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Showing posts from December, 2014

Will there be accountability? Waiting for new AYCDC, as project leads to narrowed streets, idling trucks, concert noise, delayed fire trucks

The Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation, promised to be active this month, now has its first meeting delayed until January 30.

It was supposed to enhance oversight, even if it it has just an advisory role, but the delay suggests construction trumps accountability.

Its members should be consulting--and enhancing--Atlantic Yards Watch, where neighbors post incident reports. Here's a round-up of some recent ones.

A delay for fire trucks

This report, regarding a mid-afternoon incident on 12/8/14, describes how congestion on Dean Street, compounded by the closure of Sixth Avenue between Bergen and Dean Streets, stalled a fire truck in Dean Street traffic for more than two minutes.

In recognition of the fire truck's siren and honking, several drivers on Dean--already narrowed for construction on adjacent Block 1129, with the sidewalk constrained by construction on part of the south side--pulled their cars up on the sidewalk to make room for the fire truck, not all could…

Curbed: B2 = "Most Pathetic Building of the Year"

From Curbed, in From Atlantic Yards to One57, the Saddest Buildings of 2014:
Most Pathetic Building of the Year
Thanks to bickering between Forest City Ratner and Skanska, B2, the modular residential tower of Atlantic Yards wins the award for the most pathetic building. Last year, we highlighted the project as one to watch in 2014 because it was supposed to be ready for occupancy by now, but fighting over cost overruns completely derailed the schedule, delaying the building for months. Construction is starting back up, but it still won't be complete until 2016. Things got so crappy* that Forest City decided to rename the whole project Pacific Park. [*Well, they renamed it for a lot of reasons, but distancing the site from the controversy that surrounded Atlantic Yards from the start probably played a part.] I'd note that the "bickering" includes very serious counter-charges about incompetence and design failures, and a price tag of at least $30 million and likely mor…

The Barclays Center moves (in place) from Atlantic Yards to Pacific Park

It's a small piece of carelessness, but it's a sign of the uneasy, incomplete transition.

Yesterday, I noticed that the Barclays Center Twitter account was still identifying the location of the arena as "Atlantic Yards, Brooklyn."


So I posted a tweet.

Is the project #AtlanticYards or @pacificparkbk? (Or both?) Even @barclayscenter seems confused pic.twitter.com/yzDK2uzdEc
— Norman Oder (@AYReport) December 29, 2014Soon after that, they updated the identification.

Changes coming (tomorrow?) in crossing Atlantic at Sixth; smaller fence planned on Dean Street because of (unplanned?) gas line work

Last Friday, the developers of Pacific Park Brooklyn circulated a Community Notice indicating "Temporary Changes to the Roadway Network on Atlantic Avenue, Sixth Avenue, and Pacific Street Starting on December 30th or 31st, 2014."

These changes, notably the shift in crossing Atlantic Avenue from the west side to the east side of Sixth Avenue, were noticed--though the days weren't specified--in the previous Construction Update.

The notice stated:
As part of construction related to the Pacific Park Brooklyn (formerly Atlantic Yards) project, the following temporary changes will be made to the roadway network:
1. One block of Sixth Avenue, between Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Street, has been converted from two-way traffic to one-way northbound only and will remain so for approximately six months. Sixth Avenue will remain two-way south of Pacific Street.
2. The southwest corner of Atlantic and Sixth Avenues will be closed to pedestrians.
3. The southeast corner of Atlantic …

No, NBA vetting of Prokhorov not that extensive, investigator's memoir suggests

So, how much was Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov vetted by the National Basketball Association before he was approved as majority owner of the Nets? Not much, suggested critic Mike Taibbi, who in October 2010 scornfully asked, "Who did the vetting, Stevie Wonder?"

The privatization auctions that launched Prokhorov into the oligarchy were, "at least by American standards... shamelessly, transparently, hilariously rigged," wrote Taibbi four years ago.

Now comes confirmation that such activities were not the focus of the NBA investigation, which instead apparently focused on Prokhorov's arrest and brief jailing in Courchevel, France.

The Prokhorov vetting gets a brief paragraph in the new memoir Good Hunting: An American Spymaster's Story, by investigator and former CIA agent Jack Devine of The Arkin Group (TAG), along with Vernon Loeb. Writes Devine:
The case proved extremely complex and challenging, beginning with Prokhorov's arrest in January 2007…

Will the "Atlantic Yards Apartment Project" include an office tower? Maybe, but...

Writing in October 2013, I asked if the pending deal with the Shanghai-based Greenland Group to buy 70% of the remaining Atlantic Yards project (excluding the arena and first tower) included the long-delayed office tower planned for the space occupied by the "temporary" Barclays Center plaza.

