Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Comptroller Thompson: mega-projects may slow, but AY still "makes sense"

Comptroller William Thompson, who plays a mayoral run next year, gave a preliminary stump speech yesterday before a cordial and occasionally enthusiastic business audience at a breakfast sponsored by Crain's New York Business.

Thompson, who has forcefully criticized Mayor Mike Bloomberg's bid to have the City Council overturn voter-imposed term limits, got his biggest applause when he declared, "No one person is indispensable" and pointed out that, even after the 9/11 attacks, Mayor Rudy Giuliani's effort at a term extension was stymied.

However, on policy issues, Thompson distinguished himself from Bloomberg--whom questioner Greg David of Crain's posited was the audience's overwhelming choice--mostly in small ways, with a greater nod toward equity around the city.

On mega-projects

His statement about mega-projects was supportive, with a dash of caution:
Our second fundamental is economic development….We know that prudent investment, based on a rigorous assessment of priorities for infrastructure and commercial development projects, can be a tool to prime the local economy in a downturn.

Given the conditions of the credit market and the city budget, can all the mega-projects that have been on the drawing board move forward at the same pace?...Of course not….But we can’t take an approach that embraces, then shies away from, important investments in our city’s future.

Some projects like Moynihan Station, downtown Brooklyn, and Willets Point in Queens can be altered, but should not be abandoned….These are bold plans that will generate future growth in our business sector, re-imagine our skyline, and fundamentally shape the perception of New York for generations to come.

While it is not the biggest or most important development project on the table, Willets Point serves as a metaphor for New York’s time-honored tradition of rebirth and renewal...


On Atlantic Yards

Was Thompson's omission of Atlantic Yards a sign of concern? Nope. During a press conference afterwards, I asked him his take on Atlantic Yards and how it should go forward.

"Atlantic Yards is another one of those projects, I think--you've seen it scaled back a bit," he said. "But I think if it made sense a year ago, two years ago, it made sense a year ago, it still makes sense to move forward. You may have to look at Atlantic Yards and other projects in stages. But if those projects made sense two-three years ago, when things were booming, they make sense during slower economies, also."

I pointed out that he said at a forum in May that he didn't know what it was any more.

"It continues to be a project, y'know, other than just the stadium, and I know that other parts of it have been scaled back," he said. "I think that we do need to at least go back and revisit it and see exactly what schedule and in what stages and what is being proposed, to move in the next six months, the next year, the next two years. But I still think that if a project made sense two years ago, it makes sense now."

Thompson obviously doesn't know that much about Atlantic Yards--the project was scaled back only after it was increased in size.

And it's debatable that the project has consistently "made sense." After all, shortly after the project was announced in 2003, Bloomberg pledged that virtually no new city spending would be needed. In 2005, the city signed a Memorandum of Understanding pledging $100 million in direct subsidies. In 2007, the city added $105 million more.

And now the Atlantic Yards developer says "we still need more" subsidies.

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