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Showing posts from July, 2008

The Yankees deal gets some more scrutiny, AY gets a mention

Yesterday, on the radio/TV program Democracy Now! (with transcript), Rep. Dennis Kucinich, whose Congressional subcommittee has looked closely at tax-exempt bonds for sports facilities, was interviewed by co-host Juan Gonzalez, who had found some curious discrepancies in the New York Yankees deal in a column Monday.

Kucinich chairs the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is looking into allegations that the city inflated the value of the land for the new Yankee Stadium, in order to enable a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes), while at the same time lowballing the value to satisfy a federal requirement to replace parkland with property of equal value.

Kucinich (right) told Gonzalez:
From what I understand, as a result of our hearing [the IRS and Treasury Department] are reviewing their policies to see whether or not the 1986 Tax Reform Act has actually been compromised by the decision that they made. I think that it’s important to under…

Typo? City/state letter on tax-exempt bonds backdates MTA RFP by three years

Maybe it's just a typo. Maybe it's a calculated slip. But there's another misleading element in a letter that, as I and Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn have contended, deserves serious scrutiny.

The 5/8/08 letter to the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Treasury Department from the New York City Industrial Development Authority and the Empire State Development Corporation backdates the issuance of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's request for proposals (RFP) for the Vanderbilt Yard by three years, to 5/24/02.

The MTA's RFP was issued on 5/24/05. (Click on graphics to enlarge.)

Looking at the chronology

The passage at top appears in a chronology of the Atlantic Yards project, aimed to convince the federal agencies that they apply a 2006 "loophole" (in the words of the IRS's Chief Counsel) used for bonds to construct new stadiums for the Yankees and Mets to be used, as well, for the Atlantic Yards arena.

Both the Yankees and Mets want additiona…

A modest proposal: Bruce Ratner should bunk on Dean Street

If, despite noise and disruption experienced by residents, daily life is sufficiently tolerable in the Atlantic Yards footprint, as per the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), perhaps some ESDC officials, joined by representatives of the Bloomberg administration and developer Forest City Ratner, can spend a few nights on Dean Street.

After all, then-Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne and Newark City Council Member Cory Booker lived in housing projects to show their solidarity with residents and to point to conditions that needed improvement. So Brooklyn booster Bruce Ratner could take a field trip from his $7 million Upper East Side mansion and host a sleepover in one of the residential buildings his company owns.

Glaring gap: AY EIS ignored noise, vibration, disruptions faced by footprint residents

Grating, honking noise from construction equipment. Vibrations that shake buildings, enforcing a 7 a.m. wake-up call. Cracks in building walls and steps. Dust and dislodged paint in the house. Unsavory diesel and sewer aromas. Surprise cutoffs of water and gas. Long waits for restoration of utilities.

That’s life some days for the people--fewer than two dozen--living on the north side of Dean Street between Flatbush and Sixth Avenues in the Atlantic Yards footprint, as massive construction equipment is used to upgrade water and sewer connections destined to help service an 18,000-seat arena and thousands of apartments. (Click on graphics to enlarge.)

(See The Footprint Gazette blog for video here and here. On 7/25/06, the New York Times, in an article skeptical about AY blight claims, focused on this block.)

The AY catch

Here’s the catch: the Empire State Development Corporation’s (ESDC) voluminous environmental review, required to disclose the potential impacts of the project, said not…

Another angle on the Yankee Stadium PILOTs deal

From Patrick Arden in today's Metro, another reason for the Congressional probe into whether Yankee Stadium PILOTs were "gamed":
To get the financing, the Yankees needed to pay off the debt with payments in lieu of property taxes, though the team has never paid property taxes. If the Yankees did pay property taxes, the IBO said, the amount would fall $29 million short of what the team needed to satisfy the debt. The city disagreed: The stadium would be valued at $1 billion, and the land underneath it was worth $200 million.

But a much lower number was offered when the city got that land appraised to satisfy a federal requirement to replace parkland with property of equal value. In a second set of appraisals obtained by NYC Park Advocates, the value of Macombs Dam Park was put at $21 million, just below the $25 million total of the replacement parcels.

[Update: Much more on the discrepancies from Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez, including this passage:
Why such wildly di…

AY is a project, not a place (again)

From today's New York Post, in an article headlined LANDMARKS BLOOMBLITZ:
The proposed historic designation for Prospect Heights would cover a neighborhood bordering the megadevelopment at Atlantic Yards. Similarly, the West Chelsea district abuts the massive Hudson Yards project.

No, Atlantic Yards is a project, not a place. And nearly all of the project would be in Prospect Heights.

Nor would the historic district border Atlantic Yards in a bookend manner; rather, the top finger would on two sides border the AY footprint. In other words, they're part of the same neighborhood.

The Hudson Yards map, while not a pure rectangle, includes whole blocks, not partial blocks, as with AY.

AY advertising, FCR branding, and the Manhattan Media connection

What's a generic Atlantic Yards advertisement--featuring some dubious statements used to promote the project even before it was passed--doing in the July 2008 issue of New York Family/Brooklyn, "a glossy, vibrant city magazine that offers active, sophisticated New York parents an inviting mix of feature articles and selected tips about their interests, issues, and concerns"?

