Saturday, March 24, 2007

FCR's Stuckey: the right man for the job, as shown in Times Square saga

So who's responsible for Forest City Ratner's aggressive demolitions strategy, aiming to create "facts on the ground" well before the Atlantic Yards legal battles are settled?

One key player is undoubtedly Jim Stuckey, a Forest City Ratner Executive VP and President of the Atlantic Yards Development Group. Last year I suggested that Stuckey was worth profiling and, though no one took me up on the suggestion (see 5. Who's Jim Stuckey?), there's another place to look. (Photo from PBS Newshour.)

The Times Square story

Stuckey turns up as a character in Lynne Sagalyn's comprehensive 2001 analysis of Times Square redevelopment, Times Square Roulette: Remaking a City Icon.

Stuckey then worked for the city, heading the Public Development Corporation (PDC), the forerunner of the New York City Economic Development Corporation. From that perch, curiously enough, he was serving a mayor who didn't want to be perceived as selling out to developers. (Does that attitude persist in city government today?)

Sagalyn writes:
In 1986, a big runup in land prices triggered by a speculative office boom sent PDC's president, James P. Stuckey, back to the negotiating table--on direct orders from Mayor Koch. Believing that the office deal was now unfavorable to the city and under growing criticism for the "loan" portion of the deal, Koch wanted to better the deal with TSCA [Times Square Center Associates]. He was nervous about the political nature of the city's position now that the real estate market had turned hot, particularly, about the developers "making a killing." The mayor, Stuckey explained, "did not want to subsidize a windfall."

Ends justify means?

And to accomplish the city's goals, Stuckey--exhibiting some of the skills that undoubtedly have served him well in his career--was deemed to be pragmatic and hardnosed.

Sagalyn writes:
Hard-driving, focused, and aggressive, the 32-year-old Stuckey was the right city negotiator for the task at hand. Appointed president of PDC in May 1986, he had worked his way up through the organization, which he joined in 1980. He was experienced in the ways of public development, having started his career in 1979 in the Mayor's Office of Development (which was folded into PDC in 1980) working on the South Street Seaport project. A graduate of St. John's University with both a bachelor of science and a master of arts, he focused intently on the politics of feasibility, on getting things done. During his three-and-a-half year tenure as PDC president, Stuckey was responsible for over $15 billion in commercial, industrial, and waterfront real estate development projects. In constrast to [Carl] Weisbrod who cared greatly about planning policy, process, and precedent, Stuckey's attitude toward deal making more closely matched the maxim "the ends justify the means." When interviewed about his role in the renegotiations, he recalled: "We were pulling down the gauntlet at the this time. We didn't want everything to get lost. We approached Pru, who was more pregnant than [its executives] wanted to be. Prudential stepped up to the plate, a real civic thing to do. They understood that they could not jeopardize what they had in it [the 42nd Street Development Project] already. Once in with the public sector," he concluded, "it is hard to pull out."

[Emphasis added]

Today, perhaps, the converse may be true: once in with the private sector, it is hard for a public agency to pull out.

Rounding out the picture

Stuckey, who's described in his Forest City Ratner biography as "an accomplished musician, capable of playing ten instruments," has a notable set of community involvements. He's served as Vice Chairman of Community Board 2 in Staten Island, and as a Trustee of the Jacques Marquis Center of Tibetan Art, also in Staten Island. (Yes, the point man for the city's densest development lives in New York's least-dense borough.)

But he's not born into a real estate dynasty, unlike boss Bruce Ratner. A brief profile in Crain's New York Business last May explained that Stuckey grew up in a "cramped Sunset Park apartment" and is pursuing a master's degree in theology, a fascinating detail.

In that article, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn spokesman Daniel Goldstein described Stuckey as "an absolutely cutthroat businessman." Stuckey joined Forest City, Crain's reported, "for precisely the opposite reason," to do projects with "a public purpose."

Would it be possible, as Sagalyn's account hints, that it's possible to have a cutthroat approach to a "public purpose"? Note also that "public purpose" is a legal term, a defense of eminent domain.

Art Commission

Also, since 2002, Stuckey's been a lay member of the city's Art Commission, the city agency that "reviews permanent works of art, architecture and landscape architecture proposed for City-owned property."

The Commission includes 11 members, including an architect, landscape architect, painter, and sculptor, plus representatives of the Brooklyn Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the New York Public Library. Recently, Stuckey was named president of the Commission.

And, as I noted, he also served on the committee that chose Renzo Piano as the architect for the Times Tower, which Forest City is building in partnership with the New York Times Company. It will open later this year.

Media-savvy blog masters?

The Crain's article suggested: His first mission is to steer past the media-savvy blog masters who have mounted a David-like effort to stop Atlantic Yards.

Crain's, to its credit, published my letter in response:
As a journalist who closely follows the Atlantic Yards project in my blog, I can tell you how Stuckey and his company "steer past" us unpaid volunteers. They spend large sums on public relations materials and paid print advertising; they don't answer my questions; and they barred me from the May 11 press conference at which architect Frank Gehry discussed new designs for the project.
Perhaps they were afraid of questions about Mr. Gehry's former claim that the development would be "coming way back," about their plan for "interim surface parking" on two large areas of the proposed project footprint, and about Forest City's outlandish (yet often-repeated) claim that Atlantic Yards would provide $6 billion in new tax revenue to the city and state.


I wasn't barred from a subsequent developer event, but that doesn't mean Forest City representatives answer my questions. Stuckey, to his credit, has twice been willing to answer questions after I buttonholed him at public meetings. But it's not like transparency is a priority.

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