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Showing posts from January, 2008

AY vs. MSG: a larger tax break, but not for the arena

Even though the City Council is much more exercised about tax breaks for Madison Square Garden than Atlantic Yards, City Council Members Letitia James and David Yassky yesterday again called attention to the city's subsidies for AY. While the Council approved Resolution 90, which asks the state to end the 20-year-old property tax exemption for MSG, James and Yassky introduced an amendment that would withhold tax breaks and subsidies for Atlantic Yards.

"If the Council thinks subsidizing MSG is a bad deal for the City and State, they should take another look at the tax breaks and subsidies being offered to the proposed Atlantic Yards Development: they are even worse," James and Yassky said in a statement. It didn't make it past a council committee, but it may recur in the future.

Such tax breaks and subsidies may indeed be much larger, as MSG pointed out (graphic at right), but they are not quite comparable, because they include a whole suite of breaks.

In fact, the tax …

AY "on rail yards"? Error recurs in the Times

From an article in today's New York Times, headlined Scaffold Falls, Killing Worker in Brooklyn:
It is in a section of Brooklyn that is being swept up in new development, with the huge Atlantic Yards entertainment, residential and commercial complex planned on rail yards a few blocks to the west.
(Emphasis added)

I thought we'd resolved that the 22-acre project would be built only in part over the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's 8.5-acre Vanderbilt Yard. After all, when the Times had a beat reporter assigned to Atlantic Yards, he wrote that the project "would rise over a railyard and adjacent land...."

However, the Times has been inconsistent about publishing corrections after multiple mischaracterizations of the site. And when the record's not corrected, reporters unfamiliar with the issue look at the clip file and make careless errors.

Ravitch: MTA obfuscates full cost of West Side Rail Yards project

A panel discussion last night on "The Fate of the Far West Side" again pointed out the poverty of public discourse regarding Atlantic Yards as the project was under consideration. At the panel, held at the Museum of the City of New York, Richard Ravitch, former chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, expressed significant skepticism about planning for both the 59-block Hudson Yards area as well as plans for the MTA's 26-acre West Side Rail Yards.

"I believe in planning," Ravitch said. "But this is planning gone amok. This is planning unfettered by any consciousness of the availability of public resources."

It is in the public interest, he said, to harness "private greed." However, he criticized the MTA for its "shortsighted" desire for revenue--Crain's reported yesterday that the bids for the rail yards may be $1 billion--suggesting that the full value of the property won't be realized until the Moynihan Statio…

Pullout without penalty? Maybe, but not without pain

The New York Post reports today, in an article headlined BUILDER CAN NIX NETS PLAN:
Bruce Ratner can pull out of his $4 billion Atlantic Yards project for Brooklyn without penalty, The Post has learned.

That's because the developer never signed binding contracts for the controversial state-approved project or drew on hundreds of millions in government subsidies, officials confirmed yesterday.

Not that that's likely; Forest City Ratner officials say it won't come to pass. But if so, there'd be questions about who's responsible for the closing and reconstruction of the Carlton Avenue Bridge and the start on a new railyard, costs that the government would have to pick up.

(The Empire State Development Corporation has been reimbursed for many of its costs in the environmental review process. As I reported earlier this month, ombudsman Forrest Taylor said that funding agreements and subsidies had yet to be formalized.)

Not without pain

But the developer wouldn't exactly…

Room for us all? Reading (and re-reading) Brooklyn Was Mine

When I first read the new anthology of essays Brooklyn Was Mine, I thought it was an accomplished and affectionate, albeit incomplete, mosaic of Brooklyn, as befits a collection whose authors live mostly in the Brownstone belt (though don't necessarily write about it). While not all the contributors are well-known, they include writers--Jonathan Lethem, Jennifer Egan, Colin Harrison--who have put Brooklyn on the map as a home, if not always a subject, for authors.

Is the title phrase a selfish lament? No, it’s a citation from the expansive bard Walt Whitman: “Brooklyn of ample hills was mine.” The past tense suggests a borough in flux, memorialized before parts disappear.

Still, the portrait is inevitably partial. While there are mentions of Brooklyn's rough edges, I didn't get much sense of “two Brooklyns,” rich and poor, that the Daily News highlighted last week, nor of the persistent crime in northern and eastern Brooklyn that New York magazine recently cited. Black Brook…

FCR official: lawsuit casts doubt on arena financing

Is the legal battle over Atlantic Yards having “a chilling affect” on Forest City Ratner’s ability to get financing? That's what a lawyer for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said more than a week ago, according to lawyers for the 26 petitioners challenging the Atlantic Yards environmental review, though he denied it to the Brooklyn Paper.

Well, that kerfluffle is moot now that an FCR official has said essentially the same thing in legal papers, arguing for an expedited appeal of Supreme Court Justice Joan Madden's decision. (The New York Post has the story first today; the article's headlined COURT TROUBLE: RATNER ADMITS ARENA-FUNDING WOES.)

