Skip to main content

Behind that Barclays Center cantorial concert, a whiff of Lower East Side development politics (Ratner + Met Council/Silver = Seward Park edge?)

The New York Post and Pomegranate market are sponsors
When the New York Times last month got the scoop on the new Barclays Center's first-ever concert of Jewish music, it was explained as an outgrowth of a three-decade friendship between violinist Itzhak Perlman and arena developer Bruce Ratner, whose daughters went to private school together.

The concert also features cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot and Ratner, we were told, "remains an aficionado of cantorial music." Jewish publications like the Forward took the same angle. The latest detail, as reported in the Huffington Post, is that this concert unusually will offer separate seating for men and women.

But Ratner didn't get to be Brooklyn's most powerful developer simply by indulging in artistic passions and helping out a friend.

The Seward Park RFP
Other evidence--even if Ratner won't confirm it--hints at business calculation, an effort to bolster ties with a charitable ally and one of the state's most powerful politicians.

That could help Forest City Ratner in the heated competition for the last large development site on Lower East Side, the Seward Park Mixed-Use Development Project, which the city's economic development agency calls an "unprecedented development opportunity."

The Met Council connection

Consider: profits from the Feb. 28 concert, expected to draw 6,500 people, will go to the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty and a music camp associated with Perlman.

The Met Council, which since 1972 "has been the voice of New York's Jewish poor," according to its website, has grown into a social services powerhouse that serves a broader, non-denominational constituency with home care, kosher food, career services, and affordable housing.

The Silver connection

The Met Council boasts a tight relationship with Sheldon Silver, the longtime Speaker of the New York State Assembly and an Orthodox Jew from the Lower East Side. In fiscal year 2010, according to its IRS filing, the Met Council raised $24.4 million, with support from a wide range of private and government sources.

Silver's chief of staff, Judy Rapfogel, is married to William Rapfogel, who has headed the Met Council since 1992. The Rapfogels are longtime Silver friends, and Silver has regularly directed state funding to the Met Council via so-called "member items."

The Met Council is no slack at reaping city funding, either, in one year receiving more than any other religious organization. William Rapfogel's annual compensation, over $400,000, has also raised eyebrows.

Valuable land

Enter the Seward Park Mixed-Use Development Project, a plan that took 45 contentious years to emerge after urban renewal leveled blocks near the Williamsburg Bridge and created SPURA, the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area.

While this is a city project, Silver, the area's most powerful official, remains a key voice.

The six-acre development includes 1.65 million square feet of buildable area over nine sites, including a new Essex Street Market. The project's 1000 apartments, half of them subsidized, will occupy about 60% of the space; the rest will be commercial.

Silver was crucial in brokering the plan; while it may reflect the current demographics of the gentrifying Lower East Side, critics point to the failure to fulfill promises to rehouse the poor after their tenements were razed in 1967.

New York developers are salivating over the site. An RFP (request for proposals) for the Seward Park project was distributed in January; respondents must file plans by May 6.

Forest City representatives, Crain's New York Business reported last week, were among the 300 people who filled an information session on the project. (Even before then, one rival groused to me about Forest City's perceived inside track.)

The Ratner connections

Forest City Ratner has long had a close relationship with Silver and with the Met Council, and Silver has long delivered for Ratner. In 2006, Silver green-lighted the Atlantic Yards project from his position on the Public Authorities Control Board, the "three men in a room" body that earlier killed the proposed West Side Stadium.

In 2007, intervention by Silver and others into an ongoing reform of a tax break known as 421-a enabled Ratner's Atlantic Yards, alone among projects, to retain the tax break even in buildings that included no subsidized housing.

Meanwhile, despite enormous controversy over Atlantic Yards, the Silver-controlled Assembly has kept hands off; the only oversight hearing emerged in 2009 when the state Senate was briefly in Democratic hands.

Ratner in turn has rewarded Silver. In January 2008, his company gave $58,420, to the Democratic Assembly Housekeeping Committee, essentially a slush fund for party activities. That gift was cited by civic watchdogs as an argument for campaign finance reform.

Ratner and Silver also converge at the Met Council. In August 2008, Ratner helped raise $1 million for the organization and was honored at a luncheon attended by several elected officials; Silver presented Ratner with what a Met Council press release called a "beautifully decorated charity box." One of the Rapfogels' three sons, Michael, works on government relations for Forest City Ratner.

Business trumps all

For Ratner, business considerations have always trumped ideology. According to an interview in the Jewish Voice, "Ratner is a staunch Democrat and liberal and cannot imagine people, especially Jews, who are not."

However, in November 2010, Ratner wrote a check for $7500 to the New York State Senate Republican Campaign Committee, ensuring smooth relations with the party that controls the legislature's second chamber.

Bruce Ratner's brother Michael Ratner, the eminent human rights lawyer, and his wife, live in Greenwich Village, but have made campaign contributions to Brooklyn political hacks, using Forest City Ratner's Brooklyn office as the return address. (When I first wrote about this, Michael Ratner wouldn't comment.)

Seward Park faces the music

So maybe this concert isn't just a concert.

It's notable that this first Barclays Center event with a charitable focus, will benefit the Met Council rather than an organization in Central Brooklyn, the base for the groups--reflecting mostly black constituencies--that signed the controversial Community Benefits Agreement regarding Atlantic Yards. As part of that agreement, Forest City agreed to hold ten events at the arena, with proceeds going to charity.

Forest City might even wind up partnering with the Met Council on the Seward Park project; the organization describes itself as "one of New York City’s premier developers of low-income senior housing and a top choice of private developers to partner with in building inclusionary housing."

We won't know until May, at least. But whether Forest City responds to the RFP solo or with a partner, the cantorial concert at the Barclays Center might be seen not merely as a reflection of Jewish culture but also as lobbying in a different guise.

Caution from The Lo-Down

Lower East Side blogger Ed Litvak suggests caution:
A couple of points worth making. First, Silver has no direct role to play in the awarding of the Seward Park contracts, though there’s always been a widespread belief that he has influence over practically everything that happens on the Lower East Side. Second, it’s not known for certain that Ratner is preparing a bid.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website Matzav.com explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

So, Forest City has some property subject to the future Gowanus rezoning

Writing yesterday, MAP: Who Owns All the Property Along the Gowanus Canal, DNAinfo's Leslie Albrecht lays out the positioning of various real estate players along the Gowanus Canal, a Superfund site:
As the city considers whether to rezone Gowanus and, perhaps, morph the gritty low-rise industrial area into a hot new neighborhood of residential towers (albeit at a fraction of the height of Manhattan's supertall buildings), DNAinfo reviewed property records along the canal to find out who stands to benefit most from the changes.
Investors have poured at least $440 million into buying land on the polluted waterway and more than a third of the properties have changed hands in the past decade, according to an examination of records for the nearly 130 properties along the 1.8-mile canal. While the single largest landowner is developer Property Markets Group, other landowners include Kushner Companies, Alloy Development, Two Trees, and Forest City New York.

Forest City's plans unc…