Skip to main content

Preliminary FAQ on the planned Barclays Center green roof (and curious history of arena roof plans)

Not the current plan. This is the 2003 plan.
The news that Forest City Ratner, with the support of expected new partner the Greenland Group, is planning a green roof on the Barclays Center, sets up a bunch of questions for the memory-challenged.

There's still much we don't know--including potentially significant impacts during construction, which will be unexamined--but I'll try to fill in some gaps.

What are they planning?

Well, Forest City Ratner hasn't announced anything official, but the Executive Summary of the Draft Supplementary Impact Statement issued by Empire State Development revealed:
...the project sponsors are considering the construction and installation of a green roof on Barclays Center as a new sustainable feature of the Arena. If installed, it would consist of the construction of a secondary roof with a structural system to hold a green sedum tray system very similar to the sedum roof at the transit entrance in front of the Arena. It is expected to cover most of the roof and would consist of approximately 130,000 square feet of sedum, making it one of the largest green roofs in New York City. It is expected that installation of this Phase I component would commence in 2014.
Wouldn't a green roof be an improvement on what's there now, a big honking logo for the Barclays Center?

Sure. But we shouldn't let the news get framed simply as an esthetic, green upgrade.

We should recognize the previous, un-kept promises for the arena roof, the failure of the state to oversee Forest City's plans for the roof, and the likely multiple agendas behind this new roof, notably a fix to contain the escaping bass that periodically plagues the neighborhood.

What were the promises?

Well, here's the original December 2003 public relations statement regarding the roof:
The roof of the Arena offers an exciting opportunity to create new public space, with 52,000 square feet in four lushly landscaped areas for passive recreation and a promenade along the outside edge of the roof with outstanding panoramic vistas facing Manhattan. For active recreation, an outdoor ice-skating rink connects the four gardens; in warmer months the rink will become a running track. The open space not only provides a destination for community residents as well as for the workers in the office buildings--it also allows the commercial buildings surrounding the arena to be connected at the sky-lobby level.
That sounds impressive. That rendering upper right looks nice. What did the critics think?

Herbert Muschamp, the architecture critic of the New York Times, was giddy. He wrote 12/11/03:
Instead of sitting isolated in a parking lot, the stadium will be tucked into the urban fabric, just as buildings surround a Baroque square. The arena becomes a stage, with the towers around extending the bleachers to the sky. Here, the stage will be activated by a running track around the perimeter of the arena's roof. In winter, the track becomes a skating rink. Other areas of the roof will be set aside for passive recreation. Restaurants for the surrounding towers are planned at the arena's roof level.
What happened?

By September 2005, the Draft Scope of Analysis for an Environmental Impact Statement was issued by Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC, now ESD), the state agency overseeing/shepherding Atlantic Yards. It stated that the open space would no longer be open to the public:
This rooftop open space would be accessible to users of the buildings constructed as part of the proposed project.
A 2006 mock-up of green roof (top)
A 2008 rendering of a metal roof (bottom)
According to one report, Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco explained the change from commercial towers to residential ones meant the developer had reserved the rooftop for residents "so they would have easy access to laundry rooms and other amenities," in the Daily News's paraphrase.

One version of the green roof, in a very rough model, appeared in the top photo at right, published 5/12/06 by the New York Times.

The roof was a selling point regarding environmental sustainability, right?

When the Draft EIS was released in July 2006, it cited "incorporation of a green roof on the arena."

The green roof was discussed extensively in the Final EIS, in both particular chapters and the Response to Comments chapter, describing a sustainable design feature. The green roof, with an area of 3.03 acres, would mainly have plants that wouldn't require irrigation, while "rainfall in excess of the infiltration capacity [would be] converted to overland runoff that reaches the roof drains."

From the chapter on Open Space:
In addition, approximately one acre of private open space intended for use by the project site tenants would be built on a portion of the roof of the proposed arena.... This green space would be designed with detention and retention basins to limit the amount of runoff that flows directly into the City’s water drainage system (see Chapter 11, “Infrastructure,” for discussion of green design features).
That meant more good publicity, right?

Exactly. From a July 2007 Pennsylvania Gazette article on landscape architect Laurie Olin:
Olin plans to crown the new basketball arena with a green roof and to capture almost all of the parcel’s storm water runoff—which currently exacerbates flooding on the nearby Gowanus Canal—for reuse in irrigation, cleaning, and gray-water plumbing.
What happened next?

By May 2008, the green roof was gone. The new designs portrayed the arena as covered in shiny metal, as noted above right. Matthew Schuerman of WNYC followed up, in a piece headlined Atlantic Yards Loses Green Roof for Arena, 2016 Completion Date.

