Skip to main content

What would Jackie think? MAS to honor Forest City's Ratner and Gilmartin with highest award, the Onassis Medal

Following on its myopic (juried) award to the Barclays Center as "Best Neighborhood Catalyst," the Municipal Art Society (MAS), that venerable urbanist organization, is giving its highest honor, the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Medal, to Bruce Ratner and MaryAnne Gilmartin of Forest City Ratner at a fundraising gala June 11.


According to the MAS, "the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Medal is presented to individuals who, by their work and deeds, have made an outstanding contribution to New York City. The medal bears Mrs. Onassis’ name in recognition of her tireless efforts to preserve and protect New York’s great architecture."

Click to enlarge; source here
Honorees themselves need not be preservationists like Jackie Onassis, who helped save Grand Central Station and modernist Lever House, and fought unwise projects.

The MAS honors "individuals and organizations that have made an extraordinary impact on the quality of New York’s built environment, as she did, out of a dedication to a more glorious New York City."

Ratner and Gilmartin surely aren't preservationists, having demolished renovated and renovation-worthy industrial buildings for Atlantic Yards.

They're likely being honored for recent signature buildings--the Times Tower, 8 Spruce Street, and the Barclays Center--which certainly have a major impact on the quality of built environment. (The award has not yet been announced via press release, but it is fairly widely known, including via the website of the event planner.)

It's just that that the impressive buildings come with serious baggage.

An architect has called the firm “among the most ruthless and difficult developers in the city.” Regarding Atlantic Yards, I call it the Culture of Cheating.

"Our company is really what I call a civic development company," Ratner likes to say. "And every project that we do has to have some civic component." Except "civic" is a fuzzy term, and  Ratner has made two self-sabotaging--if rather little-noticed--statements that back up charges of cheating:
  • he repudiated the ten-year Atlantic Yards timeline endorsed by his company and the state
  • he claimed that high-rise, union-built affordable housing isn't feasible,  though that's what he long planned and the state approved twice
Just yesterday, the Times published a long investigation into the ties between Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and the recently-indicted nonprofit kingpin William Rapfogel.

Ratner has had a key, secondary alliance with the two, giving money to a Silver committee, raising money for Rapfogel, hiring Rapfogel's son, and getting the inside track, though ultimately unsuccessful, on a key piece of land.

A new step for the MAS?

The MAS--an organization whose work I generally admire--has not shied away from honoring distinguished New Yorkers, business executives among them, who have wealthy friends willing to attend a major fundraising event.

Still, as far as I can tell (analysis below), Ratner and Gilmartin are the first developers to win the Onassis award, and the first real estate executives to win it outright.

The only remotely comparable winner, in recent years, was Peter Malkin, owner of the Empire State Building, who shared the 2009 award with an eminent architect, Robert A.M. Stern.

But Malkin was, in a sense, honored as a preservationist for greening the ESB.

By giving the award to Ratner and Gilmartin, the MAS seems to be taking a new step, recognizing builders with grander ambitions.

There's a logic to that: affecting New York's built environment today likely involves construction even more than preservation.

But construction is complex and politically fraught in a way that surpasses most preservation battles, at least those fought from the preservation side.

So, to honor Ratner and Gilmartin, who are certainly accomplished, requires a willingness to ignore the baggage.

Public, private, and the Culture of Cheating

Then again, before the award was renamed for Mrs. Onassis, the winners included Robert Moses, the unelected master builder and power broker of 20th century New York, whose legacy remain enormously contested.

Even so, Moses, who broke a lot of eggs to make his enduring omelets, was doing so as a public official.

Forest City Ratner's impressive buildings come with many eggs broken in the pursuit of corporate profit.

The Barclays Center fundamentally represents a dodge; that plaza so crucial to its image and function is temporary, an artifact of the failure to build a planned office tower, without which the project likely would not have been approved.

The much-hyped Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement--the results of which are quite mixed (delayed housing, lawsuit over job training, regular disbursement of free tickets, curious arena meditation room) contains a fatal failure: Forest City Ratner has been unwilling to pay for the Independent Compliance Monitor the agreement requires.

Forest City's search for cheap capital has led to participation in a federally approved program called EB-5, recruiting immigrant investors in 2010 and this year with clearly dishonest pitches.

Regarding Atlantic Yards, I could go on.

But consider the company's machinations in Yonkers, where it hired a local "fixer" for a no-show job after he got a city council member to change her vote to favor the Forest City's Ridge Hill project. Incredibly, Forest City remained unscathed.

The Times Tower in Midtown was where Forest City, with notable chutzpah, tried to wrangle triple tax-free Liberty Bonds aimed to rebuild Lower Manhattan.

And to build 8 Spruce Street, Forest City not only "blackmailed" the community board (to quote one board member) to gain tax breaks, it stopped construction midway through to play hardball with the unions and used those Liberty Bonds.

"Gotta like that," said an investment analyst, marveling at the developer's ability to gain tax-free bonds without providing affordable housing.

