Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Atlantic Yards, Pacific Park, and the Culture of Cheating (links)

I offer a framework to analyze and evaluate Atlantic Yards (in August 2014 rebranded as Pacific Park) and the Barclays Center: Atlantic Yards, Pacific Park, and the Culture of Cheating.

Note: this post is post-dated to remain at the top of the page. Please send tips to the email address above, rather than posting a comment here.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

As Gilmartin defends Forest City's prefab plan, some skepticism emerges from modular industry, Daily News

In an article yesterday, the New York Daily News's Katherine Clarke took a distinctly skeptical tack on Forest City Ratner's plans to build the world’s tallest modular building, B2:
Forest City CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin came to a Massey Knakal real estate summit at the Brooklyn Museum on Tuesday to dispel the widely held notion that her company’s dispute with the developer Skanska is some sort of referendum on the future of prefabricated construction. Each side has blamed the other for cost overruns and alleged design flaws at the Barclays Center site.
“This is not a referendum on modular,” Gilmartin said. “We believe the system is compelling and works. The best validation of high-rise modular is a standing building on the corner of Dean and Flatbush — and that is still the mission.”
Actually, Gilmartin was on a panel at the subject to address numerous issues regarding development, and her statement about the modular building responded to one of several questions.

But it's interesting that those interviewed suggest there's a cloud around modular and that, according to Clarke, "few in the construction trade are convinced that Gilmartin and boss Bruce Ratner will win the referendum that she wants to believe isn’t happening." 

(Remember that the Daily News is usually pretty sunny about real estate and Forest City.)

“Any lender that reads about this dispute is going to have questions about financing any new modular developments from now on,” Andy Gerringer of the Marketing Directors told the paper.

Gilmartin's statement about validation echoes the one she gave Curbed on 8/4/14, which Skanska, in its lawsuit, says contradicts previous representations that Forest City had "cracked the code." 

(This may be a difference in stress: Forest City claimed emphatically it had "cracked the code"--invented a new system. Forest City now seems to be changing its emphasis, but it is reasonable to assume that "cracking the code" would have to be proven with a finished building.)

In the modular industry

While the Clarke did not seem to talk to many people in the heart of the modular industry, there's been an interesting, and skeptical, discussion about the dispute on the website of the Charlottesville, VA-based Modular Building Institute (MBI), an organization that encourages prefab construction.

MBI executive director Tom Hardiman suggests that, while the MBI cannot speak for Forest City nor Skanska--neither members of the organization--it's likely that the B2 plan was not properly executed:
What we do know about this project is that it was “unconventional” even for the modular industry. The developer chose to create a new modular company with the contractor, rather than working with established and experienced modular manufacturers (including one located in Brooklyn).

The team also decided to have the steel “shells” fabricated over 400 miles from the site, shipped to another facility in Brooklyn for finish-out, then transported to the final location for installation. This decision no doubt added to the costs, logistics, and time.

...As a side-note, as B2 sits right now, unfinished, this is STILL the tallest modular building constructed in North America in the last 40 years! Forrest City should still be considered an innovator and a leader for being bold enough to propose constructing the tallest modular building in the world in an industry and location not generally conducive or accommodating to new ways of thinking.
I'm not sure the decision to fabricate the steel in Virginia added to the cost, actually, since that's a nonunion shop.

A modular company executive, John Erb, responded to Hardiman that there are different types of assembly within off-site construction:
A sophisticated MODULAR manufacturer uses an assembly line process and perhaps several levels of automation to gain greater speed and consistencies as well as efficiencies. We continue to lump MODULAR and all other types of prefabrication in to one huge category.
...A final note, many of us had reservations about how this project would progress and finish out knowing that the inventing team was creating a system that had not been proven. But we all know that is how all successes start. 
Julian Bowron, an architectural fabrication executive, observed:
Perhaps the most interesting thing we discovered is that despite a near constant "re-invention of the wheel" by half a dozen firms, the same problems are recurring. These include tolerance accumulation, the lack of project-specific surveying technique, and overly-complex structural schemes. We came to the conclusion that a standard, off-the-shelf approach was required...
China-based architect Lawrence A. Samuelson expressed "great respect and admiration for Forest City Enterprises" but offered a caution:
However, it is my personal opinion, which I tried to express to Forest City management when this project was in its infancy, that the design and entire concept of stacking boxes for high-rise construction is not the best way to employ modular techniques. Devoting resources to manufacturing new components with firms who had no previous experience in doing such could only lead to the problems they are facing.
He asked for help from the industry "in establishing the standards that government agencies have been asking me to write."

