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Showing posts from 2017

Next Atlantic Yards CDC meeting Tuesday, June 6

The next meeting of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation is coming in ten days. I'm not sure what the agenda will be--there's not much dramatic going on with the project, not that's surfaced publicly--but the most recent meeting, on 3/29/17, was brief and mostly uneventful. 
A media advisory sent out at 2:25 yesterday from Empire State Development: What: Meeting of the Directors of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation, an ESD subsidiary.  When: Tuesday, June 6, 2017 at 3:00 p.m.  Where: Brooklyn Campus of Long Island University
Library Learning Center – 515 Conference Room (5th Floor)
One University Plaza (at Flatbush and DeKalb Avenues)
Brooklyn, New York 11201  This meeting is open to the public. Web casting of the meeting will be available here.  Due to building procedures, those attending should please RSVP by 5:00 p.m. on Monday, June 5, 2017. RSVP press line (800) 260-7313; RSVP public line (212) 803-3766.

ESD: late-night work was shifted to evening because of LIRR request; no explanation for lack of notice

Four nights ago, as I reported, neighbors near the intersection of Atlantic and Sixth avenues reported noisy, disturbing late night work on the West Portal of the Vanderbilt Yard. That work had not been announced, and there was no hotline to call with concern. (There should be.)

I sent a query the next morning to Empire State Development, the state authority overseeing/shepherding the overall Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project. Can you let me know, I asked:
what was going on and how long it lasted?whether it will continue?whether it was noticed and, if not, why not? I got a response late yesterday that did not address the lack of notice. The concrete work on the new West Portal tunnel roof was originally scheduled to occur during the day, but was shifted to evening because of a last-minute request from the Long Island Rail Road, so it wouldn't conflict with train operations.

That work--I was told yesterday--was again scheduled for Wednesday, May 24 and Thursday, May 25 (last night…

Times Plaza safety upgrades include new pedestrian islands at Atlantic/Flatbush; open space plan, not applauded, comes later

One huge, unmentioned irony hung over the presentation last Thursday by the New York City Department of Transportation about upcoming safety improvements to chaotic, perilous Times Plaza--notably new pedestrian islands and concrete neckdowns for those crossing Atlantic and Flatbush avenues--and the subsequent upgrading of the triangular public space.

The initial justification for the plan--first presented as a public space upgrade, then augmented with safety improvements after much public pushback--is to offset an open space deficit for workers in the area, as identified in the 2014 Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park. (That open space deficit is a moving target, if new office towers and thus workers arrive.)

And not only did members of Brooklyn Community Board 2's Transportation Committee and attendees look skeptically at the city's plan for that open space, Emily Weindenhof, Director of the DOT's Public Space Unit, acknowledged the…

From City & State: Gerrymandering Jersey City Unemployment to Help Kushner Projects in Jersey City

Remember the "Bed-Stuy Boomerang" I uncovered in 2011, which was used to gerrymander an area of high unemployment to enable cheap EB-5 financing from immigrant investors for Atlantic Yards?

Well, such gerrymandering continues, and in my essay in City & State, I explain how that was done for a couple of very high-profile EB-5 projects, those involving the Kushner Companies in Jersey City, one branded as Trump Bay Street: HOW JERSEY CITY UNEMPLOYMENT WAS GERRYMANDERED TO HELP KUSHNER PITCH INVESTOR VISAS:
It shouldn't be a surprise. Like some other real estate developers, the Kushner Companies, builders of two luxury apartment projects in Jersey City and owned by the family of President Trump’s aide and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have gamed the EB-5 investor visa system, getting their buildings officially located in zones of high unemployment – thanks to creative mapmaking.
These maps, previously unreported, connect Kushner's 65 Bay Street project, marketed as Trum…

So, does an "on-demand sommelier" drive 550 Vanderbilt sales? Nah. But it is *in* a neighborhood.

