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Showing posts from January, 2009

CBA signatories seek federal stimulus money for AY; ESDC flatly says project is not "shovel-ready"

In this week's issue of the Courier-Life chain, Stephen Witt, who in the past has found Atlantic Yards Community Benefit Agreement (CBA) signatories calling project opponents "the real-land-grabbers", now finds two, not unpredictably, suggesting that Atlantic Yards should get a share of the federal stimulus money.

The article quotes James Caldwell of the job-training group BUILD (Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development):
"The way it [stimulus money] is being proposed is that it will go through the government and they will give it to unions and not to community based organizations that train and prepare people in our community," he added.

I don't think the plan is to give the money to unions.

(The article is not yet online.)

"Shovel-ready"?

The article continued:
Rep. Yvette Clarke, whose district includes the 22-acre project footprint, said stimulus money going toward the project is a possibility, but must go through the city and state, and not …

At State of the District Address, Jeffries again talks housing, says economy has “slowed down the AY streamroller”

With his preacher’s cadences, lawyer’s acumen, and Brooklyn pol's sense of strategy, 57th District Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries is an elected official worth watching, both for what he says and what he doesn’t say, as he begins his second two-year term in office.

In his second annual State of the District Address, delivered Wednesday night before an enthusiastic audience of more than 150 at the Pratt Institute’s Higgins Hall, he barely mentioned Atlantic Yards--though, compared to his glancing mention last year, he was more critical, an indication that the center of gravity regarding the project has shifted.

And, as I explain lower in this report, he thinks it’s likely that the legislature will hold a hearing on Atlantic Yards.

On video, three issues

Well, after a student musical performance--always good to draw a crowd--we first saw Jeffries on video, speaking eloquently against the repeal of term limits for city officials. Then again, the bill he’s proposing in the legislature wouldn’…

IBO official: time for another look at AY incentives (but not for a cost-benefit analysis, yet)

The Brooklyn Paper quotes George Sweeting, Deputy Director of the New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO), says, according to the Brooklyn Paper, "It may be time for the city to take another look at the mix of incentives.”

He elaborated: “If amenities are scaled back and the overall scale of the project is reduced, it’s reasonable to stop and look at whether the city’s contributions and the MTA land deal still show a positive in the cost-benefit calculation. Some of the benefits to the public may now be less than originally assumed."

In fact, once the city's contribution was quietly doubled, Sweeting acknowledged that the revenues to the city might not offset the expense.

The implication of his more recent remarks is that the city should reduce rather than increase subsidies.

Second look?

Still, it doesn't look like the IBO is ready to perform another cost-benefit analysis. (The initial one had its flaws, since the IBO mainly focused on the arena.) In September 2007…

So, the Nets are the metro-area exception, giving tickets away

In a piece yesterday on public radio's The Takeaway headlined Sports teams slash ticket prices to keep fans, Jeff Beresford-Howe observed the extent to which teams nationally are desperately trying to fill seats, and offered a contrast: "The extent to which none of this has reached New York yet is remarkable."

Well, as DDDB and many others would point out, it sure has reached the New York metro area, where the Nets are actually giving tickets away--and even giving away corporate sponsorships, in a scheme NLG deems worthy of The Office.

On Wednesday night, the Izod Center was barely half-full, as the Nets drew an announced 10,138 for a game against the Toronto Raptors. Photos suggestthe arenawas evenmore empty.

Update: The New York Times this morning reports that the Knicks, indeed, are getting on the discount bandwagon--though, I'd point out, a 40% discount is not the same as a freebie.

Kucinich asks Citigroup to give up Citifield naming rights deal

Representatives Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and Ted Poe (R-TX) have asked Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to demand that Citigroup dissolve its $400 million naming rights contract for the New York Mets, known as Citifield.

Citigroup has received more than $350 billion in taxpayer money from economic stabilization efforts and loans, the letter notes.

