Sunday, October 10, 2010

For Chinese as well as English speakers, a summary of my prior reportage on EB-5 financing of the Atlantic Yards/Barclays Center Project

For those who have not read my coverage of the EB-5 immigrant investor program run by the New York City Regional Center (NYCRC) and its pitch to prospective Chinese investors in the Atlantic Yards Project, here is a summary of issues:

[A translation appears here in Chinese.]

1) Despite the promotional material (as in the graphic below), this EB-5 project has no direct connection to the Nets basketball or the National Basketball Association (NBA).


The developer in Brooklyn, Forest City Ratner (FCR), is seeking $249 million in additional financing principally to build a new railyard, which it must build as part of the concession granted by state and local government for FCR to build a basketball area and permitting it as well to develop adjacent lots for residential and commercial purposes.

(If FCR obtains EB-5 financing, it will be saving tens of millions of dollars in interest that it would otherwise have to pay as a result of borrowing from the bond markets.)

The railyard is part of related infrastructure for the overall project, which would include 16 towers over 22 acres, along with the arena.

2) This EB-5 project has almost nothing to do with the Barclays Center, the planned arena (or stadium), which is intended to house an NBA team.

NYCRC says that the "project" for which it seeks investment consists of the arena, infrastructure, and the railyard. The costs of constructiing the arena and much of the infrastructure, however, were already funded through bonds and subsidies reserved to those purposes.

3) This EB-5 project is based on job-creation calculations justifying visas for participating Chinese investors, which are, at minimum, difficult to understand.

The project's proponents assert that the investment would create or retain 7696 jobs. It is unlikely that the proposed $249 million in financing could create or retain so many jobs, however.

Nor does it appear plausible that the cited job-creation number is based on the jobs created by adding the $249 million either to existing funding to build the arena or to future construction, which is not yet funded.

Jobs resulting from construction of the arena do not depend on FCR obtaining this new funding, only jobs resulting from construction of the railyard do. Jobs resulting from new residential or commercial development will require financing substantially above the $249 million sought through EB-5.

4) Since the "project" does not in fact appear to include the arena, the resulting share and to prospective immigrant investors would seem to be much higher than the 17% figure marketed by NYCRC. That would increase the net risk.

5) The developer likely has the means to proceed with the project without the additional low-cost financing sought from Chinese investors.

For example, FCR's parent company, Forest City Enterprises, has more than $467 million in cash and credit capacity, according to its 9/8/10 earnings release.

6) A representative of the NYCRC was unable to answer a simple, direct question from immigrant investors: why, if one of the partners in the project is the Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, is any new money needed?

FCR may not be seeking more money from Prokhorov because, like most major investors, he would do so only in exchange for an increased share of the project.

7) Even though he was supposed to attend NYCRC investment seminars in China, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz--essentially the "mayor" of one of New York City's five districts--will not be going.

He dropped out of the tour shortly after bad publicity circulated about the questionable assumptions underlying EB-5 financing of the Atlantic Yard project.

8) Websites promoting this project give incorrect figures about jobs. Consider this statement attributed to U.S. Senator Charles Schumer: "Brooklyn has already begun its renaissance, bringing a professional ball team into the district as well as 10,000 new jobs – all these are proofs of our achievements."

Schumer made that claim in 2004, when there was supposed to be space for 10,000 office jobs in four towers. Now, only one office tower is planned, and it's indefinitely postponed. And as noted above, the "project" as defined for Chinese investors does not include any of the towers.

9) Unlike some other EB-5 programs, there is no suggestion that investors would get a return on their investment. The promise is that investors would get their principal back, after paying $38,000.

10) If the principal is not returned, investors are supposed to be assured the safety of their investment because of collateral.

But despite suggestions that it consists of "land," that collateral is something more complex and much less liquid: a share of development rights in the remainder of the project.

Any group of immigrant investors would appear unlikely to develop the remainder of the Atlantic Yards project without a sophisticated local partner who has experience in development. That suggests that a partner like FCR itself would be needed; if so, it would take back some share of those development rights.

11) In the video below, Gregg D. Hayden promises that the "the Barclays Center is... the most significant project in the city and state of New York in the last 20 years" and "it generates well in excess of 10,000 jobs for years to come."

However, no government agency studying the project has claimed "it generates well in excess of 10,000 jobs for years to come." Moreover, many people believe that Ground Zero, the construction after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, is a more significant project.

12) One of the NYCRC's Managing Principals, Paul Levinsohn, was investigated (but not indicted) for a scheme in which he and a partner were able to place billboards on state land within cities that didn't want them.

Levinsohn's then-boss, New Jersey Governor James McGreevey, said "the whole thing looked atrocious."

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