Thursday, March 26, 2009

Paging Lillian Hellman: on WFAN, Nets' Yormark does damage control on Gehry, reaching new depths of suspicious spin

New Jersey Nets CEO Brett Yormark probably isn’t a Lillian Hellman fan, but he really should become familiar with Mary McCarthy’s infamous dis of the author: "Every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the'."

Yormark isn't yet in Hellman territory, but he's getting closer. And the only reason he gets away with it is that reporters, like Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts of WFAN yesterday, fail to challenge him.

The tally

Yormark, hauled out to do damage control after architect Frank Gehry said he didn’t think Atlantic Yards would happen, yesterday reached new depths of suspicious spin, declaring that Gehry was “just venting,” promising that the Brooklyn arena would open in 2011, asserting new job numbers for the project, pronouncing New Jersey “just terrific for us,” and claiming that Atlantic Yards would bring things that the “country needs right now.”

And he even blamed the Atlantic Yards opposition on “one individual out there,” presumably Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn’s Daniel Goldstein, somehow ignoring the thousands of people who have donated money, gone to rallies, and signed petitions.

Brutally weird

Let me respond quickly to those Yormarkisms.
  • Gehry has reason for his pessimism; he’s laid off his Atlantic Yards staff.
  • Yormark’s confident predictions of arena openings in 2010 and 2011 have fallen by the wayside. (Here’s the audio.)
  • Yormark apparently hasn’t checked the job figures on the AY web site.
  • If New Jersey were so terrific, the team of course would stay.
  • While the country needs jobs, the affordable housing Yormark claims Atlantic Yards would bring would not come “now,” nor, perhaps, for a very long while.
  • Of course Gehry must be touted; he's key to the naming rights deal.
No wonder NLG calls the CEO the Chief Exaggeration Officer.

No Plan B

Yormark also stated firmly that “there is no Plan B” should Brooklyn fall by the wayside. He sounded convincing, but, then again, he also said there would be no preseason games in Newark, and reversed that.

DDDB said the developer should come clean about Gehry's role. That hasn't exactly happened.

Yormark: Gehry’s fine with it

Q: Frank Gehry said he doesn’t think this Brooklyn project is going to happen. The Nets are denying it.... First of all, obviously you guys disagree... Frank Gehry is wrong here, You still believe this project will indeed go forward?

BY: Absolutely. Frank Gehry is still the architect of this project. And he loves it. It’s very dear to his heart, no different than it is to all of us – Bruce Ratner, our investors and myself. I think his statements were misconstrued. He did put out a statement last night saying that. And we’re excited to ultimately break ground this summer, get past this last piece of litigation that we should hear something about in the next four weeks and get this much-needed project under way.
(Emphasis as delivered)

It may be much-needed more by investors than anyone else. And they need Gehry for the sizzle that attracts sponsors and partners. Without Gehry’s design and supervision, it’s not a Gehry arena, right? So why should Barclays continue with its naming rights agreement? That must be a big headache for Yormark.

"Frank Gehry is a friend, a great architect and someone I have huge respect for," Ratner Tuesday night in a prepared statement. "It is understandable how he and others have concerns about this project happening in the worst economic environment since the Great Depression.”

Of course Gehry’s concerned. He laid off his AY staff. He may not love it as much.

Gehry just venting

Q. So what did he mean then? Cause it seems like he’s losing confidence... What was he trying to say and how did it come out wrong?

BY: Guys, it’s close to his heart. I think it’s fair to say that there are a lot of people out there who are concerned. The project has been delayed but obviously things take time in New York City as we all know, especially from a development perspective. Y’now, Frank was just venting, probably. He’s a terrific guy. I’ve gotten to know him quite well. But he’s as passionate about this project today as he was years ago when it got started. We will get it done. It’s very much alive. Like I said, we have one last piece of litigation to face, which we should hear about - which is an eminent domain case, in in the next four weeks. And shortly thereafter, assuming we have a positive ruling, which I think we will, we’ll break ground this summer.

Gehry may be passionate about the project, but he just doesn't have anybody working on it.

Q: What happens if you don’t get positive ruling on this eminent domain thing?

BY: Y’know, that’s not even something I consider. We’re 22-0 in all litigation that’s been brought into this project so we’re not even considering that as an option. We feel very confident that we’ll get past it and then move forward, and we’re planning accordingly.

The state likely will win the eminent domain case, but can FCR in fact break ground? First, attempts would be made to appeal both the eminent domain case and (as is coming) the case challenging the environmental review. 