"In every state, American homes are foreclosed and people put on the street. At Citigroup, 50,000 people will lose their jobs. Yet in the boardroom of Citigroup, spending $400 million to put a name on stadium seems like a good idea. The Treasury Department, which forced Citigroup corporate executives to give up their private jet, should also demand that Citigroup cancel its $400 million advertisement at the Mets field and instead begin to repay their debt to the taxpayers," stated Kucinich.

Essentially, the naming rights agreement is a marketing expense, and even banks that take federal money aren't being asked to stop marketi…

Brennan to ESDC/FCR: here's Atlantic Yards blight, so listen to BrooklynSpeaks

Shortly after BrooklynSpeaks asked Gov. David Paterson to address multiple aspects of the stalled Atlantic Yards project, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and Assemblymember Jim Brennan both sent letters requesting developer Forest City Ratner and the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) to respond.

There are distinct differences between the two letters, however, with Markowitz's tone hedged, friendly, and conciliatory, and Brennan's approach more pointed, accusing the developer of having created blight. Both are posted on the BrooklynSpeaks web site.

Brennan: here's blight

Brennan's letter, addressed to ESDC CEO Marisa Lago and FCR Executive VP MaryAnne Gilmartin, is more formal, essentially endorsing the elements of the BrooklynSpeaks letter, which, among other things, asked that further street closures and demolitions be halted, that viable vacant buildings be repurposed, that the Carlton Avenue Bridge be returned to service, and that interim public op…

Despite announced two-year timetable to replace Carlton Avenue Bridge, contract gives FCR three years (and maybe more)

The Carlton Avenue Bridge, closed on 1/23/08 and currently half-demolished, was supposed to to be closed two years for reconstruction.

However, the contract for bridge work--which I obtained via a Freedom of Information Law request--gives developer Forest City Ratner three years before penalties kick in, and even longer in case of unavoidable delays. (Excerpt below.)

That three-year window has never been made public, as far as I know, and I got only a cursory explanation of why it was allowed.

“We negotiated an agreement with FCR which met our mutual needs," New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) spokesman Seth Solomonow told me. "The project end-date does not preclude the possibility of earlier completion.”

That's true, but it doesn't explain why no one announced that 36 months might be an end-date.

Moreover, as I describe below, "unavoidable delays" could extend the deadline to 60 months, or five years, to finish the job, without penalty--and loose c…

Learning from Rockefeller Center: building during a downturn, the role of p.r., and the difficulty of effective urbanism

The late New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp, in an unaccountably gushing 12/11/03 essay headlined Courtside Seats to an Urban Garden, heralded the just-announced Atlantic Yards project as "A Garden of Eden grows in Brooklyn."

He later offered another superlative:
Those who have been wondering whether it will ever be possible to create another Rockefeller Center can stop waiting for the answer. Here it is.

Well, aside from the unending delays in the project, another Rockefeller Center? As I've pointed out, the Atlantic Yards plan demaps city streets and creates a superblock, while Rockefeller Center (right) actually added a street, creating more liveliness for pedestrians. Muschamp, shamelessly, had it backwards.

What Muschamp didn't say--and I didn't know until recently--is that Rockefeller Center occupies 22 acres, the size of the current Atlantic Yards footprint (announced at 21 acres). Rock Center has 19 commercial buildings; Atlantic Yards would …

Arena LDC emerges; why would it be used to pay for infrastructure for broader AY project?

Even as the Atlantic Yards project seems stalled, state officials have organized a local development corporation (LDC) to oversee tax-exempt bond financing for Forest City Ratner’s planned Barclays Center arena.

But the odd thing about the Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation (BALDC) is that its scope contemplates financing for infrastructure improvements beyond the arena—a function not mentioned in the Atlantic Yards General Project Plan (GPP).

That could help get the city and state off the hook for providing additional infrastructure while allowing Forest City Ratner favorable terms to pay for the infrastructure.

