Monday, April 11, 2016

When office jobs were discussed in 2005, developer acknowledged they had nothing to do with CM Barron's "struggling folk"

Unofficial mockup of planned building at Site 5
I've previously written skeptically about two of the three justifications for shifting the bulk of the tower planned over the arena plaza and creating what I've dubbed the "Brooklyn Behemoth," a giant tower of 1.55 million square feet at Site 5, now occupied by Modell's and P.C. Richard.

The notion of "activating" the Atlantic Avenue corridor is pretty thin, and the idea of keeping the arena plaza as permanent open space positions it as a public amenity, rather than a branded business deal.

But what about the the third notion, "delivering jobs," to quote Forest City Ratner spokeswoman Ashley Cotton, representing the developer, Greenland Forest City Partners?

Building an office tower delivers space for jobs, and the jobs come if there's a market for it. And the market depends on, among other things, the cost of construction.

And building the tower at the site originally approved, now the arena plaza, would be more costly to build. So the shift in bulk, if approved, would be a financial boost for the developer.

More importantly, it's worth remembering that the office jobs, however positioned as public progress, would not necessarily have anything to do with the job-seeking Brooklynites who advocated for this project, since they'd be controlled by the new tenants.

So, while there may be a general public policy argument for encouraging office space, that does not link to specific justifications for this project, today and more than a decade ago.

It's worth going back to a 5/26/05 hearing of the New York City Council's Economic Development Committee, where Council Members Charles Barron and Letitia James challenged Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards point man, Jim Stuckey.

Council Hearing, May 2005

COUNCIL MEMBER BARRON: The 15,000 construction jobs, 6,000 permanent jobs, have you broken that down, any agreement of numbers for people of color or struggling folk, or you're still working on that?

MR. STUCKEY: We have not necessarily broken down anything ethnically or demographically. We have a sense of the -- and I think, Council member, today that Mr. Caldwell from BUILD and others who have been part of the CBA [Community Benefits Agreement] will talk more about the community benefits agreement.... The Community Benefits Agreement is intending that we will have at least 35 to 40 percent of the employees during the construction phase of the project will be minority and women employees....

That had nothing to do with the office jobs, so Barron drilled down.

COUNCIL MEMBER BARRON: Six-thousand permanent jobs?

MR. STUCKEY: Six-thousand permanent jobs is impossible for me to predict. What we're
working on as part of the CBA --

COUNCIL MEMBER BARRON: So, there's no numbers for the 6,000?

MR. STUCKEY: Well, we're not even sure who those companies will be yet, Council Member. I can't tell you who the employees will be.

COUNCIL MEMBER BARRON: Those jobs won't be controlled by you?

MR. STUCKEY: Those jobs are controlled by the companies that --

COUNCIL MEMBER BARRON: That's right. So, those, they could hire whoever they want basically.

MR. STUCKEY: Typically that's what happens with businesses in our country.

COUNCIL MEMBER BARRON: Six-thousand jobs that you claim is being created, this is not really jobs that will be created that you have control over to really offer to our community?

MR. STUCKEY: I don't think I ever represented we had control --

COUNCIL MEMBER BARRON: No, I'm just saying when you put 6,000 jobs up there, it gives the impression, you never said that, but it gives the impression that 6,000 jobs are coming in for our community, which isn't so. So, let's just, you know, because companies can hire whoever they want when they come in, right, basically?

MR. STUCKEY: I can't dispute that.

COUNCIL MEMBER BARRON: So, there's a good chance we may not get any of those jobs. There's a chance of that... So you don't know the answer to that. And you can't assure us that -- and no one can really because these companies coming in will decide who they hire?

MR. STUCKEY: Here's what I can assure you, Council member, is that after MetroTech was built, there are 22,000 people working there that weren't there before, and while I can't specifically give you the demographic or ethnic make-up of those, they are readily and publicly available to the state in a form called an IA 5 form. So, we can all do the research.

COUNCIL MEMBER BARRON: I wasn't talking about MetroTech.

MR. STUCKEY: I think it's a good barometer.