Friday, September 19, 2014

As expected, judge grants condemnation order for seven sites; extends deadline to file for compensation to two years

A judge's decision yesterday to grant a condemnation order (below) for seven properties in the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project site was a fairly routine process, as the Observer reported, with a new map being filed that transfers ownership to Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing the project.

(I wasn't in the courtroom, but I hope to update this with an account from an observer.)

But the judge did make one decision to give an edge to property owners, as reported by the Observer:
Michael Rikon, a partner at Goldstein, Rikon, Rikon & Houghton representing two of the property owners—at 700-714 Atlantic Avenue and 718-728 Atlantic Avenue—asked only that the court extend the deadline by which owners (er, former owners) must file for just compensation, which represents the next step in the process. Judge Wayne Saitta agreed, pushing it back from 120 days to two years. Mr. Rikon told the Observer that although he will file immediately on behalf of his clients, he was concerned that the smaller window might unfairly harm recently dispossessed individuals who were not represented at the proceeding.
The next steps are for the owners and the state to exchange property appraisals, which could lead to settlement or further litigation. No condemnee can be required to vacate until it is first paid an advance payment--typically a low figure, though supposed to be based on comparable properties.

"Judges hate to evict people from sites," Rikon told me, estimating that Empire State Development (ESD), the state agency overseeing the project, won't attempt a writ of assistance to actually force the sites to be vacated for several months.

DNAInfo reported:
Charles Webb, attorney for the ESDC, said demolition or construction on the seized properties will not begin until the buildings are vacant, but said it is unclear when current tenants must leave.
However, in a blog post published Thursday, StorageMart said the state has given tenants 90 days to vacate the building. The company said customers must remove their property from the storage facility by Dec. 18.
Rising value helps all sides

The negotiation process will proceed. “My personal experience is that [the state has] been low-balling the value of the properties,” Rikon told the Observer. “We’ve uniformly obtained more money than was appraised.”

Rikon plans to wait as close to the two-year deadline as possible to get appraisals done on behalf of his clients, two commercial properties on Atlantic Avenue. (Updated/corrected) The properties are valued as of title vesting date, which is this week, not when the appraisals are prepared, Rikon confirmed.

The rising market means a greater burden on the developer (now Greenland Forest City Partners) that ultimately pays the bill--as opposed to if the condemnation occurred years earlier--but the developer also benefits from the rising property values.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Thinking about eminent domain: economist suggests property owners should get a share of future profits

New York State is going to court today to condemn the last seven properties needed for the Atlantic Yards project, and the big question is not whether the condemnation will be successful but how much developer Forest City Ratner--actually, Greenland Forest City Partners--will have to pay.

The tremendous gain in development rights, thanks to the state's override of New York City zoning, is a boon for the developer, which often but not always compensates the property owner for replacement value (plus a premium for speed of departure, attorneys' fees, and other costs), not the new value of the site.

Then again, as I reported in May, the state condemnation judge, Wayne Saitta, did find for the property owner in one case, declaring that evidence "demonstrates that there is a reasonable probability that absent the project, the subject property would have been upzoned."

Thus he rejected the state's claim that an Atlantic Avenue property was barely worth $2 million, and instead valued it at nearly $9.2 million, far less than the $20.6 million that the owner sought but still a major gain.

An economist's take

Economist Claude Gruen is no opponent of eminent domain--he's worked on numerous major real estate projects in California and elsewhere--but he thinks compensation should be changed to make a more equitable system, allowing property owners to get a piece of future profits

In his in his 2010 book New Urban Development: Looking Back to See Forward, he cites the initial appellate division ruling rejecting the Atlantic Yards challenge, which stated:
Any incidental profit that may inure to Forest City from the remediation of the blighted project site does not undercut the public purpose of the condemnation of substandard land.
Gruen comments:
Redevelopers of blighted areas do not just make a profit by selling or renting the new space they build. By their branding--that is, by moving the area up the filtration ladder of neighborhoods--they increase land values over what they were when the area was blighted. But under eminent domain laws, the deposed owner of a condemned property is compensated by being paid the price of the land in its 'as is' condition... both state and federal laws specifically disallow the condemnation valuation to include any value increase that might be bestowed on the property by the project for which it is condemned.
Two policy changes

He recommends two changes, one to block holdouts, the other to share the wealth:
First, private parties who have acquired 80 percent of the properties within a blighted project area will be granted the power of eminent domain to acquire the remaining 20 percent of the property under the condition described next. Second, upon taking title, the private redeveloper will pay the owner of taken property the fair market value of the property in its "as is" condition. When the project or a significant portion of it is completed, the project's developer must make an additional payment to the former owner equal to the difference between the original fair market value of the condemned property and the proportionate share  of the property's value after the project has been completed and is 90 percent occupied...
I do not know if they would have been satisfied... But giving them a proportionate share of the profit made from the use of land they had possessed seems fairer than simply paying them what the property was worth in the blighted neighborhood.
Well, private parties can't exercise eminent domain themselves, but there is an argument--at least when a neighborhood is truly blighted and that has been established through a truly public process (both very dubious in the case of Atlantic Yards)--to allow assemblage of large sites for public purposes.

