Wednesday, September 30, 2009

On Brian Lehrer, Mayor (in clip) disses IBO; Schuerman explains why it’s tough for Thompson; Council candidate Griffith gets a say

The Atlantic Yards segment on today’s Brian Lehrer show concentrated mainly on the minor differences between full-throated project support Mayor Mike Bloomberg and supporter-with-concerns Comptroller Bill Thompson, the Democratic candidate.



The most valuable moment in the segment came at about 13:45, when Lehrer brought up the fact that New York City Independent Budget Office Mayor Mike Bloomberg, in full voice, disses the cost-benefit analysis of the Atlantic Yards arena: “I don’t know what the IBO studies would have shown back when they tried to establish the value of Central Park or Prospect Park or anything else. These are the kinds of projects you have to do because without that we don’t have a future, and we’re going to get this one done.”

As Schuerman pointed out, “The funny thing is, he applauded the IBO study when it came out four years ago, showing it was a slight positive net gain for the city.” Schuerman noted that the effort to analyze costs and benefits is “murky,” given that the IBO was able to look only at the arena.

Has the Comptroller reacted to the IBO study? “More than anything, I don’t think Thompson has taken a position on Atlantic Yards,” Schuerman added, noting that Thompson has not chosen to audit the project.

Late supporter

Was Thompson a “late” supporter to Atlantic Yards, as he’s said? After all, on 7/1/05, he wrote a letter to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority supporting developer Forest City Ratner’s bid.

Thompson has a point, Schuerman allowed, in that the Comptroller didn’t sign on in December 2003, as did Bloomberg and Borough President Marty Markowitz, but it’s not exactly late.

Challenging the mayor?

Caller Daniel Goldstein of Develop Don’t Destroy suggested that Thompson could challenge Bloomberg on Atlantic Yards, given that it’s “a poster child of all the mayor has done wrong, when it comes to megadevelopments.”

Schuerman gave a cautionary example: Democratic Mayoral candidate Freddy Ferrer four years ago. “He tried very late in the game to come out against Atlantic Yards,” Schuerman said. “ He was very quickly denounced by Rev. Al Sharpton, a supporter of his... It’s a very hard thing, Bruce Ratner has really woven such a web of support for this project, it’s very hard for anyone to come out against it. What you see here is Thompson trying to thread the needle” in support of the Community Benefits Agreement or affordable housing.

As I wrote at the time, Ferrer fumbled, but got an assist from the press, which treated Sharpton too unskeptically.

Prokhorov’s role

Lehrer pointed to the curious timing of the deal to sell the Nets to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov just a few days after final project approval by the Empire State Development Corporation.

Schuerman wasn't quite as agnostic as the New York Times's Charles Bagli was last week on Lehrer's show, acknowledging, “You have to wonder, in 2003, if a Russian owned 80% of the team, 45% of the arena, would this project have gotten the support that it did? Would people be able to point and say, ‘Here is this man, Bruce Ratner, who has done good things for Brooklyn in the past,’ MetroTech was the example that they used for that… ‘and that’s what why we should support this in the future.’ It certainly came at the end of this whole revision that took place over the summer.”

In the 36th, candidate Griffith

Another segment featured Mark Winston Griffith, who finished second among eight candidates in the Democratic primary for the 36th Council District seat held by veteran (and leading vote-getter) Al Vann, and is running on the Working Families Party (WFP) line.



While Vann still has much institutional support, Griffith noted that 70% of voters chose candidates other than the incumbent. (That’s an argument for Instant Runoff Voting.)

Griffith was the only candidate to be critical of Atlantic Yards, and Lehrer noted that Griffith differed with Vann and ACORN on Atlantic Yards and asked if was a big issue in the district. (Interestingly, ACORN plays a big role in the WFP, and Griffith has criticized ACORN.)

“I think it’s somewhat of a big issue,” said Griffith, allowing that it was “not one people wake up every day and think about.” Rather, people are concerned about development, affordable housing and jobs

But what about the jobs and housing promised by Atlantic Yards? “I don’t like the fact that this one particular developer… should be allowed to dictate the terms of development,” Griffith said.

Lehrer noted that Griffith supports Thompson and Thompson bases his AY support on the Community Benefits Agreement: “Why isn’t that enough for you?”

“I think CBAs are good ideas,” Griffith said. “I think I would quibble with how much integrity this one has.” He noted that “a lot of people were not around the table” and felt that the developer could not be trusted.

(Indeed, the CBA is not valid if Ratner sells the project.)

Griffith also got a chance to mention access healthy fruits and vegetables, local schools, and the importance of a Council Member “who is active and engaged.”

At Saturday's Dreamland Pavilion conference, "Atlantic Yards: The Politics of P.R. "

Some people have asked me about attending the Atlantic Yards panel at the Dreamland Pavilion conference, held at 1:30 pm Saturday at Kingsborough Community College.

While admission to the day-long conference is $25 (plus $5 for on-site registrants), including lunch, I'm told that people who wish to attend a single panel will not be charged.

The Atlantic Yards session will be held in M-146/47, in the MAC Building. Directions here. Campus map here.

The program

Here's the official program listing:
“Who’s Planning Brooklyn? An Alternate Point of View”
Eve Baron, The Municipal Art Society of New York

“The Yards Development Workshop Unity Plan”
Marshall Brown, Illinois Institute of Technology College of Architecture

“Atlantic Yards: Brooklyn’s Most Controversial Development through the Lens of Public Relations and News Coverage”
Norman Oder, Independent Journalist

“Atlantic Yards and the Cultural Logic of Monopoly Rent”
Stuart Schrader, CUNY Graduate Center

Moderator: Ted Hamm, Brooklyn Rail


Focusing on P.R.

I've amended my presentation. In preparing a 15-minute talk and slideshow, I concluded that the announced topic was overambitious.

Thus I'll be focusing on the advertising and public relations behind the project, including renderings and brochures, as well as selected press and governmental documents. Remember the May 2005 flier at right?

My argument: such p.r. should be scrutinized the way political advertising--at least prominent political advertising--gets fact-checked.

The Times corrects DePlasco's railyard misinformation

Six days after allowing Forest City Ratner flack Joe DePlasco to say, "“Most of Atlantic Yards is being built over the Long Island Rail Road," the New York Times finally publishes a correction:
about 40 percent of the project — not “most” of it — is being built over a railyard.

Actually, it's not being built yet either.

For what it's worth, I filed a request for a correction last Wednesday night, shortly after the article appeared online--it was published Thursday--and again yesterday.

CNG editorial claims Bloomberg's "not a politician" and has "done a much better job" on Atlantic Yards

From the Community Newspaper Group editorial endorsing Mayor Mike Bloomberg:
Concerning the sprawling Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, the mayor’s team admitted long ago that it didn’t handle the development properly and has since done a much better job. That improvement deserves praise.

A much better job? Do they mean the accelerated transfer of subsidies or the dissing of the Independent Budget Office?

Term limits


Remember, the Community Newspaper Group is owned by Rupert Murdoch, who agreed to have his New York Post support Bloomberg's effort to overturn and extend term limits.

And consider that the victories yesterday by Bill de Blasio in the race for Public Advocate and John Liu in the race for Comptroller relied not only on the Working Families Party's endorsement and ground troops but the candidates' vocal opposition to term limits.

Progress, not politics?

The endorsement claims:
And best of all, he’s not a politician.

Indeed, critics complain that the mayor’s personal fortune is bank-rolling his re-election and silencing democracy, but it is that wealth that frees Bloomberg from the affliction of so many other popularity-craving, poll-watching politicians. He can truly answer to the people of New York because he doesn’t need to answer to anyone else.


I'll point people to Tom Robbins in the Village Voice, critiquing Bloomberg's claim of "Progress. Not Politics":
The first word is a debate worth having. The next two are simply lies.

