Posts tagged with "Development":

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A casino and mixed-used development will fill one of Toronto’s last, large undeveloped sites

A group of U.S. firms have  been selected to help design one of Toronto's major undeveloped sites, a 683-acre property where a mixed-use urban neighborhood will be built. These include the Laguna Beach, California-based office of SWA Group, San Francisco-based BCV Architects, and New York-based Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates. The site—about 1.5 miles north of Toronto's Pearson International Airport—is currently owned by Woodbine Entertainment Group; the development will be built around the existing Woodbine Racetrack, which hosts live horse races four days a week. The group's gaming offerings will be the focus of the development, and a new casino will join the racetrack on the site. Woodbinem, who's working with development consultant Live Work Learn Play, will also add biking and walking trails, retail and restaurants, and housing. The project will also experiment with growing feed on the premises for its resident thoroughbred horses. Planning will take place over the next six months, while construction might be a decades-long process.
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How Donald Trump transformed New York without any regard for design quality

There is something about the towering, architectural designs of Donald Trump that brings out the best in New York’s architectural wordsmiths and critics: The Trump International Hotel & Tower at 1 Central Park West was a perfect foil for Herbert Muschamp in The New York Times. Philip Johnson and Costas Kondylis re-skinned the old Gulf and Western Building in bronze-tinted glass. (Trump had wanted the glass to be gold.) Johnson, according to the book New York 2000, promised Trump, his client, “a fin de siècle version of the Seagram” building. Muschamp called the facade “a 1950s International Style glass skyscraper in a 1980s gold lamé party dress,” a change he considered an “undeniable improvement.…” “This is not a major work by Mr. Johnson,” Muschamp wrote later in the article. “Still, he has introduced considerable refinement to an essentially crass idea. In fact, the design’s chief merit is the contrast between the commercial vulgarity of the gold skin and the relative subtlety with which it is detailed.”

The building, he said, stands as a “triumph of private enterprise in such a publicly conspicuous place.” Now, he concluded, “a new Trump flagship sails into these troubled civic waters, carrying with it more than a faint air of a floating casino, or perhaps the winnings from one.” But elsewhere he wrote that it could have been worse. True, the design could have sported dollar-sign finials, a one-armed-bandit handle sticking out the side, window shades painted with cherries, oranges, and lemons, and a pile of giant Claes Oldenburg coins at the base instead of the scaled-down version of the Unisphere. Or maybe that would have been an improvement. Refinement was never this building’s point anyway.

Critics like Muschamp, Ada Louise Huxtable, and Paul Goldberger could hardly depend on Trump for an informed comment on his designs or buildings. He called his own Trump Tower triplex,  an Angelo Donghia–designed, marble-and-onyx-covered ode to Versailles, “comfortable modernism.” The New York critics had varying opinions about the tower and its six-story indoor mall, which Trump claimed had been designed by his wife, Ivana. The mall’s interior of polished brass and 240 tons of Breccia Pernice marble in shades of rose, peach, pink, and orange was called a “pleasant surprise” by Goldberger, who saw it as “warm, luxurious, and even exhilarating—in every way more welcoming than the public arcades and atriums that preceded it on 5th Avenue.” Huxtable took a more critical view of the space, which she called a “pink marble maelstrom and pricey super glitz…unredeemed by [its] posh ladies’ powder-room decor.” (There may be hope for future buildings, however; Trump’s current wife, Melania, apparently studied architecture and design in school.)

The 725 5th Avenue Trump Tower exterior, with 28 sides, was designed by Der Scutt, of New York’s Poor, Swanke, Hayden & Connell, and was equally criticized by Muschamp, who concluded, “everything [about it] is calculated to make money.” This, of course, was seen as a positive design value by Trump, who argued that the faceted facade gave every room two views and therefore made them more valuable. In fact, the designs of Trump’s buildings are driven solely by profit. Is this unusual for commercial construction in New York? Of course not—but Trump’s buildings are such obvious, in-your-face examples of this reality of how the city is being built in the 21st century.

