Skip to main content

Times focuses on retail changes near arena site, suggests blight of "dreary" rail yards transformed & "die-hard opponents" worried about liquor license (nah)

I can't say I didn't predict that the New York Times would cover last week's appellate court ruling parenthetically, essentially dismissing an important rebuke to the state agency that has championed Atlantic Yards.

Instead, the Times's Impact of Atlantic Yards, for Good or Ill, Is Already Felt, complete with several photos, focuses on retail changes near Flatbush Avenue, some accelerated by the arena, some already in process, and pretty much ignores issues of accountability:
the reality is that the Atlantic Yards project has already done the very thing that critics feared and supporters promoted: transform surrounding neighborhoods prized for their streets of tree-lined brownstones and low-key living.
Was an arena really needed to accelerate retail along Flatbush Avenue? How about a rezoning of the few blocks zoned industrial and an effort to market the Vanderbilt Yard? (Streetsblog nails it: "NYT Mistakes Ongoing Gentrification of Brooklyn for Atlantic Yards Effect.")

(Clink on my Twitter feed for links regarding my first reactions. Also note that the Times published a similar article, more real estate-focused, last month.)

Blight removed?

Here's the most deceptive passage:
For Forest City Ratner, the developer of the project, which was strongly backed by many city leaders, the changes are evidence that the arena has already met its goal of transforming a dreary section of Brooklyn — the Long Island Rail Road’s rail yards and surrounding industrial buildings, which the company’s spokesman described as “ a scar that divided the neighborhood.”
“That’s a sign of economic vitality, something that’s good for the borough,” said Joe DePlasco, the Ratner spokesman.
In other words, the project has successfully removed the blight that was the justification for eminent domain.

It hasn't.

Forest City Ratner hasn't even paid the MTA for the development rights to most of the railyard. It renegotiated a 22-year schedule to pay. As for the "surrounding industrial buildings," the largest (the Ward Bakery) was torn down for the interim surface parking lot (bookended by a historic district), and other large ones were condo conversions torn down for the arena (Spalding, Atlantic Arts).

Rather, the combination of the arena, and dense nearby residential populations, has driven up rents. And, as Chuck Ratner, then CEO of parent Forest City Enterprises, once said, "it's a great piece of real estate" (not a "dreary section of Brooklyn").
Map from NY Times, annotations in blue

(Note that the article does not include the more-often-than-not disclosure that the Times Company and Forest City Ratner were partners in building the Times's new headquarters. Also note that comments are not enabled for the article.)

A deceptive map

The attached map (right) is misleading in several ways. First, it covers only the arena block, west of Sixth Avenue, plus a small fraction of the rest of the project site. (For the overall project plan, see the top of this blog.) So there's no mention of the planned interim surface parking lot.

Also, the map suggests that the Barclays Center arena extends barely halfway between Fifth and Sixth avenues, rather than quite close to Sixth. Similarly, it suggests that the arena extends south from Atlantic Avenue barely past Pacific Street, rather than nearly to Dean Street.  (See photo below left of the arena, from the Barclays Center Facebook page.)

Two streets are missing: Sixth Avenue is a through street east of the arena block, continuing north from Dean Street to Atlantic Avenue. Pacific Street, while demapped for the arena block, extends east of Sixth Avenue.

Photo from Barclays Center Facebook page
Finally, the map gives no indication that there's a missing "tooth" in the site plan on Block 1128, between Dean and Pacific Street, 100 feet east of Sixth Avenue. That's the width of five houses. Two of those houses have been demolished and the space will be used for a broadcast support area. Three houses remain privately owned, though they occupy land designed for a future project building. Everything east of that is not part of the project site.

Missing context

The article lacks crucial context, such as explaining sufficiently why neighbors might be concerned about shoehorning an arena, at least on a couple of flanks, into a residential district, complete with an interim surface parking lot.

The article states:
The 19,000-seat arena plans 220 events a year. That kind of building should never have been allowed in a residential neighborhood, said Peter Krashes, president of the Dean Street Block Association.

That's not just his opinion.

That's the opinion of the City Planning Commission, which requires a 200-foot cordon between sports facilities and residential areas--but in this case city zoning was overridden by the state. (Update) Krashes tells me that he didn't say that the arena "should never have been allowed," but rather that zoning aimed to protect residents had been overriden, leading to various flaws associated with trying to operate an arena in such a tight spot.

While a few neighbors get their say in the article, the Times doesn't explain the zoning issue, or that the path from the parking lot goes down a block with sidewalks that narrow to six feet. The term "parking lot" doesn't appear in the article.

The delays in the Transportation Demand Management plan, once promised for December, now due in May, go unmentioned. Ditto with the state's deceptions regarding the Carlton Avenue Bridge.

Is there any mention of Atlantic Yards Watch, which steadily catalogs the impact of construction on the neighborhood, and the ways the developer and state periodically evade responsibility? No.

Any mention of Forest City Ratner's $500,000+ a year lobbying tab, aimed in part to stave off a proposal for a new governance entity? No.

