Sunday, October 31, 2010

Some revisionist history on the Nets' effort to land LeBron James; they were out of the running even though they said the opposite

With the benefit of some hindsight, let's reconstruct the New Jersey Nets' ill-fated pursuit of superstar free agent LeBron James.

We've long known that, on 7/1/10, Nets' brass and owner Mikhail Prokhorov flew to Cleveland to meet with James.

Now we know, according to the New York Post's Fred Kerber, in an article headlined How Nets went LeBust come ‘Decision’ time, they didn't get very far:
“We never got any correspondence from LeBron’s camp after the first meeting,” [Nets official Bobby] Marks said. “When it was a three-, four-day stretch that we didn’t hear, we knew we were out.”

By the morning of July 6, the Nets heard the bad news through backchannels. One hour before James’ July 8 “The Decision” show, [agent Leon] Rose called [Nets GM Rod] Thorn and said the Nets were eliminated.
Looking back

But what were Kerber and others in the press reporting at the time?

Kerber reported July 7, in an article headlined Nets in LeBron holding pattern:
The Nets feel they remain in the LeBron running -- "We're still at the table," Thorn said.
That's just the way the game is played.

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

After taking an Atlantic Yards hiatus in 2009, the infamous Brooklyn Tomorrow advertorial promotional magazine published by the Community Newspaper Group, publisher of the Brooklyn Paper and the Courier-Life chain, again puts Atlantic Yards on the cover, as it had in the 2007 and 2008 issues.

Brooklyn Tomorrow appears as an insert in both weeklies, promoted on the cover, but is not yet online.

The headline promises "Barclays Bounce: How the arena got back in the game."

Intriguing.

[Update: Editor Gersh Kuntzman protests that it's not an advertorial. Given that previous editions featured content clearly tied to advertising, such as from Forest City Ratner, I'd call them advertorials. This issue does not, but the upbeat tone of the articles seems geared to a "positive" promotional publication.]

The savior of Barclays?

The Table of Contents pulls no promotional punches regarding p. 14: "Barclays Center: Architect Gregg Pasquarelli will be remembered as the man who saved basketball in Brooklyn."

The letter from the editors, Vince DiMiceli and Gersh Kuntzman, further assists developer Forest City Ratner (who just happens to be the two newspapers' landlord) citing "our exclusive interview with the man who saved the Barclays Arena (the focal point of what we're sure is to become America's Downtown)."

The focal point of America's Downtown? Even for a promotional real estate publication, that's a double stretch. The arena would extend Downtown Brooklyn to the southeast.

And no one's going to mistake the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, even with the new temporary plaza Pasquarelli's designing, as America's Downtown. Not even New York's. Does America's Downtown feature Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Center and Atlantic Terminal malls?

Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Paper hasn't touched the story about Forest City Ratner's effort to raise $249 million by hawking green cards to Chinese investors.

Adjusting to the real estate downturn

Given the economic downturn in real estate, the issue, by the way, takes a much broader view than previous issues of the supplement.

There's an interview with an environmental designer and mini-profiles of five "future leaders" (who, in this most diverse of boroughs, are three white males and two white females).

None of the three biggest advertising opportunities--back cover and inside covers--attracted real estate advertising.

The exclusive

The interview/profile (at bottom) is headlined "The man who saved the Barclays Center: A new design jump-starts the Nets' new home." It's quite brief, and in many ways offers less than what the architect said in his September 29 presentation at Borough Hall.

But consider the logic of Brooklyn Tomorrow:
Meet Gregg Pasquarelli, the architect who saved basketball in Brooklyn.

No development will change the face of our borough more than the Barclays Center--the future home of Brooklyn's first major league sports team in 55 years.

And without Pasquarelli, the entire 19,000-seat arena that will host the Brooklyn Nets would have been in doubt.
What's the logic? The article states:
Ratner had fired starchitect Frank Gehry Frank Gehry in 2008, and brought in the budget-conscious Kansas City firm Ellerbe Becket, which promptly released a hanger-style" [sic] design for the arena that was met with near-unanimous disgust.

Then came Pasquarelli, who unveiled the current design, which is so good that it attracted the eye--and, more important, the money--of Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who bought the Nets franchise from Ratner and invested in the significantly more attractive arena.

His cash saved the arena project.

Would Prokhorov have made his investment if the arena had looked like a hanger? One can't say for certain, but there are plenty of hangars selling for a much cheaper price in Siberia.
That's called a non sequitur. Prokhorov's gaining fame--like a cover story in today's New York Times Magazine--not because he's a 45% investor in Forest City Ratner's arena but because he's the majority owner of a professional basketball team.

The plaza and the neighborhood

Most of the rest of the article consists of Pasquarelli's description of the plaza plan, and his insistence that it will "become a meeting place, and the focus of the neighborhood."

Maybe, maybe not. I think it's a stretch to compare the plaza to Gansevoort Plaza and Union Square in Manhattan.

But the last paragraph shows the architect veering slightly off message and confirming that he recognizes the very tight fit that an arena has in Prospect Heights:
It's a big building in a residential neighborhood, and it's an incredible challenge," said Pasquarelli. "But it's been a blast designing it."
He and his firm haven't designed the building.

Missing from the article is this important distinction. The arena is the same hangar Ellerbe Becket designed, with a new facade. The architect of record is Ellerbe Becket. SHoP is the facade architect.

The article (click on images to enlarge)


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Phoenix Suns owner Sarver on how arenas get built: "They get built through politics and political connections"

Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver gets praise in The Atlantic's Brave Thinkers feature for agreeing to have the team wear "Los Suns" jerseys as a rebuke to newly-passed legislation, aimed at illegal immigrants but feared as fostering racial profiling.

Part of his explanation:
A lot of people looked at the decision as an inappropriate mixture of sports and politics. But I think it’s naive to say that sports and politics don’t mix. I mean, how do stadiums and arenas get built? They get built through politics and political connections. Almost all professional sports owners are active in politics to support candidates and causes, but it’s usually based on a financial agenda. To me, this law was more of a human-rights issue—and just an issue of fairness—than it was political.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A salute to (lost) Pacific Street, from the L Magazine

From the L Magazine's The 50 Best Blocks in Brooklyn:
40. Best Block Currently Closed for Atlantic Yards Construction
Pacific Street between Fifth and Sixth Aves, Prospect Heights
It's been somewhat sparse for years, but the buildings dotting this AY-adjacent block are/were of an unusually high architectural pedigree, from the elegant brick Spalding Building at the corner of Sixth Avenue and the historical firehouse next door, to the ornate Atlantic Arts Building nearer to Fifth Avenue, all of which are coming down behind closed gates.
Um, emphasis on were. And it's not just currently closed, it's permanently closed.

State Comptroller criticizes ESDC for lack of transparency, no-bid contracts

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who not coincidentally is running for election next Tuesday (for the post to which he was appointed in 2007), on October 27 issued a brief report criticizing the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC).

The press release was headlined DiNapoli Public Authority Spotlight: Urban Development Corp.: Hundreds of Millions Spent on No-Bid Contracts and High Salaries.

News of the high salaries--more than a quarter of staffers earning six figures--actually surfaced in June, in a report from the Authorities Budget Office, and it's hardly surprising that the ESDC (the name under which the agency mainly does business) has awarded no-bid contracts.

After all, ubiquitous consultant AKRF has often been chosen, via no-bid contracts, to conduct environmental reviews, such as for Atlantic Yards and the Columbia University expansion.

