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Showing posts from December, 2016

When the state doesn't hold developer accountable, community frustrations emerge at NYPD meeting

The scheduled Dec. 13 Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Quality of Life Community Update meeting, in which representatives of developer Greenland Forest City Partners and Empire State Development (the state authority overseeing/shepherding the project) answer questions, was postponed six weeks until Jan. 24.

So that meant, confoundingly, that the only times in the last six weeks the public could question a government representative about project impacts came at the end-of-month meetings of the New York Police Department's (NYPD) 78th Precinct Community Council, where a variety of precinct-related issues are typically addressed.

And cracking down on a project that has so little margin for error is surely not the NYPD priority.

On the morning of 11/28/16, as Dean Street resident Peter Krashes wrote on Atlantic Yards Watch, blocked crosswalks at Dean Street and Flatbush Avenue, caused by construction at both 461 Dean (part of Pacific Park) and 215 Flatbush (separate), caused pedestrians to …

The Site 5 shimmy: absent from original Atlantic Yards map, but clearly visible in 2003 Gehry models

I recently took a look at the 12/10/03 original public relations packet for Brooklyn Atlantic Yards, and I realize I missed something when I scanned the hard copy version that I had been given in early 2004: it didn't contain all the images released four months earlier.

Maybe that was by design, maybe not, but a contradiction was staring people in the face when the project was announced. Consider the site plan, which at that point was 21 acres, without Site 5--long home to Modell's and P.C. Richard, indicated with the pink arrow directly below--as part of the project. (Also note how there was virtually no entrance to the open space from the south; that has been adjusted.)


Looking at the images

Then consider these annotated images that were part of that original p.r. packet. A large development at Site 5 was clearly on the table, as architect Frank Gehry had already created a massing model. See arrow below.

Only at a May 2005 City Council hearing was the plan formally announced,…

Sunny Pacific Park? Remember, towers will cause extensive shadows (& state analysis was vague)

It was interesting to read last week's New York Times Upshot feature, Mapping the Shadows of New York City: Every Building, Every Block, which promised more than it delivered--yet still left some sobering observations.

The interactive map is based on slightly stale data. So "every building" does not include recently erected Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park towers or their shadows, much less the shadows long predicted on buildout. Rather, the project footprint comes off as a smudge, as shown in the screenshot at right.

But the article did send me back a decade to recall the estimates of the significant shadows that project buildings are predicted to cast.

Not only will those shadows darken the much-hyped "park," they will extend past the footprint. Remember, the architect of the ten-story Atlantic Terrace building just northeast of the arena block scrapped plans for solar panels, saying in 2007, "It’s just not an option for a building that will be in substantia…

A quiet Dec. 30-31 at the Barclays Center (because Kanye canceled tour)

Well there was this:
And then this:


In de Blasio's new campaign ad-like video, "affordable housing" sounds like an achievement

Update: as Daily News columnist Harry Siegel put it 1/1/17:"It’s not an ad. You can say it all day long. It’s not an ad.”
That was Mayor Bill de Blasio testily answering incredulous reporters’ questions about the, y’know, ad produced by City Hall with two Broadway stars literally singing his praises: “No matter what will be, we’ve got Billy d B.” The video was pushed out on his City Hall Twitter account days ahead of the city Campaign Finance Board’s ban on elected officials appearing in any taxpayer-funded — you guessed it! — “advertisement or commercial” during an election year.
Hey, what's going on here?

Well, as chronicled in multiple newspapers, Mayor Bill de Blasio's new communications team is getting the word out with videos that look ever so much like campaign ads, with Broadway stars volunteering on a new custom song hailing his successes.

Watchdogs are skeptical. But the mayor's office straightfacedly says they're not campaign-related.

In doing so, de Bla…

Navy Yard EB-5 loan is retired (which should mean first Atlantic Yards loan still pending)

A 12/22/16 press release, New York City Regional Center Announces Repayment of $60 million EB-5 Loan in its Brooklyn Navy Yard Phase I Offering:
The New York City Regional Center (“NYCRC”) is pleased to announce the repayment of its $60 million EB-5 loan used to assist the continued redevelopment of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, New York City’s largest industrial park. The borrower of the EB-5 capital was the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation. The $60 million investment and resulting job creation enabled 359 individuals (investors and family members) to receive permanent residency in the United States under the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program.

