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Showing posts from March, 2006

The $6 billion lie: why Ratner's fiscal claim is Swiss cheese

Would the Atlantic Yards project bring $6 billion in new revenue to the city and state over 30 years? That's developer Forest City Ratner's mantra, in meetings, in the Brooklyn Standard promotional sheet, and now in a letter (right) they're providing to state legislators in an effort to lobby Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. The state budget is supposed to be decided by April 1, and the developer seeks the inclusion of $100 million in state aid promised in a 2005 Memorandum of Understanding, even though the project is still in the early stages of review.

The $6 billion is the biggest lie in the whole Atlantic Yards controversy.

OK, syntactically, it's not a lie. The $6 billion has indeed been estimated in a study FCR commissioned, written by sports economist Andrew Zimbalist. But it's not credible. It results from manipulated statistics, an enormous (and methodologically flawed) overestimate of revenues, and an omission (and then an underestimate) of costs.

The study&…

Brewery's Hindy rewrites history on Atlantic Yards jobs claims

In a debate published today in Metro NY over the merits of a boycott of the Brooklyn Brewery by those opposed to the Atlantic Yards project, the Brewery's Steve Hindy states:
When Ratner unveiled his plan to buy the New Jersey Nets and bring them to Brooklyn, we were thrilled. The departure of the Dodgers in 1957 had left a hole in Brooklyn’s heart. We believe that the Nets could give Brooklyn a team to rally around again. And we were very impressed by the housing and commercial development surrounding the arena, designed by Frank Gehry. The development promised to bring 15,000 construction jobs and 3,000 permanent new jobs to Brooklyn, as well as seven acres of new public open space.

However, has been noted numerous times, the 15,000 promised construction jobs would actually be 1500 jobs a year over ten years.

Also, the number of permanent new office jobs unveiled in Ratner's plan was to be 10,000, not 3000; only in 2005, nearly 18 months after plans were announced in December 2…

Fiscal impact of Atlantic Yards? The city keeps report under wraps

How much in new revenues would Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project bring, and what costs would it pose?

That's the $3.5 billion (and counting) question, but the Bloomberg administration's response is: trust us. The New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) won't release the report it's used as a justification for the development.

At some point after 5/4/04--when NYCEDC president Andrew Alper told a City Council committee that the project was expected to have a positive fiscal impact--the agency apparently produced an analysis of the project. A 3/3/05 press release from the mayor's office stated: According to an economic analysis completed earlier this year for the New York City Economic Development Corporation, the net fiscal benefit to the City and State from the Atlantic Yards project is estimated at $1 billion in present value over the next thirty years. (Present value means the value in current dollars.)

The online version of the press re…

Brooklyn’s Barack? Batson declares for Assembly, could block AY project

Bill Batson’s campaign kickoff, during a sunny-turned-cloudy (and back) afternoon on the steps of City Hall yesterday, was a rainbow coalition of Brooklyn’s ethnic groups. Add to them representatives from the Civil Services Employees Association (citing Batson’s work on the Lifespire agreement), the Green Party, the United African Congress (UAC, who helped Batson meet his birth parents), and ACRES—American Civil Rights Education Services, a nonprofit Batson cofounded that takes students on tours of civil rights landmarks.

A duo offered a graceful South African song. Civil liberties stalwart (and unsuccessful Public Advocate candidate) Norman Siegel wore a Brooklyn Dodgers jacket, a sartorial rebuke to those, like Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who invoke the departed team to justify the Atlantic Yards project.

And then there was the candidate, aiming to succeed (or is that defeat?) Roger Green in the 57th Assembly District, encompassing Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, an…

Critic Morrone: urban quality of Brooklyn at stake

Historian and an architecture critic Francis Morrone, speaking to an audience in Brooklyn Heights as part of a 3/23/06 forum on the Atlantic Yards project, declared that "nowhere is the urban quality of Brooklyn so at stake as at the Atlantic Yards" and called for community vigilance toward inappropriate development. He also warned that architect Frank Gehry's "disjunctive esthetic" was inappropriate for the site. [I wasn't at the meeting, sponsored by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, but I listened to a tape.]

