News Highlights of the Week: March 15 – March 21, 2008
Correction appended March 25, 2008
Construction on Forest City Ratner’s $4 billion Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn could be “put off for years” and Frank Gehry’s design could be scaled back, according to two articles published by The New York Times on March 21. In one article, the developer’s president and CEO, Bruce Ratner, told the paper that the nation’s slowing economy and credit crisis “may hold up the office building”—which is the 8-million-square-foot project’s signature component and was due to be completed in July 2009—and that “the bond market may slow the pace of the residential buildings,” which were to include as many as 6,000 units. More than five years in the making, the 22-acre project has drawn criticism from locals, who object to its scale and the displacement of existing residents. Concerns about Atlantic Yards’ economic viability began circulating in January, as RECORD reported, but Ratner’s comments to the Times marked “his first public indication that the darkening economy has slowed the ambitious project.” Ratner said that without an anchor tenant he is unable to begin construction on the office tower, which Gehry has dubbed “Miss Brooklyn.” (Gehry has apparently lent his name to a letter that the developer mailed to major corporations seeking a tenant.) Ratner, meanwhile, does intend to begin construction on an 18,000-seat arena for the Nets basketball team by the end of 2008. In a separate article, Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff observed that “Mr. Gehry conceived of this bold ensemble of buildings as a self-contained composition—an urban Gesamtkunstwerk—not as a collection of independent structures. Postpone the towers and expose the stadium, and it becomes a piece of urban blight—a black hole at a crucial crossroads of the city’s physical history. If this is what we’re ultimately left with, it will only confirm our darkest suspicions about the cynical calculations underlying New York real estate deals.” Calling the arena without Gehry’s intended context an “eyesore,” Ouroussoff urged the architect to “walk away” from the project, as he might have done when he was a younger man. “There’s much more money at stake here, and I expect that he is torn between a sense of loyalty to his client and a desire to make good architecture,” Ouroussoff wrote. “But by pulling out he would be expressing a simple truth: At this point the Atlantic Yards development has nothing to do with the project that New Yorkers were promised. Nor does it rise to the standards Mr. Gehry has set for himself during a remarkable career.”
The outlook is sunnier in Los Angeles, where construction on the Frank Gehry-designed Grand Avenue project is ready to begin in April, according to a March 18 article in the Los Angeles Times. Forest City Ratner was to have broken ground last fall on the $2 billion, mixed-use redevelopment but was delayed after a key investor, California’s state employee pension fund, backed out. The paper wrote that Ratner also faced questions “about the viability of such a massive development in the midst of L.A.’s real estate slump.” Now, with a $100 million investment from Istithmar, “a fund controlled by the royal family of Dubai,” the first part of the three-phased Grand Avenue scheme is back on track. The delay gave architects extra time to refine designs for the project’s first phase, which includes a 48-story hotel and condo tower, a 19-story apartment and condo tower, and a park. Craig Webb, with Gehry’s office, told the paper that the refinements included “figuring out the facades of the project’s two towers, doorway locations and stonework patterns—‘pretty specific stuff.’” Later Grand Avenue phases could see more high-rise residential towers and retail space. “A lot is riding on the project,” the LA Times wrote of the scheme, which will be built near the Disney Concert Hall on city- and county-owned land. “Grand Avenue is seen by downtown boosters as a way to bring night life and an upscale feel to the city center.”
JPMorgan Chase might be abandoning its plan to build Kohn Pedersen Fox’s widely criticized 5 World Trade Center tower design, according to a March 19 article in The New York Sun. As RECORD reported, early concepts for a 743-foot-tall building were released last summer, when Chase announced that its investment bank would be 5 WTC’s lead tenant. To accommodate a large, open trading floor on a narrow footprint, the architects proposed cantilevering that space from the building’s mid-section; critics likened the resulting volume to a beer belly. Following this week’s acquisition of Bear Stearns, the Sun reported, Chase indicated that rather than building in lower Manhattan it will make use of existing real estate. The paper added that a residential high-rise could be in the cards for 5 WTC instead, but nothing is certain. Citing an anonymous source, The Real Deal reported on March 20 that Chase still intends to build “a scaled-down office building” at the site—perhaps so that it could sell the property soon after.
Correction: We incorrectly reported the developer of the Grand Avenue project in Los Angeles. It is in fact The Related Companies. RECORD regrets the error.