I noted that the official press release seemed cagey, since it referred to a "residential and commercial real estate project... including infrastructure, a platform and residential units." After all, the word "commercial" often connotes office space, but also could mean retail space.

Another look suggests the evidence cuts both ways. Last year, a little-noticed Greenland statement suggested that the office tower was excluded. More recently, a joint statement indicates that the office tower is indeed intended.

Differing evidence
Consider the early version of a 10/11/13 Bloomberg News article, which stated:
Greenland signed a memorandum of understanding on Oct. 2 with …

Paging Cincinnatus: how (the only?) two models of civic virtue were unable to criticize Atlantic Yards

It's not just that the press has trouble departing from the spoon-fed consensus on Atlantic Yards. So too do elected officials and organizational leaders, either supportive or silent though, for example, the affordable housing--despite Mayor Bill de Blasio's words--skews from the "original promise."

Morgan Pehme, the (recently departed) editor-in-chief of City and State, wrote, in his thoughtful 8/28/14 essay Paging Cincinnatus, about the difficulty in finding models of civic virtue (like the revered Roman) in New York, people willing to look beyond their own interests to the common good.

Ironically, his two admirable examples, former Parks Commissioner and New York Civic head Henry Stern and former MTA rescuer and former Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch, were both unable to utter criticism regarding Atlantic Yards, whether for dubious use of eminent domain, (apparently) free public land, or departures from longstanding promises regarding housing or, say, the Inde…

Brooklyn Nets rank 7th in Fan Cost Index (and have expensive beer), but the big leap was upon the move

So according to this Yahoo article, drawing on a chart from Business Insider and Team Marketing Report's 2014 Fan Cost Index, the Brooklyn Nets have the sixth most expensive beer in the NBA, at $8.50 for 16 ounces. (So do the Boston Celtics.)


Or, to put it another way, they have the third most expensive beer in the NBA, at 53 cents an ounce. The serving in Brooklyn is 16 ounces, while the Knicks charge $10.50 for 21 ounces, or 50 cents an ounce.

Actually, two other teams charge more per ounce, Golden State and Denver, but the smallest beer is 12 ounces.

The current Fan Cost Index shows the Nets at 7th in the league, with the fourth largest increase, at 5.9%. The Knicks are by far the most expensive, with even less value for money, given the team's quality this year.

(The Fan Cost Index® comprises the prices of four average-price season tickets, two cheapest draft beers, four cheapest soft drinks, four regular-size hot dogs, parking for one car, two game programs and two least-…

After overspending to make splash in Brooklyn, Nets now ready to deal high-priced players

So--no surprise--it was all about "Hello Brooklyn," about making a splash in the market.

Nets' Willingness to Deal Signals Necessary Course Correction for Plan Gone Awry wrote Howard Beck (ex-NYT) of Bleacher Report yesterday, indicating that high-priced players like Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez could be traded for a more stable, organically built franchise of the future:
The Nets—having spent wildly to chase a title only to find themselves stuck on a gold-plated treadmill—are now working to break the cycle of mediocrity...
In truth, there never was much to love or respect about the Williams-Lopez-Johnson union, perhaps the least intimidating "Big Three" facsimile we have ever seen. Their statistics and salaries projected strength. Their play inspired shrugs, a collective "meh" from the masses.
...The Nets never set out to be the costliest mediocre team in NBA history. It just sort of happened that way, through a series of miscalculatio…

From the latest Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Construction Alert: Atlantic Avenue sidewalk near Barclays Center closed to accommodate drilling

According to the latest Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Brooklyn Construction Update, covering this week and next and issued yesterday by Empire State Development after preparation by Greenland Forest City Partners, work continues on the two towers on the southeast portion of the site, and testing is needed to assess whether compressors used at the Vanderbilt Yard need additional noise mitigation.

Also, the south sidewalk on Atlantic Avenue between the Barclays Center and Sixth Avenue will be closed during daytime work hours to accommodate drilling on Sixth Avenue, and the pedestrian crossing at Atlantic and Sixth is now on the east side of the intersection.

(Here's the previous alert.)

From the document:
LIRR Yard Activities - Block 1120 & 1121• Within the yard, drilling of SOE [support of excavation] soldier piles along the mid-block of Block 1120 will continue during this reporting period. Compressors located on the 6th Avenue bridge will be utilized for this SOE drilling. Once…

In campaign, de Blasio touted affordable housing at $1,000-$1,500 a month; that's not the case with next Atlantic Yards towers

Some 60% of the "affordable housing" in the next two "100% affordable" Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Brooklyn towers--which will be built in tandem with market-rate towers--will go to households earning $100,000 or more.

And Mayor Bill de Blasio said it was "exactly what we came here to do." So it's worth looking back at a campaign debate when the topic came up.