That policy change might be easier to achieve than the second one.

After all, that one proposal, rejected by the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority as it considered a deal proposed by developer Forest City Ratner to lower its upfront cost for the Vanderbilt Yard, was a tradeoff: in exchange for concessions, the state to get more of future profits.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Getting closer to Greenland: Brooklyn BP Adams, pushed by Forest City to meet with new partner in China, finally met in Brooklyn (plus questionable liaison)

In Brooklyn, (l.-r.)  Borough President Eric Adams,
Greenland's Xu Jing, Borough Hall Liaison Winnie Greco
Representatives of the Greenland Group, the Shanghai-based new majority owners of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, have been invisible to the public, letting developer Forest City Ratner--the local member of Greenland Forest City Partners--stay out front.

Of course, top Greenland officials have been to Forest City offices in Brooklyn. And they met 6/11/14 with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and staff.

Also present has been Borough Hall's questionable volunteer liaison to the Chinese community, who lives in the Bronx and claims on one web site that she is "director of China-US affair in Brooklyn."

That liaison, Winnie Greco, is likely more focused on organizing business deals in China (see below) than representing the interests of the Brooklynites who are neighbors to the project Greenland now controls.

Forest City Ratner, documents reveal, also pushed hard to get Adams to meet with Greenland on his trip in May to China, and supplied talking points for him. The Borough President's team tried to make it work, though it ultimately didn't come to fruition.

Only a FOIL reveals Greenland

It's certainly not irregular for a Borough President to meet with a major local investor. It would be remiss not to do so.

But until I filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request, no information about the two meetings--one planned but not achieved, the other executed--had surfaced publicly. That contrasts with the steady effort by Adams's office to promote some (but not all) meetings, events, and public statements, such as his salute to the late Joan Rivers.

Greenland's role is key to the ongoing ramp-up in Atlantic Yards construction, including two towers in the next year, railyard work, and installation of a green roof over the arena.

A happy junket to China

When Adams on May 22 took a delegation to China that included Deputy Brooklyn Borough President Diana Reyna, small business owners, and local Chinese-American leaders, the stated purpose was "to mutually promote economic development and tourism."

The itinerary included "the signing of sister city agreements with Yiwu and the Chaoyang district of Beijing" plus discussions with government officials about bringing a friendship arch to Sunset Park, Brooklyn's Chinatown.

According to the press release, the trip also would include "tours of local schools and tourism promotion-related events."

What about Greenland?

Adams's visit was to include to Shanghai, home of Greenland, the major Chinese developer that was about to formalize a planned joint venture with Forest City, buying 70% of the project, except for the arena and first tower. (The joint venture last month renamed the project, dubiously, as Pacific Park.)

A Greenland meeting struck me as plausible, so I sent a query. Adams spokesman Stefan Ringel said he'd try to answer my question about Greenland, but did not. He did clarify who was paying expenses for Adams and Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna:
International airline tickets and city-to-city transportation, in addition to lodging, food and intracity travel while in Hong Kong as well as lodging while in Beijing, is paid for by the Sino-America New York Brooklyn Archway Association Corp. Lodging, food and intracity travel in the other trip locations is paid for by the host local governments.
Digging deeper, Forest City's nudge

So I filed a FOIL request, which revealed a more complicated story.

A copy of the trip itinerary did not mention Greenland. However, emails released via FOIL show that, in mid-May, Ashley Cotton, Forest City's Senior VP for External Affairs, contacted the Borough President's office to arrange an Adams meeting with Greenland in Shanghai.

"Can u make this work?" Cotton wrote to Kai Feder, who heads Adams' Capital Budget & Economic Development Office. "They want to do this!"

Feder then asked Greco, Borough Hall's volunteer liaison to the Chinese community (since the previous administration of Borough President Marty Markowitz) and an organizer of the trip, to adjust the itinerary in Shanghai. Greco took steps to do so.

Forest City's talking points for Adams

In Brooklyn: Adams, Xu Jing exchange business cards;
Greco (l.) and Forest City Ratner's Jeff Rosen look on
Forest City wanted Adams to express support for the pending joint venture, which would infuse new capital into Atlantic Yards and reduce the company's financial risks.

