway is that they're using materials and "articulation" to try to break down the scale of a building far larger than the four-story buildings across the street. It's not so easy to tell from the renderings that minimize the building's scale.



Kim spoke for about 11 minutes beginning at 1:14:40 in the video, following up a presentation by KPF architect Josh Chaiken about the B12 tower on the southeast block of the site.

Perhaps because it was late in a late-starting meeting, and that issues of project impacts and a new office tower occupied the board and commenters, but no one had any questions for either architect.

The big picture


Kim noted a contrasting context from B12, since "we don't have a park to back against." As with other buildings, Kim said, the architects aim to break down the scale of these building.

"We have a sense of responsibility to break it down so it's actually blending better into the underlying city fabric of Brooklyn," said Kim, suggesting that the building takes some cues from the architecture nearby.

Another tactic is to articulate the massing with overhangs, setbacks, and different textures/colors, so there's not one wall.


Kim suggested B3 is something of a fraternal twin with the modular B2, also designed by SHoP, but instead of that building's reliance on metal frames this is built with more traditional reinforced concrete.

Not just housing

As with B2, there will be retail at the base, one with 2,000 square feet, another with 6,000 square feet, and the ground floor entrance on Sixth Avenue for a "nonemergency health care facility," which will rise several stories in the back of the building.




Though the building backs into the Barclays Center, "we manage to have windows and fenestration all throughout," Kim said. On the 16th floor, a tenant lounge connects to the exterior terrace.

As noted in the slide above, that terrace overlooks Dean Street and points to the lower-rise zones of Prospect Heights and then Park Slope. Would that qualify as "lording over it"?

As with other buildings, the materials used aim to evoke the borough's industrial past, as well as working with local designers to celebrate raw materials. (Unmentioned: reclaimed industrial buildings converted--or waiting for conversion--to housing were demolished for the project.)

The interior of the apartment is "very light in tone," Kim said, with "about 40% glazed living spaces... We've carefully chosen material that sort of has an industrial aesthetic."

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The new (bogus) buzzword: revised plan for office towers would "activate" Atlantic Avenue corridor

This is among multiple articles covering issues raised at the March 15 Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC) meeting.

"Activate the Atlantic Avenue corridor."

That's one confounding justification by Greenland Forest City Partners for its brazen, highly questionable plan to shift 1.1 million square feet of bulk from the tower planned for the arena plaza across the street to Site 5, creating what I've dubbed the "Brooklyn Behemoth," with 1.6 million square feet--and then turn B4, the large tower planned at the northeast corner of the arena block, from residential to office uses.


The jargon-y claim--as if somehow office workers from one building would cross broad Flatbush Avenue to commune with the other building--strikes me as a fig leaf to get a plan passed that exceeds previously disclosed ambitions.

The rationale begins

Speaking at the 3/15/16 meeting of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation, Forest City spokeswoman Ashley Cotton began by saying that overall square footage, residential units, and affordable housing requirements for the project stayed the same.

(Unmentioned: they now seek to pack the entire square footage into 15 rather than 16 towers, and seemingly aim for a larger combination of office units and apartments than previously permitted, which implies less space for the same number of housing units.)

The proposal, Cotton said, would require "extensive public review," including modifications to the General Project Plan (GPP), a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, and public hearings, before going to the board of Empire State Development (ESD), the state authority that oversees/shepherds the project.

Unmentioned: the gubernatorially-controlled ESD board is essentially a rubber stamp.

Site 5 in foreground; B4 site is at northeast end of arena block, wall past plaza and arena entrances
Two of three goals (and unmentioned savings)

"By making this change, we think we can accomplish three things," Cotton said (at about 42 minutes of the video at bottom). The first two: delivering jobs and keeping the plaza as permanent open space.

Unmentioned: that saves them the complicated and costly exercise of trying to build around an operating arena, and saves arena operator Mikhail Prokhorov the headache of surrounding construction.

I wouldn't be surprised if, as part of the deal to sell the arena operating company to Prokhorov, Forest City pledged not to build B1. Also, it's not clear that they would build all the office space--they need an anchor tenant, or perhaps subsidies--though "jobs" offers good rhetoric.

A previous (and tentative) timetable for the plan

Third goal: "activate" the corridor

"And three, we think we can activate the Atlantic Avenue corridor," Cotton said.

How? She then elaborated on plans for commercial use at B4, which is currently permitted to be a residential tower, with retail at the base. Previously, the B2 tower was permitted for commercial use, but is being finished as a modular residential tower.

