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Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park infographics: what's built/what's coming/what's missing, who's responsible, + project FAQ/timeline (pinned post)

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park in 2021: question marks (still) regarding project timeline, Site 5, affordability, accountability (plus arena re-opening)

So much of what I wrote in my 2020 preview, published a year ago, holds true today, albeit in slightly different context. (Here's my 2020 retrospective, published yesterday.)

Yes, there should be continued progress in construction--the B4 (18 Sixth) and B15 (662-664 Pacific) towers will be finished, in stages, with perhaps some residents moving in, though the school at the latter tower has been delayed until March 2024, at least.

The B12/B13 (615 Dean & 595 Dean) towers have started, and the most burdensome construction--noisy digging--is supposed to end early this year. The developers' desire to complete all of those buildings has led to after-hours work, disrupting people who work from home and have their kids attend school from home. It's another sign that overseers prioritize project progress.

But question marks still persist about the project's overall contours and fate, given a delayed plan--albeit closer than before, it seems--to start the crucial platform over the first of two blocks of the Vanderbilt Yard. 

It may still be possible to build two (or three?) towers by 2025, thus approaching or completing the required 876 units of affordable housing, but the window of opportunity is closing. So an extension on the deadline, though not yet requested, isn't implausible. Are the developers truly optimistic about a post-vaccine return to high-rise living?

Site 5

We got no news in 2020 about Site 5, longtime home of Modell's and P.C. Richard, where a transfer of bulk from the unbuilt B1 (aka "Miss Brooklyn") would create a giant two-tower project.

While it may make somewhat more sense to build office space in Brooklyn, closer to people's residences, compared to Manhattan, the outlook for such space remains in question, so further delays--or a shift in plans--are plausible.

If Site 5 does move forward, it should take at least a year for the state review, which is supposed to proceed with public hearings. We'll see.

That said, expect to hear another justification for the bulk transfer: it will preserve what one state official said: "the plaza has come to take on a life of its own." 

The platform, and three towers

This year may mark the start of the first phase of a two-phase buildout of the platform over the Vanderbilt Yard, for the somewhat smaller area--thanks to terra firma butting south of Atlantic Avenue--between Sixth and Carlton avenues. That would support three towers.

As I wrote last year, one thing's for sure: we won't see the second phase of the platform, with the final three towers, for a while, and that means the heart of the project's open space will remain unfinished.

One lesson from Atlantic Yards is everything takes longer than expected--and despite steady construction of B5 and B15, the platform didn't start in 2020, as promised.

Retail and more

The retail picture got stalled, given the pandemic, with a planned announcement of a tenant at 38 Sixth scotched, and existing retail bruised. There remains empty spaces at not just 38 Sixth but also 461 Dean.

Perhaps we'll learn of retail tenants for B4 and B15, as well as at the Barclays Center, which is being reconfigured with a new team store, and new entrances.

Meanwhile, retailers in the blocks around the arena--as in the city in general--have struggled, with many not paying rent. Retail could bounce back--with different tenants--after widespread distribution of a vaccine.

At the arena

The big question: when will the Barclays Center reopen to fans and event attendees? And, if so, how comfortable will people be to sit next to others, even after vaccination? Even if the arena may be reconfigured, with new entrances and more remote ordering, the cheap seats are awfully close together.

That said, the Brooklyn Nets, with stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant healthy, look to perform well on TV, at least, with significant playoff hopes.

Team owner Joe Tsai, who also owns the New York Liberty and the Barclays Center operating company, has faced criticism for his endorsement of authoritarian China, but bounced back well by pledging $50 million over ten years, more than other team owners, in the wake of #BlackLivesMatter protests. 

We may see those grants rolled out regularly, further distracting from public benefits, like tax-exempt land, that enable the arena and team.

And while the arena plaza can certainly accommodate (more) protests, it will be interesting to see how arena managers navigate the potential tensions if in fact people are going inside the building.

The next surprise

What's the 2021 surprise? There's almost always an Atlantic Yards surprise, and last year it was the pandemic, then the protests.

Perhaps radical new plans for Site 5, given the pandemic. Perhaps a new timetable, given pandemic-related delays. Would the lame duck de Blasio administration, constrained by budget issues, commit discretionary affordable housing subsidies to this project?

Another, as I wrote, might be the timing, configuration, and affordability of the required affordable units.

Perhaps Greenland USA, after leasing sites to TF Cornerstone and The Brodsky Organization, will find other companies to make deals with.

Who's watching?

As I wrote the past two years, the perpetual question regarding Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park involves oversight, and the opportunity for government entities will look hard at the project.

That chance seems ever diminished, especially since the move of the bi-monthly Quality of Life meetings and the (purportedly) quarterly Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation meetings to virtual formats, which tamp down follow-up questions.

The 2021 political campaigns, especially for the 35th Council District, might bring Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park into a bit more focus, and the new State Senator, Jabari Brisport, and Assemblymember, Phara Souffrant Forrest, will be getting up to speed.

Still, we don't know yet how much they recognize the city/state momentum for the project, and the need to ask specific questions about, among other things:
  • the project's timing (how will affordability deadline be met?)
  • the rent levels of planned "affordable" units (will all or most be "middle-income"?
  • the impact of construction on neighbors (downplayed at virtual meetings)
  • the extent of after-hours construction (obscured in the bi-weekly Construction Updates)