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Showing posts from May, 2016

Another crash at Vanderbilt and Dean; residents blame the construction fence

Update: When I asked about this at the 78th Precinct Community Council meeting, the commander, Deputy Inspector Frank DiGiacomo, said he didn't know about it. (He also said my questions--there's an open Q&A for residents--should from now on go through the NYPD's central public information department.)

See below for the aftermath of another crash at Vanderbilt Avenue and Dean Street.

When I wrote about this phenomenon in February, police said that each of the crashes was caused by an identifiable factor, such as driver error.

Residents think otherwise, that the 16-foot green wall that extends into Vanderbilt Avenue to protect residents from construction noise has not only caused significant traffic jams but also continues to pose hazards.

As one resident pointed out in February, "the wall forces [southbound] cars into the turn lane in the center of the road, and then drivers must swerve back into the normal lane after passing through the intersection. if a driver i…

The potential parallels (and not) between Trump's Hong Kong deal and Atlantic Yards

A front-page New York Times article, headlined Donald Trump Soured on a Deal, and Hong Kong Partners Became Litigants (and in print as "Soured Deal With Hong Kong Allies Is Tale of Trump’s Extremes"), has a couple of passages with interesting parallels--or potential parallels--to Forest City Ratner's deal with Greenland USA to buy 70% of the Atlantic Yards (now Pacific Park) site, minus the B2 modular tower and the Barclays Center.

The structure of the deal:
In need of cash, he agreed to meet with intermediaries from a consortium of Hong Kong billionaires who were willing to buy the land, assume Mr. Trump’s debts and pay him 30 percent of the profits, as well as fees for helping to manage the development of the site, which they agreed to finance. It was by far the best offer he received. This wasn't quite a full 70/30 deal, it seems because Trump wasn't responsible for paying 30% of the costs going forward. But the numbers are notable.

Selling a slice:
The project…

So Pacific Park naming is because Pacific Street goes "all the way down to the water"?

The other day I was walking on Hicks Street in Cobble Hill where I spotted a sign for the nonexistent Pacific Street (see photo at right).

At that point, it's a pedestrian path from Henry Street to the east (at left in photo), and does not continue to the west through green space and the Brooklyn Queens Expressway (see map below).

Why did it catch my eye? Because, in August 2014, Forest City Ratner spokeswoman Ashley Cotton told NY 1, in Atlantic Yards Project to Now Be Called 'Pacific Park Brooklyn':
..."This is an incredibly important name to signify there'll be eight acres of publicly accessible open space, and it connotates Pacific Street, which is a beautiful street that runs from either side of the project up into Prospect Heights, down to Boerum Hill and all the way down to the water." Um, it doesn't. Not the most important thing, but do remember that the logic is bogus. More importantly, as far as I've been ale to learn, the partnership has n…

Not quite the pattern: Greenland selling development sites, not completed condos

Real Estate Weekly, reporting on trends in Chinese investment in New York City, on 11/18/15 quoted Jim Costello, a senior vice president at research firm Real Capital Analytics:
“They’re typically building high-end condos, build it and sell it. Capital return is in a few years. That’s something that is ingrained in the companies that have been coming here because that’s how they’ve grown in the last 35 years. It’s always been a development game for them. So they’re just repeating their business model here,” he said. When I read that last November, I didn't think it necessarily applied to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, now 70% owned (outside of the Barclays Center and B2 modular apartment tower), by the Greenland Group, owned significantly by the Shanghai government.
A majority of the buildings will be rentals, some 100% market, some 100% affordable, and several--the last several built--are supposed to be 50% market/50% subsidized. (See tentative timetable below.)

Selling development …

Dean Street closed next weekend for crane removal; arena loading dock accessed from Sixth Ave.

Starting overnight next Friday, June 3, through 9 pm on Sunday, June 5, the construction crane for 461 Dean Street, the B2 modular tower, will be dismantled, closing Dean Street between Flatbush and Sixth Avenues. (It's been there since November 2013.)

Sidewalks "will remain open only to residents and visitors of that block," which is pretty much everybody.

Notably, the B65 bus will be rerouted to St Marks Avenue and Carlton Avenue and vehicles needing access to the Barclays Center loading dock will go down Sixth Avenue, and turn right (normally against traffic on this typically one-way street), directed by flagmen.


Culture of Cheating, Chinese version: "It’s normal. Anyone would do that.”

