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Academic: public-private partnerships in NY are one-sided

A pointed analysis of one-sided development deals from Thursday's New York Times might have led some people to think about Atlantic Yards:
“Public-private partnerships are now one-sided arrangements in which the public actors no longer plan public spaces in the public interest,” said Elliott Sclar, a professor of urban planning at Columbia University. “Instead they facilitate private-sector developments of these spaces in exchange for slight public amenities. In this case, the public gets the chance to catch a train in the basement of a vertical shopping mall.”

The critics say that given the level of public investment, tax breaks and zoning bonuses involved in the project, the city and state should be giving greater priority to the public spaces.

Oh, that was about the Moynihan Station plan, from an article headlined Big Moynihan Station Plan Is Sputtering.

And what about AY?

Are the Atlantic Yards benefits "slight public amenities"? The courts haven't had to decide. Rather, as U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis wrote in his decision last June dismissing the Atlantic Yards eminent domain challenge, "This case simply does not require the court to consider whether the Project is a good idea.. the issue before this court is whether the taking of Plaintiffs’ properties is rationally related to a conceivable public use."

The Empire State Development Corporation commented, "We are pleased by the decision, which reaffirms the Atlantic Yards project's many public benefits: affordable housing, a world-class sports venue, improved transportation and increased economic activity."

Well, the affordable housing is delayed, the sports venue would be, an appeals court acknowledged, "generously leased," the improved transportation would include a new subway entrance under a shopping venue, the "urban room," and increased economic activity would be offset to a significant (though never fully calculated) degree by subsidies and public costs.


  1. I have two set of thoughts on Moynihan Station and Atlantic Yards.

    First, however relatively “slight” the “public amenities” of Moynihan Station that are being relegated in inept negotiation by the Spitzer administration, those public benefits are proportionateley far greater than any of the “conceivable” public benefits of Atlantic Yards, either in terms actual end benefit, or bang for the public subsidy dollar.

    Accordingly, after a recent 2/23/2003 New York Times article on the foundering of Moynihan Sation efforts, I wrote a letter to the Times about how public benefit dollars should be redistributed from Atlantic Yards to make possible projects such as Moynihan Station. The Times did not publish my 148 words: They publish few letters on local New York area concerns and they don’t really cover Atlantic Yards.

    My letter is as follows:

    Michael D. D. White
    62 Montague Street, Apt. 3A/3E
    Brooklyn Heights, New York 11201

    February 23, 2008
    Via Fax- (212)556-3622

    Letters to the Editor
    The New York Times
    620 Eighth Avenue
    New York, NY 10018
    Re: Moynihan Station and legacy/ "Plan to Rebuild Penn Station Area May Be Close to Failure," By Charles V. Bagli, February 23, 2008
    To the Editor:

    If Moynihan Station, richly merited and full of public purpose, dies for lack of political will to marshal funding, the irony is supreme. This Moynihan legacy may have been sacrificed because we did not honor another Moynihan legacy. In 1986, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan sponsored an insightful law banning tax-exempt bonds to finance sports stadiums and arenas. Now, because this law has been creatively circumvented, Forest City Ratner is using a proposed Nets arena to divert more than $1.5 billion of public subsidy into its Atlantic Yards no-bid megadevelopment. Real estate taxes will be intercepted to pay $692.7 million of arena bonds. . . tax-exempt bonds on which over $125 million in city, state and federal income taxes won't be paid.

    If the public recaptures these ill-conceived subsidies proposed for Atlantic Yards, the city and state can substantially increase their respective $300 million contributions to Moynihan Station.


    Michael D. D. White

    My second thought about Moynihan Station is that, as the "Big Moynihan Plan is Sputtering" article linked to makes clear, Moynihan Station has turned into essentially two possible projects. One is the simple, more straightforward project that might have been labeled a “Pataki” achievement if Spitzer had not stopped it going through the PACB just before Pataki’s term as governor ended. The other is a more complex mega-project that could be labeled a “Spitzer” achievement if he ever gets it unbollixed. Spitzer was apparently approached and decided to shift over to the mega-development style version of the Moynihan deal during his gubernatorial campaign.

    The Times accepts only 150 word letters so I had to stick to one point when I wrote, but
    if I had more words available to me (like now) I would probably have pointed out how Spitzer is failing in his Moynihan Station negotiations.

    When Spitzer intercepted the Pataki plan, I gave Spitzer some benefit of the doubt that he had a better idea about a few additional good options that could be accomplished with some simple tweaking. That wasn’t the case. Moynihan Station is like Atlantic Yards in that Spitzer has bollixed himself up by taking his eye off the ball of public benefit in the course of negotiations. We'd be much better off in terms of getting a truly commendable Moynihan Station if Spitzer had followed the KISS (“Keep It Simple Stupid”) rule and strictly focused of the core public benefit goals of a station with good design.- Instead, Spitzer got drawn into negotiating with the developers in a big mega-scheme where the game theoretically had to play out on the playing field and terms of a big developer. As a result the big developer’s goals have taken over and are inappropriately predominating. Like Atlantic Yards, Moynihan Station doesn’t involve, though it could, simple component parts where developers can be required to bid against each other toward a firmly established bottom line goal for public benefit.

    I don’t know what overtures made it seem to Spitzer and his people that accepting the invitation onto the big developer’s playing field was a good idea but it hasn’t worked out for the public.


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