Skip to main content

The Cotton contradiction: Forest City's lobbying leader also presents herself as point person for community complaints

Ashley Cotton is Forest City Ratner's Chief of Staff, the new "it" position in real estate, according to a recent (and admiring) survey of this emerging trend by the Real Deal.

“It’s generally a young, up-and-coming talent – someone with potential to be in the C-suite a little further on in their career,” said Bob O’Brien, the head of global and U.S. real estate services at Deloitte.

Cotton also oversees Forest City Ratner's lobbying efforts, as noted in the state lobbying report in the screenshot at right. (They also hire lobbyists, of course.)

And, oddly enough, she also puts herself forth as the chief point person for community complaints about Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park.

That does not compute.

With experience in both the New York City and New York State administrations (under Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo), it's understandable that Cotton remains a major player representing Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park and the Barclays Center before public agencies, though Forest City no longer even owns the arena and is the junior partner--though local connector--in Greenland Forest City Partners.

After all, the arena is owned by a Russian company, Onexim, controlled by oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, and Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park (excepting the arena and B2 modular tower) is owned 70% by Greenland USA, a subsidiary of Greenland Holdings, which is owned significantly by the government of Shanghai.

Serving the public or the project?

You could say Cotton serves as a useful and effective front person for foreign companies unused to the byways of the city and state governments.

But if part of that job is to ease progress on the project before city and state agencies it hardly makes sense that she would want the project to look bad. And that's what taking community complaints seriously would do, since it would require more real-time responses and real-time transparency. She's serving the project, not the public.

The issue came up at last month's Community Update meeting, which was once a Quality of Life Committee involving an agenda set (in part) by neighbors, but has evolved into a "developer meeting." I wrote about it briefly, but it deserves more discussion.

Who's the point person?

Prospect Heights resident and watchdog Peter Krashes said the issue has "come up for years. In a all deference to the notion of the [project] Community Liaison [at Forest City's office]... The Community Liaison is not responsible for maintaining the site, understanding the site, being basically the point person who’s responsible for maintaining the security, in terms of the construction, the arena, and how those intersect. That's a daytime thing, it’s a night time thing. We've asked for security people come to these meeting.. having one person that community knows is responsible for security of the project would be helpful."

He noted a recent emergency water cutoff, on Dean Street, and there was no information about the water being turned back on.

"So, where’s is the point person" who ties in with the project, arena operations, the police, the Department of Transportation? he asked. "Yes, it has spikes going out to different agencies, but there should be somebody the community knows and who comes to these meetings."

Cotton was unbowed. "You guys know what I'm going to say: me. I am so entrenched, in the construction, in the arena, in the DOT. You guys don’t think I take this seriously?" she said a little woundedly. "I give up." 

A state official then cut off discussion of the issue by announcing there were only a few minutes left in the meeting.

I do think Cotton takes it seriously--it's her job to solve problems--but her record is not exactly reassuring. (Consider the failure to provide info on CBA statistics, or the closure of Atlantic Avenue, or, heck, the massive office tower they want to build.)

Same as it ever was

In discussing the sale of Forest City's majority share of the Barclays Center and minority share of the Brooklyn Nets to Prokhorov's Onexim, Cotton reminded everyone that the management of the arena stays the same, with Brett Yormark as CEO of Barclays Center and the Nets and the AEG contract for security and guest services.

"In addition, sorry, we stay the same. Barclays Center and Onexim have contracted back with me, as a Forest City employee. [Arena Community Affairs Manager] Terence [Kelly] is already a BEC [Brooklyn Events Center] employee, to continue to fulfill the Community Benefits Agreement, government relations, community relations, press related items, all of that stays the same. It was announced in press release when we completed the sale. I wanted to make sure that you all know: nothing’s changing to you guys, you can still direct your complaints to us."

"It keeps the consistency," she continued. "You don't care who owns the arena if you've got noise.. You want to know who to contact, it’s the same Community Liaison... Roberta [Fearon] and obviously the whole team as it relates to construction. Terence and I as it relates to arena."

Except the Community Liaison, as explained in the bi-weekly construction updates, operates 9-4 Monday through Friday. And Krashes's question lingered.

Comments

  1. Is there a petition or something residents can do?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Well, first thing to do is attend periodic public meetings. There's a meeting Tuesday afternoon of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corp., which has an oversight/advisory role (but hasn't been very tough). See http://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2016/03/a-vague-agenda-for-tuesdays-atlantic.html

    There also will be an evening Community Update meeting in April--date not announced, but will be in this blog.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

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.