Do I have any specific suspicions regarding the ethics of Greenland Group, the Shanghai-based (and government-owned) parent of Greenland USA, the 70% majority owner of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park (except the B2 modular tower, owned fully by partner Forest City Ratner, and the Barclays Center operating company, owned by Mikhail Prokhorov's Onexim)?

No.

Do I have any specific suspicions about the immigrant investors, mostly from China, who are supplying over $500 million in low-cost capital under the EB-5 program, and gaining visas for themselves and their families?

No. (Though the source of EB-5 funds can be suspect.)

Do I have any specific suspicions about the expected fraction of Chinese investors buying condos in Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park?

No.

But let's just say that they're all connected to a country and business/government culture not known for integrity. And that's not the best fit for a project that, as I've written, already exemplifies the Culture of Cheati…

Forest City's Gilmartin: Brooklyn residential bet depends on spread vs. Manhattan; incentives needed for office market

There are some interesting quotes from Forest City's CEO in the Real Deal's Downtown Brooklyn’s second act: Q&A, part I: Forest City's MaryAnne Gilmartin and RXR's Seth Pinsky offer their takes.

First, the reasons

So, why did residential outpace office development after the 2004 rezoning?
I don’t think anybody, including Forest City, ever imagined the residential market would kick in like it did. We thought we’d see a third central business district thrive and an expansion of the office market as a result of the zoning, but that didn’t happen. It started with the food movement and then the artists. They all flocked to Brooklyn. Certainly, government policies, including the allowance for taller buildings to spur the office market, allowed for market forces to respond so that residential development took over. It started with the food movement? C'mon, Smorgasburg didn't start until 2011. The artists were in Williamsburg, not Downtown Brooklyn decades earlier. …

Mold mystery persists at B2 modular tower: state records show unresolved, six-month wait for consultant's report

The setting of the final modules for the pioneering but troubled modular tower built in the Atlantic Yards (now Pacific Park) project drew much press coverage, as has the opening of the lottery for 181 units of affordable housing inside. (Half the units are market-rate.)

The narrative regarding 461 Dean Street, aka B2, has changed from the delays that pushed the timetable back two years, major cost overruns, the buyout of an investment partner, the unusual early payback of a tax-exempt loan, the winding down of the modular factory that was once supposed to build the entire project, and the legal battles that persist between developer Forest City Ratner (FCR) and its former construction and module fabrication partner, Skanska.

But a mystery persists about just how well Forest City--and its New York State overseers--responded to problems at the building, notably the testing for possible mold, which can cause upper respiratory tract health problems.

This innovative, 32-story tower was p…

Idling trucks yesterday caused by early arrival and blocked exit

Not in the latest Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Construction Update was what happened during the first day of the two weeks covered, which was a line-up of idling trucks in the neighborhood starting by 5:30 am (well before the official 7 am start of construction).

It was caused by the early arrival of such trucks and a blocked exit path from the piece of Pacific Street that's private and used as a staging area.

Unbelievable 2016-05-23 6:30 am now it's getting crowded 3 18 wheeler tractor trailers parking and idling #pacificparkbk #bciza #535carlton #550vanderbilt #535carlton #38sixthave #664pacific @hdr_inc A video posted by NWBklyn (@nwbklyn) on May 23, 2016 at 3:29am PDT

2016-05-23 6am why are now 2 18 wheeler tractor trailers idling & arriving BEFORE site opens at Carlton & Pacific @hdr_inc reported not problems? Really? #communityboard8 #615dean #461deanst #38sixthave #bciza #550vanderbilt #535carlton #pacificparkbk A photo posted by NWBklyn (@nwbklyn) on May 23, 2016 …

From the latest Construction Update: lots of late work, including overnight sewer and LIRR work

According to the latest two-week Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Construction Update, covering the two weeks beginning yesterday and released yesterday by Empire State Development at 4:03 pm (late) after preparation by Greenland Forest City Partners, there will be a lot of late shift, Saturday, and overnight work.

Notably, overnight sewer installation should occur at the intersection of Flatbush & Dean Street for the B2 modular tower, aka 461 Dean Street. A community notice will be distributed before the specified times. The Tower Crane for B2 may be dismantled during over the weekend of June 3.

Demolition at Block 1120--the buildings on Atlantic Avenue below the railyard, between Sixth and Carlton avenues--may begin, with new fencing (aka MPT) installed and new equipment installed.

