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In Ombudsman's response, ESDC maintains dubious timetable, says Carlton Ave. Bridge might reopen for pedestrians

(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.)

Atlantic Yards Ombudsman Forrest Taylor has responded with the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) answers to several questions raised at Taylor's February 11 public appearance in Brooklyn sponsored by the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN).

In one case, at least, the official ESDC answer--that construction would be completed during the ten-year timeframe set out in the General Project Plan (GPP)--contradicts ESDC CEO Marisa Lago's acknowledgment last month that the project would take decades.

So I think any further claim of a ten-year timetable should be backed up not merely by a construction schedule--which indicates technical possibility--but by a "probabilistic" date that indicates what might go wrong.

The ESDC, in its answers, does not offer much in the way of compromise, except for being willing to entertain the option of temporarily reopening the Carlton Avenue Bridge for pedestrians.

CBN shared the document with me. I've bolded the questions and put the answers in italic, all verbatim, then interpolated some of my own comments.

1. Q. Terry Urban, re: Carlton Avenue Bridge.

A. The bridge was expected to be closed for a couple of years as construction progressed; however, as a result of the temporary construction slow down, we are currently working with FCRC on a revised timeline and schedule. ESDC is very focused on the inconvenience that the bridge closure presents and we continue to work with FCRC to make sure the bridge is not closed any longer than is absolutely necessary. The idea of having the bridge opened, at least for pedestrian use in the short term, is an interesting idea that we will raise with FCRC and the City to see if it's feasible while insuring the safety for all pedestrians.

Their willingness to entertain even a short-term reopening suggests that construction work is not expected to resume soon. Urban had asked if a temporary bridge with two-way access could be provided.

2. Q. Daniel Goldstein, re: Parking.

A. Regarding the request for no parking, temporary construction regulations would need to be changed on 6th Avenue between Pacific and Dean Streets. Currently, on the east side, no parking is a permanent regulation and existed before construction commenced; on the west side, DOT could authorize the contractor to replace "no parking" signs with the regulations that were in place before only if no work is planned for this block in the near future. Since ESDC expects FCRC to resume work in the near future, there is no reason to ask DOT to make the change now, only to have to change it again in a few months.

It's unclear why work is expected "in the near future" on this block but not on the Carlton Avenue bridge. Goldstein had asked if "no parking for temporary construction" signs could be removed.

3. Q. Daniel Goldstein, re: Feasibility of project.

A. ESDC and FCRC continue to support the project and believe that the entire project is feasible and will be completed. ESDC and FCRC will soon release an updated construction timetable, which will include any budget and/or design changes to the project.

This begs a question: what exactly is the project?

If the developer has up to six years to build the arena (after delivery of property via eminent domain) and 12 years to build Phase 1, with no timetable for Phase 2 (all according to the State Funding Agreement) and Phase 1 can be 44% smaller (according to the City Funding Agreement), the project looks quite different.

4. Q. Eric McClure, re: FDNY response times analysis.

A. We are unaware of any analysis performed by the FDNY regarding response times for the Carlton Avenue Bridge.

Maybe it's worth asking the firefighters whether the bridge closing has hampered their work.

5. Q. Eric McClure, re: Traffic Plan.

A. The traffic plan during construction continues to be revised pending the resumption of construction activity at the site. Once construction plans and schedules are in place, the traffic plans will be shared with the community.

Let's assume that information will be shared at or before the State Senate hearing May 29.

6. Q. Eric McClure, re: Arena cost.

A. FCRC's most recent estimate of the cost of the arena is $950 million. FCRC has been undergoing an exercise in value engineering to decrease the cost. Once the exercise is completed and the project is ready to resume, the cost, as well as other aspects of the project, will be shared with the community.

Again, this information should emerge sooner rather than later.

7. Q. Joanne Simon, re: When is the project, no longer the project?

A. ESDC and FCRC remain committed to the project in its entirety. Once construction commences, it is expected that the entire project would be completed within the timeframe set out in the GPP.

This has already been contradicted by Lago's statements, the City and State Funding Agreements, and even the latest information from Forest City Enterprises. Simon had pointed to the many announced changes in the project; let's assume we will get some clarification soon about those changes.

Given multiple reports that Forest City Ratner is pursuing indirect subsidies, as well as the New York Observer's recent observation (via NLG) that "large projects seem to rarely provide the public with the value initially advertised, at least not within the time frame once imagined," this issue deserves a lot more scrutiny at the Senate hearing.

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