A Deck Delayed: Will Atlantic Yards Have To Wait For Blight-Concealing Rail Platform?

What about the Yards part of Atlantic Yards? (Dope on the Slope, flickr)

What about the Yards part of Atlantic Yards? (Dope on the Slope, flickr)

In the last few months, the battle cries of the Atlantic Yards opponents have quieted—or been drowned out by the hubbub of basketball games and concerts at Barclays. There has been a subtle shift in tone and subject matter, with the conversation turning away from Atlantic Yards and the bitter debate that has characterized so much of the development’s history.

But despite the shift in focus, the eastern end of Downtown Brooklyn remains scarred by an open railyardan 8.5-acre tear in the urban fabric that Forest City Ratner is supposed to someday heal.

The platform over Vanderbilt Yards, as it’s known, is the difference between a highly challenging “blighted” development sitearguably deserving of special subsidies, tax breaks and the seizure of private land through eminent domainand a prime development site in a plum location.

The Atlantic Yards Reportthe tireless, fine-tooth comber of all documents related to Forest City Ratnerhas unearthed what appears to be confirmation that the deck over the 8.5-acre Vanderbilt Yards will not be built until after four other towers are completed on Southeast Block 1129.

Quoting from the annual report that Forest City Enterprises filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, AYR accuses Forest City of shifting around its sequencing and phases, moving the construction of four towers on Southeast Block 1129 from Phase I to Phase II, effectively prioritizing the easier, terra firma construction over the thornier deck building, and thereby delaying it. Delays are a rather touchy subject, as wobbly deadlines (ahem, 10 years) have been a problem for the project.

“That leaves the below-grade railyard waiting for an expensive deck and furthering development on the main piece of terra firm beyond the arena block,” writes the Atlantic Yards Report.

In other words, Forest City would not be getting to that “scar that divided the neighborhood” anytime soon.

But Forest City denies that anything has changed in the timeline or the phases.

“The four buildings on Block 1129 are still, as they have always been, part of Phase II,” spokesman Joe DePlasco told The Observer. Sequencing for Phase II, he added, had yet to be determined and would be discussed as part of the environmental impact studies.

But what of the seeming discrepancy between Block 1129 being designated as part of Phase I in the annual report?

Mr. DePlasco cited a tangle of legalese, but the takeaway was that different documents “have different descriptions for different purposes.”

So Block 1129 is sometimes part of Phase I and sometimes part of Phase II, but it has always been part of Phase II and its sequencing in relation to the deck has yet to be determined. Got that?

As for a timeline on when the platform would be completed, Mr. DePlasco pointed The Observer toward the penalties outlined in the SEC report if Forest City does not commence construction on the Permanent Railroad by December 31, 2013 and “substantially complete” construction by September 30, 2016: “[I]f we do not commence construction on the Permanent Railyard by December 31, 2013 we will be in default of various MTA project agreements and the MTA will have the ability to draw down our $86 million letter of credit. We would also lose approximately 3.3 million square feet of development rights for Phase II of Brooklyn Atlantic Yards.”

kvelsey@observer.com

[Ed. Note: The Observer has removed the characterization of “sometimes conspiracy theorist” from a description of the Atlantic Yards Report published in an earlier version of this story. The Observer had used the description to characterize the tone—and suspicious worldview—that the blog occasionally takes. This was incorrect and we did not intend to impugn the accuracy or quality of either AYR reporting or of Norman Oder’s work.]