Skip to main content

Noticing New York's critique of major projects, and the path not taken of site preparation (at Hudson Yards and AY)

If you want a one-stop critique of megadevelopments and major projects in New York City, go to Michael D.D. White's latest Noticing New York post, headlined UN-FUNNY VALENTINES ARRIVING LATE: YOUR COMMUNITY INTERESTS AT HEART.

There White takes on stadium projects, Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Columbia University expansion, the Rudin/St. Vincent’s Real Estate Deal, and a whole lot more. Atlantic Yards, not surprisingly, is deemed "Poster Child For Everything Developmentally Bad."

Site preparation + stimulus

But probably the most resonant observation regarding AY comes in the segment White devotes to the Hudson Yards project, to be built on railyards that require some very expensive platforms. (The Vanderbilt Yard, less than 40% of the AY site, also would require a platform but not one as extensive.)

White observes:
If the government (as opposed to a private developer) was preparing the site it would not be necessary to postpone the site’s preparation at this time. Site preparation during the current economic downturn might even be cheaper. As it would be a public work, it would arguably be in the running for funding through federal stimulus, an important part of that being that the prepared parcels would later be bid out. But stimulus money cannot be given to a private developer already signed onto the deal because it would totally change the equation based upon which the developer bid to pay the public a low amount for the site. Used that way, the money would eliminate the risk developer assumed and constitute an award of enormous private benefit to the developer without bid.

The same would be true regarding Atlantic Yards, despite Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's push for federal stimulus money for the railyard.

Public investment

White observes:
Would the current change in the economy resulting in the devloper's default have made it possible at this point to switch over and have the government prepare the site, especially as time now seems to have borne out that this would have been the better way to proceed in the first place? Yes, the developer missing its payments presented precisely this valuable opportunity. BUT that is exactly what the administration elected NOT to do when, instead, it extended the developer’s rights to the 26 acres.

Extending the developer’s rights seems consistent with a city administration bias, as exprssed by the adminstration itself, to bequeath extended monopoly rights to individual large developers for large swaths of acreage that they will have on an “unfolding” basis “across many years” and “economic cycles” no matter the “various economic conditions” encountered along the way. Why does the Bloomberg administration do this? Is there benefit to this particular administration’s making single large, unstructured and inchoate bequests that apply for decades going out, thus sidestepping multiple opportunities for bids and checkpoints on accountability going forward into the future? By their very nature these arrangements limit participation in ownership of the city only to the very largest developers, and the arrangement works out only if the very large developers happen to remain solvent for longer than many people’s careers.


Loss of the public realm

White concludes
Strip things down to their core and you find that something is being sold. What is being sold is what belongs to public. Sometimes it is referred to as the “public realm.” That means such things as the right not to have our streets and avenues closed and sold off, the right to our historic neighborhoods, the right to good urban design, livable density and the right not to have our parks or amusement areas like Coney Island given away for development or speculative purchase. Real estate taxes should be paid by everyone, without special friends of the mayor being excused or allowed to intercept those moneys for their own private use and benefit. Subsidies which come out of the public’s general funds (once those taxes have been collected) should not be made special and piled on the mayor’s favorites.

Government’s function should be to protect the public interest, not to sell off the public’s assets. Government functions should not be privatized and handed out to developers whose interest is adverse to the public. Eminent domain should be the public’s special and rarely used tool for those special public improvement the public itself creates and owns. It shouldn’t be handed out for private use by developers to enrich themselves however they chose by accumulating and owning more of the city.


The next mayoral race?

White muses:
All of this provokes the thought: If all our communities have similar interests in common then, collectively, these communities are in the majority. As a potentially powerful majority with common concerns at heart, there is no reason for our communities to be losing the fights to the mayor that they are. Or does the reasoning run that we must put up with this perpetual selling off of the public realm because Bloomberg is, in other respects, such a good mayor? Would one argue, as some do, that Bloomberg is needed as a mayor because his financial acumen is critical to the city? But the answer to that is the reverse. Just as the mayor has been squandering public realm assets by selling them off to the big real estate developers throughout the city, Bloomberg has also conducted the city’s finances in a squandering city-fiscal-health-debilitating way.

However, on issues of development, Bloomberg's major challengers (so far), Rep. Anthony Weiner and Comptroller Bill Thompson, haven't launched a significant critique and likely won't do so; they're also dependent on the same forces.

Longshot candidate Tony Avella, perhaps, will be the only person to raise the critique.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

So, Forest City has some property subject to the future Gowanus rezoning

Writing yesterday, MAP: Who Owns All the Property Along the Gowanus Canal, DNAinfo's Leslie Albrecht lays out the positioning of various real estate players along the Gowanus Canal, a Superfund site:
As the city considers whether to rezone Gowanus and, perhaps, morph the gritty low-rise industrial area into a hot new neighborhood of residential towers (albeit at a fraction of the height of Manhattan's supertall buildings), DNAinfo reviewed property records along the canal to find out who stands to benefit most from the changes.
Investors have poured at least $440 million into buying land on the polluted waterway and more than a third of the properties have changed hands in the past decade, according to an examination of records for the nearly 130 properties along the 1.8-mile canal. While the single largest landowner is developer Property Markets Group, other landowners include Kushner Companies, Alloy Development, Two Trees, and Forest City New York.

Forest City's plans unc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…