Thursday, December 30, 2010

A look back at 2010: definitive progress on arena, Prokhorov emergence, Chinese investors (!), same questions of accountability

In a year less tumultuous than 2009 (retrospective), but not without its own significant drama and surprise, Atlantic Yards moved forward in 2010, with street closings, a much-ballyhooed ceremonial groundbreaking, the demolition of longstanding buildings on the arena block, and the indelible physical signs of an emerging basketball arena.

After final victories in condemnation court, the Empire State Development Corporation, at the behest of Forest City Ratner, was able to remove the remaining occupants of Phase 1 properties without any theatrics.

(Photo copyright Jonathan Barkey of protest at groundbreaking)

However, as I wrote in my 2009 retrospective, questions of accountability lingered, and those questions not only remained--as will a surface parking lot on the southeast block, Block 1129--they have merely grown.

A judge gave project opponents and critics their first, partial victory, ruling that the Empire State Development Corporation, in "what appears to be yet another failure of transparency," had failed to study the impacts of a 25-year buildout, rather than the officially approved ten-year timetable.

But the impact of that victory was muted when the ESDC, relying on ubiquitous consultant AKRF, produced the requisite report that, however questionable, declared that impacts of such a build-out would not be significant.

Forest City reached a controversial $3 million settlement with uber-opponent Daniel Goldstein, who, after having lost title to his apartment, was a tenant of the ESDC. While Goldstein "selling out" became a talking point for project proponents, far less attention to the speculators who made quick money on buildings like the one housing Freddy's Bar or Bruce Ratner's astonishing claim that the ten-year timeline "was never supposed to be the time we were supposed to build [the project] in."

As for Nets majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov, any skeletons in his closet were generally brushed away, in several mostly laudatory profiles occasioned by his American debut. As I wrote, money cleanses.

With the dropoff in legal action and the dormancy, though not quite demise, of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, the most obvious "news" regarding Atlantic Yards shifted to the Prokhorov debut and Forest City Ratner press releases regarding construction and plans for the arena.

However, with Atlantic Yards, controversy is never absent, and in the fall we learned of one answer to the lingering questions, as I noted a year ago, about the developer's capacity to fund the project. It's perhaps the most audacious attempt to leverage government help: the developer's effort to gain a no-cost (or low-cost) $249 million loan from immigrant investors via an obscure program that trades green cards for purportedly job-creating investments.

(At left, Bruce Ratner and MaryAnne Gilmartin greet ex-Net Darryl Dawkins, aka "Chocolate Thunder," helping promote the project in China.)

Forest City issued no press release about that one, and the marketing has mostly been in China, so no one other than myself has pursued the story--until last week, when a major Reuters investigation slammed the EB-5 immigration program and got the New York City Regional Center, which is marketing the Brooklyn Arena and Infrastructure project, to admit that its foreign affiliates mislead potential customers. (Reuters didn't figure out that the regional center's own reps make the same statements.)

Atlantic Yards became part of the historical record, as the documentary theater troupe The Civilians produced a much-praised show about the project, IN THE FOOTPRINT: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards. A documentary film, provisionally titled The Battle of Brooklyn, is close to completion, and I quit my job to work on a book about Atlantic Yards.

The Nets moved to Newark but fans were disappointed when the team got neither a top draft pick nor a top free agent. Still, Prokhorov already earned his investment by snagging profiles on 60 Minutes, Bloomberg, and the New York Times Magazine.

In my 2010 look ahead, I pointed out that a bond to stop construction would be a daunting challenge, and it was. The first residential tower, promised for six months after the arena, has not arrived as scheduled, but Forest City Ratner promises an architect will be chosen in early 2011.

While State Senator Bill Perkins re-launched the fight to reform state eminent domain laws and held one stinging hearing, he didn't get too far, and the surprising victory for plaintiffs challenging eminent domain for the Columbia University expansion ran aground, as expected, in the Court of Appeals.

