Pols launch $10M proxy war against Brooklyn megaproject

Greenland failed to build Pacific Park’s atrium, but the real fight is about housing

New York /
Jul.July 14, 2022 05:41 PM
Gov. Kathy Hochul, Greenland USA's Scott Solish and the Barclays Center (Getty, LinkedIn, Google Maps)

Gov. Kathy Hochul, Greenland USA’s Scott Solish and the Barclays Center (Getty, LinkedIn, Google Maps)

Brooklyn Nets player Ben Simmons isn’t the only person taking forever to get to work at the Barclays Center.

Developer Greenland Forest City Partners was supposed to construct a sweeping glass atrium outside the arena by this May. The deadline, part of an agreement to build the Pacific Park megaproject in Downtown Brooklyn, came and went.

Now, local activist group BrooklynSpeaks and elected officials are calling on Gov. Kathy Hochul to enforce a $10 million late penalty outlined in the development plan by her agency, Empire State Development.

“Important deadlines are coming due and being missed,” said BrooklynSpeaks member Gib Veconi. “The state doesn’t seem concerned about the consequences.”

Three Assembly members, state Sen. Jabari Brisport and Council member Crystal Hudson wrote to Empire State Development asking the agency to collect on the late fees, lest it lose public confidence in its ability to enforce later deadlines.

Greenland said no one wants an atrium.

“We have heard loud and clear from locals, visitors and public officials that Brooklyn’s public square is a far better civic space for Brooklyn residents, transit riders, and visitors to Barclays Center than the enclosed atrium originally planned for this site,” said a spokesperson.

However, the subtext of the letter and press conference was not the atrium but Pacific Park’s affordable housing, the promise of which was crucial to the megaproject, then called Atlantic Yards, gaining the political approval it needed after being proposed by Forest City Ratner in 2003.

As part of the master development plan, Greenland now has less than three years to deliver nearly 2,500 affordable apartments, even as many of the project’s residential buildings remain little more than blueprints.

Some 877 affordable apartments are planned across three buildings over the Vanderbilt Railyard, but the developer hasn’t even built a platform over the tracks.

Finishing the affordable units in time would be a monumental task, even if contractors were not as busy as ever and construction costs and interest rates were not soaring.

“You’d have to repeal the laws of physics,” Veconi said.

If the developer fails to beat its May 2025 deadline for the affordable units, BrooklynSpeaks says, it will be on the hook for $2,000 per month for every delayed unit, which could add up to $1.75 million per month.

“If we have an MDA [Master Development Agreement] that says the developer must meet a deadline or pay $10 million, and Empire State Development fails to collect, the people can’t trust their government,” said Brisport, whose district includes the Pacific Park development, in a statement. “That’s a very dangerous place to be in.”

Empire State Development, the state’s primary economic development agency, seems inclined to avoid a fight.

“ESD acknowledges the importance of ensuring that this developer honors the commitments it promised to the community,” a spokesperson said. “ESD will work with the developer and the community to expand access to public space and advance the next phases of this critical project.”

Greenland, which aims to relocate the density originally planned for the plaza elsewhere in the site, is making no apologies for its work to date. “Pacific Park Brooklyn is unmatched in its successful delivery of affordable housing, transit and infrastructure improvements, and a world-class arena,” its spokesperson said.

Greenland Forest City Partners was formed as a partnership between Greenland USA and Forest City Realty Trust. In 2018, Brookfield Asset Management acquired Forest City and Greenland upped its stake in the partnership to 95 percent.

Greenland USA’s parent company, Chinese developer Greenland Holdings, faces financial peril at home. Last month, S&P Global Ratings downgraded the firm’s bonds to two levels below the junk status threshold.

Greenland Holdings’ financial troubles shadow the Brooklyn development. While Forest City was the project’s original guarantor, that responsibility likely did not transfer to Brookfield, whose stake is now just 5 percent. Brookfield did not respond to a request for comment.





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