Monday, July 25, 2016

Forest City's fabulist Greene: buildings "very low density," modular provided a 20% discount

Forest City Ratner's Adam Greene is apparently willing say what it takes to create a new reality--the Brett Yormark of real estate. Consider his statement to the Daily News in June:
“The buildings were designed to be of the neighborhood,” Greene said. “They're very low density. There's a lot of sensitivity about scale. It has the scale of a (Robert) Moses plan but with the sensitivity of Jane Jacobs. This is designed to grow out of small stoops.”
That doesn't make a shred of sense. With 6,430 apartments over 22 acres, that's 292 apartments per acre. The ratio gets higher if you cut out the arena plaza and arena air space: call it 19 acres, which would mean 338 apartments per acre.

Small stoops? Jane Jacobs? Note that 535 Carlton (B14), pictured at right across the street from row houses with small stops, is the shortest and least bulky of the project's buildings.

The successful modular plan?

Now Bisnow, reporting 7/22/16 on Bisnow’s Residence of the Future panel, DEVELOPERS, FINANCIERS LOOKING FOR CLARITY IN A CHAOTIC RESIDENTIAL MARKET, tells us:
For Adam and his Prospect Heights master plan, for example, the solution was good design, with oversized windows to change the perception of the space. He also extolled modular construction—like Forest City is building at Pacific Park—pointing out that building units in a weatherproof factory gave his company a 20% discount and predicting the method would soon be the norm.
What? Building modular was supposed to save 20% if it worked as planned, since work could proceed simultaneously on site and in the factory.

But the plan sure did not work with 461 Dean Street, aka B2, which, rather than save time in construction, has taken twice as long.

Forest City Ratner had to buy out its investment partner, had to pay off a tax-exempt loan early (and not draw down the remaining expected tax-exempt financing) and has taken an huge paper loss (aka "impairment") on the building, the cost of which has grown.

If modular will be the norm, well, wouldn't they have announced new contracts for the modular factory? As of this past March, the lack of such contracts led to the loss of many workers.

The cost of density

Another issue raised at the panel was the cost of density:
The panelists of Bisnow’s Residence of the Future said while the market was holding for now and co-living communities, modular construction, and amenities keep spaces interesting and innovative, chaotic market forces and stifling regulations could do some serious damage if a solution isn’t found.

...“Even building for density doesn’t help,” ...Greene added. “It obviously depends on how you design the building, but more density means more bathrooms and kitchens, meaning higher costs.”
Interesting. Aren't there economies of scale once you get bigger?

Perhaps he was also acknowledging that a modular building is taller than a conventional one because each unit comes with both a ceiling and a floor, so that means redundancy.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

At Queens Museum, "Highest and Best Use" shows growth of Downtown Brooklyn towers

Photo of Highest and Best Use, Queens Museum
Work by Lawrence Mesich; click to enlarge
Hey, what's going on here? You really have to click on the photo to enlarge it and, frankly, see the work in person, since it can't fully be captured.

In the Queens International 2016 exhibition (closes July 31!) at the Queens Museum comes Highest and Best Use (388 Bridge St.), From the blurb:
In Highest and Best Use, Lawrence Mesich wryly examines the ongoing effects of the 2004 rezoning of Downtown Brooklyn. The digitally manipulated photographs in this series elongate the facades of each newly-built residential tower that breaks the current building height record for Queens’ neighboring borough. The title, a real estate valuation term, invokes the absurdity of how developers describe the ostensible success of this incremental change in zoning laws.
(Emphasis added)

The change in zoning was more than incremental--it was a gold rush. On his web site, Mesich explains that this is an ongoing project:
Highest and Best Use wryly examines the ongoing effects of the 2004 rezoning of Downtown Brooklyn. A rash of lucrative residential developments have pushed out long-time residents and businesses and overtaxed area resources at an alarming pace, while the need for new commercial space continues to be underserved. The opening of the area's air rights has set off a height race among developers, with each successive new building breaking the height record of the one built immediately before it.
The digitally manipulated photographs in this series extend the facades of each newly built residential tower that breaks the current height record for the borough. The title of the piece, a real estate valuation term describing the optimal use of a property which produces the highest possible profit, was invoked by Tucker Reed (President, Downtown Brooklyn Partnership) in a statement to the press while the group was promoting its assessment of the rezoning in 2014. The elongated facades coupled with absurd, oblique industry terminology produce a counter-narrative to the rezoning's ostensible success.
This is an ongoing series; a new image will be generated for each building that breaks the current height record for the borough.
About 388 Bridge and the Atlantic Yards implication

Between Fulton and Willoughby streets, 388 Bridge bills itself as Brooklyn's tallest residential building, though at 595 feet it's about the height of the nearby Avalon Willoughby West and, oddly enough, does not appear in the slide below, prepared by Greenland Forest City Partners (GFCP).

