Skip to main content

Dark Lady: when it comes to a stadium, follow the money

It’s subway reading, at best. Richard North Patterson’s 1999 mystery Dark Lady got mixed reviews and, frankly, doesn’t completely hang together. Though the title refers to prosecutor Stella Marz, and there’s a woman’s silhouette on the cover, the book is about a development deal, the construction of a baseball stadium (and more) in Steelton, a lightly fictionalized version of Cleveland.

And the lesson, as for Atlantic Yards watchers, is an old one: follow the money.

Steelton, like its model, is a deindustrialized city clawing its way back, with a split in political power between white ethnics and African-Americans. The Steelton 2000 bond deal was sold to voters as a plan based on a baseball stadium, “another Camden Yards or Jacobs Field,” for the Steelton Blues.

The white mayor, Tom Krajek, in a hard-fought race against a black prosecutor, has appealed to minorities by emphasizing that 30 percent of the contracts would go to minority businesses, as would 30 percent of the jobs. The team owner, Peter Hall, has taken on a minority partner, Larry Rockwell, a longtime star of the Blues.

The costs

That prosecutor, Arthor Bright, is the good government candidate, pointing out that it’s the baseball team’s owner who truly benefits.
So,” he asked them, “what are we talking about here?
“Two hundred seventy-five million dollars of your money to build a new ballpark for Mr. Hall.”
“Two hundred seventy-five million dollars for a stadium you can’t afford to take your kids to, crammed with luxury boxes that go for a hundred thousand dollars a year.”

(Emphases in original)

And Bright warns that repaying the bonds will cost taxpayers $450 million, part of a deal done in secret, with no competitive bidding, and millions of additional costs in infrastructure: new roads, sewers, utilities, and maintenance.

It sounds like an eerie echo of the "extraordinary infrastructure" loophole in the Atlantic Yards memorandum of understanding, which could mean that taxpayers pay much more than originally contemplated.

As for the lack of competitive bidding, consider the unwillingness of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to issue a request for proposals for its Vanderbilt Yard until 18 months after Atlantic Yards was announced. The luxury boxes are the raison d'etre of any new sports facility; the Barclays Center would have an unusual number of such corporate suites.

How it works

The novel contains a lot of potboiling until we meet an architect who designs stadiums but didn’t get to bid on the Steelton one. He explains to Marz how Hall and Krajek pinned down support by going beyond the usual arguments of “enhancing the downtown and maintaining a ‘big-league profile.’” They made sure all the people in on the deal were local and ensured a big role for local minorities.

They cooked up something better. If the project comes in under budget, half of that left over would go back to the city, half to the team owner. But there's room to do that, thanks to cost overruns. The architect suggests that the budget includes a $75 million cushion for waste, screw-ups, and hiring people with no experience.

The book careers through deals and deaths and details of the mall development beyond the stadium. There's organized crime and money laundering. The story is tough to summarize in a short space, but the message, as noted, is clear: follow the money.

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.