Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Atlantic Yards, Pacific Park, and the Culture of Cheating

I offer a framework to analyze and evaluate Atlantic Yards (in August 2014 rebranded as Pacific Park Brooklyn) and the Barclays Center: Atlantic Yards, Pacific Park, and the Culture of Cheating.

Note: this post is post-dated to remain at the top of the page. Please send tips to the email address above, rather than posting a comment here.

model shown to potential immigrant investors in China in 2014,
though not shown publicly in Brooklyn.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Steel truss installation on Barclays Center green roof planned for Saturday

Empire State Development yesterday circulated an alert that work on the Barclays Center green roof will take place on Saturday from 7 am through 3:30 pm, involving the installation of a truss--part of the framework for supporting the roof turf.
Arena Green Roof:
On Saturday, March 28, 2015, T2 Truss installation will take place. Similar with weekday work, lifts will take place from both the Dean Street and Atlantic Avenue crane locations; there will be no steel deliveries. Work will be taking place during the hours 7 AM to 3:30 PM pursuant to the Department of Buildings weekend work permit.

Nassau County Executive Mangano bizarrely suggests renovated Coliseum will lure Islanders back; Ratner in dispute over retail plan?

There's been much scornful comment about the claim by Nassau County executive Ed Mangano, in his 3/11/15 State of the County address (below), that the renovated, shrunken Nassau Coliseum will lure the New York Islanders back.

After all, National Hockey League officials told Newsday that there was no indication that the team's move to Brooklyn this fall is temporary. And the Brooklyn arena offers far more luxury suites, key to making the economics work. Why would Coliseum redeveloper Forest City Ratner do anything to get back the team they recently lured to the Barclays Center they operate?

In a piece of intrigue, Long Island Business News yesterday reported, Developer dispute could stall Coliseum project. Apparently Forest City and Long Island's Blumenfeld Development Group (BDG) are at odds over the size and scope of the retail and entertainment piece of the Coliseum plan.

According to the article, based in part on anonymous sources, BDG wants to build some "300,000 square feet of restaurants, retail and entertainment businesses," while Forest City is aiming at less than one-third of that square footage. But they may not be that far apart, since BDG's own web site references 150,000 square feet.

Watching Mangano wink

"I'm certain this world-class destination will get the attention of the NHL," Mangano declared in his address. "While I was disappointed when taxpayers voted no to building an arena to keep our only professional sports team, we have an opportunity to keep their roots here in Nassau County. Tonight I announce that we are very close to finalizing plans... for a new historic public-private partnership with the Islanders to construct a state of the art corporate office and practice facility here in Nassau County."

"This facility will cement the Islanders in Nassau and provide hope that we will witness their full time return when they see the magnificent new Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum," he declared, almost winking. "We will continue to work to make that a reality. Whether they know it or not, we're going to continue to try to keep our sports team here."

Other questionable statements

"Our largest public-private partnership is the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where... construction will begin later this year to turn the outdated arena into a world-class sports and entertainment destination," Mangano said in the beginning of the excerpt above.

"The new Coliseum will retain its history of honoring our veterans while sharing revenue with County taxpayers," he declared. "It'll employ 2,700 people and provide $10 billion in economic benefit to our county."

What does "employ 2,700 people" mean? The "new Coliseum" phrase leaves the impression there would be 2,700 workers, but the Barclays Center has only 2,000 workers and far fewer full-time equivalent (FTE) workers.

Maybe he was referring to temporary construction jobs, or, perhaps, ultimately the associated buildings now subject to the the discpute.

What does $10 billion in economic benefit mean, and how is that calculated? We know that Zimbalist's numbers for Ratner's project were highly questionable. So we shouldn't trust a politician's projection without some backing data.

The new Coliseum, Mangano said it will host several Islanders games, Nets games, children's shows, "heavyweight boxing championships," minor league hockey and college basketball, "as well as "an exciting array of star studded performers and family-fun entertainment."

What might be very interesting is that Forest City Ratner, by the time its team opens the revamped Coliseum, may be out of the arena business in Brooklyn.

The dispute, and some numbers

According to the Long Island Business News article, Forest City Ratner sent LIBN a statement saying "We have an obligation and responsibility to build out the Coliseum and adjoining retail in a way that sustains long-term economic development without compromising the surrounding area."

While the article said the dispute may end up in court and stall Coliseum development, there's no indication that would affect the work to revamp and reopen the Coliseum itself. 

