Friday, June 07, 2013

Down the rabbit hole: report suggests city grant for Atlantic Yards went to ESDC at Forest City's office address

A recent report from advocates critical of New York State's economic development policies leads down the rabbit hole to Atlantic Yards, where city documents are dismayingly opaque.

Those documents inadequately reference the extent of state subsidies for the project, and somehow place the Empire State Development Corporation at an address for Forest City Ratner.

What does this mean? At the least, such sloppy reporting makes oversight more difficult.

A critical report

A 5/29/13 article from the Syracuse Post-Standard, New York's economic development 'gamble' costs $7 billion a year, report says, laid out the charges:
New York spends $7 billion annually on dozens of economic development programs, but it has no way of knowing whether it's getting its money's worth, according to a report [The $7,000,000 Wager, bottom] by a coalition of public policy experts, government watchdogs, labor unions and community organizations.
The Alliance for a Greater New York [ALIGN] said few of the state's programs require recipients of subsidies to set performance goals such as job creation. It said few require project-specific reporting or monitor the success of projects and that few allow for adequate public review or recourse when corporations fail to live up to their agreements.
"Our findings show that New York's current spending on economic development is more of a gamble than an investment," the group said Wednesday.
"This opaque and unaccountable system makes it impossible for the public or policymakers to determine if our $7 billion investment is working for New York," said the group, which is based in New York City but has affiliates across the state.
The alliance called on the state to adopt performance standards to evaluate the success of spending in relation to key goals, including job creation.
It also recommended that the state require companies to give back the subsidies they receive if they fail to meet their promised job creation goals.
The spending estimate is based on annual reports and audits of various state economic development programs and agencies, but, as I discovered, those reports are not so easy to understand.

The state responds

A 5/30/13 follow-up by the Gannett chain cited the report in the context of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's controversial proposal for tax-free zones for businesses that on state college campuses.

The state responded:
The largest program for state incentives is through the Empire State Development Corp., the state’s economic development arm. It doled out more than $1 billion in tax breaks and grants in 2011, the report said.
...Ken Adams, president and CEO of Empire State Development, said there is a “disconnect between this report –- the findings of which are based on some outdated and inaccurate data -- and today’s reality.”
“The report advocates for transparency and accountability–laudable goals and also hallmarks of this administration,” Adams said in a statement. “At Empire State Development, the state’s lead economic development agency, those standards are already in place: from open-to-the-public board meetings to mandated project reporting to pay-for-performance incentives and claw-back provisions."
From the report: an Atlantic Yards mention

The ESDC was the number one recipient in 2012 of a grant from the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), as suggested in the screenshot below, from p. 23 of the report (bottom):


This is rather confusing, because 1) that's not the address of the ESDC and 2) no such grant was announced in 2012, to my knowledge.

Down the rabbit hole

I went to the NYCEDC's web site to see if I could find supporting documents.
In its Public Authorities Reporting Information System (PARIS) report for FY 2011, there's no mention of any grant to the Empire State Development.

In the FY 2012 PARIS report, there is a $20,444,233 grant to the Empire State Development Corporation.

It's dated 9/12/07.

This is apparently part of the city's $179 million in subsidies for both land acquisition and infrastructure costs related to Atlantic Yards.

However, it's unclear why 1) there's no mention of the grant, in whole or in part, in the earlier report, given that the date is 2007, and 2) the grant is not reported in full.

Perhaps only this portion of the subsidy was delivered in 2012.

Moreover, it's absolutely bizarre that the address for the ESDC is reported at 752 Pacific Street. That building was long owned by Henry Weinstein, who lost the property in 2010 to ESDC via eminent domain after a convoluted battle with his tenant.

But ESDC never operated an office there. Forest City Ratner has offices there, including its Community Liaison Office, as indicated in the screenshot at right.

And, of course, Forest City was ultimately the recipient or beneficiary of the government funds. (I queried NYCEDC and ESDC but didn't get a response.)

More NYCEDC confusion

The NYCEDC PARIS reports are not easy to understand. Below are just a few random examples.

In the report for FY 2011, which ended 6/30/11, there's an $11.7 million grant dated 4/30/04 to the American Museum of the Moving Image. In the FY 2012 report, there's a $4 million grant dated 4/30/04 to the American Museum of the Moving Image.

There's no indication why the grants differ, unless different amounts were delivered in successive years.

Secondarily, in the FY 2011 report, there's a $3.95 million grant issued 7/19/10 to the Apollo Theater Foundation. In the FY 2012 report, however, there's no mention of that grant, but there is mention of an earlier 6/15/10 grant worth nearly $410,000. It seems odd that the earlier grant would be delivered later.

2011 report





2012 report







ff

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