"We also are able to hire people on the basis of a sole source if we can articulate a rationale for why it would be cost effective or otherwise appropriate," ESDC General Counsel Anita Laremont said at a tense oversight hearing in January.

But DiNapoli put a number on it, stating that the Urban Development Corp. awarded 32 contracts worth $344.9 million in fiscal year 2008-09 without seeking competitive bids. By contrast, it awarded 97 smaller contracts, with a value totaling $216.1 million, through a competitive process.

Need for accountability

“These numbers raise more questions than answers,” DiNapoli said in his news release. “The state’s public authorities spend billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money in the dark shadows of state government. We’ve been auditing authorities like the MTA to hold them accountable, and the Public Authorities Reform Act will help shed light on no bid authority contracts. But there’s still too much taxpayer money being spent without enough taxpayer accountability.”

Under the Public Authorities Reform Act of 2009, DiNapoli's office has the authority to review all non-competitive public authority contracts greater than $1 million.

Outstanding debt

As of March 2010, DeNapoli reported, the Urban Development Corp. had $8.4 billion in outstanding debt, of which $8.2 billion was state-supported debt borrowed without voter approval. This represents 18 percent of all outstanding state-supported public authority debt.

Lack of transparency

The report suggests that the authority lacks transparency, including the murky role of the Job Development Authority (JDA), which as of July had failed to file required reports and, unmentioned in this report--was the entity that formed the Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation to issue tax-exempt arena debt:
There is a remarkable lack of clarity and transparency with regard to the enmeshed structure of the State’s economic development entities.

...Still, little is known about many of UDC’s subsidiaries or the relationship of those entities with UDC as the parent organization. UDC is required to report subsidiary financial and other data as part of a consolidated filing, pursuant to various reporting requirements in the Public Authorities Law and related regulations. Entities which are not identified as subsidiaries, such as the New York Job Development Authority, must report independently.

However, while the JDA and its programs are administered by UDC, the JDA has not filed many of the independent reports required since 2005. Provisions in the Public Authorities Reform Act 2009 grant the Authorities Budget Office (ABO) expanded power to initiate formal investigations, publicly warn and censure noncompliant authorities, recommend suspension or dismissal of officers or directors, report suspected criminal activity to the Attorney General, and commence proceedings in State Supreme Court to seek records, documentation or other information required to perform its duties. These provisions were enacted, in part, to improve the responsiveness and compliance rates of all authorities.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Money cleanses: what's missing from the Times's Prokhorov article (hint: whatever the Nets do, Prokhorov's already won)

So, what's missing from The Playboy and His Power Games, the New York Times Magazine cover story (to be published this Sunday, October 31) on new Nets majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov?

(Updated October 30: The print cover states "An oligarch of our own." Nyet.

The cover line: "The lowly New Jersey Nets score the next best thing to LeBron--Mikhail Prokhorov, a Russian billionaire who is not shy about anything." The author really didn't read the clip file.)

In increasing importance...

1) Any irony regarding this picture (by David Goldman/AP) of Prokhorov, Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and Nets minority owner (and convenient prop) Jay-Z.


2) An embarrassing photo of writer Chip Brown with Prokhorov at a nightclub, as with eager 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft last March. Still, Brown's big "gets" include a visit to Prokhorov's house, watching the mogul work out, a nightclub tag-along, and a jet-ski session.

3) Any mention of Atlantic Yards, the project proposed and pursued by his business partner Bruce Ratner, who gets one mention. The Barclays Center arena, of which Prokhorov owns 45% (of the operating company), gets two mentions.

4) The recognition that the Times might disclose the newspaper company's business relationship with Ratner, as recommended by the Public Editor in June 2005.

5) The realization that Prokhorov, like Ratner, might be beneficiary of some sweetheart deals. (They should've checked the Times's clip file.)

6) Any reflection that the National Basketball Association might not have done too thorough a job vetting Prokhorov. (“Mikhail is right up there with the most flamboyant owners the league has ever had,” is the only quote from Commissioner David Stern.)

7) Voices beyond Prokhorov regarding his super-swift path to wealth, getting an inside deal on Norilsk Nickel. Here's a key passage:
I asked Prokhorov last month how, with 15 years of hindsight, he viewed the program that a 1999 article in this magazine said was “almost universally [regarded] as an act of colossal criminality.”

“Was it fair or not fair?” he asked. “Should you keep the profits or not? I can’t really be neutral, of course, but when we bought Norilsk Nickel, and also Sidanko, we met with more than 20 investors public and private. No one wanted to take the risk.
There's a mention of "what critics call 'asset stripping,'" but no one--from a Matt Taibbi, who's called Prokhorov a "gangster," to a more decorous critic--is quoted by name.

Brown also explains how Prokhorov built Norilsk Nickel into a huge success, sold at the right time (thanks to that pesky incident in France), and "to much criticism, reneged on the offering plan to buy out minority shareholders at a specified price when he took control in June 2008 of a major Russian power company called TGK-4."

8) A perspective beyond the conventional. Here's the close of the article:
But there was no denying the weight of all the promises either, the pressure to live up to expectations, the energy it took constantly to project an air of confidence. He once said the desire to be “the man” was at the base of all his aspirations. All that talk of strategy and competitive advantage wouldn’t be worth a damn if the man’s team was the global laughingstock of the league.
“Money doesn’t drive me,” he said. “New ideas, the feeling of team spirit, mean more. To create a team better than any other, that’s what drives me. To find the idea is one thing; to realize the idea is another.” But really, comrade, how hard could it be? The old crew was 12 and 70 last year.
“As soon as we have the 13th victory, we can relax,” he said, and he laughed — but softly.
It's not about Nets' victories. Prokhorov, virtually unknown in America, is on the cover of the Times Magazine. He's already won.

Money changes everything? No, money cleanses everything.

As Times Magazine buffs Prokhorov, Nets tickets in Newark go for pennies

I'll have more in a bit on the more-hagiographic-than-not New York Times Magazine cover story on Nets majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov, but consider that even the oligarch's presence in Newark last night (where the Nets won their opener) didn't drive attendance.

From John Brennan in The Record's Meadowlands Matters blog, a piece headlined Tickets for sporting events at rock-bottom prices:
But for tonight's Nets-Detroit Pistons NBA regular-season opener — the first for the Nets in their temporary Prudential Center home in Newark — fans who know where to look online can find a $200 list-price ticket for $50, a $40 ticket for $10, or a $20 ticket for an amazing 47 cents.
In a follow-up, Brennan pointed out that Newark Mayor Cory Booker has tried to liken his city to Oklahoma City, which snagged a permanent team after hosting the New Orleans Hornets after Hurricane Katrina.

But the turnout, even with cheap tickets, was low:
The crowd was listed at 15,178, but at the Izod Center the Nets traditionally listed their crowd (which accounts for tickets distributed) about 2,500 higher than actual turnstile attendance (pretty typical in the NBA). So this crowd was not close to the 17,000 that Booker talked about beforehand.

The audience was enthusiastic, though, and the Nets need to find a way to get more nearby residents into the building.

MAS Summit: the dominance of NYC EDC in planning, the value of green space, and the importance of sharing the bounty across the boroughs

While the livability survey revealed at the Municipal Art Society's (MAS) Summit for New York City October 21-22 suggested that most New Yorkers were satisfied, there were significant pockets of discontent, notably (and unsurprisingly) among poorer residents in the outer boroughs.