Not politics? Whatever you think of Bill Thompson's erratic campaign, at least he was being nominated that very night by his own party in an open primary. Mike Bloomberg? His GOP endorsement came courtesy of a classic, old-school political deal in which five Republican county leaders sat down in a room and agreed to give the mayor their ballot line.

He cut the same insiders' pact with the cultish local chapter of the Independence Party. The party's nominating convention this spring featured all the democracy of a Chinese Politburo meeting, including a ruling clique that fawned over the visiting mayor. A few weeks later, Bloomberg sealed the deal with a $250,000 down-payment to the party's coffers, with presumably a great deal more to come.

Not politics? Bloomberg continues to scorn the city's campaign finance system, the hard-won reform designed to curb the influence of big money in elections. He spends as much as he wants—the same way the hacks used to do before limits were adopted.

Then there's the bare-bones political scheming that won the mayor the very right to even appear on the ballot this year. That's the one topic Mike Bloomberg still refuses to talk about. He gets an electric-like jolt whenever the topic is raised. Just when and why Mike Bloomberg decided to overturn the city's term limits laws is shrouded in mystery. He's done his best to keep it that way.

Department of City Planning official said design changes to AY were "obviously quite significant," but ESDC told the public "no"

Despite official word from the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) that there's been little change to the Atlantic Yards plan, a representative of one important government agency disagreed, in a message that implicitly supports the call by project critics and opponents for a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS).

On June 2, some three weeks before the ESDC issued a 2009 Modified General Project Plan without new details of the project and official renderings, a Department of City Planning (DCP) official expressed concern about proposed changes, calling design changes "obviously quite significant."

DCP official's take

"Thank you for briefing us on the proposed changes to the Atlantic Yards project," wrote Winston Von Engel, Deputy Director of the Brooklyn Office of the DCP, to Forest City Ratner Senior VP Jane Marshall.

(I obtained the email via a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request.)

"The design changes to the project are obviously quite significant. Under the circumstances, we believe that a more detailed review of the proposed design is appropriate. In order for us to be able to do so, we would appreciate your providing us with the detailed, dimensioned plans and elevations of the latest design."

I haven't seen a written response to Von Engel's note, which is not a formal DCP response. Nor is it clear exactly what he's referring to, but he seems to be addressing the arena--in the Ellerbe Becket design, later adapted by SHoP--and possibly the adjacent towers.

But the DCP apparently got far more of an opportunity to examine--and thus comment on--design changes than did the public.

(Click on graphic to enlarge)

ESDC brushes it off

In the Response to Comments document provided to the ESDC board for its meeting September 17, the ESDC indicated that the changes were not significant.

Comment 16: Numerous comments were received asserting that the modified plan is substantially different from the plan that was analyzed in the FEIS and approved in 2006. These commenters made assertions relating to the redesign of the Arena; increased number of surface parking spaces; elimination of the Urban Room and B1 commercial tower; reduction in affordable housing; limited and compromised public space; and a reconfigured rail yard with reduced capacity.

Response: The MGPP does not change the number of parking spaces, the provision of an Urban Room or Building 1, the number of affordable housing units, the amount or type of publicly accessible open space, or the adequacy of the rail yard for MTA’s needs. The proposed modifications to the GPP would allow for the acquisition of property in phases, rather than one phase as detailed in the FEIS; would reflect the commitment by the Project Sponsor to assess project-generated day care enrollment and capacity as the Project progresses; and would reflect changes to the Project’s business terms. No modifications to the Design Guidelines or overall program are proposed, and the Arena, although redesigned, does comply with the Design Guidelines as required by the GPP. The Design Guidelines, which establish the framework for the design and development of the Project Site, were developed in close consultation with ESDC and DCP staff and are attached as an exhibit to the GPP. The design changes to certain buildings and the elimination of certain Project elements would affect the Arena block and, to a lesser extent, Block 1129; however, none of the proposed uses of the Project buildings on these blocks would change and the program, configuration, and uses of the proposed buildings on other blocks would not change. In addition, all buildings, including the Arena, will continue to conform to the Design Guidelines.

(Emphases added)

Note that the ESDC dismissed the concerns by noting the role of DCP staff in Design Guidelines that had been finalized three years earlier.

However, as indicated by Von Engel's message, DCP staff themselves were concerned in 2009.

On Brian Lehrer, Goldstein says ESDC offer for condo is less than what he paid in 2003; today's segment is Atlantic Yards

Let's hope today's Brian Lehrer Show segment on Atlantic Yards is a little more enlightening than the 45-minute segment on eminent domain, which skated lightly over the basics but didn't generate much heat.

(The only announced guest today is WNYC reporter Matthew Schuerman.)

In fact, the most enlightening moment of the segment came when Daniel Goldstein, spokesman for Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, called up and revealed that the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) actually offered him less money than he paid for is condo in 2003.



The segment began with some basics on eminent domain from Brooklyn Law School's Christopher Serkin. At about 13:30, he was asked by guest host Amy Eddings whether the state Court of Appeals, slated to hear the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case on October 14, might rule in favor of the plaintiff-appellants, who had lost in both federal court and one rounds in state court.

Not based on the U.S. Supreme Court's Kelo v. New London decision, he said, allowing that the backlash against Kelo had led some state courts to restrict eminent domain based on their state constitutions, and that chance remains.

Just compensation

At about 16;10, Goldstein called in. "As far as just compensation, people need to know what just compensation actually means in New York State," he said. "I received, last Monday, a letter from the ESDC, which is overseeing the use of eminent domain for Atlantic Yards, . where they make what is called their pre-vesting offer, what they're going to pay you should they take the property... They don't offer you just compensation. They don't even offer you fair market value. What they have offered is below the market value, any real estate agent would tell you that.... It is even below what I paid for the place... over six years ago, and everybody knows the market is not lower. So the point is, in New York State at least, people trying to live their lives in their homes are being punished... by incredibly low-ball offers."

Serkin said that properties are valued at the time of taking and can suffer from condemnation blight--the fair market value reflects the lowered perception of the property.

That doesn't seem fair, Eddings said.

Serkin said that, in some cases, "it can also be a race to the top."

The debate

In the next part of the segment, Dana Berliner, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, and Kathryn Wylde, president & CEO of the Partnership for New York City, had a not too productive debate. Berliner described how eminent domain can be abused. Wylde said it's necessary to assemble sites in cities and has been "used judiciously and effectively to keep our city a great world city."

"New York has the absolutely worst eminent domain procedure of any state in the United States, bar none," Berliner said. "It is nightmare of hearings and supposed input opportunities all of which are completely and utterly ignored." She said it "substitutes the appearance of process and input for actual protection," with an "enormous deference to government."

Berliner didn't point out that, unlike in many states, those challenging condemnation in New York can't call witnesses but instead go directly to the appellate division. Wylde responded by anecdote, saying, "very often, during the process in New York, the condemnation plans have been amended."

The mayoral candidates

Then WNYC reporter Matthew Schuerman came on and described Mayor Mike Bloomberg as a thorough supporter of eminent domain and quoted Democratic nominee Bill Thompson as saying he supported it as a last resort.

Then again, Eddings pointed out, Thompson claims he's a late supporter of Atlantic Yards.

Schuerman, like others, expressed puzzlement, pointing to Thompson's 2005 support for Forest City Ratner's bid for the Vanderbilt Yard.

The Green Party candidate, Rev. Billy Talen, is of course an opponent of eminent domain.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

ESDC names media executive Peter Davidson as Executive Director

The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) has recently been rather thin on top, with the departure this summer of CEO Marisa Lago, a yet-unconfirmed Chairman, Dennis Mullen of Rochester, and the long goodbye from Avi Schick.

Now media executive Peter Davidson has been named Executive Director, and will oversee Atlantic Yards, among many other projects.

(By the way, Susan Rahm, the mysterious volunteer who apparently played a key role on the ESDC's Atlantic Yards, was notably absent at the September 17 board meeting when Atlantic Yards was approved. Update: I didn't see her, but another person there said she was in the building. She certainly wasn't at the table.)

