The following are photos of the area that is slated for redevelopment as Atlantic Yards, a Brooklyn real estate project over and around the Long Island Railroad's Vanderbilt rail yards. The development will include a new arena for the Nets professional basketball team, office/retail space, and 6,400 residential units in 17 massive buildings. The site is near Downtown Brooklyn and is adjacent to the neighborhoods of Prospect Heights, Park Slope, and Fort Greene.
On February 22, 2007 I ventured to the site with the received memory of Robert Moses' abhorrent 20th century urban renewal projects foremost in my consciousness. I expected to find a ill-fated blocks of noble, unappreciated buildings destined for destruction by a heartless billionaire.
What I found was a much more complex vestigial remnant of New York's industrial past in transition to a residential future. I still have significant sympathy with the local residents who strongly oppose the seizure of their property and the radical transformation of their neighborhood. I still feel that smaller-scaled natural development of this area would produce a smoother transformation and more satisfying outcome. However, after walking among the numerous decrepit buildings and unsuccessfully dodging the numerous piles of dog excrement left by the pets of uncaring local owners, I must admit that the new development will certainly be cleaner.
Developer: Atlantic Yards is being spearheaded by the Forest City Ratner Companies, which was established in 1985 by the appropriately-named developer Bruce C. Ratner as an affiliate of Forest City Enterprises, a publicly-traded Cleveland-based real estate development company established in 1921. Ratner's Brooklyn developments include One Pierrepont Plaza (opened 1988), MetroTech Center, The Atlantic Center Mall (opened 1996) and Atlantic Terminal Office and Retail Complex (opened 2004). Forest City Ratner also owns the Queens Center Mall and Embassy Suites in Manhattan.
History: As America suburbanized following World War II, this area fell into decline and became a magnet for oversized, grandiose redevelopment plans typical of an era that saw destruction of the old as a virtue. ( history link)
- In 1954 the LIRR terminal on the northeast corner of Atlantic and Flatbush was eyed for a new Brooklyn Dodgers stadium, although the idea was nixed by city planning czar Robert Moses (because the traffic would be awful) and ultimately led the Dodgers to move to Los Angeles in 1958.
- In 1962, the City Planning Commission unveiled the Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area (ATURA), a plan that would have leveled much of the existing architecture for replacement with "modern" apartment buildings. Little became of ATURA until city-subsidized apartment buildings and smaller development projects began sprouting in the early- and mid-70s.
- In 1985, grand plans for a large complex of residential and office space for the area north of Atlantic Avenue were unveiled, but were restrained by community legal action.
- In 1990, the project was re-envisioned to include a mall (which opened in 1996) and the heavily subsidized Atlantic Terminal office and retail which opened in 2004.
- In 2004 Ratner unveiled the current plans for Atlantic Yards and the project was approved by the Public Authorities Control Board on December 20, 2006. However, legal efforts to stop the project continue even as construction is beginning.
Size Problems: The major arguments that have dogged numerous ideas for this site have revolved around plans that have simply been too large for the area.
- The gargantuan residential towers (on hideous asymmetrical designs by Frank Gehry) will look like cancerous growths in the context of the surrounding low-rise neighborhood. ( google earth picture).
- While there is an argument that a large commercial component is necessary to subsidize the construction of the arena, development size is usually more indicative of greed and ego than any larger concern for the community.
- The public transit infrastructure in the area is excellent, with an LIRR station and the intersection of many major subway lines. But the road infrastructure is not quite as robust and automobile traffic will completely swamp the area, especially during arena events.
- The planned public spaces will certainly not offer adequate outdoor recreational opportunities for the massive influx of population.
- Smaller redevelopment projects have been occurring in the area for years and have fit much more "organically" within the community than will this massive, disruptive effort.
- Rising rents in Manhattan have spurred a significant amount of redevelopment throughout the outer boroughs and the area would ultimately be redeveloped without the expenditure of $2 billion in public money and tax breaks.
Eminent Domain: While much of the Atlantic Yards property has been acquired through legitimate purchases, eminent domain will be required to oust the final holdouts. Since this is a private and, arguably, unnecessary project, there is a fundamental question about whether it is right for the government to take land from a small land owner and give it to a bigger land owner so he can make billions of dollars. Although the controversial 2005 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London does not bode well for the current plaintiffs trying to protect their homes, this is an emerging area in constitutional law and in politics that is not yet settled.
(click on thumbnails to enlarge)
Flatbush Avenue Block 927
Triangle between 5th Ave. and Atlantic Ave.)
The easternmost portion of the Atlantic Yards project is a small triangle of land currently inhabited by a community garden and a couple of strip-mall-like insta-buildings housing a Modells and PC Richard that sell cheap imported products.
This block will be cleared and replaced with an office building.
Flatbush Avenue Block 1118
between 4th, Pacific, Flatbush and Atlantic)
Just to the east was a desolate triangle of land used as parking and equipment storage for the LIRR. It was also the home of the JRG Bar and Restaurant. The vacant building next door to the restaurant bore a notice about being baited for rats, a sure precursor to demolition. This block will be combined with the adjacent blocks to the east as the location of the new arena. The short stretch of 5th Avenue between Flatbush Ave. and Atlantic Ave. will be closed.
The block was cleared by the time I returned in the fall of 2007.
Railyard Block 1119
Atlantic Ave. between 5th Ave. and 6th Ave.)
The Atlantic Yards project is partially named after the Long Island Railroad's Vanderbilt Yards rail yard, which occupies three blocks on the south side of Atlantic Ave. Block 1119 is the westernmost of the three blocks and holds rail cars for this terminus of the railroad.