As noted in my recent article for City Limits on plans for Site 5 of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, GFCP has floated plans to build a two-tower project that could extent 785 feet--the tallest building in Brooklyn at the time, though it will be eclipsed by a "supertall" next to Junior's. See the slide from GFCP's presentation.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The new Pacific Park Brooklyn "neighborhood" meets the reality of a map

From the web site for 461 Dean (with similar language for 535 Carlton):
461 Dean is the first residential building to open at Pacific Park Brooklyn, a new neighborhood that extends from 4th Avenue to Vanderbilt Avenue. Pacific Park includes everything you need and want from a neighborhood; great transportation, green outdoor space, retail shopping, local restaurants and so much more. Pacific Park Brooklyn, welcome home.
Well, let's put aside for the moment the fact that the 22 acres of Pacific Park itself doesn't yet include any green outdoor space or retail or restaurants, beyond what's in the arena.

Consider the incredible claim that the "neighborhood" extends from Fourth to Vanderbilt avenues. If so, then how coherent and cohesive could a neighborhood be that is bisected by wide Flatbush Avenue?

And what about those question marks I added, marking territory between Dean and Pacific streets that are nonetheless between Fourth and Vanderbilt? They're not within the project site, nor a discrete "neighborhood."

Friday, July 22, 2016

Are Islanders considering a new arena in Queens? Leverage for Barclays improvements is more likely

So, consider this thinly-sourced Bloomberg News report yesterday, NHL’s Islanders Are Considering a Move to Queens With Mets Help:
The New York Islanders are in talks with the owners of baseball’s New York Mets about building a hockey arena adjacent to Citi Field in Queens, people with knowledge of the discussions said.
Willets Point is emerging as a persuasive alternative to the team’s current home at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center if the Islanders’s owners and arena officials can’t agree on a series of hockey-specific improvements, said the people, who asked for anonymity because the negotiations are private.
...The prospective arena at Willets Point, also the home of the National Tennis Center where the the U.S. Open is played, would put the team closer to its original fan base in Long Island.
Well, sure, it would put the team closer to the fan base, at least for people driving.

But there's only one subway, the 7 train, and the Mets-Willets Point station on the Long Island Railroad connects only to the Port Washington line.

Moreover, an arena costs a lot of money to build, which means seats wouldn't be nearly as cheap as the former Nassau Coliseum, and one-sport arenas are at a disadvantage in filling seats around the year.

So, despite derivative stories with unskeptical headlines like the New York Times's Islanders May Build Hockey Arena in Queens With Mets’ Help, I have to agree with Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy, who suggested the statement was about leverage in getting renovations at Barclays.

(Ditto for a rumored move to Elmont, an option floated in the Post.)

As Newsday reported:
Barclays Center spokesman Barry Baum said, “Last week Jon Ledecky told the media and later fans at a town hall event that ‘Barclays is our home.’ If you have any further questions, please call Islanders’ ownership.”
Last week's statements

Indeed, as numerous press outlets reported last week, Ledecky did reaffirm Barclays as their home, though he did cite challenges and said hoped for more improvements in the fan experience.

“There were challenges last year,” he said, according to Newsday. “I would be lying to you if I said there wasn’t. Does that mean you blow up Barclays Center and leave? No. You try to improve the home you have.”

Indeed, Ledecky may be using the five-year opt-out option in the Islanders' contract to get Barclays renovated sufficiently to host a NHL All-Star game. 

Barclays apparently needs hockey upgrades. Here's part of a transcript of his remarks, according to Neil Best of Newsday:
“Then I think Montreal, the citadel of hockey. To go there at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and they have 20 people squeegeeing the boards, the glass. That was one of my big things from folks taking premium seats [at Barclays].
“They said, ‘Jon, I can’t see through the glass.’ I finally went to Brett and said, ‘I’m sorry, each pane of glass is $750. You need to buy new panes of glass and when I get that complaint you have to fix that. That’s our stockholder.’
Ledecky did praise Barclays for improving the video and improving the ice.

No Islanders games at Coliseum?

