Monday, May 31, 2010

Brooklyn Paper Editor Kuntzman: "Once [arena is] built, you kind of have to focus on the positives"

On the John Gambling Show last Friday, the host, after interviewing Bruce Ratner, interviewed Brooklyn Paper Editor-in-Chief Gersh Kuntzman.

One issue was Atlantic Yards and Kuntzman, who's a smart fellow, sounded dismayingly like the editor of the Pyongyang Paper.

AY and change

JG: What do you think is going to change... when Bruce Ratner gets that development over the Atlantic Yards done?

It's not "over the Atlantic Yards."

GK: Any project of that size is going to be controversial... It's going to change a lot of things, but some things people worry about more than anything, people worry about the traffic that a large arena might bring. I mean, look, this is New York City, and there's going to be traffic from things.

He's skating over things a bit, given the disruptive congestion.

It's going to change a lot of things. For one thing, you're going to have a professional major league team here in Brooklyn, and you're going to have a venue where The Who can play, Bruce Springsteen can play, we've actually never had that, not at least in decades. That's something a lot of people are excited about.

Resentment over?

GK: There obviously was a lot of local resentment on the ground, y'know, people who actually physically live in the area. But, y'know, unfortunately, a lot of people have moved on and we're talking about just the venue itself, and it's going to be a really big deal.

Well, the most prominent project opponent, Daniel Goldstein of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, has moved out of the project footprint, but there's are still a lot of neighbors who have not moved on. That's why the state had to override local zoning to put a basketball arena within 200 feet of a residential area.

Once it's built

JG: New Yorkers... everybody, it's a human condition, is resistant to change, because we like what we know and we're worried about things we don't know. But I think, like so much in New York, after that thing is built, and I know all of the sort of grunts and groans that have taken place... I think Brooklynites are going to go, 'Wow, this is great, why didn't they do it sooner?'

Only if they ignore the surface parking that could linger for more than a decade and a project that could take 25 years to complete.

GK: Well, the sooner thing, definitely... You're absolutely right about the fact that people typically resist change. I would argue that New Yorkers do it less than other people. The only real constant in New York City is change. And I think that's one of the things that makes New York great.

Focusing on the positives

GK: As far as Atlantic Yards goes, I do believe that once it is actually built, people will have to start seeing its advantages rather than focusing on the more balanced picture: 'well, do the positives outweigh the negatives?'

Once it's built, you kind of have to focus on the positives. And there will be some positives to it. You've got a basketball team that potentially could put Brooklyn on some people's maps. You have a venue where you can have the Ringling Brothers Circus, we haven't had that in decades.

Gambling remarked that there's a circus in Coney Island this year and, I'll add, it's Ringling Brothers.

Celebrating the positives?

Does Kuntzman really think that, once the arena--not the project--is built, it's time for celebration of the positives rather than an evaluation of a "more balanced picture"?

Won't Joe DePlasco and Ellen Pinchuk be paid handsomely for the former?

Price drops at On Prospect Park provide another reason to doubt KPMG report on housing market

New information gives even more reason to question the KPMG report for the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) on the housing market in Brooklyn, a report that asserted that there was sufficient demand for the planned Atlantic Yards luxury condos for the entire project to be completed in the announced decade.

So far, judges have deferred to the ESDC's "experts," but the expert is not very reliable.

Remember, KPMG last August 31 claimed that Richard Meier's On Prospect Park was 75% sold; however, the New York Times quoted the developers as saying half the units have been sold and that documented only 25% the units as sales.

Now, the developer counts 54 units sold, with--after the consolidation of some units to make larger apartments--42 yet unsold, according to a New York Times Real Estate section article headlined Larger Units for a Richard Meier Condo.

That's still way under 75%. (StreetEasy counts 38 recorded sales.)

Prices going down

Moreover, the prices for On Prospect Park are likely much lower than assumed in the KPMG report. The Times reports:
To get the building’s original buyers — some of whom had put down deposits in early 2008 — to close on their apartments, Mr. [Louis] Greco [of developer SDS Procida] said, he had to deduct 15 or 20 percent from the agreed-upon prices...

Mr. Greco said that 42 apartments remained to be sold, at prices starting from about $680,000 to $5 million; per square foot, the prices are about 28 percent lower than in 2008.
Price per square foot

Even though the average high sales price in the three surrounding neighborhoods is $970/sf, the KPMG market study stated that only a "modest inflation factor" would allow the expected prices to be reached:
Mindful that these prices are based on transactions that have occurred over the past 12 months during a severe recession, the value ranges for Fort Greene ($480 - $720), Park Slope ($500 - $950) and Prospect Heights ($470 - $1,225) lend support for the FCRC’s projected sale prices when a modest inflation factor is applied given these future sales prices.
Those very high numbers in Prospect Heights surely relate to the Meier building, which, as Michael D.D. White pointed out, offers proximity to a park, not an arena.

Looking at the numbers

But On Prospect Park is actually nowhere near $1,225 per square foot. StreetEasy cites 23 active sales listings, with a median price of $910 per square foot, and 76 previous sales listings, with a median price of $1,015 psf. Previous sales, however, average $821 psf.

Given that the first number represents only a ten percent discount from the previous listings, some of the latter must have incorporated a discount already.

A boom in five years?

According to the KPMG report, Forest City Ratner is counting on condo sales prices at Atlantic Yards of $1217/sf in 2015 up to $1369/sf in 2019.

Keep in mind that the Kahr report commissioned by the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods was skeptical of even the $850/sf (in 2006 dollars) assumed in a 2006 KPMG report.

If the KPMG report is to be believed, condo prices around the arena will accelerate by one-third from the current prices at On Prospect Park. Anyone want to bet?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

New York Magazine suggests that, as notable new New York Russian, Prokhorov (Nets, Snob, etc.) is latter-day Baryshnikov

From New York Magazine's Michael Idov, in an article headlined Klub Prokhorov: The billionaire Nets owner and the creation (his creation, actually) of a new kind of New York Russian, writes:
By becoming the first foreign owner of an NBA team, Prokhorov simultaneously established himself as a major figure in one of the world’s most glamorous businesses (in the world capital of the sport, no less) and a central player in New York’s biggest real-estate drama after ground zero. The scale of his trick didn’t really hit home until a May 19 breakfast photo op with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Jay-Z: a perfectly orchestrated tableau of New York relevance. The only other Russian I can think of who has managed to slip into the city’s cast of notable characters as effortlessly is Mikhail Baryshnikov. But that’s where the comparison ends. Prokhorov is the face of an altogether new kind of Russian—newer, even, than the so-called New Russians of the late nineties—that’s recently been proliferating in town. Through Snob, he’s also the group’s chief benefactor and facilitator, both a member of the tribe and, in a critical sense, its creator.
(Emphasis added)

Well, Idov (who contributes to Prokhorov's magazine) is extrapolating a lot from Prokhorov's two-day visit, and may be looking at the event through rose-colored glasses.

No one spoke publicly at that breakfast, just posed for photos, and ESPN columnist Bill Simmons dubbed it "The Single Most Awkward Breakfast Of All Time."

The Baryshnikov reference is intriguing; though Idov acknowledges that the dancer and the mogul are quite different, he ends up, as noted below, feeling a convergence that may elude others.

Prokhorov as playboy

Idov adds to Prokhorov's reputation as a playboy:
He was known for descending on Moscow’s wildest nightclubs with Gosha Kutsenko, a bald-headed, mildly freakish Russian film star he had befriended, with packs of coltish young things in tow. “It used to be that you go to certain clubs,” recalls one Muscovite, “and if at some moment about fifteen barely legal girls show up all at once, you could tell that Prokhorov is about to stop by.”
Prokhorov and Snob

The most interesting passages concern Prokhorov's publication Snob, soon to launch in New York, which Idov says is less a Slavic Robb Report but more "a thoughtful, moderately smug house organ of the Global Russian community."

