Skip to main content

ESDC, Ratner & job numbers: collaborative or not?

Exactly how collaborative are the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and developer Forest City Ratner (FCR)? A disputed claim about jobs at the Atlantic Yards project raises a lingering question about whether the state agency is more an advocate for the project or a steward of the public interest.

The legal battle in which opponents of FCR's Atlantic Yards plan and critics of the environmental review process have challenged the ESDC and the developer has raised some significant questions. Is it simply "collaborative" for the agency to use a lawyer who has just represented a developer on the same project, or does that not meet an "arm's length" standard? Justice Carol Edmead disqualified attorney David Paget, and an appeal of her decision will be heard 3/23/06.

Project sponsor, environmental steward

As the proposed amicus curiae brief filed 3/14/06 by the New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG) states:
There is an inherent tension between ESDC's statutory role under the UDCA [Urban Development Corporation Act], which one might reasonably argue is to use its authority as a governmental agency to shepherd a project initially recognized as having public merit past the "political and bureaucratic inertia" toward successful completion, and ESDC's role under SEQRA [State Environmental Quality Review Act], which is to determine whether, for the sake of the "ecological systems, natural, human and community resources important to the people of the state," the same project should go forward at all.
...ESDC's role as an advocate of officially favored development must not be allowed to overwhelm and subsume its role as "steward" of the public's interest in preserving and enhancing the natural and community environments.

Space per job: do ESDC & FCR agree?

The tension between advocate and steward may arise in another small aspect of the controversy. I took another look at the 11/6/05 New York Times article about changes in the Atlantic Yards project, headlined Routine Changes, or 'Bait and Switch'?. The article mentioned how Forest City Ratner initially projected 10,000 jobs for about 2 million square feet of office space in the Atlantic Yards project, but now "nearly three-quarters of the office jobs originally projected are gone."

Besides a reduction in office space, another reason was this:
The earlier estimates were also based on a ratio of one job per 200 square feet of space, but the Empire State Development Corporation, which released the September planning documents, uses a less generous ratio of one job per 250 square feet of space, amplifying the reduction.

Howver, the ESDC's Draft Scope of Analysis for the project says nothing about such ratios. Rather, I pointed out, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and FCR consultant Andrew Zimbalist use the 250 square feet figure, which is not just a "less generous ratio," but also the industry standard.

Asking for clarification

More than a week ago, I asked the ESDC if the agency uses 250 square feet per office job, and whether it was in any document. I haven't received an answer. (If I do, I'll add it here.)

[7/21/06 update: the ESDC does use that ratio.)

There are two possibilities here:

1) The Times was mistaken and the ESDC, as the Draft Scope suggests, doesn't calculate a different figure regarding jobs. If so, then the Times portrayed the agency and the developer as more at odds than they actually are--and this small but not insignificant error should be corrected.

2) The Times was correct and the ESDC does in fact count 250 feet of space per office worker. If so, the agency has been inconsistent in its public posture. If the ESDC does use the standard industry ratio of 250 square feet per job, then it should've looked askance at FCR's initial promises (December 2003) that it would fill about 2 million square feet of office space with 10,000 jobs.

ESDC collaboration

However, the agency's pattern has been to support the developer's claims. On 3/4/05, in a press release headlined "Governor Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg Announce Memorandum of Understanding for Atlantic Yards Project in Brooklyn," the ESDC stated, "The project is expected to create 15,000 construction jobs and over 10,000 permanent jobs."

Had the ESDC used the industry standard rather than accepted the jobs figures used by the governor's and mayor's offices in their press releases, it would've calculated 8000 jobs for the same amount of space, assuming all the offices were full. If, like the NYCEDC, the state agency had calculated a 7% vacancy rate, it would have projected an even smaller number of jobs. And the discussion about the number of jobs promised at this project would've started a lot earlier.


Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

So, Forest City has some property subject to the future Gowanus rezoning

Writing yesterday, MAP: Who Owns All the Property Along the Gowanus Canal, DNAinfo's Leslie Albrecht lays out the positioning of various real estate players along the Gowanus Canal, a Superfund site:
As the city considers whether to rezone Gowanus and, perhaps, morph the gritty low-rise industrial area into a hot new neighborhood of residential towers (albeit at a fraction of the height of Manhattan's supertall buildings), DNAinfo reviewed property records along the canal to find out who stands to benefit most from the changes.
Investors have poured at least $440 million into buying land on the polluted waterway and more than a third of the properties have changed hands in the past decade, according to an examination of records for the nearly 130 properties along the 1.8-mile canal. While the single largest landowner is developer Property Markets Group, other landowners include Kushner Companies, Alloy Development, Two Trees, and Forest City New York.

Forest City's plans unc…

At 550 Vanderbilt, big chunk of apartments pitched to Chinese buyers as "international units"

One key to sales at the 550 Vanderbilt condo is the connection to China, thanks to Shanghai-based developer Greenland Holdings.

It's the parent of Greenland USA, which as part of Greenland Forest City Partners owns 70% of Pacific Park (except 461 Dean and the arena).

And sales in China may help explain how the developer was able to claim early momentum.
"Since 550 Vanderbilt launched pre-sales in June [2015], more than 80 residences have gone into contract, representing over 30% of the building’s 278 total residences," the developer said in a 9/25/15 press release announcing the opening of a sales gallery in Brooklyn. "The strong response from the marketplace indicates the high level of demand for well-designed new luxury homes in Brooklyn..."

Maybe. Or maybe it just meant a decent initial pipeline to Chinese buyers.

As lawyer Jay Neveloff, who represents Forest City, told the Real Deal in 2015, a project involving a Chinese firm "creates a huge market for…