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

At community meeting, restructuring called win-win; longstanding liaison gone; L&L MAG role questioned; a major irony noted

There wasn’t huge news at last night’s bi-monthly Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Quality of Life meeting, but the big-picture highlights, described below, include:
  • the project restructuring was called a win-win
  • the longstanding Community Liaison Officer is gone, but the function continues
  • new firm L&L MAG's role is confusing (to me, at least)
  • a resident pointed out the irony of a Russian oligarch and Shanghai government-owned company controlling the project
(Also see coverage of specific project updates.)

The Greenland Forest City restructuring

As with press releases and previous statements, representatives of the companies that restructured their deal last week called it good news.

The divestment by Forest City Realty Trust—from 30% to 5% going forward—is consistent with their strategic plan to reduce their development portfolio, said longtime Forest City New York spokeswoman Ashley Cotton, who now works for the new firm formed by former Forest City New York CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin, L&L MAG.

“It’s definitely a win-win for both companies, given where Greenland is, and their desire to see this project built, and our company, changing strategic direction,” she said. (I would wait to see how much Greenland is paying.)

Cotton noted that Greenland has not been merely a supplier of capital, but has a staff of developers, engineers, accountants, lawyers, and more. “If you’re interested in seeing this project completed and built out, and the commitments [met], I would recommend seeing this as good news,” she said.

She said that the restructuring did not mean any changes to the project development plan or General Project Plan, and “and the project requirements are completely staying as is.” Of course once the joint venture aims to move the Site 5 plan forward—transferring bulk from the unbuilt B1 tower over the arena block to the site now occupied by Modell’s and P.C. Richard—there will be changes, after a public review process.

Greenland’s Scott Solish, a former Bloomberg administration official, said he had no new details to share regarding plans for B4 or other buildings, but “We’re eager to move forward, eager to get buildings going again.”

A departure, and a “new” Community Liaison

Forest City staffer Roberta Fearon, “an amazing partner” who regularly attended such meetings and ran the Community Liaison Office, is “no longer with” the company, said Cotton. (Translation: Forest City laid off several people.)

People can still call 866-923-5315 and or email Cotton said a group of people, or “me, personally” will continue to handle communication.

Later, she was asked directly, “Who’s going to replace Roberta?”

“I’m going to take on her responsibilities,” said Cotton. Surely she has more primary responsibilities.

The new L&L MAG and questions about its role

Cotton said that she and Solish, previously a much more behind-the-scenes public presence, would continue to be the spokespeople for the project.

I noted that Cotton said last week at the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation meeting that the new firm has a service contract with Forest City. I asked: “Is it a service contract with the joint venture? Are you speaking for the project or Forest City’s interests?”

“The contract is with Forest City, but I speak on behalf of the joint venture,” Cotton said. “Hand in hand with Scott, I’ve been the spokesperson for the joint venture since it was initiated.”

“But you don’t have a contract with Greenland.”

“No, but neither does Forest City,” she said. “They have a deal with each other…. It’s an ownership stake.”

“Does Forest City—“

“She’s explained it,” Solish interjected.

“You can ask it three ways," Cotton said, "I’m going to give you the same answer."

“She said it as plainly as possible,” Solish reiterated.

“I am the spokesperson for the joint venture, as I’ve always been, and L&L MAG has a services agreement with Forest City,” Cotton said. “Forest City has an ownership joint venture with Greenland USA.”

“There could be a little thought bubble over your head at the same time that says ‘5%,’ that’s what I’m trying to understand,” I said.

“You can put whatever thought bubble you want on it,” she said.

In other words, when Forest City had 30% of the project, as well as a joint-venture agreement that required mutual assent on major decisions, it essentially had veto power over such things as a new building start.

When Cotton was previously speaking for the joint venture, well, Forest City once had the heft to ensure that decisions reflected its position. At this point, Forest City has a tiny fraction of the project. Unless L&L MAG has a contract with the joint venture or Greenland, it’s tougher to see that Cotton represents the full project.

Forest City executive Jane Marshall was asked if she was leaving the company too.

“They work for me,” Marshall said.

“True, I have a service agreement with Jane,” Cotton said.

A resident’s frustration

Dean Street resident Robert Puca, one of the more pugnacious (and long-term) project opponents, got off a bit of a rant.

He noted that L&L MAG’s new web site portrays the project in full buildout, including a giant tower at Site 5. See green arrow at left below. The pink arrows point to completed buildings.

“That site—that’s still in litigation with P.C. Richard, it has to go through public hearings, the bulk has to be transferred from one side [of the street] to another,” Puca said. “To me it makes a mockery of the process…the public hearings… yet there is a picture of what’s going to be there anyhow. It just makes me—I’m going to go all these hearings… I’ve been doing this 15 years, I know how the game is played. It just puts a bad taste in my mouth.”

Well, he’s right that the game is rigged. There’s nothing wrong with providing renderings as long as they’re based in reality and that those using them recognize that the plan has not yet been approved.

Puca wasn’t done. “What else puts a bad taste in my mouth: New York State, New York City put up a combination of $300 million in public subsidies, now it turns out 15 years later, it first went to Russian oligarch [Mikhail Prokhorov] and now it’s going to a company that’s basically owned by the government of Shanghai,” he said. “If people had known 15 years later, that government of Shanghai was going to own basically the building in my backyard, it would be a different taste in everybody’s mouth.”

He’s right. Forest City, as a Brooklyn-based firm (albeit the arm of a national company) with a local track record, could claim a certain amount of credibility and managed to establish trust with certain elements of the political firmament and Brooklyn community. It would’ve been much harder for an outsider—especially one tagged as an oligarch or state-owned Chinese firm-to accomplish that.