(Snob was is an acronym for the Russian words that mean "accomplished, independent, educated, thriving." Idov's a contributor and his wife is on the staff.)

He observes:
But turning a profit—something Snob isn’t likely to do anytime soon—seems far from Prokhorov’s mind (the money expended on Snob, as one New York club member acidly points out, is “just a rounding error” for him). But profit isn’t everything. Prokhorov’s endgame is to buy himself cultural and intellectual credibility on a massive scale and to will into existence, and lead, a group of the globalized world’s Russian-speaking elites.
I thought Prokhorov's endgame was to buy himself--via the Nets--entree to American investment opportunities. But maybe he has multiple endgames.

Selling out, and seeing Misha

Idov's closing paragraph:
Have I sold out to Prokhorov? Sure I have. And not just by joining his club or working for his magazine. Simply by writing these lines, I’m helping him accomplish his trick by promoting the group he’s so bent on creating. But then I think of that picture of Prokhorov with Mayor Bloomberg and Jay-Z, and it brings to mind a similar photo, one that I apparently committed to memory. It’s a seventies shot of Baryshnikov lolling on a Studio 54 couch, sandwiched between Steve Rubell and Mick Jagger. In most respects, Prokhorov and Baryshnikov couldn’t be more different. But seeing the two Russians flanked by such iconic New York figures had the same effect on me. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit—maybe even a little snobby. But both pictures helped make me feel like I belong in New York, like my life, and those of my countrymen, is bigger somehow than it was back home. Isn’t that why we all seem to end up here?
Well, Idov and his Russian-American peers may feel the connection, but others may feel a tad bit of dissonance. Baryshnikov rose through stupendous talent and drive.

Prokhorov as New Yorker

Prokhorov has brains, talent and (clearly) drive, but his vast wealth tracks back significantly to his insider's deal to buy Norilsk Nickel, a process a prominent Russian journalist described to 60 Minutes as "rigged." (Without that deal, he wouldn't have been in a position to make a killing when he sold his shares.)

In buying into the Atlantic Yards project--80% of the Nets and 45% of the arena operating company--Prokhorov also gains from an insider's real estate deal.

Maybe that makes him a certain kind of New Yorker, as well.

Coney Island reopens for summer season, but will buildings be demolished for chain retail and condos? Also, an AY cameo in the saga of a "razzle"

The summer season has begun at Coney Island, with Astroland replaced by the new rides of Luna Park (named to echo one of the three great amusement parks, open from 1903 to 1944 and replaced by public housing).

That's the cause of much official celebration and, indeed, there are some other signs of life, such as the city's plan to move the famed B&B Carousell to Steeplechase Plaza.

However, as Kevin Baker writes in the Village Voice and the folks at Save Coney Island remind us, much remains contested, notably developer Joe Sitt's plan to demolish some historic structures on or below Surf Avenue and replace them with chain retail and restaurants--and, quite possibly, hotels/time-shares that would be turned into condos, thus leading to the demise of the amusement zone ecosystem (despite Coney's unique zoning).

(Graphic at right from Save Coney Island.)

In the saga (Coney Island's Grand Past and Grim Future: Requiem for a dreamland), Baker suggests the current machinations are part of a longstanding tradition:
If it seems senseless, all this tearing up and building down, you have to understand that what's really going on at Coney is a scam as old as the place itself, one that's known in carny parlance as "a razzle." It's the same con New Yorkers have been subjected to all over the city for the past 10 years, a racket business and government run with almost breathtaking coordination against the rest of us. If it succeeds out in Coney Island, it will spell the demise, once and for all, of the city's most iconic neighborhood, and right now, things are looking as bleak as they have ever been. But then Coney has a long history of somehow evading all attempts by outsiders to make it into something it doesn't want to be.
And, as noted below, it's a tradition that also includes the Atlantic Yards plan.

The rezoning

Last year, Coney Island was rezoned and, as I wrote, trade-offs similar to those in a Community Benefits Agreement helped usher in towers south of Surf Avenue in the amusement district.

And the city later only bought part of developer Joe Sitt's holdings.

Why save buildings?

Save Coney Island spokesman Juan Rivero, leading a walking tour yesterday, offered a line straight out of Jane Jacobs: "Old buildings make for affordable commercial use."

A member of the tour observed that he'd heard that Disney World was trying to recreate buildings of such vintage.

Riverso said the organization wants to "disabuse the city of the idea that preservation and development are incompatible." He pointed to the High Line, the Parachute Jump (in Coney), and the Boathouse in Prospect Park as structures that had fallen into disrepair that had been saved.

The buildings in Coney are mostly more modest--the Shore Theater is certainly grand--but they supply something crucial--a sense of place, signs of Coney's generations. (Of course, a sense of place could've been preserved in Prospect Heights, as well.)

According to Save Coney Island:
Among the structures believed to be in immediate danger are the amusement district’s oldest remaining building, the Grashorn Building (built in the late 1880s); the Henderson Music Hall building (built circa 1899), where Harpo Marx first performed with his brothers Groucho and Gummo; the Shore Hotel (built in 1903), which was until recently Coney Island’s last operating hotel, and the 1920s classical revival Bank of Coney Island.

“The Bloomberg administration needs to decide: Will this summer be remembered as the beginning of Coney Island’s rebirth? Or will be remembered as the summer that the City allowed an opportunistic developer to demolish Coney Island’s history?” Rivero said.

Along with Save Coney Island, those urging the preservation of these buildings include Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, the Municipal Art Society, and the Landmarks Conservancy.
From the Voice

Baker summarizes Sitt's curious history as a real estate developer known more for flipping properties than building them, and his curious relationship with Coney Island Council Member Dominic Recchia--only when Sitt began buying property in Coney did he discover his interest in political contributions.

(Fun fact: the cover line on the Voice is "What's the scariest ride at Coney Island?" and a fold of the page reveals "The bulldozer." More than three years ago, on 4/3/07, the Voice ran an article by Neil deMause headlined Coney Island's Last Ride? The Bulldozer!)

Make sure to look at the comments on Baker's article, including those from Amusing the Zillion blogger Tricia Vita and Coney Island historian Charles Denson.


Baker criticizes the city's formation of the Coney Island Development Corporation (CIDC):
Development corporations, for those unfamiliar with the bewildering layers of public, quasi-public, and private organizations that now constitute our government, are officially "nonprofit corporations serving the city."

This description exudes a sense of selfless philanthropy. But, in fact, what it means is that development corporations exist outside the democratic process, as bodies composed of whatever functionaries and political allies the mayor chooses to appoint, and unaccountable to anyone else.

(Sounds like the Empire State Development Corporation? Actually, the ESDC is even more insulated, since it hasn't set up a subsidiary to oversee Atlantic Yards.)

Baker writes:

Many of the smaller operators and preservationist groups out at Coney had been trying for years to talk to the city about plans for rebuilding the island, about bringing in new jobs and entertainments, and utilizing its empty lots. But any suggestions for such human-scale, incremental improvements were ignored. Instead, the city insisted, a grand plan—a new grand plan—was needed.

...Soon, the CIDC had a comprehensive plan, one that would address all of Coney's needs and problems. The neighborhood's crumbling infrastructure would be rebuilt, the old Shore vaudeville and movie theater would be renovated and reopened, and parking and mass transit would better connect the island to the rest of Brooklyn and the city. Lynn B. Kelly, president of the CIDC, promised to preserve the 27-acre amusement district and all of its "treasured icons" in a dynamic video presentation for its website.

...The video is as good as any Coney spieler. It features vivid images of a trashed, graffiti-ed Coney Island (although what most of the images actually show is the recent block-clearing by Thor and the city).

