Monday, September 30, 2013

DOT: street parking availability falls during Barclays Center events, but still spaces available; neighbors raise doubts about study

So, what's the impact of the Barclays Center on on-street parking? A presentation unveiled 9/26/13 at the Atlantic Yards Quality of Life meeting by the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) indicated that, while arena events do correlate with to more parking on streets in blocks near the arena, there's still some free parking available among the 9,000 spaces with about a half-mile of the arena.

The study, which followed up a July 2012 study predicting (based on the not so parallel Yankee Stadium experience) that there would be parking available, supports the city's unwillingness to push for residential parking permits, which many neighbors support but requires a change in the state legislature.

However, several neighbors said the DOT's findings departed from their experience, which can require them to circle for hours and find parking. They also questioned the choice of blocks and times sampled--for example, one block closest to the arena, which received a relatively small increase in parking on event nights, is not representative, since it's typically crowded with government vehicles.

They also criticized the failure to examine related issues, such as idling limos and the number of local residents who spend hours looking for parking, or have decided to pay a monthly fee.

The summary, and the policy response

According to a summary in the Barclays Center On-Street Parking Impact Study (also below):
• Parking occupancy increased on event days; however, most sampled blocks still had available spaces.
• Occupancy was highest closer to the arena and diminished away from the arena, both on event and non event days
• Data indicates that parking impact of arena events was more significant on metered blocks.
– Metered spaces become free at 7 pm, near the start of most arena events.
– These blocks typically have overnight street cleaning regulations that discourage overnight parking.
– Adjusting meter turn off time to later in the evening may shift event parkers to non metered spaces
The issue of meter turn-off time seems the DOT's only public policy response, though it got little discussion last week. If event parkers are shifted to non-metered spaces, that means they'd compete even more for locals seeking free overnight parking.

Note that 4/16 was in fact an arena event, though not as big a draw as a Nets game
Presentation

The study, with data gathered in the second week of April, was presented by William Carry, the DOT's Director, Community Initiatives, and Manzell Blakeley.

The boundaries were DeKalb Avenue to the north, Baltic Street and Union Street to the south, Underhill and Washington avenues to the East, and Fourth Avenue and Bond Street to the west.

The total area has about 9000 on-street spots. The DOT used time-lapse data cameras at 17 locations--4 in the "Close Zone," 5 in the "Intermediate Zone,"and 8 in the "Far Zone"--to measure parking occupancy every five minutes between 6 am-midnight most days, and also measured turnover.

They used License Plate Readers during game days and overnight to determine where vehicles were registered.

Increase in occupancy


As the graphic at right shows, on a weekday evening with no event, there was 73% occupancy in the closest zone, 56% farther away, and 50% in the farthest zone.

"On weekdays, during events, there was about a 15% increase between a Monday and a Wednesday," he said. "We saw a similar pattern on weekends."

Note that the "15%" seems to be a raw number--going from nearly 60% to about 75%--rather than an actual percentage increase, which is closer to 25%.

As noted in the slide above right, in the Close Zone, occupancy went up from 73% to 87%, as noted in the slide below right, while the increase in the Intermediate Zone went from 56% to 75%, and in the Far Zone 50% from to 68%.


Blakely got some pushback, however, when he showed a photo of Bergen Street between Sixth and Carlton avenues, an unmetered block already full on a non-game day.

"The increase in parking is felt mostly in the area where there's metered parking in day, and generally overnight street cleaning," he said, generating comments that Bergen Street, which includes a New York Police Department Precinct and a NYC Housing and Preservation Department office, already has numerous government related parking.

Only about 40% of the 17 blocks studied were full, which " means most blocks still do have a few spots during events."

Given that most people coming to an event would look in the Close Zone, why were only four locations studied?

"We wanted to determine if the impact was very tight, or spread out," Blakely said.

No huge influx

Also, surveying registration locales of vehicles observed, the DOT found very little difference between event days and non-event days.

In the three adjacent zip codes, the proportion was 44% on game days and 45% on non-game days. (It's likely that Barclays Center concerts, which draw more varied audiences, would produce different results..)

In the Close Zone

The DOT suggested that the high occupancy closest to the arena may result from the proximity of the neighborhood to the Atlantic Terminal transit hub and two nearby malls.

Those are plausible factors, but, as neighbors noted, the choice to sample Bergen Street means that high occupancy can also be generated by government-related vehicles.

Discussion

Steve Ettlinger, a resident of North Park Slope, commented, "Like many people here, I've had to try to park during an event night, which is an experience that's somewhat at odds with what you found... on event nights, it was literally impossible to park." Then, at the end of events, spaces tend to open up.

DOT said that data was collected between 7-8 pm, and Ettlinger and others said it should have extended later in the evening.

"I have to disagree with the study," commented Pauline Blake, president of the 78th Precinct Community Council. "I know for a fact, on any event night, starting at 4 [pm], we have traffic jams on St. Marks [Avenue] starting from 4... it will continue til 9 or 9:30.. that means there are people who are circling and circling and circling... We have become overwhelmed by this extreme traffic pattern

Carry said that this study looked at parking, and other studies involve traffic, "so we weren't necessarily looking at traffic congestion."

DOT, in response to a question from Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, said it didn't have a count of the new cars coming in, since it only sampled certain blocks. (I estimated that 1,000+ cars sought free parking, though some might give up and pay for a lot.)

"If you're just studying between 7-8 [pm], you're not capturing the experience of the arena," said Dean Street Block Association President Peter Krashes. "You are missing the black limos." He added that it also would be useful to study at different hours to analyze the impact of arena employees driving to the arena.

Discouraging driving

"For all of us, there's an incentive to have policy which discourages people from driving to the arena," observed Veconi.

Ashley Cotton of arena developer Forest City Ratner nodded in assent.

"Because on-street parking is completely out of the scope of the Forest City Ratner Transportation Demand Management [TDM] plan" for the arena, Veconi said, "it's very important to understand how much parking in absolute numbers is used on event days, and build some policies to discourage it."

The TDM plan focuses on promoting transit use, and did exceed the goal of reducing driving, but there are still many drivers seeking free parking.

"We agree with the notion we want to discourage people from driving to the arena," Carry responded. "Again, the data shows that there's no much parking in the immediate vicinity."

"Did you do any analysis to indicate what proportion of the traffic is people circling and looking for parking?" Veconi asked. "That could lead to a lot of traffic on residential streets during event days."

Carry said that "would be very handy to have, but would be very difficult to collect," since it's tough to verify why drivers are circling.

The DOT's Chris Hrones said there's a separate study looking at traffic volumes during game events and their impact on individual intersections.

Nor, said DOT officials, was the agency able to measure illegal parking at hydrants, since the scope of the study was measuring occupancy.

New policy?

"If we were able to reduce availability of parking," Veconi asked, planting a sly question, "we could reduce traffic, would you agree?"

"The question is how you do that," Hrones responded. "It's a very difficult policy question."

"I can give you one suggestion," stated Dean Street resident Elba Vasquez. "If people know there are residential permits, I don't think they'd drive."

"I was waiting for that," Hrones said.

Residential parking permits are opposed by some key members of the state legislator, notably Brooklyn Sen. Marty Golden.

Scope of study

After the presentation, Tom Boast of the Carlton Avenue Association, told me he'd asked DOT to add to the scope of its study an analysis of the monthly contracts written in local garages, comparing the zip codes of patrons before and after the arena opening. He suggested it would provide evidence that residents have given up on street parking, and thus the arena "imposed a $5000 tax."

The DOT, he said, never showed locals the scope of the study, nor did it recognize his request.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Yormark's global ambitions: "We have some of the best brands working with us" and "the direct connect to [Russian] consumers"

The balance of power between the veteran New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets continues to adjust, with the Nets on the upswing. Most pundits believe the Nets, with their off-season acquisitions of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Andrei Kirilenko, and others, will surpass the Knicks on the court.

Last week, the NBA awarded the 2015  All-Star Game to Madison Square Garden, but the other festivities to the Barclays Center, a nod perhaps to not only the Knicks' longevity but also the plethora of hotel rooms in Manhattan.

