Friday, July 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.

Monday, July 06, 2015

"Just like a normal accessible park"? Misleading rhetoric and incomplete information behind the (inadequate) Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park open space

From Pacific Park Brooklyn web site
Let's acknowledge that Thomas Balsley, the landscape architect behind the latest iteration of planned Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park open space, has an impressive record. (Here's an article on his work.)

In Brooklyn, the promised open space will have trees, a sloping lawn, a "main lawn," water features and a dog run, as well as active and passive recreation areas.

We'll see "heritage material" like bluestone paving and cobblestone paving, as well as benches, chairs, and kiosks.

And those renderings of "Pacific Park Brooklyn," in finished state, look pleasant, albeit without any hint of how the 14,000 or so residents of the new towers might monopolize this rather small amount of space--eight acres--before the public gets a shot.

But the presentation of the open space, starting with an "Exclusive" fed to the New York Daily News in which Balsley claimed "we wanted this to look just like a normal accessible park," is cynical and deceptive:
  • This privately managed space won't be a "park," despite the new rhetoric of developer Greenland Forest City Partners, and doesn't resemble any existing park
  • The promised central promenade won't appear for years, and the open space won't be done for until 2025
  • No renderings of interim phases have been released, though segments of green will nudge up against construction sites for the next decade
  • The "lawn," described in a slide presentation (also at bottom) as a "main lawn," is tiny, little more than one-third an acre
  • The amount of open space is well below the city average for the population around it, and reaches eight acres only because the developers can appropriate three acres of public streets (as architect Jonathan Cohn noted in 2005)
  • The street trees pictured, which look nice and uniform, do not resemble the actual plan
From slide presentation
Bottom line: a primarily private benefit is being spun as a public good.

Not a park

However accessible from the sidewalk via pathways, this "park" seems likely to be inextricable from the towers around it.

By contrast, as the Municipal Art Society warned in 2006, "Genuine public parks—like Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill Park and Fort Greene Park—are bordered by streets."

As Cohn wrote in 2005, "no amount of open views in the interior of a superblock will make the ground plane function like a watched public street."

Consider the open space in vertical--rather than horizontal--layout, at right. Strip away the buildings, and the space resembles a spine with some squiggly vertebrae. That's an odd "park." 

Access will be more limited. The open space, according to the project's Design Guidelines, will be open from 7 am to 8 pm (or sunset, if later) from Oct. 1 through April 30, and from 7 am to 10:30 pm from May 1 through Sept. 30.

By contrast, city parks are typically open far more hours, from 6 am to 1 am.

The Atlantic Yards Design Guidelines allow public events in the open space, on average no more than once a week, and programming of such events may be key to bringing in neighbors (but not too many, right?).  Also, up to half the open space can be used for private events on "not more than twelve non-consecutive days or evenings per year," though not on public holidays.

A conservancy must be established, funded with private money, by the time the first building emerges. The governance includes representatives of the developer, civic groups active in park matters, property owners, and, on an ex officio basis, Community Boards 2, 6, and 8, and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.

If Forest City Ratner's MetroTech Commons is any guide, there will be regulations, like "No Loitering," which are vague and more restrictive than city rules, which ban "loitering for illegal purposes" (such as selling drugs).

When queried in general about the distinction between parks and open space, urban planner Alex Garvin in 2011 said he had no problem with the latter, as long as they're publicly accessible and paid for by those who own them.

"But I don't believe they're a substitute for public parks, they're something else," he said.
Diminished criticism

Some of the most potent critics of the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Parks open space have gone quiet. The Municipal Art Society (MAS) no longer aims to improve Atlantic Yards--last year they gave the developers an award--so they haven't commented on this open space design, which Balsley produced after a master plan from original landscape architect Laurie Olin.

BrooklynSpeaks, the mend-it-don't-end-it coalition spawned by MAS, has become far more positive about the project after pushing the developer last year to build the promised affordable housing by 2025, ten years ahead of the previous "outside date," and agreeing not to sue. 

That's progress, but the agreement contains serious flaws, notably the inability to specify the actual affordability, which in the next two building skews toward households with six-figure incomes, and the limited nature of new oversight.

But the Brooklyn Paper chose a BrooklynSpeaks rep as the single community member to comment on the open space:
“Going forward I’m most interested in seeing how well the open space at Atlantic Yards can integrate with the rest of the community,” said Gib Veconi, a member of the activist group BrooklynSpeaks, which works to keep Forest City accountable to neighbors. “The vision is a nice vision, and hopefully it will be fulfilled in a way that the project originally intended, which was to integrate and link with the surrounding neighborho­ods.”
Hold on--the original intention?

In 2006, BrooklynSpeaks echoed MAS, warning that open space behind building "is likely to feel more like a private backyard than a public park." BrooklynSpeaks even produced the helpful graphic below left, extracting the squiggly green space.

BrooklynSpeaks, 2006

"The sponsors of BrooklynSpeaks believes that public open space should not only be publicly accessible, but be mapped as public parkland and designed to feel public," the coalition stated at the time. "One way that this can be accomplished is to plan open space adjacent to public streets, as is the case with nearly every successful public park in Brooklyn and New York City."

That request is no longer operative. (And keep in mind there's no open space to serve the towers around the arena and Site 5, though the arena green roof was originally supposed to be open to the public.)

It's hardly clear how much the interior retail planned between the Pacific Street promenade and Atlantic Avenue--see slide below right--will be used.

If residents' doors are on Dean Street or Atlantic Avenue, they may take that shorter route to transportation.

Diminishing open space

The "park" rhetoric, along with the renaming, is particularly audacious, given that the amount of open space per person in the area would actually go down.

For residential populations, the city median open space ratio is 1.5 acres per 1,000 residents, while the Department of City Planning sets an open space ratio planning goal of 2.5 acres per 1,000 residents, which is typically not reached.

