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Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what's coming + project FAQ (pinned post)

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what's coming + project FAQ (pinned post)

The graphic below, last updated in January 2021, is aimed to stay at the top of the blog. It will be updated as announced configurations change and buildings launch. The information in the text has been updated through April 10, 2021, though considerable uncertainty remains: note buildings with question marks, as well as the project's general history of changes.

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park is complicated, and it's changed a lot. Four of 15 (or 16) towers have been built (plus the Barclays Center). Four are under construction.

That's rather slow progress for a project announced in 2003, approved in 2006, and re-approved in 2009, though momentum is increasing, given that the under-construction towers should deliver 1,969 total apartments, 30% of them income-restricted, or "affordable." By 2023, 3,212 apartments, of an approved 6,430 units, should be finished.

Still, the jobs and affordable housing--especially for lower-income households--are way behind projections.

March 2021
The four towers in process are on terra firma: B15 and B4 launched in 2019, while B12 and B13 started in the summer of 2020, with rolling openings likely in 2021-22 for the first two, and 2023 for the second two.

However, 876 more affordable units must be delivered by May 31, 2025 to meet a state deadline, with significant penalties. That's a major challenge, given the time required to a deck over a railyard to accommodate towers, but it's not insurmountable--though a legislative "fix" may be needed.

So what's coming? Developer Greenland Forest City Partners as of 9/30/19 announced plans to build a platform for B5/B/6/B7 between Sixth and Carlton avenues starting in 2020. 

B5 through B7, with B4 at far left
Then the developer predicted the platform would start in the second half of 2020--a deadline that wasn't met. A document I found suggested it would take three years to build the platform.

However, permits were filed (and revised) in 2020 for B5, which will be built along with the platform. That means which means both could start in 2021. And pre-planning proceeds for B6 and B7.

Note the unbuilt B1 tower over the arena-plus-plaza (once dubbed "Miss Brooklyn") and the proposed--but not yet approved--shift in bulk to the unbuilt Site 5, at the far west end of the site. Also note the contested, but recently approved, plan for a fitness center and field house under B12/B13.

Changing plans

The August 2014 tentative plans proposed by developer Greenland Forest City Partners have changed, but informed the August 2017 image below right, which assumed/presumed that there would be more buildings with condominiums and also more rental towers, as in the original plan, that were 50% affordable. (It also omitted the "shadow" outline of the approved--but unlikely to be built--B1 tower, which is now added up top.)

August 2017 image, based on previous plans
The project is already well behind that tentative timetable and, by August 2018 there was evidence the full project would take until 2035, not 2025 as previously suggested in a now-stale timeline.

That further undermines one of the purported rationales for the project: the removal of the "blight" of an open railyard, which requires a deck for development.

General backstory

See my essay on the Culture of Cheating and the missing promised jobs. And my history of original developer Forest City Ratner, now Forest City New York. And an account of the project since the 2011 Battle for Brooklyn documentary.

Here's the official project web site. Here are two portal pages from Empire State Development, which oversees and shepherds the project. Below are some renderings of the project, and below that an FAQ.

A June 2018 image of the full buildout

The image below is cropped from a Greenland USA press release. It omits the planned/proposed tower at Site 5, at the far west of the image.

A January 2018 graphic of the full buildout

The below graphic is more of a concept plan than a confirmed representation, from the new firm L&L MAG (which in 2018 had a service contract with minority shareholder Forest City New York to speak for the Greenland Forest City Partners joint venture, but apparently lost it as of 2019), but it does show the bulk from a different angle.

The pink arrows point to completed buildings as of that date, the green to the two tallest towers proposed (Site 5 and B4). Note that the huge two-tower Site 5 project has been floated but has not been officially proposed, much less approved, though planning for governmental approval has started.

A September 2018 graphic of the project at night

This is from CityRealty, and not only omits Site 5, it curiously downplays--with little illumination--both the Barclays Center and 461 Dean, both built by Forest City.

An image shared with the New York Post 9/39/19, of new railyard towers

At left is B4, flanking the Barclays Center. In the center are B5/B6/B7.

FAQ (periodically updated)

Where can documents regarding the project be found?

Try the Empire State Development's About Atlantic Yards page, notably the link to Additional Resources, which includes documents like the many-volumed Environmental Impact Statements and the original General Project Plan (GPP), a revision, and amendments. 