So there was a good deal of discussion about how to improve things. After all, suggested Robert McNulty, founder and president of Partners for Livable Communities, "livability should be defined by the least advantaged member of your community."

(I don't think that that Rawlsian perspective is necessarily shared by most running the city, so that comment must be seen as somewhat pollyannish.)


Blame NYC EDC

Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, blamed the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYC EDC) for thinking that parking garages and big development like the East Side Gateway Mall or Yankee Stadium were the key to development.

"I think EDC needs to undergo a revolution," he said. "This stuff isn't window dressing." Such "stuff" includes things like parks and transportation.

Indeed, in a 10/4/10 Gotham Gazette column headlined The Real Power in City Planning, Hunter College planning professor Tom Angotti wrote:
Name just about any big and controversial development project in New York City -- the new Yankee Stadium, Bronx Terminal Market, Willets Point, Coney Island, Metrotech -- and behind them stands a single powerful dealmaker that makes them possible, the New York City Economic Development Corp. or EDC.
His conclusion:
Whether EDC does better planning and development because of its special position and powers is an open question that we might all disagree on. But EDC has assumed critical government planning powers that the City Charter and local law give to city agencies. By negotiating and making decisions in the shadows, EDC can avoid the sunlight that helps citizens understand what is getting developed and decide whether they want it or not. We may know what EDC's executives say to the public through their public relations office but little is know what is said in their exclusive discussions with developers.
Note that NYC EDC has supported Atlantic Yards, though the lead role went to another not quite transparent agency, the Empire State Development Corporation, controlled by the governor.

Spreading the bounty

Mary Rowe, an MAS Urban Fellow, offered a quote that made several news reports: "If you're white, male, under 45, making more than $75,000, the city's working for you--duh." But the focus, she said, should be on for whom is it not livable.

"Perhaps we need to spread some of those resources into the other boroughs and enrich lives," suggested McNulty. In Gothenburg, Sweden, the government has placed first-class public gymnasiums in all metro regions and has the symphony play there regularly, he said. (Sweden does a lot of things, like offer parental leave to men, that other countries don't.)

In Medellín, Colombia, world-class architects have been enlisted to build new (award-winning), serving as anchors for neighborhoods and businesses, he said. He suggested a similar role for "one of the branches of New York library in one of the boroughs that's not quite so happy with their quality of life,"

(While there's no "New York library"--the New York Public Library operates in three boroughs, while the Queens Library and Brooklyn Public Library operate in their respective boroughs--his point is legitimate. And relatively new libraries such as the large Flushing branch in Queens, opened in 1998, play significant roles. However, the city has cut rather than increased library spending.)

The role of parks

McNulty noted that the survey suggested that people value green spaces more than stadiums.

Rowe suggested that there was great potential in the green space on New York City Housing Authority property Indeed, author Roberta Brandes Gratz later suggested that the city survey residents of the housing projects regarding use of such underutilized space.

John Mangin of the Center for Urban Pedagogy how great parks could be achieved in less wealthy areas of the city, given that such parks in more affluent areas rely on private fundraising and business improvement districts (BIDs) that collect money from landowners.

"There's no easy answer," responded McNulty, who noted that, in some cities the health care industry supports parks are supporting parks. (The Cleveland Botanic Garden is apparently now half-funded by hospitals.)

No one referenced the recent New York magazine article on St. Vincent's and the precarious state of most hospitals in the city or the Next American City article on the failure of the city to adequately fund parks.

Still, they suggested that the survey could be used to mobile public opinion.

Could parks be institutionalized in vertical buildings, one attendee asked.

White said it was possible, citing a residential housing developer who lamented that "the city forces him to build parking... Why not change the zoning code so that money is put in livability enhancements instead of parking?"

Indeed, there's finally a move afoot to drop the outdated mandatory minimums--which also affect Atlantic Yards--that I dubbed PlaNYC 1950.

Linking the boroughs

One questioner pointed out how the subway system was designed to move people to the center, not crosstown, and that decentralization was needed.

White said he was very encouraged by the promotion of bus rapid transit (BRT) on Fordham Road in the Bronx, and was looking forward to its implementation on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn.

Where subsidies go

Moderator Alison Tocci of TimeOut North America said that small arts and cultural groups can no longer afford to bring in performers for a two-week or one-month run, given the costs of performance spaces and temporary housing.

At another panel, planner and consultant Ethel Sheffer, mused, "This may not be the time to say it... but government has continued to provide incentives to keep financial sector here... we may have to find a way to keep the arts... to permit the smaller theater or smaller gallery not to have to be displaced by the real estate."

She said government could play a role in subsidizing or creating new artists' housing in the spirit of the Westbeth, appropriate to the way people are living and working now and that requirements for support should be handled with subtlety: "it's artificial if it's not integrated into the community."

Does Ratner have “possession of the 22-acre Atlantic Yards property”? No, but the request for a Times correction is a month old

This isn't big news, but it's an example of how errors in the "Paper of Record," however basic, need correction, given that they could mislead readers and researchers, as with the yet-uncorrected claim that the arena would be built "on the railyards."

A 9/28/10 New York Times City Room post, headlined Latest Design Is Unveiled for Atlantic Yards Plaza, claimed that the entire 22-acre site was controlled by the developer:
Seeking a correction

I posted a comment that day saying it wasn't true, given that several properties (e.g., houses on Dean Street east of Sixth Avenue, the P.C. Richard building on Site 5) are controlled neither by the state nor the developer, and that eminent domain is supposed to proceed in at least one more phase:

I filed an official request for a correction through the proper channels and wrote to reporter Charles Bagli directly. He acknowledged the error but, for whatever reason, he and his editors have been unable or unwilling to get it corrected.

Four days ago, I posted another comment, reminding the Times of the pending request:

Comments on the Times's web site are moderated, so my comment was approved. The content, however, has been so far ignored.

You'd think the Times would be extra-careful in coverage of Forest City Ratner, the parent Times Company's business partner on the Times Tower. You'd be wrong. In fact, there was no boilerplate disclosure in the piece.

Meanwhile, the Times today publishes corrections that tell us that the first name of the daughter of an artist recently profiled is Ona, not Oona and that the surname of a customer of a designer is Rattazzi, not Ratazzi.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cuomo has apparently put on back burner investigations of Willets Point, Downtown Brooklyn Partnership lobbying

There's a very intriguing passage within a New York Times article today about Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, likely to win election as Governor next Tuesday, headlined Mixed Views on Cuomo as Attorney General:
But the praise is neither universal nor complete, and there are many who assert that Mr. Cuomo has, not unlike his predecessor, been more interested in headlines than in undertaking the tedious chores needed to bring lasting reform, and that he has mishandled, sidestepped or prolonged some public integrity cases.

For example, an investigation into whether the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and some public officials violated lobbying laws in their redevelopment efforts is still unresolved after two years. (Mr. Bloomberg last month endorsed Mr. Cuomo’s campaign for governor.)
What might that refer to? It's time to repeat my post from 12/12/09, adding that I never got a response to my queries from Cuomo's office:

Learning from Willets Point, Part 2: is the Attorney General still investigating lobbying by the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership?

Just this past week we were reminded of an investigation by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo into the questionable lobbying by the Flushing-Willets Point-Corona Local Development Corporation (FWPCLDC), paid by the city to lobby for the Willets Point urban renewal plan before the City Council.

