An Arena Grows in Brooklyn
Some good news for Bruce Ratner today, but probably not for the neighborhood or the folks who want to move into the developer’s promised apartment towers at Atlantic Yards. The Islanders will mean more crowds roaming the streets of Prospect Heights and Fort Greene before and after games, and more revenue for the Barclays Center, but this will not help speed up construction of the long-delayed apartments, according to Mr. Ratner.
It has been five years since Dan Doctoroff reported to City Hall for work, but the former deputy mayor and current CEO of Bloomberg LP still finds time to think up interesting, even outrageous visions for the city. Well, they would be crazy if they did not have a habit of getting built. After all, so many developments that came out of Mr. Doctoroff’s unsuccessful bid to draw the Olympics to the five boroughs have since been realized regardless, from Atlantic Yards to Hudson Yards to Hunters Point South, the No. 7 extension, water taxis—the list goes on and on.
These success suggest that even though Mr. Doctoroff is no longer in command, might it still be possible to see a gondola stretch across the East River between Lower Manhattan, Governors Island and Brooklyn? Or a light rail line running the entire length of the waterfront from Astoria in Queens to Brooklyn’s Red Hook? Or, most audacious of all, tearing down the Javits convention center and moving it to yet another decked-over rail yard, this time in Sunnyside, where it would be surrounded by apartment and hotel towers and a sizable retail complex?
The MAS Summit has been going on for the past two days, and it has been a cornucopia of delights for the city-obsessed, full of zany proposals for affordable housing, green buildings, starchitecture, community-based development and a giant floating doughnut hovering over Grand Central. But so far the most thrilling moment was deliver by The Times‘ architecture critic Michael Kimmelman during a discussion capping day one with the Municipal Art Society’s president, Vin Cipolla.
The two of them basically meandered through a bunch of Mr. Kimmelman’s columns from his first year on the job, and the first question was about Penn Station, when the critic had the audacity to tell the Dolans to scram. He still believes it is one of the most pressing planning issues in the city all these months after he wrote the piece. “I think there’s a hunger to do something about this site, which I think is a blight on millions of people’s lives every single day,” Mr. Kimmelman explained.
In the Rezone
Yesterday, in a unanimous vote 47 years in the making, the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area has finally been approved by the City Council. SPURA, that massive parcel of barren (or in City Council speak, “under-developed”) city-owned land in Lower Manhattan, will now become a 1.65 million square foot mixed-use development. It’s a change that, according to the project’s backers, will create 1,000 housing units, 1,000 permanent jobs and 5,000 construction jobs.
Gettin' High Line
It is an unusual and yet utterly New York paradox that to glimpse the natural world in Manhattan you must visit an unnatural place.
That is part of the appeal of the weirdly beautiful High Line. Not the manicured park, with its concrete boardwalk and hordes of tourists but what came before on the 1.5-miles railroad trestle, the despoiled beauty of Mother Nature set loose in the wilds of Chelsea, undisturbed for decades but for the occasional trespasser.
More than 10 million visitors have taken in the breathtaking views of the city’s skyline and the Hudson River and traipsed through its minimalist landscape of historic tracks and native grasses since the High Line park opened in 2009. It has encouraged development in Chelsea and Meatpacking, inspired artists and filmmakers, and managed to polarize the surrounding neighborhood before it has even been fully restored.
Yet the thin strip of pre-post-industrial wildlands that made that all possible is about to disappear.
For more than a year now, ever since the very first rental units at the monolithic, magnificent Mercedes House came on the market, Two Trees Management has been debating what to do with the rest of its zig-zagging luxury building on the Far West Side of Manhattan. The massive block-long project was a gamble for the Brooklyn firm, about as big and brash and far away from its home turf in Dumbo as one could get (without going to Godforbid, N.J.).
