Monday, October 24, 2016

Barclays Center hockey impact: boost for some local business, burden for some neighbors

Reports amNY, New York Islanders at Barclays Center: Local area businesses talk impact going into second season:
Barclays Center has only been home to the previously Long Island-based hockey team for a season, but in the four years since the arena opened its doors residents and businesses alike have grappled with a changing neighborhood dynamic, crowds, fear of rising rents, and what many have categorized as a balancing act between the definite benefits of increased business opportunities and the commercialization of brownstone Brooklyn.
“They’re seeing more Islanders fans using the bars and restaurants as kind of a home base,” said Mark Caserta, the executive director for the Park Slope Fifth Ave. Business Improvement District. “The fans [at Nassau Coliseum] were never used to having bars and restaurants nearby. Now it’s a little bit more like going to Madison Square Garden.”
New York’s “other” hockey team has actually provided more business for the area than concerts or basketball games, Caserta and several local business owners said.
So certain businesses nearby on Fifth Avenue and parts of Flatbush Avenue and Dean Street have benefited, though--unmentioned--businesses in the orbit of the project on, say, Vanderbilt Avenue, have not benefited.

Then again, as amNY reports, for some businesses, like Yayo’s Latin Cuisine on Fifth Avenue, the crowds coupled with lack of parking deters some traditional customers, and rents are expected to rise.

The local impact

The article quotes two locals about the overall impact, with one businessperson saying “It’s not super desirable parking in this area, but it hasn’t changed,” and a resident saying he misses that businesses are now more oriented toward arenagoers.

What the article misses is the impact experience by residents in the blocks nearest the arena. At a meeting last Monday of the Dean Street Block Association, locals expressed dismay about numerous aspects of arena operation and project construction.

With the advent of hockey, one said, there have been new complaints about sexual harassment, drunken displays, and "beer cans all over." Could arena security, she asked Barclays Center Community Affairs Senior Manager Terence Kelly, extend their patrols to Dean and Bergen Streets after games?

"We definitely can consider a lot of what you're saying," Kelly said, though he soon added union rules limit the scope of work.

What can neighbors do, he was asked.

Kelly said that the arena could be invited to meetings like the block association meeting and the bi-monthly Quality of Life meetings (next: Nov. 1). He said a patrol car has been stationed outside the bar McMahon's--where fans have been rowdy in the past--on Fifth Avenue, I'd note--but he wasn't sure of the police footprint.

Indeed, Kelly's not in charge of the police, and I doubt that arena security could be legally allowed to patrol outside the arena boundaries.

So it's a police issue--as well as an issue, perhaps, that the arena can stress to attendees. After all, the arena is a very tight fit, backing into a residential neighborhood.

The issue should come up tomorrow night at the monthly meeting of the 78th Precinct Community Council, at 7:30 pm at the Precinct, 65 6th Avenue.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Why is Barclays Center ice substandard? System doesn't meet NHL standards, say beat writers

So, when the New York Islanders complained about choppy, not-so-safe ice at the Barclays Center, arena management pledged to improve the ice by hiring an "ice technician."

That didn't quite work, as Newsday's Arthur Staple reported:

Looking back, that should have been done when the Barclays Center developers knew that the Islanders were coming. Which had to have been August 2012, when they installed revised dasherboards to meet NHL standards. But it was a challenge to finish the arena on time, so I'd guess that either cost and/or simple construction time kept the change from being made.

Then again, then-Islanders owner Charles Wang in October 2012 said that talks with the Barclays Center builder/operator began seven months earlier.

Chris Botta added:

But there's no public money, is there, for a new arena? As the Post's Larry Brooks wrote:
Indeed, Slap Shots has learned Islanders ownership has held meetings with folks representing Wilpon-owned Sterling Equities to discuss constructing an arena on what would be the third base/left field area of the parking lot.
It is unclear how this project would be financed. As previously stated in this space, it is all but impossible to believe a one-team arena for which the area — that features MSG, Barclays, Prudential Center and a remodeled Coliseum — has no need could draw any support for public funding, regardless of how necessary new digs are for the Islanders.