Any mention of the delay in affordable housing, aimed to counter gentrification, as project supporters like ACORN's Bertha Lewis argued? No.

The lawsuit

Here's the coverage, in toto, of the lawsuit:
A ruling by a state appeals court last week, stemming from one of the lawsuits over the project, may cause additional delays in putting up most of the housing — though not in building the arena itself — by requiring the state to conduct a new environmental impact statement.
The ruling by the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court said that the Empire State Development Corporation conducted its environmental review based on a 10-year time frame, but that a 25-year schedule could force residents to “tolerate vacant lots, above-ground arena parking and Phase II construction staging for decades.”
Actually, that's not what the ruling said. It said that the ESDC should have examined a 25-year schedule. And the implication, as lawyers for the petitioners pointed out, is that the Barclays Center would never have gotten tax-exempt financing had the state, as it should have, conducted a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement in late 2009.

That liquor license

The article states:
Even now, as the oyster-shaped basketball arena that will anchor a 22-acre housing and office complex rises against the low-slung Brooklyn skyline, die-hard opponents are still resisting. Last week they packed a hearing held by two community boards to block the arena from speedily receiving a liquor license.
The implication is that those clueless bitter-enders should stop resisting. Actually, most of those at the Community Board meeting last week on the liquor license were not "die-hard opponents." (The reporter, new to Atlantic Yards, wasn't there. Was he relying on the New York Post article or the more sober account in the Times's Local blog?)

Actually, a good number were just Community Board members. And some of the most vocal people were, in the history of Atlantic Yards activism, never "die-hard" opponents but rather "mend-it-don't-end-it" BrooklynSpeaks types.

A caption states:
Some neighbors talk of the prospect of drunken, celebrating fans, though the team has had little to celebrate in the last few seasons in New Jersey.
The issue isn't whether the team wins. The issue is rowdiness in a residential neighborhood, whether from crowds attending basketball games or concerts. After all, as the Times doesn't acknowledge, the setting is nothing like that of the United Center in Chicago, offered as an example by a security official at the liquor license meeting.

"Beguiling" retail

The article states:
Shops along the workaday stretch of Flatbush Avenue south of the arena that for generations sold unglamorous products like hardware, paint, plumbing supplies, prescription drugs, even artificial limbs, are seeing new businesses pop up that sell high-heel shoes for $3,500 a pair, revealing party dresses, exotic cheeses and, of course, high-priced martinis. Dozens of restaurants and bars, with beguiling names like Fish and Sip and Va beh’ (Italian slang for “It’s all good!”), have sprouted on major thoroughfares and serene side streets.
Actually, changes began well before the arena, with restaurants like Franny's (gaining acclaim for more than five years) and stores like Brooklyn Larder (opened March 2009) that are doing quite well without it.

Brooklyn Larder, which appears in a photo, opened before the key state Court of Appeals decision on eminent domain that allowed the arena to go forward. Its neighbor, Park Slope Optical, was there well before then.

Ditto with Fish & Sip, which opened in Spring 2009 and appears in a photo with its neighbor, Gino's Pizza, which has been there since almost forever. (Fish and Sip, by the way, replaced a restaurant with a basketball-themed sign.)

Now there are new bars and restaurants, some established and some coming, but they're not pictured in the article.

And, by the way, there's no mention of the effort by the beguilingly named Hooters to gain a foothold.

Transportation plan?

The article states:
Sam Schwartz, the project’s traffic engineering consultant, said the arena was working to limit the numbers of drivers and pedestrians by ensuring that most of the dozen subway lines to the area empty out directly into the arena’s plaza; that express trains are provided at night; and that shuttle buses at remote parking areas pick up those who choose to drive.
Unmentioned: the transportation plan is more than five months late. We know there's a new subway entrance.

Are there a dozen subway lines are there to the area? The Barclays Center website cites 11, nine of them to the transit hub known at this point as Atlantic Avenue/Pacific Street:
Take the 2, 3, 4, 5, B, D, N, Q, or R train to Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center Station.
Take the C Lafayette Avenue or the G to Fulton Street.
Initial tweets

Comments

  1. So frustrating that they're not taking comments on that story!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great rebuttal of a truly awful piece of journalism. Thanks for keeping up the fight!

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…

Former ESDC CEO Lago returns to NYC to head City Planning Commission

Carl Weisbrod, Mayor Bill de Blasio's City Planning Commission Chairman and Director of the Department of City Planning, is resigning,

And he's being replaced by Marisa Lago, currently a federal official, but who Atlantic Yards-ologists remember as the short-term Empire State Development Corporation CEO who, in an impolitic but candid 2009 statement, acknowledged that the project would take "decades."

Still, Lago not long after that played the good soldier at a May 2009 Senate oversight hearing, justifying changes in the project but claiming the public benefits remained the same.

By returning to City Planning, Lago will join former ESDC General Counsel Anita Laremont, who after retiring from the state (and taking a pension) got the job with the city.

Back at planning

Lago, a lawyer, in 1983 began work as an aide to City Planning Chairman Herb Sturz, and later served as the General Counsel to the president of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, Weisbrod himself.