There have been countless symbols for the end of the real estate boom, both literal--the collapse of Countrywide, the Fannie & Freddie takeover, the unfinished tract homes and decaying "For Sale" signs--and figurative--the Eastside crane accidents, the TVCC Fire. But we think this back-to-nature scene spotted over the weekend in Williamsburg takes the, uh, mortgage. Perhaps the only thing more amazing than a Red-Tailed Hawk alighting upon an I-Beam of a half-finished condo a few blocks from the Graham Avenue L-stop is the scene it induced: two Italian women straight out of Scorsese and two bike-hipsters straight out of Quicksilver, all gawking at the same raptor. It even stopped traffic on Manhattan Avenue. The perfect tableau of a neighborhood that never was and never will be again. The project is 123 Skillman Avenue, designed by Robert Scarano Architects. It had lain dormant for years--becoming affectionately known as Skillman Ave. Pool of Death--but city records show the site very much back in action after a million dollar sale in August. Combined with the fact that red-tailed hawks are a rather common sight in the city, what seemed like a Weismanian dream on a brisk, sunny Sunday turns out to be just another Brooklyn condo project plugging along come windy, fluorescent Monday. Still, it was pretty badass when he swooped down into the pit and nabbed a rodent snack. UPDATE: Robert Scarano kindly sent along the following rendering of the building planned for the site. He also joked that the hawk was his and meant to keep meddlesome bloggers away.
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The Atlantic Yards has been through a number of iterations, including one by the Post entitled Atlantic Lots, which was developed with the MAS. But today's rendering by the paper is perhaps its slyest yet, taking a proclamation by "biggest cheeleader" Borough President Marty Markowitz, who called for the project to be clad in brownstone as a cost-saving measure. The comment came after rumors circulated that not only was Frank Gehry's staff off the project, but so was the architect himself. Bruce Ratner, the project's developer, admitted that a cost-engineering firm had been hired--though as much of the press incorrectly presumed, this has little to do with the employment status of the project lead--and said later that he would consider Markowitz's proposal. And yet, neither agreed to comment on the Post's renderings when contacted by the paper. (Reporter Rich Calder said in an email that a firm in the city did the mock-up, though he would not identify which one, at the architect's behest.) Dan Goldstein, head of anti-Yards group Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, was happy to fill the void, calling the project's demise once again.
"With its substantial legal and financial obstacles, the Atlantic Yards proposal is on life support," Goldstein said. "It is time for the Paterson Administration to pull the plug.Naturally, Curbed had its own Romantic ideas about the whole affair. And if the whole brownstone saga weren't strange enough, No Land Grab picked up an interesting tidbit from a profile of retiring Miami Heat center Alonso Mourning, who said that after being traded to the Nets, where he expected to win a championship, the team subsequently took a nosedive. When he asked Ratner what was going on, Mourning said the Nets owner and Atlantic Yards developer told him that moving the team to Brooklyn was his sole priority, not winning games. (h/t AYR)
First Laurie Olin, now Frank Gehry. That was the news earlier this week when the Wall Street Journal reported that the Santa Monica-based architect had laid off "more than two dozen" staffers involved with Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project. What followed was a string of cheers predicting the troubled Brooklyn mega-development's demise. After all, how could it go on without its signature architect? While considering this question, I kept thinking of a comment made by Kermit Baker yesterday, during an interview about the abysmal November billings index. Given what's going on elsewhere in the industry, the termination of a handful of architects may not signal the doomsday scenario the project's critics would like, and instead may be one more credit-related payroll pause like many others around the nation:
What we're seeing, as a result of the credit freeze, is a lot of projects, even a lot of good projects, being put on hold. Once the credit markets begin to unfreeze, though, a lot of this work will come back. You know, "Okay. We got our financing back in place, why don't you get back to work on this." It's very disconcerting because these sudden seizures can be very unexpected. It's hard to own and manage and know how to cope.Hence the layoffs, largely unforeseen, plaguing firms nationwide, a problem we've noted before. Though Baker was not speaking specifically to the Gehry/Atlantic Yards layoffs, he said he was seeing the same sort of "payroll activity" at many of the dozens of firms he surveys to put together the billings index. The upshot to all the bad news, Baker said, is that it is possible that, as credit becomes available again, a number of projects could come back online:
There are some projects that do make sense in this economy. Obviously, the list of ones that don't make sense has gotten longer and the list of projects that do make sense has gotten shorter. But there was a time when even those projects could not get financing. I expect that to change at some point, hopefully in the near future.And while financing could very well turn around for the project, as Baker speculates, the Observer is not so sure it will. Furthermore, the Daily News reports today that Gehry and Ratner may not be on the best of terms, as the architect has not been paid for what the paper reports are still unfinished Phase One designs. Still, the point is that, while the layoffs could be another possible death knell for Atlantic Yards, they could also simply be the economizing of one of many architects in dire straits at the moment. As for Gehry's office not returning phone calls--something the Daily News and others see as a sign that the project is faltering--don't read too much into that, either. The firm is notoriously press averse, even on the most laudatory pieces, almost never returning phone calls.
