Forest City Ratner’s (FCR) controversial Atlantic Yards development just lost Miss Brooklyn, the Frank Gehry-designed lightning rod-cum-skyscraper, but its new architecture continues to be a matter of dispute.
On May 4, The Daily News unveiled renderings of a reconceived Atlantic Yards, the 17-building project near the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues. The models showed a shorter, more twisting tower than the would-be icon New Yorkers had come to expect. “We released new designs for Building One, which is the office building formerly known as Miss Brooklyn, for the arena, and for the first residential building,” said FCR spokesman Joe DePlasco. “We said a year ago that Frank would be working on a new design in part to deal with the height, and this is what he did.”
DePlasco dismissed the idea that Gehry’s trademark titanium might have yielded to the softer colors in an attempt to appease the brownstone residents who have vehemently objected to Atlantic Yards’ scale. “I would say he’s pretty much had carte blanche in terms of the overall look and feel,” said DePlasco of the architect. The shorter iconic tower, said the spokesman, reflects a concession by the developer to stop at 511 feet and avoid overtaking the nearby Williamsburg Savings Bank Tower (1927), which rises 512 feet, as Brooklyn’s tallest building.
But “Building One” may also have gotten smaller as developer Bruce Ratner has owned up to doubts that the chilly economy will accommodate an office building complex in this area. DePlasco says the company released the new renderings this month because they will be on display in a showroom, due to open May 15. A fact sheet from the developer notes that “businesses expanding or relocating from Manhattan and beyond will receive substantial, as-of-right tax incentives and energy discounts,” but it’s not clear what kind of user would want to gamble on or brand the building. FCR will not start construction on the 34-story tower without securing an anchor tenant, said DePlasco.
Project opponents worry that these new designs intend to deflect attention from Ratner’s financial worries. The day after the Daily News story, the Municipal Art Society mustered renderings that it called “Atlantic Lots,” invoking a vision of an arena surrounded by empty parcels of land at what should be a thriving transportation hub. The renderings also no longer include a publicly-accessible green roof over the stadium, a crucial element in helping the project gain approval for its Environmental Impact Statement. Daniel Goldstein, a spokesman for the civic coalition Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, has warned public officials to make sure the developer does not build an arena and nothing else.
On May 7, DePlasco reaffirmed the developer’s promise to open the arena and the first residential building, also reconceived, in 2010; others call this timing unrealistic. As for the office tower, described in the fact sheet as “at the prow of the Atlantic Yards site” and fitted with “exclusive landscaped terraces,” these new drawings leave the building schedule unclear.