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Showing posts from March, 2017

Transparency? Waiting for the ESD Board agenda

Update 9:55 am. Now the agenda and board materials are up. Nothing about Atlantic Yards.

So there's a board meeting this morning at 9:30 of Empire State Development, the state authority overseeing/shepherding Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park.

Occasionally the project comes up, so it's important to see the agenda to know whether it's worth attending the meeting in Midtown Manhattan, or watching on a webcast.

However, as of 5 pm yesterday, the deadline to RSVP to get into the building ("due to building procedures," which surely would be waived if a VIP really needed to get there, right?), no agenda existed.

With less than an hour before the meeting, there's still no agenda, much less board materials.

Below, the media advisory requiring a day-before RSVP

Do the 35th District fundraising totals indicate a tight race? Not yet.

So, is the 35th District Council Democratic primary race getting tight, as Ede Fox prepares to challenge incumbent Laurie Cumbo? I'd say it's early.

Fox Out Fundraises Cumbo In March 15 Filing Period, according to Stephen Witt of Kings County Politics:
According to the Campaign Finance Board (CFB), Cumbo reported having raised $66,457 while spending $26,732 to net out with $39,725. Fox raised $29,456 and spent $260 to net out with $29,716.
While this looks like Cumbo has an edge, it should be noted that she has been fundraising for some time and her total is a culmination of several filing periods, while this is Fox’s first filing.
If you just look at this filing period, which ran from Jan. 17 to yesterday, Fox outraised Cumbo by more than 2 to 1. Fox raised $29,976, while Cumbo raised only $13,720.
This is not to write off Cumbo, however, as City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has an upcoming fundraiser for Cumbo.... "This is not to write off Cumbo"? C'mo…

The irony! 461 Dean modular apartments hyped as "handcrafted locally"

Potential renters in the new 461 Dean apartment tower flanking the Barclays Center can not only snag two months free rent, they also can move to a unit that's been "handcrafted locally in the Brooklyn Navy Yard," according to the Douglas Elliman listing.

Wait--can this 32-story tower really be pitched like a bespoke ottoman or a seasonal beer? After all, 461 Dean, the first residential building in Atlantic Yards (now Pacific Park), was supposed to revolutionize construction as the world's tallest modular building.

Rather than rely on "handcrafted" work at the building site, as is typical,  apartment sections (aka "mods") were produced at a climate-controlled, process-optimized factory, aimed to be faster and cheaper.

Alas, developer Forest City Ratner ran up against some pesky problems, namely delays, a dispute with then-partner Skanska, and cost overruns. (The former partners blame each other.) The tower took twice as long as planned and scotched…

The EB-5 racket: Jared Kushner's connect says projects don't need the money (so investor visas = profit)

I have an essay in City Limits, Emerging Kushner Deal Suggests What’s Wrong With U.S. Investor Visa Program, about how an emerging deal involving Jared Kushner's family real state firm and a politically connected Chinese company illustrates what's wrong with the EB-5 investor visa program, which purportedly would be used to raise cheap capital.

Below is an excerpt, plus video (that wasn't embedded) on the City Limits page.

It contains a damning admission about EB-5 by the Nicholas Mastroianni II, he of the "checkered past" (as documented by Fortune's Peter Elkind), who happens to be the hottest money-raiser in the world of investor visas and Jared Kushner's past EB-5 connect: the projects he works on don't need the money. Which confirms that EB-5 is a racket.

From the article

This wouldn't be the first Kushner EB-5 project. The Trump Bay Street luxury apartment tower in Jersey City, NJ, used $50 million in EB-5 funds, about a quarter of the total b…

Instagram-plus! Celeb living in new tower (300 Ashland) gets paid to promote it

Ok, in this time of rising competition among luxury buildings and rental "incentives," every developer needs an edge. I've written about deals with Instagram fashionista to produce gauzy, park-promoting advertorial for 550 Vanderbilt (1, 2, 3), which actually came after similar promotion for 365 Bond in Gowanus.

