Friday, December 12, 2008

Why the fog? Behind Chuck Ratner's obfuscation about why AY is on hold

Q. When is something not on hold when it's on hold?

A. When it's Atlantic Yards.

Forest City Enterprises CEO Chuck Ratner said Wednesday that the company was putting "virtually all new development" on hold. Except Atlantic Yards.

If that were true, then Ratner should have continued, "When lawsuits are cleared, we will begin construction."

He didn't.

Instead, he said, "We remain committed to this and when we get--and we believe we will--successfully through the last of the litigation in 2009, we’ll evaluate the market at the time and see what our next steps are."

So, it's on hold.

Why the fog?

Consider Ratner's obfuscation a tactic aimed to (I speculate) encourage future investors to buy piece of the AY project and/or a piece (or all) of the money-losing New Jersey Nets basketball team.

Also, it could be seen as an effort to position Forest City for the additional subsidies that Ratner said in April "we still need."

And it could be seen as an effort to assuage pesky citizens concerned that their government agencies have abdicated responsibility for crucial public infrastructure like the half-demolished Carlton Avenue bridge (right).

(Photo by Jonathan Barkey. Click to enlarge.)

The press falls short

Would you believe that the Daily News did a better job teasing out the contradictions that the typically more incisive New York Observer? (And that the Times and the Post whiffed.) The Daily News reported:
Top brass behind Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards project insisted Wednesday the $4.2 billion project would survive the crumbling economy - but conceded there will likely be further delays and didn't have a construction time line.

Meanwhile, the Observer's Real Estate round-up yesterday got the summary wrong:
Ratner vows to continue Atlantic Yards construction as soon as the lawsuit threatening the project is resolved. [NYDN]

And the Observer's own story Wednesday got the details right but the frame wrong. The headline was Forest City: All New Development On Hold (Except Atlantic Yards).

The Observer reported:
The company will not stop projects under construction already, Mr. Ratner said, nor will it halt Atlantic Yards, the more than $4 billion planned project that would build a new Nets basketball arena and more than 6,000 units of housing in Brooklyn.

Those days are over. “With the exception of Atlantic Yards, we will start—in 2009, we do not expect to start more than one building,” he said.

Just how and when the company will be able to start the massive project, given the tumultuous economic climate, Mr. Ratner was unable to offer specifics.


That means Atlantic Yards is on indefinite hold.

The epistemological question

Coverage in both the Daily News and Crain's took the company line regarding the cessation of work at the railyard.

Crain's wrote:
While newspapers last weekend questioned whether Forest City could continue its huge 22-acre arena and mixed-use Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn, Mr. Ratner said workers left the site because they completed some demolition work at the rail yard that the company had ordered. Forest City has completed all it can on the site until it resolves pending litigation related to the project, Mr. Ratner said.

That is simply not true.

Not. True.

NotTrueNotTrueNotTrueNotTrueNotTrueNotTrueNotTrueNotTrueNotTrueNotTrueNotTrue.

To repeat, then-FCR executive Jim Stuckey said in a 2007 sworn affidavit (which was seconded earlier this year by his successor):
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.

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