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How to prioritize megaprojects? Avoid state intervention on behalf of local sports facilities

At a panel on megaprojects November 7, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer suggested a need to prioritize, given that not all projects could go forward. And he also pointed out that many projects have regional importance.

No one tried to prioritize, but I found some guidance--implicitly critical of Atlantic Yards--in the 2003 book Mega-Projects: The Changing Politics of Urban Public Investment, authored by Alan Altshuler and David Luberoff. Note the emphasis on "rent-seeking," or the pursuit of special advantage via public policy.

Summing up, on p. 282, they write:
With the decline of federal aid as a source of insulation from local democracy, development interests have turned increasingly toward state aid, state creation of independent authorities (with broad authority to raise revenue, issue bonds, and carry out projects), and reliance at the local level on visitor taxes. Again, all of these are reasonable methods in some circumstances, but not nearly as many as those in which they have been used. In particular, we judge, state intervention to bypass requirements for explicit local approval of major project decisions is a recipe for the triumph of a development rent-seekers. Whatever the local fiscal contributions, major projects have important land use, traffic, public safety, and other impacts within host localities, and those with objections should have democratic and authoritative forums in which to press their views. It may be appropriate for state governments at times to countermand local objections, including those adopted formally by local governments or in local referendums, but such overrides should only be to satisfy urgent regional needs--for example, to ensure adequate airport or waste treatment capacity--and they should be made by legislatures rather than executive branch or independent authority officials. Overrides are very rarely justified, moreover, to authorize convention center, sports facility, or public-private partnerships for commercial development, because there is almost never a compelling case that they represent urgent regional needs.
(Emphases added)

Closer analysis

So, let's recap. The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) is an unelected body set up by the legislature but essentially an arm of the executive branch, given that the board is controlled by the state governor.

The City Council and thus local elected officials have no formal voice, though Atlantic Yards would have "land use, traffic, public safety, and other impacts."

Does Atlantic Yards satisfy urgent regional needs? No.

Increased affordable housing could be achieved through a rezoning at the Vanderbilt Yard and many other sites.

An improved Vanderbilt Yard was never requested by the Long Island Rail Road.

And a new sports facility, however a symbol, does not constitute an urgent regional need, especially given an underutilized arena in Newark. One premise behind offering concessions for the Nets to leave New Jersey is for the city to poach tax revenues. Still,the New York City Independent Budget Office now says the arena would be a money-loser for the city.


  1. come on now, of course there's "an urgent regional need" for another lousy nba team in new york city

    everybody knows that lifetime knick fans in new york are chomping at the bit to spend their hard earned dollars (if they're lucky enough to have a job in this economy) on $75 brooklyn nets tickets

    look how wonderful being the second nba team in los angeles has worked out for the clippers, widely regarded as THE laughingstock pro sports franchise in all of north america

    and look how wonderful being the second nhl franchise in new york has worked out for the islanders, who perenially finish dead last in the league's attendance rankings

    of course there's "an urgent regional need" for the nets to move to brooklyn ... it's obvious!!!


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