Reports New York magazine's The Cut:
Last week, one influencer broke new ground in the ever-expanding world of celebrity spon-con. Tavi Gevinson, the 20-year-old actress and founder of the socially conscious teen magazine Rookie, started advertising her own luxury apartment building on Instagram.
Gevinson, who has over 500,000 followers on the app, posted several photos documenting her move to 300 Ashland, a glossy 35-story tower in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. In many of the posts, she explicitly listed her new address — 300 Ashland Place — in the location field. In captions touting the building’s amenities and prime location, she used the hashtag #300AshlandPartner…

Atlantic Yards CDC meeting postponed until week of March 27

Empire State Development informs us that, due to an unexpected scheduling conflict, there's no longer have a quorum for the scheduled March 21 (at 3 pm, LIU) board meeting of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC)

The meeting will be postponed to the week of March 27. Details of date/time/location will be issued at a later date. Presumably, an agenda will be issued as well.

This will be the first meeting of AY CDC since 11/14/16, or more than four months. It's supposed to meet quarterly.

The Barclays Center's changing corporate partners (and the odd prominence of LIU)

Let's take a look at the shifting line-up of the Barclays Center's corporate partners.

We don't know the dollar value of the deals, but... if Long Island University was listed in 2016 as one of the top ten partners, in terms of dollar value, doesn't that signal either that LIU is paying big for the privilege, and/or some of corporate businesses aren't paying all that much? LIU, by the way, has been a staunch supporter of the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project as a whole.

As of 2009

Below is an excerpt from December 2009 Official Statement (aka prospectus) for the arena bonds.
Note that Jones Soda, at least, withdrew and was replaced by Coca-Cola. Also note that MetroPCS had a retail outlet briefly on the north side of the arena--until it didn't.

By 2012

On the eve of the arena's opening, the mix had shifted, as stated in a 9/25/12 press release (names from 2009 bolded):
In addition to Barclays, the naming rights partner, Founding Partners for Barclays Center…

For Barclays Center, most events outside pro sports draw modest crowds (except concerts, also most profitable)

The Nets and Islanders don't fill the Barclays Center, as I reported, with actual gate count significantly less than announced attendance (and maybe worse, for the Islanders).

And--guess what--most other events don't even come close. Also, concerts are lots more profitable than anything else (though the business can be fickle).

That emerged in the Official Statement released last August for the refinancing of the Barclays Center bonds. It suggests why most (but hardly  all) events cause fewer neighborhood ripples than once feared.

We've long known some reasons regarding the impact of Nets basketball games: notably, the number of New Jersey-based fans driving to the arena diminished, as fandom declined during the team's long goodbye, and more Brooklyn-based fans, including those who walk, went to games.

Beyond that, the arena shrank from a once-contemplated 20,000-seat venue to instead hold 17,732 for basketball games, which, even with sellouts, typically means fewer th…

The Brooklyn Nets' bleak future (and the inevitable departures of Lopez and Lin?)

NetsDaily summarizes a Washington Post article, The Brooklyn Nets are stuck in a dismal present, staring at a dim future, which suggests that the team's rebuild will take at least four years, given the lack of top draft picks. Writes the Post's Tim Bontemps:
 That makes it hard for the Nets to truly begin a long-term rebuild until 2019, when they finally have control of their picks again (that is, unless they can convince multiple stars to come to play for them in 2018, when they currently are on pace to have less than $20 million in committed salaries on their books). Given the lack of incentive for stars to come play in Brooklyn, as well as the methodical approach being implemented by General Manager Sean Marks and Coach Kenny Atkinson, it seems unlikely any kind of quick fix will be attempted. Bontemps thinks only rookie Caris LeVert will stick around, that center Brook Lopez may be traded (though it would be tough to get fair value), and that point guard Jeremy Lin could b…

New report on Prospect Heights: incomes rise, racial mix flip, shift in concerns from education/safety to affordability/diversity

Though Prospect Heights is absent in the Regional Plan Association's recent report on potential displacement, a new report from the Intersection | Prospect Heights project, We’re All Part of the Neighborhood, starkly details dramatic changes that indeed, point to past and potential ongoing displacement.

