Atlantic Yards, Pacific Park, Barclays Center tour
Explore Brooklyn's most contested real estate development: its tangled path, ongoing construction, future plans, and the many issues raised. Also available as a webinar/virtual tour.
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/mixed-use, with industrial and commercial buildings. Today, the project includes 3,210 of 6,430 approved apartments, but it's not half-done, given the need to deck the railyard--the heavy lift for future housing and the majority of the open space.
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. (Here's a May 2022 review: "You were amazing.")
Webinar available: an online lecture or digital presentation (1-2 hours) for classes and groups can provide an enormous amount of information and context for those without the time or access to walk the neighborhood.
Here's my FAQ and status report on the project. Above is a November 2022 map of plans and progress, with design by Ben Keel. Note the expected six towers over the railyard (B5-B10), which depend on the platform, as well as the plans for Site 5, catercorner to the arena.
The project is being built over and beyond an 8.5-acre railyard, including a basketball arena (for the Brooklyn Nets, formerly New Jersey Nets) and 16 mostly-residential towers, up to 510 feet tall. Three streets were de-mapped. The New York Islanders hockey team arrived in 2015, though the transition was bumpy, and the Islanders moved back to the Nassau Coliseum and then to a new arena at Belmont Park.
Atlantic Yards, 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 (shortly before the name change to Pacific Park), a new schedule accelerated the much-desired affordable housing to 2025; more quietly, the affordability standards for the next towers were relaxed. In November 2016, more delays were announced, and the project could take until 2035.
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 the subject of bitter lawsuits). This 32-story 461 Dean (aka B2) is 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. It began to open in late 2016, with 50% of the units affordable.
Next to it, the "100% affordable" 38 Sixth (B3), built conventionally, opened in 2017. Both were designed by SHoP. The largest tower on the arena block, 18 Sixth (B4), started in 2019, designed by Perkins Eastman, was finished by early 2022. (That was a switch from SHoP's original design.)
Two towers at the eastern end of the project, built conventionally, were designed by CookFox. Those towers, the condo 550 Vanderbilt (B11) and the "100% affordable" 535 Carlton (B14), opened in early 2017. The affordability is debatable, given that the developer had to offer concessions to attract middle-income tenants.
Two towers were announced in 2015 but delayed: 615 Dean (aka B12), designed by KPF, and 664 Pacific (aka B15), designed by Marvel Architects. In 2019, the latter started, redesigned 662 Pacific and named Plank Road developed by The Brodsky Organization; it began to open in 2021. B12 and B13, developed by TF Cornerstone, started in 2020 and should be finished by mid-2023. They will include a controversial below-ground fitness center and field house.
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. Indeed, the developer's proposed a dramatic change: shifting the bulk of the tower planned for the arena plaza across the street to Site 5. The public process behind that change may start in 2023.
The big pending question: will the first phase (of two) of the two-block platform over the Vanderbilt Yard, the MTA's railyard, ever start? It would support three towers; the second phase would support three more. The platform was supposed to start in 2020, then 2022; now its fate is unclear. Only construction over the railyard would allow project completion.
Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park tour scope
In 2-2.5 hours, we can touch on adjacent neighborhoods, including nearby 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 zones demolished, 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 railyard that awaits the crucial platform, 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 full 2,250 subsidized units, by May 2025, with fines of $2.000/month for each missing unit. In January 2018, Greenland USA bought out all but 5% of Forest City's share. Later in 2018, it sold development rights to three sites: B15 to The Brodsky Organization and B12 and B13 to TF Cornerstone. It also partnered with Brodsky on the B4 site. In 2017, Mikhail Prokhorov sold a minority stake in the Brooklyn Nets to Alibaba billionaire Joe Tsai, at an astronomic valuation. Tsai completed the purchase, including the Barclays Center operating company, in 2019.
The year 2023 may involve renegotiation of the affordable housing deadline, given the deficit of 877 units, as well as other reconfigurations of the project.
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 on a tour is enlighten, and challenge, not indoctrinate. It's fine to like the arena design/experience. I understand some think the end justifies the means. But the full story should be understood.
For information on fees, click here. To contact me, click here.
Annual free tour: I typically offer a free tour each year, around 6 pm on the first Friday of May, as part of the annual Jane's Walks sponsored by the Municipal Art Society.