But if Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park adds 14,000 residents, just meeting the median would mean 21 acres of open space, not 8. To meet the planning goal, an amazing 35 acres would be needed.

Wrote Gotham Gazette's Anne Schwartz in 2006, when there were seven acres (now 8) and 6,800 apartments (now 6,430) planned:
On face value, the amount of open space is respectable. It constitutes almost a third of the project's 22-acre site. But because the towers would have so many residents -- with a projected 15,000 to 18,000 residents, it would become the densest census tract in the country -- the area within a half-mile radius would actually end up with a lower ratio of public space per resident that it has now, .28 acres per 1,000 residents. The percentage of active recreational space would drop to .15 acres. The already fully booked sports fields in Prospect Park and elsewhere in the area would not be able to absorb the overload.
Compare that to Battery Park City, which also has about a third of its 92 acres of residential and commercial development set aside as parks and fields. When completely built, it will have about 14,000 residents, so the ratio of parkland per 1,000 residents meets the city's goal of 2.5.
At Battery Park City, much of the parkland was put in before construction of the buildings.
Also, even the limited amount of open space is diminished by the loss of streets. As architect Jonathan Cohn pointed out in 2005, the open space goal is:
relative to the city's existing pattern of streets and blocks, where the streets provide additional open space that is not counted in the ratio. If we didn't have streets, the requirement for open space would be much greater, so we can't count the street area when comparing the amount of open space required by a project to the city standard that assumes 70' wide streets every 200 feet.
Instead, the developers subtracted three acres of streets to make the open space, leading to a net gain of 5 acres (4 when Cohn was writing), despite the addition of some 14,000 people.

No comparison, but Stuy Town?

If the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park open space won't resemble a real public park, what might be a comparison? Queried at a recent Community Update meeting, Balsley couldn't offer an analogue.

Thomas Balsley, via ArchPaper
In response to a question, he agreed it might in some ways resemble Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan, but would appear be far more public, without the "guards and gates and fences" that act as a deterrent.

It may well improve on that model. But Stuyvesant Town and paired Peter Cooper Village are far greener. Consider the statistics.

The complex is comprised of 110 buildings and 11,231 units over 80 acres, with only 25%  of the area occupied by buildings. Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park will have more than half the total number of units (6430), with 14 of 22 acres--nearly 64%--occupied by buildings.

(Actually, if you subtract the arena block and Site 5--currently occupied by Modell's and P.C. Richard--the percentage of buildings surrounded by open space goes below 50%. But residents and workers in those other buildings are also supposed to use the Atlantic Yards open space.)

There is another commonality: aiming to attract well-off new residents, Stuyvesant Town's new owners, as I wrote in 2007, rebranded the privately managed, publicly accessible open space as a "park."

Will circulation work?

As seen in the schematic at right right, four new pathways are planned between the Pacific Street promenade and Atlantic Avenue, along with the perimeter streets at Sixth, Carlton, and Vanderbilt Avenues. But it's not clear how well they'll work.

Three, not four, of those pathways match up with streets in Fort Greene, but only two of them are punctuated by traffic lights. There is no light at South Oxford Street, which comes immediately to the east of Sixth Avenue/South Portland Avenue, though there is one at Cumberland Street to the east.

Just east of Carlton Avenue, the pathway at Atlantic does not match up with a Fort Greene street. The next pathway does line up with Clermont Avenue, where there is a traffic light.

As of now, there's no effective median for people to wait on Atlantic, though officials say some changes are planned.

Self-serving renderings

It's common for architects to produce misleading or incomplete renderings as part of the marketing scheme for a major development. Such renderings, as then-New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff pointed out in 2008, produce a "distorted picture of reality" that "stifles what is supposed to be an open, democratic process."

The same goes for landscape architects. After all, only three renderings of the open space have been released, which is far too few to understand the full project. Moreover, those released to the Daily News lacked the schematic--top right in slides below--that helps decode the self-serving.

For example, the schematic below, looking east to 550 Vanderbilt, suggests there could be three towers, but that's hardly clear in the rendering.

The view below, looking south from Atlantic Avenue, does not acknowledge the large towers to the right and left of the perspective.

The perspective below, toward the main lawn, does not appear to be coming from a pedestrian on the street but rather a resident within the B9 tower--or maybe just standing in front.

Cues for the Main Lawn

Despite the lack of direct comparisons, the landscape architects suggest inspirations. But that fudges the difference between this open space and the more expansive parks highlighted.

The .33-acre "Main Lawn," according to a slide, takes cues from:
  • Bryant Park in Manhattan (9.6 acres), 
  • Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park in Tampa (with a Great Lawn that is .93 acre plus a sloped lawn that is .47 acre), facing the water, not buildings
  • Teardrop Park in Manhattan (1.8 acres, between four buildings in Battery Park City, 201 to 235 feet), rather than two buildings in Brooklyn 184 feet (B14) and 283 feet (B8)
  • and Westshore Park in Baltimore, also facing the water, not buildings (.46 acre, or 20,000 square feet)
But the Main Lawn, Forest City acknowledged at the meeting, would be not much more than one-third of an acre (as noted in state documents). Balsley called it "a nice large lawn" though, when asked for specifics about size, replied, "You got me on that."

More aggressive "park" rhetoric

From Forest City Ratner flier, 2004
Forest City Ratner has gotten far more aggressive in its rhetoric regarding the green space.

Early in the project's history, the developer regularly used the term "open space," such as in the promotional fliers sent to Brooklynites, excerpted at right.

Then again, Forest City grandiosely promised that the green space--then only six acres--would be "for the entire Brooklyn community to enjoy."

Even today, the project's Twitter account typically uses the term #openspace. So does the web site for the 550 Vanderbilt condo building.
From Forest City Ratner flier, 2004

But when the project was renamed Pacific Park Brooklyn last August, the new joint venture Greenland Forest City Partners stated they had "selected Thomas Balsley Associates to design the public park which will be known as Pacific Park."

