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Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park in 2016: slow open for towers; surprise stall, murky new timeline; "there is no accountability"

550 Vanderbilt and 535 Carlton got facades; neither opened
Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park is a "never say never" project, so, when I wrote my 2016 project preview, I said there's always a surprise. And, of course, there was.

One surprise was the emerging plan from developer Greenland Forest City Partners for huge towers at Site 5 (long home to P.C. Richard and Modell's).

But the far bigger one was GFCP's decision to pause market-rate development, given the glut of competing units, rising construction costs, and uncertainty about the 421-a tax break.

Once Forest City Realty Trust (parent of Forest City Ratner, the junior partner in the joint venture) acknowledged unspecified delays in the project and cited a $300 million "impairment" in project value, its stock plummeted. Executives wouldn't specify project timing, but the previously announced 2025 date seems doubtful. Now they look to 2035 as a date when cash flows stabilize, which implies the project might not be done until only a few years before then.

Another revelation was FCR Chairman Bruce Ratner's hindsight statement that he might have passed on Atlantic Yards, as it "economically... didn't turn out as well as we expected." That's raises questions about whether the project was misconceived from the start, poorly executed, hit unusual bad luck/opposition, or was poorly evaluated by government partners--or all of the above.

Not only that, losses on the project helped force Forest City Realty Trust to finally give up its longstanding dual-class structure, which let the extended Ratner family control a public company.

A delayed timetable

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park was already well behind the tentative August 2014 schedule, which I annotated below in October, before the official pause. And the low-income units (L-I, in the annotation) haven't kept up with the other affordable units. That pause left a lingering question about whether the affordable housing would, in fact, be completed in 2025 as promised--and contractually obligated--in 2014.


The skyline continued to change, through more slowly than expected. I'd predicted that the first three buildings--the 550 Vanderbilt condo tower, the 535 Carlton "100% affordable" rental tower, and the 461 Dean 50% subsidized/50% market modular tower--would open.

But only 461 Dean opened in part--the building has a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy for a little more than the bottom half--and only a few dozen apartments (of 363) have been filled.

535 Carlton affordable rents; click to enlarge
Prices on market-rate units dropped due to the glut in and around Downtown Brooklyn, to the point that a market-rate studio at 461 Dean is cheaper than 36 (of 66) "affordable" studios at 535 Carlton.

About sports

I wondered whether the Nets and Islanders might do better with fans. Answer: somewhat, but that was undercut by a revelation that the arena routinely overstates attendance.

And Islanders owners flirted with leaving, thanks to a mutual opt-out clause in their contract (though building a new arena would be very expensive).

I wondered whether the Barclays Center would reap the forecasted $55 million in net operating income. (Answer: no, and more on that later.)

Still, Mikhail Prokhorov, now 100% owner of the arena operating company, managed to lower the cost of bond repayments thanks to a refinancing at lower interest rates.

The Nets' new luxurious training facility in Sunset Park did open, and was a bright spot for the team, while the Nassau Coliseum reopening was delayed, though coming this year.

Project progress and pauses

664 Pacific will more likely be done in 2021, not 2018
I wondered whether Greenland USA, the lead partner in the GFCP joint venture, would consider any more modular buildings?

Answer: nope, as Forest City Ratner sold its modular plant for an undisclosed (and likely small) sum, even as it proclaimed victory with its clearly failed experiment.

The school at B15, aka 664 Pacific Street, was announced as a dedicated middle school, as many local advocates sought, but the project remained stalled, and the building delayed.

Also delayed as 615 Dean, aka B12, which, along with two other sites, was put up for sale.

Also delayed is any progress at Site 5, though Greenland Forest City Partners has floated a plan for an enormous, ambitious, two-tower project.

Questions of accountability

The Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC) remained a forum for occasional transparency, but had relatively impact--and, in one stretch, had a five-month gap between meetings. Representatives of New York State and the developer claimed they didn't monitor social media, which meant they ignored the continued reports of untoward construction and operational impacts from the nearest neighbors.