The press release

From a press release from the ESDC:
PETER DAVIDSON APPOINTED EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF EMPIRE STATE DEVELOPMENT

Empire State Development (ESD) today announced the appointment of Peter W. Davidson as the agency’s new Executive Director. Mr. Davidson, an experienced dealmaker and executive in the private sector, will oversee the management of all ESD’s statewide subsidiaries and its large-scale urban development projects, as well as its divisions of Marketing, Advertising, and Tourism.

Mr. Davidson is a long time media executive, having founded and operated six different media companies in New York in newspaper, radio, television, advertising, and market research, with many of them geared toward the Hispanic community. From 1989 to 2000, he was owner and publisher of El Diario/La Prensa, the leading Spanish-language daily in the United States. Known as a creative business leader, he has piloted complex deals, structured numerous equity and debt-raising transactions, and acted as lead negotiator in multiple financings, acquisitions, and asset sales.

For the past nine years, Mr. Davidson was also Chairman of the New York City based J.M. Kaplan Fund, where he oversaw grant-making focused on waterfront access, transportation, and infrastructure in New York City, the protection of immigrants throughout the United States, and archeological conservation worldwide.

“Peter brings a wealth of experience as an entrepreneur to Empire State Development,” said Dennis M. Mullen, Empire State Development Chairman & CEO, designate. “He is a well-respected business leader, and with his vision and energy, we will be able to move forward with important development projects that stimulate the economy while providing important capital investment. Peter’s knowledge and expertise, particularly of business and government leaders in New York City, make him a perfect addition to ESD, and we welcome him to the team.”

As Executive Director, Mr. Davidson will work under the leadership of Mr. Mullen to spur economic growth and foster job creation in New York State through large-scale urban development projects, such as the development of Governor’s Island, the revitalization of Erie Canal Harbor, the expansion and renovation of the Jacob Javits Convention Center, and the construction of Brooklyn Bridge Park. He will also oversee ESD’s direct development work on such projects as Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn and Midtown Rising in Rochester.

“I am honored that Dennis has given me this incredible opportunity,” said Mr. Davidson. “Our economy faces significant challenges, and I am eager to bring fresh ideas and energy to the organization in whatever way I can.”

Mr. Davidson is a graduate of Stanford University and the Harvard University Graduate School of Business Administration. He is an active member of the Brooklyn community, where he lives with his wife and three children.

Mr. Davidson’s first day at Empire State Development is Thursday, October 1, 2009. He will be based in ESD’s New York City office.

An architect-centered take on the curious September 14 "community information session"

So e-Oculus, the publication of the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), offers a (predictably) architect-centered take on the curious September 14 event that was both an AIA continuing education event and a "community information session"--or maybe a "public informational session."

The article, headlined New Barclays Center Design Eyes Atlantic Yards, does not look askance at the moderator's distracting musings:
“Where do the things in dreams go? Do they pass to the dreams of others?” asked Rick Bell, FAIA, quoting from Pablo Neruda during a recent talk on the new design of Barclays Center. A bit like dreams, memories of the sports-and-entertainment arena’s previous, rejected designs hovered over the proceedings: Gehry Partners’ glassy, circular design, which got scrapped for a more economical (and bland) version by Ellerbe Becket. SHoP recently joined up with Ellerbe Becket to create a sexier new design, the subject of the evening’s talk.

The controversy

There's a nod to the controversy:
Some questions about the project remained unanswered. Eliciting grumbles from community activists who oppose Atlantic Yards, Bell chose not to allow questions pertaining to the process surrounding the complex, explaining that the session’s purpose was to focus purely on the new design

I posted a comment:
One important reason why “community activists” wanted more questions answered: the Empire State Development Corporation billed this as the second promised “community information session.” However, the session was held after the period for public comment had closed. And Bell acknowledged he had no idea how a community info session was (awkwardly) grafted on an AIA continuing education session.

The ESDC's non-responsive Response to Comment document: looking at evasions about benefits, renderings, timetables, signage, blight, etc.

I've already written about major changes agreed to by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) at the September 17 approval of the Modified General Project Plan (MGPP), including:
The Response to Comments document distributed by the ESDC at the September 17 board meeting is notable for non-responsive or evasive responses, including, as I've previously explained:
  • the claim that an "economic benefit analysis" equals a cost-benefit analysis
  • the claim that a construction schedule represents a "useful timetable"
  • the evasion of the question of whether affordable housing financing would be available
  • the claim that a ten-year timetable is reasonable
  • the questionable critique of the New York City Independent Budget Office's report on the Atlantic Yards arena.
The rest of the document

But the rest of the document deserves scrutiny, as well, given the ESDC's avoidance of candor.

Below are some selected responses, with my commentary. Among the highlights, the ESDC:
  • punts on whether project benefits would be binding
  • ignores the request for architectural renderings
  • claims an Arena block program required closing Fifth Avenue
  • doesn't acknowledge the likelihood of extended surface parking
  • ignores a question about the timetable for reopening the Carlton Avenue bridge
  • disregards how an extended project timetable would extend blight
  • ignores a request for renderings of signage.
Questions completely ignored

I should also point out that some questions raised in comments were completely ignored in the Response to Comments documents.

For example, some commenters
expressed concerns about the condition of subway tunnels adjoining the Atlantic Yards site. Others asked if the ESDC had compared the needed subsidy for affordable housing to the subsidy needed to build the same number of units elsewhere.

The excerpts below are from the Response to Comments document.

Net financial loss


Comment 7: The Project’s Arena will be a net financial loss for taxpayers.

Response: The MGPP does not affect the State’s financial contribution to, or the tax revenues associated with, the Arena or the fiscal benefits of the Project.

AYR: The New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO) did come to that conclusion. The ESDC avoided the questions (though it disagreed, not so convincingly, with the IBO, elsewhere in the document).

Public benefits binding?

Comment 14: A number of comments raised concerns that the public benefits of the Project, such as the affordable housing and jobs, are not legally binding.

Response: The MGPP has not changed the requirement for 2,250 units of affordable housing upon completion of the Project. Project documentation (e.g., the development agreement, lease agreements, and related contractual documents) will reflect the commitment made in the MGPP.

AYR: As noted above, the affordable housing isn't binding. It depends on subsidies.

Different plan?

Comment 16: Numerous comments were received asserting that the modified plan is substantially different from the plan that was analyzed in the FEIS and approved in 2006. These commenters made assertions relating to the redesign of the Arena; increased number of surface parking spaces; elimination of the Urban Room and B1 commercial tower; reduction in affordable housing; limited and compromised public space; and a reconfigured rail yard with reduced capacity.

Response: The MGPP does not change the number of parking spaces, the provision of an Urban Room or Building 1, the number of affordable housing units, the amount or type of publicly accessible open space, or the adequacy of the rail yard for MTA’s needs. The proposed modifications to the GPP would allow for the acquisition of property in phases, rather than one phase as detailed in the FEIS; would reflect the commitment by the Project Sponsor to assess project-generated day care enrollment and capacity as the Project progresses; and would reflect changes to the Project’s business terms. No modifications to the Design Guidelines or overall program are proposed, and the Arena, although redesigned, does comply with the Design Guidelines as required by the GPP. The Design Guidelines, which establish the framework for the design and development of the Project Site, were developed in close consultation with ESDC and DCP staff and are attached as an exhibit to the GPP. The design changes to certain buildings and the elimination of certain Project elements would affect the Arena block and, to a lesser extent, Block 1129; however, none of the proposed uses of the Project buildings on these blocks would change and the program, configuration, and uses of the proposed buildings on other blocks would not change. In addition, all buildings, including the Arena, will continue to conform to the Design Guidelines.

AYR: As I noted in July, the Design Guidelines regarding the arena are quite thin, and can't fully describe such a special-purpose building.