So, blame Adams for rumor about James replacing Thompson? Or not.

So, did he or didn't he?

First, Stephen Witt's Kings County Politics suggested, with no named sources, that there was a push for Public Advocate Letitia James--who has worked as a public defender but not a prosecutor--to be named as the appointed successor for Kings County District Attorney Kenneth Thompson, who died recently. Then the New York Post picked it up.

In City and State, well sourced Gerson Borrero quoted "numerous insiders" as blaming Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams for the story, since James's departure from her post could leave it open to him and thus gain a citywide profile for his long-professed mayoral ambitions. (Though he didn't query Adams.)

Well, Gov. Andrew Cuomo left Thompson's deputy, Eric Gonzalez, in charge, and City and State soon reported Adams's denial:
“Borough President Adams refutes this depiction of him, one that is based in gossip, much less under the cover of nameless and faceless claims that stand in opposition to the high value of public service that defined his friend and colleague Ken Thompson’s career and legacy,” Stefan Ringel, a spokesman for Adams, said in a statement. 
So, we just don't know. But it's understandable that the untimely death of someone powerful fuels not just mourning but machination.

Brooklyn Nets writing off New Jersey history (year founded, banner colors)

"Our history is the borough right now," the then-New Jersey Nets' Fred Mangione said in November 2010, anticipating the Brooklyn move, and that is truer than ever.

NetsDaily's "Net Income" (aka Bob Windrem) yesterday wrote The subtle end of the New Jersey Nets, noting that the Brooklyn Nets' "new warm-up jackets say 'established 2012,' commemorating when the team arrived in Brooklyn," though they previously said “established 1967,” which was when the predecessor New Jersey Americans launched.

Similarly, the New Jersey Nets' championship banners hanging in the Barclays Center have been reissued in black-and-white, the colors of the Brooklyn Nets, not the red-white-and-blue blend of the predecessor team.

Windrem adds that no longers does any New Jersey-based newspaper cover the team, and most New Jersey fans won't have TV coverage, due to a dispute between YES and Comcast.

He notes mutual disappointment between New Jersey fans and management, and suggests the latter are now focusing on the Long Island market. But as a New Jerseyite, he expresses loyalty, and regret: "But looking up in the rafters and seeing black-and-white banners. Is that really necessary?"

Not everyone shared his sentiments, but several commenters did:

  • The notion that that history would just be written off entirely depresses me.
  • If the Brooklyn experiment had paid off thus far and we were annual contenders, then sure, I can see wanting to distance themselves from the Jersey swamps of mediocrity, but to do it right now is just unnecessary
  • It’s says something that Brooklyn is simply conceding NJ basketball fans to the NYKs.
  • Thinking purely in terms of a branding strategy, I don’t get it. The Nets are the only professional sports team that actively tries to shrink their market rather than expand it. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

So, Barclays Center gets a new VP for Community Relations (but where are those schedules?)

Some changes appear to be afoot at the Barclays Center front office, perhaps related to arena management's new responsibilities.

Roland Guevara, via LinkedIn
There's a new position, VP, Community Relations, held by Roland Guevara, who, according to his LinkedIn profile, took the job in July after working as Director of Public Affairs at Nickolodeon. His position has not been publicly announced, as far as I can tell.

Nor has he been introduced to community stakeholders at arena-related events like the Quality of Life or Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation meetings.

Guevara oversees three staffers, including Terence Kelly, Senior Manager, Community Affairs, who's served as the sole listed person in the Community Affairs office since the arena opened in 2012, as noted in the April 2006 version of the Barclays Center front office list.