Among the talking points Cotton forwarded to Adams: "We are hopeful that you will close with FCRC [Forest City Ratner Companies] this June so that the project can stay on track and continue to be built out."

According to the briefing Cotton sent to Borough Hall, Forest City also wanted Adams to stress some generally positive messages: that Brooklyn welcomes foreign investment and diverse populations and that Atlantic Yards was a critical project, providing jobs, economic development, and housing.

Chinese business culture prizes government backing for private projects. For example, when Forest City and the New York City Regional Center began recruiting green card-seeking Chinese investors in 2010 to supply low-cost financing for Atlantic Yards via the EB-5 program, a regional center rep told a New York State economic development official: "Showing government support of an EB-5 project is critical."

Following up

Ultimately, that planned Shanghai meeting didn't happen. Ringel explained:
"There was an effort made to arrange a meeting between Borough President Adams and the Greenland Group during his visit to China, though it was ultimately not possible to finalize such a meeting in the attempted time window. Borough President Adams looks forward to a continued dialogue between he, Forest City Ratner, the Greenland Group and other key stakeholders as he pursues a shared goal of advancing affordable housing construction in Pacific Park on an accelerated timetable."
Brooklyn BP Adams and Greenland's Xu Jing
It's certainly politic to say their shared goal is advancing affordable housing, but without a documentary report of their interactions, it's hard to take that on faith.

A meeting in Brooklyn

There was more to the story. The FOIL response also indicated that, on June 11, Adams and Greco met at Borough Hall in Brooklyn with various executives from Greenland, including the head of their United States subsidiary and a member of the parent company's 18-member management team.

Photocopies of meeting photos, taken by official Borough Hall photographer Kathryn Kirk, were attached, and some are reproduced here.

"Borough President Adams met with a vice president of the Greenland Group, on Wednesday, June 11th in Brooklyn Borough Hall, to have a meet-and-greet and to begin a working relationship," Ringel stated in response to my query. That VP, as indicated in the picture above right and this photo of Greenland's 18-member management team, is Xu Jing (aka Jing Xu).

Asked if Adams conveyed the talking points shared by Cotton, Ringel responded, "The meeting... was a basic meet-and-greet; it was not the type of meeting where more in-depth conversation would be shared."

Still, it's likely the meeting accomplished at least some of Forest City's goals, by indicating that the borough's top official was welcoming and supportive. (He's since leaned Forest City's side in the company's dispute with Skanska over the stall in the modular project.)

The full group at the meet-and-greet

Beyond Adams and Xu Jing, the meeting included I-Fei Chang, the hard-charging president of Greenland US, Greenland's Hu Gang, Borough Hall liaison Greco, and Forest City Ratner executive Jeff Rosen, according to Borough Hall.
(l-r.) I-Fei Chang of Greenland USA, Brooklyn BP Eric Adams, Xu Jing of Greenland Group,
Borough Hall Liaison Winnie Greco, Jeff Rosen of Forest City Ratner, Hu Gang of Greenland Group
Markowitz's previous help

This was not the first time a Brooklyn Borough President has proven cooperative with Forest City's China ventures.

In 2010, Markowitz appeared in a video, produced by a company Forest City hired to market Atlantic Yards to potential immigrant investors in a program known as EB-5, aimed to reassure those investors. "Brooklyn is 1000 percent, 1000 percent behind Atlantic Yards," Markowitz declared.

Regarding Forest City, he added, "I can assure you that their reputation is unbelievably reliable. They're a great company to work with; they've worked very closely with government. The most important thing: they make a promise, they keep it."

The curious non-profit behind the trip

Adams's China trip raised eyebrows in other ways. In June, the New York Posreported that the Sino-America New York Brooklyn Archway Association Corp., which spent nearly $7,000 on trip expenses for Adams and Reyna, had no discernible institutional history. The Post reported:
The Brooklyn Eighth Avenue mailing address for the group has no signs bearing its name, and a worker in the sixth-floor suite said that its members meet there only once every couple of months.
Court records show Greco, who lives in The Bronx, was sued by banks three times since 2007 to recover debts of about $40,000.
She also has at least a half-dozen nonprofits and limited-liability companies registered in her name — including one that was involuntarily dissolved by the state of Massachusetts for not filing its annual reports.
Later, when the Post asked Paul Mak, listed as one of the three association's three directors, how it paid for the trip, he said, “I have no idea.”

Greco, who ignored the Post's queries, was finally buttonholed at a rally. She reportedly said, “Right now we don’t get money from nothing — the private [donations],” before walking away, offering the excuse that she speaks English poorly.