Now the Pacific Park web site, and the information fed to the Daily News, used the term "park."

(I wondered in 2007 whether the Atlantic Yards developer would take a cue from Stuy Town and deem the open space a "park." Indeed, back then, Bruce Ratner was exclaiming, "We're going to have parks here!")

The Daily News, which is business partners with the developer as sponsor of the Daily News Plaza at the Barclays Center, reflected the rhetoric with no skepticism, writing:
Pacific Park, the namesake park of real estate giant Forest City Ratner's enormous Prospect Heights mega-development....finally unveiled a masterplan and renderings of the 8-acre park...
The long, meandering park... The first phase of the park...But the park is much more than just a backyard for the residents of new luxury towers, Balsley said.
“Everyone agreed that we wanted this to look just like a normal accessible park that you would see elsewhere in the city,” he told the News
Explaining the project

The landscape architects' goals, Balsley explained at the recent meeting, are to "create a cohesive, continuous and inviting open space with a range of uses and activities," provide open space links from north to south, and create an open space sheltered from Atlantic Avenue traffic while promoting public access and use.

According to a composite solar study, he said, the sunniest places are along the Pacific street corridor, mostly to the north side. Indeed, there are significant shadows on the part of the open space below Pacific Street.

The Pacific Street corridor, he said, is a central organizing element, along a primary promenade, which is not merely a sidewalk. "Along its length, between Carlton and Vanderbilt, in the roadbed of Pacific Street, we're proposing it be converted to a wonderful ribbon lawn," he said.

Where's the phasing?

Balsley acknowledged that "this project is not all being built tomorrow," but said the parcels all have to work individually, and the concept "has to hold together through all that phasing."

Original landscape architect Laurie Olin, in the Design Guidelines (scroll near bottom), provided multiple panels illustrating the potential phasing. So, I asked at the public meeting, will Greenland Forest City release a new phased set of diagrams?

"We'll see," responded Forest City Ratner executive Ashley Cotton, which didn't sound that encouraging.

She did note that the widest part of Pacific Street that will be taken for the open space, "is related to construction of the railyard" and includes utilities, so will not be available for open space soon.

Indeed, as Prospect Heights-based design writer Andrew Blum--who said he wants the space to be good--stated on Twitter, "To my eye, the expansiveness in the renderings (if it exists at all) isn't coming until the decking is built."

As shown in the slide above right, designers liken the width of the promenade to that of the Brooklyn Heights Promenade and the High Line's green space. Then again, the crowded High Line is not a great place to linger, and the Promenade is set back from residences to the east and has nothing directly to the west, as a highway and streets are below.

Given that density being built on the southeast block of the project site first, "knowing how those pedestrians are going to move through the course of construction would be very helpful," resident Peter Krashes observed at the meeting.

Asked if the open space around the first two towers, B11 and B14, would be permanent or temporary, Balsley said most would permanent, but part near the next development site "might be a little bit temporary."

"This project has always been criticized as an island," said Krashes, adding that "open space can function to integrate the corridors." However, there were "virtually no views of the buildings under way" from the perspective of the nearest neighbors, he said. "We no idea what B11 [at Carlton Avenue and Dean Street] looks like from the Dean Street side."

"Urban lanterns"

Balsley said designers have "proposed a series of what we call urban lanterns," structures like shelters or gazebos that can be used as a kiosks or to house ventilation for the platform over the railyard below.

"Some can incorporate ventilation devices but look like these wonderful pieces of 'parkitecture,'" he said.

How many vent stacks would there be, and how large? Officials didn't know. "Everything is a placeholder until we actually get real information from the Long Island Rail Road," Forest City executive Jane Marshall said.

Rediscovering heritage--from a "blighted" rail yard

Balsley, who's responsible for the impressive Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City, which incorporates gantries used to transfer rail cars from barges, has a somewhat similar idea for the Pacific Park open space. (Note that Gantry Plaza is bordered by the water and a street.)

"We believe we should uncover the historical heritage of this place, wherever we work," he said at the meeting, "so the community can take pride with what might have taken place before. 

"In this case, we think, even though the rail lines are something we look at as a sunken rail line and we just hate it," Balsley continued, "but in fact that rail line was a very important element in building the economy and the growth of Brooklyn. And so we think it should be uncovered and celebrated in a kind of a graphic corridor telling about the history of the rail and the significance it has to this community. So we’re incorporating that into the park concept."

However sincere, that seemed a bit tone-deaf. The sunken railyard remains an active, functioning piece of the regional transit infrastructure, not a museum piece.

Also, for the purposes of furthering eminent domain, it was deemed blighted, though a lawyer for community groups fighting Atlantic Yards observed in 2006, "I’m not sure it qualifies as blight; it’s an active use by the MTA and LIRR… There’s been no effort by any state or city authority for at least the last 30 years to develop it. It could also be considered an asset."

Now, apparently, it's heritage.

Other detail: lighting, just one basketball court, dog runs coming late

Balsley noted that the "light levels will be the same as for any other city open space," with lower pedestrian light poles for pathways and higher poles around larger spaces, such as the lawn.

The open space will include "a dog run, play areas... a basketball court," he said. "All add up to a recipe for a vibrant, successful, urban open space."

Well, yes, and no. How can a single basketball court, marked #14 in the schematic below and placed outside the B5 tower near Sixth Avenue, serve the entire project, especially since a school is planned for the B15 tower, which won't have any open space, across the street?

Won't residents instead be inundating the Dean Playground a block away?

"This is really conceived as 21st century urban park, not a turn of the century Olmstedian" one, Balsley said, contrasting the concept with that of Prospect Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux.
Dog runs, he said, are "just as important as play areas," since they're "places where people meet each other" and are used every day. "We always know there are people going to be in the park, with the right intentions."

