Monday, June 02, 2014

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.

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