During the 10/22/13 debate between Democratic nominee de Blasio and Republican nominee Joe Lhota, the moderator, Maurice DuBois, asked, "You've both made it clear that you'd aggressively build affordable housing in our city. I'm curious, so, in a city where average income is around $50,000 a year, what should the rent be for a two-bedroom apartment?"

"Well, this is what I'd say about affordable housing," de Blasio responded. "We have to build--my plan is 200,000 units over the next ten years. And we achieve that with very strong requirements for develope…

Brooklyn Chamber head responds (incompletely) to detractors about 2016 DNC; with fundraising tweak, Congress boosts prospects of Philly, Columbus

In a Daily News op-ed published today, Brooklyn has the diversity and the attractions to make it the perfect host city for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce president Carlo Scissura responds to "detracting mumblings regarding potential problems the convention could cause for New Yorkers."

He writes:
With 25 hotels and more than 2,000 rooms already available in the borough — and another 22 projects totaling 2,208 rooms in the pipeline — there’s no question Brooklyn is well equipped to handle the convention. Given that the convention should draw 35,000 people, I'm not sure what that means. Is there supposed to be a baseline number within walking distance of the convention location? If so, we should know.
He continues: Traffic is nothing new for Brooklynites or any New Yorker. It has never stopped us from hosting the biggest events in the world, and the DNC should be no different. The MTA has promised to increase service if Brooklyn is ch…

Four-year modular buildout: Forest City now says B2 tower would be completed at end of 2016, says "same technology" is fine

NY1 had an exclusive last night, headlined After Halting Construction, Forest City Rehires Employees to Finish Tallest Modular Tower.

Even based on the unskeptical reporting, it could have more clearly been headlined "Forest City Rehires Some Modular Employees and Seeks Help Finding the Rest." After all, Forest City has rehired 25 workers and set up a hotline (718-637-5106) to reach more of the 125 remaining ones.

Two more years?

But the real news came at the end, when Jeanine Ramirez reported, "With production set to get underway the company says the building [the 32-story B2 tower] is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2016."

That would be four years after the building launched, and two years after the most prominently announced completion date, which was this month. This past April, developer Forest City Enterprises stated it anticipated that the building would open in December 2015.

The two-year estimate sounds like a cautious one, since the building is abo…

Consultant Melvin Lowe, one-time FCR lobbyist, gets three years for conspiracy in unrelated case

I wrote about the conviction in September. Here's an excerpt from today's report from the Times:
A former consultant to the New York Democratic Senate Campaign Committee was sentenced to three years in federal prison on Friday for what prosecutors said was a conspiracy with State Senator John L. Sampson to steal $100,000 from the organization in an invoicing scheme.
The former consultant, Melvin E. Lowe, 53, of Manhattan, was convicted in September of charges including conspiracy, wire fraud and filing false tax returns.
He was hired as a consultant by the committee in 2009 after Democrats won control of the Senate, and Mr. Sampson became his party’s conference leader. Prosecutors said Mr. Lowe filed a fake invoice for a printing company in New Jersey to receive $100,000 from the committee in 2010, then took $75,000 for himself. They said Mr. Lowe used the money to pay for renovations to a house he owns in Georgia.
“Melvin Lowe’s corrupt actions were another example of a politica…

"The Chinese Government Is Building Affordable Housing in Brooklyn." (Oh, really?)

It's all about the frame, right? 
So the article from Quartz, The Chinese Government Is Building Affordable Housing in Brooklyn (repurposed on fellow Atlantic site CityLab), was a particularly sheep-like framing of a building that includes below-market housing that's not affordable to most Brooklynites, and is accompanied by the construction of a luxury condo tower.

“We are committed to doing everything we can to keep this neighborhood diverse, affordable and accessible for all New Yorkers,” I-Fei Chang, head of Greenland Holdings Group’s US expansion, was quoted as saying. 
Relying on an imprecise description in a DNAinfo article, the Quart article states: Half of the 298 units are supposed to be for families that make as low as 40% of the median income for the area—that’s about $33,560 for a family of four. Thankfully, Quartz offers the opportunity to post an annotation on each paragraph. Here's one I posted:
Chang's quote is pure p.r. , surely fed by (unmentioned) p…

Construction noise and the prospect of quieter electric jackhammers

The New York Times yesterday had an intriguing article, With Electric Jackhammers, Plans to Quiet an Earsplitting City Sound:
While most contractors still rely on the clangorous pneumatic drills driven by compressed air that were invented over 150 years ago, some are experimenting with new electric jackhammers that are demonstrably quieter.
City officials are close to embracing regulations that would encourage contractors and construction crews to switch to the quieter models — at least at night.
“It’s a result of an outcry from the public,” said Alyssa Preston, deputy director of air and noise policies for the Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Environmental Compliance. While experts say it makes a difference--and reduce the "noise trauma" to workers and residents--the General Contractors Association of New York says the quieter jackhammer can't break the densest concrete and would slow construction.

