Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ratner, in softball Times interview, moves the housing goalposts again: groundbreaking will be "toward the end of the year"

Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner gets the requisite gentle treatment in the New York Times's real estate page, in the regular feature, SQUARE FEET | THE 30-MINUTE INTERVIEW: Bruce C. Ratner.

I'll annotate some excerpts.

Arena schedule
Q. One of your latest Brooklyn projects is the Barclays Center sports arena, future home of the Nets basketball team. Is it still opening in September?

A. That’s correct. Virtually all the steel is up, and it’s virtually all enclosed. Now basically we’re working on the interiors. Some parts of it are even ahead of schedule. It’ll finish on time.
It'll finish on time, meaning that the building will open for a concert on September 28. But the substantial completion date has already been nudged back to 9/5/12, more than two weeks later than an earlier version.

And the arena, in terms of cash flow, was behind in January--and described as on schedule only by moving the goalposts.

And the rebuilding of the Carlton Avenue Bridge, a key artery, is a month behind.

Housing
Q. What is the status of the Atlantic Yards housing? Groundbreaking was supposed to have begun this year.

A Breaking ground on the housing we had hoped would begin this year, and it will begin this year, toward the end of the year. A major reason that it’s gotten delayed is a strong desire to do modular.

Let me just say, there’s a lot of construction going on there besides the arena. Part of what we are doing and had to do was the infrastructure. We also had to move a railroad storage yard. And we’re working on additional infrastructure: the subway tunnel that connects the project, the arena, with existing subways.
Hold on. The construction besides the arena is nearly all connected to the arena. The housing was part of the public benefit created by the project.

The Times interviewer had the question wrong. Groundbreaking was not "supposed to be have begun this year." It was supposed to have begun in late 2010, but Forest City officials have consistently moved the goalposts.

Modular housing
Q. Why go with prefab housing?

A. It’s hard for me to do things unless I have passion for them and unless I think they have some change and impact in a positive way. The modular fits into that vein, in the sense that construction — high-rise construction, commercial construction — has not changed in 50 to 100 years. We need to figure out economic ways to build our cities, ways in which we can build affordable housing or middle-income housing.
Ratner casts this as some kind of civic venture, but he's a businessman. He's trying to save 15 to 20 percent on cost, which he acknowledges.

Affordable housing
Q. There’s been some criticism about whether there’s enough affordable housing to accommodate families.

A. Eventually there will be about 6,400 units, and 4,500 will be rental apartments, including 2,250 for low-, moderate- and middle-income families. We’re required by all of our agreements to build a certain amount. We already announced the first building with 50 percent affordable and middle-income.

The answer is: There is no winning. And that’s O.K. You’re always going to have detractors. As soon as you do one thing, they’ll say you’re not going to do the next thing and the next thing. And if you really follow detractors, that’s what they always do. People tend not to look backwards and see what was accomplished.
Ratner dodged the question. The criticism is this: Forest City pledged, in the Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding and numerous other times, that 50% of the subsidized housing, in square footage, would be devoted to larger units: two bedrooms and three bedrooms.

The first building would contain no three-bedroom units and just a handful of two-bedroom units. That's not a question of "detractors." That's a question of holding Ratner to his pledge.

The Prokhorov investment
Q. Was it difficult giving up a majority stake in the Nets to the Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov to help finance the arena?

A. It was necessary because we had the recession. We had expected to finance much of this project, then all of a sudden it was much less financing, and so a lot of equity had to go in. To raise that equity we had to sell a portion of the team and the arena. Was I upset or disappointed? No. What was important was bringing professional sports back to Brooklyn and making sure that the team was in good hands.
What was important was bringing professional sports back to Brooklyn and making sure that the team was in good hands. Cue the violins. Ratner's a businessman, not some kind of sporting philanthropist.

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