Skip to main content

Legislators: one week left to get the state Legislature to pass a bill establishing a subsdiary to oversee Atlantic Yards

It seems like an obvious argument: Atlantic Yards, as a massive development project, deserves a subsidiary or authority overseeing it long-term, just as other major projects, from Battery Park City to Brooklyn Bridge Park, have their own governance entities, helping evaluate the terms of the project and revising the schedule and plans as necessary.

And the bill, in its current form, is hardly prescriptive, giving community members a fractional voice but not definitive power, as the subsidiary would be appointed by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC).

That argument, however, has gained relatively little traction in Albany over the last few years, as Forest City Ratner lobbying, which includes a close relationship with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and consistent Atlantic Yards support from governors, has managed to stymie any progress.

With barely a week left in the legislative session, this year the governance bill has a greater chance than before, elected officials said at a forum Saturday sponsored by BrooklynSpeaks. (Photos of the event, which drew some 60 people, by Tracy Collins.) That doesn't mean it's likely, but the bill has passed two Assembly committees, one more than previously, which gives it a fighting chance in the Assembly.

Beyond that, the dynamic surrounding the project--recognition that promised benefits are far off, and Forest City Ratner's entanglement (though not indictment) in a prominent corruption case--has changed somewhat.

BrooklynSpeaks leaders, who handed out letters to be filled out at the meeting to be sent to Albany, urged further phone calls and lobbying. (Letters can be sent from here.)

(There are two more AY-related meetings this week, an official forum on traffic June 14 and another on the UNITY plan June 15.)

The background

At the beginning of the meeting, held in an unfinished ground floor space at the Atlantic Terrace development catercorner to the arena site on Atlantic Avenue, BrooklynSpeaks representatives went through their analysis of the promised benefits and more realistic results. The amount of jobs, housing, and open space would be far less than promised, and delivered over a much longer period.

Moreover, traffic mitigation plans--to be discussed in part at a meeting tomorrow at Borough Hall--remain unfinished.

"Right now the world revolves around Forest City Ratner," commented 52nd District Female Leader Jo Anne Simon, noting how the cast of characters in the Atlantic Yards saga--notably governors and their appointees as ESDC leaders--has changed steadily since the project was announced in 2003.

Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, a critic of the ESDC but somewhat of a fence-sitter on the project as a whole, said, "It's been a nightmare getting ESDC, given all the dynamics, all thechanges, to get them to focus on this project as a public private partnership... because that in reality is what this project should be about."

It would not be possible without substantial public subsidies, a bypass of the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), and "permitting the developer to use coercive power of eminent domain," he said. (Actually, the ESDC uses it on behalf of Forest City Ratner.)

ESDC, he said, "in many ways simply ceded its authority to the developer," allowing no substantial input for a project that we're going to have live with for 20-25 years."

The arena is not the end of the process but "the end of the beginning," he said. (Patch got that quote slightly wrong.) So, if the project might overwhelm the community for 20-plus years, a subsidiary structure is necessary.

The process

"Every major project has a subsidiary entity; why in the world is the Prospect Heights /Central Brooklyn community being treated differently?" Jeffries said he last year asked the former governor, David Paterson, and former ESDC head Dennis Mullen. "They couldn't answer the question."

Actually, they brought up the Columbia University expansion, he said, but that went through ULURP. "We weren't allowed to go through the ULURP process, because our mayor was in bed with Forest City Ratner," he said. "I'm just telling it like it is."

The dynamics

The bill this year passed the Corporations Committee, now chaired by Brooklyn Assemblyman Jim Brennan, and then Ways and Means "over objection of the developer," Jeffries said.

Now, in the final step before the floor, it's before the Rules Committee, chaired by Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Forest City Ratner. Jeffries said he, Brennan, and Assemblywoman Joan Millman planned to lobby Silver to get the bill to the floor, arguing that substantial public support requires public representations.

"They're objecting quietly, but they might as well come out in the open," Jeffries said.

