Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Forbes feature on Gilmartin (and Pavlova) repeats developer's talking points, revisionist history

Forbes.com, in a feature aimed for its ForbesWoman channel, offers Meet The Women Behind The Brooklyn Nets, focusing on Forest City Ratner's MaryAnne Gilmartin and Onexim's Irina Pavlova.

Writes Jenna Goudreau, transcribing without skepticism Gilmartin's self-serving account:
Gilmartin, 47, has been a commercial real estate developer with Forest City for 17 years—seemingly as long as this project’s been in the works. The firm purchased the Nets in 2004, she explains, with the intention of bringing them to Brooklyn and building a state-of-the-art sports complex and 15 residential buildings over an old rail line running through the borough’s center. Rigorous public reviews, resident protests and holdouts, 35 lawsuits and a volatile economy resulted in years of delays.
Here's what Gilmartin said, on the video below:
"So this project has been in the planning since 1994, when we purchased the New Jersey Nets, with the intention of bringing them to Brooklyn, to build a new home for professional sports and also to build thousands of units of housing. There are over 35 lawsuits associated with the project, and that cost us time and the process that we went through to resolve those lawsuits and to work through the public approvals I think resulted in a better project."
The video



What's wrong: the timetable

How could the writer suggest that this project has been in the works some 17 years, since 1994? Because Gilmartin, in either an error or a Freudian slip, said the project "has been in the planning since 1994, when we purchased the New Jersey Nets."

That year, of course, was 2004, but the planning for this specific project began well before then, at least two years earlier. And, as I reported in 2006, the Nets did approach Forest City Ratner in the early 1990s to buy the team and move it to Brooklyn.

What's wrong: the project configuration and location

Actually, the initial plans were not for "15 residential buildings," as Goudreau wrote, nor merely to "build thousands of units of housing." Forest City Ratner promised 10,000 office jobs in four office towers.

Nor would the project be "over an old rail line running through the borough’s center." Rather, less than 40% of the site would be over an existing rail yard used to store and service trains.

What's wrong: rigorous public review

Goudreau, not Gilmartin, called the process "rigorous public reviews." Nope, not when the state said Ratner could build the project in ten years, while Ratner now says it was never possible

What's wrong: 35 lawsuits

Now, there weren't 35 lawsuits. Not even close.

Jobs

Gilmartin said,  "Right now there are 750 people a week working on the site, and a third of those people come from Brooklyn."

Given that the most recent external report, albeit based on end-of-September information, indicated 415 workers, any numbers provided by Forest City should be vetted.

The "holdout"

"Because of the way we received possession of the properties, we had to work around the holdout that was located on the south side of the arena," Gilmartin said. "The resident who held out. We literally were building the arena around that building until we got possession of that building."

Well, yes, and no. The developer was doing excavation, so it was part of the arena construction, but it was not, as might be assumed, vertical construction.

And Daniel Goldstein was not the only "holdout." Several other property owners resisted eminent domain and others were there as long as--or nearly as long as--Goldstein after they lost possession of their properties.

More importantly, Atlantic Yards was not resisted by a few property owners and "the holdout." It generated significant community protest.

(Photo from Mike Galinsky, director of Battle for Brooklyn, shows site work near Goldstein 636 Pacific Street building in May 2010)

The impact on Brooklyn

Goudreau asked Gilmartin, "What does this do for Brooklyn. Are people getting excited?"

Responded Westchester resident Gilmartin, "I think this is transformative for the neighborhood, for the borough, and for the city. I think it's going to have a dramatic impact. It's a modern icon for the borough."

Well, it will be an icon. And it will be transformative. It's just that it will stand for much more than what Gilmartin intends.

The article, of course, ignored any voices other than those promoting the arena, so there was nothing about the impact of construction, crony capitalism, or the lessons learned from this process.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Two sports columnists react to the resumption of the NBA and the meaning of Brooklyn

Grantland editor Dan Fierman, a contributor to The NBA Is Back! An over-the-top, totally ridiculously long, undeniably giddy appreciation of the return of the NBA by the Grantland staff:
One of the very hardest things about leaving Brooklyn was sacrificing a front-row seat to how the Nets move played out. The real estate battles, the simmering class warfare over the Barclays Center, and the arrival, as if from space, of the gangly billionaire from Russia was the greatest drama we had going in the borough. The storylines were ready-made: The return of professional sports to the County of Kings! The Deron Williams contract debate! Jay and Bey courtside every night!

These things were (obviously) media crack in the only city in America that has its own 24-hour cable news channel. But to me and my 30-something peers, the Nets move was more than that. Brooklyn is a borough rapidly filling with children. Schools are bursting at the seams. Teachers can't be hired fast enough. The parks overflow with new parents who were themselves moved out of NYC as children by overprotective fathers and mothers. As someone who was very recently one of their number — the father of a son just now old enough to understand what goaltending means, and maybe even to comprehend the importance of inside positioning — I can tell you how much that move to Brooklyn meant to those parents. See kid, look! Look at how Deron throws the outlet pass! Watch how Lopez keeps those hands above his head! Listen to the goddamned crowd roar! How can you possibly not love this game?
Only if you forget how it was done.

New York Times sports columnist George Vecsey, in Welcoming Back N.B.A. With Open Yawns, allows for a side notice:
My flicker of enthusiasm for the Nets included their move from that dismal spot in the swamps into that struggling, but recognizable, urban center, Newark. Next year they will move into a much more vibrant place — the land grab near downtown Brooklyn being a separate issue. Just the mention of Brooklyn evokes the scent of restaurants and walks in cool neighborhoods.
The lingering question: will people agree with Mayor Mike Bloomberg, as depicted in the documentary  Battle for Brooklyn, that “Nobody’s going to remember how long it took, they’re only going to look and see that it was done”?

Likely many sports reporters and columnosts won't remember. Others, understandably, will experience, "issue fatigue." But people will remember. The movie's just one sign of that.

The EB-5 files: federal agency stonewalls request for info on job creation by immigrant investors, reveals misleading claim about arena bonds, withholds a letter made public elsewhere

So, how exactly did Forest City Ratner and the New York City Regional Center (NYCRC) aim to convince federal overseers and potential investors that the plan to seek $249 million in funds from 498 green card-seeking immigrant investors was kosher?

We may never know, since the federal agency overseeing the EB-5 program is keeping most key information under wraps. For example, the document explaining how that investment would produce--as required by federal law--at least ten jobs per $500,000 investor was redacted, deemed a trade secret.

Other documents deemed trade secrets have already been made public by other parties, suggesting that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has a rather heavy hand when it comes to transparency.

No way to evaluate job-creation claim

So, while the EB-5 program is justified as supporting job creation, there's no way to evaluate that claim when it comes to the Brooklyn Arena & Infrastructure Project--said to consist of the arena, infrastructure, and a new railyard--marketed to immigrant investors.

And that's quite curious because the arena was and remains already funded. That makes it questionable that immigrant investors could get credit for jobs created not merely by their investment but by the entire $1.448 billion project, a project that did not need their money to proceed.

(A graphic on the web site of Kookmin, a South Korean immigration agency working with the NYCRC, suggested, for example, that the investment would create 3705 construction jobs and 1786.5 jobs in "art, entertainment." In other words, Kookmin explained more than the U.S. government is willing to do.)

That suggests that the job count in the EB-5 program, at least in the Atlantic Yards example, relies more on accounting tricks than actual new jobs created. And that suggests that the program does far less for the public good than for developer Forest City Ratner, which likely saves well over $100 million over conventional financing.

Still, the pages left unredacted show the NYCRC claiming, not so credibly, that the goal of the EB-5 project was to ensure tax revenues to the city and state, and even claiming, misleadingly, that the arena bonds are municipal bonds.

FOIA foiled

In September 2010, I filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the USCIS to get the business plan, the economic report, and other documents behind the Brooklyn Arena & Infrastructure Project.

The NYCRC solicited $500,000 (plus a $38,000 fee ) from each of 498 investors, mostly from China. The law firm representing each investor would earn $14,750. The investors would get green cards for themselves and their families.

