Skip to main content

Featured Post

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

Developer: B5 tower won't rise until Spring 2023, finish 2025; next rely on (unresolved) 421-a replacement; →more doubts re 2025 affordable housing deadline

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park is moving ahead, belatedly, with plans to build a platform over the first of two railyard blocks, which will support three towers--but there are still significant clouds over the potential progress.

Last night, a representative of developer Greenland USA appeared at an online meeting of the North Prospect Heights Association (NPHA), mainly to talk about the coming changes to neighborhood traffic and pedestrian flow (separate article coming) from construction at the first block of the MTA's Vanderbilt Yard, between Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Street and Sixth and Carlton avenues.

That means construction of a platform and the start of the first of three towers, B5, at the western end of that block.

It was a rare public appearance by a Greenland representative at a neighborhood meeting, separate from the bi-monthly public meetings hosted by Empire State Development (ESD), the state authority that oversees/shepherds the project.

At far left, B4, already built. Then: B5, B6, & B7
But some important updates on the future of the project emerged, likely to be amplified at tonight's public, online Quality of Life meeting, hosted by ESD.

Notably, there are no firm plans yet to build beyond the first of six railyard towers, given doubts about the renewal or revision of the state's 421-a tax break

And even if it's revised, that hardly means simultaneous construction of three towers.

Affordable housing deadline

So, I conclude, there's even less chance that the developers can meet the obligation to start and complete 877 more affordable apartments by a May 31, 2025 deadline, after which they face onerous $2,000/month fines for eact missing unit.

That likely means--despite previous assurances that the deadline would be met--an effort to revise the deadline with the gubernatorially-controlled ESD, which has long been solicitous of the developers. (A previous ESD head had brought up the notion of a "legislative fix" for 421-a.)

That could come--I speculate--as part of a plan to add more housing, and affordable housing, to the project with the pending Site 5 project.

That involves a long simmering plan to transfer bulk from the unbuilt B1 tower, approved to loom over the arena at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, to Site 5 across Flatbush, longtime home to Modell's and P.C. Richard, enabling a far larger tower (or towers) than the 250-foot, 440,000 square foot approved building.

Or--who knows--perhaps the developers would seek sufficient city and state subsidies to build one or more "100% affordable" buildings, which would be economically viable without the tax break.

What's coming?

Though Solish, whose firm controls nearly all of master developer Greenland Forest City Partners, distributed an image (top right) of the buildout of that first railyard block, with three towers rising, that plan is hardly guaranteed.

B5, center-left, plus (built) B4. Dattner Architects
B5 (aka 700 Atlantic Avenue) has construction approvals, as I've reported, as does the platform, or deck, that's required to protect the Long Island Rail Road functions to store and service trains near the Atlantic Terminal hub in Brooklyn.

(The B5 image at right appeared in a Department of Buildings, or DOB, filing, but was not distributed last night.)

The platform should start in June, Solish said, pending LIRR and Department of Buildings (DOB) approvals; that seems a slight delay, given that the most recent Construction Update indicated it could start by this week.

The first phase of the platform should take three years, he said, which means projected completion in mid-2025.

B5 won't go vertical until Spring 2023, he said, and should take two years to build. The platform does not need to be finished for tower construction to start; platform work will start near the B5 site and move west to east. A significant amount of precursor work has been completed, as indicated by concrete and rebar in the photos below. 

The other two buildings, he said, rely on the renewal or replacement of the 421-a tax break.

Looking east from Sixth Ave. to B5 parcel
The current 421-a law requires foundations established by June 15, 2022; Solish wouldn't address my question about whether they were aiming to ensure that B5 qualifies for those 421-a benefits, but it seems highly likely--all they need is one foundation in the ground.

The current program allows developers to qualify for the tax break while including 30% affordable housing--better described as, income-linked housing--aimed solely at middle-income households earning 130% of Area Median Income, or AMI, or well above six figures.

That means rents potentially above $3,000 even for a studio. B5, as currently planned, would have 682 apartments, so about 205 income-targeted units.

Developer on 421-a

Solish appeared solicitous, and interacted cordially with NPHA members, saying he'd be "happy to try to answer any questions you may have about the project or what's going on."

The first question went to state Sen. Jabari Brisport, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America and an avowed opponent of 421-a. He asked Solish about the timeline.

Solish called 421-a "a critical piece of developing mixed-income, multifamily affordable housing," so if the program lapses, is not renewed, or the replacement is radically different, the developers have to reevaluate.

Brisport said he'd like to learn more, and Solish said he was eager to discuss it.

(Also present at the meeting, which had about 25 people, was Andrew Wright, Director of Policy and Budget for Council Member Crystal Hudson.)

Developer resistance

I posted what I considered to be two fairly boilerplate questions in the chat: what was the timeline for B5, and did they expect to get foundations in place to qualify for current 421-a benefits?

Looking west from Carlton Ave. along Atlantic
Solish told the moderator, NPHA's Peter Krashes, that he didn't anticipate that a journalist would be present.

"We always hold all these meetings as public meetings," Krashes said.

"I'm just going to choose not to answer them," Solish said.

When I private-messaged him in chat to ask whether he really wasn't going to address the tower's timeline, Solish spoke to the group: "I already answered how long will it take B5 to build."

Actually, he hadn't, so when someone in the audience asked the question again, Solish confirmed construction would take two years.

Who's paying?

The toughest question came from NPHA's Elaine Weinstein: how are they financing the platform?

Eastern block of the railyard
Solish paused for several beats. "Greenland will be financing the platform," he said.

In 2019, a Greenland executive estimated that costs for the platform, which has two phases, would exceed $200 million. So inflation likely has increased those costs.

It's not unlikely that the second part of the platform, between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues, would be more costly, because it would cover the full rectangle of the block; the first part has a significant arc of terra firma in what's known as the "bump," extending south from Atlantic Avenue into the railyard. 

(See photo further above from Carlton Avenue looking west.)

Parent Greenland Holdings Group, a (partly) state-owned conglomerate based in Shanghai, has access to financing, of course, but it's also possible that Greenland USA plans to market the first development parcel (and others?) to other developers, or as a joint venture, to raise money for the platform.

No timetable has been announced for the second (eastern) block of the railyard, which would support towers B8, B9, and B10. Completion of those towers is required for the lion's share of the project's open space.