The dispute may be less than portrayed. The BDG website promises:
The iconic, state-of-the-art arena will be the centerpiece of a vibrant sports and entertainment district, which will replace the current concrete-covered plaza, consisting of approximately 150,000 square feet of new sports, entertainment and retail facilities as well as a variety of restaurants. SHoP Architects... has designed both the new exterior of the arena as well as the surrounding retail to create an integrated and complementary entertainment complex. The sports and entertainment district is anticipated to include a movie theater, bowling alley, indoor sports facility, indoor skydiving facility and/or a fitness center.
I don't see how that adds up to 300,000 square feet, but it's more than 100,000 square feet. According to a 9/20/13 memo from the Nassau County Legislature's Office of Legislative Budget Review:
The lease proposes a 145,000 square foot dining and entertainment complex in the Coliseum plaza. According to Schedule G of the lease agreement, a 10-12 screen movie theater would account for 60,000 square feet of the complex, and another 60,000 square feet of the complex would be devoted to a variety of dining options. The remaining 25,000 square feet in the complex would be dedicated to a recreational anchor (bowling, bocce, dining, etc.). Schedule G notes roughly a 2,500+/- seat theater based on the House Office of Legislative Budget Review 3 of Blues or Fillmore Theater concept to host regional, national, and international musical acts. A space would serve as an ice rink in the winter and a performance lawn for cultural and musical events in the summer. 
Then again, given Forest City Ratner's track record, we shouldn't be surprised if a deal changes.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Public hearing Monday on tax-exempt bonds for B3 affordable rental tower at Sixth Avenue and Dean Street

According to an announcement from the New York City Housing Development Corporation (NYC HDC), the agency will hold a (typically pro forma) public hearing Monday, May 30, to provide information and take public comment on bonds for numerous affordable housing projects.

Among them will be $75 million for Pacific Park B3, a 23-story affordable housing rental tower planned for the corner of Dean Street and Sixth Avenue.

The hearing will be held Monday, March 30 at 10 am at the NYC HDC Main Conference Room, 110 William Street, 10th Floor.

(The NYC HDC notice refers to the location as 38 Sixth Avenue, which is what it says on the project web site, though it was previously known as 30 Sixth Avenue.)

Waiting for more information

NYC HDC has not provided additional information I requested about the project, so all we have to go on is project web site (noted below) and  the non-binding letter (bottom) from last May, which indicated that B3--like B14, already launched at Carlton Avenue and Dean Street--would have affordability skewed toward upper middle-income households paying some $3,000 per month.

That document also indicated an additional subsidy of $11,765,000, which is not indicated in the notice.

The NYC HDC will allot $75 million for the project, the same as with B14, aka 535 Carlton. It is the single largest sum of any allotment in this round.

Note that the savings to the developer, Greenland Forest City Partners, is not $75 million but the difference between tax-exempt and taxable financing, typically a few percentage points and thus perhaps 15-30%.

The promotional description and the non-modular plan

The Pacific Park web site describes the building:
An eye-catching new 23-story residential tower is joining the arena block. Light, pattern, and texture play across the gleaming fa├žade; a traditional covered entrance provides comfortable access to the 300 residences, which will be affordable to low-, moderate-, and middle-income New Yorkers. Designed by SHoP Architects, 38 Sixth Avenue will house Pacific Park Brooklyn’s health care center, as well as retail behind full-height glass storefronts and an underground parking facility.
Note that the building, as of a couple of years ago, was supposed to be built via modular construction, which would save time and money, and reduce trucks, deliveries, and noise.

Given delays in the B2 tower at Flatbush Avenue and Dean Street, the new owner/overseer of the Greenland Forest City Partners joint venture decided that the next towers would be built conventionally. That raises questions about staging areas for construction of this tower.

Plexiglas windows being added to 16-foot green wall at Vanderbilt and Dean to improve sightlines

A message circulated yesterday from Pacific Park Brooklyn indicates that plexiglas windows will be added tomorrow to the 16-foot green wall at Vanderbilt Avenue and Dean Street, which aims to protect neighbors from noise and dust during construction but also encroaches significantly into the street.

(This is not the fence at Carlton Avenue and Dean, but is rather a busier, two-way intersection.)

Presumably this allows drivers going east on Dean to turn left or right on Vanderbilt while better assessing any oncoming traffic.