Only a veteran Coney skeptic would notice that... lurking in the distance, dwarfed by all the magnificent roller coasters, there is what looks very much like a residential high-rise.

Or that almost all of the problems the CIDC is now promising to fix are ones created in the first place by the government, and usually by government in the guise of quasi-private special authorities, answerable to virtually no one—much like the CIDC.

Sitt on the spot

Baker grills the developer:
"It's against the law," Joey Coney Island protests when it is suggested that any hotels built on Coney might be converted to condos or time-shares, sometime in the very near future. "Can they? Listen, if you want to ask, you know, 'Can somebody kill somebody?' Yes, physically they can. But it's against the law."

But as we've just witnessed, zoning regulations are a tad more flexible than the laws against murder. Once Sitt or some other developer erects 30-story "hotels" that stand vacant and moribund throughout the long winter months, is the city really going to sit back and let them go bankrupt? Order the towers torn down?

What about AY?

Baker writes:
It's not just Coney. Much like Thor Equities, Michael Bloomberg's administration has forwarded its development schemes everywhere with "renderings of some fantastic building."

...A veritable catalog of such swindles—past, present, and future—can be found in a triumphalist 2006 copy of New York magazine on "Tomorrowland"—the Oz-like New York it imagined would exist by 2016.

Therein can be found a headline that reads, "Brooklyn (Like It or Not) Will Get a Shimmering Frank Gehry Crown."

It refers, of course, to the Atlantic Yards project, where somehow no shimmering crowns ever appeared—only plans for a cheesy, college-style fieldhouse, built to house a bad basketball team owned by a mysterious Russian oligarch. In the process, the city—which currently claims to be unable to afford to let schoolchildren ride the subway at half-price—may well have squandered nearly $200 million for the cash-strapped MTA, money it left on the table in its rush to hand the site over to a single mega-developer that ended up flipping the whole project.

Well, Baker's right--there won't be any Gehry crown, because Gehry's gone. But Forest City Ratner didn't flip the whole project; more cleverly, they brought in a partner to buy 80% of the team and 45% of the arena operating company.

State of Coney

Today, Dick Zigun of Coney Island USA, the "Unelected Mayor of Coney Island," will give his annual State of Coney Island address. From the press release:
Zigun is expected to highlight the launch of the New Luna Park, the excitement of the long-anticipated "rebirth" of the amusement area, and the remaining questions about the future of the important historic structures that remain intact in Coney Island's historic district. The proposal for PEACE TALKS AND NEW STRATERGIES FOR AMUSEMENTS will be put forth.
It'll be at 4:30 pm at the Coney Island Museum.

Bloomberg on Coney

From the press release Friday:
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Central Amusement International today celebrated the opening of Luna Park at Coney Island – a new 3.1 acre amusement park featuring 19 traditional and cutting-edge state-of-the-art rides from Zamperla S.p.A, the renowned Italian designer and manufacturer of amusement attractions. The first rides at Luna Park will open this weekend, with the remaining rides to open in the coming days. It will remain open everyday through Labor Day, and on weekends through Columbus Day, for its inaugural season. It is the first new amusement park to open in Coney Island in nearly 50 years and will more than double Coney Island’s total amusement area. Luna Park already employs greater than 200 people, more than half of whom live in the Coney Island area. The Mayor was joined at Luna Park for the announcement by Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert C. Lieber, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Council Member Domenic M. Recchia, Jr., New York City Economic Development Corporation President Seth W. Pinsky, City Planning Commissioner Amanda M. Burden, Department of Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri, Department of Parks and Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe, President and CEO of Antonio Zamperla S.p.A Alberto Zamperla, Central Amusement International President Valerio Ferrari, and Consul General of Italy to New York Francesco Maria Talo.
In an interview Friday from Coney Island on The John Gambling Show, Bloomberg asserted, "This will galvanize the whole area."

He was a little fuzzy on some details. When touting the Brooklyn Cyclones--a terrific experience to watch in a ballpark-by-the-sea, I'd say, but no economic boon--Bloomberg, said, "I don't know if it's Double A or Triple A ball," Bloomberg. Actually, it's Single A.

In friendly interview, Ratner claims team purchase was a "civic venture," dodges question about arena economics

On Friday, May 26, WOR radio host John Gambling, broadcasting live from Coney Island, interviewed by phone Bruce Ratner, Chairman & CEO of Forest City Ratner Companies and part owner of the New Jersey Nets.

Notably, when Ratner was asked if the arena would suck dollars from the rest of the city, he asserted it would be an "an additive to the [local] experience," thus dodging the question.

Ratner sounded kind of subdued, but maybe he's just not used to talking on the radio at 7:10 am. Gambling sounds authoritative--like, um, a radio announcer--but he doesn't know much.

Defining the project

Gambling started off by asking if arena construction had begun.

BR: We've been in construction for about a month and, in two years, we will have a brand new arena.

JG: There's more to this than just an arena.

BR: There's the arena. There's housing, both affordable and market-rate housing. It's an architecturally beautiful project. And of course the arena brings the Nets and circuses and all kinds of concerts and entertainment.

Whether it's architecturally beautiful is an open question, given that the only renderings beyond the arena are "vaportecture." Keep in mind that Ratner famously told Crain's New York Business last November, "Why should people get to see plans? This isn't a public project."

Adding revenues, or changing the subject?

JG: I wonder whether or not it will detract from New York... maybe suck some of the dollars out of New York into Brooklyn. Have you done any speculation along those lines?

Gambling, a notably uninformed (but authoritative-sounding) interviewer, might have pointed to the June 2009 New York Times article "arena glut" article, which suggests that five arenas--and maybe even four--are too many for the region.

The Barclays Center would compete with the main arena in New York City, Madison Square Garden, but it could compete more with the antiquated Nassau Coliseum on Long Island.

BR: No, I think really what it is is additive.., whether it's the rides that you're about to watch or a new arena anything really new like that is just additive to the experience of New York and it's always been that way, Whether it's a new team when the Mets came, some 30-40 years ago, or whether it's the Nets coming.... It's an additive to the experience, particularly for Brooklyn.., Brooklyn has not had a pro sports team for over 50 years, and now we have a professional sports team in our great borough.

Note that Ratner stresses "an additive to the experience," which is undeniable, rather than analyzing the revenue issue.

The substitution effect

Neil deMause, co-author of the book Field of Schemes and author of the Field of Schemes blog, testified 3/29/07 before Congress that there was no additive economic impact of pro sports:
If sports fans spend more money at new stadiums, how is it possible that there is no impact on the local economy? There are several reasons, but two of the most important are substitution and leakage. The substitution effect measures how much spending is simply cannibalized from elsewhere in town, as fans spend their disposable income on stadium hot dogs instead of at the local pizzeria. While it’s hard to measure substitution directly, we fortunately have a perfect experiment: work stoppages from strikes and lockouts. During the 1994 baseball strike, economist John Zipp found “retail trade appeared to be almost completely unaffected by the strike,” while the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported “a grand slam” for businesses such as comedy clubs and video rentals while the Blue Jays were on hiatus. The obvious conclusion: Without sports, people spend the same money, just on different things.
I'd add that there might well be an increase in Brooklyn, but not in the region. That's why the city wanted to poach a team from New Jersey and why it's dubious federal policy to subsidize sports facilities with tax-exempt bonds.

And, of course, the New York City Independent Budget Office says the arena would be a money-loser for the city.

Ratner's motivations: team purchase a "civic venture"

JG: How long have you been involved with the Nets?

BR: Almost seven years.

JG: Seven years. Did you get into it because you were a basketball fan, or was this a business venture?

BR: It was more of a civic venture, really. The idea first came to me from our great Borough President, Marty Markowitz, he kept calling me, and everyone knows, Marty doesn't give up, we need a professional team, here... That was really the impetus to it, really, bringing professional sports back to Brooklyn.

