Skip to main content

AY down the memory hole: Wall Street Journal calls 461 Dean "successful" (letter to the editor)

A letter (modified slightly when submitted) to the editor of the Wall Street Journal....

The 7/2/17 article, Why You’d Want to Build a Skyscraper Like an iPhone, by tech columnist Christopher Mims, suggests that modular construction might help solve the world’s housing crisis and contains this passage:
The tallest modular high-rise ever built was completed in the Prospect Heights section of Brooklyn in November 2016 by Forest City Ratner Cos. A conventional builder that has explored prefab methods, the company created a factory in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. At the project’s busiest, upward of 200 people were constructing and finishing individual “mods”—three for every one-bedroom apartment, says Bob Sanna, executive vice president of construction at Forest City.
Though successful, the project illustrates some growing pains of the new methods. Forest City had joined with construction giant Skanska on the modular factory, but that relationship ended, after delays in completing the high-rise, in a dispute.
I was startled by the casual, unsupported claim of success. Other than the fact that the building has been completed, much evidence--as I've reported in my ongoing coverage of the project--points in the opposite direction.

The building, part of the controversial Pacific Park (formerly Atlantic Yards) project, took twice as long as planned. It lost developer Forest City Ratner tens of millions of dollars. Forest City had to buy out its 75% equity partner. It prematurely paid off tax-exempt financing and chose not to draw down the rest of the approved tax-exempt financing.

In the first phase of building, water leaks caused such damage that, as a state monitor reported, the first four floors were "largely gutted." Plans to deliver the modules with floor installed had to be revised, with the flooring installed later on site. Its partnership with Skanska on the modular plan broke down in acrimony, with pending lawsuits.


The builders got so skittish that, on the 9th and 10th floors, drywall sections of the ceilings and walls closest to the windows were omitted from mods, to be installed later, undermining the concept of completing as much as possible in the factory.

Forest City's boastful plans that it had "cracked the code" on modular construction were dashed when its new joint venture partner on Pacific Park, Greenland USA, decided the next buildings would be built conventionally. Forest City, which had acquired full control of the modular factory from Skanska, then sold it for an undisclosed price--concealing perhaps a loss--to a former manager of the plant.

The new manager, implicitly indicating that the 461 Dean project was too complicated for modular, has said they'd focus on buildings that are not as tall and have a more standardized set of modules.

Perhaps most relevant to Wall Street Journal readers, two hedge funds, which have targeted parent Forest City Realty Trust for what one called "value destructive" transactions, have cited 461 Dean (aka B2) as a drag on the company's bottom line.

If that's success, I'd had to see what failure looks like.
Norman Oder
Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Report
Brooklyn, NY

One more thought

The WSJ headline Why You’d Want to Build a Skyscraper Like an iPhone, recalls the famous, albeit unsupported, boast by Forest City's Bob Sanna: "This is our iPhone moment."

Comments