Wednesday, May 27, 2009

FCR was evasive on open space, Olin's role, bridge openings, plausible timetable, so the state should be answering these questions

(This is one in an irregular series of articles about issues that a State Senate committee might address when it holds a hearing on Atlantic Yards.)

Let's look back at some not-so-transparent responses from Forest City Ratner to community concerns, and consider that the Empire State Development Corporation, not the developer, should be answering such questions.

Timetable issues

In a letter sent December 31 of last year, BrooklynSpeaks asked Gov. David Paterson to make available "current expected and worst-case construction timelines and release updated construction schedules."

The state has not done so yet.

Remember, the State Funding Agreement includes no timetable for Phase 2. None.

In a response to Assemblyman Jim Brennan, FCR's Maryanne Gilmartin wrote that the developer "fully intends to build out the project in approximately ten years consistent with the schedule set forth in EIS [environmental impact statement] subject to financing and market conditions (albeit with a delayed start)."

Doesn't that mean, simply, that "we control the pace," as parent Forest City Enterprises claimed at a conference last year? How does the ESDC feel about that?

Impact of litigation?

Forest City and the state claim that litigation stopped work at the site, including at the partly-demolished Carlton Avenue Bridge.

However, as I've noted more than once, then-FCR executive Jim Stuckey said in a 2007 sworn affidavit (and seconded in 2008 by his successor, Gilmartin):
FCRC’s construction schedule has been carefully drawn to allow the arena to be ready for the 2009-10 season by commencing work now on vacant properties that are owned by FCRC, the MTA and the City, with work on properties that are owned or occupied by other parties deferred until the pending judicial challenges to the Project have proceeded to a point where ESDC is in a position to actually use its powers of eminent domain to acquire title to and possession of those properties.

Does the ESDC really believe Forest City Ratner?

Buffer around the arena?

Community Board 8 raised concerns about one rather than four towers serving as a buffer to the arena, and FCR's Scott Cantone responded last July:
In the event that any of the development sites that surround the Arena (Buildings 1-4) are not in construction by the time that the Arena open, FCRC will create temporary public open spaces between the Arena and the surrounding streets; however, we anticipate that construction of Phase 1 will be complete or underway at the time of the Arena opening.

Is that prediction still plausible?

New open space

CB 8 asked if there'd be any open space added to the project in Phase 1 to compensate for the loss of the arena roof as open space.

Cantone responded:
As noted above, in the event that a development site on the Arena Block is not in construction or needed for other project purposes by the time the Arena is completed, FCRC will create temporary open spaces that will persist until such site is needed for development or construction activities.

Actually, Cantone first said that open space would be created if a development site is “in construction” but then added a broad qualifier: “needed for other project purposes.” What does the ESDC think?

Laurie Olin's role

Along with starchitect Frank Gehry, the distinguished landscape architect Laurie Olin helped sell the project in presentations to the press and in promotional material. Gehry's role has receded, if not faded completely.

What about Olin? Forest City suggested last October that he's on sabbatical of some sort, but Olin's own words were in the past tense. What does the ESDC think?

If Gehry has been supplanted by the firm Ellerbe Becket, as signs suggest, is there a lesser-known (but still quite capable) landscape architect now in the mix?

Both bridges open?

CB 8 asked if the Carlton Avenue and 6th Avenue bridges would be complete and open when the arena is opened.

Cantone responded:
Both the Carlton Avenue and the 6th Avenue bridges are anticipated to be open when the Arena opens.

An ESDC spokesman told me in November 2007, “Forest City Ratner tells us that while the arena might be able to open without the bridge in operation, the goal is to have the bridge open in coordination with the arena's opening."

Will the state let FCR's interest trump public safety? Who's in charge?

Outreach issues

BrooklynSpeaks also asked that Paterson require Forest City Ratner and ESDC "to involve the community and its elected representatives with public forums and outreach" regarding construction mitigations; street closures, traffic flow, and parking issues; and safety and security problems fostered by the loss of business and residential activity.

That certainly hasn't happened yet--but, then again, not too much has happened.

Jobs

Cantone told CB 8 that "Phase 1 will generate over 3000 new, permanent jobs."

Oh, really? Do either FCR or the ESDC have current calculations?

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