Remember, Chuck Ratner, CEO of parent Forest City Enterprises (and Bruce Ratner's cousin), on 9/9/05 told investment analysts: I will confess that it was less than two or three years ago we were sitting around in New York wondering where the next deals were going to come from. We had finished a whole bunch of office and we completed MetroTech and we didn't have the next great site in Brooklyn. That was one of the reasons we got so aggressive and creative, Bruce and his team did in this Atlantic Yards project. We saw that land sitting there for this last 10 years, realizing it would be a great opportunity if somebody could turn it on.

The impact of the Dodgers

JG: Much is always made about the Dodgers leaving and what it meant... But it really did leave a hole, didn't it?

BR: It did. Whether it was the Dodgers or whether it was more the times, I think it was more the times, really after that, Brooklyn had a very difficult time. It had a difficult time economically, a lot of people left Brooklyn. Now of course over the last ten years Brooklyn's come back in a way that brings it back to the old glory that everybody was accustomed to when the Dodgers were here.

What? Old glory? Brooklyn had a completely different economy, and a completely different population. It's changed enormously due to such things as immigration and historic preservation, with numerous neighborhoods being rebuilt in the past decades.

Brooklyn had rebounded from the loss of the Dodgers by the 1960s, according to Michael D'Antonio's 2009 book Forever Blue.

Neighborhood changes

JG: I assume that Marty Markowitz and yourself.. are looking at the Barclays Center sports arena to be sort of the cornerstone, if you will, and expect a lot more in the neighborhood.

BR: I think that's right. Brooklyn is a place that's now growing in so many different ways. And the area where the arena's being built is an area where there were open trainyards... Somebody called it an open scar--the area where the arena is going. In fact, across the street, where we built a shopping center, the Atlantic Terminal shopping center, that piece of land was vacant from 1955 to 1995, 40 years. So, now to bring an arena, the shopping center across the street... now housing, it's a very very important development for Brooklyn.

Ratner has a rather expansive definition of the neighborhood, since he suggests, inaccurately, that the arena would be built exclusively over the railyard, and then moves quickly across broad Atlantic Avenue.

Ratner can't even get the name of his mall right. The Atlantic Center mall opened in the mid-90s, while the Atlantic Terminal mall replaces an aboveground Long Island Rail Road terminal that was demolished in 1988.

Rising tide?

JG: The tide raises all boats, I would think.

BR: It would be the fourth largest city in the country, it doesn't have an arena. Now we have our own arena, our own place to go to. It needs it, it could use it, it's certainly additive. Of course a sports team is particularly special for all of us.

Who's "we"? Ratner and his partners will get the profits.

The Prokhorov deal

JG: How'd you ever get tangled up with Mikhail Prokhorov, who's now your partner?

BR: He's a great partner, as everybody saw last week. I think he surprised some people... It was mentioned to me about two years ago, three years ago now, that he was interested in buying a sports team. A year ago, when we decided we were going to bring in a partner, I decided I'd fly over to Russia and see him. I did that and, in about four hours, we got along so well we shook hands.

Three years ago? That would make it May 2007 at the latest. I hadn't heard that early date before.

Soldiering on

JG: Did you ever get frustrated and say, y'know what, I'm going to pull the plug?

BR: I did get frustrated. I absolutely got frustrated. And there were times when I thought maybe it wouldn't happen. But I never ever honestly thought about pulling the plug, I really didn't. I felt it was important, felt we were doing the right thing. I thought the borough needed it, I thought the city needed it, this kind of development. I never thought about actually quitting... I did get upset a lot of times, and I said, why am I doing this, why am I doing this? But I never really never said to myself, quit, that's a word that was not in my vocabulary.

What Ratner's cousin Chuck said was, "We still need more" subsidy. And they got it.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Noticing New York's White puts the AG candidates on the spot re Atlantic Yards; Brodsky's in high dudgeon over suggestion he went easy on AY

In Touchstone For Whether There Will Be Change In Albany: Attorney General Candidates on Atlantic Yards and Eminent Domain, Michael D.D. White offers a long but important-to-read post. The summary:
The good news with respect to the possibility of change is that at least two of the candidates for state Attorney General (the Erics) think that the job of Attorney General should entail actions designed to stop Atlantic Yards dead in its tracks. That includes, in the case of state senator Eric T. Schneiderman, investigation of likely violations of law and, in the case of former state insurance superintendent Eric R. Dinallo, use of the Attorney General’s power to issue opinions and rulings to make clear that the law is not being properly interpreted when eminent domain is abused by state officials. (We will be quoting both at length further on.)

The bad news is that if the Erics are correct and that addressing these Atlantic Yards abuses should be part of the Attorney General’s job (or at least within the AG’s discretion), none of the current AG candidates are willing to say that it is improper for gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo, the current holder of the AG position, to be taking campaign money from Forest City Ratner, the mega-project’s developer. That this is not improper notwithstanding the fact that Mr. Cuomo has been asked to investigate Atlantic Yards and issue rulings on the conduct by the public authorities facilitating it. That it is not improper notwithstanding the questions that lurk: Is Mr. Cuomo taking action on Atlantic Yards and is Mr. Cuomo taking appropriate action?
Atlantic Yards as "Superlative Touchstone"

White calls Atlantic Yards "the superlative touchstone to detect for true reform-mindedness," comparing it to Yankee Stadium, the Aqueduct "racino," the destruction of the Coney Island amusement area, Willets Point, Columbia University's expansion, and putting it in the context of public authority reform and campaign finance, state ethics and lobbying reform.

He notes that, while Cuomo has given back some campaign contributions, he's failed to return a contribution from Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner, nor has he issued some publicly requested opinions on AY.

Silver and Brodsky and AY

White points to my suggestion that Assemblyman Richard Brodsky had pursued an investigation of Yankee Stadium but not Atlantic Yards because of his desire to maintain comity with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who ultimately endorsed him.

Brodsky's response:
As the only non-Brooklynish guy who even got his feet wet in the Atlantic Yards thing, as the guy who stopped these kinds of deals from going forward in the future, as the guy who did the investigations of the MTA and held their feet to the fire on Atlantic Yards, I find the question one of those things in which you engage in circular insanity. I will not defend my integrity based upon innuendo, rumor and who I happen to have been endorsed by. If I take money from Forest City Ratner, nail me. If anybody here is taking money from Goldman Sachs, nail them. If anybody here is taking money from Leo Hindery, nail them. My record of integrity and my activism on Atlantic Yards is unique for a nonworking person. And while these are open forum and I welcome the right of anyone to ask questions, let me suggest that the endorsements I’ve gotten have nothing to do with my ongoing light on anything. It’s the first time in my life anyone ever accused me of being diplomatic.
White later emailed Brodsky and got a follow-up:
Alone among the candidates, I worked with the committee members and leaders for many years to try to remove the unfairness in the eminent domain laws. I authored legislation which has been signed into law which would make below market asset sales of the kind that the MTA entered into illegal. I will continue to exercise my authority over the MTA to make sure that MTA property is not given away and that the interest of riders is the top priority. I also led investigations into New York City's use of public money to build sports facilities. No other candidate has a record on these issues close to those consistent and successful reform efforts.

We will let the reader conclude how responsive this is to the characterization that Assemblyman Richard Brodsky is “known for pursuit of public authorities reform and criticism of the Yankee Stadium deal (but not the similar Atlantic Yards deal)” and is widely believed not to have pushed “on Atlantic Yards . . so as to not offend Silver.” If it isn’t responsive, then I note that the irksome thing about bloggers is that bloggers are prone to getting the last word.
My response

C'mon. Brodsky does have a significant record regarding reform of eminent domain and public authorities.

However, that doesn't excuse his performance on Atlantic Yards.

