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Thread: Downtown Brooklyn, the Plan

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    Default Downtown Brooklyn, the Plan


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    Default Downtown Brooklyn, the Plan

    I went through all of it. No new information really, although the Hoyt&Schemerhorn building is news to me.

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    Default Downtown Brooklyn, the Plan

    I wish they would develop all those damn self-storage facilites in DT. It makes no damn sense - offices and/or loft apartments in all these areas would be a major boost.

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    January 7, 2004

    Plugging a Hole in Brooklyn's Heart

    By MICHAEL BRICK


    Eight square blocks of blight pose a development challenge in a slice of Brooklyn that includes a patchwork of major projects.

    Brooklyn nurses its grudge against Manhattan with all the subtlety of King Kong, a Red Sox fan or Gerald R. Ford.

    So this may come as perverse consolation, but slowly, quietly and over the course of decades, the borough has created something or, rather, a conspicuous nothing that elevates it among the ranks of the country's real, independent big cities.

    At the borough's heart, framed by the waterfront to the west, the arts center to the east, the civic center to the north and a thriving residential neighborhood and dining scene to the south, sit eight square blocks of urban blight. There are some buildings, some beauty salons, a deli here and there, but the dominant features of this rectangle bounded by Atlantic Avenue, Schermerhorn Street, Court Street and Bond Street are parking lots, fences, dirt, and nothing.

    By virtue of its centrality and run-down state, this area gives Brooklyn a challenge and an opportunity that compares not with Manhattan but more directly with the West End in Dallas, downtown Columbus, Ohio, or Skid Row in Los Angeles. In short, it is the archetypal little urban patch right in the middle of everything that no one knows how to use.

    What sets this one apart from comparable sites in those other cities is that it includes an unrelated patchwork of seven major projects, five of them already under way.

    "What's there right now is an area that hasn't had much attention paid to it," said Glenn D. Markman, an executive director of the real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield. "Now, the focus is there. The vision is going to result in this being one of the important gateways in all of Brooklyn."

    The success of each project, though, depends to some extent upon completion of the others. And around the intersection of Willoughby Street and the Flatbush Avenue Extension, more is at stake. The city of New York has earmarked that zone for a $100 million economic development project and identified it as one of the city's last best hopes to retain companies and jobs after so many have moved away in pursuit of less expensive real estate.

    That commercial area, where the city hopes to create 4.5 million square feet of new office space, is linked to Manhattan by the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge and subway service, including the A, C, F, M, N and R lines and the 2, 3, 4 and 5 trains. It is isolated, though, from much of what Brooklyn has to offer, including the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the promenade and a group of neighborhoods so trendy that the civic boosters have taken to referring to them collectively as BoCoCa, for Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens.

    What stands between them all is this frozen zone, its south side sometimes called the Atlantic Avenue Gap, which is now thawing in chunks.

    "It's one of the most critical intersections in all of Brooklyn," said David Yassky, a City Council member whose district office is on Court Street at the edge of this zone.

    This barren but strategically invaluable area was nearly a half-century in the making, created from the Brooklyn House of Detention which was erected in 1957 and emptied last year and three urban renewal sites acquired by the state for a project that was aborted in the 1970's.

    New plans for the lots would create a mixed-income residential neighborhood served by its own retail stores and hotels.

    The most expensive and intricate of the projects is an effort to overhaul a full city block bounded by Schermerhorn, Hoyt, State and Smith Streets.

    The presence of five historic town houses near the southeastern flank makes the block visually striking. They make this stretch of State Street look like any other tree-lined block of moneyed Brooklyn, only with a gaping hole plugged by a parking lot.

    A partnership including Time Equities, known recently for its conversions of office buildings around Wall Street into apartments, and Abby Hamlin, a Brooklyn-born onetime dancer who has developed town houses in TriBeCa, bought the 100,000-square-foot site from the Empire State Development Corporation last month after two years of negotiations, for $4.6 million.

    The developers say they intend to line State Street with 27 single-family town houses and to build about 200 apartments and lofts, a theater and retail space, perhaps including a supermarket. They have to work around the five town houses because of the historic designations, and the city mandated the inclusion of low-income housing, developed and managed jointly by the Actors' Fund and Common Ground. The total cost of the project is estimated at $165 million.