Then Knicks' owner James Dolan fired GM Glen Grunwald, demoting him to consultant. As Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal put it:
By nearly all accounts, Grunwald—who initially took over in 2011 on an interim basis following Donnie Walsh's exit—did well with a difficult situation. Few could have expected last season's No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Still, Dolan probably wasn't thrilled to see the rival Nets steal headlines and make strides, both this summer and last, by pulling off blockbuster trades despite also being far above the cap.
Yormark on TV

So it was a confident Nets/arena CEO Brett Yormark appearing 9/27/13 on Bloomberg TV, spouting many business buzzwords.

"This thing has grown exponentially since [Russian billionaire Mikhail] Prokhorov bought it three-plus years ago. I think a lot of it was the move here to Brooklyn but we were top five in ticket revenue, we were top four in merchandise."

"The move to Brooklyn has been transformational, not just from a product standpoint, but from a business standpoint," he added. "We have some of the best brands also working with us, from a sponsorship perspective."

What about a championship?

Yormark was relatively modest about the team's chances. "We're on a championship journey," he said. "We're in that conversation... if things work out the right way, if we can stay healthy, if we can create that chemistry, we have a chance to win a championship... we're very humble about it, because we're not that far removed from that 13-win season and we know what it feels like to be on the other side... we're cautiously optimistic... this is our time, this is our moment, and I hope to do something very special for Brooklyn."

For Brooklyn?

Earlier this month he said, "Nothing but a championship is going to be accepted."

Global ambitions

"You're a global team with a Russian owner," he was asked. "When I talk to professional basketball players, they talk all about international.. can the Barclays Center, can the New York [sic] Nets engage a whole country like China?"

"Yes, I just returned from a trip to China," Yormark replied. "Kevin Garnett signed a deal with sneaker company... we hosted 30 CEOs for dinner... many of our games will be televised in China... even though the product doesn't exist there... we will be a featured team there, our merchandise is found everywhere...we can have a viable business in China."

Could Beijing consider Brooklyn to be their home team?

"Well, I tell them it's from Brooklyn to Beijing, and everything in between," Yormark stated. "Yes, we want to be the home team, the home NBA team in Beijing... we want to be the home NBA team in Russia... I think with the star power we have now, especially when you speak to Russia, Andrei Kirilenko, we have the direct connect to those consumers, and now we have to leverage it."

Inside baseball: when Ratner was clever, the Times saluted Atlantic Yards tactics. Now?

Some of us remember this 6/9/05 New York Times article, Unlike Stadium on West Side, an Arena in Brooklyn Is Still a Go, which approvingly described Forest City Ratner's tactics regarding Atlantic Yards:
As soon as it set about devising its plan in early 2002, it brought aboard a seasoned team of lobbyists who immediately went to work building support among political leaders, especially [Assembly Speaker] Mr. [Sheldon] Silver.
Or this 10/15/05 article headlined To Build Arena in Brooklyn, Developer First Builds Bridges:
Mr. Ratner's street-level and high-level public relations campaign began in the fall of 2003, when his company retained Dan Klores Communications, one of the city's top public relations firms. Their team, headed by Joe DePlasco, a veteran of the city's Democratic establishment, began lining up politicians and other supporters before the December news conference unveiling the initial design.

Since then, the firm has run what amounted to an ambitious traveling road show, organizing presentations for community boards, business groups, block associations, and others, according to a schedule Mr. DePlasco offered. It also worked with the developer's allies to turn out local supporters at press conferences and at several contentious public hearings, and connected Build and other groups with media outlets that were in search of pro-arena voices. 
And now?

But somehow we haven't seen such discussion of the process led by Forest City's governmental partner, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), as described by Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman in a decision issued last week awarding legal fees to those who challenged the ESDC's failture to study a 25-year buildout of the project:
The ESDC claims that it had a reasonable basis for, although it did not prevail on, its position that its use of a 10 year build-out in assessing environmental impacts of the 2009 MGPP [Modified General Project Plan] was reasonable, and that an SEIS [Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement] was not required in connection with the MGPP. This claim reflects no small audacity, in light of the court’s prior findings as to the ESDC’s review process. These findings included what the court characterized as the ESDC’s “deplorable lack of transparency” in failing even to mention the MTA [Metropolitan Transportation Authority] renegotiated agreement by name in discussing changes the agreement made in the deadlines for completion of the Project; the ESDC’s continuing lack of transparency and failure to meet its obligation to bring the Development Agreement to the court’s attention in order to correct “totally incomplete representations’’ made in opposition to the Article 78 petitions regarding such deadlines; and, upon remand, the ESDC’s performance of a wholly “perfunctory” analysis of the environmental impacts of a build-out of the Project that was potentially more than doubled under the MTA and Development Agreements. This is not a case in which the ESDC’s determinations were substantially justified.




Saturday, September 28, 2013

Victory laps: Bruce Ratner celebrates Barclays Center with sycophantic hosts: John Gambling/Fox Business (Did half of Brooklyn attend an event? Nah.)

It's the anniversary of the Barclays Center, and developer Bruce Ratner is doing a couple of victory laps.

First, the 9/25/13 John Gambling Show, hosted by Mayor Mike Bloomberg's favorite interviewer.

Gambling first asked about the Nassau Coliseum. Ratner responded with his keywords: "gorgeous arena... 30 million cars every year... entertainment [for everybody]...  I think it will rival Barclays in both its success and its beauty."



"Speaking of Barclays, it's only been around for one year, and it seems as though it's been around forever," enthused Gambling.

"It's been a remarkable year," responded Ratner, noting that for the first half of the year, the arena led the U.S. in concert/family show revenue and was second in the world to the O2 in London, which has no anchor sports team and thus more open nights.

Would the full reopening of Madison Square Garden, which has been under renovation, have an effect?

No, said Ratner. "It's good healthy competition for both of us."

Well, it might.

"What is New York City real estate like?" asked Gambling.

"It has its ups and down, it's in an upswing," Ratner said. "Residential: there's almost no vacancy in the rental market, the condo market's come back, and the office market's still pretty strong."

That said, he has no plans to build the Atlantic Yards office tower.

"Are you concerned about post-Bloomberg for the city of New York?" Gambling asked.

"Well, I think we all are concerned about post-Bloomberg," Ratner responded. "The mayor's done an excellent job in so many different kinds of ways, ways a lot of us, y'know, almost don't know, whether it be housing or whether it be--even the financial aspects of the city. For 12 years, very few of us have even had to worry about the fact that our city's been in great financial shape, despite a recession, we've never had issues with balanced budgets, and so on. So he's done a great job. I think, y'know, either candidate will get a good job done again. But transition's always difficult. No matter how good we think the next mayor'll be, it's never easy to go through a transition. So all of us have anxiety. Listen, when Giuliani left, and Bloomberg won, we all had anxiety too. So I think that's the nature of elections and change. So hopefully--I'm confident that, whoever it'll be, the city'll still be here, and they'll do a good job. I know both of the candidates and think either will come out fine."

Um, many people, including Nicole Gelinas, might disagree with Bloomberg's budget stewardship.

On Fox Business

On Fox Business yesterday, Barclays Center a win for Brooklyn, host Liz Claman made Gambling and Daily News sycophant Denis Hamill look like pit-bull investigator Seymour Hersh.

"The arena not only blossomed, it's gone crazy, it's unbelievable," said Claman, citing the awards: Sports Facility of the Year, Best New Major Concert Venue, etc.

"Everybody's flocking to this thing, but perhaps people outside New York do not know"--her tone gained an air of petulant disbelief--"what a fight you had to wage against people all around the area of Brooklyn and suddenly they're the ones attending events."

"Absolutely," interjected Ratner.

"It always goes that way," Claman declared. "Does it amaze you?"

"We thought it would do well, I didn't think it would do quite this well," Ratner replied. "It has something for everybody... first, the programming is really important...people who work there... architecture... we love the patrons... the food."

Ratner math

He cited "2000 jobs, people working there right now, 80% from Brooklyn, 35% from housing projects." No one asks how much they work per week and how much they get paid.

How much of the Brooklyn population attended at least one event?

Ratner did some math, citing 2.1 million attendees, and 2.8 million people from Brooklyn. (Actually, it's closer to 2.5 million.) "I'll bet you at least half," he said.

