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Showing posts from February, 2007

Nets for sale? Document suggests cash flow stops in 2013

Could the Nets be for sale after the Atlantic Yards project is under way? There's certainly a hint of that in the Combined Returns Summary prepared by Forest City Ratner and released by the Empire State Development Corporation. The document estimates cash flow and investment internal rate of return starting in 2004 for both the "Team and Arena Investment" and also the "Real Estate Investment."

The "Team and Arena Investment" ends in 2013. (Click to enlarge.) The "Real Estate Investment" ends in 2015. Could the Nets be on the block before the project is completed? (The scheduled completion date is 2016, but even project landscape architect Laurie Olin admits it could take 20 years.)

I wrote last year about a clause in the General Project Plan that allowed for the sale of the Nets before the completion of the arena.

Now this may just be a separate accounting line, given that the document is "for discussion purposes only." And there'…

"Actual results may vary"

From the Atlantic Yards Combined Returns Summary released by the Empire State Development Corporation and provided by Forest City Ratner.

ESDC-released documents from Forest City lack vital information

The Empire State Development Corporation released three pages of Forest City Ratner-prepared documents estimating investment returns over 12 years.

I'll have more analysis later, but it's important to remember that these pages differ greatly from the financing plan that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority required from bidders for the Vanderbilt Yard, and which Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and other organizations tried in vain to see.

Firstly, that financial plan covered 20 years, not little more than a decade. Secondly, the MTA required (p. 15, or PDF p. 18) the developer to account for "sources and uses"--in other words, the combination of subsidies, investment funds, and internal funds that would be used.

Required were:
a. Development schedule and budget;
b. Sources and uses statement;
(i) Sources, amounts, terms and conditions of financing, and the Proposer’s equity; and
(ii) Breakdown of uses of funds in the project, including an itemized list of all costs …

A dozen planned demolitions would create "facts on the ground," isolate plaintiffs

With the filing of papers preliminary to the demolition of 12 properties it owns within the Atlantic Yards footprint, developer Forest City Ratner--even as a pending eminent domain case constrains it from construction work on the planned arena--seems poised to create "facts on the ground," empty lots that would foster both a perception of isolation and a sense of the project's inevitability.

The demolitions would include the Ward Bakery on Pacific Street, which preservationists have hoped to see saved for adaptive reuse, but instead would be razed for an interim surface parking lot.

Among those most starkly impacted would be the residents still within the 22-acre footprint. Take, for example, the four story apartment house at 624 Pacific Street (above). In the fall of the 2005, when the above picture was taken, the house was bordered on both sides by existing buildings.

Last summer, after the developer demolished two properties to the west deemed structurally unsound, 624 P…

As ESDC waits to name AY environmental monitor, Dean Street residents lose water supply, face FCR obfuscation

On February 5, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) issued a request for proposals for an environmental monitor to oversee construction activities within the Atlantic Yards project. Responses were due February 26, with selection expected in two weeks.

However, for residents of Dean Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues—a block that on the south side borders the project footprint and on the north side is within the footprint—that oversight seems already overdue.

On Tuesday, they lost their water supply for four hours owing to a worker’s error, and found the inconvenience compounded by a lack of information available from Forest City Ratner’s newly-established Atlantic Yards Community Liaison Office. The likelihood of at least a dozen building demolitions within the next few months makes the issue even more pressing.

The following account, written yesterday, was provided to me by Dean Street resident Peter Krashes, who looked into the issue as president of the Dean Stree…

After Brennan's lawsuit, ESDC poised to release Ratner’s profit projections

Brooklyn Assemblyman Jim Brennan, joined by State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, has gone to court in an attempt to force the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) to answer his Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request to see the projected costs, revenues, and profits for Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards plan--a prelude to arguing for a reduction in the project’s size.

While Brennan's effort had been rejected by the ESDC under the administration of Gov. George Pataki, the New York Sun reports today that new Gov. Eliot Spitzer's administration has indicated that it's willing to comply--and the documents should be released shortly.

The ESDC, two months before it approved the Atlantic Yards project, last October rejected Brennan's FOIL request, though the ESDC later released a different fiscal document, regarding the plan’s projected fiscal impact, meaning the net new tax revenues to the city and state. (That number dropped dramatically in December.)