New site plan

Comment 17: Numerous comments called for ESDC to release a new site plan and architectural renderings in order for the public to understand and comment on the Project modifications.

Response: An updated site plan was presented at the public hearing to reflect the elimination of the privately-accessible open space on the Arena roof and also to reflect the Arena’s smaller footprint. The updated site plan, which is consistent with the Design Guidelines, has been included in the ESDC Board materials.

AYR: The answer ignores the issue of architectural renderings.

Closing Fifth Avenue

Comment 19: On September 9, 2009, FCRC released new updated renderings of the proposed Arena. With the re-orientation of the Arena, there is no justification for the closing and de-mapping of Fifth Avenue and Pacific Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt Streets.

Response: The closure of Fifth Avenue and Pacific Street remains necessary in order to develop the Arena block program. The Arena and the Urban Room will continue to occupy portions of Fifth Avenue.

AYR: What's the Arena block program? This term--previously not indexed by Google--apparently includes the urban plaza planned as a replacement for the Urban Room, but some commenters pointed out there's no reason to close the street before the B1 office tower is built. The Urban Room can't "continue" to occupy portions of Fifth Avenue until B1 is built, and there's no likelihood of that in the near future.

Smaller railyard?

Comment 23: A number of comments stated that the rail yard included in the MGPP has a smaller capacity than the one analyzed in the FEIS and questioned the effect of this change on LIRR operations.

Response: The proposed changes to the planned improvements to the Vanderbilt Yard have been the subject of detailed review by the MTA. In a staff summary dated June 22, 2009, the Long Island Rail Road determined that the revised design would support the Brooklyn shuttle service that will be implemented at the time that East Side Access service into Grand Central Terminal commences operation. Under a separate approval process, the MTA Board considered the recommendations contained in the staff summary and approved the resolution to accept the proposed rail yard modifications as well as other business terms. The planned reconfiguration also includes a number of other physical upgrades to the Yard that will improve future operations, which have not been changed in the MGPP.

AYR: As I noted in June, the initial 2005 RFP noted that the Vanderbilt Yard could store up to 72 cars and that the yard "is contemplated to provide additional storage to accommodate the 40% system-wide fleet expansion in 2009 through 2012, which would cause it to be used 24 hours a day."

Previously, a nonbinding letter of agreement between the MTA and the developer stated that FCR would produce a yard with nine tracks or an alternative configuration "that does not reduce yard/station capacity or functionality."

Extended surface parking

Comment 30: The MGPP will delay the creation of publicly accessible open space and extend the amount of time that the Project Site is occupied by surface parking.

Response: The projected completion date of 2019 described in the MGPP does not change the length of time that the interim surface parking facilities will be in place. As disclosed in the Technical Memorandum, an unanticipated delay in project completion may prolong the use of the interim parking facilities. During construction, sites not being developed will be used for construction staging and, if feasible, as interim programmed public amenity space.

AYR: The ESDC acknowledges that "an unanticipated delay in project completion" could extend interim surface parking, but it doesn't acknowledge that the delay is already anticipated in project documentation and by developer Bruce Ratner himself.

Carlton Avenue bridge

Comment 31: What is the timetable for the completion of the Carlton Avenue Bridge? Is it part of Phase I or Phase II? While it is unclear how long those phases will take, it will be much longer than two years.

Response: The proposed MGPP does not change the schedule for the reopening of the Carlton Avenue Bridge, except that it does require that the bridge be open by the time the Arena is operational. As noted in the FEIS, the closure of the Carlton Avenue Bridge would need to be undertaken consistent with a New York City Department of Transportation-approved plan for the maintenance and protection of traffic, which is currently being implemented.

AYR: The ESDC didn't answer the question about the timetable for completion, which will be at least three years, not the two years announced in previous ESDC documentation. There's nothing in the MGPP about the bridge. (Updated 2/27/10) The Modified General Project Plan stated:
In all events, the Project Sponsors will also reconstruct the Carlton Avenue Bridge so as to be functional as of the opening date of the Arena.
Blight

Comment 32: The Project has been causing blight, not reducing it, by vacating and demolishing buildings without proceeding with the Project. This blighting effect will worsen if the Project’s timetable is extended.

Response: Litigation has delayed the construction of the Project. Demolition was undertaken to clear unsafe or vacant buildings in preparation for construction of the Project. The delay in implementation of the Project has delayed the public benefits of the Project, one of which is to eliminate blight at the Project Site.

AYR: Putting aside the dubious explanation that only litigation has delayed construction, the ESDC ignores the question of how an extended timetable would leave empty lots and blight.

Security

Comment 33: A security analysis for the Project should be conducted in coordination with NYPD. The Arena and Building 1 meet NYPD’s classification of “high risk” buildings. Disruptive security measures, such as street closings and barrier placement will need to be put in place if security is not adequately planned for.

Response: The MGPP and the Arena design have not affected security aspects of the Project. From the preliminary phases of project design, the Project Sponsor has retained security consultants to prepare a Threat and Risk Assessment (TARA) to evaluate design and operational aspects of the Project to avoid and minimize security concerns, particularly focused on the Arena and Phase I buildings. The TARA is refined and revised as plans and specifications move forward in detailed design and as new strategies or criteria arise within the state of security planning. The Project Sponsor and its security consultants have and will continue to consult and coordinate with the New York City Police Department’s Counterterrorism Bureau to receive law enforcement feedback and recommendations on further strategies on public safety and security. The Project buildings are being designed to be compatible with the traffic and pedestrian flow patterns on the streets surrounding the Arena, as analyzed in the FEIS.

AYR: As Alan Rosner, who has studied AY security, points out, the likely classification of Building 1 and the arena as high-risk buildings means that an explosive event would be a reasonable worst-case scenario and thus generate a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

Supplemental EIS

Comment 34: Numerous comments were received stating that a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) should be prepared to study the potential impacts of the MGPP. Among the reasons expressed were assertions relating to: changes to the Arena design that diminish mitigation described in the FEIS; newly discovered information, including security concerns; changes in background conditions; delay in the creation of open space and stormwater management measures; the provision of fewer affordable housing units than originally proposed; new impacts on LIRR service given the reduction in proposed railyard improvements; negative economic impact; and potential delay of the decking of the Vanderbilt Yards, resulting in the failure to realize the goals of connecting surrounding neighborhoods and removing its blighting influence.

Response: The Technical Memorandum presented a complete analysis of the proposed MGPP, design changes, changes to the Project’s schedule, and changes in background conditions and analysis methodologies under the CEQR Technical Manual and assessed whether the Project—as described in the MGPP—would result in any significant adverse environmental impacts not previously addressed in the FEIS. ESDC staff believes that the additional information that would be developed through an SEIS would not be useful in determining whether the MGPP should be affirmed. A supplemental EIS is not warranted under these circumstances.

AYR: While an SEIS might indeed be informative to people in the community, the ESDC was correct here; it would not have affected a pre-determined conclusion by the ESDC board.

Open Space

Comment 39: Some commenters expressed concern that with the increased background demand, as well as the elimination of the private open space on the Arena roof, and a delay of the Phase II publicly accessible open space, existing permanent public outdoor open space such as the Dean Street Playground, Brooklyn Bears Garden and South Oxford Playground, will have to accommodate unanticipated demand, and claimed that this increase in background condition and the delay in the creation of the Project’s open space was not accounted for in the open space analysis.

