Tuesday, June 28, 2016

At meeting, Con Edison reps pledge to do better, but trucks still block sidewalks, forcing pedestrians into traffic

The bi-monthly Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting June 14, held at 55 Hanson Place, addressed multiple issues, including delays in various towers, delays in the building with the planned school, a new detente with project neighbors,concerns about traffic congestion, upcoming sewer work and demolitions, questions about security improvements, an explanation of how high winds caused debris to fly off the under-construction 38 Sixth Avenue building. This is the final article.

It looked like an improvement in transparency and it was, but progress was limited.

At the meeting, Greenland Forest City Partners spokeswoman Ashley Cotton noted that she had gotten "an increased amount of complaints" regarding problems around Sixth Avenue, in many cases because of work by the utility Con Edison.

Since then, Cotton noted, the developers, when informed, have announced street closures caused by Con Ed. And representatives for the first time appeared at a public meeting.

They included Spencer Chow, Manager of Major Energy Services for Brooklyn and Queens, and a guy named Matt, the site project manager. (I couldn't get his last name because neither were named on the agenda, and Con Ed spokespeople did not respond to three email queries and one phone call regarding questions associated with the meeting.)

Matt explained that the work on the southeast block of the site, aimed to support not merely the two buildings under construction (B11, B14) but also the two unbuilt towers, should be complete by September. Chow noted that "the biggest part of the construction is in the beginning... when we have to dig up the ground... it's unfortunate, but it's a necessary evil."

Community pushback

"Can we do a better job in notifying the community? We probably can," Chow said, but often the work is a one-day thing. "As far as trucks that come and go, that's just the nature of our business."

He got some pushback from the audience. "Is there a reason why Con Ed trucks park on sidewalk?" asked resident Wayne Bailey, who frequently photographs neighborhood incursions on the site, adding that the lack of flaggers or barriers endangers the community.

Chow said he couldn't speak for contractors. Matt said that was subcontracted. Bailey said he'd send pictures. Matt said, "I'll reach out to the various departments and let them know."

Resident Peter Krashes asked the Department of Transportation representative present, Leroy Branch, to show the permits for the Con Ed work, so residents could figure out whether conditions were being met.

After Matt said that Con Ed adheres to permits, Krahses noted that information in the notices has been wrong sometimes, failing to indicate that a street closures goes an additional block.

Asked with whom Con Ed coordinates, Matt said, "I coordinate with the customer. At this point, I coordinate with my internal forces... once they give me a schedule, I’ll let my public affairs people know, and they’ll let Forest City know."

Chow noted that the only time a permit is needed is when they close down the street. Otherwise, "we're a self-regulated, self-certified utility.. and we have permission to work on the street."

Improvement coming?

Asked who people can contact, Toni Yuille Williams, Con Ed's Director of Public Affairs, expressed apologies, saying "we’re going to do the best job we can to minimize the public nuisance." She said residents could reach out to her and colleague Johari Jenkins.

Bailey called a photo on his phone showing a Con Ed truck blocking a pedestrian passage, forcing a family to walk in the street, given that the opposite sidewalk was unavailable.

"We're all inconvenienced," said Williams, not quite getting it.

"This is not inconvenient, it's somebody in danger," Bailey said, adding that it happens regularly.

"We need to speak to our crews about that," Williams agreed.

"Sometimes we do have structures that have to be on the sidewalk," Chow said.

"We understand, but then there’s got to be some safety device, or barricade,” countered resident Regina Cahill.

"You’re absolutely correct, I think we need to bring this back back," said Williams. Chow agreed, "We've got to do a better job."

Resident Steve Ettlinger reprised a comment he'd made earlier about Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park: "it’s atypical due its location and size... so a new approach is needed."

The problem recurs

Despite Con Ed's pledge, as Bailey's Instagram post below shows, Con Ed soon blocked the sidewalk again.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Just the usual: a waiting truck slows bus on Dean Street; idling trucks at midnight opposite arena

There's little margin for error regarding arena operations and construction logistics, as the videos below remind us.

