Friday, March 11, 2016

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.


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

  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

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