Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Thoughts from Chairman Bruce in 2013: the necessity of a plaza, "appropriate" costs, bizarro math, and "barrier-of-entry" real estate

I'm still working on my 2013 Atlantic Yards recap, but, in doing so, I noticed some truly spectacular quotes from Forest City Ratner Chairman (and former CEO) Bruce Ratner, who is, as they say in literature classes, a rather unreliable narrator, though sometimes awkwardly candid.

“Almost all great buildings in the world have plazas that really define them,” said Ratner in June of the Barclays Center. “You don’t want to drive up and feel like you’re going to an ordinary place. You want to make it special.”

Except the Brooklyn arena was never supposed to have a plaza.

At 1:21 of this video interview in March, Ratner defended naming the company's mall in Yonkers as "Westchester's Ridge Hill," claiming: "No business today can survive simply on a city or a town, it has to survive on a whole region."

Tell it to Brooklyn.

Praising modular construction, Ratner said in April, "You know exactly what your costs are... efficient, also very environmentally friendly. Most importantly is the cost element. Work in a factory, union wages are very, very appropriate both for the worker and for our company."

Very, very appropriate means low enough for Ratner to make the projected returns.

“We’re good at getting it done,” he said in a June interview. “In today’s world you need to create a brand. You need to create buzz and marketing. We’re really good at that.”

It's true that they're good at marketing, but less so at "getting it done," at least according to their voluminous promises.

"It's tremendous," Ratner said in June regarding a question about the arena's impact on the local economy. " Y'know, the area, the segment that has not recovered in New York and the country, people who are low, middle-income... Basically you have a situation where the less educated, people of lower income, have not recovered. So it's a big thing when you provide 2000 jobs."

Not when the average weekly salary is likely in the $250 range.
“We’ve had 2 million customers, 80% of the population of Brooklyn, 25% of the population of New York City, visit our 19,000-seat arena in our first year,” Ratner said in September.

Fascinating how 2 million visitors gets transformed into 80% of Brooklyn's population, though the number of Brooklynites who can afford to pay for Barclays Center tickets is understandably fractional.

Another September article acknowledged that "profits are lagging because of the high cost of running the arena," but quoted Ratner as claiming the arena's “a great financial success.”

It's not just that profits are lagging. Their costs are astronomically higher than projected.

In September, Ratner was asked on live TV about how the Barclays Center got to be part of the NBA's 2015 All-Star weekend.

"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."

Is Ratner "freaking out" about new mayor Bill de Blasio, he was asked in October.

"Not at all," Ratner replied. "I've known Bill de Blasio for a very long time. He's going to make a very good mayor, and he's going to be good for business because he has a [sic] good leadership, he's intelligent, he's going to do a good job. He listens. he's right now going around seeing all the real estate people... Bill de Blasio I predict will be a great mayor."

He explained his business philosophy in an October interview. "The second thing is, I always believe in barrier of entry," he said. "So if you find a company that's building garden apartments everywhere, I kind of stay away from it: competition. So I think you want to find a company that builds in urban areas or barrier-of-entry areas, and in residential."

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