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Changes at 470 Vanderbilt: The Box plus a new residential building

In April 2007, I wrote about Forest City Ratner's flirtation with a plan to add 470 Vanderbilt Avenue, a nine-story former tire plant turned significantly empty telecom center just north of Atlantic Avenue, to the Atlantic Yards footprint.

That plan went by the wayside, and the telecom center became increasingly empty. But now it's showing signs of major changes: a renovation and rebranding of the office space, with new retail, plus a new residential building slated for the site's large parking lot.

And there's an important Atlantic Yards connection; follow along to the bottom and take note of the assessed value of the land.

News emerges

In January 2008, Brownstoner broke the news that "the Carlyle Group-owned Atlantic Telecom Center at 470 Vanderbilt Avenue in Fort Greene will be going residential if negotiations with City Planning conclude without a hitch... the property... currently has some 700,000 square feet of unleased space. We're also hearing that there could be some office, retail and possibly cultural space in the mix."

Adding residential

Last November, plans for a much expanded project were revealed. Brownstoner reported November 10 that the Carlyle Group had sold the "600,000-square-foot property" to GFI Development for $50 million.

(Note that PropertyShark has the building at 1.1 million square feet and the building's web site once said it offered 750,000 square feet. I can't suss out ACRIS records to be certain of the sale price.)

GFI, after some negotiation, now plans 350 residential units, with 90 of them affordable (25%) in a building that reaches 12 stories along Vanderbilt and Clermont avenues (though with a setback at nine stories) and an eight-story section along Fulton Street (with a setback at six stories), according to a February 12 article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Community Board 2 has endorsed the project, which now faces approval by the City Planning Department.

It's unclear to what income groups the affordability is aimed, but usually 20% affordability involves only low-income units. City Council Member Letitia James agreed to support a somewhat larger new building in exchange for 25% affordable units, rather than 20%.

The building would include a supermarket along Fulton Street and a two-level underground parking garage.

Existing building

Brownstoner earlier reported:
Meanwhile the existing telecom building will be repositioned as Class B office space with retail (a bookstore or cafe, they hope) on the ground floor; the large floor plates are currently for rent in the $30-a-foot range.

Right now the plan is for a bowling alley.

A new name: The BOX

According to the GFI Capital web site (click on Development), the office space has a new name.
The Brooklyn Office Exchange (The BOX) sits on the edge of three vibrant downtown Brooklyn neighborhoods--Fort Greene, Prospect Heights and Clinton Hill.

The project will be a one million sq ft mix-use development with office, retail and a residential LEED-certified building. Occupancy of the office and retail will occur in the fourth quarter of 2009.

(By the way, a web site called, which apparently has not been updated for a couple of years, seems to be advertising the building in its old incarnation. And in 2005, according to the Wired New York Forum, there were plans for a Karl Fischer conversion of the telecom center plus three new residential buildings, one of them 24 stories.)

Some details

Just to ballpark the tentative numbers, 350 units, averaging 800 square feet a unit, would total 280,000 square feet, plus shared space, in the new building. If the average were 900 square feet, the total would be 315,000 sf.

Crain's New York Business, reporting last November 8, headlined its article Progress on site near Atlantic Yards; it said (counter to some reports I've seen) the existing building had been empty since 2000. Crain's described plans for 500,000 square feet of office space and 100,000 square feet of retail space in the existing building.

Width vs. height

Crain's pointed to James's preference for a bulky rather than a tall building:
Ms. James insists that even the larger structure is preferable to the soaring towers envisioned for Atlantic Yards by Mr. Ratner's firm, Forest City Ratner.

"If they wanted to put 10-story buildings on Atlantic Yards, I would jump up and down and hug Forest City Ratner,'' she says.

James should know better than to refer to Atlantic Yards as a place rather than a project, but that just shows the extent of the meme.

This new building might be approximately the square footage of some of smaller AY towers, which range from 184 to 287 feet. The height is necessary to create open space to serve the new population.

So, while a large but relatively low new individual building at the 470 Vanderbilt site might work without added open space, a series of 16 such buildings would not generate many hugs. Indeed, when I queried James, she observed, "I support the UNITY plan, which has similar ten-story buildings. Obviously not 16 and absent an arena."

The UNITY plan, which would divide the railyard site into parcels, suggests blocks of open space and a range of building sizes, from mid-rise (as at 470 Vanderbilt) to high-rise, one up to 400 feet.

Which retail comes first?

James, Crain's reported, wants GFI to put a bowling alley and a bookstore into the retail space, given that those were at the top of a community survey.

Given the location bordering busy Atlantic Avenue, the bowling alley seems to be on the front burner, according to minutes from CB 2's Land Use Committee. There may be a desire for a bookstore, but independent bookstores--heck, all bookstores--are having it tough these days. Then again, with empty spaces, property owners are negotiating more.

Assessed land value: under $11

It's worth looking at Department of Finance records to see the latest assessment. While DOF does not provide the square footage of the site, multiplying the dimensions (441.67 feet x 218.92 feet) yields a lot size of 96,690 square feet. PropertyShark calculates 90,500 square feet.

The land is valued by the city at $990,000. (Click to enlarge.)

That's under $11 a square foot. Such valuations near the Atlantic Yards site will become increasingly relevant if and when the arena block is assessed for the purposes of issuing tax-exempt bonds, especially given the example of Yankee Stadium.


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