Skip to main content

As BrooklynSpeaks, AY Watch point to the need for oversight and questions about community impact, New York magazine's critic embraces Forest City's modular plan

Well, Forest City Ratner's announcement of its modular construction plan certainly changed the narrative in more than one way. Not only did it deflect attention from the lawsuit filed by workers who said they were promised union cards and construction jobs, it has been embraced by at least one architectural critic who's generally been skeptical of Atlantic Yards.

New York Magazine's Justin Davidson, in an 11/18/11 article headlined Less Really Is More: SHoP Architects, masters of post-boom buildability., does not mention the caveats--that Forest City's modular plan may be brinksmanship with the unions, that the timing was suspect, etc.--but focuses on the possibilities:
The essential firm of the post-binge era is shaping up to be SHoP, headed not by a celebrity but by a half-dozen fortysomething New Yorkers who share a messianic high-tech pragmatism. Having spent a dozen years leapfrogging from youthful novelty to boutique eminence, SHoP is staking its name on the world’s tallest prefab tower.

The 32-story building with the vitamin name, B2, will rise at Atlantic Yards, that troubled monster where every new move courts fresh opprobrium. Half of B2’s 350 units are designated for low- and middle-income families, which means the developer, Forest City Ratner, needs to allay suspicions that it’s grinding out gimcrack pods for the poor—even as the apartments are made in factories and the whole process is designed to shave as much as 20 percent off construction costs. SHoP’s partners, though, consider prefabrication a designer’s godsend, the key to making housing awesome yet affordable. “Modular construction could radically change what living in New York is like,” says Gregg Pasquarelli, the most voluble of the five original founders.
A fan of the arena

Later, Davidson, who acknowledged he was a critic of SHoP's willingness to rehabilitate the Ellerbe Beckett arena, declares himself a fan, thanks to the rusted steel exterior:
The structure is wrapped in a basket weave of weathered steel, giving it a rusty cool. A canopy whose inner rim will display scrolling video and digital signs reaches over the plaza. Is it a huge basketball hoop? For Christopher Sharples, it echoes the embracing colonnades of St. Peter’s in Rome. “That oculus, 35 feet overhead and the size of a basketball court, is like the arms of Bernini: It comes out and greets you.”
The future of modular

Davison recognizes that modular housing "has a venerable but erratic pedigree," but suggests that the "great advantage of Atlantic Yards is that it’s huge enough to create its own demand":
Proposing a forest of modular high-rises might seem at first like a bargain hunter’s strategy to get something—anything—built at a troubled site. Unions are already upset at the prospect of shifting traditional construction jobs to lower-paying factory work. In the end, though, the move could help alleviate the city’s perpetual shortage of reasonably priced housing—and bring back some manufacturing as well.
Legitimate points, but lots left out, including the Bruce Ratner's admission of a bait-and-switch, along with an array of apartment sizes skewed smaller than promised.

Ratner's astounding statement

BrooklynSpeaks, in Ratner: Affordable housing won’t work for Atlantic Yards, followed up on developer Bruce Ratner's statement to the Wall Street Journal,
Mr. Ratner said Thursday that the existing incentives for developments where half the units are priced for middle- and low-income tenants "don't work for a high-rise building that's union built."
He added that he had "accepted the fact that we're not going to get more subsidy."
BrooklynSpeaks warns that "his statement may set the stage for Forest City Ratner to claim an “Affordable Housing Subsidy Unavailability” under the master development agreement it executed with the Empire State Development Corporation."

That would allow construction to last even longer than 25 years. It's also possible, BrooklynSpeaks allowed, that this is a way to pressure union officials. (It's also part of the modular plan, I'd add.)

BrooklynSpeaks sums up:
First, $200 million of State and City subsidy wasn’t enough for Atlantic Yards.
Next, Frank Gehry’s architecture was too expensive for Atlantic Yards.
Then, the 10-year project schedule was too short for Atlantic Yards.
Eight acres of open space also didn’t work for Atlantic Yards, unless one considers an 1,100-car surface parking lot to be open space.
And providing unionized jobs for local residents hasn’t worked for Atlantic Yards, either.
Now, the 2,250 units of affordable housing are in greater doubt. It may be the only public promise that FCR will be able to keep is that its arena will create a traffic nightmare in central Brooklyn.
The need for oversight and the ESD role

BrooklynSpeaks pointed to a 9/26/11 meeting with community leaders and local legislators, in which Empire State Development CEO Kenneth Adams dismissed the idea that Atlantic Yards, like other large State projects, required dedicated oversight from his agency.

The latest news, to BrooklynSpeaks, is argument for more and better oversight, such as through a dedicated oversight body.

I'd add that Adams, in that meeting, stated without elaboration or evidence that his agency believed Forest City had the financial capability to build out the project. “Well, we believe that they do. We are, ESD, a partner with Forest City Ratner. And we remain fully confident that they have the financing and the wherewithal to build out the project.”

