|Click on graphic to enlarge. Design by Ben Keel.|
Also 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.
A January 2018 graphic of the full buildout
This is more of a concept plan than a confirmed representation, from the new firm L&L MAG (which has a service contract with minority shareholder Forest City New York to speak for the Greenland Forest City Partners joint venture), but it does show the bulk from a different angle.
The pink arrows point to completed buildings, the green to the two tallest (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.
How big is the site?
It's 22 acres, with public property--the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard--representing 8.5 acres and public streets at least 3 acres.
What was the project's timeline, and how has it changed?
Here's a project timeline as of May 2018. Here's a visual history, up through 2010.
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.
The project was originally supposed to have 4,500 rental apartments in 11 towers, plus four office towers with 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.
In 2014, the state and community negotiators, who had threatened a lawsuit regarding delayed affordable housing, agreed to a 2025 deadline for the affordable housing, and to build two "100% affordable" towers. While many assumed that represented the likely finish date for the entire project, that now seems unlikely.
Greenland has said it will meet the affordability deadline, which implies front-loading affordable units. (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.
The affordable housing was originally supposed to appear in buildings 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 and the overall configuration is severely skewed.
Four of 15 (or 16) 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 (see below) 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 in 2019.
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's the next building to be built?
Probably B4, on the northeast corner of the arena block, but it likely won't launch until the second quarter of 2019.
What after that?
The sites are cleared for B12 and B13 on the arena block, and B15 across Sixth Avenue from the Barclays Center. B12 was unveiled in September 2015 as 615 Dean Street and B15 was unveiled in December 2015 as 664 Pacific Street.
The latter tower--delayed by a dispute with neighbors and perhaps for business reasons--would contain the planned middle school, which, had it been built, would be open by now. Available information suggests it would take two years to build.
How many affordable units have been built?
Of the 2,250 pledged affordable rentals units, 1,468 apartments remain to be built. Of the 2,250 expected market-rate rentals, 2,068 remain to be built. Of the 1,930 expected condos, 278 are built, with 99 are built, and 1,652 remain to be built.
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
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, with 1,890 among them in low-income affordable rentals, and 2,835 in moderate- and middle-income affordable rentals.
That leaves 8,778 people in market-rate rentals and condos, though let's call it 8,358 after subtracting 420 who may live in 200 promised below-market condos. So that's 5,145 in below-market units, though many of them won't be so cheap.
As of May 2018, 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 are any full yet):
- 461 Dean (181 below-market rentals, 182 market rentals, 762 residents when full)
- 535 Carlton (298 below-market rentals, 626 residents when full)
- 550 Vanderbilt (278 condos, 584 residents when full)
- 38 Sixth (303 below-market rentals, 636 residents when full)
How many jobs have there been?
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.
|In back of 535 Carlton|
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.
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."
What's the total amount of subsidies, direct and indirect?
That's a tough one.
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.
|Proposed 80 Flatbush rendering near left. Arrow =Site 5|
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 planned, more than 1000 feet, next to Junior's and a 986-foot tower, 80 Flatbush, is planned just north of the former bank building, now One Hanson.
|Proposed 550 Clinton Avenue, with Pacific Park|
A proposed 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.
So who owns the project?
Well, the arena operating company is owned by Mikhail Prokhorov's Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment. (He doesn't own the arena, which is nominally owned by New York State.) The one tower owned solely by Forest City, 461 Dean, was sold in 2018 to Principal Global Investors.
Forest City retains 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%, will build the remaining towers.
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
- 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
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?
The city now claims its total subsidies are $179 million or $171.5 million, not $205 million. Maybe. But we do know that Forest City Ratner's seemingly generous payouts for property owners relied on public funding from the city.
What other benefits are there?
Beyond that, the agency agreed to accept a smaller replacement railyard. The developer got to save about $100 million. However, costs have risen significantly.
Was the Atlantic Yards site truly blighted, a prerequisite for eminent domain?