Skip to main content

In the Times: the Public Editor looks at the Times, an affordable housing delay, and no response to "Cracker Barrel 2.0"

In today's New York Times, new Public Editor Clark Hoyt, in a column headlined Tiptoeing Around the Family Business, examines how the Times has had trouble covering the challenge by a major outside shareholder to the stock structure that leaves the Ochs-Sulzberger families in control of the company.

Hoyt observes:
Amid all this turmoil [in the news industry], aggressively reported and analyzed in The Times, there has been a comparative silence in the paper about its own owners, their challenges and their strategy. From Arthur Sulzberger Jr. to Landon Thomas Jr., a business reporter who has been assigned stories about The Times, everyone acknowledges a fundamental truth: It’s hard to write about yourself.

He could have gone even further to discuss the Times's sketchy coverage of its own real estate deals, in selling its old building and acquiring land for the new Times Tower, built by the parent New York Times Company and developer Forest City Ratner. And that might have led to scrutiny of the Times's coverage of Atlantic Yards.

Affordable housing delay

A Real Estate section article The Long Road to Affordable Housing explains how a project on Long Island, in Huntington, approved in 2000 still hasn't delivered promised affordable housing--just shells. The controversy includes a town decision to grant certificates of occupancy for market-rate units before the affordable housing was built, counter to the stated requirement, and a series of lawsuits. And the developer wants to raise the price of the units by about one-third,

The Times reports:
“The sum total of all of this,” said Ellen Schaffer, an assistant town attorney who has worked on the latest actions, “is we have a developer granted zoning to build over 1,000 market-price units who failed to produce any of the public benefits that were to come from the Greens.”


There's no direct parallel to Atlantic Yards, just a reminder that details matter, as does contract language. And we still haven't seen the documents from the Empire State Development Corporation that would offer governmental oversight of the Atlantic Yards affordable housing. (As for Forest City Ratner's "legally binding Community Benefits Agreement," that means housing partner ACORN would have to go to court to try to enforce it and ACORN has already given the developer some slack.)

(Update: A reader writes:
I think the parallel element that is most important is that negotiation of subsidy is based on an allowance for developer profit after costs. On mixed projects, negotiations achieve an overall balance. We are in an environment of generally rising construction costs. By delaying the delivery of the low income portion of a project it is made the portion of the overall project most likely subject to increasing costs. Increasing costs tends to be a basis for the developer to ask for an adjustment of the deal in the developer's favor. When the market rate units are in place and the lower income units are not after construction costs rise the public not only loses leverage, but also face the question of whether the deal should be recut in the developer's favor which then involves a sort of apples to oranges type of analysis with the developer having a few extra arguments in the developer's favor that are problematic to counter.)

Unpublished letter

Two weeks after the Times City section published an article on Brooklyn blogging, it has published no letters in response. My unpublished letter to the editor:

For the third time (1 & 2), most recently in "Cracker Barrel 2.0" (July 8), the Times has unquestioningly promoted the dubious claim, made by the web site Outside.in, that Brooklyn's Clinton Hill is America's “bloggiest” neighborhood.

As I showed at the Brooklyn Blogfest in May and, as a look at Outside.in confirms, a plurality of posts grouped under "Clinton Hill" concern the controversial Atlantic Yards project, planned for Prospect Heights.

Two blogs, NoLandGrab.org and my Atlantic Yards Report, provide daily coverage of the project; mine offers reportage, analysis, and media criticism, while No Land Grab exhaustively catalogs and critiques Atlantic Yards-related news and web items.

Beyond the failure to follow the Outside.in trail, the omission of even a glancing mention of Atlantic Yards in "Cracker Barrel 2.0" was curious; after all, the Times in April 2006 reported how the response to the project had coalesced in the blogosphere.

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.