Friday, August 31, 2012

Expunging Pacific Street from station? It wasn't announced or even in the contract, but the MTA says it was the practical solution; also, new signage wasn't supposed to go up until the subway entrance opened

As former Atlantic Yards point man Jim Stuckey once said, "Projects change, markets change."

Or, perhaps, subway naming plans change. 



There's a certain resentment about the substitution of "Barclays Center" for "Pacific Street" in the renaming of Brooklyn's most diverse transit hub.

That's indicated in the "I'm still calling it "Atlantic Av-Pacific St" t-shirt produced by designer Deb Goldstein (interview), highlighted in a series of articles in MetroFocus about different ways to wear Brooklyn pride, including Nets t-shirts.

The MTA today not implausibly suggests that the use of two rather than three names is more efficient.

What was original plan?

However, it turns out, when the $200,000-a-year deal was approved 6/24/09, the MTA board was told of a different plan.

As the screenshot (right) from the meeting transcript shows, then-CFO Gary Dellaverson stated, "[E]ven though it appears to be a single station, of course it is in essence two different stations and there is two different names, and, it will be Atlantic/Barclays Arena and the Pacific Street Barclays Arena. So that is how it would be named."

Staff summary vague

The staff summary distributed to board members it vague, but left the impression that "Barclays Center" would be added to the name, not used as a substitute.


Forest City Ratner would pay "to have the station at Atlantic Avenue/Pacific Street include the name 'Barclays Center,'" according to the staff summary.

That's not what happened.

Instead, the N and R and D lines that go into the station now go into what is officially called Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr., even though people exit most easily on Pacific Street, and that platform does include permanent vestiges of the name.

Pacific Street on the R line disappears fom MTA website
MTA rationale

Dellaverson has left the MTA, and agency spokesman Adam Lisberg says staff aren't sure why he said it. "Folks here now believe that it was always intended to be Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center," he told me.

The Pacific Street platform still has the name in a "beautiful mosaic [below], and we're certainly not going to go in and chisel it out," Lisberg said. Otherwise, the identifier is vanishing.

While there are now still some black and white MTA signs that say "Atlantic Av.-Pacific St.," and others that say "Pacific" on the columns, more than 75% of signs have been changed over, and they'll all be gone in the near future.

What's the rationale?

"If the sign on the map says Atlantic-Barclays," said Lisberg, the sign at the station should match it. "Three names gets too long. Shorter is better."

"The decision to shorten it to 'Atlantic-Barclays' was made by the MTA purely for reasons of brevity and clarity, not as part of a conscious decision to commodify public space," he added, in response to my suggestion that some people are concerned about such commodification.

"For commuters, people reading the maps, for tourists... taking it to a concert, calling the station by two names instead of three is much simpler," Lisberg added.

Was the board misled? "In 2009. when a multimillion dollar complex transaction between a large company and a public agency was up for approval, the exact wording of the station name was hardly the top subject of their concern," he said.

That's understandable. But it didn't even get discussed--and, it turns out, the naming has an impact.

Given the recent scandal involving Barclays, I wouldn't be surprised if there are a few second thoughts about dropping the name Pacific Street, however awkward it might be.

The contract

According to the naming rights agreement, which was not signed until 3/4/10, just before the arena groundbreaking, there was no requirement for substitution of the name "Barclays Center," just it's inclusion.

As indicated in the screenshot below, the MTA was to "change the name of the Subway Station to include the name 'Barclays Center.'"

The timing for new signs

It looks like the MTA also gave the arena developers a bit of a bonus by allowing the signage to be installed before the new subway entrance, located on the arena plaza, opens in September.

According to the contract, prior to the contractually described Commencement Date, the name "Barclays Center" in new signage should be covered.



Such signage is not covered, so has the Commencement Date been reached? No.

According to the contract, the Commencement Date is the later of either the first $200,000 annual naming rights payment by Forest City Ratner (which bought naming rights on behalf of Barclays) or the "Beneficial Use of the [new] Subway Entrance."


I asked if there was another definition of "Beneficial Use of the Subway Entrance" or if the agreement has been amended.

Lisberg responded, "The answer I got back is that they’re still testing signs and sign placement. What you see up now isn’t necessarily what you’ll see when it’s finalized."

They're not testing a lot of those signs. Most are definitely up.

Perhaps that contract language was impractical, or perhaps it was meant to incentivize work on the subway entrance. But it seems like a clear violation of the terms, not that the MTA--nor anyone else--has any interest in enforcing it.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Secondhand coverage of arena liquor license gets much wrong; Times wrongly claims MSG/Yankee Stadium have similar policies, cites "opponents" while Forest City calls them "neighbors"

No other reporters bothered to show up at the State Liquor Authority meeting yesterday that included the Barclays Center liquor license, nor did they apparently watch the webcast, because the coverage is devoid of any quotes from the meeting or any sense why arena operators resisted--though assented to--a final cut-off of liquor sales at 1 am.

Nor did any of the coverage acknowledge the feeling of bad faith generated by the arena operators' failure to disclose the plan for after-hours service or the continuing construction violations.

The Post

The New York Post folded the news into an article, Stones to play B’klyn, about how the Rolling Stones will reportedly play two shows at the Barclays Center in November:
The report came the same day that Barclays alcohol rules were announced — Nets fans will be able to drink alcohol only until the fourth quarter at NBA games, but spectators boozing it up at other Barclays events will get to go into overtime.
That's incorrect. Up to 1,800 VIP ticket-holders will be able to drink for an hour after any event, with a 1 am cap.

The Daily News

The New York Daily News, in Basketbooze! Nets fans at Barclays Center can down shots later (1 a.m.) than MSG folks, was not quite there either, since those 1,800 Nets fans would be able to drink until 1 am only under the impossible circumstance of a game lasting until midnight.

Rather, the later cut-off is mainly aimed at concertgoers.

Still, the Daily News' three-person reporting team appropriately framed the change as a small victory for the neighborhood:
“It was satisfying to see Barclays squirm up there trying to get their 2 a.m. cutoff,” said Wayne Bailey, who lives in Newswalk, a condo building in Prospect Heights, one block from the arena.
“This showed me that least the SLA understood Barclays plopped this arena in the middle of our residential neighborhood, and drinkers are going to have an effect on us.”
A Forest City Ratner spokesman tried to minimize the company’s disappointment at losing the 2 a.m. witching hour.“We’re very sensitive to the community’s concerns,” said Joe DePlasco. “The Liquor Authority recommended 1 a.m. and that’s something we’re fine with.”
Actually, as I reported, they weren't initially "fine with" it at all.

The Times

The New York Times's article was headlined online Some Neighbors of the Nets Worry About Drinking Hours That Last Longer Than the Game and in print as "Some of the Nets’ New Neighbors Raise Concerns About Longer Drinking Hours." Again, the issue is less the Nets than other arena events.

More importantly, the story was the SLA decision, not the concerns that have persisted for months.

In the ongoing saga of the Times's flitting attention to Atlantic Yards, the article was written by an intern who graduated from college a few months back. There are quotes from exactly two people, the aforementioned DePlasco, and a food service consultant who turned the article into a trend piece, explaining why sports venues want to extract more revenue from patrons.

