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Showing posts from August, 2007

The Times knows how to do better, just not when it comes to Atlantic Yards

The New York Times is capable of fact-checking dubious or incomplete claims and it's capable of sustained reportorial attention--just not enough when it comes to Atlantic Yards.

Consider the tough analysis of the post-Katrina recovery, as noted in an article published Thursday headlined Commemorations for a City 2 Years After Storm. (Click on graphic to enlarge.)

Imagine if, say, the Times had similarly fact-checked the projection (according to a document by developer Forest City Ratner) that Atlantic Yards would be finished by 2015, given that the official date is 2016 and the the timetable is already behind schedule?

Or if the Times had reminded readers that the claim of 15,000 construction jobs really means 1500 jobs a year over ten years?

Or if the Times corrected the multiple claims, which it reproduced uncritically, that Atlantic Yards would be built on the "same site" as the proposed new Brooklyn Dodgers stadium?

Or if the Times, belatedly but responsibly, corrected th…

New downtown? The Atlantic Yards office space, in DC context

In honor of yesterday's shortsighted Wall Street Journal article on Atlantic Yards office space, it's worth a look at how big that office space might be. Remember, when it was proposed on 12/10/03, Atlantic Yards was to contain 2.1 million square feet of office space, as "New York City requires... additional office space to create and retain new jobs."

But those four office towers, which led columnist Andrea Peyser to rhapsodize about 10,000 office jobs, have mostly been traded for condos. After two rounds of cuts, the proposed Atlantic Yards office space now would cover 336,000 square feet, with space for 1340 jobs and likely 375 new jobs.

That's hardly the new downtown some have claimed for Atlantic Yards, especially since there's no need, as yet, for all the office space proposed in the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning. Atlantic Yards would consist of an arena, a mixed-use office/condo/hotel tower, plus a residential complex--a latter-day Stuyvesant Town, much mor…

The Wall Street Journal, on real estate and AY, needs some footnotes

A Wall Street Journal real estate column (full text for subscribers only) today tagged BLUEPRINT/Brooklyn and headlined 'Dem Bums' No Longer: A Borough on the Rise, begins:
About five decades after the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, some investors are betting that a planned arena for the Nets NBA team and a residential building boom will help clinch the borough's comeback--and push up its commercial real-estate values.

That's an odd formulation. In many ways, the borough has already come back--residential real estate values have rocketed and the question has been managing growth and maintaining affordability. And commercial real estate has been a sideshow, as both plans by the city and Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner have changed dramatically.

But the column's about commercial real estate, and there's little room for complexity.

On to AY

More than half the article is devoted to Atlantic Yards, even though the project is less and less about commer…

Our lagging infrastructure, the mismatch with municipalities, and the AY (bad) example

A bridge collapse in Minneapolis and a steam-pipe explosion in Manhattan serve as a jumping-off point for a lengthy New Republic essay by architecture critic Sarah Williams Goldhagen, headlined American Collapse (subscribers only).

And, yes, Atlantic Yards eventually surfaces as a bad example of a public-private partnership that skirts real public needs. Both she and Joel Kotkin, an analyst writing in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, point to an unhealthy municipal focus on sports facilities and other sideshows.

She writes:
Headlines screeching news of these two horrifying events have replaced, temporarily, the usual newspaper rhythm of weekly incantations announcing this or that city's plans for adorning itself with a new stadium, public park, or luminescent museum--announcements that often serve to distract the public's attention from the silent scourge afflicting this country's viscera. One pipe explosion and one bridge collapse just might be enough to rouse the public…

The “owner-use” eviction controversy comes to Prospect Heights

As property values skyrocket in New York, the cheapest—though perhaps not the least risky—route to a substantial living space may be the use (or exploitation) of the “owner-use” clause in state rent regulations, which allows landlords of rent-stabilized buildings to take “one or more apartments” for personal use.
(Photos by Jonathan Barkey except as marked.)

And that’s the issue on Bergen Street in Prospect Heights, where dozens of neighbors, along with some elected officials, on Sunday protested plans by the new owners of 533 Bergen to use five of eight apartments for their family, thus evicting rent-stabilized tenants from four railroad apartments, each averaging not much more than 800 square feet.

“I have no problem with them having a big house,” commented lawyer Brent Meltzer of South Brooklyn Legal Services (SBLS), who represents 28-year tenant Evelyn Suarez, who faces eviction. “But why develop on the backs of these tenants?”
(Pictured are Suarez (l.) and fellow tenant Sillather Bu…

At the beach volleyball tourney, Nets synergy but no ticket promotion

The just-concluded second annual Brooklyn Open, the new stop on the AVP pro beach volleyball tour, signals a commitment to a broader borough presence from Forest City Ratner subsidiary Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment (BSE).

