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Gargano on PACB reform, not-so-friendly condemnations, and RFPs

Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) Chairman Charles Gargano took questions from reporters Wednesday after the ESDC certified the Atlantic Yards Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).

His most charged comments concerned Moynihan Station, leading to extensive criticism of the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB), which must unanimously approve major projects like the station project--or Atlantic Yards.

The board consists of Gov. George Pataki, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (like Pataki, a Republican), and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat. Some people believe that Silver delayed the station project so it can be evaluated under the administration of Govenor-elect Eliot Spitzer, a fellow Democrat.

Gargano also confirmed what lawyer George Locker, who represents some rent-regulated tenants in the project footprint, has contended: the “friendly condemnations” on buildings owned by Forest City Ratner would in fact be to remove such tenants. No ESDC official had previously acknowledged that.

Also, he said that "public-sponsored projects" require RFPs (Requests for Proposals), though it's not clear how that applies to Atlantic Yards, given that there was an RFP for only part of the proposed project--the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yards--and it came 18 months after the project was announced.

On blight at the AY site

Q: You always remember it as a blighted area?
(Gargano grew up in Park Slope.)

A: Oh, an undeveloped, blighted area for many, many years. Most of it. Not all of it. The old Long Island Rail Road depot, you remember that?

Q: Yes.

A: Then you know.

Q: Is it still blighted?

A: I would say that not all of it. There have been some improvements, but certainly I think that the development we’re talking about here is very, very representative of what’s going on in Manhattan and—this city needs to be developed, not only in Manhattan but in the other boroughs as well, to bring economic opportunities, housing, and every other kind of benefit to the community at large, whether it be Brooklyn, Queens, or any of the other boroughs. Which is what we’ve been trying to do.

The eminent domain lawsuit

Q: How do you think the lawsuit will affect this project?

A: We’re fighting the lawsuit very vigorously. We do get many lawsuits on many projects, and that’s part of democracy.

Condemnation plans

Q: How many properties will you condemn?

A: There are several properties, I think—we have the following: Number one, the Bruce Ratner organization has a couple of properties that they own, and there are tenants who don’t want to leave. So there’s a possibility we might have to use the power of eminent domain there. And there are a few other properties that the Ratner organization does not have ownership at this time, and we might have to use the power of eminent domain to make those properties available for the total project.

Most important FEIS issues

Q: The Final EIS, there’s obviously a lot of comments, and changes. What do you see as the most important comments that were reflected in whatever changes—

A: First of all, they’re all important. If people have concerns, each one of them becomes important to us. There were concerns about the density of the project, and the developer reduced it by 8 percent. There were concerns about traffic, and there’s a lot of traffic mitigation being focused on. We should keep in mind that this is an area that has a tremendous amount of mass transit—we have 12 subway lines coming into that area, the Long Island Rail Road, there is a lot of transit coming in there. That should be very helpful in terms of not having to use a vehicle. The Nets have provided all kinds of programs and plans. One is, if you hold a ticket, you get a free MTA ride, on whatever system there might be, a bus or a subway. There are all kinds of plans about intersections and traffic flow and HOV [high-occupancy vehicle] lanes and so forth that the Nets will be responsible to coordinate with the New York City Transit Department as well as the MTA. All of these things are plans that the Nets will be responsible for, to make sure that the traffic concerns are addressed.

(Note: there would be HOV parking, not HOV lanes.)

Message to opponents

Q: What do you say to the thousands of people who continue to oppose this project?

A: Well, I don’t know if it’s thousands. We have 8 million people in the city, so therefore—Listen, I understand people have concerns. We have to look at the overall picture of how it benefits the community, how it benefits the city of New York. We do not want to ignore the concerns that people have. What we want to do is address those concerns, and come up with solutions for those concerns. This project, I believe, has addressed, if not all, many of them, such as, if there’s condemnation, people will have an opportunity to move into a new facility within the area, at the same rental rate. We will help with relocation, hire professionals to help relocate them, to make it as easy as possible. All of the things that there are concerns about, we’re trying to address. Not everyone is always in support of a project. We don’t expect that. What we expect to do is do what’s best for the public at large, what’s best for the community at large, and address those concerns of those who have concerns.

(Note that lawyers for renters say the relocation agreement doesn’t protect tenants.)

How much scrutiny?

Q: When did you actually get this FEIS, when did it arrive in the office?

(A staffer answered: Friday.)

Q: So, how much—did you get to read the whole thing, part of it, what kind of evaluation were you able to do?

A: There’s a tremendous amount of evaluation. We have a lot of people, we have consultants, everyone evaluates all of the input that was put in, as I think you heard at our board meeting this morning, of the numerous comments that were made, I think 200 people made presentations or at the hearings, I think we got 1600 comments. So all of these things are reviewed in normal courses, as many of our projects are.

