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Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park in 2017: watching the residential rollout, Site 5 plans, timetable uncertainty; what's the (inevitable) surprise?

Yesterday, I published my 2016 round-up of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park news. Now, some things to look for and to expect--and some speculation about the inevitable 2017 "surprise."

More towers will open in 2017, that's for sure. On top of the 50/50 rental 461 Dean, which opened (slightly) in 2016 and is slowly taking in tenants, two buildings--the "100% affordable" rental 535 Carlton, and the 550 Vanderbilt condo--are sure to open in 2017, while the other ("100% affordable" rental 38 Sixth) is expected to open. That's still just 4 of 15 (or 16) total towers.

The question, however, is how fast they will lease up and sell, and how fast the Temporary Certificates of Occupancy will turn into final versions.

We've already seen delays in all the buildings, rendering previous tentative schedules even more unreliable. Market-rate leases for 461 Dean have faced price drops, given the current glut of luxury units, which may make it tougher to lease the most expensive units at 535 Carlton.

Will new residents be happy with brand new apartments? Surely, but will others feel frustrated by the absence of the promised "eight-acre park," and by continued construction?

Some retailers and landlords on Flatbush and Vanderbilt avenues will be pleased by new consumers. New places to eat and drink, some yet to open, have made business plans--and paid higher rents--based on such expectations.

What's next?

The full project timetable remains uncertain, given the pause in market-rate development announced in November. Can the affordable housing really be built by 2025, as promised, if the whole project will take much longer? Will the affordability of the housing improve? Those questions linger.

Three sites have been put up for sale by Greenland Forest City Partners (or are seeking investors): the condo sites at B12 and B13, for which the market is likely glutted in the near term, and the site at B4, which Greenland Forest City Partners wants to swap to office space. It seems unlikely that an investment in B4, at least, would be announced before the public process began.

In 2017, likely the process to built B15 (aka 664 Pacific), the market-rate building with a school, will begin, though that middle school is not likely to appear until 2021.

A bit question surrounds Site 5, now how to Modell's and P.C. Richard, where a legal case involving the latter likely will be resolved. That will allow a public process, involving hearings and a pro forma vote, to move a huge amount of bulk once planned for B1--now home to the arena plaza--across the street to a site once thought to support 440,000 square feet, not 1.1 million.

That might bring out some longtime Atlantic Yards combatants, but the battles these days are surely less pitched. GFCP was planning not just office spaces but condos and glitzy retail. If they secure--at least tentatively--an anchor tenant, the project might get some momentum. But the effrontery of building such a massive project at that site also might galvanize opposition.

Sports questions

The Brooklyn Nets are in a rebuilding year, and must figure out how to bring people into the building. So far, it hasn't been stellar. The New York Islanders also have had a disappointing season, though attendance (and performance) last year improved during the season.

I don't think the Islanders can seriously pursue an opt-out of their lease, given the cost of a new arena, but wouldn't be surprised if that opt-out is used to force improvements in the deal between the team and the Barclays Center operators. For example, might the arena be pushed to retrofit its balky ice system, which beat writers say does not meet NHL standards?

Politics and accountability

Will Mayor Bill de Blasio, pursuing re-election, staunchly defend and praise Atlantic Yards affordable housing? He just might, and only challengers who do their homework can plausibly criticize him for it being not so affordable.

But de Blasio likely won't face a serious challenge, unless he's wounded by indictments of his staff, or even himself. Otherwise proven citywide vote-getter like Comptroller Scott Stringer or Public Advocate Tish James, or high-profile officials like Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, will stay away, leaving fringe candidates like Tony Avella.

I don't expect Atlantic Yards will be an issue in the 35th Council District, since no one has yet emerged as a challenger to incumbent Council Member Laurie Cumbo. (Update: there are rumors that 2013 challenger Ede Fox may run again.) In the state legislature, Assemblymember Walter Mosley has raised some concerns and questions, joined by fellow legislators, but has not yet followed up with concrete action like a hearing.

For the project, it's tough to expect much more accountability. The long-promised Independent Compliance Monitor for the Community Benefits Agreement has never arrived. Empire State Development, the state authority that oversees/shepherds the project, is on its fourth Project Director, with diminishing institutional knowledge.

The Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC), the board set up in 2014 (but which first met in 2015) to advise on the project, has sometimes added elements of transparency, but has been mostly toothless.

What's the surprise?

What could be the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park "surprise" in 2017? (There's almost always a surprise.)

One surprise could be the announcement of a new timetable, faster or slower than now assumed. Another could be new investors in three towers. But those are "expected" announcements.

Another might be the reinstatement of 421-a, or a similar tax break, which could re-start residential development. And perhaps there might be federal lobbying for infrastructure (or other) funds from a Trump administration. Maybe there might be another (fourth) round of EB-5 fundraising, assuming the law involving regional centers (the middlemen) is renewed.

More dramatic would be a sale of larger portions of the property, and a new player in the Greenland Forest City equation.

Another surprise might be reconfiguration of city services to better accommodate the emerging project, which spans three Community Districts.

Another surprise could be--just guessing, no evidence--tensions between Forest City and Greenland. Their collaboration, to outside observers, seems productive, but Greenland is no longer as deep-pocketed as it once was, so it may look at spending differently.

After all, Forest City and Skanska were once happy partners in the modular factory, and now they're battling in court over cost overruns on the B2 (aka 461 Dean) building.

Above all, however, the surprise might be something that hasn't yet been floated publicly. Stay tuned.

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