Friday, June 26, 2009

AY goals 2006 vs. 2009: elimination of blight, "state of the art" arena and railyard, "first-class" office space all have vanished

Has the Atlantic Yards project become far less ambitious? There are some curious and telling differences between two documents that describe the goals of the project, one issued by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) in December 2006 and the other by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) after the board voted on Wednesday to approve a revised Vanderbilt Yard sale with more generous terms for developer Forest City Ratner.

Even though the language is nearly the same, the MTA board resolution--not read aloud or made public before the vote--does not mention the removal of blight, perhaps because government officials recognize that persistent empty lots for "decades" might constitute the exacerbation of blight.

No longer is the term "state-of-the-art" applied to the planned arena or the permanent railyard, perhaps because starchitect Frank Gehry has left the project and both elements of the project have gone through value engineering. The railyard now would merely be "upgraded.'

The housing is no longer described as "critically needed," perhaps because it could take "decades," and the State Funding Agreement imposes no deadline for Phase 2. The promised office space is no longer even "first-class." And there'd no longer be a hotel.

There are some other changes as well. 

Does any of this have legal import? I'm not sure, but it does suggest that the estimated benefits of the project--always open to question--have diminished. 

(Note that the MTA in 2005 and 2006 passed other resolutions regarding the project, but none attempting to mirror the language in the General Project Plan. See Record Parts attached the MTA's legal papers in the lawsuit over the AY environmental review.)

ESDC document

The excerpt below and right comes from the ESDC's Modified General Project Plan (GPP). I've bolded language that does not appear in the MTA document.

(Click on graphics to enlarge.)

The principal goal of the Atlantic Yards Land Use Improvement and Civic Project is to transform an area that is blighted and underutilized into a vibrant, mixed-use, mixed-income community that capitalizes on the tremendous mass transit service available at this unique location. In addition to eliminating the blighting influence of the below-grade Yard and the blighted conditions of the area, the Project aims, through this comprehensive and cohesive plan, to provide for the following public uses and purposes:
• a publicly owned
state-of-the-art arena to accommodate the return of a major-league sports franchise to Brooklyn while also providing a valuable athletic facility for the City's colleges and local academic institutions, which currently lack adequate athletic facilities, and a new venue for a variety of musical, entertainment, educational, social and civic events;
• thousands of critically needed rental housing units for low-, moderate- and middle-income New Yorkers, as well as market-rate rental and condominium units;
first-class office space and possibly a hotel to ensure that Downtown Brooklyn can capture its share of future economic growth and new jobs through sustainable, transit-oriented development;
• publicly accessible open space that links together the surrounding neighborhoods;
• new ground level retail spaces to activate the street frontages;
• community facility spaces, programmed in coordination with local community groups, including a health care center and an intergenerational facility, offering child care as well as youth and senior center services;
• a
state-of-the-art rail storage, cleaning and inspection facility for the LIRR that would enable it to better accommodate simultaneously its new fleet of multiple-unit series of electric propulsion cars operated by LIRR which are compliant with the American with Disabilities Act (the "MU Series Trains") and other transit improvements;
• a subway connection on the south side of Atlantic Avenue at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues, with sufficient capacity to accommodate fans entering or leaving an event at the Arena, eliminating the need for pedestrians approaching the Transportation Hub from the south to cross Atlantic Avenue to enter the subway, and thereby enhancing pedestrian safety;
• sustainability and green design through the application of comprehensive sustainable design goals that make efficient use of energy, building materials and water; and
• environmental remediation of the Project Site.

The MTA document

The excerpt below and right comes from the MTA Resolution approved Wednesday by the board. I've bolded new language and use [] to indicate where language has been dropped. 

The principal stated goal of the Atlantic Yards [] Project as stated in the GPP is to transform the [] area of the project [] into a vibrant, mixed-use, mixed-income community that capitalizes on the tremendous mass transit service available at this unique location. [] The Project’s stated aims, [] include a number of significant public uses and purposes:
creation of a publicly owned [] arena to accommodate the return of a major-league sports franchise to Brooklyn while also providing a valuable athletic facility for the City's colleges and local academic institutions, [] and a new venue for a variety of musical, entertainment, educational, social and civic events;
the construction of thousands of [] rental housing units for low-, moderate- and middle-income New Yorkers, as well as market-rate rental and condominium units in close proximity to mass transportation;
the erection of commercial [] office space [] TO PROMOTE FUTURE economic growth and new jobs through sustainable, transit-oriented development;
• publicly accessible open space that links together the surrounding neighborhoods;
• new ground level retail spaces to activate the street frontages;
• community facility spaces, programmed in coordination with local community groups, including a health care center and an intergenerational facility, offering child care as well as youth and senior center services;
• sustainability and green design through the application of comprehensive sustainable design goals that make efficient use of energy, building materials and water; and
• environmental remediation of the Project Site.

Note there's an additional section that addresses transportation issues that were part of the ESDC's list:
Whereas the project provides for important transportation improvements, namely, (a) the construction of an upgraded [] rail storage, cleaning and inspection facility at the Vanderbilt Yard for the LIRR (the 'upgraded yard') that would enable the LIRR [] to better support service enhancements planned in connections with the MTA's East Side Access Project[] and other transit improvements; and (b) the construction of a subway entrance [] on the south side of Atlantic Avenue at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues, with sufficient capacity to accommodate fans entering or leaving an event at the Arena as well as new residents and workers inhabiting the project's planned commercial and residential buildings, eliminating the need for pedestrians approaching the Transportation Hub from the south to cross Atlantic Avenue to enter the subway, and thereby enhancing pedestrian safety;

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