Skip to main content

An (imaginary) Open Letter from Forest City Ratner's Gilmartin: We apologize for the disgraceful conduct at hearing, meeting

This letter has not been written by Forest City Ratner’s point person on Atlantic Yards, MaryAnne Gilmartin (at left, with Steve Matlin and Rachel Shatz of the Empire State Development Corporation, in photo by Adrian Kinloch). But I like to think it could have been.

To the Brooklyn community:

On behalf of Forest City Ratner (FCR) and our parent company, Forest City Enterprises (FCE), I want to apologize for the disgraceful conduct of some Atlantic Yards supporters at the state Senate oversight hearing on May 29 and the Atlantic Yards informational meeting last Wednesday, July 22.

It was wrong to disrupt the hearing with whistles and heckling, and it was wrong to disrupt the meeting with chanting and heckling. I felt very uncomfortable at times during the meeting last week.

Please note: these activities were not directed by FCR; the disruptions were the work of unions who expect work on the Atlantic Yards project; representatives of some of our Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) signatories (part of our “team,” as I said on Wednesday); and groups that may or may not have any connection to the project.

Looking at the video

Also note: just because my colleague Scott Cantone walked into the hall at about 1:10 of the video below and, less than a half a minute later, a bunch of men interrupted by chanting “Go home,” there is no indication of any direct connection.

(Video shot by Jonathan Barkey; edited by Norman Oder)

For the record, I must point out, project opponents are hardly angels. Some of them were quite rude on Wednesday night and they have periodically taken nasty potshots at us and, especially, CEO Bruce Ratner. (It’s unfortunate that his name so easily lends itself to derision.) During the August 2006 hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement both sides heckled and were somewhat disruptive.

Our team’s fault

However, the fault at the last two governmental meetings has been that of our supporters. None of our representatives were on the panel during the disruptions on May 29. However, I was sitting at the table last week.

And I believe we at Forest City Ratner have a higher obligation. Sure, I want the Atlantic Yards project to move forward. But I want us to win fair and square. After all, if it is in fact “a relentless campaign of a few to deny benefits to the many,” as I said Wednesday night (thank you to the two p.r. firms we had in the room for wordsmithing), we should be able to win fairly.

It was inappropriate for James Caldwell, the president of our CBA signatory BUILD (Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development), to claim, “The fact of the matter is, in the community that you just came to here, that we’ve been here for years.”

His sentiments are sincere, but he has, to say the least, an awkward way of expressing them.

Similarly, it was inappropriate for the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, head of our CBA signatory DBNA (Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance) to regularly heckle during the state Senate hearing. 

However much we would rather not have had the hearing, we recognize that Senator Bill Perkins was pursuing his right and duty as head of the Senate’s committee overseeing corporations and authorities. A Senate hearing is like a court hearing; no one should ever heckle.

Rev. Daughtry, another member of our “team,” is sincere, but he too has an awkward way of expressing his enthusiasm for Atlantic Yards.

Our Core Values

I take seriously the Core Values that guide how Forest City’s business is conducted.

I believe in Integrity and Opennness:
In all our dealings with all stakeholders, we will uphold the highest possible standards of ethical behavior. Our interactions will be characterized by an attitude of openness, candor and honesty.

I believe in Community Involvement:
We are committed to the general welfare of the communities in which we live and work. We will develop and maintain excellent relationships throughout our communities and always work to balance our business interests with the needs of our communities.

To uphold the highest standards of ethical behavior, and to balance our business interests with the needs of our communities requires a higher standard than was displayed on Wednesday. People chanted “Go Home” and “Jobs,” while the moderator of the event asked fruitlessly for order and could not--or would not--call in security guards or law enforcement.

Those disrupting the meeting did not listen to the Community Board representatives. They probably would not have listened to the representatives of the Empire State Development Corporation (who, on May 29, also remained silent). 

They might have listened to Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who believes in "Respect." But they probably would have listened to me. I should have done more.

It’s not about individuals

I also want to put to rest the personalization of the conflict that has unfortunately persisted. Some on our side have specifically targeted Daniel Goldstein, the most prominent of the opponents, the spokesman for Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn and the lead plaintiff in the eminent domain suits.

Goldstein may seem to be a media hound, and thus an easy target, but the Atlantic Yards debate cannot be reduced to a conflict with him.

May I remind you of some wise lyrics:
It’s not about you.
It’s not about me.
It’s about what we do collectively.

I too appreciate musician John Pinamonti's "The Burrow"; yes, his song opposes Atlantic Yards, but we can embrace some of the same sentiments and be stronger for it.

This week’s hearing

So on Wednesday and Thursday, during the official public hearing, I ask you to uphold the highest possible standards. Yes, we urge you to support the project, vocally when appropriate, but there’s a time and place for that, and it doesn’t involve interrupting others. (The other side will protest outside the hearing.)

Do keep in mind that the ESDC has pledged to cut off the microphone after three minutes and to remove people who are disruptive. That makes sense. The behavior exhibited last Wednesday and on May 29 would never fly in Westchester, where I live.

It shouldn’t be tolerated in Brooklyn, either. It diminishes Forest City Ratner and all of us who believe in community.

Best regards,
MaryAnne Gilmartin
Forest City Ratner Executive VP


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…