Posts tagged with "Atlantic Yards":

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FOGA Cut by How Much?

We knew that Gehry Partners had trimmed its staff recently due to the recession. But according to a story in Architectural Record, the cuts are much worse than we thought. Tony Illia writes that the company has reduced its staff from 250 a year ago to 112 now. That's more than a 50 percent chop! Many of the cuts are due to the losses of projects like Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, and the delay of projects like Grand Avenue in Los Angeles. Still the firm is still set to move into roomier new digs in El Segundo (pictured above)  later this year. Should be.. spacious. Still the story says the firm is working on new projects like a Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi,  the Beekman tower in Lower Manhattan, and the Eisenhower Memorial in Washington.
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See Bruce in Court!

We recently wrote above how opponent's best hope of stopping Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards Project was not the departure of Frank Gehry but lawsuits. There was a good possibility the "sweetheart" deals the state had crafted to make Ratner's project easier to move forward could have triggered further litigation, but it seems it may not even come to that, as the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, has decided to hear Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's challenge to the state's use of eminent domain. With oral arguments not due until October, the outcome of the suit may not even matter, as it will likely further delay a scheduled fall groundbreaking on the new arena and could make it even harder for Ratner to secure tax-exempt financing before year's end. Update: Forest City Ratner remains confident in the success of its project, with spokesman Joe DePlasco emailing along the following statement:
The Appellate Division ruled unanimously in May in favor of the use of eminent domain because of the public benefits associated with Atlantic Yards. We’re confident that the Court of Appeals will come to the same conclusion. We are moving forward aggressively following last week’s approval by the MTA and authorization by the Empire State Development Corporation. We intend to be in construction before the end of the year.
What he failed to mention but what the Observer astutely, uh, observed was that the decision to hear the case in October was in contravention of a request from the state's attorneys to hear the case no later than September 9. This could be seen as yet another attempt by the state to accomodate the developer's very tight timeline for financing and construction, something that has been an acute complaint for opponents. Whether or not it means greater sympathy from the court, who knows, though it is also a welcome sign of judicial independence. As we noted above, litigation, while often unsuccessful, has been at the heart of opponents' efforts to stall, and thereby derail, Ratner's project. In fact, the deals reached last week will tentatively be rescinded if Ratner cannot secure financing by March 31, 2010, be it tax-exempt or otherwise. Depending on whom you ask, DDDB and company were given a decisive rebuff by the state appellate court's unanimous dismissal of the eminent domain case back on May 15 or a more apologetic there's-nothin'-we-can-do rejection. This may still be the case, but again it may not matter. As the dogged Norman Oder put it a thorough post on his Atlantic Yards Report: "At the very least, the appeal delays Forest City Ratner's announced plans to begin construction by October and severely narrows--but does not close--the window of opportunity to have crucial tax-exempt bonds issued by the end of the year." He also recounts the constitutional issues raised by the lower court's decisions that could lead to a different outcome at the Court of Appeals, which he had previously expounded upon when the state first asked the court to allow its "slum clearance" program to go forward earlier this month.
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Gehry Officially Gone

As we wrote in  our story last week, Frank Gehry might not be involved with any buildings on the Atlantic Yards site and not just the arena. As a Forest City Ratner spokesperson told me, "Frank might design one of the buildings later, I don’t think it’s impossible. But right now, he is just the master planner.” Well, as of yesterday, WNYC reported that the it will be impossible after all:
Just two years ago, developer Forest City Ratner was insisting Gehry would design each and every one of the 16 towers that surrounded the arena. Gehry had dubbed one of them Miss Brooklyn. But two sources close to the project say now the developer is not planning to use Gehry any more, citing costs, the architect's lack of interest and the complications of meshing different architectural styles in a small space. A spokesman for Forest City Ratner said Gehry is still "involved" in the project but did not answer specific questions. The developer says it plans to break ground on the arena this fall, and the first residential building six months later.
While this is unsurprising news, it highlights just how challenging the project will be going forward, from the prospective of design, and also reaffirms a frequent criticism of Ratner's project, that the developer has no interest in building anything but the arena. Sure, it could be done, but at what (additional) cost?
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Follow the Money