Demolition of the LIRR tunnel wall at the West Portal (Atlantic Avenue) area may resume during this reporting period. Below grade demolition of the LIRR tunnel will be completed on weekends. In coordinatio…

Those lousy Brooklyn Nets TV ratings, and the diminishing cultural role of sports

In his 5/16/16 New Yorker essay, Show Them the Money: Is the sports business a bubble?, Louis Menand addresses Matthew Futterman’s new book, Players: The Story of Sports and Money, and the Visionaries Who Fought to Create a Revolution, offering an acid observation:
For everyone knows what the social role of sports is today. It is, via commercials and endorsements, to sell stuff. And everyone knows what makes that possible: television. It did not require a revolutionary genius to figure this out. And Futterman thinks that the business of sports is in trouble, partly because the role of stars can deform the game and every sport but football has a small audience, writes Menand:
It’s true that hundreds of millions of people watch special events like the World Cup and the Olympics, but the day-to-day audience for sports is tiny. In the United States, it amounts to about four per cent of households. Fewer than three per cent on average watch their local N.B.A. games; fewer than two per cent…

As concerts begin, traffic chaos, noise on nearby Pacific Street

There have been a couple of well-attended Bad Boy Family Reunion Concerts the past two nights at the Barclays Center.

And, accordingly, Pacific Street just east of the arena--constrained by construction fencing, with two-way traffic, and having one garage open to the public--has been a madhouse during the early hours of the event. The two videos below were shot between 8:30 and 9 pm.

As Wayne Bailey's title on the videos suggests, the city Department of Transportation might well consider adjusting the traffic pattern, such as restoring the street to one-way service.





From "How Forest City Decided to Become a REIT": tax savings ended, business refined, upside from institutional investors

There are a couple of intriguing quotes in How Forest City Decided to Become a REIT, a 2/3/16 National Real Estate Investor interview with David LaRue, CEO of Forest City Enterprises, now Forest City Realty Trust (which now prefers to be called Forest City).

Forest City, he said, sought "a sustainable capital structure that translated into reducing our leverage and increasing the cash flow from the business," meaning less debt and more revenue. But they didn't join the rush to REITs initially.

LaRue restated the rationale:
From a tax standpoint, we were tax efficient. We weren’t paying substantial taxes because of our depreciation and interest expense. Our taxable income was very much managed, and we could continue to grow the business and execute on the strategies we had at that time. So it was a question from investors, and as Chuck Ratner used to tell investors when he was CEO, when it’s the right time for Forest City to do this, based upon value and based upon the ma…

State environmental monitor: developer mainly in compliance, but new tactics coming, including signage for trucks

Beyond the security issues raised at the 5/17/16 meeting (video) of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Commission, several issues regarding the state’s oversight of project community impacts were raised.

Notably, it was disclosed that, despite a generally good record of compliance with the Memorandum of Environmental Commitments (MEC) aimed to avoid neighborhood impacts, a state monitor has recommended new tactics to limit idling trucks and other neighborhood impacts.

Still, the developer does not seem to be at risk for penalties from Empire State Development (ESD), the state authority overseeing/shepherding the project.

In context

Jennifer Bienemann of environmental monitor HDR said her firm serves as “independent mitigation monitors on five other projects” in the city, and “the program for Atlantic Yards is by far the most robust, thorough, and expansive in scope.” (Here's her presentation, also at bottom.)

For example, they visit other projects once a week, but this one fo…

More synergy: Barclays Center tenant WPIX partners with promoter on boxing show, presented by arena's Brooklyn Boxing

A press release from WPIX, via 15Rounds.com, reproduced below verbatim, shows more synergy between sponsor Barclays Center and building tenant WPIX:
PIX11 PARTNERS WITH DIBELLA ENTERTAINMENT TO AIR BROADWAY BOXING PRESENTED BY BROOKLYN BOXING SATURDAY, MAY 21ST

New York, NY – May 18, 2016 – PIX11 is pleased to announce it has partnered with DiBella Entertainment, one of the top boxing promotional companies in the world based in New York, and Barclays Center, Brooklyn’s landmark sports and entertainment arena, to broadcast “Broadway Boxing: Presented by BROOKLYN BOXING,” a 90-minute special airing on Saturday, May 21. Sponsored by BROOKLYN BOXING, Nissan of Queens, Optyx, and Azad Watches, “Broadway Boxing” will air directly following the PIX11 broadcast of the New York Mets’ home game against the Milwaukee Brewers, which starts at 4:10 p.m ET.