Beyond the large, expensive brass “Trump” lettering that adorns his buildings, Trump has made a career of taking advantage of public subsidies and then putting up the cheapest-looking project possible. His re-skinning of the Penn Central Transportation Company’s 2,000-room, Warren and Wetmore–designed Commodore Hotel is an example of one such project. Here, he took a perfectly decent—even handsome—1919 brick-and-limestone building, next door to Grand Central Terminal, and clad it with a reflective glass that has not weathered well. The project, rebranded by Trump as the Grand Hyatt Hotel, was done by one of his favorite architectural firms, New York’s Gruzen & Partners, with Der Scutt. The architects did not remove the old facade but instead overlaid a bronze-colored glass set in a grid of dark anodized aluminum. Trump spoke about that facade in The Art of the Deal; he was “convinced that half the reason the Commodore was dying [was] because it looked so gloomy and dated and dingy.…[He] wanted a sleek, contemporary look. Something with sparkle and excitement that would make people stop and take notice.” It’s not that the business barons of yore, such as Cornelius Vanderbilt, the developer of Grand Central Station, were not concerned with profit, but Vanderbilt and his architects, Reed and Stem, as well as Warren and Wetmore, designed a handsome public work of architecture, whose striking stone gateway’s presence makes Trump’s glass skin seem cheap and dated. The building has one of the worst 1980s-era facades in New York.

Given his background, it’s not surprising that Trump, who wallows in his New Yorkness, has no idea of the difference between architecture and building. He was raised in Jamaica Estates, Queens, hard up against the Grand Central Parkway, in what today would be called a Federalist Georgian McMansion, with tall Corinthian columns. He went to New York Military Academy for high school, attended Fordham University, and graduated from the Wharton School, where he studied real estate. While at Wharton, he worked at his father’s building company, which made a fortune developing small buildings in Queens and Brooklyn after World War II, when the government (via the Federal Housing Administration) subsidized affordable housing. Woody Guthrie lived in one in of these buildings, Beach Haven, in Coney Island, and wrote a song about its racially discriminatory rental policies:

I suppose Old Man Trump knows Just how much Racial Hate He stirred up In the bloodpot of human hearts When he drawed That color line Here at his Eighteen hundred family project

Beach Haven, like so many other federally financed affordable projects, was forbidden by the National Housing Act of 1934 from including any extra architectural details or embellishments, something the national real estate industry worked to have included in the law. Though it has directness to its design and some sort of dignity missing from Fred Trump’s Manhattan buildings, Beach Haven is nevertheless a standard New York City complex of stripped down, bland six-story brick boxes, spread across a city grid. It—like his son Donald’s later projects—was a profit-seeking opportunity. The FHA later discovered that Fred Trump had pocketed over $4 million in illicit profits from the construction.

Donald would later put up (or at least put his name on) a similar sort of development, along Riverside Drive just north of 57th Street. Like Beach Haven, Riverside South is a series of bland rectangular boxes spread across a series of city blocks. Though here, rather than looking out over Coney Island, the development looks toward the river. The detailing of these riverside buildings is faintly art deco, recalling their Upper West Side neighborhood in their massing and repetitive walls.

This was also the site for Trump’s proposed Television City, which could have been even worse, or at least more massive. In 1974 to 1975, Trump proposed to develop Television City—with 4,850 apartments, 500,000 square feet of retail space, one million square feet of office space, a 50-room hotel, television studios, parking for 3,700 cars, and 28 acres of open space—in a largely abandoned old train yard. The original scheme, which proposed a large superblock of high-rise towers, with a three-armed telescoping tower, was designed by Murphy/Jahn Architects, of Chicago, and would have been the tallest tower in the world, at 1,670 feet and 150 stories. It was a massive development, with several towers over 70 stories, all built on a podium over the old rail yards and a park. The West Side Highway would have been relocated under the towers to create a road not unlike the one under the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Needless to say, there was opposition to this new complex. The world’s tallest building, many thought, was never meant to be built, but was a ploy, a wedge to get more square footage in the plan approved by the city.

In some ways, Television City came closer to real architecture than any other project from the Trump family (albeit as a forerunner of the contemporary glass boxes that have risen all over the city since the late 1990s). Though Goldberger claimed the tower was “hardly a real building for real people in a real city,” Michael Sorkin was more pointed. In the Village Voice column “Dump the Trump,” Sorkin wrote, “Looking at the boneheaded proposal, one wonders whether the architect even visited the site. Indeed, there is evidence that he did not. The rank of glyphs bespeaks lakeside Chicago, and the centerpiece of the scheme, the 150-story erection, Trump’s third go at the world’s tallest building…was there ever a man more preoccupied with getting it up in public?”

