Monday, October 31, 2016

Rent gap narrows: market-rate 1BR at 670 Pacific now 4% more than "affordable" 1BR at 535 Carlton

670 Pacific, as it was being finished
In July, I compared posted rents at the new 670 Pacific Street apartment building adjacent to the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park site, and observed that the posted rents were not far off the announced most expensive affordable units at nearby 461 Dean, a 50% affordable building in the project:
  • studio: $2,399 vs. $1,996 at 461 Dean
  • 1 BR: $2.999, vs. $2,504 at 461 Dean
  • 2 BR: $3,999, vs. $3,012 at 461 Dean
Another look: rent gap narrows

Actually, that deserves another look, comparing the current rental prices at 670 Pacific--a net effective rent that includes one month free--with rents at 535 Carlton, a "100% affordable" building with slightly higher rents than 461 Dean:
  • studio: $2,338 vs. $2,137 at 535 Carlton, an 8.6% discount off market
  • 1 BR: $2,784, vs. $2,680 at 535 Carlton, a 3.7% discount off market
  • 2 BR: $3,919, vs. $3,223 at 535 Carlton, a 17.8% discount off market
That discount won't last, since a lease renewal will eliminate that free month. 

The discount may stay relatively narrow as new units in the area get absorbed, but likely will expand over time, as the rent-stabilized affordable units nudge up only via annual decisions from the Rent Guidelines Board. So 535 Carlton may be more of a bargain than the rent gap suggests.

Still, when a large chunk of one-bedrooms--61 of 129 units at 535 Carlton--are less than 4% below market, that's hardly making a dent in the affordability problems plaguing the Prospect Heights area and Brooklyn at large.

535 Carlton rents

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Harassment incident outside the arena: construction workers (from project?) harass passers-by, throw beer cans (+ unresolved security discussion)

An ugly harassment incident, with perhaps homophobic overtones, happened recently outside the Barclays Center, though some key details--such as whether the workers involved were connected to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park--remain uncertain.

A Prospect Heights resident, speaking Tuesday night at the meeting of the 78th Precinct Community Council, reported on a incident that occurred adjacent to the arena Saturday Oct. 8.

The incident, she said, occurred "two weeks ago" at 11 am on a Saturday. "My wife and I were on the Atlantic [Avenue] side of Barclays," she said. They walked by two construction workers, who were drinking, smoking pot, and harassing passers-by.

The resident--who was not comfortable sharing her name publicly--admonished the workers, to no avail. "They basically threw their beer cans at me," she reported. "I felt unsafe."

She didn't specifically identify the workers, but said "they were with the telco people."

The connection is murky. The two previous Construction Updates do not mention telecommunications workers at the arena site, or on a weekend. They state, "During this period Optimum and Verizon communications will have crews on Pacific Street between Vanderbilt & Carlton Avenues installing infrastructure for B11 and B14." That's one long block away from the arena.

During breaks, it's not unknown for workers to leave the immediate area of the work site, and it's also not unknown for work on site to not be foreshadowed in the Construction Update.

Following up

I wasn't able to get more information (and it was not stated that a police report was filed), though perhaps more will surface at the next Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Quality of Life Community Update meeting, which is Nov. 1 at 6 pm.

On Wednesday, I asked representatives of Greenland Forest City Partners, as well Empire State Development, if they knew about the incident, and whether workers related to the project--or another project--would have been outside the arena.

I didn't get a response, but will post an update if/when I do.

I also asked if workers from contractors like Optimum/Verizon receive the same training regarding sexual harassment as construction contractors now provide.

After all, if the workers were connected with the project, that suggests the need for some intervention. Starting in April, a long-promised color-coded identification system was introduced, making it easier to recognize project construction workers and putting them on notice. (See photo above right.)

That grew out of reports by a neighborhood resident that the daily harassment she experienced was like "living in a shark tank," and that she'd been a victim of sexual misconduct, at minimum, from men apparently leaving an arena boxing match.

Past discussion on security

The issue of security came up, perhaps presciently in retrospect, at the 9/20/16 meeting of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC), set up to advise Empire State Development (ESD), the state authority overseeing/shepherding Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park.

At about 18 minutes into the discussion, board member Barika Williams cautioned that ESD may classify certain incidents as closed while she considered them unresolved. "I don't think we closed the issue of security, not just for the Barclays Center itself but also for the area in general," she said, nothing that a reported issue was not a resolved one.

"We wanted a report on security issues and the security protocol not just for Barclays but for the area in general," she said. Williams proposed looking into the cost of putting up "emergency poles"--presumably bearing call-in devices--throughout the site.

"I think there's a real security concern going forward, especially with the number of construction workers on the site," she said. "We've already had one incident. I'm definitely concerned about what that looks like when we start to having kids and teenage girls on the same site with all these workers."

She got a partial answer from ESD's Marion Phillips III about increasing the amount of information to locals, and making Greg Lynch, a state employee tasked to observe question, more visible.

But the usefulness of potential security hardware becomes more clear in light of the recent incident.

Board member Jaime Stein noted that notes from a community meeting in June indicated that a representative from Tishman Construction, a contractor on the site, couldn't clarify how many workers had actually gotten ID stickers.

Tobi Jaiyesimi, executive directior of the AY CDC, said that reflected the fact that some subcontractors were on site temporarily. She added that the ID system was once centrally operated when launched by the project developer, but each contractor now has their own ID tagging machine.

Arena security issues

Asked to share information about the arena security protocol, Barclays Center spokesman Terence Kelly (since departed) said that, while arena officials regularly meet with police, and attend monthly 78th Precinct Community Council meetings, "the nature and extent to which I can discuss our security protocol would be limited, especially with such high profile events."

Phillips suggested that directors wanted to know how the arena put a plan together, and Williams asked how they dealt with "a situation unfolding, a crowd that's escalating, how do you handle that... when it's flowing into neighborhoods?"

