Flatlands Avenue Urban Village Plans Gaining Steam, Scoping Hearing to Follow

A massive waterfront space in eastern New York City may be set for an equally enormous transformation. Along Flatlands Avenue in Brooklyn, in the properties around a Christian Cultural Center’s megachurch and in partnership with the Gotham Organization and Practice for Architecture and Urbanism, a project marketed as “innovative urban living” is about to take off, pending a scoping hearing to hear questions and concerns from locals. The end product hopes to bring affordable housing, commerce, and years of construction work to the area. 

What Is the Project Going to Involve? 

Construction would be taking place over five lots situated along Flatlands Avenue, Louisiana Avenue, and Pennsylvania Avenue, totaling about 2.4 million square feet of complex that developers are calling an urban village, with amenities that are contained but publically accessible. Sources report this will involve the construction of 13 new buildings, and altogether locals will be seeing: 

  • 2,000+ new apartments, around 1,800 of which will be priced as affordable housing, a portion of which are reserved for elderly residents as part of the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) initiative. The developers endeavor to build a community that doesn’t expose current residents to gentrification or pricing them out of their own neighborhoods. Preference is given to current locals for half the available living spaces. 
  • The Christian Cultural Center remains with plans to incorporate it into the overall community. 
  • Public amenities are to be created, including a daycare, outdoor public space, both an elementary school and a trade school, and a performing arts center. 
  • Once the full project is completed, another major community amenity will be a shuttle service that will give locals access to the L train and the 3 train for those that require access to mass transit.

Much of the project’s vision comes from Reverend A.R. Bernard—current owner of the Christian Cultural Center—who wishes to build a community for its residents, which means supporting current and future residents and their needs. 

Following the public scoping meeting on March 3rd, a more definitive word will come of whether this project moves forward. Other major steps that must be made include an amendment of the current zoning map, as well as necessary permits from the city. 

In Terms of Jobs, What Kind of Work Could Come Out of This?

Construction is expected to be completed around 2031, provided all goes well in terms of planning. By itself, this projected date says a lot about potential work, because if ground breaks at the time it’s currently projected (2021-2022), that’s potentially 10 years’ worth of jobs for any firms that get involved. 

Some structures that already exist are going to need to be remodeled to suit a new purpose. Multiple new structures are to be built, ranging from two to seventeen stories in height. New roadways and walkways are to be expected, especially in park areas, and sources have noted several curb cuts that must be relocated. For now, that’s just what is covered in the planning stages. More details are likely soon to follow.

Industry Braces for Impact of Tax Abatement Changes in Philadelphia

Philadelphia had a record-setting year for new construction in 2019, according to the number of permits issued by the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections. The majority of the more than 2,100 permits issued were for single-family housing and most was in Center City’s surrounding neighborhoods. But developers fear a change in the 10-year tax abatement, which was passed at the end of last year, will slow the market and development.

Philadelphia has had a 10-year tax abatement of real estate taxes for new residential construction since the 1970s. It allowed developers to be tax-free for 10 years and was enacted to boost construction in the city. After a contentious debate, however, the legislation passed an amendment to the abatement. Now, the first year will provide developers with a 100 percent exemption on taxes, but there will be a 10 percent decrease per year after that. After 10 years, the tax exemption would end.

In a compromise to those opposed to the change, the new abatement won’t be implemented until December 31, 2020. There is some speculation this could produce a mini-boom of residential housing before the abatement ends in his current form, or boost new commercial real estate projects, according to Joseph Gibson, a researcher at commercial real estate services and investment firm CBRE.

One prominent building already under construction—the Arthaus condominiums from Dranoff Properties—will not escape the new tax law. The 108-unit, 47 story building at 309 South Broad Street is scheduled to be completed in 2021.

Transforming the Flushing River Waterfront in Queens with Mixed-Use Construction

The Flushing area of Queens on Long Island is looking to see some imminent improvements to the waterfront area. A couple of months ago, Hill West Architects revealed plans for an enormous complex of mixed-use buildings to be constructed in the 29-acre area. There are hopes that this will help to expand the downtown area, provide greater access to the waterfront, expand local housing and business opportunities, and only continue to improve the overall environment. The expansive footprint of this proposed project has led to citizens demanding an environmental impact in order to see assurances of their ecologically-friendly intentions. 

What Is the Pre-Project State of the Flushing River Waterfront?

