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Showing posts from October, 2007

Scholarship vs. a study for Ratner: the contradictions of Professor Zimbalist

Andrew Zimbalist is one of the country's leading sports economists, but his performance is far less credible when it comes to paid work for Forest City Ratner, where he seems to be contradicting himself.

As a benchmark, consider an excerpt (below) from the essay "Sports, Jobs, and Taxes: The Real Connection," which he co-authored with Roger G. Noll.

The chapter is part of Sports, Jobs, and Taxes: The Economic Impact of Sports Teams and Stadiums (full text!), the 1997 collection of essays Noll and Zimbalist edited.

Zimbalist and Noll wrote that "promotional studies" often introduce faulty assumptions, such as that "a stadium does not impose additional, security, infrastructural, or environmental costs on the city."
(Emphasis added)

Zimbalist on AY

But consider Estimated Fiscal Impact of the Atlantic Yards Project on the New York City and New York State Treasuries, the updated June 2005 report Zimbalist did (with no peer review) as a paid consultant for Fores…

Audit AY? Probably not this comptroller

An article published Friday on the front of the New York Times Metro section, headlined City Wasted Millions on Bronx Golf Project, Audit Says, reported:
The city’s Department of Parks and Recreation paid nearly $6 million more than it should have to a company that was supposed to develop a Bronx golf course, and lost out on millions more because of poor management of the project, according to an audit released yesterday.

The parks department disputed the findings in the audit, by the city’s comptroller, William C. Thompson Jr. [right], and said it contained many factual errors.

Vs. AY costs

The audit stated that "the City overpaid the concessionaire almost $6 million and lost more than $3 million in revenue from forgone license fees." There's more, but let's call it $9 million in losses.

Much bigger costs out there are also worthy of scrutiny. The cost to the city for policing the new Atlantic Yards arena would pose significant new costs not acknowledged by the developer

The due diligence of BP candidate Bill de Blasio, or the (AY) end justifies the means

City Council Member Bill de Blasio is now a candidate for Brooklyn Borough President in 2009, and some of his worthy goals pose an essential tension between affordable housing and neighborhood scale, a balance he bypassed in supporting Atlantic Yards.

(Photo from City Hall News)

His statement might leave the impression that he's fighting overdevelopment: I'm running for Brooklyn Borough President to strengthen and protect Brooklyn neighborhoods.

As Borough President, no one will fight harder to make Brooklyn more affordable for working families, stop out of control and irresponsible development, protect our environment and improve the quality of life in every neighborhood.

Then again, an email message he sent yesterday emphasized the first part of that second sentence:
My first priority as Borough President will be to keep Brooklyn affordable by building and preserving affordable housing.

As de Blasio well knows, increased density is often the trade-off for affordable housing, a…

Are city housing projects really for sale? Nah, but it's time to "unlock value"

A New York Daily News “exclusive” last Wednesday raised the specter of a sell-off of city housing projects, spurring a furious round of commentary on Brownstoner and Curbed. However, the article, headlined Feds eye New York building sale at housing projects, overhyped a thread in a wide-ranging discussion, and didn't sufficiently stress that city officials have other tactics in mind.

The article began:
New York’s top federal housing official said on Tuesday the city's cash-strapped Housing Authority should consider selling buildings in expensive neighborhoods to create more apartments elsewhere. "It may displace some people, and that is a concern," Sean Moss, the regional administrator for the federal Housing and Urban Development Department, said at a forum on the Housing Authority's future.
"That is not necessarily a bad thing if you can create more housing with that," Moss said. "Instead of having 300 units [in a project], maybe there is a way to i…

The Times's Public Editor publishes (sort of) an AY letter

Two weeks ago, New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt wrote a tough column about Deborah Solomon's heavily massaged "Questions For" Q&A column in the New York Times Magazine, headlining his critique "Questions and Answers, in No Particular Order.”

My letter was among 20 letters published online yesterday:
You paint a dismaying portrait of the care with which the Times Magazine’s “Questions For” column is produced.

Add to the criticisms the failure of the questioner Deborah Solomon or the Magazine’s editors to disclose, in a June 26, 2005, interview with Bruce Ratner, the Atlantic Yards developer and New Jersey Nets principal owner, that Mr. Ratner’s company was a development partner of The New York Times Company in building its new headquarters.

[The interview was headlined Stadium, Anyone?, though an arena is not a stadium.]

Byron Calame, the public editor at the time, chastised The Times in his Web journal for the failure to disclose such ties, but no letter or di…

Richard Ford: I love NBA hoops, hate going to NBA games

In today's New York Times Sports Magazine, Play, novelist Richard Ford has an essay titled The Noise Is Killing Me, subtitled "Sports-as-game has become sports-as-babble, and I refuse to play."