This morning, as shown in the video below, a truck was waiting on playground Dean Street east of Sixth Avenue opposite the Dean Street playground, thus slowing the passage of traffic and making it very tough for a bus to proceed.

Some 15 minutes before the video was shot, photographer Wayne Bailey told me, he asked the driver why he was parked there rather than the staging area on Pacific Street. The driver indicated he driver understood the location of the staging area.

When Bailey returned, traffic had slowed as the bus stopped, waiting for the truck driver to fold in his mirrors to allow the bus to pass  through. He reminded the driver he was supposed to stage the vehicle around the block. The response was that the entrance was "locked."

Indeed, construction is supposed to start at 7 am. But there's no apparently no provision to accommodate drivers who get there early. Nor are there personnel to ensure this doesn't happen.

After the NBA draft

On midnight Thursday 6/23/16, four trucks involved in the load-out after the NBA Draft at the Barclays Center idled illegally for more than three minutes at the corner of Pacific Street and Sixth Avenue.

Two trucks were on the south side of Pacific facing east, while two were on Sixth below Pacific, facing north. People live very nearby and a new residential building (670 Pacific) should open later this year. And by 2020, it seems, a new tower (664 Pacific, with school) will open behind the construction fence where those trucks were idling.

From the Brooklyn Standard to the Pacific Park Brooklyn newsletter

It's the Brooklyn Standard of the digital age, for those who recall the Atlantic Yards developer's 2005 foray into promotional news, captured in the the New York Times's anomalously tough 9/3/05 coverage: "O.K., The Whole Paper is Basically an Ad."

Welcome to the May 2016 Pacific Park Brooklyn Newsletter:
Greenland Forest City Partners, the team behind Pacific Park Brooklyn, is excited to bring you the first edition of a bi-monthly newsletter focused on progress at Pacific Park and other important community news.
What's Happening at Pacific Park
Construction updates about Brooklyn’s newest neighborhood.
The last module was installed at 461 Dean Street, the 363-unit rental building which was primarily constructed right here, in Brooklyn, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The housing lottery is underway now. Apply here.
The installations of the custom facades are well under way on both 550 Vanderbilt and 535 Carlton.
There are over 1,800 units of housing under construction across six residential buildings at Pacific Park and almost 800 of these units will be offered at below-market rate. You can take the Virtual Reality tour of Pacific Park here!
Actually, two of the six residential buildings (B12, B15)  have yet to get started. Expect similarly limited candor going forward. And what--no mention of the sticker system for construction workers?

What else

The newsletter also includes "What We're Reading":
Follow the news about Pacific Park.
Learn how to apply for affordable housing at 461 Dean StreetA developer invested in virtual realityTallest Modular Building in the World Tops Out in Brooklyn
And "What's Going on Around the Neighborhood":
Things to do and places to be around Pacific Park
Four & Twenty Blackbirds is moving to the neighborhood!
The Brooklyn Public Library will host its Summer Reading Kickoff Celebration on June 9th.
The City Parks Foundation will host free tennis lessons to children this summer. Parents can register here.
And "Other exciting things happening in Brooklyn this summer:"
Target First SaturdaysKids Film FestCelebrate Brooklyn
Pacific Park Brooklyn Newsletter May 2016 by AYReport

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Visiting the branded Barclays Center plaza on the night of the NBA Draft

Remember, the plan to keep the Barclays Center plaza "permanent open space" positions it as a public amenity, rather than a branded business deal, since the official name is the Resorts World NYC Casino Plaza.

While it has some value to the public at large, the plaza is not only a revenue opportunity for the arena operators, it's also a key safety valve for arena attendees, as noted by the modified tailgate party before an Islanders playoff game in April.

NBA draft time

Indeed, as I was reminded when I visited the plaza Thursday to shoot a few photos on the evening of the NBA draft, it's also an extension of arena activities.