Response: It is anticipated that the full build-out of the Project would be completed by 2019. The open space to be developed by the Project would be constructed incrementally, as each adjacent building is completed; this has not changed from the 2006 approval. As described in the FEIS, providing new open space by the end of Phase I is not practical given that the areas that could be used as open space are needed for construction phasing, worker parking, and materials storage in order to minimize or avoid construction impacts on the surrounding neighborhood. The Technical Memorandum also analyzed conditions associated with a potential delay in construction of portions of the Project as a result of prolonged adverse economic conditions. As described in the FEIS and Technical Memorandum there would be a temporary significant adverse open space impact between the completion of Phase I and the completion of Phase II. Under a delayed build-out scenario, this temporary impact would be extended, but would continue to be addressed by the Phase II completion of the 8 acres of publicly accessible open space. Moreover, as each of the buildings is completed, a certain amount of open space would be provided in conformance with the GPP’s Design Guidelines, thereby offsetting some of this temporary open space impact. Moreover, the Technical Memorandum did consider changes in background conditions in the assessment of open space in accordance with the methodology set forth in the FEIS. It concluded that the Project would not affect the baseline conditions, as the Project’s publicly-accessible open space has not changed since the FEIS and the demand generated by the project-generated population would remain the same. There would be no new significant adverse impacts. The open space analysis accounts for all project-generated population and did not exclude those that would have used the private open spaces.
(Emphasis added)

AYR:
The temporary impact wouldn't "continue to be addressed" by completion of the planned open space; rather, it would "finally be addressed."

Signage

Comment 49:
There were no renderings showing the gigantic sign (150 by 75 feet) that was in the original proposal. This signage would have a significant impact on the surrounding neighborhood. Will new renderings show a street-level perspective of the signage?

Response: As the Arena block is further designed, the proposed signage design will conform to the Design Guidelines. The MGPP does not propose any changes to the Design Guidelines.

AYR: The ESDC dodged the question. There are no renderings of the signage initially attached to the Urban Room.

Traffic costs

Comment 63: Public costs for mitigating potential traffic impacts from the Project have not been factored into the fiscal analysis for the Project.

Response: It is expected that FCRC will be responsible for a substantial portion of the traffic mitigation cost although a portion of the infrastructure cost subsidies provided by the City and State may be used for certain roadway improvements.

AYR: This sounds like some more wiggle room.

Traffic impacts

Comment 65: Under the MGPP, the construction of the Vanderbilt Yards will be delayed, resulting in all “interim” parking and construction staging and parking to the southern side of the site, which will result in changes in study area traffic patterns for indeterminate periods compared to what was previously analyzed. The effects of additional traffic and air pollution on Dean Street, Pacific Street and Flatbush Avenue should be analyzed.

Response: Delay in the construction of the rail yard is not expected. However, even if the rail yard construction were delayed, it would not affect the interim parking and construction staging uses described in the FEIS and Technical Memorandum upon completion of Phase I.

AYR: It would not affect the uses, but it would affect their duration.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Finally, Marty Markowitz embraces the Prokhorov purchase of the Nets and the arena

It took a little while--and an anonymously sourced New York Post story saying he was steamed and embarrassed--but Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz now says he's happy Russian mogul Mikhail Prokhorov is buying 80% of the Nets and 45% of the Barclays Center.

The Post reports:
"Brooklyn is the Russian capital of America, so Mr. Prokhorov will feel right at home here, and I have been assured he will put the interests of Brooklyn first when it comes to making [the planned] Barclays Center and its benefits to Brooklyn a reality," Markowitz told the Post.


Note that Markowitz is not talking about the project's benefits to Brooklyn, because the timetable is very murky.

As for benefits to Brooklyn, no one's quite toted them up. We know that the New York City Independent Budget Office says the arena would be a net loss for the city.

Would the increase in local retail spending and opportunity to use the arena for, say, Hasidic weddings, make up for the ongoing blight of interim surface parking? Markowitz seems to think so.

But he sure doesn't have a hotline to the incoming Nets owner the way he's had with Bruce Ratner. (Or is that vice versa, as the New Yorker suggested?)

Opportunity for Thompson? Looking at Bloomberg's support for the West Side Stadium, reflexive backing for AY, and how AY was reframed in polls

Underdog Democratic mayoral nominee Bill Thompson's an Atlantic Yards supporter. Indeed, he signed a boilerplate letter (left) in July 2005 to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in support of the project.

Should Thompson somehow challenge Mayor Mike Bloomberg on his support for the project, the challenger might gain some headway--only if he looked back in history and framed the issue appropriately. (Right now the only AY critic in the race is Green Party candidate Rev. Billy Talen.)

After all, there was originally widespread civic dismay at the plan, just as there was for the West Side Stadium, and the support Atlantic Yards has garnered depends in part on overoptimistic assumptions about its benefits.

And Atlantic Yards is radioactive enough for Bloomberg to ignore it on his campaign web site. Nor, despite claims about the project's benefits, was AY mentioned in Bloomberg's PlaNYC 2030 sustainability plan, likely because the report lays out a plan to develop railyards that involves local input, in stark opposition to the fait accompli in Brooklyn.

Reframing AY

Only when supporters reframed Atlantic Yards from an arena project dependent on subsidies and eminent domain to a project that would provide affordable housing and jobs did it win public support.

That framing was questionable--after all, the New York City Independent Budget Office assigns most of the subsidies to the arena, finding the arena a net loser for the city, and could go farther to include naming rights.

However, even for those who agree with the framing, there's reason to question it.

While Atlantic Yards was supposed to take a decade, deal has been structured to deliver affordable housing at a much slower pace, likely 25 years, and there wouldn't be many jobs beyond temporary construction jobs. The Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) "economic benefit analysis" isnt serious.

Bloomberg's record: unequivocal support

Mayoral biographer Joyce Purnick says Bloomberg thinks like a developer, valuing tax revenues from development above all else. However, as I pointed out, it's more than that. Bloomberg has maintained consistent support for the project, changing his rhetoric when necessary and contradicting himself.

In a January 2004 radio interview, he claimed erroneously that "any city monies of any meaningful size will be debt issues financed by the extra tax revenues that come from this." He agreed with his interviewer that moving the Nets from New Jersey represented the "free market."

In February 2005, a nonbinding Memorandum of Understanding committed $100 million in city funds to be used for infrastructure or land purchases.

In September 2005, the Independent Budget Office reported that the arena would produce a modest fiscal surplus for the city, given the $100 million in direct subsidies.

In January 2007, a month after the project was approved by the Empire State Development Corporation and the Public Authorities Control Board, Bloomberg assigned an additional $105 million for project infrastructure.

In March 2007, we learned that all of the original $100 million would be used for land purchases.

In May 2009, Bloomberg said there would be no more direct subsidies for the project.

In June 2009, mayoral appointees on the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority led the justification for a revised deal for the Vanderbilt Yard that would cut the initial payment by Forest City Ratner by $80 million and give the developer 22 years to pay the rest, as well as permission to build a smaller railyard than promised.

In August 2009, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's Daniel Goldstein wrote:
Sole-source, no-bid contracts and cronyism for a money-losing, publicly funded arena do not demonstrate sound economic stewardship.


This month, the IBO reported that the arena would cost the city $40 million and represent a far greater loss in opportunity costs.

Also this month, as the Empire State Development Corporation re-approved the Atlantic Yards plan, the city agreed to accelerate $15 million in payments to Forest City Ratner and to transfer directly to the developer funds allotted for infrastructure.

Coming soon (likely): assessments on arena land sufficient to generate the PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes) for the tax-exempt bonds to build the arena.

Looking back at 2005

The Race for Mayor: Campaign Roundtable 2005, held on 11/29/05 at the Center for New York City Affairs, is worth a look for a number of reasons, notably the impact of Bloomberg's support for the controversial West Side Stadium.

One important piece of context: a Quinnipiac Poll issued 1/20/05 showed New Yorkers 58-34 against a new West Side Stadium for the Jets and the Olympics.

Bloomberg Communications Director Bill Cunningham commented at the forum: "The mayor had been promoting the stadium for years. He had been promoting the Olympics for years. He believed they were good for the city... and I think ultimately, although he did not get what he set out to get in terms of the stadium or the Olympics, I think people gave him credit for fighting hard for what he believed in."

