Friday, February 20, 2009

DDDB, CBN, Good Jobs NY, clergy oppose stimulus for Atlantic Yards

First, BrooklynSpeaks and NYPIRG's Straphangers Campaign issued statements Tuesday opposing the awarding of federal stimulus funds for Atlantic Yards. (Earlier, I'd argued that, if the project was shovel-ready, it had a huge asterisk.)

Yesterday, an even more forceful letter was sent to Gov. David Paterson, signed by some expected project opponents, the coalitions Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods, several (but hardly all) of their constituent groups, and several other civic groups, including the Straphangers, the Sierra Club, and the Four Borough Neighborhood Preservation Alliance.

Among those signing the letter were Good Jobs New York, notable for its scrutiny of subsidies; Majora Carter Group, LLC, run by the MacArthur Prize-winning consultant and founder of Sustainable South Bronx (and Dan Doctoroff antagonist in a 2007 development debate); and The Open Planning Project, which has championed smart infrastructure via projects like Streetsblog.

Clergy but not electeds

Three influential clergymen signed the letter, all opponents or critics of the project: the Reverend Dennis Dillon, Brooklyn Christian Center, Chief Executive Minister; Reverend Dr. Daniel Meeter, Pastor of Old First Reformed Church, and the Reverend Clinton Miller, Pastor of Brown Memorial Baptist Church.

Notably, no elected officials signed either letter, though Miller is close to Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries--who'd entertain the notion of stimulus funds for housing--and City Council Member Letitia James has announced that she'd send Paterson a letter.

Markowitz's pitch

Also, the New York Daily News reports that Borough President Marty Markowitz is lobbying hard to get the feds to pay for a new railyard:
Markowitz argued yesterday it didn't matter if Ratner originally promised to pay for the new railyard in his bid because court delays and the recession have changed the playing field.

"That was then and this is now," said Markowitz. "Had that not happened the first phase would already be open."


Stunning. The logical conclusion of Markowitz's request, however, is a federal share of the project, not a bailout for the developer.

In the Brooklyn Paper, Francis Byrd, a former 57th Assembly District leader, opposes a bailout.

Querying Governor's office

I asked Paterson's office if they had any comment on either yesterday's letter and the BrooklynSpeaks letter, and was told no by spokeswoman Erin Duggan.

I wouldn't read too much into that either way; I suspect that they have enough to address regarding the stimulus at this moment without entering the fray, especially since the hard copy of yesterday's letter surely hadn't arrived.

Atlantic Yards is probably the only potential beneficiary of the stimulus that not only has fervent proponents but also fervent opponents.

Duggan told the Daily News, "We're obviously aware of the project and we've had conversations about it. But we have not yet had a formal request for funding."

And the MTA hasn't made one.

Excerpts from letter

The DDDB/CBN/etc. letter states:
There are far greater priorities than the Atlantic Yards project, across Brooklyn, across the city and across the state. Atlantic Yards is simply too highly leveraged to return the public’s investment even with an infusion of federal stimulus funds.

An arena on land obtained through the questionable use of eminent domain violates both sound planning processes and sound community economic development. The process by which the development proposal has proceeded violates provisions of the bill that require a transparent and competitive public bidding process that meets federal standards.

The project, including the arena, is not “shovel-ready” by any stretch of the imagination or in the terms described in the stimulus bill, as Forest City Ratner doesn’t own the land it needs to construct it and, according to the developer, it is undergoing an extensive redesign with an unknown final plan, an unknown price tag, and unknown benefits for the public. The proposed affordable housing is nowhere in sight. Construction is highly unlikely to start in 2009.

The development proposal already has the financial benefit of city, state and federal subsidies in the form of direct cash payments, below-market land, free land, housing subsidies, tax breaks and tax exemptions, estimated by most close observers to be worth anywhere between $1.5 and $2 billion. A new federal subsidy through stimulus funds would be on top of the developer’s expected federal tax-exempt arena bond estimated to be a subsidy worth about $165 million. Yet, the proposed arena has been shown by the City’s Independent Budget Office to be a loss for the city and at best a slight gain for the state. It doesn’t deserve or need further taxpayer-backed financial support.

Actually, the total of subsidies and benefits remains in question. The proposed arena may be a loss for the city, according to extrapolations from previous IBO calculations, but they haven't said so formally.

Nearly all economists agree that arenas are not economic generators or cost-effective job creators. Forest City Ratner has never even publicly estimated the number of new jobs the arena would create because it would be woefully few, especially in relation to the public cost of the arena. And the opportunity costs are dramatic.

Job creation and affordable housing at the rail yards are being held hostage by the developer’s and ESDC’s prioritization of the arena over all else. The insistence on building the Barclays Center Arena, currently priced at an astounding $1 billion, is the chief impediment to meeting these critical needs on the MTA yards.

The latest announced price tag is $950 million, though Forest City Ratner is trying to cut costs.

Furthermore, this developer received the development rights to the MTA’s 8-acre Vanderbilt Rail Yard site, despite a bid less than half the appraised value, because it had committed to building a new, “state-of-the-art” rail yard. The sole purpose of the new rail yard is to facilitate the construction of the arena, rather than any transit need expressed by the MTA in 2005 when they approved their sale to Forest City or in the MTA’s 20-year projected needs assessment. This project is not an MTA priority. There are many other transit projects that are much more important priorities.

Granting a share of the stimulus funds to relieve the private developer of its commitments to the MTA and the public would be grossly inappropriate and would undermine the bill’s intent.

Signatories

Good Jobs New York
NYPIRG Straphangers
Sierra Club
Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats
Lambda Independent Democrats (LID)
Four Borough Neighborhood Preservation Alliance
Majora Carter Group, LLC
The New York Community Council
The Open Planning Project

Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn (21 Member Coalition)
Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (42 Member Coalition)

Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association
The Brooklyn Bear’s Gardens, Inc
Bergen Street-Prospect Heights Block Association
Brooklyn Vision Foundation, Inc.
Carlton Avenue Association
Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association
Carroll Street Block Association Between 5th & 6th Aves.
Coalition for Respectful Development
Committee For Environmentally Sound Development
Concerned Citizens of Greenwood Heights
Crown Heights North Association, Inc.
Dean Street Block Association Between 4th and 5th Aves.
Dean Street Block Association, 6th Ave. to Vanderbilt
DUMBO Neighborhood Association
East Pacific Block Association
Fort Greene Association
Fort Greene Park Conservancy
Friends of Bond (Street)
Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus
Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation
Park Slope Civic Council
Park Slope Neighbors
Prospect Heights Action Coalition
Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, Inc.
Prospect Place (of Brooklyn) Block Assoc., Inc. (Flatbush to Underhill)
Society for Clinton Hill
South Oxford Street Block Association
South Portland Avenue Block Association, Inc.

Reverend Dennis Dillon
Brooklyn Christian Center, Chief Executive Minister
The Christian Times, Publisher
The Black Church Means Business Conference, Executive Chair

Reverend Dr. Daniel Meeter
Pastor of Old First Reformed Church

Reverend Clinton Miller
Pastor of Brown Memorial Baptist Church

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