Also see Empire State Development's Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation page for a limited set of key resources. I also posted a variety of documents on Scribd and have since switched to Document Cloud.

How big is the site?

It's 22 acres, with public property--the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard--representing about 8.5 acres and public streets at least 3 acres. (In other words, it's not building "over a railyard.") Originally 16 towers were planned (plus the arena); now there would likely be 15. There should ultimately be 8 acres of open space, at least if the project is finished.

Atlantic Yards was announced in 2003. Why was the name changed to Pacific Park in 2014?

That was when Greenland USA, an arm of Greenland Holding Co. (Shanghai government-owned, in significant part) bought 70% of the project going forward, excluding the modular tower, B2 (461 Dean) and the arena operating company. I argued that it was an effort to distance the project from the taint associated with "Atlantic Yards."

Looking north from Flatbush & Sixth Aves., March 2021
Visible: the completed B2 & B3; the unfinished B4 & B15
So who owns the project?

The original developer was Forest City Ratner (later Forest City New York), an arm of Forest City Enterprises (later Forest City Realty Trust). Forest City was bought in late 2018 by Brookfield Asset Management, and is now a subsidiary.

The arena is nominally owned by New York State, to enable tax-exempt financing, but a privately owned company operates the arena and pays off construction financing.

Forest City in 2010 sold 45% of the arena operating company to Mikhail Prokhorov's Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment and in 2016 sold the rest to Prokhorov. (Prokhorov had bought 80% of the Nets in the first transaction, and the remaining portion in the second.)

Prokhorov in 2017 sold 49% of the Nets to billionaire Joe Tsai, and in 2019 sold the remainder of the Nets to Tsai, as well as the arena operating company. (I've argued that the sale of the Nets was not a record, as touted.)

The one tower owned solely by Forest City, 461 Dean (aka B2), was sold in 2018 to Principal Global Investors.

Forest City retained a 30% share of the three towers built before 2018 by the joint venture Greenland Forest City Partners: 535 Carlton, 38 Sixth, and 550 Vanderbilt. The joint venture, with Greenland owning 95% going forward, was to build the remaining towers.

However, since then Greenland Forest City has sold the rights to build on three development sites: B15 to The Brodsky Organization and B12 and B13 to TF Cornerstone. Greenland is partnering with Brodsky on B4. Greenland has said it will develop B5/B6/B7 itself, but... things can change.

How much will the project cost?

That's been a moving target As I wrote in 2016, the project price tag, initially $2.5 billion and long described as about $5 billion, had been described in a 9/16/14 press release issued by Greenland Holding Group, parent of Greenland USA, as involving a total investment of $6.6 billion. Surely the cost will go up. So maybe $8 billion is not unreasonable.

Who do we contact with questions or concerns?

Pacific Park Brooklyn has a Community Liaison Office (CLO), formerly located at 591 Dean Street, then relocated to 550 Vanderbilt Avenue, and now operating virtually. The CLO can be reached by phone at 866-923-5315 or by email. Some residents near site construction may be eligible to receive and have installed double-paned or storm windows and an in-window air conditioning unit.

Empire State Development, the state authority that oversees/shepherds the project, can be contacted here, and can put you on a mailing list for Construction Updates, issued every two weeks, last-minute updates, and other project-related information. About every two months ESD, along with the developer, hosts a Quality of Life meeting--now virtual--to update residents and hear concerns.

The Barclays Center sends out a monthly event schedule--well, at least it did so, pre-pandemic. Contact Community Relations--see link here.

What was the project's timeline, and how has it changed?

Here's a project timeline as of November 2018. Here's a visual history, up through 2010.

When Atlantic Yards was announced in December 2003 (here's the vastly overoptimistic original promotional material), it was supposed to take ten years to build. That same timeline persisted after the project received official state approvals in 2006. After delays, including lawsuits and the recession, project terms were changed in 2009.

A 2035 "outside date" was assigned for the project, with penalties for delay applied to only a few buildings and the platform. Representatives of the developer and the state have, despite queries in 2018 and 2019, refused to offer a timeline. Hence my effort with the graphic up top.

Here's another reason for expected delay: the developer doesn't need to finish paying for railyard development rights until June 2030.

The first tower was supposed to break ground in late 2010, but Forest City moved the goalposts at least eight times. It finally broke ground in December 2012, but took nearly four years to build.

How has the configuration changed?