The article contains a couple of key errors:
Other sports sites in the city have areas where people can continue to eat and drink after games or concerts. Ainsworth Prime closes two hours after events at Madison Square Garden, and Hard Rock Cafe closes an hour after night games at Yankee Stadium, according to their Web sites. But residents have protested a similar policy at the Barclay’s Center, which is close to a largely residential area.
Actually, the policy isn't similar at all. According to Madison Square Garden's web site:
Located on the 3rd Floor Terrace Level of the Garden, The Ainsworth Prime is open to all Club Seat holders 2 hours prior to all Knicks and Rangers games at The Garden and will remain open for all ticketed patrons for up to 2 hours after. For all other events, it will be open to all ticketed patrons 2 hours prior to the event's start time.
In other words, it is only open for two hours after Knicks and Rangers games, which typically end by 10 pm. That means it closes at approximately midnight. Similarly, baseball games don't go until 1 am and thus would allow the Hard Rock Cafe to be open until 2 am.

Also note some lousy copy editing:

The Times, perhaps relying on a clip file that claimed "die-hard opponents are still resisting [and trying]  block the arena from speedily receiving a liquor license," reported:
Additionally, opponents of the project have been complaining of an increase in the number of surrounding businesses seeking liquor licenses, which they fear will entice people leaving events at the arena to linger in the area and continue to imbibe.
Forest City Ratner, the developer for the 22-acre Atlantic Yards site that includes the Barclays Center, has played down those concerns. “Community boards and nearby residents are concerned that people could be rowdy or noisy,” Joe DePlasco, a spokesman for Forest City, said. “Obviously there are strict rules in place in terms of drinking.” The staff, he said, is trained not to serve alcohol to anyone who appears to have too much. “We want a policy that is courteous to our neighbors,” he added.
There you have it, folks. The official Forest City Ratner spokesman says "Community boards and nearby residents" and "neighbors," while the Times deems them "opponents."

"Blighted" Modell's store is doing just fine, thanks to arena proximity

Would you believe that a "blighted" property is now doing well, as the Modell's across from the Barclays Center is getting renovated rather than razed?

MetroFocus reports, in NYC’s Oldest Sports Retailer & Newest Team Play Off Each Other:
Since that day, business has boomed for the Park Slope retailer. According to store manager Nick Chang, the store sold out of 80 percent of its Brooklyn Nets stock that day and scrambled to receive more merchandise from its other Brooklyn and Manhattan locations.

Since the Brooklyn Nets sportswear debuted in April 2012, the Modell's Sporting Good Store on Flatbush Ave., across from the Barclays Center, has greatly increased its square footage for licensed goods.
Sales have been good ever since. This summer, the store eliminated 50 percent of its stockroom to dedicate more selling room floor. New York Yankees, Mets, Jets and Giants jerseys are sidelined to a small area, separated by an aisle to the licensed sportwear area now occupied solely by black, white and grey Brooklyn Nets gear, mostly produced by Adidas and UNK. The store’s licensed area square footage has grown 30 times since the simple logo of a “B” within a basketball hit the market.

From the Blight Study

According to the July Atlantic Yards 2006 Blight Study conducted for the Empire State Development Corporation, both the Modell's store and its neighbor, P.C. Richard, are blighted because they're too small and occupy a block long designated for redevelopment as part of the Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area (ATURA):
Block 927 is located within ATURA, an area that, as described above, was found by the City to be blighted over 40 years ago. The block is zoned C6-2, a zoning designation that allows for a wide range of high-bulk commercial uses requiring a central location (see Figure 7). C6 districts typically accommodate uses such as corporate headquarters, large hotels, entertainment facilities, and mixed use buildings containing residential, retail, or other commercial uses...
Underutilization
As indicated above, lot 16 is in a C6-2 zoning district with an FAR of 6.0. The lot, situated at the corner of 4th Avenue and Atlantic Avenue, occupies a highly visible location in the shopping and employment concentration that is anchored by Atlantic Terminal and Atlantic Center. Although the 23,150 sf lot can accommodate up to 138,920 zsf of built space under current zoning, it hosts a single-story 16,950 gsf building, utilizing only about 12 percent of the lot’s development potential. At the time the lot was developed, the market conditions would not support a large-scale development using all of the development rights. As illustrated in Photograph B and discussed above under the profile for Block 927, lot 16, the one-story Modell’s building stands in stark contrast to the 34-story Williamsburg Savings Bank building (left), and the four stories of retail (center) and ten stories of office space (right) at Atlantic Terminal. Given its key location in the midst of one of the largest commercial districts in Brooklyn, lot 16 is critically underutilized.
Now that the market is different, presumably a rezoning could have done the trick, as well. Instead, the state overrode zoning so Forest City Ratner can build a tower--once 40 stories, no 25 stories--at the site. There's no plan yet to build it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

State Liquor Authority approves Barclays Center liquor license, but nudges back cut-off to 1 am from 2 am; may revisit issue if operators claim hardship; neighbors see small victory

In less than an hour, the State Liquor Authority this morning approved the Barclays Center liquor license--for 53 outlets--as requested, except for one key change arena operators resisted but to which they eventually relented.

They had requested a cut-off of alcohol sales to 1,800 VIP customers to go one hour after an event, or as late as 2 am, an absolute deadline requested by Brooklyn Community Board 6. The SLA imposed a 1 am cut-off, subject to revision should the arena argue hardship (in getting some promoters to commit to shows), and subject to the arena demonstrating a track record of operating compatibly with the community.

Arena operators initially resisted the change, but agreed reluctantly. Arena neighbors saw it as a small victory, a recognition of the unusual placement of the arena in a residential neighborhood.

"It was good to see the board paid attention to the concerns the community raised," Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council (PHNDC) said after the meeting. "I think it was positive that they are intending to get community input if there's any further changes."

Still, he said, a cut-off closer to 10 pm was what many neighbors sought, and "we'll continue to keep a close eye" on arena operations.

The backstory 

Some arena neighbors, not represented by CB6, had petitioned for a far earlier cut-off, of 10 pm, and questioned the after-hours service, especially since arena operators failed to disclose that plan when they made a joint presentation to CB6 and CB2. One commenter at today's hearing pointed to a pattern of a lack of accountability.

In June, an administrative law judge, in a two-part hearing, heard testimony from supporters and critics of the application. The judge's report has not yet been released.

SLA presses the question

Today, SLA Commissioner Dennis Rosen, after hearing additional brief testimony from the applicant, and community supporters and opponents, pressed the issue of the late cut-off.

Julie Margolin, director of operations for Levy Restaurants, said there would be "only 1,800 potential guests."

Rosen cited community concerns regarding after-event service. "Are there events that would go to 2 am?"

"Very, very few we anticipate," Marolin responded.

Rosen asked for examples.

Attorney Barbara Kwon pointed to 50 concerts and 12 boxing events that were expected to end between 11:30 and midnight.

Rosen noted that those events wouldn't nudge up against the 2 am cut-off.

Kown agreed, saying one event would be an exception. And for that event, an "electronica show" (aka Sensation), operators have voluntarily decided to end alcohol sales for all attendees at midnight, said Forest City Ratner's Ashley Cotton. She confirmed no other events currently on the calendar would go that late.

So the worse-case scenario, Rosen pressed, is a 12:30 or 1 am after-hours cut-off?

Based on the current schedule, Cotton responded, "absolutely."

Public testimony pro

The SLA then called for public comment. A representative of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, Michelle Friedman, offered boilerplate support for the license, without engaging the community concerns.

Later, a representative of the New York Building Congress spoke similarly, offering the potentially open-ended statement that the arena "helps transform that neighborhood."

