Thursday, May 15, 2008

Brodsky calls for "time out" on West Side projects; hearing next Friday

A powerful Assemblyman is calling for a "time out" on a major development, but it's not Atlantic Yards, focus of a recent "time out" rally. And that Assemblyman, Richard Brodsky, while calling for a timetable and cost-benefit analysis for megaprojects in the state, said that the focus of an Assembly committee's first hearing next week will be limited to projects on Manhattan's West Side.

The New York Times, in an article Wednesday headlined City Revisits Old Bidders After Railyards Deal Fails, reported:
Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky and other critics, however, say that the authority should wait for the economy to improve, while working with a master plan to coordinate all the activity on the West Side. “These deals are breaking down because the governance system for authorities doesn’t work and because the public subsidies are out of control,” said Mr. Brodsky, a Democrat from Westchester. “We need a time out before this disaster repeats itself everywhere else.”


Discussion at MAS

The issue of what to do with the West Side--and, by extension, other megaprojects--came up at a panel discussion on the fate of Moynihan Station held Tuesday at the Municipal Art Society (MAS).

"The era of the grand Power Point presentation and numbers that appear to show the impossible is possible--I think that era is over," said moderator Charles Bagli, who covers real estate and development for the New York Times.

He was talking about the West Side, but the comments could be applied to Forest City Ratner's May 2005 Power Point presentation to the New York City Council and to the developer's overblown claim of 10,000 office jobs.

Bagli also essentially reprised his comment on the 3/27/08 Leonard Lopate Show, "I think both the city and the state are going to have to sort of open up a M*A*S*H tent and start doing triage."

In this case, he pointed to not only Moynihan Station, but the fate of the Javits Convention Center, the extension of the #7 subway, and "whatever's going to happen at the [West Side] railyards."

Competition and the role of developers

Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, pointed out that, beyond projects competing on the West Side, Lower Manhattan needs significant support, there's a $17 billion Metropolitan Transportation Authority deficit, and a "five borough strategy" needs to be pursued.

Daniel Biederman, president, 34th Street Partnership, suggested that only developers had the savvy and incentive to get projects like Moynihan Station moving, given that elected officials have a time horizon that spans four years at best. MAS President Kent Barwick disagreed. Much of the city's infrastructure, he said, has been built during economic downturns. "We have fallen into this trap, that we are going to get something for nothing."

"They're skillful developers," Barwick allowed of Steven Roth of Vornado Realty Trust and Stephen M. Ross of the Related Companies, the two developers Biederman hailed, "but their time span and focus of attention cannot be 75 or 100 or 150 years. Infrastructure has to be built without a return."

Brodsky on authorities & "distorting" subsidies

Brodsky, who has long criticized unelected authorities like the Empire State Development Corporation, pointed again to a problem in the city and state, that projects are "controlled by authorities, run by hired guns who are accountable to nobody."

"Developers have learned the fight is about the subsidies," he said. "That distorting element is so powerful we don't know how much to give, what is proper." That, he said, makes it hard to assess "what exactly is the public good."

Though generally a critic of authorities, Brodsky has proposed that a new state authority buy the railyards from the MTA, develop a master plan, and seek multiple developers for individual parcels.

The Newark option

Bagli asked Brodsky about the fate of the city's convention center. "It's going to end up in Newark, that's my guess," Brodsky said, allowing that the Sunnyside Yards in Queens remains an "attractive option."

"I'm not convinced we can't get 85% of the benefit" of a convention center in Newark, he added. It was an interesting acknowledgement of the continued importance of seeing New York as a metropolitan region.

Hearing on May 23

Brodsky last month announced a bill that would require the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) to report within 45 days on the status of several megaprojects, including Atlantic Yards and said the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, which he chairs, would hold a public hearing on the issue.

On Tuesday he said that the first hearing, on May 23, would cover only projects on Manhattan's West Side. It will be held at 10 a.m. at 250 Broadway, the location for many such hearings. A hearing notice should be posted shortly.

"I'm getting my arms around what I can get my arms around," he told me, suggesting that inclusion of projects like Willets Point and Atlantic Yards would make the hearing too unwieldy.

Will there be a follow-up hearing on other projects? He said he wasn't sure.

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