Skip to main content

Spitzer backs Atlantic Yards, calls 8% cutback "appropriate"

Gubernatorial frontrunner Eliot Spitzer yesterday said that he considers the promised 8% reduction in the Atlantic Yards project a "reasonable compromise," thus suggesting he has no idea that the cutback would bring the project back to the square footage originally proposed.

Then again, if he relies on the New York Times, he doesn't know better. The newspaper last month published a front-page scoop--the lead story of the day--about the planned cutback without pointing out that the move would essentially return Atlantic Yards to square one. (That square footage would be over one additional acre.) Follow-up clarifications were buried.

Spitzer made his comments during an interview on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show.

ESDC performance

Lehrer raised the issue of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), the state agency that manages major projects, including Atlantic Yards..

BL: On development in general, you said Governor Pataki’s’ ESDC has spent too much money on the wrong things and not enough on the right things.

Spitzer said that the city real estate market is booming, and that the redevelopment of Madison Square Garden and Moynihan Station is "conceptually a wonderful project." He continued:
The market itself will move those projects, and should, and we should move them as quickly as we can, so we can continue moving to the marketplace thousands and thousands of units.… where there has been a void has been in the area of affordable housing. Mike Bloomberg has done more than anybody else in recent memory. Ed Koch was quite good in this regard... The state has not done what it could. We have large pieces of property, we have capital at our disposal, we have zoning opportunities, in terms of state-owned property, carrots and sticks. Those are the policy tools we have, if we want to relieve the affordable housing crisis. Long term, the only way to do it is to add units, hundreds of thousands of units.

Note that the affordable housing in the Atlantic Yards project derives from a separate negotiation between the advocacy group ACORN and the developer, Forest City Ratner. In fact, the ESDC overrides city zoning, and the city has not rezoned the area to stimulate affordable housing.

Moynihan Station

Before the Moynihan Station project was officially stalled later in the day, Lehrer brought up the project.

BL: Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is holding up the Moynihan Station project. Is he doing the right thing?

ES: I don’t know enough…The problem I think, right now, they’re trying to rush through things that may not be fully baked. The concept of the development is great… The financing of that is still unclear. We’re talking about a major infrastructure investment. Who pays for it? Where does the money come from? It’s a bit unclear as of yet how those pieces get filled in. It should happen, it should happen quickly. I don’t know whether the specific proposal before the PACB is right, wrong, or indifferent. I’ve not been part of the discussion.

The PACB is the Public Authorities Control Board, the three-member body, controlled by Gov. Pataki, Assembly Speaker Silver, and Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, which must sign off on state-funded projects, including Atlantic Yards. It's interesting that Spitzer considers the financing of the station project "unclear," while he hasn't noticed the ESDC's flimsy economic analysis regarding Atlantic Yards. (Neither has Silver.)

Atlantic Yards

BL: And what about Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn? Are you for it as it is? And do you think the Pataki administration should delay approval until after the election?

ES: I’m for it, and I know this riles a fair number of people. Again, I was not involved in the process, and I don’t say that to hedge. I know there are people who feel very fervently that it was too big, and it was just scaled back, by 8 percent, I believe. Without having been involved in the process, that seems to me to be an appropriate compromise.

Exactly why is Spitzer calling it "appropriate" without knowing much about it?

It is a major development in downtown Brooklyn that will help—first, I think getting the Nets there, the stadium, is good for Brooklyn. It will get many units of affordable housing. That is great. It will get commercial space. All of it suggests that this is a very good project with some exciting architecture. I’m not the esthete, I’m not going to pass judgment about good or bad architecture, but I see the pictures and I say, “Hey, wow, that’s pretty cool looking--it’s different.” It seems like a good project.

Affordable housing, commercial space, and "exciting architecture" must be considered in context. Shouldn't the criticisms from citizens' groups and community boards about the project's environmental impact also generate concern?

BL: You don’t think it’s out of scale for the neighborhood?

ES: Certainly those who are living adjacent to it have been saying that, and they’ve been saying it with great energy, and I respect that view. What happened recently with the 8 percent reduction seemed like a reasonable compromise. So that’s why I think: Let’s move forward.

If planner Ron Shiffman thinks Spitzer might call a timeout on megadevelopment project, the presumptive next governor has a lot more to learn. Heck, even the BrooklynSpeaks, which aims to change the project more than to stop it, has a long way to go in informing Spitzer about the density, the provision of open space, and the lack of democratic process.


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…