Well, the magazine comes from none other than Manhattan Media, the enterprise that previously teamed with developer Forest City Ratner on the short-lived but much-criticized Brooklyn Standard "publication." Forest City Ratner initially pledged publication "every few months."

Contract unfulfilled?

Only two issues of the Brooklyn Standard were published, both in 2005. I speculate that Forest City Ratner contracted with Manhattan Media for more issues than were published, and the advertisements we see represent a fulfillment of the contract. [Update: NLG points out there's a term fo…

Where the Mobil station stood, an empty lot

Less than a year ago, there was a busy (but blighted!) Mobil station at the northwest corner of Flatbush Avenue and Dean Street.

It closed around December and, as the wide-angle photo below from Tracy Collins shows, it's all been cleared.

There are still people living in the white building at left and the tan-yellow building at center.

Talk to the (NY Times) Newsroom: unanswered questions about Atlantic Yards coverage

New York Times Metro Editor Joe Sexton answered questions from readers July 21-25, and there were some interesting and thoughtful exchanges.

I sent a question on Monday, which I didn't exactly expect him to answer.

A letter to the Times

Mr. Sexton,

In a previous "Talk to the Newsroom" feature, in March 2007, you wrote, "Pick any major topic of the last several years in New York... The paper's coverage has been unmatched."

I'd strongly disagree with that regarding Atlantic Yards. In fact, I'd argue, the Times has a special obligation to be exacting in its coverage, given the parent company's business relationship with Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner, as partners on the Times Tower. (I wrote about that in a September 2005 report critiquing the Times, linked from my web site, and have continued my media criticism as part of my Atlantic Yards Report watchdog blog.)

A second look at Zimbalist

1) For example, the Times gave cursory coverage to a …

Putting a Times correction dispute to rest

In May 2006, I had a few go-rounds with a New York Times editor who insisted the newspaper did not have to correct a statement that Atlantic Yards opponents "have backed alternative plans for the site, including proposals by rival developers that would include mostly low-rise buildings and would not require eminent domain."
(Emphasis added)

Despite copious evidence, the editor declared, "[W]e've determined that no correction is warranted."

Well, I was just looking at the Final Environmental Impact Statement, issued in November 2006, and Chapter 20, Alternatives, described (p.19) the Extell proposal thusly:
The proposed design would result in eight high-rise structures and one low-rise structure in a curving footprint along Atlantic Avenue...
(Emphasis added)

If they don't believe me, or Forest City Ratner executive Jim Stuckey, or the publication Real Estate Weekly, all cited in my previous post, maybe they'll believe the government.

Was Yankee Stadium value "gamed" to issue PILOTs? Congressional probe could affect AY

Was the valuation of the new Yankee Stadium "gamed" so that the foregone taxes exceeded the expected bond payments, thus allowing a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) financing deal?

That's the subtext of the inquiry launched yesterday by the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which in March 2007 and October 2007 held hearings regarding tax-exempt financing for sports facilities.

And should the subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), find the procedures sketchy, that could cast doubt on similar financing plans for Atlantic Yards arena and the new Mets stadium.

In yesterday's letter, Kucinich was not questioning the use of fixed PILOTs, which would be forbidden under proposed federal regulations, just whether the city and others are cooking the numbers to make a deal with fixed PILOTs work. (Here's coverage from Reuters.)

Drilling down

The subcommittee is investigating the accuracy of representations made to…

In downtown Anaheim, the false promises accompanying Gehry's (nice) ice rink

It's not directly related to Atlantic Yards, but a look at Frank Gehry’s ice rink in Anaheim, CA, originally dubbed Disney Ice and now called Anaheim Ice, offers a cautionary tale about promises made for ambitious architecture.

Notably, the structure, when it opened in 1995, did not contain some of the Gehryesque elements announced, it did not prompt the redevelopment of nearby parcels, and, counter to the expectations of its builders, it did not spawn a national effort to teach inner-city youths ice hockey.

(It was built in part as a practice rink for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim; I'll bet that Gehry does not design the practice facility for the Nets that Forest City Ratner now promises in Brooklyn.)

Such sobering reality is accessible to anyone who takes a serious scan of local news coverage, but if you read the New York Times, the only extant look at the rink--other than two throwaway mentions--was a review written 9/18/94 by architecture critic Herbert Muschamp, a Gehry champi…

Looking back at the unanticipated impacts of the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning

It’s well-known that the 2004 Downtown Brooklyn rezoning resulted in some very different outcomes than expected, given that the hot residential real estate market, coupled with changes in the back-office needs of large companies in Manhattan, made it far more lucrative to build luxury housing (and hotels) than the office space (and jobs) that the rezoning was intended to foster.

A new report, Downtown Brooklyn’s Detour: The Unanticipated Impacts of Rezoning and Development on Residents and Businesses, prepared by the Pratt Center for Community Development for FUREE (Families United for Racial and Economic Equality), points out how much has changed in four years, raising concerns about the displacement of lower-income retail and residential tenants. It doesn’t suggest particular strategies, however. (Solutions aren’t simple; perhaps that’ll be another report.)

The report does remind us that an EIS (environmental impact statement) is hardly infallible, as we’ve also learned in the case of…