Keep in mind that the GPP (excerpt at right) budgets $544.4 million on project infrastructure, while, as of now, $205 million would come from government funds, with no particular source for the rest. As the project approached approval in December 2006 by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), no one--as far as I know--raised questions about full funding for i…

Ex-Net Mourning on Ratner: owner prioritized move over team's success

NLG notices this article from the Palm Beach Post quoting ex-Net Alonzo Mourning on team majority owner Bruce Ratner:
In July 2003, Mourning departed the lowly Heat - remarking he didn't owe the franchise anything - and signed with title-contending New Jersey as an unrestricted free agent. But things soon went awry in New Jersey (owner Bruce Ratner didn't want to pay to keep center-forward Kenyon Martin or swingman Kerry Kittles) and when it seemed the Nets were finished throwing money around in pursuit of a title, Mourning, who went there to win a title, forced his exit.

He made life miserable for the Nets, spouting off to the media at every opportunity. Remarking on a conversation he had with Ratner, Mourning said, "I asked him, 'Other than your investment in this team for financial purposes - obviously getting a significant return - what's the reason why you bought the team?' " "And you ask anybody in here," Mourning continued, "he said, &…

Outward Bound: Forest City Ratner also gives to NY Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger's favorite charity

There's a lot of charitable money coming out of 1 MetroTech. Some, as I've detailed, comes from the Forest City Ratner Companies Foundation. Some, as with the loan/grant to ACORN, comes directly from Forest City Ratner itself. And some comes from Bruce Ratner.

Let's take a look at New York City Outward Bound, which lists Forest City Ratner among those supporters contributing $50,000-$99,999. This comes from the company, not the foundation.

There's an interesting potential synergy; the contributors at that level also include The New York Times Company and publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., who is on the Outward Bound board.

In fact, Sulzberger "helped found and serves as chairman of the New York City Outward Bound Center," according to his official bio. A 12/19/05 New Yorker profile of Sulzberger, headlined The Inheritance, began with an anecdote about Outward Bound, which gave Sulzberger an award for furthering “the Outward Bound mission” Sulzberger said that, wh…

New York Times criticized for a deal with (Mexican) tycoon; could those criticisms apply to its deal with Ratner?

With an investment of $250 million in the New York Times Company, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helu has gained more than the newspaper, contends former Times editorial writer Andres Martinez, whose piece in Slate is headlined Slim's Pickings: Will Carlos Slim use the New York Times to bolster his reputation?.

A major stock investment is more impactful than a business deal to build a Renzo Piano tower, and Slim has an even larger impact on his nation's economy than fabled John D. Rockefeller. Still, Martinez's criticisms do not sound out of place when applied to developer Forest City Ratner, whose CEO Bruce Ratner, like Slim, has been described as personally modest and philanthropic.

(Ratner's been called a billionaire but is more likely not so flush. USA Today in 2005 reported his net worth at $400 million and, while his shares in parent Forest City Enterprises later skyrocketed, they've recently sunk well below 2005 levels.)

Looking at the criticisms

As I quote som…

The Edolphus Towns succession, Darryl Towns, and Forest City Ratner's interest and intervention$

City Hall News has an interesting piece on the potential race to succeed 74-year-old, 14-term 10th District Rep. Edolphus Towns, who in 2008 easily beat back a challenge from activist Kevin Powell though in 2006 was challenged more forcefully by City Council Member Charles Barron, whose impact was diluted by the spoiler role of Assemblyman Roger Green.

The article, headlined Big Egos and Ambitions Set To Collide in Prospective Race To Succeed Towns, doesn't mention the Atlantic Yards angle on past races nor the prospective one.

Still, Forest City Ratner has an interest in this race, part of the unwritten story about the developer's impact on Brooklyn politics. That interest includes a previously unreported Bruce Ratner campaign contribution to Assemblyman Darryl Towns and a surprise appearance by Towns himself at a recent AY-related meeting held by the Empire State Development Corporation.

Contrasts and contradictions

But first, some contrasts and contradictions suggested by the a…