The NYCRC, the federally authorized private investment pool marketing the project, claims that the entire project is subscribed. It's not clear if the money--a low-interest loan to Forest City --has been transferred.

As I explained last March, most of my request was stonewalled and delayed, but I was told one request was granted.

This week, I finally got a response (below): 721 pages responsive to my request, but with 492 of them withheld and 20 more withheld in part. So nearly all the interesting documents at left (p. 432 of the file) was withheld.

The justification? "Exemption (b)(4) protects trade secrets and commercial or financial information that is privileged or confidential."

Saving tax revenues?

Atlantic Yards-related pages begin on p. 422 of the package. In a 8/11/10 letter (p. 429), Miller Mayer attorney Nicolai Hinrichsen requested USCIS pre-approval of the project on the grounds it would create tax revenues:
EB-5 funding is critical to ensure that the development is completed on schedule, creating jobs and tax revenues that the State and City of New York desperately need in this deep economic recession.
But it's curious that the justification was jobs and tax revenues, since Forest City would have to provide the jobs and tax revenues anyway. The more likely justification: savings for the developer and fees for the NYCRC and the lawyers working the transaction.

The missing letters

Those requesting expedited adjudication were Gov. David Paterson, Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, so presumably they endorsed that sentiment. But their letters were redacted.

Curiously enough, the NYCRC's South Korean affiliate saw no problem in posting Bloomberg's boosterish letter (right), in an attempt to recruit investors.

Project description

The description (p. 448 of the file below) lays it on thick, considering that this is supposed to be about immigration linked to job creation:
The Atlantic Yards Project is situated adjacent to the very site where the Brooklyn Dodgers proposed to build a major league baseball stadium over 50 years ago when Brooklyn proudly had its own professional sports team. Since the team left in 1957, the borough has yet to restore that remarkable and unmatched hometown nostalgia, enthusiasm, and pride. The Atlantic Yards Project will finally do that and more. Not only will the Atlantic Yards Project provide a state-of-the-art, multi-purpose sports arena needed to bring a professional sports team back to Brooklyn, it will also provide critical infrastructure work necessary to allow for the construction and operation of the arena and, over the course of the next decade, the construction of thousands of affordable and market-rate housing units.
Funding sources

According to the document (p. 450):
The $249 million loan will be combined with $100 million of funding from the ESDC (State of New York); $155 million of funding from the City of New York; $511 million of proceeds from the State of New York sponsored municipal bond issuance for Arena construction; and $433.8 million of funding from Forest City Enterprises/investors/partners.
There are two things strange about that. For one, the next paragraph, as indicated in the screenshot at right, states  that Forest City and its investors/partners have invested more than $500 million, not $433.8 million.

Not municipal bonds

More importantly, the arena bonds are not municipal bonds. As explained in the 12/16/09 offering statement produced by Goldman, Sachs, the bonds are to be repaid by arena revenues via PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes). No government agency is responsible for the bonds.


Job creation?

So, how does the investment create at least ten jobs per investor? The feds won't let that trade secret out.

The text:
The economic impact of the Project has been measured by Evans, Carol and Associates ("ECA"), a leading EB-5 economic firm which to date has received USCIS approval for 23 submitted regional center economic reports. ECA utilized RIMS II final demand multipliers to determine that the construction activity for the Project and operation of the Arena will create a [redacted].
The economic report, Exhibit 9, was also redacted.


Some very strange tidbits


Scroll down to page 715 of the file and see some pages that seem odd as part of the package.

They include part of a Wikipedia entry on Atlantic Yards, an article I wrote on Jane Jacobs's response to Atlantic Yards, a page from a blog post on the New York Times's tough coverage of a stadium deal in New Jersey, and part of a Wikipedia entry on PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes).

USCIS FOIA Response re NYCRC

Monday, November 28, 2011

NY Court of Appeals, reversing surprise decision, OKs state economic development grants; Daily News, which saluted AY, lauds dissent by Judge Robert Smith (whose AY dissent the paper ignored)

A 5-2 state Court of Appeals decision last week (Bordeleau vs. New York State) upholding state grants for economic development wasn't a surprise, even though the court had to reverse an appellate court that gave the Tea Party-affiliated plaintiffs some measure of hope.

Yes, the state Constitution bans gifts and loans to private entities, but the state has done so for years through intermediary public benefit benefit corporations like the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), based on the premise that they are independent. (Of course, the governor controls the ESDC, as we've seen in the Atlantic Yards saga.)

And, judges are reluctant to intervene in such longstanding, however dubious, economic development policy, even if involves the largest state economic development subsidy in history, to upstate chip maker GlobalFoundries, which--no surprise--is already seeking to modify and improve the deal it got.

An editorial surprise

What was a surprise was a scorching 11/26/11 New York Daily News editorial headlined New York Court of Appeals was wrong to toss corporate subsidy suit: Dismissal reveals double standard on taxpayer protection.

After all, while the Daily News criticized the court's endorsement of the ESDC's subsidy practices, it has never looked askance at ESDC support for Atlantic Yards. (The New York Times hasn't covered the subsidy case, either in its news pages or editorial pages.)

The Daily News's criticism

The paper criticized the Court of Appeals for not letting the subsidy case go to trial:
Here’s what Article 7, Section 8 says: “The money of the state shall not be given or loaned to or in aid of any private corporation or association, or private undertaking; nor shall the credit of the state be given or loaned to or in aid of any individual, or public or private corporation or association, or private undertaking.”

Believing these words should mean what they say, advocates sued to challenge a sampling of recent state grants and loans, including $300 million for research and development by IBM and other tech giants, and $650 million to finance construction of a microchip factory upstate.

The conflict between the constitutional prohibition on spending taxpayer money to support private corporations and the state’s practice of doing just that demanded full exploration at trial.

But a 5-to-2 majority on the high court dismissed the suit without further proceedings — on the preposterous grounds that the Empire State Development Corp., which processed the giveaways, is a public benefit corporation that’s theoretically separate and apart from the state.
The Daily News, of course, did not think state or federal courts should conduct more fact-finding in the cases challenging the ESDC's pursuit of eminent domain for Atlantic Yards, even though legitimate questions were raised as to whether the project would benefit a private party more than the public.

Judge Smith the hero (but not with AY)

The Daily News, which condemned "Albany’s big-spending status quo." found a hero:
“When our Legislature commits precisely the folly that a provision of our Constitution was written to prevent, and this court responds by judicially repealing the constitutional provision,” added the always eloquent Judge Robert Smith, “I think I am entitled to be annoyed.”

Absolutely.
The "always eloquent" Smith--one of the court's two most conservative judges--was the only dissenter in the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case.

Significant points in his dissent, which charged that blight was a pretext and that developer Forest City Ratner drew the curious site map, were ignored by the court majority.

Behind the case

Bordeleau vs. New York State,was brought by some 50 plaintiffs, including Buffalo businessman Lee Bordeleau. He objects to the state subsidizing "Bass Pro Shops on the Buffalo waterfront to compete against locally owned sporting goods stores," as the Albany Times-Union reported 10/13/11.

"I'm looking to stop the state from picking winners and losers," he said.

He was represented by Jim Ostrowski, a lawyer, political consultant, writer and founder and President of Free Buffalo, a libertarian who says he's "not a flack for big business or the Republican Party" and runs a web site called Political Class Dismissed: The War Room of the Tea Party Movement.