No Community Benefits Agreement supporters were present, unlike in June. Nor did any elected officials attend. Community Board 6 District Manager Craig Hammerman, along with his Community Board 2 counterpart Rob Perris, were in the audience, but didn't speak.

Public testimony con/wary

Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association urged the SLA to take into consideration the "special relationship of the Barclays Center to Prospect Heights," citing a zoning override that allows the arena's placement in a residential district and an enormous surface parking lot, as well as the use of residential streets for arena-bound drivers and pedestrians.

He noted that a promised Quality of Life Subcommittee, which CB6 requested should meet before the liquor license was resolved, has not met, and that the community has "witnessed literally hundreds of violations" of environmental commitments regarding arena. He cited the failure to hire a promised Independent Compliance Monitor regarding the Community Benefits Agreement.

"This is the pattern with Atlantic Yards, and what we fear will be the pattern with the Barclays Center," he said.

"What are you asking for," Rosen asked.

Krashes said that Wrigley Field in Chicago has a cut-off one hour before events end. He noted that, at a 78th Precinct meeting last week, the precinct commander indicated little worry with the well-heeled after-hours drinkers. However, Krashes said, whatever the background, "they have the same behavior with alcohol."

Veconi cited a community request that sales end at 10 pm. No matter the outcome, he asked for confirmation that previous promises--such as no bottle service, a two-beverage maximum at a time, etc.--would be incorporated into the license.

Upon Rosen's request, Kwon confirmed assent.

Veconi pointed out that, based on the filings, "their business model doesn't seem to need" service until 2 am.

Danae Oratowski, another PHNDC officer, asked about private events at the arena and how late they could go.

Cotton aggreed that private parties could go to 2 am, but said that wasn't expected. Margolin said that graduates and corporate galas end early.

"You have to plan for the worst-case scenario," Oratowski pointed out.

Pressing on

Rosen asked the applicants about a 1 am cutoff, and found resistance.

"The problem from our perspective is that one hour is very important in terms of attracting events to the venue," said attorney William Schreiber.

Rosen pointed out that it hadn't affected their schedule yet and suggested that late-night events raise the question both of 18,000 people exiting at 1 am and 1,800 people drinking until 2 am.

He proposed that they try a 1 am cut-off and, if it proves a problem, the applicants could come back and   ask for a change. At that point, Rosen said, the arena might have also built credibility in the community.

Cotton protested that the cut-off might lose events like the electronica show.

"You're sort of making my point," Rosen replied. "You did that [set an earlier cut-off], and didn't lose the event."

Ultimately, Schreiber indicated reluctant acceptance, and Cotton added that it would be imposed for private events, as well.

Rosen said that the SLA wanted the arena to be successful and noted that he and Commissioner Jeanique Greene had visited the site.

One more issue

Greene wanted to know why the arena won't use electronic scanners to check IDs.

Margolin said an ID can be real, but may not match the guest holding it. Levy wants its employees to stay focused on the person. That's how they operate numerous venues around the country.

Transportation issues

Rosen asked about non-SLA issues like vehicular congestion.

Cotton cited a "rigorous Transportation Demand Management Plan" recently released.

"We believe the strongest disincentive to driving is to reduce parking," she said, skating over the community request for residential permit parking.

Cotton cited the effort to institute pre-paid parking via a module connected to the arena web site. "It allows patrons to buy a ticket and a parking spot at the same time," she said, not mentioning that hundreds of thousands of tickets were sold before such functionality was live.

Lawsuit seeking unpaid wages for BUILD trainees could expand, as plaintiffs' lawyers get OK to contact other 29 trainees

The number of potential plaintiffs could grow in the lawsuit against Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development (BUILD) and others for failure to pay trainees for roughly two months of work they did helping build a house on Staten Island.

Seven of the 36 people in a coveted Pre-Apprenticeship Training Program filed suit last November in federal charging not only violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act but also that they were promised union cards and careers.

The suit not only targets BUILD but Forest City Ratner, which supported the organization, a Community Benefits Agreement signatory, as well as individual executives, along with the company that did the training.

The lawsuit, though the charges were narrowed, survived a motion to dismiss. Now the plaintiffs can try to add some of the other 29 people from the program, but only for the claim of unpaid wages, not damages for the promised union cards.

Going forward

As indicated in the document below, the defendants agreed to provide contact information to plaintiffs' lawyers by August 15. The Consent to Join Form must be postmarked no later than 10/31/12.

The plaintiffs are seeking "liquidated damages" (double the amount of allegedly unpaid wages), as well as attorney's fees.

BUILD officials, when the suit was filed, said the trainees waived their right to be paid. Lawyers for the plaintiffs said, despite the paper, such rights couldn't be waived.

It would be a violation of federal law, according to the notice, if any of the defendants or related entities discriminated or retaliated against people for joining the case.

BUILD Lawsuit, Notice to Potential Plaintiffs, 8/13/12

Realignment of police precincts means less role for two Community Council Presidents who head Forest City Ratner-supported CBA groups

Though no one's said this publicly, it seems to me that the announcement that the 78th Precinct will oversee the Barclays Center arena and the rest of the Atlantic Yards site suggests that not only will the two precincts previously having a piece of the site (77th, 88th) have less of a role, so two will the presidents of the precinct Community Councils.

And those two presidents have offered Forest City Ratner significant legitimacy over the years, transposing the credibility they gained in neighborhood service to fledgling organizations, known by the acronyms BUILD and BEE, that signed the "historic" Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) and then were financially supported by the developer.

(By contrast, Pauline Blake, president of the 78th Community Council and a member of Community Board 6, has not been an active Atlantic Yards opponent, but she has questioned the impact of the project on the surrounding neighborhood.)

BEE

Delia Hunley-Adossa, president of the 88th Precinct Community Council, also heads Brooklyn Endeavor Experience (BEE), the renamed First Atlantic Terminal Housing Committee, and ran for City Council in 2009.

(Hunley-Adossa appeared in the photo of the arena groundbreaking, right, part of a USA Today article on Brooklyn's rise.)

Though BEE is ostensibly in charge of environmental assurances for the CBA, it has ignored community concerns--as related in a recent report--and done nothing publicly regarding Atlantic Yards other than to serve as a cheerleader.

Hunley-Adossa serves as the chair of the CBA and is presumably in charge of ensuring that the developer and CBA signatories hire an Independent Compliance Monitor, as required by the document.

When I crossed paths with Hunley-Adossa in April and asked about the monitor, her one-word answer was "forthcoming." That was four months ago.

BUILD

James Caldwell heads the 77th Precinct Community Council, a community base that led to his role in Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development (BUILD), a jobs advocacy group, and his eventual presidency, despite no particular background in that field.

Caldwell has been a fervent advocate for Atlantic Yards, calling developer Bruce Ratner, more than once, "like an angel sent by God."

Caldwell testified in June in favor of the arena liquor license, though his work, and that of Hunley-Adossa, is more done than not. Such community supporters remain important, however, for the purposes of showing diversity at official events.

Lingering issues

Given her lower profile, Hunley-Adossa has probably been less important to Forest City than Caldwell, but has avoided legal problems.

Caldwell and BUILD were named last year in a suit (that also named Forest City) from trainees who said the much-vaunted pre-apprenticeship training program offered training of no value (and with no pay), and that they were promised union jobs. That suit lingers and may add plaintiffs.