Willets Point United, a group of business owners fighting the plan and the prospect of eminent domain, noted that, despite an the investigation, the LDC, led by former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, "has not only continued its unlawful operations with impunity, but has been awarded an additional state grant in excess of $1.5 million."

The New York Times reported that the Bloomberg administration was not merely resistant to the investigation, it was downright hostile, threatening Cuomo's likely run for governor. Willets Point United warned:
If the Mayor's administration has resorted to using such tactics against AG Cuomo, there should be no doubt that it has used similarly despicable tactics against the people of Willets Point throughout the attempt to acquire their property.
The Downtown Brooklyn Partnership

In August, after a Times story on the FWPCLDC, I suggested that the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership (DBP), also funded in part by the city, had similarly tried to "influence legislation by propaganda or otherwise." I cited testimony by DBP representatives before the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Empire State Development Corporation.

I have no reason to think my post alerted the Attorney General's office, but, on 10/29/09, the Times reported that the investigation had in fact gone beyond the FWPCLDC:
That investigation has expanded into the activities of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, which the city helped create in 2006 to help push through development plans following a broad rezoning of the area.
So, is that investigation still going on? Has it been dismissed? To what extent does/did it involve the Partnership's work lobbying for Atlantic Yards?

I tried to get an answer from the Attorney General's office, but haven't heard back yet. I also tried the DBP, which told me to ask the AG's office.

That's hardly conclusive, but if they knew that there was no investigation, or if it had been dismissed, they would have said so, right?

The view from Dean Street: early-morning construction; the demolition of 636 Pacific Street

City zoning prohibits sports facilities from being built within 200 feet of residences, but that zoning was overridden by the Empire State Development Corporation in the case of Atlantic Yards.

So those on the south side of Dean Street between Flatbush and Sixth avenues have some bird's-eye views of the site.

First, a video shot at about 7:15 am today by a neighborhood resident.



Below, a photo of 636 Pacific Street, the last building in the footprint, shot yesterday by Battle of Brooklyn documentary filmmaker Mike Galinsky.

Environmental review process slammed at MAS Summit, but solutions remain elusive

Is the environmental review process broken? At the Municipal Art Society's (MAS) Summit for New York City October 21-22, two speakers suggested it was, but they didn't make what I believe is a key distinction: between truly public projects and public-private (or private-public) projects.



Opening up the first session of the two-day event, Philip K. Howard, lawyer, author (The Death of Common Sense), and founder of the national coalition Common Good, warned of "a growing bureaucracy that shackles government, stifles innovation, makes it impossible to adapt to current challenges."

And while his critique encompasses the budget and the schools, he directed his most pointed comments to the struggle to build new infrastructure.

"No pebble left unturned"

Environmental impact statements (EIS) "have evolved into a process of no pebble left unturned," he warned. "If it takes a decade or longer to get approvals, it will be 2025 or 2030 to start building a rail line or power grid... Even the president doesn't have the authority to make these choices over a reasonable review period."

"We're going to have to change the structure of law not to deregulate, but to make regulation work... to get where we all want to go and preserve the magic that is New York," Howard said.

It's hard to disagree that the system doesn't work, but there's also an argument for a distinction between projects that are truly public and those in which the main or significant beneficiary is private.

Past efforts

In May 2007, the Manhattan Institute issued a report and hosted a panel on streamlining the city's environmental review process.

While proponents advocated a narrower definition of the "environment," they also suggested that state projects like Atlantic Yards should have gone through the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which allows for more input by community boards and elected officials.

Large-scale development difficulty

Later in the Summit, on a panel regarding Moynihan Station, former MAS President Kent Barwick took up the issue. While "we get good marks for what we're doing with individual building and retrofitting neighborhoods," he said, "we don't get very good marks at our capacity for large-scale developments."

Rockefeller Center, he said, is "a standard we have a hard time meeting." (Of course, Rockefeller Center was produced not by government guidance but by a private developer with few limitations.)

Lack of capacity?

"One reason is we have diminished the capacity of our public authorities," Barwick said. "Basically, there are no Ed Logues in the picture, no Robert Moses."

"I'm not talking about arrogance, I'm talking about capacity," he said, noting that Moses wouldn't let his designers or architects go into the armed forces, knowing they were needed to draw up plans for the flood of money that would emerge after World War II.

Although the capacity for public interaction has improved, "we have made the public participation process more cumbersome than ever," he said, adding that some large-scale projects have no local review.

(Unmentioned, but likely on his mind: Atlantic Yards, which the MAS critiqued when it helped found the BrooklynSpeaks coalition, which is has since left.)

Relying on developers

Referencing Howard, Barwick said, "We have an unbelievably cumbersome and wasteful public approval process... we rely on developers to provide... not only the infrastructure the public should be providing... but even the money to fund the EIS's."

He criticized not just the state SEQRA process but also ULURP, saying, communities are invited "to scream," but lost any real power to affect process... We're not getting the consensus we need to move things along."

The solution, however, remains elusive.

Why would EB-5 investors in Atlantic Yards earn no interest? Because it's such "a safe, secure position"

From The National (published in the United Arab Emirates), an article headlined Green Card scheme a slam dunk in China covers one of the investment seminars put on by the New York City Regional Center (NYCRC) for its Atlantic Yards EB-5 investment project:
So keen are some Chinese to gain entry to America that they value the assurance of a Green Card over any financial return.

Most EB-5 schemes pay interest of between 2.5 and 2.75 per cent. But not this one, according to Gregg Hayden, the general manager of NYRC.

"The investor on this particular project, to simplify the process, is not getting paid any interest," says Mr Hayden. "We have put them in such a safe, secure position that they're not earning any interest. If you look at the spectrum of EB-5 projects, interest rates are paid according to risk."
To simplify the process? How about to maximize return to the New York City Regional Center and Forest City Ratner?

As for the security of the the position, well, that's a matter for continued debate.

Buying green cards

The report in The National shows a NYCRC rep pretty much contradicting what his boss said six weeks ago.

Consider what NYCRC principal George Olsen told the 9/14/10 China Daily, in an article headlined Foreign Investors Loan Money for Green Cards:
Olsen said it's a "disservice" to a great program to think that these investors are buying green cards.

"These investors are putting hard-earned money at risk in a way that benefits everyone," he said.
The two risk factors he suggested: that the area must have a high unemployment rate and that "the investor also must ensure that 10 jobs are ultimately created for American residents.

"

First, the unemployment rate is irrelevant if there's an investment that will create jobs. Second, it's questionable whether an investor "must ensure that 10 jobs are ultimately created for American residents."

Rather, the New York City Regional Center must produce a report, accepted by the federal government, that claims that the total amount of money invested, including but not limited to the EB-5 funds, creates or retains ten jobs directly or indirectly.

That's not quite the same hurdle.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Times takes optimistic look at Prokhorov as face of Nets, suggests trip to China was to recruit companies as sponsors (but what about EB-5 investors?)

In Nets’ Top Attraction May Be Prokhorov, an article in tomorrow's Sports section, the New York Times offers an optimistic take on the Nets' struggles: majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov "may end up being the face of the organization."

(I pointed out October 24 that the ESPN The Magazine portrayed Prokhorov as the face of the Nets, one of only four teams where players weren't front and center.)

