I would've expected someone to follow up last week after the news broke, but since no one did, I queried ESDC.
Spokesman Warner Johnston replied via email:
"We expect the arena and phase 1 to be completed before the outside deadlines. Nevertheless, acknowledging that complex projects are often delayed due to external factors (including market conditions) we determined it was reasonable to provide the developer with flexibility. Those time frames were negotiated. There will be an outside deadline for phase 2. It is presently under negotiation."
Now it's not unreasonable to acknowledge that complex projects are often delayed. But why, then, did the ESDC's General Project Plan, approved just nine months before the funding agreement was signed, "anticipate" that the whole project would take only a decade?
After the ESDC approved the project in December 2006, then-Chairman Charles Gargano answered questions from the press. I pointed out the skepticism of the planned ten-year buildout expressed by Kathryn Wylde of the Partnership for New York City, who suggested the project would likely take 15-20 years. “So how can you say this environmental review is sufficient?” I asked.
“Number one, I don’t know where Ms. Wylde’s facts come from” he responded. “We hire consultants to advise us on these issues. Turner Construction is a very well-known developer who has decades and decades of experience… This project will be built in quarters, in sections, and they have broken it down for us. And they say the project can be built over a ten-year period. We depend on experts in this area to advise us. There are other people who can make comments all they want. I don’t know how valuable those comments are. If the project is estimated to take ten years and we have some delays, as a result of lawsuits or whatever, it could take 11 years, or 12 years. So what. But we have an estimate, assuming we have no unnecessary delays, of ten years, given to us, by expert developers. Those who are in the business of developing, those who understand construction, they’re the people we listen to, not the people who want to be out there talking numbers they have no knowledge of.”
For condemnation, arena financing plan only
Yesterday, Brownstoner broke the news that, according to the State Funding Agreement, the ESDC needs only a financing plan for the arena (and the closing of the acquisition of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard) to pursue condemnation of the entire 22-acre project site.
Forest City Ratner spokesman Loren Riegelhaupt told Brownstoner that the developer has "provided a complete financing plan for the entire project" and Johnston said "we are working with the developer to ensure" that the affordable housing is delivered.
There's a difference between financing and a "financing plan;" the developer does indeed have a financing plan for the entire project, but the question is whether it's realistic. The issue is not only the credit crunch, which Forest City Ratner has blamed for the delays, but also the lack of affordable housing financing.