Kelly said the arena does significant preplanning with law enforcement agencies. " I believe that we do provide an additional safety net with the personnel outside," to allow safe passage across Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, "to serve as a deterrent against bad behavior... We are mindful that it will not be the end of it."

"in reference to the boxing event"--the previous harassment case--"I can't comment on that, it's a matter that has gone to litigation," Kelly said, adding that "we have made adjustments and improvements" and will continue to make adjustments "based on feedback from community members, law enforcement and bodies such as this."

Note: I checked, and could not find any court case involving the boxing event.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

A transition at Barclays Center: Community Affairs Manager Kelly departs

Perhaps the Barclays Center's new VP for Community Relations is building his own team.

A note circulated last week by Forest City Ratner Executive VP for External Affairs Ashley Cotton stated:
After much thought and consideration Terence Kelly, Community Affairs Manager with Barclays Center has decided to leave to pursue other interests.
Please join us [at a farewell toast on Nov. 15]  as we salute him for all of his hard work and dedication.
...Any questions or concerns regarding Barclays Center community relations should be directed to Roland Guevara, VP of Community Affairs at . Roland and I will work together in the interim and he is actively working on hiring a full replacement.
The arena is no longer controlled by Forest City, but Cotton had been assigned to represent the arena in public.

I'm not sure how to read Kelly's departure, though a good number of people leave jobs after four years. Guevara, who introduced himself a meeting of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council last Thursday, said Kelly was no longer with the arena, but they were aiming to fill his role.

It's a safe bet that Kelly's replacement, for better and for worse, will not know the full history of the arena's large but not always smooth presence in Brooklyn and Prospect Heights.

It also seems that, if Kelly's replacement will interact with neighbors and build other community relationships (the arena has lots to give away, natch), Guevara may take on a broader role. We'll see if he's at Tuesday's Quality of Life Community Update meeting.

The Barclays Center event calendars: the schedule sure picks up in fall

Well, I haven't seen the monthly calendars from the Barclays Center that estimate the expected crowd for ticketed events (and non-ticketed ones) since May 2016. See bottom for the contrast. Maybe it has to do with the departure of Community Affairs rep Terence Kelly.

If they're not continuing that, it disserves neighbors who should know what's coming.

I went back into the Barclays Center web site to take screenshots of the monthly ticketed events, and it's clear that the schedule picks up in the fall. The November and October calendars look quite full, with two professional sports teams, some basketball tournaments, Disney on Ice, and a few concerts.

The few months before then, however, were pretty slow, at least for publicly ticketed events. These schedules do not count graduations and other private events. Then again, September 2015 was slow, as well.

33 events

25 events, minutes three canceled/postponed

10 events

12 events, minus one postponed
9 events
6 events

The May ticketed calendar vs. the full calendar

Note that the map directly below mentions four graduations and a private event, though it doesn't have the three Islanders playoff games (two of which were played). So there were nine ticketed events, plus those four graduations and a private event.

Friday, October 28, 2016

"Shitshow corner": arena operations, project construction frustrate nearest neighbors

The next Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Quality of Life Community Meeting, on Nov. 1 at 6 pm, is supposed to "present an overview of the upcoming construction activities surrounding the project."

But it also serves as an opportunity to ask question, and for neighbors to tell representatives of the developer, Greenland Forest City Partners, and the state agency overseeing/shepherding the project, Empire State Development, how it looks from their end. For those closest to the project, it's not pretty.

View of dust stirred up by 535 Carlton construction
Though concerns about the operations of the planned middle school at 664 Pacific were a key part of last week's Dean Street Block Association (DSBA) meeting, threaded through was frustration about the overall impact of Barclays Center operations (such as rowdy hockey fans or a blocked Dean Street) and Pacific Park construction, and the attendant lack of accountability.

As one resident put it, the intersection of Carlton Avenue and Pacific Street is "shitshow corner." Residents experience large construction vehicles/trucks on the narrow street and impromptu street blocking by utility contractors.

"There's no in-the-moment accountability," she said. "It's intolerable to live here. It's just that residents don't matter."

"I am going to look into a better way," said Council Member Laurie Cumbo. The 55 or so attendees--a diverse group in terms of class, race, and tenure in the neighborhood--seemed receptive, if wary.

Dean Street outside Barclays Center, this past Tuesday
Peter Krashes of the DSBA said it was unclear whether the Department of Transportation or the New York Police Department was in charge of enforcement when it came to certain street issues.

That wasn't resolved, though the DOT's Abigail Ikner did say that, while closing streets typically requires DOT notice to the public, utility companies that encounter emergency situations have license to close the street.

Shortly afterward, a resident of Carlton Avenue near Pacific Street sent me the photo above, which shows the significant dust stirred up by construction at the 535 Carlton tower just across the street.

The Second Amended Memorandum of Environmental Commitments the developer signed with the state requires a Dust Management Plan, and environmental monitors are supposed to assess the site. Perhaps we'll hear more about it at the next meeting.

Questioning an arena rep

Other issues were raised, Arena workers sometimes fight on Dean Street, one resident said, while other workers hang out on the street. Arena Community Affairs representative Terence Kelly said it was the first he'd heard of it.

Has there been a change in security staffing at the arena, Kelly was asked.

"We wouldn't discuss our staffing in public," he responded.

A Bergen Street resident said that, when arena events load in, there's always a backlog of trucks on the street.

Kelly allowed that, for one event, an electronic sports show, there's been a clash with trucks serving a nearby construction project, the former Bergen Tile site.

The problem was bigger than that, Kelly was told, prompting his response: "We have procedures in place that are effective."

It was, though he didn't say so, a bit of a goodbye performance, as Kelly has since left his position (as new Community Relations VP Roland Guevara said at a community meeting last night).

Ongoing impacts

Residents complained that project construction workers eat lunch in the Dean Playground. That's not allowed, said the Parks Department's Marty Maher, though it was unclear how that would be enforced.