State Senator Velmanette Montgomery left the impression that the bill would face a tougher path in the Republican-controlled Senate. "I am sorry we were not able to pass it last year, we were in the majority, but for various reasons, political and otherwise, we were not able to pass it."

"We have asked our leadership, on the Democratic side, and written to Majority Leader [Dean] Skelos, and ask that it been on the priority list," she said. Democratic leader John Sampson, it should be pointed out, has had a fundraiser at Forest City Ratner offices. "We're hopeful that it gets out of Rules in both houses."

Montgomery said she'd "appreciate having a lot of mail going to" Sampson, "because we are dealing with an environment where money trumps almost everything... It is only the voters who are going to be able to match the leverage."

Brennan, who said BrooklynSpeaks "has done a spectacular job of advancing the cause of reforming this project," pointed out how the long "mend it not end it"group differed from Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB), which litigated against the project, but has now drawn closer, as co-plaintiffs on a pending case.

That case challenges the legitimacy of the official ten-year project timeline, given contractual language that allows 25 years, and the failure to do a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

"The ESDC has been the agent of Ratner during this entire time," Brennan said. "A number of people from the neighborhood"--actually Council Member Letitia James and some DDDB activists--"finally got a meeting with Paterson about the project in December 2009." And while Paterson promised a full review of the project, instead the ESDC proceeded to ease the sale of the arena bonds.

"The whole idea that another 15 years isn't going to affect us is crazy," said Gib Veconi of BrooklynSpeaks, pointing to the new Atlantic Yards Watch web site that is tracking construction impacts.

Adams and Cuomo on the fence

So what do current ESDC CEO Kenneth Adams and Governor Andrew Cuomo, respectively an AY supporter and a receiver of Forest City Ratner campaign contributions, think?

Jeffries said he'd talked with both Adams and a Cuomo deputy, who neither oppose nor support the bill. They've expressed concern that the state has experienced a proliferation of useless subsidiaries, "which is a fact," Jeffries said. "But in this particular instance, our argument is that it's completely justified."

In other words, the Adams/Cuomo position is a dodge.

Adams to Brooklyn?

Montgomery also indicated that Adams a Brooklynite, has agreed to visit the area and speak publicly sometime "down the road."

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

So, Forest City has some property subject to the future Gowanus rezoning

Writing yesterday, MAP: Who Owns All the Property Along the Gowanus Canal, DNAinfo's Leslie Albrecht lays out the positioning of various real estate players along the Gowanus Canal, a Superfund site:
As the city considers whether to rezone Gowanus and, perhaps, morph the gritty low-rise industrial area into a hot new neighborhood of residential towers (albeit at a fraction of the height of Manhattan's supertall buildings), DNAinfo reviewed property records along the canal to find out who stands to benefit most from the changes.
Investors have poured at least $440 million into buying land on the polluted waterway and more than a third of the properties have changed hands in the past decade, according to an examination of records for the nearly 130 properties along the 1.8-mile canal. While the single largest landowner is developer Property Markets Group, other landowners include Kushner Companies, Alloy Development, Two Trees, and Forest City New York.

Forest City's plans unc…

At 550 Vanderbilt, big chunk of apartments pitched to Chinese buyers as "international units"

One key to sales at the 550 Vanderbilt condo is the connection to China, thanks to Shanghai-based developer Greenland Holdings.

It's the parent of Greenland USA, which as part of Greenland Forest City Partners owns 70% of Pacific Park (except 461 Dean and the arena).

And sales in China may help explain how the developer was able to claim early momentum.
"Since 550 Vanderbilt launched pre-sales in June [2015], more than 80 residences have gone into contract, representing over 30% of the building’s 278 total residences," the developer said in a 9/25/15 press release announcing the opening of a sales gallery in Brooklyn. "The strong response from the marketplace indicates the high level of demand for well-designed new luxury homes in Brooklyn..."

Maybe. Or maybe it just meant a decent initial pipeline to Chinese buyers.

As lawyer Jay Neveloff, who represents Forest City, told the Real Deal in 2015, a project involving a Chinese firm "creates a huge market for…