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

The Future Issue: Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park in 2029 will be... (close to) finished? still far off?

In its recent The Future Issue, dated 11/13/19, New York magazine aimed at premonitions of the world in 2029, including, among many others:
  • The Trade War Will Be Our Cold War
  • The Television Era of Politics Will End
  • New York City Will Begin to Enclose Its Entire Harbor With a Seawall
  • We Will Import Our Pop Culture From China
  • We’ll Have the Opportunity to Design a Post-Car City
  • A Unified Theory of Liberal Hypocrisy Will Emerge: Nimbyism
  • This Is What Civil Unrest Will Look Like
What about Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park?

Let me offer some potential headlines regarding the big picture, with the more likely outcomes in bold italics:
  • Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park is Done
  • Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park is Abandoned
  • Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Muddles Along
  • Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Has a Major Change
  • Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park is in Court
  • Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Has Some New Players
  • Mayor, Governor, Borough President Still Support Project
So let me offer some predictions--educated guesses, really--about Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park in 2029, recognizing, of course, that it's a "never-say-never" project, with a history of changes in ownership, timing, and configuration.

Let's first look at the project's current status, thanks to an updated project map, below. A lot more of the project should be finished, of course.

The B4 tower on the arena block and the B15 tower (664 Pacific or 662 Pacific) across from the arena block should be done by 2023.

The B12 and B13 towers on the southeast block of the project should be done by then, as well. Maybe one or more will even be done by 2022.

That leaves some bigger lifts.

The platform, Phase 1, and the towers above it

The first phase of the platform, over the western of the two blocks, Block 1120, might start in early 2020 and could be finished by 2022, as I wrote, citing a document circulated by Greenland Forest City Partners, the joint venture dominated by Greenland USA. (The second phase, over the eastern block, might start just after that.)

But we don't have any specifics about the timing for the platform, which adds a layer of doubt.

If the first phase is done by 2022, that means towers B5, B6, and B7 could start after that. As I've written, they likely need two towers finished by May 2025 to meet the deadline to deliver a total of 2250 affordable housing units.

If so, that's a significant amount of "product" to deliver. Would they want to start B7 soon? Maybe that would wait a year or two.

Bottom line: it's likely that western block will be built up by 2029, with the associated open space, mainly to the south, flanking Pacific Street.

As I've written, 2022 looms as a big year, since by then we should know if the Affordable New York subsidy program will continue, and whether the affordable housing is likely on schedule.

The platform, Phase 2, and the towers above it

The second phase of the platform would be more complex and extensive, and require the shutdown of Long Island Rail Road tracks operating in the eastern end of the railyard. Even presuming efficiencies gained from the first phase, I'd bet it would take longer than three years to build.

Let's say completion by the end of 2026, enabling construction of three towers to start no earlier than 2027.

Under current circumstances, given the glut of luxury units in and around Downtown Brooklyn, It's hard to imagine that they would build too fast, but circumstances then might be different. We might be well into another real estate cycle or two.

Keep in mind that the developer has until 6/1/30 to pay for railyard development rights, with the last of 15 annual payments of $11 million due by then.

So it's possible that the construction will be delayed--assuming the platform can be built without paying for the development rights. That means 2029 would be an interim stop in that process, rather than an end point.

Either way, if it takes more than three years to build the towers--say five to seven years--they wouldn't be done until the early 2030s.

Does that mean the project could be done well before 2035, including the additional site work necessary to build out the open space? Sure, it's possible, but this project has also seen significant delays.

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 tower at Site 5

Another question mark involves Site 5 catercorner to the Barclays Center, promoted as the site for a flagship office tower, or office/residential/hotel space, plus a significant amount of high-end retail space.

Nothing has happened yet, with condemnation stalled because of a dispute between the original developer, Forest City Ratner (now owned by Brookfield) and P.C. Richard, which contends it was guaranteed replacement space in the future project, and won a lower-court ruling.

The dispute has been resolved, we were told recently, but with no evidence that the condemnation plan has been re-started, as announced.

When it is resolved, a public process, taking at least one year, will be necessary to transfer to Site 5 the unused development rights from the unbuilt B1 tower (aka "Miss Brooklyn") destined for what's now the arena plaza.

Assume that's successful--never bet against the sustained cooperation of the gubernatorially controlled Empire State Development--but also assume there will be some form of community "giveback" to ease the process politically.

What might that be: more affordable housing? another school or community amenity? some bifurcation of bulk, with some shifted to towers over the railyard? Stay tuned.

Still, 2029 is ten years away, and Site 5 should be done by then. It could house a new corporate headquarters. It could be a residential tower. It could be a little of both.

And it should have a large amount of upscale retail space, once likened to the Time Warner Center, and perhaps serve as a new node for food and drink. (That might not be beloved by merchants nearby on Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.)

Will Site 5 have parking? The amount of parking has already been stealth-reduced, thanks to a greater allotment at B12/B13, so, who knows, it could even be cut completely in a few years.

The Barclays Center and the Nets

The arena, operated as of now by Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai, likely will have gone through some more gyrations.

Consider: assuming a healthy Kevin Durant (now 31) returns next year after rehab and joins a healthy Kyrie Irving (now 27), the Nets should have a strong, playoffs-bound team. With the right chess moves next year or shortly afterward, they might even contend for a championship. The early 2020s could be great years for the Nets.

