Thursday, March 18, 2010

Disdainful Bloomberg damns "naysayers" who delayed Ratner, says Atlantic Yards would be bigger and arrive faster "if we'd let him go ahead then"

During his weekly radio appearance (audio, transcript) on WOR's John Gambling Show last Friday, Mayor Mike Bloomberg damned Atlantic Yards protesters as naysayers and made multiple dubious claims about the project.

Then again, as developer Bruce Ratner said at the groundbreaking, Bloomberg was behind the project from the get-go.

He'll be back on WOR/710 AM shortly after 8am Friday.

Ground Zero

Bloomberg got to Atlantic Yards only after talking about Ground Zero: "We all, back on 9/11, said, ‘We’re not going to let the terrorists beat us today.’ There’s a different economy and we say, ‘I don’t want to put money in.’ The bottom line is we cannot have a hole in the ground. You just- can you imagine ten years from now, and if you don’t do it now ten years from now there will be this hole in the ground. People from around the world are going to come, they’re going to come to the memorial, which is on budget, on scheduled to get done, and the Freedom Tower’s going up, and they’ll say, ‘What’s this big hole?’ 20 years later New York, America couldn’t build?"

"And some of the editorial writers keep saying, ‘Well, it’s not the right plan. Wait, wait, wait.’ It’s never the right plan," Bloomberg said, in an echo of comments he's made about Atlantic Yards. "There’s never the time. If there was ever a time I think to build some office buildings downtown you couldn’t have a better time than now."

Time to build

He went on to suggest that the time was right to build: "There hasn’t been anything built in awhile. It takes four or five years to build these buildings, by which time the economy hopefully will be a heck of a lot better, but it certainly will be different than today. Today you can sign contracts to buy steel and cement and labor a lot cheaper than you could in the boom times. In the boom times is not the time to go in and build these things and if you go back and you look at the big things that were done in this city – whether it’s the Empire State Building or the subways or the Central Park – they’re all done when these self-styled experts would say, ‘Oh, it’s not the right time. The market isn’t there.’ They find a million excuses."

Of course, Bruce Ratner said last November that the market isn't there for an office building in the Atlantic Yards project.

"If you’re a developer, you build now so that when the market improves, you’ve got something to sell," said Bloomberg, evidently comfortable with more risk than some of his favored developers.

Build on spec?

Gambling noted that the Port Authority, Bloomberg's policy adversary on Ground Zero, has said it won't finance a building on spec.

"In bull market times, you don’t build buildings on spec. In bear market times, you do." said Bloomberg, again in contrast to Ratner's plans. "In bull market times when you build them with tenants you better hope those tenants’ leases are good and that’s what happened to a lot of developers. Those leases weren’t good. This is- I suppose you could argue it’s spec, but let me tell you what the speculation is. The speculation is that America is going to survive. The speculation is that New York is going to be the greatest city in the world. The speculation is that people are going to come from around the world to a place where we have a symbol of what happens when you forget that freedom is fragile. That’s the speculation, not on the- buildings are going to fill up."

"This is New York City and we haven’t built any big, new buildings in a long time. There’s a handful going up. It’s like somebody said to me the other day, ‘There’s 9,000 apartments available.’ Yeah, out of 3 million. Come on. New York and America, we’re supposed to look to the future and lead. The glass is more than half full and there’s always naysayers, but that’s just what happens. I love it- yesterday I was there breaking ground-"

Atlantic Yards

"At Atlantic Yards," Gambling said helpfully.

"Atlantic Yards," Bloomberg said. "You think about this, Brooklyn- Brooklyn would be the second or third largest city in the country if it was a city by itself, maybe third. Chicago might be- I’ve got to go- I forget, but up there."

(Brooklyn, with about 2.6 million people, would be fourth, after New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. But Brooklyn's not a real city, is it? It has no newspaper. It could use one.)

"The Atlantic Yards have more subways and trains coming into it than Penn Station, where Madison Garden- Madison Square Garden is," Bloomberg said, unmindful of the difference between copious commercial parking around MSG and the need for interim surface parking on the Atlantic Yards site.

The market for an arena

"You’ve got a sports crazy borough and no professional sports," he said. "You’ve got a market for shows and circuses and things like that that it’s right there. They don’t have to come from anyplace."

Yes, there might be a good market for the Barclay Center, despite the arena glut. What Bloomberg won't grapple with is whether it would be a good deal for the city, given warnings by the New York City Independent Budget Office of major losses.

"You’ve got all of Long Island, Nassau and Suffolk County. They can get there a heck of lot easier than they can get to West Side of Manhattan," Bloomberg said.

Not exactly. The Long Island Rail Road terminus in Brooklyn does offer significant rail access to Nassau and Suffolk counties, but MSG offers the same and more. (Note that the Port Washington branch, according to the LIRR map, only connects to Penn Station.)

Jobs and blight

"And there are people- and we need jobs and it’s a blighted area that’s been there for a long time," Bloomberg said, casually dispensing with two hugely contested issues.

Dissing DDDB

Bloomberg continued: "And you know there’s some people who still say, ‘Oh, no, no. It’s the wrong thing. Build, don’t destroy.’ And that sort of thing. Come on." (He couldn't even get the name of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn right.)

Who's got the vision

"This is one of the great things," the mayor said. "This is a good example- and in all fairness to Bruce Ratner, who’s fought this for seven years and the people that have delayed him made it so much more difficult and so much more expensive and he’s not building as big or as fast as he would’ve if he’d gone- if we’d let him go ahead then."

Bloomberg blames the delays only on project opponents, not the economy, Ratner's unrealistic plans, or the unavailability of subsidies.

Also note: If we'd let him go ahead then.

All the enablers

"But there’s a guy – I don’t mean to single out just him, because the Governor, this governor and the previous governors were helpful, and Marty Markowitz worked on this thing. He deserves a lot of credit for this," Bloomberg continued. "And our Administration, and there’s lots of other people that helped contribute. But those are the people that have a vision for the future and are building for the future and the naysayers – there’s never a good time."

A vision for the future? That came from the developer.

A developer-driven project

As I reported four years ago, in March 2006, Winston Von Engel, Deputy Director of the Department of City Planning's Brooklyn office, was on the hot seat in the Borough Hall courtroom.

"Just to be clear, this was a project that was initiated by the developer--is that right?" asked City Council aide Kate Suisman

"That's our understanding," Von Engel replied.

"Had the city been looking at making use of the land?" Suisman pressed on politely.

"Not that I can recall," Von Engel said. He noted that there were once plans decades ago for a campus for Baruch College of the City University of New York, as part of the Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area (ATURA). "This area was looked at in a very large context. What survived was the Atlantic Center mall [pictured], the Atlantic Terminal mall, the housing. So, in that sense there were plans at one point, but some of them were not realized."

He cited a recent rezoning for the Newswalk building--condos built out of an old Daily News manufacturing plant that sits on a piece of land sliced out of the Atlantic Yards footprint--and noted that other property owners in Prospect Heights had begun to convert industrial buildings to residential ones.

Suisman continued: Was there a reason the city didn't take a look at the area?

"We didn't decide to take a look at the yards," Von Engel replied. "They belong to the Long Island Rail Road. They use them heavily. They're critical to their operations. You do things in a step-by-step process. We concentrated on the Downtown Brooklyn development plan for Downtown Brooklyn. Forest City Ratner owns property across the way. And they saw the yards, and looked at those. We had not been considering the yards directly."

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