The article states:
He has also moved fast to rebuild the team and has not shied away from the limelight. Since he took over in May, he has hired Avery Johnson as coach, Billy King as general manager and taken the Nets to Russia and China to help convince foreign companies to spend their money on the team.
Ah, but was the trip to China mainly to sign up sponsors, or was it to convince immigrant investors to get their green cards via the EB-5 program by buying into the "Brooklyn Arena and Infrastructure Project"?

And why was Prokhorov so oddly avoided by those pushing the project?

Cataloging non-blight on Vanderbilt Avenue

Despite the presence of the eastern end of a "blighted" Atlantic Yards project site, "Almost every corner along the stretch of Vanderbilt Avenue that runs through Prospect Heights is home to an eatery or drinkery of note," according to Brooklyn Based.

Of particular note are Woodwork, on Vanderbilt between Pacific and Dean streets, and Weather Up, at Dean Street, both immediately across the street from the staging/construction zone slated to be a massive surface parking lot.

(Woodwork got notice in Time Out New York this past February.)

Of course, the Branded Saloon, which gets a plug as "the kind of place where Wyatt Earp would feel right at home," was the scene of an early morning stabbing on September 30.

Moody's lifts rating on Forest City Enterprises from "negative" to "stable"

According to an AP article yesterday headlined Moody's revises Forest City outlook to 'stable', the ratings firm has lifted Forest City Enterprises from "negative" to "stable," citing improved results and stable liquidity.

The AP reported:
Last month, Cleveland-based Forest City reported a second-quarter profit of $122.8 million. The results bested the company's prior-year quarter performance - a loss of $1.8 million.

Moody's noted Forest City has been addressing its mortgage debt maturities, refinanced its credit facility and significantly reduced its development exposure.
Wonder if Moody's factored in an expected $249 million in immigrant investor funding, at low or no interest?

Morningstar, by the way, is a bit more cautious:
While we like Forest City's use of nonrecourse property debt and its geographically diverse footprint, we believe its extensive exposure to the volatile retail industry as well as its high degree of financial leverage warrant an extreme fair value uncertainty rating.

Citizenship for sale? Yahoo says yes, and endorses it (without looking closely at the Atlantic Yards deal)

Would you believe that the brief mention in a Wall Street Journal article about Forest City Ratner's plan to raise $249 million via immigrant investors inspired an Oct. 25 analysis (Citizenship For Sale?) by Daniel Gross, economics editor and columnist at Yahoo! Finance, that concluded that not only is the EB-5 program a good idea, but it should be vastly expanded.

In other words, superficial journalism by the Wall Street Journal is compounded by superficial journalism by Yahoo!

Job creation?

The program seems appealing on its face, so Gross can make a plausible case for it:
If it were fully utilized, the EB5 program would bring at least $7 billion annually and create or preserve 100,000 jobs per year. It's not much in the grand scheme of things -- there are currently about 130 million Americans with payroll jobs. But given the trauma inflicted upon American workers in the past three years, every little bit helps. And this is something the U.S. should be doing more of.

One cure for the vast overhang of excess housing would be to offer expedited citizenship to people willing to purchase vacant homes in places in like Las Vegas or Detroit.
The problem is that, with Atlantic Yards, the signal example Gross chooses (and touts on the video accompanying his piece), no new jobs would be created, the Empire State Development Corporation acknowledges, but Forest City Ratner could save perhaps $100 million over five years on $249 million in low- or no-cost financing.

Would they be "created" according to the federal government's loose regulations? That's what proponents say. Still, there are several reasons to be skeptical about the project, as I've written.

Green cards to cheap?

As with critics of the program like David North (of the Center for Immigration Studies), Gross suggests the green card comes cheap:
In fact, the investment-related green card should probably be priced higher. Here's a thought experiment: Ask how much you'd have to be paid to give up American citizenship for you and your family and assume that of a randomly chosen foreign country. Something tells me the bidding would start at a point much higher than $500,000.
It's actually a lot less than $500,000, as North pointed out. First, the sum applies to an entire family. Second, the money is not given up, merely parked in a low-interest or no-interest investment.

"Everything we work on is on the web;" is that Atlantic Yards? No, it's Governors Island

Is Atlantic Yards a public-private partnership? Or, as I've contended (with Amy Lavine), more of a private-public partnership?

Well, the contrast between public and private projects became more clear during a presentation on Governors Island at the Municipal Art Society's (MAS) Summit for New York City October 21-22.


"Everything we work on is on the web," declared Leslie Koch, president of the city-controlled Trust for Governors Island. Her remarks accompanied the presentation below (also on the web).

And a look at the Trust's web site leads us to the master plan for park and public space, the results of a design competition.

What about AY?

By contrast, the Empire State Development Corporation's Atlantic Yards web pages just offer links (and are stale). Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards web site has been down since June 2009, resolving instead to the Barclays Center web site, which is mainly about marketing.

A press release on the Barclays Center web site regarding the new arena plaza plan links to SHoP Architects, where a 48.5 MB download of plans is possible. That's not particularly transparent.

Governors Island Presentation at Municipal Art Society Summit for NYC Oct. 22, 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

News from the Construction Alert: 636 Pacific on the way down (remembered by Brownstoner), Urban Canvas program will beautify construction fence

The Empire State Development Corporation hasn't posted a Construction Update, but according to the latest Update, aka Construction Alert (below), all but one of the buildings on the arena block have been demolished, with that last building--and three smaller ones on the southeast block, Block 1129--under demolition.

That last building, of course, is 636 Pacific Street, the rehabbed warehouse dubbed the Atlantic Arts building and known as the home of Daniel Goldstein, co-founder of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, until he agreed to a settlement in April. Demolition is expected to be completed next month.

(Photo and set by Tracy Collins)

In a coincidence that could only be described as brutally weird, today Brownstoner featured 636 Pacific as the Building of the Day. The pseudonymous Montrose Morris wrote:
Had this building been anywhere else, it would easily have been eligible for landmarking, as it is a rare example of [Chep] Kingsley's work in NY, as well as for its intrinsic beauty on its own, especially with the wealth of terra-cotta in the colors, materials and motifs here. The details are in excellent shape, and it is a rare piece of commercial architecture of this type and from this era. Wastefully, it will soon be rubble. I hope the terra-cotta is salvagable. That, and pictures will be all that is left.
As one commenter suggested, salvage is unlikely.

FCR's claims of delay were overblown

Note that the affidavit filed by Forest City Ratner's MaryAnne Gilmartin in April warned (p. 22, or p. 67 of the overall document) of the enormous costs of delay, claiming it "may take several months to perform the work necessary to prepare for actual demolition" of 636 Pacific, and it would "take an additional several months--approximately five months is the current estimate--to perform and complete the actual demolition."

Actually, a demolition permit was filed in mid-September, which means the work would wind up taking two months.

The Urban Canvas program

Well, at least there will be some form of beautification coming to the site. According to the Construction Alert:
Atlantic Yards is participating in the City’s Urban Canvas program which is managed by the City’s Department of Buildings; as such a decorative covering will be installed on a portion of the construction fence facing Atlantic Avenue (approximately 200 feet in length); it is one of four sanction [sic] designs selected by the City. To find out more information about the program go to the DOB web site (www.nyc.gov/urbancanvas) and search for Urban Canvas.
Last month, the city announced competition finalists (pictured here) for the Urban Canvas program:
Supported by the Rockefeller Foundation’s grant to the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, the competition seeks to beautify construction sites by challenging professional artists and designers to create artwork that can be installed on construction fences, sidewalk sheds, supported scaffolds and cocoon systems, which are used to protect the public during the construction process.