But those stars will be long gone by 2029, perhaps even traded--or, having engineered their exit--as a strategic move. Will the Nets be able to build a mini-dynasty, replenishing talent thanks to the lure of strong management, an excellent practice facility, and a popular arena?

Maybe, maybe not. After all, the once-dynastic Golden State Warriors have this year fallen to the bottom of the league.

The New York Islanders will be gone, surely in their new (insert Sponsor Name) arena at Belmont Park in western Nassau County.

The WNBA's New York Liberty will be ensconced, perhaps building a solid fan base?

Will management keep the Barclays Center busy enough to pay back arena construction bonds and deliver a profit? That's a good question, given that the arena has steadily underperformed. A Nets team entering the post-season will help. But bond payments increase as of 2026, which means crunch time well before 2029.

One significant potential change would be in-arena gambling, which would goose attendance, attention, and revenue.

Changes in ownership, and developers/leaseholders

Original developer Forest City Ratner/Forest City New York, an arm of Forest City Enterprises/Forest City Realty Trust, in 2014 sold 70% of the project going forward--omitting the B2 tower and the arena operating company--to Greenland USA, an arm Greenland Holding Group.

In January 2018, Forest City agreed to sell all but 5% of the remainder to Greenland. At the end of 2018, Forest City was absorbed by Brookfield.

Since then, Greenland has leased two development sites (B12/B13) to TF Cornerstone, another (B15) to The Brodsky Organization, and is working with Brodsky on B4.

B2 (461 Dean) is owned by Principal Global Investors. The arena operating company, once owned 55% by Forest City and 45% by Mikhail Prokhorov's Onexim, was later sold completely to Prokhorov, who then sold it to J Tsai Sports.

Will there be more developers, joining (or supplanting) Greenland Forest City on towers over the railyard or Site 5? I'd bet yes.

Will Tsai sell shares in the team, and/or the arena? Well, he doesn't need the money.

Changing designers and streetscape

Frank Gehry's firm Gehry Partners was once supposed to design the entire project. That didn't happen. Arena design firm Ellerbe Becket, now Aecom, was hired to deliver a smaller, cheaper arena, and, after criticism of its uninspiring design, SHoP was then hired to wrap it in a pre-rusted metal skin, and redesign interiors.

SHoP designed two towers, including the modular 461 Dean, on the arena block. CookFox designed two towers, B11 (550 Vanderbilt) and B14 (535 Carlton) on the southeast block. Marvel Architects is working on B15, while Perkins Eastman is working on B4. Handel Architects is working on B12/B13.

Surely some more architects will be involved by 2029.

The original landscape designer, Laurie Olin (of Olin Partnership), has been succeeded by Thomas Balsley Associates, who did a master plan. The B14 and B11 towers had some landscape design, with no public credit.

The B12 and B13 towers will have landscapes designed by Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects. By 2029, there should be some new participants.

The open space at Times Plaza--plantings and benches around the triangle between Flatbush, Fourth, and Atlantic avenues--should be done. That doesn't mean that the Atlantic Avenue streetscape, with safety fixes, will have been fixed by then, one local advocate fears.

Wild cards

Much could change. A new governor or mayor could put some brakes, or conditions, on Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park or, more likely, ease the arrival of affordable housing and/or construction over the railyard.

The next Borough President likely will remain an Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park cheerleader, while the local elected officials might be somewhat skeptical, but surely welcoming the new affordable housing.

Will the real-estate cycles move in this development's favor?

With the loss of cheap EB-5 funding, from green card-seeking immigrant investors, can another source of cheap capital for infrastructure like the platform emerge? If not, does Greenland have deep enough pockets--or will it have to sell, or raise money piecemeal?

Will Greenland, buffeted by low returns and/or domestic pressures and/or international changes, decide to exit? Or will Greenland plow through and finish early? Neither of those outcomes is likely at this point, but we shouldn't rule them out.

The view from 2029

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, by 2029, will likely be seen as part of the fabric of the "new Brooklyn," but hardly the leader or the sole example. Even more of Downtown Brooklyn, including large projects on the edge like 80 Flatbush, will be built up.

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park may be seen as "before its time" or, to some, misguided or misconceived. Almost surely it will be seen as the product of government enabling and, to some, what I call the "Culture of Cheating."

(One commenter on Twitter suggested the project would have a new name by 2029. Maybe. The 20-year naming rights agreement ends in 2032, so perhaps the "Barclays Center" has an expiration date, too.)

The residents of the project could by then be an interest group of sorts. What's unclear is whether and how much they'll be integrated into existing local neighborhood/civic groups, or form a new critical mass.

We may not yet be able to evaluate the full functioning of the project, if it's not finished and the open space has not been delivered. But surely there will be adjustments required--if not periodic snags and even worse--after a middle-school open at B15, opposite the arena, and below-ground fitness center and field house open below B12 and B13.

But Bruce Ratner likely will be remembered as the developer who brought an arena to Brooklyn. The fact that public benefits--like permanent jobs and affordable housing and tax revenues--fell short of promises may not register, unless there's a concerted effort to tally them.

Will Joe Tsai be the team owner--er, governor--who presides over the Nets' conquering of the NBA? Or will he be remembered more for his affinity for China's authoritarian view of history? We'll see.

Oh, and will I still be writing this blog? As with many things related to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, you never quite know, but I wouldn't rule it out. I would bet that the book I've been writing, which has already taken far longer than once expected (hmm, not unlike the project), should have been out for a while.