Hosted by boxing expert and play-by-play announcer Brian Custer and PIX11 Sports Anchor Andy Adler, “Broadway Boxing” will feature a look back…

As de Blasio defends "agents of the city," new scrutiny for advisor Rosen (who also reps Forest City)

From the Times, De Blasio Pressed to Clarify New Adviser Role: ‘Agent of the City’
City Hall described the ['agent of the city'] designation amid mounting scrutiny over its shielding of communications between the mayor and Jonathan Rosen, whom the counsel to the mayor described at a news conference on Wednesday as an “agent of the city.” Mr. Rosen, who corresponds and meets with the mayor regularly, is also a principal at a public affairs consulting firm, BerlinRosen, whose clients include real estate developers and nonprofits.
...The notion of designating a special class of unpaid advisers — many of whom also represent clients with business before the city — appeared to be an unusual, if not novel, approach to city governance, former officials said. City Hall, however, was careful to clarify that “agent of the city” is not an official designation.
...The determination rankled government watchdogs, who have taken issue with the mayoral consultants paid by the Campaign for One …

Barclays Center (belatedly) releases May 2016 event calendar

A resident asked me what was going on at the arena last Sunday, since the event was not listed on the Barclays Center event calendar for ticketed events.

According to the Brooklyn Eagle, an annual Falun Gong conference was "expected to bring upwards of 9,000 practitioners from around the world to Barclays Center."

The May event calendar for the community, belatedly released Tuesday night, simply mentioned a "private event," without details.

(Could it be the sensitivity to publicizing an organization in conflict with the Chinese government, given that Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park majority owner Greenland Group is significantly owned by the government of Shanghai? A resident reports that a pedestrian manager from Sam Schwartz Engineering said, after consulting a document, that the event was for the "Eastern U.S. Buddhist Studies Association," which I have not been able to find listed as an alternate name.)

It's unclear why the calendar wasn't release…

When a General Admission arena show takes over the public sidewalk

The review at Radio.com described the show 5/17/16 of The 1975 as a lively arena rock spectacle, with "kids forming their loyal ocean at the foot of the stage, stomping frantically onto the floorboards and snapping giddy photos in the smoke machine-created haze."

Thing is, the General Admission line, as shown in the video below, took over the Atlantic Avenue sidewalk snaking east to Sixth Avenue hours earlier, past the site for the B4 tower, narrowing access for neighbors.

Can't blame the kids for wanting to get a good look, but consider: whether a residential building, as long planned, or an office building, as now planned, is built, such arena policies create even more of a conflict.

Coming Friday and Saturday nights: Bad Boy Family Reunion shows mean "security and crowd control" measures, many vehicles

This Friday and Saturday night, the Bad Boy Family Reunion hip-hop shows, from approximately 8 pm to midnight should draw 14,000 people to the Barclays Center and could cause significant local disruption.

Because of "External Production Activity" on Dean Street and Atlantic Avenue between Flatbush and Sixth Avenues, there will be "a significant police presence," including unspecified "security and crowd control measures."

A "significant number of vehicles servicing guests, talent and event staff" is projected.

There will be "full deployments of Barclays Center Guest Relations, Pedestrian Traffic Managers and NYPD Traffic Enforcement Agents (TEAs) outside the building to assist with traffic and general event management." We'll see how many violators get fined.

Expect updates on the Barclays Center and the NYPD 78th Precinct Community Affairs Twitter accounts. Terence Kelly of Barclays Center Community Affairs (tkelly@brooklynse.com)…

Security issues at AY CDC: harassed resident speaks; new arena directive rolled out; workers using ID system not alerted about harassment

At the March meeting of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC), the state entity set up to advise Empire State Development (ESD), a rather shocking account of sexual harassment and assault was diminished, in the ESD’s report, to a single incident involving one worker.

That led resident Elicia Howard to go public in the New York Daily News and at a subsequent Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting.

Yesterday, at the subsequent AY CDC meeting, Howard came to tell the board directly. Her story was part of a larger, not-quite-resolved discussion about security improvements at the site and the Barclays Center.

Notably, a new directive to arenagoers, developed for hockey games, regarding respect for the surrounding neighborhood is only now being added for other arena events.

Also, while construction workers now wear color-coded ID stickers to associate them with specific parts of the project, they are not specifically told that the initiative was develop…