Barclays may have a bigger presence in Community Affairs, but it doesn't seem oriented to the nearest neighbors. For example, a few months ago, the arena apparently stopped circulating a monthly calendar of events, with expected attendance. (Or: it stopped sending them to me and and people who might share it with me.) And the arena doesn't always send its own representatives to public meetings.

Internal reorg?

That said, there may be some internal reorganization. Michael Wisniewski, now listed as Manager, Community Relations for the Barclays Center (according to the arena web site), on his LinkedIn profile says he's been Community Relations Manager for the Brooklyn Nets since October 2013 and previously was Community Relations Coordinator for the Nets.

Similarly, Courtney Lapsley, now listed as Coordinator, Community Relations for the Barclays Center (according to the arena web site), on her LinkedIn profile says she's been Coordinator, Community Relations for the Brooklyn Nets since July 2016, and was previously since December 2014 a Community Relations Assistant for the Nets.

This may relate to the arena's larger budget and responsibilities, as it takes in revenue from the New York Islanders and guarantees a payment in turn to the team. But it also may mean stretching the budget to have staffers previously working only for the Nets to also work for the arena.

Barclays also has gone from a listed two-person Communications Department to a three-person one.

Barclays Center Front Office, October 2016 (screenshot)

Barclays Center Front Office, April 2016 (screenshot)

Friday, October 21, 2016

GAO report: more evidence that EB-5 immigrant investor program helps wealthy areas (+developers), not public interest

As summarized in the Wall Street Journal, Immigrant Investor Program for Poor Neighborhoods Benefits Rich Ones More, Study Shows. Indeed, the federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) has confirmed--more or less--what seems glaring from more than five years of evidence about gerrymandering zones of "high unemployment" for the EB-5 immigrant investor program.

The "Bed-Stuy Boomerang," Atlantic Yards site in blue;
graphic by Abby Weissman
In reporting by me and the New York Times in 2011, it was clear that EB-5 zones of high unemployment--where the minimum investment is $500,000 rather than the statutory $1 million--were being gerrymandered to ensure that the average unemployment was high enough to qualify.

For example, New York State agreed to add census tracts in Bedford-Stuyvesant to the Atlantic Yards site in Prospect Heights to create a zone of high unemployment, saving the project developers tens of millions of dollars in each of three separate capital raises, totaling some $577 million.

Since then, the Wall Street Journal's Eliot Brown has reported on some glaringly gerrymandered maps, all supporting luxury projects that rely on cheap financing. And also see Trump-Branded Project Developer in Austin Seeks to Tap Immigrant Visa Program.

(The immigrant investors eschew high interest because they instead want the green cards. The public is supposed to benefit from job creation, but investments likely instead fuel profit. I think the program is riddled with dishonesty.)

Yes, the program's defenders say that the projects still draw workers from a larger area, which is true, but there's no proof they draw them from the zones of high unemployment. In 2011, a federal official acknowledged that it seemed the spirit of the law wasn't being respected. Nothing has changed since then.

The GAO report

The GAO report, Immigrant Investor Program: Proposed Project Investments in Targeted Employment Areas, does not make recommendations. However, while looking at a relatively small sample, from the fourth quarter of FY 2015, it determined that 99% of those using EB-5 went in a Targeted Employment Area (TEA).

Within that category, nearly all high unemployment TEAs, and only 3% rural areas, which also qualify as TEAs. Some in Congress want to reform the law to ensure that more investments go to rural areas (though that doesn't necessarily resolve the question of whether the public benefits).

States calculate TEAs, often at the behest of project sponsors, to help them get cheap money. So 90 percent of those investing in a high unemployment TEA, based the TEA on the average unemployment rate for a combination of census areas, the report notes.

Notably, the locations where the projects themselves were located did not have high unemployment. As shown in the table below, 77% percent of the projects were in areas with unemployment rates of 6% of lower.