His comments echoed the thoughtful criticism he wrote last year for the Spring 2005 issue of the new magazine The Brooklynite, in an article titled Vanishing Vistas: Will the “borough of churches” become a borough of skyscrapers?.

Morrone said he wasn't well-qualified to talk about the political, economic, and legal issues, but said the controversy wasn't primarily about eminent domain, or traffic patterns: "It's about what Brookly…

Will lawyer for ESDC remain disqualified? Tough to tell

So I was out of town and missed the state appeals court hearing last Thursday in which the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) challenged the disqualification of attorney David Paget because he had worked on the Atlantic Yards project for developer Forest City Ratner before switching to the state agency.

But the press coverage indicated that it was a lively, and inconclusive hearing, with judges offering skeptical reactions to arguments from both the ESDC and the community groups and individuals that sought Paget's disqualification. The New York Observer, handicapping the court, gave the edge to the ESDC, suggesting that two judges leaned in the agency's direction, while the other three were harder to read. The New York Sun, in a 3/24/06 article headlined Judges To Decide if Agency Can Rehire Lawyer Banned From Atlantic Yards Project, noted:
One judge said Mr. Paget’s dual roles gave the appearance of impropriety but on a deeper level might not be a conflict of inte…

Proposed Bronx CBA offers interesting contrasts to Brooklyn CBA

A proposed Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) regarding a new Yankees stadium offers some interesting contrasts to the CBA negotiated for Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, notably a local trust fund offering $700,000 a year, and a closer focus on benefits to the borough. Still, local residents critical of the plan have hardly embraced it. (And see more criticism here from Richard Lipsky of the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, who just happens to support the Atlantic Yards project.)

A New York Times article published today, headlined $28 Million for the Bronx in the Yankees' Stadium Plan, reports:
As part of the Yankees' proposal to build a new stadium, the team will contribute $28 million to a trust fund and distribute 15,000 free tickets each season to Bronx groups, according to the draft plan of a community benefits program.
The proposal also calls for the team to pay $100,000 a year to maintain parks around the stadium and distribute $100,000 a year in…

A thoughtful defense of eminent domain (but would it fit Atlantic Yards?)

The good liberal brownstoners of Brooklyn, and others troubled by the Atlantic Yards project, have some uncomfortable bedfellows in challenging Forest City Ratner and the Empire State Development Corporation on the issue of eminent domain. After all, the leading critics of the Supreme Court's Kelo decision come from the libertarian right (though there is a broad spectrum of critics).

Still, you don't have to be an absolutist on eminent domain to be concerned about eminent domain abuse--and to conclude that even a good defense of eminent domain for urban redevelopment might run aground when addressing Atlantic Yards.

Indeed, a recent article in the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law, titled Public-Private Redevelopment Partnerships and the Supreme Court: Kelo v. City of New London, by Marc B. Mihaly of the Vermont Law School Environmental Law Center, offers a spirited defense of eminent domain in urban redevelopment projects. At the same time, it's difficult to fit the fact…

Ratner to investors: AY approval expected by fall, Nets losses downplayed, 15-year buildout?

Is the Atlantic Yards project on track? Despite delays from the original plan to open the arena in the fall of 2006, Forest City Ratner president and CEO Bruce Ratner told investors in the parent Forest City Enterprises that he expects goverment approval by mid-fall and construction to commence a few months after that. Ratner, sounding jovial and confident, also deflected concerns about losses suffered by the New Jersey Nets, saying he was confident the team would make money when it moved to Brooklyn. (Photo from Forest City Ratner web site.)

Ratner participated in a special investor event on 3/13/06. His portion goes from 1:22 to 1:54, but keep listening for another two minutes for an eminent domain anecdote. An investor conference call is scheduled for March 31.

The Atlantic Yards project, at 9.1 million square feet in its current configuration, would be larger cumulatively than the 37 projects that Forest City Ratner completed in the past 18 years. Those projects involve about 8.5 mi…