Flashback: at a funeral, the intersection of Bruce Ratner and Vito Lopez

A 7/22/12 essay from Paul Berman in Dissent, Regular Politics: Judge Reichbach, contains cameos for both Bruce Ratner and Vito Lopez, both typically in the news for other reasons:
On Saturday, July 14, a New York State Supreme Court judge named Gustin L. Reichbach succumbed to cancer. On Sunday his funeral service took place at a synagogue in Brooklyn Heights. And the first and most eloquent of the speakers to address the mourners was a politician named Vito Lopez, who holds the office of New York State Assemblyman from Bushwick, Brooklyn, and the still more exalted office of chairman of the Democratic Party of Kings County, otherwise known as Brooklyn Democratic boss, whose powers are myriad, vast, and rooted in affairs so profoundly local as to be incomprehensible. The boss is known, for instance, to influence the election of minor officials called District Leaders, who are unpaid yet nonetheless have the power to select the modestly paid workers who supervise the voting on Election Day. And God knows what happens next, except that everyone recognizes that, when the Brooklyn Democratic boss presides over a nonprofit organization, the state and municipal contracts descending upon the organization tend to be profitable indeed, even if the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council is currently under investigation. And still larger contracts come into play. The very skyline is at stake. And, lo, prominently mentioned at Gus Reichbach’s funeral was a man named Bruce Ratner, who, in the Brooklyn of our time, is widely known—reviled!—as the preeminent developer, the destroyer of Brooklyn’s antique charm (as per his detractors), or else the creator of jobs (as per his admirers) and the benefactor of basketball (objectively true). And, to be sure, Bruce Ratner turns out to have been a law school roommate of Gustin L. Reichbach. And Lopez made a point in his funeral oration of invoking Bruce Ratner’s influence in the most affectionate of terms, and the name of George Pataki, the former Republican governor of New York, came up, whom Bruce Ratner evidently lobbied on behalf of the judicial career of Gus Reichbach, and no name was left unsaid.
Pataki was a law school friend of Ratner, so those connections can pay off.

The overall article is well worth reading, since Lopez comes off as a more generous personality than he's typically portrayed, albeit a very savvy practitioner of retail politics, which he taught the left-wing Reichbach, who maintained an impressive independence while still in the system. (Here's the Times 7/17/12 obit, Gustin Reichbach, Judge With a Radical History, Dies at 65.)

Nets game to be used for ceremony?

In the 7/16/12 City & State, Morgan Pehme wrote:
* Assemblyman Vito Lopez celebrated state Supreme Court justice Gus Reichbach’s life at his memorial service in Brooklyn Heights on Sunday, recounting stories of how he won election to the bench. Lopez helped Reichbach win a judgeship to Brooklyn Civil Court by only 141 votes in a contested primary. The two had grown close ever since. “He always wanted reassurance, he always asked, ‘Did I do well?’ ” said Lopez. “He loved politics. For someone who was outside the political scene, he loved regular politics. He became a friend.” Lopez suggested jokingly that the city rename the Brooklyn Bridge, the Reichbach Bridge, or at least rename the corner of Bond and Dean streets where Reichbach lived after him and encourage Reichbach’s longtime friend, developer Bruce Ratner, to honor him at a Brooklyn Nets game this fall.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

In Metro, special section "in association with Barclays Center" sure looks like advertorial


I called Metro to ask whether in fact the Barclays Center sponsored the four-page coverage. (Note that the arena will not look like that because 1) the towers haven't been built and 2) the building is way larger than that, unless you're in a hovercraft with special spectacles.)

I haven't gotten a confirmation, but on the fifth page, you see, there's this ad. (Update: the one article published online later added this explanationThis article is part of a sponsored special section Metro ran on Tuesday, Aug. 28 about the Barclays Center.)

(Yes, this is part of the Culture of Cheating.)


Fact-checking jobs

Eagerly regurgitating a press release, Metro reports that "the arena will create about 2,000 in-house jobs."

There's no mention that these are part-time, low-paying jobs.

There's no mention that the total FTE (full-time equivalent) employment is, according to Forest City Ratner, 1,240 jobs.

So of course there's no mention that the 1,240 figure is, shall we say, questionable.

What the residents say

Wouldja believe that Metro quoted two people on the street, and both are excited about the arena because 1) they can walk to the arena and 2) "live sports bring such an infectious energy and cameraderie"?

Paul Zumoff is quoted in the article at bottom as saying the arena would "add value to the arena." Could he be the same Paul Zumoff who works as a real estate broker?

Maybe take a peek at the comments on the New York Times article regarding the arena for a broader cross-section of opinion.

More articles

Below, I've pasted in a couple more articles. Note this description of Bruce Ratner:
When it comes to the Nets, minority owner Ratner wears many hats.Serving as Barclays Center’s developer and visionary, Ratner has been the driving force in seeing the $1 billion project come to fruition. To do so, he sold majority ownership of the Nets franchise to Russian billionaire and businessman Prokhorov back in 2010. Overcoming years of hurdles and delays in development, Ratner is the man behind the new arena.
Or this one of Mikhail Prokhorov:
Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov turned heads in 2010 when he bought 80 percent of the Nets franchise (and 45 percent of the arena) in a $223 million deal. The team’s majority owner, who could pass for a player at 6 feet 8 inches, is a skilled businessman who recently ran in Russia’s 2012 presidential race. He is known for his sense of humor and for taking jabs at his rivals – he made headlines when he referred to Knicks owner James Dolan as “that little man” in a New York Magazine piece.

From the latest Construction Alert: arena moves toward Temporary Certificate of Occupancy (thanks to three shifts of work)

The key information from the latest two-week Atlantic Yards Construction Alert, dated 8/27/12 and issued yesterday by Empire State Development (after preparation by Forest City Ratner) is the move toward a needed TCO, or Temporary Certificate of Occupancy, which is supposed to be achieved by 9/5/12.

According to the document (embedded below), it looks like they're on schedule:
The NYC DOB [Department of Buildings) performed the first and preliminary TCO walk-though of the facility on 08/20/12. The second is scheduled for 08/27/12, and the final on 09/04/12. The FDNY started the fire alarm and fire protection inspections on 08/21/12 and will continue through the week of 08/21/12, returning three days for the final inspections the week of 08/27/12.
A TCO indicates that a building is safe to occupy and can get insurance; the document typically expires in 90 days but can be renewed.

The Construction Alert details progress in various areas, as well as the need for overnight shifts, and jackhammers, to get all the work done. Clearly substantial work will be needed to finish the building, both to open it on Sept. 28 and to complete it fully by 6/30/13, but the issue for the DOB is whether

For example, punch list work is now complete on the Transit Canopy and New York City Transit will inspect this week.

Carlton Avenue Bridge

The concrete pours for the North Approach Slab and the bridge deck have been completed, while "[e]rection and bolt-up of bridge steel for all spans has been completed," with pouring of sidewalks and approach slabs continuing.