After walking up the stairs--branded with a Resorts World Casino ad--visitors encountered an NBA-branded Draft16 backdrop, branded with sponsor State Farm, for photos.

A State Farm advertisement blinked from the oculus. And a red State Farm booth occupied plaza space that ticketed attendees would pass. (The scalpers murmuring entreaties to buy and sell tickets, however, were an unofficial presence on the plaza.)

For third time, Nassau Coliseum re-opening date moved back, now to April 2017

I've previously reported on how the projected December 2016 re-opening date for the Nassau Coliseum--being renovated by a consortium originally led by Forest City Ratner, now principally owned by Mikhail Prokhorov's Onexim--was pushed back to "early 2017" and then March 2017.

Last night Newsday reported:
When renovated Nassau Coliseum re-opens in April, 2017, major boxing events will be as big a part of the programming as six annual visits by the Islanders. Brett Yormark, who is CEO of Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment, which will operate the Coliseum, made the announcement Saturday night.
Yormark outlined an ambitious plan to expand Brooklyn Boxing,
As far as I know, that was the first mention of the new opening date, and the continued delay was not mentioned. If it was the first mention, that was a successful example of public relations-as-distraction: the "news" of boxing at the Coliseum crowds out any scrutiny of the delay.

Didn't a Brooklyn journalist once write "Nassau must be wary about plans for Coliseum"?

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Virtual reality: the real-estate press on project location, units under construction, & "public green park"

It's a bit strange to read some of the real-estate press regarding Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, since some articles posit an alternate reality regarding the location of the project, the number of units under construction, the "public green park," and even the target market.

Consider the Commercial Observer's 6/16/16 article Under Construction: 550 Vanderbilt Avenue, which hails the topping off of the condo tower.


The building is said to be located "[a]t the intersection of Vanderbilt Avenue and Dean Street in between the Clinton Hill and Prospect Heights neighborhoods of Brooklyn."

Oh, really? So Prospect Heights ends at the other three, non-Pacific Park corners of Vanderbilt and Dean? It doesn't.

Unit count

The article states:
Once completed, Pacific Park will contain a total of 6,400 residential units, 2,250 of which are affordable (1,800 units are currently underway, 782 of which are affordable).
Well, the total is supposed to be 6,430. More importantly, the only way to count 1,800 units under way is to include the B12 (651 Dean Street) and B15 (664 Pacific Street) towers, which, as I wrote, have not gone vertical. It looks like B15 will not be done until 2020.

Brownstone living

The article states:
While the building will have a 24-hour doorman, there will also be some elements of brownstone living, [Forest City Ratner's Susi] Yu said. There will be three maisonettes, units with private entryways, so occupants can enjoy “the benefits of living in a full-service building, yet having the privacy of coming through your own entry.”
There will be elements of brownstone living? Well, sure, if you count a 2-story, 3-bedroom, 3.5-bath maisonette townhouse with a private elevator and a private outdoor terrace, on sale for $4,650,000, as described in the excerpt at right.

By the way, the brands mentioned include: Carrara marble counter, premium Miele appliance package, Grohe fixtures, Carrara marble penny round tiles, LG washer and vented dryer, Kohler tub, and Toto toilet.

Don't foget the 421-a tax abatement!

Not about "uber-wealth"

The article ends with a quote from Forest City's executive:
“It can be a background of whatever you want your house to be,” Yu said. “It’s not about ├╝ber-wealth. That’s just not what Rick is about.”
OK, the least expensive listed sale for a studio at this building is $540,000, which is in contract, and the least expensive available unit is a 1-bedroom for $892,000.

I guess uber-wealth is all relative.