Cumbo was told that project impacts--such as the MTV Video Music Awards show that took over the street--are often imposed with notification but not consultation.

"The only neighborhood outreach" regarding the giant construction fence around the southeast block of the project site, one resident said, "was 'we'll paint some nice murals.'" The audience laughed sardonically.

The resident said that, during arena events, SUVs (presumably waiting to pick up VIPs later) idle on Bergen Street--"that's my kid's bedroom." On other days, "the whole house is shaking because an 18-wheeler hasn't turned off his engine. It's just an unhealthy and unsafe environment."

However, his suggestion of speed bumps was met with the reminder that a bus route like Bergen can't accommodate them.

Krashes noted that, in May 2016, the Barclays Center Impact Zone Alliance (BCIZA) expressed concern about lack of accountability from the state regarding project impacts, and in response to that letter, was told it could invite agency representatives to state meetings. The City Council rep, he said, could help in that effort, and Cumbo responded, "Let's do it."

"Have the meeting at Carlton and Pacific at 6:30 [am]," one resident said, to laughter.

Cumbo, to her credit, showed up at the meeting, as did Maher and Ikner. Some other invited representatives did not.

Other reports

On Atlantic Yards Watch, a resident who lives on Dean Street very near Carlton Avenue reported
Foul smell and apartment shaking on 9/28/16:
On Wednesday and Thursday of this week there block and my apartment we filled with a foul & toxic smell. There was no work being done in our building and the smell increased upon leaving the apartment, coming from the corner of Dean & Carlton.
For the past two days, while sitting at my desk at the front of the building, there is a vibration felt through my keyboard .... once again there is no construction going on in our building.
Another resident reported "No Parking" signs improperly taped to trees, as shown in the photo above.

As Krashes reported via Atlantic Yards Watch, during the first week of the month, a truck and another construction vehicle from a contractor were unloading on Dean Street east of the bus stop located between Carlton and Vanderbilt, potentially blocking bus or emergency vehicles, and without any notice. See photo below.

Also, a construction truck was parked in the bus stop on Dean west of the intersection with Carlton, though no sign indicated the bus stop had closed.

Below, a resident expressed frustration about overnight work.

A photo posted by Carlton Ave Bk (@carltonavebk) on

The TV truck parking lot

Given that the parking lot east of Sixth Avenue between Dean and Pacific streets is gone, where does the Barclays Center send satellite TV trucks?

While arena operators work on a long-term solution, Kelly said, "for now we're using Flatbush Avenue, near the Nets' store." He added that most vehicles go inside, given that there's broadcast capacity inside the building.

For Nets home opener, another pre-game extravaganza on Resorts World Casino NYC Plaza

A message from the Brooklyn Nets yesterday heralds tonight's season-opening game at home. Note again the importance of the Resorts World Casino NYC Plaza to arena operations (as opposed to public amenity):
Be here from the jump when the Nets open their home schedule at Barclays Center against the Indiana Pacers tomorrow. Tip-off is at 7:30PM, but the fun starts early and continues through the evening. All fans will receive a 2016-17 magnetic schedule.
  • Pregame activities on the Resorts World Casino NYC Plaza
  • Music from DJ Dallas Green, performances from the Nets Beats drumline and the Brooklyn Breakers
  • T-shirt giveaways and chances to shoot free throws on the Nets snapcourt
  • Face painters and balloon makers on the main concourse
Doors at Barclays Center's GEICO Atrium will open at 6:00PM for early access to Paisano's and the bar by Section 3. Doors open arena-wide at 6:30PM. Fans are encouraged to be in their seats by 7:15PM for a special opening night ceremony, including a new open video and a player address to the fans.

Key Food, the Official Supermarket of the Brooklyn Nets, will be kicking off its Charity Stripe program during the pregame festivities. Based on the total number of free throws the Nets make at Barclays Center this season, Key Food will make a donation to a local non-profit organization that serves families in need.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Where does Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park stand? Buildings behind schedule; affordable housing unsteady; low-income units lag most

The most important part of the map below, revised Aug. 13, 2014 by developer Greenland Forest City Partners, is the note at the bottom right: "Building start and finish dates are subject to change."

That's a watchword for Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park. I've annotated the map below, pointing out how much remains unresolved. Notably:
  • all the buildings are behind schedule
  • the affordable housing is not being delivered steadily
  • there's a bigger gap in the delivery of low-income affordable housing, as 255 units are under construction, with the remaining 645 units not re-starting until perhaps 2020 
The bottom line: a project that was once promised as transformative or to "encourage systemic changes" is hardly that, and the much-saluted new timetable negotiated in 2014--the completion of affordable units by 2025--could have used specific safeguards.

Timetable delays

None of the buildings has met the tentative schedule suggested in that 2014 map: the two towers on the southeast block, 550 Vanderbilt (B11) and 535 Carlton (B14) were supposed to be open by this past July or August. The affordable building, 535 Carlton, should open this fall, while the 550 Vanderbilt condo should open in January.

The revised schedule for 461 Dean (B2) was 2016. While that vague date should be met, with move-ins beginning in November, the building will have taken some four years, twice as long as originally promoted.

Neither the B12 nor B13 condo buildings on the southeast block, supposed to start in July 2015 and July 2016 respectively, have gotten off the ground. Those building sites are for sale, or seeking new investors, as is the B4 site at the northeast corner of the arena block. The sale of the latter is presumably complicated by the developer's stated plan to shift the program from condos and rentals to office space, which requires state approval.

And of course, Greenland Forest City seeks to shift the approved bulk at the B1 site over the arena and temporary plaza to Site 5 across Flatbush Avenue, already approved for a large building. That's on hold for now, as a legal case percolates.

Affordable housing: the details

But the most important message of this annotated map, I believe, regards affordable housing and, especially, the low-income housing component within that affordable housing.
Click to enlarge; note that L-I = Low-Income
As noted on the graphic, the project is slated to include 6,430 apartments, including 1,930 condos (200 below-market) and 4,500 rentals, of which 2,250 are "affordable."