Asked what he tried to do to minimize the prospect of political damage, Cunningham observed, "Well, before it was ultimately resolved, remember, to a large degree the stadium is what generated support for us among the building trade unions throughout the city. ... And outside Manhattan, in different communities, there were different views about the stadium. In some places they saw it as possibly a good thing. They saw it as jobs. They saw it as bringing the Jets to New York."

"In Manhattan it was viewed very differently, obviously, in terms of traffic, congestion and the size of the project on the West Side," he continued. "But if we had to deal with the stadium going forward, we would have been making the best case in the outer boroughs on the job creation front."

One difference with the Atlantic Yards plan: Manhattan--especially neighborhoods near the West Side--does not have a large contingent of construction workers.

Benefits of stadium failure

Cunningham was asked: "When the stadium was killed, were you happy?"

"We sent flowers to Shelly Silver," he quipped, a reference to the Assembly Speaker, responsible for killing the stadium plan at the state level.

"We understand in the polling that people disagreed. They thought the money could be used differently," Cunningham acknowledged. "It would have been a particular problem... to better our numbers in Manhattan."

The same argument could be made about the AY arena: the direct subsidies and tax breaks, as well as tax-exempt housing bonds, might be better used elsewhere. Now, in fact, Thompson could point out that the benefits would go in part to Russia's richest man.

Cummingham was seconded by Nick Baldick, who worked on the campaign of Democratic candidate Freddy Ferrer: "The best thing that could have happened to the mayor was the stadium going down. We all had polling that shows it would have been brutal for him. Not that I think he would have lost... He got the best of both worlds... he got the political bonus because there were some unions that he was seen as fighting for them. And then he didn't get the pain."

Ferrer's failure

Robert Hardt Jr., NY1 News political director commented in an essay:
I was genuinely shocked by the Ferrer campaign's inability or unwillingness to go for the jugular during much of the campaign.

He wrote:
Where were the weekly tours to libraries across the city that were closed on weekends during Bloomberg’s watch? Where was the trip to Washington, DC, to challenge Bloomberg to take on his fellow Republicans in Congress and in the White House? Where was the bridge-building to the fire marshals who had been demoted less than five years after 9/11? And how could the Ferrer campaign not hold a single press conference to highlight Bloomberg’s very questionable relationship with Lenora Fulani and Fred Newman of the Independence Party?

As I wrote in November 2005, Ferrer also flubbed the opportunity to take on the mayor regarding his support for Atlantic Yards, and the press made it worse, with the New York Times choosing to highlight not Ferrer's decision to oppose the project but the Rev. Al Sharpton's criticism of Ferrer.

Polls on Atlantic Yards

Polls initially showed opposition to Atlantic Yards, but later turned to support. It likely has to do with questions were framed: people were wary of government support for a sports facility but were willing to support a larger project that would "provide" affordable housing.

A 4/1/04 Quinnipiac Poll suggested that locals favored a new arena for the Nets in Brooklyn, but only if it didn't require tax dollars.

29. Do you favor or oppose the government spending tax dollars to build a new arena for the Nets basketball team in Brooklyn?
Yes: 35%
No: 59%
DK: 7%

30. Would you favor or oppose the building of a new arena for the Nets in Brooklyn, if it was built without using tax dollars?
Yes: 75%
No: 19%
DK: 6%

(Click on graphics to enlarge)

The New York Times, interestingly enough, did not report on the poll, though the other dailies did so, as noted on page 46 of my September 2005 report on the Times.

The Times poll: the arena and demolition

The 4/21/04 New York Times Poll indicated that 45% of those polled favored a new arena, with 42% opposed and 14% saying they didn't know or it was not applicable.

However, those who favored the arena were then asked: "What if new arena requires the demolition of the local homes and businesses? Then do you favor or oppose building a new arena in Brooklyn?"

Of that 45% in favor, more than half, 25%, opposed the new arena, with 18% in favor and 4% DK/NA. (That adds up to 47%, not 45%.)

Note that this question involved demolition but not demolition via eminent domain, surely a higher barrier.

Notably, the Times didn't report on this poll until May of 2006.

The Times poll: the arena and subsidies

A 6/26/05 The New York Times Poll asked the same question--"Do you favor or oppose building a new arena in Brooklyn for the Nets?"--and the numbers changed notably, from 45% to 37% in favor, and from 42% to 45% opposed. A larger group, 17%, was DK/NA.

[Note: the poll had a misprint, identifying the responses in June as from 2004 rather than 2005]

Nearly half of those in favor, however, withdrew their support when asked, "What if a new arena in Brooklyn cost $200 million in public funds? Then do you think the city should or should not build a new arena in Brooklyn?"

Of course, the city was never going to build the arena, but city and state funding/approval would be needed.

And the project now would cost much more in public funds, some $305 million in direct subsidies and hundreds of millions of dollars more in tax breaks and other benefits, including naming rights.

The Times, as noted on p. 46 of my report, didn't report on the poll.

The move toward support

The most recent poll, however, was support of Atlantic Yards, and Forest City Ratner did its best to exploit it, such as in this September 2006 letter to the ESDC from Jim Stuckey, then Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards point man.

In September 2006, Crain's reported:
The colossal and controversial Atlantic Yards development is favored by a solid 60% of city residents and disliked by only 25%, according to a Crain's New York Business poll. New Yorkers cite the jobs and affordable housing that it promises for Brooklyn as the two most important benefits of the project.

I pointed out that the questions were stunning generalities and that different phrasing--such as pointing out the cost and timing of the affordable housing--could sway the results.

Now, the promised benefits of the project would be both delayed and attenuated. Do Bloomberg's critics notice?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The orchestrated timing of the Prokhorov deal: just after the main opportunity for public agencies to ask questions

The timing of the deal with Mikhail Prokhorov seems clearly orchestrated, in the works but not announced until after the Atlantic Yards plan received its second approval, on September 17, from the Empire State Development Corporation.

In July

DDDB reminds us that, as I wrote on July 24, Forest City Ratner Executive VP MaryAnne Gilmartin was asked about reports that principal owner Bruce Ratner was selling the Nets to minority owner (and Brooklynite) Vinny Viola.

"That's not true," Gilmartin said.

Maybe so, I wrote, but it was a narrow answer to a narrow question. Indeed, the team was on the block and Dave D'Alessandro of the Star-Ledger was even mentioning the possibility of a billionaire industrialist from Russia.

The AP this week reported that Bruce Ratner flew to Moscow in July to meet with Prokhorov.

In September

In an AP story published the day after the AY project was approved, Nets President Brett Yormark would not confirm that Prokhorov is a potential investor.

As noted in the Utah press, Russian-born hoopster Andrei Kirilenko "learned the news about a week before reports surfaced that Prokhorov was set to buy the struggling Nets."

The project was approved September 17. The deal was announced September 23.

Effect on approval?

Michael D.D. White, in his Noticing New York blog, wonders whether the Empire State Development Corporation could disapprove the Prokhorov transaction and suggests it might.

I'm not so sure, given that the ESDC's agreement would still be with the majority owner of the Atlantic Yards project and arena.

Housing bonds for Prokhorov?

Going forward, however, White suggests another tension:
But even if ESDC and the MTA manage to somehow sidestep the question of such approval or even if they do approve Prokhorov, the next question is the review that Prokhorov will need to be subjected to if he is to be a major participant in owning the rest of the project. After all, everyone knows that the arena is projected to be at least a $220 million net loss for the city. The ostensible reason for proceeding with this mega-project anyway was that affordable housing might speculatively be provided someday. Well, if Prokhorov has to be involved, the awkwardness in redirecting housing subsidy away from other housing developers to the Prokhorov tainted team becomes pronounced. The housing, per se, becomes less likely. For ESDC and the MTA to approve the new Prokhorov deal now makes for exceedingly awkward nonapprovals in the future.


Prokhorov has an option on 20% of the project as a whole, so Forest City Ratner would still be the majority owner.

Other billionaires get tax-exempt financing--hey, that helps them stay billionaires--so that's not the argument. There are some clouds over Prokhorov's reputation--a prostitution investigation in France, alleged Mafia ties--but nothing solid.

