Saturday, July 08, 2006

W. Side railyards vs. Brooklyn railyards: the double standard

The double standard is staggering. First, city officials Thursday announced they were willing to pay $500 million for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's West Side railyards once promised for the West Side Stadium, and the city would build a platform so the property could then be further prepared for development.

Now Democratic candidate for governor Eliot Spitzer says the bid is too low, and that the process should be more transparent. Except he won't say the same thing about the parallel issue at the MTA's Vanderbilt Yard, a key component of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards proposal.

Of the city's proposal, Spitzer said, according to an article in today's New York Times headlined Spitzer Says City's Offer for Railyards Is Too Low :
"This is an amount grossly under market value," Mr. Spitzer, the state attorney general, said in a statement released by his campaign office. "Any sale of an asset of this magnitude, size and value must only be approved after a process that is open, transparent and provides an opportunity for public bidding."

If Spitzer wins the governship, he could appoint new members and influence the MTA's decisions over its properties.

Quinn's take

City Council speaker Christine Quinn wants an open process, according to the Times:
"We think the best way to have a fair, open and transparent process is to make sure the public is involved in the planning and development of the site every step of the way," Ms. Quinn said yesterday in a statement released by her office.
She added, "Allowing a private buyer to acquire the last significant publicly owned open space in Manhattan, without any requirement as to what is developed there, will not necessarily foster the preservation and development of the affordable housing or create the mix of residential, commercial and park space this area vitally needs."


That contrasts significantly with comments regarding the Brooklyn project made by Andrew Alper, then president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation. He said at a 5/4/04 City Council hearing:
So, they came to us, we did not come to them. And it is not really up to us then to go out and find to try to a better deal. I think that would discourage developers from coming to us, if every time they came to us we went out and tried to shop their idea to somebody else.

However, the plan for the site has changed significantly since the project was announced in December 2003, with commercial office space reduced by two-thirds, and an addition of 2360 units of luxury condos. The doesn't fit with the process Quinn describes.

Regarding the West Side railyards, the Times reported yesterday: If a deal is struck, the city will also be able to ensure that any development there is consistent with a comprehensive rezoning plan approved by the city last year.

There has been no rezoning for the Atlantic Yards site in Prospect Heights, though the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning extended to its western tip.

Spitzer on Atlantic Yards

The Times pointed out a contradiction in Spitzer's comments, but didn't go far enough:
Although Mr. Spitzer said of the proposal that "a sale of this proportion without public discourse would be wrong and inappropriate," he is generally in favor of the $3.5 billion Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn, which opponents have said was a deal done largely in secret.

Why is it that the obvious--that the deal was "done largely in secret"--be attributed to a partisan source rather than reported as established fact? The Times could very easily have pointed out that the Vanderbilt Yard was put out to bid 18 months after the project was announced--a clear sign of the absence of public discourse.

Or that the MTA agreed to sell the 8.3-acre property to Forest City Ratner for $100 million, less than half the appraised value, even as rival bidder Extell offered $150 million. Or that the MTA (and Forest City Ratner) justified the sale, in part, because the developer is willing to build the platform that the city now is willing to build on the railyards in Manhattan.

Is AY about jobs?

So why does Spitzer support Atlantic Yards? The Times reported:
Ms. Anderson said Mr. Spitzer agreed that there were "valid concerns about the course of the project" and was "open to discussing them with the community," but he believed it would bring needed jobs.

Bring needed jobs? That is so 2004. Hasn't Spitzer learned that the developer's phrase "Jobs, Housing, and Hoops" has been pretty much shelved, given the 75% cut in the original projections of 10,000 office jobs? The developer and project supporters have begun to stress the affordable housing aspects of the plan.

So Spitzer has some questions to answer. As does Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky, who told the Times that "the city's offer might conflict with recent legislation intended to ensure that publicly owned land is sold for the highest price." Does he feel the same way about the Vanderbilt Yard in Brooklyn?

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