Sunday, March 25, 2007

Inconsistent silence: the Times editorial page forgets Atlantic Yards subsidies

While the New York Times editorial page generally favors Atlantic Yards, it three times has argued that direct city and state subsidies were unnecessary, and that developer Bruce Ratner should pay his own way.

Now the city subsidy has more than doubled, but the Times has passed on a timely opportunity to restate its stance.

Consistent criticism

In a 3/27/05 editorial headlined A Triple Play for New York Teams, the Times opined:
A mixed-use development like this could be a shot in the arm for the local economy. The low- and moderate-income housing units would be a big plus, and the developer has agreed to pay fair market value for the railyards at the site. But the city and state are each supposed to contribute $100 million to build streets and sidewalks and prepare the site for development. That’s unnecessary: Mr. Ratner should pay his own way.

[Emphases added]


In an 11/27/05 editorial headlined A Matter of Scale in Brooklyn, the Times followed up:
Mr. Ratner has always made it clear that he expects government aid in preparing the arena site, and the city and state have each committed to pitch in $100 million in cash to help. There is no reason to expect taxpayer money to be used to help fund a profit-making real estate venture like this one; those costs should be absorbed by the builder.

The Times missed an opportunity to mention Atlantic Yards in an editorial last April criticizing subsidies "for the already rich owners of the Yankees and the Mets."

Most recently, in a 8/6/06 editorial headlined The Atlantic Yards Project, the Times commented:
And while the Ratner company will finance much of the project, taxpayers are still being asked to underwrite $200 million in direct city and state subsidies. Some $40 million, for example, is for land acquisition for the arena, which should be a developer expense. The project may require the city to build more classrooms, expand sewer and water services and provide more police on game days. It is up to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration to demand from the developer every reasonable contribution to defray these extra expenses.

Missed opportunity

And the Times has failed to comment on the apparent doubling of the city's commitment, to $205 million, of which $100 million would be for land acquisition. That sum represents 2.5 times the $40 million sum the newspaper said last August "should be a developer expense."

Then again, it's not completely fair to blame the editorial writers for not keeping on top of many municipal issues. They rely in part on the Times's coverage--and the Times hasn't reported on the increased public subsidies.

More missed opportunities

Nor has the Times yet reported on the growing furor over the planned demolition of the Ward Bakery. Here's a comment from architectural historian Andrew Dolkart from an online petition:
This is an industrial building of extraordinary grace, heralded at the time of its construction and still a significant architectural monument. Over the past decades we have learned the value of creating urban neighborhoods of old buildings and new buildings. The Ward's Bakery should be preserved and incorporated into a residential community appropriate to the neighborhood.

The Times does find space today, however, for a not-so-brief article about moving feral cats from the Atlantic Yards site.

You'd think that a newspaper's job is to inform the public about important civic issues. When it comes to Atlantic Yards, however, too often the press just gets "brutally weird" and ignores its duty.

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