Q: Staff, obviously. You personally—how much did you get to look at?

A: Me, personally? Let’s put it this way. What I get, as chairman of the board and CEO, I get the general concerns, it might be traffic, it might be density. I don’t get into every comment that’s made. That’s not what we do. We have a lot of professional staff here who have expertise in this area, and they work on that. We have that kind of organization, and that’s the way we handle it.

Delays and commitments

Q: What’s the possibility that Ratner will move forward with the arena, and the condos in Phase 1, and all the good stuff—I see there’s a new school that’s been added—they drag their feet on?

A: What they’re going to do is build the arena and the housing—the affordable housing—before the condominiums.

Q: How much of the affordable housing?

(A staffer interjected, saying it would be 30 percent of the housing in the first phase, which means that affordable housing and the market-rate rentals and condos would be built at the same time.)

A: I think 30 percent, at the beginning. We want them to build that housing before the condominiums.

Q: Does the state have any enforcement power if they drag their feet?

A: Well, we do have—we have a schedule that they have given us. There’s no question about it—the state does have the ability to enforce what has been agreed upon. … We can’t always anticipate delays, which might be for unforeseen reasons. I can’t say that, if it goes beyond one year or two years, it’s not an impossibility. It could be.

(A staffer later explained: "I think what the Chairman was getting at was that we have appropriate remedies to make sure that the affordable housing is going to be developed as the rest of the housing is developed. We can have requirements in the documentation. Remember, ESDC is going to own the project site.”)

Relationship with Spitzer

Q: What kind of conversations are you having with the governor-elect about this project?

(Gargano has been criticized by Governor-elect Spitzer.)

A: I haven’t had any personal discussions with the governor-elect. We have had some people on the transition team inquire about certain projects, and we are working with them to provide information and assistance in every way we possibly can to have a smooth transition from this administration to the next administration. The project itself is under Governor Pataki’s administration and we’re dealing with it right now. If there’s any concerns by the new administration, we certainly are open to listen to them. George Pataki is governor of the state of New York until December 31.

Approval on Pataki’s watch?

Q: Do you think approval will be done by the end of the year?

(Gargano sounded a little piqued.)

A: This thing is overplayed, and I’ve seen this on a couple of projects, about how we’re trying to get things done by the end of the year. We’re trying to get projects done. This administration has had a history of getting a lot of projects completed, starting with 42nd Street, and I can give you a whole litany and list of projects that we’ve been involved in and we’ve adopted. It’s not a question of trying to get—should we delay them because we’re toward the end of this administration? Of course not. We should complete projects in a normal course, and that’s what we’re doing.

Q: Do you expect it to be done by the end of the year?

A: I hope so.

Relationship with PACB

Q: You’ve had some trouble getting projects through the PACB recently. Is this project going to be….?

(Gargano was clearly ticked off.)

A: You know how I feel about it. Having the PACB reject the Jets stadium for the benefit of Madison Square Garden is one thing. That is something you can almost accept. But the rejection of Moynihan Station for the benefit of, whatever partisan reason or whatever personal reasons a member of the PACB might have, that was a project that would benefit all New Yorkers….The rejection of that project, to me, is mindboggling. There is no sound reason other than—possible reason of protecting or helping Madison Square Garden, I know that’s a pretty bold statement to make, but it’s a reality. There have been some comments about Mr. Silver wanting to hold this project up until the new administration. As far as I’m concerned, if the new administration can move this project forward, I would be very happy about that, and we want the new administration to be successful. I’m a New Yorker, so whoever is governor, of that administration, I want them to do well….This is an absolute joke to me… We will see how this moves forward. We know the legality that we’re bound by, with an RFP…

Q: What about Atlantic Yards?

A: I don’t see why they would reject it, but I can’t speak for—listen, the whole idea of the PACB structure to me is something I think has to be somehow changed in the future. You can’t go to a project, invest taxpayer money, millions and millions of dollars, moving a project forward. You cannot have a project go before the PACB until you have everything done: the design of a project, funding in place, engineering, environmental impact statements, general project plan. All of this process that we go through, and spend millions and millions of dollars of taxpayer money, and then go up before the PACB, and have three individuals, one of them can reject it, and just lose all of the money that was invested in a project. I mean, something is wrong there. That has to be changed, in my opinion.

Financing snags?

Q: Do you have any concern for the financing of the Nets arena, considering that the the IRS has said it was going to revisit the financial structuring for projects like, y’know, the Mets stadium?