And there's surely synergy; as the NetsDaily blog pointed out yesterday, Nets star Vince Carter and Nets owner Bruce Ratner presented the winning check, and the tournament winners wore Nets jerseys.

However, it looks like the FCR folks are fine-tuning their approach. Last year, according to an interview quoted by NetsDaily, a BSE executive referred to the new company as "Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment in partnership with Atlantic Yards." And that, of course, is what the signage said last year (below).

This year's model, however, eschewed the Atlantic Yards mention, though a press release mentioned it. Of course, Barclays, which bought naming rights to the planned arena, signed on as a sponsor.

Does Atlantic Yards no longer need a plug, now that…

A Nets fan's candor: 2009 deadline "increasingly unlikely"

As part of a blog post yesterday on the efforts by Forest City Ratner to become more of a sporting presence in the borough, via Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment's (BSE) sponsorship of events like the pro volleyball tour, the anonymous fan behind the NetsDaily Blog lists potential arena events and muses, "None of this can happen until the arena is built and that 2009-10 deadline looks increasingly unlikely."

Indeed, the project is way behind schedule.

NetsDaily also cites a 2006 quote from BSE executive Chris Brahe: "As you know we are moving our team to Brooklyn, hopefully for the 2009 season..."
(Emphasis added)

Forest City Enterprises executive Chuck Ratner in March seemingly confirmed a 2010-11 opening season, then insisted afterward, "We remain committed to our goal of opening the arena in time for the 2009-2010 NBA basketball season.”

The future of Coney Island will not look quite like this

Thor Equities may call its changing, not-yet-approved plan for a prime chunk of the Coney Island amusement zone "the future of Coney Island," and that may be so--at least for that central portion.

But it's unlikely that the future will be defined by the enduring Coney Island icons--the Cylcone, the Wonder Wheel, the Parachute Jump--Thor has chosen for its oft-repeated graphics, which line the walls of prime but empty property along Stillwell Avenue, the straight shot from the subway to the beach.

For Atlantic Yards watchers, it may hearken back to 2003, when the 16-tower Atlantic Yards megaproject was launched with a web site called BBall.net.

Showdown in September?

A Daily News article yesterday, headlined Sands of time catch up to Coney Island, suggests a showdown next month:
Megadeveloper Thor Equities and its president Joe Sitt envision hotels, entertainment venues and amusement parks in a new Coney Island that draws crowds year-round.

The success of that vision — as well…

Civic project? The (unmoored) Nets net Wrigley as "off-season presenting sponsor"

Still pending, with a decision expected in September, is a lawsuit, filed in state court, by Atlantic Yards opponents and critics challenging the legitimacy of the environmental review. “The legislature did not intend a privately owned sports facility” to be a civic project, plaintiffs' attorney Jeff Baker contended in court on May 3.

But what is a civic project? It's defined as “A project or that portion of a multi-purpose project designed and intended for the purpose of providing facilities for educational, cultural, recreational, community, municipal, public service or other civic purposes.” Attorneys for the Empire State Development Corporation argue that sports facilities of course constitute civic projects.

That may be so, but how much are sports franchises about community spirit--remember the attorney for the MTA cited "civic pride"--and how much are they about marketing opportunities?

Wrigley's and the Nets

That brings us to... gum. Wrigley has become the Na…

Governor signs 421-a revision; Times, others ignore "Atlantic Yards carve-out"

So Governor Eliot Spitzer has signed the reform of the 421-a tax break, which includes an "Atlantic Yards carve-out" worth up to $200 million for developer Forest City Ratner. When the "carve-out" was worth $300 million, it was criticized by Mayor Mike Bloomberg, ACORN's Bertha Lewis, Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez, affordable housing advocate Brad Lander, Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB), the Brooklyn Paper, and others.

When it was reduced but not eliminated, the only official to offer measured criticism was Jeffries. (He issued it after I queried him, but he may have been prepared to issue a statement anyway.) DDDB seemingly stood alone in its forceful criticism.

Affordable housing advocates, city officials, state officials, and the public at large all had something to gain in the revised legislation, beyond the "carve-out." So perhaps some critics felt they could only go so far.

But what about those seemingl…

Who's paying for the affordable housing? New Domino-watchers want to know

If one of the lessons of the Atlantic Yards project for developers--like those of the New Domino project proposed in Williamsburg--is that they should hook up with affordable housing advocates to override zoning (or achieve a rezoning), a lesson for critics is that they should follow the money.

After all, Atlantic Yards has been touted as "providing" affordable housing without any reference to the public funds behind the units or any analysis of whether they represent a good bang for the buck.