Brodsky last June warned, “I believe that the [Metropolitan Transportation Authority's] decision to accept that [renegotiated Vanderbilt Yard] offer would be a violation of the fiduciary duty of the board members.”

However, he didn't show up at either of two MTA board meetings regarding that offer. And "non-Brooklynish" State Senator Bill Perkins, who represents Harlem and has been Brodsky's partner on public authorities reform, did send a representative who offered harsh criticism.

As White puts it higher up in the post:
We should add that our own take is that it does not take much careful analysis before it is appropriate to conclude that Assemblyman Brodsky did not pursue Atlantic Yards anywhere nearly as aggressively as he pursued Yankee Stadium. Yankee Stadium is a good and a well-deserved target for anyone making a point about abuses by public authorities but Atlantic Yards is a far better, far juicier one. We should also note that Mr. Brodsky did excellent work on Yankee Stadium as a result of which he got, in our assessment, a lot of good press in that regard from Mr. Oder. We think Mr. Oder probably wrote more good press for Mr. Brodsky than anyone else in the state covering these issues.
As for the suggestion that Brodsky's posture is tied to his relationship with Silver, I can offer only circumstantial evidence and the not-for-attribution comments from some people who know the ways of Albany far better than I do.

Brodsky on blight

White quotes Brodsky as quipping that blight "as we say in the old country is Yiddish for poor people." That drew claps, but it's no longer fully apt.

"Blight" is just as likely to mean "coveted" (in the words of the Institute for Justice's Bob McNamara), like the "great piece of real estate" (in the words of Forest City Enterprises CEO Chuck Ratner) in Prospect Heights.

Second look: fire truck going the wrong way on Dean Street; clarification: congestion caused more by closure of Pacific Street than of bridge

Yesterday I pointed to Tracy Collins's time-lapse photography of congestion on Dean Street adjacent to the Atlantic Yards footprint.

In the very brief segment below, he's pulled out the sequence in which a firet ruck leaving the station at 494 Dean Street (just out of the frame on the left) travels west against traffic on Dean Street before turning right, north, on Sixth Avenue.

Dean & 6th - Firetruck excerpt from tracy collins on Vimeo.

A clarification on cause of congestion

Yesterday and in previous coverage of congestion on Dean Street, I suggested that it was caused both by the closure of the Carlton Avenue Bridge, which should reopen in two years, and the permanent closure of parts of Pacific Street.

But the bridge closed in January 2008, and the increase in traffic didn't accelerate until parts of Pacific Street closed in March. So the latter deserves most of the blame.

Below, an excerpt from a video of the corner of Carlton Avenue and Dean Street shot on May 25 at about 9:15 am, during the later part of the morning rush hours.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Traffic on Dean Street: Documentation of three intersections, by Tracy Collins, shows congestion and challenges

I've been using a camera as a rather wobbly tool to document traffic and street conditions in and around the Atlantic Yards footprint. Below, Tracy Collins, who's a far more able photographer, has produced some videos with far more clarity.

Dean Street will be the main (only?) route to the massive interim surface parking lot on the southeast block of the project footprint. It's already backed up, both in the morning (as I showed), and in the afternoon (as Collins shows below in the first video).

Some of that is related to the closure of the Carlton Avenue Bridge, which should reopen in two years, but more some is related to the permanent closure of parts of Pacific Street, given that the increase in traffic didn't begin until those streets closed in March.

And the presence of double-parked vehicles could compound congestion; a vehicular accident would make it worse. There's not a lot of leeway.

So perhaps the workers counting traffic for the city (Department of Transportation, presumably) will recommend some fixes.

Dean and Carlton

Dean Street at Carlton Avenue
looking west toward Vanderbilt Avenue
Prospect Heights
Brooklyn, New York
April 9, 2010, 4 pm

Dean at Carlton from tracy collins on Vimeo.

Dean and Sixth

Dean Street & 6th Avenue
Prospect Heights
Brooklyn, New York
May 27, 2010
1:10 pm

Facing west along Dean Street [just east of Sixth Avenue, on the north side of the street]. Flatbush Avenue is in the background.

Note that the traffic is manageable, but that, at about 33 seconds into the video, a fire truck from the firehouse on the south side of Dean (just east of the view) goes the opposite direction (as shown in screenshot) on a one-way street to get to Sixth Avenue. That's caused by the closure of the Carlton Avenue Bridge, a condition that will persist for at least two years.

As demolition and construction ramps up on the arena block, in the northeast quadrant of the screen, the potential for congestion increases markedly.

Dean & 6th from tracy collins on Vimeo.

Dean Street and Vanderbilt Avenue

Dean Street at Vanderbilt Avenue
Prospect Heights
Brooklyn, New York

May 24, 2010
5:15 pm, facing west along Dean Street

This was shot from the southeast corner of Dean and Vanderbilt, pointing at the block destined for construction staging and interim surface parking, with some 1100 cars. There doesn't seem to be gridlock, but it's already pretty lively.

Dean at Vanderbilt from tracy collins on Vimeo.

Tracy Collins offers time-lapse photos from outside arena site, near FCR's malls, despite official discouragement

Photographer Tracy Collins did some filming yesterday, and workers at Forest City Ratner's arena site as well at the developer's mall complex didn't want him getting too close.

The documentation doesn't bring up anything unusual, but there's a value to consistent documentation. Surely Forest City Ratner is trying to control the visuals, such as with these shots of new Nets majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov.

Arena construction

Flatbush Avenue at Pacific Street
Prospect Heights
Brooklyn, New York
May 27, 2010

Collins writes:
Site of the Barclays Center Arena of the Atlantic Yards development by Forest City Ratner. Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Center Mall is in the background.

I was told by the construction workers (who eventually covered the gap in the fence thru which I was shooting) that I should "move along" and that "I couldn't photograph here." I told them that I could and I would as I was on a public sidewalk.

Barclays Center Arena construction, Flatbush at Pacific from tracy collins on Vimeo.

Near the malls

Fort Greene Place at Hanson Place
Fort Greene
Brooklyn, New York
May 27, 2010
around 3pm, facing south along Fort Greene Place
toward the site of the Barclays Center Arena of Atlantic Yards

Collins writes:
I planned to shoot this time lapse on the corner on the left on the far side of Hanson Place (next to the crosswalk signal). Within minutes of setting up the tripod, I was told by a nice gentleman in a suit that I wasn't allowed to photograph there as it was a private street, that the street was demapped by the city for "the owner of these two buildings" (a.k.a. the Atlantic Center Mall on the left, and the Atlantic Terminal Mall on the right). He said that he couldn't stop me from photographing on a "city" street, so I moved across Hanson Place.
I'd note that the best vantage point from north of the site is clearly at one of the two malls, as shown in those photos of Prokhorov. Chances of Collins being invited to set up shop there? None.

Forest City Ratner's private street (formerly Fort Greene Place) from tracy collins on Vimeo.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A walk along the Dean Street project border, the path from parking to the arena block; see how the sidewalk narrows, so the state's numbers are off

Today I show two videos, shot on May 22 and May 23, that cover the same ground.

My aim was to show the transition between thriving Vanderbilt Avenue just southeast of the Atlantic Yards site, and the blighted northern border of Dean Street, where Forest City Ratner is using land cleared by demolitions (notable the Ward Bakery) for construction staging and surface parking.

Most notably, the path to the arena block from parking on Dean Street relies on a sidewalk that is very narrow in several segments, far from the "approximately 18 feet" claimed by the Empire State Development Corporation.

(In an attached table, bottom, the ESDC claims that the "effective width" is 11.5 feet on one stretch and 10.5 feet on another stretch. Not so.)

No pictures?

Turning left (west) from Vanderbilt, I continued west along Dean Street, along a fence obscured by fake greenery aimed at blocking views inside.

