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

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park in 2020: pandemic closes Barclays, but construction continues, after-hours; protests redefine arena plaza; no answers re next phases & housing deadline; accountability elusive

In my 2020 preview, I predicted that this year should be a year of continued progress, given four towers under construction, "but question marks will persist about the project's overall contours and fate."

Indeed, those question marks persisted, even as two towers topped out and two others, as planned, started. We did not, as I'd predicted, get more clues on the fate of Site 5--longtime home to Modell's and P.C. Richard--slated for a transfer of bulk to further a giant two-tower project.

Nor did we see nor the start of the first phase of a two-phase buildout of the platform over the Vanderbilt Yard, or the start of the B5 tower, the first of six towers to be built over the railyard. 

Nor did we get any specifics on how the project's developer, Greenland Forest City Partners, would fulfill its obligation to complete 2,250 affordable housing units by May 2025--a deadline that, while still possible to meet, looks less certain. Nor did we learn the level of affordability--all middle-income?--in the four towers under construction.

"One lesson from Atlantic Yards," I wrote, "is everything takes longer than expected." Indeed, one little-discussed delay: the middle-school (MS One Brooklyn, I.S. 653) at the B15 tower (662-664 Pacific), has been delayed until 2024.

Nor did any new retail arrive. And yes, other promises--affordable condos, senior housing--got forgotten even more.


Two big surprises

There's often a surprise with Atlantic Yards, and this one was huge: a global pandemic, which shuttered the Barclays Center in March--denying crowds, so far, for the Nets' superstar 2020-21 season--and upended life in New York City.

It's unclear how much it has changed expectations for the project--the developers of the four towers under construction are planning for a post-pandemic future, but the market for high-rise apartments, as well as urban office space, has changed.

The other surprise: the Barclays Center became what I called an "accidental town square," after #BlackLivesMatter protests in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis regularly coalesced, starting in late May.

While Joe Tsai, owner of the Brooklyn Nets and the Barclays Center operating company, sounded encouraging, especially to friendly sports reporters, the arena's response was more reactive, as they belatedly swapped advertising in the oculus for a quote from the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Who's watching?

As I wrote last year, the perpetual question regarding the project involves oversight--and that problem continued, with after-hours construction either not disclosed or misleadingly stated, underplaying the span of variances, in some cases from 5 am to 10 pm..

In fact, the shift to virtual formats for the bimonthly Atlantic Yards Quality of Life meeting or the (purportedly) quarterly meeting of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation diminished transparency. In the first case, it was impossible to see others' questions; in the second, it was impossible to pose questions or comments during the meeting, only beforehand.

Two new officials whose districts include Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park were elected, the Democratic Socialists of America-backed state Senator Jabari Brisport and Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest, but the project didn't some up in the campaigns (and I didn't even write about it).

January 2020

An Urban Omnibus essay on modular construction, notably the ill-fated 461 Dean (aka B2) at Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, note that the rhetoric "is remarkably slippery."

The controversial bar/nightclub/restaurant Woodland, at Sixth and Flatbush Avenues on the edge of Park Slope, had its liquor license canceled

The rise of elected officials Hakeem Jeffries and Letitia James, from Central Brooklyn to national prominence.

I was doubtful, but the first of three rounds of EB-5 investors into Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park were paid back.

Yes, several Brooklyn Nets and their coach live in Brooklyn, but we're not back in Dodgerland.

The developers of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, a newly disclosed document suggests, plan to build three 50% affordable towers over the first block of the railyard, thus potentially meeting the deadline to deliver 2,250 affordable units by the May 31, 2025 deadline. But it's not guaranteed.

The Barclays Center web site says the arena offers 15,795 seats for hockey, but arena operators once said 14,500.

The late NBA Commissioner David Stern played a significant cameo in the story of the New Jersey to Brooklyn Nets.

No details on timing for the platform. Maybe by the end of the year.

The state never studied the impact of a larger number of cars now destined to use the currently planned single garage entrance on the southeast block of the project.

February 2020

Traffic studies may have assessed the impact of Nets games, but ignored the events--concerts for seniors, events for little kids--that attracted the most vehicles.

The elevator at the Barclays plaza is judged the subway's worst privately owned elevator.