"There really is no accountability," Arana Hankin, the state's former Atlantic Yards overseer, said in 2013, in a lecture I wrote about last September. She was talking about the failure to monitor jobs promises, but that, I submit, applies more broadly.

After all, the developer is selling the project (see screenshot at right) as having a "brand-new 8-acre park," which just happens to be unbuilt.

Empire State Development (ESD), the state authority overseeing/shepherding Atlantic Yards, is on its third project director since Hankin. The current one, Tobi Jaiyesimi, was hired to be executive director of the AY CDC, with no experience in real estate development, then shifted to an interim role at ESD after Sam Filler left.

Below, highlights by month.

January 2016

Forest City Enterprises finally became Forest City Realty Trust, a REIT.

The Nets floundered, marking demise of Prokhorov's strategy. Coach Lionel Hollins was fired, and GM Billy King was gone soon. As superfan "Net Income" (aka Bob Windrem) wrote, fans who once had such hope in the billionaire owner hadn't noticed the downside: "One-stockholder companies, no matter how wealthy that stockholder, don't have a lot of controls, don't relish skepticism and often eschew the long-term for the quick hit."

The ANHD Cheat Sheet offered damning context for Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park "affordable housing."

Mike of The Usual
At a panel for Intersection: Prospect Heights, the owner of the recently closed The Usual reflected on a Prospect Heights when "it wasn't about money."

P.C. Richard sued Forest City to block condemnation, contending the developer reneged on promises to put the store in a successor building.

February 2016

Forest City detailed arena/Nets sale: only $54M in cash after taxes/closing costs, two loans totaling $217.7M, at 4.5%.

Students study the Barclays Center and environs; CEO calls arena a lesson in perseverance.

Bark Hot Dogs closes. The arena helped, but Shake Shack then hurt.

Two views of Pacific Park construction workers: "Courtesy in a Hard Hat" and "Like Being in a Shark Tank."

At Senate EB-5 hearing, criticism of gerrymandering and job-creation calculations; federal official doesn't know if foreign governments benefit (but they do). Congressman says allowing EB-5 investors, who contribute a fraction of project funds, to claim all jobs is a "mockery."

Neat trick: virtual reality for 550 Vanderbilt condo buyers shows "eight-acre public park." But it's not a park, and won't be done for at least a decade.

The Times Real Estate section tackles "Living In Prospect Heights," soft-pedals Pacific Park's impact.

A crash on Vanderbilt near Dan
The danger at Vanderbllt and Dean: traffic backups and poor visibility. A contributing factor in crashes?

Greenland Forest City seeks to shift arena office tower development rights to Site 5, for huge building. Prokhorov deal for the Barclays Center was likely premised on moving the bulk.

B4 tower also would have office space.

Elusive accountability: site access for monitors; incorrect public notice; construction worker IDs; no community hotline.

Secondary market brutalizes Nets tickets; 24% cut planned for next season.

Watch how Barclays Center delivery truck unloading in neighborhood snags fire truck on Dean Street.

March 2016

The Cotton contradiction: Forest City's lobbying leader also presents herself as point person for community complaints

Diminished in transmission: how Atlantic Yards concerns (harassment, lack of meeting notice) were downplayed to oversight body.

The new (bogus) buzzword: revised plan for office towers would "activate" Atlantic Avenue corridor. Ominous math, lingering questions: push for office space (with loss of tower/no unit cut) suggests maximum impacts, smaller affordable apartments.

Architect presents B3 tower, another high-rise aiming to blend into local fabric

Resorts World Casino NYC plaza
Forest City doesn't deliver on promised statistics regarding Community Benefits Agreement. Devotion NYC's Michael West tells AY CDC: "Forest City Ratner cannot act as an exploiter of our communities."

Out of sync: while state's environmental consultant provides reports after six months, residents seek response to daily impacts. "No accountability looks like this."

Public amenity or business deal? How odd silence about arena's Resorts World Casino NYC Plaza bolsters shift of bulk to Site 5.

April 2016

The Barclays Center ice, called "awful" by ab Islander, gets temporary dehumidification system.