I wrote last year about the stalled effort to set up a governance structure for a project that could easily last 25 years. No structure has been announced, so the question still looms: who's really in charge--Forest City Ratner? Still, a loyalist to Gov. David Paterson was named Project Manager for a job after no search, and with no particular expertise in development issues.

Local elected officials kept a somewhat lower profile on the project, and opponents like City Council Member Letitia James now must also speak for constituents concerned about jobs at the site, but James, state Senator Velmanette Montgomery, and Assemblyman Jim Brennan did sign on to the BrooklynSpeaks lawsuit challenging the project timetable.

Borough President Marty Markowitz, on the other hand, was willing to promise Chinese investors (on tape) something he'd never say back home: "Brooklyn is 1000 percent behind Atlantic Yards."

January

Conservative columnist George Will trashes the Atlantic Yards eminent domain decision, but he's way late, given the unlikelihood it will be reopened.

It turns out a Ratner relative from Cleveland has given a $10,000 campaign contribution to state Senate Republicans.

Forest City Ratner, unnamed and unindicted, emerges as a key beneficiary of chicanery leading to a federal corruption investigation involving its Ridge Hill project in Yonkers. The Times, improbably, claims FCR was "bilked."

At State Senate hearing called by Bill Perkins (right, photos by Tracy Collins), ESDC general counsel claims ESDC board, not consultant AKRF, finds blight. She's not sure she's on the Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation board. Perkins slams AKRF's conflict of interest. Criticism of current practices is rife, but reform elusive. Despite ESDC testimony, AKRF was hired to study AY blight, not neighborhood conditions.

The Carlton Avenue Bridge won't reopen until at least April 2012.

In preparation for a case challenging the legitimacy of the ten-year timetable, the ESDC asserts that a separate set of a agreements will require FCR to use "commercially reasonable efforts... to bring the Project to completion by 2019, with sanctions imposed for any failure to do so." In a packed court argument, community petitioners claim the term "commercially reasonable" is meaningless--but no one has seen that Development Agreement.

The Development Agreement emerges, along with other master closing document. It allows 12 years for Phase 1 and 25 years for the project as a whole. The ESDC claims an arm's-length negotiation of damages.

After a contentious hearing, Kings County Supreme Court Judge Abraham Gerges chooses not to rule on the motions and counter-motions filed in the last two days regarding transfer of title, but he's not unskeptical about the claims raised by property owners that changes in the project since 2006 approval were so significant that new findings are required.

February

Despite Gerges' non-order, digital signs announcing street closings remained up two more days.

Atlantic Yards gets a cameo in Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's State of Brooklyn address. Applause is light.

Atlantic Yards junk bonds are back on the market, with an 11% interest rate.

The Washington Post lets Forest City get away with claiming Atlantic Yards would create 8000 jobs--which is based on 2006 figures, with more office towers.

The Observer publishes an op-ed, Atlantic Yards-It Is Happening, by FCR Executive VP MaryAnne Gilmartin. It has no timetable for Atlantic Yards.

Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo claims he has the strictest campaign finance policy in the state. That doesn't mean he'll give back money from Bruce Ratner.

Who's in charge of AY at the ESDC? There's no project manager, just a team, says the ESDC.

A memo received via a Freedom of Information Law requests suggests that ESDC overstated project economic benefits by assuming a 10-year buildout, office space on track, and a full 8 million square feet. A plausible scenario involves a 50 percent decline in tax revenues.

The Nets sign a two-year lease at the Prudential Center in Newark, with a possibility for a two-year renewal.

ACORN has dissolved, succeeded in New York by New York Communities for Change.

March

Justice Gerges dismisses the challenge to condemnation. It may be that no court agrees to evaluate whether the changes in the benefits to the Atlantic Yards project are significant.

DDDB has $27,749 in the bank as of 6/30/09. Most legal challenges are over, but DDDB is in the process of winding down.

