Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Two New Surprises Courtesy Of Forest City Ratner Respecting Luxury Tower Designs To Replace Brooklyn Heights Library: Modular Construction And A Museum Expansion!

Rendering of possible "luxury" tower to replace Brooklyn Heights Library built using Forest City Ratner modular units
There are two new surprises with respect to the luxury tower designs that are in the running to be built at the site of the current Brooklyn Heights Library and replacing that library with a much smaller, largely bookless one, 25% of which will likely be underground.  Previously it was known that none of the tentative designs scaled the buildings at the full size that would use all of the available development rights actually expected to be utilized in the end.  That means design changes were expected.. . .
Tall new towers in Brooklyn Heights to replace the Brooklyn Heights Library?  The image of the two non-modular unit towers above are of buildings whose potential height speculatively ranges, Photoshopped to show their tallest announced possible version for which an image isn't available.  Maybe not what they will look like, but for other reasons they may be even taller.  
. . . Now it turns out that the design changes will be more dramatic than expected.  Forest City Ratner, owning the property adjacent to the library and effectively acting as the gatekeeper to the extra development rights, is requiring that no matter which developer proposal is chosen the new building be built with modular construction.  Forest City’s new modular construction subsidiary, operating on a subsidized basis out of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, will provide the modular units.  This way most of the construction can be done more cheaply off-site with the Ratner firm taking a profit percentage while whatever developer is ultimately selected can swiftly flip the units into a final building at less cost to itself.
Above and below: Modular units in the Brooklyn Navy Yard

No doubt these units will be the first modular units to be targeted to the very high end clientele to whom the Brooklyn Heights apartments are expected to be marketed.  At first, the Brooklyn Heights Association bridled at the idea of a new building that would be modular and it was ready to call upon Mayor de Blasio (who controls disposition of the city-owned land) to intervene: “Make the library smaller, but don’t sacrifice quality design in our neighborhood” was going to be the appeal, but FRC had a significant sweetener to toss into the deal. . . and that’s the second surprise.

Forest City Ratner will make a contribution that will, it says, using the library space, effectively double the cultural space at the site.  It is donating an art museum.  (Technically, Forest City Ratner did not need to sweeten the deal; there was a provision in one of the “site file” documents on the $50 CD offered to those responding to the Request For Proposal that let them dictate this construction result although nobody understood this from the way the language was crafted.)
Forest City Ratner is providing the new museum by buying the artwork of the currently closed San Francisco Art Museum that is in storage and theretofore otherwise unavailable for view.  (See: Its Art Elsewhere, a Museum Tries to Stay Relevant- San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Is Closed but Active, by Jori Finkel, March 25, 2014.)  The question might be asked: How can these works be displayed in a New York City Brooklyn Heights location without a significant loss to residents and museum goers of San Francisco?  Will there be such a loss? . .

. . .  “That’s the beauty of digital duplication,” said FRC’s Bruce Ratner.  All of these works will be digitized so there will be no need to see them physically and that means that museum goers in San Francisco can absorb and study a work at the same time it is being viewed by a Brooklyn audience.  “Replicating modular units on the assembly line sort of got me thinking appreciatively in this vein,” said the contemplative and philosophical Mr. Ratner. . . “And then MaryAnne Gilmartin, CEO at Forest City Ratner and a great art admirer, pointed out how quintessentially perfect additional replications would be to make the repeated Warhol images even more meaningful and more valuable.”
San Francisco Museum Warhol with repeating images.  Those repeated images can easily e digitally repeated again, see below, even enhancing the meaning of the repetition.

Gilmartin says that screen idiosyncrasies generating further color variations also add value
Most proudly, Ratner said that donation of art for a museum in the library space would effectively double the cultural space in the building.  Many have criticized the diminished amount of space proposed for shrunken “replacement” library space as being far too small, 20,000 square feet vs. the current 63,000 square feet.  But Ratner, concurring with Brooklyn Public Library pronouncements, said “you can’t measure space by square feet, you have to evaluate it by what is actually used and how its used.”  Ratner said that the introduction of the museum would effectively double the space or more because the new library is already relying on computer, iPad and tablet screens for their reading pleasure in substitution for space-consuming physical books.  “These very same screens can display the digitized artwork,” said Ratner triumphantly.

For those who long to be in actual physical proximity to great art, Ratner is again one step ahead: “The actual original artwork will be in the luxury apartments in the building above where we will be renting it out below cost for at least a fifteen year period as an inducement for purchasers to buy the apartments.”  The apartments are expected to be snapped up in many cases as pied-à-terres for visiting foreigners.  “If you buy a luxury apartment in the 50-story building that is replacing the Donnell Library across from MoMA you can run out and see the paintings across this street, but this is one step better: We bring the art to you, it’s in your apartment.”
A real estate advertisement for the luxury apartments that will replace the Donnell Library sold for a pittance.  Looks like those buying them are expected to have many books, more than. . .
Book lovers can also be assured that, like the luxury Bacarrat going up at the site where Donnell was torn down, the apartments in the luxury building at the site of Brooklyn Heights Library will likely be full of books, a proximity readers can instinctually enjoy as they peruse their tablets downstairs.

Might the library/art museum get too crowded with multitudes arriving to enjoy an air conditioned study of screens showing text or art?  Ratner points out that as the art and text is all digitized nobody need even come to the physical space at all to enjoy these assets just so long as they pay him his collection fee for the art and make sure not to run up over-due fees on borrowed digital texts. “And we can always change the rules to discourage too much use,” he said.

The one big hurdle for Ratner in pulling the art museum deal together was financing.  The financing is coming: 10% from Ratner himself (reimbursed to him by a taxpayer subsidy) with the rest coming in equal parts from, Mikhail ProkhorovGreenland Holdings Group of China, and through an EB-5 sale of green cards to Chinese millionaires and their families.  This joint venturing group of investors will go by the name “Four Reins Investors.”  Eventually, decisions about the ultimate physical dispensation and `patriation' of the art will have to be arbitrated between these investors.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Medal
The Municipal Art Society, crediting Forest City Ratner with how the museum plan and modular housing will catalyze a revitalization of Brooklyn Heights, will be awarding its 2015  Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Medal to Ratner, so that Ratner will be receiving this annual award for two years running.   The 2014 award is going to Forest City Ratner for preserving a swath of Prospect Heights by tearing it down to build the Ratner Prokhorov Barclays arena while letting the rest of the destroyed neighborhood acreage lie fallow for a few decades.  This is actually the second award that MAS has given Forest City Ratner for that decimation.

MAS president Vin Cipolla said that the MAS directors are hoping that they can hand out the Onassis award to Ratner on an annual basis from here on in.  The determination of the award is not made on a calendar year basis, he explained.  The last day of March concludes the `award year cycle’ so, by coordinating with MAS to withhold the announcement of the museum plans and modular construction until the first day of April, Ratner qualified the plans for the 2015 award.

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