The good news is that even before construction was to commence, the area has undergone numerous cleanup efforts, taking it from one of the most polluted waterways in the metro area with a notable “rotten egg” stench to marked improvement, as reported in late 2018. Major changes to the area included: 

  • Dredging 89,000 cubic yards of sediment, which on its own can adversely affect wetland areas, increase erosion, lower moisture, and make the environment less habitable for local flora and fauna;
  • Reworking the local sewer system to stop over 200 million gallons of sewage from dumping into the bay every year; and
  • Installing acres of new wetlands that help to filter the water and keep it clean naturally. 

It is not a complete fix, as recent reports suggest that heavy storms still lead to swelling, backed up sewage, and other issues. More than a year after news of improvements to the area, and still stink-free, the waterfront is on its way to transforming into another substantial way, including:  mixed-used properties, including more sorely needed low-income housing, to bring residents back to the area while still sustaining continued environmental improvements.

Moving Forward: Changes the Mixed-Use Project Aims to Bring

Hill West’s project is massive, spanning 29 acres of currently unused industrial space. A total of nine buildings are planned across the site. The project, assuming approval is imminent, should commence this year and is projected to continue, with a steady stream of construction work to follow through to 2025. Further specifics include:

  • A total rezoning of the area from industrial to residential. 
  • 1,725 new apartments, with around ten percent reserved for below-market-rate spaces.
  • 1,387,040 square feet of commercial space, to “include 298,811 square feet of retail, a 714,588-square-foot hotel, and 383,641 square feet of office space.” 
  • 21,913 square feet of community facilities.
  • 3.14 acres of publicly accessible open space and park area. 
  • 1,533 parking spaces. 

But for the rezoning, which is all paperwork, the rest consists of virtually every trade a team will need in construction, across four separate sites, to complete it. Hill West Architects revealed plans show an ambitious transformation over a large chunk of the local map. Pending approvals and impact reports can only reveal more details on how this change could change the local environment for better or worse

High Hopes for Mixed-Use, Transit-Oriented Project in East Brunswick

Commuting is often a necessary evil for New Jersey residents, but plans for a new mixed-used, transit-oriented development in East Brunswick aim to make it a little more pleasant—at least at the start and end of each day.

The $500 million project along the Route 18 corridor will have a bus terminal and commuter parking structure at the core of a site with 800 residential units, as well as retail shops, restaurants, a hotel, tech center, medical office building, outdoor amphitheater, indoor/outdoor pet facility, public plaza, and pedestrian walkways.

For those already worried about traffic in and out of the development, the plan includes the creation of parallel side streets to allow for alternate routes. And the developer, River Development, hopes to work with the state’s Department of Transportation to add a left-turn only lane onto Route 18 off of Edgeboro Rd.

The project will also revitalize the township, and specifically the 44-acre site on Route 18 between Ruth Street and Lake Street.

“This commercial corridor, one that sits right at the center of New Jersey, that still sees over 100,000 cars each day, that connects New Brunswick and Rutgers to the Shore, that sits at the cross-section of almost every major highway in New Jersey, that is equidistant between New York City and Philadelphia, is in desperate need of revitalization, and that is exactly what we’ve spent the last two years doing,” East Brunswick mayor Brad Cohen said earlier this month when the East Brunswick Redevelopment Agency released renderings for the project.

The project is expected to be three phases over the next five to seven years and, when it’s done, Cohen wants it to have something for everyone.

“We have aimed to create a true transit-oriented development which meets the needs of residents and consumers of the 21st century,” Cohen said. “We want to create a community that appeals to all age groups, including those starting out and those looking to downsize.”

Property acquisition continues and work will include the demolition of existing structures on the property, which is expected to begin this summer.

New York City FC in Talks to Build Soccer Stadium in the Bronx

After years of discussion and debate, it appears that the New York City Football Club is beginning to reach the more serious planning stages of bringing a soccer stadium into the city limits. They have everything but an official home, and that may soon change. Standing behind the project include developers like Madd Equities, the New York Economic Development Corporation, the Bronx Parking Authority, and the New York Yankees. The location in question would be mere blocks from Yankee Stadium, whose stadium has been home to the NYCFC’s games in the interim. 

How Might a New Stadium Affect the Area? 

According to NYC.gov, sports and recreation entertainment represents the smallest number of establishments and overall jobs in the metropolitan area. Just 100 establishments exist, bringing about 3,900 jobs, and this is in comparison to the next smallest number, the arts, with 1,800 establishments and over 18,000 jobs. It also brings in the smallest in terms of output, the only category in six that doesn’t break a billion dollars annually. In addition to that, their 3,900 jobs add up to over $350 million in wages paid each year, which is nearly identical to wages paid in total by the Venues category, which also has over 19,000 employees. 

