Monday, February 05, 2007

Times, Daily News pass on $205M story; Doctoroff says construction costs could up city contribution

In the past ten days, this blog and then Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn pointed out that the Bloomberg administration's new capital budget proposes $205 million for Atlantic Yards, more than double that pledged in the 2/18/05 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

While critics cited the clause in the MOU pointing to the city's willingness to pay for "extraordinary infrastructure costs," a city spokesman said that much of the spending would have been on the books without Atlantic Yards--a statement that likely will be analyzed when the expenditures are enumerated.

Most follow-up

Wasn't this worth coverage? The New York Sun and New York Post thought it was news. So did the online components of New York magazine, the New York Observer, and the Village Voice, as well as the online Gotham Gazette. The three Brooklyn weeklies--the Brooklyn Paper, the Courier-Life chain, and the Downtown Star (my story)--have covered it.

The New York Times and the New York Daily News have ignored the story so far. That's inconsistent, given their willingness to prominently play stories that were merely speculative. For example, a 9/5/06 Times article on a rumored six to eight percent cut in the size of the Atlantic Yards project ran on the front page--the lead story in the local edition. And a 12/22/06 Daily News story on the still sketchy possibility of a new Brooklyn Technical High School ran on page 2.

Doctoroff speaks

The murky description of the $205 million begs further explanation, so after the symposium on Robert Moses last Thursday, I asked Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Dan Doctoroff a couple of Atlantic Yards questions. I already covered the discussion of public dialogue and Community Benefits Agreements, but I also raised the funding issue: "You probably know there's a $205 billion capital plan for Atlantic Yards--

"Much of that," he intervened, "was stuff that was going to be done in the area regardless."

"Then why is it under the rubric of Atlantic Yards?" I asked.

"Because it happens to be in the area surrounding Atlantic Yards," he responded.

"Is that an artifact of the fact that it wasn't classified--"

"It's an artifact of the way in which we classify things in the capital budget," he said.

"Y'know, people look at the MOU and see $100 million; it looks like it's a doubling," I said.

"We don't believe it is. We believe that there's an infrastructure cost that affects the $100 million that in any event would have been spent in the Atlantic Yards area," he said.

"Is there a cap, ultimately, because there is 'extraordinary infrastructure' [spending possibility] in the MOU potential continued; do you have a sense of that?" I asked.

"There isn't a cap, but other than escalations of construction costs, I'm not anticipating anything else," he said, adding, "It's a big project; things change."

Escalations?

Indeed, even if the project took ten years as planned, or 20 years as even some supporters suspect, things could change. And steadily rising construction costs could have an impact.

Doctoroff's formulation did get partial backup from Doug Turetsky, spokesman for the Independent Budget Office, who said, as I reported in the Brooklyn Downtown Star, that informal discussions about the issue led him to conclude that the additional spending was for infrastructure improvements "adjacent to the site," though he couldn't offer specifics.

"When it was said to us, some of this was already in the budget absent Atlantic Yards, it rang true," Turetsky said. "Whether it's ten percent or 90 percent, I can't tell you."

Mayor Mike Bloomberg, according to the Brooklyn Paper, attributed the higher allocation to the “rising cost of cement and steel.”
“We have a commitment to pay for infrastructure costs and we will meet that commitment,” the mayor said.

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