The New York Islanders' 25-year lease at Belmont Park is said to be "ironclad."

Forbes values the Brooklyn Nets as the NBA's seventh-most valuable franchise, despite low annual income; still, it thinks Joe Tsai overpaid "for a money-losing arena business." 

Where does Atlantic Yards affordable housing fit in "three primary goals of social housing: insulating housing from market forces, promoting social equality, and enabling residents to exercise democratic control over their housing"? Kind of in the middle.

Chinese EB-5 investors are frustrated, the Real Deal explains, as backlogs to gain visas will require: billions of dollars to be "redeployed"--moved to another investment, likely on different terms, to meet the requirement of an "at risk" investment.

Venue operators must be getting nervous, as CDC official warns of coronavirus impacts: "It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more of a question of exactly when this will happen."

March 2020

The Islanders are slated to return full time to the Nassau Coliseum for the next season, one year ahead of schedule, thanks"$6 Million In State-Funded Upgrades."

So, Vanderbilt Avenue is having its restaurant row/nightlife moment. Again. Upscaled. 

The new master plan for Sunnyside Yards in Queens makes one reference to Atlantic Yards, but it's wrong, claiming the Brooklyn project "built over rail lines to create new land." That hasn't happened yet.

A representative of Greenland USA, Scott Solish, says "We are close to being ready to be able to make an announcement" about a contractor for the platform.

He says some minor punchlist and repair work is ongoing at the Vanderbilt Yard, so it's not considered final completion according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, "but we are substantially complete." He also says a retail tenant should soon be announced at 38 Sixth Avenue--but that never happened.

A Barclays Center rep says they've switched vendors to improve the elevator. Neighbors remain frustrated with traffic backups caused by the fraction of events at the Barclays Center that generate significant use of personal vehicles or car services/limos--and again got nowhere.

In a surprise move, the Brooklyn Nets fire head coach Kenny Atkinson, seen as linked to superstar disapproval.

Ten years after then Gov. David Paterson said, of Atlantic Yards supporters and foes, "Ten years from now, either they will be right, or you will be right." Well, it's still incomplete.

The NBA suspends the season after players test positive for COVID-19. The Barclays Center operator anticipates a potential ten-week hiatus related to the coronavirus, promising to pay workers through the end of May. Four Nets test positive.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo bans non-essential construction. The B4 and B15 sites shut down out of caution for workers.

Modell's Sporting Goods, one of the two stores at Site 5 in the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park footprint, is heading for closure after the chain filed for bankruptcy. It finally closes in August.

The future tower at Site 5 is delayed because P.C. Richard has resisted, saying it first wants the resolution of its claim that it deserves 30,000 square feet of replacement space in the new building.

The court file reveals why P.C. Richard, after sending a forceful memo in late 2006 criticizing various aspects of the environmental review, went silent: it and original developer Forest City Ratner had signed a Letter of Intent (LOI) regarding replacement space in the future Site 5 structure.

Season Two of the Netflix re-boot of Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It, first aired last spring, features a real-estate character touting "Jobs, housing, and hope," an Atlantic Yards echo.

April 2020

Thanks to the private foundation of Nets owner Joe Tsai and his partner Jack Ma, the state of New York gets 1,000 ventilators donated, worth perhaps $25 million, plus PPE.

The Brooklyn Nets have begun taking advantage of their new stars, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, to promote 2020-21 season-ticket sales under the tag lines "Kings of New York" and also "Brooklyn State of Mind."

Nearly 75% of sports fans say they won't go to games without a coronavirus vaccine.

The coronavirus crisis is closing or curtailing an enormous swath of retail outlets, including those associated with Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park.

Some four weeks after construction began to shut down out of caution at the B4 (18 Sixth Avenue) and B15 (37 Sixth Avenue, 662-4 Pacific Street) sites, workers were back.

BSE Global loses Chief Financial Officer Eu-Gene Sung, one of several executives to depart.

Empire State Development), the state authority overseeing/shepherding Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, last month quietly extends for two years a consulting contract with an environmental monitor, whose job it is to ensure that the Memorandum of Environmental Commitments is being met.

Given the coronavirus crisis, what's the prospect for Site 5? Office space is in question.