Trump, on the other hand, was his typical ebullient, promotional self and called the plan, in a press release, “the master planner’s grandest plan yet.” Because Trump, more than any builder in New York in the late 20th century, has transformed the city with barely the slightest architecturally-worthy design or public service.

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Pier 40 proposes selling air rights to nearby development to fund repairs

Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT) CEO Madelyn Wils has indicated that the Trust’s board of directors would like to use some of the 400,000 square feet of Pier 40’s development rights to repair the pier and generate revenue, according to a DNAinfo article. HRPT is the organization that controls Pier 40, a park complex of athletic fields, a commercial parking garage, and the administrative offices for the Trust. The pier is one of the properties that comprises the Hudson River Park, a series of parks along the waterfront of the Hudson River in New York City. Pier 40 is required to be financially self-sufficient. The Trust intends to sell 200,000 square feet of the pier's 400,000 square feet of air rights to developers Westbrook Partners and Atlas Capital Group to redevelop St. John's Terminal, located across the street from the pier. This $100 million deal must still complete the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), after which the Trust will hold a vote on the sale of the air rights. The deal is likely to be approved since it "was announced with the blessing of local Councilman Corey Johnson, and the chair of the City Planning Commission, Carl Weisbrod," the article states. DNAinfo was able to compile records of meetings and correspondence that also seemed to indicate support from the city. If the deal is approved, West Village residents fear the potential for several other large-scale projects in the area, but they have been assured that the $100 million of the deal will be used to repair and restore the Pier 40 across the West Side Highway, particularly its rotting piles. According to the DNAinfo article, Wils expressed that the HRPT board believes "office space could be the best use for the development rights [also known as air rights] remaining after 200,000 square feet are sold to the owners of the St. John's Terminal." This action would generate revenue and “help the Trust’s finances."
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California developers sidestep environmental laws, hasten project approval with ballot initiatives

California’s ballot initiative system allows residents to propose laws as well as approve them by popular vote. In the past, this has resulted in drastically reducing property taxes and the approval of the country’s first law for medical marijuana. Recently, controversy has arisen due to the use of the system by developers to disregard state environmental laws and consequently hasten the pace of major developments, reports The New York Times. Using this popular vote system, plans were approved for several major development projects in Moreno Valley including “a stadium in Carson, a shopping center north of San Diego and a vast warehouse complex,” the article lists. This process of approval circumvents the California Environmental Quality Act whose rules would otherwise present obstacles for the developers. Another concern, addressed by The Times article, is that residents do not even have the opportunity to vote on the designs in question. In order for a project to be considered for special election or approval, a petition with the signatures of 15 percent of eligible voters is required. Local officials can then proceed to approve the project without a ballot to avoid the financial burden a special election would present. While the California Environmental Quality Act requires that developers “to identify and mitigate the environmental effects of their projects,” the law is not enforced by any government agency, only by lawsuits. Claims to sue “can range from destroying animal habitats to blocking a view,” The Times states. As a result, projects can be delayed and their costs exacerbated. Out of nine plans for new Walmart stores in California, eight were approved without a ballot. A California Supreme Court decision in 2014 addressed Walmart’s actions determining that elected officials can indeed approve projects without a ballot and therefore avoiding “environmental review.” Other developers have followed suit and projects across the state have attracted scrutiny and opposition for this reason, including a shopping center in Carlsbad and a proposed World Logistics Center in Moreno Valley.
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Developer pitches new $1.2 billion downtown proposal for Reno

Two weeks ago we reported Las Vegas city officials and outside consultants are proposing a new downtown. Now farther north in Reno, local developer Don J Clark Group has unveiled plans for a new downtown. Their proposal centers on both physical infrastructure (a large park, water reclamation, building a tower downtown taller than the current 42-story Silver Legacy Casino Resort) as well as virtual (gigabit internet). "The project is aimed at finding a creative solution to a variety of distinct challenges that the city of Reno...has faced over the course of the last half of the century or so,” Colin Robertson, partner and director of communications and strategy for Don J Clark Group told Nevada Public Radio. Dubbed the West Second Street District, the over $1.2 billion development is planned for north of the Truckee River and west of Virginia Street downtown. The site is currently 17 acres of infill. Renderings reveals the biggest project for downtown Reno to date: 1,900 residences (condos, apartments with 20% affordable units for those making 80% of the median income), over 250,000 square feet of retail space, 450,000 square feet of office space, river access, three acres of green space, public art, and more. Thirty buildings could be built over the next ten years, with the first, a mixed-use commercial and residential building, at 235 Ralston. "The developers will take the unusual step of paying for $49 million in infrastructure and other services. If the project increases property taxes by $100 million over the next decade, the city will repay the cost; if it does not, the developers will," explained Nevada Public Radio. "Cities usually pay for infrastructure for redevelopment, but if property values, and therefore property taxes, don't rise in value as much as expected, the city loses money but must still make the bond payments for infrastructure improvements." More renderings below, and here is a look at prior Reno redevelopment projects, both unbuilt and realized. Don J Clark Group will now see whether Reno approves the $100 million deal.
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The Golden State’s cities calculate how to use unspent development revenues

Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley Reseda neighborhood is poised to spend $23 million in reactivated excess bonds as a result of post-redevelopment bills signed late last year by Governor Jerry Brown.

The action came last September after a series of legislative moves that in 2011 began to wind down and ultimately dissolve all 400 of California’s local city and County Redevelopment Agencies (CRAs)—entities originally conceived to funnel tax increments into blighted areas to promote economic development and affordable housing projects. Leading up to the dissolution, much criticism had been directed to community redevelopment agencies, citing waste and corruption.

“The only way to mend it was to end it and cut out abuses,” said L.A. city councilmember Bob Blumenfield, who was serving in the California State Assembly at the time of the 2011 CRA dissolution and now represents the Third District, which spans the northwest portion of Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley, including the communities of Canoga Park, Reseda, Tarzana, Winnetka, and Woodland Hills. His district contains three of the nine CRA-owned properties that must be developed within a certain frame of time, as set forth in the governor’s bills. “If we don’t put together an acceptable development deal within three years, the nine properties get sold off. Having said that, we have the potential with these three lots in our district to generate catalytic investment that we think will create a domino effect of more development.”

Reseda’s plans for the reinvestment of funds in Los Angeles consist of two key vision plans related geographically and culturally along the historic portion of Sherman Way. The Reseda Theater Adaptive Reuse Project (for which the RFP phase is underway) hopes to spur commercial oriented development, including entertainment, dining, and other services, to activate the street and generate more foot traffic. The “Reseda Rising” project is a larger revitalization project for Sherman Way’s historic commercial corridor and would include two non-contiguous CRA properties as lynchpins in the effort.

For other parts of Los Angeles, the city was able to transfer a pipeline of affordable housing projects, as well as some unspent affordable housing and general redevelopment purpose bonds. Once those projects are completed, however, there will be no more traditional tax increment funds to devote to redevelopment. Los Angeles is currently gearing up to establish a new type of agency that will take the place of the former redevelopment agencies. This model, provisionally referred to as Community Revitalization and Investment Authorities (CRIAs), would provide a minimum 25 percent work programs for affordable housing, with the intention to put a focus on challenged neighborhoods. Unlike the former CRAs, CRIAs would be run by separate boards composed of elected officials and at least two public members.

But the new agencies would be working with nearly 70 percent fewer funds under the CRIA model in accordance with restrictions governor Brown has set out in AB107 and other respective bills. When asked, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office couldn’t give benchmark dates or a timeline for this kind of reorganization, but re-emphasized the mayor’s strong desire to get 100,000 new housing units built in the city by 2021 (Under the mayor’s plan, outlined in 2014, 30,000 new building permits for housing have already been issued as of September 2015.)

Meanwhile, San Francisco will use its reinstated funds to finance a few key housing projects, but the city also negotiated to spend a portion of reactivated funds to implement the Transbay Redevelopment—a large-scale neighborhood and transportation redevelopment atop derelict and demolished highway ramps that were damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Currently used for parking, the mixed-use, transit-oriented neighborhood will comprise approximately seven million square feet of residential, office, retail, hotel, and park spaces, but 1,200 new units reserved for very low, low, and moderate income households (befitting SB 107 requirements). The project between the South of Market Street area and Rincon Hill on San Francisco’s east side also features a 1,100-foot tall-skyscraper by Pelli Clarke Pelli—the Salesforce Tower. San Francisco was able to continue with the Transbay Redevelopment in part because it is  a continuation of funds originally allocated through a CRA, and also because of sheer political will and a big lobbying effort.

