Wednesday, April 15, 2009

ESDC CEO predicts AY groundbreaking in 2010 (and semi-answers other Noticing New York questions)

Michael D.D. White's lengthy Noticing New York post brings us some news: Empire State Development Corporation CEO Marisa Lago indicates Atlantic Yards groundbreaking won't occur until 2010, as opposed to the 2009 pledge by developer Forest City Ratner.

White sent follow-up questions to Lago after her On/Off the Record breakfast last week, where she admitted Atlantic Yards would take "decades."

Public benefit

One concerned the public benefit regarding Atlantic Yards.

Her response:
Although AY is a developer initiated project - we have carefully reviewed the expected impact of the project and the expected benefits to be generated from the project - in terms of jobs, fiscal benefits, the production of affordable housing and the removal of blight. We think this is a good deal for the City and State - especially now.

The obvious question then is: can we see that review?

Consider that the ESDC's 2006 evaluation of projected benefits was not a full cost-benefit analysis and, as White points out, agency lawyers in court acknowledged that they did not evaluate the balance between private and public benefits.

Money better spent elsewhere?

The other question White submitted from City Council Candidate Josh Skaller, who essentially asked if money spent on Atlantic Yards couldn’t better be spent on other smaller projects.

Lago responded:
We expect that the AY project will generate a substantial number of construction jobs - commencing in 2010 - as well as permanent jobs once the arena and project get built out.

Sure, but that's a statement about a number of jobs, not an evaluation of whether an alternative might be better.

Lago might have more candidly said: the train has left the station, we have already sunk substantial sums into the project, which is supported (for now) by the political establishment, and the governor and mayor would love to attend a ribbon-cutting.

Lago on blight

White writes:
As can be noted from Ms. Lago’s on the record response to our question, “the expected benefits to be generated from the project” include “the removal of blight.” Based on a chat we had with Ms. Lago after the breakfast’s Q&A concluded we also asked ESDC press office for more information as to Ms. Lago's impression, based on her personal experience, that there is blight in the neighborhood around Atlantic Yards. In answer to this, we have so far been informed that Ms. Lago "likes to bicycle in Brooklyn."

That's not a particularly candid answer.

In conclusion: a job for the IG?

It's worth reading through to White's conclusion:
Unfortunately, the reason we think that there is no candor is because the truth would be so objectionable to the public if revealed. That makes the prospect that the truth might come out through a future inspector general’s investigation exceedingly interesting.

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