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What's right with this picture? For West Side yards, the market speaks

What a difference a few years make. The city's market-driven effort to develop the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's West Side yards continues in blinding contrast to its fait accompli with the MTA's Vanderbilt Yard in Brooklyn.

Four years ago, the city announced its support of a deal for the 22-acre Atlantic Yards project over and beyond the railyard; crucially, the latter would occupy less than 40 percent of the site. The New York Times offered further anointment with a rapturous review (A Garden of Eden Grows in Brooklyn) by architecture critic Herbert Muschamp.

But, hey, that's no way to develop railyards, is it? PlaNYC 2030 says there should be much more community consultation. Real estate usually generates a better deal when there's an open bidding process. And the design of megaprojects generally improves when there's a detailed request for proposals and an opportunity for the public and interested parties to weigh in.

So today it was big news that five developers had released their plans for the Hudson Yards. The New York Times gave it a full page (B5), with renderings of each proposal, under the headline In Railyards, Seeing a Blank Canvas on the Hudson. (The renderings at right are all from the Times.) Metro made it the lead, headlined Five visions for new West Side. A piece in the New York Sun was headlined Proposals for Hudson Yards Reach High, Green

The market speaking

The New York Post devoted a page and two-thirds, under the headlines: THE NEXT 'WEST' THING: DUELING DEVELOPERS PITCH THEIR PLANS FOR RAIL-YARD RENAISSANCE, reporting:
The Post reported:
Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff called the proposals "the culmination and the catalyst" for developing the far West Side into a district of office towers, high-rise residential buildings, cultural centers and parks that has been dubbed Hudson Yards.
"This is the market speaking," Doctoroff said of the competing proposals from some of the city's biggest developers. "It's clearly telling us we have a special opportunity in Hudson Yards."

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn immediately pointed out that the city and state "gagged the market" in Brooklyn.

DDDB said, "A legitimate RFP process for the Vanderbilt Rail Yards would not have led to an attenuated field of only 2 developers for the best and largest piece of available developable real estate in Brooklyn."

Rebuttal, anyone?

Limited pool of developers?

The closest thing to a rebuttal came in federal appellate court last month, when, arguing in favor of a dismissal of the Atlantic Yards eminent domain challenge, Empire State Development Corporation attorney Preeta Bansal defended the developer-driven proposal by claiming that only a few developers can do projects like Atlantic Yards.

But such developers obviously exist. The Daily News reported, in an article headlined Five companies bid to remake six blocks of Hudson Yards area, that Doctoroff called the bidders "perhaps the five leading development firms in the city."

The five companies: Brookfield Properties, the Related Companies, Extell Development, a Durst-Vornado joint venture, and a Tishman Speyer-Morgan Stanley joint venture.

Note that Forest City Ratner was not on the list. Extell, the only bidder that responded to a Vanderbilt Yard RFP issued 18 months after Atlantic Yards was announced, is on the list. Was Doctoroff talking offhandedly or was he unconsciously dissing Forest City Ratner?

Another increasingly questionable explanation for Atlantic Yards may simply be that, once a developer owns a scarce commodity like a basketball team, "it is not really up to us then to go out and try to find a better deal," as Andrew Alper, former president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, famously told City Council on 5/4/04.

More contrasts

The obvious contrast for the press yesterday was the previous fait accompli planned for the West Side side. Metro reported:
Unlike when the ill-fated Jets Stadium was planned for that 26-acre site, the public is getting a chance to weigh in on the proposals. Comments will be accepted at an exhibit of the designs, which opens today and runs through Dec. 3.

The exhibit will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily--except for Thanksgiving--at the corner of 43rd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue, across from Grand Central Terminal.

There were no such unveilings of competing proposals before the city and state announced support for Atlantic Yards. Heck, the Atlantic Yards Information Center only opened its doors to invitees.


  1. It is time to go back and have a proper bid process for development the Atlantic Yards/Vanderbilt Yards. It would be nice if the bid were structured the way Hudson Yards bid was structured so that developers know exactly what they should be bidding on and bid on the same thing. Also, Because of the Atlantic Yards/Vanderbilt Yards site is long and narrow it would be quite conducive to bid out the site out as multiple sites that potentially would be awarded to more than one developer.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if multiple developers actually felt as if they were “allowed” by the State and City administrations to bid on the Atlantic Yards/Vanderbilt Yards site?

    Wouldn’t it be nice if multiple bids generated significantly better designs that the public could comment upon?

    Wouldn’t it be nice if Forest City Ratner, already the owner of adjacent existing properties being publicly subsidized to cope with their economic failure, did not bid this time? And that we are not faced with more failure and an undeserved monopolistic monoculture of ownership?

    Wouldn’t it be nice if the New York City Council would wise up and recapture all that money it plans to dole out to Forest City Ratner and wouldn’t it be nice to know, with a real bid process, what this site could actually be worth the MTA? Wouldn’t it be nice to see that money spent on worthy projects instead?

    Wouldn’t it be nice if the Atlantic Yards/Vanderbilt Yards were not being built with the use of pretextual eminent domain to ratchet up megadeveloper windfall while destroying neighborhood buildings we should keep?

    Wouldn’t it be nice to see something built that was respectful to our neighborhoods, our intelligence and basic concepts of integrity.


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