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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)

If New York becomes (in part) "the Playground City," what might that mean for Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park (and Site 5)?

From the New York Times 5/10/23: 26 Empire State Buildings Could Fit Into New York’s Empty Office Space. That’s a Sign., from Edward L. Glaeser, chair of the economics department at Harvard, and Carlo Ratti, director of the Senseable City Lab at M.I.T. Their lead:
New York is undergoing a metamorphosis from a city dedicated to productivity to one built around pleasure. Many office buildings still feel eerily empty, with occupancy around 50 percent of prepandemic levels, harming landlords and the local economy. But 56 million people visited New York last year, making Fifth Avenue in December feel as crowded as Ipanema Beach during Carnival.

The economic future of the city that never sleeps depends on embracing this shift from vocation to recreation and ensuring that New Yorkers with a wide range of talents want to spend their nights downtown, even if they are spending their days on Zoom. We are witnessing the dawn of a new kind of urban area: the Playground City.
That, obviously, is a rather myopic view of the potential transformation of Manhattan, including empty office buildings in major business districts. The "Playground City" obviously doesn't extend to the neighborhoods still suffering from a history of disinvestment and public/private policies that concentrate poverty.

But the authors think that various tactics, including allowing offices to be turned into housing--a challenging proposition in many cases, given cost and configuration, but one that could use windowless spaces for common areas.

They suggest new efforts to support outdoor/street life, taxing e-commerce congestion, and finally citizen engagement that--almost an afterthought--"must include support for populations at risk of being marginalized by the transition."

Some commenters noted the importance of getting cars out of the city core, including congestion pricing, while others pointed to the importance of public safety, including on transit, and extensive affordable housing.

One possibility to consider is that New York, while losing commuters who'd prefer to stay home and office workers who'd prefer to work remotely from a place with a different climate, cost, or ambiance, might gain remote workers who prefer the city.

And in Brooklyn

What might this mean to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park?

Well, a complex with adjacent open space (aka "Pacific Park") has an advantage over one without it--at least if the ratio of residents to space is not so high they have to compete for it.

In other words, keep an eye on how the three acres of open space, positioned between four large towers, gets used.

It also means that the adjacency to Vanderbilt Avenue, which became a vibrant open street during the pandemic, is a significant asset, at least in the warmer months when that street is open. (Hm, maybe that "blighted" rail yard wasn't such a drag.)

If more people want to work from home, with green space outside, it makes the six future towers over the Vanderbilt Yard more attractive. But the infrastructure cost is high and--who knows--may require public investment. 

Any such public investment, as advocacy planner (and Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation director) Ron Shiffman has suggested, should thus lead to greater involvement of public and nonprofit entities.

About Site 5

As floated since 2015, project developer Greenland Forest City Partners has envisioned a giant two-tower project--with potential offices, housing, hotel, retail--at Site 5 catercorner to the arena, longtime home to the big-box stores P.C. Richard and (now-closed) Modell's.

2016 presentation to Department of City Planning

That requires a new state approval process, because it involves shifting the bulk of the unbuilt "Miss Brooklyn," the flagship tower once slated to loom over the arena, across the street, creating a parcel with some 1.1 million square feet, rather than the approved plan for a 250-foot, 440,000-square foot building, which is not insubstantial.

How would Site 5, located at the key crossroads of Atlantic, Flatbush, and Fourth avenues--and bounded by low-rise Pacific Street--fit in?

Clearly retail akin to the Time Warner Center, as a developer's rep once posited, would fit the "Playground City." As would proximity to the Barclays Center and the cultural district around the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

That would all be good for marketing, but it wouldn't necessarily be using public resources to foster equity.

Yes, a larger building could deliver more affordable housing, as well as some public space, as has been suggested.

However, as I wrote, the developers previously sought an unprecedented amount of bulk, a Floor Area Ratio (FAR) of 23.5, 50% more than allowed for the 80 Flatbush project (aka "The Alloy Block"), which got special approval. 

And it's a tricky site, with increased loading for a larger building likely placing demands on narrow Pacific Street, not the wider avenues.

Could Site 5 be developed mostly as office space? That seems doubtful. While, as The CITY recently reported, "The one bright spot is that demand remains strong for the city’s newest and most expensive office towers," those are in Manhattan, closest to cultural offerings and rail transportation.

Perhaps it will take macro changes--interest rates, subsidy policies--for new Site 5 plans to emerge.