A: I can’t anticipate that. I know that the city of New York and the State of New York are providing $200 million, as we have done for other stadiums. Governor Pataki, from the very beginning, in 1995, when the Yankees were talking about moving to the West Side and wanted the state and the city to pay for a stadium, Governor Pataki made it clear, set a policy in 1995, and that was, we will not use taxpayer money to build any kind of stadiums or an arena, we will provide assistance for infrastructure development, and we have kept that policy since that time, for the last 12 years, and we’re doing the same thing here. We did it for the Yankees, we did it for the new CitiField stadium, and we’re doing it as well here for this new arena.

Benefits to Brooklyn

Q: You said at the meeting that you think this project is going to bring tremendous benefits to Brooklyn?

A: There’s no question about it. As I said, we have seen—I have seen over the last 12 years in this position, that I have been fortunate to serve in, we have seen a tremendous amount of growth here in New York City, primarily in Manhattan. We want to see that extended to the other boroughs. We are working on Queens West—through that window you can see it. Queens West is helping Queens, and Long Island City, with this very large development that we have, all these tall buildings going up, residential buildings. Similarly, we want Brooklyn to benefit. We had MetroTech, which was a very good beginning, and that should continue. Brooklyn is a very significant borough, and any new kind of economic stimulant that we can help there certainly is a good thing.

(The actual cost-benefit analysis remains highly contentious.)

The Coney Island option

Q: Opponents are talking about Coney Island, still. Coney Island—it’s just not feasible for an arena?

A: I love Coney Island… Feasible for an arena—you mean change the arena from where it is in Brooklyn, to Coney Island? There’s a minor league ballpark there that the city of New York wanted, and that’s what they have, a minor league ballpark. We have now a National Basketball Association team, one of the top teams in the country, that left New York 20 years ago, or something like that, from Long Island, and now we’ve got them back. I think that’s very significant.

(Actually, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz had until early 2003 boosted Coney Island as a location for an arena.)

Bruce Ratner as developer

Q: Can you comment on Bruce Ratner as a developer?

A: Bruce Ratner, I think, is one of the finest developers. There are many others… Bruce Ratner, in my opinion, on projects that I have worked on, and this agency has worked on with him, has certainly proved to be very responsible, and respectful, and also a developer that can complete projects without running into a lot of difficulty, and I have seen that… I know that financial [inaudible] can develop, and Bruce has the wherewithal, and the expertise, and therefore I believe that he is one of our top developers.

Projects begin with RFPs?

(Gargano was asked about Moynihan Station.)

A: The notion that we presented a project that the developers didn't want to build--who's in charge here, the developers or the public sector? We are in charge and we put a project out in RFP, and we got responses to the RFP that what we presented to the PACB…

Q: You were talking about an RFP for Moynihan Station. What percentage of projects that ESDC does come through RFPs versus not RFPs?

A: All RFPs.

Q: Was there an RFP for Atlantic Yards?

(A staffer said that the MTA did an RFP for the railyard.)

Q: Maybe for the Vanderbilt Yard, but not the entire—

A: First of all, let’s differentiate and clear this up. Number one, there are developers there that own property and want to develop a project. We don’t own it. We don’t have to put out an RFP. If they need public assistance, because of the order of magnitude of the project, what it brings to the economy, what it does in creating jobs—we respond to that. But if it’s a private enterprise, building a project, an RFP is not required. When it’s a public-sponsored project, we need an RFP at all times.

Madison Square Garden sabotage?

Q: If the Nets arena is competition for MSG, like you said, do you have any concern that MSG would again try to sabotage the process through the PACB or any other—

A: I wouldn’t put it past them. I think they have tried to sabotage a number of projects. It’s very obvious. They have done that with the Jets stadium, and now the Jets are in New Jersey. They tried to, I believe, play a role in sabotaging this Moynihan Station project, because they wanted to be sure they were included in it.

Q: Have they had any involvement, or is there any input, or have you heard anything about their thoughts on the Nets arena?

A: No, but I’m sure they’re working in the background. They wouldn’t let me know.

(This made it into the New York Post, but there's been no evidence of Madison Square Garden intervening into the Atlantic Yards dispute.)


  1. I wouldn’t be surprised if the MSG owners tried to prevent the Atlantic Yards plan for Brooklyn. They killed the Jets’ West Side Stadium proposal to protect the Garden. Having another NBA team in New York jeopardizes the Knicks more than a football team. The current Knicks fanbase could very easily change. People can only take losing for so long. The team is a disaster right now and the management is absolutely terrible. The Knicks are in the bottom of the weakest NBA division. Talk about the low of the low. Fed up with Isiah and a team of inflated underachievers, MSG owners may fear starving fans jumping ship for a better and more promising basketball team. Convenience is no longer an issue with an arena that is only a subway ride away. The Nets are in a rut this season but they are still top in their division and have a young roster of promising superstars who will be well oiled come time for the move from the Jersey swamps to downtown Brooklyn.


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