...Following the announcement of the winning designs, the Department of Buildings will launch the urbancanvas Pilot Program. Under the Pilot Program, property owners, contractors and businesses will be invited to select one of the winning designs and install it on temporary protective structures located on or over City-owned property. Eligible participants will have the option of placing a pictorial rendering of the exterior of the project being built on the temporary protective structures in lieu of artwork. Selected designs will be allowed to include the name of one art sponsor displayed in accordance with the Pilot Program specifications.
So Forest City Ratner would be eligible to place a rendering of the Barclays Center on the structures in lieu of artwork. However, the Construction Alert suggests that one of four designs chosen by the city will be used. And, indeed, the New York Times reports that one design debuted today.

Atlantic Yards Construction Alert 10-25-2010

MAS Summit: Bloomberg administration's Jacobsian efforts are highlighted, but embrace of "cataclysmic projects" shouldn't be ignored

While the big news at the Municipal Art Society's (MAS) Summit for New York City October 21-22 concerned the livability survey commissioned by the MAS, there was much more worthy of discussion, and I'll address some of those issues this week.

Notably, one moment crystallized the ongoing tensions--as provoked earlier in the week by the Jane Jacobs Medals celebration--between the Bloomberg administration's worthy, Jacobsian efforts, and its less defensible affection for megaprojects.


Author and Landmarks Preservation Commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz spoke on a panel titled Vibrant Neighborhoods.

"I think it's wonderful that members of the Bloomberg administration thought this summit important enough to appear here to catalog the wonderful things agencies are doing to make the city more livable," she said, a reference to Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate Levin, Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who spoke at the event, along with Deputy Mayor Patti Harris.

(Also making presentations were Leslie Koch and Regina Myer, who lead the city-controlled organizations that run Governors Island and Brooklyn Bridge Park, respectively.)

Jacobsian efforts

"What is interesting is many of these things are not what we hear most about," Gratz said. "They are creative initiatives, spread in small doses, very Jacobsian, not the big cataclysmic projects that we hear most about that are not the creators of a livable city."

"Real economic development has nothing to do with real estate, and this is something Jane taught us in The Economy of Cities," Gratz said. "Economic development is an activity that comes first. The buildings to house it comes second. Jane used to say you cannot build the ovens and expect the loaves to jump in. What we've been hearing about, and talking about, are the loaves. That's why it's been such a stimulating discussion."

Listening to the people

In reference to the panel topic, Gratz recalled a visit to a "tower in the park classic public housing project, in East Harlem." While there was much green grass, residents were blocked by fences from using it.

"Why can't we tear down the fences?" Gratz asked. "If we want to honor the memory of what Jane stood for, the city, or MAS, could survey the people of just one tower in park housing projects, ask them what they want to see, then take down the fences and make that happen."

"I tell you the public housing story, because Jane very importantly in the introduction to [The] Death and Life [of Great American Cities], wrote about learning from people on the ground," she said.

What Jacobs stood for

"I also feel compelled to dispel some myths of what Jane stood for. Jane's observation and philosophy are useful only if not misunderstood," said Gratz, echoing some of the themes in her recent book, The Battle for Gotham.

No, Jacobs didn't favor only small-scale buildings, nor said only old buildings have value, nor opposed all big projects. "Too many people make the mistake of defining her observations of Greenwich Village as advocacy for preservation of the urban village," Gratz said. "The Village was her laboratory to observe larger truths about urban life."

Jacobs vs. developers

These days Jacobsian principles have "become conventional wisdom among planners" and also embraced, at least in rhetoric, by developers. "No developer can ever develop a large-scale project or so-called new community based on Jacobs' principles," she warned. "This is an oxymoron."

(In his Noticing New York blog, Michael D.D. White has tested Atlantic Yards against Jacobsian principles, and found it wanting on many fronts.)

"The first and overarching Jacobs idea is that cities and their neighborhoods, in total contrast to suburbs and overscaled new developments, must evolve, grow and change organically, and must emerge from efforts of many doers," Gratz said. "There is nothing organic from a highly developed, highly planned development, with one owner."

Moreover, she said, "plenty of big projects are getting done," citing infrastructure projects regarding water supply and mass transit. And, she added, "let's face it, many big projects deserve to be defeated."

Learning from Jacobs

She observed that the two winners this year of the Jane Jacobs Medal for new activism, Friends of the High Line founders Joshua David and Robert Hammond, came to activism through different paths.

David had read Jacobs' work, but Hammond had not. (He had, however, read Robert Caro's The Power Broker, about Robert Moses.)

"Jane would've loved the fact that he did what he did having never ever heard of her," suggested Gratz, a longtime Jacobs friend. "Jane believed that the citizen observer, the citizen doer, was the expert of the city."

"Josh was a Jacobs fan, Robert was Jacobs ignorant," she observed, and they "made a marvelous match."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

To ESPN, the biggest thing about the (non-turnaround) Nets is still their owner, likened to the omnipotent Galactus

In ESPN The Magazine's preview issue on the National Basketball Association season, each team is represented by a comic book cover rendering.

It's notable that, among the 30 teams, only four don't feature players dominating the image: the New Jersey Nets, with Mikhail Prokhorov (right); the Charlotte Bobcats, with player-turned-owner Michael Jordan; the Indiana Pacers, with player-turned-president Larry Bird; and the Dallas Mavericks, with flamboyant owner Mark Cuban.

The text
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

Mikhail Prokhorov is many things to many people: billionaire entrepreneur, playboy, and new owner of the Nets. But to Marvel, he's Galactus, an omnipotent figure with infinite resources and a voracious appetite for devouring worlds. Prokhorov took over the Nets in May, and the team already has a new GM (Billy King), coach (Avery Johnson) and arena (Newark's Prudential Center). But Silver Surfer Devin Harris remains. Can Prokhorov's team turn around last season's 12-70 mark? He's not that powerful--yet.
Some caveats

First, some people, like Matt Taibbi, might add the term "gangster" to the description of Prokhorov.

Also, it's misleading to conclude that Prokhorov is fully responsible for the changes cited. Longtime GM Rod Thorn decided to leave, precipitating the search for a replacement, and the team had had interim coaches last season.

And the interim move to Newark had been in place since last March.

From the Village Voice's Best of New York: Prokhorov, Stoudemire, and Markowitz

Once upon a time, the Village Voice could be counted on for cutting-edge reporting on local controversies and, while the newspaper still does some good work, the rate has diminished.

Which leads us to this week's Best of New York issue, and a few relevant entries.

Prokhorov: winning trumps all

In the category of Best Oligarch - 2010, we get (of course) Mikhail Prokhorov:
We're sorry that recent Russian émigré Mikhail Prokhorov couldn't sign LeBron James, even though he was rich enough ($13.4 billion) and tall enough (six-foot-eight) to look the hoops star in the eye. But give the guy a break: The owner of the New Jersey Nets (soon to be the Brooklyn Whatevers) is still the world's second richest Russian, the tallest of the world's richest, and one of the youngest of the top 100 (he's only 45). Talk about a guy who fits in well with our homebred corporate piranha: Prokhorov made his billions by feasting off Russia's helter-skelter, mostly illegal, and highly immoral conversion from merciless Communism to merciless capitalism. Now if he can just translate some of that money into a winning team.
In other words, winning will make us forget.