The project was originally supposed to have 4,500 rental apartments in 11 towers, plus four office towers with space to house 10,000 jobs.

Later, one tower was added and much of the office space was swapped for condominiums, 1,930 in all, and space for far fewer jobs. However, despite approval of 1,930 condos, it's likely more rental apartments will be built, given tax breaks that cover the latter but not the former.

What happened in 2014?

In 2014, the state and community negotiators from the coalition BrooklynSpeaks, who had threatened a fair-housing lawsuit regarding delayed affordable housing, agreed to a settlement, with a May 31, 2025 deadline for the affordable housing, and to soon start building two "100% affordable" rental towers.

While many assumed--based on a tentative timetable/map soon released dated 8/13/14 (below)--that that represented the likely finish date for the entire project, that's long been untenable, both in schedule and configuration. For example, the loss of a tax break for "100% market-rate" units, whether rentals or condos, makes such towers unlikely.

Greenland has said it will meet the affordability deadline, which implies front-loading affordable units, perhaps, as noted above and further described/estimated here, with another "100% affordable" tower. (One question--see below--is how affordable they will be.)

A former Forest City executive in January 2018 offhandedly estimated that the project would take another decade. I'd bet it goes past 2028, given the 2035 "outside date."

The affordable housing was originally supposed to appear in rental towers that were uniformly half market-rate units, half below-market ones: "50/50," or, more precisely, 50/30/20, with 20% low-income units, and 30% moderate- and middle-income ones.

However, the 2014 changes reframed the configuration of affordability, with a severe skewing to middle-income units. Instead of devoting 20% of the units in the two "100% affordable" towers to units in Band 5, the most expensive cohort, the buildings have 50% Band 5 units. 

A graphic distributed in November 2020 indicates the overall skewing to middle-income households.

Then, there was a stall, right?

Four towers were completed (or nearly so) when, in 2016, Forest City Realty Trust, at that point the junior partner in the joint venture with Greenland USA, announced it would pause new construction.

In early 2018, after Greenland agreed to buy most of Forest City's remaining share, the developer said it aimed to start a new building, B4, in 2019.

In October 2018, after Greenland said it had sold rights to three development sites, it projected that B15 would start in 2019, while B12 and B13 would start in 2019 or 2020.  (It was 2020.) All would be rentals, rather than containing condos in part or in full.

Will there be more condos?

As of now, the Affordable New York tax break--the replacement for the 421-a tax break--only applies to rental units or condo buildings with 35 or fewer units. So previous plans for condos are very much in doubt. That suggests more market-rate rentals will be built beyond the planned 2,250 such units.

Wasn't the whole project--rather than just one tower--supposed to be built via innovative modular technology?

Yes. But it didn't work.

What buildings are now under way?

Work on B15, across Sixth Avenue from the southern half of the Barclays Center, launched in March 2019. Work on B4, on the northeast corner of the arena block, launched not long after that.

B4 (18 Sixth) is said to be due in 2022, with some apartments ready in 2021, though the sign on the fence outside has said 2023.

B15 (664 Pacific), once supposed to launch in December 2015, with a projected 2018 completion, was delayed by a dispute with neighbors and perhaps for business reasons. It will contain a planned middle school. While the building may be open for residential occupancy in 2021 and 2022, the school has been delayed, with an opening projected in 2024; it will be significantly larger than once estimated--812 (or 825) vs. 640 seats. The original architect for B15 remains.

The rental tower sites B12 and B13, on the southeast block, started in summer 2020, and should take three years, including one year to excavate the enormous space for a below-ground fitness center and fieldhouse. B12, at that point a condo building, was unveiled in September 2015 as 615 Dean Street.

How long does it take to build a tower (not over the railyard)?

Probably two to three years, depending on size and complexity.

Block 1121 requires a platform for B8/B9/B10 
What about building over the railyard?

That could take longer, since tower construction must be proceeded and/or accompanied, by  construction, perhaps in multiple phases, for each of three sections of the platform required for vertical construction over the railyard.

The overall elapsed time could take six years, or less, depending on how much has been done in preliminary work, and how much is done simultaneously.

The developer announced that the platform would start in 2020 (which didn't happen), which suggests a certain amount of preliminary work has been completed. Also, B5 has been said to be built simultaneously with the platform.