Note that the two dog runs, marked #13 on the schematic above, are attached to the B6 and B7 towers over the railyard, between Sixth and Carlton Avenues. According to a tentative plan released by Greenland Forest City (below), those towers are not due until 2025 and 2021, respectively.

Clarifications on terms, and fantasy trees

At the meeting, Veconi asked Balsley to clarify some terms in the schematic, including retail terrace, amenity terrace, and maisonette court.

The landscape architect said a retail terrace would include tables and seating outside a ground-level retail space, but would not be limited to cafe customers. An amenity terrace would be a place to sit near the amenity space of the building.

As for a maisonette court, Balsley admitted ignorance--"I'll have to call my office"--but Forest City's Marshall said that was "a very limited amount of private open space." It's clearly assigned to some very expensive condos.

Veconi noted that there was no visualization of the planned "gateway portals," and warned that the notion "tends to reinforce the boundaries of this park."

"I think it's a bad choice of words," Balsley acknowledged. (He was referring to "gateway portals," not "park," though some at the meeting criticized the use of that word, too.)

"I do think it's in everybody's interest not to have it read that it's separated from the community around it," Veconi continued, circling slightly back toward the original BrooklynSpeaks criticism.

It was also pointed out that the diagram took more than a few liberties: the trees illustrated on the east side of Vanderbilt Avenue are not part of the project, and trees cannot be planted on the Sixth Avenue Bridge, at the far west of the image.

"We don't know where the street trees can go," Marshall acknowledged. "The [rail]yard is still being built... The platform is being designed. That includes utilities, connections that would affect street tree locations."

Pacific Park Open Space Design 6/24/15

From the latest Construction Update: Saturday work coming; gates with acoustic blankets being added to block noise

The latest Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Construction Update (bottom), released Thursday and covering the weeks dated July 6, 2015 and July 13, 2015, indicates that "Saturday work to address field conditions" will begin this week at two construction sites, B3 (Sixth Avenue and Dean Street), and B14 (Carlton Avenue and Dean Street).

That seems to be a euphemism for "we need to work weekends to meet our schedule." That adds additional noise to the neighborhood.

Also new is the replacement, at two work sites on the southeast block of the project site, of 16’ chain link gates with 8’ chain link with acoustics blanket. Given that chain link is porous regarding noise, presumably the smaller gates plus acoustic blankets will block more noise.

The Construction Update, released by Empire State Development (ESD) after preparation by Greenland Forest City Partners, is an "effort to keep the Pacific Park Brooklyn Community aware of upcoming construction activities."

As in the most recent documents, the update uses an * and red type to indicate new work being reported. However, the application is inconsistent. In some cases, there is an asterisk but no red type, and in others, new work--compared to that in the previous alert--is not properly indicated.

Below are verbatim excerpts, with some commentary by me, in italics. The headings are bolded, and I have also bolded new information.


B2 - 461 Dean Street, Modular Residential
• Work related to the erection of modules shall continue during this reporting period.
• Interior work will continue on modules that have already been installed.

Note that they are no longer indicating which floors they are working on; previously, they indicated Floors 13 and 14.

B3 - 38 Sixth Avenue
During this working period:
• The continuing of installation of the MPT [maintenance and protection of traffic] plan as approved by NYCDOT [Department of Transportation[ and ESD will take place during this reporting period. This includes the installation of the site fence, the acoustical blankets and gates as well as removal of street lights inside of the B3 MPT.
• Excavation and foundation activities have commenced & continue during this reporting period.
Work includes drilling of soldier piles for the SOE system, soil excavation and the installation of
lagging. Soil that has been classified as clean, or contaminated will be removed from the site as part
of the excavation activities and brought to appropriate disposal locations. Protocols for the trucks
entering and exiting the site have been put in place. These protocols provide instruction on
roadway routing to and from the project site, queuing of trucks while on site and vehicle idling
• The removal of the stationary bollards and retractable bollards will continue to take place during
this reporting period.
• *Saturday work to address field conditions within the site will commence during this reporting period, which will include further excavation work.

Excavation on Saturday could be loud.

LIRR Yard Activities – Night/Weekend Work
Tunnel Work
• Weekend Electrical Utility work (conduit and support installation) is being performed inside the LIRR Tunnel and will continue during this reporting period. Crews will access the Tunnel via the LIRR Yard entrance on Atlantic Avenue. This work is currently scheduled to continue through the end of 2015.

This can be quite disturbing to neighbors.

Block 1129
B11 – 550 Vanderbilt Avenue:
During this reporting period:
• Backfilling on the West foundation wall utilizing stockpiled material is ongoing.
• Furnish and install permanent three-sided tree guard for three trees located on the opposite side of Dean Street across the street from the site.
• On site preparation for the superstructure phase of construction will commence including the arrival of equipment.
Replacement of 16’ chain link gates with 8’ chain link with acoustics blankets. 

Note that the replacement of the chain link gates is new but was not marked as such.

Note that on site preparation for the superstructure phase of construction was supposed to commence during the previous reporting period.

B14- 535 Carlton Avenue:
During this reporting period:
• Excavation and foundation activities will continue during this reporting period. Work includes drilling of tie backs for the SOE system, excavation of soil to a depth of 40’ and the continued installation of lagging to the same elevation. Soil that has been classified as clean, contaminated or hazardous will be removed from the site as part of the excavation activities and brought to appropriate disposal locations.
Protocols for the trucks entering and exiting the site have been put in place. These protocols provide
instruction on roadway routing to and from the project site, queuing of trucks while on site and vehicle idling restrictions.
• A tie-back drill rig will continue drilling tie backs for the SOE system.
• Installation of spread footings and slab on grade is ongoing. A small crane is being used inside of the excavation to assist in concrete operations.
*A second small crane will be mobilized on Dean Street within the site during this reporting period.
• Installation of foundation waterproofing and pouring of foundation walls is ongoing.
*Saturday work to address field conditions within the site will commence during this reporting period. This work includes all work listed above.
• Site mobilization will continue consisting of electrical work to power contractor field office and
relocation of light poles to outside of site fence.
• Replacement of 16’ chain link gates with 8’ chain link with acoustics blankets. [new but not flagged as such

Note that the replacement of the chain link gates is new but was not marked as such.