...The $60 million loan from the NYCRC provided much needed capital for the renovation of a 215,000 square foot industrial building in the Navy Yard. The building was previously used as a machine shop for the United States Navy during World War II but had sat vacant for decades. The project transformed the building, now named the Green Ma…

On reforming EB-5: raise the price tag or auction off visas; then put money into infrastructure

Y'know, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) is labeled right-wing and intolerant, and I don't defend their overall agenda. But analyst David North, one of the few people who looks critically and incisively at the EB-5 program, makes a lot more sense than the program's defenders, who keep claiming that cheap capital from immigrant investors actually creates jobs.

Writing 12/20/16, We Can Preserve the Flow of EB-5 Funds While Cutting the Number of Visas, North suggests some plausible reforms (though he'd prefer to kill the program).

First, he notes that, while the program involves 10,000 visas, investors bring their families, so this means some "4,000 new investments a year, bringing the annual total of EB-5 funds to about $2 billion."

His proposals, plus my comments: --raise the price for investors to $750,000. 
Industry advocates are ready for $800,000, so this isn't much.
--auction the visas, with a $1 million floor, and stopping the auction when $2…

Forest City, with partner, seeking $60M in EB-5 funds for Downtown Brooklyn office tower (model for Site 5?)

As Eliot Brown of the Wall Street Journal first pointed out, Forest City Ratner, in partnership with JEMB Realty on a planned office tower in Downtown Brooklyn, is seeking $60 million in below-cost loans from immigrant investors under the federal government's dubious EB-5 program, which trades visas for investors and their families in exchange for a $500,000 investment that purportedly creates ten jobs.

The tower, variously known as 420 Albee Square and One Willoughby Square, was initially planned by JEMB, which was nudged by the city to build office space, and which earlier this year brought in Forest City as a partner, with an unspecified percentage.

Presumably Forest City's experience with Brooklyn office space at MetroTech, as well as with EB-5, was a selling point.

Presuming this is successful, and the EB-5 program is renewed, surely Greenland Forest City Partners will go back to EB-5 investors for the planned--though not yet approved--two-tower complex at Site 5, slated …

So, 461 Dean has blue (?) to "help the high-rise blend in with surrounding buildings"?

Ok, now we know. According to Architectural Digest, 11/17/16, The World's Tallest Modular Skyscraper Welcomes Its First Residents, "Designed by SHoP Architects and located next to the Barclays Center, 461 Dean Street was built to blend into its historic Brooklyn neighborhood."

Oh really? Here's more explanation:
It just so happens that the firm behind the record-setting tower is the New York–based SHoP Architects, the same that designed the Barclays Center. This fact is significant, since cohesive aesthetics are increasingly important to many Brooklynites. To that end, SHoP used multiple exterior colors to help the high-rise blend in with surrounding buildings (red for historic brownstones and blue for the modern skyscrapers). Well, given that 461 Dean (aka B2) has black and silver panels, as well, I'm not sure that's fully thought-out (or, maybe, fully explained). Let's put it this way: nobody thinks 461 Dean blends in.

Even SHoP architects, in its desi…

Lipsky's afterlife: an exemption for ex-cons advising unions (and a question about rehabilitation)

Richard Lipsky, the former lobbyist convicted of bribery, got a break.

(Remember, Lipsky lobbied for Forest City Ratner, and paid bribes to corrupt state Senator Carl Kruger, another Atlantic Yards supporter, though none of the admitted crimes involved the project. Kruger was caught on tape having very chummy conversations with Forest City External Affairs VP Bruce Bender, who requested state money for Atlantic Yards but instead got it for a Prospect Park project.)

The New York Times told us 12/22/16, in Ex-Prisoners Get an Advocate From Their Own Ranks, that Lipsky, who's advocated for criminal justice reform since his guilty plea and brief three-month sentence, won the battle for an exemption from a law that bars those guilty of crimes including bribery, from advising unions until 13 years later.