The surface parking lot, Block 1129
• Work on the adjacent sidewalks at Carlton Avenue and Dean Street has commenced and will continue for the next three weeks. The north side parking lane on Dean Street will be taken during construction of the sidewalk. Permits have been secured.
• Installation of the site sewer connections in Pacific Street between Carlton Avenue and Vanderbilt Avenue will continue and is expected to be completed in approximately two weeks. Traffic on Pacific Street will be closed at the locations of the work being performed.
• Asphalt paving will begin during this period on the west side of the parking lot.
Enlarging Pacific Street sidewalk between arena and parking lot
During this two week period the strip of weeds on the north side of Pacific Street between 6th and Carlton Avenues will be replaced with concrete sidewalk to widen the pedestrian area as required by the FEIS. The parking lane on the north side of the street and the entire sidewalk will be closed for the duration of the work. Work is expected to take approximately 5 days. Work may or may not be done during the holiday weekend, depending on weather and logistics. No parking signs will be posted at the beginning of the week
On Dean Street
• The retractable bollard installation at the truck entry has commenced and will continue during this reporting period during overnight hours.
A few delays

While the traffic median on Atlantic Avenue at the arena block is expected this week, according to the previous alert it was supposed to begin last week. Bollard installation on Sixth Avenue was supposed to be complete last week.
Atlantic Yards Construction Alert 8-27-2012

AY down the memory hole: emergency upgrade on Barclays Center facade treated in Times as "more traditional materials were rejected"

The New York Times reported, in  Constructing a Facade Both Rugged and Rusty:
For the facade of the Barclays Center, more traditional materials were rejected in favor of 12,000 separate pieces of what is called “weathering steel,” and that leathery brown hue, which is the arena’s final finish, is not paint but an intended layer of rust.
It was a little more complicated than that. After Forest City Ratner dropped Frank Gehry's design to save money, it essentially plunked the Conseco Fieldhouse from Indianapolis, designed by veteran arena architects Ellerbe Becket, into Brooklyn.

The reclamation job

Reported Engineereing News-Record, in an article published 7/16/12 and headlined Reshaping of Barclays Center Arena Made Possible By Collaboration, Digital Tools:
[Developer Bruce] Ratner wanted SHoP to put a better face on a critically panned redesign for his $825-million Barclays Center arena—the centerpiece of the 22-acre transit-oriented development. And he wanted a sketch from SHoP in only five days.
The offer was loaded with other challenges and sensitivities. Ratner had knocked on SHoP's door precisely because he was under pressure to improve the arena's architecture....
So instead of relaxing over that July 4 weekend, four SHoP partners huddled to come up with some ideas. On Monday, July 6, SHoP showed Ratner a sketch of an arena contoured by a latticework system of pre-weathered steel panels.
The importance of memory

The more people forget, the more they'll prove Ratner's statement to New York Magazine:
One hundred years from now, “Brooklyn is going to be an epicenter of this country, and this place will be at the middle of that. No one will care what we had to do to make it happen.”
Of course no one will care in 100 years--the Barclays Center, or whatever name the arena has, won't exist. Neither, most likely, will the housing. But Ratner's statement was surely also aimed at the present.

And judging by the comments on the Times article, many people do remember not only what Forest City Ratner "had to do" but also what it promised. Here's one:
I actually like the architecture - but that's totally beside the point.

The problem is that the developers & wealthy sponsors of this project - & their political cronies - have imposed it on a community, steamrolling over that community's protests as if by an invading army.

The perpetrators and advocates of this center don't have to live with the impact. And they've broken all the promises of affordable housing, jobs, etc. But I guess We The People are just bugs to the 1% - that they can stomp on without a qualm!
And that's why the Times's shorthand regarding the arena--"years of bickering"--is also inadequate, as I pointed out yesterday.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Barclays Center's rusted steel cladding draws mixed reactions, but that's just a partial way to evaluate arena (what about urbanism, and the project's promises?)

In a Times article published online today, Constructing a Facade Both Rugged and Rusty, some passers-by wonder if the pre-rusted steel cladding on the Barclays Center is supposed to be painted? No.

In comments, there critics of the structure:
Its the bulk and shape of the building that's the problem, the rusting steel only confirms your first impression of a hulking cockroach. And in few years the rust stains on the sidewalks will complete the picture.
And some supporters:
Barclays Center's exterior actually looks pretty good. I'm just glad it's not a clone of Conseco Fieldhouse (or whatever it's called nowadays), which was what Forest City Ratner had in mind between Frank Gehry's failed design and what is being realized.
The larger issues

Some point out how the arena can't be disentangled from the larger project, and I agree. In fact, I think there are at least four perspectives, the first of which which is too early to judge (though the early word, from arena builders, is of course very positive):
  • the experience of the arena-goer
  • the building as a piece of urban sculpture
  • the arena and the associated project as a challenge for urbanism
  • the process behind the arena and the larger Atlantic Yards project, including vast promises, and questionable deals
The critics look broadly

One comments:
I happen to like Cor-Ten as a material and think it adds interesting visual texture --when used appropriately (the school I attended, built in the mid '70s, is clad in it, still functions well and looks contemporary).
However, no amount of interesting building material will compensate for the horrible location of this arena, jammed into the busiest intersection in Brooklyn. It's sponsorship by Barclays (Biggest Banking Scandal) only adds to the drama that huge public subsidies were used and local residents displaced through eminent domain.

Will the affordable housing promised still materialize?
Permanent jobs --above the minimum wage?
Ticket prices those in the surrounding neighborhoods can afford?
Controversy over the use of Cor-Ten is the least of it.
Another:
The flouting of neighborhood sensibilities has been well documented...eminent domain as a disingenuous premise to impose tax subsidized blight benefiting Jay-Z and Russian billionaire Prokhorov, along with Ratner ...enormous congestion impacts with nary a thought to residential parking issues-already under stress...the on-premises liquor dispensing club open to high rollers after events have ended...the list can certainly go on ad nauseum...but the ultimate addition of insult to injury is this disgusting rusted heap of alleged architecture
Another:
Rust can be beautiful, but the Barclay center is ugly as sin and makes the entire neighborhood look blighted. But of course, the actual neighborhood didn't want this thing in the first place (no other city has a stadium this size plunked down in the middle of a residential neighborhood like this one). So, I'm guessing that Ratner and Bloomberg and the rest of them couldn't care less about what people in the actual neighborhood, and whose lives will greatly be affected by this center, think.
What about the Times?

And one takes aim at the Times's casual summary that, "After years of building, and even more years of bickering, the arena is almost finished":
Years of bickering? When you write promotional material for Bruce Ratner (where are the jobs, Bruce, and the affordable housing?), which highlights the virtues of rusting iron, at least have the decency to describe the years of community oppostion and lawsuits - the human element - as civic protest, not bickering. Why the Times chooses to write about rust, and not the impact of Bruce's ripoff on Brooklyn, is the real story here. A sad state of affairs.
I tried to post a comment pointing to my coverage of affordable housing today, but it hasn't been posted. (Somehow I haven't had any luck at all in the past week or so posting comments at the Times. Almost enough to make one a little paranoid.)

Other voices

A Curbed video showed more passers-by than not lauding the design, though only a few raised larger issues, like the woman who said the arena "didn't deliver on its promises."

Patch noted:
In fact, a Patch poll from March found that 66 percent of readers thought the arena was an eyesore, with only 30 percent thinking the façade looked “21st century,” and three percent not sure.
Department of WTF

Architect Gragg Pasquarelli told the Times that the arena looked "like what would happen if 'Richard Serra and Chanel created a U.F.O. together.'" 

Oh.

No time slot announced for liquor license board meeting Wednesday, but public can speak

Will the State Liquor Authority (SLA) issue any curbs on the Barclays Center liquor license, such as not permitting service for VIPs at three venues for an hour after events, including until 2 am?

(There will be a total of 30 bars with full liquor service and 23 with beer only.)

