Skip to main content

Legal payoffs, dubious payments, FCR's corporate ethics, and the continuing mystery of Ridge Hill

This week and next I'll try to compensate slightly for the failure of any metro columnists to show up and glean insights from the rich spectacle of the Barclays Center groundbreaking March 11.

So many of them--the public supporters of Atlantic Yards on the dais--were paid, thus tainting their words.

The Rev. Herbert Daughtry, who delivered the invocation, asserted that the property that Forest City Enterprises CEO Chuck Ratner once called "a great piece of real estate" was some " "long-neglected, rodent-infested, garbage-strewn strip of geography."

Daughtry is a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) signatory, and all CBA signatories receive funding from Forest City Ratner (despite Daughtry's lack of transparency).

Delia Hunley-Adossa, chairperson of the CBA executive committee, asserted the wonders of the CBA, also has ducked questions about Ratner's money.

Then there's the Rev. Al Sharpton, who came to pronounce the essential value of the project, despite his unwillingness to do any analysis. (His National Action Alliance has been funded by the developer.)

It's all perfectly legal. Not terribly savory--and rather problematic, according to a New York City Bar analysis of CBAs--but legal.

(Was Jay-Z paid? He doesn't need the money. But surely he negotiated a sweeter deal in thanks for his willingness to shift the spotlight off the Russian oligarch behind the curtain.)

The mystery of Ridge Hill

Nobody was talking about another set of payments involving Forest City Ratner, part of a deal that was much more complicated, required more political hardball, and has provoked three federal indictments.

That's the mystery of Ridge Hill, as I wrote last week, the Yonkers project in which Forest City Ratner gave a consultant a no-show job but was given a pass regarding any connection to the bribes that the consultant made to the City Council member who changed her vote to approve the project.

There are numerous unanswered questions, since the result, as of now, is that FCR not only escaped sanction for some questionable behavior--it has never explained or justified the no-show contract--it also can continue to benefit from a zoning change that was, according to prosecutors, illicitly gained.

And the questions aren't going to go away.

The Bobbleheads protest

Steve de Sève, an organizer of some of the media events at Freddy's Bar & Backroom, yesterday organized a Bobbleheads Attack, in which faux versions of local officials and others--the same Bobbleheads who appeared at a protest last Thursday--called on Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to give back a campaign contribution from Bruce Ratner and to indict the developer.



(Videography by Jonathan Barkey)

I wrote in February about the $5000 contribution, suggesting that, if Cuomo has the strictest policy in the state on such gifts, he should give it back. (This was without even mentioning Ridge Hill.)

The reality of Ridge Hill prosecution may be more complicated; as a ex-prosecutor I spoke to said, even if the no-show contract might represent a state crime, FCR may have received effective immunity as a result of its arrangement with federal authorities.

Bribery and corporate citizenship

Some of the Bobbleheads played a little fast and loose with the facts yesterday. "When you got a guy who the feds said bribed somebody, anything he gives anybody's gotta be a bribe," said the Bloomberg character.

"I guess I'm gonna give it back because it's the only way to treat someone who has provided evidence he's bribed a public official," said the faux Cuomo.

On camera, de Sève describes Ratner as "the person who gave the bribe."

Actually, the feds have not said Bruce Ratner bribed anybody; that's the mystery.

But it's hard to disagree with the observation, by de Sève and others, that Ratner's been a beneficiary of major favoritism.

And the overall case of Ridge Hill suggests, at the very least, it's dubious for the Empire State Development Corporation to say, "We remain confident in Forest City as a developer and as a good corporate citizen."

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website Matzav.com explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Not quite the pattern: Greenland selling development sites, not completed condos

Real Estate Weekly, reporting on trends in Chinese investment in New York City, on 11/18/15 quoted Jim Costello, a senior vice president at research firm Real Capital Analytics:
“They’re typically building high-end condos, build it and sell it. Capital return is in a few years. That’s something that is ingrained in the companies that have been coming here because that’s how they’ve grown in the last 35 years. It’s always been a development game for them. So they’re just repeating their business model here,” he said. When I read that last November, I didn't think it necessarily applied to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, now 70% owned (outside of the Barclays Center and B2 modular apartment tower), by the Greenland Group, owned significantly by the Shanghai government.
A majority of the buildings will be rentals, some 100% market, some 100% affordable, and several--the last several built--are supposed to be 50% market/50% subsidized. (See tentative timetable below.)

Selling development …

For Atlantic Yards Quality of Life meeting Sept. 19, another bare-bones agenda (green wall?)

A message from Empire State Development (ESD) reminds us that the next Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Quality of Life Meeting--which aims to update community members on construction and other issues--will be held:
Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 6 pm
Shirley Chisholm State Office Building
55 Hanson Place
1st Floor Conference Room
Brooklyn, NY 11217 The typically bare-bones, agenda, below, tells us nothing about the content of the presentation. One thing to look for is any hint of plans to start a new building on the southeast block of the project by the end of the year.

If not, ESD is supposed to re-evaluate a longstanding request from project neighbors to move back a giant wall encroaching on part of Dean Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues. It's said to enclose construction activity, but, in recent months, has significantly served to protect worker parking.

Also, by the way, if you search for Atlantic Yards on Google or the ESD website, it leads to this page for the Atlantic Ya…