But "affordable" merely means below-market, or income-linked. (And not permanently--more like 30-35 years.) More crucially for those who so fervently rallied for the project, there are 900 low-income units. Some 255 low-income units are under construction, in three towers.

But the numbers can be fuzzy. As the Commercial Observer reported, quoting the developer, "1,800 units are currently underway, 782 of which are affordable." Actually, the only way to reach 1,800 is to include the B12 and B15 towers, which have not gone vertical. It looks like B15 may not be done until 2020.

Rather, there are some 1,246 units under construction, a majority of them below-market, if not necessarily that affordable. Also, at least going by the schedule above, the next four towers--including B12 and B15--will be 100% market-rate.

Among the overall affordable units, the low-income units are supposed to represent 40% of the total, according to the Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) original developer Forest City Ratner signed with ACORN. (As shown in the graphic at right, the low-income units would be 20% of buildings that were 50% market-rate units.)

That ratio has been met in the mixed market-rate/affordable 461 Dean modular tower, aka B2 (though, as I explain below, the lowest-income units lag behind promises). Then again, were far fewer family-sized units than promised.

However, in the two "100% Affordable" buildings under construction, 535 Carlton (B14) and 38 Sixth (B3), the low-income units represent only 30% of the total (though there are more family-sized units).

That means, as I've calculated in the graphic above, there are about 58 "missing" low-income units. So, to maintain the pledged ratio of low-, moderate-, and middle-income units, some future towers should contain fewer middle-income units and more low-income units. Keep watch.

Affordable for whom?

The term "affordable" means "below-market" or "income-linked," not the colloquial understanding of "housing for the neediest." A good chunk of "affordable housing" does little to reach that cohort. More than half the units in the three buildings under construction could go to households earning six figures.

That includes potentially 57 of the 181 affordable units at 461 Dean, 184 of the 297 affordable units at 535 Carlton, and (estimated) 189 of the 306 affordable units at 38 Sixth. (Given income ranges, some may go to households earning less.)

So the 2014 negotiation between government agencies, the developer, and BrooklynSpeaks, which got a 2025 deadline for affordable housing--16 years after project was re-approved--instead of an outside date of 2035 (which replaced a longstanding promise of ten years) should be seen in a new light.

It did not guarantee a certain timetable for the low-income affordable  housing, just "affordable housing": the developers agreed that 35 percent of completed units would be affordable (aka "below-market") until 1,050 affordable housing units were built.

"This new deal ensures that the delivery of affordable units does not lag behind the creation of market rate units," a gubernatorial press release said. But it didn't distinguish between affordable middle-income units and affordable low-income ones. 

I (and others) wrongly assumed at first that the distribution of affordable units would match the configuration long pledged. Rather, the current buildings are 1) skewed to middle-income units, 2) contain fewer low-income units than long promised, and 3) contain fewer of the lowest-income units (among low-income units) than promised.

Getting to 1,050

After 1,050 units, then the percentage of affordable apartments could drop, for a time, to 25 percent of total units, until it was raised with a final buildout of four huge 50/50 (affordable/market-rate) towers. See the large graphics above and below.

A complication has emerged: if the B4 tower at the northeast corner of the arena block switches from residential space to office space, the developers won't meet that 35% threshold.

Those 276 affordable units are key to that percentage, as shown in the document below. And there's no announced plan yet to move those units (though surely something is being hatched).

The low-income mismatch

Even the low-income units are out of reach for many Brooklynites.

Because income is calculated based on regional AMI (Area Median Income), at 60% of AMI, a low-income household of three people earns up to $48,960, and a household of four people earns up to $54,360.

Those figures approximate 100% of the median income for Brooklyn--the Census Bureau reports median income at $46,958 (for households of 2.74 people).

Most of the low-income units being produced are up to 60% of AMI (currently Band 2, the second "band" from top in the chart at right), which is thus close to Brooklyn median income. A much smaller fraction of the low-income units are at 40% of AMI (Band 1).

According to the MOU--which was incorporated into the Community Benefits Agreement--the ratio of Band 2 to Band 1 was to be 3-to-1. Of the affordable units, 30% were to go to Band 2 and 10% to Band 1. (Again note that the graphic above right is based on in buildings that are 50% affordable/50% market.)

Instead, according to the developer's own press kit, 34% of the affordable units in 461 Dean will go to Band 2, with only 6% to Band 1 low-income households; that ratio is 5.7 to 1. The figure for 535 Carlton (and 38 Sixth) is 25% and 5%; that ratio is 5 to 1.

That means there are fewer Band 1 affordable units. Moreover, Band 2 was originally supposed to cap at 50% of AMI, not 60%, as shown in the graphic above right. The change is permissible; under city rules, low-income units can now serve households earning up to 80% of AMI.

Still, while developers may be following the letter of the promise, they're not following its spirit, as regards the affordable bands. When it comes to the percentage of low-income units, and the fraction of lowest-income units, they're not following the letter, either.

The configurations (screenshots from developer)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

On Dean Street outside arena, illegally parked trucks and cars pose hazards; NYPD next door

If you're wondering why the Barclays Center's nearest neighbors feel they get the short end of the stick, well, consider the photo below of the scene around the southern flank of the arena, on Dean Street between Sixth and Flatbush avenues, at 8:15 am yesterday.

As the annotated photo--sent to me by a resident--shows, a truck at right is parked in the travel lane (outside a residence), a truck in the center distance is parked in the bike lane, and one car is parked illegally, another improperly.

Yes, it's possible that the truck on the right is associated with another construction project, at Bergen Tile (a site that would be in the right of the photo). But the rest surely are connected to the Barclays Center and overall Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project. 

Why no intervention?

Last night, at the monthly meeting of the 78th Precinct Community Council, a neighborhood resident told Deputy Inspector Frank DiGiacomo that people were concerned about safety on Dean Street, including illegal standing and parking, and the blocking of bike lanes.