The real headline, as Newsday reported, was Jon Ledecky won’t commit to Islanders games at new Coliseum:
The 2013 lease between Nassau County and Nassau Events Center, the entity formed by developer Bruce Ratner to renovate the Coliseum, included a clause that called for the Islanders to play six games per season at their former home.
But since then Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the Brooklyn Nets, purchased an 85-percent stake in Nassau Events Center and Ledecky and childhood friend Scott Malkin bought a controlling interest in the Islanders from Charles Wang.
In other words, there new people in charge. So it depends on the enforceability of the lease, or whether Nassau Events Center will simply pay an annual penalty of at least $1 million.

As I reported in April 2015, Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark expressed near-certainty about the six-game stint when speaking at a 9/23/13 Nassau Legislature hearing, saying he expected the commitment "over the next couple of months"--though we now know that process could not launch until the Coliseum gets renovated.

Newsday also reported that Ledecky does not plan to move the Islanders’ minor-league affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, to the Coliseum, though the Coliseum lease requires an American Hockey Leaggue tenant.

As I wrote in a 5/21/15 Newsday essay, Nassau must be wary about plans for Coliseum.

Fence outside 535 Carlton should be lowered beginning Wednesday, July 27

According to a Community Notice circulated Wednesday, the construction fence outside the 535 Carlton site between Dean and streets will be reduced.

The fence, now 16 feet high, will be lowered to 8 feet. Contractors will lower the fence in 20-foot segments. The work should be completed by August 5. This follows the lowering of the 16-foot fence outside the 550 Vanderbilt site, which began earlier in July.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Given skew to middle-income "affordable" units, will future buildings emphasis lower-income ones?

I recently looked back on my 12/16/14 coverage of the groundbreaking for the "100% affordable"
535 Carlton tower, and an answer from Mayor Bill de Blasio that might have been an intriguing hint, or maybe not.

The lingering question: will any future towers with affordable units be skewed to lower-income units? Or will the current imbalance, which diverges from longstanding promises, persist?

The background

The background is that 50% of the approximately 300 units in 535 Carlton and the "100% affordable" 38 Sixth Avenue would go to households earning up to 165% of Area Median Income, or AMI, while another 15% would go to middle-income households earning up to 145% of AMI.

Estimates for approximately 600 total units at 535 Carlton and 38 Sixth; AMI as of 2016 is $90,600.

But 65% of the affordable units should not be going to such households; the figure should be 40% (or 20% of the units in a 50% market/50% affordable building), as noted in the Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that developer Forest City Ratner signed with ACORN in 2005, and which was incorporated into the Community Benefits Agreement.

The skewing is most noticeable regarding Band 5, which should be 20% of the total affordable units, not 50% (or 10% of the total units in a 50% market/50% affordable building).

From Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding:
These percentages, which apply to a 50% affordable building, should double for a fully affordable building.
Also note that 40% of the affordable units are supposed to be low-income, but only 30% in the next two "100% affordable" towers would be low-income.

Querying the mayor

When de Blasio took questions in 2014, I asked, "You said in your speech that this met the original Atlantic Yards vision. However, 20% of the original affordable housing promise was the highest income band. This building, 50% is the highest income band. So how does that meet the original promise?"

"Well, this is the first of many buildings," responded de Blasio. "This parallels the reality with our affordable housing plan writ large. In the year 2014, we're on track to get over 16,000 units out of 200,000. As you see the plan progress, neighborhood by neighborhood, you're going to see buildings that are 100 percent affordable, you're going to see buildings that are a lower percentage, you're going to see buildings that are primarily for folks at the lowest side of the income scale, you're going to see buildings that are mixed. Here, you're going to the original vision, in terms of tiered income scale, we intend to achieve. This building is 100 percent affordable – it's tiered, but we intend for the whole project to ultimately meet those goals."

(Emphasis added)

In that highlighted section, de Blasio was speaking generally and, indeed, the city's affordable housing program does encompass a wide mix of buildings.

What's next?

But what about Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park?

Consider: based on the plan in the MOU, of the 2,250 affordable units, 450 each are supposed to go to top three "bands," involving middle- and moderate-income households. Then 675 units are supposed to go to the upper low-income band, and 225 to the lower low-income band.

However,  there are already 300 units assigned to the top upper-income band in these two towers, rather than the expected 120 units (20% of the total 600 affordable units). There are only 30 units in the lower low-income band, rather than the expected 60 (10% of the total). There are 150 units in the upper low-income band, while there should be 180 (30% of total).

Overall, 40% of the affordable units in these two buildings, or 240 units, should be for low-income households. Instead, the number is 180 units. They're 60 units behind.