A lesson from Battery Park: author says "all aspects of a redevelopment agency's activities must be structured on the assumption that it is engaged in a long-term endeavor, not a 'one-shot' real estate project."

May 2020

Cities like New York won't be the same, post-crisis. Offices will change, making urban office space less attractive than it was. Some residential buildings are getting redesigned.

Permits are filed for the B5 tower, the first (of six) expected over the Vanderbilt Yard, but that doesn't mean they'll get approved.

The Nets, in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, have created the Brooklyn Nets Resource Hub, a listing of online resources. Nets players begin workouts at HSS Center.

The latest Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Construction Update includes a rather stealth acknowledgment of after-hours work at both B4 and B15.

The centrally-located Barclays Center, with its privately managed, publicly accessible plaza, becomes the locus of protests against police brutality.

June 2020

After days of protest, the Brooklyn Nets, Barclays Center, Long Island Nets, and New York Liberty issued a joint statement opposing racial discrimination, though not yet with any policies. Without a formal announcement, Tsai agrees to continue to pay arena workers.

My essay: "What if… the Barclays Center Had Been the Jackie Robinson Arena?"

Few retail outlets on Park Slope's Fifth Avenue, not far from Barclays, are paying rent, while landlords who bought buildings more recently, at high valuations and with expensive loans to pay off, are more reluctant to give tenants a break.

After ten days of protests against police brutality, and periodic criticism from protesters (plus some praise), the Barclays Center finally tamps down the incessant commercialism blaring from the oculus.

The first virtual Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Quality of Life meeting is not very transparent. State officials say NYPD is in charge of locking down streets; it's been operating a temporary substation on Dean Street next to the Barclays Center. 

The after-hours permits have been sought to enable staggered start times and fewer workers at the same time.

My essay: "Brooklyn’s Accidental New Town Square." A New York Times article covers some of the same ground, less skeptically.

Upending the future of the New York Islanders, the Nassau Coliseum, already mothballed because of the coronavirus pandemic, will close indefinitely as arena operator Onexim Sports and Entertainment, which leases the building from Nassau County, has decided to get out of the business. In the truncated split season, attendance in Nassau exceeded that in Brooklyn.

After five-and-a-half years of legal jousting over the ill-fated Brooklyn tower once said to revolutionize modular construction, Forest City Ratner Companies and Skanska USA Building settle their three lawsuits.

Cuomo says that the 2020 MTV Video Music Awards will be held at the Barclays Center. This will not pan out, we learn in August.

July 2020


Following up on my "what if" essay and then coverage of Brooklynite Arthur Piccolo's renewed crusade, the Brooklyn Paper reported LOCALS PUSH TO RENAME BARCLAYS CENTER AFTER JACKIE ROBINSON. Academic Amanda Boston: "Honor Jackie Robinson by making it easier for Black, poor, and other marginalized folks to secure quality affordable housing in Brooklyn."

How a quote from Angela Davis wound up on the arena plaza, at a transit entrance controlled by arena operators. Except maybe it isn't her quote.

I think legislators should do more to pursue accountability regarding the Barclays Center and the associated Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project.

The NBA season will restart in a "bubble" in Orlando. The Athletic's NBA arena rankings mostly ignore Barclays.

The new Vanderbilt Yard is "substantially complete," says Greenland USA's Solish, but tut the LIRR had not yet signed off on final completion and, at least as of five weeks earlier, strongly disagreed that the railyard was--as a contractual term--Substantially Complete. 

The new B12 (615 Dean) and B13 (595 Dean) towers, with 798 apartments total, will have 240 affordable units (30%). But we don't know affordability levels.

Prospect Heights activist Raul Rothblatt petitions to use the arena for public school students--that won't happen.

Asked about the demise of the program identifying project workers by sticker, introduced after instances of harassement, Greeland's Solish says there were once six companies, now just two. Neighbors, though, are nervous, and ESD's project monitors don't track worker compliance with masks and social distancing.

BSE Global names John Abbamondi as the new CEO.

The first virtual meeting of the advisory Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation is very low key.

August 2020

Was the Brooklyn Nets sale really a record? Documents shared with investors in the Barclays Center construction bonds suggest a less impressive bottom line: the deal involved Prokhorov immediately giving up $345 million, which later translated into a Tsai rebate of about $300 million.