Looking at the numbers as they are, it is very easy to see where adding additional sports establishments, where possible, might also bring more jobs and more profits, especially if these establishments are filling niches that don’t yet exist (in full or in part) in the greater area. The NYCFC’s proposal would do just this by giving a home to New York City’s very first soccer-specific stadium. 

The NYCFC Stadium Construction: A Focal Point in a Much Larger Project

Upon finalization, which is expected soon as of the posting of this article, the building of this 25,000-seat stadium will be part of a larger overarching project whose budget is in the ballpark of around $1 billion in total. There is also much more in the planning stages than just a stadium, the scope of which will transform the South Bronx in a number of ways. 

With the earliest date of completion projected for 2024 pending imminent approval, the following details are known

  • The current site for construction includes parking lots and an elevator parts factory owned by GAL manufacturing (and an agreement to purchase that property has already been reached).
  • The NYCFC’s soccer stadium, with its short distance to Yankee Stadium, can draw more sports fans to the area. 
  • Also, in the works would be affordable housing units, a school, retail space, and a hotel. This would bring additional housing for visiting teams, a diverse population of local fans, as well as businesses that would stand to benefit from multiple sports entertainment seasons each year. 

It’s suddenly very clear why so many development groups are involved in this proposal so far: the number of demo, construction, and landscaping jobs that stand to come out of this could be staggering.

Plans Continue To Turn Open Space into Parks in NJ and PA

The beginning of 2020 has seen a commitment from local government to turn open space into parks throughout the area.

In Mercer County, NJ, the county park commission approved a plan for the Miry Run Ponds Passive Park at Dam Site 21. The proposal covers the cleanup and conversion of 279 acres of county-owned space spanning Hamilton, Robbinsville and West Windsor. It will be turned into a passive recreation park with trail, walkways, playgrounds, a kayak launch and plantings to buffer nearby homes from the park.

In northern NJ, the Hoboken major reiterated the city’s commitment to coming to terms on a deal that would allow the conversion of the 3.15 acres of Union Dry Dock property into a waterfront park.

And in Eastern Delaware County, PA, the county council has declared that 30 acres of open space is OK for park use. The county released the Rosa Tree Park at Little Flower Manor Open Space Master Site Development Plan in Darby Borough. The master plan includes picnic groves, a walking trail connection to the Darby Creek Trail at the Woodburne Mansion property, as well as a community garden and an education center. An engineering study on the restoration of the historic 49,000 square foot Woodburne Mansion located on the property has not yet been completed

Topgolf Facility Breaks Ground Just Off the Long Island Expressway

With the promise for more entertainment venues in the Long Island area, the Topgolf brand has recently broken ground on its first New York location in Holtsville, just off the LIE. No official completion date has been announced, but sources report this development has already been long-awaited. The groundbreaking comes almost five months after reports that the brand had secured approval from Brookhaven planning officials back in September of 2019 with a 6-0 vote in favor. 

Will the Facility Be a Traditional Golf Course? 

With news over the last year of all manner of construction projects in the area of sports, eyebrows may rise with the notion of a new project with the keyword “golf” in the title. Short of club facilities and paved pathways, a typical golf course is usually 100+ acres of well-manicured outdoor landscaping. At a time of housing crisis, golf fans in the metro area might even question where one would also find the space. This is just one of the ways in which Topgolf differs and what probably made it an attraction for Long Islanders clamoring for more area sports. 

The Dallas-based company boasts that Topgolf is a game that anyone can play, featuring: 

  • Targeted driving ranges, with multiple game styles for your short game or challenges with friends and family,
  • Microchipped golf balls to measure distance and track records and game scores electronically, 
  • An attached sports-bar atmosphere with food and drink,
  • A multi-story facility with lots of room for entertainment, but a fraction of the size of a typical golf course at around 26 acres. 

The style of the games, with challenges for golfers and non-golfers alike, coupled with good food and a lively atmosphere, tend to be stronger selling points.

What Remains to be Completed, and How Will This Change the Local Landscape?

The site for construction sits between Zebra Technologies and Cheap Sam’s nursery. Before breaking ground, the area was previously wooded and without development. The plans available through the town of Brookhaven’s website show a sprawling, west-facing facility rising three full stories. With a $25 million budget, a facility of this kind must be constructed and fully wired to support an almost wholly electronic experience for players. Distinctive landscaping to accommodate a typical driver green plus the gaming targets are just the beginning, especially since it combines gaming with the trappings of a full restaurant and sports bar. Kitchens, dining areas, and other important additions will follow suit in the overall construction plan. 

Part of this project will involve seamlessly integrating with the neighbors, however. Concerns have been raised by locals living just north of the site regarding noise, light, and traffic. Since typical Topgolf locations close down at around 2 am, concessions are to be made, although Newsday reports that Topgolf was not required to change their hours of operation to obtain approval. However, along with the construction of the facility itself, an additional fence and trees will be constructed between the property and the nearby residents.

