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Showing posts from January, 2011

Catching up: on declining manufacturing jobs, uncounted vacant lots (that could support new housing)

The Bloomberg administration may gain respect for pursuing illegal gun sales, but there are lots of lapses when it comes to land use.

In a post January 15, I quoted the Village Voice quoting City Limits on the decline of manufacturing jobs, but here's Sarah Crean's original piece, dated January 3, headlined Did City's Industrial Policy Manufacture Defeat?

She wrote: According to research conducted by the New York Industrial Retention Network, 23.4 million square feet of industrial space was lost to approved rezonings between 2001 and 2008, impacting some of New York’s most populated manufacturing districts. Significant portions of Greenpoint-Williamsburg, Long Island City, the midtown Garment Center, and Port Morris in the Bronx were rezoned during this period, mainly for residential development.

Repeated attempts by community groups, labor unions, industrial advocates and others to promote alternative plans that would not place as much pressure on manufacturing clusters met …

Gramercy Recognition Agreement emerges, with hint that immigrant investor funds would mainly be used to pay off FCR's land loan

There are two Atlantic Yards Recognition Agreements after all, both of which allow those loaning money to developer Forest City Ratner to gain development rights for part of the Atlantic Yards site, and also allow the minimum square footage of Phase 1 to be delayed.

And the earlier Recognition Agreement, which is the second to be released, offers hints that the money sought from immigrant investors, subject of the later Recognition Agreement, would be used mainly to pay off Forest City Ratner's land loan, not to build a new railyard, as the developer has said.

Background

As I wrote 12/16/10, the Recognition Agreement that the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) signed last October allowed potential immigrant investors development rights to part of the future Atlantic Yards site. And a previous Recognition Agreement did something very similar.

That latter agreement, embedded below and dated December 2009, allows at least 2.25 years of additional time, to February 2012, to res…

When was Ellerbe Becket on board? Article suggests arena architect switch began in November 2008, well before June 2009 announcement

When exactly did architect Frank Gehry get bounced from the Atlantic Yards arena and project?

The replacement firm, the veteran arena designers Ellerbe Becket (later to be assisted by facade architect SHoP), didn't emerge until 5/27/09, while the official statement that Gehry was gone came on 6/4/09.

However, a trade publication article that I (and others) missed suggested in September 2009 that the relationship had been severed as of November 2008, a time when Ellerbe Becket, according to another report, was said to simply have begun advising Forest City Ratner.

(Note: The Wall Street Journal in May 2010 reported that Gehry had been gone by November 2008.)

Official denials

Forest City Ratner had maintained that Gehry was still onboard.

"Frank Gehry is still the architect of this project," claimed New Jersey Nets CEO Brett Yormark, during a 3/29/09 radio interview. "And he loves it."

Yormark was doing damage control after Gehry, in an interview that month with The Arc…

MAS announces 2011 Livability Watch List, including Moynihan Station, Coney Island, NYU expansion; AY is not included but said to inform MAS thinking

The Municipal Art Society (MAS) has announced the 2011 Livability Watch List, "a compilation of the 11 initiatives that will have the most significant effect on livability in New York City this year. As the leading organization dedicated to creating a more livable New York through intelligent urban planning and design, MAS will call attention to these 11 through advocacy work, public programming and issues monitoring."

The list, which leads with Moynihan Station & Hudson Yards, and includes Coney Island and the expansion of NYU, surely includes some major topics. It's tough to argue that any should be omitted, and it'll be a challenge for the MAS to keep track and galvanize interest.

That said, Atlantic Yards is a conspicuous omission, given that the issues it raises--a megadevelopment in a very tight spot, questionable design, indefinite interim surface parking--surely galvanized MAS for a while, leading it to help found "mend it, don't end it" Brook…

Markowitz, James comment with enthusiasm (and, in the latter's case, some challenge) on appointment of Brooklyn's Adams to head ESDC

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz issued a statement enthusiastically endorsing the appointment of Brooklynite Ken Adams as CEO of the Empire State Development Corporation:“I congratulate Cobble Hill’s own Kenneth Adams on his appointment as the head of the Empire State Development Corporation. Ken is superbly qualified for this new role—he is an innovative trailblazer who made a huge and lasting impact on Brooklyn’s business community while president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. I have no doubt this will be Governor Cuomo’s top appointment, and all of Brooklyn is proud to share him with the rest of New York State.”City Council Member Letitia James was enthusiastic, but more challenging:“I want to congratulate Kenneth Adams on his new appointment as President and CEO of the Empire State Development Corporation. This pick to lead a restructured ESDC is a great match. As former president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and Director of the MetroTech Business Improv…

Planner Garvin on the importance of parks; his checklist explains why publicly-accessible open space (as in AY) doesn't measure up

On Monday I attended a lecture by planner Alexander Garvin, academic, consultant (self-described "public realm strategist"), former Dan Doctoroff aide, and author of the recently-published Public Parks: The Key to Livable Communities.