The virtual reality bit

Another Commercial Observer article, on the new trend regarding the use of virtual reality to market new developments, of course mentions this project:
Greenland USA and Forest City Ratner Companies started its virtual reality usage with its $4.9 billion, 22-acre Pacific Park residential project in Brooklyn, behind the Barclays Center. The firm realized the power of virtual reality when it wanted to show off what the public green park would look like.
“We knew that we wanted to start with the park,” said Adam Greene, a vice president at Forest City. “We thought that it was the most important thing to start with, because it’s a little bit unknown to people right now, since the site is a big construction [area]. We wanted to show that open space and what it was like to be in there.”
Then the developers subsequently added its condos under construction at 615 Dean Street and 550 Vanderbilt Avenue and the rental project 535 Carton to the virtual reality experience to give future homeowners and tenants a look inside the projects. 

Well, that's because the "public green park"--not a public park under the NYC Parks Department but rather publicly accessible, privately managed open space--won't be finished for nearly a decade. Also, 615 Dean is not actually under construction.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Come Together Like Brooklyn: Nets trade Young, only BK resident on team, draft BK-born Whitehead

Remember, fans are rooting for the clothes, and basketball is a business.

Yesterday, before the NBA Draft--before which the Nets had traded away first-round picks in 2016 and 2018, with a swap in 2017--the Nets traded their second-best player, Thad Young, to the Indiana Pacers for a first-round pick, and a future second-round pick.

In return, they drafted Caris LeVert, a significant talent who comes with a question mark: a history of injuries.

The Nets also traded their lower second-round pick (55) to the Utah Jazz, plus cash, for the 42nd slot. They then drafted Coney Island-born guard Isaiah Whitehead, who played at Brooklyn's Lincoln High School and then Seton Hall.

Next up is the pursuit of free agents.

The BK connection

Young and his family were the first team to live in Brooklyn, in a condo building near the Brooklyn Heights waterfront. (I hope they had a rental.) On Twitter, he thanked Brooklyn fans and looked forward to Indiana.

 Whitehead is the first Brooklyn native, and immediately the Nets' local hype began.

By the way, the Nets' web site suggests they have their platitudinous 2016-17 season marketing theme: "Come Together Like Brooklyn."

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Marketing opportunity: a (smaller) Barclays Center roof logo returns, stealthily

From video via PacificParkBk
Oh, they weren't going to give up that valuable marketing real estate, were they?

A new Barclays Center logo for the arena roof (see screenshot at right) was not in any preparatory public renderings (see below left) of the recently installed green roof, but it's apparently too valuable an advertising space.

Indeed, as construction of the green roof began, Forest City Ratner's Bob Sanna told the 4/26/15 Wall Street Journal, “We are thinking up creative ways to keep the logo…We just haven’t decided where.”

Since then, around the end of the year, Forest City transferred its 55% interest in the arena operating company to minority owner Onexim, controlled by Mikhail Prokhorov.\
From April 2014 rendering by SHoP

The green roof was paid for by the new joint venture Greenland Forest City Partners, aiming to make the arena view more palatable to residents in nearby towers and to tamp down noise escaping from the venue. Surely the logo was also negotiated with Prokhorov.

Brooklyn's newest neighborhood?

It's a wee bit odd to call this "Brooklyn's newest neighborhood."

After all, the brief video, in link at bottom, shows only the finished 461 Dean Street modular tower flanking the arena, and ignores the adjacent, under-construction B2 (aka 38 Sixth Avenue) tower, which is shown in the full photo below.

Earlier version; click to enlarge
But the video, apparently shot by a drone, seems mainly a marketing device.

Smaller signage

The new signage, while quite visible from the sky and thus TV cameras on helicopters or blimps (see below), is smaller and thus less glaring than than the predecessor signage, which had a larger Barclays logo (see photo at right).

Used by permission from David Margolis of SkyviewSurvey.com. Copyright SkyviewSurvey.com.
As I wrote 4/10/13, the original Barclays logo on the roof had not been shown in renderings when the project was re-approved, and roof signage was never addressed in the Design Guidelines, approved in 2006, which addressed facade signage only.

Empire State Development, the state authority overseeing the project said, essentially, if ain't prohibited, it's permitted. Executive Arana Hankin noted that, among other things, the "sign is not illuminated" and it "cannot be seen from street-level."

