Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Schumer touts stimulus funds for Moynihan Station, waves off question on Atlantic Yards

For New York, the big stimulus news of the day yesterday was Senator Chuck Schumer's plan to seek $100 million in federal funds to jump-start the Moynihan Station project, as the New York Times reported.

And Schumer followed up on his Moynihan Station vision at a breakfast speech sponsored by Crain's New York Business. That got a headline in Crain's, which additionally reported that Schumer's call for new, smarter regulation on financial transactions represents an about-face from his position two years ago.

But I wanted to ask him about Atlantic Yards, given that, a little more than two weeks ago, Schumer expressed quizzical ignorance regarding whether AY would be eligible for stimulus funds.

Waiting for Schumer

After Schumer's speech, and the 25-minute Q&A, the Senator stuck around the stage at the Hilton in midtown and greeted well-wishers and supplicants, among them the developers of the New Domino project in Williamsburg, who wanted him to know they needed help on the affordable housing component. (If Forest City Ratner wants to talk to Schumer, they can pick up the phone, right?)

He also took a few questions from reporters, answering in some detail.

When I finally got to him, he was less expansive. I told him I wrote a blog about Atlantic Yards and prefaced my question by stating that "Marty wants to use federal stimulus money for the railyards."

"Marty who?" asked Schumer, his mind apparently not on parochial borough politics.

"Marty Markowitz," I replied.

"I don't know," Schumer said dismissively, the statement responding (I think) to the propriety of the question rather than the policy issue. "I'm not--"

An aide interjected, saying it was time to go. And that was it.

What to make of it?

I don't think that means Schumer necessarily opposes stimulus funds for Atlantic Yards, but he clearly hasn't made it a priority. And it's not clear that the project would be shovel-ready, at least under the "transparent, immediate, and effective" dictum proposed by Governor David Paterson.

So, until other priorities like Moynihan Station fall by the wayside, there's no reason to go to bat for Atlantic Yards.

Still, it's notable that Atlantic Yards does not really compare to Moynihan Station, about which he declared, "Because it's just exactly what the stimulus ordered, which is important, long-lasting transportation projects that can be shovel-ready."

"In other words, there's a tension; the ones that are most shovel ready are sort of superficial: repaving a road," he explained. "And the ones that are deep don't often meet the criteria of being shovel-ready in 180 days. Parts of Moynihan Station meet both.'

Contrast with Queens West

"We've got to continue to develop more affordable housing and let neighborhoods evolve... We don't want neighborhoods to lose their character, but we don't want to be stuck in the past."

"Queens West is a great idea," he said. "More middle-class housing so that, as more young people get married and have families, they can stay here."

Note that Queens West, once announced as a project with some 5000 apartments affordable to to middle-income households, was last heard as having 40% market-rate units. That would all be on public land, with advocates calling for an open bid process.

While Queens West is controversial, it's a lot less controversial than Atlantic Yards, which is probably one reason why Schumer didn't mention it.

Also, while Queens West would not include low-income housing (900 such units were announced for Atlantic Yards, though hardly guaranteed), it would be 60% affordable, while AY would be 35% affordable, as announced (2250/6430 units)

Changing role of the private sector

Regarding Moynihan Station, the vision has changed from developers with office tower plans driving the project to a process led by government. "You can't wait for the private sector on this; you just can't," Schumer said yesterday. "It's not that they wouldn't do a good job--they wouldn't get the financing."

Crain's noted that, while Schumer said the developers should be pushed to “move as quickly as possible on the private development portion of the project,” he didn't detail how that could be done.

WNYC reported: But the president of the joint venture, Vishaan Chakrabarti, says the developers now want a smaller role, to act more or less as general contractors that public agencies would hire to renovate the Farley building.

In other words, it no longer seems wise for public agencies to expect private developers, as with Atlantic Yards, to produce public infrastructure as the byproduct of their projects. After all, as developer Forest City Enterprises has declared re AY, "We control the pace."

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