Graphic from DDDB, 2008
He explained that, while the roof, "one of the big signature elements... one of the selling points," was supposed to also retain rainwater, "they can't figure out how to do that technically.... They say still will be able to retain rainwater by moving those holding tanks below ground." Whether the impact would be the same, however, is unclear.

"They said, in a way, that the soil doesn't really absorb that much water in the first place," Schuerman suggested, "but I'm sure there will be some sort of minor environmental impacts, less clean air, for example, because there are not quite as many trees." 

Indeed, the green roof had appeared prominently in a May 2006 brochure, as noted above.

When the arena was re-designed, how was the roof portrayed?

It was blank.

In 2009, after new public hearings, Empire State Development approved a revised project, with the arena decoupled from the towers, a cost-saving move for Forest City.

A "conceptual design" of the arena produced by architect Ellerbe Becket, released to the public, stated that it "does not include signage, which will conform to Design Guidelines." There was, of course, no mention of rooftop signage, in those guidelines. So there was no reason for the public to expect to see signage on the roof.

Forest City soon brought on SHoP to produce a new facade for the arena (and later to design the arena plaza and the first residential building). At a September 2009 public information session, just before the project was officially approved, there was nothing on the roof, as indicated in the photo below.

Photo by Tracy Collins
This was after a public comment period, but the public was able to comment at the board meeting of the Empire State Development Corporation, which approved the project. The omission of the signage precluded that option.

How did Barclays get its logo on the roof?

I speculate, but when Barclays in 2007 bought naming rights to a green-roof arena, it was paying for a Frank Gehry model. It later renegotiated the price down; perhaps the rooftop signage came in exchange for the delay and the loss of Gehry. But it's unclear how long that commitment was supposed to last.

Was the state candid about that logo?

No. In March 2010, as the arena groundbreaking approached, the ESDC was asked about a rendering (below) in which the rooftop boasted a seemingly illuminated Barclays Center sign. Such a rendering was for promotional purposes a spokeswoman said, adding that signage "will meet the design guidelines, which we continue to review."



When did clues emerge?

The new and apparently final design of the rooftop signage (right) appeared in images of the arena plaza released in September 2010, as well a new Atlantic Yards website that debuted in February 2011.

Did Barclays get good value? Did the state?

Well, the arena became famous pretty quickly, and helicopter views certainly portray the logo. The state gets no revenue from the rooftop signage. (The arena is nominally owned by the state, for the purpose of issuing tax-exempt bonds. The state gave away arena naming rights, which were never counted as a subsidy, or in a cost-benefit analysis.)

Didn't the roof signage vanish at some point?

Yes, in renderings of the arena, part of the November 2011 release of images of modular construction, portrayed the roof as brown at night (below), with no obvious signage.

So, why are they putting a green roof on now?

Well, the green roof likely helps solve several problems. It makes the roof look more attractive to the residents of the towers being built next to the arena. 

And, likely, it will help protect against bass escaping from the arena.

Isn't that speculation?

Sure, but it's reasonable speculation. They wouldn't go to the trouble--in cost and logistics--to to this now if they didn't need to. (Heck, last night I wandered around the arena and, on the Sixth Avenue sidewalk, could hear/feel the bass from the Black Sabbath show.)

Who's paying for it?

It's part of the joint venture with expected new investor the Greenland Group, which is owned by the Chinese government.

Is the green roof part of the current environmental review?

No. The review was ordered regarding Phase 2 of the project, east of Sixth Avenue. The green roof is part of Phase 1. For the purpose of the review, Phase 1 is an "existing condition," even if it's not built yet.

A green roof should be good for the environment and esthetically pleasing--why would any review be necessary?

It might be rather complicated to construct, given that there's an operating arena and other construction/residents nearby, so there may be trucks and cranes and other equipment for a period of time. It surely would have been easier to install when the arena was being built.

So the green roof falls through the cracks in the environmental review, essentially facing no public oversight?

Exactly. Just like the logo.

Comments

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…

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 Matzav.com 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…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

"There is no alternative": DM Glen on de Blasio's affordable housing strategy

As I've written, Mayor Bill de Blasio sure knows how to steer and spin coverage of his affordable housing initiatives.

Indeed, his latest announcement, claiming significant progress, came with a pre-press release op-ed in the New York Daily News and then a friendly photo-op press conference with an understandably grateful--and very lucky--winner of an affordable housing lottery.

To me, though, the most significant quote came from Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who, as the Wall Street Journal reported:
said public housing had been “starved” of federal support for years now, leaving the city with fewer ways of creating affordable housing. “Are we relying too heavily on the private sector?” she said. “There is no alternative.” Though Glen was using what she surely sees as a common-sense phrase, it recalls the slogan of a politician with whom I doubt de Blasio identifies: former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a Conservative who believed in free markets.

It suggests the limits to …