All publicity is good publicity, especially when your building comes first in a roundup, but there's a certain incoherence to Curbed's roundup yesterday, headlined In New York’s cutthroat residential market, experiences are the new must-have amenity, and subtitled "Perks like a fitness room and a lounge are no longer enough to lure prospective tenants."

Notably, 550 Vanderbilt is a condo building, not a rental. (One other building in Curbed's roundup is a condo; the rest are rentals.)

While 550 Vanderbilt residents might appreciate a "Neighborhood Partner Program" involving local businesses, like gardening classes and "an on-demand sommelier," it's doubtful that the condo buyers who put down deposits two years ago give a fig.

Remember, sales are "slower than anticipated," the developer acknowledged, confirming the obvious. Moreover, the recent price drops for rentals--see StreetEasy graphic at right--surely suggest that price, no…

From the latest Construction Update: more foundation piles at the railyard (but no mention of evening West Portal disruption)

According to the latest Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Construction Update (bottom), covering the two weeks beginning May 22 and circulated yesterday at 3:45 pm (a bit late) by Empire State Development after preparation by Greenland Forest City Partners, there's not much new work, but some progress in infrastructure for the long-term buildout.

Drilling of foundation piles in the area of B5--in the Vanderbilt Yard just east of Sixth Avenue--should be completed during these two weeks. After that, drilling foundation piles in the area of B7 will begin. These are two large sites once projected to start vertical construction in 2023 and 2019, respectively.

Also, the site access ramp to the railyard. may be relocated to the western end of the block.

An evening disruption
Also, unmentioned in the update, two project neighbors last night reported noisy, disruptive night work going on at the West Portal site, with jackhammering and klieg lights at the southeast corner of Atlantic and Sixth/So…

Former site of Church of the Redeemer, near Site 5, now planned for 12-story condo building

I previously reported on how the Church of the Redeemer, on Fourth Avenue catercorner to Site 5 of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, sold for $20 million and was demolished. Now, the Real Deal reported 5/17/17, the developer Adam America is "in talks" to buy the site and build a 72-unit, 12-story condo building with commercial space on the ground floor.

Does a 12-story building "normalize" the transition from Site 5 to the neighborhood directly south? Somewhat. That said, the already approved Site 5 building, 250 feet tall, would be twice the height of the condo building said to be planned for the church site.

The unofficially proposed massive two-tower project at Site 5, involving a shift of bulk from the arena block and a new state plan, could stretch 785 feet, a much more dramatic transition. But expect any new development in that area, including the proposed 80 Flatbush plan to the north, to be used as an argument for something bigger at Site 5.

Modern Farmer, the "whopping" garden at 550 Vanderbilt, and the "massive public works project"

I've written before about puff pieces for the 550 Vanderbilt rooftop farm, and here's another, from Modern Farmer,  Brooklyn’s Newest Condo Amenity: Rooftop Agricultural Plots, complete with some glaring distortions:
But here’s one we haven’t seen much of: Rooftop gardens. That’s right: one gigantic new-construction condominium building in the heart of Brooklyn is making urban agriculture a fundamental part of its pitch. 550 Vanderbilt is a huge 278-unit building in what was formerly called, and probably still best known as, the Atlantic Yards, a massive public works project to transform a defunct train terminal into a commercial and residential zone anchored by the Barclays Center, home of the NBA-worst Brooklyn Nets.
... Because the building is so big, there are plenty of nooks and crannies to tuck fun stuff throughout its 17 stories, and what the designers came up with is a whopping 520 square-foot gardening space on a huge eighth floor terrace. (Emphases added)