Federal Judge Jed Rakoff, who gave Lipsky such a short sentence in light of publicly unexplained cooperation with prosecutors (see sentencing memo), agreed to the exemption, despite opp…

OK, now the Nets payroll is the league's lowest

A very interesting factoid about the Brooklyn Nets from Filip Bondy in the 12/22/16 Times:
Money and cap space are not the problems. The team’s owner, Mikhail D. Prokhorov, is a Russian oligarch, and its payroll, about $58.7 million, is the lowest in the league. By contrast, the Warriors’ is $107 million. The Nets’ next opponent, Cleveland, owns the league’s highest payroll at $131.3 million, well above the soft $94.1 million league cap and the $113.3 million luxury-tax limit. It was not so long ago when the Nets had the league's highest payroll and a crushing luxury tax.

Is 461 Dean a sign of "Brooklyn's Continued Ascent"?

From Bisnow, THE 10 BIGGEST NYC REAL ESTATE STORIES OF 2016:
9. Brooklyn's Continued Ascent
Every year feels like a milestone for a borough seeing unprecedented development and investment. This one had a lot. Forest City Ratner opened 461 Dean St, its modular tower in Pacific Park next to Barclays Center, after washing its hands of its nascent modular construction company.... Well, though "washing its hands" hints that things didn't go all that well with Forest City's claim to have "cracked the code" regarding high-rise modular construction, the building is hardly a milestone--unless "unprecedented" means "things went badly."

461 Dean took nearly twice as long as promised, experienced leaks and mold, lost money for its developer, and faces continuing litigation. The building has "opened" but by no means has moved a large fraction of residents in. The sticker price on at least one market-rate unit is below that on "affo…

Flashback May 2006: "A Super Design for a Great Project"

Remember that 5/15/06 Daily News editorial headline, "A Super Design for a Great Project", regarding Frank Gehry's newly-released renderings?

Those were the days, weren't they? (Remember, the project was supposed to be done in 2016! Gehry was supposed to design every building!)

That boost for Atlantic Yards (now Pacific Park). It sure was useful for developer Forest City Ratner (now Greenland Forest City Partners).

Barclays sued by DOJ for fraud in sale of mortgage-backed securities

Barclays PLC, whose subsidiary bought naming rights to the Barclays Center, has a history of sketchy behavior, including civil and criminal penalties that, as I argued, should have stripped the arena of the Barclays name.
Now there's more to stain the bank's name, a civil complaint that seems destined to lead to a major fine, if not necessarily the sum sought by federal authorities.

A 12/22/16 U.S. Department of Justice press release, United States Sues Barclays Bank to Recover Civil Penalties for Fraud in the Sale of Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities:
The United States Department of Justice today filed a civil complaint in the Eastern District of New York against Barclays Bank PLC and several of its United States affiliates (together, Barclays), alleging that Barclays engaged in a fraudulent scheme to sell residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) supported by defective and misrepresented mortgage loans. As alleged in the complaint, from 2005 to 2007, Barclays person…

Forest City's 80 DeKalb, advertising for tenants, also not immune to price pressure

The Forest City Ratner rental tower 80 DeKalb near Fort Greene Park, also known as DKLB BKLN, is-along with Pacific Park's 461 Dean, among others--seeking out tenants with ads in the Downtown Brooklyn area.

I took the photo at right on Adams Street near Fulton Street, near the Shake Shack.

Apparently this tower, which leased up fast when it opened in 2009 and was seen by the developer as testing the market for Atlantic Yards, is not immune to the glut of units in the area. (Forest City sold 49% of the building in 2011.)

To be sure, StreetEasy indicates that only 10 of the apartments (292 market-rate units, plus 73 low-income ones)are available, but a closer look suggests some price pressure.

Part of that may be the developer's own seeming strategy of raising asking rents in the summer, when more people move, and lowering them in the winter, when fewer seek to sign leases. But surely another part is the current competition.

Yesterday, I look at a few units.

One bedroom, 11-a

As…

Selling 461 Dean: a "brand-new 8-acre park" (which is unbuilt)

Just take a look at the screenshot below from the 461 Dean web site: a "brand-new 8-acre park."

Except it doesn't exist. As of early November, the best-case scenario for that "park"--actually, publicly accessible, privately managed open space--was 2025.

Since then, after unspecified project delays were announced, who knows? And the below-grade railyard, the purported major contributor to blight, remains uncovered ever longer.