In the first video, at about four minutes in, when I pointed my camera at gap in the fence, a security guard told me not to take pictures, even though I was on a public street.

A day later, the guards seemed otherwise involved, and didn't bother me.

The route from parking

At Carlton Avenue, I hit part of the Prospect Heights Historic District (north and south, more clearly visible on the second video), and continued west, taking the path that those walking to the arena from the surface parking lot--and, later, underground parking--would take.

What's it going to be like when 1100 cars park at the lot and people are walking along the Dean Street sidewalk west to the arena block? Well, part of Dean Street, east of Carlton Avenue and for a short bit west of Carlton, is reasonably wide, as the screenshot shows.

The state claims (as noted below) that the "sidewalks on Dean Street adjacent to the project site are approximately 18 feet in width." The "effective width" is 11.5 feet on this stretch, according to the table at bottom.

As noted on the second video, the state said that the widening of the crosswalk at Carlton Avenue and Dean Street would sufficiently mitigate the impact of the increase in the surface parking lot from 944 to 1044 spaces.

The addition of 56 more spaces wasn't analyzed, but it should be, given that the mitigation goes only from Level of Service (LOS) E to LOS D.

Narrow sidewalks

As I wrote earlier this month, is widening the crosswalk meaningful when the sidewalk itself can't be enlarged?

The effective sidewalk width on Dean Street between Sixth Avenue and Carlton Avenue is supposed to be 10.5 feet. Not so.

The sidewalk narrowed considerably in the segments flanking row houses, leading to the likelihood of a bottleneck as people approach the arena block, especially where there are trees.

As noted in the table at bottom, the ESDC estimates the second-lightest impact--LOS B--from pedestrians on Dean between Sixth and Carlton. That seems questionable.

Members of the Dean Street Block Association have installed tree guards to protect trees and nurture flowers in the tree beds.

How long will they survive?

NE corner of Dean & Sixth

Because Forest City Ratner is not building as big an arena as originally planned, or four towers around the arena in a tight timetable, they don't need all five buildings on Dean Street east of Sixth Avenue for construction staging.

Thus three row houses which were originally slated for eminent domain--and still could be taken in a later phase--survive.

From the FEIS

From Chapter 13 of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), Transit and Pedestrians:
With full development of the proposed project in 2016, the north crosswalk on Carlton Avenue at Dean Street would be significantly adversely impacted by the proposed project, with LOS E conditions in the weekday and Saturday pre-game peak hours. The north crosswalk on 6th Avenue at Dean Street would also be significantly adversely impacted in 2016, operating at LOS E during the Saturday pre-game peak hour. (See Chapter 19, “Mitigation.”) All other analyzed crosswalks, and all analyzed sidewalks and corner areas would continue to operate at acceptable levels of service in all analyzed peak hours in both 2010 and 2016.

The analysis of pedestrian conditions focuses on those pedestrian elements—sidewalks, corner areas, and crosswalks—that would be utilized by substantial numbers of new project-generated trips, or that would be physically altered as a result of development of the proposed project. Figure 13-4 shows the locations of the pedestrian elements selected for analysis of potential project impacts. The locations selected would typically serve as key links between the project site and the surrounding street system, and/or would be used by concentrations of project- generated pedestrian demand linked to other modes (such as en route to subway stations, bus stops or off-site parking garages). As shown in Figure 13-4, elements selected for analysis include sidewalks adjoining the project site along Atlantic Avenue, Flatbush Avenue, Dean Street, and Vanderbilt Avenue. In addition to serving as the primary pathways for general pedestrian access between the project site and the surrounding street system, these corridors would be used by pedestrians en route to and from the proposed new entrance to the Atlantic Avenue/Pacific Street subway station complex at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues, as well as for access to bus routes that operate along these corridors. Existing sidewalk widths along Atlantic Avenue adjacent to the project site are typically 10 to 12 feet, while sidewalks along Flatbush and Vanderbilt Avenues are typically 18 to 20 feet in width. The sidewalks on Dean Street adjacent to the project site are approximately 18 feet in width.

...It should be noted that the analysis of sidewalk conditions is based on the “effective width” which is the width actually available to accommodate pedestrian flow. Along many analyzed sidewalks, the effective width is reduced by the presence of trees, building stoops, light poles, signs, and other street furniture.
(Emphasis added)

The table (click to enlarge)

Plan to move Madison Square Garden across the street revived; one argument is competition with the Brooklyn arena

Madison Square Garden is supposed to be under renovation, but the plan to move it to the Farley Post Office across Eighth Avenue--this time, without expansion of the transit hub--is apparently revived.

And one argument by developer Steve Roth of Vornado Realty Trust involves competition with the new Brooklyn arena, according to the Times:

According to these officials, the developer’s pitch to Mr. [James] Dolan and Mr. [Hank] Ratner went something like this: The renovation of the 42-year-old arena could be more expensive and more disruptive for the Knicks, the Rangers and the Liberty than anticipated. And in the end, the site would still be inferior to the new arena for the Nets that is under construction in Brooklyn.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Was the Barclays Center used to lure the 2014 Super Bowl?

Would you believe that New York Used Barclays Center To Help Lure 2014 Super Bowl, as claimed by NetsDaily?

Well, you'd have to go to the links. The evidence isn't there.

From a New York Post article headlined Apple fans all feeling Super:
"America came to the rescue of New York, and that's something I think that New Yorkers have never forgotten," Bloomberg said. "This is a little bit of our chance to say thank you."

State economic development chief Peter Davidson told The Post that the under-construction Barclays Center in Brooklyn will be added to the list of venues hosting Super Bowl-week gala events, including the Javits Center and the James A. Farley Post Office.

The Jets' Johnson wasted no time in raising the possibility of a Jets-Giants championship game in four years.
From a Brooklyn blog post headlined EXCLUSIVE: New Brooklyn arena in line to host events during Super Bowl week in 2014:
Peter Davidson, executive director of the Empire State Development Corp., told the Post yesterday that the planned Barclays Center for Prospect Heights would be a perfect place to host some of the gala events that will be held in the New York area during the week leading up to Super Bowl XLVIII.

Although nothing is finalized, he and other local officials said they expect the under-construction, 18,000-seat arena to join the list of venues already slated to host Super Bowl-week events, including both the Javits Center and the James A. Farley Post Office in Manhattan.

“We will obviously work with the Nets to see if we can make this work, but the Barclays Center will be a great place to host events," he said. "It has excellent mass transit, and it should be ready by the time the Super Bowl arrives."
Well, the ESDC won't run the arena--there's an arena operating company--so they'd have to work with the Nets. In fact, the arena operating company surely would be happy to reap some revenue.

Alternative explanations

Maybe the Farley Post Office was used to lure the Super Bowl? Or maybe it was the weather. Or maybe it was the whole shebang. Wrote the four Senators from New York and New Jersey:
There is no greater stage on the planet than the New York City/New Jersey metropolitan area to showcase the world class athleticism, determination and competition that makes the Super Bowl the preeminent single event in all of sport. New Jersey and New York City are simply unmatched for entertainment and sporting venues. As the nation’s most populous metro area with more than 19 million people, and as the nation’s top media market, the fanfare of the Super Bowl would be uniquely enhanced by the vibrancy that the region has to offer. The City of New York is world famous for its arts, entertainment, cultural and culinary venues. The Jets and Giants each have state-of-the-art training facilities in New Jersey, perfect for Super Bowl Week practices that will fully prepare the NFC and AFC Champions for the big game. Liberty State Park on the Hudson River is one of the most picturesque public spaces in the nation - perfect for a pre-game celebration. Northern New Jersey communities - from Newark to Hoboken to Jersey City - are also home to some of the nation’s top restaurants and entertainment venues, as well as one of its most culturally diverse populations. It is also worth noting that the New York City metro area is no stranger to other major sporting events, having hosted 7 World Series, 5 Stanley Cup finals, 4 NBA Finals, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, and the FIFA World Cup over the last 20 years.

