Skip to main content

On Brian Lehrer Show, NYC EDC's Pinsky avoids AY CBA discussion, misrepresents railyard, and claims he lives "a few blocks" from the site

On yesterday's Brian Lehrer Show, Seth Pinsky, president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, discussed Mayor Bloomberg's economic agenda and, not surprisingly, defended the city's posture on Atlantic Yards.

But his presentation was full of contradictions. Notably, Pinsky defended Community Benefits Agreements (CBA) only if they operate in an accountable fashion very different from the process behind the Atlantic Yards CBA.

He claimed, without foundation, that the "vast majority" of land in the Atlantic Yards site was a vacant railyard.

He expressed no doubt that 4500 affordable housing units would be built, though there's no assurance subsidies would be available.

And he claimed, in an exaggeration, that he lived just "a few blocks" from the site.

Defending the deals

Early in the show, Pinsky defended most of the city's development deals, asserting that "they had to garner approval not just from City Council but various levels of city government." He made a brief mention of Atlantic Yards, stating that "50% of the 4500 rental units are going to be affordable."

While that's the announced plan, it's hardly assured. As I wrote in September:
The proposed development agreement also includes "no less than Two Thousand Two Hundred Fifty (2,250) affordable housing units, subject to governmental authorities making available to Party B or its applicable successor or assign, after good faith review by the applicable administering agency, affordable housing subsidies consistent with then applicable programs rules and standards then generally available to developers of affordable housing units."
And, of course, a good slice of the subsidized "affordable" units would be at or above market.

Endorsing Bloomberg's take on CBAs

At about 9:00, Lehrer brought up Bloomberg's public statements opposing "so-called Community Benefit Agreements," noting that the mayor calls them a shakedown by local activists. Meanwhile, activists see developers as out to use their communities.

"Does EDC oppose CBAs as apparently the mayor does, as a matter of principle?" Lehrer asked.

"I think it's important to distinguish between garnering community benefits through the legally prescribed process and CBAs," Pinsky responded. "The objection that the mayor has is that communities, and who these community members are, have often tried to make agreements separate from the political process to benefit only those communities and only specific segments of the communities in ways that are completely unenforceable by the city and also in ways that cost the city and cost city taxpayers substantial amounts of money."

However, the Atlantic Yards CBA, to which Bloomberg served as a witness and which was promoted in a city press release, was outside the political process.

"What the mayor feels is the appropriate way is to ensure that communities and the city as a whole benefit, is to use the political process that we have, the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, through which the community board, the borough president, as well as the City Council are able to ensure that the communities get the benefits that they need," Pinsky concluded.

None of the three affected community boards participated in the Atlantic Yards CBA; in fact, they protested when Forest City Ratner in May 2006 claimed that the developer has misrepresented their participation in "crafting" the CBA.

An AY question

Noticing New York blogger Michael D.D. White (who also commented online) called regarding Atlantic Yards, suggesting that such megadevelopments involve large transfers of the public realm to private gain.

Lehrer cut him off--the comment wasn't concise--but asked Pinsky about Atlantic Yards and the associated CBA in particular.

Lehrer detailed some of the concerns: that none of the affordable housing might get built, but the government is still allowing the project--at least the arena--to go forward, with allowing "the developer to use eminent domain and close popular local businesses and seize people's homes. Where's the justice in that, especially if the affordable housing may not get built?"

"First of all, I think the premise of the earlier question is simply incorrect," Pinsky responded. "We have agreements with the developer that will ensure that affordable housing is in fact built."

We haven't seen those agreements and, as noted, the affordable housing is dependent on subsidies. Pinsky also ignored the contradiction between the Atlantic Yards CBA and Bloomberg's stance.

"In fact, it's likely that one of the first development parcels will be developed as an affordable project," Pinsky said, in a reference to the promise--made by Forest City Ratner and the state--that at least one tower is expected. "And that will follow very shortly after the commencement of the arena."

Misrepresenting the railyard

Also, it's important to remember that the vast majority of land on which Atlantic Yards is scheduled to be built is vacant land," said Pinsky, failing to recognize that the Vanderbilt Yard represents less than 40% of the 22-acre site.

"It's an open railyard that's divided communities among generations," he said. "And one of the goals of this project, which also has gotten a significant amount of community support--of course there are opponents, but significant surrounding communities have been very supportive of the project from the beginning--is meant to connect those communities to each other."

What "significant surrounding communities"? There are groups, notably paid CBA signatories, that support the project, but the three community boards either expressed opposition or concerns.

State vs. city

"Atlantic Yards itself is a state project," Pinsky continued. "The city has been involved. And through our involvement, we're trying to ensure that the goals that the city has are met, and we're confident they will be."

"That's sometimes the push and pull," Lehrer observed, suggesting that, while surrounding communities may like the project for the arena, shopping, and jobs, "people in the immediate community don't necessarily like it."

Street cred

"I live a few blocks from the project," responded Pinsky, exaggerating what (according to Google Maps) is a 14-minute walk from Montgomery Place and 8th Avenue in Park Slope to Freddy's Bar & Backroom (shown) or a 12-minute walk to the corner of Carlton Avenue and Dean Street, where there would be a large surface parking lot.

"And I understand there are obviously pluses and minuses," he continued. "There are pluses and minuses to any development, especially in a city like New York, where so much of it is already built out. What I also know, though, is that the current condition is not a positive one. It's not a positive one for the neighborhoods that are around that site. It's not a positive one for the the city as a whole. What we're looking to do is to balance the need to be able to pay for the development with the desires of the community as well."

Sure, that's a reasonable question: how to balance cost and environmental impact. But Pinsky can't even defend the process.

And if Pinsky is going to treat himself as a one-person focus group, let me point to the one person I know who lives in his building. My friend there doesn't like Atlantic Yards.

Meanwhile, Community Board 6, which includes Pinsky's block, opposed Atlantic Yards. And the more moderate Park Slope Civic Council, part of the "mend it, don't end it" BrooklynSpeaks coalition, finally went to court to try to stop the project.


  1. Mr. Pinsky should explain the pluses and minuses of a fixed deal bypassing ULURP, and the pluses and minuses of Brooklyn biggest proposed development bypassing any legislative vote.

    He should also explain the pluses and minuses of mischaracterizing the project site, and the pluses and minuses of a money losing arena for what is supposed to be an affordable housing project.

    He should also explain the pluses and minuses of a such a vague and elastic definition of blight as to include most of the city if the developer and agencies say so—even his pretty Montgomery Place/8th Avenue block would be blighted if ESDC wanted to say it was.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…

Former ESDC CEO Lago returns to NYC to head City Planning Commission

Carl Weisbrod, Mayor Bill de Blasio's City Planning Commission Chairman and Director of the Department of City Planning, is resigning,

And he's being replaced by Marisa Lago, currently a federal official, but who Atlantic Yards-ologists remember as the short-term Empire State Development Corporation CEO who, in an impolitic but candid 2009 statement, acknowledged that the project would take "decades."

Still, Lago not long after that played the good soldier at a May 2009 Senate oversight hearing, justifying changes in the project but claiming the public benefits remained the same.

By returning to City Planning, Lago will join former ESDC General Counsel Anita Laremont, who after retiring from the state (and taking a pension) got the job with the city.

Back at planning

Lago, a lawyer, in 1983 began work as an aide to City Planning Chairman Herb Sturz, and later served as the General Counsel to the president of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, Weisbrod himself.