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Silver on AY: "We'll look at it in a very favorable light"

State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, got into a war of words this weekend with the lame-duck administration of Republican Governor George Pataki, but the news for Brooklynites were his words of steady if not complete support for the Atlantic Yards project--a suggestion that he might want to broker a compromise of sorts.

Still, Silver, whose vote on the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB) is necessary to approve Atlantic Yards, may be so peeved at Pataki and Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) Charles Gargano that he will refuse to greenlight the project during the last weeks of the Pataki administration but would rather wait until fellow Democrat Eliot Spitzer takes over in January.

"In Brooklyn, it's a mixed bag. There are people for it, people against it, and the proposal itself keeps changing somewhat," Silver said during an interview broadcast this morning on WNBC's News Forum. "So we'll look at it in a very favorable light because development is necessary down there, see how the developer responds to some of the criticism, either because of the mass of the project or some of the traffic."

The changes have been minimal, though they've garnered headlines. But the Atlantic Yards project, once it gets inevitable approval later this month from the ESDC, must get a unanimous nod from the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB), controlled by Silver, Pataki, and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno.

Pressuring Silver

Various parties have been pressuring Silver to postpone a vote until the Spitzer administration takes over. Others want him to wait until the eminent domain suit is resolved. Alternatively, some are probably pressuring him to at least broker a compromise.

And Forest City Ratner is surely lobbying Silver. (Don't forget, Bruce Ratner's brother Michael Ratner and sister-in-law Karen Ranucci each gave Silver's campaign $3000 in June even though he was running unopposed.)

I'd bet that the developer would rather compromise significantly with Silver before the end of the year than let the project carry over to a Spitzer administration that might take a closer look at the project. Even if such delay didn't lead to significant changes in the configuration of Atlantic Yards, it could least increase Forest City's carrying costs and construction costs.

Compromise coming?

What might such a compromise contain? Maybe a 20 to 30 percent scaleback in the project's density, to the size sought by several Assemblymembers, albeit with increased subsidies for affordable housing. Perhaps another element in a traffic management plan, just as the developer recently added shuttle bus service from Staten Island. And maybe a revision of the interim surface parking plan that swaps some parklike space for some of the parking lot.

After all, we know that most of the cuts announced in March and September were already in the can by January--and represent, in total square footage, a return to the project as originally announced.

And I was told by a source that the developer has long had a scaleback model prepared that illustrates significant concessions. And documents from the New York City Housing Development Corporation (NYC HDC) hint that several buildings could be considerably smaller than currently projected. Indeed, no building was described as more than 40 stories tall, even though four buildings currently planned would be more than 400 feet in height. (At ten feet per story, those buildings would exceed 40 stories.)

PACB questions

The segment began with discussion of the PACB--and Atlantic Yards.

Jay DeDapper:
Let me move on to another contentious issue, the Public Authorities Control Board. It's a little complex. A lot of people had never heard of this until the stadium, the West Side Stadium came about. And it's basically, you have a representative, Joe Bruno, Senate majority leader, has a representative, and the governor has a representative. And you control when public money is going to be spent on big projects in a bonding situation. You guys have a say as to whether it's going to go forward or not. You and Joe Bruno blocked the West Side Stadium with your votes. Recently, the Moynihan station, you blocked. And now there's talk that maybe the Atlantic Yards project, which we're seeing pictures of now, that's the big development Bruce Ratner wants to put into downtown Brooklyn, Flatbush and Atlantic, stadium for the Nets, basketball Nets, lots of high-rises, that you might block that, as well. Let me ask you first about that, and then I want to talk to you about this PACB.

Silver responded emphatically:
There's no indication that I have ever expressed any intention to block that... I supported legislation that provided state subsidy to that project, to the concept of the project. Let's understand, it's the only affirmative vote I've ever taken. It's the only affirmative thing I've ever done.

Silver went back to issues of public authorities, home of most of the state's debt, the role of the PACB in monitoring that debt, and the West Side Stadium he helped block. Then he defended his role in blocking the plan for Moynihan Station that Pataki and the ESDC favored.

Silver on Gargano

Asked about Moynihan Station, Silver responded to a statement in support by Gargano:
Let's talk about Charlie Gargano, the most corrupt, most corrupt member of this administration went out to campaign, finance for this governor. That was his purpose. Take a look what he did to economic development in this state. This--he has no credibility here. He has interests that obviously lie opposite the state of New York during his entire 12 years in this administration.... His gambling interests that he's had over the years, pushing for things that have absolutely nothing to do to benefit New York. So he was selected because he was the governor's fund-raiser, and he continued in that capacity for 12 years. That's all he's interested in. He has more... And that's why we are in such a sad economic state in upstate New York, because the governor took his fund-raiser rather than an economic development professional for New York. He has no credibility in this state, no matter what he says. So let's be very clear about that.

