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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)

While the Pacific Park Conservancy is supposed to maintain project open space, it's spent far more on insurance and lawyers.

This is the second of two articles on the Pacific Park Conservancy.

I wrote yesterday (link) how complaints about the dog run within "Pacific Park" had been sloughed off to the Pacific Park Conservancy, which, contrary to publicly posted signage, does not have an operating email address or phone number. 

Nor does it have a full complement of directors, at least according to its most recently posted public documents.

Looking east along Dean Street

Beyond managing (presumably) the operation of the dog run, what else is the Conservancy supposed to do? And what has it done?

Well, according to extant--albeit limited-- public documents, it's supposed to maintain the "park."

But it's spent the majority of its funds on professional services.

While the Pacific Park Conservancy has raised $1.6 million over three years, in assessments from project buildings, it has spent a paltry amount on program services--at least as of the end of 2022.

Rather, over two fiscal years, it spent $533,259 on insurance and $256,730 on legal expenses. (In its start-up year, it spent nothing.)

Now, there may be an explanation: new organizations may front-load such progressional expenses. For the time period at issue, the space was fractional, outside two buildings, 535 Carlton and 550 Vanderbilt. (More space was added last year, when 595 Dean came online, with the developer creating the new open space.)

However, without any transparency from the Conservancy, it's a cause for concern and, at the least, further explanation.

Initial coverage

In November 2019, I first wrote about the Conservancy, established by the Pacific Park Owners Association, which consists of the buildings already opened. The Conservancy initially has two Members, the Pacific Park Owners Association, which represents owners of extant buildings, and Atlantic Yards Venture, the project developer.

Those Members can collectively appoint up to eight of 13 Directors, thus ensuring that the building owners or developer control the Conservancy. 

For several years, until all eight acres of open space are completed, the Developer will appoint seven members, while the Owners Association will appoint just one director. (That said, there are at least two representatives of other developers, TF Cornerstone and The Brodsky Organization, named as Directors.)

Buildings with market-rate apartments, notably the 550 Vanderbilt Avenue condominium and certain rental buildings, would pay far more. The two "100% affordable" buildings would pay $22,000 each year, subject to an escalation factor--plus a potential adjustment. All other buildings would pay based on a gross square footage, with a 46% discount for affordable housing.

Work to be done

According to its initial filing with the Internal Revenue Service, the Conservancy stated:

The Conservancy's primary activity will be the operation of Pacific Park in furtherance of charitable purposes. Such activity will include the maintenance of Pacific Park for the benefit of the public and will require that the Conservancy plant trees, flowers, and shrubs, install and maintain trash containers, mow the grass, remove litter, and take other actions necessary or desirable for the maintenance of Pacific Park.
Until staff were hired, "all work will be performed by volunteers," but the Conservancy might contract with a third party for services. The "park" land would be granted to the Conservancy by Empire State Development, the state authority overseeing/shepherding the project, on a rolling basis as parcels were completed.

For now, that's stalled at four towers on the project's southeast block, involving three acres of open space. Five more acres would emerge with the completion of six towers over the railyard.

"The Conservancy will continue to receive contributions of land until it owns the entire eight-acre public space, a process which is expected to take up to ten years," the document stated in a way overoptimistic prediction.

Though buildings in the project would have to fund the Conservancy, it also may seek other charitable contributions and also generate revenue by activities in Pacific Park.

The track record

According to the Pacific Park Conservancy Form 990 Annual Return 2020, filed with the Internal Revenue Service, the organization had $100,000 in the bank, described as the "initial funding of reserve," with no expenses.

(According to a various amendments to the 550 Vanderbilt Offering Plan, $175,000 was allocated in 2017 to fund the Conservancy. For 2018, 2019, and 2020, the building paid $230,000 each year. In 2021, it paid $190,000. I'm not sure what it's paid since.)

Interestingly enough, the Conservancy filed two Form 990s for 2021, one in November 2022 and a presumably updated one in January 2023. The first return indicated $1,080,918 in revenue and $1,009,857 in expenses, while the second indicated $1,056,471 in revenue and $769,303 in expenses.

The first indicated $411,615 in assets and $240,554 in liabilities, while the second indicated $387,168 in assets, with no liabilities.

The first indicated $242,010 in legal expenses, while the second indicated $161,333. Both documents reported that $381,478 was spent on insurance.

The first reported $240,421 on repairs and maintenance, $112,263 on landscaping, and $22,144 on utilities. The second--presumably the more accurate one?--reported $148,149 on repairs and maintenance, $75,802 on landscaping, and $1,479 on utilities.

Most recent report

For FY 2022, the Form 990 indicated $444,075 in revenue, and $279,253 in expenses, leaving $551,990 in net assets. (Of course, it's been more than a year since then, but this document was filed after an extension request to Nov. 15, 2023.)

Expenses included $95,397 on legal services, $402 on accounting, $2,125 on depreciation, and $151,781 on insurance.

The $29,548 in program service expenses was divided into $18,965 for landscaping and $10,583 for repairs and maintenance. That sum, of course, is dwarfed by other spending. 

We don't know yet what the Conservancy spent in 2023.

Some concern

When I first wrote about the Owners Association, in November 2019, an anonymous commenter responded:
I would LOVVVEEEE to know what that $230,000 [from 550 Vanderbilt] went towards. The landscaped area behind 550 Vanderbilt needs some serious mulching, and dead plants have not been replaced. Note that that landscaped area at 535 Carlton received a fresh layer of mulch and dead plants were replaced this summer (only to die within weeks from lack of watering). There are also three dead street trees on Vanderbilt in front of 550 Vanderbilt that have not seen a day of life in 2019.
That call for transparency likely will persist.