Community Notice
Changes to the Green Construction Fence at the corner of Vanderbilt Avenue & Dean Street Starting on Friday, March 27th
Dear Neighbor,
We wanted you to be aware that after consultation with the Fire Department of New York we will be making some minor modifications to the construction fence that surrounds Block 1129 bounded by Carlton Avenue, Vanderbilt Avenue, Dean Street & Pacific Street.
We will be adding Plexiglas windows to the fence at the corner of Vanderbilt Avenue and Dean Street to allow for a better sight line. While there have not been any issues to date, the Fire Department feels that this change is important and we are working to quickly implement it.
The height of the fence will remain unchanged and we expect the work to take 2 to 3 days to complete.
As always, please feel free to reach out to our office with any questions or concerns.
Thank you for your time.
Pacific Park Brooklyn Community Liaison Office
Empire State Development
(212) 803-3736

DBNA launches video challenge to highlight Meditation Room; info session today regarding new Atlantic Yards/Nets/DBNA foundation

Well, the Barclays Center Meditation Room may inspire some quizzical responses and snark from sports fans--and others who see it as a little used concession to a key Atlantic Yards supporter.

But the Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance (DBNA), founded by that supporter, the Rev. Herbert Daughtry and funded by developer Forest City Ratner, is doing its part to try highlight the value of the room, offering Moments of Peace: The Meditation Room Video Challenge.

It has invited its Community Partners--the groups that get free tickets to arena events distributed by the DBNA--to go to the Meditation Room, choose one of the words on the walls--LOVE, PEACE, FORGIVE, BELIEVE, REJOICE, FAITH--and make a three-to-four minute video explaining how that word plays a role in their life, as noted in the rules at right.

Five winning videos will be chosen each month, and the makers will get two tickets to an arena event.

As noted in the document at bottom:
The goals of the video challenge are: 1) To help dissipate the overwhelming pessimism that often accompanies living in NYC 2) To acknowledge the impact words have on how we view life and what they inspire us to do 3) To build a sense of camaraderie amongst Brooklyn-based not-for-profit organizations.
I suspect there are a couple of other goals: 1) get more use of and attention for the Meditation Room (despite the contradiction of filming a video in a place of quiet); 2) provide videos for the DBNA to use to promote its work.

The DBNA is probably the most active of all the signatories of the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA).

Informational session for new foundation

Also note an informational session today for organizations seeking to apply for grants from the Atlantic Yards/Nets/DBNA Community Foundation, which, as I've written, is a little murky about who's in charge, and how long it will operate.

The new foundation will give grants of $5,000 to Brooklyn-based community organizations, which work under the following categories:
  • fostering economic self-sufficiency
  • prisoner re-entry initiatives
  • youth and child programs
  • health programs
  • environmental sustainability
Applications are due by 4/1/15. (A separate capacity-building grant deadline is 4/15/15.)

The session will be held at DBNA offices at 415 Atlantic Avenue, aka the House of the Lord Church.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Atlantic Yards down the memory hole: LIRR improvements being delivered "free of charge," declares Newsday

I'm coming a little late to this Newsday article posted 3/22/15, headlined LIRR to get improvements in Brooklyn, part of Barclays deal.

But it clearly represents the phenomenon I've dubbed "Atlantic Yards down the memory hole," since the indubitable improvements have been part of renegotiation and delay:
The $100 million real estate deal that led to the Barclays Center being built over a century-old rail yard is beginning to pay dividends for the Long Island Rail Road and its Brooklyn commuters, officials said.
Seven years into the construction of a state-of-the-art new storage facility to replace the original Vanderbilt Yards, workers will soon punch through a 171-year-old rail tunnel to provide trains, for the first time, a direct path between the yard and Atlantic Terminal.
It's one of many improvements to the LIRR's Brooklyn operation that are being delivered to the railroad free of charge by Greenland Forest City Partners, a joint venture between Greenland and Forest City Ratner, developer of the Barclays Center and adjacent Pacific Park residential project.
"A project like this has to be a win-win for everybody," said Ratner vice president Thomas Bonacuso, who heads the project. "Brooklyn has become a brand. Brooklyn is hot. We and the railroad capitalized on that and were able to bring improvements to their rail yard that wouldn't have been possible under their own resources."
Well, wait a second. It's not free. The improvements are part of a deal in which the MTA/LIRR sold 3.6 million square feet of development rights to Forest City at a figure well below the appraised value of $75 per buildable square foot. 

