Thursday, February 05, 2009

Shocker: Brooklyn Paper editorializes for federal bailout of Ratner's arena

Let's get this straight. After years of critical news coverage and tough editorials, the Brooklyn Paper this week editorializes Build the arena — with fed money!

The editorial is signed by publisher Ed Weintrob, an unusual move, so we don't know if the sentiments are shared by editor Gersh Kuntzman, who has written many of the other editorials and--I conjecture--whose head might now be spinning a la Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

Weintrob's argument is essentially that the money's there, so, why not throw some to Brooklyn. Our pork is better than theirs. And while some others--say, Yonkers--decorously request federal money for infrastructure to support private development projects, Weintrob wants the project itself to get a bailout.

Gov. David Paterson's ambitions for the stimulus bill are broad but, relatively speaking, more modest:
$300 billion for infrastructure investments, including funds for "ready-to-go" projects to rehabilitate and construct our transportation, water, schools, housing, broadband, and health information technology infrastructure, creating thousands of jobs in the near-term, and supporting economic development, public health and safety for decades to come; and funds for longer-term projects, which have transformative regional impacts, create green jobs, and support national goals for energy efficiency, environmental conservation and smart growth.


Three benefits?

Weintrob writes:
Constructing the arena and bringing the New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn would quickly create construction jobs, boost the commercial district along Flatbush Avenue, and restore the spirit of optimism that built Brooklyn.

Remember, economist Brad Humphreys points out that it's not a choice between jobs from sports facility construction projects and no construction jobs at all; spending can support other construction projects.

It would boost the commercial district in the same way the commercial district around Yankee Stadium is boosted--a questionable boon for those living there.

As for the spirit of optimism, maybe, but my money's on the spirit of cynicism.

Curiously, Weintrob's argument for "homer" pork doesn't consider whether, if the money went to an arena rather than mass transit, the public should own the arena and collect some hefty rental fees rather than have the subsidy benefit Forest City Ratner. (NLG's Lumi Rolley adds that it also would boost the value of the team, also making a case for public ownership.)

And weren't there a few problems with things like traffic? The Brooklyn Paper, in a 3/24/07 editorial, warned of "the coming traffic nightmare of Atlantic Yards."

(Also, as a commenter on the Paper's web site points out, the illustration of the May 2008 arena design likely looks nothing like the arena as currently contemplated. And the photo posted is of the eastern end of the project site, Phase 2, not the arena block.)

The formulation

Weintrob professes pragmatism:
Even before the Senate votes, pols everywhere are salivating over the spoils, and we can see where this is heading. Instead of utilizing the big surge in federal funds to fix infrastructure (on which future development can be built) and create jobs, they’ll seek to channel the cash to support an otherwise unsustainable status quo, immunizing bloated and inefficient public sector employee rosters from the economic realities assailing productive, tax-paying enterprises.

In addition, the bill is packed with pork, whose meat is deemed totally kosher by those invited to the table, but whose ability to nourish the creation of jobs should be questioned case-by-case.


The public trough

Without defending the efficiency of the public sector, it's curious that Weintrob draws such a contrast with "productive, tax-paying enterprises," because his own newspaper has dogged Forest City Ratner by pointing out that Atlantic Yards is an enterprise dependent on tax relief.

See for example the 2/9/08 editorial headlined Pols must hit Ratner in wallet:
For Ratner, Atlantic Yards has always been about the money — not jobs or housing, not urban design or athletic excellence, but the massive sums expected to flow from the public trough.
(Emphasis added)

Or the 4/12/08 editorial, headlined Cut Ratner off, which suggests the spending already committed was inappropriate:
New York taxpayers have already been far too generous in propping up this 16-skyscraper white elephant.

This week Weintrob acknowledges:
Yes, The Brooklyn Paper has repeatedly argued that the financing scheme for the Nets arena was unfair to New York taxpayers. But if Washington money is channeled our way, that argument over subsidies to the project would be muted.
(Emphases added)

Muted? Could the hundreds of millions of dollars in state and city funds, as well as other special benefits, lead to more bang for the buck if spent on another project? Sure.

Channeled our way? Is he calling for public ownership?

All-you-can-eat pork?

Weintraub writes:
The mayor’s mission now is to lobby for as much pork as the city can digest, and then enlist the very people who have proven time and again that they know how to generate real growth: the entrepreneurs, the creative types, the developers.

Given the current realities, these are the people we trust will spend the money productively.

...Developers who are willing — and able — to pursue their projects off the government dole should be encouraged to do so and we should wish them well.

Those requiring government assistance should be offered a chance to bid for their hunk of pork. We should not reject offhand projects that might previously have been deemed unworthy.


Well, the goal--if not necessarily the result--of the bill, according to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye, includes two priorities:
2) Making the right investments that will not simply create temporary jobs, but will repair and strengthen our physical and cyber infrastructure, so that this nation has the foundation it needs to enable strong economic growth for years to come.

That's not an arena.

