Last week, The Observer looked at Bruce Ratner’s plans for a prefabricated Atlantic Yards project—whether he was serious about the project and whether he could achieve the steep 20 percent savings he claimed for the modular building process. A number of real estate professionals were skeptical on both counts, but they all pointed to the developers out-sized investment in prefab technology as an indicator of his seriousness. Now we know just how much of an investment that has been.
Forest City Ratner has spent $3.5 million on research and development for prefab construction, according to The Journal, which dug the number out of its annual report. Since Mr. Ratner began considering prefab apartment towers in 2009, that is more than a million dollars per year. Add to that the lawsuit Forest City helped fight, and this seems like a considerable commitment to this new approach.
This may put to rest claims that the developer was only looking at prefab as a means to break the unions and get a better rate from them on Atlantic Yards. Then again, with 15 towers containing millions of square feet of space, a few million could be but a drop in the bucket if it means bigger labor saving on the future of the site.
The entire project has been predicted to cost $5 billion, so even a 5 percent reduction in costs through labor negotiations could equal $250 million in savings. Even if Forest City Ratner were to spend $50 million researching prefab construction, if it gets the labor unions to bend and build a cheaper traditional building, that would be money well spent.