That said, the appraiser surely undervalued the cost of the replacement railyard and deck needed to build housing, subtracting $56.7 million to reach an appraised value of $214.5 million.

The deal was renegotiated in 2009 to allow a smaller permanent railyard, an initial payment of $20 million, and a new deadline, giving the developer until 2031 to pay off the additional $80 million, at a gentle 6.5% interest rate. 

Since then, the timetable for the affordable housing has been moved up to 2025, which means the railyard parcels will be purchased faster than allowed in the 2009 renegotiation, but still slower than originally promised.

Since then, the value of the development rights has skyrocketed, to perhaps $350 per square foot. The MTA, despite advice from the mainstream Regional Plan Association, refused to consider any clause in the renegotiated contract to take advantage of any upswing in the market.

According to Newsday, "Ratner officials declined to disclose the project's cost." What we do know is that, in 2009, the MTA said the new railyard would be valued at $147 million, while Dellaverson said the previous iteration could be worth $250 million, after inflation.

So it's tough to measure the cost of the infrastructure against the value of the development rights. But the process was never clean, and the improvements surely aren't free.

From the Atlantic Yards CDC meeting: board materials (including budget), President's report

The Board Materials and President's Report from Monday's meeting of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation have been posted, and are also embedded below.

The President's report outlines how the advisory AY CDC works with the parent Empire State Development (with whom it shares staff, board members, and officers), and how ESD oversees the project, with its own consultants and in collaboration with the developer (now Greenland Forest City Partners) and the developer's on-site environmental monitor.

The Board Materials note a budget of about $250,000, more than 60% of which is projected for legal/accounting and consultant fees. The budget can be augmented, as was discussed at the meeting.

Despite WPIX boost, Barclays Center Nash Bash country concert leaves many empty seats

Well, according to Twitter, those attending the Nash Bash country music concert at the Barclays Center last night had a fine time.

And WPIX 11, again fulfilling its partnership with the arena, reported, vaguely, Country music takes over Brooklyn with Barclays Center concert
But other than the "thousands" of country music fans cited by WPIX, how successful was the event?

First, consider that to fill seats, a good number of comps were apparently given out--otherwise Hill Country BK wouldn't have had a stack, as pictured at right.

(Otherwise, tickets were a seemingly reasonable $30.)

I snagged a ticket for bubkes and visited briefly. (It was my first concert at the arena--the bass was loud--though I've gone to a few Brooklyn Nets and college basketball games, never paying full price.)

I saw a lot of empty seats, even as the arena was cordoned off into a theater configuration, with the upper sections closed off. I'd estimate far fewer than the 7,000 people expected.

Numerous concession stands were closed, and there was a long line at one women's restroom.

There may well be an audience for country music at Barclays. The largest group, when canvassed from the stage by the hosts, appeared to be from Long Island. 

But I don't think arena CEO Brett Yormark should be making the claim that there are "385 country bars" in Brooklyn.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

At second meeting of Atlantic Yards CDC, questions about monitoring project, what it might look like, managing big arena events, and adjusting green wall

A good portion of the second meeting of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC), held yesterday at BRIC, was devoted to institutional boilerplate. (Here's coverage of first meeting.)

But a few members on the board, set up last year to monitor public commitments regarding the project, asked pressing questions about how Empire State Development (ESD), the AY CDC’s parent, goes about its job.

It was revealed that ESD has closely tracked complaints and incidents only beginning a few months ago, and the state agency acknowledged it has no rendering of what the project would look like in full.

Also, the board heard from several residents about continued irritants, including Barclays Center events that spill out into the neighborhood and the massive 16-foot green fence that aims to block construction noise/dust but also encroaches on Carlton Avenue and Dean Street.

Expect more discussion at the next meeting in two months, including regarding the prospect--as raised by the AY CDC president--of a 16-foot wall surrounding the entire project site (or, presumably, the locations for construction).

The board was set up as part of the settlement last year that led to a new timetable to deliver affordable housing by 2025. The board is only advisory, though advocates had earlier requested a dedicated entity to oversee the project.

Update: Here are Board Materials and the President's Report.

Chair (Adams stays) and budget (paid by developer)

Even one institutional vote came with a small surprise. Though the board ratified the previous vote by parent ESD to allow the AY CDC chair—if the ESD CEO—not be subject to the New York City residency requirement otherwise required of board members, Kenneth Adams, the Brooklynite and former ESD CEO, will remain as chair of the subsidiary.