Ostrowski's goal: "to end all forms of corporate welfare at all levels of government, federal, state and local." Before the oral argument, he led a "first annual National Rally Against Corporate Welfare," stating:
We’re holding this event in Albany since it probably leads the states in doling out taxpayer money to politically-connected business firms.
The appellate decision

What led to the Court of Appeals decision was a surprising and unanimous 6/24/10 decision from the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department, which stated:
Defendants do not dispute plaintiffs' allegation that the challenged funds were ultimately distributed by the Department and the PBCs [public benefit corporations] to private entities. Instead, they contend that, as a matter of law, the appropriations did not violate the NY Constitution because the grant of state funds to the Department and to the PBCs was permissible, those entities then disbursed the funds for proper public purposes with only incidental private benefits and, in any event, the private recipients agreed to perform services or provide other consideration in exchange for the funds... Gving the funds to private entities by channeling them through authorized public entities will not shield these appropriations from challenge, for the State may not do "'indirectly that which cannot be done directly'"
Moreover, the court dismissed an argument about a public purposes:
Nor can we accept defendants' argument that proof of a public purpose for the funds that were disbursed by the intermediaries here establishes the legitimacy of the appropriations. The Court of Appeals has made clear that the existence of a public purpose for an appropriation that aids a private undertaking is not the test of whether it is lawful. 
The oral argument

The 10/12/11 Court of Appeals oral argument (video) was covered by some news outlets but not the New York Times. The Albany Times-Union reported 10/13/11, in Top court hears funding challengeCase contends private projects improperly get millions in subsidies:
Ostrowski argued before the seven judges on the state's top court that the system of distributing most state economic development aid through the Urban Development Corporation -- created in 1968, but now known as Empire State Development -- was simply "money laundering." And several of the judges grilled the state's lawyers, wondering, as Associate Judge Robert Smith did, how this was not "evasion."
State Solicitor General Barbara Underwood explained the Legislature created the UDC, tasked it with economic development and granted it money and bonding authority -- the ability to borrow. It's not state money, she said, nor is it state-controlled.
Legislators saw a "public purpose" in doing so, Underwood argued, and since they're the state's elected lawmakers, their wishes and intent should be respected.
..."So you're saying you can do indirectly what you can't do directly, so long as you've been doing it for a long time and you're the state?," Smith countered.
"And the constitution and the laws and the precedents of this state have authorized it," Underwood replied.
A prescient prediction

After the oral argument, Scott Fein, director of the Public Authorities Project at Albany Law School's Government Law Center, wrote 10/13/11:
The court of first impression saw little merit in the citizens’ claims and dismissed, holding that the State can give money to private entities to promote economic development, which is presumed a public purpose. Surprisingly, the Appellate Division, Third Department reversed, finding in its decision that such grants may constitute illegal gifts in violation of the State Constitution, and to be lawful would require that the intended public benefit be the key objective and significantly outweigh any incidental private benefit. Some suggested that seeking to quantify the respective public and private benefit of projects would be too theoretical and not susceptible to meaningful analysis. Others respond that when alienating public money, it is the minimum that should be expected.
Fein concluded:
Perhaps the overarching question is whether the Court will choose to upset the State’s economic development strategy… some would say, particularly given the current state of the economy, that this is unlikely.
He was right.

Indeed, what seems unmentioned in the decision issued last week is that this is a political strategy practiced by most states and, however it seems to violate the language of the constitution, the court was mindful that New York is competing with other states that do the same.

The decision

After the court ruled last week, Fein observed 11/21/11:
Commentators have suggested that had the court ruled to the contrary, it may have paralyzed many of the larger economic development projects in the state.
He may have been referring to a quote from Albany Law School constitutional law expert Paul Finkelman, who told Reuters 10/13/11 that court review of economic development grants would be "insane."

Fein's summary of the decision:
The court traced the history of two state constitutional provisions which, according to the plaintiffs, prohibited the use of public funds to aid private entities. Taking issue with the plaintiffs’ view, a majority of the court concluded that: (i) public authorities are legal entities separate from the state; (ii) the state may give money to public authorities and they may in turn disperse it to private entities for public purposes; and (iii) state agencies may support marketing measures to promote state industries.
While a majority of the court signed onto the opinion drafted by Judge Jones, two judges (Pigott and Smith) dissented, concluding that the state constitution’s prohibition on the provision of state money to private entities is unambiguous and should bar the grants and loans at issue.
His conclusion: the court has finally put to rest challenges to the use of public funds to aid economic development, particularly through the operation of public authorities.

The ruling

In the 5-2 majority decision, Judge Theodore Jones noted the Constitutional provision banning state gifts or loans "in aid of any private corporation or association," but said there's no prohibition in that provision against making appropriation to public corporations like the ESDC. (Here are most of the case files.)

The clause was added in 1846 in response to defaults by private railroad corporations on obligations based on "liberally granted state credit," leaving the state holding the bag. But one-time gifts, Jones wrote, did not bind future generations, according to case law.

Still, in 1874, the constitutional prohibition was expanded. In 1938, two separate provisions were combined into one clause, preventing public corporations from granting the State's credit--hence, I'd point out, the state-authorized arena bonds do not put the state in the hole. 

But, Jones wrote, the 1938 Constitution "did not extend the prohibition against the giving or loaning of the State's money, which continues to apply only to private recipients."

And public benefit corporations like ESDC, case law states, "exist independently of the state."

However, I'd point out, the ESDC is controlled by gubernatorial appointees.

Jones wrote:
Because public benefit corporations benefit from a status separate and apart from the State, money passed to public corporations consequently cannot be subject to the article VII, § 8(1) prohibition against gifting or loaning State money as such money is no longer in the control of the State.
I'd suggest that's a legal fig leaf, but obviously a useful one to elected officials.

Public purposes

The second part of the case involved appropriations to the state Agriculture Department to fund agreements with not-for-profit organizations to promote apple and grape crops and products.

Jones agreed with the defense, which cited a case known as Murphy, which backed the legality of Erie County's issuing bonds to finance the construction of a stadium leased to, or managed by, a private entity. He wrote:
We rejected the constitutional claim, reasoning that although a private firm "will also derive a benefit from" the transaction, the stadium would serve a "very public purpose."  The Court distinguished Westchester County -- the 1921 precedent upon which the dissent hinges its analysis -- on the basis that the benefit of the challenged expenditure in that case "accrued only to a private party." We held that "an incidental private benefit" will not "invalidate a project which has for its primary object a public purpose."
In this case, he wrote, "the appropriations at issue... fulfill a predominantly public purpose." His conclusion:
In sum, we find no constitutional infirmity to the challenged appropriations.  Although some, like plaintiffs and the dissent, may question the wisdom of the policy choices, "the Legislature has made a valid legislative judgment"
The main dissent

In dissent, Judge Eugene Pigott wrote:
Unconstitutional acts do not become constitutional by virtue of repetition, custom or passage of time.  But that is what the majority opinion holds today.  The arguments made by these defendants are precisely the kind of claims that sully taxpayers' view of our State government. .  
Pigott challenged the distinction between granting cash and a loan:
The fact that the Westchester County Natl. Bank case dealt with the gift of credit as opposed to a gift of money is irrelevant; it is evident from that case that, even if the Legislature had proposed paying cash to the World War I veterans instead of using the State's bonding authority, the outcome would have been the same, because the issue was whether the issuance of bonds on behalf of the veterans was a gift, irrespective of its form.
In 1967, the voters rejected a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have allowed the distribution of funds to private businesses for the purpose of economic development in the same manner the ESDC is distributing funds now.  
He added that the use of an intermediary like the ESDC didn't improve things:
But we have cautioned on more than one occasion that "[w]hen the main purpose of a statute, or part of a statute, is to evade the Constitution by effecting indirectly that which cannot be done directly, the act is to that extent void, because it violates the spirit of the fundamental law"
He concluded:
But this error [holding that the Legislature may use a public corporation to get around the Constitution] is apparently of only academic importance, because the majority, after discussing the indirect appropriations at length, goes on to hold that the Legislature may also do directly what the Constitution forbids.  Some of the appropriations that plaintiffs challenge do not go through conduits, but are routed directly to trade associations made up of private firms - and the majority upholds these also.  Either overruling Westchester County Natl. Bank or shrinking it beyond recognition, the majority seemingly decides that any gift or loan of money to private recipients is valid as long as it has "a predominantly public purpose".  It is hard to see what is left of the constitutional prohibition.
Smith's dissent

Smith joined Pigott's dissent and added his own, scoffing at the notion that subsidies were needed to create jobs:
I seem to remember a time when IBM could make money by selling its products for more than it cost to produce them.  I would have thought semiconductor manufacturers could do the same.  If they cannot, a bail-out for their shareholders is not a prudent use of more than a billion dollars in taxpayer funds.
Of course, the New York Legislature, so long as it stays within constitutional limits, is free to disregard both received economic teachings and common sense.  I have defended before, and will no doubt defend again, the right of elected legislators to commit folly if they choose.  But when our Legislature commits the precise folly that a provision of our Constitution was written to prevent, and this Court responds by judicially repealing the constitutional provision, I think I am entitled to be annoyed.
Protection for the state?