Those appeals are not automatic, but it will take some weeks for the state Court of Appeals to consider whether to take them. George Locker, who represents tenants in the footprint, also has an appeal planned, by July. Could groundbreaking and/or arena financing occur while any case is pending?

Also, keep in mind that the Empire State Development Corporation will not pursue condemnation until Forest City Ratner pays the $100 million it has pledged to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, money the developer has not been willing to hand over. The ESDC also requires the construction of an upgraded railyard, an expense to which FCR has not yet been willing to commit.

But it's not an option because only a new arena would raise the value of the team and prep it for sale.

AY, mom, and apple pie

Q: It seemed like a few years ago, this was supposed to get done in 2009, 2010, it continues to get pushed back.... So tell us, for the Net fan who’s waiting for this to happen, or the Brooklynite who’s hoping for this to happen, why this continues to be pushed back?

BY: Obviously the litigation hasn’t helped. It’s playing itself out in the courts, and as I said earlier, we’re 22-0 and hopefully 23-0 in the next month or so. Unfortunately, there’s one individual out there who is putting his own personal interests before the project. This project brings a lot of affordable housing, job creation – all the right things that Brooklyn desperately needs now, that the country needs right now. So it’s unfortunate that it’s been delayed but it will play out, hopefully very successfully in the next month. And those Brooklynites, who I see every day because I’m in the borough quite often, that truly want this project. We’ll break ground and ultimately, obviously it’s been long awaited but we’re going to deliver a heck of an experience at the Barclays Center, and at the end of the day it will be very worthwhile for them and obviously, they’ve endured, but it’s something that they’re going to really appreciate when we get there.

Brooklyn isn’t going to get any affordable housing from the arena. And they're not 22-0, and shouldn't be allowed to make that claim without proof.

Shouldn't the "personal interests" of Bruce Ratner and his investors be factored in?

Arena, 2011?

Q: Let’s assume you do start breaking ground this summer, when would the Nets start playing in this new arena?

BY: If we break ground this summer I think it’s fair to say we’ll be there for the ‘11-’12 season. That’s the plan. We’ve got two more years in Jersey after this one. We break ground this summer and then we’re there for the ‘11-’12 season. 

His previous estimates have been off. I’ve called 2012 a more likely best-case scenario. It would be impossible to build the previous arena design in two years. Could a value-engineered arena be built by 2011? I still doubt it.

In the footprint

Q: For those who don’t want it to happen... what happens to these, I guess, businesses or people that are there?

BY: We’ve been working with those people since Day 1. We’ve offered them opportunities to be relocated and the same will hold true once this process unfolds. And obviously we want to make sure that they’re relocated in the appropriate fashion and that will certainly be a priority of ours, and the state and the city.

Since Day 1? Nope. But there have been gag orders. And, I'm told, no offers have been made for at least a year.

Q: Who is there right now?

BY: There’s some homes. There’s residents still near the site. And obviously as this eminent domain plays out, a decision will be made and then ultimately they’ll have to move and they’ll be provided with opportunities and they’ll take advantage of them, I’m sure.
(Emphasis added)

The residents are in the project footprint, not near it, and some are on the arena site.

Exaggerated benefits

Q: I feel bad about that, are they getting a fair deal?

BY: Absolutely. They’ll get a fair deal. They’ll get market rate value for their properties and, y’know, all will be well. Ultimately this is not just about a few residents. This is about 17,000 construction jobs, which will certainly be afforded to people out there that are unemployed. It’s going to be about 8500 permanent jobs. So obviously there will be some residents that will be moved, but I think for the better good of the borough, and for job creation, affordable housing, it’s for all the right reasons.

17,000 construction jobs and 8500 permanent jobs? He should check the AY web site, which claimes 15,000 construction jobs--actually 1500 a year over 10 years--and 1500 to 6400 permanent jobs. The latter figure depends mostly on office space and, guess what, there ain’t no market for office space in Brooklyn right now.

Fair deal? Forest City Ratner gets to build at the density it desires; were that density available to current property owners, their property would be worth much, much more.

Strong support in NJ?

Q: Now, are you concerned at all... maybe not so much next year, but certainly the year after that, that you’ll be basically playing to an empty building in New Jersey?