Should affordable housing be aimed at the middle-class? What about a credit for poor renters? (Rich get most housing subsidie$)

Now that it's clear that so many Brooklynites are at risk of homelessness, it's worth reflecting on Do NYC’s Middle-Class Families Really Need Affordable Housing?, which City Limits asked 11/1/16:
With the de Blasio administration seeking to rezone neighborhoods across the city to promote the development of both market-rate and affordable housing, many local advocates have expressed concerns about a lack of units for families making the lowest incomes.
In some areas, however, there are also stakeholders arguing that their neighborhoods already have too much low-income housing and need families with higher incomes to support economic growth. They assert that it’s the middle class that’s stressed, with families unable to afford market-rate housing or qualify for low-income programs.
...Census data pulled by the Association for Housing and Neighborhood Development (ANHD) for eight neighborhoods that have received, are slated for or could possibly be in line to get a rezoning shin…

Now rent for one market-rate studio at 461 Dean less than most "affordable" studios at 535 Carlton

Ok, remember how I wrote that a market-rate studio at 461 Dean was renting for $2,298, just 7% more than a $2,137 affordable studio at 535 Carlton, another building in the Pacific Park Brooklyn project?

Not any more. That unit is now $2,134, which is less than the sticker price on 36 of 66 studios at the "100% affordable" (aka subsidized and income-linked) 535 Carlton, which should accept tenants early next year.

Yes, I know that affordable units are stabilized for at least 30 years, and thus offer protections over time.

But my point stands: a good (and disproportionate, compared to promises) chunk of so-called "affordable housing" is way too costly for those who rallied for it.

It also raises questions about how easy it will be to get tenants for those 36 (near-/over-market) studios at 535 Carlton (and commensurate studios at 38 Sixth, another "100% affordable" building).

In EB-5 hype (for Trump-branded tower), Jersey City gets inflated to NJ's capital and "Manhattan's Back Garden"

In the course of some research on EB-5 investor visas, I came across some glaring deception on the page of the New Jersey Regional Center, the private investment fund that has raised $50 million from green card-seeking Chinese millionaires for Trump Bay Street, the Trump-branded (but not developed) tower in Jersey City.

The tower, once known as 88 Kushner-KABR, is built by Kushner Companies, run by the president-elect's son-in-law Jared Kushner. Jesse Drucker of Bloomberg Politics last March pointed out the use of EB-5 funds.

OK, we know it's hypocritical for luxury towers to use EB-5, but that for now is industry practice, as Eliot Brown of the Wall Street Journal has described. That practice may be reformed when EB-5 is reauthorized next year.

Even so, I'm not sure how much impact Congress can have. After all, the push for profit leads to so much deception, and government agencies do too little to police it.


As shown in the graphic, potential investors were told that the…

DNAinfo: NYC's affordable housing lotteries skewed to young singles

DNAinfo's Shaye Weaver reported 11/16/16 City's Affordable Housing Lotteries Favor Young Single People, Stats Show. This isn't necessarily true of all units, but was based on analyzing 2013-15 statistics from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Weaver wrote:
But new data shows that the lion's share of the affordable apartments are going to singles ages 25 through 34.
More than half of the 48 housing lotteries for 1,470 units across the city put out by HPD from January 2013 through the end of 2015 were made up of one-bedrooms and and studios, according to the agency.
Forty-one percent of winners in those lotteries were ages 25 through 34, 50 percent of them were single, 36 percent are Hispanic and 27 percent of winners are black, according to data obtained by DNAinfo New York through a Freedom of Information Law request.
Only 4 percent were 62 years old or older, and 11 percent were under the age of 25. That may in part be that units--especially 80/…

Completely misleading: de Blasio spokesman defends affordability skewing upward (while low-income units lag)

My coverage yesterday of the narrowed gap between market-rate and affordable housing at Pacific Park Brooklyn got some wider discussion--and a curious defense from a de Blasio administration spokesman, who didn't acknowledge how affordable units have skewed toward middle-income households.

To recap, the most expensive studio apartment at the "100% affordable"--alternatively subsidized, income-linked housing--535 Carlton, at $2,137, is just 7% less than the least expensive market-rate studio at the sibling 461 Dean, at $2,298. (And there are "affordable units" at another building, unrelated to the project, that are more expensive.)

After the Daily News's Erin Durkin tweeted that, the issue got some pushback from Wiley Norvell, the mayor's Communications Advisor for Housing and Economic Development, (though writing in his personal Twitter account).

Atlantic Yards, he wrote, "has mix of low, moderate and middle income. Actual income diversity." T…