The Times Sports section covers a Nets promotion; the print Metro section ignores Gerges's decision.

Critic Alexandra Lange slams Nicolai Ouroussoff, with Atlantic Yards as the prime example. Critics should care more about the city than a starchitect's works.

More outrage about AEG video casino deal at Aqueduct than about AY, despite eerie parallels.

Dubious delays: ESDC was late on the master closing documents, and claimed pace doesn't affect nature of AY benefits.

The p.r. statements from the 2003 AY launch. A visual history.

Governor Paterson punts when asked about AY at a Borough Hall event, passing the buck to the courts.

Footprint renters explain why they've left, including life choices and the impact of blight.

Architect David Childs says Bruce Ratner wants to bring in different architects for each building--which is what Frank Gehry suggested, but was denied.

A pre-groundbreaking FAQ.

Despite citing the ESDC's "deplorable lack of transparency," Justice Marcy Friedman defers to the agency in dismissing challenge to the ten-year timeline. DDDB says it was try to reopen the case, given that the Development Agreement was withheld. She passes the buck to the political process.

Forest City is still claiming the $5.6 billion lie.

NY Magazine's Chris Smith: "The fight over Atlantic Yards was about community and democracy."

Daily News columnist Mike Lupica: "It was a hustle in broad daylight by Caring Bruce Ratner from the start."

Daily News columnist Errol Louis says that "nearly no one on either side of the debate...thinks the process was fair, balanced and rational."

The mystery of Ridge Hill: however FCR avoided indictment, does the developer remain (as per ESDC) "a good corporate citizen"?

Team hype: pomp and (questionable) promises, bitter (and near-final?) protest mark ceremonial groundbreaking for Barclays Center arena.

Did Brooklyn "do it again" or just get played? The endless marketing and unbearable banality of borough iconography.

Jay-Z, Markowitz, the cult of celebrity, and the oligarch behind the curtain. The rest of the columns.

Hacked traffic sign is huge news. Go figure.

Mikhail Prohorov gets buffed in 60 Minutes profile. Bloomberg TV interview lends more insight.

April

ESDC Chairman-designate Dennis Mullen jokes that Atlantic Yards is "a project that I would like to move off our portfolio."

Justice Friedman delays a challenge by some property to get the ESDC to issue new findings; the ESDC wants the case moved to Gerges.

Did Mikhail Prokhorov bust sanctions in Zimbabwe? Pascrell responds to Stern.

How the Development Agreement was gentler than the Modified General Project Plan: it offered a timetable for the third building, which doesn't have to start for ten years.

Freddy's makes a business decision to close; no "chains of justice" will be deployed.

ESDC/FCR say eviction delay past May 17 would "cripple" Atlantic Yards, but claims of continued losses and jeopardized benefits seem overblown.

Orwellian, almost: mayor claims commitment from Ratner to build affordable housing in first tower, but it's really the other way around.

DDDB's Goldstein settles for $3 million. Bertha Lewis in the Times, and her astonishing diatribe. Goldstein cites pressure from judge. DDDB issues statement of support. Goldstein says the pressure was on in time for Prokhorov to take over ownership. Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez is sympathetic. Daily News editorial slams Goldstein. Daily News columnist Mike Lupica doesn't.

Greg David of Crain's claims, delusionally, that "New Yorkers, through their political process" decided "Atlantic Yards was in the best interest of the city."

The New York Times Sports sections calls Prokhorov a white knight for the Nets.

At a panel on eminent domain, a land use attorney defending the status quo ignores Norman Siegel's critique.

Freddy's prepares for its final night. A round-up.

May

The last official night at Freddy's. Photos by Tracy Collins and video from the last, last night.

ESDC discounts KPMG's lies about condo sales.

The Post gets tabloid-nasty toward Daniel Goldstein as he prepares to move. The Daily News is more sympathetic.

