Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park/Barclays Center: Brooklyn's most contested real estate development, its tangled path, a look at current construction, and what's coming.
Proponents touted "jobs, housing, and hoops," as Brooklyn (via the basketball Nets) would regain the major league status it lost when the baseball Dodgers left for Los Angeles in 1957. But Atlantic Yards, launched in 2003, also symbolizes "the theater of land use," how questionable promises and ever-changing plans surround a knotty private-public partnership.
You can't understand Atlantic Yards (in 2014 disingenuously renamed Pacific Park Brooklyn) and the Barclays Center arena unless you see the context for the 22-acre project. It begins at the edge of Downtown Brooklyn and extends through blocks in Prospect Heights (near Park Slope and Fort Greene) that were formerly residential and mixed-use, with industrial and commercial buildings.
I'm the journalistic expert on the project, writing the daily Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Report watchdog blog and working on a book. I've led Atlantic Yards tours for high school, college, and graduate school classes (urban studies, urban planning, New York history, architecture), visiting dignitaries from abroad, and the general public. I've written for the New York Times, Reuters, and CityLab, among others.
The project is being built over and beyond an 8.5-acre railyard, including a basketball arena (for the new Brooklyn Nets, formerly New Jersey Nets) and 16 mostly-residential towers, up to 510 feet tall. Three streets were demapped.
The project, announced in 2003, was supposed to take a decade. Significant public drama--including protests and counter-protests--surfaced between 2003 and 2009, captured in the documentary film Battle for Brooklyn (my review) and the documentary theater piece In the Footprint (my review).
Then it was supposed to be finished by 2016. Contracts signed in 2009 allowed the project to linger to 2035. In June 2014, a new schedule accelerated the much-desired affordable housing to 2025; more quietly, the affordability standards for the next towers were relaxed.
The much-touted original project architect, Frank Gehry, was dropped to "value-engineer" the Barclays Center arena, designed by Ellerbe Becket (designer of Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis). A pre-rusted metal "skin" and an oculus from SHoP, a buzzy New York firm, rescued a derided design. Many people love the "modernist fossil," while some hate the "George Foreman grill."
SHoP designed the first residential tower, originally due in late 2014 but stalled for months and now due by late 2016 (and the subject of bitter lawsuits). This 32-story tower is supposed to be the tallest building ever built via modular construction, but, as I've discovered, was far more troubled than officials acknowledged, suffering water damage and misalignment.
Two towers at the eastern end of the project, to be built conventionally, are being designed by Cook Fox, while SHoP is designing the three towers at the arena block. (KPF is designing another eastern tower).
Note the absence of the planned tower over the arena plaza. It's a crucial difference, as we discover, since the plaza allows for a change in scale and a place to gather. But the project likely would not have been approved without the tower.
I often call Atlantic Yards a " never-say-never project." Stay tuned for the next changes, and the questions they raise.
Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park tour scope
In 2-2.5 hours, we can visit adjacent neighborhoods, including nearby Fort Greene, a Park Slope retail strip, and the new Prospect Heights Historic District, to understand the crossroads location and history of development. We'll visit the arena plaza, with a vital new subway entrance (but not the interior of the building).
We'll see the buildings that remain, or are slated for destruction, and the construction under way. We'll also see the new businesses trying to take advantage of the arena. We'll explore the project site, including the location of new buildings, the under-construction railyard, and the adjacent historic district. Among the issues:
Recent changes, and the bottom line
In late 2013, Forest City agreed to sell 70% of the remaining project to the Greenland Group, owned by the government of Shanghai. The deal closed in June 2014 with a pledge to build the project, or at least the full 2,250 subsidized units, by 2025.
Please note: I'm clearly a skeptic regarding Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, and my reporting backs up my contention that much in the project reflects "the Culture of Cheating." But my goal as a guide is not to indoctrinate. It's fine to like the arena design/experience. It's understandable to think the end justifies the means. But the full story should be understood.