Adams now heads the state’s tax and finance office, while a Buffalo developer, Howard Zemsky, has been named CEO of ESD.

The AY CDC’s budget, it was disclosed, is funded 90% by a periodically replenished imprest account, maintained by ESD and funded by the project developer—not unlike the way costs are shifted for the ESD’s hiring of environmental consultants and outside lawyers.

“I can't think…of too many other situations where the developer is covering the expenses of the subsidiary,” Adams observed, because in most other cases the state subsidiary is set up to act like a developer.

Can the CDC augment its budget if needed to cover additional services? Yes, the board of directors could amend the budget, said the ESD’s Joe Chan, Executive VP, Real Estate and Public/Private Partnerships.

There is no developer veto over consultants, said ESD attorney Robin Stout, responding to a question of board member Barika Williams.

Tracking impacts, but only recently

Board member Jaime Stein asked about a report given to the board that compiled incident reports regarding the project received directly by ESD or via Forest City Ratner (or, more precisely, Greenland Forest City Partners), Atlantic Yards Watch, or 311. Community relations staffer Nicole Jordan has created a spreadsheet of such impacts, explained AY CDC President Marion Phillips III.

Stein noted that Phillips had referenced previous Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Committee meetings—since renamed Community Updates—as providing helpful information. “The log we have starts January 2015,” she noted. “Is it possible to get more?”

Jordan “joined us less than a year ago,” Phillips replied. “We did not have this report... We don't really have a quantifiable record... It would not be a fair representation.” In other words, despite many concerns and complaints about the impacts of construction and arena operations, there’s no official log.

In response to a question from board member Tamara McCaw, Phillips said ESD was assessing how to make the document public.

Monitoring commitments

Stein asked how often ESD confers with consultants that monitor the environmental commitments. Rachel Shatz, ESD’s VP, Planning and Environmental Review, explained that some commitments (such as double-pane windows and vibration monitoring) in the Memorandum of Environmental Commitments are overseen by the developer’s consultant, Remedial, while others are overseen by ESD’s consultant, HDR, which is on site two days a week.

“How is improvement measured?” asked Stein, a Pratt Institute academic whose appointment on the board—by Mayor Bill de Blasio—was pushed by the Dean Street Block Association, representing near neighbors of the project.

Phillips pointed to fewer complaints from the community. Another metric, suggested Adams, was the percentage of closed or resolved complaints, and the speed by which they are resolved. (I’d say some people with concerns either have given up or don’t know how to file complaints.)

Shatz said “we realized there was room for improvement,” which includes new training programs for contractors, the requirement that Greenland Forest City hire an on-site environmental monitor outside their company, and that they “provide to us their means and methods for doing their job.”

(The changes, it should be noted, also came after a blistering report from a consultant critiqued oversight during arena construction.)

Stein observed that it was important to measure improvements, since resolution of community complaints shouldn't be the only metric.

Phillips also revealed that an ESD staffer, Greg Lynch, has been transferred internally and is “helping on the ground” and “on the ground daily.” (He's never been mentioned previously.)

Williams said it was important to reach out to more transient neighborhood residents so they know where to report concerns.

What project might look like

“Is there a way to get current rendering of entire project?” asked Williams, who was appointed by the City Council Speaker, at the recommendation of Council Member Laurie Cumbo.

“We don't have anything for the entire site,” responded Shatz. Indeed, as Phillips pointed out, there are currently renderings for only four buildings—two on the arena block (B2, B3) and two on the southeast block (B11, B14).

“It would be good to ask Forest City if we can get a current project rendering,” observed Williams, “to help people understand what this looks like from a street view.”

“If it exists, I'll be more than happy to ask,” Phillips said. Chan noted that the Design Guidelines describe the “fairly broad envelope of what can be built and where.”

The issue Williams raised reflects an ongoing challenge—there have rarely been street-level renderings of the project but rather a helicopter perspective that portrays urban sculpture.

Public comments: board conflict

When it came time for public comments, which came exclusively from residents near the project site, the board listened but was not charged to respond; Phillips said questions would be addressed on the ESD web site.

Steve Ettlinger raised the issue of the seeming blatant conflict of interest, given that two board members, Bertha Lewis of The Black Institute (and formerly of ACORN) and Sharon Daughtry of the Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance, are from groups that signed the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement, and describe themselves as “partners” with the developers.

“Is it not problematic to have two board members... who have had or now have direct financial relations with the developer?” Ettlinger asked. “I would like to know if, in your eyes, that is not a problem.”

