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

Greenland USA says they have a contractor for Vanderbilt Yard platform, but no start date; construction crucial to deliver new towers and affordable housing by 2025 deadline

This is the first of four articles on the 12/10/20 meeting of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC), which was announced with less than three days' notice. The second article concerned disruptive signage from the Barclays Center. The third article concerned downplaying the impacts of after-hours work. The fourth article concerned public comments.

There wasn't much to disclose, as I suspected, at the AY CDC meeting, but a representative of master developer Greenland Forest City Partners did offer one new sign of potential progress: a contractor to build a platform over the two-block Vanderbilt Yard--crucial to the construction of three towers per block--has been signed.

But there's no timetable yet to start the platform, stated Scott Solish of Greenland USA (which owns nearly all the joint venture), citing the need to coordinate with the Long Island Rail Road.

Sept. 30, 2019
So they're behind schedule. The New York Post reported 9/30/19 that Brooklyn’s Pacific Park moves to fast track, citing Greenland's claim that it would in 2020 start the first of two segments of the platform. That was not to happen.

That article didn't include elapsed time, but Solish confirmed yesterday what I'd reported last year: each phase could take three years. 

That would make it difficult but not impossible for the developer to deliver at least two--possibly three--towers that include 877 more affordable units by May 31, 2025 to meet a state deadline, with significant penalties. 

Solish and state officials were otherwise not forthcoming in regards to questions about levels of affordability in under-construction buildings and the affordability configurations of future buildings.

And state officials, as I'll report separately, continued to downplay, at times misleadingly, community concerns about disruptive work and the state's willingness to share Construction Updates that don't fully disclose the permitted hours for work.

ESD: a "good news" meeting

While the AY CDC is officially set up to advise parent Empire State Development (ESD), the state's gubernatorially-controlled economic development authority, most members do not--as their participation suggests--show up with much independently-gathered information. 

So they depend on ESD staff. And Marion Phillips III, the ESD executive who also serves as AY CDC President, provided (webcast) a sunny summary of project progress, albeit after acknowledging that "this has been a very difficult time for all of us" and "very difficult for the residents and our neighbors as well."

He summarized construction progress, as indicated in the document at bottom. The B4 (18 Sixth Ave.) and B15 (662 Pacific St.) towers have now topped off, with interior construction, while the B12 and B13 (615 and 595 Dean St.) towers on the project's southeast block have foundational piles installed, with work on the foundational wall and excavation activity ongoing.

The developer, Phillips said, is working on final approval from the Long Island Rail Road regarding completion of the revamped Vanderbilt Yard, where the LIRR stores and service trains. 

He said ESD had no updates on plans for Site 5, longtime home to Modell's and P.C. Richard, where the developer has floated plans to move the square footage from the unbuilt B1 (aka "Miss Brooklyn") tower once slated at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues--a transfer that will require state approval.

"The project's affordable housing obligations remain the same," Phillips said, and "the developer is actively working on the design and development of the platform."

"I know a couple of you asked if this is a 'good news meeting' and that is good news," he said, "to be able to have four buildings under construction." The current construction means, he said, "once B4 is finished, the entire arena block will be completed." (Well, that's assuming they don't build the approved B1.)

And once B12 and B13 are finished, he added, the southeast block of the project site will be done. That's between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues and Dean and Pacific streets. (Sure, but only when the final three towers are built, over the railyard between Carlton and Vanderbilt, will the project's crucial open space be delivered.)

"Things are going great. And that's all good news," he said, not particularly mindful of residents' concerns that construction might be disruptive. "And so we're very happy even in this difficult time where things are slowing or things are delayed, that this project has still been able to battle through all of this, and provide much needed affordable housing, and to this community and to the city of New York."

Click to enlarge. Design by Ben Keel; editing by Norman Oder

Affordability questions

But that "much-needed affordable housing" has been skewed to middle-income households--not the ones who rallied for the project, helping gain political approval--and likely will remain so.

Director Gib Veconi, the most informed AY CDC member, asked a question I'd previously raised, and similarly got no answer: do they have update about the affordability levels in the four, under-construction towers? (Here's the webcast segment for his questions.)

All would contain 30% income-restricted units built thanks to the Affordable New York tax break, which means either all middle-income units, at 130% of Area Median Income (AMI), or two-thirds at 130% of AMI and one-third of them low-income, at 70% of AMI.

Tobi Jaiyesimi, AY CDC executive director and ESD Atlantic Yards project manager, said "the specific AMI bands and unit counts are not available yet, once they become available we'll be sure to distribute that information to the directors."

Contractor signed

Veconi then asked about the contractor for the platform. Phillips said that, because the Long Island Rail Road has not come to a final completion of their work... that's delaying the construction of a platform." 

Solish then confirmed a contractor has been signed, one with "tremendous amounts of experience working with directly with the Long Island Railroad, and privately on transit projects for the MTA."

Veconi asked about scope and timing.

"A lot of it depends on the railroad's operational schedule," said Solish, citing the LIRR's needs for track usage during construction. He said that it would be wise to work with the same contractor for both segments of the platform.

"Is it still your expectation that that each platform [segment] will take approximately three years to complete?" Veconi asked.

"Again, a lot of it depends on the railroad's operational schedule and their needs for track usage during construction," Solish responded. "But that's a conservative and relatively safe estimate."

That suggests that, under a best-case scenario--and that, of course, depends on the market--the second block of the platform wouldn't start until 2025, or later.

Meeting the affordable requirement

Veconi noted that B5 and B6, the first two buildings over the platform, are cited in Exhibit M-- a document updated after each new building starts--as including 50% affordable apartments. (Even that, however, wouldn't deliver all the required affordable units, as I reported in November, after acquiring the most recent version, dated July 2020, after a Freedom of Information Law request.)

Exhibit M, July 2020

"Can we can we look at Exhibit M for what it is, which is every time that the developer goes for financing or design to building and determines what the program is, Exhibit M gets amended," Phillips said. "And so right now you're looking at Exhibit M from what was written many years ago."

Veconi noted, "with respect," that Exhibit M has been regularly updated. "I'm not asking if there's been a commitment to financing but I would be interested to hear if there's an as-of-right program that that the developers expect to be able to utilize to finance those those buildings."

Solish said the developers were committed to meeting the housing requirement, and that city and state affordable housing agencies have various off-the-shelf financing programs. Given the pandemic, those agencies' budgets have been affected. And there will be a new mayoral administration.

So they'll continue to monitor those budgets and the financing markets, he said, adding that the B5 tower is under design, and they're in earily work on B6 and B7, the other two buildings over that first block.

"You're not necessarily targeting any particular term sheets for financing those buildings," Veconi asked.

Solish said there's no set target, but they haven't ruled any out.

Where's Exhibit M?

Exhibit M, Jaiyesimi said, "has not been posted on ESD's website, the document has been made available for the directors."

"The updated exhibit M was sent to us in advance of this meeting?" asked Director Ethel Tyus. "I must have missed it."

"The most recent version of Exhibit M was distributed to the directors a few months ago," Jaiyesimi said. There's no reason, however, not to simply put on in the ESD web site.

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