Um, it'…

The Times digs--though could go farther--on Kushner family's EB-5 efforts

Kushner family's reps in China were using Trump's name for months to guarantee green cards to investors. Our story: — Javier C. Hern├índez (@HernandezJavier) May 19, 2017
This seems either unrealistic or v sloppy. Big developers w/ EB-5 a) know Chinese firms exaggerate b) see material — Eliot Brown (@eliotwb) May 20, 2017
@JesseDrucker Too bad NYT didn't get 2undermining of #EB5 premise. Middleman Nick M sed his projects don't need$. Thus no new jobs — Norman Oder (@AYReport) May 19, 2017
#EB5 investigation#EB5IsARacket
+Here's my coverage of shady Qiao Wai aka Qiaowai— Norman Oder (@AYReport) May 13, 2017

Panic at arena as loud noise--reported as gunshots--"sparks wild stampede" after Future concert

Last night, reports of gunshots at the Barclays Center at the end of a show by the rapper Future sparked a real and social media panic, as fans stampeded out, some reportedly bloody. There were no gunshots, the arena and the police said, but there was widespread alarm and dismay among attendees.

The Daily News reported, in Loud noise sparks wild stampede at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, "NYPD and FDNY officials said there were no reports of gunfire and no injuries reported." The actual cause of the noise wasn't reported.

Some attendees didn't believe all the official story. Later, Vibe reported a slightly more comprehensive explanation:
NYPD Lieutenant Tarik Sheppard shared a statement via email with VIBE on Friday night’s incident:
“The concert ended around 11 p.m. As people were exiting the Barclays Center, there was music playing over the PA system. The song that was playing had the sound of gunshots at the end. In addition, the stage was lowered and it came down fa…

The P.C. Richard case drags on, as one deadline is extended four months; Site 5 question marks remain

The fate of a potential massive project at Site 5--floated, but not officially proposed--is again delayed, thanks to an extension of time in the litigation between P.C. Richard, owner of a building on the site, and Forest City Ratner.

The electronics store last year sued to stall the planned eminent domain proceeding regarding its store at Site 5, across from the Barclays Center, claiming that original project developer Forest City Ratner promised the company space in the replacement building. 
Greenland Forest City Partners, now the joint venture developer of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, was not sued, but the separate LLC representing Greenland independent of Forest City has been served with a subpoena for a depositions and documents.
According to a document filed this week in New York State Supreme Court, the final date for all parties to disclose experts in the litigation was to have been 5/15/17, this past Monday. The parties have agreed to extensions, and now the deadline is 9/29…

At CB 2 meeting tonight, discussion of safety changes proposed for Times Plaza and Flatbush/Atlantic

Tonight, at a 6 pm meeting of the Community Board 2 Transportation Committee--see poster at right--the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) will discuss a proposal for changes in the design of Times Plaza and safety improvement at the fraught intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenue.

The meeting will be held at the second floor gallery of the YWCA, at 30 Third Avenue, just north of Atlantic Avenue. The DOT's portal for the project is here.

The area under study is part of Mayor de Blasio's Vision Zero initiative to end traffic deaths and injuries. One proposed change, for example, involves a new crosswalk from Flatbush Avenue to the Barclays Center

The changes involve not only access to the arena block, but to the planned--but yet unresolved--major construction at Site 5, part of Pacific Park, and the separate proposed project at 80 Flatbush Avenue.

New pedestrian refuge

As shown in the graphic below, in January 2017, DOT reported installing a rubber pedestrian r…

At Barclays Center, an un-billed event draws more than 10,000 people (and lots of buses)

If 10,000-plus people come to the Barclays Center and no one from the arena announces it, does anyone notice?

Yes, they do.

On Sunday, May 14, more than 10,000 "practitioners of Falun Dafa, a traditional Chinese spiritual discipline," as described by the Epoch Times, attended the group's annual conference in New York.

It culminated at the Barclays Center to hear founder Li Hongzhi, the founder of the group, also known as Falun Gong.

Besides the crowd, numerous buses idled outside the arena, on Atlantic and Flatbush avenue, some in bus stops, as described by the neighbor who sent me the pictures.

There was also a small counter-protest, I'm told, presumably representing the perspective of the Chinese government, which represses Falun Gong and its members.