"We'll send guys to look at it," DiGiacomo replied. (The photo was not shown at the meeting, but sent to me later.)

But the precinct is literally around the corner--just turn right at that center truck--and policing the full range of infractions around the Barclays Center does not seem to be a priority. (A precinct official separately said at the meeting that a special unit has cracked down on trucks driving illegally on Fifth and Sixth avenues in adjacent Park Slope.)

In fact, the arena and overall Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project likely couldn't function without relatively gentle treatment by the cops, which I suspect comes from 1) policy set from the mayor's office and 2) a general NYPD focus on responding to crime.

Modular tower 461 Dean might get first occupant (resident manager) next week

Not only might the construction fence go down around 461 Dean Street (aka B2), the long-gestating modular apartment building flanking the Barclays Center, it might soon have its first occupant.

Peter Walsh, the building's resident manager, said last night at the monthly meeting of the 78th Precinct Community Council, that he might move in as early as Tuesday, Nov. 1. That's nearly four years after the groundbreaking, twice as long as the originally promised timetable (once 20 months, then two years).

That, interestingly enough, is the same date as the Quality of Life Community Update meeting, which means that developer Forest City Ratner--remember, this is the only tower not being developed jointly with Greenland USA--would have some good news to announce.

What will be interesting/challenging for Walsh and the new residents is how arena operations--which often bring vehicles idling and double-parking nearby--impact their lives. Then again, presumably the moving trucks delivering new residents' property will pose a different set of challenges on narrow Dean Street.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

From the latest Construction Update: B2 construction fence might start coming down, excavation on Pacific Street

According to the latest Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Construction Update (bottom), covering the two weeks beginning Oct. 24 and circulated today at 1:43 pm (late) by Empire State Development after preparation by Greenland Forest City Partners (GFCP), there may be some minor changes around the exterior of construction sites--and some ongoing disruption.

Portions of the construction fence around 461 Dean Street (aka B2) may be removed this reporting period. Also, the sidewalk bridge at 550 Vanderbilt (B11)  may be taken down by the end of the month, while the high bridge at the corner of Vanderbilt Avenue and Pacific Street will still be utilized.

During this period, Optimum crews will excavate on Pacific Street between and Sixth avenues, to install infrastructure. "This work is NOT by GFCP but will be monitored," the update states.

Also, "noisy at times" water main installation activities will continue on Pacific between Sixth and Carlton avenues. That block of Pacific may be closed temporarily because of "[e]xpanded construction and underground field conditions." And wewer refurbishment continues on Pacific, including the replacement of manhole cover frames and recoating of the interior of manholes between Sixth and Vanderbilt.

After-hours work

As in previous weeks, there may be late shift, Saturday, and overnight work. Saturday work is expected at B2 and at B3 (38 Sixth Avenue), B11, B12 (615 Dean Street), and B14 (535 Carlton Avenue). Second-shift work also may occur at B2, which is the first tower expected to open.

Weekend electrical utility work will continue at the LIRR rail yard. Weekday and weekend work in the Yard requires working hours to be extended to approximately 7 pm each evening to prepare for the temporary relocation of the LIRR drill track and the West Portal approach slab construction.

As stated in the past ten construction updates, demolition at Block 1120, the railyard block between Sixth and Carlton avenues, could commence upon receipt of Department of Buildings and Department of Transportation. A community notice will be distributed.

Dean Street neighbors balk at new middle school using Dean Playground, exiting on Dean

664 Pacific, with school in lower section;
"play yard" should be on fourth floor
The 664 Pacific tower, a 27-story luxury rental building with a school at its base just east of the arena block, is on hold for now as the developers and the owners of an adjacent building argue over the appropriate protections for that building during construction.

Another dispute is simmering, derived from the different interests of school advocates and residents of Dean Street, which is adjacent to the tower's southern flank. (The other borders are Pacific Street at the north, and Sixth Avenue at the west.)

During a design charrette for the school in April, as described on the M.S. OneBrooklyn web site, stakeholders "felt it was desirable to make a connection with the Dean Playground through DOE [Department of Education] and NYC Parks. Can it extend outdoor space for school activities?"

That goal is not surprising, given that, while the school would have small amounts of outdoor space on the fourth floor and at ground level, the tower is the only Pacific Park Brooklyn building east of the arena block without landscaped open space. Note the stylized rendering below, via Marvel Architects, designers of 664 Pacific (aka B15).

Neighbors alarmed

But residents of Dean Street, who note the 1.3-acre Dean Playground is already heavily used--and suffers improper incursions by Pacific Park construction workers and Barclays Center staffers--are alarmed.

"We have a concern that it will be usurped, or taken over," noted the Dean Street Block Association's Elaine Weinstein at a 10/17/16 meeting of the group, which attracted a diverse group of some 55 people. People at the meeting, as described below, also reprised general dismay at the location of the school, which is very near both a police and fire station, as well as the arena.

Map via Marvel Architects shows proximity of Dean Playground southeast of  664 Pacific residential tower. Open space in Pacific Park Brooklyn residential towers is more extensive than portrayed, but most will arrive after school opens.
The Parks Department's Marty Maher, Chief of Staff to the Brooklyn Borough Commissioner, seemed reassuring.

"We have jointly operated playgrounds immediately adjacent" to schools, he said. In this case, the department could, in response to a permit request, let the school use it for an event, "but on a regular basis, we don't have the ability or desire to let them use it."

What's the solution

Atlantic Yards Final Supplemental Environmental Impact
Statement indicates Dean Playground has Heavy use.
Given an expected 600 students, "you know Dean Street is going to be overrun," one participant said. "What can be done to give them open space?"

Maher said that neighbors should talk to the Department of City Planning, the Department of Education, and the Mayor's Community Assistance Unit. (Representatives of the latter two agencies were invited but didn't attend the meeting.)

While parks and playgrounds don't typically work on top of buildings, it's "an option for the school," Maher said.