How to Reach Pacific Park Brooklyn Community Liaison Office (CLO)

The Community Liaison Office is located at Atlantic Center Mall, 625 Atlantic Avenue on the 3rd floor. Visitors seeking the office should enter through the mall entrance located at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and So. Portland Avenue. The CLO’s hours are M-F from 9am – 4pm and can be reached by phone at 866-923-5315 and by email at

Sunday, July 05, 2015

In contrast with 2013 promises, Forest City noncommittal on retaining Nassau Coliseum workers

From Newsday, published last night, Nassau Coliseum employees, facing layoffs due to renovations, recall times at the 'old barn':
It's unclear how many current Coliseum employees will return to work at the arena when it reopens in December 2016.
Forest City Ratner Cos. spokesman Barry Baum said the company will evaluate staffing needs once it takes over the building and "at the appropriate time" will reach out to union leaders to discuss the hiring process.
By contrast, consider the promise by Bruce Ratner at the Nassau County Legislature hearing 9/23/13 (transcript):
I have said that we wanted to hire locally , but the number one is to hire the existing people that are there. We do not want people to be out of jobs. I know we all agree with that but I just wanted to clarify that .

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Lowbrow/Brilliant? New York Mag's Approval Matrix misses mark on Barclays Center green roof (which aims to block leaking bass)

Well, New York Magazine calls its Approval Matrix "Our deliberately oversimplified guide to who falls where on our taste hierarchies." It's usually quite savvy. But not always.

Consider the Lowbrow/Brilliant designation for the Barclays Center's green roof. The print version is brief.

The online version links to a 5/27/15 WABC report, BARCLAYS CENTER INSTALLING SOUND-MUFFLING GREEN ROOF, which states:
The lush greenery will absorb rainwater, and therefore put less stress on the sewer system. Then, there's the acoustic component, as the roof will absorb sound that is outside the building and muffle sounds inside the center.
...And another thing that will be fascinating to watch is how all of this will actually change to reflect the seasons.
Somehow missing is the fact Barclays Center has regularly leaked bass into the surrounding neighborhoods like a giant neighborhood sub-woofer, leading to a fine. Or that the green roof promised in the early days was to be accessible to the public.

In other words, the green roof, however a cosmetic and operational improvement, is also a p.r. effort, and a way to recover from some unusually bad acoustic design in the arena. Not brilliant.

Also, the installation--notably the lingering crane blocking traffic on Atlantic Avenue--has taken far longer than projected. Not brilliant.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Barclays Center releases July 2015 event calendar, also August and September; fairly light schedule, for now

Yesterday, a bit late, the Barclays Center released its July 2015 event calendar, as well as the calendar for the next two months--which obviously may be filled in more.

It's a fairly light month, with a New York Islanders scrimmage, five concerts, and two comedy shows on one night--plus four tours, which are small events.

July 2014 was a little busier, but only because there were multiple Walking with Dinosaurs and Cirque du Soleil shows.

August 2015 event calendar

In August, there will be two concerts, a boxing night, an unspecified "private event", and two days of pro wrestling, plus two days of wrestling load-in.

August 2014 was somewhat busier, because of the circus and Marvel Live.

September 2015

The September 2015 calendar, as of now, is pretty thin, but includes three concerts and three NHL pre-season games, a sign of how the arrival of the Islanders might fill seats.

The September 2014 event calendar--at least as released--was pretty thin, as well, with five concerts, one hockey game, and two community events.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

A new middle school at B15? There's significant support, but also questions about location, function (updated with CEC 13 letter citing overstated capacity)

Updated of 7/1 coverage 7/2 with mention of CEC 13 letter.

The school, once planned for B5, is now planned for B15
There was vocal support at a public hearing that the school planned for the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park B15 building be a middle school rather than, as planned, a flexible, mixed elementary/intermediate school.

While such advocates acknowledged the location just east of Sixth Avenue between Dean and Pacific streets was imperfect, they suggested the urgency of a middle school in District 13 trumped such concerns.

So far, several elected officials, Community Board 8, Community Education Council 13 (CEC 13) , and the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council (PHNDC) support such a middle school at B15. But it doesn't mean that, as a tweet from Sen. Jesse Hamilton indicated, "#ProspectHeights is unified behind a new middle school at #AtlanticYards."

Some questions

In fact, those closest to the project, the Dean Street Block Association (DSBA)--which withdrew from PHNDC after the latter signed a settlement agreement regarding the project timetable and oversight--offered a more nuanced statement, questioning the location opposite the arena and police/fire stations, and requesting that the Department of Education better assess local needs.

DSBA seeeks "an all-inclusive plan to avoid overcrowding, reduce the risk our elementary students will have to travel distances to get to school, and improve middle school options."

Regina Cahill, president of the North Flatbush Business Improvement District, also tweeted her concerns about the location--but was told her suggested alternative (the B5 site) would be built too late.

While Community Board 2 just touches Prospect Heights, its constituents--update: people in the northern half of the project site, at least 7 towers, will be in CB 2--will be using the school. CB 2 questioned the location, suggesting the school be moved to the southeast block of the project, in a building contemporaneous with B15.

CB 2 said "the decision on whether the school be designed for elementary or middle school students, or both, should be deferred in order to respond to the needs at the time the school opens." (That may be less efficient, however.)

What does developer want?

Three (now-empty) houses will be demolished for the school
Developer Greenland Forest City Partners has stayed out of the public discussion, but I'd guess they favor the elementary/intermediate school as proposed, which could be a good selling point to entice families to move into the project.

