Thursday, March 03, 2011

Teachable moment? Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, LIU, BAM offer gushing, unfounded affidavits supporting FCR in timetable case

"Atlantic Yards will be many things to many people," Forest City Ratner has long stated (as in screenshot from original AY web site, right, complete with misleading fisheye photo).

For the Provost of Long Island University's Brooklyn campus, the project appears to be a mystical mirage, promising an astonishing array of indispensable benefits.

It should be a teachable moment: the question of whether and how Atlantic Yards could provide such claimed benefits could occupy a good number of academic researchers.

Instead, it's a moment for (take your pick) irresponsibility, delusion, or power politics.

In a sworn affidavit, LIU's Gale Stevens Haynes (see p. 47 of the first document embedded below) simply takes the most optimistic scenario on faith.

She claims, without evidence, that students and faculty are "very supportive" of the project, and suggests that the project would offer "housing, jobs, and transit and infrastructure improvements to our students."

And she praises Forest City Ratner for being "genuine in its concern and efforts to understand and address the needs of this community."

Apparenly, CEO Bruce Ratner, who served on the university board's "Buildings and Grounds Committee, offering his expertise to the construction of the Zeckendorf Health Science Center and the Wellness, Recreation & Athletic Center," has won some friends.

Court case pending

Haynes's affidavit, as well as two others, accompany a motion from the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership (DBP) to file a "friend of the court" brief in the last lingering Atlantic Yards court case, regarding the impacts of and the need for the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) to study a delayed timetable.

It should go to oral argument March 15 at 2:30 pm, as should a linked case regarding a request for legal fees). I'll look at the broader legal arguments in depth next week.

Note that Forest City Ratner's MaryAnne Gilmartin is on the DBP's board, and that fewer than half the DBP board members signed onto the motion. DBP President Joe Chan has regularly testified in favor of the project, and the organization's lobbying was the subject of an investigation, apparently unresolved, by the state attorney general's office.

Abundant advantages?

Haynes, who seems to be challenging Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz as the project's most fervent cheerleader, states:
The students and faculty at LIU-Brooklyn are very supportive of the Atlantic Yards Redevelopment Project. The advantages of the Project are abundant.

Aside from breathing new life into Downtown Brooklyn, our students have a great many needs. The Project would fulfill some of those needs by augmenting our academic programs, and by offering housing, jobs, and transit and infrastructure improvements to our students, who live, work, study and travel in Downtown Brooklyn daily.
How exactly? Students aren't going to get construction jobs. The number of permanent jobs has shrunken. The infrastructure improvements benefit the arena site, as does the transit improvement.

As far as I can tell, at least from the student newspaper, students recognize that Atlantic Yards is very controversial.

Still, Haynes continues the fantasy:
The unemployment and poverty across our student body is real. The Project represents not only an investment in Downtown Brooklyn, but an investment in our students. The creation of thousands of new jobs means more career options for local residents, including our students, while in school and after graduation.
Academic link-up?

Haynes states:
LIU also has over 200 academic programs. Many of LIU-Brooklyn's academic programs would be enriched by the Project.

We are already in discussions with FCRC about creating clinical programs and other assignments in our Sports Science, Occupational Therapy, Athletic Training, Physical Therapy and Journalism classes through the Arena, which is less than one mile from Campus. The potential access to professional sports teams and their trainers would also enhance these programs.
Forest City would help the Journalism program? That's Orwellian, almost.

Arena spillover?

Haynes states:
LIU-Brooklyn is proud of its excellence in Division I athletics. A state-of-the-art Arena in LIU-Brooklyn's own backyard, which would host professional and collegiate sports events, would enhance LIU-Brooklyn's athletic recruitment, and the caliber of our student body.
Just like Madison Square Garden has helped schools in Manhattan?