Brennan (right…

Lawyers claim AY wasn't Ratner's idea, but the record says otherwise

While U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert M. Levy last Friday recommended that the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case be dismissed from federal court, he acknowledged that the lawsuit "raises serious and difficult questions regarding the exercise of eminent domain under emerging Supreme Court jurisprudence."

So, the case will ultimately be heard on its merits, either in federal court (if the plaintiffs prevail on Judge Nicholas Garaufis to override Levy's recommendation) or in state court.

Then a judge will have to evaluate the curious claim, made by lawyers for Forest City Ratner in legal papers and in oral argument, that the developer did not initiate the Atlantic Yards project.

Developer denial

During the 2/7/07 federal court hearing in the eminent domain case challenging the project, Forest City Ratner attorney Jeffrey Braun stated, "Certainly, one of the plaintiffs' contentions is that the fact that their complaint alleges that Forest City Ratner people initiated this…

Brooklyn Bridge + Atlantic Yards CBA = Black History Month?

Let's try to decode the advertisement Forest City Ratner has placed with its favorite Brooklyn weekly, the Courier-Life chain. (The chain was bought last year by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., which also owns the New York Post.)

First, even though the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) partners are significantly funded by the developer, and most have no history previous to this CBA, they get credit for honoring Black History Month as well.

And what history is being made? Seemingly the signing of the CBA in June 2005--and also the Brooklyn Bridge. However, the CBA has little to do with the bridge; while the document was signed nearby (on Old Fulton Street), it applies to a very different and oversize project.

And the developer often seems unwilling to show Atlantic Yards to the public, relying instead on drawings of ground-level views, photos of other Brooklyn scenes, and when pressed, 15-story buildings rather than the 20- to 50-story buildings that would make up the project.

Black …

A grudging Times correction on "city approval" and another taking more blame than Barclays

Why did it take six days for the New York Times to grudgingly correct a basic error in a 2/20/07 Metro Brief about Atlantic Yards, especially since the Times in December published essentially the same correction?

The brief stated:
The city and state approved the project despite heated opposition from residents...

The correction today, under the For the Record rubric (where basic errors are corrected), states:
A report in the Metro Briefing column on Tuesday about the construction work expected to begin at the Atlantic Yards project near downtown Brooklyn referred imprecisely to the development. Although it has been endorsed by the Bloomberg administration and the City Planning Commission, it is a state project that does not require formal city approval.
(Emphasis added)

That wasn't imprecise but simply incorrect.

Why would a reporter insert this extraneous fact in a new story? Well, people make mistakes; let's assume that the reporter, unfamiliar with Atlantic Yards, simply assumed t…

Errol Louis on AY negotiation, but not the 20-year affordable housing plan

Daily News columnist Errol Louis, in a column today headlined Play ball with Bruce, writes:
The biggest myth about the $4 billion, 22-acre Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn is that it might not get built. So it's long past time for people concerned about the complex to quit fantasizing about how to stop it and start focusing on ways to improve it.
This was made clearer than ever two days ago, when federal Judge Robert Levy hammered another nail into the legal coffin of anti-project advocates by recommending dismissal of Goldstein vs. Pataki, a lawsuit by a handful of holdouts who refuse to sell their property to the project's developer, Bruce Ratner.

Louis calls the litigation "doomed" and likens Atlantic Yards to other projects with public benefits such as Lincoln Center in Manhattan and Melrose Commons in the Bronx, neither of which have, as the Atlantic Yards plan would have, nearly 2000 luxury condos, 2250 market-rate rentals, and 900 (of 2250 "affordable"…

On objectivity, neutrality, and integrity in covering AY

[From my remarks yesterday at the Grassroots Media Conference. A lively crowd of about 50 came to listen to and question the panel, organized by Stuart Schrader of Picketing Henry Ford. Also participating were Lumi Rolley of NoLandGrab and Candace Carponter of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn. Attendees might notice that this version differs slightly from that delivered orally.]

I’m the most mainstream person sitting on this panel, and I don’t think there’s a contradiction between using mainstream training and experience in the service of grassroots media.

In fact, I think that grassroots media, held to professional standards, can be more intellectually honest and more responsible than the mainstream media.

I try to read everything. I read all the press. I read the documents regarding Atlantic Yards. There's lots of information in documents. That was the lesson from I.F. Stone in the 1950s and that's still true today.