Hoboken Plans Water Main, Park and Light Rail Projects

It’ll be a busy year of growth and upgrades in Hoboken if mayor Ravi Bhalla can put his plans into action.
On Wednesday, Bhalla outlined his 2020 priorities for the Hudson County city. Among them, working with developers and stakeholders on a new light rail station at 15th Street to meet the needs of a growing North End.
In more immediate construction, the city plans to replace more than 2.7 miles of water mains this year. It is part of a larger overhaul of the water infrastructure and the city will use independent funding, including proceeds from the SUEZ agreement that provides $33 million in water main upgrades over the next 15 years.
Bhalla also prioritized the city’s parks. There will be renovations at Legion Park in North Hoboken, including modern playground equipment for children with special needs, as well as at Jefferson Park in South Hoboken, which will also get new playground equipment. But kids aren’t the only ones who can look forward to a better play place this year. The dog parks at Church Square Park and Stevens Park will get “modern canine turf” with the new runs modeled after the ones at 2nd and Hudson streets.
He also talked about the Union Dry Dock plans, which many may have thought had died.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t reiterate my administration’s unwavering commitment to securing Union Dry Dock to create a waterfront park,” he said. “While you may not have heard many updates recently, rest assured that we are making real progress behind the scenes with both New York Waterway and the Governor’s office. I’m optimistic that we will finally see a positive ending this year that preserves Union Dry Dock for public, open space.”

His emphasis on keeping park and waterfront space means a promise to prevent development in parts of the city.

“Defending our precious waterfront from massive overdevelopment also includes preventing the two Monarch towers in Northern Hoboken,” he said. “This year, a central priority of mine is to work with the Council to finalize an agreement that would prevent, once and for all, large scale development along our northern waterfront.”

Mentoring Tomorrow’s Skilled Laborers and Business Owners

Year after year, the face of construction changes with aging infrastructure and buildings demanding attention from the contractor community and skilled labor force. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stated that 61,000 more construction jobs were open in 2018 over the same period in the previous year.

In 2017, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the largest network of craftsmen, innovators, and problem-solvers dedicated to building and enriching communities, conducted a survey and discovered 82 percent of respondents believe the availability and cost of labor will be an issue. 

Fast-forward three years to today, and NAHB membership was not mistaken. The challenge to meet the demand for skilled laborers, at an affordable cost, is nearly impossible, and the industry is feeling the effects, presenting an obstacle that requires a solution. 

Arthur Corwin, President of Railroad Construction Company, Inc., (RCC) in Paterson, NJ, states, “Our country has to repair its infrastructure. However, the construction industry lacks the capacity with both skilled craft labor and qualified contractors and subcontractors to safely complete the magnitude of work that is demanding our attention. What better way to fill this void than with an outreach program to MWSDVOBs. We all need this program to be successful if we are going to rebuild our nation.”

RCC is tackling this roadblock head-on, recognizing the answer far surpasses a quick fix. Established in 1926, RCC has developed from a railroad track construction and maintenance contractor into a complete turnkey operation, providing civil construction of facilities, bridges, highways, site work, and utilities. With nine decades in the industry, RCC is familiar with adversity and prepared to do what is required to provide the industry with skilled laborers who are equipped with the necessary resources to be successful.

After months of brainstorming and planning, RCC, along with coordinating and managing partners AEC Business Strategies and LDA Consulting, Inc. established the RCC “Training”-Express Mentor Program. 

The goal of the program is to foster effective long-term business relationships between women, minorities, and service-disabled owned veteran businesses in construction. Furthermore, promoting a diverse workforce. The team believes creating entrepreneurs and skilled laborers will foster new business and meet the demand to provide skilled laborers at a reasonable cost. 

Benefits of Diversity in Construction

Construction relies heavily on teamwork, and studies show that diverse teams are more engaged with one another. With the workforce becoming more diverse, companies will be ahead of the trend.

“There is a lot of competition in this industry, and there are many qualified people who perform a commercially useful function that struggle to compete with companies that have been in the industry for 20 years,” states Catherine Best. 

The goal of any company is to hire the best people. It is imperative that construction companies hire the most qualified workers, but why not create a pool of people from which to choose? 

According to a Gallup report, removing bias from the interview process and hiring on talent or skill alone, leads to 41 percent less absenteeism, 59 percent less turnover, and 70 percent fewer incidents.

Diverse Skills of Diversity Hires

Construction workers need to utilize critical reasoning skills to assess and fix problems. 