Not in the calendar

The event was unmentioned in the Barclays Center calendar circulated to neighbors, though a previous policy was to mention such non-ticketed events.

Nor was it mentioned in the 78th Precinct Twitt…

Classic chutzpah: Grand Army Plaza said to be gateway to 550 Vanderbilt backyard!

Um, it's half a mile away!

Definition: chutzpah — Norman Oder (@AYReport) May 17, 2017

Price cut! $2200 rent for studio at 550 Vanderbilt condo approaches "affordable" level

OK, the largest number of affordable studio apartments in 100% affordable 535 Carlton will rent for $2,137 a month.

One market-rate unit in 461 Dean actually dipped below that threshold, after price cuts, as I wrote in December, and now market-rate units in 550 Vanderbilt, because of the glut, are getting closer: rent for one studio, as shown on StreetEasy, has gone from $2,500 to $2,200.

ANHD posts 2017 Area Median Income Cheat Sheet; reminder that so much AY "affordable housing" is skewed

The Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD) has produced an updated 2017 version of its Area Median Income (AMI) Cheat Sheet, below, which explains, for each AMI (for a four-person household):
A monthly rent for that apartmentA household income amountThe % of New Yorkers at each AMI levelThe context, for watchers of Atlantic Yard/Pacific Park, is that 50% of the units in two "100% affordable" towers, 535 Carlton and 38 Sixth, is directed to upper middle-income households. Notably, the largest chunk of two-bedroom units at 535 Carlton would rent for $3,223 and at 38 Sixth would rent for $3,206.

Both of those are the top half of the middle-income cohort, representing a mere 5% of city population and very close to what the cheat sheet labels "high income." No wonder such a small fraction of those entering the lottery for affordable units at 535 Carlton sought the middle-income ones. (Here's my coverage of the 2015 Cheat Sheet.)

AMI Cheat Sheet 20…

Downtown Brooklyn site half the size of P.C. Richard sells for more than four times ESD's offer

Last September, I wrote about the low-ball offer of $15.1 million that Empire State Development (ESD), the state authority overseeing/shepherding Atlantic Yards, made in February to P.C. Richard, which owns one of the two buildings at Site 5, across Flatbush Avenue from the Barclays Center.

That's well below the value of stated development rights, much less what is currently permitted (or might be permitted in the future) on the property. Of course, as I wrote, in New York eminent domain cases, the condemnor often low-balls owners of the subject property as a way to nudge them into negotiation and a presumably higher payment.
Consider: that site is 25,000 square feet, and a site in Downtown Brooklyn little more than half that just was sold for $68 million. As YIMBY reported two days ago, in Mixed-Use Development Site Expanded at 625 Fulton Street, Downtown Brooklyn, the 12,415-square-feet three story commercial building at 635 Fulton Street and Rockwell Place now expands the devel…

So, Forest City has some property subject to the future Gowanus rezoning

Writing yesterday, MAP: Who Owns All the Property Along the Gowanus Canal, DNAinfo's Leslie Albrecht lays out the positioning of various real estate players along the Gowanus Canal, a Superfund site:
As the city considers whether to rezone Gowanus and, perhaps, morph the gritty low-rise industrial area into a hot new neighborhood of residential towers (albeit at a fraction of the height of Manhattan's supertall buildings), DNAinfo reviewed property records along the canal to find out who stands to benefit most from the changes.
Investors have poured at least $440 million into buying land on the polluted waterway and more than a third of the properties have changed hands in the past decade, according to an examination of records for the nearly 130 properties along the 1.8-mile canal. While the single largest landowner is developer Property Markets Group, other landowners include Kushner Companies, Alloy Development, Two Trees, and Forest City New York.

Forest City's plans unc…

EB-5 gets critical editorials ("a government visa-giveaway program"); Kushner's sister steps back

Finally, thanks to the high-profile and very dubious effort by the Kushner Companies to raise EB-5 funds in China for One Journal Square, we're getting a flurry of reporting on and commentary regarding the investor visa program.