According to the video of the oral argument, attorney Harold Iselin, representing defendant GlobalFoundries, a semiconductor manufacturer, said it was getting a $650 million grant from bonds financed through ESDC.

Iselin agreed with a judge's observation that, even if ESDC makes a bad investment that doesn't promote economic development, that's a different issue than the plaintiff's charge that the gift and loan clause violates the constitution.

What if GlobalFoundries doesn't perform what it promised?

"The state has extensive remedies, including the right to claw back the funding that ESDC has provided pursuant to that agreement, along with numerous other remedies," Iselin responded. (Such "extensive remedies," in the case of Atlantic Yards, are pretty gentle.)

Smith's challenge
Near the close of oral argument, Smith asked, "Doesn't People v. Westchester make it clear that no amount of public benefit, in itself, will justify the gift...?"

State attorney Underwood responded, "Westchester involved no quid pro quo at all."

Smith asked about subsidies to the railroads.

"There was no way to get the money back," Underwood responded. "A contract--"

The "Atlantic Yards" of upstate?

As Reuters reported 10/13/11, the state didn't seem to be looking hard at GlobalFoundries' performance:
An investigative report last week by the Albany Times Union found that GlobalFoundries, a semiconductor manufacturer and one of the defendants in the case, spent some of the $665 million cash grant it received in 2008 -- the largest such grant in U.S. history -- on luxury apartments, flat-screen TVs and catering for private parties. Overall, the company received $1.4 billion in subsidies after pledging more than $7 billion to build a new plant outside Albany.
Those subsidies, according to the Times Union, involve $665 million in cash, plus $700 million in tax credits, so the total is not worth $1.4 billion. Still, it's the largest public incentive package in state history, according to the state. (Some might dispute that, with Atlantic Yards.)

Here's the Times-Union's special report page on GlobalFoundries.

State subsidy policy changed?

The newspaper reported 10/10/11, while noting the curious spending by the firm, that the Cuomo administration looks askance at a project greenlighted in 2006 by the administration of Gov. George Pataki:
Such a mega deal likely won't be offered again, according to the top economic development official in Gov, Andrew Cuomo's administration -- not even to land a second fab at Luther Forest Technology Campus in Malta, where GlobalFoundries owns 223 acres.

"We don't see massive subsidies as good economic development policy or a good investment of taxpayer money," said  Ken Adams, who became president of ESDC in April under Cuomo. "We're no longer fronting money. There's a lot of lessons we learned from past experience."
No more "fronting money"?

That might rule out subsidies for projects like Atlantic Yards, though the state funds were designated for infrastructure--albeit infrastructure not merely to prepare a site for potential better but infrastructure in pursuit of a specific project.

The Times-Union noted 11/11/11 that the government of Abu Dhabi is the majority stakeholder in GlobalFoundries, and said the firm was seeking more state assistance to continue development in the town of Malta.

The newspaper reported 11/7/11 that the firm wants to trade $700 million in tax credits for $165 million in immediate cash--a discount on the value but a source of immediate cash flow. The newspaper reported 6/30/11 that the Cuomo administration "risks the loss of a second massive factory in Malta by refusing the company's heavy demands for more cash."

The fallout

Plaintiffs' attorney Ostrowski commented to the 11/22/11 Albany Business Review:
"There is no clear path to reform anymore," said James Ostrowski, the attorney in Buffalo who argued the case. "We were the underdog, up against huge multinational corporations. I was really hoping this would lead to real change.

"Maybe every business, everyone, should call up their assemblyman and ask for as much money as you can get, because apparently there are no limits on the state giving out money," Ostrowski added.
By contrast, Gannett reported 11/21/11:
Ken Pokalsky, the Business Council of New York State's senior director of government affairs, said Smith was missing the point.
State incentives garnered a "$2 billion capital investment from the company, which cemented IBM's longstanding presence in this state, produced direct jobs and indirect jobs, and guaranteed their ongoing presence here," he said.

"You can't judge manufacturing solely on headcount," Pokalsky said.
The Daily News covered the ruling in an 11/21/11 article, as did several upstate publications and wire services.

Ostrowski added 11/23/11 on his blog:
I firmly believe that if this case stands, and is not somehow overturned, NY State is doomed since corporate welfare is the glue that holds the whole corrupt regime together.
He doesn't have much traction, though the Daily News, at least on this issue, seems to be joining him.

So, how much did unions give up to get the Barclays Center going?

On Local 157 blogspot, "Where New York City District Council Carpenters Communicate, Connect and Stay Informed!" there's an intriguing comment posted in response to a reposting of Daily News columnist Denis Hamill's valentine to Forest City Ratner's Bob Sanna and the union workers building the arena.

Wrote the anonymous commenter:
How about some free tickets for the men who took the hit on the PLA's [Project Labor Agreements] to make it happen.

Time to have a Trades Night out when the season starts next year. You can go by the Certified Payroll records on file with the CM [Construction Manager] & Project Owner.

C'mon - set it up. Let's see if Ratner appreciates the effort and steps up
Forest City Ratner stopped construction of the Beekman Tower (aka 8 Spruce Street) to negotiate a PLA.

I'm not sure if Forest City simply took advantage of an existing general PLA or negotiated one specifically for the arena. But it sure seems that the developer shaved savings on labor costs.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Forest City Ratner's latest dubious claim about the Independent Compliance Monitor required by the CBA: "As the project progresses, especially, with residential, a monitor will be hired"

After I raised the issue in City Limits, and Council Member Letitia James followed up a public meeting and a press conference, we have a new pledge from developer Forest City Ratner regarding an Independent Compliance Monitor required by the Community Benefits Agreement.

Responding to a comment solicited by Our Time Press (almost certainly from the notorious Stephen Witt), FCR now says it  hire such a monitor--but sometime later.

The reporter didn't bother to look at the actual document, which required a monitor years ago.

But Witt doesn't try to hold Forest City Ratner accountable. Nor does the rest of the press when it comes to the CBA.

(The New York Observer ran a front-page article this week on problems with the Columbia University CBA. No contact info for the person in charge of the Columbia CBA? Ditto in Brooklyn. No web site for the CBA? Ditto. It's just that there's a Congressional candidate, Vince Morgan, who's decided to make an issue of it in Manhattan.)

The article

The article, in full, from the 11/24/11 issue:
Compliance monitor for Atlantic Yards CBA

Developer Forest  City Ratner Companies (FCR) last week responded to concerns that a compliance monitor in regards to the Atlantic Yards has yet to be hired.

The compliance monitor, as required as per the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) to ensure adherence by signatories of the CBA.

“The CBA and FCRC are committed to bringing on an independent monitor. To date, however, work has been confined to the arena,” said FCRC spokesperson Joe DePlasco. “As the project progresses, especially, with residential, a monitor will be hired. As for the arena we provide regular updates to the state and to others on MWBE and other construction related activities.”
That's a slightly more polished--but no less empty--answer than the one given earlier in the month by FCR executive Jane Marshall: that it's up to the CBA Executive Committee, which hadn't met in four months.

wrote at length on 11/29/10, describing how the CBA went into effect shortly after it was signed 6/27/05 (despite FCR's evasions), that implementation was supposed to begin upon signing of the agreement, and how quarterly status reports were supposed to be delivered to the Independent Compliance Monitor.

