Skip to main content

Questions that could have been asked at the AY District Service Cabinet meeting about delays, oversight, responsibility

The bi-monthly Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet meeting, most recently held November 3, offers less than 90 minutes for involved agencies, developer Forest City Ratner, and (a few) elected and Community Board officials to address specific and general issues.

And while there some little-promoted positive news--apparently the state, city, and FCR had figured out a way to reduce some jackhammering noise--several issues trailed off into obfuscation or simply were not questioned.

Thus, those overseeing the project still avoid accountability.

And those representing the public simply aren't doing enough.

Yes, Council Member Letitia James does by far the most, but she could drill down more. State Senator Velmanette Montgomery and Council Member Steve Levin did ask a few question--and at least they showed up--but were less effective.

Meanwhile, other officials presumably interested in the project and its impacts--Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries and his colleagues Jim Brennan and Joan Millman; Council Member Brad Lander, state Senator Eric Adams--didn't bother to show up. (Jeffries sent a staffer.)

It's in Jeffries' district, while Brennan oversees the Assembly's Corporations Committee. Sure, he's got other priorities--and probably doesn't want to tangle with all-powerful Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, an Atlantic Yards ally--but shouldn't Brennan want to see exactly how Empire State Development (aka Empire State Development Corporation) operates?

Below, my speculation on how the meeting might have proceeded had the questioners pressed further and had more time. All dialogue in italics is speculative.

The Independent Compliance Monitor

James asked Forest City if it would hire the Independent Compliance Monitor provided in the much-touted Community Benefits Agreement.

“Yes. I mean, the, um, all the matters in the CBA will be adhered to,” Forest City executive Jane Marshall replied, not all that firmly. “There’s an executive committee that has to decide when it wants to do an RFP for a Compliance Monitor.”

“When does that Executive Committee meet and where, and how often?” asked James.

“Typically--it’s usually typically every other month,” Marshall responded.

“And who chairs that?”

“Dee Adossa, from BEE [Brooklyn Endeavor Experience].”

“When was the last time they had a meeting?”

“I think it was actually four months ago, but that doesn't mean we don't communicate,” Marshall said.

“And so the compliance monitor will be hired when?” pressed James.

“When the executive committee decides,” responded Marshall.

"When will that happen?"

"When it decides."

"Can you bring Ms. Adossa to the next meeting?"

"We can ask."

"How much does the Independent Compliance Monitor cost Forest City Ratner?"

"It depends on what the executive committee decides."

"Doesn't the CBA cite an 'annual payment of up to $100,000'?"

"Yes, but that's 'up to.'"

"And wasn't there an RFP sent out in 2007?"

"I have heard that."

"So aren't you saving lots of money, and avoiding oversight, by not hiring a compliance monitor?"

"Those are your words, Council Member, not mine."

"I would like a written explanation of why an Independent Compliance Monitor has not been hired."

"Council Member, you have no jurisdiction."

"I'm asking as a courtesy."

"I can ask."

"C'mon, Jane. You control the CBA, essentially. Forest City pays those groups. If you don't provide an explanation, within the next two weeks, I'll just keep talking this up."

"We'll see what we can do."

The Carlton Avenue Bridge

James asked Chris Hrones of the Department of Transportation (DOT) if DOT was keeping track of the progress with the long-delayed bridge.

“Our bridges people are monitoring that project,” Hrones said, and looking at both the schedule and the work. Nobody followed up.

Is the bridge behind?

I'd have to check.

Do you have a completion date?

It has to open before the arena. Our web site says "summer 2012."

Can you give me a specific date?

I'll get back to you on that.


At another junction, Council Member Steve Levin asked, “Do we have a projected date of completion, and what happens if it's not open, what if you can't finish it by that time?”

“It is required to be open, and we are monitoring it very carefully,” replied FCR's Bob Sanna, who also referenced the DOT’s role. “So we're working very aggressively to ensure that it does open.” He didn't provide a specific completion date.

Levin continued: "What if it doesn’t?"

“We're not contemplating that it will not open,” said Sanna.

“In the world of capital construction, stuff gets delayed all the time, so I’m just wondering,” Levin said.

