Skip to main content

CBA gets short shrift in Times article on how AY reshapes politics

In an article published today on the front of the Metro Section, headlined Atlantic Yards, Still but a Plan, Shapes Politics in Brooklyn, the New York Times offers a reasonably comprehensive survey of the effects of the Atlantic Yards project on some contested political races, notably the 57th Assembly District and the 11th Congressional District, though the role of the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) deserves a more stringent analysis.

The lead of the article hints at a done deal, sooner or later:
It will be months, if not years, before a single brick of the Atlantic Yards project is laid near Downtown Brooklyn.

Even though the next sentence explains that the project is unapproved, shouldn't the lead have been more conditional--could be laid vs. is laid? After all, no bricks were ever laid for the West Side Stadium project. Whatever momentum the Atlantic Yards plan seems to have, it is subject to unknown future variables.

Green & the CBA

Reporter Nicholas Confessore gets Assemblyman Roger Green, who once picketed Forest City Ratner, to explain his participation in the CBA:
"The issue is always about the uses of relative power," Mr. Green said of his relationship with Forest City. "There was a sense that the project was going to happen. With that objective reality, I had to position myself to get information about the project, and then use my relative power to engage in some creative problem-solving."

Green's words are another variation on the explanation that it was more important to be "at the table" than not.

Jeffries on the spot

The article points out that Bill Batson, a candidate for the 57th District seat being vacated by Green (who's running for Congress), is opposed to the Atlantic Yards project and advances the story by putting rival Hakeem Jeffries on the spot:
In late May, Mr. Jeffries took out an advertisement in The Brooklyn Downtown Star, a local newspaper, in order to "make sure there was a clear position on where we stood," he said in an interview.
"Essentially, yes to affordable housing, no to eminent domain abuse, no to commercial skyscrapers, and yes to an open process," Mr. Jeffries said.
His critics found the explanation unilluminating, since the project as currently designed would involve both eminent domain and soaring commercial skyscrapers. Pressed on whether he would support or oppose the project as it stands, Mr. Jeffries first said it was "an interesting question." After some prodding, he said he would "be more inclined to support it than not," in large part because the project includes a large component of below-market housing.

Unmentioned is the third candidate, Freddie Hamilton, who is a CBA signatory and supports the project.

Yassky's CBA ties

In the 11th Congressional District, Confessore writes, two candidates are for the project, Chris Owens opposes the project, while David Yassky has said he could not support the project at its current size, but favors development on the site. His supporters include the leaders of several nonprofit groups that have signed the community benefits agreement with Forest City Ratner, however, and some opponents of the project criticize Mr. Yassky for not taking a harder line against it.

The support Yassky has gained, however, seems predicated at least in part on a quid pro quo; unmentioned is that the candidate has tried to get $3 million from City Council for BUILD, one of those CBA signatories.

Politics as usual?

The article closes with an account of maneuvers at some of Brooklyn's Democratic political clubs, in which Atlantic Yards opponents have been accused of club-packing, and leaders of the Independent Neighborhood Democrats managed to exclude the new members from some endorsement votes.

The article cites Forest City Ratner's clout:
Politically speaking, however, opponents of the project still face an uphill climb. Bruce C. Ratner, the chief executive of Forest City Ratner, has long been a major political and philanthropic force in Brooklyn. Mr. Ratner and his top executives enjoy strong ties to elected officials and community leaders here.
Those ties are reflected, in part, by the overwhelming support for the project among the city's political establishment...
"There are two ways to work in this town," said Joe DePlasco, a spokesman for Forest City. "You can try to build a consensus by meeting with people and talking to them or you can try to stack political clubs and engage in the end-justifies-the-means single-issue tactics that opponents have been using. Given that the governor, the mayor, the borough president and numerous state and city elected officials support the project, we think the former approach is the one that works."

Yes, three Atlantic Yards opponents--including City Council Member Letitia James, and Prospect Heights residents Patti Hagan and Daniel Goldstein--are quoted earlier in the piece, but you'd think Confessore and his editors would be wary of closing an article with another self-serving quote from the developer's paid spokesman.

Stacking political clubs may be a controversial tactic, but it hardly began with Atlantic Yards opponents. Forest City Ratner assembled much of its political support before the project was even announced in December 2003, so a look at post-announcement political tactics would have been appropriate.

In that case, DePlasco's pious pronouncements are belied by a close examination of the tactics behind the Atlantic Yards CBA. In Los Angeles, CBA signatories agree to not to accept money from a developer for fear it would constitute a conflict of interest, but here, several do so--and Forest City Ratner refuses to say how much it has spent. Is that building consensus or buying support?

A misleading caption

The print version of the article includes a photograph mainly of the Metropolitan Transportation's Vanderbilt Yard, with an aboveground U-Haul lot in the foreground and structures on Pacific Street to the side. The caption states:
An area of the Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, where a plan for a multi-billion-dollar project has become a major political issue in the borough.

As noted, Atlantic Yards is the name of a project, not a place.


Popular posts from this blog

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…

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…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…