Unreliable narrators

Then again, the Voice Sports section also dubiously describes Amar'e Stoudemire as the Best Jewish Athlete - 2010:
Dynamic power forward Amar'e Stoudemire wasn't wooed by the Knicks from the Phoenix Suns because he has Star of David tattoos (which he does), but because he is fierce and can play basketball. Nevertheless, it turns out that Stoudemire's tattoos really do have significance—in a surprise to most to us, he began exploring his own Jewish roots and even has a Jewish mom. Who knew? Coming to a city that already has by far the largest Jewish population in the country (second largest in the world, behind Tel Aviv, and in a state where one out of every 11 residents is a Jew), Stoudemire has made New York City even larger. He is, after all, six-foot-10.
Actually, as New York magazine's Will Leitch pointed out:
And yet Stoudemire’s agent, Happy Walters, told TMZ straight out that Stoudemire wasn’t Jewish. (“He thinks there may be some Jewish blood on his mother’s side, and he is researching it,” Walters said.)
Here's the TMZ quote and here's Stoudemire's 7/29/10 tweet:
2 clear everything up: I'm studying history & want 2 learn about all religions. I think I might have some Hebrew Roots & i'm researching it.
According to the Wall Street Journal:
It appears that Mr. Stoudemire isn't Jewish under religious law. Mr. Stoudemire said his mother's links are solely from her study and appreciation of the Old Testament.
A highly entertaining counterpoint to the official Amareisreal Twitter stream is Fake Amar'e, described as "The fake thoughts of the Jewish version of Amar'e Stoudemire" and offering such pearls as:
Media day is so much better when you control the media.
Markowitz: Brooklyn Borough Staller

Brooklyn's colorful Borough President, Marty Markowitz, gets the Voice's nod as Best Between-Acts Concert Entertainment - 2010:
Wingate Field in Bushwick is the place to be every Monday night during the summer, when the Martin Luther King Jr. Concert Series brings through a cavalcade of old-school hip-hop, soul, gospel, and r&b stars. (This year featured Parliament/Funkadelic, BeBe & CeCe Winans, and an epic set from Salt-N-Pepa.) The free shows lure in thousands of lawn-chair-toting nostalgia enthusiasts in need of between-act cajoling, and for that, thank God, there is Marty Markowitz. We have no idea what being Brooklyn borough president actually entails other than emceeing these things (there's a weekly summer series at Coney Island, too), but we can confirm that it does involve inviting to the stage a motley crew of City Councilmen, radio DJs, preachers, wayward Applebee's employees, and assorted other yahoos. All of them have their charms, but none can compare with ol' Ramblin' Marty himself, soothing an oft-restless crowd in dulcet tones, never failing to enthrall even when he's announcing that Aretha Franklin canceled the show she was supposed to play there next week. It's infuriating at first, but eventually you come to regard it as a virtuoso performance: No one on earth kills time with more grace than Marty Markowitz. He is the Picasso of stalling. Go watch him paint sometime. Bring a chair.
Ah, it takes a certain kind of ignorance to say "We have no idea what being Brooklyn borough president actually entails other than emceeing these things."

For Markowitz, such cheerleading duties actually represent a large part of how he's defined the relatively powerless post, but it's not the only model.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The song cycle "Brooklyn Omnibus," by the new Brooklynites who created "Passing Strange," eventually takes us to the haunted arena

Last night I went to the BAM Harvey Theater to see the new song cycle, Brooklyn Omnibus, created by the musicians Stew and Heidi Rodewald, the collaborators on the terrific, quirky, Broadway musical play Passing Strange.

(Photo, via Brooklyn Based, by Jeff Fasano)

Stew, a black guy from L.A. who spent a lot of time in Germany, is an avant-garde rocker; Rodewald has punk rock roots. Both are newcomers, so they don't claim authority, but Rodewald says in this interview she's already nostalgic.

So, with a ten-piece band, three backup singers, and--crucially--video projections, they create a collage that, while hardly comprehensive, prompted nods and laughter from the audience. And yes, at the end, Brooklyn's signal controversy and alleged new centerpiece, the Barclays Center arena, got a macabre mention.

(Here's Louise Crawford's take on OTBKB.)

The blurb

Here's the official blurb:
Stew, the Tony Award-winning creator and star of Broadway’s Passing Strange, joins his band The Negro Problem and co-creator Heidi Rodewald for an irreverent, genre-bending song cycle that considers what it means to call Brooklyn home. With a swaggering score and a raw, unvarnished lyricism, Brooklyn OMNIBUS refracts the Kings County experience through a surreal prism of disparate characters, all living in a nomadic place where the neighborhood is a tribe, the self is an ever-changing storefront, and home is an elusive refuge resting somewhere between.
A few excerpts

"Brooklyn Omnibus" is not to be taken literally; for the purposes of the show, it represents a car service.

"Maybe there's black people in Fort Greene," is the chorus to one early song, which provoked multiple ironies: Stew's a black guy who plays to mostly white (but quite mixed) audiences; we were in Fort Greene (Stew's neighborhood); and the three chorus members were black (while the band was mostly white).

Another song, enhanced by split screen video of the Fulton Street Mall and 7th Avenue in Park Slope, posited a magical switch, in which mall denizens found organic "bling" in the Slope and Slopers bought nonorganic milk.

Less successful was a song about (I think) a white guy in Bed-Stuy who mugged his neighbors to keep the rents down.

A "sexy Brooklyn mommy" song clearly applies to specific neighborhoods, while a song about nostalgia--enhanced by old postcards--ranges more broadly.

The haunted arena

There was an encore, a "vampire song" on which Stew had to vamp a bit, since he'd misplaced the lyrics, but, as he sang, "only ghosts have eminent domain/we can't wait 'til the Barclays Center is done."

He continued: "Only the dead have eminent domain/it's the dead's job to drive the living insane."

In other words, even a newcomer knows it's haunted (with a nod to Thomas Wolfe's "Only the Dead Know Brooklyn.")


From an interview

In an interview with Sandy Sawotka, BAM’s communications director:
What drew you to Brooklyn as a subject? How is Brooklyn unique?
Stew:
Brooklyn is too big to grasp and always in flux. Like the universe, it is unknowable, and yet we keep trying to figure it out. Brooklyn started us thinking about how strongly people identify with neighborhoods and the pleasures and dangers of that. As Californians, we are far less tribal than East Coast people; we were fascinated by that. There was also a very American ahistorical thread I became obsessed with—the idea that people can identify so strongly with an area culturally and racially that may have been populated by a completely different culture/race just 15 years before.
He also adds, later:
Everybody in Brooklyn feels like they own it. We don’t. If anything, we feel like Brooklyn owns us.

Freddy's signs lease at 5th Avenue and 17th Street, 1.6 miles from previous location; next step: official approvals

According to reports from Eater and OTBKB (which got the press release I didn't get yet), the operators of Freddy's Bar & Backroom, displaced after some 15 years from the northwest corner of Dean Street and Sixth Avenue due to eminent domain (which led to a settlement), aim to reopen 1.6 miles away.

The location: the old Ellis space at 627 5th Avenue near 17th Street, just below the Prospect Expressway in an area some call the South South Slope and others call Greenwood Heights.

According to the press release, Frank Yost, who held the Freddy's lease, is not part of the new bar, which will be run by former manager Donald O'Finn and former bartenders Matt Kuhn (the press release had "Khun," but I think that's a typo) and Matt Kimmett.

