Monday, April 21, 2008

In Courier-Life, ACORN vs. de Blasio and some media conspiracy theories

So what’s the news behind the odd article this week in the Courier-Life chain about housing advocacy group ACORN's confidence in Atlantic Yards? After all, we know--from a statement issued March 21 in the wake of the Atlantic Yards stall--that Forest City Ratner’s affordable housing partner ACORN had “every confidence” in the developer.

(Click on all images to enlarge.)

One piece of news involves NY ACORN Executive Director Bertha Lewis’s clash with Council Member Bill de Blasio, an ostensible ally who has emerged as a critic of the project. "I'm sure Mr. de Blasio is only reflecting the concerns from a very small portion of constituents,” Lewis told the newspaper, with great but unproven certainty. “However, he also has a constituency that is very supportive of Atlantic Yards."

The other involves the rather bizarre sequence posited by Courier-Life reporter, the notorious Stephen Witt, in which critical media coverage is blamed on “opponents,” rather than a recognition that maybe a lead story in the New York Times has some fallout.

The article fails to convey two important pieces of news. First, the developer has flexible time, according to the State Funding Agreement: 6+ years to build the arena, 12+ years to build Phase 1, and an unspecified time to build the rest of the public. Second, the president of parent Forest City Enterprises has publicly stated that “we still need more” subsidies. Beyond that, there’s a huge backlog of projects seeking housing bonds.

(Oddly enough, the article at issue appears in the Carroll Gardens-Cobble Hill edition of the weekly newspaper, above, but not in the Park Slope edition, below, which circulates in Prospect Heights, where the project would be located. The front-page stories in the latter issue regarded Public Place, in Gowanus, and the Kahlil Gibran School, in Fort Greene. Go figure.)

Subsidies coming?

The newspaper reports:
NY ACORN is currently working with FCRC and the city and state to iron out the affordable housing component of the project.
"My members and [sic] are confident this will get done," Lewis said.
"We have to deal with development and numbers changing ... We don't speculate about this. It is work that is actually going on and anybody who's ever done development would understand the process," she added.


Does this mean that Forest City Ratner will gain additional subsidies to build the project or get nudged toward the front of the line for housing bonds?

The p.r. campaign

By the article’s seventh paragraph, things get strange:
Lewis' comments came as opponents of the Atlantic Yards plan have continued a public relations campaign through both the print media and from brownstone bloggers.

What might we call columns in the Daily News by Atlantic Yards supporters Errol Louis and Michael Daly?

The quiet developer?

The article continues:
Meanwhile, FCRC has largely stayed out of the local community eye regarding the project since it underwent a lengthy public review process.
What FCRC has been doing is site preparation work including demolition of buildings the company has acquired and rail yard work, and letting out over $42 million worth of construction contracts with over 45 percent going to women and minority owned firms.


Um, the developer has also been doing things like giving $58,420 to the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee's Housekeeping account.

Just a "recent story"

The article continues:
However, in a recent story in the New York Times, FCRC Chair and CEO Bruce Ratner admitted that the downturn in the economy could force some delay in the timeline of the total project build out.


That was a lead story, and it stated that Ratner “suggested that construction could be put off for years.”

The article continues:
This admission added fuel to the opponents' fire, who succeeded in getting stories aired in other Manhattan-based newspapers concerning subsidy amounts and rumors that FCRC was abandoning the project and would leave in its place vacant lots.


Is it not legitimate to try to calculate, as the New York Post did imperfectly, the public subsidies and public cost? Isn’t it public money?

(Note that the Post and the Courier-Life are both owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and have both supported Atlantic Yards in editorials and distributed the egregious Brooklyn Tomorrow. The Courier-Life’s reporting has sometimes aired criticism of AY, but Witt's coverage could be broadly described as pro-project. The Post's reporting has been episodic and scoop-oriented, with with articles critical of the project, such as the one about subsidies, and essentially supportive of the project, such as the announcement of luxury suites for sale.)

And is it legitimate to suggest, as City Council Member Letitia James did in Metro,
that vacant lots might become parking lots? After all, interim surface parking is already part of the plan, as noted above, and, as I reported (thanks to a Freedom of Information Law request) documents submitted to the Department of City Planning show alternative plans (right) that would combine interim surface parking and temporary open space.

De Blasio goes oppo?

The article states:
Last week City Councilmember Bill de Blasio met with the opponent bloggers, where he told them he would call on Governor Paterson to call a moratorium on any more FCRC demolitions around the project and get an iron-clad agreement and timeline on the affordable housing.
De Blasio, a candidate for borough president, said he was a "conditional supporter" of the project until the Times story.


I think that Brownstoner and the Gowanus Lounge would hardly be considered “opponent bloggers.” They happened to show up at one of the periodic meetings de Blasio has held with local bloggers of all stripes.

Closing words from Forest City

The article closes with a quote from Bruce Bender, Executive VP of Forest City Ratner:
"As the Councilmember knows, all of Atlantic Yards, including all of the affordable housing, will be built and any delays in the construction phase will result in delays in delivering the thousands of units of affordable housing and thousands of jobs that Atlantic Yards will create.”


That clears everything up. At least there's an article (right) about how state law might be changed to allow Ultimate Fighting in the Barclays Center (and other venues). No doubt that's "recreational" under state law.

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