COUNCIL MEMBER BARRON: When MetroTech was built and it promised us unemployment would go down --

MR. STUCKEY: No, it didn't. No, it really didn't.

Stuckey was right, though the situation was a bit more complex. As Matthew Schuerman wrote in a thorough 12/15/04 City Limits, The Return of MetroTech:
The new housing commitment got a lot of press the next day, but neither [Borough President Howard] Golden nor anybody else did much to address another big concern that opponents raised: whether any of MetroTech's jobs would go to people who lived nearby, especially those in the Fort Greene public housing complexes on the other side of Flatbush Avenue.
Seventeen years later, while the buildings are still enjoying a property-tax holiday, no one knows how many low-income residents of adjoining neighborhoods are working at the complex. But business leaders and community activists agree that the number is very low.
The role of the Community Benefits Agreement

Later in the hearing, Stuckey's ally Bertha Lewis, then head of New York ACORN, stepped in.

MS. LEWIS: Well, I did hope that the Council member will be patient, because the CBA, and I've been part of negotiating, even though our  concentration is on housing, there has been a concentration on jobs. And the numbers, and the community hiring hall, the way in which these folks that will be doing these jobs get their employees, and whole independent oversight that will have to meet certain numbers. In this CBA, okay, which the 6,000 jobs, the permanent ones, those are specific numbers that this group will have to reach....  This is not a situation in which we are going to allow folks to come into the neighborhood and just hire them from anywhere.

COUNCIL MEMBER BARRON: But Bertha, the bottom line is that no matter what you come up with, the companies that come in determine who they hire, not you, not your CBA agreement, but companies that come in will determine that.

Barron was mostly right. The jobs section of the Community Benefits Agreement, which was signed a month later, focused significantly on hiring and training of construction workers.

There were a couple of references to permanent jobs, but those unspecific references, as far as I can tell, point as much to building services jobs as office jobs.

Most importantly, the CBA signatory set up to to provide the specialized training and referral services for those jobs, BUILD (Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development), is defunct, and was a defendant in a bitter lawsuit recently settled.

From the Community Benefits Agreement 

From the Community Benefits Agreement
Defending MetroTech

James challenged Stuckey regarding MetroTech, and the executive parried back.

COUNCIL MEMBER JAMES: I, too, stood in front of MetroTech, I've stood on that corner on many of occasions early in the morning, and I noticed that there is no foot traffic from Ingersoll, Whitman and Farragut [public housing projects nearbyover to MetroTech to work there. In fact, there was no one. And I've stood on there many occasions to see how many people from Ingersoll Whitman are employed at MetroTech, and as you know, that public housing has 70 percent unemployment.

So, my question is, I recognize you have an MOU with ACORN. I understand you have a CBA, you outlined your partners, and I recognize that this is going to be a union contract; where our unions in this? The question is, if the employment is real and the employment is real for the high rates of unemployment of black people, where are we with that agreement?

MR. STUCKEY: Okay, I'm just going to conclude I guess in answering that by saying a couple of things, Council Member. The first is I just want to be real clear, no one ever represented at MetroTech that it was meant to be a project, other than a project for back office operational office jobs. It was not ever represented in its history. 

(Emphasis added)

Not only that, those back office jobs were mostly relocated, not new. As Schuerman reported:
MetroTech's has grown beyond its original plan, to 5.8 million square feet. Its total job count has grown, too, to 22,000 today. But most, business leaders acknowledge, were positions that moved in from elsewhere in the city. "Those were not new jobs," says Michael Burke, director of the Brooklyn Downtown Business Council, an offshoot of the borough's chamber of commerce. "A lot of those jobs existed when the buildings went up. For the most part, they were relocated jobs."
Today, a good number of those back office jobs have left, and MetroTech has reconfigured, with smaller tenants, including private schools, media companies, tech companies, and more.

So what does that mean for the "Brooklyn Behemoth"? If there is a need for new office jobs, maybe they wouldn't be relocated but rather represent job growth. But again, there's no assurance that many, or any, would deliver for the needier sectors of the community.

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