Daily News: longtime homeowner offered only $1.5 million after losing Dean Street house; state claims "fair market" appraisal, developer silent.

Daily News: arena workers dismayed by low pay, no benefits caused by limited hours; conversion crew decertifies union.

Nets finish season with league's third-worst record, lowest TV ratings. So much for bringing Brooklyn a team, "something as intangible as a soul," as Nets owner/Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner told a New York Times Magazine interviewer in June 2005.

Unloading on residential Carlton Ave. 
Forest City says neighbors documenting Atlantic Yards impacts are "hunting for problems" (or maybe tight-fitting project has tiny margin for error).

AY CDC's Jaiyesimi wears new hat, taking over ESD Atlantic Yards role from Filler. Seems permanent as of now.

Is Resorts World NYC Casino Plaza a public amenity or fan gathering space?

B4, now planned for office space, is key to the 35% affordable housing requirement. If B4 tower won't include affordable units, will they go into Site 5? Developer won't say.

535 Carlton contractors use Prospect Heights corner a block away for noisy unloading. State says "incident should not have occurred," but no penalties.

Advertising the 461 Dean lottery
Lottery opens for affordable units at 461 Dean modular tower, part of "revolution in building construction" (but no mention of problems).

Another Islanders playoff game, another episode of post-game honking and yelling. As Islanders go to second round of playoffs, neighborhood braces for noise and disruption.

History lesson: B1 was not supposed to block the bank, but even B2 would do so--and now it does,

Daily News on "living nightmare" for project neighbors; sex harass victim speaks out. After harassment complaints, Greenland Forest City finally rolls out color-coded ID system for construction workers.

May 2016

James, Cumbo and the Atlantic Yards sexual harassment that didn't provoke outrage.

Taste NY at the arena
At the Barclays Center, Taste NY Bar, thanks to Governor's initiative (+ $450K). Billboard: lease signed for Barclays Center team to operate LIU's Paramount; 2019 opening.

Ex-Net Kenyon Martin recalls meeting Ratner: "You cheated me, you cheated us, you cheated Nets fans."

Scenes from 461 Dean rollout: Cumbo "celebration," MHANY sheepishness, Mosley caution. Tom Waters of the Community Service Society said, "Those apartments aren't meeting the most serious needs of the city, at all."

A continued snag in Site 5 (and giant planned building): court schedule suggests P.C. Richard case won't be resolved until 2017.

Security issues at AY CDC: harassed resident speaks; new arena directive rolled out; workers using ID system not alerted about harassment.

Mold mystery persists at B2 modular tower: state records show unresolved, six-month wait for consultant's report.

Flying debris off B3
June 2016

Daily News puffs Pacific Park virtual reality; Forest City rep claims buildings "very low density"

Pacific Park, neighborhood appropriation machine.

Rosie Perez explains Barclays Center turnabout: "then I saw they were hiring people from the neighborhood."

Why did debris fly off B3 tower? Contractor says site up to code, blames high winds (but now will exceed code).

Signs of detente: state agrees to restore Quality of Life meeting name; compile meeting notes; work better with city regarding project impacts.

Yes, Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park is well behind the (previous, tentative) schedule; still no answers re affordable housing.

664 Pacific delayed by dispute with neighbor; developer (in affidavit) says buildout is 4 years; middle school pushed back to 2020 (or later). Was school not considered for southeast block because developer was planning to sell two sites?

Marketing opportunity: a (smaller) Barclays Center roof logo returns, stealthily.

The logo on the roof
Virtual reality: the real-estate press on project location, units under construction, & "public green park."

July 2016

If "supertall" near Junior's would close Flatbush during day for three years, similar impact likely from Pacific Park tower.

Nets acquire Jeremy Lin, keep revamping roster (as do Knicks).

550 Vanderbilt hits 50% sold mark. But it was more than 30% sold nine months ago.

Well more than 83,000 applications for 461 Dean, but does that make it a "successful affordable housing initiative"?