The platform will be easier to build on Block 1120, home to B5/B6/B7, because likely more preliminary work will have been completed, and also because part of that block is already at grade (street level), thanks to the demolition of two buildings that "bumped" into the railyard. That allows cellars in those buildings, which have their "footprint" shifted toward Atlantic Avenue.

The graphic up top, though indicating uncertainty, suggests that the last three buildings (B8/B9/B10 might all be market-rate.

Well, there's clearly a path to meet the affordable housing deadline by 2025 without building over that block. So affordability would not be required, though tax incentives (or subsidies) at the time might still stimulate some income-restricted units. The market for such hybrid buildings, as well as the political backing for them, might be better than the market for all market-rate buildings. Or, by then, perhaps there will be a new real estate cycle.

If those last three towers aren't built, well, the project will never get the major part of the promised open space.


What about Site 5?

The developer wants to build a huge, two-tower project at Site 5, longtime home to P.C. Richard and also Modell's (now closed), catercorner to the Barclays Center. A large building has already been approved, but the developer wants to shift a significant amount of the bulk of the unbuilt B1 tower, creating a much larger structure.

That would require a public process, including hearings and public comment, to change the project's guiding General Project Plan. As of late 2019, that process was supposed to get closer to launching; as of 2021, the timing is still uncertain, but something's brewing. Eminent domain still hasn't proceeded.

How tall will the buildings be, and what will the square feet be?

See chart at right regarding maximum approved heights and square footages. Click to enlarge. However, that would have to be modified if the Site 5 project is approved. Also note a small shift in bulk--10,000 square feet--from B15 to B12, approved in August 2018.

What's the approved Floor Area Ratio (FAR), a common measure of bulk, indicating multiples of a full floor plate. (An FAR of 2, for example, can reflect two floors that fully cover the plot or, alternatively, four floors that cover half the plot.)

The Final Environmental Impact Statement stated:
The project’s overall density would be more concentrated on the western end of the project site (the arena block and Site 5), where the overall density would equate to a floor area ratio (FAR) of 8.6 (10.3 FAR not including the area of the streetbeds incorporated into the project site); the FAR on the project site east of 6th Avenue and would be 7.4 (8.2 without the streetbeds incorporated into the project site). The total FAR of the proposed project would be 7.8 (9.0 without the streetbeds incorporated into the project site).
Note that the lower calculation is a bit deceptive. The calculations producing the overall FAR of 7.8, the western end FAR of 8.6, and the eastern end FAR of 7.4 incorporate the demapped streets, while typically such calculation assume that buildings are next to streets. To quote the BrooklynViews blog from January 2006, "In Brooklyn, the FAR measures density relative to the existing pattern of streets and blocks."

How many affordable units have been built?

In three towers (B2, B3, B14), 782 (of 1,242 total apartments constructed), including 254 (32%) highly-coveted low-income units, for which there was a huge response in the lottery. The low-income units were originally pledged--in the Housing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and the Community Benefits Agreement, both nonbinding--to be 40% of the overall total of below-market units, so they're lagging. 

Also, the Band 1 (up to 40% of AMI) units were supposed to represent one-fourth (25%) of the total low-income units, according to that MOU. Today the 40 units of 254 are less than 16% of the total; there should be 63 or 64. 

March 2019:  B14 has 298 units, but the super's unit was not in the lottery.

There's been a skew to middle-income units.

But 336 of the total 782 affordable units (43%) have been Band 5 upper-middle-income units--for households earning near or above six figures--approaching market rate, though the Housing MOU indicated that only 20% of the total affordable units should be in this "band."

So it's been hard to find tenants. Some renters at 535 Carlton were offered two months free on a one-year lease, before the pandemic--and renters at both 535 Carlton and 38 Sixth were offered three-months free during the pandemic. (Rent at one market-rate studio actually dipped below an affordable unit within another project building.) 

It's better to describe "affordable units" as "below-market" or "income-linked" or "income-restricted," since households are supposed to pay 30% of their income in rent.

Of the affordable total, 126 (16.1%) have been Band 4 middle-income units. So nearly 60% of the affordable units have been middle-income, as opposed to 40% as promised in the MOU.

Only 65 apartments (8.3% of all affordable units) have been in Band 3, the moderate-income category, though they were supposed to represent 20% of the affordable units.

What's next?

July 2020
The four buildings under construction—all on terra firma, not over the railyard–are expected to deliver a total of 592 affordable units: 258 in B4, 133 in B12, 107 in B13, and 94 in B15.