No way. It's unlikely that half of those entering the arena are Brooklynites--after all, 36.9% of weekeday Nets fans and 34.5% of weekend Nets fans go back to Brooklyn. And given that many of those going are season ticket holders--and the arena's rather expensive--there's no way half of the population of Brooklyn has visited the arena

"Lawsuits, protests, pickets, all kinds of things," Claman continued. "They didn't want it here. And in the meantime, this was an area that was kind of down and out."

Love those declarative statements.

The NBA All-Star Game

"So this is a perfect example where this kind of thing can work to the advantage of--and then the big news, you guys get to be part of the NBA All-Star game," she continued. "How'd you land that?

"The answer is both us and the Garden applied for it," Ratner responded, then had a lot of trouble with the term "Solomonic": "So it's kind of one of those salam-ic, solom-type decisions, split it down the middle."

Nassau Coliseum

Discussing the Nassau Coliseum, Ratner said that Jay-Z will perform there before it closes, and presumably after the revamp.

"I bet you, when we get this open, we'll get [Barbra] Streisand," he added, citing the Brooklyn artist who played in the first month of the Barclays Center.

Claman asked how many jobs there'd be in Nassau.

Close to 2000, Rather responded, then added some gibberish: "The employment situation, particularly for a worker who is available to work in an arena, there aren't a lot of jobs around, still, so it's really good."

Another look at latest legal decision; Daily News, Post frame "rare" victory; winning groups not quite cooperative; Times absent

News12 yesterday offered a lame report with a dopey headline, Barclays Center naysayers remain after 1 year, which gave the "naysayers" very little voice.

But why might there be some naysayers? Maybe it's that a judge yet again confirmed the process behind Atlantic Yards was sketchy, awarding legal fees to two community coalitions that challenged the state's 2009 approval of the project and successfully got the court to order a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to study the community impacts of a 25-year buildout.

However, the narrative, in the rather skimpy news coverage, was more simple, as noted below.

Different takes from the winners

It's also worth noting, as I point out, that the two community coalitions that won the case had somewhat different emphases, with Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn focusing on the judge's vindication of their critique of the project, and BrooklynSpeaks focusing on the failure to deliver benefits like affordable housing.

The latter press release got virtually no pickup, as it came later in the day Thursday, but it's worth a look especially because it contains quotes from three elected officials, two of whom were named petitioners. (Rounding up such quotes takes a while.)

Though the two coalitions cooperated in court, neither acknowledged the other in their press releases, which strikes me as rather pissy behavior.

In the Daily News

The Daily News, sponsor of the arena plaza, cast it as a minor victory in a long war, rather than a decision that leaves a cloud over the project, in Bruce Ratner will have to pay his opponents’ legal bills: Judge Foes spent $325K to fight Atlantic Yards. They lost. But one court victory in 2009 leads to legal windfall.:
They fought Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner for close to a decade — and now the real estate mogul is on the hook for their legal fees.
Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council will get hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay their legal eagles — a ruling that followed a rare court victory over Ratner in 2009.
That win, which forced the state to conduct a new study of the project's environmental impact, led to Supreme Court Judge Marcy Friedman’s ruling this week on the legal reimbursement.
Though Forest City wouldn't comment, the Daily News did find a critical quote:
Real estate law expert David Reiss cautioned against seeing the opponents’ victory as a big win the little guy.
"It is hard to call it a David-versus-Goliath win when Goliath is still standing and still going strong," said Reiss who teaches at Brooklyn Law School. "It is a tactical victory. The war has been lost. The arena is built."
My comment:
Um, yeah, the arena's been built. But the "tactical victory" points out, yet again, how sketchy this project was and is.
And it wasn't a "rare court victory... in 2009"--it was a series of court victories that began in *2010* and continued over the next two years, at both the lower level (Supreme Court) and then appellate division.

"legal windfall" = reimbursement for challenging government overseeer that misled public
Patch's Ratner Must Pay Anti-Barclays Groups' Legal Fees relied on the Daily News.

In the Post

The New York Post reported, Barclays Center developer has to pay foes’ legal fees
He won the battle to build Barclays Center — and now he’ll pay for it.
Developer Bruce Ratner is on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees shelled out by foes of his $5 billion Atlantic Yards project for Brooklyn that includes the NBA Nets’ new arena, a state judge ruled on Thursday.
Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Marcy Friedman granted community groups who oppose the project a rare victory in a nearly ten fight. She ruled the Empire State Development Corp. liable for legal fees the groups spent trying to compel the agency to complete a new environmental review for Atlantic Yards.
Again, it was a "rare victory" rather than something that leaves a cloud.

The Post prompted Crain's New York Business to post Atlantic Yards legal fees
Developer Bruce Ratner will reportedly have to pay opponents of his Atlantic Yards development $300,000 in legal fees. A state judge ruled Thursday that the Empire State Development Corp. was liable for legal fees the groups spent trying to compel the state agency to complete a new environmental review for the Brooklyn development project, according to the New York Post.
Mr. Ratner is responsible for the payment because he agreed to pay for the cost of the review when he signed up to build the massive mixed-use project, which includes the Barclays Center. The decision is a rare victory for opponents of Atlantic Yards.
I love the use of the term "reportedly," as if Crain's couldn't find the legal decision itself and come to an independent conclusion.

Well, that's better than the Brooklyn Paper, which is owned by the Post's parent, but didn't publish any story.

The Record beats the Times

Of all the press beyond this blog, sports business reporter John Brennan, of The Record in New Jersey, got the story first, perhaps because he's been covering it for a long time. He offered a little media criticism:
Friedman’s 2012 ruling on the “10-year plan” was sometimes scathing,as I noted at the time.
But it received little New York City media ink, probably because the issue is complicated and the industry continues to trim payroll.
Well, once you spend some time absorbing the details, it’s not THAT complicated – as I wrote in a 2011 blog post.
The New York Times, unsurprisingly, hasn't run an article. I'd bet that the decision will be mentioned grudgingly in passing, in a Times roundup, likely keyed to the Barclays Center's first, successful year.

After all, remember the 7/19/11 article, Atlantic Yards Arena Takes Shape, but Protests Carry On, which contained this passage:
On Wednesday, Judge Marcy S. Friedman of State Supreme Court ruled that the Empire State Development Corporation, the state body overseeing the project, failed to adjust its environmental impact study from 10 years to 25 years in 2009 when it approved Forest City Ratner’s modified building plan. Justice Friedman ordered the development corporation to conduct a new study to determine whether alternatives were needed for the lot where parking is planned.
Ms. Carponter of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, the lead petitioner in the suit, hailed the decision as a rebuke of the development corporation’s oversight and a chance to amend the project. The judge did not, however, order the current work to be stopped.
Or the 4/17/13 roundup, headlined Impact of Atlantic Yards, for Good or Ill, Is Already Felt:
A ruling by a state appeals court last week, stemming from one of the lawsuits over the project, may cause additional delays in putting up most of the housing — though not in building the arena itself — by requiring the state to conduct a new environmental impact statement.
The ruling by the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court said that the Empire State Development Corporation conducted its environmental review based on a 10-year time frame, but that a 25-year schedule could force residents to “tolerate vacant lots, above-ground arena parking and Phase II construction staging for decades.”