And you thought the bonuses were the worst part of the AIG bailout. If you happen to oppose Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it turns out that there might be bigger fish to fry, as the gang over at Develop Don't Destory Brooklyn are blaming the bailout for helping to keep the notoriously nascent project afloat. In a press release, DDDB argues that because AIG paid $8.5 billion of its $170 billion federal bailout to Barclays, and Barclays is paying $400 million to Ratner for the naming rights of the arena, Ratner is therefore receiving $400 billion from the federal government. DDDB's Dan Goldstein put it thusly:
Why are TARP bailout funds flowing through AIG to a British bank to Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises for a billion dollar arena in Brooklyn? Why are federal taxpayers being forced to pay for Barclays' marketing scheme? There is no justification for it, especially as TARP funds are supposed to spur banks to start lending again, rather than prop up activities such as the Barclays-Ratner boondoggle. The federal bailout of AIG was not intended to assist Barclays in hyping its brand in Brooklyn, or to help them slap their logo, for 20 years, no less, on a basketball arena already heavily dependent on city, state and federal subsidies.
Granted, it seems like a bit of a stretch to us--and Aristotle, too--no matter how fungible money is. UPDATE: Then again, we've been wrong before. Both the Bergen County Record and Daily News look into the bailout connection, which seems to pass their smell test. News columnist Juan Gonzalez connects the dots:
For those who have forgotten, Barclays is the bank that agreed back in 2007 to pay $400 million in a 20-year naming rights deal for Forest City Ratner's proposed new basketball arena in Brooklyn. Last November, in the midst of a world financial meltdown, and with prospects for Ratner's Atlantic Yards project looking bleaker than ever, Barclays reaffirmed its intention to spend that $400 million for what is essentially vanity advertising. So just around the time Barclays receives $8.5 billion from AIG's bailout package, the British firm decides to go forward with its naming rights deal in Brooklyn. If it ever gets built, we should call it the American Bailout Arena, for the old ABA, where the Nets got their start.
Perhaps Ratner has gotten his stimulus money after all. (via AYR)
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How Unappealing

The folks over at Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn have been paper-cutting Forest City Ratner for years now, with lawsuit after lawsuit, but they may almost be out of legal options. Today, the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the ESDC had not erred in its environmental review filing for Atlantic Yards. The case wound up at the appellate court after it was declined by a lower court, but that hasn't stopped Dan Goldstein and company from already pushing the issue to the next level:
Hopefully, the Court of Appeals will provide a standard to avoid the ludicrous outcome that, despite the significant questions about the improper motives of the ESDC and the inappropriate influence of the developer, the court's hands are tied and constrained to uphold the approval of such a disastrous project.
Dad always said not to follow him into the lawyering business because there was too much politics at the bench, but we can't help but think that it's too much confusion. In this case, the justices said that while they sort of agreed with the plaintiff, precedent held that the ESDC could basically do what it wants. From the ruling:
While we do not agree with petitioners’ legal arguments, we understand those arguments to be made largely as proxies for very legitimate concerns as to the effect of a project of such scale upon the face and social fabric of the area in which it is to be put.  Those concerns, however, have relatively little to do with the project’s legality and nearly everything to do with its socio-economic and aesthetic desirability, matters upon which we may not pass.  To the extent that the fate of this multi-billion dollar project remains, in an increasingly forbidding economy, a matter of social and political volition, the controlling judgments as to its merits are the province of the policy-making branches of government, not the courts.
And so now onward to destiny. And more billable hours. Which may well be the point. With the collapse of the economy, Forest City Ratner is running out of time to find financing for the project before certain contracts expire. And so, in losing and thereby dragging things out after half-a-dozen legal challenges, DDDB can actually claim a win. Still, Ratner seemed happy about his prospects in a release, one of very few since the project began to sour amid the economic crisis:
Once again the courts have decided in favor of Atlantic Yards. This project has been reviewed as thoroughly as any in the city and not it is time to put these cases behind us and get to work.
But there is also another case currently at the appellate division, which had its first hearing two days ago, and where the justices seemed to favor the plaintiffs. Could this be the end? The burning question thus remains: The return of Frank or a world of brownstone?
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Atlantic Yards Gets Contextual

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)
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Strike Two? Not So Fast

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.
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Cutting the Nets?

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 now
Now 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.