Other cities continue to fight for what they view are their legal rights to the property taxes and accrued interest that made up their local CRA funds. Watsonville and Glendale’s lawsuits against the California Department of Finance were settled in the municipalities’ favor, but hundreds of others remain unresolved.

Back in Reseda, councilmember Blumenfield is looking ahead to the economic development opportunities in his district, despite the looming questions about what kind of new agency might accommodate such projects in the future. “If we don’t spend the excess bond money from a development perspective, it’s just gone,” he said. “In my district we need market rate housing and affordable housing. We might be able to use some of the bond money to build affordable housing. Instead of traditional redevelopment funding, there are other options, such as borrowing on future tax revenue or subverting funds back into a project—these are just another shade of the same color.” 

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Pier 57 set to receive $225 million boost from PNC Bank

Pier 57, recently renamed the "SuperPier," has received a $225 million loan from PNC Bank, according to a source close to the Commercial Observer. The $350-million project by RXR Realty and partner Youngwoo & Associates is set restore this old shipping and bus terminal. 560,000 square-feet of mixed-used development will be the result. Seth Pinksy of RXR told the Commercial Observer that they were "still finalizing terms and agreements with all of the relevant parties." Around 480,000 square-feet has already been set aside for office blocks. Google has managed to secure 250,000 square-feet of that space when it signed a 15-year lease, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. So far, there's no word on who'll be Google's neighbors. A food market run by celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain will occupy 100,000 square-feet. Speaking to The New York Times, Bourdain said the food hall will feel like "an Asian night market." In addition, 80,000 square-feet will make up the public park that will housed on top of the pier while promenades on which the public can walk will take up 34,000 square-feet of the structure.
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SHoP and West 8 reveal plans for Philadelphia “Innovation Neighbrhood” at Drexel University

Fourteen acres next to Philadelphia’s 30th Street train station will be transformed into a $3.5 billion “innovation neighborhood” designed to mix education, housing and entrepreneurship, under plans unveiled this week. [beforeafter]Current view looking northwest towards University City. © 2016 SHoP Architects PC / West 8Future view looking northwest towards University City. Schuylkill Yards will be built intentionally in phases designed by different architects over time. © 2016 SHoP Architects PC / West 8[/beforeafter] Schuylkill Yards is the name of the mixed-use project, which will add up to eight million square feet of offices, labs, and housing in new and recycled buildings next to the third busiest passenger rail station in the country. Drexel University, which assembled the land and envisioned the project, announced this week that it has selected Brandywine Realty Trust of Philadelphia to be the master developer and its joint venture partner in the project. SHoP Architects and the Dutch firm West 8 are working on the master plan. SHoP will handle the district planning and development of the architectural standards, and West 8 will be responsible for creating the public realm and development of the landscape standards. Renderings unveiled this week show a combination of high-rise and low-rise buildings on a 10-acre site next to Drexel’s main campus, Amtrak’s 30th Street Station, and Brandywine’s Cira Centre development. “Schuylkill Yards will undeniably transform Philadelphia’s skyline as new towers rise on the west side of the Schuylkill River,” said Gerard H. Sweeney, president and CEO of Brandywine Realty Trust. [beforeafter]Current view from Center City looking west towards West Philadelphia. © 2016 SHoP Architects PC / West 8Future view from Center City looking west towards West Philadelphia. © 2016 SHoP Architects PC / West 8[/beforeafter] Proposed uses in this “collaborative neighborhood” include entrepreneurial spaces, educational facilities and research laboratories, corporate offices, residential and retail spaces, hospitality and cultural venues, and public open spaces. While the community is being designed for a wide range of users, from educational and medical institutions to residents and businesses, developers say the common theme will be the pursuit of innovation “Drexel has always believed there’s a superior use for this unique location — essentially the 50 yard line of the Eastern Seaboard — as a neighborhood built around collaboration and innovation. That’s why the University assembled these parcels, and the time is right to put this vision into action,” said Drexel President John A. Fry. “Schuylkill Yards is more than a large-scale development; it will be the heart of America’s next great urban innovation district.” The developers say this is a long-term investment in Philadelphia and its University City neighborhood, and it’s aimed at people who want to live or work in the area and have easy access to the train station. Besides its proximity to 30th Street Station, Schuylkill Yards will have connections to Philadelphia’s international airport. The master plan calls for a new gateway to Drexel and University City, a real estate submarket with a high concentration of education and medical institutions. Construction of Schuylkill Yards will take place in multiple phases over the course of approximately 20 years. As master developer, Brandywine, will oversee a team that includes Gotham Organization leading the residential development, and Longfellow Real Estate Partners leading the life sciences component. When completed, developers say, the site will contain a mix of repurposed existing buildings and new towers connected by a “diverse network of public spaces.” The development will begin with the creation of Drexel Square, a 1.3 acre park at 30th and Market streets, directly across from Amtrak’s 30th Street Station. In addition, they say, the historic former Bulletin Building will  be reimagined by transforming its east facade with “inside/out viewports and a dynamic front screen.” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said the project represents “one of the most valuable assemblages of real estate” in the nation. “Schuylkill Yards is a big step forward in University City’s transition to a next-generation business district,” he said. “It will provide our region’s current and future innovators with a central hub for collaboration and signal to the world that Philadelphia is ready for business in the 21st century’s new economy.” Schuylkill Yards “will bring new, innovative businesses and residents to Pennsylvania, and the potential economic impact is tremendous,” said Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, “Those who choose to make Schuylkill Yards their home will have access to many of the most innovative companies, organizations and educational institutions in our state.”
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In gentrifying Brooklyn, illicit luxury housing is sprouting from community gardens