The press release: DDDB
Judge Rules Plaintiffs in Atlantic Yards Legal Case Entitled to Fees; Forest City Ratner Must Pay
Developer, State Must Compensate Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, Other Community Groups

NEW YORK, NY—A judge today ruled that the Empire State Development Corporation ("ESDC") is liable for legal fees incurred by community groups that sued successfully to compel a supplemental environmental impact study (SEIS) for the second phase of Forest City's controversial Atlantic Yards project. She referred the parties to a referee to determine the amount of the award, which under an agreement with ESDC, Forest City Ratner will then have to pay.
The ruling was issued by New York State Supreme Court Justice Marcy S. Friedman, who in July of 2011 held that the second phase of the Atlantic Yards project must undergo re-analysis because of significant changes in the originally claimed 10-year construction timeline. Justice Friedman noted that this review "should lead to ‘consideration of alternatives [to the currently proposed project] that may more effectively meet the ostensible goal of the project to alleviate blight and create affordable and market-rate housing with less adverse environmental impacts.'" ESDC and Forest City Ratner lost their appeal of Justice Friedman's ruling at the Appellate Division, and the Court of Appeals, New York's highest court, refused to hear the case. The ESDC, the quasi-governmental entity overseeing the project, has yet to issue the draft SEIS required by the courts.
In reaching her decision that the plaintiffs were entitled to their attorneys fees as the prevailing party, Justice Friedman expressly denounced ESDC's claim that it was justified in continuing to use a ten year timeline when its own Development Agreement with Forest City Ratner reflected a buildout of up to 30 years, calling the claim "no small audacity, in light of the court's prior findings . . [including] the ESDC's ‘deplorable lack of transparency.'"
"Justice Friedman's ruling today is another reminder of the sordid 10-year history of the Atlantic Yards project, which to this day has largely failed to deliver on the promises that were used to sell it to the people of New York," said Candace Carponter, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's legal director. "We're gratified by today's decision, but the fact remains that, as Justice Friedman suggests, had the ESDC and Forest City Ratner not knowingly misrepresented the facts to the court, the entire Atlantic Yards project, including the heavily subsidized Barclays Center, would never have gotten off the drawing board."
"Justice Friedman has rendered a strong decision that vindicates what the community has been saying for a long time. One can only wonder whether this project would have ever moved forward if, as Justice Friedman noted, ESDC had disclosed the project's true timeline", said Jeffrey S. Baker, lead attorney for Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and a partner in Young, Sommer LLC. "It is time for ESDC to finally engage in an open and honest process that considers the full range of alternatives for Phase II of this project, not just the interests of Forest City Ratner."
The press release: Brooklyn Speaks

State court decision acknowledges misrepresentations by ESDC may have enabled construction of Barclays Center to proceed
In a decision issued yesterday, New York State Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman confirmed what many observers of the Atlantic Yards project have long suspected: if the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) had fully disclosed the terms of its 2009 agreement with Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC), the Barclays Center arena might not have been built. Justice Friedman’s decision granted a motion filed by BrooklynSpeaks sponsors for recovery of legal fees from a 2009 suit challenging ESDC’s approval of changes to the Atlantic Yards plan. Those changes allowed FCRC to extend the construction of the residential portion of the project—including the majority of its promised affordable housing—from ten to twenty-five years.
In legal papers filed in response to BrooklynSpeaks’ 2009 suit, ESDC had suggested its agreement with FCRC included provisions to ensure the completion of Atlantic Yards on its original ten-year schedule. However, ESDC delayed releasing the text of the agreement to the Court prior to arguments being heard in the case. Yesterday, Justice Friedman wrote, “Had the ESDC disclosed the terms of the Development Agreement that were being negotiated when the petitions were initially heard, or brought the Agreement to the court’s attention promptly after it was executed, construction would not have been as advanced on the arena at the time of the court’s determination requiring an SEIS, and the balance of the equities may have favored a stay pending preparation of the SEIS.” If such a stay had been issued after initial arguments, FCRC’s access to $500 million in bond financing for arena construction would have been in jeopardy.
Civic leaders and advocates renewed calls for better government oversight of Atlantic Yards. “It’s outrageous that after more than two years, ESDC has yet to comply with a court order for a supplemental environmental impact statement,” said Ellen Fishman, chair of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Council. “Justice Friedman again confirmed the need for just such a study of alternatives that can deliver housing without the need for extended construction.”
“Atlantic Yards delays are costing local families their chance to live in an apartment they can afford,” said Michelle de la Uz, executive director of the Fifth Avenue Committee. “Yesterday’s decision is another reminder that ESDC has long held the veil shrouding Atlantic Yards from accountability to the public, and that must change.”
Elected officials noted the recent announcement by FCRC of its intention to sell a majority of its interest in the residential portion of the Atlantic Yards project. “The massive delays in producing affordable housing are intolerable,” said Assemblyman Jim Brennan, chair of the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions. “I call on ESDC and Forest City Ratner to accelerate the schedule to bring the affordable housing units to completion as soon as possible.”
Said Assemblyman Walter Mosley, whose 57th District includes nearly all of the Atlantic Yards site, “Yesterday’s decision by the Court puts a greater burden on ESDC to demonstrate transparency in its future dealings on this project, into which the public has already directly invested hundreds of millions of dollars.”
“The Court has acknowledged what many of my constituents have known all along—that an agency of the State of New York has failed, and continues to fail, to represent their interests in favor of those of a powerful corporate developer,” said Councilmember Letitia James, who represents the neighborhoods of Fort Greene, Prospect Heights, Clinton Hill and Crown Heights. “ESDC needs to bring fundamental change to the oversight of this project to ensure public benefits get delivered before private profit.”

Friday, September 27, 2013

Forest City: B2 tower pushed back six months, because of revisions at modular factory (for "all good reasons")

A Forest City Ratner executive last night acknowledged that the first modular residential tower, B2, is delayed six months, as indicated in SEC filings earlier this month, but suggested there were "all good reasons" for the delay.

Speaking at the bimonthly meeting of the Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Committee, Jane Marshall said that the developer "originally thought we would be able to open in the summer of 2014. It looks like it's going to be open in the last quarter of 2014."

"The reasons for that are actually all good reasons," she asserted, saying the delay has to do with the start-up of the factory in the Brooklyn Navy Yard that will be producing modules (aka "mods") that will be trucked to the site at Flatbush Avenue and Dean Street and used to build the 32-story tower.

Factory changes

"In starting up the factory, we thought that there were certain kinds of equipment and money that would need to be invested," Marshall said, "and it turned out that, as we were doing the fit-out with our partner, Skanska, we identified ways of making the modular factory work better, by purchasing different equipment, like gantries and other kinds of things to move the mods around and to plan out where modular--different pieces of the mods, where those activities would happen and then travel to other sections of the factory."

"So, that took about six months," she added. "And so we think that the mods are going to start to arrive in the winter sometime--at the end of the year, beginning of the year."

(The mods were once supposed to arrive in August, with completion about a year later. Just last month, the Daily News reported that the mods were due in October. This past Sunday, the Daily News said the mods would arrive "in the coming weeks.")

"If you've been by the site, you may have seen the enormous beam, 12-foot steel beam, that is over the Dean Street entrance of the arena," she added. "That is the platform upon which the mods will be placed. So the erection of that platform is continuing... There is some construction activity, concrete work that's happening on the cellar and the first floor."

All good reasons?

It's surely plausible that a more efficient factory would improve the process of building mods for future buildings, and thus save Forest City time and money over the life of the project. 

But it's doubtful the delay regarding B2 is wholly a good thing. After all, Forest City put a huge crane in place at the site, and surely that will cost them as it remains inert.

So, when will Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for Atlantic Yards Phase 2 be issued? ESDC says there's no timetable

There was no discussion at the bimonthly Atlantic Yards Quality of Life meeting last night of a judge's decision to award attorneys' fees to two community coalitions that challenged the failure to study an extended Atlantic Yards timetable.

But there was a question about Justice Marcy Friedman's order that the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) issue a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) regarding Phase 2 of the project.

It's been ten months (actually closer to nine) since the Draft Scope was issued for the SEIS, noted Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council. "When can we expect to see the Draft SEIS?" (That Draft SEIS would then generate a public hearing, with responses incorporated into a Final SEIS.)

"We're definitely working on it," responded Derek Lynch, ESDC's community and government relations manager for Atlantic Yards. "There were quite a few comments" in response, he said. (Here's a link to some written comments and the public hearing held last February.)

Veconi asked if there was a projected time.

Lynch said there's no timetable right now.

"Are you at all concerned the Draft Scope will become dated?" asked Veconi.

"No," said Lynch.

"Maybe you should be concerned," responded Veconi.

Since the Draft Scope was issued, it became clear that Forest City Ratner intends to build the entire project using modular construction, and the developer has also announced plans to seek new partners.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

In decision awarding fees to attorneys challenging Atlantic Yards timetable, judge slams ESDC, suggests arena might not have been started/built had agency come clean

A new legal decision casts another cloud over the behavior of the state agency shepherding/overseeing Atlantic Yards and hints that only thanks to cheating did the Barclays Center get started in 2010 and, perhaps, built at all.

