Skip to main content

A few mayoral candidates (but not the big two) on historic preservation, plus more from the HDC conference

So, where’s the place of historic preservation on the city’s agenda? Not very high, according to speakers at the Historic Districts Council’s (HDC) annual conference March 7, and according to a report released around the same time.

The lack of attention to historic preservation has many reasons, including mayoral control of the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), and a fractured preservation movement. There were suggestions for new forms of advocacy and reframing of the issues.

The HDC invited all five “major” declared mayoral candidates to speak to them, and the two leaders, incumbent Mayor Mike Bloomberg and City Comptroller Bill Thompson, declined to attend. Maybe they calculated there was little profit in trying to convince a crowd of perhaps 100 who were not disposed to them in the first place.

Rep. Anthony Weiner, who since has apparently put his candidacy on hold, did come, but delivered a variant of a stump speech. More on point were longshot Democratic candidate Tony Avella, who knows the issues, and even longer shot Green Party candidate Bill (Rev. Billy) Talen, who, though not as versed in the issues, was clearly a fellow traveler.

Mayoral Candidate 1: Tony Avella

“If we don’t, as a city, recognize our heritage, and preserve it, then shame on us,” declared Avella, who noted that he was president of a preservation group in his northeast Queens community when he was elected to City Council.

“I personally believe we can do development and preservation at the same time,” he said, noting “we just need the political will power… We have to say to the real estate industry, ‘Your days of controlling the agenda are over.’”

He cited his success in enacting the “demolition by neglect” bill, which plugged a “huge loophole” in the landmarks law, allowing owners to demolish a landmarked building that had fallen into disrepair. The opposition was not just the real estate industry, he noted, but also, the religious community, which often wants more control of real estate that could be turned into development sites.

He said he’s been working on a bill to give the LPC the power to trump a demolition permit. “Even if they have a permit, we should have power to say, the building is still there, you’re going to have to hold off for 30 days,” Avella said. That could have at least stalled the Ward Bakery demolition.

However, Avella noted that City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, an ally of Bloomberg, controls the Council’s legal division, and “if the speaker doesn’t want it to happen, it won’t be written.”

Avella also said he’d eliminate the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA), a mayoral-appointed board that grants “relief” from the zoning code. The BSA’s legitimate functions, he said, could be handled by the Department of City Planning (DCP) and the Department of Buildings (DOB).

“The old boy’s network for developers has to go,” he said. He called DOB “the worst agency in the history of the city,” citing the tension between promoting development while maintaining the housing stock ensuring that construction goes safely.

Mayoral Candidate #2: Bill Talen

Talen described himself as “an unreconstructed, one might say, religiously dedicated preservationist,” noting that his Rev. Billy persona emerged in “opposition to Disneyfication” in Times Square to keep the “demon monoculture out of the place where I lived.” 

Talen noted that Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer had criticized significant, and questionable, tax benefits for “formula retail," aka chain stores.

What would he do to stem inappropriate development, HDC head Simeon Bankoff asked Talen. 

“The government must no longer be the partner of the real estate developers and speculators,” Talen responded. “As Mayor, I would hire people that you would tell me to hire, Simeon.”

It was a chuckle-worthy nod to the way business gets done in the city, assuming an alternate universe in which low-budget advocates like Bankoff had more power than, say, the deep-pocketed Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY).

Mayoral Candidate #3: Anthony Weiner

Weiner said “we were making changes after the deleterious things happened to many of the communities,” but have still not made good planning decisions.

“I’ll tell you my basic bias,” he said. “I’m biased toward neighborhoods… toward neighborhood shopping strips… toward an economy of allowing people to walk to shop.”

He segued into the strongest part of his stump speech, an attack on Bloomberg’s successful effort to overturn and extend term limits: “I also have a bias toward something else… to open, free, animated debate in our city.”

Asked how to balance economic growth and new housing with neighborhood character, Weiner acknowledged it was difficult, but said there could be better use made of public housing and brownfield resources for development. Density should be added to boulevards, not side streets.

He called for more transparency by mayoral agencies, with agendas and plans made available online in advance, with digitized records for inserting comments, and “livestream”--not sure if he meant audio or video--of all meetings.

He didn't stick around for questions.

The preservation landscape

Former State Senator and Council Member John Sabini described how he got into preservation and how it was important to broaden the constituencies, involving, for example, more African-Americans and new immigrants.

“We need to bridge those gaps, make them understand that the history we’re looking to preserve can be incorporated into their experience.” He noted that, “as an Italian-American kid from Queens, [historical figures like] Peter Stuyvesant and John Jacob Astor had little relevance to my life,” he he grew to appreciate them.

Brooklyn Assemblyman Jim Brennan, chairman of the Cities Committees, noted that he had been involved in “every conceivable zoning battle” as well as historic district extensions and creations.

Are preservationists are making their case and, if not, why not? “I think the historic preservation movement needs to be more aggressive,” Brennan said, suggesting that advocates relate more to groups with other concerns, such as affordable housing and downzoning. “There are many passions floating about in the city of New York relating to land use and preservation.”

Sabini offered the money quote: “Real estate is to New York what oil is to Texas.”

The role of unions

Brennan suggested there may be a way out of polarizing development battles pitting residents against construction workers. “Unions become allies because they are dependent on these megaprojects for their employment and always take the short-term pro-development point of view,” Brennan said.

“I think government needs to promote public works and development in a balanced stabilizing manner, so construction unions are less dependent on the private sector.”

Legislation and regulation

Mark Silberman, chief counsel of the LPC, appeared at a panel on legislation and regulation. He suggested that the City Council has little understanding of the how the LPC works and the importance of landmarking. Advocates, he said, should educate their Council Members about preservation and, “as painful as this might be to those of you, to actually tell people we do a good job.”

He said it was impractical to send to the LPC demolitions of 3000 potentially historic buildings a year, and urged advocates to focus on making their concerns practical.


Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

At 550 Vanderbilt, big chunk of apartments pitched to Chinese buyers as "international units"

One key to sales at the 550 Vanderbilt condo is the connection to China, thanks to Shanghai-based developer Greenland Holdings.

It's the parent of Greenland USA, which as part of Greenland Forest City Partners owns 70% of Pacific Park (except 461 Dean and the arena).

And sales in China may help explain how the developer was able to claim early momentum.
"Since 550 Vanderbilt launched pre-sales in June [2015], more than 80 residences have gone into contract, representing over 30% of the building’s 278 total residences," the developer said in a 9/25/15 press release announcing the opening of a sales gallery in Brooklyn. "The strong response from the marketplace indicates the high level of demand for well-designed new luxury homes in Brooklyn..."

Maybe. Or maybe it just meant a decent initial pipeline to Chinese buyers.

As lawyer Jay Neveloff, who represents Forest City, told the Real Deal in 2015, a project involving a Chinese firm "creates a huge market for…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…