Actually, while the sign was not aimed at those on the street, and not fully visible, it sure could be seen in part, as shown in the photo below. The new signage is not visible from the street, as far as I can tell.

Changing plans

Last September, Forest City CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin said the original plan for an arena green roof "needed to be value-engineered...We built the arena, it's a rubber roof, originally, with Barclays' logo on top of it, quite uninspired, and you can see it from a number of vantage points around the area." In other words, she contradicted Hankin.

"So it was a lost opportunity to some of us, but we never let go of this idea we could go back again one day and put a green roof on top," Gilmartin continued. "It really doesn't benefit the arena, it benefits the community and the residents that will live around the arena."

You bet it benefits the arena, I wrote at the time, since the green roof would help with needed noise and vibration dampening.

Now we know that the roof also benefits benefits the arena with another marketing opportunity.

On Twitter

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Was school not considered for southeast block because developer was planning to sell two sites?

Placard on construction fence at 664 Pacific
inaccurately predicts completion as "4th quarter of 2018"
Now that we know that the school at 664 Pacific (aka B15) is delayed until seemingly 2020--in February, an affidavit from the developer said it would take four years--it's worth looking back at a suggested alternative.

Local elected officials and school advocates, however concerned about the location near the Barclays Center and a police and fire station, backed the B15 plan, thinking it was worth the risk to get a dedicated middle school by 2018. That was the opening date predicted as of last year, though it was already jeopardized (and, indeed, as of this year, they started saying 2019).

The three Community Boards sharing the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park site were more cautious, raising questions about the school site, within a 27-story market-rate rental building, and, in the case of Community Board 2, flatly suggesting a move.

And hindsight now raises a question: was an alternative school site not considered because developer Greenland Forest City Partners (GFCP) was already considering a sale of three building sites?

Looking back

CB 2, noting that the School Construction Authority did not consider an alternative site, proposed instead "building B13, on Block 1129 (bounded by Vanderbilt Avenue, Dean Street, Carlton Avenue and Pacific Street), [which] has the same construction timetable as B15 but is further from the arena, the major thoroughfares, and the public safety facilities."

The "same construction timetable" referred to the already out-of-date August 2014 tentative timetable that had both buildings opening by February 2018. B13 was supposed to start construction next month, while adjacent B12 was supposed to start construction in July 2015; neither has moved ahead.

Both of those condo buildings are delayed, an executive from GFCP said last week. Both are among the three building sites--along with B4, at the northeast flank of the arena--that are being marketed to outside investors, a plan announced in April.

Consider this (as a reader pointed out): if GFCP as of last year was already contemplating selling those valuable sites, why would it complicate (or impede) the sale by proceeding with a school? (Those are the only available sites that would be built soon enough to partially mitigate a shortfall in school seats.)

In other words, it's reasonably to ask if the choice of B15 site was aimed not merely to deliver a school relatively soon--and to paper over the use of eminent domain to remove property owners-- but also to serve the developer's business needs.

Depending on the role and timing of outside investors, it's still possible that the buildout of the B12 and B13 condo towers--which should take less than two years each--will come sooner than 664 Pacific, adding even more need for school seats and raising more questions about the siting decision.

Locational concerns

Tight site: 664 Pacific is behind construction fence next to
497 Dean; across street, 38 Sixth Avenue rises
As I wrote last September, Community Board 6 wrote to support a middle school at the project site, but urged the SCA "to reconsider the location of that school to one with safer access unhindered by future construction and further removed from the Barclay Center."

The Dean Street Block Association wrote, "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."

The questions they raised were legitimate, though school backers believed--and still believe--that proper planning can ameliorate some of the challenges.

Several of those challenges were already glaring. What no one publicly considered at the time, however, is what we now know: the decision to build such a large tower adjacent to an 8-unit residential building has generated litigation about the impact of such construction on the building.