Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Today's news quiz: "Atlantic Yards project was not properly presented"

The headline "Atlantic Yards project was not properly presented" refers to:

1) the Empire State Development Corporation's failure to have consultant AKRF do a market study (as contracted) of the Atlantic Yards footprint and environs and the failure to do a study of neighborhood conditions

2) Columnist George Will's scathing (if flawed) criticism (which made New York magazine's approval matrix) of the Empire State Development Corporation's finding of blight in the pursuit of eminent domain for Atlantic Yards

3) Forest City Enterprises CEO Chuck Ratner's complaint that columnist George Will didn't check with the company or elected officials before criticizing Atlantic Yards.

4) the Washington Post's willingness to print Ratner's letter without factchecking on jobs or other issues.

Answer: 3.

What's in, what's out

Chuck Ratner wrote:

Mr. Will never contacted the developer -- my company -- or supporters of the project, who include the governor, the mayor and the Brooklyn borough president. Yet he concluded that a "politically connected developer" is the recipient of largesse because the state agency leading the development can use eminent domain to obtain the remaining properties of individuals who refuse to sell. And he failed to note that my company controls 85 percent of the 22-acre site. Mr. Will also did not mention that nearly 40 percent of the site is a submerged rail yard, long a scar dividing this area of Brooklyn, and that the project will create nearly 17,000 construction jobs, 8,000 permanent jobs and 2,250 affordable apartment units.

Well, Will's column was about the state's dubious finding of blight. And, as NoLandGrab's Lumi Rolley pointed out, Forest City Ratner acquired the property it owns under the threat of eminent domain--and, I'd add, thanks to city subsidies.

As for the jobs figures, the construction jobs are in job-years and the figure for permanent jobs is about double the state's estimate. The project wouldn't "create" 2250 affordable apartment units; rather, the construction of those apartments depends on the availability of subsidies, and a good slice would be at or above market rates.

At least, unlike Seth Pinsky of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, Ratner doesn't think the railyard occupies the "vast majority" of the site.

In conclusion

Ratner concludes:

New York's unemployment rate is above 10 percent. Construction has all but halted there. We need to look to build in a way that can improve communities by creating mixed-income housing, jobs and vibrant centers that will attract visitors and residents.

Well, all construction creates short-term jobs. The question in Will's column was whether blight was a justification. Ratner ignored it. When the project was announced, the state's unemployment rate was much lower, so Ratner's company had to offer broader justifications; remember "Jobs, Housing, and Hoops"?

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