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What's next from BrooklynSpeaks? New "third party" input to create "more detailed vision of challenges and opportunities" at Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park

Following up from my 2022 recap (link) and my 2023 forecast (link) articles, I took a look back at my coverage of the four charettes about the future of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, sponsored by the coalition BrooklynSpeaks under the banner Crossroads.

Among the proposals was a new governance entity, as well a focus on more deeply affordable housing in the expected tower complex at Site 5, catercorner to the arena and longtime home to the big-box stores Modell's and P.C. Richard.

This plan, floated in 2016, didn't proceed

My report on last February's final Crossroads session quoted organizer Gib Veconi. "I think we're kind of at the beginning of a process here,” he said, but progress will “take a lot of community presence, a lot organizing, and a lot of visibility.” 

BrooklynSpeaks, he said, would take in the comments made and “come back with a kind of synthesis.”

What next?

Nothing emerged, so I followed up this week with a query.

"Following the Crossroads workshops, we have discussed the input we received with the developer, the State and elected officials," Veconi responded. "We are currently soliciting additional third party input, with the goal of producing a more detailed vision of challenges and opportunities at the site."

That's not unreasonable, because Crossroads was held at a time when developer Greenland Forest City partners (GFCP) was expected to start on the long-await platform--the first of two phases--over the Vanderbilt Yard, to support three of the approved six towers over the railyard. That didn't happen.

Similarly, the proposal to transfer bulk from the unbuilt Miss Brooklyn tower, once slated to loom over the arena, across Flatbush Avenue to Site 5, didn't advance. That would require approval of the guiding General Project Plan by Empire State Development (ESD), the state authority that oversees/shepherds the project--and might be subject to some political influence toward deeper affordability.

A changed vision

A new vision for the project becomes more important as the May 2025 deadline approaches for the required 2,250 units of affordable housing. Some 876 (or 877) units are yet to start, which means GFCP Partners would be on the hook to pay $2,000/month in fines for each unfinished unit--fines it surely does not wish to pay.

Veconi, in a recent tweet, suggested that he favors a wholesale revamp, rather than--as BrooklynSpeaks indicated last year, when progress on the platform seemed more likely--an effort to influence the contours of the plan.
Talking with the developer

Notably, BrooklynSpeaks--which is essentially a handful of active people, plus the ability to drawn on several neighborhood or transportation/urban planning groups--has held discussions with GFCP.

So presumably the developer knows that BrooklynSpeaks, as of last year at least, sought deeper affordability, public space, and transportation improvements at Site 5. That raises the question, unresolved in the Crossroads sessions: how big Site 5 would be?

After all, the larger the project, the easier it is for the developer to make concessions in terms of affordability and public space, though at the cost of imposing on the site's nearest neighbors, including a loading dock on what BrooklynSpeaks has proposed as a "slow street."

As I've written, the Site 5 project, at least as proposed in 2016, would be some 50% bulkier than the already anomalously large 80 Flatbush project, now known as The Alloy Block, a few blocks northwest. It could be enormously valuable to the developer.

Keep in mind that one leader of BrooklynSpeaks, Michelle de la Uz of the Fifth Avenue Committee, has partnered with the developer of 80 Flatbush, as well as with developers pursuing spot rezonings along Atlantic Avenue east of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, essentially concluding that more affordability trumps issues of bulk.

Getting third-party input

It's a good idea to get input from outside experts, assuming/presuming that input is shared publicly.

The site/project offers a complex mix of constraints and opportunities. To what extent is the original vision of the project, in terms of bulk and use, valid in terms of urban design and what advocacy planner Ron Shiffman calls the site's carrying capacity? 

Even with the city's overall need for increased density, is the approved density workable, with six towers planned for the railyard? 

Conversely, what density is needed to make the project work financially? If the public is asked for additional assistance--like an extension of time to pay the fines, or even a public investment--what does it get in exchange?

Note that there's already significant public assistance, given below-cost land, subsidies, tax breaks, eminent domain--even if the developers have been overoptimistic (or, rather, disingenuous) about their ability to complete the project and/or deliver the levels of affordability originally promised.

Shiffman last year suggested the likelihood of a public bailout, implying a public stake, which could reconfigure the project at lower density while serving more of the people who need housing.

Questions pending

To what extent is Greenland USA (which owns nearly all of GFCP) financially sound, and/or reliable, given that its Shanghai-based parent, Greenland Holdings Corp., has been struggling, with its credit rating sinking?

To what extent has the absence of a renewed 421-a tax break, and/or the rise in interest rates, changed the developer's forecasts? And what would be the impact of changes on either front?

To what extent might blowing up the project--finding a new master developer--delay the project even further? (And how bad would that be, given that the platform's already essentially been delayed three years?)

What's the realistic timetable for the platform--each of the two phases? What's the realistic timetable for the completion of the project? Keep in mind that the lion's share of the project's open space (now dubbed Pacific Park) relies on completion of that second railyard block, as demapped Pacific Street would be transformed into open space.

Can a new governance structure truly help, or just be a facade?

Transparency needed

These are questions the public sector should be able to ask, gain answers for, and share publicly. And to the extent that private players like BrooklynSpeaks seek answers, those should be shared with the public, as well.

Given the opacity of the project--remember, the bi-monthly November Quality of Life meeting was canceled without notice, and the last quarterly meeting of the (purportedly) advisory Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC) was in June--more transparency is a must, from all fronts.

After all, as I wrote yesterday, the developer's latest six-month look-ahead remained vague, with boilerplate language about how the platform may proceed. What, exactly, are the factors?