The new Belmont arena is said to save money and time for multi-truck concert productions, compared with the elevator and turntable at Barclays Center or the even tougher situation at Madison Square Garden.

Construction of the long-awaited platform over the first block of the Vanderbilt Yard, necessary for the construction of three towers, "will commence" in the second half of the year, according to a memo that from Greenland USA--though it's not accurate.

In 2018, to ease the transaction, arena operators got the Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation, the special-purpose state entity that issued the bonds, to amend the Arena Lease Agreement to allow more expenses to be reimbursed by the operations and maintenance fund, enhancing the bottom line.

It's not surprising, given the pandemic and recession, that discounts--up to four months free--have returned to market-rate rental units at 461 Dean, the residential tower--50% affordable, 50% market-rate--at the southwest flank of the Barclays Center.

Former Forest City Ratner/Forest City New York CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin, who left for L&L MAG and then (slowly) established MAG Partners, is also now board chair and interim CEO of the real estate investment trust Mack-Cali. In speaking to investment analysts, she claimed, wrongly, that she had "leased thousands of units" at Atlantic Yards.

David Ehrenberg, formers Executive Vice President of the New York City Economic Development Corporation from 2006 through 2013, tells an interviewer "I learned most of what I know about negotiating by negotiating Atlantic Yards across the table from MaryAnne Gilmartin... I like to say I learned a lot by just watching how MaryAnne was--was screwing me." (Ehrenberg calls it "a good natured joke.")

The 2020 edition of the Fortune Global 500 ranking of the world's largest corporations shows Greenland Holding Group, the Shanghai-based conglomerate parent to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park master developer Greenland USA, has risen to 176 from 202. In the Forbes Global 2000, Greenland is at 307, formerly 320. Still, Greenland's credit rating has gotten shakier.

As teams strike for racial justice, the NBA at a crossroads. The league pledges $300 million, or $1 million per team over ten years.

Separately, Joe and Clara Wu Tsai, whose BSE Global owns/operates the Brooklyn Nets, New York Liberty, and Barclays Center, announce "$50 million over 10 years for social justice initiatives and community investments that will benefit the BIPOC (especially Black) community, with a priority on Brooklyn." I offer praise and skepticism.

A new court ruling adds a further complication to the long-delayed plan to build a giant two-tower project at Site 5, as a state condemnation action is stayed while a separate, related case proceeds.

September 2020

The Barclays Center will be a polling site for the election.

The Nassau Coliseum is pitched to be downsized, "a Long Island version of... Radio City Music Hall."

In an Urban Omnibus essay, a protest organizer says Barclays Center "was totally appropriated for the protests."

In a shock to NBA watchers, the Brooklyn Nets announce the hiring of a new coach who no one knew was on the market: former Phoenix Suns point guard and Hall of Famer Steve Nash, a coaching neophyte close to star Kevin Durant.

The big question marks over the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project remain unanswered, after another virtual Quality of Life meeting.

October 2020

Is Barclays paying $10 million to the arena, plus $2 million to the Nets?

Battered by the coronavirus pandemic, the Barclays Center operating company is struggling financially, with net operating revenues in FY 2020 some $16.5 million behind estimates, insufficient to cover required bond payments, much less deliver profits. A questionable amount of "Goodwill" is priced into the asset.

Tsai has provided $6 million to workers through June--an average, I estimated, between $175 and $202 a week--and will pay workers through the end of 2020, a total of perhaps $10 million.

The arena operator must provide "make goods" totaling $11 million to sponsors and suite license-holders.

Developer Greenland Forest City Partners and state have gained crucial momentum, with permission to start the approval process at Site 5, to modify the guiding General Project Plan and allow that shift of bulk, even as legal jousting with P.C. Richard continues.

The lack of senior housing in Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park is glaring, as HPD plans for at least 80 units of affordable senior housing nearby on an underutilized city-owned site, 542 Dean Street, and unspecified plans for "another population in need" at a similar city-owned site, 516 Bergen Street. An online kickoff meeting is contentious.