What's unclear is their level of affordability--though evidence suggests all the income-linked units in B4 will be for households at 130% of Area Median Income.

The Affordable New York tax break--the replacement for 421-a--is skewed toward producing middle-income units: either the entirety of the total affordable units, or two-thirds, at least if--as in this case--the affordable units represent 30% of the total. (Another option delivers low-income units, if there are 25% total affordable units.)

That makes a total of 1,374. If so, a gap of 876 units (or 877) to reach the 2,250 requirement by 2025 would persist. That could be addressed in the next few towers.

Of the 2,250 expected market-rate rentals, 182 have been built, with another 1,378 under construction: 602 in B4, 286 in B12, 272 in B13, and 218 in B15. That's a total of 1,560, leaving 790 to be built, at least according to the official plans.

Of the 1,930 approved condos, 278 are built, and 1,652 remain to be built. That said, plans announced in 2014 indicated only 1,033 condos, which implied more market-rate rentals. And the loss of a 421-a tax break applied to condos makes future condos very unlikely among the 6,430 total units.

Weren't half the affordable units, in terms of square footage, supposed to be geared toward families?

Yes, but Forest City backed off that pledge for two- and three-bedroom units with the first tower. 461 Dean. The next two rental towers, 535 Carlton and 38 Sixth, did have 35% of the apartments (in unit count) for families, though, which is likely close to the square footage goals.

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.

That would mean 5,145 people in affordable units: 1,890 among in low-income rentals, and 2,835 in moderate- and middle-income rentals--but only if the original plan was followed, and it hasn't been. So there'd be more middle-income households.

That leaves 8,778 people in market-rate rentals and condos. 

As of May 2018 (and through today), the buildings finished include 1,242 units with the capacity for 2,608 people (using the 2.1 persons/unit estimate, which does not necessarily hold in each building; nor is every apartment necessarily occupied yet):
How much parking is expected?

The project approved in 2006 was to include 3,670 below-grade parking spaces. In 2014, the parking requirement was proposed for a cut, first to 2,896 spaces and then to 1,200 spaces. In 2019, the total was cut to 1,000 spaces, with these estimated uses: 300 for the arena, 24 for the New York Police Department, and 676 for residents.

However, the configuration shifted, with more units than announced now planned for the southeast block, and likely fewer at Site 5.

What's the impact of the coronavirus pandemic?

Well, it shuttered the Barclays Center in March 2020, and the #blacklivesmatter protests turned it into what I called an accidental town square. The arena reopened, without ticketed fans (though some guests), for Nets basketball in December 2020. No other events have been announced.

The pandemic has not, as far as we know, changed the design plans for any buildings, other than minor changes like automatic hand-washing stations in amenity spaces. Apparently the developers are assuming that, not only a vaccine will arrive, it will significantly restore previous assumptions.

How many jobs have there been?

That's tough to figure out, because, while there have been periodic reports of the number of workers at the construction site, or the number of total arena employees, the most important metric is FTE (full-time equivalent) jobs. Consider this analysis, which suggests that the supposed 2,000 arena jobs (since increased) can't add up to 1,135 FTE. 

Arena jobs are part-time, not paying a livable wage. One hostess reported earning $13,000 a year; by another estimate, weekly pay is around $200.

Suffice it to say that there's no proof of the supposed 15,000 construction jobs (in job-years), nor any evidence that the number of jobs, on a pro-rata basis, meets that metric. There are few permanent jobs, since only four residential buildings have opened, with building service jobs, plus limited retail. There are no office jobs, despite the initial promise of 10,000.

The developer failed to hire the promised Independent Compliance Monitor required by the Community Benefits Agreement. A highly-coveted pathway to union construction careers ended in a bitter lawsuit and murky settlement.

Besides that compliance monitor, what else is supposed to monitor the project?

The 2014 settlement that set up the new 2025 deadline for affordable housing also led to the creation of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC), which is supposed to meet quarterly and advise on the project. (It has met more sporadically, and most members are there to listen and be led by Empire State Development staff, rather than to advise.)

The AY CDC is dominated by gubernatorial appointees, and has been mostly toothless--though it did in August 2019 deliver an anomalous deadlocked vote, unwilling to endorse (or oppose) new below-grade space for a fitness center and field house. That had no impact on the eventual approval, however.