(Neither Daughtry nor Lewis were present. Nor were board members Shawn V. Austin nor Julene Beckford. That meant nine of 13 board members were present, including Chan and Adams. One seat remains to be filled.)

Public comments: arena impacts

Ettlinger also pointed to the “complete disaster” last Tuesday involving a private event at the arena, in which some 270 buses inundated the area.

“I wonder why is it that any major event from the Barclays Center involves a pronouncement from the Barclays Center that such and such will be happening... end of discussion,” observed Jim Vogel, an aide to state Senator Velmanette Montgomery. “The place was flooded with school buses.”

Peter Krashes encouraged ESD to have a staffer not merely at 55 Hanson Place, a state office building, but “maybe right next to the site, in a storefront.” He also asked for a map of the areas eligible for noise attenuation assistance, including double-paned windows and air conditioning.

He encouraged AY CDC to work on protocols for arena events. “This is a special situation where you have an arena located next to residents,” he said. “You want to make sure you don't have what’s happened last week.”

Wayne Bailey, who lives at the nearby Newswalk condo and also leads the 78th Precinct Community Council, warned that construction has taken away staging areas. “The biggest complaint I'm getting,” he said, is “there is no way to do these events and not close the streets.”

Public comments: windows and fence

Elisabeth Martin said that the promised double-pane windows—according to her research—insulate against cold or heat but “do not claim to insulate from noise.” (I'm not sure about that.)

Patti Hagan said that she was alarmed by the 16-foot wall and the possibility that it could pose the same dangers as a construction site in the West Village where a piece of flying wood killed a woman.
Managing the tensions

Board member Rachel Gold asked about the wall and the glass. Shatz said they were advised by ESD’s consultants as remedies.

Does the board, asked board member Monsignor Kieran Harrington, have the authority to require changes?

No, said Adams, the board is advisory. Harrington observed that, with the fence, “It seems like there were a couple of competing interests.” For example, a lower barrier might be achievable if community members accepted more noise.

Phillips said the fence in Prospect Heights is more secure than the one in the West Village. “The reason it's in the street,” he said, was to accommodate the six-foot brackets that keep it safe in high winds. (I thought it was also to accommodate equipment.)

"We may end up having to have a 16-foot wall around the entire project,” Phillips observed.

Harrington wondered if the wall could be supported “in a different way at a higher cost.”

If the wall were lowered, it would expose more residents to noise, said Shatz. (As far as I can tell, most of the critics want it moved back, not lowered.)

Shatz also said the fire department is not “experiencing difficulties” with their emergency vehicles. Some in the audience, perhaps mindful of videos of delayed fire trucks, scoffed.

Adams agreed the next AY CDC meeting, scheduled for May 19, would explore the history/rationale for the 16-foot fence, and also discuss noise attenuation.

“The question is: it be moved further into the site,” observed board member Linda Reardon, who lives in Prospect Heights “Even if it were a few feet, it would be of great advantage to [traffic] throughput and the trees.”

I'd add that the competing interests also involve the size of the project. A somewhat scaled down project would create less noise/dust and therefore not require such interventions.

Working with the arena

Stein noted concerns about “large-scale events” at the arena and asked if the board could be briefed by Terence Kelly, the arena’s community affairs manager.

“We can send out their regular schedule of events,” Phillips said, “and request that Terence make a presentation.”

That, I think, will get them only so far. As of now, the schedule omits events that are not publicly ticketed, even if they stand to attract large audiences. Moreover, Kelly’s pre-event message regarding the March 17 event misleadingly downplayed the potential impact.

Concerns I raised

I took the opportunity to make a public comment, observing that I might get more answers via this process than by submitting questions as a journalist.

I asked whether the board had gotten information about:

  • the death of a worker on-site in February
  • Forest City’s plan to re-start work at B2 by realigning only the tenth-floor modules
  • the delays in constructing the green roof, which means that the Flatbush Avenue crane will be erected while the Atlantic Avenue crane is still there, contrary to original plans.

Dates announced for future Atlantic Yards CDC meetings and Community Update meetings

Yesterday, at the second meeting of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC), two schedules were released.

