Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Gotham Gazette on ESDC: questions about job creation, city focus, and what exactly it did in service to Atlantic Yards

There are a couple of curious passages in a Gotham Gazette overview article today headlined Uncertainty at Empire State Development Corp. Continues.

First, everyone agrees that the ESDC should focus on job creation, and the debate is whether the gubernatorial-controlled agency should focus on small business or large projects--and whether new CEO Kenneth Adams, former CEO of the Business Council, is partial to the latter.

Atlantic Yards, one of the ESDC's signature projects, is not primarily about job creation, however. Rather, it's about the ESDC helping get a project done, acceding to changes in the plan--from a promised 10,000 office jobs to a perhaps 1340 jobs, 30% of them new, in one delayed tower.

The article states:
[Andrew Rudnick, CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership] does believe, though, that the ESDC needs to refocus its values and core mission. "The ESDC needs new criteria. Most economic development experts would tell you that they no longer use the standard of how many jobs are created, which is what the ESDC uses. Instead, you look at quality of job, investment opportunities, the scope of a project and the potential for using green technology," he said.
With Atlantic Yards, I don't think they're measuring it by job creation.

ESDC background

Gotham Gazette reports:
The ESDC was created in 1968 primarily to oversee the construction of subsidized housing projects. As an authority, the ESDC can issue bonds to fund major projects without voter approval, and it also has the ability to use eminent domain. That has been a hot topic because of the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn.

In 1975, after nearly entering bankruptcy because of mismanaged projects, the ESDC was retooled to fund general economic development projects across the state. Gov. Mario Cuomo used the corporation to finance the building of 30 prisons, doubling New York's prison system.

The ESDC's mission is largely determined by the legislature. The Senate and Assembly approve plans to provide incentives to lure business to certain areas and then the ESDC has to carry out the plans. The ESDC also works on major projects like Atlantic Yards where business organizations come to the corporation and ask for assistance with a major project.

The ESDC has been involved in other major landmark projects across the state, projects such as the revitalization of Niagara Falls and the planned construction of a new Pennsylvania Station, the Javits convention center, and the planned work on Governors Island. It has also been in charge of federal funds to rebuild Battery Park.

The ESDC has come under major criticism in its role for Atlantic Yards. Homeowners and property rights advocates say the organization justified the project and seized to benefit one major company rather than the many small businesses that have been forced to relocate to make way for the project.
Yes, some small businesses felt they didn't get appropriate relocation aid, but the issues are much larger: the ESDC's willingness to pursue bogus findings of blight, or to make predictions on the housing market based on ridiculous reports.

Brooklyn vs. upstate?

The article states:
The corporation's efforts have been described as scattered at best. "I worked for the Urban Development Corporation, and [former Gov. George] Pataki changed it over to the ESDC," said Sen. Kevin Parker, "but I think they could have saved the cost on printing new letterhead and just called it the Upstate Development Corp. As it relates to my district, I haven’t seen any benefits from the ESDC -- the state's biggest, flagship economic development corporation. Their goal should be creating stable jobs with benefits, but I think the resources are going upstate, and yet I don't see very much being created upstate either."
Parker's from Brooklyn, a Flatbush-area district southeast of the Atlantic Yards project site; surely some project boosters will remind him of claims in the Community Benefits Agreement.

Then again, A. Russo Wrecking from Long Island is busy at the site right now.

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