Skip to main content

Author deMause on Zimbalist: "a lot of people don't take him as seriously"

This is the third of a multi-part interview (conducted May 28) with Neil deMause, the Brooklyn-based co-author of the book Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money Into Private Profit, and writer of the companion web site. He testified at a 3/29/07 Congressional hearing that questioned taxpayer financing of stadiums, convention centers, and hotels.

One curious thing I noticed about the new edition of Field of Schemes is that it appears with a prominent blurb from Smith College sports economist Andrew Zimbalist, one of the scholars on whom deMause and co-author Joanna Cagan relied for the first edition of the book.

Zimbalist, of course, is notorious for writing a "promotional" study of the economic impact of the Atlantic Yards project, paid for by developer Forest City Ratner, and defending it poorly, as on the Brian Lehrer Show Monday.

deMause v. Zimbalist

It's safe to say that Zimbalist would not blurb the revised and expanded edition, since deMause has since publicly clashed with him about the Yankees Stadium and the book contains a skeptical account--though not as extensive as my critique--of Zimbalist's Forest City Ratner-sponsored economic impact study of Atlantic Yards.

If the housing component of the AY development would generate the most revenues, as per Zimbalist's analysis, why, deMause asks rhetorically in the book, wouldn't the state find a developer to build just apartment buildings, which would require no eminent domain nor special subsidies?

(Zimbalist improbably maintains, as he did on the Brian Lehrer Show Monday, that the benefits for Forest City Ratner would be as-of-right.)

Zimbalist's damaged reputation

Q. What do you think Zimbalist's Atlantic Yards "study" does to his reputation? You’re talking with someone who thinks it’s been damaged.

deMause paused before answering, knowing that Zimbalist is a highly combative sort.

A. I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to say that won’t have Andy calling me on the phone and yelling at me. He would never actually pick up the phone. I think Andy already hates me, because I’ve called him out on a lot of stuff. I think that, from the people that I have spoken to in the field, there is a lot of surprise and a lot of curiosity as to why he’s been so gung-ho about the New York City projects, the Nets and the Yankees and Mets project.

He wrote that op-ed about the Yankees project in the Times, saying it was going to help gentrify the Bronx, which is a claim Andy has never made about anything and a weird one to be trying to sell as a good thing, given that one of the complaints was that it was going to gentrify the Bronx and drive people out of that area.

I think a lot of people are wondering why he did this, and has changed his tune so much on these projects, and wrote that book praising [baseball commissioner] Bud Selig. And I think there are a fair number of people who don’t take him seriously any more. There are certainly people who will talk to him and cite him and refer people to him. He’s still a smart economist, but the fact that this is someone who has said, oh, consulting reports paid for by sports team owners are worth crap and then went and did a consulting report paid for by a sports team owner--that doesn’t make him look very good.

Q. It was not peer reviewed.

A. Yeah. I don’t think it's destroyed his reputation by any means, but I think there are a lot of people who don’t take him as seriously as they used to. I certainly don’t. I used to think he was somebody who you could go to and would give you a straight answer based on his years and decades of study. I’ve just seen too much work by him that seems to be bending over backwards to make a project look good. His response, when I ask him about it, is What do you know, you’re not an economist.

I’m like, Yeah, I know I’m a journalist. That’s why my job is to question the economists. So, if the numbers don’t add up, I’ve got a calculator. So it’s been very difficult. Andy has always been a prickly guy in the best of times and he’s never taken kindly to people disagreeing with him on stuff.

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…

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…

Former ESDC CEO Lago returns to NYC to head City Planning Commission

Carl Weisbrod, Mayor Bill de Blasio's City Planning Commission Chairman and Director of the Department of City Planning, is resigning,

And he's being replaced by Marisa Lago, currently a federal official, but who Atlantic Yards-ologists remember as the short-term Empire State Development Corporation CEO who, in an impolitic but candid 2009 statement, acknowledged that the project would take "decades."

Still, Lago not long after that played the good soldier at a May 2009 Senate oversight hearing, justifying changes in the project but claiming the public benefits remained the same.

By returning to City Planning, Lago will join former ESDC General Counsel Anita Laremont, who after retiring from the state (and taking a pension) got the job with the city.

Back at planning

Lago, a lawyer, in 1983 began work as an aide to City Planning Chairman Herb Sturz, and later served as the General Counsel to the president of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, Weisbrod himself.