After an administrative law judge heard public testimony at two meetings in June, the SLA will consider the Barclays Center liquor license at its August 29 board meeting. It will be held at SLA offices in Harlem, beginning at 10 am, and should be webcast.

There's no timetable for the meeting; items are called in the order for which they are signed in. My bet is that the applicants, Levy Premium Food Service and Brooklyn Events Center, will do their best to get there early.

The report compiled by Administrative Law Judge Raymond Di Luglio has not been made public and likely will not be released until the SLA renders its decision.

"Members of the public and elected officials will have the opportunity to address the Board," SLA spokesman Bill Crowley said yesterday.

The agenda item


From City Limits: How the first Atlantic Yards tower got more $2,700/mo. subsidized apartments (but nobody told the public)

I have an in-depth article in City Limits today about the first housing tower planned for Atlantic Yards, headlined Agency, Developer Wrestle Over Atlantic Yards Affordability.

The subtitle: "Documents reveal tense negotiations between city housing officials and Forest City Ratner over the kind of affordable housing the first Atlantic Yards residential tower will provide. Turns out it's different from what the developer promised."

The gist: though it was not made public, the additional subsidized two-bedroom units will mainly rent for more than $2700 a month.

Not much transparency

Though no one said so publicly at the one public hearing regarding the tower, not only does the number of family-sized units fall behind Forest City's promises in the Housing Memorandum of Understanding and Community Benefits Agreement that 50% of the units, in square footage, be two- or three-bedroom apartments.

Also, the only way the total (20% of subsidized units) was achieved was to skew the units toward households earning six figures.

The documentation I discovered, via Freedom of Information Law request to the New York City Housing Development Corporation (NYC HDC), offers insight into the otherwise oblique public comments by Forest City Ratner executive Jane Marshall last March at a meeting of the Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet.

As I reported, responding to criticism of Forest City's announced plans to include only 20 of 175  affordable units as larger (two-bedroom) apartments. Marshall said "we have succeeded" in increasing the number of two-bedroom units to 35. (Now the total would be 36, of 181 subsidized units, though nothing's set in stone yet.)

Who was in charge?

"You're not going larger than two [bedrooms]?" asked Council Member Letitia James, who had challenged Forest City on that issue in January.

"Right now that's what we are focusing on, because that's what everybody was focusing on," Marshall responded.

I had pointed out that the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that Forest City signed with New York ACORN, which is incorporated into the Community Benefits Agreement, says that 50% of the affordable units, in square footage, would be larger (two-bedroom and three-bedroom) units.

But that's not what "everybody" was focusing on.

They were focusing on the NYC HDC's rejection of Forest City's plan for 11% two-bedroom units and request for 20% two-bedroom units--a request with which Forest City complied, albeit by requesting a configuration without the most expensive affordable units.

No one mentioned that publicly, not at the District Service Cabinet meetings or at the NYC HDC hearing in July.

Fudging the pledge

In the future, Forest City may come closer to meeting its pledge, but note that it's not incorporated into the official project documentation and is thus unenforceable, unless ACORN's successors go to court.

The official documentation is the Development Agreement signed by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) in 2009, which leaves things vague, as my article explains,

The pledge was repeated in the ESDC's November 2006 Atlantic Yards Final Environmental Impact Statement, Chapter 1, Project Description, which stated:
Affordable units would be reserved for households making between 30 percent and 160 percent of citywide Area Median Income (AMI) and 50 percent of these units (on a square foot basis) would be two- and three-bedroom units.
Forest City and its partners have previously fudged that pledge, focusing on units, not square footage. (For 50% of the square footage devoted to larger units, there would be a larger total of smaller units.)

Lewis wrote in a 7/31/06 City Limits op-ed that "Half of all affordable rental units will be two- and three-bedroom units."

And, as seen in the graphic at right, the pledge was claimed by Forest City, on its previous website, as 50% of the units.

Would private-sector version of alleged harasser Vito Lopez get "fired in a heartbeat" (as per Daily News)? Maybe not if it's Forest City and Jim Stuckey

The career of Bushwick Assemblyman and Kings County Democratic Party Chair Vito Lopez is gravely wounded, perhaps mortally so, and not by accusations of political chicanery, steering funds to the social service empire he founded, or ensuring that his girlfriend and a political ally, who run that empire, get paid very well.

Instead, it's an ethics committee finding of sexual harassment, which, though not a full legal proceeding, involves some investigation. Lopez denies the allegations.

The Daily News commented in an editorial:
Most grotesquely, as recounted in a letter to Lopez from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, “ You put your hand on her leg, she removed your hand and you put your hand on her upper thighs, putting your hand as far up between her legs as you could go.”
Silver also writes that a staffer who was forced to join Lopez on a trip to Atlantic City reported “that you attempted to kiss her, that she struggled to fend you off before you stopped and that on the drive back . . . you again put your hand between her legs.”
...All of which, if true, amount to an open-and-shut case of sexual harassment — if not criminal sexual abuse.
Silver properly sacked Lopez as Housing Committee chairman, reducing his office budget and barring him from hiring any employees under 21 or using interns.
But those sanctions are nowhere near sufficient to punish behavior that would get a private-sector boss fired in a heartbeat — and that exposes taxpayers to potential lawsuits.
In the private sector: Forest City

As it happened, a somewhat parallel situation--it's not clear precisely how much--happened at private-sector Forest City Ratner regarding Jim Stuckey, who headed Atlantic Yards, but there was no firing "in a heartbeat" but rather some resistance at first. The New York Post reported 10/15/11:
Stuckey was ousted by the company’s CEO, Bruce Ratner, in early 2007 after a series of complaints had been made against him by female employees, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of what happened.
Ratner, sources told The Post, resisted the idea of getting rid of Stuckey until some of his top lieutenants threatened to quit after an ugly incident at a 2006 Christmas party.
According to company sources, Stuckey took all of his subordinates to a club and then called a number of women employees into a private room, where he had them sit on his lap as though he were Santa Claus.
Fearing that mass resignations -- of senior executives as well as people who reported to Stuckey -- would cause the company a p.r. nightmare at a sensitive time in the Atlantic Yards project, Bruce Ratner pushed Stuckey out and then helped him land the job at NYU. 
Stuckey has since been sued for harassing a subordinate at NYU, and left the university; both defendants are fighting the charges, and the case is pending. 

The pattern with Lopez

As it happened, the Times reported yesterday that Lopez was apparently a repeat offender:
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver quietly settled at least one sexual harassment accusation against a powerful Brooklyn assemblyman before censuring him on Friday for sexually harassing two other female employees, people with knowledge of the agreement said.
The previous accusation against Assemblyman Vito J. Lopez, who is also the head of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, was settled earlier this year at least in part with public funds, a confidentiality agreement and a mandatory sexual harassment workshop. 
The Post reported:
And ex-staffers and political insiders are now saying the committee’ findings point to a disturbing pattern of behavior that spanned years.
“It was kind of known that he was grabby,” said a female Brooklyn operative. “And if you wanted to work for him, you had to be cute. He likes cute women.”
Some echoes with Stuckey

The suit against Stuckey and NYU states:
Stuckey moved many of the men out of his suite of offices at NYU and he filled it with young, attractive women, including [plaintiff Stephanie] Bonadio.
When Stuckey was at Forest City, it did not go unremarked that, at public events, he tended to have with him young, attractive women.

