Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A test for the informational meeting tonight: will Forest City Ratner fulfill its pledge to share information?

So why is the Atlantic Yards informational meeting, from 6 to 9 pm tonight at Long Island University, important? It's not just that the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) is sending representatives to discuss changes in the Modified General Project Plan, the subject of a two-day official ESDC public hearing next week.

Because Forest City Ratner didn't show up at the state Senate oversight hearing May 29 (and claimed they weren't invited).

Because Forest City Ratner didn't bother to send someone to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority meetings June 22 and June 24.

Because Forest City Ratner hasn't appeared in public to answer AY-related questions for some two-and-a-half years.

Because MaryAnne Gilmartin, the project's current point person, has never answered questions in public (and, I'll bet, won't show up tonight, even though only written questions will be allowed).

Flashback to 2006-07

When was Forest City Ratner much more transparent? Well, never.

But representatives of the developer did occasionally appear in public to answer limited questions, or answered a few questions at a press conference or from a reporter. But they haven't been pressed very hard, or forced to engage their antagonists.

Let's look back to the July 2006 Affordable Housing Information Session, where then-FCR point man Jim Stuckey answered some questions from the public, at least about housing. A week later, he answered some press questions after the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Then Stuckey was interviewed by radio host Brian Lehrer, but would not debate antagonist Jeff Baker, attorney for Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn.

Then there were the August 2006 meetings before three community boards, where Stuckey made a statement (and answered a few questions afterward). And yes, Stuckey did go on WFAN in January 2007, just after the big press conference (with very limited opportunity to ask questions) about the Barclays Center naming rights deal.

Since then, the new AY designs and announcements about, say, the fate of Frank Gehry, have typically emerged via written statements, even affidavits, or even the not-so-reliable (but often effective) mouthpiece Joe DePlasco. Questions posed last year by Community Board 8 were answered in writing by Scott Cantone.

The only person connected with the project who's regularly answered questions, albeit from the oft-cheerleading business press (and sometimes skeptical, if underinformed, sports radio hosts), is Nets President and CEO Brett Yormark.

Forest City Ratner's pledge

As Develop Don't Destroy so gleefully reminds us, most recently in Atlantic Yards: Information Sharing Recordkeeping, Parts 19 and 20, in the February 26, 2008 New York Observer, then-FCR spokesman Loren Reigelhaupt said:
“When it comes to sharing information with the public and governmental bodies, there’s no such thing as too much, as far as we are concerned."

But FCR, as DDDB notes, routinely declines comment when contacted by the press.

Tonight, will there be bland answers and genteel evasion, at least if tough questions are raised?

Orwellian, almost

Oh, and remember Stuckey's famous statement published in the 11/6/05 Times:
"Here we are opening ourselves up - tremendous transparency, for two years. Yet the criticism is, Wait a second, they didn't tell us something about the evolution of their planning process before the public process began'? Just think about what that means."

Actually, FCR had withdrawn from a potentially challenging February 2005 forum sponsored by the Fort Greene Association.

Stuckey's statement to the Times stands, though not the way he meant it: "It's Orwellian, almost."

1 comment:

  1. One wonders if, when the dust settles a bit more in Albany, Perkins will hold another hearing and subpeona Ratner.

    ReplyDelete