Atlantic Yards plan for luxury gym raises questions
An elected official is crying foul about a plan to build a 100,000-square-foot fitness center and field house at Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park.
State Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon told the Brooklyn Eagle that Empire State Development, which oversees the mammoth property, should do an environmental review of the proposed sports facility to gauge its impact on the neighborhood.
At an Atlantic Yards Quality of Life meeting Simon attended on Tuesday, an ESD rep said changing Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park’s site plan to allow for the gym’s construction in the basements of two as yet unbuilt towers would constitute a “minor modification,” and therefore it would not require a review.
“We understand it’s likely to be a Chelsea Piers or an Equinox. We don’t know who the provider is. Nobody’s telling anybody,” Simon said in an interview.
She expects the facility will draw lots of people who don’t live in Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park.
There will be “people arriving. People leaving. People taking bikes there. People driving there. People pulling over. And people getting out of cars. People getting into cars. Whatever. That needs to be assessed,” she said.
“So we’ve been told that the consultant has looked at these things and said it doesn’t need an environmental assessment. But we haven’t been told what the assessment was. All we were told is that they want to do this and it’s below ground — as if being below ground means it has no impact,” she added. “I think that most of us don’t object per se to a sports facility. We just want to know what are those impacts. And I don’t want to be told there’s no impact when I’m not stupid.”
‘A sense of shock’
Another point of controversy concerning the proposed fitness center is an Atlantic Yards Community Development Corp. vote that’s been scheduled for July 22 — just six days after the first announcement of the construction plan.
“I’m hearing from people a sense of shock at how fast this is moving,” Community Board 2 District Manager Robert Perris told the Eagle.
Perris noted the 100,000-square-foot gym project was initially presented to the public during the summer, while community boards are on recess.
“The accusation is often made about controversial land-use items that they either come during the summer, or at Thanksgiving and Christmas,” he said.
As of Tuesday night, Atlantic Yards Community Development Corp. board members hadn’t been given packages of materials about the fitness center — or the seven other issues they’ll also be called to vote upon, CB2 member Dwight Smith told the Eagle.
There’s a concern that the board won’t have enough time to prep for the vote and will wind up “rubber-stamping” the measures they’re supposed to pass judgment on, Smith said.
A ‘hamstrung’ board
On past occasions, too, “this independent board has been hamstrung in its oversight ability by the way the materials were delivered at the last minute,” he said.
Norman Oder’s watchdog blog Atlantic Yards Report was the first media outlet with the news about the proposed 100,000-square foot fitness center and field house and the July 22 vote.
The athletic facility would be located at Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park’s sites B12 and B13 on Dean Street, Oder’s report said. TF Cornerstone is the developer of these sites.
Jack Sterne, Empire State Development’s downstate press secretary, told the Eagle in a statement, “We are not expanding the size of this project.
“This modification will clarify a section of the [Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park] General Project Plan to allow the developer to create a field house and fitness center in the basement of two buildings, providing an amenity for residents and the community at large,” Sterne said.
Annual membership rates for Chelsea Piers and Equinox, the two gyms most likely to become the new tenant, are $2,100 and $2,640, respectively.
As the General Project Plan now stands, it neither allows nor forbids below-grade retail. It does allow retail space to be created on buildings’ first floors.
Sterne said ESD “look[s] forward to continuing this dialogue with members of the community and elected officials.”
Sterne did not answer a question from the Eagle about the fitness center vote being scheduled just six days after the plan to build it was first made public.
‘How can we work together?’
Simon wonders if TF Cornerstone wants to build the fitness center to generate cash for the development of sites B12 and B13.
The community wouldn’t object to this reason for constructing the sports facility if ESD were forthcoming about it, she said.
“If you would be honest and tell me what it is your problem is, like we need to have revenue here because this new developer can’t build this building without additional revenue. Okay, tell me that. I can understand that,” she said. “I have to assume that’s what’s going on.
“Okay, so then how can we work together to resolve that issue? Maybe I have a good idea about how to do it in a way that works for you and the community.”
A spokesperson for TF Cornerstone did not respond to a request for comment.
A portion of the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park site falls within Simon’s Assembly District. Part of the development is in Assemblymember Walter Mosley’s district. State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery is involved as well.
Simon said she won’t take any action about the fitness center construction and the other items that will be up for a vote on July 22 without conferring with Mosley and Montgomery.
She said she will reach out to the two fellow elected officials and they will figure out their next steps.
Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.
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