Such behavior--understandable, perhaps, from a corporate point of view--has not been matched by a public sector willing to push back.

That's how Forest City got both the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Empire State Development Corporation to renegotiate Atlantic Yards deals in its favor in 2009.

So the question should be asked: What would Jackie think? What about Jane Jacobs?

We know what Moses would say: "If the ends don't justify the means, what does?"

Previous winners of the Onassis Medal

In 1994, the year Onassis died, MAS renamed its highest honor the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Medal. The winners are listed below, with my annotations regarding their renown:
Dr. Judith Rodin and David Rockefeller, Jr., 2013 (president and board chair of the Rockefeller Foundation)
Joan Ganz Cooney and Peter G. Peterson, 2012 (co-founder of Sesame Workshop/philanthropist and businessman/civic leader)
Diane von Furstenberg, 2011 (preservationist in Meatpacking District, High Line advocate)
Peter L. Malkin and Robert A. M. Stern, 2009 (Empire State Building owner/guardian and architect/planner)
Kent Barwick, 2008 (the "soul of the MAS")
Wade F.B. Thompson and Elihu Rose, 2007 (saving and restoring an armory)
Janet and Arthur Ross, 2006 (philanthropists and parks advocates)
Channel Thirteen, 2005
Agnes Gund, 2004 (arts patron)
George Trescher, 2003 (master fund-raiser)
James Stewart Polshek, 2002 (architect)
Frederic S. Papert, 2001 (president of the 42nd St. Development Corporation and former MAS president)
Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman, 2000 (philanthropists)
Stephen C. Swid, 1998 (MAS chairman who presided over Times Square revival efforts)
Margot Gayle and Robert DeNiro, 1997 (preserving TriBeCa)
I. M. Pei, 1996 (renowned architect)
Brendan Gill, 1994 (New Yorker writer and preservationist)


  1. Anonymous2:07 PM

    What's next for MAS? Will they honored Empire State Development for all the corrupt work they have done over the years?

    Should there be an award for worst Authority?


Post a Comment

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 …

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

This graphic, posted in February 2018, is post-dated to stay at the top of the blog. It will be updated as announced configurations change and buildings launch. Note the unbuilt B1 and the proposed--but not yet approved--shift in bulk to the unbuilt Site 5.

The August 2014 tentative configurations proposed by developer Greenland Forest City Partners will change. The project is already well behind that tentative timetable.

How many people are expected?

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park has a projected 6,430 apartments housing 2.1 persons per unit (as per Chapter 4 of the 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement), which would mean 13,503 new residents, with 1,890 among them in low-income affordable rentals, and 2,835 in moderate- and middle-income affordable rentals.

That leaves 8,778 people in market-rate rentals and condos, though let's call it 8,358 after subtracting 420 who may live in 200 promised below-market condos. So that's 5,145 in below-market units, though many of them won…

The passing of David Sheets, Dean Street renter, former Freddy's bartender, eminent domain plaintiff, and singular personality

David Sheets, longtime Dean Street renter, Freddy's bartender, eminent domain plaintiff, and singular personality, died 1/17/18 in HCA Greenview Hospital in Bowling Green, KY. He was 56.

There are obituary notices in the Bowling Green Daily News and the Wichita Eagle, which state:
He was born in Wichita, KS where he attended public Schools and Wichita State University. He lived for many years in Brooklyn, NY, and was employed as a legal assistant. David's hobby was cartography and had an avid interest in Mass Transit Systems of the world. David was predeceased by his father, Kenneth E. Sheets. He is survived by his mother, Wilma Smith, step-brother, Billy Ray Smith and his wife, Jane all of Bowling Green; step-sister, Ellen Smith Alexander and her husband, Jerry of Bella Vista, AR; several cousins and step-nieces and step-nephews also survive. Memorial Services will be on Monday, January 22, 2018 at 1:00 pm with visitation from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm Monday at Johnson-Vaughn-Phe…

Some skepticism on Belmont hockey deal: lease value seems far below Aqueduct racino; unclear (but large?) cost for LIRR service

As I wrote for The Bridge 12/20/1, The Islanders Say Bye to Brooklyn, But Where Next?, the press conference announcing a new arena at Belmont Park for the New York Islanders was "long on pomp... but short on specifics."

Notably, a lease valued at $40 million "upfront to lease up to 43 acres over 49 years... seems like a good deal on rent for the state-controlled property." Also, the Long Island Rail Road will expand service to Belmont.

That indicates public support for an arena widely described as "privately financed," but how much? We don't know yet, but some more details--or at least questions--have emerged.

An Aqueduct comparable?

Well, we don't know what the other bid was, and there aren't exactly parcels that large offering direct comparables.

But consider: Genting New York LLC in September 2010 was granted a franchise to operate a video lottery terminal under a 30 year lease on 67 acres at Aqueduct Park (as noted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo).


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 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…