Skip to main content

Errol Louis, negotiation, and the CBs' lost dialogue

In a Daily News column today headlined Losing Brooklyn's uncivil war, Errol Louis argues that not only are opponents of the planned Atlantic Yards project likely to lose before the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC):
Ironically, the deal is likely to end up bigger than it might otherwise have been, because somewhere along the way, the anti-project groups abandoned important tools - the ability to be reasonable and civil, and the willingness to negotiate - that seasoned New York activists deploy to great advantage.

But negotiation depends on a framework for decisionmaking. The ESDC was always going to approve the project, and there's no check on scale, given that no local elected officials have a vote. The main negotiation was for a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) that makes certain promises regarding local/minority hiring, affordable housing, and contracts for minority-owned businesses.

Such CBAs represent an innovative aspect of development deals, but--this apparently must be repeated again and again--there's a crucial difference between the pioneering CBAs negotiated in Los Angeles and the CBA negotiated in Brooklyn: signatories in L.A. don't take money from the developer.

Confrontational politics?

Louis writes of project opponents:
More than two years into a struggle they have lost at every key turn, the main project opponents insist on attacking, confronting and insulting every politician, community leader and journalist - including yours truly - who didn't immediately agree to join them in trying to kill the project.

Lost at every turn? Remember, the project was supposed to break ground in 2004 and the arena was supposed to open in 2006. Now it would be 2009 at best, and the developer is talking about extending the Nets' lease at the Continental Airlines Arena well beyond that.

And now there's the news about the dissolution of Forest City Ratner, which has faced its financial struggles, into its Cleveland-based parent, Forest City Enterprises. The press release is murky, so we'll stay tuned for more interpretation, but NoLandGrab calls it a setback.

Looking into the mirror

How civil is Louis? Cataloging the language in Louis's latest column in Our Time Press, Lumi Rolley finds Louis describing opponents as:
-yuppies,
-antidevelopment protesters,
-antibuilders,
-antidevelopment brigade,
-antidevelopment groups,
-antidevelopment crowd,
-anti-development yuppies,
-middle-class people with loud voices, and
-liberal... serving as sentries guarding the walls of the Central Brooklyn ghetto.

That's quite a list.

The ex-Panther yuppies

And how correct is Louis?

Sure, a good segment of project opponents might be tagged as yuppies, but a good segment of project supporters might be said to be... paid.

Do City Council Member Charles Barron and fellow ex-Black Panther Bob Law count as anti-development yuppies? Do the Reverends Clinton Miller, David Dyson, and Dennis Dillon? Do grassroots affordable housing groups like the Fifth Avenue Committee and the Pratt Area Community Council? The coalition of the concerned is much broader.

Also, it's hard to trust a columnist who still can't get basic facts straight, as he claims more than once that the project would include 4500 apartments. Actually, that's just the rentals. There would also be 2360 condos, which would help make the project the densest residential community in the nation, by far.

More negotiation?

Louis raises an interesting point about patterns of activism. Would greater civility have worked in this case? He acknowledges that sometimes the situation requires confrontation, as with Act Up! during the early days of the AIDS crisis. He writes:
What should have been a dialogue is set to turn into a showdown. When the opponents go down in flames, they will have nobody to blame but themselves

Well, what about the Community Boards, the oh-so-mainstream bodies that represent a broad spectrum of the community? They didn't get much of a chance to negotiate.

In May, CBs 2, 6, & 8 sent a letter to Forest City Ratner after the developer claimed the CBs participated in "crafting" the CBA. The letter said:
We are writing to express our belief that this statement overstates our participation. As you may or may not be aware, we were invited to play a limited role that ended months before the agreement was signed when some eventual signatories barred us from attending the working sessions. Furthermore, we were not given the opportunity to review a final draft of the document despite assurances from Mr. James P. Stuckey, in a letter dated March 23, 2005 to Community Board 2, that FCRC intended to do so.
Given the very limited role played by the three community boards in crafting the CBA and FCRC's overstatement of that fact, we are requesting that you discontinue all mention, in any form, of our participation.

Comments

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…

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…

Former ESDC CEO Lago returns to NYC to head City Planning Commission

Carl Weisbrod, Mayor Bill de Blasio's City Planning Commission Chairman and Director of the Department of City Planning, is resigning,

And he's being replaced by Marisa Lago, currently a federal official, but who Atlantic Yards-ologists remember as the short-term Empire State Development Corporation CEO who, in an impolitic but candid 2009 statement, acknowledged that the project would take "decades."

Still, Lago not long after that played the good soldier at a May 2009 Senate oversight hearing, justifying changes in the project but claiming the public benefits remained the same.

By returning to City Planning, Lago will join former ESDC General Counsel Anita Laremont, who after retiring from the state (and taking a pension) got the job with the city.

Back at planning

Lago, a lawyer, in 1983 began work as an aide to City Planning Chairman Herb Sturz, and later served as the General Counsel to the president of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, Weisbrod himself.