That exchange made it into the New York Post yesterday in an article headlined GOV STRIKES MOTHER LODE IN SILVER BLAST Pataki's communications director responded in kind to Silver's criticism: "For Shelly 'Vegas' Silver to lecture anyone about ethics is like a bad standup routine, especially since he's Alan Hevesi's biggest apologist, has employed a known sex offender, has covered up internal investigations and has presided over a body that had no less than seven of its members indicted, convicted, or resign under a cloud of disgrace."

The Post explained:
The spokesman's withering response referenced Silver's controversial dinner with a lobbyist at a Las Vegas casino several years ago, his support of state Comptroller Hevesi in the wake of an ethics scandal, and his retention of his former chief counsel, Michael Boxley, after the first of two women accused him of rape..

Atlantic Yards

Silver brought up Brooklyn again, on his own, apparently wanting to make sure his position wasn't misconstrued. DeDapper asked if Silver, from his post on the PACB, would stop block Atlantic Yards.

Silver responded:
I can't tell you what Joe Bruno's going to do; I can only tell you what I would consider. One, as an old Brooklyn Dodger fan, I believe professional sports belongs in Brooklyn, as far as that goes. The merits of the project still to be examined; they're still being actually developed on a day-to-day basis. It changes. We have members of the assembly who are for it, members of the assembly who are against it. Unlike the [West Side] Stadium, where every representative of the area and the surrounding area of that stadium, be it Congress, state Senate or assembly, opposed that stadium. I wasn't the only one opposed to that stadium, let's be very clear about that.

In Brooklyn, it's a mixed bag. There are people for it, people against it, and the proposal itself keeps changing somewhat. So we'll look at it in a very favorable light because development is necessary down there, see how the developer responds to some of the criticisms, either because of the mass of the project or some of the traffic, and I would say right now, the only vote we've taken is to support the development. We have voted for $100 million as a state component to that project.


  1. Silver's seeming lifetime tenure in NY poliltics is another compelling reason for term limits for everyone.

    However, if he has any brains, he will support the AY project because it will deliver jobs and years of opportunity to Brooklynites.

  2. Re: no_slappz's comment.

    That's like saying if he has any brains he will eat every meal at McDonalds, because it will keep him from going hungry. There's more than one way to skin a cat.

  3. jonathan,

    The last organization that had a decent plan for the AY site was the Dodger organization. But Robert Moses refused to let the Dodgers build a new stadium because he said the city had better uses for that empty area.

    No one has had a better idea and no one else has rounded up the financing to undertake a project of sufficient scale till now.

    It's going to happen, and when it does, Brooklyn and the city will benefit.

  4. It's a good thing we didn't get a stadium and end up with an area that looks like the South Bronx. Walked around Shea Stadium recently? No stadium IS better! And what do you mean by "sufficient scale"? Are you talking about what it would take to make the financing work to cover the railyards? This is not addressed in this plan. Development is happening by itself on the site; Brooklyn and the city would benefit most from smart incremental growth on smaller sites - issues of neighborhood context aside - smaller projects can react better to changes in the market. And please don't respond with that line about being near mass transit - why is the project providing 3800 parking spots?

  5. jonathan, youy wrote:

    "It's a good thing we didn't get a stadium and end up with an area that looks like the South Bronx. Walked around Shea Stadium recently?"

    I guess you haven't been in the South Bronx recently.

    As for the area around Shea Stadium, well, I guess you don't know it's been rezoned for massive development. The area is on the cusp of huge redevelopment.

    You probably also don't know that that area has been deprived of a multitude of various city services for decades, and it was the absence of those services that led to its present state of being home to scrap yards and other rag-tag businesses.

  6. No_Slappz:

    BTW, who are you? As a matter of fact, I have been to the South Bronx recently. And I know it's still a disaster and in no way compares to our area, despite the PR. And your comments on the area around Shea make my point. I know there's a bunch of ideas out there for how to make something out of it, but they're just a bunch of unfunded ideas and the area is still, well as you say, home to scrap yards and other rag tag businesses, surrounded by roads clogged with traffic on game days. Do you know a large event venue that isn't?


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