Tuesday, October 31, 2006

FOIL follies III: Ratner's mysterious tower at City Tech

This is the third of four articles about Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests. The first concerned the Department of City Planning and the second concerned Assemblyman Jim Brennan's request to the Empire State Development Corporation, both regarding Atlantic Yards.

It slipped under the radar, the plan for a huge mixed-use facility on the New York City College of Technology campus (aka City Tech), in Downtown Brooklyn. The City University of New York (CUNY) decided nearly a year ago to enter into an agreement with the New York State Dormitory Authority (DASNY) and Forest City Ratner Companies.

The site of the building, at Jay and Tillary Streets, is part of MetroTech; the state owns the building site. FCR's portion would contain condos and rental apartments, with 20 percent of the latter affordable (thanks to city subsidies); there would be space for perhaps 400 rentals and 225 condos. City Tech would get classrooms, labs and faculty offices for degree programs in the sciences, healthcare and advertising design/graphic arts. If built at 1 million square feet--which isn't clear--the building would be nearly as big as Miss Brooklyn.

Though FCR was selected in November 2005, according to minutes from the CUNY trustees meeting, attention didn't surface until a 9/21/06 article in the New York Sun.

Unanswered questions

It's still a mystery. As the Brooklyn Papers pointed out last month, though two bidders competed for the rights, state officials would not release information about either bid, nor what Forest City Ratner agreed to pay for the right to develop the tower on the site of the Klitgord Center, where the Atlantic Yards hearings were held.

The Dormitory Authority--at least in fulfilling the letter of the law--has been the most responsive of the five agencies with which I filed FOIL requests. The agency promptly acknowledged my initial request, then promptly told me it had located a document, and delivered it upon receipt of a $9 check for copying costs.

What did I get? The Request for Proposals (RFP), which was issued 10/4/04, with proposals due by 11/22/04. I followed up, and was told that "the Dormitory Authority was informed by CUNY that based upon the RFP, Forest City Ratner Companies would be the developer. However, the Dormitory Authority was not involved in the procurement or RFP process nor was it involved in the evaulation of any such RFP responses."

I followed up with CUNY. City Tech spokeswoman Michele Forsten told me, "The negotiations are ongoing and are not public. If and when a development agreement is reached, it must come before the CUNY Board of Trustees for approval; that is a public process so there will be more information about the project available at that time. We expect this to happen in January, but there are no guarantees."

She added that a memorandum of understanding (cited in the minutes of the CUNY board) is currently in place. Still, there's a discrepancy between the size of the project, reported at 1 million square feet in press accounts, and the square footage mentioned in the memorandum, which adds up only to 862,000 square feet, not including parking.

I asked Forsten, who said that, because "there is no development agreeement and the design is a work in progress, there is nothing else we can say about the new building on the Klitgord site at this time."

Why FCR?

But why was FCR awarded the project? What made its bid attractive? I filed a FOIL request with CUNY last week.

The response was rapid, but again evasive. I'll get answers, it said, only after the "final agreement." While the final agreement may detail the contours of the project, Forest City Ratner has already been selected as the developer, based on the RFP. What exactly is the rationale for not explaining that?

RFP details

City Tech sought 477,000 gross square feet of new program space at the Klitgord Center site and an adjacent New York City Department of Education TV studio site. Given the recent rezoning of Downtown Brooklyn and the transferability of development rights from nearby building, there was an opportunity for a major development.

The development project, according to the RFP, includes:
--398,400 zoning square feet (zsf) from the Klitgord Center site
--388,920 zsf from CUNY's Main Complex

--(416,100) zsf subtracted for CUNY use (this assumes that some space would be below grade)

plus, potentially:
--238,600 zsf from the DOE TV studio site
--408,570 zsf from the city's Westinghouse High School site

That leaves potentially 1,018,390 zsf for private development--and a public-private project that could be, in total, 1.5 million square feet. However, those numbers don't conform to the numbers in subsequent press accounts and in the project memorandum.

Financial assumptions

The RFP suggests that the developer would have to provide the kind of detailed financial information that Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and Assemblyman Jim Brennan have sought regarding Atlantic Yards.