Prokhorov's modern blueprint: "brilliant, premeditated publicity move[s]" get saluted, without analysis

A New York Observer reporter gives a thumbs-up to the Mikhail Prokhorov show. From a piece headlined For 48 Hours, an Oligarch Turns on the Charm:
Mr. Prokhorov was in town for 48 hours that, if spent properly and efficiently, would warm the press and thereby the public to the mysterious Russian who just a week prior to his visit was approved as the principal owner of the Brooklyn-bound New Jersey Nets.

...During the press conference, [p.r. consultant] Ms. [Ellen] Pinchuk pursed her lips and picked at her fingers each time her client was asked tough questions: his business dealings in Zimbabwe; the team's unfortunate record (12-70); will it continue to bleed money ($42.2 million in the recent fiscal year)? By the end, her water glass was empty. Mr. Prokhorov, however, performed expertly, answering each question with a joke and giving the sort of show that kept the reporters busy taking notes.

Next came an unexpected afternoon meeting with a 28-year-old Brooklyn resident named Vinnie Rotondaro. Vinnie had just graduated from Columbia J-school, with five bylines at a blog called the Brooklyn Ink.

...It was, in other words, another brilliant, premeditated publicity move that neatly tied up Mr. Prokhorov's two-day charm offensive.
My comment:
Um, Prokhorov's "brilliant, premeditated publicity move[s]" would not have succeeded had the press considered that the money he can spend on the team and arena (and p.r.) is money he didn't have to spend on the arena, thanks to significant public subsidies, tax-exempt bonds, and the giveaway of arena naming rights.

More here.
Echoes from 2005

The episode--in which the press pronounces on public relations efforts instead of analyzing the issues at hand--recalls the New York Times's infamous "modern blueprint" article from 10/14/05, headlined To Build Arena in Brooklyn, Developer First Builds Bridges:
But from whatever viewpoint, the project's seemingly inexorable movement suggests that Mr. Ratner is creating a new and finely detailed modern blueprint for how to nourish - and then harvest - public and community backing for a hugely ambitious development that is expected to provide more than nine million square feet of apartments, offices, stores and hotel rooms, as well as the arena, in the middle of a populous, cantankerous and often sharply divided city.

Near the AY footprint, in the later part of the morning rush hour, traffic stacks up on Dean and Bergen streets (video)

Yesterday, at about 9:15 am and thus in the later part of rush hour, I took a walk to the blocks just below the Atlantic Yards footprint.

At the corner of Carlton Avenue and Dean Street, there was a lot of traffic stacked up, mainly on Dean going east.

The cause? I'd blame the closure of the Carlton Avenue Bridge (for another two years or so) and the permanent closure of two blocks of Pacific Street have channeled traffic to adjacent streets.

In the first video, there was even some gridlock at Carlton and Dean.

I walked west on Dean to Sixth Avenue along the sidewalk--which narrows noticeably as it approaches the arena block--wondering about the impact of a couple of thousand people walking along that same route to and from the interim surface parking in the block bounded by Carlton Avenue, Vanderbilt Avenue, Dean Street, and Pacific Street.

Answer: it'll be very crowded. People will be walking in the street.

To Bergen Street

I then walked down Sixth Avenue to Bergen Street and filmed for a while at the corner of Bergen and Sixth, where the traffic had stacked up going west on Bergen.

There was a guy counting traffic at Bergen and Sixth who told me he was working "for the city." There's definitely some data to gather.

I continued walking along Bergen east to Carlton. The traffic diminished somewhat, but there were still delays.

And it wasn't even the heart of rush hour.

It's going to be an interesting ride.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A partial walk through and around the eastern end of the footprint, and an encounter with a security guard unmindful of rules on photography

Continuing the trip I took May 20 up Vanderbilt Avenue to look for blight near the eastern edge of the Atlantic Yards footprint, in the video below I walk from Vanderbilt Avenue and Atlantic Avenue south to Pacific Street, west to Carlton Avenue, and south to Dean Street.

The walk traverses part of Block 1129, which is being used for construction staging and interim surface parking. The demolition of the Ward Bakery led to the provision of significant surface space.

(Note that in the beginning of the video I identify the starting place as Vanderbilt Avenue and Pacific Street, whereas it's actually Atlantic Avenue.)

Private street?

Even though there are signs professing that the street is closed, the street remains unblocked, at least during off-hours, and I saw a few bicyclists and cars passing through. There was no guard at either end of the street, but there was a guard outside one of the buildings, presumably protecting it from any incursion.

I turned off the camera before I got to the building and chatted briefly with the guard as I passed.

When I got to the corner of Carlton and Pacific, I turned the camera back on and looked east, pointing out that the street was still open.

I walked south to Dean, capturing the block of row houses on Carlton between Pacific and Dean, a finger of the Prospect Heights Historic District. As I note on the video, blight is supposed to cause deterioration of surroundings--though that's not the case.

An encounter with a guard

Curiously enough, after shooting the wall that once was full of graffiti ("Gehry, thy name is eminent domain," by the Prospect Heights Action Coalition), I got to Carlton and Dean.

Then, oddly enough, the security guard from Pacific Street followed me and confronted me, telling me I shouldn't be taking pictures. He threatened to call the cops. I told him the cops said it was OK.

(Security guard training apparently doesn't encompass informing them about photography on public streets.)

I turned the camera off--why make an example of a low-paid guy with little training?--and we jousted a bit more. He made a feint at calling his security partners down the block. I asked him if he knew of [insert name of Forest City Ratner executive]. He said no.

I walked away and he didn't follow me. That much training he had. He and others could use a bit more.

Monday, May 24, 2010

How about that under-the-radar Charter Revision Commission? Hearing Tuesday in Brooklyn takes on term limits

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who spends an inordinate amount of time sending out press releases commenting on every possible matter of public interest (except one), is doing something useful: casting light on the shadowy efforts by the New York City Charter Revision Commission to amend the charter regarding issues like term limits, land use, and public integrity.

There's no small self-interest, as well; Mayor Mike Bloomberg wants the commission to examine whether the Public Advocate's office should be abolished.

Hearing on term limits

On Tuesday at 6 pm, the commission will hold a hearing on term limits at Brooklyn Borough Hall. It will be webcast live. Three nationally recognized experts will testify and those wishing to testify can begin signing up one half-hour prior to the start of the forum.

The hearing on land use will be Thursday, June 24, in Flushing, Queens.

Aggressive pace

The pace, commissioner chair Matthew Goldstein admits, is "very aggressive." A draft report is due at the end of June and a new set of hearings in July. By early August, a draft final report is due. After that, the commission will decide--by September 3--whether to adopt any proposals for placement on the ballot.

Among the 16 commission members appointed by Bloomberg: Carlo Scissura, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's chief of staff, and Anthony Crowell, counselor to the mayor.

Lander: limit ballot to term limits

Brooklyn Council Member Brad Lander testified:
Only Consider Review of Term Limits Law for 2009
Because the term limits law was changed by the Mayor and the City Council in 2008 in a manner that overrode the twice-expressed will of the voters and that raised significant citizen outcry, I believe it is appropriate to review these changes to the law at this time.
Lander proposed--for 2012--potential changes, such as requiring a proactive and comprehensive planning process and that independent offices like the public advocate, comptroller, and community boards get a fixed percentage of the city budget.

Crain's: give people a vote on term limits

Crain's New York Business, noting that the commission can extend its work next year, editorialized this week:
As for this year, voters deserve a chance to affirm or undo the change in term limits that Mr. Bloomberg and 29 City Council members passed so controversially in 2008. That is the very reason the mayor formed the revision commission.