"So now we want to examine the potential of commercial use along Atlantic Avenue, instead of Flatbush Avenue, where B2 is located," she said. "Put another way, we want to shift the focus of the permitted commercial uses under the GPP from Flatbush to Atlantic."

"The concept is that B4 and Site 5 are developed as substantial commercial projects that will act as bookends on the Atlantic Avenue corridor," she said, "generating jobs, substantial foot traffic, and activity at this critical location."

Drilling down

What the heck does "activate"--a piece of planners' jargon--really mean? What's the "Atlantic Avenue corridor? And who benefits?

"Activate" apparently means getting foot traffic along Atlantic Avenue between Sixth Avenue, the eastern edge of the B4 site, and Site 5, which sits between Flatbush and Fourth avenues along Atlantic.

But why? There's no natural connection between B4 and Site 5, not with the long walk to cross Flatbush. They could generate "activity" and "jobs" if they built the tower on the arena plaza as approved; they just don't want to absorb the costs.

And they could "activate" the Atlantic Avenue corridor by building the residential tower already approved. It might not bring the same lunch crowd, but it would bring more activity over a longer period of the day.

Street use patterns

Would office workers in Site 5 have any reason to cross Flatbush to go to Atlantic and Sixth? I doubt it.

If Site 5 has retail that evokes the Time Warner Center, as hinted, workers will go downstairs. They'd have options west along Atlantic Avenue and south along Fifth Avenue--and even southeast along Flatbush Avenue--before crossing over to the arena plaza and then B4.

A previous plan for the project; the developers now seek to axe the tower over the arena plaza and make the B4 tower
commercial, but B4 workers would likely visit malls across the street before going to Site 5 (far west)
What about workers at B4? Yes, some might want to visit Site 5. But surely they'd first visit retail outlets in the base of their building, or across the street in the Forest City Ratner-built (and still majority-owned) Atlantic Center and Atlantic Terminal malls. Maybe the catercorner Tony Roma's, in Atlantic Terrace. Maybe they'd walk down Sixth Avenue to Flatbush.

What about commuting patterns? Site 5 workers taking the subway or Long Island Rail Road would have no need to walk along Atlantic.

B4 workers arriving by subway would mainly exit from the arena plaza. Those taking the Long Island Rail Road would traverse the north side of Atlantic Avenue from the Atlantic Terminal mall.

Changing the game

We should be used to hearing changing justifications. Remember, all four towers around the arena, when the project was announced in 2003, were supposed to be commercial space, to serve as a buffer. Then the office market tanked, and they swapped most office space for condos.

Then the focus was supposed to be on the gateway at Atlantic and Flatbush.

Consider: in the 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement (Chapter 3, Land Use), the ESD suggested that the "commercial office and residential uses in Building 1 and on Site 5 would be located along Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues, where they would act as an extension of the Downtown Brooklyn central business district and be similar to higher-density uses north of Atlantic Avenue."

Now they're aiming further down Atlantic to the B4 tower.

And now we're supposed to forget the stress on B1, in both the 2006 and 2009 General Project Plans:
The development of both Site 5 and Building 1, with high density buildings, is central to the goal of the Project in order to transform this very public and prominent area by creating architecturally significant buildings that would surround and connect to the Transportation Hub and by developing uses that would activate and create a vibrant streetscape experience for the public.
Packing more in?

From 2006 GPP
As noted in the excerpt at right from the 2006 General Project Plan (GPP), the residential variation of the project--the plan under which it has proceeded--would have 6,430 apartments and 336,000 square feet of office space.

The commercial variation of the project would have 5,325 apartments (including the same 2,250 affordable units) and 1.6 million square feet of office space.

The thing to watch for now is whether they will try to build (close to) 1.6 million square feet of office space and 6,430 apartments--or, at least, more than 5,325.

That would be squeezing more than what was originally approved--and in one fewer building.

How much activation?

It's unclear sure how much "activation" Atlantic Avenue outside the arena can take.

But an office crowd, if not a residential crowd, could help revive retail along the northern edge of the arena, so could "activate Atlantic Avenue" be a gesture to Prokhorov? Once metroPCS and the Elbow Room had public-facing retail space, but not any more.