Everyone's piling on, though a few months ago, few in the media were interested--and problems with EB-5 have been evident for years. There have been cycles of brief attention, but nothing sustained.

The media attention is important, because typical coverage--see this pre-Kushner article in the Commercial Observer--concerns a narrow range of industry players, interested perhaps in belated reforms but not the fundamental nature of the program.

Given EB-5's concentrated benefits and diffuse costs, few represent the public interest, so media attention helps right the balance.

A Times editorial

From a lead editorial from the New York Times on Tuesday, 5/9/17, The Kushners and Their Golden Visas:
[Kushner sister] Ms. [Nicole] Meyer’s disturbing investor …

Thumbs up! Group pitching Kushner's investor visas in China go for traditional method of fiscal assurance

From web site of Qiaowai migration agency, posted photos of the group marketing the Kushner Companies' One Journal Square EB-5 project (my coverage) to potential immigrant investors in Shanghai (above) and Beijing (below). 
This kind of pageantry is nothing new. As Peter Elkind wrote in Fortune in July 2014, The dark, disturbing world of the visa-for-sale program:
EB-5 fundraising is a messy process, more like pitching vacation timeshares than any normal form of deal finance. Developers embark on road shows to big cities across China. With help from local “migration agents,” they use spam messages, slick websites, and telemarketing to round up potential investors for free dinner seminars featuring raffles for iPhones and lofty promises of a brighter future.

Barclays Center takes step toward opting out of Islanders deal. Or maybe just a renegotiation.

Newsday reported two nights ago, Barclays Center starts process toward possible opt-out of Islanders, sources say:
The Barclays Center has taken the first preliminary step toward a potential opt-out of its 25-year deal with the Islanders, according to sources.
Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, which runs the Barclays Center and the renovated Nassau Coliseum, recently notified the Islanders in writing that the window to renegotiate the terms of the license agreement is open, as per the terms of the contract. They have until the end of the year to renegotiate; then they can either opt out within a month or maintain the current terms, in which Barclays pays the Islanders a fee and handles the team's business arrangement. 
A decision by the arena to end the contract would mean a departure after the season ending in 2019, while a decision by the team could mean a departure either in 2018 or 2019.
Though it's been reported that the Islanders, with partners, will pursue a new hocke…

From City & State: The Kushner Family and EB-5 Investor Visas: It's Worse Than Nepotism

I have an essay in City & State, The Kushner Family and EB-5 Investor Visas: It's Worse Than Nepotism: There has been a flurry of recent coverage, led by the New York Times and Washington Post, regarding the Kushner Companies' One Journal Square luxury housing project in Jersey City, which seeks $150 million from 300 Chinese immigrant investors under the controversial EB-5 investor visa program.
Yes, the effort by President Donald Trump's aide (and son-in-law) Jared Kushner's relatives to capitalize on their ties to the White House reeks of nepotism and crony capitalism. And the decision by investment promoters to eject reporters from marketing sessions in China and force them to delete photos confirms they fear scrutiny.
After all, EB-5 has faced several scandals and has been criticized as selling visas to immigrants willing to park $500,000 in a "job-creating investment," thus gaining green cards for themselves and their families.
But this not-atypica…

From the latest Construction Alert: curb installation, street repaving, Verizon ducts

According to the latest Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Construction Update (bottom), covering the two weeks beginning May 8 and circulated yesterday at 2:07 pm (a bit late) by Empire State Development after preparation by Greenland Forest City Partners, there's not much new work compared to two weeks ago, but the areas around two new buildings should improve.

At B3 (aka 38 Sixth), two actions promised in the last alert--removal of hoist run and hoist run panel installation-are expected to commence.

Outside B11 (aka 550 Vanderbilt), part of Dean Street will be repaved; such repaving work was to begin in the last two weeks. Outside B14 (aka 535 Carlton), installation of a Pacific Street temporary asphalt curb will continue.

