Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Despite official efforts to downplay news, Friedman decision represents severe rebuke to ESDC; why did several news outlets ignore it?

Updated with mention of Daily News article, then Times and Observer.

At the Atlantic Yards arena groundbreaking in March, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg soothingly declared, "[N]obody's going to remember how long it took, they're only going to look and see that it was done."

The official line regarding yesterday's ruling by state Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman seems similar: "Nobody's going to remember how it got done, they're only going to look and see that it was done."

“Nothing was announced today that’s going to impact construction,” Jeff Linton, a spokesman for Forest City Enterprises, parent of Brooklyn developer Forest City Ratner, told Bloomberg Business Week.

An Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) spokeswoman--who didn't respond to my queries--told the Brooklyn Paper that the agency was “reviewing today’s ruling, which does not enjoin construction taking place on the Atlantic Yards project.”

Why it's important

Well, it won't stop current construction, but it could impact future construction. And, despite the Brooklyn Paper headline (Yards foes win a big case that will not likely change a thing), the case will, at the very least, provoke the ESDC to issue more findings justifying its ten-year timetable.

That timetable is less and less defensible--and that could lead to additional lawsuits, possibly affecting Phase 2 of the project. The upshot: people can and will very much remember how it got done.

Also, despite attempts to downplay the ruling, it's news when a judge rebukes the ESDC for "what appears to be yet another failure of transparency" and "totally incomplete representations" in legal papers.

In other words, the agency in charge of economic development in the state behaves somewhat like a guy on Craigslist trying to rent you an apartment he doesn't quite own.

Press non-performance

However, the news was mostly ignored by the press, even though the winning petitioners, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and BrooklynSpeaks, each issued press releases.

Blame Atlantic Yards fatigue. Blame the inability to grapple with serious issues. Blame the easy reliance on covering more mundane, fluffy stories (see below).

The Post managed a blog mention, but there was nothing in the Times, the Wall Street Journal, or the Observer, which were scooped, so to speak, by the Bergen Record.

(Update: at 5:58 pm and 6:24 pm today, the Observer and Times finally followed up. Maybe they noticed my HuffPost piece.)


Update: there was an article in the print Daily News, on the YourBorough page (p. 35), headlined "Top state court rips agency over Atlantic Yards timetable." (Click to enlarge) The article was not put online (here's the Brooklyn section), and the placement on the Brooklyn page implies that the issue is not of citywide importance. Still, the Post did worse, devoting print space to a hole on Flatbush Avenue but not AY.

There was coverage in Bloomberg Business Week (Atlantic Yards Judge Questions Environmental Review) and Reuters (NY agency must revisit Atlantic Yards impact: judge), both rather bland.

Curbed summarized it, trivially, State Supreme Court judge rules she doesn't like Atlantic Yards timeline. Actually, Friedman's response wasn't personal; it was institutional. She ruled that the ESDC acted deceptively.

In the Times, AY on stage

Today, the Times's Arts section offers a long article on The Civilians' new play about Atlantic Yards--worthy of coverage but leaving the misleading impression that the Atlantic Yards story is over.

In fact, while the headline 'In the Footprint' Dramatizes Atlantic Yards Discord may be accurate, the key to understanding Atlantic Yards is less discord among opposing citizens than the balance between private power and the public interest.

What about Shake Shack?

What got more coverage than Friedman's decision?

Consider the significant interest in news that Danny Meyer's Shake Shack might move to Brooklyn, a story that emerged with a Daily News exclusive, got a follow-up in the Post, and generated coverage in the Brooklyn Paper, Gothamist, New York, and the Observer.

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