He writes:
I don’t want to be sappy about all this and wish for a time that’ll never come back and that maybe never existed, anyway. But the truth is I love N.B.A. basketball, but I hate going to an N.B.A. game — because of all the dancing girls and the acrobats and the P.A. guy’s tumescent, Michael Buffer-ish voice wounding my ears while some citizen in a pink mascot suit does flying dunks off a trampoline every time the timeout whistle blows. (Don’t we all hate mascots?)

Last year, I described some of the nonstop babble and tumult at a Nets game--which is probably pretty typical for the league.

Errol Louis suggests AY poll results represent democracy

In his 10/16/07 Our Time Press "Commerce & Community" column, Errol Louis asks, "Who Speaks for Brooklyn?" and takes us on a peculiar ride, in which he seemingly concludes that poll results represent democracy. (This column's not online, and may never be.)

He begins:
It would be a disaster if a person who had just moved into a neighborhood could exercise a kind of veto power of development in that area for all time, even if a majority of his neighbors want something different. That is one of the little-discussed aspects of the lawsuits brought to stop the $4 billion Atlantic Yards project.

Actually, we don't know what the neighbors really want, since they haven't been asked about alternatives. What if the city had followed the guidelines it later issued in PlaNYC 2030:
Building communities requires a carefully tailored approach to local conditions and needs that can only be developed with local input. We will begin the process of working with communitie…

The LID vote on AY

I had thought that the Lambda Independent Democrats meeting/vote on Atlantic Yards last Monday seemed quite late, but Lumi Rolley of No Land Grab corrals the political context: Gay and lesbian activists have been promised a community center in a Downtown Brooklyn building owned by developer Forest City Ratner, and they don't want to appear to be co-opted.

Zimbalist: "not clear" that Newark arena will make it

Can the arena in the Meadowlands--formerly the Continental Airlines Arena, now the Izod Center--survive in a market with the new Prudential Center in Newark (right), Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, and the planned Atlantic Yards arena?

(Photo from New York Times)

Opinions differ, according to those quoted in a 10/1/07 NJBIZ article headlined The Battle of the Arenas. One skeptic is Smith College sports economist Andrew Zimbalist, who pointed out that each facility must compete for corporate sponsorships and sales of premium seats.

The article states:
“All of those things will be difficult,” says Zimbalist. “It’s not 100 percent clear that the Meadowlands will stay in business, and it’s not clear to me that the Newark Arena will make it.”

Certainly Newark's new Prudential Center, with only one major sports team rather than two as a main tenant, and in a city carrying a rep for crime, will face challenges, especially if the Meadowlands remains as c…

CB2: BrooklynSpeaks proposal should beef up role of community boards

The recommendations by BrooklynSpeaks for reforming the governance of Atlantic Yards deserve some modification to beef up the role of community boards, according to Shirley McRae, Chairperson of Community Board 2.

Last week, McRae wrote to BrooklynSpeaks' Gib Veconi:
The Executive Committee believes that the community boards should have the same relationships to the proposed “Project Oversight Entity” and “Stakeholder Council” as the local elected officials, as diagrammed in Figure 2 of the draft.

[This would mean an extra arrow pointing from the CBs to the oversight entity as well as the stakeholder council. Click to enlarge.]

This comment is not meant to imply that community boards are comparable to elected officials. However, the committee believes that a relationship to both groups most fairly reflects the role of community boards as set forth in the New York City Charter.

Gib Veconi of BrooklynSpeaks, asked for comment, responded, "We're grateful for the feedback we have…

At the Brooklyn Bear's Garden, a Jacobs reminder

At the not-so-quiet (and likely much more unquiet, whether or not the Atlantic Yards project moves ahead) Pacific Street and Flatbush Avenue intersection, a poster for the Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York exhibit.

While the Brooklyn Bear's Garden would remain, the rest of Site 5 would change dramatically under the AY plan; the big box Modell's and P.C. Richard stores would be replaced by a 250-foot building, originally announced at 400 feet.

(Photo by Jon Crow)

Newark arena police costs--a benchmark for AY?

So, cops for an arena will cost taxpayers, right?

In a 10/21/07 article headlined Determined to show Newark at its safest, the Star-Ledger reported that, in policing the area around the new Prudential Center opening today, the city will deploy "more than 80 cops -- roughly five times the normal number" and expects to spend about $3 million this year on police overtime.