    "It looked like an opportunity to do a project that would have a significant impact on the urban environment," Ms. Hamlin said.

    Directly to the east, the state is selling a 60,000-square-foot parcel bounded by State, Bond, Hoyt and Schermerhorn Streets, to the IBEC Building Corporation in a deal expected to close for $3.5 million in the spring, state officials said. IBEC, which has been awarded development rights from the city, has indicated that it plans rental housing and the sale of town houses, state officials said.

    South of those parcels, at Smith Street and Atlantic Avenue directly east of the House of Detention, Lev Leviev/Boymelgreen Developers paid the state $3.3 million last February for an 18,000-square-foot parcel, where it intends to build a boutique hotel with 50 luxury rental condominiums and 10,000 square feet of retail space. Work is under way at the site, and the building is scheduled to open in the spring of 2005 at a total cost of $30 million, according to the developer.

    "The projects count on each other," said T. William Kim, project developer for the hotel complex. "How much traffic comes into the area depends on there being some momentum and the right mix of services to create that niche."

    On the other side of the House of Detention, at the intersection of Court Street and Atlantic Avenue, Two Trees Management, the company controlled by the Walentas family and best known for transforming the neighborhood known as Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), bought the site from the city for $16.5 million and plans a $120 million project that would include a 700-space subterranean parking garage, 321 apartments for diverse income levels, 20,000 square feet of retail space and a new $14 million Y.M.C.A.

    The same company has been engaged in negotiations to acquire the old Board of Education building at 110 Livingston Street. Though Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg slapped a red "Sold" sign on the front door for dramatic effect at a news conference in July, the sale still faces some public review, according to the city's Economic Development Corporation. Two Trees envisions transforming those offices into condominiums.

    "Long-term, downtown Brooklyn is going to be what's going to compete with New Jersey," said Jed D. Walentas, an executive of Two Trees.

    Between the two sites where Two Trees has its designs, on Boerum Place between State and Schermerhorn Streets, the Brooklyn Law School paid $6.2 million for a parking lot that it plans to convert into a residence hall for 360 students. The plans drawn up by Robert A. M. Stern call for an exterior of brick and cast stone to match the brownstones of the neighborhoods nearby, and Joan G. Wexler, dean of the school, said it would be completed in the spring of 2005 at a total cost of $83 million.

    Across the street, on the east side of Boerum Place between State and Schermerhorn Streets, developers acquired yet another parking lot last year and have plans to build an 11-story tower of 99 one- and two-bedroom market-rate rental apartments. The project will be completed in the spring of 2004 at a total cost of $28 million, according to Mario Procida, a manager of the development group.

    The fate of the stark Brooklyn House of Detention is among the more obvious variables, cited as a challenge by several of the developers. Though the building is empty, the city has characterized its closing as temporary and left open the possibility that it could be filled again, a prospect that would oblige all the fancy new apartment buildings to find tenants who do not mind living next door to a jail.

    The obstacles do not end there.

    "You have streetscapes that, most of them, are pretty ugly, with very few amenities, street trees," said Michael J. Burke, director of the Downtown Brooklyn Council, a business advocacy group. "That will require a lot of public investment."

    If in fact a new neighborhood emerges, there remains the matter of winning over the neighbors. Few people are sorry to see the parking lots go, but the prospect of a new influx of people is not universally applauded in the existing neighborhoods.

    "What are you going to do to create open space, realistically, that people can use?" said Jo Anne Simon, a past president of the Boerum Hill Association. She cited additional traffic as another concern.

    And there are those who see the eventual success of the whole endeavor as a loss for Brooklyn, for reasons as old as the borough's grudge against the island to the northwest.

    "When we become more like Manhattan due to the high-rises, it takes the personal nature out of it," said Matthew LaSorsa, owner of Heights Chateau, a wine store that has been on Atlantic Avenue between Clinton and Henry Streets since the mid-1980's. "I don't know that you ever get a communal feeling out of a high-rise building, as if you were walking down Henry Street and people were sitting on their stoops. It's not the same."