Still, there's something to it. Forest City Ratner, for all the criticism it has engendered, has a track record in New York City and Brooklyn. Elected officials were happy to work with it.

Do the profits stay in New York? Not necessarily--they go to Cleveland. But the idea of scarce housing bonds going to help a Russian oligarch surely would give some local officials reason for pause.

And maybe that's why Borough President Marty Markowitz has been so quiet--though I fully expect an effusive statement explaining that he's happy that, in such tough times, the announced benefits of Atlantic Yards are on their way. Even if many of them are not.

From the MTA bid

As a reminder, the page at right comes from Forest City Ratner's May 2005 bid to the MTA:
Forest City Ratner is the leading developer of commercial and retail properties in the New York City metropolitan area and has developed more commercial projects in New York City over the last 16 years than any other development firm.

Had the text mentioned the Onexim Group a few eyebrows would've been raised.

(Click on graphic to enlarge)

Would AY get Liberty Bonds? Crain's source asserts it's eligible

There's a curious passage in a Crain's New York Business article, headlined Atlantic Yards gets a lift:
“The deal appears to make it more likely that Forest City can take advantage of the tax-free Liberty Bonds by year's end and attract other investors,” says Neysa Pranger, director of public affairs for Regional Plan Association. “But there's still a way to go.”

Liberty Bonds, which were aimed at the revitalization of Lower Manhattan in the wake of 9/11, have never been mentioned as a source for Atlantic Yards arena financing. It would be controversial, to say the least, to see "federal assistance made available to New York to support the Lower Manhattan rebuilding effort" helping a Russian oligarch.

Liberty Bonds are aimed at commercial property (i.e., offices):
The financing may be for the acquisition, construction, reconstruction and/or renovation of non-residential real property within the New York Liberty Zone and, under limited circumstances, elsewhere within The City of New York.

And it looks like the program is over, supplanted by stimulus funding.

Location issues

Liberty Bonds were supposed to be for Lower Manhattan:
The “New York Liberty Zone” or “Zone” is the area located on or south of Canal Street, East Broadway (east of its intersection with Canal Street), and Grand Street (east of its intersection with East Broadway), in the Borough of Manhattan.

But there's a loophole:
The Project facility must be located in the New York Liberty Zone; (under certain circumstances, a Project may be located outside the Zone but within the City).

Forest City Ratner, however, did manage a coup, gaining Liberty Bonds for the Bank of New York Tower at the Atlantic Terminal Mall, which is in Brooklyn, not Lower Manhattan. Here's the press release.

Where have you gone, Mr. Stuckey? To academe and the questionable promotion of AY as transit-oriented development

It's no surprise that Atlantic Yards is a topic of academic interest, but only those at New York University's Wagner School are getting a chance to learn about it from Jim Stuckey, the former point man on the project for Forest City Ratner. And, as I describe below, there's reason to believe that the students may not be getting the full debate.

Stuckey appointment

An effusive August press release from the NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies informs us that James Stuckey - Developer and Former Economic Development Official - Is New Leader of NYU Schack Institute of Real Estate:
The New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies (NYU-SCPS) today announced the appointment of James P. Stuckey as divisional dean of the NYU Schack Institute of Real Estate, the University’s home for graduate and continuing professional education and applied research in real estate, construction management, and related fields.

Throughout his 30-plus-year career as a public official and real estate executive, Stuckey has led some of the most complex and storied development in recent New York City history, including Forest City Ratner Company’s Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn.

"Jim Stuckey is an exemplary leader," said NYU-SCPS Dean Robert Lapiner. “His lifetime of significant achievement in real estate and regional economic development, in construction management, and urban design seamlessly combined with his lifelong engagement with teaching, public service, and community life embody the academic mission, professional values, and ambitions we have for the NYU Schack Institute of Real Estate. On behalf of our entire School community, I am truly elated he will be lending his energy, intellect, and vision to the Institute and our University.”

Teaching at Wagner

Stuckey also has been Adjunct Associate Professor of Public Administration at NYU's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service since 2008. Wagner School. The school gives degrees in Public Administration, Urban Planning, and Management.

Stuckey is also the President, CEO and founder of Verdant Properties, a real estate development, ownership, acquisitions and consulting LLC. Unmentioned are some other Stuckey highlights, such as his appearance in a book on Brooklyn published last year

Transforming the Urban Economy

Stuckey teaches a class called TRANSFORMING THE URBAN ECONOMY. From the syllabus:
This course will examine the economic development concepts, programs and projects in cities, with particular emphasis on the New York City metropolitan area. It will provide students with a basic understanding of the process of economic development, tools for assessing development opportunities and for promoting economic development, information on both successful and unsuccessful strategies and projects, and opportunities to discuss current issues in economic development.

The intention of this course is to present students with information on how economic development projects and tools are created, evaluated, and implemented from both theoretical and experiential points of view. The course will also look at essential elements of development projects, review negotiation strategies, and analyze standard investment packages.

The course will include readings and discussions on a number of current cases in economic development in the New York City area.

The AY example: transit-oriented development?

Here's one Atlantic Yards mention:
Class 8 – Infrastructure Investment and development: transit-oriented development (October 27)
• What is transit-oriented development?
• Policy and planning tools for implementing TOD.
• Potential impacts of TOD.
• Examples: Atlantic Yards, Brooklyn; Moynihan Station; West Side Yards.
Required Reading:
• Robert Cervero, et al., Transit Oriented Development in the United States: Experiences, Challenges, and Prospects. 2004, Chapters 1, 9, 11 and 20.
• Regional Plan Association Reports on Moynihan Station, The West Side Yards and Newark, New Jersey.

There's no reading for Atlantic Yards. Will Stuckey assign my critique of the project's parking plan?

Reading Sagalyn

Stuckey is assigning Lynne Sagalyn's critique of Times Square development, which, as I noted this past week, raises many questions about AY.

Class 9 – Inner-city Economic Development (November 3)
• Why do inner cities lag behind?
• The Porter Thesis
• Assessing Inner-city Communities’ strengths and weaknesses.
• Building on local strengths, dealing with weaknesses.
• Examples from Newark and Times Square.
Required Reading:
• Segalyn, Lynn B. Times Square Roulette: Remaking the City Icon. MIT Press, 2001. Required chapters will be discussed in Class, although it is highly recommended that students read the entire book.
(That's Lynne Sagalyn, actually.)

The AY Community Benefits Agreement

Stuckey acknowledges there's a debate about Community Benefits Agreements but doesn't, at least according to the syllabus, assign any critiques:
Class 10 – People and Neighborhoods (November 10)
• Strengthening the city’s economy: the critical role of neighborhoods.
• Workforce development programs – neighborhood and sector strategies.
Community Benefits Agreements – raising the bar or feudal economies?

Required Reading:
• Richard Florida,
“Competing in the Age of Talent: Environment, Amenities and the New Economy,” January 2000
• Radha Roy Biswas, “Our Success is Our Graduates,” Case Study of Year Up: A Career Advancement Model for Low-Income Young Adults (Jobs for the Future) 2005
• The Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement, June 27, 2005.

Here's one critique of the CBA.

The international angle

Here's the description of the closing class:
Class 15-Bringing it together (December 15)
• How do all the pieces fit together?
• What is the future for urban development, the relationships internationally?
• Class discussion of major projects.

Did Stuckey know that Russia's richest man would be buying into AY?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

In whimsical, cliched essay, Times writer introduces Brooklyn to oligarch, misses opportunity to point out "Soviet-style bureaucracy" in charge of AY

Sunday's New York Times Week in Review section has a cutesy piece headlined Brooklyn, Meet Your Oligarch, by Moscow correspondent and former Brooklynite Clifford J. Levy, who really has done much better work.