Now Downtown Newark has a much bigger crime problem than Downtown Brooklyn and Prospect Heights, and Newark might well dial back on police presence after a while. Still, the number suggests a rough benchmark regarding costs to police the planned Atlantic Yards arena.

IBO on AY

The New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO), in its September 2005 Fiscal Brief estimated annual overtime costs of $1.7 million for 45 Nets games.

Additional events at the arena would raise the cost, but the IBO didn't estimate that, given that "security needs and therefore the policing costs would vary widely depending on the…

Analyst lowers rating on Forest City, cites "difficult financing market"

Let's put that Wall Street Journal interview yesterday with Joanne Minieri, new president of Forest City Ratner, the New York division of Forest City Enterprises (FCE), in a little more context--one in which an investment analyst, long bullish on the company, has put up a yellow "caution" sign. That also hints at potential delays in the Atlantic Yards project.

Minieri told the Journal: The availability of capital to do these terrific developments and stimulate the economy concerns me... Liquidity and the availability of funds is always something I try not to lose too much sleep over, but it can keep me up at night. Value creation is impacted tremendously when you have to pay more for financing proceeds.

(Two-year stock chart from Yahoo Finance.)

Ratings revision

On 9/14/07, RBC Capital Markets analyst Rich Moore, who follows Forest City Enterprises, issued a ratings revision, nudging FCE down from "outperform"--meaning better than its peers in the real estate secto…

BrooklynSpeaks issues FAQ re oversight proposal

BrooklynSpeaks has issued an FAQ regarding its proposal for new oversight entities regarding Atlantic Yards. Some excerpts and comments.

1. Is this proposal an attempt to stop or slow down the Atlantic Yards project?
No. Regardless of what is built on the Atlantic Yards site, a structure for accountable governance and meaningful community input is needed.

No doubt, but BrooklynSpeaks members/sponsors also believe that the current project "must be changed substantially or rejected."

Continuity

Creating a “Project Oversight Entity” would also provide continuity of governance over the project as newly elected officials replace those originally involved in the project, or in the event that the developer sells its interest in the project to a third party.

Also, the project will probably take several decades, says BrooklynSpeaks, and could change according to market conditions, architectural tastes, construction costs, and ownership.

Maybe litigation too. Could Forest City Ratner dump pa…

Another AY stop-work order issued, resolved, but questions remain

A stop-work order was issued Tuesday at the Ward Bakery site on Pacific Street, according to the Department of Buildings (DOB) web site.

The order was resolved, but the incident deserves notice: apparently a truck backed into a sidewalk shed, knocking down three support posts for a 60-foot-high pipe scaffold sitting on top of the shed.

I sent an email yesterday to the DOB, but haven't gotten any more details yet on the incident and the resolution. An Atlantic Yards ombudsperson, which the Empire State Development has been trying to hire for five months, might help with things like this.

FCR executive claims: "We are proceeding according to plan"

An interview in today's Wall Street Journal with new Forest City Ratner president Joanne Minieri finds her, not surprisingly, on message.

The interview, headlined Forest City's Minieri Gets Tested in New York:Brooklynite Executive Steers Big Atlantic-Yards Project Amid Tough Credit Market, has her claiming:
We think it's a tremendous opportunity to help the economy to revitalize the neighborhood -- all the things we like to do in our development projects. We are on the site now, doing some work. We are waiting for the conclusion on some of the litigation. We are proceeding according to plan.

First, Atlantic Yards is hardly the savior of a "blighted" neighborhood. An open bidding process for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard would have ushered in development over the working railyard that separates neighborhoods.

Market-rate development has been proceeding apace; a rezoning could have unlocked new development possibilities and required …

Critic on Newark arena: "mostly what it is is marketing"

In his review of the spiffy new Prudential Center in the 10/22/07 Newark Star-Ledger, headlined An arena for TV fans, Dan Bischoff suggests that it might be a very enjoyable place to see an event, but he doesn't lose sight of the bottom line:
The brand-new Prudential Center, the hockey/soccer/college basketball/rock concert arena on Lafayette and Mulberry in downtown Newark, is many things. It's a food court, a sports bar, an art gallery... and a glass-fronted vantage point overlooking the huddled hectares of parking lots behind City Hall.

But mostly what it is is marketing. And in honor of that purpose, the dominant architectural motif is television.

He cites the 4,800-square-foot LED monitor in front of the arena's main window, and "733 plasma flat-screen TVs scattered about the place," helping patrons keep track of action and also order food and drink from touch screens. (Rendering from official site.)

And at AY

Could the planned Atlantic Yards arena (aka Barclays …