This block will be merged with the blocks immediately to the south and west and a platform will be placed over the tracks for the foundation of the new arena.
Railyard Block 1120
Atlantic Ave. between 6th Ave. and Carlton Ave.)
In the middle railyard block, the yard merges down to two tracks. The north side of this block includes two large, formidable looking warehouses.
The warehouses will be leveled and a platform placed over the tracks to provide a foundation for three large residential towers.
Railyard Block 1121
Atlantic Ave. between Carlton Ave. and Vanderbilt Ave.
With rail lines passing to the north and into a cut-and-cover tunnel on their way to the Jamaica LIRR station, the easternmost railyard block has been used primarily for bus parking. The side of the block on Vanderbilt hosts gas stations.
This block will be merged with the block immediately to the south. Since there are only two tracks, they will presumably be covered with a tunnel and the below-grade area further excavated to provide the foundation for three large residential towers.
Pacific Street Block 1127
between Flatbush Ave. and 6th Ave.
The three blocks immediately to the south of the rail yard represent the bulk of demolition for the project. 636 Pacific is, perhaps, the more interesting of the fated buildings - a relatively recent conversion of a classic 8-story warehouse or apartment building with some lovingly restored terra cotta detailing. 648 Pacific is a old, long-closed fire station. The building at the corner of Pacific and 6th also appears to be a relatively recent loft conversion of an old warehouse.
These buildings will be demolished and the block combined with the railyard block immediately to the north for the new arena.
A return visit in the Fall of 2007 revealed much of the demolition on the western side of the block proceeding apace.
Pacific Street Block 1128
between 6th Ave. and Carlton Ave.
This block is dominated by the Newswalk building, a 1927 Daily News manufacturing plant that was abandoned in 1996 and opened as a loft condo conversion in 2002. The east side of the block on Carlton Ave. hosts a row of well-maintained brownstones.
Testifying to the power of money (or, at least, common sense), most of this block will be spared, with only the three nondescript low-rise buildings on the west side (including the appropriately-numbered 666 Pacific) demolished for a single residential tower.
Pacific Street Block 1129
between Carlton Ave. and Vanderbilt Ave.
This block was dominated by warehouses, with some modest residential and commercial buildings on the east end of the block. The most notable building was the former Ward Bread Bakery at 800 Pacific, a large, low-lying structure built in 1910 with an attractive, albeit crumbling, white terra-cotta exterior that firmly rooted it in a more tasteful era before the advent of Wal-Mart. The building was largely abandoned at the time I visited with the only resident being Pack-It-Away Storage on 808 Pacific.
On April 26, 2007 while workers were removing asbestos from the roof, a portion of the parapet collapsed onto an unprotected sidewalk below, with no injuries, but further inflaming community distrust of the project.
All these buildings will be demolished and replaced with four large residential towers. Pacific Street will be closed and the block combined with the railyard block to the north, forming a "superblock" that will host a total of seven tall residential towers.
Southwest Corner - Vanderbilt Avenue / Dean Street / Carlton Ave
Vanderbilt Avenue at Dean Street is the southeast corner of the planned development and is more indicative of what traditional residential Brooklyn architecture looks like. Because of (or, perhaps, in spite of) Atlantic Yards, renovation and augmentation proceeds apace on the outskirts of the planned development. Just down Dean Street is St. Joseph's Catholic Church.
Dean Street Block 1129
between Carlton Ave. and Vanderbilt Ave.
The Dean Street side of this block is dominated by the back of the old Ward Bread Bakery. 603 Dean is a homeless shelter and whatever was on the west side of the block has already been demolished, leaving only a wall for the musings of local residents about the character of their overlords.
Dean Street Block 1128
between 6th Ave. and Carlton Ave.
The eastern part of this block is already well along it's way to gentrification with the back of the Newswalk loft condo conversion as the dominant feature amidst a number of well-maintained brownstones. Just past the Temple of Resurrection at 515 Dean St. is a row of less well-maintained brownstones (including one bricked-in abandoned building) with distinctive floor plans in which the windows jut out in triangular pairs. The block concludes on the west with a group of five brownstones that appear to be well-maintained but have non-original exterior details.
In order to spare the Newswalk building, only the brownstones on the western edge of this block will be demolished for a single large residential tower.
Dean Street Block 1127
between Flatbush Ave. and 6th Ave.
The southeast corner of this block is home to Freddy's Bar and Grill, a dive bar that has appears to be a longtime fixture of the neighborhood. It's the kind of place that builds a sense of community and provides a venue for neighborhood discourse. It's replacement will probably be a Starbucks, fostering nothing but Internet and caffeine addictions.
Further down the block is the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers, Local 8, which undoubtedly supports Atlantic Yards and the bonanza of work it will bring to it's members. The block concludes on the west with an old building for the Brooklyn AIDS task force and a Mobil station.
All of these buildings will be demolished and the block merged with the railyard block to the north as the site for the new arena.
Flatbush Ave. Southwest Corner
Not part of the development, but will certainly get some part of the action as development proceeds.
Atlantic Avenue North Side
The northeast corner of Atlantic Ave. and Flatbush Ave. is the Atlantic Center Mall and Atlantic Terminal Office and Retail Complex, which were also developed by Forest City Ratner. The complex was built on a site made available by the destruction of a historic LIRR terminal. The architecturally insignificant Atlantic Center is considered a prime example of poor urban planning.
Further to the east are a number of low- and high-rise apartment buildings that date from redevelopment efforts that began in the mid 1970s.