The irony is that, had Levy understood the Atlantic Yards project better, he would've mentioned a curious commonality Prokhorov's country and the Atlantic Yards project: AY has been shepherded and approved by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), which has an unelected and hardly well-informed board. No local official has a vote.

And the biggest critic of public authorities like the ESDC, Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, calls them "Soviet-style bureaucracies." And I've suggested some of the ESDC's explanations represent "Soviet-style math."

Prokhorov, meet Brooklyn

Levy writes:
MOSCOW — Let’s agree that Mikhail D. Prokhorov, the Russian billionaire who is the latest savior for the Nets basketball team and its ballyhooed move to Brooklyn, is no pushover. After all, oligarchs have their share of occupational hazards: heavily armed rivals, stupendously corrupt bureaucrats and, no doubt, the evil eye of the Kremlin itself.

Even so, has Mr. Prokhorov ever faced a foe as resourceful, tenacious and just plain ornery as Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, the grassroots group that has fought the plan for a new arena for the Nets in the borough every step of the way?


It's not just DDDB--though it's notable that Levy has a very different view of the AY opposition than does the Daily News. It's an online world in which blogs like this one, NoLandGrab, and Noticing New York can offer reportage, analysis, and critique. The NYT wrote about that phenomenon in April 2006.

But Prokhorov has an ally Levy wasn't about to mention. The New York Times Company, parent of his own newspaper, was enmeshed in a partnership with Forest City Ratner to build the Times Tower, and the Times has never ever editorialized against the project.

Intro to Brooklyn?

Levy, treating the Prokhorov sale almost as a done deal, continues:
Perhaps Mr. Prokhorov needs an introduction to this place that he hopes will burnish his worldwide reputation (but may instead bring him to tears). And Brooklynites might want learn a little more about the Russian elite, given that Mr. Prokhorov could be as outsize a celebrity owner as George Steinbrenner.

Allow me to act as an anthropological interpreter. I live in Moscow, not far from Mr. Prokhorov’s office on Tverskoy Boulevard, though my home until three years ago was in Brooklyn, not far from site of the proposed Nets arena, Atlantic Yards.

Yes, there are contrasts. Mr. Prokhorov bankrolled a magazine for Russia’s nouveau riche called Snob. Denizens of Brownstone Brooklyn like to pad around in plastic clogs.

Plastic clogs? C'mon.

United we stand?

Levy continues:
Yet first, we should highlight what can unite the two sides.

Both mourn former glory, albeit in not quite the same context. Brooklyn once had its own major league sports team, the Dodgers, who played baseball at Ebbets Field before fleeing for Los Angeles in 1958, leaving the borough bereft. Well before baseball, the borough had a storied past, land of Walt Whitman and other luminaries. The Nets arena is supposed to accentuate its renaissance.


Why do Times reporters like Levy and Charles Bagli/Richard Sandomir (authors of a 1/16/04 article that claimed a move by the Nets would "repudiate a 50-year cycle of declne") believe the cliche about the loss of the Dodgers?

As authors Michael D'Antonio and Pete Hamill have pointed out, nostalgia for the Dodgers began to dissipate in the early 1960s.

The Russians are coming?

Levy continues:
Russia fell on hard times after the Soviet collapse, and yearns to return to superpower status. The oligarchs, who before the financial crisis were increasingly going international, are considered an engine for restoring the country’s might and prestige. If Mr. Prokhorov succeeds, it would be a boon for both Russia and Brooklyn.

Of course, let’s not forget who has helped to drive Brooklyn’s revival in recent decades. Russians! The borough has more than 150,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who began arriving en masse in the 1970s and who have made the Brighton Beach neighborhood, a k a Little Odessa, famous in Russia.


OK, maybe this piece is a little tongue in cheek. Surely immigrants helped drive Brooklyn's revival, as did brownstoners, but there are a lot more Caribbeans, for example, than Russians.

The role of government

Levy continues:
Still, Mr. Prokhorov, who is to control the Nets and a large minority stake in the arena, may have culture shock when he grasps what it takes to complete a project in New York City. Environmental impact statements? Community board input? Appellate court review? Can’t we get the thumb’s up from the local chieftain and get it done?

The reporter in Moscow hasn't done his homework.

Doesn't he realize there's no community board input for the Atlantic Yards project, given that Mayor Mike Bloomberg--an oligarch in his own way--passed the project on to the state to override zoning and pursue eminent domain?

Or that the environmental impact statement and General Project Plan are written by a consultant, AKRF, that always writes pro-developer documents? And that the project has passed all its bureaucratic hurdles?

Russia vs. Brooklyn

He continues:
In Russia, where governance has an authoritarian cast and civil society is less than robust, it is unusual for a project to be significantly delayed or killed because of community opposition. (On the other hand, work is often hamstrung by financial malfeasance or bureaucratic incompetence.)

“Things are still done in a very simple way in Moscow,” said Alec Brook-Krasny, a Moscow native who emigrated at age 30 in 1989 and now represents Brighton Beach in the New York State Assembly. “Whoever is the main person in the neighborhood, the main official in the city, that person makes the decisions. In 99 percent of the cases, it’s the final decision, and the community has no say.”

In other words, Mr. Prokhorov should realize that when it comes to cracking the whip, Marty Markowitz, the bubbly Brooklyn borough president, is no Vladimir Putin.


Um, that's because Markowitz has no power.

Bloomberg, however, is able to insert new funding for the project in the city's budget and have his appointees on the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority offer sketchy justification for revising the deal with Forest City Ratner for the Vanderbilt Yard.

Welcoming arenas

Levy continues:
Artur Markaryan, head of Russia’s developer trade group, said the arena situation might perplex Mr. Prokhorov because such a backlash over sports almost never occurs in Russia. In fact, Mr. Prokhorov was criticized by some Russian commentators last week for not spending his money on sports teams and arenas in Russia.

“Stadiums, and facilities like that, are always very welcomed,” Mr. Markaryan said.

Understanding Brooklyn


Levy professes to teach some anthropology:
Russian oligarchs prefer London, and when they come to New York, they hobnob across the river in Manhattan. Here, then, are a few things for Mr. Prokhorov to know about the species inhabiting the neighborhoods near the arena site, especially the ones that have been noisiest in opposition.

Not to overly generalize, but those residents tend to be a liberal, touchy-feely bunch. (During the 2000 presidential election, I recall, there was a public forum in Park Slope to debate the merits of the candidates. It was titled, “Gore or Nader?,” as if the idea of even considering voting for George W. Bush was preposterous.)

The people like organic food and bicycles. They compost. They fuss over their children. They don’t miss living in Manhattan. You get the idea.

Muscovites don’t recycle, smoke heavily, are enamored of big cars and often park them anywhere, including all over the sidewalks. They also fuss over their children, maybe more so. But I have never seen them wear plastic clogs.

By the way, Brooklyn, with its striking diversity and population of 2.5 million people, encompasses a whole lot more than brownstoners and Russian immigrants (who may be simply the ones who draw more of Mr. Prokhorov’s attention).


Um, thanks.

Buying a winner?

The essay concludes:
Mr. Prokhorov, 44, contributed to the bawdy image of the oligarchs when he was questioned, but not charged, in a prostitution inquiry in 2007 in France.

Other aspects of his life are more appealing. Earlier this year, he moved his official residence to a village in Siberia, apparently so that he could support the locals by paying taxes there. He is very tall, and enjoys playing basketball, but also has taken up volleyball and kickboxing.

But maybe none of this is so important, beyond Mr. Prokhorov’s most noteworthy characteristic. He is very, very rich, and for Nets fans, who have had longstanding disappointments, that counts.

My close friend David Goldberg, a Park Slope resident who roots fiercely for the team, said he has already had visions of Mr. Prokhorov using his fortune to lure a certain superstar to the Nets.

“As long as he knows how to write ‘LeBron James’ on a paycheck — in Cyrillic or whatever — we are willing to put up with almost anything else,” he said.


I'm not sure one friend of the author can speak for the borough.