As I've noted, the choice of a school for B15 takes the focus off the fact that it's a 100% market-rate tower built at 27 stories next to four-story apartment buildings (on Dean Street), on a site assembled after eminent domain was used to acquire property from homeowners.

The case for a middle school

The case for a middle school was suggested in a series of tweets yesterday from CEC 13:
1/ The crisis of D13 middle school quality is in the here and now
2/ one building can not address capacity needs of all DoBro & AY/PP
3/ Key ? from @PS9BklynPTO, 11, 20 fams: "where do we go for middle?
4/ if we just add elem capacity we only make middle school prob worse
5/ new @psms282 review hits key points …
6/ ... Solid elems like 282 must pull from across Bk to fill seats
7/ ... While D13 middles "struggle... to find academic footing"
8/ w notable exceptions solid d13 elems must fill seats w out-of dist
9/ in lg part because d13 parents fear lack of middle school choices
10/ so question is where are the quality d13 middle school seats?
Note that they're not arguing that District 13 itself lacks middle school seats, just "quality" ones, and (presumably) near Prospect Heights, where parents have been advocating for seats. It's a legitimate policy argument.

But it does not necessarily reflect the rationale for the school in Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, which, according to the Second Amended Memorandum of Environmental Commitments, is "mitigation for the projected significant adverse impact to the supply of elementary and intermediate school seats" caused by the construction of project apartments.

The larger context, as CB 2 points out, is the lack of new schools commensurate with new construction, with no response from school officials to the school seats required by construction of more than 5,000 new apartments built since Downtown Brooklyn was rezoned in 2004.

Update: CEC 13 cites misleading statistics

According to the CEC letter (bottom):
Although the site plan does not indicate the projected growth of intermediate school population, the 2014 Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Pacific Park project discloses that the project “would result in a significant adverse impact to intermediate schools.” Please note that the data for two of the three intermediate schools presented in the 2014 FEIS presents a potentially misleading picture of middle school seats actually available to area students. I.S. 571 was closed in 2013. I.S. 340, despite being located within the confines of District 13, is a District 17 middle school, which does not provide seats to District 13 middle school students. Thus, the FEIS overstates intermediate school capacity in Sub-District 1 of District 13 by at least 550 seats.
....Moreover, we believe there is a least as much capacity to accommodate the new elementary school students that might otherwise be accommodated within the proposed B15 site instead within at schools such as – especially - PS 9, along with PS 282, PS 133, PS 20, and PS 11, especially when consideration is made to the significant percentage of out-of-district 13 students some of these schools presently serve. Crucially we believe PS 9, just one block away, should be the zoned school for new residents in the Atlantic Yards / Pacific Park, and all of the western portion of Prospect Heights between Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush Avenue.
(Emphasis in original)

It's surely dismaying that official documents are not accurate, which makes it difficult to have an informed discussion.

The PHNDC letter

Here's the summary from PHDNC, reflecting the case many are making, headlined "PHNDC calls for dedicated middle school at Atlantic Yards site":
On May 15, 2015, the New York City School Construction Authority [SCA] issued a notice for the development of a 616-seat primary and intermediate school to be housed in building B15 at the Atlantic Yards site. The building is slated to begin construction in July of 2016.
Citing the longstanding need for a middle school to serve students from Prospect Heights and its environs, in comments to the notice submitted to the SCA today, PHNDC called for the proposed facility to instead be a dedicated middle school for District 13 students. "The SCA and DOE should issue direction that the developer design the facility as a dedicated middle school as soon as possible so to take advantage of these opportunities without risking its projected September 2018 opening," wrote PHNDC Chair Gib Veconi. In separate comments submitted to SCA, Community Education Council 13 and Community Board 8 also called for the facility to be dedicated as a middle school.
PHNDC further noted the challenges of siting a school close to an arena, a police station, and a fire house. Mr. Veconi wrote, "Therefore, it will be incumbent upon City agencies—including DOE, DOT, NYPD, and the Office of Film, Theater and Broadcast—to coordinate efforts that ensure the safety of students entering and leaving the school is maintained, and disruptions to the neighboring residents are minimized. The SCA and the DOE must explain how that coordination will be accomplished, and what protocols will be established, before plans for the school are approved."
Finally, PHNDC called on the SCA and Department of Education to commit to a public review process for the school's design that will include community input.
According to the full PHNDC comments (also bottom), the primary schools near Atlantic Yards "have seen dramatic improvement" but parents have few options, with few open seats in "[h]igh-performing middle schools... configured for grades K-8."

PHNDC noted that there is more potential capacity for elementary school seats at places like PS 9, built as a primary school but now also housing an intermediate charter school.

PHDNC said school officials "must assess whether the school will represent an impact to the [nearby] Dean Playground, and develop a plan to mitigate the impact." It did not mention the potential impact of the construction of the B1 office tower over the arena plaza, which would temporarily shift an area entrance to the the east side of the arena.

PHNDC suggested that school officials "SCA present to the community and its elected representatives a near-term plan for addressing capacity issues associated with increased residential development in downtown Brooklyn and at the Atlantic Yards site," given that the 616 seats planned are less than a third of increased need projected in Atlantic Yards project documents, not to mention "thousands of apartments recently completed, in progress, or planned for downtown Brooklyn."

Community Board 2 letter

A letter (in full below) from the executive committee of CB 2 similarly noted that there would be nearly three times the need from Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park residents itself.

CB 2 noted that the SCA did not consider an alternative site, but "building B13, on Block 1129 (bounded by Vanderbilt Avenue, Dean Street, Carlton Avenue and Pacific Street), has the same construction timetable as B15 but is further from the arena, the major thoroughfares, and the public safety facilities. Community Board 2 encourages the SCA to consider this building as an alternative site."

Regarding the focus of the school, SCA said the plan should be decision should be deferred, and " a range of concurrent solutions should be considered and implemented by the Department of Education and the SCA. These include strategies to make the existing CSD13 intermediate schools more attractive to parents and exploration of a more porous boundary between districts 13 and 15."

