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

In 2005, "health and fitness clubs" were considered by Atlantic Yards developer to represent *retail* space. Now they're a new category: "recreational" space.

The plot thickens; we have some 2005 evidence that casts even more doubt over the 8/15/19 Empire State Development (ESD) approval of "recreational space," to allow 96,000 below-ground square feet for a Chelsea Piers-operated fitness center and field house, plus 9,000 square feet at street level, at the southeast block of the project.

Take a look at the slide below, from a 5/26/05 presentation (in full, at bottom) from original developer Forest City Ratner at a New York City Council hearing. As the annotation indicates, "health and fitness clubs" were considered part of "new retail space," which as to be "neighborhood-oriented."

That suggests that the 105,000 square feet for the field house and fitness center--at sites B12 and b13--should be subtracted from the overall retail square footage, which is now 247,000 square feet. Or that allotted amount of retail square footage should've been expanded.

(And, of course, the space would be more than "neighborhood-oriented," though the guiding Modified General Project Plan referred to "local retail.")

What about the below-ground space?

The counter-argument might be: that only applies to the space at street level, the 9,000 square feet.

That leaves the below-ground space, which was initially presented as part of a “clarification” regarding "commercial use," then reframed as a clarification regarding “recreational use.”

Can that simply be swapped for below-ground parking? Not so easily. That was always described as parking spaces, not square footage.

As I wrote, if it's not subtracted from the approved commercial space (which is for office use) and retail space, to be consistent ESD should've at least proposed subtracting it from the residential space, given that building-specific gyms are counted as part of such residential square footage.

But that still doesn't make sense. They've essentially announced a new category: recreational facility space, divorced from its original identity as retail space.

The 2005 evidence suggests they should've expanded the square footage allotted for retail space, and allowed it to be expanded below ground.

As I wrote, that would've required a separate approval process, involving public hearings. But that would've taken too long.

A legal debate on "recreational"

In the May 2007 oral argument in the lawsuit challenging the project's environmental review, attorney Jeff Baker, representing Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and allies, argued that the legislature didn't intend to include "a privately owned sports facility" as a Civic Project under state law.

That, actually, wasn’t clear. The slippery definition encompassed "facilities for educational, cultural, recreational… or other civic purposes."

Musing whether an arena qualified as “recreational,” Supreme Court Justice Madden said, "It generally means you have a community-based basketball team" or other sports team.

"It would be recreational activity" to watch a basketball game, responded Philip Karmel, an attorney for the state.

"I thought," the judge said, "that was profit-making."

"We believe that going to a ballgame is a recreational activity," Karmel replied,

In January 2008, Madden, eight long months after oral arguments, dismissed the environmental lawsuit, opining that, while the state might have pursued better policy, the court's role was limited.

Using schoolbook reasoning, Madden affirmed Atlantic Yards as a Civic Project, calling basketball spectatorship a "recreational" event, since fans were "engaged in a form of amusement." (Then again, such logic could validate a strip club or Shoot the Freak.)
Madden offered the following rationale:
--in statutory interpretation, the starting point is the language itself
--when there's no statutory definition, go to the dictionary
--Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language defines "recreation" as "refreshment in body or mind, as after work by some form of play, amusement or relaxation"
--her conclusion: "when sports fans attend a professional basketball game... they are engaged in a form of amusement."

That may be so, as I wrote, but when schools offer "recreation," it is generally participatory rather than an exercise of fandom.

The recreational space below ground at the B12/B13 sites would be participatory. It just would not have been officially approved in the guiding General Project Plan.