So, why are Ratner & Gilmartin getting the Onassis Medal? The ends must justify the (ignored) means, and they don't fit most MAS goals.
As I wrote, it's highly questionable that Forest City Ratner's Bruce Ratner and MaryAnne Gilmartin, whatever their significant professional accomplishments, fit with the ideals that Onassis represented.
After all, Forest City has been called “among the most ruthless and difficult developers in the city" and the company is deeply entangled with the less-than-virtuous lobbyist Al D'Amato.
Did those deciding on the award consider all this, or did they just look at the buildings, and conclude that the ends justify the means? Remember, it's a fund-raiser.
If the medal is to go to a developer, there are stronger candidates. Consider someone like Jonathan Rose, who Metropolis described as "arguably the nation’s foremost developer of affordable, environmentally sensitive, socially conscious housing projects"?
Harmony with MAS goals?
Indeed, Forest City's record doesn't necessarily fit with the Municipal Art Society's efforts to create a "more livable city by advocating for excellence in urban planning and design, a commitment to historic preservation and the arts, and the empowerment of local communities to affect change in their neighborhoods."
While the signature Forest City buildings honored in the invitation--the Barclays Center, the New York Times Tower, New York By Gehry--arguably represent excellent urban design (if not urban planning), it's hard to say they represent a commitment to historic preservation nor the empowerment of local communities.
Heck, the Atlantic Yards project is in the middle of a court-ordered Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), because New York State, with Forest City, misled the public and the court about the change in the project timetable to 25 years.
And the Barclays Center is about to get a new green roof--and extended, disruptive construction--that was never disclosed in any environmental review. That's how they roll.
It's worth looking at how Ratner and Gilmartin are described in the invitation, at bottom. Note what's not mentioned: the (delayed) commitment to affordable housing, the dubious manipulation of "community" under the much-touted (but not credible) Community Benefits Agreement, and the role of a Russian oligarch and the Chinese government in Atlantic Yards.
From the bio:
Bruce Ratner is the Executive Chairman of Forest City Ratner Companies, a New York-based real estate development company which he started in 1985. As one of the largest urban real estate developers in the country, Mr. Ratner has developed 44 ground-up projects in the New York City area over nearly 30 years.That's professional accomplishment, but there are other developers with significant records, too. As I wrote, it's notable that Ratner and Gilmartin are the first developers being honored in this way.
As the majority owner and developer of Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets, Mr. Ratner is recognized for bringing the first major professional sports team to Brooklyn since the Dodgers left in 1957. The arena is part of Mr. Ratner’s $4.9 billion, 22-acre mixed-use Atlantic Yards development, which will include 6,400 residential units. The first residential building, under construction now, is being built using a pioneering method of modular construction.Yes, he brought the first major league team to Brooklyn, but also used that team to leverage a real estate deal and to avoid the empowerment of local communities. Nor is it his team any more--he sold 80% to Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov and is the process of selling his company's remaining share.
Nor is it his "Atlantic Yards development," since Forest City Ratner and parent Forest City Enterprises are in the process of selling 70% of the remaining project (excluding the arena and first tower) to the Chinese government-owned Greenland Group. So public subsidies, as well as cheap capital from the dubious marketing of green cards under the EB-5 program, will benefit the Chinese government.
Also, while modular construction is a pioneering method, we recently learned--well after the decision to honor Ratner and Gilmartin--that it's not yet working out as planned: the first building is delayed a year, and Greenland has determined that the next three towers will be built using conventional construction. So much for some of the promised benefits from modular, such as less noise, fewer trucks, and less disruption.
Mr. Ratner’s commitment to New York City is exemplified by his service on the boards of Weill Cornell Medical College; the Museum of Jewish Heritage – a Living Memorial to the Holocaust, where he serves as Chairman-Elect; and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.That represents significant service, but if board service were a qualification for the Onassis Medal, the list of moguls eligible would be a mile long.
From the bio:
Maryanne Gilmartin is President and CEO of Forest City Ratner Companies, where she has led the development of some of the most high profile real estate projects in New York City, including New York By Gehry, the tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere, designed by architect Frank Gehry, and the New York Times Building, designed by architect Renzo Piano. She is also leading the effort to build Atlantic Yards.OK, now we know for sure that these are the projects being recognized.
Ms. Gilmartin has been recognized as a top professional in her field by New York Women Executives in Real Estate (WX) as its 2007 “Woman of the Year,” by Crain’s in 2007 as one of New York’s Most Influential Women and again, in 2011 and 2013, by Crain’s as one of New York’s 50 Most Powerful Women.Those are all pretty much insider awards, since the real estate industry and Crain's are not about to look at the Culture of Cheating.
As a Trustee of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), a Member of the Board of Governors of the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), Co-Chair of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and a Member of the Industry Advisory Board of the MS Real Estate Development Program at Columbia University, Ms. Gilmartin’s personal and professional commitment to New York City is deep.Three of those professional commitments are intertwined with Forest City's business interests, while the fourth seems an FCR seat on the BAM board, given Ratner's long relationship. Again, however significant the service, it's hard to see how that translates into the Onassis Medal.