Future AY CDC meetings are tentatively scheduled for the third Tuesday of the month at 3 pm, with time and location to be confirmed:
  • Tuesday, May 19
  • Tuesday, August 18
  • Tuesday, November 17
Future Community Update meetings (formerly known as Quality of Life Committee meetings) will be held on Wednesdays at 6 pm at a location to be confirmed:
  • Wednesday, April 22
  • Wednesday, June 24
  • Wednesday, August 19
  • Wednesday, October 14
  • Wednesday, December 9
(Here's coverage of the meeting itself.)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Memo to the Atlantic Yards CDC: what about last week's bus inundation of Prospect Heights?

The agenda has emerged for today's meeting of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation, the second for this new body.

But if is supposed to monitor public commitments regarding the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project--and not just leave them for the periodic Quality of Life meetings (the next one is April 22)--the AY CDC must address the situation that emerged last Tuesday.

During the morning, hundreds of buses delivering arenagoers to a huge private event--the memorial for Orthodox Jewish educator Sara Schenirer--inundated neighborhood streets, double-parking on both Flatbush Avenue and residential streets (photos, video), and blocking bus stops and hydrants.

As I wrote, this in no way resembled the Barclays Center announcement that "Buses will be parked and staged downstairs in our loading dock, outside on the arena block and across the street at the Atlantic Terminal Mall on Fort Greene Place."

Nor was there sufficient warning of public impacts. (This event didn't even make the monthly calendar distributed by the Barclays Center.)

How did it happen?

As one bus driver put it, "I don't see how they scheduled something like this for Barclays Center knowing there was no parking for 300 buses." (The total was 270, according to VosIzNeias, a news outlet aimed at the Orthodox Jewish community.)

So, why did this happen? The arena survives its very tight fit--backing into a residential neighborhood--because most people take public transit. (And, of course, those driving can find parking places in an area where there is no residential permit parking, as residents have requested.)

This time very few people took public transit. This has happened for certain other events--especially those involving children--but not quite on this level, as far as I can tell.

The event "worked" for those attending, thanks to arena-paid pedestrian managers, volunteers from the Jewish community (Shomrim), and a plethora of police, including counter-terrorism cops. 

It didn't "work" for the neighborhood. That would have been impossible unless most people took public transit. The city could have imposed fines on all the buses double-parking on residential streets, or in bus stops or at fire hydrants, but that would have ruined the event.

So that raises questions: why do the interests of arena operators and/or those holding the event hold sway? Who and what agencies gave the OK?

The AY CDC's job is to oversee the project and monitor public commitments. This episode surely deserves oversight.

How much are those Atlantic Yards B2 modules misaligned? Check the photo.

At today's meeting of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation, developer Forest City Ratner should be asked about its partial acknowledgment that modules in the long-stalled B2 tower require realignment before the building can be finished.

As I wrote, Forest City disclosed plans to realign (and possibly lift-and-reset) modules only on the tenth and current highest floor, as if setting a new base for the additional 22 floors. However, some lower-floor modules seem slightly but distinctly out of alignment as well.

If you look at the right-side column of modules with red-framed windows, they clearly don't fit precisely. Note the photo below, a close-up of the intersections of modules on the third and fourth floors.

As I wrote, the announcement--which said work could begin April 1--leaves some question marks. Realigning the lower floor modules would be more complicated and likely require modules to be removed. It's unclear when the cumulative effect of out-of-tolerance modules becomes a problem.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Is the arena impact "not so bad," as Markowitz predicted? Yes, but... it's complicated (and beyond traffic)

I'm leading a walking tour today of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park/Barclays Center/Prospect Heights (via Municipal Art Society), and have presented several posts in preparation. One thing to remember: the project remains very much in process. Some impacts feared, expected, or welcomed have not emerged because they were calculated on a larger/full buildout.

At the end of 2008, in his traditional end-of-the-year interview with the Brooklyn Paper's Gersh Kuntzman, Borough President Marty Markowitz made an observation about the then-stalled Atlantic Yards project:
“I always say to these folks that are viciously anti—when it’s built I hope that you’ll say to me ‘Marty, you know, it’s not so bad,’” Markowitz spritzed. “I don’t expect you to say you know you were right.  Just say to me, ‘You know what, not so bad.’ That would be to me that would be a tremendous celebration.”
He's surely gotten that wish. After all, in 2013, the New York Times declared arena-related problems "everyday irritants" and in the Daily News published a conclusory op-ed asserting Park Slope was wrong about Barclays Center.