As I wrote in May 2013, the Department of City Planning once urged a “b-market” along Atlantic outside the arena, a narrow strip of retail to accommodate smaller shops and enhance foot traffic. That frustrated original arena architect Frank Gehry--"the idea of creating storefronts on Atlantic Avenue–there’s not much depth to deal with,” he said--and it never materialized.

There doesn't seem room for such a b-market. But maybe they hope to use the arena parking lane for food trucks during the day.

If that's their plan to "activate Atlantic Avenue," they should say so.

Otherwise, it's a distraction to ease approval of a plan to stuff the project into a smaller number of buildings, and to create a giant building on a too-small site.

Update: a comment from some local stakeholders:



Monday, March 21, 2016

Out of sync: while state's environmental consultant provides reports after six months, residents seek response to daily impacts

This is among multiple articles covering issues raised at the March 15 Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC) meeting.

How mitigate the impacts from construction at the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park site? There was a huge divide evident at the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation meeting 3/15/16 between the formal exercise of oversight and real-time effectiveness, which leads to unresolved, dismaying reports like the one below.


As noted, the most recent Construction Alert does not indicate any after-hours work, though there is a catchall excuse, which says the "scope and nature of activities are subject to change based upon field conditions."

If so, there should be some way for residents to be informed in real time. Instead, as meeting attendees learned, it takes six months for reports from the state's consultant to be delivered to the AY CDC board, which lowers the chance the board can offer effective advice and oversight to Empire State Development (ESD), the state authority that oversees/shepherds the project.

Six months for quarterly reports

Marion Phillips III, an ESD executive and also president of the AY CDC, explained (see 4:23 of video below) that there were delays in delivering the three most recent 2015 quarterly reports by the state's environmental monitor, HDR, which were received by the board six months after the period overseen--in other words, they just got the Third Quarter 2015 reports.

Board member Jaime Stein, a Pratt Institute academic who's been the most persistent questioner on the AY CDC board, asked HDR's Jeff Martirano to explain the process.

While HDR tries to begin its review of the developers' (and contractors') compliance with mitigation requirements a month the quarter ends, Martirano said, it takes one to two months after the quarter to get the developer's report, which HDR must review, and then analyze. Then comes a cycle of consultation with ESD. But Phillips said they'd try to work faster.



Community complaints unanswered

Two residents, persistent monitors of construction and operational impacts (who post reports I often use), offered forceful comments at the end of the meeting, during the public comment period. The board members were understandably weary, since the meeting had started 30 minutes late, and dragged on because of two presentations from project architects, which drew no questions.

At this point, Buffalo-based ESD CEO Howard Zemsky, who chaired his first AY CDC meeting and (not surprisingly) seemed less aware of the project than his Brooklyn-based predecessor, Kenneth Adams, had left the session.

At 1:25 of the video, Phillips announced the comment period, aiming to move the meeting along. At 1:27, Newswalk resident Wayne Bailey expressed exasperation: "I just cannot believe that we're still talking about collecting data, when we have over eight years worth of data... What is the enforcement mechanism?"

He cited repeated violations, such as trucking companies that don't' use flaggers or park on the sidewalks. "I see the monitors out there, but where's the enforcement mechanism?... When they were demoing [the] B15 [site], there was massive amounts of dust, everyone was pluming, I videotaped it" But no one told them to stop.

Bailey added that, though community members had walked the site with representatives of the state and the city Department of Transportation, "we’ve never gotten one report back" on how to lower the impacts of traffic. "It’s never ending for us.. now they're working after hours on Saturdays and Sundays."

At 1:29 of the video, Dean Street resident Peter Krashes noted that the state's log of incident reports did not include all police reports, and omitted the various incident reports now being posted on Instagram, such as under the #bciza [Barclays Center Impact Zone Alliance] hashtag.

"It's time for the executives who work with ESD to enable the community to assist with the job that you guys do," Krashes said, offering help that may not be that welcome. "What's the protocol when something goes wrong," he asked. :If you're transparent in explaining what you're doing, we can help you improve the situation."

The bottom line

That didn't really get answered, though ESD executive Joe Chan, who chaired the meeting after Zemsky left, noted that it was important to discuss certain issues with the New York City Police Department and the city Department of Transportation, and NYPD wasn't there. (DOT's Leroy Branch was there, but ESD and AY CDC officials made no attempt to query him.)

While it's true that some issues are outside ESD's scope, most of what Bailey and Krashes brought up regarded the oversight by the ESD's own monitors. And, as the Instagram posts below show, the complaints continue.