Larceny and deed fraud are on the rise, and those with a mind for leaving confusing trails of paperwork are profiting from illegitimate purchases of land. A classic case of this can be found on Maple Street in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn. https://vimeo.com/6258261 According to a report by The Nation, the area became a tranquil community space in the summer of 2013. Using a lot no bigger than one-eighth of an acre, local residents constructed vegetable patches and seating areas that successfully brought people together to make use of a shared space. The residents' retreat however, was short-lived. The owners,  Joseph (Joe) and Kamran (Mike) Makhani, apparently have a history of using illegitimate signatures to gain property and have even been to prison in the past for selling homes they did not own. Their company name, H.P.D., LLC, is quite similar to the government agency, NYC Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). When questioned in the video above, Joe Makhani said, "if the client is stupid, that's not my problem." Cut to 2014 and the Makhanis show up and start destroying the lot that the residents had carefully made. Ignoring calls to stop, they only do so when the police turn up demanding a court order to prove ownership. The Makhanis promptly left after no document was produced. So what of the significance of this debacle? The sad truth is that these ordeals are cropping up more and more with cases being becoming increasingly complex with name irregularities making documented selling and purchasing of land harder to find. "No one is talking about it, but we're seeing this every day," said Sonia Alleyne told The Nation on behalf of the Department of Finance. "I don't think anyone realizes how big this story is." The ordeal features all the tell-tale signs of larceny and deed fraud. The initial purchase of land from the nephews of the deceased owners for $5,000 (an incredible and questionably low price); Social Security numbers failing to match up; spelling "mistakes" (McKany rather than Makhani); illegible notary names and the fact that the license number isn't even present; traits that, in the City of New York Sheriff Joseph Fucito's eyes, scream fraud. Anyone attempting to investigate ownership/sale history of the land, it seems, is lead down rabbit hole after rabbit hole. Sheriff Fucito stated that 15 deed-fraud arrests were made in in the last year, and that (as of August 2015) his office was on the trail of over 1,000 cases. Gardens in Bushwick and Crown Heights have likewise found themselves embroiled in similar conflicts. Fucido believes that many fraudulent cases go undetected and that the real number of cases is much higher. Why the sudden rise in deed fraud? Gentrification may be partly to blame. Brooklyn residential prices are increasing at an alarming rate, and land with debatable ownership is the perfect target for fraudsters. Experts such as Christie Peale, executive director of the Center for New York City Neighborhoods, say that paperwork is deemed legitimate all too easily. "The problem is this open process that allows people to just walk in and file false instruments," said Peale.
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Federal agency eyes St. Louis’ Pruitt-Igoe site for new development