What next?

The bar still needs approval from the community board, State Liquor Authority, and the Department of Buildings. "We will still feature our popular videos, art exhibitions, live music and a few surprises," the press release stated. "The 'Chains of Justice' will still grace our bar as a reminder of the power of the community bond."

Initially, those behind Freddy's hoped to reopen near Fourth Avenue and Union Street at the border of Park Slope and Gowanus, but within walking distance of the old Freddy's spot in Prospect Heights.

This new location, with presumably affordable rent, is hardly gentrified and thus to some degree resembles the Prospect Heights of 15 years ago.

By now, Brooklyn neighborhoods close to Manhattan and close to transit have experienced significant gentrification. It's unlikely that Greenwood Heights would follow such a fast trajectory, which means Freddy's may be less vulnerable. But it does have to rebuild its clientele.

Friday, October 22, 2010

MAS Survey on Livability: people say they're satisfied, but dismay regarding (over)development seeps out

Though a Municipal Art Society (MAS) survey on livability released yesterday garnered headlines for its seemingly counter-intuitive conclusion that most New Yorkers are happy and find the city livable, it also contains signs of significant discontent regarding development.

And that wariness--72 percent seemingly oppose new housing or housing beyond existing scale in their neighborhoods--suggests a tension between those who like neighborhood scale and the Bloomberg administration's expectation of another 1 million people here by 2030.

Results of this initial poll were not particularly subtle--it would be important to understand attitudes toward development teased out by type of neighborhood, zoning, and transportation options, because the key question is fitting increased density to neighborhoods that can handle it.

(That has not been done consistently, as NYU's Furman Center for Real Eastate & Urban Policy described in March.)

News coverage

The New York Times's CityRoom coverage was headlined Surprise: Most New Yorkers Say They Like the City.

AM New York had it as Surprise! We really love New York!.

DNAInfo headlined its piece Get Outta Here! New Yorkers Are Mostly Happy, Survey Finds.

Some coverage noted the discussion of solutions to the not inconsiderable discontent. Crain's headlined its article Officials eye more pedestrian-friendly city.

Streetsblog, which offered the summary headline MAS Survey: New York City Is Livable But Not Everyone Benefits Equally, pointed to the importance of bringing public space and transit improvements to the outer boroughs.

The New York Daily News, with its sensitivity to outer-borough readers, headlined its coverage Tale of two cities after poll shows Manhattan residents living it up, but borough residents disagree. Actually, the article, which highlights the disparities between Manhattan and the Bronx, shows Bronx residents saying "they love their borough, but know there's room for improvement."

The housing issue

The press release offered the summary sentence:
Nearly 4 in 10 (37%) New Yorkers oppose more housing development in their communities but 42% support the development of small businesses that fit into their neighborhoods.
There's a lot more nuance, so let's tease out the summary sentence on Housing Development:
Overall, when it comes to housing in their neighborhoods, 21% of New Yorkers feel the priority should be to preserve and restore existing buildings; 14% say to build new housing but only in the style of existing housing; 28% to build new housing which is affordable regardless of the style; and 37% of New Yorkers say there shouldn't be any more housing development in their neighborhoods.
So that's 51% who say no new housing beyond the current style. And another 21% say the priority is preservation and restoration of existing buildings--which could be seen as saying no new housing.

Affordable housing a priority

At least according to the way the question was worded, only 28% of respondents prioritize affordable housing over scale

It would be very helpful to see the results in a more granular fashion, segmented, for example, by neighborhood. With such results, we could understand how residents might feel about transitional neighborhoods such as the northwest segment of Prospect Heights, with both manufacturing and residential buildings and near transit.

Instead, we get results by borough and Brooklynites-- not surprisingly, given the demand for housing--are more amenable to making affordable housing a priority.

Some 38% of Brooklynites prioritize affordable housing, as opposed to 28% overall. Regarding preservation and housing only at the same scale, the results for Brooklynites are 22% and 12%. That leaves 28% favoring no more housing at all. (See p. 30 of the data analysis here.)

Housing over infrastructure

At a press conference yesterday, I asked MAS President Vin Cipolla about the tension between the poll results and the city's expected growth.

People see buildings going up, Cipolla responded, but they don't see related investment in infrastructure. Yes, "transit-centered development" is a start, but too often people don't see the transit enhanced.

(While the Atlantic Yards plan would add a new subway entrance, significantly to serve the arena, but also to serve the neighborhood, it wouldn't enhance service.)

People have to think the additional housing has added to the quality of life, he said. "The answer is: it hasn't."

One example of a selling point: in Williamsburg, it was mentioned later, the new development (such as the New Domino plan) is supposed to add access to the waterfront.

Drilling down into the poll

Those surveyed were asked:
Overall, are you very satisfied, satisfied, not very satisfied, or not at all satisfied with New York City?
Some 57% said they were satisfied and 27% said they were very satisfied.

They were also asked "Overall, in your life, would you say you are... " and 57% said they were happy and 34% very happy. That obviously depends on factors beyond city efforts at livability, such as family.

Some commenters on the CityRoom site were surprised:
Surprising to hear so many were positive about NYC.

As a native New Yorker, I and many of my friends, find NYC incredibly grim and depressing. NYC has turned into a playground of the rich and entitled.

The income inequality is appalling, the bus and subway system is expensive and deteriorating, there is too much development, neighborhood shops disappear and are replaced by chains, the infrastructure is falling apart, and there are more homeless people all over.

— Kate

Thursday, October 21, 2010

State IG probes problematic Aqueduct racino bidding; no such investigation was made of Vanderbilt Yard process

A New York Times article today, headlined Report Says State Senators Manipulated Casino Bidding, cites the state Inspector General's report on the Aqueduct "racino":
In a scathing 300-page report [PDF] on the competition to install video slot machines at the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens, the inspector general described a chaotic and ultimately doomed process that was without formal rules or objective criteria, and was awash in “unrestrained political considerations,” lobbyists and targeted campaign contributions.
But when Forest City Ratner was anointed the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard without any competiton--and when an RFP was issued 18 months later--there was no such inquiry.

And, as I argued in March, the Vanderbilt Yard deal was worse.

Campaign contributions

The article states:
The report says that the bidder, a consortium called the Aqueduct Entertainment Group, or Aqueduct Entertainment, marshaled funds at the behest of the state’s Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, casting “a taint on the motives behind the Senate leadership’s support of Aqueduct.
In Feburary 2008, I reported how Forest City Ratner gave $58,420 to the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee's Housekeeping account. That didn't make the Times, nor an IG's report.

Abdication of public duty


The article portrays an outraged IG:
“This process was doomed from the start, and at each turn, our state leaders abdicated their public duty, failed to impose ethical restraints and focused on political gain at a cost of millions to New Yorkers,” said Inspector General Joseph Fisch. “Shamefully, the public’s best interest was a matter of militant indifference to them.”

...The report describes the selection process as a “political free-for-all,” with nearly every Albany lobbyist employed by one of the six companies vying for the franchise. Aqueduct Entertainment alone hired seven. The rival bidders showered important legislators and the governor with more than $100,000 in political contributions, the report said, with Aqueduct Entertainment coordinating $40,000 of its own donations with the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, and instructing a “subcontractor to make a contribution in order for the monies to be pooled with contributions from other A.E.G. members.”