Housing dreams

Haynes claims:
The new affordable housing related to the Project would provide additional opportunities for our students to reside closer to the school. For many of our students, the new housing will offer an opportunity to move out of inferior or over-crowded housing.
For many students? Doesn't she know that 1) the subsidized housing is delayed; 2) half would go by lottery to residents of the three adjacent community districts; and 3) that most of the "affordable housing" would be unaffordable to those in poverty?

Devastating impact?

Haynes claims:
Suffice to say, it has been very exciting and energizing to our institution to finally see the Project construction commence. Anything that would delay or stop this advancement would have a devastating impact on the University and many of our future planning goals.
Somehow such dramatic warnings had not previously surfaced publicly.

Channeling the campus

Haynes claims:
I know that the students and faculty of LIU-Brooklyn firmly believe that the important public benefits that will result from the Project will outweigh any adverse impacts of extended construction on our neighborhoods.
This paragraph deserves analysis from someone at LIU who studies rhetoric. What does our neighborhoods mean? Those challenging the ESDC in this case come from neighborhoods both immediately around the project and within the same distance as LIU.

Trusting Forest City

Haynes closes:
I feel compelled to mention that in my experience with FCRC over the years they have been nothing but forthright in sharing information with this institution and myself. I sincerely believe that FCRC is genuine in its concern and efforts to understand and address the needs of this community. I do not say that lightly.
To which I say: please study the promises for an Independent Compliance Monitor associated with the Community Benefits Agreement.

The Downtown Brooklyn Partnership

DBP President Joe Chan, in an affidavit, stresses that he is "not opining on specific legal issues before the Court, or the appropriate time frame for construction or build-out of the project."

He asserts there's more at stake beyond the project:
The outcome of this case potentially could impact future investment in blighted areas across the City and State. If long term phased urban public/private redevelopment projects, in particular, are required to supplement their environmental review process each time their projected or outside build year might be extended due to economic and market forces, it would require constant updating and render the administrative process perpetual and infeasible. This would subvert many of these essential and already extremely complex and difficult projects.
That's not an unreasonable point, but he's changing the subject. The issue isn't whether the Empire State Development Corporation extended the outside build year due to economic changes, it's whether the ESDC had, while making such an extension, still claimed it would ensure the project would get done in a decade.

Contradicting Haynes

Chan's statements about the uncertainties in economic projections essentially contradict Haynes's sunny scenario about benefits:
While the methodologies employed are legitimate and typically undertaken in good faith, the reality is that the assumptions utilized are predicated on economic and other market estimates and projections, which no-one can or would reliably guarantee.

Thu, it is a fundamental precept of large scale phased redevelopment projects that while a well executed development agreement or development plan may set forth projected build dates and other threshold time frames--and it is assumed that the redeveloper will aggressively seek to meet those dates if at all commercially feasible--there must be flexibility in the market entry, build-out period, and sequencing.
Evidence for what purpose

Chan offers examples of the robustness of the area despite construction, including the corner of Myrtle and Flatbush, and then a block adjacent to the site:
Another example is Vanderbilt Avenue. This area immediately abuts Block 1129, the southeastern corner of the Project footprint. Thirteen (13) new businesses have opened along Vanderbilt Avenue since 2009. Most, if not all of them, are "mom and pop" retail businesses, who believe that the area will be a destination of future growth and prosperity.
Maybe that had something to do with streetscape improvements on Atlantic Avenue. Or maybe population growth. Surely those who live on adjacent Dean Street have a right to be concenred about indefinite interim surface parking.

Blight?

Most importantly, though not for this legal proceeding, Chan's evidence points to the ridiculousness of the state's claim that the project site is blighted. Still, he claims:
The Atlantic Yards has historically been an area of major historic blight.
Even then-Assemblyman Roger Green, a project supporter, stated in November 2005:
For the record, that neighborhood is not blighted.
Atlantic Terrace cherry-picking

Chan adds:
The Atlantic Terrace Apartments is a further example that people are continuing to move into the area around the Atlantic Yards, knowing that the area will experience long-term construction impacts.
Most of those units are subsidized, with an understandably high demand. He neglects to point out that the designers of Atlantic Terrace dropped plans for solar panels because of the expected high-rise neighbors.

