As part of his "Commerce and Community" column (not online, but click below right to enlarge) in the 12/16/07 issue of Our Time Press, Louis included a segment headlined "The Non-Alternative to Atlantic Yards." He began:
Opponents of the Atlantic Yards project, when asked what alternative use they'd like to see at the site, often trot out the plan proposed by Extell Development, which put in a bid that was rejected by the MTA, which owns the rail yards that dominate the project site.
Louis is a tad late on this, given that opponents first proposed the mid-rise UNITY plan in 2004, then endorsed the high-rise Extell bid in 2005, and this September backed a modified UNITY plan with a high-rise configuration quite different from that proferred by Extell.
Rather, Extell is cited as having made a bid whose cash value ($150 million) was higher than that offered by Forest City Ratner ($50 million, then $100 million, for a site appraised at $214.5 million). FCR contends the overall value of its bid was much more, including a new railyard, though, according to project opponents, Extell was never given the information to put together a comparable package.
However, Louis wanted to make a point:
Extell mostly gets cited when observers, including me, point out that much of the opposition to Atlantic Yards is coming from people who want no large-scale development to take place anywhere in New York.
Given the UNITY plan, that's obviously a caricature.
The Extell "problem"
The problem with bringing up Extell is that the company has no interest in developing the site and no intention of trying to resurrect its failed bid.
Gary Barnett, the president of Extell, recently gave an interview to the New York Observer that explodes the myth being peddled by some opponents.
The problem with bringing up Extell is that it is not being "peddled" very much.
When asked for his thoughts about the way the Extell plan still gets held up as a possibility at community gatherings, Barnett answered: "I think we had a very nice plan and use for that space as well then, but we know when we're beat."
And when asked if he had any problem with the way the state handled the bidding process, Barnett gave a one-word answer: "No."
It's a little more complicated. Let's go to the entire segment of the interview.
The New York Observer interview
NYO: With regard to Atlantic yards in Brooklyn—you put in the only rival bid to Forest City Ratner’s $4 billion proposal. Why did you enter the bid?
GB: The MTA put out an RFP [Request for Proposals] in the same way they did on the Hudson Yards, we responded the same way.
Well, not quite. There was no bid for the 22-acre Atlantic Yards site, but rather the 8.5-acre Vanderbilt Yard. And, unlike with Atlantic Yards, where the city and state anointed a developer 18 months before the RFP was issued, the five rivals for the West Side yards in Manhattan all began at the same starting point.
NYO: But a lot of people viewed that as a foregone conclusion before the RFP was even issued. Did you not agree with that?
GB: I hope we don’t have a foregone conclusion on the Hudson Yards. That would make at least four bidders very sad.
Note that he didn't deny that Atlantic Yards was a foregone conclusion; he just avoided the question.
NYO: The city and the state haven’t partnered with a developer publicly beforehand. What type of chance did you think you had on Atlantic Yards? Did you think that was something of a long shot? You said so, if I remember, in your cover letter [for the bid].
GB: We are shocked—shocked—that we bid $150 million, [Forest City Chairman Bruce] Ratner bid $50 million, yet he somehow managed to get it.
Louis conveniently ignored the "shocked" statement, which, whether it was sarcastic or not, surely didn't indicate resignation.
NYO: In almost any community meeting for Atlantic Yards, Extell’s name comes up—still.
GB: I think we had a very nice plan and use for that space as well then, but we know when we’re beat.
Extell's name comes up more as a criticism of the process than as a hoped-for alternative.
NYO: What did you think of the outcome?
GB: I’m not going to comment on that.
Here Barnett has become diplomatic, if not critical.
NYO: It raised the company’s profile some by doing the bid, by getting on the side of opponents. Was that a factor in doing the bid?
GB: Absolutely not.
That makes sense. Barnett's company has antagonized community groups elsewhere, such as on the Upper West Side. The bid in Brooklyn more likely was a combination of a potential business opportunity and a rivalry with Forest City Ratner, with whom he'd clashed over redevelopment over the parcel for the New York Times Tower.
NYO: Do you have any criticisms with the way the state handled the Atlantic yards project?
Without listening to the actual interview, that's a bit hard to judge, but, given Barnett's previous statements, that sounds more like a diplomatic statement than a thorough assessment. What's in it for him to antagonize government agencies? Nothing.
Evidence, what evidence?
Still, ignoring the evidence, Louis concluded:
That seems clear enough. But if history is any guide, that won't stop the anti-project crowd from claiming they're actually pro-development, and that they support the defunct Extell proposal as a viable alternative to Atlantic Yards.
Actually, it doesn't seem clear enough.