Finally, who benefits? Some 74 percent of petitioners chose real estate, including mixed use projects, hotels and resorts, commercial, and residential developments; the remaining 28 percent invested or planned to invest in infrastructure projects, such as railways and highways, or transportation, restaurants, medical, and education facilities (percentages do not sum to 100 due to rounding).

Those kinds of projects often create temporary construction jobs, which passes federal muster, and lower the cost to builders. Whether they create permanent jobs is another question.

ESPN's Ultimate Standings not kind to Nets, Islanders, but Knicks, Rangers even worse

Well, neither the Brooklyn Nets nor New York Islanders are doing well in ESPN's Ultimate Standings, which ranks sports franchises on multiple issues, but they're at least better than their counterparts at Madison Square Garden.

Brooklyn Nets
Overall: 110
Title track: 114
Ownership: 107
Coaching: 89
Players: 117
Fan relations: 102
Affordability: 70
Stadium experience: 81
Bang for the buck: 110
Change from last year: +1
ESPN says the "Nets are preaching progress this season -- not wins," and credits the team for lowering ticket prices. "Fans aren't too hard on the team's stadium experience, at 81st overall," says ESPN, which is faint praise among 122 teams, given the new arena, and the bang for the buck is low, because the team is has lousy players.

NetsDaily finds brighter news, citing Ben Detrick, writing for The Ringer, who likens the Nets to Brooklyn’s “expansion team" and the young players as a "penny stock" who might do well:
The 2016–17 Brooklyn Nets are the expansion team they never took the time to be four years ago. Your New Brooklyn Nets are bad, likable, and hopeful. Expectations, bloated salaries, and empty promises from Russian oligarchs are gone.
New York Knicks
Overall: 114
Title track: 101
Ownership: 105
Coaching: 100
Players: 111
Fan relations: 105
Affordability: 118
Stadium experience: 83
Bang for the buck: 117
Change from last year: +7
ESPN notes that the Knicks still sell out, even when they're bad, thus lousy bang for the buck, but have improved coaching and slightly in players.
New York IslandersOverall: 84
Title track: 61
Ownership: 110
Coaching: 108
Players: 63
Fan relations: 62
Affordability: 99
Stadium experience: 118
Bang for the buck: 19
Change from last year: -11
The New York Islanders have a solid team, and prices were "almost $13 below the league average," ESPN notes, hence a "13-point jump in Bang for the Buck," but attendance was 28th in the league and there were obstructed views (though, it should be noted, the arena has tried to improve fan experience this year in other ways).

New York Rangers
Overall: 92
Title track: 44
Ownership: 76
Coaching: 68
Players: 77
Fan relations: 61
Affordability: 120
Stadium experience: 79
Bang for the buck: 104
Change from last year: -17
The Rangers have been a solid team, but prices keep going up, hence lousy bang for buck, and the "roster has also stagnated," says ESPN.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Nassau County Executive Mangano (and wife) indicted for taking bribes

So, another Forest City Ratner-allied politician is tagged as a criminal (though not yet convicted, of course). As the New York Times reported this morning, in Nassau County Executive Is Arrested in Bribery Scheme:
The Nassau County executive, Edward P. Mangano, his wife and the supervisor of the Town of Oyster Bay were arrested and charged on Thursday with trading government contracts and official favors for free vacations, a $450,000 no-show job and other bribes.
Mr. Mangano has been dogged by reports — many published in Newsday — that he and his family had vacationed in the Virgin Islands and Turks and Caicos on trips that were paid for by Harendra Singh, a Long Island restaurateur who won a county contract to provide food to local officials in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
...A 19-page indictment released by federal prosecutors on Thursday outlines a bribery and kickback scheme stretching back to the beginning of 2010, when Mr. Mangano entered the county executive’s office after upsetting Thomas R. Suozzi, his Democratic predecessor, in the previous year’s election.
Here's the indictment. It has nothing to do with Forest City or the company's deal with Nassau County to renovate the Nassau Coliseum. But it does--for now--reinforce the suspicion that Mangano might not always be acting in the best interests of the public.