If she doesn't speak English well, then how much does her role as liaison serve Brooklyn versus serving her own interests?

The ethics of funding such trips

Queried about the ethics of funding such trips, Ming Xia, Professor of Political Science at the Graduate Center and the College of Staten Island, CUNY, told Brooklyn Brief's Matthew Taub (as reprinted in the Brooklyn Eagle):
"While there may not be any underhanded motives, residents of Brooklyn have a right to know who is funding a trip on their elected official’s behalf. If the funding is in fact coming from the Chinese government, then we have to be cautious and aware of what China wants from the Borough President. If it is funded by civic or business groups of the Chinese living in New York, we have to be cautious and aware of what these groups want, realizing that some Chinese groups will seek special favors from public officials (such as contracts, grants, connections to federal officials to secure visas, etc.)."
Greco is also one of five board member of Adams's own nonprofit, the One Brooklyn Fund, which, according to the Post, began soliciting support before it had permission to do so.

It's certainly possible that Greco, in visiting China on behalf of Adams, might be making some contacts useful to her other activities.

Greco's other activities

Greco is listed as Executive Secretary of the New York Chinese Business Association, headquartered in Flushing.

Her LinkedIn biography, perhaps stale, describes herself as self-employed in the construction industry at aaecdac, which is the American Asia Economy and Culture Development Association Corp, which according to a Google translation:
purpose is to establish a Sino-US two State bridge friendly exchanges, promote bilateral cooperation and exchanges in diplomatic, cultural, commercial, social, scientific, educational and sports fields; promote friendly exchanges and interaction between American and Chinese governments and parliaments; promote the city between the United States cooperation and exchanges between the conclusion of friendly relations and urban matchmaking; promote friendly exchanges with the United States and non-governmental exchanges....
That organization in 2011 organized a trip to China by New York Assembly officials, including Peter Rivera (who has some baggage, according to the Voice) and staffer Daniel Figueroa.

Greco is/was CEO of the food exporting company Valley Fresh Direct, in Warwick NY, in Orange County near the New Jersey border.

Her bio not so coherently trades on her volunteer role, stating, "As the director of China-US affair in Brooklyn, Mrs. Greco is an active business developer and has been widely recognized by her outstanding efforts in bilateral business.

There's no such position as "director of China-US affair in Brooklyn."

Greco did make three campaign contributions to Markowitz, including $4,450 in 2007, which surely helped her keep a good relationship with Borough Hall. (The latter actually exceeded the limit by $600, so she had to get a refund.) There's no evidence of a contribution to Adams, but, as noted, she's helping with fundraising.

More on Valley Fresh Direct

The company's web site states:
Valley Fresh Direct is the food export arm of The New York Sino Agricultural Sciences Organization, Inc. (NYSASOI). With its headquarters located in the unique Black Dirt agricultural area, Warwick, New York, Valley Fresh Direct has the mission to match high quality Hudson Valley-based agricultural goods with China’s need to import over half of its food supply from reliable export partners around the globe.
Last November, Greco and colleagues reported on a Valley Fresh Direct trip to China to set up trade arrangements.

Valley Fresh Direct has reportedly changed its name to ManaFoods, though the web site has not been updated. (That may be a reference to Mana Greco, surely a relative.)

HudsonValley Insider reported 4/15/14 that the company wants to buy  "property at the former Mid-Hudson Correctional Facility site in Warwick for the establishment of an agricultural education and exchange project" involving U.S. and Chinese farmers.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

State goes to court Thursday to pursue condemnation of properties needed for Phase 2A (?) of project

Three houses on Dean Street face condemnation, as
do properties directly behind them to Pacific Street
On Thursday at 2:30 pm, a state condemnation judge will hear a petition by Empire State Development (ESD), the state agency overseeing and shepherding Atlantic Yards, to condemn the remaining seven properties for the project, a relatively routine procedure, given that eminent domain has already been approved.

Those properties include three houses on Dean Street (right) and a lot behind them, and an industrial building behind them on Pacific Street.

According to attorney Michael Rikon, who represents two of the properties, a StorageMart facility at 718 Atlantic Avenue and a former museum fabrication company building at 700 Atlantic Avenue (and the site for a canceled rave), there is no opposition to the application to condemn, which means title should soon vest to ESD, even though the owners/occupants can remain.

Upon filing, ESD gets legal right of possession, though the occupants/residents need not leave. Within 30 days, they get a notice of acquisition, and then have 120 days to file a written claim for damages.