In the decision, dated 9/20/13 but released yesterday, state Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman granted a yet-to-be-determined amount of attorneys' fees to the two community coalitions that successfully challenged the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) agreement to extend the Atlantic Yards timetable from ten years to 25 years without studying the community impacts.

The practical impact--should the decision not be successfully appealed--is that attorneys for two community coalitions, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) and BrooklynSpeaks, may get paid for a significant amount of their work so far.

Also, there may be money left over to fund additional legal work regarding the ongoing Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) regarding the project's second phase and/or other aspects of Atlantic Yards. While both organizations offered comments regarding the SEIS, they have been quiet in the past year, with DDDB nearly dormant.

Pointed judicial comments

In her ruling (below), Friedman also made several pointed comments about the overall case, notably slamming the state's "audacity" in claiming it was reasonable to focus on the impacts of a ten-year buildout.

The judge suggested that the petitioners "persuasively" argued that the process for an SEIS should consider alternatives beyond Forest City Ratner's project to alleviate blight and "create affordable and market-rate housing with less adverse environmental impacts." (They've suggested that the Phase 2 sites be bid out to multiple developer.) And she hinted that everything might have been different had the ESDC come clean in early 2010.

That timetable switch was revealed in a Development Agreement the ESDC quietly signed with developer Forest City Ratner at the end of 2009, after the agency publicly re-approved the project. Lawsuits were then filed, and consolidated, challenging the approval and the failure to study an extended buildout.

But the Development Agreement was not released until after Friedman held an initial hearing in the case in January 2010. After initially ruling against the community groups in March 2010, just before the arena groundbreaking, Friedman reopened the case. In July 2011, she ruled against the ESDC and developer Forest City Ratner regarding Phase 2, but said the first phase was too far along to stop.

Friedman ordered an SEIS to evaluate the community impacts of Phase 2, The process is ongoing, with a Draft SEIS yet to be issued.

Winning side: "further vindication"

As I wrote last December after the oral argument, Friedman was distinctly unreceptive to ESDC attorney Philip Karmel, leaving reason for optimism on the part of those seeking to be paid.

"We're pleased it's a further vindication of what we've been arguing," DDDB attorney Jeff Baker commented late last night, citing Friedman's "audacity" quote and adding that it was "quite telling" that the judge acknowledged she might have looked differently at the case had the Development Agreement been revealed.

DDDB elaborated in a statement this morning:
"Justice Friedman's ruling today is another reminder of the sordid 10-year history of the Atlantic Yards project, which to this day has largely failed to deliver on the promises that were used to sell it to the people of New York," said Candace Carponter, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's legal director.  "We're gratified by today's decision, but the fact remains that, as Justice Friedman suggests, had the ESDC and Forest City Ratner not knowingly misrepresented the facts to the court, the entire Atlantic Yards project, including the heavily subsidized Barclays Center, would never have gotten off the drawing board."
"Justice Friedman has rendered a strong decision that vindicates what the community has been saying for a long time.  One can only wonder whether this project would have ever moved forward if, as Justice Friedman noted, ESDC had disclosed the project's true timeline", said Jeffrey S. Baker, lead attorney for Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and a partner in Young, Sommer LLC.  "It is time for ESDC to finally engage in an open and honest process that considers the full range of alternatives for Phase II of this project, not just the interests of Forest City Ratner."
Al Butzel, an attorney for BrooklynSpeaks, didn't comment yesterday, [updated] but BrooklynSpeaks issued a press release:
Civic leaders and advocates renewed calls for better government oversight of Atlantic Yards. “It’s outrageous that after more than two years, ESDC has yet to comply with a court order for a supplemental environmental impact statement,” said Ellen Fishman, chair of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Council. “Justice Friedman again confirmed the need for just such a study of alternatives that can deliver housing without the need for extended construction.”
“Atlantic Yards delays are costing local families their chance to live in an apartment they can afford,” said Michelle de la Uz, executive director of the Fifth Avenue Committee. “Yesterday’s decision is another reminder that ESDC has long held the veil shrouding Atlantic Yards from accountability to the public, and that must change.”
Elected officials noted the recent announcement by FCRC of its intention to sell a majority of its interest in the residential portion of the Atlantic Yards project. “The massive delays in producing affordable housing are intolerable,” said Assemblyman Jim Brennan, chair of the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions. “I call on ESDC and Forest City Ratner to accelerate the schedule to bring the affordable housing units to completion as soon as possible.”
Said Assemblyman Walter Mosley, whose 57th District includes nearly all of the Atlantic Yards site, “Yesterday’s decision by the Court puts a greater burden on ESDC to demonstrate transparency in its future dealings on this project, into which the public has already directly invested hundreds of millions of dollars.”
“The Court has acknowledged what many of my constituents have known all along—that an agency of the State of New York has failed, and continues to fail, to represent their interests in favor of those of a powerful corporate developer,” said Councilmember Letitia James, who represents the neighborhoods of Fort Greene, Prospect Heights, Clinton Hill and Crown Heights. “ESDC needs to bring fundamental change to the oversight of this project to ensure public benefits get delivered before private profit.”
(The attorneys sought about $300,000 in fees; Friedman ordered that a special referee evaluate the request.)

Representatives of the ESDC and Forest City Ratner offered "no comment." So it's not clear if they'll try to appeal; a loss would further add to the cost of the legal defense, which is funded by the developer.

Alternate history: no/delayed arena

In her decision, Friedman left the tantalizing possibility that, had the ESDC come clean in early 2010, she might have stalled arena construction:
Had the ESDC disclosed the terms of the Development Agreement that were being negotiated when the petitions were initially heard, or brought the Agreement to the court’s attention promptly after it was executed, construction would not have been as advanced on the arena at the time of the court’s determination requiring an SEIS, and the balance of the equities may have favored a stay pending preparation of the SEIS.
And that SEIS could have jeopardized arena financing and thus the Barclays Center itself.

Not only did the ESDC not disclose the Development Agreement, when Baker tried to bring it to Friedman's attention, the judge initially would not allow it into the record, and later acknowledged a misapprehension--though not quite a mistake-- on her part.

At issue: EAJA and ESDC as state agency

The Equal Access for Justice Act (EAJA) provides that fees and other expenses to the prevailing party "in any civil action brought against the state, unless the court finds that the position of the state was substantially justified or that special circumstances make an award unjust."

In her decision, Friedman noted that there's no case law on whether the ESDC "is the state or a state agency for purposes of the EAJA."

In her analysis, Friedman held "that the ESDC, in its role as lead agent for SEQRA[State Environmental Quality Review Act] in the Atlantic Yards Project, is an agency of the state... The legislative history of the establishment of the Urban Development Corp. (UDC), which is a public benefit corporation that does business as the ESDC, leaves no doubt that the purpose for which the UDC was established was to make grants and loans to promote economic development."
She agreed that when the ESDC acts to finance and promote economic development, it's not acting as the state:
Here, in contrast, the ESDC was not performing fiscal functions to promote economic development, as to which it required “freedom and flexibility” from requirements imposed on other state agencies that would interfere with the accomplishment of those functions.  Rather, it was acting as lead agent for SEQRA review of the Atlantic Yards Project, and thus performing a “fundamentally governmental” function as a decision-maker.
...In sum, as lead agent for SEQRA, the ESDC was charged with discretionary decisionmaking power, was acting to enforce and ensure compliance with State law, and was subject to judicial review according to the standards applicable to governmental agencies generally.
Prevailing party

The EAJA defines a “prevailing party” as a “plaintiff or petitioner in the civil action against the state who prevails in whole or in substantial part where such party and the state prevail upon separate issues.”

During the oral argument, Forest City Ratner attorney Jeffrey Braun noted that attorneys' fees are supposed to go to the "prevailing party. You have to have won most of the case."

"This case was not brought about a Supplemental EIS," he observed. "It was brought to stop the project." He suggested an offset of fees his client and ESDC expended "to prevent them from stopping the project."

Indeed, the initial lawsuit had three main causes of action, two of which could have stopped the project, so Braun was correct--but with an asterisk.

