Thursday, February 06, 2014

Memo from Bruce Ratner to his Chinese partner: Happy Chinese New Year! "Gung Hay Fat Choy!"

OK, there's no proof Bruce Ratner wrote this memo to Zhang Yuliang, chairman of the Greenland Group, which is poised to take a 70% stake in the remaining Atlantic Yards project. But it may represent some of his thoughts.

Dear Yuliang,

Happy Chinese New Year! "Gung Hay Fat Choy!" Wishing you a prosperous year ahead!

I am thrilled with our partnership on Atlantic Yards. As former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz once said, in a slightly different context, "There's nothing better than China and Brooklyn together."

(Which reminds me--Marty could use a job, and he would be perfect for our joint venture. Let's discuss the next time you're in town.)

I know we're still formalizing some of that pesky paperwork, but I wanted to remind you that Forest City Ratner, and our parent Forest City Enterprises, still plan to be major players in Atlantic Yards.

We, of course, have set up the factory for modular construction, and "cracked the code" for such high-rise projects. We have a long history of relationships with the local elected officials and community groups. And we know how to work the media.

We pull our weight. Would you believe that virtually no one--no one important!--cares that we haven't built the office tower at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues?

Heck, Vishaan Chakrabarti--he's a very big shot in the planning and real estate worlds, and he works for us--even suggests the arena plaza is the exemplar of the "high-low city." Genius!

When we call the press, they show up. For weeks, we dribbled out the story of technological innovation regarding modular, so many news outlets took the bait.

We called a press conference and everyone brought their cameras. No one cared that the first building will have far fewer 2BR units than promised and no 3 BRs, and that the subsidized 2 BRs will skew toward higher incomes. It's too complicated!

Sure, that December press conference was just a media event, but only Norman Oder, who writes that annoying Atlantic Yards Report blog, noticed--well, at least until the Brooklyn Paper picked it up.

I go on Bloomberg TV--that's Bloomberg TV, owned by my good friend, the former mayor--and they suck up to me like a financial guru. (They have a lovely Chinese-American anchor, Betty Liu, who might be a good person to interview a real Chinese capitalist.)

Finally, you couldn't get away with selling green cards to immigrant investors (AY II) without us.

I think we dodged a bullet. This could have been a cover story in a tabloid--the New York Post, not the Daily News, since the Daily News is our business partner.

I even had our consultants toss it around. They could see the headlines: "Ratner Ripoff: Helping Chinese Government Profit By Selling U.S. Green Cards!"

That guy Oder published a long article making exactly that point, and also citing various examples where our marketing sounds like a scam.

Oder, I have to admit, made a few good points: maybe we should be more careful about our marketing, but as long as the documents they sign have been lawyered, we're OK.

But his coverage sank like a stone. None of the real estate reporters or Brooklyn reporters or architecture critics would touch it.

So we--and I include MaryAnne Gilmartin and Ashley Cotton--have successfully created our own reality. In Brooklyn, we talk up "affordable housing."

In fact, our "opponents"--well, they're not really "opponents" but we like to call them that--what they they want, it seems, is for us to build the project faster.

Some say they want some "oversight" or "governance," but if we give them more of that "affordable housing," I'll bet they'll quiet down. (OK, this one guy, Gib Veconi, thinks we're "too big to fail," but that's just too complicated for most people.)

For the immigrant investors, of course, our pitch is all about the high local rents, and the booming Brooklyn market.

Let me get something straight. We don't consider anything we do cheating. We do what we have to do, to survive. (That, by the way, was also used by one of our allies, a deceased gentleman named Darnell Canada. Real estate in Brooklyn is a complex thing, which is why you need us, remember.)

We have the press on our side. Consider: we got the New York Times to publish a big article on our new sculpture. We got the Wall Street Journal to publish another article about our video art.

We placed an article in the Times about our successful transportation plan, and another in the Journal about local spending.

And you know what? No one's published an article about the leaking bass from loud concerts. Nobody cares that we don't pay arena workers benefits.

No mainstream press outlet published an article about how our ally Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development (BUILD) closed down.

Similarly, none have written about our failure to hire the Independent Compliance Monitor for the historic Community Benefits Agreement. (This Our Time Press doesn't count.) And when we agreed to pay $300,000 in attorneys' fees, the news was pretty much buried.

As they say in Brooklyn, the cost of doing business.

Last night, the Barclays Center was bathed in a lovely glow as Amnesty International held a fund-raising concert for human rights. Pussy Riot and Madonna were there! Susan Sarandon!

(I know Amnesty might have a few things to say about China if they looked, but the point is: many articles, photos, tweets that imply the arena's a hospitable venue for human rights, zero about how we finagle the finances.)

We've got Jay-Z. (Or, I guess, we're supposed to call him Jay Z.) President Obama likes the Nets. President Bill Clinton came to a game! (OK, Oder got annoyed.)

I just rose from #59 to #43 in City & State's latest Power 100 list. Bertha Lewis is #42. (She's a friend, though she may kiss you against your will. Be ready! It doesn't hurt to hire her, though. Just sayin'.)

Mayor Bill de Blasio is #1.

Please remember: we at Forest City Ratner entered early as de Blasio supporters.

The mayor, I suspect, will be very, very good for Atlantic Yards. And we--Forest City and Greenland--are Atlantic Yards.

I'm looking forward to a very prosperous Year of the Horse.

Best regards,
Bruce

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