Thursday, April 09, 2009

ESDC CEO Lago admits the obvious: Atlantic Yards would take “decades”

When the Atlantic Yards project was approved in December 2006, it was supposed to take a decade, according to the construction schedule attached to the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) issued by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC)

Yesterday ESDC CEO Marisa Lago acknowledged the obvious: it could take decades.

Upon approval

Faced with questions about expected delays, then ESDC Chairman Charles Gargano stated, “If the project is estimated to take ten years and we have some delays, as a result of lawsuits or whatever, it could take 11 years, or 12 years. So what. But we have an estimate, assuming we have no unnecessary delays, of ten years, given to us, by expert developers.”

On 4/30/07, well before the economic downturn, I questioned whether the schedule was a reference or fantasy, pointing out that project landscape architect Laurie Olin said it could take 20 years and that CEO Chuck Ratner of parent company Forest City Enterprises said it could take 15 years.

Resisting the obvious

In court papers last May filed in a case brought by residents of two footprint buildings, however, the ESDC asserted that contractual remedies, which offer no sanction for delays on Phase 2 and give a long leash to the arena (6+ years) and the towers of Phase 1 (12+ years) “do not modify the Project schedule.”

Court papers referred to the General Project Plan (GPP) passed in December 2006: 
The GPP states that "[i]t is expected that all of the Phase 1 buildings would be completed and opened by 2010."... The GPP also states that the full build-out of the Project is "expected by the year 2016."

Beyond that, ESDC lawyers called “purported quotations from [Forest City Ratner CEO] Bruce Ratner” regarding project delays “pure hearsay as to ESDC,” and suggested that other statements by Ratner—asserting a ten-year buildout in a Daily News op-ed shed light on claims of delays.

In a court hearing last June, an ESDC lawyer said that Forest City Ratner is required to use “commercially reasonable efforts” to move forward.

What does that mean?

“It means you have to try your hardest,” he said.

Lago offers some candor

Yesterday, in the “on the record” part of the "On/Off the Record" breakfast with ESDC CEO Lago sponsored by City Hall News, inteviewer Edward-Isaac Dovere brought up Atlantic Yards.

ED: Let’s finish... with everybody’s favorite, the Atlantic Yards, which doesn’t seem to be one that generates a lot of answers all the time.

ML: Obviously, challenging project again. Projects conceived in a different time and in a different economy, but, a few things: one, the focus now is very much on moving forward with the Nets stadium and with the housing that is on that first block, the first phase of the project. Attenuated time lines, I think, are a reality for private sector and for public sector projects. There is nothing wrong with that. We look at the history of the transformational projects that have occurred in the city. Earlier I was discussing with some of the folks here Roosevelt Island, a project that has grown over decades. 42nd Street, a project that has grown over the past 25 years and the scale of the Atlantic Yards is similar in that it is remaking, it is reknitting, a portion of the city. So, as I said, focusing on what can get done now in the current climate, what is financible now, and also recognizing that it is a project that is scheduled to grow out over multi-years, decades, not over months. 
(Emphasis added)

Neither Roosevelt Island nor 42nd Street were single-developer projects, however, so no developer, as has Forest City Enterprises, could claim that "we control the pace."

What does "decades" mean?

So, what does the term “decades” mean?

At the least, 20 years. Lago didn't say "more than a decade," which could mean 15 or 18 years. She said "decades."

State behind project to the hilt

Lago was nonplused about delays, noting that the project would be built over various economic cycles. 

While she wouldn’t predict a starting date for Phase 1, Lago said that the state was “aggressively” driving AY and that the city and state remained firmly committed to it.

City Hall News will publish excerpts, as well as the video of the "on the record" part of the session.

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