Indeed, though the official presentation (at bottom) on 664 Pacific produced by Marvel Architects makes no mention of aboveground playground space, DNAinfo reported that the school’s design includes a 3,000-square-foot 'play yard' on the building’s fourth floor and a 2,100-square-foot open space on the ground floor." (There would be a gym indoors, of course.)

664 Pacific ground floor plan.
Open areas likely not green.

It's not clear how exactly the 2,100 square foot ground floor space would be used, as it's adjacent to residential buildings. (See graphic at left.) But that total of 5,100 square feet pales in comparison with the Dean Playground, which is more than ten times larger.

Other perspectives

The focus on Dean Playground should remind people that the school--less a public benefit than a mitigation for the increased strain on civic resources from a large new population--was sited with little opportunity for outdoor space beyond the elevated exterior space.

After all, if the school were on the southeast block of the project, which will have most of Pacific Park's eight acres of open space and is the first area being built outside the arena block, students might compete to use open space otherwise sought by buyers of expensive condos.

Two of those buildings on the southeast block, 535 Carlton and 550 Vanderbilt, will open in the next few months. The other two were supposed to have started, but are delayed.

When the school was proposed at 664 Pacific, the targeted opening date was September 2018, but at the charrette the expected date was said to August 2019. Now documents in the court case point to 2020.

Until two years ago, the school was not assumed to be at this location. As disclosed in the November 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) produced by Empire State Development, the school was expected to be part of B5, the building site directly north of B15, east of Sixth Avenue between Pacific Street and Atlantic Avenue.

That would have required the construction of an expensive deck, and presumed a steady ten-year buildout--which didn't happen. It also would have included ground-level project open space.

According to the Mitigation chapter:
While the design of the new school would be completed at a later date, it is assumed that the school would include outdoor play areas including playground space for pre-kindergarten through the first grade and hard surface playground or active play yard for other grades. The school play areas could be provided within the eight acres of open space to be developed as part of the proposed project and would be adjacent to the development site containing the school.
Should the school be located in a portion of the base of Building 5, the school play areas would likely be located to the east or south of the building. The school’s at-grade play areas would be fully accessible to the public during non-school hours. Therefore, the provision of the school and play areas would not substantially affect the open space proposed as part of the project or the open space analysis. 
(Emphases added)

In other words, the school play areas, at least as previously contemplated, would come out of the project's overall open space. Now it may impinge on neighborhood open space.

Below, the open space plan from Thomas Balsley Associates, with B15 at bottom left. (Note the developers' misleading claim that there "will no longer be a dearth of green space in the heart of Brooklyn," given that residents of the complex likely will rely on existing large parks like Prospect Park and Fort Greene Park.)

Other school concerns: move the entrance?

According to the report from the April charrette, school advocates were concerned that, given a planned school entrance mid-block on Sixth Avenue, students might cross in the middle of the street instead of at a light. "The group wondered whether the entrance should be relocated to Dean Street where a better connection with the playground would be possible," the report stated.

They also discussed prioritizing Dean Street for students during school hours, which could reduce vehicle traffic to one travel lane.

At the meeting last week, however, Dean Street residents balked. "Bus route, bike lane, double parking [at the nearby Temple of Restoration]," one quipped. "Other than that, it's a really quiet block."

Department of Transportation representative Abigail Ikner, without commenting on the specific entrance, said the DOT would look at signage and speed bumps to foster safety around the school.

An opportune location?

City Council Member Laurie Cumbo, of the 35th District, was the meeting's invited guest. She arrived about one hour into the two-hour meeting. She acknowledged multiple concerns about the school, including the need to manage dismissals, given that the area in the orbit of the arena and adjacent malls has become a magnet for students.

Cumbo was told of concerns about the Dean Playground and the school entrance, then asked the group, "how does the block feel about the idea of the school?"

"Wish it wasn't coming," said one resident. Others murmured assent. "We feel it's an unsafe place for a school," Weinstein said, acknowledging it's a reality and adding, "But how do we keep it safe?" She added that people were worried about teachers driving in early to park in the neighborhood.

One resident turned the question back to Cumbo: "Do you think the location is a smart move?"

"I didn't think it was a good idea to put it there when all the things were laid out," Cumbo responded. "But it was one of those things... certain projects or decisions were made before you got here."

That's not quite so, as Cumbo was elected in 2013, the site shift to B15 surfaced in April 2014, and the push to make it a middle school--rather than a hybrid elementary/middle school--began in the middle of 2015, with vigorous advocacy from both middle-school backers and those warning about the location.

At a July 2015 press conference backing M.S. One Brooklyn, Cumbo echoed the need to "provide a quality middle school choice" to local residents, and said "the voice of the people, and of our children, have spoken loud and clear." As I reported, only Public Advocate Letitia James among supporteres publicly acknowledged that the school's site "is very challenging."

At the meeting last week, resident Regina Cahill commented, "We all testified in front of the SCA [School Construction Authority] that this was the worst corner." Peter Krashes noted the Dean Street Block Association submitted testimony about the location.
From Marvel Architects: school in yellow at base of tower; note location of police and fire stations, also in yellow.
Progress, and frustration

Progress may result from the meeting. Cumbo said she could help coordinate meetings with city agencies regarding the operation of the school. Residents told Cumbo the issues were broader regarding the impact of the project, and she agreed to work on those issues, as well.

Also in the audience was Jaime Stein, a board member of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC), the body set up in 2014 (but first meeting in 2015) to advise Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing the project.

"This whole discussion of the intricacies of the school did not come to the board at all," said Stein, who's one of the few AY CDC board members to attend public meetings and gather information independently.

One resident said she'd given up on the regular state-sponsored meetings regarding the project, such as the bi-monthly Quality of Life Community Update meeting (which will next be held on Nov. 1). "We are totally disgusted with the fact that our voices are not being heard."