What the document says

The CBA states:
Independent Compliance Monitor. As soon as reasonably practicable after formation of the Executive Committee, the Executive Committee shall publish a Request for Proposals (“RFP”) to qualified, independent persons or entities with experience in overseeing compliance with similar arrangements or who have other experience deemed by the Executive Committee to be sufficiently relevant. The terms of employment and evaluation shall be determined by the Executive Committee. Such Independent Compliance Monitor (“ICM”) shall be selected and hired by the Executive Committee, at an annual payment of up to $100,000 to be paid by the Project Developer, and shall be responsible for oversight of the Project Developer’s, Arena Developer’s and Coalition members’ obligations under this Agreement, investigation of any complaints brought against the Developers or a Coalition member regarding implementation of this Agreement and review of the Developers reports required under Article X (the “Developer Reports”). After review of the Developer Reports, the ICM shall provide a report to the Executive Committee and the DBOAC [sic], as defined below, on the status of the implementation of all initiatives.
The ICM, not Forest City or its contractor The Darman Group, was supposed to provide a report to the Executive Committee and the Downtown Brooklyn Advisory and Oversight Committee, or DBAOC.

Moreover, the ICM was supposed to help monitor the bidding process during the construction period. Not the "construction period after the arena," as DePlasco seems to suggest.

According to the CBA, Forest City Ratner was supposed to put $100,000 down for an ICM when the document was signed.

The benefit to Forest City

Not only does the developer save an "annual payment of up to $100,000," as required by the CBA to fund the ICM, but Forest City also escapes significant scrutiny.

So there was no ICM to report that Forest City Ratner took five years to establish the job training program, which the CBA said should have begun immediately:
Commencing upon execution of this Agreement, Developers and BUILD [Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development] shall initiate and coordinate a job training program....
Nor was there an ICM to report on the progress of that training program, including:
Number of Community residents presently enrolled in the Pre Apprentice Training initiative; Community Boards in which they reside and percentage of Minority (by category) and women workers; household income; number who successfully completed such initiative, and number who obtained jobs at the Project Site; successful participants length of current employment at the Project Site; percentage of successful participants as to number of total apprentices at Project Site”
Now it's taken a lawsuit to allege the inadequacies and deceptions in that training program.

Daily News columnist Denis Hamill rhapsodizes about arena construction

Daily News columnist Denis Hamill, who thinks the Brooklyn Nets can give Brooklyn a soul and who swallows Forest City Ratner promotional spin, today salutes Forest City's head of construction, Bob Sanna, "Park Slope native, also the son of a Local 3 worker."

The online headline: Denis Hamill tells why there is so much union pride in building Barclays Center in Brooklyn: Construction boss Bob Sanna is behind the Nets new basketball arena.

Sanna, to Hamill, credits developer Bruce Ratner for having the event level level "25 feet below grade," and describes the role of union workers:
“Then comes a parade of 40 trades,” Sanna says. “Local 20 guys pour concrete on the 250 steel footings, held together with metal straps, making foundation walls, forming a big fat concrete pontoon if you will, that keeps our main foundation from penetrating into the ground. The whole arena sits on this structure.”

...Under which will perform an urban symphony of plumbers, steamfitters, painters, carpenters, electricians and all the rest of the 40 trades that Brooklyn-born Bob Sanna oversees in the construction of the first major professional sports venue in Brooklyn in 55 years.
OK, it's parade, or a symphony, but shouldn't Hamill have mentioned Forest City's hardball treatment of construction unions regarding its modular plans? Or maybe that Sanna's statement that "politics played out" to clear the site is a euphemism (as per DDDB) for a political fix.

Or maybe that Sanna's not a Brooklyn resident any more, but is fiercely defending his New Jersey home town from... overdevelopment.

Scoop? Forest City considering Navy Yard as modular site

The notorious Stephen Witt has a purported scoop in the latest issue of Our Time Press, as the 11/25/11 article Ratner eyes Brooklyn Navy Yard for Atlantic Yards Construction is labeled "Exclusive."

It begins:
Developer Forest City Ratner is looking at the Brooklyn Navy Yard as one of three possible sites to manufacture modular units of the Atlantic Yards project, according to a source with knowledge of the project.
“The Brooklyn Navy Yard is close to the site and it would be kind of cool given its history of ship building,” said the source, adding that the other site is also in Brooklyn and the third site is in Queens.
When finalized the manufacturing site will construct prefabricated units for the world’s largest modular constructed building at 32 floors on the Atlantic Yards site. It will also be utilized for the other 14 other residential buildings proposed on the $4.5 bill project.
The source said that surprisingly there are still quite a few manufacturing sites around the city, and modular construction will bring manufacturing union and trade-union jobs.
“The site will also serve the construction needs around the city, the country and perhaps globally,” the source said.
Is this news? A week earlier, Forest City told the Wall Street Journal it was looking at three sites, in Brooklyn and in Queens.

So the only "news" is that the Navy Yard is a potential Brooklyn site. That's hardly a surprise, as the New York Times, in its initial report on Forest City's modular plans last March, mentioned Capsys, a modular builder at the Navy Yard.

And who's the "source with knowledge of the project"? I'd bet that the "source," who provided other self-serving quotes, was Forest City spokesman Joe DePlasco.

A response to Stephen Witt, and a letter of support

The latest issue of Our Time Press contains a letter from me in response to a column by the notorious Stephen Witt. It begins:
In his column about Atlantic Yards in the Nov. 17 issue, Stephen Witt writes that that “For doing this”--consistently seeking out the views of project supporters--"opponents of the project and their media mouthpieces, including Atlantic Yards Report blogger Norman Oder, continually blasted me.”

The issue isn’t whether Witt seeks out other views, it’s that he’s an irresponsible and
unreliable writer.
But there's another letter, from the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, one of those who's views Witt embraces:
I just read your column in the Our Time Press. I appreciate your consistency. I know that is has not always been easy for some individuals to be supporters of the Atlantic Yards Project. Thank God that there are individuals who believe in the benefits for the community that this project will accrue.
Well, there's belief, and then there's proof.

Marty Markowitz on OWS: “I think that they have made their point, and now it’s time to go home and work."

The New York Observer reported 11/21/11:
Last week, Occupy Wall Street finally made its foray into the boroughs by way of a march across the Brooklyn Bridge. The night before the march, we happened to run into Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz last week and he had some choice words for the group. “I think that they have made their point, and now it’s time to go home and work,” he told The Transom at an event for a charity he started. “If you just stay at that location, Zuccotti Park, you are meaningless. You’re doing nothing for anyone. Go to work! You’re not going to change America staying in that park. That’s it,” Mr. Markowitz said, growing increasingly agitated as he discussed the issue.
It didn't sound like Markowitz meant "go to work on political activity," but if he did, well, OWS was one example of that.

If he meant "get a job," well, that's not so easy. Even some of those selected for a highly competitive training program required by the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement say they were stiffed.

Markowitz changes his tune

It was just a month earlier, on October 25, when Markowitz issued a press release stating,
“There is no doubt that Americans—those in the ‘99 percent’—are hurting, and we can all agree that some of the issues being raised by these protests, including the creation and preservation of jobs, higher wages for the working class, penalties against companies that outsource jobs overseas, affordable health insurance and protection of Social Security and Medicare, are concerns we can all rally around and that need to be heard and addressed by our leaders.”
So, those concerns were all "heard and addressed" by now?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Deconstructing a dubious, uninformed WNYC Atlantic Yards round-up

When I saw the headline on an WNYC article today, Atlantic Yards Construction Tests Patience of Residents, I thought that maybe they'd drawn from the ongoing Atlantic Yards Watch articles and incident reports on the impact of construction, such as the recent Trucks at Atlantic Yards continue to violate site protocols, obstructing a public street.

Nah.

The article is a remarkably uninformed, "View from Nowhere" hodgepodge. It's annotated below.

The opening

Construction continues on the developer Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn. Disruption is worse at night, especially for Prospect Heights residents. That’s when work crews spill onto Flatbush Avenue and snarl traffic. The work is testing some residents' patience.

Christine McCoy lives nearby and shops at was the Pathmark supermarket located across the street from Atlantic Yards, which will include Barclays Arena, the new home for the Nets NBA basketball team. “The traffic is crazy. I'm not going to be coming to this Pathmark anymore, because it is not going to make any more sense,” McCoy said.


Actually, the issue is less the crazy traffic by day but the impact of construction on adjacent blocks, as documented by Atlantic Yards Watch.