Complaints dated

Weintrob writes:
In the case of Atlantic Yards, for instance, critics might continue to argue over the larger project’s aesthetics and suitability for a site bridging Prospect Heights and Fort Greene, but complaints over several hundred million dollars in government subsidies are suddenly dated when a trillion dollars is sitting there for the taking. As long as Washington is doling out the gravy, Brooklyn needs to have its plate under the ladle.

As noted above, the right investments are supposed to go beyond temporary construction jobs.

The original plan?

Weintrob writes:
The most problematic, oversized components of Bruce Ratner’s proposal for Atlantic Yards should not be built, no matter how much federal money is being thrown around. But it would be appropriate to use federal stimulus cash to jumpstart the part of the original Atlantic Yards plan that makes the most sense: the basketball arena at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.

The problem is that the original plan was always at least 15 towers, and the project was approved as a unit; there wouldn't have been the public and legislative support for an arena that--still--might be a money-loser for the city. And the project is designed to have the arena wrapped in four towers, which might be considered oversized.

No time to wait?

In a 3/29/08 editorial headlined Take back the rail yards!, the Brooklyn Paper editorialized:
The state must take back the development rights over the rail yards and put them out for bid. Doing so would not only cleanse state officials of the Original Sin of Atlantic Yards (namely selling Ratner the air rights for $100 million less than their appraised value), but it would also set right Bruce Ratner’s very wrong project.

...Winning bidders would send their proposals through the city’s rigorous land-use review procedure rather than the notoriously weak state version that allowed Ratner’s monstrosity to proceed unchecked.

Save Atlantic Yards! Take the rail yards away from Ratner now.


The arena, of course, depends on the rail yards, so, under the editorial's formulation, it couldn't be built until the development rights were put out to bid and the city's land-use process was followed.

That implied a wait, I'd estimate, of at least 15 months, if not more. Now that the economy's crashed, the newspaper editorializes for speed.

The false choice

On 6/7/08, in an editorial headlined Ratner’s false choice, the Brooklyn Paper opined:
Instead, Ratner’s forces continue to advance a false choice that unless he builds his Xanadu, nothing will get built on the state-owned Vanderbilt Rail Yards.

But that has always been a fallacy created to project Ratner as a civic do-gooder, regardless of the fact that taxpayers are underwriting all the supposed public benefits of his project, such as the promise of publicly subsidized below-market-rate rentals, the publicly subsidized return of major league sports to Brooklyn, the publicly subsidized improvements to local infrastructure and the publicly subsidized open space.

Now, as at the beginning of this excruciating process four-and-a-half years ago, there remains no organized opposition to development at the Vanderbilt yards. Indeed, the principal group opposing Ratner’s vision is called Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn.

There are alternatives to Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project — which is having trouble getting financing because of its many flaws. The time has come for Ratner, his paid union allies and flacks like Markowitz to abandon this failed project and work with those who seek sane, viable, broadly supported development for this valuable publicly owned site.


Ends and means

The Brooklyn Paper has frequently editorialized not merely against the project but the process behind it.

On 1/19/08, in an editorial headlined A weak court ruling, the newspaper commented:
Judge Joan Madden may have been correct when she ruled last week that New York State’s weak environmental laws give the state’s economic development agencies broad latitude to circumvent local authorities, override local zoning and hand-pick favored developers in the name of serving the public.

But Madden was wrong to not challenge the validity of evidence presented by the Empire State Development Corporation — evidence that clearly shows that the agency is not, in fact, serving the public interest at Atlantic Yards.

...Madden’s weak ruling makes it clear that in New York, the deck is stacked against truth — and her court couldn’t be bothered.

Is there no one who will look beyond the litany of lies and stop this charade?


Much is forgotten.

3 comments:

  1. i really dont know where to start.

    its as if some one dusted off the bones of robert moses and is parading them around.

    in "the power broker" robert caro spends a fair amount of time explaining that moses was a creature of his times. he was powerful because he siphoned a huge percentage of the federal highway dollars for new york.

    this is what ed weintrob is pushing. spend because you can, not because you should.

    in the process of a similar previous era moses killed hundreds of thousands of units of housing. more than enough to dwarf this silly real estate crisis.

    mr. weintrob: the "i'll get mine, screw you" brooklyn has been dying for years. let it go already. the scant few real construction jobs wont be going to brooklynites.

    this editorial is good sound bites, but bad policy.

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  2. "the entrepreneurs, the creative types, the developers"? Aren't these the very people whose arrogance and grasping vision of the city have created so many problems for us "ordinary people"? Our economy has crumbled precisely because of this vision, and now Weintraub wants a returnn to it? Amazing

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  3. Another party you can bet that's watching all this very closely is the NHL's New York Islanders and Charlie Wang, more specifically.

    With talk of them possibly moving to Kansas City, my guess is that this is one of the reasons the publisher wrote what he did and why there may be now some urgency to get the Barclays Center Arena done, not only for the Nets, but possibly to save the Islanders from leaving NY for KC.

    Ratner has made no secret that he would want a Hockey team in that arena and the Islanders would be a perfect candidate for Ratner's new arena.

    The question here is: Would Ratner and Wang work together? Remember, it was Ratner who beat out Charlie Wang in 2004 to buy the Nets.

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