More than 40 years after its last high-rise fell, the site of St. LouisPruitt-Igoe public housing development remains basically empty. Design competitions, documentaries, and local developers have all pondered its future. Now the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has said it’s considering the 34 acres once home to the infamous housing project as a location for 3,000 jobs. The website nextSTL reported this week that the NGA—a federal agency created in 1996 to provide maps and data for national defense—is looking at Pruitt-Igoe as it relocates its St. Louis offices from the city’s Kosciusko neighborhood. The site is one of six under consideration, but officials say the decision won't be made until 2016. The city recently sought $25 million in infrastructure improvements to the area, which some called a necessary investment regardless of the site’s future. Others disparaged it as a handout to developer Paul McKee, who has an option on the Pruitt-Igoe site and already owns nearly 2,000 other parcels of land in St. Louis. In January the city extended McKee's option, which he purchased in 2012 for just over $1 million, for another two years. The infamous post-war development in St. Louis’ DeSoto-Carr neighborhood (now Carr Square) was demolished less than 20 years after its construction in 1954. Photos of its demolition with the Gateway Arch in the distance have come to symbolize the failure of midcentury public housing projects in the U.S. Several of the development’s smaller buildings remain, including a one-story brick building that served as the development’s electric substation, three churches, a library, a school and a health center.
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Chinese developer releases plans for Chicago tower that would be the city’s third tallest

Chinese real estate developers Wanda Commercial Properties announced Wednesday plans to build an 89-story mixed-use tower in Chicago’s Lakeshore East neighborhood that would unseat Aon Center as the city’s third tallest building. At approximately 1,150 feet tall, the tower at 375 E. Wacker Dr. would be among the tallest buildings in Chicago. AN reached out to Alderman Brendan Reilly’s office to confirm the announcement, which was reported in the Wall Street Journal and Chicago Architecture Blog Tuesday, but so far our calls have not been returned. A spokesman for Lakeshore East developer Magellan Properties declined to comment. Chinese news agency Sina reported the building will house a five-star hotel and apartments, and is expected to open in 2018. Along with a retail component, that should total 1.4 million square feet of space, according to Chicago Architecture Blog. The designer is still unspecified, but a rendering from Wanda Group shows three staggered volumes constructed from stacked frustums, or cut-off pyramid shapes. If built, it would occupy the lot adjacent to the new GEMS World Academy building, designed by bKL Architecture. The Beijing-based company, commonly called Wanda Group, is known in the U.S. for buying cinema chain AMC Entertainment Holdings, and has amassed dozens of hotels and department stores in China. The $900 million Chicago project would be the first step in what Wanda Group Chairman Wang Jianlin said will be a big move into U.S. real estate. "Investing in Chicago property is just Wanda's first move into the U.S. real estate market," Jianlin said in a statement, "Within a year, Wanda will invest in more five-star hotel projects in major U.S. cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. By 2020, Wanda will have Wanda branded five-star hotels in 12–15 major world cities and build an internationally influential Chinese luxury hotel brand." We’ll update this post as more information becomes available.
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Streamlined Streets Aim to Enhance Houston’s Quality of Life

Dunlavey Street in central Houston typifies the image of a Southwestern city street. It's a sprawling, four lane affair that is approximately 50 percent usable, 80 percent pedestrian unsafe, and, in this case, 100 percent in need of an update. Transportation officials are evening out the numbers for a proposed road diet that would reduce the four-lane street to two and using the outer lane space for parking, improved sidewalks, and bike lanes. Currently, many of Houston’s wide streets—and some of its highways—operate under the principle of induced demand. This idea dictates that existing space is utilized by sheer import of its presence. In other words, people use big roads because there are big roads to use. But the outer lanes of Dunlavey are hardly drivable. They are pothole-ridden, with uneven gutters and extensive debris. Because the lanes go largely unused, pedestrians misguidedly utilize them, sometimes with fatal results. Removing the exterior two lanes would remove confusion over what is drivable area and what is not. It would clearly delineate the road’s functionality, and create a responsible message to drivers and citizens about the roadway’s capacity. In years past, expanding outward has been the modus operandi of Southwestern transportation. Cars, and not people, determined the size of roadways. But this proposal overturns that tradition. The space that comes from the unused exterior two lanes will be converted into parking, bicycle lanes, and better sidewalks. According to planners, these changes will facilitate more efficient traffic, increase pedestrian safety, and encourage alternative methods of transportation such as biking or walking. It also curbs the expansion trend’s tendency to impinge upon private property—an aspect that, commuter or not, Houston’s citizens should be pleased about. If all goes according to plan, the proposal aims to not only increase the quality of life in Houston, but to be the beginning of a larger trend. Developers hope that Houston will be the next city that roadway planners look to when considering developments. A June open house meeting will follow up on the proposal’s details, while City Council will officially consider the changes in September. The plan’s announcement comes a week after Houston was named among the ten worst cities for pedestrians.