Whose community?

Chan asserts that prolonged construction impacts and construction mitigation measures are survivable:
The aspirations of the Downtown Brooklyn community in recent years have and will continue to be reconciled with those impacts. It is the offshoot of a community in growth and revitalization. It breeds activity and excitement, together with a certain tolerance for such impacts.
What community? Not even a majority of the DBP's board members signed affidavits supporting the motion.

But other communities--including ones in which Forest City Ratner does not play such a prominent role on the board--might have other aspirations.

BAM rhetoric

The Brooklyn Academic of Music (BAM) has long supported the project and, yes, Bruce Ratner's on the board (and used to chair it).

In his affidavit, Keith Stubblefield, CFO and VP at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, both employs boilerplate rhetoric about benefits and starts with a lie:
The revitalization of the Atlantic Yards from a vacant, underutilized rail yard to a vibrant, newly developed commercial and residential area, with a state of the art Arena, will bring substantial benefits to BAM and the entire surrounding community. It will bring thousands of new patrons to BAM, and complement BAM as an entertainment destination. BAM will also benefit from the numerous public benefits that will be generated by the Project, including infrastructure improvements, enhanced mass transit facilities, much needed housing, and job creation.
(Emphasis added)

Hey, here's an assignment for that Journalism class. Was the rail yard vacant? Was Atlantic Yards designed to be on a rail yard?

What community?

BAM claims to speak for the community:
There is considerable "buzz" in Downtown Brooklyn that the Project, after years of planning, government approvals and litigation, has finally begun in earnest. The community has started to embrace the Project. It would be devastating to the psyche of the community if the Project were delayed or stopped. From BAM's perspective, it would severely setback the dream of Downtown Brooklyn becoming the greatest concentration of performing arts venues in the United States and internationally. It would also eliminate the potential to introduce thousands of new people to the artistic and cultural programming that BAM offers.
Construction expert?

Stubblefield offers his own, uninformed observation on construction:
I walk by the Arena construction area almost every day. My personal observation of the Arena construction is that the area is kept extremely clean, and is not very noisy. The construction is managed in way [sic] that it is relatively non-invasive. I have not observed any disruption to traffic flows due to the construction. Even if this or similar types of construction related to the overall Project were underway for an extended period of time, I truly believe that it would not be onerous.
He doesn't live nearby.

Note that he states at one point that "BAM's Brooklyn campus is located just two blocks from the northwest corner of the Atlantic Yards Redevelopment Project," but later claims, "BAM is across the street from the northwest corner of the Project site."

Memorandum: AY drives development

According to the second document below, the memorandum of law, people have been moving to and investing in Downtown Brooklyn because Atlantic Yards was proceeding:
The outcome of this case could potentially have a major impact on the psyche and continued revitalization of Downtown Brooklyn, and the blighted and long neglected Atlantic Yards area in particular. As this Court is well aware, the Atlantic Yards Land Use Improvement and Civic Project has been the subject of numerous lawsuits and continued uncertainty. Any delay or stoppage of the Project at this juncture would send a potentially devastating message to many of the businesses and literally thousands of new residents and other institutions that have begun relocating to and investing in Downtown Brooklyn on the premise that the Project was finally proceeding. It would present a bona fide threat to the thousands of new jobs, affordable and market rate housing, essential traffic and infrastructure improvements, and array of commercial, residential, and retail development, which are beginning to flourish and grow in the area.
What's the evidence? Those unfounded, but sworn, affidavits.

Downtown Brooklyn Partnership Affidavits, Friedman case

Downtown Brooklyn Partnership Memorandum of Law, Friedman case

No comments:

Post a Comment