No, there's not enough information to confirm that Lopez and Stuckey are two sides of the same coin. Still, there is enough to raise that question.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The new Times Public Editor sees role as "smart aggregator" and "forum organizer" (which should mean more attention to public critiques)

The New York Times will soon have a new Public Editor, its fifth. Not only is Margaret M. Sullivan, for 13 years editor of the Buffalo News, the first woman, she's the first to emphasize the importance of being present for digital conversations.

Poynter reported that, in Sullivan's appplication, she emphasized the roles of "smart aggregator” and “forum organizer":
“The criticism and commentary is already going on,” Sullivan said in a telephone interview Monday afternoon. “I want to centralize it in the [public editor’s] blog.” She said she’ll play the role of “forum organizer” by “inviting commentary and letting people use the [public editor’s online] space as a place to come and discuss. And we’ll use multimedia tools to make that happen.”
According to Poynter, Sullivan said she had read “and certainly learned from” the application excerpts published by author and teacher Dan Gillmor and Poynter’s Craig Silverman.

Going digital

Gillmor offered an intriguing July 2 Guardian column headined A manifesto for the newspaper's public editor in the social media era: The New York Times set the template for readers' ombudsmen. Now it needs to update the role for a mutualised digital age.

Gillmor, director of the Knight Center for digital media entrepreneurship at Arizona State University, offered several suggestions:
I'd do my best to lower the personal profile of the Public Editor and raise the profile of the public – the audience and those affected by the journalism – using three main techniques: aggregation, curation and discussion. I would, in particular:
• Aggregate (quote and link to) every thoughtful critique of the organization's work that I could find, and invite readers to analyze and comment on those critiques. I would ask permission to crosspost some of these on the blog. When I thought a critic was wrong, I'd say so. I'd also note when they were, in my view, making fair points. I'd deal with disrespectful critiques on a case-by-case basis, recognizing that sometimes a nasty person can make a good point.
• Create a robust, open forum about the newspaper's work....
• Strongly encourage newsroom staff to participate in these conversations....
• Use the Sunday column mostly as a guide to (with highlights from) the online conversations...
• Make moderation a core feature of these conversations: moderate the discussions and insist on civility and mutual respect.
Going transparent

Another candidate, Silverman, weighed in on Poynter.org, suggesting, among other things:
I will rename the existing public editor’s journal to something such as TimesPublic or simply call it the Public Editor’s blog. The blog will be the primary vehicle for sharing feedback from readers, offering opinions and analysis, and aggregating and curating notable commentary about the Times from elsewhere. It will provide a window into what I’m working on and considering, a place for me to draw attention to outside reporting and criticism about the Times, and a home to public editor reporting.
What it might mean

Imagine what acknowledgment of public critiques might bring. The Public Editor would actually have had to take seriously the evidence that the Barclays Center naming rights deal was closer to $200 million than $400 million, rather than let his assistant blow me off.

Then the Public Editor would link to news that the evidence was valid.

With Atlantic Yards, as I wrote yesterday, there would be ample opportunity for further inquiry.

A not-so-proud record


In a 7/20/12 Huffington Post column headlined Advice for the New York Times's New Public Editor, Daniel R. Schwarz, author of the valuable recent book EndTimes? Crises and Turmoil at the New York Times, 1999-2009, offered some useful history of the position:
In its July 16 news release, the Times described the public editor's position as "initiator, orchestrator and moderator of an ongoing conversation about the Times's journalism." Originally, the public editor somewhat awkwardly combined two positions, ombudsman and reader's representative. Conceived as a position to critique the Times, the role has evolved into something a bit less confrontational than it might be.
Schwarz praises the first Public Editor, Daniel Okrent:
He took the Times to task for coverage that was biased, myopic or unsatisfactory. He formulated what has become known as Okrent's Law: "The pursuit of balance can create imbalance because sometimes something is true."
However, successor Byron Calame "tended to accept what he was told by the Times's senior employees," Schwarz writes, a judgment in which I concur. (One Timesman, Schwarz writes, "told me that Calame was a 'dreadful public editor' who was 'rearranging the placemats on the Titanic.'")

Successor Clark Hoyt "was more critical than Calame" but ""he too was a cautious man," while Arthur Brisbane "seemed to have run out of things to say and on the whole was bland."

I'll note that Calame, at least, once wrote about Atlantic Yards in his blog, giving the Times unnecessarily high marks on disclosure of ties to Forest City, and occasionally wrote back to me, albeit defending the paper. Hoyt and Brisbane ignored Atlantic Yards, as well as my queries--except for a bizarrely inadequate defense of the paper I got from Brisbane's assistant.

Going forward

Schwarz proposes that the new Public Editor be more "transgressive and disruptive... who sees larger patterns and is aware of the continuous compromises made to keep the Times afloat" and writes about how and whether  "business decisions are driving newsgathering decisions":
By consulting outside financial experts, the public editor must, when necessary, shine an informed light on the Times's financial relationship with both Mexican magnate Carlos Slim and with the Forest City Ratner real estate company, which now owns the entire new Times building and leases the Times's floors back to it.
Schwarz's book, I'll note, does not mention Forest City, though I'm sure that comments from readers, including me, have sparked his understanding.

He suggests that an outsider should write about the Times as a business. Perhaps that could extend to Atlantic Yards. Then maybe we wouldn't get coverage like this.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

New York Times Public Editor says goodbye without a word about Atlantic Yards/Forest City, offers dubious praise for corrections desk

New York Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane says goodbye after two years without a word about Atlantic Yards and Forest City Ratner, despite ample opportunity to weigh in on such basic things as whether and how the Times should disclose its business relationship to Forest City, or even the glaring decision to devote such Sports section real estate to photos of Brooklyn Nets advertising.

From his column in tomorrow's paper, Success and Risk as The Times Transforms:
Two years ago, when I wrote my “why on earth” column, I suggested that the pace of change called for a re-emphasis on “transparency, accountability, humility.” Looking back now, I think The Times could do better with these.

The Times is hardly transparent. A reader still has to work very hard to find any Times policies online (though some are tucked away there), and there is still no place where Times editors speak on the issues. As for humility, well, The Times is Lake Wobegon on steroids (everybody’s way above average). I don’t remember many autopsies in which, as we assembled over the body, anyone conceded that maybe this could have been done differently.

The strong suit, though, is the corrections desk, led by Greg Brock, where thousands of errors are somehow adjudicated every year. This is a powerful engine of accountability, unmatched by any other corrections operation I have seen, and a potential foundation element for a portal where The Times could prominently display “transparency, accountability, humility.”
A failure of accountability

Actually, errors aren't always adjudicated well, nor does Brock display “transparency, accountability, humility.”

He's actually kind of a dyspeptic character when challenged, not only by me but by, for example Brad Friedman of The Brad Blog (re ACORN/pimp coverage).

Consider three examples:
  • the Times quietly replaced a misleading Atlantic Yards graphic, without acknowledging a correction
  • though Brock admitted it was not precise--a trigger for a Times correction--the Times wouldn't correct a report that the Bloomberg administration had "built" more than 130,000 affordable housing units
  • the Times wouldn't correct a misleading (if precisely quoted) report that the arena was a month ahead of schedule
These may not seem like major errors. But they are not insignificant, and the failure to correct them not only violates the Times's own policy, it makes it more likely that the errors will creep into future reports, and in work citing the Times.

Times quietly replaces misleading Atlantic Yards graphic, without correction

See link to other examples.