Monday, October 24, 2016

Barclays Center hockey impact: boost for some local business, burden for some neighbors

Reports amNY, New York Islanders at Barclays Center: Local area businesses talk impact going into second season:
Barclays Center has only been home to the previously Long Island-based hockey team for a season, but in the four years since the arena opened its doors residents and businesses alike have grappled with a changing neighborhood dynamic, crowds, fear of rising rents, and what many have categorized as a balancing act between the definite benefits of increased business opportunities and the commercialization of brownstone Brooklyn.
“They’re seeing more Islanders fans using the bars and restaurants as kind of a home base,” said Mark Caserta, the executive director for the Park Slope Fifth Ave. Business Improvement District. “The fans [at Nassau Coliseum] were never used to having bars and restaurants nearby. Now it’s a little bit more like going to Madison Square Garden.”
New York’s “other” hockey team has actually provided more business for the area than concerts or basketball games, Caserta and several local business owners said.
So certain businesses nearby on Fifth Avenue and parts of Flatbush Avenue and Dean Street have benefited, though--unmentioned--businesses in the orbit of the project on, say, Vanderbilt Avenue, have not benefited.

Then again, as amNY reports, for some businesses, like Yayo’s Latin Cuisine on Fifth Avenue, the crowds coupled with lack of parking deters some traditional customers, and rents are expected to rise.

The local impact

The article quotes two locals about the overall impact, with one businessperson saying “It’s not super desirable parking in this area, but it hasn’t changed,” and a resident saying he misses that businesses are now more oriented toward arenagoers.

What the article misses is the impact experience by residents in the blocks nearest the arena. At a meeting last Monday of the Dean Street Block Association, locals expressed dismay about numerous aspects of arena operation and project construction.

With the advent of hockey, one said, there have been new complaints about sexual harassment, drunken displays, and "beer cans all over." Could arena security, she asked Barclays Center Community Affairs Senior Manager Terence Kelly, extend their patrols to Dean and Bergen Streets after games?

"We definitely can consider a lot of what you're saying," Kelly said, though he soon added union rules limit the scope of work.

What can neighbors do, he was asked.

Kelly said that the arena could be invited to meetings like the block association meeting and the bi-monthly Quality of Life meetings (next: Nov. 1). He said a patrol car has been stationed outside the bar McMahon's--where fans have been rowdy in the past--on Fifth Avenue, I'd note--but he wasn't sure of the police footprint.

Indeed, Kelly's not in charge of the police, and I doubt that arena security could be legally allowed to patrol outside the arena boundaries.

So it's a police issue--as well as an issue, perhaps, that the arena can stress to attendees. After all, the arena is a very tight fit, backing into a residential neighborhood.

The issue should come up tomorrow night at the monthly meeting of the 78th Precinct Community Council, at 7:30 pm at the Precinct, 65 6th Avenue.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Why is Barclays Center ice substandard? System doesn't meet NHL standards, say beat writers

So, when the New York Islanders complained about choppy, not-so-safe ice at the Barclays Center, arena management pledged to improve the ice by hiring an "ice technician."

That didn't quite work, as Newsday's Arthur Staple reported:

Looking back, that should have been done when the Barclays Center developers knew that the Islanders were coming. Which had to have been August 2012, when they installed revised dasherboards to meet NHL standards. But it was a challenge to finish the arena on time, so I'd guess that either cost and/or simple construction time kept the change from being made.

Then again, then-Islanders owner Charles Wang in October 2012 said that talks with the Barclays Center builder/operator began seven months earlier.

Chris Botta added:

But there's no public money, is there, for a new arena? As the Post's Larry Brooks wrote:
Indeed, Slap Shots has learned Islanders ownership has held meetings with folks representing Wilpon-owned Sterling Equities to discuss constructing an arena on what would be the third base/left field area of the parking lot.
It is unclear how this project would be financed. As previously stated in this space, it is all but impossible to believe a one-team arena for which the area — that features MSG, Barclays, Prudential Center and a remodeled Coliseum — has no need could draw any support for public funding, regardless of how necessary new digs are for the Islanders.

So, blame Adams for rumor about James replacing Thompson? Or not.

So, did he or didn't he?

First, Stephen Witt's Kings County Politics suggested, with no named sources, that there was a push for Public Advocate Letitia James--who has worked as a public defender but not a prosecutor--to be named as the appointed successor for Kings County District Attorney Kenneth Thompson, who died recently. Then the New York Post picked it up.

In City and State, well sourced Gerson Borrero quoted "numerous insiders" as blaming Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams for the story, since James's departure from her post could leave it open to him and thus gain a citywide profile for his long-professed mayoral ambitions. (Though he didn't query Adams.)

Well, Gov. Andrew Cuomo left Thompson's deputy, Eric Gonzalez, in charge, and City and State soon reported Adams's denial:
“Borough President Adams refutes this depiction of him, one that is based in gossip, much less under the cover of nameless and faceless claims that stand in opposition to the high value of public service that defined his friend and colleague Ken Thompson’s career and legacy,” Stefan Ringel, a spokesman for Adams, said in a statement. 
So, we just don't know. But it's understandable that the untimely death of someone powerful fuels not just mourning but machination.

Brooklyn Nets writing off New Jersey history (year founded, banner colors)

"Our history is the borough right now," the then-New Jersey Nets' Fred Mangione said in November 2010, anticipating the Brooklyn move, and that is truer than ever.

NetsDaily's "Net Income" (aka Bob Windrem) yesterday wrote The subtle end of the New Jersey Nets, noting that the Brooklyn Nets' "new warm-up jackets say 'established 2012,' commemorating when the team arrived in Brooklyn," though they previously said “established 1967,” which was when the predecessor New Jersey Americans launched.

Similarly, the New Jersey Nets' championship banners hanging in the Barclays Center have been reissued in black-and-white, the colors of the Brooklyn Nets, not the red-white-and-blue blend of the predecessor team.