The modular issue

Forest City Ratner's project has been mired in controversy since construction began in the fall of 2009. The $5 billion project has faced numerous lawsuits and has struggled to get financial backing. The developer recently revealed that one of the residential towers on the site, a 32-story high-rise, will be constructed from pre-fabricated modules. Opponents have complained that the modules will result in fewer jobs for local construction workers.

Yes, opponents (i.e., Council Member Letitia James) have launched such complaints, but, as with a New York Times round-up article last July, the press shouldn't have to find "opponents" to complain.

The press should, as a guardian of the public interest, compare Atlantic Yards promises to the current porjections.

The lawsuit

The most recent lawsuit against the Atlantic Yards Development Company and Forest City Ratner companies was filed in Federal Court in Brooklyn on November 15. The complaint was filed by seven former apprentices hired to work at Atlantic Yards. They alleged that they were employed for only two months and they didn’t get to work on Barclays Arena or Atlantic Yards. Additionally, the plaintiffs alleged they received no “wages or other compensation” for their work. A court date has been set for February.

No, they weren't hired to work at Atlantic Yards. They were accepted into a training program (as part of the Community Benefits Agreement) and (according to the lawsuit) promised jobs at the project and union cards.

The "other side"

Despite these issues, there are many neighborhood residents who are eager for the project to move forward.

Jacob Parris owns Vinnies, a men's boutique a few blocks away from Atlantic Yards. Parris believes the arena will improve foot traffic to his store. “Right now everybody's driving...you know, they're driving either, past, going into the city, or driving back to Brooklyn,” said Parris. “But now with the stadium there, it'll be something to look, at something to want to walk through,” he said.


Vinnies is next to a couple of dense neighborhoods, so there's a lot of foot traffic on Flatbush Avenue. It's fair to say that retail serving nearby residents is doing fine--as long as they have a long-term lease--but more regional retail, such as Vinnie's, should do better with arena crowds.

Oh, and the Barclays Center featured Vinnies in a spotlight promotional video. Keep that in mind when you hear positive statements about the arena from Junior's, Hooti Couture, BK Terrace, Bergen Comics, all featured in such videos.

The irrelevant mention

Other fans of the project include some skateboarders who live in the neighborhood. James Matthews, 13, Germain Gilmore, 12, and Malakai Sankar, 13, said the new arena will be cool. “I think that they should let us kids get in for free,” Matthews said.

This was put in because... maybe it sounded good on audio? Otherwise, it's irrelevant.

The close

The project includes more than 6,000rental units, more than a third of them will be for low income and moderate income families. The company said it will break ground on the residential tower early next year. It's expected to take 18 months to complete. The basketball arena is expected to open next fall.


Actually, of the 6430 planned (not included) housing units, 1930 would be condos. Of the 4500 rentals, half would be subsidies.

Have unions "saved" Bruce yet? Not quite (though not unlikely)

I'm a little late on this but I should point out that, while the 11/23/11 Brooklyn Paper article headlined Unions save Bruce with big pay cut to get Yards going sounds like a scoop, it offers no new evidence:
Union workers are coming to Bruce Ratner’s rescue — again! — agreeing to take massive pay cuts to pave the way for the first residential building at Atlantic Yards, a cut-rate, pre-fabricated tower to rise next to the Barclays Center.

...It is unclear how much money will be lost to laborers, but carpenters make as much as $90 an hour in wages and benefits at real construction sites, but only $30 per hour when working inside the kind of factory where Ratner will build the pre-fabricated units.

Many union leaders merely shrugged when asked about the pay cuts, suggesting that if the workers don’t give back, the project might not go ahead, leaving laborers with no work at all.

“We are attempting to reach an agreement … that will work for the building trades,” said Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council.

A labor union source translated LaBarbera for those who don’t speak the language of press releases.

“The unions are going to do what it takes to preserve jobs for their members,” said the source. “The wage scale is ultimately going to be [the deciding factor]. This is going to be a long process.”
Yes, LaBarbera's quote--offered in accompaniment to Forest City Ratner's release of its modular plans--indicate that the unions are prepared to deal with Forest City Ratner.

But it's not clear exactly what will happen. Given that Forest City has not yet established that modular factory it plans, it's quite possible that the unions will compromise on compensation for conventional construction for the first building.

The lingering questions

As this story develops, the government bodies that approved Forest City Ratner's plans and subsidies for the developer should ask for--and establish--a new estimate of jobs, wages, and tax revenues.

Friday, November 25, 2011

"Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown": Atlantic Yards indifference and buying the future

When I was working on the lecture I gave last August at Galapagos, I tried to come up with line to nudge those who think Atlantic Yards. is too complicated, or not worth attention because little can be done. ("Issue fatigue," as Capital New York's Tom McGeveran wrote recently.)

It wasn't original of, course, but it was resonant: "Forget it Jake, it's Atlantic Yards."

(I'd gotten the line from a friend, but a little searching sends me back to previous use by Michael D. D. White' in hiw Noticing New York, which also cited New York Times columnist Clyde Haberman's use of the term.)

Fortunately, a good number of people won't forget. So much for Mayor Mike Bloomberg's assertion, at the March 2010 arena groundbreaking, that "No one's going to remember how long it took, they're only going to see that it was done."

The source of the line

That phrase echoes that classic line from the ending of Roman Polanski's 1974 movie Chinatown, concerning water rights, real estate, and nefarious doings around Los Angeles.

As Douglas Herman, on Rense.com, describes it:
After Evelyn is shot, in the movie Chinatown, [private investigator] Jake [Gittes] tries to intervene, tries to right the wrongs, save the innocent, bring the perpetrators to justice. A colleague grabs Jake and drags him away: "Forget it, Jake; it's Chinatown ." As the credits roll, you cannot help but become cynical or sullen. Rarely does real life offer a happy Hollywood ending.
Buying the future

Herman also cites a key scene.

Private investigator Gittes, played by Jack Nicholson, queries greedy businessman Noah Cross, portrayed by John Huston.

JG: I just want to know what you're worth. Over ten million?

NC: Oh my, yes.

JGs: Why are you doing it? How much better can you eat? What can you buy that you can't already afford?

NC: The future, Mr. Gittes, the future.

What do you think Bruce Ratner and Mikhail Prokhorov say to themselves?

The role of memory


White wrote of the effort to overturn term limits:
[City Council Speaker Christine] Quinn and [Mayor Mike] Bloomberg and certainly a cohort among the City Council members are apparently expecting that fading memories will limit the reputational price they have to pay for their conduct.
Maybe, maybe not. White made another resonant observation:
Life can be surprisingly like the movies. A nagging, noirish sense of disquiet telling you that things are not right can cause you to keep circling back to revisit clues for what they really mean.
Looking back at the clues

Let's see, for example, if Forest City Ratner really does build the first Atlantic Yards tower via modular construction, as most news outlets reported without caveat after the developer's strategic announcement last week.

Given the developer's hedging--and the failure to announce financing, a union deal, or a factory location--I'd bet that the release was strategized to deflect any lingering attention from the lawsuit filed two days earlier by would-be project workers, and to put pressure on construction unions.

Maybe there will be a modular process going by early next year. But if there's not, we can look back at that "nagging, noirish sense of disquiet."

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Atlantic Yards site in (crazy-quilt) zoning context

The Department of City Planning's new Zoning and Land Use application, aka ZoLa, offers a new way to find city zoning and other rules, though the department cautions that it "is provided solely for informational purposes," with no promises of accuracy.

Indeed, a look at the area around and including the Atlantic Yards site shows that the map had not caught up with reality, as Fifth Avenue between Flatbush and Atlantic avenues, and Pacific Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues, and between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues, had not been demapped.



Moreover, several buildings remain on the site, whereas now all of those needed for the first phase are gone, and that little triangle just east of the C6-2 designation, home to the Brooklyn Bear's Garden, seems to be designated as vacant land.

But what is remarkable is the diversity of the site, a railyard north of Pacific Street zoned for low-rise manufacturing (M-1), a western parcel zoned for big development (C6-1), a southeast block zoned mainly for manufacturing, neighboring "fingers" outlined in heavy blue indicating a historic district, residential on Pacific and Dean streets in the southwest portion of the site, and commercial overlays on Flatbush (including within the site), and on Vanderbilt bordering the site.

