Skip to main content

Times plays catchup on AY, bobbles several balls (and forgets disclosure)

In a roundup article today headlined Clearing of Atlantic Yards’ Site Proceeds as Legal Thicket Grows Denser, the New York Times catches up on some of the Atlantic Yards news it has missed, but the article also offers some mischaracterizations and fails to ask some hard questions.

The nut graph: But even as preliminary work proceeds on one of the biggest construction projects in the city’s history, new questions are being raised by Atlantic Yards’ opponents, new facts brought to the surface and new suits filed in courts across the city. All are aimed at forcing the developer, Forest City Ratner, to substantially scale back its plans, which currently call for erecting 8 million square feet of high-rise housing, office space and a basketball arena on a 22-acre swath near Downtown Brooklyn.
(Emphasis added)

Well, neither the pending eminent domain lawsuit nor the challenge to the environmental review scheduled to be filed today by a coalition organized by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn aim to scale back the project; they aim to kill it or alter it drastically.

Disclosure missing

Oddly, the article does not include the standard disclosure that the parent Times Company is in a business partnership with Forest City Ratner to develop the new Times Tower in Manhattan. I do not interpret the absence as anything nefarious; however, it's an example of carelessness.

One reason for the disclosure is to remind readers to look at Times coverage of Forest City Ratner carefully; another is to remind Times writers and editors to cover the developer exactingly. So treat the absence as a symptom.

The added $105 million

The Times reports:
In the budget it unveiled in January, for example, the Bloomberg administration quietly doubled its direct subsidy to the project area, to $205 million from $100 million. The difference is bigger than the entire annual budget of the city Buildings Department.
“Are these subsidies that help put the developer over the top so that he can build the project?” asked Daniel Goldstein, a spokesman for Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn. which opposes the scale of the plan, “Or are they to help him make a superprofit, as we suspect?


But why wasn't the city queried? The unanswered question is why the city felt it could flout the Memorandum of Understanding which promised $100 million.

And, um, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn opposes the plan in its entirety--that's what the eminent domain lawsuit is about. (It's BrooklynSpeaks that opposes the scale of the plan, and more.)

The timeline

Did the ESDC not get a business plan, as Assemblyman Jim Brennan has pointed out? Yes, and no. ESDC says it got sufficient information and, anyway, the project was approved by the previous administration.

The Times quotes Brennan:
Mr. Brennan said it was not too late, though, to lessen the project’s impact on nearby neighborhoods.
“Even though the project has been approved,” he said, “we face a 10-to-15-year window for implementation, and the information is relevant for many years to come in any discussion about amendments or modifications to the plan.”


Note that Brennan suggested that the project could take 15 years rather than 10 years as announced. Landscape architect Laurie Olin suggested 20 years; the time frame is important because some promised public benefits--including all the open space and most of the affordable housing--would come in the project's murky second phase.

FCR's defense

The Times quotes the developer:
A spokesman for Forest City, Loren Riegelhaupt, said that the company was “not able to make our business plan public” for “proprietary reasons.”

Unmentioned: the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, in its Request For Proposals for the Vanderbilt Yard, required that pro forma cash-flow statements, with documentation of fiscal assumptions for a 20-year period, be included as part of the bid. The MTA has not released the documents.

Lawsuit rowback

In an article that's trying to cover too much ground in limited space, the federal eminent domain suit gets described thusly:
Another suit, a constitutional challenge in federal court by tenants and property owners aimed at halting the condemnation of buildings on the project site under eminent domain, was deemed a matter for state court by a magistrate judge in February. But last Friday, the federal judge who has control of the case heard several hours of arguments on whether to keep the case in federal court.

That's a rather constricted summary that attempts to correct the inadequate Associated Press brief the Times published, which neglected to point out that, while the magistrate judge recommended that the case be dismissed, he wasn't killing the lawsuit but sending it to state court. (The phenomenon of a correction without acknowledgement of error is known as "rowback.")

What to make of that second sentence? The upshot is that the federal judge is taking the appeal of the magistrate judge's recommendation quite seriously, because he could have just relied on the briefs. Unmentioned is the magistrate judge's acknowledgement that the complaint "raises serious and difficult questions regarding the exercise of eminent domain under emerging Supreme Court jurisprudence."

AYReport approves of ESDC action?

The article closes on an odd note that mentions me:
Not every interaction between Forest City and the government has been condemned by the Atlantic Yards’ critics. Yesterday, Norman Oder, who runs a blog devoted to Atlantic Yards issues, noted approvingly that the state development corporation had closed its local office on the ghostly third floor of Forest City’s Atlantic Center mall, for which the agency had been paying Forest City $30,000 a year.

The community offices “weren’t getting too much foot traffic,” Mr. Cockfield said. “They weren’t worth the taxpayer investment to keep them open.”


Well, the rent was $30,000 a year but the operating cost was nearly twice that--a question that deserves further exploration.

Also, I'm not sure my article can be summarized as "noted approvingly," since the point was that ESDC should never have been in the mall in the first place, given the pledge to put such offices in first-floor, heavily trafficked retail corridors.

My article suggested elements of improper behavior--by Gov. George Pataki and ESDC Chairman Charles Gargano in directing Port Authority funds to the ESDC, and by the ESDC in choosing space in Ratner's mall. While leaving the mall demonstrates more-responsible behavior, that's not the point.

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…

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website Matzav.com explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

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…

"There is no alternative": DM Glen on de Blasio's affordable housing strategy

As I've written, Mayor Bill de Blasio sure knows how to steer and spin coverage of his affordable housing initiatives.

Indeed, his latest announcement, claiming significant progress, came with a pre-press release op-ed in the New York Daily News and then a friendly photo-op press conference with an understandably grateful--and very lucky--winner of an affordable housing lottery.

To me, though, the most significant quote came from Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who, as the Wall Street Journal reported:
said public housing had been “starved” of federal support for years now, leaving the city with fewer ways of creating affordable housing. “Are we relying too heavily on the private sector?” she said. “There is no alternative.” Though Glen was using what she surely sees as a common-sense phrase, it recalls the slogan of a politician with whom I doubt de Blasio identifies: former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a Conservative who believed in free markets.

It suggests the limits to …