    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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    A bunch of the things they mentioned are well underway now, not 'planned', notably the Law School dormitory and 53 Boerum Place.

    But townhouses... next to a downtown... eh.

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    I object to the low-income housing requirement. I have NEVER seen an area that integrates well with one of those. The construction on those things is simply hideous too...

    The concern about the traffic is a valid one, but asking for "open space" is absolute BS. Build something there first. See if you can GET some space tucked away. If things start working out, you may be able to put in a nice park. But I think EVERYONE there would prefer a condo development to a parking lot anyday...

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    It can't all be luxury housing. Nor can it be all low-income; so you're right Ninja. Middle-income housing is a better idea, and should be a big part of this development.

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    Does anyone know if there's any plan for the northwestern corner of Boreum & Atlantic? (the corner across boreum from teh house of detention, now a parking lot.)

    With all the two highrises to the west and the HOD across the street, it's kind of a let down to see an empty parking lot there.

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    I'm sure an 11 or 12 story building will go there. It falls under the new 120' zoning.

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    11 stories is hard to do with 120' height. Usually only parking garages can get that kind of clearance (figure a nominally sized W24, 24" beam, and a 4-6 inch deck reduces your clear height on a 10' floor to floor to close to 7'-6". Give it a 6" clear (because of drainage slopes and other unforseen irregularities) and you have a 7' nominal clearance. Quite cramped...).

    Usually these places are built with, at LEAST, 12' floor to floor. I have seen 13'-6" used a lot too on some of the larger ones that have plans for ventalation in the ceilings...

    Middle income would be great. A few townhouses for the special people, then a condo complex with a nice common area and parking lot/garage for the rest of the people that would actually work, eat and LIVE there.

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    53 Boerum Place is 11 floors and under 120 feet.

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    I am saying usually. Also, is that 11 stories INCLUDING the ground story? Is the first story at or below ground level?

    You make a building with 10 foot story to story, don't bother moving in. You will have no head room and all your utilities will have to be run independantly (IOW, you cant fan them out from a main).

    It is just not practical and usually shows the greed of the developer.

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    The floors look fine to me... as for the floor count, 11 was listed on the permit as well as mentioned in newspaper articles.

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    It a hard concept to grasp, for two families the same apartment, but only one will have to double over the other. This concept certainly is not capitalism, and there are certain requirements, but its merits are in integrating a people what would otherwise be in a ghetto. Although the “rich” will resent this, and developers faced with extravagant building costs arent loving it, thus the incentives, the end product is a better rounded city.

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    From the Gotham Gazette.


    http://www.gothamgazette.com/article...0040119/12/841


    The Plans For Downtown Brooklyn Ignore Both People And Public Spaces

    by Tom Angotti
    January, 2004

    The city's planners are working overtime to clear the way for over 60 million square feet of new office space in such business centers as West Midtown, Lower Manhattan, Long Island City, and now downtown Brooklyn. While realtors see a big demand for prime office space now, it remains to be seen whether this amount of commercial space will be needed in the long run with the continuing trend of gradual movement to the suburbs. City officials backing this expansion are acting more like cheerleaders for local real estate than custodians of the quality of life in our neighborhoods.

    The new downtown Brooklyn rezoning plan is now moving through the city's land use approval process and local residents and civic groups are turning out in droves to raise their questions and register their complaints. Even though some were involved in earlier discussions about the plans, there are still so many things that are important to neighborhoods that are not in the plan. The key questions have to do with impacts on the surrounding residential areas, transportation, lack of open space, and displacement of existing residents and businesses.

    With its Downtown Brooklyn Plan, the city wants to create 4.5 million square feet of new office space and 1,000 new housing units in a small area just across the East River from Wall Street. Brooklyn civic groups say the potential expansion will be seven million square feet while the city is only considering the potential environmental impact of 4.5 million. The plan includes parking for some 2,500 cars, a 1.5 acre park, and some widening of sidewalks. The plan also incorporates proposed expansions of Atlantic Terminal, Polytechnic University, Brooklyn Law School, the Hoyt-Schermerhorn urban renewal area, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music cultural district. Atlantic Terminal is also the site of a controversial plan to build a basketball arena for the Nets while displacing perhaps 1,000 residents and businesses.