In back of 535 Carlton
Does the project have an "brand-new 8-acre park," as marketers have trumpeted?

No. The "park" won't be finished until the project is done. And it's not a park, but publicly-accessible, privately-managed open space. For now, as shown in early 2018 photos, it's paltry, with space behind (and flanking) 535 Carlton and 550 Vanderbilt.

What is the open space supposed to include?

According to the 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement, about 7.2 acres (90 percent) of the open space areas would be programmed for passive and flexible use, consisting of paths and lawns for strolling, sitting, people watching, and picnics. The rest, approximately 0.8 acres (10 percent), would be designated for active uses, including a half basketball court, a volleyball court, two bocce courts, and a children’s playground. That's not a lot.

The open space concept design, originally by Laurie Olin, was revised by Thomas Balsley and unveiled in July 2015. See below. It may not be finished until 2035, with key components reliant on the transition of Pacific Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues--currently demapped to serve as a construction staging area--to green space.

Where do elected officials stand on the project?

Times have changed in the last decade when City Council Member Letitia James (now Attorney General) and then-Borough President Marty Markowitz were on opposite poles, with fervent opposition countered by even more flagrant boosterism.

James was allied with Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, which is essentially defunct. The current political configuration regards elected officials who are generally supportive, willing to sign a letter in favor of the project, and those who are somewhat critical, willing to sign a letter requesting information. 

There's little political profit in being too out front in either direction, I suspect.) Some of those officials have allied, loosely or not, with BrooklynSpeaks, the "mend-it-don't-end-it" coalition that continues, thanks to a few active individuals.

Here's my imperfect analysis:
  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo: like all the governors, helping ease the project's forward path
  • Mayor Bill de Blasio: steady, not-so-informed supporter, given the importance of "affordable housing"
  • Sen. Chuck Schumer: longtime supporter, especially at the start
  • Rep. Yvette Clarke: a steady supporter, if not particularly vocal
  • Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: it's no longer in his district (he was the Assembly rep for the project), but he's been a mild supporter and occasional critic
  • Borough President Eric Adams: a steady supporter, though his office has supported efforts to increase accountability regarding project impacts and affordability
  • State Sen. Jabari Brisport, in 2021 replacing Velmanette Montgomery (a longtime ally of James's and project critic, but who didn't make the project a priority); his position is unclear
  • Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon: a supporter of BrooklynSpeaks, the mend-it-don't-end-it coalition, she has been moderately critical
  • Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest, in 2021 replacing Walter Mosley (also close to BrooklynSpeaks); her position is unclear 
  • Council Member Laurie Cumbo: generally a supporter, though not too active, but also joining BrooklynSpeaks at times
  • Council Member Brad Lander: once a critic, but elected with the support of housing advocates, so closer to the center, though also joining BrooklynSpeaks at times
  • Council Member Steve Levin: sometimes a mild critic
There's not much distance between the stances of, say, Simon, Mosley, Lander, and Levin.

Do people still support the project?

Sure. There's a huge need in the city for "affordable housing," and the mayor has made an example of this project, with relatively little public dissent or scrutiny. The one active signatory of the Community Benefits Agreement, the Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance, distributes 50 free tickets (and, usually, tickets to one suite) to arena events to grateful nonprofit groups.

But there's a general cloud over the project, thanks to the various challenges raised by project opponents and critics, as well as journalism, a documentary film, and a musical play.

Was Mayor Mike Bloomberg a party to the Community Benefits Agreement

No, he signed it as a witness.

Have some former project supporters or overseers changed their mind?

Investor Londell McMillan said "it breaks my heart to have been a party of the project." Fervent public testifier Umar Jordan said "they played Brooklyn." Former state overseer Arana Hankin said "there really is no accountability."

Did original developer Forest City Ratner make money on the project, given the benefits of public subsidies, tax breaks, and a zoning override?

No, it looks like they have taken significant losses. However, if they'd had the patience--tough with a public company--and skill set to run a basketball team, they might have endured to make a huge profit on the Brooklyn Nets, as Mikhail Prokhorov seems to have done.

How much money did the developers raise via cheap loans from immigrant investors seeking green cards via the EB program? How much did they save? Did the loans create jobs?

As I wrote regarding the third round of fundraising, $228 million and $249 million and $100 million, or $577 million. It's hard to specify the savings, but Fortune said "Raising $100 million through EB-5 can add $20 million to a project’s bottom line."