Consider the dramatic change in income in Prospect Heights, as detailed in the graphic below: as of 2014 (and surely rising), 40% of households earn six figures, up from 15% in 2000. That's well above projections, as noted lower down.

The report draws on federal statistics and also surveys sponsored by the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council in 2004 (366 respondents) and 2015-2016 (508 respondents). The surveys are not scientific polls, but the general trends they track have resonance.

Changing racial mix

Prospect Heights, once 53% black and 31% white, has in 14 years flipped to 28% black and 56% white.

Changing concerns

For example, between 2004 and 2015-6, residen…

From the latest Construction Update: new Con Ed work; sidewalk shed outside 535 Carlton may go

According to the latest Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Construction Update (bottom), covering the two weeks beginning March 13 and circulated yesterday at 2:03 pm (somewhat late) by Empire State Development after preparation by Greenland Forest City Partners (GFCP), there are no new work items, at least not as indicated in red with an asterisk.

However, not listed as new, but not in previous Updates, is that Con Edison will be working in sidewalk vaults on north side of Pacific Street, across the street from parking garage near Sixth avenue, for new railyard electrical service.

Also, the sidewalk shed along Dean Street and Carlton Avenue, outside B14 (535 Carlton) is expected to be removed, as was expected in the previous alert.

As shown in the photo at right that I took yesterday, that hasn't happened yet.

Weekend and after-hours work

As in previous weeks, Saturday work could occur at B3 (38 Sixth), B12 (615 Dean Street), and B14. Then again, pretty much nothing has been happening at…

A 35th District race surfaces: Fox prepares to challenge Cumbo

Incumbent 35th District Council Member Laurie Cumbo faces a likely challenge from one of her top 2013 rivals, Ede Fox, who's formed an exploratory committee.

And while the issue of Atlantic Yards hasn't yet surfaced, development issues--notably Cumbo's position on the Bedford Union Army project, far less wary than that of other pols and the 2013 support she got from real estate interests--will surely be important.

Though Council races feature 6-for-1 financial matching and thus potential funds to run a reasonable campaign, it's very tough to defeat an incumbent, at least one not rocked by scandal. Fox will decide by May whether she has enough money to mount the challenge, according to Kings County Politics. (Two other candidates may run, as well. Contributions to all campaigns can be made here.)

Cumbo's debatable decision to steer a significant share of her discretionary funds to the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, which she founded, surely will com…

At Barclays, a Biggie celebration

The commodification of "Brooklyn" has reached a new level.

A press release from the Brooklyn Nets, BROOKLYN NETS TO CELEBRATE THE LIFE AND THE LEGACY OF THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G. AT “BIGGIE NIGHT” ON SUNDAY, MARCH 12: BROOKLYN (March 8, 2017) – The Nets will celebrate the life of Brooklyn-born Biggie Smalls, also known as The Notorious B.I.G. and Billboard’s “greatest rapper of all-time,” when the Nets host the New York Knicks at Barclays Center on Sunday, March 12 at 6 p.m. The evening will commemorate Biggie’s iconic legacy and the 20th anniversary of his passing on March 9, 1997.
Biggie’s closest family and friends will be in attendance to remember him throughout the night, with Sean “Diddy” Combs and Biggie’s mom Voletta Wallace paying tribute to The Notorious B.I.G. with special pre-game and halftime ceremonies. Invited guests include Biggie’s children, T’Yanna and CJ Wallace, Mark Pitts, and Wayne Barrow.
Music from Biggie and the artists he inspired will be played throughou…

Parks, Jobs, Housing, and Health? The governor's project for Central Brooklyn (and some distant AY echoes)

Remember Jobs, Housing, and Hoops? Well, maybe it's time for Parks, Jobs, Housing, and Health, a gubernatorial plan that comes with many question marks but at least a clear focus on Central Brooklyn neighborhoods of Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant, East Flatbush, Brownsville and East New York.

On Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced 1.4 Billion "Vital Brooklyn" Initiative to Transform Central Brooklyn, as his press release said:
The groundbreaking proposal will target and invest in eight integrated areas, establishing a national paradigm for addressing chronic disparities, like systemic violence and entrenched poverty in high-need communities.
The comprehensive plan will focus on increasing access to open spaces and healthy food, while transforming the healthcare system by increasing access and quality of health care services and preventive care. Vital Brooklyn will also create a stronger, more sustainable Central Brooklyn by prioritizing strategic investments in resi…

IBO offers budget options, including tax revision, no exemption for MSG, and development impact fees (instead of CBAs)

The New York City Independent Budget Offices's always annual Budget Options for NYC is out (coverage in Times, Daily News), and there are several particularly intriguing and relevant options, all presented neutrally, with pros and cons.

It should first be noted that some options would have far more impact than others: Tolling the East River and Harlem River Bridges would raise $1 billion annually--ideally for transit--while restoring the commuter tax would raise $900 million. Such sums mean fraught political battles.

Eliminating the property tax exemption for Madison Square Garden would add $42 million in 2018, as the value of the tax exemption leaped after the arena's 2013 renovation. Both the Knicks and Rangers have rocketed in value, and the threat of relocation is far less, notes the IBO. The arguments against include there's a risk the teams might leave or the move would be seen as not business-friendly--both bogus. The only argument with a shred of resonance is that …

So, how many former footprint renters are returning in new towers? Forest City won't say (though 2012 article predicted 17)

How many former residents of the Atlantic Yards footprint, who agreed to leave in response to a pledge by developer Forest City Ratner to be relocated to a comparable apartment in the project--and have their rent in the interim subsidized--will be back?

It's a mystery.

And Forest City won't say, though a Daily News in November 2012 reported that 17 former tenants had taken the deal, and were expected to move into the first tower, 461 Dean. (Also see WNYCcoverage.) Of course, that building was expected to be completed in two years, not four.
At a public meeting this week, I asked how many former footprint residents had moved into the project or were moving in. Forest City external affairs chief Ashley Cotton said she had no information, but told me to check back.
I did, and was told by a spokesman, "Thanks for reaching out, but this is not information we’re going to share." (I also contacted some of those previously named as accepting the deal, but haven't heard b…

Forest City: "Becoming the Nation’s Leading Mixed-Use Urban Placemaker" in "core, high barrier-to-entry urban markets"

presentation by Forest City Realty Trust yesterday at the Citi Global Property CEO Conference, as posted on the firm's web site, shows how they portray their corporate transformation.

Recently, from 2014-16, Forest City "[t]ightened focus on urban, mixed-use placemaking projects," focusing on core markets.

In 2017 and going forward, Forest City plans "sales of non-core assets, including FAH (federally-assisted housing) and retail assets, to fuel investments that align with our focus on core markets and urban, mixed-use placemaking projects."

That comes with corporate changes, including elimination of the firm's dual-class stock structure, and an effort to enhance margins and increase the dividend. (Some of that is a response to prodding from activist investors who have charged the stock is undervalued.)
The next slide, below, focuses on what Forest City says "What sets us apart," including:

Transformative, placemaking assets concentrated in core,…

A subdued, brief Quality of Life meeting: concerns about buses, satellite trucks; limited project updates

Maybe it's the slowdown in construction, with buildings finishing up but none starting. Or the absence of the three most active civic commenters, as well as other near neighbors. Or a decline in reported disturbing project-related incidents.

But last night's Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Quality of Life meeting was the most subdued in memory, lasting just 30 minutes rather than the two hours that are allotted, and with few questions about project operations and impacts, and very little for the project developers and arena operators to present.

When asked, for example, about any pending ownership changes--the Greenland Forest City Partners (GFCP) joint venture has put up three building sites for sale--Forest City executive Ashley Cotton said she had no information to share.

Interestingly enough, there were a few more reps of public officials present than typical, unlike at some more heated meetings.

A wall of school buses

The one moment that came close to recalling some previous m…