Wednesday, December 03, 2008

As work stops at the Vanderbilt Yard, ESDC blames lawsuits--but that doesn't wash

Anyone ambling around the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard would notice. So would sharp-eyed readers (like DDDB) of the Empire State Development Corporation's semi-monthly Atlantic Yards Construction Update.

Work by developer Forest City Ratner's subcontractors on the railyard has stopped.

The question is why.

"The latest I have is that they’ve done all the preliminary work they can complete until the lawsuits are taken care of," ESDC spokesman Warner Johnston said yesterday. "The work will resume when litigation is resolved." His source: "our people who work with FCR."

FCR's contradiction

However, that explanation doesn't wash, leading me to speculate that Forest City Ratner might be hedging its bets on completing the work or having cash-flow difficulties.

After all, in sworn affidavits, then-FCR executive Jim Stuckey and his successor MaryAnne Gilmartin both committed to working on the railyard while litigation was continuing.

In an April 2007 affidavit, Stuckey stated:
The current work is proceeding in accordance with an intricate schedule that is intended to allow the new arena to be completed in time for the Nets to relocate there for the 2009-10 National Basketball Association season. FCRC’s construction schedule has been carefully drawn to allow the arena to be ready for the 2009-10 season by commencing work now on vacant properties that are owned by FCRC, the MTA and the City, with work on properties that are owned or occupied by other parties deferred until the pending judicial challenges to the Project have proceeded to a point where ESDC is in a position to actually use its powers of eminent domain to acquire title to and possession of those properties.
(Emphases added)

In a January 2008 affidavit, Gilmartin said essentially the same thing.

Contrasting construction updates

According to the ESDC's latest Construction Update, there's no more work being done at the railyard.

Note the contrast with the previous Construction Update, issued for the weeks of November 17 and November 24, which stated:
Long Island Rail Road/Vanderbilt Yard Work
Continue construction and debris removal from Block 1121.
Continue hauling soil from Blocks 1120 and 1121.
Continue sloping soil, Block 1121.
Continue installing gabion wall, Block 1121.
Complete east abutment.
Continue assembly of temporary train trestle/bridge on Block 1121.

(Emphasis added)

Note that the word "complete" is used for only one of those actions. For example, has all the construction and debris been removed from Block 1121?

Who does ESDC represent?

This episode puts the tensions facing the ESDC in sharper relief. Is its role to be a partner with the developer, thus in this case (apparently) colluding in a fib? Or is its role to be accountable to the public?

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