State report says (developers') spending on state lawyers and consultants nears $46 million.

Yes, GFCP paid the required $11 million installment for railyard rights (thanks in part to EB-5 loans).

Year of the Sheep, redux: 535 Carlton affordable housing lottery emerges, no one notices how it's skewed to $100K+ households.

What a cute little neighborhood!
In Los Angeles, Greenland condo project said to be 30% sold to Chinese investors--a model for Brooklyn?

Fantasy graphic portrays cute and charming Pacific Park and 550 Vanderbilt condo building.

Given skew to middle-income "affordable" units, will future buildings emphasis lower-income ones?

Are Islanders considering a new arena in Queens? Leverage for Barclays improvements is more likely.

Forest City's fabulist Greene claims buildings "very low density," modular provided a 20% discount.

Using Instagram to sell condos
Real Deal: Forest City lost some key execs, downsizing staff; execs say all's well, but that's spin. Former Forest City executive Berliner now President/COO of Brooklyn Museum.

Instagrammable! A style blogger promotes 550 Vanderbilt, thanks to sponsorship.

As AEG takes over Nassau Coliseum, Barclays Center GM Rosebrook stretches to oversee both venues.

August 2016

Why de Blasio's probably glad the DNC didn't come to Brooklyn (hint: logistics). It also saved on optics.

Gilmartin's Pacific Park dodge: "There will no longer be a dearth of green space in the heart of Brooklyn."

Ford Amphitheater in Coney
Markowitz's expensive, publicly-funded monument: Ford Amphitheater in Coney Island, with (fewer) concerts and FCR's continued support.

Bloomberg: bond refinancing saves Prokhorov $90 million (but it's actually more); estimated income well below earlier projections. Pro forma vote to approve Barclays Center bond refinancing; no details released: did BALDC vote on document they didn't see?

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200.

Mosley & electeds warn of "serious breach of public trust" regarding the project, get brush-off from state agency; oversight hearing in future? (Didn't happen.)

Curbed publishes "A decade on, Brooklyn’s Pacific Park megaproject is finally realized." (Not quite.) Gilmartin claims she never thought Gehry would be the architect for all the buildings.

Forest City is selling (its 51% of) Brooklyn malls, other retail properties, to focus on mixed-use projects.

Sports Illustrated says of the Nets: "Brooklyn’s roster is the worst kind of depressing."

A glut in Brooklyn rentals should impact both market-rate and (more expensive) affordable units.

Times: Greenland Forest City seeks record rents for Pacific Park retail (next to construction sites).

September 2016

"Reduced development exposure": why Forest City treats Greenland deal as an accomplishment.

Former state overseer Arana Hankin
P.C. Richard was low-balled $15 million for its half of Site 5. A huge two-tower project might go there.

Despite request for retroactive community preference, New York City did not change policy for Atlantic Yards affordable housing.

Signs of the times: as rents rise and hot new restaurants abound, the "meal gap" grows in Brooklyn.

At meeting, residents' frustration about errant trucks in neighborhood gets "compliance is so high" response.

When former state overseer of Atlantic Yards came clean: "There really is no accountability." The not-so-affordable Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park "affordable housing" builds distrust, she said.

A flying bolt
In 461 Dean market-rate rollout, units start at $2,450, not far off "affordable" rent; where are the kitchens?

Carlton Avenue residents face bolts falling into front yards, trucks scraping trees on narrow street, paint-like substance drifting in.

October 2016

How the 550 Vanderbilt developer plays the "authenticity" card.

Forest City gives up on modular business. Gilmartin claims "bumps" typical of start-up. She'd also claimed the company never aimed to manufacture modules, though the record says otherwise.

"Serenity is your backyard"? Not for neighbors of Pacific Park construction.

The B12 site; footings seem elusive
At stalled B12 site, footings said to be started to preserve 421-a tax break. Take a look. Construction Updates indicate "one permanent footing" completed.

Nets players (finally) move to Brooklyn: 12 of 15 now live in borough, where they now can practice.