So the Municipal Art Society (MAS), in its comments to the Department of City Planning (DCP) on the New Domino draft scope, a prelude to the environmental impact statement, begins:
Discussion of irreversible and irretrievable commitments of resources to develop the project should, to the fullest extent possible, disclose the sources of the public funding that will be used to subsidize the affordable housing units; the total amount of the funding; and the percentage of that funding devoted…

The Times corrects some ten-year-old errors; what about the "same site" error?

A correction in the New York Times on Thursday:
An article on Aug. 13, 1997, about an investigation into the police beating and torture of Abner Louima while he was in custody at a Brooklyn station house misstated his age at the time. (The same error appeared in at least nine other articles in 1997 and 2002, the year his case came to trial.) He was 30 then, not 33, and is now 40. A reader of The Times’s Web site noticed the error on a Times Topics page that was updated around the 10th anniversary of the attack.

The attack was 8/9/97, which means that, for the anniversary, the Times managed to do the research and issue a correction in about two weeks.

So why has it taken so long for the Times to correct the multiple errors, from 8/8/03 to 11/13/05, in which Atlantic Yards was described as potentially occupying the same site Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley wanted for a new stadium? The newspaper was put on notice more than two-and-a-half months ago.

Errol Louis denounces jock spousal abuse, but where's JKidd?

Daily News columnist Errol Louis on Thursday took up the case of Michael Vick, the quarterback with an unsavory appetite for dogfighting. In a column headlined It's a dog and pony show: While Vick gets ripped for animal cruelty, the jocks who beat their wives get a pass, Louis made a quite reasonable point:
The same sports execs falling over themselves to sever Vick from the sport have been downright lenient when it comes to other offenders.

His examples:
--Michael Pittman of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a fourth domestic-violence arrest.
--Lionel Gates of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, charged with beating a pregnant woman.
--Lamar Thomas, formerly of the Miami Dolphins, put his pregnant fiancée's head through a window.
--Brett Myers of the Philadelphia Phillies allegedly dragged his wife around by the hair publicly.
--Bobby Chouinard of the Colorado Rockies, doing a year in jail after putting a loaded pistol to his wife's head.

What about JKidd?

I wondered if Louis would cite an example …

ESDC says it's not not-hands-on, but could it do more?

The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) is indeed a little touchy about whether it's perceived as not-hands-on-enough regarding Atlantic Yards.

Last week, the ESDC issued out a statement:
ESDC Chairman Pat Foye never told the New York Observer that he was taking a hands-off approach to the Atlantic Yards project. The paper is running a clarification in its next edition.

ESDC has been thoroughly engaged with the community on this project. Our representatives have met with elected officials, community leaders, and even project opponents.

What Foye sought to convey to the Observer is that unlike the government-led projects our agency is shaping right now, Atlantic Yards was approved before this administration and is led by a private developer in partnership with government actors. Despite that distinction, ESDC - under its new leadership - has and is taking steps to closely monitor the project and address community concerns as it gets built.

This week's Observer noted:
Clarific…

Flashback, 1999: Developers, said FCR, must be "more creative" in finding sites

An article in the January 1999 issue of the late Brooklyn Bridge magazine, headlined "King of the Deal," suggested that Forest City Ratner was not only not yet imagining Atlantic Yards, it had run out of land in Brooklyn.

Given other evidence that the developer already had its eye on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard, it's safe to consider that a feint for public consumption.

The article begins:
Sandeep Mathrani used to fly over Brooklyn in a helicopter, videotaping traffic patterns and housing concentrations. As director of retail development for Forest City Ratner, he was searching for large spaces within residential neighborhoods on which to build new shopping complexes. "It's hard to drive and get a bird's-eye per­spective," says Mathrani.

The spaces winnow

And, after describing the developer's Atlantic Center mall and the emerging Atlantic Terminal mall, the article ultimately finds Mathrani almost wistful:
Mathrani no l…

The Columbia expansion, Atlantic Yards, and the cognitive dissonance of Richard Lipsky

When you hire Richard Lipsky, the man behind the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, you get not only an experienced lobbyist on behalf of small business, you get a blogger, a regular commenter on the news.

When clients on different sides of somewhat parallel development disputes hire Lipsky, however, readers get something else: some cognitive dissonance.

Lipsky, as Atlantic Yards watchers know, was hired by Forest City Ratner to organize an amateur sports league at the planned Brooklyn arena and to do other lobbying for the developer's projects. He’s said he typically would oppose a project with eminent domain but it wasn’t bringing in big-box stores or displacing other retailers. (Well, not directly, unless you count Freddy's Bar & Backroom.)

And Lipsky has been hired by Nick Sprayregen, owner of Tuck-it-Away storage, the largest landowner who has yet to sell to Columbia University and thus the most visible opponent of the university’s West Harlem expansion plan.

So that has led L…