Sunday, July 16, 2006

"A Second Chance on the West Side"--but in Brooklyn?

A New York Times editorial today in the City Weekly section, headlined A Second Chance on the West Side, calls the city's plan to develop the Hudson Yards in Manhattan "impressive and bold." A key line: "Having failed to seek local input on the stadium project, Mr. Bloomberg promises to work with the City Council and local residents to find the best use for the property. This could animate a real vision for the area."

Again, the double standard is staggering. The City Council and local residents have have been bypassed in plans for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA) Vanderbilt Yard in Brooklyn, a key component of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project.

Open bidding

The editorial notes that the city's bid is far less than the appraised value, and that "[t]he cash-strapped M.T.A.... deserves the best possible price; an open auction is arguably the best way to do that." Similarly, Forest City Ratner's initial bid of $50 million was far less than the $214.5 million appraised value of the Vanderbilt Yard; after rival bidder Extell offered $150 million, the MTA--run by appointees of the mayor and governor, both of whom favor the Atlantic Yards project--agreed to negotiate exclusively with FCR, which ultimately bid $100 million.

Note that MTA chairman Peter Kalikow said, regarding the figure his own agency's appraiser produced, that it was "just some guy's idea of what it's worth... and it wasn't borne out by the marketplace." Had there been an open bidding process from the start, rather than 18 months after city and state officials announced their support for the Atlantic Yards plan, the numbers might have been different.

No stadium, no arena?

"The biggest problem with the Jets plan was that a hulking stadium was not the best use of an area that should be the keystone to development of the far West Side," the Times opines, nothing that a mixed-use development with parks could "open up more of the waterfront to the public."

While the proposed Brooklyn Arena would not be as big as a football stadium, the presence of the arena helps drive the density of the 16 other buildings in the Atlantic Yards plan; they could be smaller--and there could be more affordable housing--without the arena. The open space could be redeployed into real parks more easily without the arena, as well. The arena drives the infrastructure subsidies and some key political support, but the people interested in the affordable housing don't care much about hoops.

What about the numbers?

The Times opines that Bloomberg's "sense of urgency should not stop officials from taking a careful look at all the financial implications of the deal before committing themselves."

So, has anyone taken a look at all the financial implications of the Atlantic Yards deal? No. The Independent Budget Office stopped at the arena component, though the IBO's partial analysis suggested that the costs would be much higher than Forest City Ratner predicts.

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