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

ESD names Leicht as Real Estate EVP; will oversee Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park

That hole in Empire State Development's organizational chart (see below, outlined in green) has finally been filled, as Holly Leicht, a former city and federal official, has been named Executive VP of Real Estate & Public-Private Partnerships.

As reported yesterday in Crain's New York Business, Former Obama housing official lands at state development agency
Holly Leicht, who for three years oversaw the region's Sandy recovery for the federal government, has taken a post at the state's economic development arm, Empire State Development.
...At Empire State Development, Leicht will oversee some of the Cuomo administration's high-profile projects including the rehabilitation of Moynihan Station and the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, and will draw up future plans for developing state-owned sites.
Leicht also will oversee the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project (including the ESD subsidiary Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation), as did her predecessor Joe Chan, who left 11 months ago.

Chan went from city government to head the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership before jointing ESD. Leicht's most recent positions have been in government, as well as organizations like New Yorkers for Parks.


AY impact?

What does it mean for Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park? Who knows. As the Crain's article suggests, ESD has bigger projects on its plate. Leicht (who lives in the Bronx) likely will have an AY learning curve. Perhaps her governmental background will contribute to a recognition of the need for oversight.

Chan, however mindful of business interests based on his previous positions, lives in Brooklyn fairly near the project site, so he did listen to neighbors' concerns. Note: Chan's one-time deputy at the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, Tom Conoscenti, remains ESD's VP of Real Estate Development.

It's unclear how much individual executives matter. The record suggests that policy regarding the project gets steered by the governor's office, to which the developer often has access. In a few months, ESD will reevaluate the giant green wall encroaching on Dean Street, based on whether developer Greenland Forest City Partners announces plans to start a building.

More on Leicht

According to a September 2009 40 Under 40 profile from City & State NY, when Leicht was Deputy Commissioner for Development at NYC's Department of Housing Preservation and Development:
“When we put together the first housing plan, it really capitalized on crazy hot housing markets,” she said, referring to plans she etched in 2004, along with then-Commissioner Shaun Donovan, to build or preserve 165,000 new units of affordable housing.
The year the plan was put in place was Leicht’s first at HPD. Before then, she attended law school at Northwestern, helped envision the future of the World Trade Center site as a counsel to the Municipal Art Society and took a fellowship in historic preservation law.
Now, Leicht said, she is pulling her disparate experiences together to tackle one of the most challenging times HPD has ever faced.
Leicht on ULURP

In November 2008, I wrote about a panel on which Leicht appeared, in which she didn't mention Atlantic Yards, which was announced in 2003, but, to my ears, implicitly criticized the state process run by ESD and voted on by that authority's unelected board.

Leicht, then at HPD, acknowledged the challenge in balancing neighborhood character and the need for increased density to accommodate a growing population and additional affordable units.

Reflecting on the city process since 2005, “The best thing that’s happened is that it has become a more transparent process, of really saying to the public, ‘OK, we’re going to show you our numbers, we’ve done analysis. We can show you how much affordability you can get, but this is what it’s going to be, and how are we going to sort of meet all these various needs.’”

The city has engaged with communities over those trade-offs, she said. "And to some degree, I think that that’s been successful. I think there are still places where people think things are too tall, but I think, increasingly, it’s already that challenge is there, it’s only going to get worse, because there’s just not land left.”

She also acknowledged the limitations of the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, which gives community boards an advisory vote and requires the approval of the City Planning Commission and the City Council. Atlantic Yards critics argued that ULURP--which the state bypassed- at least allows local elected officials a voice, adding legitimacy.

Leicht warned, “ULURP is awfully late to start a conversation about a large project. It’s one thing if you’re talking about a small project, and you’re going to tweak a floor... or affordability, slightly. If you’re talking about a large-scale project, ULURP is simply too late to really have that dialogue.”

"The best experience I’ve had in terms of really getting meaningful input has been far earlier," she said. "It’s having a dialogue with community members about what do you want to see in your community, what’s missing."

Needless to say, that doesn't describe Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park.

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