At that time, he surely know of the developer's solution: to build modular towers at untested heights.

Questions about delays, new impacts

Atlantic Yards Watch, in Building #2 announcement raises questions about construction plans, parking and open space, points out the need for financing, union agreements, and a new factory, all elements that must be put in place before modular construction begins.

And AY Watch raises a question about Bruce Ratner's claim that modular building techniques will be greener and less disruptive because of "less dust, less gasoline, less trucks."

That's plausible regarding those set of inputs, but AY Watch notes that "no construction plans have been provided for the public to review, and the use of modular techniques at the height proposed is untested, meaning judgements about the degree of impact of the use of modular building techniques on the adjacent neighborhood are speculative."

Among the issues that Forest City Ratner and the state need to discuss publicly: plans for excavation of building foundations, the location of staging areas, the location of parking for the residents of Building 2, and the increased burden on existing open space.

AY Watch reminds us that, with projects like Battery Park City, the permanent open space was provided up front, not at the end of the development.


Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

No, security guards can't ban photos. Questions remain about visibility of ID/sticker system.

The bi-monthly Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting June 14, held at 55 Hanson Place, addressed multiple issues, including delays in the project, a new detente with project neighbors,concerns about traffic congestion, upcoming sewer work and demolitions, and an explanation of how high winds caused debris to fly off the under-construction 38 Sixth Avenue building. I'll have more coverage.
Security issues came up several times at the meeting.
Wayne Bailey, a resident who regularly takes photos and videos (that I often use) of construction/operations issues that impact residents, asked representatives of Tishman Construction if the security guard at the sites they're building works for them.
After Tishman Senior VP Eric Reid said yes, Bailey asked why a guard told him not to shoot video of the site, even though he was on a public street.

"I will address it with principals for that security firm," Reid said.
Forest City Ratner executive Ashley Cotton, the …

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what might be coming + FAQ (post-dated pinned post)

This graphic, posted in February 2018, is post-dated to stay at the top of the blog. It will be updated as announced configurations change and buildings launch. Note the unbuilt B1 and the proposed--but not yet approved--shift in bulk to the unbuilt Site 5.

The August 2014 tentative configurations proposed by developer Greenland Forest City Partners will change. The project is already well behind that tentative timetable.

How many people are expected?

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park has a projected 6,430 apartments housing 2.1 persons per unit (as per Chapter 4 of the 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement), which would mean 13,503 new residents, with 1,890 among them in low-income affordable rentals, and 2,835 in moderate- and middle-income affordable rentals.

That leaves 8,778 people in market-rate rentals and condos, though let's call it 8,358 after subtracting 420 who may live in 200 promised below-market condos. So that's 5,145 in below-market units, though many of them won…

The passing of David Sheets, Dean Street renter, former Freddy's bartender, eminent domain plaintiff, and singular personality

David Sheets, longtime Dean Street renter, Freddy's bartender, eminent domain plaintiff, and singular personality, died 1/17/18 in HCA Greenview Hospital in Bowling Green, KY. He was 56.

There are obituary notices in the Bowling Green Daily News and the Wichita Eagle, which state:
He was born in Wichita, KS where he attended public Schools and Wichita State University. He lived for many years in Brooklyn, NY, and was employed as a legal assistant. David's hobby was cartography and had an avid interest in Mass Transit Systems of the world. David was predeceased by his father, Kenneth E. Sheets. He is survived by his mother, Wilma Smith, step-brother, Billy Ray Smith and his wife, Jane all of Bowling Green; step-sister, Ellen Smith Alexander and her husband, Jerry of Bella Vista, AR; several cousins and step-nieces and step-nephews also survive. Memorial Services will be on Monday, January 22, 2018 at 1:00 pm with visitation from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm Monday at Johnson-Vaughn-Phe…

Some skepticism on Belmont hockey deal: lease value seems far below Aqueduct racino; unclear (but large?) cost for LIRR service

As I wrote for The Bridge 12/20/1, The Islanders Say Bye to Brooklyn, But Where Next?, the press conference announcing a new arena at Belmont Park for the New York Islanders was "long on pomp... but short on specifics."

Notably, a lease valued at $40 million "upfront to lease up to 43 acres over 49 years... seems like a good deal on rent for the state-controlled property." Also, the Long Island Rail Road will expand service to Belmont.

That indicates public support for an arena widely described as "privately financed," but how much? We don't know yet, but some more details--or at least questions--have emerged.

An Aqueduct comparable?

Well, we don't know what the other bid was, and there aren't exactly parcels that large offering direct comparables.

But consider: Genting New York LLC in September 2010 was granted a franchise to operate a video lottery terminal under a 30 year lease on 67 acres at Aqueduct Park (as noted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo).


Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…