“That has not been our track record to date,” responded Sanna.

Can you give me a specific date?

We'll have to get back to you on that.

Please do.

And wasn't the bridge expected to take two years?

Well, that was in the environmental review.

What happened?

The project changed. Remember, as Jim Stuckey once said, "Projects change, markets change."

And if you end up working 24/7 to get that bridge done because you were too slow, who's going to bear the brunt of that? Neighbors.

We're doing our best.


Transit connection

Work on the transit connection associated with the arena, declared Sanna, was “moving extraordinarily well."

Nobody followed up.

Mr. Sanna, the latest report from the construction monitor to the bond trustee says the transit connection has been slowed, and was behind schedule as of a month ago.

That's what it said.

Is that true?

We say it's moving extraordinarily well.

I just am looking at this report and I have my doubts.

Who are you going to believe, me or your unreliable eyes?

At the next meeting, I'd like you to bring the consultant's report, and your response to it.


Security

Montgomery, who had sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo about the need for a security study, asked about security but saw her question answered by the Department of Transportation's Chris Hrones, who referenced the issue of bollards at the arena site.

There were representatives of city police and fire departments, but no one questioned them. Montgomery could have followed up.

You know I asked the Police Department for a copy of the security study.

We've heard that.

Can you provide that?

It's not our decision.

Do you understand why the public might be interested?

Yes.

We recognize that some information must be kept confidential. But the public needs confidence that, for example, streets will not be closed, as in Newark.

Streets will not be closed. We've said that.

Fine. We'd like to learn your rationale. Is the building in Brooklyn safer? Is Newark overreacting?

We'll get back to you.


Timing of first tower

“We still believe that, before the end of the year, we will be able to announce which way we’re going [with the first tower, aka B2] and show the the design to the public,” Marshall said. “That's our goal, consistent with our goal to break ground on B2 early next year.”

No one followed up. But they could have.

Consistent with your goal?

Yes, that's our goal.

Has it always been your goal?

It's been our goal for a while.


Didn't you earlier aim to release designs and start construction of B2 in the first quarter of 2011?

Well, yes, but projects change, markets change.


Arena operational plan

When will the operational plan for the arena, including the transit demand management plan, emerge? “I think we've always said the end of this year, the beginning of next year, which is still what we’re planning to do,” said Arana Hankin, Director, Atlantic Yards Project, for Empire State Development.

Didn't you say, in mid-June, 'approximately six months'?

Yes.

Well, mid-January is seven months.

It's still 'approximately.'

If this goes past mid-January I will be calling for a public hearing.


Additional infrastructure work

Forest City, we learned, is overseeing additional infrastructure work that must be completed before the arena opens.

“So the city appointed Forest City Ratner to oversee the construction of a water main which has nothing to do with Atlantic Yards?” James asked.

“We're a contractor,” Marshall said.

“Basically we’re providing the oversight,” FCR's Bob Sanna added. “So we competitively bid that.”

“Because you’re there?” asked James.

“I guess that’s why,” Sanna said, “Frankly, we initially objected to it... but DEP [Department of Environmental Protection] prevailed.”

“Are you getting a fee to supervise this?” James asked.

“I'm not sure,” Sanna replied.

You're not sure?

No, I don't have the paperwork.

You do this for free? Are you a charity?

We're a business. But I'd have to check.

Please do. My office welcomes your correspondence next week.


New ESD staffer

After the meeting, I asked Hankin if the agency was closer to hiring a promised Government & Community Relations Manager, essentially the successor to Forrest Taylor, who left in June.

“I’m pushing hard,” said Hankin, who in August sounded hopeful someone would be hired soon.

No one brought that up at the meeting.

Aren't you supposed to be hiring another staffer?

Yes, we're trying.

What's the hold-up?

I've been trying. You know that hiring at the state level sometimes moves slowly.

The lack of a staffer has consequences. Look how many people were complaining about noise. Look at Atlantic Yards Watch--there are still numerous complaints.

I know, I know.

Essentially that serves Forest City's interest.

Those are your words, not mine.

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…