Voter participation clearly needs attention.... New Yorkers should be asked if they favor early voting, same-day registration, nonpartisan elections and other measures that could boost turnout.

The issue of government structure could mean just about anything, although it seems unlikely that voters will be asked to eliminate the offices of borough president or public advocate.... Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer makes a strong case that borough presidents and community boards should have a greater role in planning.

Private developers deserve changes that would shorten the time from project conception to completion so they won't have to guess what the economy will be five or eight years hence. But these and other land-use changes appear too complex for the commission to sort out in three months.
Robbins on the political forces

The Village Voice's Tom Robbins summed up the issues in a lengthy, fascinating 4/29/10 piece headlined Mike Bloomberg Wants to Make Sure No One Ever Again Pulls a Mike Bloomberg:
Bloomberg apparently wants to make sure he's the last third-term mayor, a sort of better-late-than-never idea. The commission will probably try to restore the two-term limit that voters already approved in two referendums, but that Bloomberg and his council allies overturned in 2008 because they believed we couldn't get along without them.

Having satisfied his own self-interest, Mayor Mike is no doubt willing to go back to two terms. But the council, no surprise, would love to stick with three. The council, however, has nothing to say about a charter commission or the amendments it puts on the ballot....

The surprise is that the state legislature is threatening to do something for the council members who covet a third term.

One bill would give the council the power, by a two-thirds vote, to kill any charter commission proposal, starting with a term-limit reduction...

The other, and far more reasonable bill, tries to attack the flaws and fears about the ongoing commission process.

The flaws -- other than the fact that the mayor hand-picks the entire commission -- revolve mostly around the rapid pace of this mysterious change, which has even drawn the ire of the New York Times editorial board.

...What is really driving the second Brennan bill is a concern that Bloomberg's commission might try to package a term limit reduction, which would almost undoubtedly pass, with the abolition of partisan primaries, which might not pass if separated. So the bill, and this is the one that just got out of the senate committee, requires that charter proposals appear on the ballot "as separate proposals to the extent practicable."
Liu vs. IBO and de Blasio

Comptroller John Liu would like to absorb the New York City Independent Budget Office (NYC IBO) into the Comptroller's Office. That's a lousy idea; the IBO officials, unlike the Comptroller, are not running for higher office.

Liu also would like to change the line of succession so the Comptroller, rather than the Public Advocate, take over if the Mayor can no longer perform the duties of the office. Liu has a point; the Comptroller's office is larger and has more granular responsibilities.

In response, de Blasio said that "the Public Advocate has a broad mandate to provide independent oversight on City Government and for that reason was rightly placed next in the line of succession."

Six of one, half-dozen of another. Who'd you like better as mayor, Liu or de Blasio? Bill Thompson or Betsy Gotbaum?

Little outreach

de Blasio's office writes:
Since March, the Commission has held eight public hearings, but only 1,000 people -- .012% of the City’s population -- have shown up. This lack of public engagement in such an important issue may have major effects on how New York City government is run.

The Public Advocate’s office is encouraging all New Yorkers to urge the Commission to make the charter revision process as democratic as possible. The Charter Commission’s next public hearing is tomorrow at 6 p.m. in the Brooklyn Borough Hall. We hope you can make it.

Our office also produced a video asking New Yorkers to get involved in charter revision by attending tomorrow’s hearing.

Also, you and your readers can sign on to the online petition calling for a more democratic charter revision process.

On the Brian Lehrer Show Tuesday: Marty Markowitz and "Your Anecdotal Census"

As part of the program’s ongoing Census coverage, WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show presents YOUR ANECDOTAL CENSUS–a county-by-county look at the stories emerging from each neighborhood in 2010. The series debuted earlier this month, and continues each Tuesday at 11 am through September.

Tomorrow the subject is Brooklyn. Among the guests: Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz.

Anecdotes welcomed

Listeners have been asked how the world around them has changed in the past decade. One of the more interesting comments already posted:
Jacqueline Woodson from Park Slope, Brooklyn

I think I am one of a shrinking number of African American recent homebuyers in Park Slope. We bought our house in 2002 when my daughter was 10 months old. I had lived as a renter in the neighborhood for many years before that and have watched the neighborhood go from being racially and economically diverse (as well as having a large number of queer people living here) to being a predominantly white, wealthy, straight neighborhood. It saddens me to see this change. Saddens me that my daughter (and now young son) aren't growing up in a neighborhood where they see their worlds constantly reflected back at them. I find myself thinking about organization lJack & Jill -- started so that African American children could meet other children of color. Who ever thought there would be a need in Brooklyn? But the children of color on our own block can be counted on one hand. Our mixed race gay family is a rarity in the neighborhood and when my partner and I walk through the neighborhood holding hands now, we get stares we wouldn't have imagined ten years ago.

Dellaverson, ex-MTA CFO, joins a law firm, and the Times discreetly ignores the Vanderbilt Yard deal

Gary Dellaverson, former Chief Financial Officer at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, lands at the law firm Proskauer Rose, and gets some positive words from the Times:
In 19 years at the transportation authority, the mustachioed, cigarillo-smoking Mr. Dellaverson took on some of the toughest assignments at a notoriously tough agency. As chief labor negotiator, he did battle with the Transport Workers Union during the 2005 transit strike. The headache-inducing complexity of the Hudson Yards development deal was his doing (after the first developer fell through, he nailed down another in five days).
The MTA's finances

The CityRoom blog post closes:
Would he comment on the transportation authority’s current precarious financial situation?

“I could,” Mr. Dellaverson said, “but why on earth would I?”
Why would he, indeed? Remember what he said last June about the two-day opportunity for the MTA board to consider a revised deal with Forest City Ratner for the Vanderbilt Yard: "I think that, in terms of why must it be now in the summer versus in the fall, I think it really relates to Forest City's desire to market their bonds as a tax-exempt issuance [by a December 31 deadline]. If the structure... is not such that allows for the marketability of the bonds, then the financial aspect of the transaction, as it relates to arena construction expenses that Forest City Ratner would incur, become less viable and perhaps not viable."

And what he said about selling naming rights to the Atlantic Avenue/Pacific Street transit hub: "We've never successfully completed a naming rights before.... I don't have a nifty little spreadsheet to show you how we came up with $200,000. Our real estate division did review some naming rights that had been done by transportation and other entities. But y'know, we kinda felt our way into it."

(The Times's coverage back then? Contemptible.)

Selling "Atlantic Yards"

Reuters reports:
The law firm hired Gary Dellaverson as special counsel in its labor and employment department. Dellaverson joins from the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, where he was most recently chief financial officer. He was previously the MTA's chief labor negotiator, overseeing such matters as the 2005 transit strike and efforts to sell the West Side Rail Yards and Atlantic Yards.
I don't know whether that summary came from a law firm press release or Reuters shorthand, but nobody sold the "Atlantic Yards." It's a project, not a place.

A law firm with a sports practice

Proskauer Rose, by the way, describes its Sports Law practice thusly:
We are widely considered the go-to firm for sports-related matters, from bet-the-company disputes to high-profile collective bargaining negotiations, the purchase and sale of teams, complex financings, the naming of stadiums, formation of new leagues and high-stakes contract negotiations. We were named the “Sports Practice of the Year” by Chambers USA, which also recognized us as “the nation’s leading sports practice,” with a “dream team of lawyers” having “the finest skills in the country” and “a superbly rounded practice, with great people, great skills and a great working knowledge of the field.” In short, our lawyers don’t just know this industry – they lead it.
If Dellaverson works in the labor and employment division, presumably he could work on this aspect of the Proskauer sports law practice:
Collective bargaining with players’ unions on behalf of Major League Baseball, National Basketball Assocation, National Football League, National Hockey League, Major League Soccer and Women's National Basketball Association
If so, he could again be working cooperatively with Forest City Ratner (and, now, Mikhail Prokhorov).