No wonder developer Forest City Ratner sought and got a state override of zoning, especially for that arbitrary plot of land just 100 feet east of Sixth Avenue between Dean and Pacific streets.



Wednesday, November 23, 2011

From the latest Construction Alert: how construction (at the arena site) "progresses as scheduled" but may require extra shifts, and "schedule maintenance" (at the rail yard) requires weekend work

There's no major news, as far as I can tell, in the latest two-week Atlantic Yards Construction Alert, dated 11/21/11 and distributed yesterday by Empire State Development (after preparation by developer Forest City Ratner).

But I do want to point out some curious, recurring, "Orwellian, almost" language. The heading regarding the arena site states "Construction at the Arena Site Progresses as Scheduled."

However, the section also mentions that a second shift by the steel erector/stadia installer, while not expected in the next two weeks, will be re-evaluated after this period, while some weekday overtime may be needed and work on Saturdays will continue.

In other worse, "scheduled" progress requires overtime. Similarly, fireproof painting of the structural steel will continue on a second shift.

Also, waterproofing of the interior walls of the east storm water retention tank may be performed on a second shift. The tie-ins for the piping for the storm/sanitary/water services to the arena at 6th & Pacific as well as Dean & Flatbush may require a second and/or third shift, as well as weekend work.

The vertical transportation (aka elevator) contractor is expected to work a second shift during this period.

By contrast, the heading on the section regarding railyard work is "What's Happening in the Rail Yard." It also states:
Due to the need to expedite all of this work for overall schedule maintenance, it will be progressed on Saturdays and (selected Sunday & Holidays).
In other words, "schedule maintenance," like "scheduled" progress, requires overtime.

The text below is excerpted from the latest document, with the bolded text indicating what's new compared to the previous alert.

Arena Site Foundation & Perimeter Walls
• Backfill placement along the exterior 6th Avenue elevation has been completed

• The installation of temporary weather walls (visqueen & tarps) as well as temporary rubber roofing, to provide protection through the winter months, is expected to start this reporting period.
It previously said "expected to continue."

Arena Site/Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing
The construction fence at the ConEd vault will be revised to allow ConEd and the Arena contractors to begin installation of primary power conduit, cable and drainage piping to the arena at this point of entry. This will require work in the street by ConEd personnel – installers and Arena contractors. Metal plates will cover the cable work in Dean Street while it is underway.

Subway entrance
Work outside the Fence

• Permits have been secured for the portions of the street immediately adjacent to the “Tip” of the project area. Concrete plank/decking in the roadway (at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic) has been in place for some time. The southern eastbound lane of Atlantic Avenue has now been taken behind an expanded MPT in order to facilitate the removal of the planking/decking to be removed and the installation of temporary roadway restoration. This work has now commenced and is scheduled to be completed by the middle of December. A pathway for the new water main has been coordinated with the utility team and will be constructed and following the plank removal. This will then permit the next phase of the water main installation to take place which is scheduled for the beginning of the year. This expanded MPT, noted above, has been approved by DOT.
Erection of Interior Walls
Interior masonry walls in the fare array area and in the new utility rooms under the main staircase are now substantially complete. Masonry infill walls at the BMT mezzanine will follow in December and January.
Concrete
• The new roof over the new fare array area has been poured. Construction of the reinforced concrete staircase structure is substantially complete with steel treads and tiled risers to follow. Concrete foundation walls are substantially complete and construction of the station roof near the tip, at Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues, is now substantially complete. The two new escalator trusses from the fare array area to the new plaza have been set and final assembly continues. The new elevator enclosure has also been erected and elevator rail installation has commenced.
Railyard/Carlton Ave Bridge
• MPT has been in place at Carlton Ave. and Pacific Street for work on the new south abutment. Excavation to the subgrade for the south abutment foundation has been completed and the reinforced concrete footing poured. During this reporting period the contractor will start to form and install rebar for the stem wall of the new south abutment.
Railyard/East End (former Gasoline Station)
Posillico/Tully will continue working on the lagging and tieback work at this location and continue to lower the grade there. Pile-drilling in this area below grade is complete. The excavation and associated support work will be on-going for the next couple of months. Posillico/Tully will work in this area during the weekend of Nov. 25-27th to demolish and remove an existing closure wall that runs adjacent to the existing LIRR east portal. The demolition of this wall will require the use of a hoe ram to break up the concrete for removal. The work will be performed during normal working hours of 8 A.M. to 4 P.M.
Block 1129
• The Utility contractor is in the process of moving its storage areas from the southeast corner of Block 1129, lot 54 (the corner of Vanderbilt and Dean) to Block 1129, lot 21 (just east of the 752 Pacific Street building and adjacent to Pacific Street). The contractor will make every effort to move the equipment and materials to the new location during daytime work hours.
 Arena Site Work
The revised Flatbush Avenue MPT is allowing work to continue on the installation of the Flatbush Avenue façade and the installation of bollards along this same stretch. Part of the overall site work for the arena block, bollard installation, commenced at the intersection of Dean and Flatbush in the area of the southern vents and will continue north along Flatbush, eventually continuing around the entire block. The bollard work is anticipated to be complete by the middle of December. Other work that will be done as part of the site work includes sidewalks, installation of pavers, street furniture, street trees, light and signal poles, way finding signage, hydrants and the canopy to the new subway entrance. Additional detail on the work will be provided as the contractor progresses.
Installation of the underground drainage is anticipated to commence within the plaza area located at the tip of the site at the end of November and continue into December.
Overtime work

This next isn't new, but repeated for reference purposes:
Please Be Advised of Anticipated Nighttime & Weekend Work
During this reporting period the following work will be performed either at night or during the weekend as noted. All work will be done pursuant to approved permits:
• Long Island Rail Road/Vanderbilt Yard/ Carlton Avenue Bridge:
o All weekdays days all locations in the yard: 6:00AM to 11:00PM
o Saturdays as required: 7:00 AM to 11:00 PM
o Sundays and Holidays as required: 8:00AM to 11:00PM
o The weekend work being performed could be in any area of the yard, and within MPT areas for which permits are on hand.
o The work hours will remain in place for a minimum of the next three months.
• Arena Site:
o Arena weekend work will be scheduled no later than close of business on the preceding Thursday, where make-up work due to weather or other delays makes it necessary. Saturday work is expected to continue for this reporting period.
o Subject to receipt of permits, a second shift shall be continued throughout this reporting  period, from 3 – 11 PM, Monday-Friday only. Also subject to receipt of permits, a third shift shall be instituted during this reporting period, from 11 PM – 7 AM, Monday –Friday only.
o Hunt has been granted a permit to allow for deliveries from 6 AM to 7 AM to the Arena site from the dispatch center. This work allows for an additional hour of deliveries to take place outside the neighborhood peak traffic patterns and reduce congestion and interference with the local traffic.
o The second shift arena contractors are noted within the arena summary above.
• NYC Transit Improvements:
o Temporary concrete road decking is substantially complete, however, in the event there is a need to do any related work, such work will be performed at night per DOT regulations.
Traffic will be restored every morning according to DOT stipulations.
As noted above, work will be performed to repair steel within the BMT Tunnel and will be conducted under a BMT GO during the weekend of November 26th as approved by the NYCT. Additionally, work related to of the BMT structure and below grade concrete, steel and MEP work may be conducted on Saturdays November 26th and December 3rd, during this reporting period.
• Arena Site Work: • Block 1129 – staging area:
o Contractors conducting night work may have cause to enter and exit this area as it serves as a staging and material/equipment storage area.
During the course of work, conditions may be encountered at the site which may warrant the need for night and/or weekend work. Work will be done pursuant to approved permits.

AY Construction Alert 11-21-2011

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A "Brooklyn version of Roppongi Hills"? Could densifying New York make Atlantic Yards site look like Tokyo?

I'm finally catching up on New York Magazine's 10/9/11 Urban Design issue, in which architecture critic Justin Davidson has a mostly astute essay, including a section headlined What New York Can Steal From Hong Kong Or Copenhagen, or Tokyo, or even Medellín. The building of a better capital of the world..