The Second Amended Memorandum of Environmental Commitmen…

On Saturday, Sixth Avenue closed so crane for green roof can be "reconfigured" (Updated)

Updated with more details.

A community notice sent out last night from Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park developer Forest City Ratner indicates that, for several hours during on Saturday, Sixth Avenue between Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Street will be temporarily closed for reconfiguration of the construction crane on Atlantic.

(The time period given is 6 am to 11 pm, but the notice indicates the closure will be for "a few hours.")

It is not being moved, but rather the boom is being shortened. 
If this was planned, why wasn't it in the most recent Construction Alert? "Reconfigurations take place as needed in the construction process," I was told by Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing/shepherding the project.
It was not a response to problems such as the leak in the roof during Tuesday's Nets game. The crane, I was told, "is expected to be removed in the spring." It was originally supposed to be up for only three months.

The untimely passing of a Nets superfan: "Gamblero correctly identified that the Nets were a blank slate, there for the taking."

From Bryan Joyner in The Classical, What Jeffrey Gamblero Knew, about the untimely death of a Nets superfan:
I should note that I found Gamblero to be singularly annoying, a perfect point of fixation for my frustration with the bland, anodyne Nets. Even now, the team doesn’t really have fans as much as they have a bunch of people who go to the games and root for them while debating food options.
....It’s clearer now. A graffiti artist and poker player who moved from one successful hustle to the next, Gamblero correctly identified that the Nets were a blank slate, there for the taking.
...Vanchiro may not have been the team’s official mascot, but he cared about the Nets as much as anyone, the players and front office personnel very much included. Three years in, we in Brooklyn are still not quite sure what the Brooklyn Nets are, as a franchise. Jeffrey Vanchiro, for better and worse, knew from day one.

Year of the Sheep, Part 2: Greenland press release touting "high-end" 550 Vanderbilt condo building gets wide play

After several New York elected officials and a good number of media outlets signed on to Mayor Bill de Blasio's myopic framing of the 535 Carlton launch--an all-affordable rental building with units too expensive for most Brooklynites--as an affordable housing victory, now comes a second wave of lockstep behavior, in the Chinese media.

That's because developer Forest City Ratner's new Shanghai government-owned partner/overseer, the Greenland Group, is a behemoth in China, and this is a very big deal for Greenland, establishing itself around the world.

Press release focuses on Chairman Zhang

Consider that this press release from Greenland was essentially repurposed in numerous Chinese language outlets, including here, here, here, here, here, and here.

As shown at right, the press release features photos of Greenland Chairman Zhang Yuliang at the podium and then shaking hands with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The press release does not mention 535 Carlton, which launched Monday, but…

New Downtown Brooklyn Partnership video touts 2016 DNC bid, steers clear of Prospect Heights

For locals, the Barclays Center is in Prospect Heights, at the edge of Downtown Brooklyn. For the developers of the Project Formerly Known as Atlantic Yards, the arena is in the odd new micro-neighborhood of Pacific Park.

For backers of the bid to bring the 2016 Democratic National Convention (DNC) to the arena, however, the Barclays Center is very much in Downtown Brooklyn.

Hence the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership's new 1:50 video, released at the same time a new website seeks New Yorkers' backing for the convention. The website is paid for by the 112-member host committee, which has already raised $15 million toward the $100 million goal.

The video features such luminaries as arena developer Bruce Ratner and Nets' CEO Brett Yormark, as well as people from various companies, organizations and schools in Downtown Brooklyn--supporting the bid. (The DBP is co-chaired by Forest City Ratner CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin, and the company has long had significant influence.)

The video …

Year of the Sheep: at groundbreaking for new tower, de Blasio and supporters hail "100% affordable housing," avoid pesky details about cost

Next year, a Chinese diplomat reminded onlookers at the ceremonial groundbreaking yesterday for the "all-affordable" 535 Carlton tower--launching the renamed Atlantic Yards as Pacific Park Brooklyn--is the Year of the Sheep.

The participants in the groundbreaking dutifully hailed Mayor Bill de Blasio's mantra, "There are very few phrases I like better than 100% affordable housing, so this program is off to a good start."

And while the timing does fulfill a pledge made in June to get housing started by the end of this year--actually, also an existing contractual requirement--and the new tower does come closer to meeting the goal of family-sized units, the building skews from the "original promise" to allot the subsidized units among five income "bands," with only 20% for the best-off cohort.

Instead, 50% of the units in this and the next subsidized tower would go to households earning 165% of Area Median Income (AMI), or more than $140,000 f…