Tuesday, February 02, 2010

ESDC debuts new, more transparent web site; drops "New York Loves Business" but does claim it's "Open for Business"

The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) has managed a long-overdue revamping of its web site, adding significantly more background information and transparency, thus bringing it (belatedly) up to par with some other state agencies and authorities.

Notably, the ESDC--mainly referred to simply as Empire State Development (though the names seem interchangeable)--has finally dropped the "New York Loves Business" slogan and nylovesbiz.com web address.

Now, the home page proclaims that New York is "Open for Business."

While that doesn't exactly suggest that the ESDC plans to eschew "collaborative" relationships with developers--which, as I've pointed out, raise questions about the "arm's length" negotiation of a developer agreement with Forest City Ratner--it's not smitten.

The web site was created in-house for less than $1000, a sign, according to the ESDC, of fiscal responsibility.

ESDC history

Also, there's finally a history of the agency, which is bureaucratically useful yet somewhat lacking:
The New York State Urban Development Corporation was created with a mandate to generate industrial, commercial and civic development in distressed urban areas and to create jobs through the construction of low- and moderate-income housing and the renovation or expansion of industrial and commercial facilities. UDC was given a broad range of statutory powers to attain those goals, including the authority to issue tax-exempt and non-tax exempt bonds, to provide flexibility in the application of local codes and to arrange full or partial exemption from real estate taxes. The Corporation can also exercise powers of condemnation, act as an agent in obtaining federal subsidies and grants for projects and invest in real estate at below-market interest rates in a manner similar to that of an individual development agency. The Corporation’s ability to execute complex financial transactions, coordinate public and private resources and serve as a one-stop development authority thus offers a combination of services that no other private or public service entity in New York State can provide.
The reference to "distressed urban areas" might be amplified by knowledge that the Urban Development Corporation was created in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., as civil rights attorney Norman Siegel said at a state Senate hearing last month.

And the reference to "a combination of services that no other private or public service entity in New York State can provide" might be amplified by the observation, made by urban planning professor Alexander Garvin, that the UDC/ESDC has "a superagency with truly amazing powers."

Board members listed; four vacancies

The new web site lists ESDC Chairman-designate Dennis Mullen, plus three board members, Derrick D. Cephas, Kevin S. Corbett, and Richard Neiman.

There's a bio of Mullen elsewhere on the site, and Neiman is listed as NYS Superintendent of Banks (Ex Officio). However, there's no info about the others, who are entrusted, as we've learned, with determining and finding blight when presented with reports from consultants like AKRF.

Still, that's four board members short. Last June, based on info ESDC provided, I listed those board members, as well as Stanford Lipsey and Mark Hamister, plus two vacancies. Hamister's term has expired and Lipsey no longer serves at the pleasure of the governor.

Is there any estimate on when the vacancies would be filled? ESDC spokesman Warner Johnston couldn't say.

More information

There's lots of information about ESDC programs and a page devoted to subsidiaries and major development projects, among them Atlantic Yards. (Hint: if you want to see the Construction Updates, you have to click on Latest Atlantic Yards News.)

There's even a listing of seven senior staffers, including three--Executive Director Peter Davidson, General Counsel Anita Laremont, and Executive VP of Strategy, Policy & Public Affairs Darren Bloch--who've worked on Atlantic Yards.

While the functions of their positions are described, there's no biographical information.

Unlisted are the staffers--Senior Counsel Steve Matlin and Director of Planning and Environmental Review Rachel Shatz--closest to Atlantic Yards issues.

No redirects

One casualty of the switch is a set of new URLs, rending inoperative previous links to Atlantic Yards-related documents on this blog and others. (Here's the ESDC's new AY page, which links to most of those documents.)

Johnston said that, given that the new web site had been done in-house and on a shoestring, there had been no plan to redirect documents from previous URLs to the current ones.

I plan to embed individual documents on this blog, as well.

FOIL link?

I noticed that there initially is no contact information regarding Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests. (By contrast, the state housing finance agencies offer a page of instructions.)

I brought this up with Johnston, who said that contact information regarding FOIL requests would be added.

Some sloppiness

One of my eagle-eyed correspondents points out that the message from Gov. David Paterson states that "New York State, through Empire State Development (ESD), is working steadfast to create economic growth" and also aims to "assist your business achieve both short- and long-term goals."

In other words, the web site still could use a once-over.

(Click on graphic to enlarge)

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