Departing New York Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane, who once questioned whether the Times should be a "truth vigilante," says goodbye in a final column, Success and Risk as The Times Transforms, which makes a surprising claim:
The strong suit, though, is the corrections desk, led by Greg Brock, where thousands of errors are somehow adjudicated every year. This is a powerful engine of accountability, unmatched by any other corrections operation I have seen, and a potential foundation element for a portal where The Times could prominently display “transparency, accountability, humility.”
Actually, no.

Despite official Times recognition of "an ethical responsibility to correct all its factual errors, large and small," in practice, the newspaper seems to do its best to avoid making corrections. The time it takes for Brock to tell me off could be better spent serving readers.

Original online graphic; annotations in blue
Just as the New York Police Department has been criticized officers for downgrading crimes, so as to report more rosy statistics, I wonder if the Times seems bent on excusing away errors, trying to keep its statistics down, rather than simply correcting the record so as to not mislead readers and researchers.

A correction without a correction

For example, the Times has quietly revised a misleading map (right) of the "Atlantic Yards Project Area" that suggested that the Barclays Center arena would represent a far smaller portion of the arena block than reality.

The map, suggesting a bonsai arena, accompanied a Times article 4/17/12 that was misleading in several ways. The map, whether by design or merely (more likely) carelessness, bolstered the perception that the arena would be a relatively petite interloper.

As I wrote, the map was misleading in several ways. First, it covered only the arena block, west of Sixth Avenue, plus a small fraction of the rest of the project site. (For the overall project plan, see the top of this blog.) So there was no mention of the planned interim surface parking lot, at the southeast block of the 22-acre project site.

Photo from AtlanticYards.com
Undersized arena

Perhaps most importantly, the map suggested that the Barclays Center arena extends barely halfway between Fifth and Sixth avenues, rather than quite close to Sixth.

Similarly, it suggests that the arena extends south from Atlantic Avenue barely past the halfway point, Pacific Street, rather than nearly to Dean Street.

Current online graphic, without arena outline
Also, two streets were missing: Sixth Avenue is a through street east of the arena block, continuing north from Dean Street to Atlantic Avenue. Pacific Street, while demapped for the arena block, extends east of Sixth Avenue.

Whitewashing the past

I recently took a look back at the article and saw, to my surprise, that a new map had been substituted, which omits the misleading outline of the arena.

No correction was posted.

Such a stealth adjustment is called "rowback," which former Times Public Editor Daniel Okrent described in his 3/14/04 column as "a way that a newspaper can cover its butt without admitting it was ever exposed." In other words, a correction without formally acknowledging a correction--as the Times has done multiple times in the past regarding Atlantic Yards, as I wrote in November 2007.

Indeed, a look at the URLs for the graphics indicates a change to a "v2," or "version 2," from http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2012/04/17/nyregion/17arenamap/17arenamap-popup.jpg
to http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2012/04/17/nyregion/17arenamap/17arenamap-popup-v2.jpg.

Similarly, the thumbnail version of the graphs has been updated, from http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2012/04/17/nyregion/17arenamap/17arenamap-thumbWide.jpg
to http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2012/04/17/nyregion/17arenamap/17arenamap-thumbWide-v2.jpg.

An attempt at a correction

Scan from print paper, with original graphic
The day the article was published I sent a request to the Times for a correction, pointing to concerns I cited in my blog: the out-of-scale arena, the missing streets near the arena block, and the failure to indicate the missing "tooth" east of Sixth Avenue.

Brock, who has indicated his displeasure with my requests in the past, responded:
I see no factual inaccuracies here. (Though I had been curious to see what you would complain about this time.) I am sorry the map "suggests" these things to you. But it gives no incorrect information.
The fact that two streets are missing also does not create an incorrect map. We have never run a map that included every street and alley and we never will.

And the absence of the so-called "tooth" in no way causes the point of the map to be incorrect. The purpose of a map like this is to give readers an overview of the area. Our intention was not to run a detailed surveyor's map, using geometry, trigonometry, physics and engineering. If you feel someone needs to see that, you can hire a surveyor and publish a more thorough map on your site.

In short, no correction of the map will be published because there are no factual errors.
My response

I responded:
March 2008 Times graphic
I'll note that, in September 2009 and in March 2008, to pick two quick examples, the Times did include maps that outlined the entire project area and were less misleading:

Based on those examples, would it not have been appropriate yesterday to either publish a map of the entire project area--after all, the article aimed to evaluate the impacts of the entire project, including the "scar" of the railyard--or to indicate in the caption that it was a "Partial Atlantic Yards Project Area"?

The March 2008 graphic did indicate demapping on the arena block, but clearly indicated that Sixth Avenue between Dean Street and Atlantic Avenue [sic] were not to be demapped, as had Pacific Street east of Sixth Avenue. That September 2009 outline did not designate which streets were to be demapped on the arena block--perhaps confusing but less inappropriate than yesterday's map, because those streets had not yet been demapped.

September 2009 Times graphic
In the map published yesterday, the graphic appropriately indicated that Pacific Street west of Sixth Avenue and Fifth Avenue north of Flatbush had been demapped, but left the misleading impression that Sixth Avenue between Dean Street and Atlantic Avenue had been demapped, as had Pacific Street east of Sixth Avenue.

Also, I'll note that you did not address the issue of correcting the scale of the map, which portrays the arena as far smaller, in relation to the overall arena block, than its actual ratio.

As for hiring a surveyor, I'll note that a more accurate outline of the project site is published daily, at the top of my blog.
The aftermath

I didn't hear back from Brock, but, as noted above, a correction has been made, if not acknowledged. regarding the one issue--the scale of the arena--that he didn't address.

So Brock's statement that "no correction of the map will be published because there are no factual errors" is not true. There were factual errors--even if the failure to indicate the streets may be a (bad) judgment call, the size of the arena was clearly misleading.

But no correction was published.

Truth vigilantism

Because of Brock's hostile posture, I did not bother to pursue a more important untruth raised in the 4/17/12 article:
For Forest City Ratner, the developer of the project, which was strongly backed by many city leaders, the changes are evidence that the arena has already met its goal of transforming a dreary section of Brooklyn — the Long Island Rail Road’s rail yards and surrounding industrial buildings, which the company’s spokesman described as “ a scar that divided the neighborhood.”
“That’s a sign of economic vitality, something that’s good for the borough,” said Joe DePlasco, the Ratner spokesman.
In other words, the project has successfully removed the blight that was the justification for eminent domain.

It hasn't.

Forest City Ratner hasn't even paid the MTA for the development rights to most of the railyard. It renegotiated a 22-year schedule to pay. As for the "surrounding industrial buildings," the largest (the Ward Bakery) was torn down for the interim surface parking lot (bookended by a historic district), and other large ones were condo conversions torn down for the arena (Spalding, Atlantic Arts).

Rather, the combination of the arena, and dense nearby residential populations, has driven up rents. And, as Chuck Ratner, then CEO of parent Forest City Enterprises, once said, "it's a great piece of real estate" (not a "dreary section of Brooklyn").

It is not a sufficient defense to state that the reporter accurately quoted Forest City Ratner's spokesman. Consider that the same reporter was once misled by the same spokesman, in a less important way in the 9/24/09 Times, and newspaper ultimately--after my correction request--published a correction:
An article on Thursday about the unsuccessful efforts by the Libyan president to pitch a tent to use while he was in New York to speak before the United Nations General Assembly.... included an erroneous comment about the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn from a spokesman for the project’s developer.... about 40 percent of the project — not “most” of it — is being built over a railyard.