700 Atlantic Avenue
The parties then negotiate over just compensation and when they must vacate the buildings.

DNAinfo first reported on the filing of the condemnation petition, which includes a lot currently owned by Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards Development Company (and now, presumably, owned by Greenland Forest City Partners). Though that's already owned by the developer, eminent domain will clear title.

Some history

In 2010, some property owners faced with condemnation notices challenged the action in court, but it was rejected by a state judge.

When Atlantic Yards was first approved by ESD in 2006, all properties needed for the project were supposed to be condemned in one motion. After delays and the recession, Forest City renegotiated, and in a second approval in 2009, ESD agreed that the condemnation could occur in phases, thus saving the developer money.

Now that Forest City has a deep-pocketed partner, the Chinese government-owned Greenland Group, the new team, Greenland Forest City Partners, has the money to proceed faster on the project, and has committed to building the affordable housing by 2025, rather than the let the previous 2035 outside date stand.

Which part more crucial?

I suspect that the properties between Dean Street and Pacific Street are more crucial.

That's where Building 15, which includes a school, is planned (see below). The Atlantic Avenue properties are part of sites that require an expensive deck over the Vanderbilt Yard.

Needed for Phase 2A?

According to the petition, dated 8/13/14 but filed 8/20/14, the properties are "necessary for Phase 2A of the project."

Phase 2A, which is said to involve involves construction of three residential rental buildings and open space on Block 1120--the center block of the railyard, between Sixth Avenue and Carlton Avenue, and Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Street--and the construction of a market-rate residential building on Block 1128.

As I wrote in April, the school, once planned for Building 5 over the railyard, likely will be built in Building 15, on the site currently occupied by the houses, the lot, and the commercial building.


It's not clear why this is Phase 2A, given that the designation implies it's the first part of Phase 2. Actually, the first part of Phase 2 involves construction on the southeast block of the project, given that two towers will start in December.

Permit for third tower filed: condo building will have fewer, larger units than rental

Brownstoner reported yesterday that Forest City Ratner (acting on behalf of Greenland Forest City Partners) filed a new building application for the Atlantic third tower, a condo building at 540 Vanderbilt Avenue.

The building, which actually will be called 550 Vanderbilt, will be 17 stories and 202 feet, with 275 units, for a total of 330,778 square feet.

That compares with the recently-announced rental building, 535 Carlton, which will be 18 stories and 184 feet, with 298 units and a total of some 284,000 square feet.

That suggests the condo building will have higher ceilings and larger units.

According to Brownstoner, the condo building will also have a pool, locker rooms, a shared library, common roof terrace and 198 bike storage spots.

Building heights and square footage


Venerable Church of the Redeemer across from Site 5 sells for $20M, surely as development site

DNAinfo reported yesterday, Boerum Hill's Church of the Redeemer Sells for $20 Million:
Photo via Brownstoner
BOERUM HILL — The Church of the Redeemer in Boerum Hill sold for $20 million to a New York real estate investment firm earlier this month, officials announced Monday.
The decades-old church, located at Pacific Street and Fourth Avenue, was sold the week of Sept. 5 to the Jackson Group due to “mounting monthly expenses” that could not be covered, according to representatives of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, which owned the building.
It's highly unlikely that the building will be saved, since the lot, a source told Brownstoner, can support a building up to 70,000 square feet and ten stories. 

The 1866 Gothic Revival church, which was not landmarked, sits at the northwest corner of Pacific Street and Fourth Avenue, directly across from Site 5, currently home to P.C. Richard and Modell's but ultimately supposed to support an Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park tower rising 250 feet. 

It is catercorner to another venerable but threatened building, the Pacific Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.

“We deeply regret the sale of this property without discussion of its future preservation,” Howard Kolins, president of the Boerum Hill Association, told DNAinfo. “The [Association] continues to seek protection for this historic church property which has been long neglected by the Episcopal Diocese."

In July 2012, it was reported that the structurally unsound building would be demolished.
It is "S/NR-eligible"--eligible for the State or National Register of Historic Places, listings that can make a property eligible for tax breakst hough with no restrictions, as with city landmarking, on the disposition of the building.

What $20 million could buy

Come to think of it, $20 million was what Forest City Ratner paid for the section of the Vanderbilt Yard needed for the Barclays Center. Looks like a bit of a bargain, no?

Monday, September 15, 2014

From the latest (on time) Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Construction Update: overnight work on Atlantic Avenue starts Wednesday

After releasing the previous two-week Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Construction Update more than two business days late, on 9/4/14, Forest City Ratner and Empire State Development did much better this week, releasing the latest alert, dated today, at 9:36 am.