BY: I don’t think so, because what’s happening now and what has happened up until this point, is a lot of people in Brooklyn are buying season tickets and coming across the river to sample us now, because they now that if they buy seats now, they have the opportunity to be the first that will be able to be relocated in the new building. So we have a lot of season tickets from the five boroughs – obviously Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens – and I think we’ll get even more so as we get closer to that opening date. And then in the last year we’re here in New Jersey, we’ll use it as a way to celebrate New Jersey and thank them for many, many years of support, because our fans have been terrific in New Jersey.

That’s why there have been many empty seats even as the team gives tickets away. Some on NetsDaily were scathing.

If you think about over the course of the last couple of years, attendance has risen, our sponsorship dollars are at the highest level they’ve ever been. So the companies in New Jersey, the fans in New Jersey, have been terrific to us, and we’re going to want to celebrate them. And then obviously we’ll encourage them to visit us in Brooklyn and to follow us to Brooklyn. If they do, terrific, and if not, hopefully they’ll find their way on an occasion to see a sporting event, or a concert or a family show at the Barclays Center.

It sounds like there would be no reason to leave.

Q: How about the finances here... assuming you win this lawsuits... how is this thing going to be paid for?

BY: We think that we’re going to get the financing... Obviously the Mets and Yankees earlier in the year, in January, went out and got some financing, on the Yankees’ front, it was oversubscribed to. So I think there’s a marketplace for us. We’ve done some things, as it’s been reported, value engineering the building. We’re looking to bring costs down without compromising the experience to the fans, which obviously is paramount to us. We obviously want to build a best-in-class venue that fans will be proud of. But at the same time we need to be responsible in our planning and we’ve got to bring it in at a number that makes sense and where we can get financing and I think we will. In talking to Goldman [Sachs] and Barclays, they’re confident that the marketplace will be there for us, as I am. And I think the last hurdle is getting through this litigation and once we do that we’re well on our way.

No Plan B

Q: Let’s just assume that the litigation doesn’t go your way... let’s assume Brooklyn doesn’t happen, Brett, what’s Plan B?

BY: Well, as far as I’m concerned, guys, and I speak obviously for the organization, but more on this note for myself – I came here for Brooklyn. I came here to see Brooklyn through. We will get to Brooklyn. There is no Plan B. We’re going to Brooklyn, and I want our fans throughout the tri-state area to understand that; they need to be confident in it. Obviously it’s taken a little longer than expected, but good things take time. And we will get to Brooklyn and they’re going to be proud of the Barclays Center when they’re there in the '11-'12 season.

Exhibition games

Q: So what was thinking behind... two exhibition games in Newark and then one at Carnesecca (St. John’s University)?

BY: Great question. The thinking around the two games at the Prudential Center is very simple. We do a lot of surveys with our season ticket holders. Obviously, given the economy, people are looking to reduce their overall spend against sports. And what we decided to do was take the preseason games off the full-season ticket commitment, which effectively reduces the season ticket holder’s cash outlay by seven percent. And because we were able to strike a great deal with the folks at the Prudential Center, it made a lot of sense for us to take our games there. With respect to St. John’s, obviously we plan on breaking ground this summer. So when we play at St. John’s, that’s going to be our coming out party. The original campus for St. John’s was in Brooklyn. Lou Carnesecca Hall, [actually: Arena] obviously was a coach of the Nets. So there is a lot of connectivity with the Nets and Brooklyn and St. John’s. So that makes all the sense in the world to be there in October shortly after our ground-breaking.

Nassau Coliseum and other locations?

Q: I got this theory now... If you guys are going to go to Brooklyn, which I hope... is it a consideration, in the meantime, play your games at the Nassau Coliseum?

BY: I don’t think we would move in a permanent fashion to Nassau Coliseum. But we’re open to exploring different opportunities and different locations for preseason games, and for that matter, some regular season games. And to your point, Long Island will be a feeder market for us. The Atlantic Terminal and that station that the Barclays Center will sit atop of, you’ve got 10 subway lines and the LIRR converging at the foot of our building. So, to your point, Long Island will be a major market for us, so to get our brand there and to expose our team a little more to that marketplace does make some sense.

I bet there will be regular-season games in Newark first.

1 comment:

  1. i love the reference to st johns original home being brooklyn.

    i dare anyone to find substantive brooklyn related st johns history on the st johns website.

    using a university that bailed on brooklyn as a positive selling point in this is illustrative of the lack of living memory of the brooklyn that used to support sports teams.

    brooklyn is not what it was.

    caveat emptor brett, caveat emptor.

    ReplyDelete