It's been a busy day out at Coney Island. Not only did local City Council rep Dominic Recchia tell the Post that the city is trying to buy up developer Joe Sitt's stake in the area, but now comes the Municipal Art Society's zany plans for the famed amusement park. The MAS spent a busy week talking to the community and then working to conceive fanciful designs with a world-renowned team of planners, designers, and amusement experts, the fruits of which were unveiled at a press conference today at Borough Hall. AN had a correspondent on the scene, but these renderings are just too nice to keep to ourselves. With the blustery weather outside, maybe they can give hope for a warmer future. More amusements after the jump. Update: We almost forgot! Do check out the party tonight at BAM, where the designers and their designs will be on view. It starts at 6:30, and a source tells us there will be free Coney Island Lager on hand. See you there. (We'll be wearing the pink tie and the gray cardigan.)
At Monday's Coney Island charrette kick-off, hosted by the Municipal Art Society, a number of stakeholders from the area gave presentations to the design team to help them form ideas for leading the charrette in a few weeks. (To share your own, visit the imagineconey.com, which just launched today.) One of the presentations was given by Jon Benguiat, the director of planning and development for Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who spoke about Asser Levy Park, a small outdoor amphitheater and park across Surf Avenue from the aquarium, which is getting a dramatic $64 million retractable roof courtesy of Grimshaw. (More on that soon, we hope.) As with all these things, there was a Power Point presentation, and as with all Power Point presentations, the whole thing took some time to boot up. In the interim, Benguiat decided to tell the story of how he became Marty's planning direct, during which he let some shocking news about the Atlantic Yards, or at least the fate of the Brooklyn Nets, slide. But first a caveat: We had considered letting this news go on Monday, in light of the off-hand circumstances and the fact that AN is not one for "gotcha journalism." After all, it would not come as a surprise to most people following the project that it is in trouble, what with Forect City's stock plummeting, its credit rating following suit, and, speaking of suit's, DDDB's got picked up by the state appeals court. Granted the IRS ruled in Bruce Ratner's favor on some tax-exempt bonds, but that's got to be small consolation. However, when reports about the possible sale or relocation of the Nets began to circulate the past two days, as Atlantic Yards watchdog Norman Oder has pointed out, we felt it out duty to relay Benguiat's words. Waiting on Monday for the projector to warm up, Benguiat told the crowd that, when Marty got elected, he had served as the previous borough president's director of land use. Asking if Markowitz was looking for one, the beep-to-be said no, but he did need a director of planning. "Without even thinking about it, I said yes," Benguiat said. "Then I spent the whole night fretting, wondering what I'd gotten myself into." Benguiat said his anxiety only grew when he showed up for the first day of work and Markowitz rattled off the list of initiatives he hoped to pursue: the revival of Coney Island, return of pro sports to the borough, realization of Brooklyn Bridge Park, and redevelopment of the Greenpoint/Williamsburg waterfront. "I won't repeat all the expletives I spewed when I heard this," Benguiat said. "But here we are, nearly all of them complete. I'm not sure if we're going to get the Nets or not. We should have groundbreaking in December, but we'll see." How much Benguiat knows--even Ratner has admitted that the groundbreaking will likely be pushed back due to the lawsuit--is uncertain, but his statement is one of the most dire to come out of the Markowitz administration, which is uniformly unwavering in its support for the project, no matter the legal or financial circumstances. Asked to clarify his comments afterwards, Benguiat declined to comment, instead directing AN to the borough president's press office, which released the following statement from Markowitz:
The current state of the American economy underscores the importance of moving ahead with projects like Atlantic Yards, and I am confident the project will happen. It will create union jobs and much-needed affordable housing, as well as bring professional sports back to Downtown Brooklyn—becoming just the kind of investment magnet that Brooklyn and New York City need right nowNow that the team is in doubt, would the Atlantic Yards project still enjoy the full support of the borough president without one of its foremost reasons for being? Markowitz's office has yet to respond on that front. No word yet from Forest City Ratner, either.