Friday, June 10, 2016

Forest City's public relations machine scores another story: "emphasis on inclusion"

So how did this sweet little article in Fort Greene Focus, At 550 Vanderbilt, There’s An Emphasis On Inclusion In The Construction Process, came about?

Methinks Forest City Ratner's publicity department reached out to a reporter with less than one month on the job--and the obligation to file multiple stories a day--and offered some copy. And the reporter didn't bother to check the more complicated history.

Here's the key passage:
550 being built with significant MWBE [minority- and women-owned business enterprise] participation, including major jobs like metal and drywall construction...
In order to qualify as a MWBE in New York City, a company must be at least 51% owned, operated, and controlled by a minority or woman, in business for at least a year, and either be located in the city or have a significant tie to the business community.
Greenland set a goal of 35% MWBE participation for the development of Pacific Park and at 550 Vanderbilt, they’re currently over 40%.
Maybe they are, but why haven't we seen the details? Because Forest City never hired the Independent Compliance Monitor required by the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA). 

And that might show 1) that other aspects of the project are falling short of the goals and/or 2) that the fulfillment of such goals relies on hiring businesses that hardly represent "systemic changes in the traditional ways of doing business on large urban development projects." (See screenshot at right.)

Remember how Michael West, now of Devotion NYC and once of BUILD, said Forest City promised him (self-reported) statistics on fulfillment of CBA economic development goals, but never got them.

A highlighted supplier

Consider that the Fort Greene Focus article highlights the role of Park Avenue Building and Roofing Supplies, owned by Ray Rivera, raised in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and operated on the border of Bed-Stuy and Brownsville.

While it's certainly much closer to the spirit of the CBA to hire a company from a nearby area in Brooklyn, Park Avenue did not exactly need this gig to change the traditional ways of doing business; it's already worked on projects including "John F. Kennedy Airport , Brooklyn Federal Courthouse, Battery Park City, the New York City School Construction Authority, the New York City Housing Authority, Jacobi Hospital, Queens Medical Center... Seven World Trade Center, Jet Blue Terminal, Goldman Sachs World Headquarters, and Bank of America."

Rivera is indeed of Puerto Rican heritage and from Brooklyn. Some other MWBEs may be "men in skirts," as the saying goes. Consider that transportation consultant Philip Habib & Associates, which earlier worked on the project (and then for the state), is a certified WBE (despite the name).

As I've written, it's hardly clear that "the historically most disadvantaged segments of Brooklyn's communities" are the same the varied concepts of "community" used in discussing and analyzing the CBA.

The question of goals

The CBA pledge is that 20% of total construction contract dollars go to MBEs and 10% to WBEs (not 35%, as reported in Fort Greene Focus).

While the numbers for this building look good, subject to the major caveats note above, note the fuzzy results in the past. When I reported on this in 2012, Forest City had reported 16.3% in contracts to MBEs and 6.3% to WBEs.

However, Empire State Development reported a total of 15.4% to certified MWBE firms, which meant Forest City had counted companies that had not registered or were too large/prosperous to qualify under state rules.

Where are the government numbers on this?
Self-serving quotes

The Fort Greene Focus article states:
“Building buildings comes with thinking about the people who will live in those buildings, thinking about the people who will live across the street,” said Elizabeth Canela, who grew up in the Ingersoll Houses. Today, she’s the Senior Project Manager in External Affairs at Forest City Ratner Companies (Forest City). Canela acknowledged that development is a complicated issue, but thinks that they’re going about it the right way.
Shocker. She's paid to say such things.

And what about the people who almost get hit by falling debris?

The Fort Greene Focus article states:
Canela said that the culture at Forest City is progressive, owing in part to the leadership of President and CEO MaryAnn Gilmartin, but also to Chairman Bruce Ratner himself.
Double shocker.

Here's a progressive quote from Gilmartin, reported by an architect who was in discussion to work on a project but backed off:
"I was told they know the same people I know and they’ll make sure to fuck me whenever possible."
Here's a progressive quote from Ratner, reported by a former business partner, which whom there was a dispute about cost overruns:
Bruce Ratner's response was to use a vulgar street epithet followed by "I don't care if it costs you fifty million to finish the project ... I'll see you at the grand opening."

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