Both were correct that the arena had caused fewer problems than feared, but also missed or downplayed its disruptions--for example, the escaping bass that has prompted the installation of the new green roof, or the regular illegal parking and idling by limos--on its nearest neighbors. And both scanted some of the larger questions about public process and government oversight.

"I can see that it has a positive side"

That's continued. Last July, Carroll Gardens resident Vijay Seshadri, in a Commercial Observer interview headlined Pulitzer Poet Immortalizes Atlantic Avenue, Talks Brooklyn Development, was asked:
As a 28-year resident of the borough, what’s your view of the current and continuing development of Brooklyn (i.e. especially on Atlantic Avenue with Barclays Center and Atlantic Yards)?
His response:
I mourn the disappearance of the culture that was here when I first came to Brooklyn in the mid-eighties, but paradoxically I’m not sentimental about it. New York is always tearing itself down and building itself up again. I was opposed to the development of Atlantic Yards–I even wrote an essay for the volume Brooklyn Was Mine, which was put together as a protest to Atlantic Yards and the Barclays Center. But now that it has happened, I can see that it has a positive side to it, and the negative consequences we were fearing don’t seem to have materialized.
There was something lost, especially for people living near the Yards; and of course working people, middle-class people, are finding it very hard to live in the areas of Brooklyn that were once a refuge for them. That is a big problem for the city...
(Emphasis added)

Which negative consequences?

Seshadri, I suspect, was reflecting concern that the arena and associated buildout would cause massive traffic problems. Indeed, the state's own environmental review suggested significant problems (see Brooklyn Paper coverage) that would be partially mitigated. The Final EIS said:
As the data shown in Table 19-4 and Figures 19-5 through 19-11 indicate, a total of 35 intersections would continue to have unmitigated significant adverse traffic impacts in one or more peak hours in the 2016 Build With Mitigation condition. 
What that meant in practice was unclear, but we do know several things:
  • the 2010 buildout (four towers plus arena) hasn't happened
  • the 2016 buildout (full project) hasn't happened
  • the flagship B1 tower at Atlantic and Flatbush hasn't arrived (and if it does would change our perspective)
  • the arena is smaller than analyzed
  • arena attendance is well under capacity, given no-shows
  • fewer people than expected drive from New Jersey (note Sam Schwartz's relief)
  • far more people than expected walk 
  • the retail turnover has been significant but very much incomplete
In other words, the fears were not unrealistic, though we all should have anticipated how all such plans and analyses were provisional.

While the arena may not impact Seshadri and neighbors in Carroll Gardens, it very much impacts people in the nearest blocks. Some of those impacts might be lessened thanks to residential parking permits, which are stymied in Albany.

Others might be mitigated if traffic and parking violations were stringently enforced. And others might be avoided if the arena didn't book events that, say, require hundreds of buses to double-park on neighborhood streets.

Beyond traffic

The issues are broader. One project neighbor reminded me that "were always multiple strands of opposition to Atlantic Yards: outrage over the use of eminent domain and the corruption of public processes, fear of impending impacts, and criticism of the plans."

Beyond that, he noted, attention has fallen off regarding the continuing pursuit of eminent domain and the impacts on neighbors--not NIMBYism but a good-government issue. In other words, the arena's tainted by the Culture of Cheating.

Beyond that, it's likely opponents had an incentive to stress impacts, and the state's environmental review was written in a cautious, cover-your-butt manner.

We would have been much better off had the review disclosed a range of possibilities, including an adjustment if 1) the arena were smaller and 2) the buildout occurred more incrementally. But the job of the environmental review was to assess potential worst-case scenarios.

What else Markowitz said: arena as catalyst

In that 2008 interview, Markowitz also claimed "an arena and a national team would be an unbelievable incentive, in my opinion, a catalyst for jobs and new companies coming and staying in Brooklyn — my humble opinion!”

I'm not so sure about that. Yes, the arena has further put Brooklyn on the map, but Brooklyn, especially the neighborhoods in the arena's orbit, was doing pretty well--even as other parts were left behind.

New jobs and companies come to Brooklyn because of available and affordable space, whether it be on the Sunset Park waterfront, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and MetroTech, coupled with an attractive lifestyle for their employees. 

The arena may contribute in a fractional way, but I haven't seen any evidence it's been a catalyst, other than for food and beverage outlets in nearby blocks.

In fact, the evidence of the arena's impact on public finances remains fuzzy. The arena itself isn't making the profit operators predicted. The arena's location has, however, catalyzed the value of the (money-losing, for now) Nets up significantly.