In an affidavit filed Thursday, Andrew Silberfein, FCR's Executive Vice President and Director of Finance, stated: As the Court surely is aware, the credit markets are in turmoil at this time. Many lenders and bond insurers are facing financial difficulties, and are becoming much more cautious. It is not clear what the fina…

The closing of Fort Greene's 4W, the demise of Bogolan, and the AY effect

The story of the closing of 4W Circle of Arts and Enterprise at 704 Fulton Street, a unique incubator for artists and craftspersons from the African Diaspora is an "end of an era" in Fort Greene, and I told a good piece of the story in an article a few weeks back the Brooklyn Downtown Star. (Today from 4-9 pm 4W is holding "The Circle is Unbroken Celebration, Celebrate 17 years of Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Pride, Ujimma (Collective Work and Responsibility) and the continuation of People Power.")

It's too simplistic, as I reported, to consider the closing simply a casualty of gentrification, and as Selma Jackson, a co-founder of 4W and its sole proprietor now, explained in an email yesterday via the Fort Greene Association. It wasn't that 4W's rent was rising precipitously, it was that the artists and craftspersons were less willing to pay a fee for space and services at 4W, preferring to work on consignment.

Jackson also cited a desire to spend more…

The magical vanishing of Pacific Street blight

It seemed intractable, didn't it, the blight bordering the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard. As the Empire State Development Corporation declared in its Atlantic Yards Blight Study:
In contrast, as illustrated by Photographs H and I, the blocks south of Atlantic Avenue host a combination of vacant, underutilized, and physically deteriorating structures and vacant lots, and are lined with cracked and crumbling sidewalks that are overgrown with weeds and strewn with trash...
(Emphasis added)

The ESDC punted on what agency was responsible for upkeep. But in the past couple of days, a clean-up has begun on the blocks. (Who's responsible? I'm not sure--I queried the ESDC and haven't yet heard back. I know it wasn't the same crew that blitzed Pacific Street one Sunday last September.)

Similar views

Photographer Tracy Collins yesterday captured the clean-up on Pacific between 5th & 6th avenues (first photo; similar perspective to Photograph C) an…

Would JJ like AY? An exhaustive "no"

Would Jane Jacobs approve of Atlantic Yards? I've written before about how the planners behind the project certainly were not unmindful of the Jacobsian qualities for a healthy city, but the project really wouldn't qualify. And I also wrote about the AY angle regarding the Jane Jacobs exhibit.

Now urban planner and lawyer Michael D.D. White ups the ante, with an essay and chart in the Brooklyn Paper concluding that AY would be very, very not Jacobsian.

In Williamsburg, Vito Lopez wants "real" affordability

Brooklyn Democratic Chair Vito Lopez, who represents Williamsburg and Bushwick in his Assembly district, is a strong proponent of affordable housing, so strong he's threatening to use eminent domain to ensure that the recently-closed Pfizer site would lead to truly affordable housing.

In a statement to the Observer, he said that the "company’s definition of affordability in no way matches the annual income of working class New Yorkers, nor the low and moderate incomes of Williamsburg residents."

Regarding Atlantic Yards, however, Lopez supported the "carve-out," ensuring a special break for Forest City Ratner and affordability that also departs from the incomes of working-class and average Brooklyn residents.

The Carlton Avenue Bridge closes (for two years)

Tracy Collins took some photos today (and here's his photostream) of the bridge closing needed to accommodate a rebuilt railyard and a platform for construction. There's apparently potential for some traffic jams. (More on that from Amy Greer.) That's Atlantic Terminal 4B in the background, across Atlantic Avenue, one sign of high-rise construction in contrast to more mid-rise and low-rise buildings on the south side of the project footprint.As I wrote, this starts a three-year reconstruction clock, given that the Carlton Avenue Bridge is supposed to take two years to rebuild, and the Sixth Avenue Bridge an additional year. That suggests that (assuming pending challenges fail) the arena couldn't open until January 2011, unless work speeded up and/or the developer and city agreed to open the arena with an adjacent traffic artery blocked.

Atlantic Yards will (eventually) spawn some Jacobsian "investigative theater"

Atlantic Yards has spawned several blogs, at least one documentary film, a book of photography (and other photographic work), and numerous songs. So why not some theater?

In December, the Rockefeller Foundation announced that 16 cultural organizations were the first award recipients of the Foundation's $2.6 million New York City Cultural Innovation Fund, supporting “trailblazing initiatives that strengthen the City's cultural fabric."

One of those grants, $150,000, was awarded to an innovative theater troupe called The Civilians, for “Development and Brooklyn Neighborhoods, a two-year theater lab exploring the Atlantic Yards Project.” The Civilians, in its self-description, “develops original projects based in the creative investigation of actual experience."

Not an AY documentary

Its grant application stressed, "The project is NOT a talking heads documentary about the various positions on Atlantic Yards. Instead, it will draw on the unique skills of theater artists…

Before Gehry joined Ratner: "one architect" model was wrong way to go

In February 2002, some months (presumably) before developer Bruce Ratner asked him to work alone on the Atlantic Yards project (and towers over the Atlantic Center mall), architect Frank Gehry suggested that a "one architect" model to build "sections of the city" was precisely the wrong way to go.

The video from the annual TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference has just been posted. Gehry's musings on the issue began at about 12:28, under the "City building" segment.

Not like Rockefeller Center

Gehry said:
The issue of city building in democracy is interesting, because it creates chaos, right? Everybody doing their thing makes a very chaotic environment, and if you can figure out how to work off each other--I mean, it's not that... if you can get a bunch of people who respect each other's work and play off each other, you might be able to create models for how to build sections of the city without resorting to the "one-architect, …