    Where Are the People?

    The downtown Brooklyn plan deals primarily with office buildings, not people. To its credit, the City Planning Department actually put its rezoning proposal in the context of a comprehensive overview of downtown Brooklyn. But the plan is still mostly about square feet of building space and has very little to do with the quality of urban life, which is what matters most to people who live and work in the city.

    In the plan the people are invisible. The plan states that only 1,200 people now live in Brooklyn's business core. But 150,000 people live in the immediately adjacent neighborhoods. Boerum Hill, Brooklyn Heights, Fort Greene, Park Slope and Prospect Heights are blank spaces. What do these people want to improve their daily lives? Are they only passive recipients of the abundant "growth" stimulated by the rezoning? Who will get the jobs that come with development, and who will lose their jobs? How do the locals relate to downtown and what are their development needs? What do they want to preserve that might be threatened by rising property values and speculation fueled by downtown expansion? Where are the tools to protect residential and commercial tenants from being displaced? Will they get any of the windfall profits reaped by property owners whose land gets up-zoned?

    Traffic is one of the biggest gripes of Brooklynites, and downtown Brooklyn is already a congestion and pollution nightmare. It is both a destination and a thoroughfare for access to the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges. The plan will only make things worse by expanding parking, which will encourage more people to drive there. The dangerous and disagreeable environment faced by pedestrians in downtown Brooklyn, which the plan obliquely acknowledges, would only be addressed by limited sidewalk widening. There's no commitment by the Department of Transportation to reduce traffic. Downtown communities remember how the department successfully undermined the recent multi-million dollar Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming Study, which went through years of public discussion to end up with only a few changes to traffic signals. The Department of Transportation has yet to demonstrate the will to reduce roadway capacity, the most essential measure needed to clean up the downtown traffic mess. The mayor has also backed away from his proposal to put tolls on the East River bridges, an action that would have significantly helped relieve downtown traffic. The same Brooklyn elected officials who defend the interests of the elite school of bridge commuters are also cheerleading for the downtown rezoning, compounding the damage.

    There are no improvements to mass transit in the plan except for some station upgrades that may be made by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in the future. The downtown's biggest problem is the lack of a decent surface transportation system. Buses are inadequate and perpetually stuck in traffic. Imaginative proposals for a downtown trolley loop that could be linked to the redeveloped waterfront have been around for decades but are nowhere to be found in the plan.

    Disappearing Public Spaces

    Not to be accused of forgetting entirely about greenery, the city's planners threw in a nice little park. Since it will most likely be surrounded by concrete and glass office towers, this public amenity is more likely to become a backyard play space for corporate tenants, much like Metrotech's little mall. In the meantime, downtown Brooklyn will become a forest of skyscrapers with fewer public spaces.

    One of downtown's most lively public spaces today is Fulton Mall. The downtown plan will wipe it off the map. This historic mall was one of the city's first commercial strips that limited access by motor vehicles (city buses run through it). Once the nearby Metrotech complex was built, however, corporate tenants and white collar workers increasingly looked down their noses at the low-rent shops selling cheap goods and the management and clientele, who are mostly people of color. The mall's problems with truck loading were never seriously addressed. The city let the mall stagnate. Why can't the city's planners figure out how to preserve vital street life where it already exists; isn't that what good planning is supposed to be about?

    Finally, questions about the downtown plan are growing with mounting opposition to the proposal for an arena over Atlantic Terminal. Developer Bruce Ratner commissioned famed architect Frank Gehry to decorate the arena site with one of his signature buildings. Gehry's noted Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain dropped jaws. But one can only wonder whether anyone will see his sculpted icon when it's surrounded by the commercial clutter of Atlantic Terminal. Most Brooklynites passing by will be trapped in the borough's most gridlocked intersection.

    Downtown Brooklyn and its plan are large and complex. They both raise questions and merit much more careful discussion. But the starting point should be the people who live and work there, not the number of square feet of building space that should be built.

    Tom Angotti is Professor of Urban Affairs and Planning at Hunter College, City University of NY, editor of Planners Network Magazine, and a member of the Task Force on Community-based Planning.

    #####

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