Trying to sell the last maisonette at 550 Vanderbilt, its address has been changed to 655 Dean Street. By my estimate, the unsold condos at that building represent fewer than 5% of the total, but more than 10% of the offering price.

November 2020

I still find it stunning that, for at least four years, the developers of the 550 Vanderbilt condo building have, on their website, been implying that "Pacific Park" is somehow complete. How exactly is this marketing permissible?

New arena CEO says they're building a larger team store elsewhere, renovating some club spaces, and building new entrances, crucial to spacing of crowds.

Before the election, Barclays and neighbors brace for unrest that didn't come.

Though there no announced plan for Site 5, there's an AKRF contract to "Continue to provide technical memorandum to support GPP [General Project Plan] modification for Atlantic Yards."

The chances of delivering all 2,250 units of required affordable housing in the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project by the May 31, 2025 deadline seem more questionable--though not impossible--given predictions in a recently produced document and the lack of announced progress on a required platform. Still, building two 50% affordable towers over the railyard won't get them there.

More than $50 million in contracts have gone to state consultants regarding Atlantic Yards.

Members of Brooklyn Community Board 2 got--and seemed to be satisfied with--a rather circumscribed update on Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, learning about the lay of the project, buildings under construction, and general affordable housing statistics.

A former hostess at Barclays Center's 40/40 Club, now an ironworker, says she made $13,000 for the year and needed food stamps.

Will the new Belmont arena, with easier load-in, take concerts from Barclays? Predictions are typically overhyped.

Real estate investor says market-rate rentals will "be in the mid-80s"--in percentage occupancy--"for the time being."

What's the context in North Prospect Heights? Well, it varies considerably, depending where you look, and from what angle. That's relevant to HPD's plans.

At meeting, few answers to the big questions around the project's fate, but there was solicitousness and evasiveness toward neighbors--working from home--experiencing construction noise and vibrations over very long days. No, they don't "publish" the six-month look-ahead. And that after-hours work, unmentioned by the developer, now exceeds that previously disclosed.

Downplayed at that meeting: a spreadsheet of 17 reports from neighbors about loud, intrusive construction--some after-hours--that disturbs people's sleep and compromises their pandemic-constrained lives, including work and school from home.

Developer has not asked for an extension on the affordable housing deadline. Platform construction is aimed for "the near future." No environmental review actions have started regarding Site 5.

The new Nassau Coliseum leaseholder gets a good deal from the county.

The Barclays Center oculus is back, with ads.

December 2020

The schedule creep continues, and the middle school at B15 is now due in March 2024.

The B5 tower, 18 Sixth Avenue, has topped out. Photo also shows new digital signage for the arena.

BSE Global announces new executives.

A potential brake on the percolating plan for an upzoning to enable a large, mostly residential building at the southeast corner of Atlantic and Vanderbilt avenues—opposite the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park site—is that McDonald’s, which runs the drive-through restaurant at the site, has won a preliminary ruling against its landlord.

Community Board 8 is wary toward the proposed 18-story tower at McDonald’s site.

Astounding machinations regarding EB-5 investments in both the Nassau Coliseum and Atlantic Yards, as immigrant investors are advised to shift their money to a project in Manhattan. The developers of that project place a friendly article in Bloomberg.

Greenland USA says it has a contractor to build the first of two platforms over the Vanderbilt Yard, but has no start date

Representatives of Empire State Development and the developer play down the impacts of construction, reported by neighbors as disruptive to work and school from home. ESD still circulates misleading two-week Construction Updates. 

The Barclays Center is said to tone down newly bright signage from a new media facade.

Joe and Clara Tsai announce the first five grants--of perhaps many--to Black leaders from the social justice fund.

As the Brooklyn Nets, clearly superior to the Knicks, contend for NBA supremacy, they dominate the tabloid back pages. 

But how exactly did the arena invite essential workers to a game with no fans allowed? Meanwhile, the Nets and arena blocked pedestrians on the Dean Street public sidewalk and appropriated the "no standing" drop-off late on Atlantic Avenue, plus a travel lane, for free parking. 

The arena a good neighbor? Well, there's a record of community involvement, but the nearest neighbors get this idling bus on Dean Street, outside the 461 Dean residential tower and near the arena's back entrance.

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