A leading industry middleman, who worked on the second and third rounds of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park EB-5 fundraising, admitted that his projects typically don't need the money. That means EB-5 doesn't create jobs, which is the rationale behind the program. 

80 Flatbush initial proposal, near left. Arrow = Site 5
How has the area context changed?

Until Atlantic Yards was announced, the 512-foot Williamsburgh Savings Bank tower, with a distinctive clock, was the tallest building in Brooklyn. Original architect Frank Gehry's flagship Atlantic Yards tower, Miss Brooklyn, was supposed to be 620 feet. It was lowered to 511 feet in 2011, but would have been three times the bulk.

Now it won't be built, as the arena's plaza will persist, but the bulk of Miss Brooklyn is expected to be transferred across Flatbush Avenue to Site 5, and a tower could reach 785 feet.

The bank building has been sold: the upper floor offices are now condos, and the bank space became an event space and now will be retail. Meanwhile, the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning, and associated development around the Brooklyn Academy of Music, have changed the development spine along Flatbush Avenue, with numerous towers. A "supertall" is under construction, more than 1000 feet, next to Junior's and a 986-foot tower, 80 Flatbush, was proposed just north of the former bank building, now One Hanson, and was later approved at 840 feet.

Proposed 550 Clinton Avenue, with/near Pacific Park
So that to some degree normalizes the density/height around the arena block, at least that which solely borders avenues. Site 5 would border row houses and low-rise apartments, in part, as do 38 Sixth and 664 Pacific, and the four towers on the southeast block of the site.

An under-construction 312-foot tower just northeast of the Pacific Park site, 550 Clinton Avenue, shows the changing context, as well as awkward transition of the project to the south.

Also, an 18-story tower east across Vanderbilt Avenue from the B10 site has been proposed, though not yet approved, for a lot long home to a drive-through McDonald's. It would require a rezoning.

McDonald's site proposed for 195';
buildings with blue/white stars are unbuilt;
those with blue/yellow stars are being built

Why did Forest City announce in 2018 that it would sell all but 5% of its remaining share to Greenland?

It cut its risks, and losses, as the firm, which had become a real estate investment trust (REIT), was aiming to avoid risky development projects and focus more on income-producing projects. We don't know the terms of the deal. By the end of 2018, Forest City was taken over by Brookfield Asset Management, so it's no longer an independent company.

Will Greenland make money on the project?

Too soon to tell. We don't know the terms of the second transaction with Forest City. We don't know the affordability levels and subsidies for future towers. We don't know what version of the Site 5 tower(s) will be approved. We don't know future business/real estate cycles.

But Greenland also has/had other ambitions, such as making its mark in New York City and developing in an economy less volatile than China. That said, Greenland now seems to pulling back, both in New York and Los Angeles, selling pieces of its projects and lowering its risks.

Would the various subsidies, tax breaks, and government assistance have been approved if city and state officials knew they were benefiting a Russian oligarch billionaire and a company significantly owned by Shanghai?

Good question!

What are some common mistakes in Atlantic Yards news coverage over the years?
  • Atlantic Yards is a project, not a place
  • It was not designed to be "over the railyards" 
  • The project site is not in "Downtown Brooklyn"
  • Pacific Park a not new neighborhood in itself (even a project architect calls it an "extension to the existent neighborhood")
  • It was not a product of a "rezoning" and/or city approval
  • It was not the "same site" Walter O'Malley sought for a new Dodgers stadium (CJR coverage)
  • It would not provide $6 billion in new tax revenue
  • There were not 34 lawsuits
Why was a green roof installed on the arena?

Well, the original plan was for public open space. Then it was for those in the four towers flanking the arena. Then it was eliminated, after the project was redesigned and reconfigured, with four towers no longer built simultaneously with the arena.

However, after a flaw in the arena design merely, as claimed, as some sort of public amenity. It's also aimed to tamp down noise escaping from the arena. So the arena's not that good a neighbor.

What's the total amount of subsidies, direct and indirect?

That's a tough one. But direct city and state subsidies total $305 million, or $285 million. (Forest City Ratner's seemingly generous payouts for property owners relied on $131 million in public funding from the city.)

New York State in 2006 said there'd be $292.9 million from mortgage recording and sales tax exemptions. That significantly undercounts public contributions, both in increased service costs and tax-exempt financing, as well as direct housing subsidies.