Mercedes House was built in two phases, a swooping base and a connected tower. There would be two sets of rentals, and, the cherry on top, a contingent of condos crowning the 1.3-million-square-foot building, with better finishes and excellent views, on floors 22 through 32. “Everything was high end,” Two Trees managing director Asher Abehsera told The Observer late last week.
He had called in part to set the record straight about the sale of those condos units in a block to Invesco, the Atlanta-based investment management group, that was widely reported last week.
Rich Marin is big. For more than three decades, he dominated Wall Street, creating some of the industry’s most exotic investments, making billions for his clients, and millions for himself. One of his minions blew a hole in the side of Bankers Trust, a firm Mr. Marin helped transform into a derivatives powerhouse, and still he held on for the ride, becoming the youngest managing director ever at the bank. It all came crashing down five years ago, when the hedge funds he oversaw at Bear Stearns imploded. The rest of the world followed within the year. But there was Mr. Marin, standing amid the wreckage, helping rescue an overzealous Israeli diamond magnate who had plowed $3 billion into prime U.S. real estate just as the frothing market froze over. He rescued the firm, only to be unceremoniously fired two years to the day after he joined.
Now Rich Marin wants to build the world’s largest ferris wheel—in Staten Island, naturally—and the mayor just gave him his blessing.
Did we mention he is big? At the announcement of the project last Thursday, Mr. Marin absolutely dwarfed Mayor Bloomberg and Senator Chuck Schumer, along with the other dignitaries gathered at the ferry terminal. But despite his imposing size—he stands 6-foot-5 and is built like an offensive lineman—Mr. Marin is probably one of the gentlest people on the Street. Were he a real bear, rather than having worked for one, Mr. Marin would be not a grizzly but a teddy. This may help explain his turbulent career.
“We did it!” developer Bruce Ratner crowed a reported 14 times at the opening of his new Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn this weekend.
We sure did. Poor Brooklyn, always trying to develop some new civic identity all its own, and always ending up with … a Barclays Center.
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In the Rezone
It took 40 years, but the transformation of the Seward Park urban Renewal Area, better known as SPURA, may finally be here. While everyone seemed excited at the prospect of this finally happening, the opinions were far from unanimous about what the city came up with for its plan for the seven undeveloped acres south of Delancy Street on four forlorn parking lots.
But there was unanimity today, when the City Council’s land-use committee approved the 1.65 million-square-foot plan for SPURA by a vote of 16-0. Attendees of last week’s public hearing on the development south of the Williamsburg Bridge will be relieved to hear that 50 additional affordable housing units (offset by another 50 at market rate prices) have been added to the project, for a total of 1,000 units, half of which will be affordable, half not. The administration also agreed to that now de rigueur piece of rezoning negotiations, a new public school.
As the above-ground train rolls past the Court Square stop on the 7 line, a stone’s throw into the heart of Long Island City, passengers are awakened by a defiant cacophony of shapes and colors against a backdrop of the graying and decrepit Queens skyline. There, a red-brick warehouse stands proud, one entirely outfitted in graffiti tags and murals by aerosol artists. Born of a mission to create a legal urban canvas for the criminal art form flaring up in excess throughout the city during the early ’90s, the brainchild of founder Pat DiLillo—then known as “The Phun Phactory”—opened in 1993. In 2002, Jonathan Cohen—an FIT grad who had been tagging since he was 13 and is better known in these parts by his nom de plume Meresone—began curating the work. He soon rechristened the building “5 Pointz,” after the five boroughs of New York City. But it has since branched out and become a cultural mecca of sorts, with pieces by artists from cities such as Paris, Madrid, London and Germany.
On any weekday, while businesses—a clothing factory, storage space for city hotdog vendors and a small non-profit gallery called Local Projects—hum away inside the building, Mr. Cohen can be found in or around the building, monitoring projects and making sure nobody is painting without his permission.
“I’m here every day, I have no life.”
But the 39-year-old Flushing Native may soon be getting his free time back—at the price of his life’s work.