Had the Development Agreement been part of the record for Friedman's first ruling, before the groundbreaking, her ruling might have significantly affected the project, if not stopped it.

Friedman noted that "petitioners prevailed on their SEQRA claim for further environmental review of Phase I1 of the Project, involving the 'substantial majority' of residential buildings to be constructed."

Some other claims, she noted, were secondary to the primary SEQRA claim, and dismissed with limited discussion. As for the requested environmental review and a stay of construction of Phase 1, Friedman then it was too far along at the time of her ruling--but had the ESDC come clean, it might not have. 

She added:
Under these circumstances in which the ESDC’s own conduct delayed resolution of the SEQRA claim while construction proceeded, the court does not find that petitioners’ failure to obtain injunctive relief precludes a finding that they are prevailing parties.
Substantial justification

The prevailing party can't get attorneys' fees if the court "finds that the position of the state was substantially justified or that special circumstances make an award unjust."

Friedman wrote:
The ESDC claims that it had a reasonable basis for, although it did not prevail on, its position that its use of a 10 year build-out in assessing environmental impacts of the 2009 MGPP was reasonable, and that an SEIS was not required in connection with the MGPP. This claim reflects no small audacity, in light of the court’s prior findings as to the ESDC’s review process. These findings included what the court characterized as the ESDC’s “deplorable lack of transparency” in failing even to mention the MTA renegotiated agreement by name in discussing changes the agreement made in the deadlines for completion of the Project; the ESDC’s continuing lack of transparency and failure to meet its obligation to bring the Development Agreement to the court’s attention in order to correct “totally incomplete representations’’ made in opposition to the Article 78 petitions regarding such deadlines; and, upon remand, the ESDC’s performance of a wholly “perfunctory” analysis of the environmental impacts of a build-out of the Project that was potentially more than doubled under the MTA and Development Agreements. This is not a case in which the ESDC’s determinations were substantially justified.
How to determine fees

Friedman ordered that a special referee evaluate fees:
However, further briefing is required on the standards specifically applicable to the EAJA for calculating fees - e.g., whether the lodestar or other method should be used; whether petitioners are entitled to fees for the appeal and for the instant motion; and whether fees are recoverable under the EAJA at prevailing market rates, notwithstanding that petitioners’ counsel charged petitioners reduced rates based on their not-for-profit status.
Here's an explanation of the lodestar method.

At the hearing

At the hearing last December, ESDC attorney Karmel argued that the agency was "substantially justified"--albeit ultimately unsuccessful--in arguing it could rationally conclude that the worst impacts of the Atlantic Yards buildout would come in a concentrated ten-year construction period, rather than a potential 25-year buildout, which extend attenuated impacts.

Thus, the ESDC chose to not conduct a requested SEIS.

Butzel, the attorney for the BrooklynSpeaks coalition, told Friedman that, when the ESDC in 2009 re-approved the project and assumed it would take ten years, that "flew in the face of the realities of the market," and was contradicted by a public comment by then-ESDC CEO Marisa Lago, who said Atlantic Yards would take "decades."

"Why was it done?" Butzel asked rhetorically. "I believe it was so ESDC could avoid having to prepare a SEIS," a process that would have delayed approval of the project past a crucial end-of-2009 deadline to have tax-exempt bonds issued to finance the arena.

"In August 2009, ESDC fabricated the position that the project could be completed in ten years," Butzel said. He didn't mention the KPMG report that Karmel said in June 2010 that was "probably the most important factor" in the ESDC’s decision to assume a ten-year buildout. (I've identified blatant lies in the KPMG report.)

"If ESDC had been more honest, or counsel had been more forthcoming, the arena construction would not have started by the time of the first decision," Butzel contended.

Last December, I judged his statement murky; while there was site preparation, the formal arena groundbreaking in March 2010 came just after Friedman's first decision

It's now somewhat less murky; now we know that the judge agrees that construction might not have started.

Ends justify the means?

John Brennan of The Record wrote:
The Barclays Center has proven to be a hit in terms of architecture, job creation, and even being less of an imposition on an existing neighborhood than expected, in many respects. And like the Prudential Center in Newark, it likely has helped fuel already-existing interest in further developing the surrounding area.
So do Nets and Forest City Ratner representatives have an attitude of “the ends justified the means?” Probably, and others will no doubt agree. And we’re not going to tell you how to feel about that.
My response:
Arena's not a hit in terms of "job creation" until we know how many hours and how much pay the workers get--and they've been silent on that. Also, there's been tons of turnover. Hiring a bunch of people for low-paid, part-time jobs does not represent the transformation that was promised.
As for being less of an imposition than feared, yes, but that doesn't make it a "hit." it means that people closest remain quite vigilant and frequently frustrated.
But you're right about ends justify the means. Ratner last year said that, ultimately, "No one will care what we had to do to make it happen.”

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

From the Commercial Observer: Barclays Center’s First Year, By The Numbers (big concert venue; bonus: changing number of annual events)

In an article/chart for this week's Commercial Observer, Barclays Center’s First Year, By The Numbers, I wrote:
By most measures, the Barclays Center had a very good year since opening with eight Jay-Z concerts a year ago this Saturday, including hosting MTV’s Video Music Awards last month. As the statistics show, its success as a concert venue was significant, even if audience attendance was bolstered in some part by ongoing renovations at Madison Square Garden.
While some scheduled events never came to fruition, the total number of events lagged behind several estimates, and the start-up costs were a drag on profits, the Barclays Center will get a big bump during the 2015-2016 season when the New York Islanders move in.
Click through for various statistics, including the notable difference between projected concerts and the actual number, Nets fan demographics, attendance figures, as well as some of the events (what about that collaboration with BAM?) that were announced but not yet staged (or never will be).

Also note that the busy arena is not necessarily a profitable one, given start-up costs and, perhaps contracts written to lure some major acts to choose Barclays. Then again, the arena's success as a concert venue should be helpful, and the improvement of the Nets' roster should lead to an even more full house for hoops.

What's not included

Note that this set of statistics addresses the Barclays Center as a venue. I didn't try to analyze some of the larger issues regarding:
  • tax revenues (too fuzzy, though note that far more New Jersey basketball fans were once expected, which would give a bigger boost than locals redirecting spending)
  • jobs (we know there are some 2000 jobs, about 1900 part-time, but we don't know hours and wages)
  • retail rents and commercial impact (rising, and quite varied) 
  • community impacts (not as bad as feared but significant for some closest to the arena)
  • the larger Atlantic Yards project.
As Bob Windrem (aka Net Income of the NetsDaily blog) reminds me, the piece did not include statistics on transit use, and less driving.

By promoting use of public transit, limiting on-site parking, gaining significant number of local residents walking, lowered actual attendance, and having the benefit of free on-street parking, the goals in the Final Environmental Impact Statement to lower the "auto share" of Nets attendees were met.
  • For weekday Nets games, the goal was 28.3%, but the actual statistic was 25.7%.
  • For weekend games, the goal was 32%, but the actual figure was 31.9%.
Changing projections regarding annual events

One other set of statistics did not fit into the chart, but remains interesting. It regards the changing number of annual events projected at the arena.
  • 224: May 2004. Source: Report by Forest City Consultant Andrew Zimbalist
  • 250, May 2005. Source:, Forest City’s bid to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority
  • 235, May 2005. Source: Forest City presentation to City Council 
  • 194+, September 2005. Source, New York City Independent Budget Office Fiscal Brief
  • 225: July 2006 General Project Plan, Empire State Development Corporation
  • 225: June 2009 Modified General Project Plan, Empire State Development Corporation
  • 200+, September 2009. Source: Barclays Center press release
  • 225, December 2009. Source: ratings agency Moody's 
  • 220, December 2009.  Source: Forest City, according to ratings agency Standard & Poor's, which called estimate “aggressive” 
  • 184-214, December 2009. Source: consultant Conventions, Sport & Leisure International, part of official statement for bond buyers
  • 220, December 2012. Source: Brett Yormark interview in Gotham magazine.
  • 200+, June 2013. Source: Forest City Enterprises investor presentation
As noted, the advent of the Islanders should be very helpful. That doesn't mean there will be 44 (or so) more total events, since hockey games will nudge out some concerts. But two professional teams are surely better than one.