While Garvin wasn't addressing publicly-accessible, privately-managed open space like that planned for Atlantic Yards, it's clear that it doesn't measure up to the standards of public parks.
AY open space comes later

It also should be pointed out that the Atlantic Yards open space would not come until Phase 2 of the project, and then in increments as each building is finished, which means the full eight acres would not arrive for ten years, under the non-credible official timetable, and more likely 25 years, the official deadline.

By contrast, at Battery Park City, much of the park space was built first. Indeed, as Garvin described using examples from Paris (boulevards, parks, small parks) and San Antonio (the Riverwalk), such public i…

Ken Adams, former head of Brooklyn Chamber and MetroTech BID, named new CEO of ESDC

Well, in naming Kenneth Adams as president and CEO of the Empire State Development Corporation, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is seen as reaching out to business.

And, despite some gubernatorial concern about the top-down growth model, I wouldn't bet on any changed course on Atlantic Yards.

After all, Adams in 2006, as president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, testified in favor of the project, on behalf of the organization. And he previously headed the MetroTech Business Improvement District, of which Forest City Ratner is a major member.

Still, give the guy a chance; maybe Adams has the integrity to recognize that the ESDC's support of Forest City Ratner's effort to get immigrant investor funding is a tad unseemly.

The Post quoted Adams' father Murray: The elder Adams -- who in 2006 was part of a group that took on ESDC during a failed legal fight to keep condos out of Brooklyn Bridge Park – said, “I think Kenneth will listen to local concerns.” He cited both the park and t…

At State of the District, Jeffries talks education, jobs, housing, public safety--but not AY (later, he says he's waiting for an ESDC chair)

At his fourth annual State of the District address last night, Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries had some tangible and less tangible achievements to report to a supportive crowd, concerned with education, employment, housing, and public safety. And a few jabs at Mayor Mike Bloomberg certainly were well-received.

Ever more polished--part lawyer, politician, preacher--Jeffries drew a reasonable crowd on a snowy night, with local District Leaders (Walter Mosley, Olanike Alabi, Lincoln Restler) in attendance, along with Community Board 8 Chair Nizjoni Granville, CB 2 Chair John Dew, and Joe Chan, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership.

Atlantic Yards, as with last year’s address, was not mentioned, a sign, perhaps, of Jeffries’ recognition that neither prominent criticism nor active support of such a divisive, complicated, and delayed project would play well with his base.

Or perhaps, Jeffries recognizes that he has relatively little clout at this point. I did interview him afterward (vide…

New Betaville, based on gaming technology, could equalize the information gap in urban design and enhance public participation

Public presentations of projects like Atlantic Yards have relied principally on self-serving, often misleading renderings produced by the developer's architect, frequently from a helicopter view rather than street level.
Indeed, even New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff got religion in April 2008, pointing out, in relation to the Hudson Yards plan, that misleading and incomplete renderings produce a "distorted picture of reality" that "stifles what is supposed to be an open, democratic process."
With Atlantic Yards, some citizen activists and outside professionals produced alternative renderings of the project in neighborhood scale, which in turn led to a new and better renderings from architect Frank Gehry, which were released by the Empire State Development Corporation, the state agency shepherding the project.
Still, New York's daily newspapers failed to present a rendering of the project in neighborhood scale.
So, as I told Urban Omnibus,

The Capitol: ESDC still waiting for a leader, but top-down growth model (AY?) seen as history

From The Capitol, Empire State Building: Details about Cuomo’s economic development strategy emerge, but a new ESDC chair does not:In his State of the State speech, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that the only way to make New York the Empire State once again was through “a vibrant private sector that was creating great jobs.”

But the 10 regional councils Cuomo has vowed to create to drive economic development around the state are still unformed and his plan to remake the Empire State Development Corporation is shrouded in secrecy, with no word on who will get the top spot at the agency.

What can be gleaned from sources close to the discussions is that Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy, who will oversee the regional councils, are intent on moving away from the top-down, New York City-and-Albany-driven models of the past, empowering the regional councils with funding and bond-buying powers, and instilling a sense of competition in the process to encourage growth.

After years of turnover, failed program…

For Times, arena returns as a sports story, sourced to Ratner, who claims, “Brooklyn has been waiting for this, really, since the Dodgers left"

Atlantic Yards is once again a sports story, and the only sources for the New York Times's New Arena for the Nets Is Sprouting in Brooklyn are developer Bruce Ratner and uber-marketer Brett Yormark.

In response to some not-so-informed comments by former point guard Jason Kidd, who didn't think the arena was happening, and perhaps (as per NLG) a not-so-flattering article telling us Nets tickets are going for pennies, the Times tells us: After several years of legal wrangling and the economic downturn, the Barclays Center is finally and firmly on the way after ground was broken last year.