The RFP states:
4.3 Project Pro-Formas
The Technical Proposal shall include comprehensive financial data and pro-forma analysis for the Project, including a statement of assumptions supprot the calculations being made. Please state all appropriate costs in 2004 dollars, and state inflation and escalation assumptions
4.3.1 Provide the overall Project capital budget, including a breakdown of site acquisiton, development rights acquisition, construction, and soft costs
4.3.2 Detail the core and shell costs and fit-out costs for the different City Tech programmatic uses.
4.3.4 Provide a financing plan, including equity investment, construction loan and permanent financing. Highlight any grants or government incentives you plan on seeking.


The state budget, the RFP notes, allocated $86 million for expansion of City Tech. Respondents were asked to state how they might plan to use City Tech or CUNY funds. It also notes that, according to the State Finance Law and the Education Law, if the contract exceeds $15,000--which this obviously would--it must be approved by the State Comptroller and filed in his office.

Saving the state money

From the state's point of view, there's a significant logic to a public-private partnership: savings in money and time. According to the minutes of November 2005 meeting, Vice Chancellor Emma E. Macari said:
At the New York City College of Technology, the time line is that it would take us seventy-five months to do this project under regular capital projects if we are lucky, and it will take us according to the developers forty-nine months, so it is almost two years less and probably over $150 million less to build this space for New York City College of Technology. This is a wonderful opportunity to do projects and we are hoping that we can do more.

If so, there's no reason not to be transparent about it, is there?

A curious building

Footnote: the map shows the City Tech facilities downtown and also indicates an offsite annex at 636 Pacific Street in Prospect Heights, outlined in red. According to City Tech's Forsten, "636 Pacific Street was warehouse storage space that City Tech had years ago and no longer has."

Indeed, the building is no longer a warehouse. It was converted to condos and is part of the eminent domain lawsuit filed last week, given that Daniel Goldstein of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn lives there and is a plaintiff.

The official plans

According to the minutes:
This project is currently planned to be developed as a mixed-use condominium building composed of three condominium units, as follows: (i) academic facilities, including, classrooms, laboratories, offices, a physical education facility and an auditorium containing approximately 262,000 gross square feet for NYCCT, (ii) a residential rental component to be owned by Forest City Ratner comprised of 80/20 multifamily rental housing containing approximately 375,000 gsf, (iii) a residential condominium component to be marketed for sale by Forest City Ratner containing approximately 225,000 gsf, and (iv) underground and/or adjacent off-site parking containing spaces for not less than forty percent (40%) of the units comprising the Residential Rental Unit and Residential Condominium Unit, which parking may be included in either the Residential Rental Unit, or the Residential Condominium.

Specifically, the agreements included (i) a conveyance of an interest in the Project Site to Developer and/or FC Owner during the construction period, which conveyance may be structured either as (x) a ground lease (the “Ground Lease”) of the Project Site to FC Owner during the development period or (y) a fee conveyance of the Project Site to FC Owner with an obligation running with the land to construct and convey the Academic Unit to CUNY upon its completion and, in either case, including (1) the conveyance to FC Owner of up to 566,827 zoning square feet of floor area development rights appurtenant to both the Project Site and the New York City College of Technology Main Campus, for use in the portions of the Building other than the Academic Unit, (2) payment of the Development Rights Purchase Price from FC Owner to CUNY (and/or DASNY on behalf of CUNY), (3) payment of the Academic Unit Purchase Price from CUNY (and/or DASNY, on behalf of CUNY) to FC Owner during the construction period; (ii) a development agreement providing for, among other things, the respective responsibilities of Developer, CUNY and DASNY with respect to the design, financing and construction of the Project, including the Academic Unit Work, and (iii) a Declaration of Condominium, Condominium By-Laws and related Unit purchase and sale agreements creating the Units and governing condominium operations, and providing for the conveyance of the Academic Unit with its appurtenant common interest to DASNY for the benefit of CUNY upon completion of construction, and the Residential Condominium Units with their appurtenant common interests to or at the direction of Developer and/or FC Owner.

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