Saturday, June 28, 2014

How the Times again got used: No, affordable housing won't be "10 Years Early" and 25 years was not supposed to be schedule

It was another public relations coup for Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner, with assistance from the New York Times, notably real estate development reporter Charles Bagli, who seems to pay much closer attention to other projects.

The Times reported yesterday, in Plan Expedited for Affordable Housing Near Barclays Center in Brooklyn:
Now, the developer, Forest City Ratner, facing pressure from public officials and community groups, has signed a formal agreement with the state, which oversees the project, to put housing construction into high gear and finish 2,250 affordable apartments by 2025, 10 years ahead of the current schedule.
While it's accurate to say the plan has been expedited, it's wrong to claim it's "10 years ahead of the current schedule" and even more misleading to say--as the sub-headline said in print (above)--that the 2,250 units would arrive "10 Years Early."

The project was always supposed to take ten years, and that timetable was expected when Atlantic Yards was approved in 2006 and 2009, though with the latter a potential delay to 15 years was acknowledged. A 2025 deadline means it would be five years late--though ten years earlier than the extended deadline.

The state agency overseeing the project, Empire State Development (ESD), in late 2009 set 25 years as an outside date. (CEO/Chairman Bruce Ratner then claimed that ten years “was never supposed to be” the timetable, as the buildout was market-dependent.)

The state withheld the Development Agreement setting that date, and the developer and ESD ultimately lost a lawsuit requiring a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) to evaluate the impacts of delays.

As Forest City executive Jane Marshall said at the 4/30/14 hearing on the SEIS, "This 25-year outside date was never viewed by Forest City as a proposed construction schedule but as a date by which we failed. We have always intended to complete the project much, much sooner than that and we will."

Two months ago, however, there were no penalties if they didn't complete the project "much sooner than" 25 years. Now there are penalties for not finishing by 2025.

Times acquiescence, redux

The Times's acquiescence in the developer's framing is particularly notable because, when this blog reported on the extension to 25 years, the Times ignored the issue (though I kept criticizing the Times for the omission). 

For those of us with long Atlantic Yards memories, it recalls the Times's helpful framing--in an article co-written by Bagli--in a front-page 9/5/06 lead story (!) overhyping the news that Forest City planned a 6% to 8% cut in the size of Atlantic Yards.

Surely the Times would not have placed that article on the front page had it include the essential context--only later reported--that the cut would bring the size of Atlantic Yards back to that originally proposed.

Similarly, the new timetable would be closer--but not back to--that originally proposed.

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