Friday, September 12, 2014

If Forest City tries "to give information as soon as we have it," why was last week's Construction Alert released more than two days late?

Here's a thought experiment: let's say your boss requires you, every two weeks, to produce and distribute a report on Monday morning describing what's going to happen in your office or on your job site over the next two weeks.

You do it on Monday morning, because that's what's required, right?

Except when there's a holiday. You can't come to work on Labor Day. So you send it out Tuesday, first thing.

That's not what happened last week. The two-week Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Construction Update, dated weeks of Sept. 1 and Sept. 8, came out late Thursday morning 9/4/14, more than than two days after the next business day began. (It is prepared by Forest City Ratner and distributed by Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing/shepherding the project.)

At the Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Meeting Thursday 9/4/14, Forest City External Affairs VP Ashley Cotton stressed that the firm is about "being transparent, trying to give information as soon as we have it." (You can hear her below.)



"Of course, the two-week look ahead was late because of Labor Day weekend," Cotton continued, not too contritely. "We never seek to be late, except for a holiday, so we apologize for that.”

The whisper in the background is me exclaiming that it was three days late--though, actually, just two business days late.

In some offices, such a casual approach to a promised commitment might be a firing offense. In this case, there was no sanction, and almost no public criticism. Forest City and the state are in lockstep.

Might there be some time lag in the state's distribution once it gets the alerts from Forest City?

So I asked the state agency, "When did ESD get the look ahead and how long did it take to distribute?" I got this not-so-informative response: "The holiday slightly delayed the release of the schedule."

A missed opportunity for criticism and oversight

Some who might have criticized Forest City and the state are trying to look on the bright side.

At the meeting, Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council and BrooklynSpeaks, periodically a powerful critic of the project, chose not to address the delay but to look at the bigger picture, the agreement signed in June that moves the deadline for affordable housing up ten years, to 2025, and sets up a new Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation to monitor compliance with the project’s public commitments.

"We think this is the best platform to move forward on, to try to make the project accountable and responsive," he said.

He got a thank-you from Empire State Development's Marion Phillips III.

[Update: Note that Veconi points out that he was reacting to criticism of the CDC. True, but Veconi's general posture suggests a more friendly relationship with Forest City and the state.]

The new Community Development Corporation, with board members appointed by local elected officials (but mostly by the governor), should be an improvement, but it won't be up and running until December. 

As Cotton's statement and the ESD's explanation about the delay glaringly show, the project needs oversight right now. It's not like Forest City is pausing construction activities until December.

Part of a pattern

It's not unusual for the alerts to come late. This past June, an alert was distributed by ESD at 2:30 pm on a Tuesday. Such Tuesday releases are common. Sometimes they've come on Wednesday, two business days late, as was the case last week.

And sometimes there are Supplemental Alerts, with some announcing work that has already begun.

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