Skip to main content

At DDDB update, Brooklyn Museum honor for Ratner raises ire

At a community meeting sponsored by Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) last night on the status of the Atlantic Yards project, the most galvanizing issue was one not mentioned in the meeting announcement.

(Photos by Jonathan Barkey)

While there were questions and discussion about the viability of the project given the credit crunch and lack of affordable housing financing, as well as the effects of ongoing construction activities, the crowd’s ire was spurred by breaking news that Forest City Ratner CEO Bruce Ratner would be honored early next month by the Brooklyn Museum.

And while local elected officials were understandably wary of criticizing the museum, leading the Brooklyn Paper to conclude that that DDDB’s Daniel Goldstein “was nearly alone in his vitriol,” that wasn’t the mood last night. Goldstein (speaking to the crowd above) said DDDB had received a lot of e-mail about it. Prospect Heights resident Irene Porges told the crowd that she had just purchased a museum membership but would ask for her money back.

Others said they wanted to hold a protest on the occasion of the museum’s ball honoring Ratner on April 3, and met afterward to plan the action. The effect of Forest City Ratner’s contributions to local institutions, Goldstein said, “is to silence a lot of people who wouldn’t otherwise be silent.”

Hopes for Paterson


DDDB’s Goldstein expressed hope in Governor-in-waiting David Paterson. “I think we’re going to have a more responsible governor,” he said, noting that Paterson in 2005 supported a moratorium on the use of eminent domain. (However, he’s been quiet since and a New York Sun story today (overhyped with a huge headline), without any comment from Paterson, raised the question of whether the issue would recur; a real estate official said he wasn't concerned given Paterson's other priorities. )

More than 110 people attended the event at the Hanson Place United Methodist Church in Fort Greene. Organizers said 111 people signed cards to Paterson urging him to “pull the plug on Forest City Ratner’s ill-conceived Atlantic yards plan,” questioning whether taxpayers should “be shelling out hundreds of millions of dollars for a basketball arena while affordable housing and so many other crucial needs take a back seat.” (Of course, affordable housing is supposed to be part of the AY plan, but there are major doubts about its schedule.)

Whether Paterson has any interest or leverage is an open question. DDDB legal chair Candace Carponter reiterated the belief--not yet confirmed by outside experts--that continued increases in the cost of the arena should bring the project back before the Public Authorities Control Board, whose voting members include Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, the Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and the governor.

Delays and litigation

Goldstein told the crowd about the delays in the project and noted that the preliminary railyard work, demolition of buildings, and utility work do not constitute construction of the project.

“We will take the fight as long as it can go, as long as community opposition and support is there,” he said.

Carponter said lawyers representing plaintiffs challenging eminent domain for the project, whose case has been dismissed at the trial and appellate court levels, would file an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court within the next two weeks. Carponter said she was optimistic the court would accept the case, even though it takes fewer than two percent of the cases presented.

If the case isn’t accepted, Carponter said, plaintiffs would go to state court. (Given that state courts are considered less hospitable to eminent domain challenges, that has to be a longer shot.)

And what if the project fails or is significantly stalled? Anna Dietzsch, an architect member of the UNITY plan design team, described some features of the plan, which suggests a role for multiple developers and varied building sizes without use of eminent domain or an arena. The plan could be applied to the entire 22-acre footprint or just to the second phase, east of Sixth Avenue and the arena block. Added Goldstein, “The whole thing needs to be reworked or we’re going to end up with a big parking lot.”

James’s report from ESDC

It was a busy night for civic meetings, several of them sponsored by local political officials, so a lack of attendance wasn’t too surprising. The only public official to attend the meeting was City Council Member Letitia James, who noted it was her fifth meeting of the evening.

She reported on a meeting held that morning at the offices of the Empire State Development Corporation with Avi Schick, the agency’s president and chief operating officer. Several local elected officials or their surrogates attended and, at least by James's account, agency officials weren't quite ready to bend.

“Council Member [Bill] de Blasio and Council Member [David] Yassky, I must say--we were excellent,” James recounted. (Yassky, who’s running for Comptroller, and de Blasio, who’s running for Brooklyn Borough President, have ramped up their questioning of Atlantic Yards in recent months.)

In response to a question about the project’s progress, James said, Schick said it’s going forward, though he expressed a recognition that the economic climate had shifted.

James said officials reported multiple complaints about water lines cut or construction after 10 p.m. “He said, ‘We’re unaware of it,’” James recounted. “[Ombudsman] Forrest [Taylor] was sitting there. I said, ‘You’ve got to do better.”

She said she suggested a multilevel committee on infrastructure. “They said, ‘We’ll think about it,’” she said. (Seemingly such a committee was established as part of a set of initatives the ESDC announced last May.)

Yassky, James said, expressed skepticism about the Community Advisory Committee (CAC) the ESDC wants to establish. James said she mentioned other models previously suggested by the BrooklynSpeaks coalition. “They said, ‘We’ll look at it.”

She said Yassky had repeated a request for Atlantic Yards financing documents and the ESDC said they’d provide them.

Much to do

“Overall, it was a good meeting, but we’ve got a lot of work to do,” James concluded. “This is a textbook study of how not to do development in New York City.”

She alluded to the precipitous fall of Governor Eliot Spitzer. “Someone said last night,” she noted, that Spitzer “thought the rules did not apply to him. Often times, I’ve thought that of Forest City Ratner.”

James said she told Schick, “We will bring [Atlantic Yards] to a halt ‘til you get it right.” Schick’s response: “Tish, it’s always nice seeing you.”

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…

At 550 Vanderbilt, big chunk of apartments pitched to Chinese buyers as "international units"

One key to sales at the 550 Vanderbilt condo is the connection to China, thanks to Shanghai-based developer Greenland Holdings.

It's the parent of Greenland USA, which as part of Greenland Forest City Partners owns 70% of Pacific Park (except 461 Dean and the arena).

And sales in China may help explain how the developer was able to claim early momentum.
"Since 550 Vanderbilt launched pre-sales in June [2015], more than 80 residences have gone into contract, representing over 30% of the building’s 278 total residences," the developer said in a 9/25/15 press release announcing the opening of a sales gallery in Brooklyn. "The strong response from the marketplace indicates the high level of demand for well-designed new luxury homes in Brooklyn..."

Maybe. Or maybe it just meant a decent initial pipeline to Chinese buyers.

As lawyer Jay Neveloff, who represents Forest City, told the Real Deal in 2015, a project involving a Chinese firm "creates a huge market for…

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…