At Islanders' home opener, a commandeered "public" plaza, illegal parking, and a confrontation with security.

Nassau County Executive Mangano (and wife) indicted for taking bribes. It's unrelated to the Nassau Coliseum deal with Forest City.

GAO report offers more evidence that EB-5 immigrant investor program helps wealthy areas (and developers), not public interest.

Brooklyn Nets writing off New Jersey history (year founded, banner colors).

Why is Barclays Center ice substandard? System doesn't meet NHL standards, because arena uses plastic pipes, not steel. Retrofit would be costly. Hockey boosts some local businesses, burdens some neighbors.

Construction dust outside 535 Carlton
Dean Street neighbors balk at new middle school using Dean Playground, exiting on Dean.

Where does the project stand? Buildings behind schedule; affordable housing unsteady; low-income units lag most.

"Shitshow corner": arena operations, project construction frustrate nearest neighbors.

A transition at Barclays Center: Community Affairs Manager Kelly departs. Arena's new VP Guevara meets the public, brings buzzwords.

A new harassment incident outside the arena: construction workers (from project?) harass passers-by, throw beer.

November 2016

Unspoken truth behind "100% affordable" Pacific Park towers: buildings can go (partly) condo/co-op in 30+ years.

At Atlantic Yards meeting, frustration and lack of resolution experienced by nearest residents suggests Beckett.

Lowest-income units at top
No "poor door" but "poor-er floors"? At "100% affordable" tower, lowest incomes on 3 lowest floors, document says (but developer says no).

Forest City pumps up the volume on 461 Dean with media preview. Media (mostly) comply.

Bakery Ovenly, "shaved cream" spot Snowdays coming to Flatbush Avenue near arena, new residential buildings (& Parm).

Greenland Forest City claims it's "fully committed" to Pacific Park, but won't share updated timetable.

On video, watch Atlantic Yards CDC ignore its rules on public comment.

Hillary's campaign landlord: Ratner relationship doesn't pan out. But Forest City still has Trump connections: D'Amato, Giuliani, Ivanka.

Forest City's dual-class structure tested by hangover from "value destructive transactions" in Brooklyn.

Barclays Center is one of "The New Shapes of New York." But how public is that plaza?

"We need to isolate Norman and these groups"
From New York Communities for Change, criticism of de Blasio's not-so-affordable housing, except for Atlantic Yards.

Though 461 Dean was a financial debacle (at $539K/unit), Forest City still claims it saved 20% on construction costs.

After bombshell about delays, what's the new schedule: Affordable housing by 2025? Tower reconfiguration?

As Chinese real estate companies reassess strategy in U.S., Greenland somehow claims no Pacific Park delays.

Orchestrating the grassroots: "agents of the city" document dump shows fevered response to my #DNC2016 op-ed. "We need to isolate Norman."

Flashback: touting equitable development, de Blasio suggested Atlantic Yards (!) as template.

550 Vanderbilt, plus mechanicals
How tall is 550 Vanderbilt? 40 feet above what they say (and it's allowed). Similar for other buildings.

December 2016

Prokhorov shopping minority stake in the Nets to "local minority partner" to strengthen local ties. (We'll see.)

2009 report: one year to fill B4 with tenants, which is why it's aimed to be an office tower now?

Gilmartin said to treat 461 Dean modular project as a victory.

Forest City Realty Trust reverses itself, will drop family control; Bruce Ratner to leave board. Yes, Pacific Park losses seem a factor.

Times freebie for a luxury package;
how many have actually bought it?
Ten years ago, Atlantic Yards passed without official doubt; "post-truth" look back.

New historic street lights coming to (long-rising) Vanderbilt Avenue, thanks to $575,000 from BP Adams.

"Living Large at Barclays": How could Times let staffer accept $6,189 freebie package? (The Public Editor agrees with my take.)

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

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

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

Forest City, with partner, seeks $60M in EB-5 funds for Downtown Brooklyn office tower. It's not Pacific Park, but it could be a model for Site 5.

Now the Nets' payroll is the league's lowest. It was once the highest.

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