Newsday editorialized that Mangano and Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto should step down, since they can't do their jobs and also their defense. It added:
Long Island is so awash in conflicts of interest and outright stealing that it’s keeping the public corruption divisions of two of the largest U.S. attorney’s offices in the nation working overtime. Federal prosecutors looking into this nexus of political power, money and misbehavior already have convicted Suffolk Police Chief James Burke, Suffolk Conservative Party head Edward Walsh, Town of Oyster Bay Planning Commissioner Frederick Ippolito and State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

Gilmartin: Forest City earlier on was a "shark tank environment" (and hers is kindler/gentler?)

How's this from the Real Deal regarding Forest City CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin?
Gilmartin also described her early days at Forest City. She said Bruce Ratner created a merit-based culture at the company but said there was ample room for improvement.
“It was a shark tank environment there, early on, because there was a lot of testosterone,” she said. “Getting in there, staying in there, sticking with it, and rising based on my merits, allowed me to start to create a culture, a culture that might have been built and birthed by Bruce Ratner but certainly was shaped by those who followed.”
...“Building a culture, while it sounds so simple, I would argue is more challenging than building a billion dollar arena, with 35 lawsuits and one Great Recession, which I have a lot of experience in,” she quipped. “I would say culture is challenging, culture is everything and it starts from the top.”
OK, so Ratner's culture was merit-based but shark-tanky? Remember, as surfaced in a 2011 lawsuit, an architect who tangled with her reported to a colleague, "I had an unpleasant conversation with MaryAnne. I was told they know the same people I know and they’ll make sure to fuck me whenever possible."

Oh, and there weren't 35 lawsuits. They have never provided a list. But it sounds good from their end.

Is the Barclays Center using Dean Playground for staff meetings?

The nearest neighbors of the Barclays Center and Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park report enormous frustration with impacts of construction and arena operations--noise, truck traffic on residential streets, idling limos at night on residential blocks, incursions on public space--as I'll detail more shortly.

At a meeting Monday night of the Dean Street Block Association, residents said construction workers regularly eat lunch in the Dean Playground, just half a block from the arena. It's off-limits to adults who aren't supervising kids, but is conveniently located in a residential district that otherwise doesn't offer places for workers to take a break.

That's not allowed, agreed Marty Maher, Chief of Staff to the Brooklyn Borough Commissioner.

And yesterday, a reader sent me photos of what appeared to be a meeting of Barclays Center workers in the playground, which would have been improper unless they had a permit. I queried the arena community affairs rep and press office but didn't hear back.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

B12 footings installed in good faith? Construction Updates indicate "one permanent footing" completed (plus new photos)

View looking north from Dean Street building
Last week, I expressed skepticism about Pacific Park project director Susi Yu saying, regarding the delayed B12 condo site (aka 615 Dean) next to the 550 Vanderbilt tower, "We actually put the footings in to preserve our 421-a benefit."

But did they really commence construction on 615 Dean to preserve that lucrative tax break?

The 421-a law says "'commence' shall mean the date upon which excavation and construction of initial footings and foundations lawfully begins in good faith." (Emphases added)

I showed photos that looked like pretty general excavation, plus a few vertical "knobs" and a white horizontal installation that might be classified as footings.

What the Construction Updates say

A close look at the official Construction Updates shows that the work on B12, first announced 12/21/15 update, almost exclusively involves excavation and the clearing of soil. However, the 1/18/16 Construction Update did say "one permanent footing has been completed." So I should have acknowledged that they have taken a small step forward.

But how does completing one footing--and then stopping for ten months and counting--suggest a good-faith start to construction? Nothing has happened since then. I don't doubt that it's standard practice in construction in New York City to do the bare minimum to qualify for the tax break. If so, though, the city clearly doesn't pursue enforcement.

