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Proposed 80 Flatbush project a huge increase in bulk over Downtown rezoning; harbinger of Site 5 project?

80 Flatbush from north. Via Alloy Development
Maybe the massive two-tower project proposed as 80 Flatbush, across from BAM, 300 Ashland, and Atlantic Terminal, a good idea. Maybe it's not.

It sure comes with velocity, a press release indicating support from the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and even the New York Landmarks Conservancy.

But it's definitely a very big idea, 1.3 million gross square feet over two main buildings, one 920 feet tall, on a 61,000 square-foot plot of land bordered by Flatbush and Third avenues and Schermerhorn and State streets.

It would be the second-tallest building in Brooklyn. And the square footage means a Floor Area Ratio (FAR)--bulk as multiple of lot size--of 18. That would represent a dramatic increase from the current FAR of 6, which emerged from the 2004 Downton Brooklyn Rezoning, not to mention the maximum Downtown Brooklyn FAR of 12.

(Updated/corrected: given 1.1 million zoning square feet--not including things like cellars--the FAR would indeed be 18.) 

Given that dramatic shift--and some opacity regarding the financial aspects--it's not surprising this 80 Flatbush been presented as a plan for a mixed-use development including two new public schools, market-rate and affordable housing, commercial and even cultural space.  

The key elected official, Council Member Steve Levin, told Gothamist he's "eager to see what the public response is" and indicated his own leanings: "I would say that it is a somewhat different scenario than just a private development going for an 18-FAR because it has significant public benefit."

The site needs a spot rezoning, hearings under the Uniform Land Use Review Procedures (ULURP) and an environmental impact statement (EIS). Don't be surprised if the Council Member comes armed with some community "asks" and the developer pares back the proposal for a "win-win."

80 Flatbush in center-left foreground, dwarfing Williamsburgh Savings Bank. Added arrow = Site 5 of Atlantic Yards.
The headline in the press release was New York City Educational Construction Fund Selects Alloy Development to Build Two New Schools in Downtown Brooklyn. Indeed, the Educational Construction Fund, which finances and develops new public schools, chose Alloy after a response to request for expressions of interest.

What the press release didn't say is that Alloy was chosen to build the giant project announced. It hasn't. Rather, it proposed a project it believes economically viable.

Atlantic Yards echo?

80 Flatbush, via Google maps
For Atlantic Yards watchers, the development has echoes of the two-tower project floated--but not yet formally proposed--for Site 5, now home to P.C. Richard and Modell's, involving the shift of bulk approved for what's now the arena plaza across the street.

At 1.1 million square feet and up to 785 feet tall, the Site 5 project might be presented a slightly more modest than 80 Flatbush. Actually, given that the Site 5 project would be on a smaller plot, at 48,655 square feet, the FAR could exceed 22.

Both projects would, on one flank, border a narrow street with row houses: Site 5 bordering Pacific Street and 80 Flatbush bordering State Street. The Brooklyn Paper, identifying 80 Flatbush as "on the eastern edge of very low-rise Boerum Hill," suggested neighbors would oppose it.

“It’s a massive project,” Boerum Hill Association Howard Kolins said. “Virtually nothing (in the proposal) is a benefit for people living there. You have to brace yourself for a large high rise that you’d rather not be there.” 

Actually, 80 Flatbush overlaps neighborhoods. While this New York Times article identifies the site as the northeast tip of Boerum Hill, it was included in the 2004 Downtown Brooklyn rezoning.

If the 80 Flatbush template proves successful, the developer of Site 5 might have to come up with some educational or cultural use to draw focus from the increase in bulk. While Site 5 is being promoted as an iconic office building--though some versions suggested would have more apartments--80 Flatbush would be predominantly residential, with 200,000 square feet of office space.

Structure of the deal

Such projects take a while. Alloy anticipates construction of 80 Flatbush starting no earlier than 2019, with Phase 1 (schools and smaller, triangular tower) finished by 2022 and Phase 2 (larger tower and rehabilitation of existing structures) not until 2025. There'd be 700 market-rate units and 200 affordable ones for low-income households earning 60 percent of Area Median Income, according to Politico.

Looking at State Street, southern border of 80 Flatbush
ECF selected Alloy as the developer of the proposed project, and will be co-applicant with Alloy on the ULURP application. The proposal includes 120,000 gross square feet (gsf) of new schools, with the taller building 730,000 gsf and the smaller one 430,000 gsf.

(By the way, the 1,066-foot supertall tower planned near Junior's, the borough's tallest, would be relatively narrow and contain 556,164 square feet.)

Alloy, explained spokesman James Yolles, now owns about 75% of the site and New York City owns about 25%. Alloy has agreed to build two new schools (funded by bonds floated by ECF), build a 200,000 square foot residential portion--all market-rate--in the first tower, and lease that space for 99 years, with the ground rent and tax equivalency payments covering debt service on the bonds. The city would put up no capital funds.

Top arrow=80 Flatbush. Lower arrow=Site 5
Alloy CEO Jared Della Valle told Politico he would not disclose the amount his company would pay, saying he is "under a confidential agreement with the city." Yolles told me "Alloy is currently in active discussions with ECF around the project site."

The schools would be separate structures in the middle of the block. The lower school entrance would be on State State street, the high school on Flatbush Avenue, with shared facilities (cafeteria, gym) connecting them in the middle.

The obligation to ECF is satisfied once the schools and Non-School Portion are finished, Yolles said, but the "feasibility of the entire project is linked."

According to the press release:
In July, ECF issued a formal Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) that called for the redevelopment of 362 Schermerhorn Street, the current site of the Khalil Gibran International Academy. Alloy, which owns the adjacent sites, responded with a proposal that included two schools for a total of 120,000 square feet and 700 seats. One of the schools will serve as the new state‐of‐the‐art home for Khalil Gibran, increasing the school’s capacity from 260 to 350 students and providing a new shared cafeteria, gymnasium and library. Additionally, Alloy will build a new 350‐seat elementary school on State Street...
Historic preservation is a central focus of the proposed development. 362 Schermerhorn comprises two structures that contribute to the area’s historic context – one at State Street and 3rd Avenue, built in the 1860s, and one at Schermerhorn and 3rd Avenue, built in the 1890s. While neither building is suitable for contemporary school use or currently protected by landmark status, Alloy intends to preserve and adaptively reuse both buildings.

In a letter, Della Valle and colleague AJ Pires called "80 Flatbush is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to contribute to the borough’s identity," adding that talking with neighbors "helped us recognize that two existing buildings... merit preservation and incorporation into the master plan" and that a cluster of buildings would be superior to a "single building on a large podium." Easier to finance, too, I'd bet.

Here's coverage in Politico, DNAinfo, YIMBY, News12, Gothamist, and the Brooklyn Paper.


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