The document reveals that on or about Wednesday night, September 17, 2014, "the contractor will work to extend the exploratory work for the LIRR tunnel wall across the intersection of 6th Avenue."

"A trench along the LIRR tunnel wall will be excavated and then plated over to maintain traffic over 6th Avenue," the document states. The work will take place over two to three nights form 10 pm to 6 am.

How much noise and who monitors it?

No mention is made regarding the steps taken to limit the noise. The Second Amended Memorandum of Environmental Commitments (MEC), signed this June, documents the developer's commitment to meeting noise levels set forth in the city's Noise Control Code or even lower levels stated in the Final Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement.

The MEC states that Forest City's OEM, or on-site environmental monitor, "staff shall check applicable equipment for compliance with the MEC Noise Requirements when the equipment is first
mobilized."

However, there's no OEM yet. The MEC states that Forest City shall "use commercially reasonable efforts to retain the engineering firm to serve as the OEM on or before September 15, 2014," meaning today.

At the Quality of Life meeting 9/4/14, Forest City rep Ashley Cotton said "it will be a little later than September 15," but that "the delay is going to be very short." She agreed to make an announcement to neighbors when the monitor is hired.

Demolition coming

On the southeast block of the project site, Block 1129, asbestos abatement of 752 Pacific Street, the one extant building, has been completed.

"Subject to receipt of permit, Demolition of 752 Pacific Street is expected to commence during this reporting period," the alert states.

B2 work stoppage recharacterized

While the previous alert stated that "Work at the B2 [modular] site has been halted by a wrongful work stoppage by construction manager Skanska," suggesting that ESD was taking Forest City's side, the new alert simply says that "Work at the B2 site and within the modular factory has been halted."
At B3 site

Not only have trailers to be used in connection with the Green Roof construction been installed onto the B3 site, near Dean Street and Sixth Avenue, and fencing reconfigured for the entire site, developers will start soil characterization borings "to facilitate soil disposal related to future B3 building construction.

LIRR Yard Activities - Block 1120 & 1121 (verbatim excerpts)
• Pile drilling along the north side of Pacific Street has been completed. SOE [support of excavation] work including the installation of lagging and tiebacks will continue in this area during this reporting period.
• Drilling of SOE minipiles under the east side of the 6th Avenue Bridge is scheduled to begin during this reporting period.
• During this reporting period, the Contractor will continue excavation and hauling of soil from Blocks 1120 and 1121. 
See the document for contact information for the ESD and the developer.

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Construction Alert September 15, 2014

Latest estimate halves cost-savings from (best-case) modular construction, but delays make it worse; platform cost mitigated by leap in land value

Even before we learned that Forest City Ratner's modular construction gambit was not working as planned, a revised New York State document estimated that the cut in costs/wages from a best-case modular buildout would be only 11%-12%, rather than the 22% previously estimated.

Why? The previous document had left out a key element in Phase 2 of the Atlantic Yards project: the platform over the railyard.

The revised estimate translates into a 12% cut in tax revenues--half the previous projection--compared to conventional construction. On this specific metric, it would be not as bad a deal for the public than previously estimated.

Overall, the revised estimate suggests that, in the best case, the savings from modular would be far less than the 25% Forest City was projecting only a year ago (or 15-20% less, in other projections).

Without more detail, we don't know exactly why the projection changed so much. Either the savings were overstated from the start, or two estimates, issued this year as part of the court-ordered Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, were already acknowledging that the first tower was taking long than assumed.

Cost overruns/delays change the picture

For now, however, any cost estimate is suspect, since the best-case projection of the modular buildout is unlikely, given the news of extensive cost overruns for the first modular tower, B2, and the bitter legal dispute between Forest City and Skanska.

Forest City's new partner/overseer on Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, the Chinese government-owned Greenland Group, has decided that the next towers will be built conventionally.

So we won't be hearing the much-promoted claims that modular construction, shifting most work to the factory at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, would mean fewer trucks, less waste, and safer working conditions.

Modular construction was supposed to save time, but hasn't. B2, which broke ground in December 2012, was originally said to take 20 months (though Forest City in one earlier interview hoped for 14 months!), The delivery date then became December 2014, a two-year buildout.

As of April 2014, it was slated to open in the fourth quarter of 2015, a three-year buildout. Now there's no projected opening date. Savings evaporate with delay, and clearly the cost projections are altered by increased, unanticipated costs.

Error in environmental review leads to recalculation

This article revises what I wrote on 3/31/14, Revealed: Atlantic Yards modular construction means 22% drop in costs/wages, 10% cut in jobs, 24% loss in tax revenues.