Met Council's Rapfogel said to have kept $1 million out of $5 million stolen; gave $100,000 to help a son buy home

The charges against former charity macher William Rapfogel are so serious that it makes you wonder if he'll make a deal and bring down any associates, such as longtime friend Sheldon Silver, the Assembly Speaker, for which his wife Judy is chief of staff.

And maybe he'll explain why one campaign contribution from his alleged associates went to an opponent of Forest City Ratner foe Letitia James.

Helping out a son

The New York Times reports today, Former Chief of Jewish Charity Stole Money Early and Often, Prosecutors Say:
Shortly after William E. Rapfogel became the leader of one of New York City’s most influential social service organizations in 1992, prosecutors say, he began to steal.
He received envelope after envelope, stuffed with skimmed cash kickbacks, according to a criminal complaint filed on Tuesday. Also cited were a $27,000 check written to a contractor working on his apartment, roughly $100,000 to help his son buy a home, and a campaign finance scheme that manipulated the city’s matching-funds formula, fraudulently increasing campaign contributions to favored city politicians who provided government grants to his organization.
Over two decades at the nonprofit Metropolitan New York Council on Jewish Poverty, Mr. Rapfogel and two confederates stole more than $5 million, much of it taxpayer money, said the complaint, which detailed the schemes and charged Mr. Rapfogel with grand larceny, money laundering and other crimes.
Some of the money went to the co-conspirators, who were not named in the complaint; some of it was directed to politicians and political organizations. Mr. Rapfogel, a man whose deeds and connections made his name almost synonymous with the city’s Jewish philanthropic causes, was accused of keeping more than $1 million for himself.
The cash-stuffed envelopes clearly added up. Investigators found $400,000 squirreled away in his Lower East Side apartment — a sizable chunk in his closet — and in his home in Monticello, N.Y., according to the complaint and a person briefed on the matter.
....He did not enter a plea and waived his right to a speedy trial, a move suggesting that he was or would be involved in plea negotiations.
(Emphasis added)

The complaint does not specify which son Rapfogel helped. Nor would the Attorney General's office offer any information beyond the complaint. According to this June 2011 profile of Rapfogel and his wife Judy, the couple has three sons, one of whom was a college student at the time.

One of the other two sons is Michael Rapfogel, who works on government relations for Forest City Ratner.

Fire Department official acknowledges poor communication before Barclays Center disaster drill Sept. 13

There wasn't much discussion of the Barclays Center at last night's 78th Precinct Community Council, at least in part because Council President Pauline Blake suggested that concerns be held for the Atlantic Yards Quality of Life meeting scheduled for this Thursday at 6:30 pm.

But New York Fire Department Battalion Chief Don Hayde did offer some oblique apologies for poor communication before the disaster drill held at the arena on Friday, Sept. 13. It was announced the day before but not circulated to many people until hours before the start.

For those not in the know, the scenes with actors playing dead and injured people, as well as emergency personnel in haz mat suits was alarming.

"It was not public knowledge in this community until late Thursday night," Blake said. "I have to say it was poor communication. I dialogued with OEM [Office of Emergency Management] and they passed the buck to you."

Hayde said previous drills, held in a portion of Penn Station, were not so publicly visible, and thus less alarming. He said the Barclays Center was chosen not because it was seen as particularly vulnerable, but because it was among venues where large groups gather.

"Collectively, the ball got dropped," acknowledged Hayde, who said "we put the notice out the day before." He promised better notification, as well as signage during the event, if such a drill were to happen again.

Crime down

Deputy Inspector Michael Ameri said that, overall, crime was down some 2% this year, even with an influx of people attending events at the Barclays Center and Prospect Park.

Though there are "some impacts on quality of life," he said, "nobody got hurt" or has been a crime victim.

How many cops?

One resident at Dean Street and Carlton Avenue said arena crowds are mainly peaceful, but there were drunk people and people fighting during the last two Nets playoff games. She asked if the police presence, significant when the arena opened but then diminished, would be restored.

Ameri said everyone knew that the police presence would decrease after the initial tone was set, but that NYPD researches events to try to match the perceived challenges with the right number of personnel.

So the Nets' season-opener Nov. 1 against the defending champion Miami Heat should draw not just a sellout crowd but also, according to Ameri, a good number of cops.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

As Ratner's Nassau Coliseum plan moves ahead, analyst predicts developer will try to renegotiate deal with county

In Developer Wins Approval to Renovate Nassau Coliseum, the New York Times reports that the Nassau County Legislature approved the $229 million plan by "the developer Bruce Ratner, the mastermind of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn," to "restore the utilitarian and increasingly outdated 41-year-old Coliseum, in Uniondale, N.Y."

And the article raises a question: though the deal is supposed to save county taxpayers money--they rejected a plan to pay off $400 million in bonds for a new arena--the Coliseum, without the Islanders but likely with a minor league hockey team, may have trouble surviving:
Dennis Coates, a professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who specializes in sports economics, said he doubted that the arena could generate the revenue it needed without the draw of a big sports team that can fill seats for roughly 40 home games a year, forcing the arena to rely mainly on concerts.
While it can attract big-name entertainers, he said, it will have at least three competing sites: Barclays, Madison Square Garden and the Izod Center, at the Meadowlands in New Jersey.
“The bottom line is,” Professor Coates said, “are they going to have to back out of the deal at some point and come back to the county and say we need more money, and the county will be on the hook.”
Wouldn't this have been the perfect time for writer Joseph Berger to quote an article he co-wrote last September with Charles Bagli, that Ratner has a "reputation for promising anything to get a deal, only to renegotiate relentlessly for more favorable terms"?

A spokesman for county executive Edward P. Mangano said the Islanders make up less than one-third of Coliseum events, still a big chunk.

Financing questions

The Times reports:
Forest City Ratner has offered to finance the entire $229 million cost of refurbishing the Coliseum and pay the county, which owns the building, 8 percent of gross revenue and 12.75 percent of parking revenue, with a minimum guaranteed payment of $4 million a year — a rental amount that would rise 10 percent every five years during the 34 years stipulated by the lease. The county in theory will not have to pay anything, but Mr. Ratner has indicated that he will ask the county’s Industrial Development Agency for some tax exemptions.
Finally, a tad of skepticism about what it means to privately finance an arena. There may be no direct subsidies, but there will be tax exemptions. Also unmentioned is the option to sell naming rights:
In closing

The Times article concludes:
In his pitch, Mr. Ratner predicted the transformed Coliseum would generate $9.6 billion in county economic activity over 30 years and more than 2,700 jobs.
Is this responsible journalism? Not in the slightest. What's "county economic activity"? It sure doesn't sound like a cost-benefit analysis. What kind of jobs, and at what wages? We don't know.

The Times shouldn't print such self-serving verbiage without a second analysis from a more neutral source.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Barclays boom? Sunny Daily News package on arena's first year allows few discouraging words, less analysis

The New York Daily News, sponsor of the Daily News Plaza at the Barclays Center and a longtime cheerleader for the arena, produced a package of mostly puff pieces yesterday saluting the arena at one year. While a small amount of criticism and contradictory information snuck in, the newspaper didn't look hard enough.

Yes, the arena has gotten mostly good reviews from visitors, drawn healthy crowds for the Nets, and booked more concerts than anticipated. That surely makes the Barclays Center a success by several measures, but it does not make the arena--much less the overall Atlantic Yards project--a success without major caveats.

There was no mention of any untoward local impacts--surely fewer than feared, but still significant on the blocks nearest the arena. Nor acknowledgment that two retail spaces around the arena itself remain empty, while those on Atlantic Avenue lag.

Nor any recognition why mention of the arena at a mayoral forum might provoke scorn.  Nor why there's an inflatable rat, symbol of union protest, outside the arena. Nor any hard questions--in fact, the articles are framed so that critical information is met with a more positive anecdote in response.

The Daily News, of course, didn't mention that business relationship.

The Barclays boom?

One semi-critical article was sunnily headlined Local Brooklyn businesses feel Barclays boom: Concert, game traffic brings new faces to neighborhood places. Yes, there are new faces, especially at bars and restaurants very near the arena, but the article actually provided several data points that contradicted the notion of a "boom."