The section on Copenhagen has to do with livability, that on Medellín with social equity, and that on Hong Kong and Tokyo  about density (which is not defined purely as residential density):
Vishaan Chakrabarti knows how to fix New York. He’s an apostle of density with a relentlessly optimistic energy and a persuasive grin, and as Manhattan city planning director, he helped shape the coming thicket of skyscrapers at Hudson Yards. Later he went to work for the site’s developer, the Related Companies. Now he runs the real-estate program at Columbia’s architecture school, prodding students to think sweepingly about design, land, and money. “This emphasis on the Copenhagen/Amsterdam model is a distraction,” Chakrabarti says, waving away all the genteel tinkering with bike lanes and sidewalk cafés. “We have a lot more in common with Hong Kong and Tokyo. Our counterparts are dense, mixed, financial-services cities, not cute European towns.” For Chakrabarti, density and public transportation are the conjoined twins of rational city planning. “We have to wean Brooklyn and Queens off cars, but they’re not dense enough. When I go to P.S.1, I get out of the subway—there are four lines converging there—and all I see is one- and two-story buildings. There’s way too much blue sky.” Stacking families and offices in vertical cities conserves energy and steers people out of their cars and into less-polluting subways. It also creates wealth, because so much more is salable on each lot. Hong Kong’s transit corporation, MTR, makes fortunes by erecting agglomerations of skyscrapers on new landfill and simultaneously building the rail lines to serve them. “When they’re talking about transit-oriented development, they’re not talking about a little trolley line,” Chakrabarti says.
Fair enough, but these are systematic changes. We already see what traffic problems have been wrought near the Atlantic Yards arena site without adding residential density. And those living in Hong Kong, it turns, have some questions about their city-state's relentless pursuit of density.

Making density exciting

Davidson acknowledges that density doesn't work in some poorer cities, but suggests a model:
But some wealthier East Asian cities manage to make density exciting rather than claustrophobic. In 2003, the shrewdly starry-eyed developer Minoru Mori opened his Roppongi Hills in Tokyo, a teeming zone of corporate offices, restaurants, and luxury apartments revolving around an ungainly tower. A few years later, a similarly massive project, Tokyo Midtown, opened a few minutes’ walk away. East Asia bristles with these vertical towns where it’s theoretically possible to sleep, dine out, work out, go to work, see a movie, buy underwear or a ball gown, go dancing, visit a museum, catch a train, and park the car, all without leaving the premises. Even if nobody actually lives this way, the cumulative effect of all these options is constant, round-the-clock bustle, with nightspots emptying just as offices flicker to life. Burned, perhaps, by the blah Time Warner Center, where CNN workers, residents, and hotel guests hardly cross paths, New York has avoided mixing uses and populations under the same high roof. Here, an office building will sit on a thin layer of retail—a restaurant, say, or a sporting-goods emporium—and a high-rise condo might include a hotel. But an Asian-style complex or five would do the city good.
OK, but where to put them? How much to encroach or build on local context? The massive tower in Roppongi Hills is 238 meters, or 781 feet. There are many taller buildings in Manhattan, while in Brooklyn, so far, no building tops 515 feet, the height of the new Brooklyner tower. As noted below, one of the best opportunities for such a complex may be at Queensboro Plaza.

Where to add density

Davidson observes that there are lots of places to add density :
Queens Boulevard, [Chakrabarti] says, should be an allée of towers, with separated rapid-transit bus lanes that would slice through rush-hour traffic. He’s eyeing New Jersey, too, envisioning a Hong Kong–style high-rise cluster around the new but often empty Lautenberg train station at Secaucus Junction, which sits amid sparsely built marshland. New York–bound buses could terminate there and disgorge passengers to an extended No. 7 line, binding Northern New Jersey closer to Manhattan and creating a chain of business districts linked by subways, buses, and ferries.
Those are reasonable ideas, given the existing or potential infrastructure. But there are other ways to add density, such as by adding light rail or bus rapid transit along 21st Avenue in western Astoria or Third Avenue in the Bronx, as planner Alex Garvin has suggested.

Targeting the AY site?

The section closes, curiously, with an Atlantic Yards mention:
Even if we don’t raise new acres out of the water, New York has plenty of space at the edges for its next high-rise precincts. There are only so many 1,000-foot towers you can jam into Manhattan’s central wedge, but even now we have vast swaths of territory that could absorb stands of skyscrapers. Rather than refurbish the tired and cramped Javits Center, we should build a new convention center near the airports—in Jamaica, say, or Willets Point—and fill in the bleak West Thirties with towers. Instead of lining the waterfront with bedroom communities (as we are in Williamsburg and Long Island City), we could be erecting hybrid-high-rise neighborhoods there, unbound by the old divisions between work, leisure, and commerce. The subway node at Queensboro Plaza, too, is practically begging for a supertall complex to replace the area’s dusting of three-story buildings. The original concept of a dense development at Atlantic Yards, which devolved into the reality of a basketball arena surrounded by a vast hole, could be redeemed by a Brooklyn version of Roppongi Hills. That would add not just residential towers but a pleasing tangle of business and play. Those who think New York is all built out have their eye too close to the horizon.
(Emphasis added)

First of all, the term "at Atlantic Yards" obscures the nature of the site. "Atlantic Yards" is the name for a proposed dense development site, in some cases--like a good chunk of the 100 feet east of Sixth Avenue between Dean and Pacific streets--not yet controlled by the developer or state.

Nor is an "arena surrounded by a vast hole." Actually, the site is long, not round, as with Roppongi Hills, at left (map credit here).

The arena's got some spaces bordering it for future development, and a temporary plaza. There's a huge surface parking lot two blocks away, a yet-unbuilt skyscraper site occupied by P.C. Richard/Modell's (aka Site 5), and a mostly working railyard that's undergoing reconstruction.

A "Brooklyn version of Roppongi Hills"?

Arguably, the original project plan--an arena wrapped by four towers would something closer to the spirit of Roppongi Hills. However, that plan included ideas already scotched, such as a park and running track on the arena roof.

The rest of the Atlantic Yards site, given its increased distance from transit, makes it an even less likely candidate to be Roppongi Hills.

According to Virtual Japan, the 27-acre Roppongi Hills (photo from official web site) emphasizes both height and public space, with fewer than 800 apartments (versus 6430 planned for Atlantic Yards), meaning that the density refers to office/cultural/retail uses more than residential:
Roppongi Hills was originally conceived in 1986 by Mori Building and over the course of the next 14 years more than 400 small lots were acquired and amalgamated in the Roppongi District to make up the 27 acre site. Upon acquiring all of the necessary permits and land needed to build, the complex was started in 2000 and cost an estimated $4 Billion to build. Opening in 2003, the complex is now home to offices of businesses such as Lehman Brothers, Konami, Yahoo! Japan, TV Asahi, and Godman Sachs.
The initial six levels of the Mori Tower is devoted to retail outlets and restaurants and the top six floors are given over to the Mori Art Museum and viewing platforms. The rest of the building is devoted to office space.
Roppongi Hills is also home to the Roppongi Hills Residence buildings with multiple locations surrounding the Mori Tower. Roppongi Keyakizaka Street is located behind the Mori Tower and is home to many luxury shops from around the world. A total of 793 apartments are available in the 4 separate Roppongi Hills Residence Buildings.
Almost half of the total 27 acres of Roppongi Hills is designated for open areas such as gardens and pavilions, including the extravagant Mohri Garden, which includes actually parts of the Mohri Clan’s lost mansion.
That doesn't sound much like Brooklyn--given that it doesn't (yet) have the cachet to support such major office tenants or the world's luxury shops. Then again, things could change.

Where could it go?

But the more I think about it, I recognize there is--or at least was--a better place than the Atlantic Yards site for something Roppongi Hills-like: Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Terminal site, right above the subway/LIRR hub, not--as with Atlantic Yards arena block, across the street, connected by a new exit.

Add the adjacent Atlantic Center site and the potential increases, though, even together, they don't come close to a 27-acre site like Roppongi Hills.