Skip to main content

Doctoroff's discomfort: Atlantic Yards is an "extreme case"

Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, who in February told the New York Observer that there had been an "enormous level of community input" regarding Atlantic Yards, seems a little less comfortable these days.

Listen to his appearance yesterday on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show, where he discussed Mayor Mike Bloomberg's sustainability initiatives. Doctoroff was generally unruffled, layering a slightly folky, almost professorial air over his investment banker's confidence, as he discussed Mayor Mike Bloomberg's sustainability plan. However, when pressed on Atlantic Yards, he quickly moved on to less controversial issues.

And, just as Atlantic Yards serves as an example counter to those practices cited in PlaNYC2030, so yesterday did Doctoroff's examples contrast with the story of Atlantic Yards.

Either developer Forest City Ratner is thankful that Atlantic Yards moved forward before the city promoted more transparent development procedures, or the city's new push will help the plaintiffs in the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case argue that the Brooklyn project was a sweetheart deal.

AY and congestion pricing

Doctoroff handled the first Atlantic Yards-related question, from a caller (at about 13:10 of the show), with aplomb.

Lisa in Brooklyn: I love the idea of a greener city, but what I really fear is that this is going to really affect Brooklyn unless this administration changes its position about the Atlantic Yards arena.

Brian Lehrer: Is this a congestion pricing call or an Atlantic Yards call?

Lisa: I think that it is a congestion pricing call. We already have a tremendous amount of gridlock in the Downtown Brooklyn area. Forest City Ratner is tearing down two city blocks to create big giant parking garages.

BL: So what about the parking garages….

Note, they would be "interim surface parking" lots, not garages.

Dan Doctoroff: It is actually a huge win for Downtown Brooklyn…. One of the great benefits of this plan is, right now, there are enormous volumes of cars and trucks that drive through, particularly Brooklyn and Queens, looking for free bridges. As a result, if you look at Flatbush Avenue, some estimates say that more than 50% of the traffic on Flatbush Avenue alone is attributable to people searching for a free bridge. If we can eliminate that by essentially making the cost to enter New York City the same from no matter where you come, then Downtown Brooklyn will be one of the greatest beneficiaries.

While I'm not sure about the source of that Flatbush Avenue statistic, even critics of Atlantic Yards think congestion pricing is needed to make the transportation plan work.

[Update: One source is the 2005 Downtown Brooklyn Transportation Blueprint, which stated As anticipated growth in the downtown core and the greater downtown area is realized, the dual role of the roadway network in serving through and local traffic will become intensified (it has been estimated that approximately 43% of the morning rush hour traffic, and 45% of the midday and evening traffic in Downtown Brooklyn is traffic bound for either the Brooklyn or Manhattan Bridges.]

Appropriate density

At about 20:20, Lehrer brought up the idea that most New Yorkers resist increasing density.

DD: I think that’s not actually true. We have rezoned—gone through a number of rezonings through the city, we do it in a collaborative process with the communities. Some communities understand that they can accept more density. They tend to be the ones that are closest to subway access.

Doctoroff's response was reasonable; however, as noted, Atlantic Yards is not a rezoning. Lehrer then brought up the poster child for overdevelopment, a project that, though he didn't say it, would constitute "extreme density" and twice as dense as the densest census tract in the country.

BL: Look at Atlantic Yards, all that opposition.

DD: Clearly there’s concerns in Atlantic Yards, but in fact there’s people on both sides of the issue.

He then distinctly speeded up, racing through the next sentence.

But I think that’s an extreme case, probably. We’ve rezoned the waterfront in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, the Hudson Yards on the West Side of Manhattan, where we, significantly, in a negotiation, by the way, with the local community, significantly increased the density, and part of it was to extend the subway over to the area which made taking that kind of density feasible. So we don’t do anything, any more, really, without consulting the community. I think we’ve gotten a lot better at that over the course of the past five years.
(Emphases added)

Was Doctoroff calling Atlantic Yards an "extreme case" of density? I don't think so; rather, he was calling it an "extreme case" because the controversy is so heated. Note his last two sentences; the implication is that, earlier in the Bloomberg administration (like, perhaps, when the city got behind Atlantic Yards in 2002?), the city wasn't consulting the community sufficiently.

Decking over railyards

The conversation segued into the city's proposal to deck over railyards and highways to build new housing. Lehrer seemed a bit incredulous that the city might want to build platforms over railroad tracks. Doctoroff again spoke confidently.

DD: We’re doing it on the Hudson Yards on the West Side right now. Next month, with the MTA, we’ll do a Request for Proposals for 12 million square feet of commercial and residential space that will include thousands of apartments, many of which will be affordable to people who otherwise wouldn’t’ be able to afford to live in Manhattan. The main point, though, is, everywhere we turn, it looks like we’re running out of land. If we’re going to accommodate a million people in this city, we have to be so much smarter about the way in which we use land, and we’ve got to do it in an environmentally-friendly way…

Note that no developers have been selected by the city and state for the Hudson Yards; rather, they all have a fair start with the RFP. By contrast, the RFP for the MTA's Vanderbilt Yard, the key component of the Atlantic Yards plan, was issued some 18 months after the city and state backed Atlantic Yards.

Too much growth?

Lehrer raised the question of whether the city could get too crowded.

BL: We have 8 million [people] now, anticipating 9 million by 2030… Is there a point where we, as a city say, 'Sorry, folks, New York is full,' and not build more housing to accommodate newcomers.

Doctoroff again handled the question well.

DD: Growth , if it’s done well, can be an incredibly, an incredibly valuable thing…I don’t know what the number is… When we do accommodate it, the additional tax revenues that we generate can be used for lots of other important priorities… Growth is good, but only if it’s smart.

Would Atlantic Yards be smart growth?

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

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…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…

Former ESDC CEO Lago returns to NYC to head City Planning Commission

Carl Weisbrod, Mayor Bill de Blasio's City Planning Commission Chairman and Director of the Department of City Planning, is resigning,

And he's being replaced by Marisa Lago, currently a federal official, but who Atlantic Yards-ologists remember as the short-term Empire State Development Corporation CEO who, in an impolitic but candid 2009 statement, acknowledged that the project would take "decades."

Still, Lago not long after that played the good soldier at a May 2009 Senate oversight hearing, justifying changes in the project but claiming the public benefits remained the same.

By returning to City Planning, Lago will join former ESDC General Counsel Anita Laremont, who after retiring from the state (and taking a pension) got the job with the city.

Back at planning

Lago, a lawyer, in 1983 began work as an aide to City Planning Chairman Herb Sturz, and later served as the General Counsel to the president of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, Weisbrod himself.