Dean Street Block Association

DSBA (letter in full below) calls the "the new school... scaled insufficiently to meet community needs" and the location "a poorer choice than most." Though background conditions changed, with more of a capacity shortfall, there was no increase in the requirement for the developer, which has long been required to provide 100,000 square feet of space for a school.

"In a departure from what is detailed in the Project agreements, it is likely to be delivered 5 buildings (1,500 units) after the significant adverse impact emerges," wrote the DSBA. "Unique conditions at the site will deliver poorer and potentially less healthy classrooms, less safe pedestrian access, poorer open space, and unique community impacts including to other community facilities than other potential options."

"Ideally, a site would be selected in the Project looking at a range of variables including the timing the school can be opened relative to the emergence of the significant adverse impact, the quality of its potential classrooms and open space, proximity to transit, pedestrian safety, drop-off strategies, and impact on its surroundings," according to the letter.

"Studies, including for traffic and pedestrians, could be done across a range of options to help select the best location. With the exception of proximity to transit, B15 falls short of most other building site options east of 6th Avenue depending on the variable assessed," states the letter, which notes, among other things, the impact of arena operations and the planned B1 tower.

"Because the proposed 616 seat school fails to meaningfully absorb the number of students being introduced into District 13 schools," states the DSBA letter, "two problems are now being unacceptably pitted against each other: the priority of ensuring elementary students don’t travel distances to go to school and. the need the District 13 CEC has identified for 'quality' middle school options in the district."

Solution said to be coming for NYPD parking on Sixth Avenue sidewalk opposite arena block

June 30 photo of Sixth Avenue north of Dean Street
It's vexing for neighbors, and its vexing for the cops--but a solution may be in sight.

Construction of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park has cut the number of street parking spaces in the vicinity of the 78th Precinct stationhouse at Sixth Venue and Bergen Street, so that means police personnel driving to work have been parking on the sidewalk opposite the arena block, as shown in the photo above.

The "78th now has to combat park again, all the way from Dean to Pacific [streets]," said Wayne Bailey, president of the 78th Precinct Community Council, at the recent Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting. "When is that going to be addressed?"

He didn't quite get an answer from state officials or developer Greenland Forest City Partners.

However, at the meeting Tuesday of the Community Council, Captain Frank DiGiacomo, the commanding officer, said he and Bailey were working on a solution.

"Give me two weeks," he said.

Those 24 spaces in the mall

Also at the Community Update meeting, there was some back-and-forth on the nature of the parking that the developer is supposed to provide for the 78th Precinct.

"There is an environmental commitment that 24 spaces are provided... in proximity to the precinct house," said resident Peter Krashes, who has long pushed for accountability.

"They’re in the Atlantic Yards Terminal [sic]," replied Nicole Jordan, who leads community relations for Empire State Development (ESD), the state agency overseeing/shepherding Atlantic Yards. (Apparently she meant the Atlantic Terminal mall, owned by developer Forest City Ratner, which is across Atlantic Avenue from the Atlantic Yards site.)

That, replied Krashes, was "not in the [project] footprint.  The MEC [Second Memorandum of Environmental Commitments] is very clear... 24 spaces in the project footprint itself... What I think I just heard is there's a violation."

Krashes was right--I think. The document states:
1. FCRC shall provide 24 parking spaces on the Project site for police vehicles assigned to the 78th Precinct House. Such parking shall be provided without charge and at a location that is proximate and convenient to the Precinct House. FCRC shall have the right to modify the location of such spaces from time to time in order to address construction logistics and operational matters, provided that the location remains proximate and convenient to the Precinct House.
The first sentence seems unambiguous. The spaces must be on the project site. The second sentence notes that they can be moved, as long as the location is close to the Precinct House. That doesn't say they must remain on the project footprint, and the mall is arguably convenient to the Precinct House--at least as convenient as the farthest reaches of the project site (though not much of the project site).

 “What you've heard is there is an accommodation for parking," ESD official Marion Phillips III responded to Krashes. "You’re saying you want them in the footprint?"

"I'm saying it's your obligation is to put it in the footprint," Krashes responded. "It is the responsibility of the developer…. to deliver 24 spaces inside the footprint."

After that, state officials and Bailey disagreed as to whether use of the mall lot was acceptable to the police. (I didn't get to clarify that with DiGiacomo, but will update if I learn more.)

Latest Yormark p.r. stunt: enlist (part-time) Barclays Center employees to promote Nets, Islanders tickets

In 2009, Nets CEO Brett Yormark famously declared, "And if you know anything about the Nets, we drive business PR. That’s what we do. We’ve got a young man who runs our business communications department and his responsibility is every day to get a press release out."

So that's the context for the latest in offseason p.r., BROOKLYN NETS AND NEW YORK ISLANDERS SALES TEAMS GROW BY 1,900 SELLERS:
BROOKLYN (July 1, 2015) – Barclays Center has launched an Employee Referral Program for its 1,900 arena employees to promote season ticket sales for the Brooklyn Nets and New York Islanders.

With 80 percent of its employees residing in Brooklyn, Barclays Center is encouraging staffers to serve as sales representatives in their communities by providing referrals for potential ticket buyers for the borough’s two major professional sports teams.

Employees who make a successful referral will be rewarded with cash rewards, and will be entered into a raffle to win larger prizes including a season ticket package and a cruise. Brett Yormark, CEO of Barclays Center and the Brooklyn Nets, tipped off the initiative yesterday at Barclays Center with a rally for the employees on the Barclays Center Practice Court.

“Most of our employees are proud Brooklynites who strongly support our teams,” said Yormark. “This program vests them in the arena’s success.”