The Times Sports section offers an inconclusive analysis of Prokhorov. NBA approves him; Brooklyn officials are late in expressing concerns. Daily News offers unskeptical profile.

Battling effort to reopen timetable case, Forest City Ratner claims, "The Development Agreement changes nothing."

Sidewalk closure announced for Dean Street on arena block.

Prokhorov tops Ratner on the New York Observer's list of Most Powerful People in New York Real Estate. I disagree.

How temporary parking on Block 1129 increased.

Argument in property owners' case challenging Development Agreement concerns whether it should go to Justice Gerges, since he already decided similar issues.

Prokhorov era begins. A just-graduated J-School grad gets picked for a one-on-one interview. Coverage adds up to The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, as I call it. Photos of Prokhorov looking down at his domain, from Ratner's mall. The New York Observer salutes his p.r. strategy. New York magazine sketches the new global Russian.

Some Atlantic Yards echoes in Oren Safdie's play The Bilbao Effect.

AG candidates on the spot regarding Atlantic Yards; Richard Brodsky gets defensive.

Bruce Ratner calls Atlantic Yards project "more of a civic venture, really."

"Once it's built, you kind of have to focus on the positives," the Brooklyn Paper's Gersh Kuntzman says about the Atlantic Yards arena. The Brooklyn Paper's coverage has already tailed off.

June

The Dean Street Squeeze: widening the crosswalks won't help sidewalks never built for arena crowds.
New AIA Guide to New York City calls Atlantic Yards "ill-advised."

New office to monitor public authorities is hamstrung by funding shortfall.

Absolut recruits Brooklyn bloggers. Spike Lee promotes Absolut at Blogfest. The issue of authenticity. The controversy makes the Times.

The hidden history of Freddy's: real estate profits not for longtime bar operators but for the flippers--and the developer gaining a zoning override.

Forest City breathes easier at annual meeting after "de-risking the business."

Barclays/Nets Community Alliance now supports Brooklyn Public Library.

Planner Alex Garvin criticizes Atlantic Yards: “A single site rezoned for a single owner with a set of towers and an arena. That's not a public realm."

Ratner, in Times Sports section portrait, admits, “when a developer speaks it’s not always believed.”

My Times op-ed: "A Russian Billionaire, the Nets and Sweetheart Deals."

Atlantic Yards governance bill re-emerges, but it's very different.

Court of Appeals, citing precedent in Atlantic Yards case, overturns lower court ruling blocking eminent domain for Columbia expansion.

In softball interview with hometown paper, Forest City Enterprises CEO Chuck Ratner stresses integrity, openness, and candor. Goldstein responds.

Is ten-year AY schedule reasonable? Judge puts ESDC on the defensive as Development Agreement is scrutinized in 75-minute reargument.

July

KPMG didn't just lie about Atlantic Yards, it plagiarized from Cororan.

CBAs are criticized by top lawyer at firm that works for Ratner.

LeBron mania peaks. Nets deemed losers. Daily News turns on a dime.

A Best Western Arena Hotel opens, but it's 1.5 miles away from the arena site.

CB 8 Chairperson tells Charter Commission: "Too often developers seek loopholes to avoid the input of the community they are attempting to infiltrate." Most invited panelists support status quo, but not Tom Angotti. Expert says "there's no real local government." The Citizens Union says security should be considered in planning.

Dan Doctoroff says Atlantic Yards emerged because the city "needed more of a center" to Downtown Brooklyn.

Amanda Burden tries to claim Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs; Roberta Gratz says it can't be done. DCP official suggests AY involved public participation.

NYC EDC cost-benefit analysis for AY emerges: certain costs finally calculated, but fundamental flaws remain, as revenues based on full buildout in 10 years. Seth Pinsky puts AY down the memory hole.

Subway monitoring plan finally emerges from MTA regarding arena construction less than seven feet from tunnel.

Wiggle room: In FEIS graphics, ESDC suggested Flatbush Ave. lane closures would be temporary, but text was ambiguous (& referred only to utility work).