That suggests that, if the MOU is to be followed that there may have to be Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park buildings that, as de Blasio said, are "primarily for folks at the lowest side of the income scale." But we don't know it if will be followed.

What about B2?

The first building with affordable units, 461 Dean, or B2, comes closer to following the MOU, but does not, in a couple of ways.

As shown in the document below, the numbers (36 each) of units in each of the top three income bands conforms to the MOU. However, there are five 1BR and 16 2BR units in the uppermost band, and 16 1BR and five 2BR units in the one below it. (The New York City Housing Development Corporation pushed for more 2BR units from a paltry proposal, and still got fewer family-sized units than promised earlier.)

However, there are only 11 units in the lower of the two low-income bands, and 62 units in the higher of the two. The ratio, based on the MOU, should be 3-to-1, not more than 5-to-1.  (The total number, 73, is 40% of the affordable units, thus meeting that overall ratio.)

That 5-to-1 ratio has recurred in the next two all-affordable buildings. So that suggests that there will be fewer units in the lower low-income band throughout the project--unless we see changes.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Fantasy graphic portrays cute and charming Pacific Park & 550 Vanderbilt

Hmmm.. check out the graphic below on the Contact page for the 550 Vanderbilt condo tower.

Somehow the tower, some 19 stories (including bulkheads), is portrayed as a modest eight stories, with relatively giant trees nearby. It's as if the only part of the building is the smaller portion fronting Dean Street, as shown in the recent photo I took at right.

It even stretches beyond demapped Pacific Street. A full "Pacific Park, between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues, is portrayed, but without the seven towers planned on that eastern block.

Moving west, the block between Sixth and Carlton avenues and Dean and Pacific streets is portrayed as an extension of the park, though it includes exactly zero open space but rather row houses and small apartment buildings, as well as the significant Newswalk condo. At the far west end is a 100-foot-wide vacant lot, destined for the 664 Pacific (aka B15 building).

North of that block, between Pacific Street and Atlantic Avenue, a current railyard with w couple of buildings jutting below it, is portrayed as a pair of modest three-story row houses.

Finally, the arena block is portrayed as pretty much the oculus, with no actual arena nor two towers (461 Dean, 38 Sixth) topped out. And the (comparatively giant) bicycle is going the wrong way.

No credit, but is this the work of Mike Perry, creator of other whimsical, misleading graphics??

Perhaps it is, as the advertisement below suggests, "Setting the Standard for Brooklyn Living." But it's sure not setting the standard for remotely accurate promotion. Nor is it "Everything You Love About Brooklyn." In fact, it recalls the 2004 effort to portray the project in gentle neighborhood scale.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Ratner gives $42,500 to Cuomo; also, $15K to Thompson; $5K to Golden, $4.4K (+?) to Mosley

If you scroll down Politico New York's article yesterday, Campaign reports show Cuomo continues to rely on big donors, there's a chart listing the top 87 donors.

At #55, though actually tied with others starting at #51, is a listing for "Ratner," the only individual donor listed without a first name.

Did Bruce Ratner in fact give $55,000 since January 2015? I couldn't confirm it. 

Rather, it looks like he should have barely missed the listing of the top 87 donors, who gave a minimum of $45,000, as he gave $42,500.

Bottom line: he gave enough, I'd bet, to get his phone calls returned.

Looking at the reports

Cuomo's July 2016 disclosure form listed contributions from Ratner of $7,500 and $15,000. Cuomo's January 2016 disclosure form listed no Ratner contributions. Cuomo's July 2015 disclosure form listed contributions from Ratner of $5,000 and $15,000. Cuomo's January 2015 disclosure form listed no Ratner contributions.

The $42,500 figure is confirmed in the screenshot below, as well. (Ratner did give another $9,500 to Cuomo in January 2014.)

Ratner's other contributions

As the screenshot below from the state database shows, Ratner has not only given to Cuomo, the self-described liberal Democrat gave $5,000 to Republican Senator Marty Golden, whose representation in the Republican-controlled Senate is a firewall for things like, say, residential permit parking or a real oversight plan for Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park.

Ratner gave a significant $15,000 to the campaign for District Attorney Kenneth Thompson. And the database reports two $4,400 contributions--the limit for Assembly primary and general elections--to 57th District Assemblyman Walter Mosley. That may be an error: each $4,400 contribution, though given on the same date, appears in a separate semi-annual report. 

The state database also shows the two contributions that show up in a search of the city campaign database: $250 to the campaign of Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and $400 to the campaign of Mayor Bill de Blasio.