The news ecosystem

Let me talk about the ecosystem for news co…

Magistrate says eminent domain case belongs in state court

In a setback for plaintiffs in the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case, U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert M. Levy yesterday recommended that the federal case be dismissed without prejudice, leaving those challenging condemnations to do so in state court, where they would have less leverage to argue that the project results from a sweetheart deal.

Levy’s report and recommendations centered on narrow procedural grounds rather than the merits of Goldstein vs. Pataki, which occupied the majority of the lively 2/7/07 oral argument in the case.

Though Levy’s recommendation to federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis is not binding, judges generally follow such recommendations. Still, the parties in the case have ten business days to file objections, and Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, the coalition organizing the 13 plaintiffs—homeowners, business owners, and renters—promised to do so.

Forest City Ratner had no comment, but a spokesman for Mayor Mike Bloomberg praised the decision.

Press coverage

Irresponsibly…

A Times op-ed critical of AY, 38 months later

Some 38 months after the Atlantic Yards project was announced, the first-ever national edition op-ed on the topic appears today in the New York Times. (One was published in the City section in November 2005.) Headlined A Developing Story, it makes some valuable points, especially in a venue unwelcoming to the topic, though--and who knows what the imposed boundaries were--it also falls short in some ways.

The author, novelist and journalist Jennifer Egan, is a regular contributor to the Times Magazine and an advisory board member of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB). It's understandable that the Times would solicit a piece from a writer it knows rather than others even closer to Atlantic Yards debate, but the latter strategy might have produced an even tougher piece--or maybe one that the Times would've rejected.

The headline and lead

Start with the headline, which is not the writer's doing. It's bland, indirect. Not The Project That Ate Brooklyn, the headline on …

A visit to the Atlantic Yards Community Liaison Office

So you're a member of the community and you take seriously Forest City Ratner's press release on Tuesday, which announced that "an Atlantic Yards Community Affairs Liaison Office, located onsite at 24 6th Avenue, will be open from 8am-4pm weekdays to provide updates and answers to any questions or concerns" about the preparatory work that's begun.

Yesterday morning, two days later, you walk up to the office, in the former Spalding building that was renovated into condos, at the corner of Pacific Street, part of the planned arena block.

(After demolition of the building, which is perhaps 60 feet tall, the lot would apparently be the site, in part, of 219-foot Building 3 and border 511-foot Building 4.)

The sign doesn't mention opening hours; that might deter some who haven't seen the press release or the web site. You remember what BrooklynSpeaks wrote: Interestingly, the sign doesn't clearly indicate that the office has been established by Forest City…

More on the "Footprints" saga: library says exhibit should've been renamed

I have a long article in this week's Brooklyn Downtown Star about the controversy over the "Brooklyn Footprints" exhibition. And the library offers a fuller explanation for its actions, including an acknowledgement that the exhibition should've been renamed.

Says the library's Jay Kaplan, “The library's ‘Footprints’ exhibition is not intended to be the original ‘Footprints’ exhibition minus the controversy. It is a separate, though largely overlapping, exhibition that falls within the very clear guidelines the library observes in choosing what to show. In retrospect, the library should have given the exhibition currently on display in its grand lobby a different title, so as to dispel the idea that it was merely re-presenting the original ‘Footprints’ exhibition originally mounted at Grand Space.”

My article also explores the American Library Association's interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights regarding exhibitions, the difficulty of drawing the line…

Beyond "Brooklyn Matters": compounding and complicating the indictment

The documentary film Brooklyn Matters (click for future showings) doesn't claim to be comprehensive; rather, it's a powerful indictment . Still, upon another viewing of the film at Bishop Loughlin High School last night, I was reminded of two missing strands; one would have compounded the indictment, while the other would have complicated it.

Had Isabel Hill's camera captured the affordable housing information session held by Forest City Ratner and ACORN on 7/11/06, viewers might have seen a large crowd of working-class New Yorkers, mainly minorities, eager to gain access to subsidized housing, but dismayed that most would be either unaffordable to them and/or not available until the second phase, officially scheduled from 2010 through 2016.

Also, had a camera captured ACORN New York Executive Director Bertha Lewis at the housing debate held nearly a year ago, or in an interview longer than that in the film, Lewis might have made the point that Atlantic Yards promises more …