Skip to main content

ESDC leader jokes that he'd like to move Atlantic Yards "off our portfolio;" AKRF's tab tops $5 million; new owner's rep signed after conflict

This post is not an April Fool's Day joke.

Humor, sometimes, masks deep discomfort.

The Atlantic Yards project is apparently such a hot potato that last week Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) Chairman-designate Dennis Mullen joked that Atlantic Yards is "a project that I would like to move off our portfolio."

The comment came about 24 minutes into the March 26 ESDC board meeting (agenda, webcast).

The ESDC board and staff had just concluded discussion about the city takeover of Brooklyn Bridge Park, initially a state-city project.

Moving on to AY

"Rachel, you're up," Mullen said, pointing to Rachel Shatz, Director of Planning and Environmental Review. "You're going to talk to us about Atlantic Yards--a project that I would like to move off our portfolio."

There was healthy laughter around the boardroom table in New York.

"No comment," said one person.

More laughter.

"Oh-kay," said Shatz jocularly. "Thank you."

"Did I actually say that out loud?" Mullen mused, on video from the Albany office.

More laughter.

More money for AKRF

Shatz explained that the directors were being asked "to authorize a contract amendment to the environmental consulting firm AKRF. In September 2005, the directors authorized ESDC to enter into a contract with AKRF for the preparation of an environmental impact statement to assess the development proposal for the Atlantic Yards arena project in Brooklyn."

"The directors authorized the first contract amendment in April 2006 to expand both the environmental impact statement's scope of analysis and the blight study," she said.

"A second amendment in September 2006 to cover expenses related to completing the Draft and Final EIS," she said. "And a third amendment in May 2007 to cover unanticipated additional work that was necessary to complete the final EIS, provide litigation support...and conduct interim mitigation."

(At that point, in May 2007, AKRF's tab exceeded $4.75 million.)

"This fourth contract amendment is requested to cover costs associated with preparation of a Technical Memorandum in connection with the General Project Plan modifications that were authorized by the directors in September 2009," Shatz read. "The consultants had also been asked to provide support during the public hearing process and certain technical assistance during the public review of the project and throughout the ongoing litigation."

Hence a contract amendment worth $250,000, bringing payments to AKRF to a total of $5,036,230.

"The contract is funded in its entirety from an interest account funded by the developer," she added.

In other words, more ammunition for the charge, by Appellate Division Justice James Catterson in his fiery concurrence in the AY EIS case, that the agency was being used as "a tool of the developer."

There was a bit of cross-talk among those at the conference table regarding the AKRF contract. No, they were told, Forest City Ratner does not have control over the consultant or set a ceiling on costs.

"That's the deal when they sign on," board member Kevin Corbett said. "They want our powers, they're along for the ride."

"It's part of each of the stages we have to go through," Mullen said. "This is a four-and-a-half billion dollar project. It affects many, many people in the middle of Brooklyn. And we have to make sure every 'i' is dotted and every 't' is crossed."

(Photo of Mullen, left, and Corbett, from 6/23/09 board meeting. Photo copyright Jonathan Barkey.)

A new owner's rep

The second AY-related item on the agenda related to a change in the owners' representative, a firm representing ESDC at the project site.

The initial consultant hired was Earthtech, owned by AECOM, which later absorbed Ellerbe Becket, the architect of record for the arena.

When the ESDC sought an owner’s rep, five respondent firms were shortlisted and Earthtech awarded the contract. But the change in ownership posed a conflict, so the board last week signed STV, second most qualified firm.

The contract won't exceed $1.25 million over two years. That's also paid by the developer.

"We will try not to do that to STV before the project's finished," joked Corbett, who also works for AECOM.

Irony #1: minor conflict vs. structural partnership

In a variant of the famous statement by Michael Kinsley that the scandal isn't what's illegal but rather what's legal, the ESDC's fastidiousness toward the conflict-of-interest issue with the owner's rep contrasts with the essential partnership it has with Forest City Ratner, which pays for its environmental consultants and outside lawyers.

(In fact, AKRF first worked on Atlantic Yards for FCR.)

Irony #2: AY part of ESDC's jobs mission?

Also, it's hardly clear that Atlantic Yards really falls within the ESDC's mission.

City Hall News reported yesterday, in an article headlined As City Takes Over Joint Projects, Concerns About Responsible Development:
State officials justified the move to transfer control to the city by explaining that neither Brooklyn Bridge Park nor Governors Island quite fit into the state-run Empire State Development Corporation’s core mission of luring businesses to create jobs.
Beyond construction jobs and the Nets, what businesses would be lured to create jobs at the Atlantic Yards site? There's no provision for manufacturing and relatively little planned office space, with no timetable.

Rather, to reference Corbett, it's more likely Forest City Ratner wanted the ESDC's powers--"truly amazing powers," in the words of planner Alexander Garvin.

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…

No, security guards can't ban photos. Questions remain about visibility of ID/sticker system.

The bi-monthly Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting June 14, held at 55 Hanson Place, addressed multiple issues, including delays in the project, a new detente with project neighbors,concerns about traffic congestion, upcoming sewer work and demolitions, and an explanation of how high winds caused debris to fly off the under-construction 38 Sixth Avenue building. I'll have more coverage.
Security issues came up several times at the meeting.
Wayne Bailey, a resident who regularly takes photos and videos (that I often use) of construction/operations issues that impact residents, asked representatives of Tishman Construction if the security guard at the sites they're building works for them.
After Tishman Senior VP Eric Reid said yes, Bailey asked why a guard told him not to shoot video of the site, even though he was on a public street.

"I will address it with principals for that security firm," Reid said.
Forest City Ratner executive Ashley Cotton, the …

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…

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what might be coming (post-dated pinned post)

Click on graphic to enlarge. This is post-dated to stay at the top of the blog. It will be updated as announced configurations change and buildings launch. The August 2014 tentative configurations proposed by developer Greenland Forest City Partners will change, and the project is already well behind that tentative timetable.


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 …

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…