August

If FCR doesn't build over the railyard, would "the vast majority" of benefits be realized, as the developer claimed last year to the ESDC?

AY timetable is "complete, utter fantasy," says attorney in case challenging eminent domain findings. In follow-up hearing, wholesale assault on AY, but before detached judge. Demolition on the arena block, with photos and video.

Potential Nets team name change gets a lot of buzz, but it's likely just a feint.

Yes, volunteer Susan Rahm was in charge of Atlantic Yards for the ESDC. Paterson loyalist Arana Hankin set to be Project Manager. Governor's Office defends her.

Forest City Ratner will use, not demolish 752 Pacific Street, despite plans to demolish it.

September

New York Civic's Henry Stern, silent on Atlantic Yards, criticizes a tower near Penn Station: "We believe that what happened in this case is a textbook example of unsound public policy, favoritism to a particular extremely well-connected developer... It is a top-down decision, clearly made at City Hall and not by the Planning Commission, which should have been embarrassed at the tricks they had to turn."

Some skepticism about the foundational Berman v. Parker eminent domain case.

Law review article I co-authored: "Urban Redevelopment Policy, Judicial Deference to Unaccountable Agencies, and Reality in Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards Project."

Jane Jacobs did say something (in 2006) about Atlantic Yards: “What a shame.”

Forest City says sale of Nets crucial to the company's bottom line.

Chris Owens, Jo Anne Simon defeat machine in District Leader elections; Montgomery, Millman, Towns win easily.

Forest City Ratner seeks Chinese millionaires for capital bailout, with green cards as bait; the first of many stories.

First announcement of my book project.

Gerges dismisses longshot easement case. Gerges dismisses final eminent domain challenge: "alleged additional changes... even if factually true... do not change the public purpose." So much for the Atlantic Yards Development Agreement. Is there really no hope? Not so sure about that.

Bruce Ratner contradicts himself on Atlantic Yards timetable. Now he says ten years "was never supposed to be the time we were supposed to build them in.” In 2008, he said, "We anticipate finishing all of Atlantic Yards by 2018." Brinckerhoff was right.

Pushing back the first tower from 2010 to 2011.

Traffic-free plaza (left) unveiled. Post columnist blames Daniel Goldstein.

At public meeting on plaza, Gilmartin gets affordable housing wrong, says plaza will follow dubious mall policy on teens. More details, and video. Could plaza resemble Union Square?

My critique of KPMG's fuzzy Atlantic Yards math, in the Observer.

Markowitz will try to go to China to flack green cards for Ratner.

October

Daily News columnist Lisberg takes skeptical look at project benefits over delayed timeline.

EB-5 follow-up: Video: in China, NYCRC rep pitching green cards in exchange for AY investment makes astounding claims (10,000 jobs, "most significant in 20 years"). Also see coverage of a very misleading website promoting the project, the abdication of government, and the need for transparency on job claims. Markowitz pulls out of trip. ESDC admits to Daily News: no new jobs beyond forecast. Obfuscation in English, candor in Chinese. Gilmartin's going to China. The fundamental lie behind the project. Why is ESDC's Peter Davidson going? Calculating winners and losers. First HuffPost piece.


Construction jobs lag, Daily News reports.

Matt Taibbi slams Prokhorov: "Is American Sports Ready for a Real Gangster?" Village Voice calls Prokhorov "Best Oligarch." Times Sports section calls Prokhorov face of Nets. Times Magazine: An Oligarch of Our Own. Tickets still cheap.

Observer profiles me. I say they should be writing about the EB-5 scandal. All they do is a blog. No interest for EB-5 investors.

Justice Catterson, forced to defer to the condemnors, concludes that "there is no longer any judicial oversight of eminent domain proceedings."

Times sends Beijing bureau chief to write about Nets' visit.

Tracy Collins shows time-lapse video of the last two buildings on arena block.