The Employee Referral Program comes on the heels of the Brooklyn Nets Neighborhood Day last Wednesday when more than 100 [mostly full-time, surely] Nets front office employees took to the streets to launch the team’s sales and marketing campaign.
Um, given that nearly all those employees are part-time, without benefits, and with a never-to-be revealed weekly take-home pay, they're not likely living next door to many people who have the extra cash to  buy a season ticket.

After all, as developer Bruce Ratner put it, having this part-time job allows them to have another! Wouldn't a program with real benefits also vest them in the arena's success?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

At Barclays Center, average price for Islanders' tickets rising 70%; despite Yormark spin, they're selling many obstructed seats

There are a couple of very interesting tidbits in the Wall Street Journal article yesterday, Islanders Making Their Move to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Yes, tickets are selling well:
Before the Islanders’ full season schedule was announced last week, Brett Yormark, CEO of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and of Barclays Center, said more than 8,000 Islanders full-season-ticket plans had been sold: 25% from Long Island, 21% from Manhattan and, somewhat surprisingly, 33% from Brooklyn.
The Islanders have a good team, and can build in a new--or at least expanded market. The average ticket price will be $85--that's $35 (or 70%) more than at the Nassau Coliseum but, according to Yormark, about the league average. Still, it's quite a leap.

The capacity issue

From the article:
Yormark has had to address Barclays Center’s shortcomings. The arena was built to hug a 94-foot-long basketball court, so the 200-foot hockey rink had to be nestled into one end of the arena, prompting the removal of most of four sections of seats at that end.
Additionally, after the Islanders played two preseason games there in each of the last two seasons, several of what Yormark called “horribly obstructed seats” above that end won’t be sold, reducing seating capacity to 15,795, about 2,000 fewer than at Nets games.
That makes Yormark sound like a concerned fellow rather than the relentless marketer he is.

After all, as I reported, arena officials in June 2012 said there'd be only 14,500 seats, of which about 1500 would be obscured, a consequence of an arena built specifically for basketball.

When hockey debuted in September 2013, Joe DeLessio of New York magazine wrote There Are Some Pretty Bad Seats for Hockey at Barclays Center:
Last year, when the Islanders were scheduled to play the Devils in a preseason game at Barclays, the seating chart for the game showed that most seats on the west end of the arena wouldn’t be sold, thus giving the hockey seating bowl a sort of horseshoe shape. (That game was never played because of the NHL lockout.) And when the Islanders announced plans to move into Barclays last year, they said the arena’s hockey capacity was at 14,500 but could possibly be bumped up to 15,000 or "15,000 plus." The official hockey capacity is now 15,813. But no major renovations took place; the arena simply decided to sell the obstructed-view seats. It’s not false advertising — the seats are labeled as “limited view,” and they’re less expensive than they’d otherwise be — but the arena doesn’t exactly broadcast the fact that the west end of the arena is far from ideal for hockey. (A Barclays Center spokesperson didn't immediately respond to a question about the decision to sell these seats or a request for a chart of the 416 seats in the hockey configuration that Yormark said last week wouldn't be offered for sale because of sightline issues.)
So they've gone down to 15,795 from 15,813, a reduction of all of 18 seats. Even if they've added some seats with full views, that still suggests they're selling lots of "not-quite-horribly obstructed" seats.

So those numbers allow the Barclays Center to exceed the one smaller arena in the NHL, MTS Centre in Winnipeg, which seats 15,016.

The numbers

The Journal notes that the Islanders averaged only 15,334 fans last season in Nassau during the regular season. With a bigger market, and more expensive tickets, they don't have to draw as many people to reap higher revenues.

But we don't know the contours of the deal between the team and arena. The Wall Street Journal reported that the arena, rather than getting rent from the hockey team, guaranteed an unspecified annual payment in return for the revenues.

The New York Post reported that the arena’s owners guaranteed the Islanders about $50 million in annual revenue for regular season games--which hasn't been publicly confirmed.

Forest City, naming new modular leader, pushing for "new business partners" and "new business opportunities" (even before B2 is done)

A Crain's New York Business article, originally headlined "Forest City Ratner creates a modular-housing division, names unit leader," has been  updated to Forest City Ratner will keep its modular-housing factory in Brooklyn, names construction exec to run it. Both have the subheading "Susan Hayes will lead FC Modular, which operates out of the Brooklyn Navy Yard."

The lead:
Forest City Ratner Cos. has created a new position to head up the firm’s modular-housing division, the company announced Monday, meaning that it plans to keep its Brooklyn Navy Yard factory running after the completion of a 32-story tower next to Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn.
The firm tapped Susan Hayes, formerly an executive at a Manhattan construction firm, to lead the subsidiary, known as FC Modular, which currently runs a production facility in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
“Modular construction is an important part of the future for our industry, and Susan will bring tremendous value as we seek new business partners and source new business opportunities going forward,” MaryAnne Gilmartin, chief executive of Forest City and one of Crain's 50 Most Powerful Women in New York, said in a statement.
Of course they can't make back their investment in the factory, as well as the expected loss on the first tower, B2 (aka 461 Dean Street), without more production. I've speculated that Forest City will seek/get some grant or support from government to build modular affordable housing.

A quote from Hayes, who came from the Manhattan-based construction management firm Cauldwell Wingate Co.:
“While our initial focus is the successful completion of [B2 BKLYN], this modern means of construction offers great promise in the creation of a wide range of high-quality, cost-effective and uniquely sustainable buildings,” Ms. Hayes said in a statement.
It's not clear whether this is a new position in function or name. Surely other personnel have acted as Forest City's point people for modular. 

About the backstory

Gilmartin herself has said the model has to be proven with an open and operating building. Here's Crain's:
The firm was constructing the tower with a U.S. arm of Swedish construction giant Skanska until last fall, when the two had an acrimonious and litigious split prompted by delays and budget overruns on the building, which was originally billed as costing $116 million and was set to open in late 2014.
That's not quite the full story. The issue is not merely delays and budget overruns, but Skanska's claims of design flaws