Diversity hires bring diverse skills to the team, different perspectives, and multiple problem-solving approaches.

If the goal is to complete work on time and budget, companies will benefit from Diversity hires, ultimately presenting additional opportunities to finish the project successfully. 

Catherine Best has worked with women-, minority-, and service-disable owned veteran businesses for several years and in varying situations, including the suppliers of goods and services to mentor-protégé programs. She can attest to the difference in skillset or ability when compared to non-MWSDVOB vendors is minimal. As Chief Compliance and Diversity Officer, Catherine supports and reinforces RCC’s dedication to performing a good faith effort through all phases of any construction project, allowing qualified subcontractors and suppliers the opportunity to work with an established contractor.

The RCC “Training” Express Mentor Program Process

RCC believes finding skilled talent starts at the high school level. College is not for everyone and mastering technical and interpersonal skills offers high school students alternative options and an employment advantage. 

“In order to secure the future of qualified MWSDVOBs, companies like RCC, who are committed to fostering the growth of MWSDVOB suppliers and subcontractors, have to be involved in providing the proper tools, training and internship opportunities. Without the contractor community support, new sustainable and diverse businesses will struggle to meet the demand, and the entire industry will suffer,” said Best. 

RCC has secured partnerships with the Paterson Charter School, New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, Bridging the Gap and the GI Go Fund to assist in recruiting students and veterans to fill the craft worker positions. Each session will include a program designed to target a Union Delegate presentation, interpersonal skills, and potential internship and employment opportunities.

The MWSDVOB will follow a similar program format, including presentations from utilities, contractors, and advocacy groups with the potential option for coaching sessions.

Chris Colabella, President of CISLeads, is one of the presenters, training companies to find the right projects to bid. “We’re excited to have the opportunity to help companies improve their skills and grow their businesses” said Colabella.

Applications for students, veterans, and MWSDVOBs are now available at Railroad Construction. The number of participants is limited. Should you have any questions, please contact the Program Coordinators.

Modular Construction: A Rising Trend for New York Builders

There are several construction challenges in the New York metro area, including rising demand for affordable housing, as well as the greater pressures laid on the shoulders of builders and firms to make up for budgetary shortfalls or face blacklisting. It’s therefore not a surprise that people in the industry have their ears to the ground for the next great idea that’s going to cut costs and delays without sacrificing quality. 

According to recent reports, modular construction may be the solution that New York City builders consider. While this method is seldom used, costs continue to increase, which appears to be outpacing any risk factors that kept it out of the running before. Current construction projects in the area that use modular methods include the AC NoMad Modular Hotel by Marriott the affordable housing structure at 581 Grant Ave, numerous other real estate ventures.

Modular Construction, In a Nutshell

For those that haven’t looked carefully at the process before, the words “modular construction” might hearken to mental images of trailers and the Sears catalog houses of yore: Prefabricated, cookie-cutter designs. In truth, the kind of modular construction that’s coming into vogue in NYC uses the same materials, techniques, and standards as your facility built the traditional way. The structure is broken down into sections, or modules, that are constructed in factory settings, then transported and fitted on site. 

What Kinds of Cost Benefits Are There to Modular Construction?

Modular.org reports that building in this way has many benefits, including: 

  • A safer, indoor work environment with fewer dangers for construction workers and fewer potentially costly liabilities;
  • Reduced material waste through careful control of inventory and recycling materials where possible;
  • Faster completion, up to 30 to 50 percent faster than conventional projects because work in the factory setting and the foundation can happen at the same time;
  • Fewer water delays due to weather, because the majority of construction is completed indoors, and more.

All of the above benefits have their ways of saving money, whether by reducing the cost of materials by reducing waste, or by eliminating a number of potential delays. The latter is especially crucial at a time when the law as it stands means penalties for construction firms that are deemed to be taking too long on certain projects. 

Despite the build-transport-assemble system, the result, once completed, looks no different than structures built on-site in a conventional way. 

Do Risks Outweigh the Benefits? 

There are likely several reasons, other than lack of awareness, that modular construction only accounts for about five percent of commercial construction projects. For instance, Million Acres reports that modular construction can pose a problem in a few instances: 

  • Transporting the modules poses its own unique challenges, given their size and delicacy.
  • Installing them once transported, especially in dense urban areas, will likewise be an issue to negotiate. 
  • Zoning laws, which differ from locale to locale, may prevent its use. 
  • While modular projects allow for lots of customization, it’s not as versatile as more conventional means. 

For now, a growing trend in using modular construction in commercial and residential ventures continues, with unusual optimism concerning cost-effective, affordable housing initiatives.