One restaurant said it gets little post-event business. And here's a gentle summary of the issue:
“Some restaurants and bars have had a boost in pre- and post-event business,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of NYC Hospitality Alliance, a restaurant umbrella group. “But others feel the increased foot traffic hasn’t led to the increase in revenue they had hoped for. In any case, the excitement … created by the (arena) presents opportunities for businesses trying to capture a piece of the action.”
And talk of a "sales spike" at Modell's, an arena neighbor and partner, is not exactly representative, because another neighbor has a different account:
“My business has been great. But we are not seeing a big difference from the Barclays Center,” said Murat Uyaroglu, who owns the chi-chi Hungry Ghost bakery.
Who to blame?

As rent for space near the arena is double the price not so far away, Council Member Letitia James said it was "displacing mom-and-pop shops, which are the backbone of our economy.”

Then consider:
But Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, one of the biggest supporters of the arena, hailed the first year as a major success.
“I see nothing but positive,” he said. “[Critics) will always nitpick. They just can’t come to grips that it’s becoming a Brooklyn icon. More people are spending more time in Brooklyn and the arena is a part of it.”
He acknowledged that rising rents are becoming a problem throughout Brooklyn, leading to an influx of banks and franchise stores. “It’s not the fault of the arena,” he said. “As property values go up, landlords that own commercial are going to charge more.”
Markowitz wants to have it both ways. If we're supposed to credit the arena (in part) for the boom, doesn't it also deserve blame?

The fact is: the arena, along with gentrification, has been driving out small stores. That's good for landlords, sure. But the balance between serving locals and serving visitors is changing.

Should The Chocolate Room get bounced because the landlord thinks he can get more from another arena bar? Ditto for Vegetarian Palate, which actually lost business thanks to arena-goers monopolizing local parking.

Who measures success?

Another article summarizes the news, Barclays Center at 1 year: A 'true Brooklyn success story': 2,000 employees, surging property values and a local business boom.
Ticket and concession sales are booming at the glass and weathered steel-fronted sports and entertainment complex which has seen more than 2 million customers come through its doors and is now ranked as the country’s No.1 concert venue.
While profits are lagging because of the high cost of running the arena, Forest City Ratner executive chairman Bruce Ratner calls the Barclays Center “a great financial success.”
What exactly does that mean? For whom? There should be some third-party verification of what "financial success" means. I suspect it's more a success for Ratner than the public.

But other cheerleaders are quoted:
“There is no question that the Barclays Center — America’s most beautiful arena — is a true Brooklyn success story,” said Brooklyn Borough president Marty Markowitz. 
The arena has brought jobs to the neighborhood, employing 2,000 people — 80% are Brooklyn residents and one third are from local housing projects — though 1,900, are part-timers.
Brisk event and food sales and the fat payroll of the Brooklyn Nets — amounting to more than $120 million — are boosting the city’s tax revenues.
Wait a sec. How much do employees earn a week? The Daily News didn't ask, and Ratner's people have never told us.

What about that payroll? Seven of the Nets lived in New Jersey and weren't subject to NYC income taxes. Even the $120 million were paid to exclusively city residents, that would mean approximately $4.65 million in new city taxes, far less than what Ratner saved on land for the project.

How to count the jobs

The article quotes a critic:
“It is good to have jobs created in this part of Brooklyn, no doubt,” said Gib Veconi, treasurer of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council which has sued Forest City Ratner and the Empire State Development Corp. over delays at Atlantic Yards, which has slowed down the project’s planned affordable housing. “But for the government subsidies received, many more living wage jobs should have been created.”
Then, in Daily News style,comes a not-quite-rebuttal:
Forest City Ratner spokeswoman Ashley Cotton noted that in addition to the 2,000 employed by the Barclays Center, thousands of other jobs have been spawned including “local restaurant jobs, architects, truck drivers, graphic designers, tech people and many, many others who touch Barclays Center in one way or another.”
Local impact

The article quotes an observer who's gathered some data:
[Sharon Davidson, executive director of the North Flatbush Avenue Business Improvement District] added that a much-anticipated “trickle effect” from the Barclays Center has yet to happen for many merchants in her district. “The arena is working with Forest City Ratner and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce to come up with some ideas to get visitors to visit our establishments,” she said.
The rebuttal, in closing: comes from Carlo Scissura, president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce:,
“Places are packed. I have personally waited to get into Woodland,” Scissura said, referring to the Flatbush Ave. restaurant situated four and half blocks away from the arena.
“Two years ago there was a hole in the ground with nothing,” he added. “We now have America’s hottest arena, a new boosterism of the borough, and award shows. It’s a positive for the entire city.”
That's an anecdote, not a study.

The modular story

An article headlined Barclays at 1: Taking the next step: Assembling the world's largest modular building, bringing new tenants and business to Brooklyn
“Once we’ve cracked the code of building modular high-rise housing, there’s no telling what could happen,” said Melissa Roman-Burch, senior vice-president for development at Forest City Ratner.
The tower will not only transform this little corner of Brooklyn, bringing the first 363 of 6,000 apartments to Atlantic Yards, but it could well remake the entire housing industry in the city, saving both time and money for developers and tenants.
There's no mention that the apartments would be smaller than promised, or that unions and industry groups (which have filed suit) have criticized the Department of Buildings' willingness to bend its rules for Forest City Ratner. Or that the B2 tower is delayed.

New open space

The Daily News reports sunnily regarding the housing:
It will also bring the largest open space to the neighborhood since the creation of Fort Greene and Prospect parks a century-and-a-half ago. Eight acres of plazas and lawns will surround the 14 towers between Sixth Avenue and Vanderbilt Avenue.
Granted that part of the project could take another decade or two to complete.
"Granted"--ha.

The open space would not so much surround the towers as be surrounded by them. And the number of new residents means that the open space would likely not be so useful to "the neighborhood."

What about the platform

The article states:
Forest City still has to build a costly platform over the LIRR railyards, but there is a block on the southeast corner of the site, along Vanderbilt Avenue, where at least two towers are planned and could potentially rise.
Forest City has put off plans to build this platform.

The sports desk

An article headlined Barclays Center at 1 year: The top moments in sports: The Nets, boxing, WWE were main attractions began:
Where once there was a giant void in Brooklyn, there is now year-round sports in an eager and accommodating venue.
Um, the term "giant void" is most accurate as a description of the site as demolished, not the working railyard and neighboring blocks.

But Stefan Bondy, in his summary of the Nets' plans for a home opener against the Knicks, even forgets how he was a cheerleader for the game to be played in the wake of Sandy.

The music desk

An article headlined Barclays at 1: Music's A-list came to Brooklyn: From Jay-Z to Barbra Streisand, the Rolling Stones to the VMAs:
The first concert held at Barclays Center, one year ago next week, doubled as a dare.
When Jay-Z took the stage of the virgin arena, he offered the toughest possible test of its sonic chops. The density of the rapper’s verse, and the bass rumble of his rhythms, could fracture the fidelity of audio systems in the most sophisticated of venues. But, at this inaugural event, Jay’s words cut through, knife-clean, and his bass lines kept their crucial bounce.
As a result, fans got to bask in the crispest possible live experience of the rapper’s music, a feat in a venue of this size and construction. Small wonder so many stars have anointed Barclays as their prime New York-area concert stop.
The MTV Video Music Awards "used the borough as its virtual co-star, snaking its stars through a replica of the Brooklyn Bridge," the newspaper reported, without mentioning the impact on the actual residents of the borough nearby.

The high-low city

The article states:
As 18,000 capacity arenas go, Barclays boasts a relative intimacy. The steep grade of the seats leans fans closer to the action, even in the ear-poppingly high seats. The architecture also eases the imposition of the space. The wide open plaza out front, and the fact that the building scales low at its entry before swooping higher behind, makes Barclays seem friendlier, and less out-of-scale, to the surrounding area. Windows flanking the Atlantic Avenue side of the structure further open the venue to its neighbors, warming its image.
That "friendlier" scale and "high-low city" depends on the failure to build a promised office tower containing jobs.