Freddy's signs lease in South Slope, 1.6 miles away.

At MAS Summit, environmental review process slammed. The dominant role of the NYC EDC in planning.

State Comptroller criticizes ESDC for lack of transparency, no-bid contracts, including the murky role of the Job Development Authority.

Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver explains that arenas "get built through politics and political connections."

In promotional "Brooklyn Tomorrow," architect Gregg Pasquarelli hailed as Barclays Center savior; he says arena's in a "residential neighborhood."

November

ACORN files for bankruptcy; $1M owed to Forest City Ratner. ACORN founder loves that ACORN stiffed Ratner, thinks developer's still pleased.

FCR's lawyer gets it wrong on when Block 1129 parking was increased. More from the first Atlantic Yards District Cabinet meeting.

What revived Myrtle Avenue? Not eminent domain.

Justice Friedman slams ESDC for "yet another failure of transparency," says 10-year buildout wasn't justified, requires ESDC to make new findings. Light media response. FCR seems unnerved. My HuffPost roundup. The delay in open space.

FCR's lies about LEED at 80 DeKalb.

Village Voice warns Cuomo to steer clear of lobbyists, says closest firm to governor-elect is DKC (which works for Ratner).

My review of The Civilians' In the Footprint. The Brooklyn Paper's bizarre expanded review. Raves and mixed reviews from other critics.

Frank Gehry visits Pratt, doesn't talk about AY. Maybe it's in his contract.

Jay-Z's Decoded debuts. The unresolved "ethical pickle" regarding the drug game, the banality of "Brooklyn," and the curious notion of black capitalism.

NYC Regional Center feeling the heat? Lawyer for firm recruiting immigrant investors for AY project launches shallow attack on unnamed "blogger" (AYR).

Steel goes up at arena site.

"Sidewalk Sale": A critic's observant walk around the Atlantic Yards site.

FCR lies about Community Benefits Agreement, claims it went into effect only when arena broke ground, avoids hiring Independent Compliance Monitor.

In request for stay on Atlantic Yards construction, DDDB attorney charges ESDC and FCR with malfeasance, says their lawyers breached ethical conduct.

December

Seeds of Change, new history of ACORN, contains a fundamental myth regarding Atlantic Yards, Bertha Lewis hagiography, plus many AY misreadings.

Gentrification, race/class, the Atlantic Yards play, and just one half-basketball court for a 16-tower project.

The "Brooklyn buy-in" for the Aqueduct "racino" involves the Darman Group and the state minority contractors' group (and Forest City, tangentially).

Ratner and Marty at the MetroTech tree lighting.

My "Anatomy of a Shady Deal" series begins: arena block could take 19 years. Markowitz shills, Davidson stretches. My HuffPost summary. Shame on Marty. My FAQ and wrap-up.

Times critic lectures The Civilians on journalism.

AY highlighted in effort to get Supreme Court to hear Columbia eminent domain case.

Forum on traffic. Hakeem Jeffries criticizes ESDC's AY oversight.

ESDC will produce study on 25-year buildout. ESDC says no stay needed, 25-year outside date known.

New news: ESDC had signed a first Recognition Agreement, with Gramercy Capital, during the master closing at end of 2009.

ESDC approves findings saying 25-year buildout no problem. A gap regarding the impact of 470 Vanderbilt. Chairman Dennis Mullen's valedictory.

Gehry and cultural legitimacy.

BrooklynSpeaks response to ESDC. DDDB attorney denied documents. Petitioners say "illegal" actions shouldn't be rewarded. Request for stay withdrawn, new briefs due in January. What they might have discussed behind closed doors.

Arena goalposts moved back a month. Construction jobs should peak at 600.

In Reuters investigation of EB-5 program, NYC Regional Center principal admits lies in arena project pitch, but blames affiliates. That's not so.

Brodsky's final report on public authorities: still no AY.

Atlantic Yards and the meaningless of time.

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