Skip to main content

Different opinions or different facts? Remember how ESDC claimed the ten-year buildout was "not unreasonable" and the city and state were "searching for a project to remedy that [railyard] blight"

"Atlantic Yards will be many things to many people," as developer Forest City Ratner once promised on the original Atlantic Yards website, and that's very true.

For journalists, it should be, among other things, a reminder about the fundamental issue of accountability.

That reminds me of "different opinions," a classic phrase in the Atlantic Yards saga.

Last week, a state judge concluded that the Empire State Development Corporation (aka Empire State Development, or ESD), was wrong in arguing that, without Atlantic Yards, the project site would have remained unchanged.

It was a reasoned opinion given the force of legal fact. (By the way, the derivative Curbed account of the case, like that of the Brooklyn Eagle and the Real Deal, continued to get it wrong.)

The ten-year buildout

The "different opinions" phrase came in September 2009 Steve Matlin, the lead in-house attorney on Atlantic Yards for ESDC/ESD.

He had been asked about the difference between the KPMG market study commissioned by the state authority, which concluded that a ten-year buildout of the Atlantic Yards residential towers was "not unreasonable," and a report, commissioned by a coalition of neighborhood groups, that was far more pessimistic.

Yes, different opinions, but also different facts. I detailed omissions and errors in the KPMG report and expressed skepticism about that ten-year timetable.

Nearly five years later, with just the first tower under construction (and a few more coming soon), that ten-year buildout seems impossible, no matter how fast Forest City Ratner's new joint venture partner/overseer, the Chinese government-owned Greenland Group, kickstarts construction.

Different opinions, different facts.

The topper came when developer Bruce Ratner, in September 2010, said of the ten-year timeline,  “It was never supposed to be the time we were supposed to build them in.”

The effort to remediate blight

Here's another example. As I wrote 1/24/07, an ESDC legal memorandum in the Atlantic Yards federal eminent domain case made a not-so-credible claim about the Metropolitan Transportation's Authority's "blighted" yet operational Vanderbilt Yard:
In fact—as the ESDC Defendants explained in their opening brief and as the complaint itself makes plain (but as plaintiffs conveniently omit to mention in their response)—it is uncontested that at least half of the Atlantic Yards Project site is in fact blighted. The City made its blight determination nearly forty years ago, and renewed it in 2004. The State and City governments have been searching for a project to remedy that blight ever since—until now, without success.
(Emphasis added)

They were?

How hard were they searching for a project to be built over the railyards? Recall this exchange in March 2006 between Kate Suisman, aide to Council Member Letitia James, and Winston Von Engel of the Department of City Planning:

"Had the city been looking at making use of the land?" Suisman asked.

"Not that I can recall," Von Engel said.

No, not different opinions. Different facts. And a reminder about accountability.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…

Former ESDC CEO Lago returns to NYC to head City Planning Commission

Carl Weisbrod, Mayor Bill de Blasio's City Planning Commission Chairman and Director of the Department of City Planning, is resigning,

And he's being replaced by Marisa Lago, currently a federal official, but who Atlantic Yards-ologists remember as the short-term Empire State Development Corporation CEO who, in an impolitic but candid 2009 statement, acknowledged that the project would take "decades."

Still, Lago not long after that played the good soldier at a May 2009 Senate oversight hearing, justifying changes in the project but claiming the public benefits remained the same.

By returning to City Planning, Lago will join former ESDC General Counsel Anita Laremont, who after retiring from the state (and taking a pension) got the job with the city.

Back at planning

Lago, a lawyer, in 1983 began work as an aide to City Planning Chairman Herb Sturz, and later served as the General Counsel to the president of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, Weisbrod himself.