Skip to main content

Moses to O'Malley, 1953: urban renewal won't support "speculation in baseball enterprises"

Master builder Robert Moses, vilified for ignoring neighborhoods and prioritizing the automobile, nevertheless was unwilling to be strongarmed by Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley into supporting significant government subsidy for a privately-run sports facility.

Indeed, a 6/22/53 letter from Moses to O'Malley on exhibit at Columbia University's Wallach Art Gallery puts it plainly. In the letter, part of the "Slum Clearance and the Superblock Solution" exhibit that's one of three segments in Robert Moses & the Modern City, Moses resists O'Malley's entreaty to locate a new stadium in urban renewal land between DeKalb and Myrtle avenues, just east of Flatbush.

(Note: O'Malley primarily wanted a separate site over the Long Island Rail Road station and including land to the east, site of the Fort Greene Meat Market, both north of Atlantic Avenue. That's not the same as the site south of Atlantic Avenue--including the MTA's Vanderbilt Yard and more--planned for the Atlantic Yards project, though Mayor Mike Bloomberg and others have conflated the two. But Forest City Ratner has malls north of Atlantic Avenue and wants to build Atlantic Yards across the road.)

Public purpose

First, Moses advises O'Malley that the stadium plan would not be allowed by federal law. He did allow that the New York Coliseum in Manhattan, which opened in 1956 (and was demolished for the Time Warner Center), had also been the beneficiary of federal Title I funds, but said that that project had been authorized and declared a "public purpose."

(That's the issue regarding Atlantic Yards. The Empire State Development Corporation declared it a public purpose, because of the arena, below market housing, transit improvements, and blight removal, but those challenging eminent domain assert those benefits are pretextual.)

Sports speculation

But Moses had more to say. He wrote:
Let me add that there are other reasons aside from those of law and sound policy why your plan is not one that justifies the exercise of the power of eminent domain, not to speak of the use of public funds to reduce the cost of land. Our Slum Clearance committee cannot be used to encourage speculation in baseball enterprises. You are, of course, the best judge as to whether in fact a new Dodger Stadium would be anything other than a white elephant, and whether the extension of your present property with additional surface and other parking facilities would not meet every problem you mention except television competition.

I am sorry to have to write this letter but I know you want it straight from the shoulder.


Moses to blame?

So, was Moses to blame for the loss of the Dodgers? Many now think that, but Henry Fetter, a lawyer and author of Taking on the Yankees: Winning and Losing in the Business of Baseball, 1903 to 2003, says no.

He spoke yesterday at a symposium keyed to the exhibitions, Robert Moses: New Perspectives on the Master Builder. Moses reflected the public and political consensus against public assistance for sports teams, he said. The willingness of newer cities, like Los Angeles, to shell out for sports facilities led older cities to follow suit.

"Moses was not alone--there was simply no political support for this kind of public subsidy for a private stadium," Fetter said. Had Moses said yes to O'Malley, Fetter said, he would've been vilified.

Back to AY

So that suggests future historians--heck, contemporary ones--will study how Forest City Ratner helped engineer public and political support for the Atlantic Yards plan. Among them:
--finding (and funding) local "sycophants" for a Community Benefits Agreement.
--sending deceptive brochures and buying newspaper ads.
--hiring economist Andrew Zimbalist, a foe of sports subsidies, to conjure up a study claiming enormous new revenues.
--claiming some $1.15 billion in subsidized loans to build affordable housing, some 60% of which would be unaffordable to the average Brooklyn household.
--and yes, capitalizing on the failure of local leaders to rezone some valuable land, to plan for development, to address the affordable housing crisis, and to move forward on a major sports facility.

There certainly would be a public purpose, but the question in court is the amount of that purpose relative to the private benefit.

Indeed, the project also would bail out the money-losing Nets, thanks to new sponsorships and luxury boxes in a subsidized arena. In 2007, the state's powers of eminent domain, and the power to override local zoning to allow an out-of-scale development, apparently can "encourage speculation in bas[k]e[t]ball enterprises."

Rose-colored glasses

Though many Brooklynites, and former Brooklynites, were shattered by the loss of the Dodgers--we could start with Borough President Marty Markowitz--Fetter said that his look at Dodgers-related letters in the Municipal Archives a few decades back didn't show ay groundswell of opinion in favor of subsidies.

Only in the spring of 1957, near the date of the Dodgers' departure but well after the threat had been made, was a "Keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn" committee founded. The massive sense of loss came later.

Jonathan Cohn, who last year cited that letter, wondered if we're better off:
So we lost the Dodgers, but we gained some great neighborhoods. Instead of second guessing the loss of the Dodgers, things could be worse; we could be asking ourselves: “Who lost Brooklyn?”

$300 million

Fetter said there was "widespread resistance to the massive public subsidy" to keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn. How much would it cost? He said the most expensive plan to keep the Dodgers, the establishment of a Brooklyn Sports Authority, would've required about $300 million in today's dollars.

Funny, that's just about the amount the city and state have pledged for infrastructure and land acquisition costs for Atlantic Yards--and far less than the combination of tax breaks, public costs, and tax-exempt bonds that would support the project. (Then again, the amount of private investment today would be much higher as well.)

Asked what Moses's take would be about subsidies today, Fetter said he wasn't sure. Moses was no sports fan, but he was a product of his time, and attitudes toward subsidies have changed, he said.

So could Moses have supported Atlantic Yards? Check here tomorrow for another expert's observation.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

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…

So, Forest City has some property subject to the future Gowanus rezoning

Writing yesterday, MAP: Who Owns All the Property Along the Gowanus Canal, DNAinfo's Leslie Albrecht lays out the positioning of various real estate players along the Gowanus Canal, a Superfund site:
As the city considers whether to rezone Gowanus and, perhaps, morph the gritty low-rise industrial area into a hot new neighborhood of residential towers (albeit at a fraction of the height of Manhattan's supertall buildings), DNAinfo reviewed property records along the canal to find out who stands to benefit most from the changes.
Investors have poured at least $440 million into buying land on the polluted waterway and more than a third of the properties have changed hands in the past decade, according to an examination of records for the nearly 130 properties along the 1.8-mile canal. While the single largest landowner is developer Property Markets Group, other landowners include Kushner Companies, Alloy Development, Two Trees, and Forest City New York.

Forest City's plans unc…

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…