More photos

Below, some photos looking south from the northern border of the site, the demapped and privatized Pacific Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues, currently used for construction staging, thanks to a reader who sent them to me.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Notice: Pacific Street between Sixth and Carlton avenues closed Friday through Sunday for construction

Ok, maybe the third time's a charm. A Community Notice from Pacific Park Brooklyn indicated that on 9/23/16 contractors would be delivering and installing new DC substation modular building and transformers for the new Long Island Rail Road yard, requiring the closure of Pacific Street between Sixth and Carlton avenues. The most recent Construction Update indicated that the work would start last Friday, 10/14/16.

Today comes an Updated Community Notice regarding "Long Island Rail Road Substation & Transformer Delivery & Installation Friday, October 21 through Sunday, October 23." There's no indication that the previous work was done, and the attached graphic is the same, so I'm assuming that the previous work was postponed. But they should've been more clear.

The notice:
As part of Pacific Park Brooklyn construction, beginning Friday, October 21st through Sunday, October 23rd contractors will be delivering and installing new DC substation modular building and transformers for the new Long Island Rail Road yard.
Delivery of the units will occur during the early morning hours of Friday, October 21st and they will be stored on Pacific Street between Vanderbilt and Carlton Avenue.
Pacific Street will be closed to vehicular traffic on both Saturday, October 22nd and Sunday, October 23rd between the hours of 7:00AM to 7:00PM.

A crane will positioned at Pacific Street at 6th Avenue and vehicular access in and out of the parking garages along Pacific Street will be maintained via Carlton Avenue.

New view from above suggests skyline change that Site 5 project poses

Looking southeast along Flatbush Avenue, with arena and
 461 Dean in background, Williamsburgh Bank

tower at left, Site 5 & Fourth Avenue in foreground right
It's all perspective, right?

The views from Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park apartment buildings surely will change--at least in part--when the rest of the project is built.

Consider the views, in the photos here, from the 29th floor club space (over 300 feet up) at 300 Ashland, the new Two Trees 80/20 rental building on the wedge-shaped space next to the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Williamsburgh Savings Bank.

NW to Downtown BK
There are some nice vistas from this floor, while other views, as at left, point toward new construction in downtown Brooklyn. And, in ever-changing Brooklyn, some views might change.

The Site 5 plan

Let's focus on the photo above right, which shows part of the bank building (512 feet) at left, the Flatbush Avenue corridor and the 461 Dean modular tower (officially 322 feet, closer to 360 feet with mechanicals) at center, and Site 5, currently home to Modell's and P.C. Richard, near right.

There would be a huge skyline change if the currently approved plan for a 1.1 million square foot, 511-foot tall tower over the arena+plaza were built, as well as a 250-foot, 439,050-square foot tower at Site 5.

From Greenland Forest City Partners presentation;
note that taller Site 5 tower could be 53% taller than bank
But Greenland Forest City Partners has floated a plan for a two-tower project that could go as tall as 785 feet, in the tower occupying a rectangular space along Fourth Avenue, some significant fraction of the square P.C. Richard footprint.

That's more than twice as tall as the floor from which I took the photo.  So the annotation below, in purple, should extend off the photo to the north.

The companion "smaller" tower on the Modell's site could be between 293 feet and 383 feet--potentially taller than the modular building.

That said, neither new tower, should they be built, will be massed/oriented in the crude rectangles I've set up.

But this perspective contrasts with the developer's presentation (see Slide 7), which stresses the march of towers south from Downtown Brooklyn and suggests this is a natural continuation.
Annotations crudely suggest potential scale of new Site 5 project. Tower at right, in purple, would stretch much higher.
Looking south to Gowanus, including the Gowanus Houses center right, and, at far left, the Fourth Avenue corridor,
from new 300 Ashland tower. New York Harbor at far right
Looking southwest to New York Harbor from 300 Ashland. Note Downtown Brooklyn towers in far right of frame.