Windrem adds that no longers does any New Jersey-based newspaper cover the team, and most New Jersey fans won't have TV coverage, due to a dispute between YES and Comcast.

He notes mutual disappointment between New Jersey fans and management, and suggests the latter are now focusing on the Long Island market. But as a New Jerseyite, he expresses loyalty, and regret: "But looking up in the rafters and seeing black-and-white banners. Is that really necessary?"

Not everyone shared his sentiments, but several commenters did:

  • The notion that that history would just be written off entirely depresses me.
  • If the Brooklyn experiment had paid off thus far and we were annual contenders, then sure, I can see wanting to distance themselves from the Jersey swamps of mediocrity, but to do it right now is just unnecessary
  • It’s says something that Brooklyn is simply conceding NJ basketball fans to the NYKs.
  • Thinking purely in terms of a branding strategy, I don’t get it. The Nets are the only professional sports team that actively tries to shrink their market rather than expand it. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

So, Barclays Center gets a new VP for Community Relations (but where are those schedules?)

Some changes appear to be afoot at the Barclays Center front office, perhaps related to arena management's new responsibilities.

Roland Guevara, via LinkedIn
There's a new position, VP, Community Relations, held by Roland Guevara, who, according to his LinkedIn profile, took the job in July after working as Director of Public Affairs at Nickolodeon. His position has not been publicly announced, as far as I can tell.

Nor has he been introduced to community stakeholders at arena-related events like the Quality of Life or Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation meetings.

Guevara oversees three staffers, including Terence Kelly, Senior Manager, Community Affairs, who's served as the sole listed person in the Community Affairs office since the arena opened in 2012, as noted in the April 2006 version of the Barclays Center front office list.

Barclays may have a bigger presence in Community Affairs, but it doesn't seem oriented to the nearest neighbors. For example, a few months ago, the arena apparently stopped circulating a monthly calendar of events, with expected attendance. (Or: it stopped sending them to me and and people who might share it with me.) And the arena doesn't always send its own representatives to public meetings.

Internal reorg?

That said, there may be some internal reorganization. Michael Wisniewski, now listed as Manager, Community Relations for the Barclays Center (according to the arena web site), on his LinkedIn profile says he's been Community Relations Manager for the Brooklyn Nets since October 2013 and previously was Community Relations Coordinator for the Nets.

Similarly, Courtney Lapsley, now listed as Coordinator, Community Relations for the Barclays Center (according to the arena web site), on her LinkedIn profile says she's been Coordinator, Community Relations for the Brooklyn Nets since July 2016, and was previously since December 2014 a Community Relations Assistant for the Nets.

This may relate to the arena's larger budget and responsibilities, as it takes in revenue from the New York Islanders and guarantees a payment in turn to the team. But it also may mean stretching the budget to have staffers previously working only for the Nets to also work for the arena.

Barclays also has gone from a listed two-person Communications Department to a three-person one.

Barclays Center Front Office, October 2016 (screenshot)

Barclays Center Front Office, April 2016 (screenshot)

Friday, October 21, 2016

GAO report: more evidence that EB-5 immigrant investor program helps wealthy areas (+developers), not public interest

As summarized in the Wall Street Journal, Immigrant Investor Program for Poor Neighborhoods Benefits Rich Ones More, Study Shows. Indeed, the federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) has confirmed--more or less--what seems glaring from more than five years of evidence about gerrymandering zones of "high unemployment" for the EB-5 immigrant investor program.

The "Bed-Stuy Boomerang," Atlantic Yards site in blue;
graphic by Abby Weissman
In reporting by me and the New York Times in 2011, it was clear that EB-5 zones of high unemployment--where the minimum investment is $500,000 rather than the statutory $1 million--were being gerrymandered to ensure that the average unemployment was high enough to qualify.

For example, New York State agreed to add census tracts in Bedford-Stuyvesant to the Atlantic Yards site in Prospect Heights to create a zone of high unemployment, saving the project developers tens of millions of dollars in each of three separate capital raises, totaling some $577 million.

Since then, the Wall Street Journal's Eliot Brown has reported on some glaringly gerrymandered maps, all supporting luxury projects that rely on cheap financing. And also see Trump-Branded Project Developer in Austin Seeks to Tap Immigrant Visa Program.

(The immigrant investors eschew high interest because they instead want the green cards. The public is supposed to benefit from job creation, but investments likely instead fuel profit. I think the program is riddled with dishonesty.)

Yes, the program's defenders say that the projects still draw workers from a larger area, which is true, but there's no proof they draw them from the zones of high unemployment. In 2011, a federal official acknowledged that it seemed the spirit of the law wasn't being respected. Nothing has changed since then.

The GAO report

The GAO report, Immigrant Investor Program: Proposed Project Investments in Targeted Employment Areas, does not make recommendations. However, while looking at a relatively small sample, from the fourth quarter of FY 2015, it determined that 99% of those using EB-5 went in a Targeted Employment Area (TEA).

Within that category, nearly all high unemployment TEAs, and only 3% rural areas, which also qualify as TEAs. Some in Congress want to reform the law to ensure that more investments go to rural areas (though that doesn't necessarily resolve the question of whether the public benefits).

States calculate TEAs, often at the behest of project sponsors, to help them get cheap money. So 90 percent of those investing in a high unemployment TEA, based the TEA on the average unemployment rate for a combination of census areas, the report notes.

Notably, the locations where the projects themselves were located did not have high unemployment. As shown in the table below, 77% percent of the projects were in areas with unemployment rates of 6% of lower.

Finally, who benefits? Some 74 percent of petitioners chose real estate, including mixed use projects, hotels and resorts, commercial, and residential developments; the remaining 28 percent invested or planned to invest in infrastructure projects, such as railways and highways, or transportation, restaurants, medical, and education facilities (percentages do not sum to 100 due to rounding).

Those kinds of projects often create temporary construction jobs, which passes federal muster, and lower the cost to builders. Whether they create permanent jobs is another question.