“It got delayed so much and there were so many false starts, ‘I think we’re there, I think we’re there,’ and then the economy got bad and this thing happened and that thing happened, so unless you read carefully, you don’t realize how far along it is and that it’s really on its way,” Ratner said.Well, it's on its way, but exactly how far is not completely clear. A more independent source, a c…

Markowitz quiz: "The [???] will distort and manipulate anything they have to, to justify their action"

Both Streetsblog and Aaron Naparstek point to a stunning interview of Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz by Marcia Kramer of CBS, opposing the Prospect Park West bike lane.
"I don't believe a word coming out of that department, not a word," Markowitz says of the Department of Transportation. "The Department of Transportation will use any way to justify their action, distort and manipulate anything they have to, to justify their action."
While Markowitz thinks bike advocacy groups juiced the statistics by showing up the day of a survey, the DOT had a plausible explanation for the counter-statistics offered by Markowitz's favorite civic group: they counted only at the end of the line.
The Borough President wants an independent group to study usage of the bike lane, one not beholden to the DOT or the community.
The AY contrast
As several commenters pointed out, this sequence contrasts mightily with Markowitz's unyielding support of Atlantic Yards.
Consi…

Dave Zirin on the Green Bay Packers and the road not taken in professional sports

Edge of Sports columnist Dave Zirin is now blogging for The New Yorker, and his first piece, Those Non-Profit Packers, reminds us of the the way professional sports didn't go, toward non-profit ownership, with the unique example of the Green Bay Packers:In 1923, the Packers were just another hardscrabble team on the brink of bankruptcy. Rather than fold they decided to sell shares to the community, with fans each throwing down a couple of dollars to keep the team afloat. That humble frozen seed has since blossomed into a situation wherein more than a hundred thousand stockholders own more than four million shares of a perennial playoff contender... Shareholders receive no dividend check and no free tickets to Lambeau Field.

....The Packers’ unique setup has created a relationship between team and community unlike any in the N.F.L. Wisconsin fans get to enjoy the team with the confidence that their owner won’t threaten to move to Los Angeles unless the team gets a new mega-dome. Vol…

Still waiting for some answers from the USCIS on EB-5 and the Brooklyn arena project

So, the federal government's EB-5 immigration program, in which investors in purportedly job-creating projects can get green cards for themselves and their families, has been the subject of a broad investigation by Reuters and an Atlantic Yards-focused investigation by this blog, both concluding last month.

Three weeks ago, I posed the following query to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the federal agency overseeing the program:I recognize that you may be unable to comment on specific procedures or projects, so not all my questions may be answered, but they include:
--what has been the reaction, from external and internal stakeholders, to the Reuters article?
--has the Reuters article prompted any changes, or consideration of any changes?
--can/should/will USCIS crack down on apparent abuses in the marketing of EB-5 projects?
--is USCIS satisfied with the guidance/rules on crediting immigrant investors with job creation based on money already committed by…

China high court cracks down on illegal fundraising, said to be warning to EB-5 marketers

It's not exactly clear how it applies to marketing of EB-5 investment projects like the one involving Atlantic Yards, but a new legal interpretation (translation, shorter version) by the Supreme People's Court of China should be considered a warning for EB-5 marketers, according to consultant Brian Su: The detailed legal interpretation specifically target various illegal fundraising and PE [private equity] activities conducted by various unlicensed and unregistered agents without proper licence, including brokers and entities from foreign countries. It also addresses the issues of misinformation, mis-representation, and misuse of public media to illegally attract investors in China. The interpretation will have great implications and impacts on EB-5 regional center that are seeking Chinese investments through marketing activities in China.Some of the provisions in the interpretation involve blatant fraud, such as promising a refund. It's unclear to me whether and how it ex…

The Vanishing City: film focuses on the fruits of a corporate-friendly mentality and the "luxury city"; AY gets a cameo

Trying to understand the arc of the city that led to such projects as Atlantic Yards, I've been writing recently about the loss of manufacturing. That's part of a larger story, told intriguingly--if incompletely--in the 55-minute 2010 documentary, The Vanishing City, by Fiore DiRosa and Jen Senko.

The overview:Told through the eyes of tenants, city planners, business owners, scholars, and politicians, The Vanishing City exposes the real politic behind the alarming disappearance of New York’s beloved neighborhoods, the truth about its finance-dominated economy, and the myth of “inevitable change.” Artfully documented through interviews, hearings, demonstrations, and archival footage, the film takes a sober look at the city’s “luxury” policies and high-end development, the power role of the elite, and accusations of corruption surrounding land use and rezoning. The film also links New York trends to other global cities where multinational corporations continue to victimize the mi…

Post, belatedly, notices Judge Catterson's complaint about no judicial oversight of eminent-domain proceedings; why not put EB-5 on the agenda?

In an article headlined Wrong from blight: Judge rips land grab, the New York Post reports three months late: In a little-noticed ruling that could pack a punch for property owners, a judge has blasted the city for abusing eminent domain in its bid to seize buildings in East Harlem -- yet says there's nothing he can do about it.

In a searing statement, Justice James Catterson of the state Appellate Division accused the city of falsely claiming "blight" as a ploy to transfer private property to developers.

But New York's lower courts are powerless to stop it, said Catterson, thanks to prior rulings from the state Court of Appeals on eminent-domain cases related to Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards development and Columbia University's West Harlem expansion.

"In my view, the record amply demonstrates that the [East Harlem] neighborhood in question is not blighted . . . and that the justification of under-utilization is nothing but a canard to aid in the transfer of p…