Thursday, July 09, 2009

Markowitz: "Please, please, please" get AY started (because he'd never support anything not in the interests of Brooklyn)

No elected official, not even state Senator Carl Kruger, showed up at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Finance Committee meeting or board meeting last month to testify in favor of Atlantic Yards.

The only elected official to offer pro-project views was Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who sent Chief of Staff Carlo Scissura, who presented several questionable arguments.

One of the lines was so classic Markowitz that it deserves its own excerpt.



"As we all know, the Borough President would never support anything that is not in the interests of all of Brooklyn and all Brooklynites," Scissura declared.

He wouldn't? Have the interests of Brooklyn been distilled into the consciousness of one enlightened BP? Can they be?

The testimony



"I'm here to here to urge all of you to vote yes for this important proposal. The Atlantic Yards project is one of the most ambitious projects ever to be considered in the city of New York and especially in the city of Brooklyn," Scissura declared. "And though it has faced several years of challenges during the approval process, we are confident that when it's completed, it will serve as a model for all cities in the United States. Atlantic Yards is the type of development that Brooklyn needs now; it needs the affordable housing, it needs the union jobs, it needs the permanent jobs."

Serve as a model? Is that why Mayor Mike Bloomberg won't even mention it on his campaign web site or why Kent Barwick of the Municipal Art Society suggested AY might be "this generation's Penn Station"?

National stage

Scissura continued, "It needs Brooklyn to be put on a national stage, and with having the Nets come into Brooklyn, that will do so."

Well, yes, a sports team is a national stage, but Brooklyn's doing pretty well already, as Markowitz is quick to remind us.

Note this 5/11/09 press release in which the BP proclaims that "Lonely Planet, which named Brooklyn one of the world's 'hottest destinations' in 2007, chose it to be one of the first pullout mini guides in its inaugural, international Lonely Planet Magazine in December, 2008, alongside Edinburgh, Scotland and Singapore."

Empty site?

Scissura then offered a canard: "For more than 100 years, the footprint where Atlantic Yards will be built--is planning to be built--has been an empty railroad yard."

No, it hasn't. First, the Vanderbilt Yard occupies less than 40% of the site, which also includes buildings that served as factories, housing, and commercial space. The Borough President's Office should know better.

Second, rather than an empty railroad yard, it has been a working yard, used to store and service trains. It was just never economically feasible to build a deck. As land became scarce and more valuable, building over the railyards finally became viable, but before Forest City Ratner's proposal, there was never any attempt to market the "empty railroad yard," as a Department of City Planning official acknowledged.

New city center

Scissura continued, "This is a historic opportunity to join many neighborhoods of Brooklyn, to create a city center for all of Brooklyn, and for all of New York City to enjoy."

A city center? With eight acres of open space for 15,000 new residents? Is the open space at Stuyvesant Town a city center for all to enjoy? The open space would come only in Phase 2; by contrast, as Anne Schwartz wrote in Gotham Gazette, at Battery Park City the open space came first.

As for an arena, it would be a venue for ticketholders, not a public park. Is Madison Square Garden a city center for all to enjoy, or just those who can pay?

Timing issues

Scissura continued, "it is the perfect location to build this. It is your duty to ensure that this vote is yes, that work begins this year, that people can be put to work."

Translation: It is your duty to ensure that the deal proceeds so that Forest City Ratner can get tax-exempt bonds issued by the approaching December 31 deadline.

Need for jobs

Scissura continued, "Yesterday's job numbers were startling: almost ten percent of Brooklynitse are out of work. Imagine what this project will do over ten years to put people back to work, to give union jobs."

Yes, any large construction project creates jobs and yes, people need jobs. At the same time, public officials have the obligation to weigh the cost of creating jobs against other alternatives. And the MTA is not a job-creation agency but is supposed to seek the best value for its property to ensure a robust transit system for all New Yorkers.

New tax revenues

Scissura then started on some fuzzy math: "Atlantic Yards will create billions of dollars in tax revenue over the next decades. And I think as we look at this proposal, even though it's a little less than what was previously anticipated, in the long run, the tax revenue that will be generated by Atlantic Yards will be incredible, for the city, for the state and of course, for Brooklyn."

Billions? That's questionable. After all, the New York City Independent Budget Office already estimates that the arena would be a money-loser for the city.

As for whether the proposal would be "a little less" than previously anticipated, Scissura might have mentioned that Forest City Ratner would save $100 million on the railyard it promised and get generous terms--$20 million down, the rest of the $80 million over 22 years, at 6.5% interest--to pay its obligation.

Incredible tax revenue? Markowitz sure can use that word when he describes a performer at his summer concert series, but this situation requires a little more precision.

Trust Markowitz

Then Scissura offered the money quote: "As we all know, the Borough President would never support anything that is not in the interests of all of Brooklyn and all Brooklynites."

Would a Borough President concerned about the best interests of the borough misleadingly declare, "For more than 100 years, the footprint has been an empty railroad yard"? Would he have said it had the testimony under oath?

Need for a venue

Scissura continued, "I'll give you another perfect example of why this project is important. There are many graduations of large high schools in Brooklyn that cannot take place in Brooklyn because there is no venue for them. Imagine what an arena like the Barclays Center will do for children, for high school sports, for teens, for everything. Why do Brooklynites have to travel everywhere and not have things go on in a borough of almost 2.6 million people?"

Well, it's unfortunate there's no venue in Brooklyn. But solving that problem with the world's most expensive arena--which wouldn't exactly come cheap, and with FCR's pledge to make the arena available to community groups deemed trivial by a judge--is like saying hunger pangs can be sated only by serving caviar.

At least Scissura didn't mention Hasidic weddings.

In closing

Scissura closed: "This is an important project. The Borough President urges all of you to vote yes on this, and to please, please, please, let's get this project moving."

What name did Scissura not pronounce? The biggest beneficiary: Forest City Ratner.

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