For the arena alone, the New York City Independent Budget Office in 2009 estimated a benefit to Forest City of $726 million in a combination of direct city and state subsidies, and city, state, and federal tax breaks. Given a smaller amount of tax-exempt bonds sold, I'd adjust that benefit downward by about $50 million.

However, city and state agencies backing the project said the IBO was wrong in not calculating the impact of the whole project (which the city agency said was impossible to do).

I'd add that the IBO left out the $200 million-plus value of the naming rights, which the state gave away. No one has counted the naming rights as a subsidy, though a state official once said that it was part of the financing for the arena. And no one's yet specified the overall value of housing subsidies.

How much direct aid did the city and state promise when the project was announced in December 2003?

None. The project, Bruce Ratner said, would be funded out of "incremental revenues." In a February 2005 Memorandum of Understanding, the city and state each promised $100 million. Only after the project was passed in 2006 did the city announced additional subsidies: apparently $105 million, as claimed by Forest City.

What other benefits are there? 

A state override of zoning, which allowed the developer to build much bigger than allowed. (Remember, the project did not go through New York City's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP, because they city wanted a faster process.)

What happened with the deal for the the MTA's Vanderbilt Yard?

Here's the backstory regarding the key public property, 8.5 acres, part of the 22-acre site? Instead of paying $100 million cash, Forest City got the authority--controlled by the mayor and governor--to agree to accept $20 million for the portion needed for the arena. The developer could pay the $80 million equivalent for the rest of the railyard over 21 years, at a gentle 6.5% interest rate. That's a savings of tens of millions in interest.

Beyond that, the agency agreed to accept a smaller replacement railyard. The developer got to save about $100 million. However, infrastructure costs have risen significantly.

Who designed the project?

The original architect was Frank Gehry, who was supposed to design the entire project. However, his two-sport arena, big enough to accommodate basketball and hockey, was swapped for a cheaper, smaller arena focused on basketball, designed by Ellerbe Becket/AECOM. SHoP was brought in to add the snazzy facade (and oculus), and to redesign the interiors, but the building's program didn't change.

SHoP has designed the arena plaza and three towers flanking the arena, the 461 Dean and 38 Sixth, and was initially supposed to design the unbuilt B4, which is now the work of Perkins Eastman. CookFox has designed 535 Carlton and 550 Vanderbilt. KPF was announced as the designer of the yet-to-be-built B12 (aka 615 Dean) and Marvel Architects as the designer of built B15 (aka 664 Pacific), the building with the school. Marvel has stayed on; Handel Architects is designing B12 and B13.

Laurie Olin, or Olin Partnership, was the original landscape architect. The current landscape architect, for the concept design, is Thomas Balsley. But other firms, like Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, are working on specific buildings.

How many arena suites are there?

Well, the original arena was to have 170 suites, then 130, but now the number is closer to 90.

How much were arena naming rights worth?

Not $400 million, as initially reported, but initially closer to $300 million, renegotiated to $200 million, over 20 years, or $10 million a year They were paid for by Barclays Capital, aiming to expand its presence. It has been reported, though not confirmed, that Barclays might want to exit the deal early.

How much are subway station naming rights (Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center) worth?

$4 million, over 20 years. Paid for by the project developer, not Barclays. Of course an MTA official once stated that, given two stations in the complex, "it will be Atlantic/Barclays Arena and the Pacific Street/Barclays Arena." Then they were consolidated for clarity.

How much are uniform sponsorships, by Motorola, worth?

Surely more than $8 million a year.

How much does the arena pay in taxes?

Nada. Instead, payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) are used to pay off construction bonds, given the useful fiction of a nominally state-owned site.

Was the Atlantic Yards site truly blighted, a prerequisite for eminent domain?

I found that very very very dubious.

Do you lead walking tours of the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park site, and environs? What about a class lecture over Zoom (or a similar platform)?

Sure, and tour guide is my other career. I usually lead a free tour on the first Friday of May, as part of the annual Jane's Walk weekend, in honor of the urbanist Jane Jacobs, at least when there's no pandemic. I also offer tours for groups and classes, for a fee. And I can offer an online "virtual tour," or webinar/lecture.


  1. Great/helpful update (as always). What's the status of the school?

    1. See updates in FAQ for additional info.


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