Skip to main content

Featured Post

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

At real estate summit, talk of "a supertall office tower" at Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park

One audience member at last night's panel on "What's Next for Atlantic Yards" asked, not unreasonably, what the "news" was. (I'll write more on the panel another day.)

There was not, as I had previously written, anything dramatic to announce, just an effort, on behalf of several neighborhood groups, to alert the public that changes are in the offing, notably a percolating plan to supersize the project at Site 5, now home to P.C. Richard and Modell's across from the Barclays Center, from a 250-tower to a two-tower project with one rising nearly 800 feet.

That would require state approval to shift the bulk from the unbuilt "Miss Brooklyn" tower once planned for what's now the Barclays Center plaza.

Or, perhaps, an even more dramatic plan. At the Only Brooklyn.® Real Estate Conference on May 7, as shown in the video below, Carlo Scissura, CEO of the New York Building Congress, said "we have to... get a supertall office tower built there."

Now, maybe he was speaking colloqually, but "supertall" means greater than 984 feet, according to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. If Scissura was being more specific, that means plans by developer Greenland Forest City have become more ambitious.

We shouldn't write that off. After all, as I said last night, "Atlantic Yards is a never-say-never project," which means we should expect changes. It also could be a tactic: propose a supertall, then compromise at a slightly more modest building.

When tax credits = "progressive" growth

Let's look at the video from the "Policy for Growth" panel at the conference, sponsored by the real-estate firm TerraCRG. At about 28:51, moderator Michael Stoler, president of New York Real Estate TV and host of The Stoler Report, mentioned competition from New Jersey.

Policy for Growth from TerraCRG on Vimeo.

"You also have to remember, New Jersey gave away so much money to bring companies over there. Over the years, MetroTech was built to keep companies here, Morgan Stanley and Chase," said Stoler, a reliable booster of the real-estate industry and, until last year, Managing Director at Madison Realty Capital, a private equity firm.

Then he made a leap from the 1980s to the present day: "If we don't put money in, and we don't create incentives for companies, they're not going to come here. In a similar manner of what happened with Amazon, but fortunately Netflix just came over here. You have to be progressive to try to do things."

Wait a sec. While companies seeking office space surely calculate the value of incentives, the business atmosphere, as well as the desire of employees to live in Brooklyn, has changed enormously. It's not simply math. Nor is it necessarily "progressive" to keep subsidy programs conceived in a different era.

Netflix will get off-the-shelf state tax credits for jobs for its facility in Bushwick, but that would be a much smaller scale than the credits offered to Amazon in Long Island City. Not only did critics question the persistence of such subsidy programs, Amazon also was due to get a $500 million state discretionary grant.

Upzoning for bigger buildings

"What about upzoning on heights for mixed-used properties?" asked Stoler.

The first response came from Regina Myer, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, which not only manages business improvement districts but represents the interests of property owners in Downtown Brooklyn.

"Before Winston [Von Engel, of the Department of City Planning] answers, "from the Downtown Brooklyn perspective," she said. "I think the idea is to upzone for office. At this point, we need to have densities that compete with Manhattan, so we could really get Fortune 50 companies to move to Downtown Brooklyn."

Unacknowledged: the 2004 rezoning of Downtown Brooklyn for office space instead led to a plethora of market-rate housing, since city officials refused to require affordable housing in exchange for the increased buildable square footage. That was a great boon to developers.

Nor did the panel discuss what getting Fortune 50 companies to Downtown Brooklyn would mean. For Myer's constituency, of course, it's good business.

Stoler: "Do we create like the East Midtown Zoning?"

(That's a major plan, allowing the Floor Area Ratio (FAR)--the relationship of bulk to a full floor plate--to increase from a base maximum of 12 to 15 to between 18 and 27, depending on location. The FAR in the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning was 12, though specific projects have gotten spot rezonings; the final FAR for the two-tower 80 Flatbush project was 15.75.)

Myer: "I think that's a great idea but Winston [Von Engel]?"

The city's perspective

Von Engel, Director of the Brooklyn Borough Office of the NYC Department of City Planning since September 2014, demurred: "We should be careful. East Midtown is a very special place. It's the premier office space in the country, in the world... So you can put certain obligations on them. In Downtown Brooklyn, I think we see 625 Fulton Street--a proposed 941-foot tall building--as a very large office proposal, with residential, starting up." (It hasn't yet gone through the approval process.)

"Y'know, 80 Flatbush was a great example of a building, an upzoning with community facilities, with originally cultural space, housing, affordable housing and office," Von Engel said. "Very important. I think, recognizing increased density for office, but also for other uses. We're surrounded in Downtown Brooklyn, and other places, by height-restrictive neighborhoods where no growth can occur. Growth is occurring. People are wanting--want to come to New York City, want to come to Brooklyn, we need to allow that growth to happen somewhere. And Downtown Brooklyn is a great place for both housing, and jobs. As are other neighborhoods."

He's not wrong that there are "height-restrictive neighborhoods" not far from Downtown Brooklyn, but that's an argument for more comprehensive plans for growth, not necessarily supersizing specific sites.

Getting to Atlantic Yards

Then Scissura spoke: "Around Atlantic Yards, or Pacific Park, I think we have to go back to the drawing board and get a supertall office tower built there." (He used to head the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and, before then, was chief of staff for Borough President Marty Markowitz.)

"Yeah," echoed Myer.

"On top of transit," said Von Engel, citing the general justification for upzoning.

(Indeed, Site 5 sits right above the Pacific Street segment of the Atlantic Avenue/Barclays Center stop. Then again, as I wrote, Empire State Development argued that only the "Miss Brooklyn" site, which was--unlike Site 5--was bounded exclusively by broad avenues, was appropriate for a major office building. The potential Floor Area Ratio for Site 5, as per the 2016 plans floated before the Department of City Planning, was 23.5.)

"Right. Transit," said Scissura.

Myer continued, "It's a good opportunity at Site 5, at P.C. Richard's, and also looking at--"--she went off mike to turn to Scissura--"ultimately the original Atlantic Terminal."

I think she was referring to opportunity, not yet implemented, to build two or three towers over the Atlantic Center mall. Stay tuned.