I didn't miscalculate. I was merely reporting on the data in the Draft Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (Draft SEIS), released by Empire State Development after preparation by the ubiquitous consultant AKRF.

It  seemingly contrasted with the Forest City Ratner statement, as shown in the slide at right, that modular construction would require the same amount of person-hours as conventional construction (though with lower wages).

Yes, my doubt was unfounded, it turns out, but Forest City had not released detailed information to bolster its statement. (When it comes to statistics, well, the developer's record is less than stellar.)

When ESD accepted and approved the Final SEIS on 6/12/14, the Executive Summary indicated an error, though without a clear admission: "The numbers included in this FSEIS have been revised to reflect inclusion of the costs associated with the platform work, which were not included in the DSEIS."

That led to the recalculation: "the investment for construction of Phase II of the Project using modular construction methods is estimated to equal about $2.15 billion in 2013 dollars. This would represent about a 12 percent reduction from costs using conventional construction methods."

That also means an 11% cut in wages, and only a 1% cut in job-years.

The statistics, from Final SEIS

From Final SEIS
Direct employment would be about 9,051 job-years, a cut of 97 job-years. The use of modular would generate 7,538 job-years in the state, bringing the total direct and generated jobs from construction of the projected development to 16,589 job-years, a cut of about 176 job-years.

Direct wages and salaries would be $653.20 million, in 2013 dollars, an 11% reduction from conventional construction. In the broader New York State economy, total direct and generated wages and salaries from construction would be about $1.11 billion, again an 11% cut.

The total $153.41 million in tax revenues for New York City, MTA, and New York State, in 2013 dollars, is about 88% of the total estimated for conventional construction, or, a 12% cut.

The statistics, from the Draft SEIS

As I wrote, the Draft SEIS stated:
Based on the preliminary estimates, the investment for construction of Phase II of the Project using modular construction methods is estimated to equal about $1.90 billion ($1,895.66 million) in 2013 dollars. This would represent about a 22 percent reduction from costs using conventional construction methods.
From Draft SEIS
The cost of the platform, and who's paying

The Final SEIS estimates the total cost of Phase 2 at $2,145,650,000, while the Draft SEIS estimate was $1,895,000,000. The difference is just about $250 million, or $249,990,000.

That $250 million sum apparently represents "costs associated with the platform work," which may or may not include spinoff costs.

The cost of the platform has been estimated at between $200 million and 300 million. In March 2010, then-Daily News columnist Errol Louis wrote:
State agencies and the Ratner company haven't been blameless. We still don't know who will pay to create an expensive deck over the Vanderbuilt railyards, the section of the project area where thousands of units of housing are supposed to be built.

The expected cost - as much as $200 million to $300 million by some estimates - may get picked up by Ratner, or the bill may get handed to the city or state a decade from now, long after human and institutional memories of the original deal have faded.
May get picked up by Ratner? That's the developer's responsibility, and part of why the cash payment for the 8.5-acre railyard--$100 million, with a gentle interest rate--was so little.

Now Greenland Forest City Partners, the new joint venture, is responsible for the platform. They may use current or--I'd bet--future EB-5 funds to pay. If they get the city or state to pay, well, that would great for their shareholders, less so for the public.

The value of development rights: more than $1 billion?

As I wrote, development rights for the 8.5-acre Vanderbilt Yard, after a MTA-requested appraisal, were appraised in 2005 at $75/square foot, for 3,615,790 developable square feet.

That appraisal estimated the platform cost at between $54 million and $72 million and thus arrived at a value of $214.5 million.

But development sites in downtown Brooklyn are now valued at $350/square foot, a broker stated this past April. (The Junior's site got a bid of $450/sf, as noted by Noticing New York, which analyzed land values at some other development sites.)

If we calculate platform development rights at $300/square foot, the value would be $1,084,737,000. At $350/square foot, the value would be $1,265,526,500, and at $400/sf, the value would be $1,446,316,000. 

If Forest City and partner are paying some $500 million--a rough estimate if you add the cash, the (higher-cost estimate) platform, the cost of the new subway entrance and carrying costs--that looks like a very good deal.

How much will railyards support?

It's not clear, the development rights over the railyard may cover more than than 3,615,790 developable square feet. 

The six towers north of Pacific Street east of 6th Avenue--B5 through B10-- would total 3,487,392 square feet, though they would not be coterminous with the railyard. They would be built partly over what is now private property jutting south Atlantic Avenue, but they likely cannot be built without the platform. (See first graphic below.)

Add in part--40%--of the 670,000 square foot arena that sits over the railyard, as well as much of B4, which should have 824,629 square feet. It deserves a recalculation.
From Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

Two recent versions of  Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park