When it put the economic interests of a single private developer before critical promised public benefits, the State of New York failed its obligation to the people of Brooklyn and the taxpayers of New York.
We demand that the State now:
- Conduct a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS), as ordered by the State Supreme Court, that is a timely, transparent, truly impartial study of alternatives to the current Atlantic Yards plan, and which includes meaningful measures to mitigate the project’s negative impacts.
- Adopt a new plan that prioritizes the creation of housing affordable to working families in Brooklyn.
- Bring in other developers to reduce project risk, create more living wage jobs, and accelerate delivery of public benefits.
- Reform project oversight to represent the people of Brooklyn in decision-making on a continuing basis so that Atlantic Yards' promises to the public are kept.
- Change State regulations under which development projects are approved to ensure local communities are guaranteed input—and local elected officials are guaranteed a vote—before public subsidies are granted.
The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) oversees many large development projects throughout the State of New York. No comparable project is managed like Atlantic Yards.Promise vs. reality
Other ESDC projects are overssen by dedicated subsidiaries or local development corporations that have outside directors appointed in conjunction with local elected officials. This not only provides transparency to local stakeholders, but ensures they are represented in decision-making as projects evolve.
ESDC has assigned only one person to the Atlantic Yards project on a full-time basis, even though at $5 billlion, it's one of the largest in the agency's history. All decisions are made by Forest City Ratner Companies. Maybe that's why courts have found the project's public disclosures "lack the candor the public was entitled to expect", or why a recent independent consultant's report found that violations of Atlantic Yards' environmental commitments were "widespread."
In June of 2011, legislation to reform Atlantic Yards governance passed the State Assembly (over FCRC's opposition), but the bill has stalled in the State Senate. It's time for Governor Cuomo to make better oversight for Atlantic Yards a priority, and use his influence to make it a reality.
At the time of Atlantic Yards’ approval in 2006, in return for an estimated $2.1 billion in taxpayer subsidies, access to the power of eminent domain, the purchase of public land below its market value, and an override of the City’s zoning regulations as well as a bypass of its democratic land use review process, FCRC committed to provide within ten years 2,250 units of affordable housing, 10,000 permanent jobs, 8 acres of open space, and a thriving mixed-use 15-tower [actually 16] development.
But less than three years later, the State agreed to modify the project terms. In a move courts have ruled violated State law, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) attempted to conceal an extension of the project schedule from 10 to 25 years—an extension which pushed the vast majority of promised jobs and housing into the distant future. Now, two and a half years after the arena groundbreaking, the gap between promise and reality is stark:
- As the result of displacement through eminent domain, demolition and project construction, Atlantic Yards has caused the loss of 171 affordable apartments from the its footprint.
- Not a single unit of affordable housing is under construction. Groundbreaking for the first residential tower has been repeatedly delayed, with current plans calling for only 9 apartments for low-income families.
- Plans for the office building that was to provide space for the bulk of the permanent jobs have been shelved. FCRC has claimed the arena will provide 1,900 part time (and non-living wage) jobs, and 105 full-time jobs.
- A one-acre “interim plaza” in front of the arena is likely to be the only open space available for at least a decade, and perhaps much longer.
- The rest of the site, roughly 18 acres, remains a demolished wasteland of vacant land, and a blighting surface parking lot.
When it put the economic interests of a single private developer before critical promised public benefits, the State of New York failed in its obligation to the people of Brooklyn and the taxpayers of New York.I'll note that the $2.1 billion figure comes from a New York Post article and was not endorsed by any outside agency. For example, the NYC Independent Budget Office, which did not try to evaluate the project as a whole, did not agree that the PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes) represented a subsidy worth more than $1 billion but called it a loss of $146 million. The IBO did, however, call the arena a net loss for city taxpayers.
The five sponsors are the Brown Community Development Corporation, BrooklynSpeaks, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE), and the Fifth Avenue Committee. (The latter was recently added.)
East Pacific Block Association; Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus; South Portland Block Association; Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council; and Fort Greene for Peace.