Also, Verizon is scheduled to install street ducts in Pacific Street between 6th and Carlton Avenues.

Saturday and after-hours work

As in previous weeks, Saturday work could occur at B3, B11), B12 (615 Dean), and B14. Then again, pretty much nothing has been happenin…

With fluctuating market for office space, Site 5 prospects remain fuzzy

Anyone looking at the recent history of prognostications regarding Downtown Brooklyn and/or Atlantic Yards must have some humility. Remember, Downtown Brooklyn was rezoned to enable more office space, but instead residential construction boomed.

Atlantic Yards was supposed to take ten years to build when it was approved in 2006; now construction should stretch well past 2025.

In other words, as former Forest City Ratner executive Jim Stuckey once famously said, "Projects change, markets change."

So it's worth taking prognostications about office space in Brooklyn--and, with that, the chances for a massive new office tower project at Site 5--with a grain of salt.

When Forest City in February 2016 floated a plan "to build Brooklyn's largest office tower across from Barclays Center," Tucker Reed, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, told Crain's, "Our office vacancy rate in downtown Brooklyn has fallen to a historic low of 1.6%. We risk los…

Another puff piece on that 1,600-square-foot rooftop garden "farm" at 550 Vanderbilt

Update: another on in the Brooklyn Paper!

Comes now Business Insider with the 5/3/17 article, The next trend in luxury apartments is having personal rooftop farms for residents, not so different from that 4/5/17 Wall Street Journal articleFarm-to-Condo Movement Stakes Its Claim to Brooklyn Rooftop.

You gotta admit, 550 Vanderbilt has some hard-working p.r. folks behind it. A 1,600-square-foot rooftop "farm"! The size of a good three-bedroom apartment!

Business Insider's Leanna Garfield writes:
The farm-to-table movement is taking hold at a luxury New York City condo complex.
550 Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn now features a 1,600-square-foot rooftop farm for residents and a local restaurateur to grow fruits, vegetables, flowers, and herbs.
It's on the eighth floor terrace of the 18-story brick and concrete building, which opened in early 2017...Condo owners can sign up for plots, measuring 3 feet by 10 feet each, to grow their own produce, Ashley C…

Forest City: no real insight on Pacific Park timetable (but new tagline)

There wasn't much insight on the future of Pacific Park Brooklyn in yesterday's quarterly conference call held by Forest City Realty Trust (FCRT) executives with investment analysts.

At one point, CEO David LaRue was asked about the "apartment fundamentals" in Brooklyn.

"There's a tremendous amount of supply coming into Brooklyn," LaRue said. "Is the demand going to absorb that? We believe it will, but obviously new supply always takes time to absorb."

He suggested that the glut was a result of the expiration of the 421-a tax break, and now that it's back, "I think you'll get back to more of a steady state of delivery."

While the 421-a successor will apply to rental buildings, it will only support condo buildings of 35 units or fewer--throwing a huge potential wrench into future Pacific Park condos. He wasn't asked about that. (I'm guessing those investment analysts don't bother to read this blog.)

LaRue suggested…

Forest City announces results: nothing about schedule, but 461 Dean 39% leased, 535 Carlton 21% leased

There wasn't a lot of news related to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park in yesterday's release of 2017 first-quarter results by Forest City Realty Trust--notably, no update on the project timetable or the impact of 421-a on the condo buildout--but a few nuggets emerged.

First, they're still predicting that 38 Sixth Avenue, the 303-unit, 100% affordable tower built in partnership with Greenland USA, "is expected to begin phased opening in the second quarter of 2017."

By contrast, at a community meeting earlier this week, a Forest City New York executive said they were "opening in late summer." Given the history of project delays, I think the latter is better guidance.

In a statement, FCRT CEO David LaRue said the company aimed to "continue to exercise prudent capital allocation and selectively activate new opportunities from our pipeline." That means they build when they think they can make money, which is in tension with the 2025 deadline for Atlant…