Friday, February 20, 2009

Is the cost of Atlantic Yards now a "trade secret"? NYC EDC foils FOIL request

So, what's the current price tag on the Atlantic Yards project, including the cost of the arena?

The information is surely relevant to understand, among other things, the potential pace of the project and the potential need for more government money. For example, more costly affordable housing likely would require a greater level of housing subsidies.

And it might back up BrooklynSpeaks' comment Tuesday that "the current design, program and schedule for the project is unknown."

Forest City Ratner surely has an estimate, so I suspect government agencies have one too. To learn more, I filed several Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests.

NYC EDC says no

So far, however, I've been stymied, as a city-affiliated agency, the New York City Economic Development Corporation, declares that the information is exempt from disclosure because it is either a trade secret or its disclosure "would cause substantial injury to the competitive position of the subject enterprise."

Really?

The cost of the project was certainly not a trade secret when Atlantic Yards was approved in December 2006. The price tag was $4 billion, with the arena at $637.2 million, according to the General Project Plan.

Did approval flip some kind of secrecy switch?

What kind of injuries?

The denial made me wonder: what kind of injuries might the "subject enterprise" face via disclosure?

I came up with a few, but they have more to do with public relations than public policy.

For example, a significantly less expensive arena--cut in half from $950 million?-- might confirm that Frank Gehry's design has been significantly altered. And that might cause consternation among the sponsors already signed up to plaster their names on a "landmark" arena.

Or, perhaps, a cost estimate limited to Phase 1 might confirm that Forest City Ratner is unlikely to fulfill CEO Bruce Ratner's May 2008 pledge, "We anticipate finishing all of Atlantic Yards by 2018.

(I've asked the Empire State Development Corporation, the lead agency on Atlantic Yards, the same timetable question, and haven't yet gotten a response.)

The letter

Here's the text of the letter I received:
This e-mail is in further response to your request dated February 7, 2009, addressed to New York City Economic Development Corporation (“NYCEDC”), pursuant to the Freedom of Information Law (“FOIL”), Article 6 of the Public Officers Law, for documents that provide current estimates of the cost of Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, including the current estimated cost of the project as well as the current estimated cost of the arena.

NYCEDC has diligently searched its files for records responsive to your request and has located certain responsive documents. Please be advised NYCEDC is withholding such documents as records determined to be exempt from disclosure pursuant to one or more of the following FOIL Section(s):

· 87(2)(d) exempting from disclosure information that would be considered trade secrets or is submitted to an agency by a commercial enterprise or derived from information obtained from a commercial enterprise and which if disclosed would cause substantial injury to the competitive position of the subject enterprise.

Any appeal with respect to this determination should be addressed in writing to Judy Fensterman, New York City Economic Development Corporation, 110 William Street, New York, New York 10038, within thirty (30) days from the date of this letter.

Sincerely,
Judith Capolongo
Records Access Officer


Yes, I've filed an appeal.

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