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Showing posts from October, 2008

Decoding FCR’s Gilmartin on Beekman Tower: condo aversion may jeopardize AY condos (or 50/50 plan)

Forest City Ratner executive MaryAnne Gilmartin, the developer’s point person on Atlantic Yards, was honored last night by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) New York chapter at its Heritage Ball, and on Monday night, she spoke in detail about a less controversial but hardly uncomplicated Frank Gehry project also announced in 2003: the in-construction Beekman Tower in Lower Manhattan.

Yesterday, I suggested that her take-away quote, “every deal dies three times,” also applies to Atlantic Yards, which is going through even more gyrations.

Lessons for AY

But there are some other hints and lessons from her talk. While the Beekman Tower is less a model for Atlantic Yards housing than the under-construction tower at 80 DeKalb Avenue in Brooklyn, Gilmartin’s explanation of why Beekman contains rental units, not condos, may cast further doubt on the developer’s plans for 1930 condos in the Atlantic Yards project.

If the condo market is currently saturated, and the developer prefers th…

Who's made the AY timetable gaffe? (Jon) Benguiat or Bertha (Lewis)?

Journalist Michael Kinsley famously posited that "A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth."

By that measure, on Monday, when Jon Benguiat, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's Director of Planning and Development, "blurted out" (in the words of the Brooklyn Paper), “I don’t know if we’re going to get the Nets,” it was a gaffe.

Yes, it might have been embarrassing to Markowitz, an unabashed Atlantic Yards booster. However, given all the chatter about a potential sale of the team and the delays in starting arena construction, Benguiat's statement was simple candor.

The Architect's Newspaper, which calls it "shocking news," got a statement from Markowitz's office expressing confidence in the project but not acknowledging the recent reports casting doubt on Forest City Ratner's plans.

Less credible, and thus more of a real gaffe, was ACORN head Bertha Lewis's unwillingness to acknowledge any doubts about the project and its ti…

FCR's Gilmartin: "Every deal dies three times"

While reports may seem to be ricocheting about the sale of the New Jersey Nets and even Atlantic Yards, multiple secondary reports in the blogosphere does not make it so.

Then again, the involvement of p.r. guru Howard Rubenstein, in denying (in the Star-Ledger) the Dubai/Russia sale talks, suggests a level of concern on the part of Forest City Ratner not seen since the first Nets-to-Newark rumor and hasty departure of former FCR point man Jim Stuckey.

"Every deal dies three times"

Consider an observation by MaryAnne Gilmartin, the FCR executive who replaced Stuckey on Atlantic Yards, speaking Monday night at the Center for Architecture: "“This is a notable quotable from me, but ‘every deal dies three times.'”

She said it in recounting the saga of the Frank Gehry-designed Beekman Tower in Lower Manhattan.

Atlantic Yards, even more complex and controversial than the Beekman Tower, has already gone through multiple iterations and timetables. It's hardly implausible tha…

Deputy Mayor (in Newark): "look for the least necessary insertion of subsidies"

New York Governor David Paterson is looking for federal help to close the state's enormous budget deficit (projected to reach $47 billion by 2011), but he's also warning that no part of the state budget will remain unscathed. The Times reported yesterday:
“Don’t get me wrong, there will be hard and painful cuts,” he said in the address. “There will be no segment of this budget that will not be cut.”

So, if Paterson turns to projects sponsored by the Empire State Development Corporation, how might he set priorities? There has to be a wiser method than that posited by Comptroller William Thompson, who said last week, defending Atlantic Yards, "If those projects made sense two-three years ago, when things were booming, they make sense during slower economies, also."

Setting priorities

Well, last night, Newark Deputy Mayor Stefan Pryor offered some common-sense advice, speaking at a panel in Newark titled The New Newark, Part 1: Maintaining Momentum for Renewal in a Slowing …

ACORN's Lewis still thinks AY's moving forward (but not paying as much attention)

On WBAI radio yesterday, sociologist and City Watch co-host Bill DiFazio invited ACORN chief organizer Bertha Lewis to defend the organization against charges of voter registration fraud--and, at about 17:50 in, brought up Atlantic Yards. (Lewis was elevated from New York to the national role in the wake of an embezzlement scandal.)

BD: Maybe it’s my ignorance, but I don’t know what’s happening with Atlantic Yards any more. I never hear about the Atlantic Yards project.
(He must not have been trying that hard.)

Personally, I’ve been against it…. It’s one of the few things we don’t agree on.
(See his comments when Lewis was a guest in February 2007.)

But what’s happening with it. What’s the current status?

Not paying as much attention

BL: I have to say I haven't been paying as much attention since I’ve just gotten a new position, I am now chief organizer for ACORN national. So...

Lewis continued, unmindful about the "AY is dead" meme or the proliferating reports of Bruce Ratner&#…

Nets official to Record: Brooklyn move won't happen

The leaks coming out of the basketball firmament just keep coming. Ian O'Connor, a columnist for the Bergen Record, writes that the Nets will stay in New Jersey, quoting Gov. Jon Corzine and finding a team official:
One longtime Nets’ official, a man who’s made big management decisions in the past, is telling people that the move to Brooklyn will never, ever happen. "Bruce just won’t end up with the money to do it," the official said. "Forget it."

O'Connor doesn't predict whether they would stay in the Meadowlands or move to Newark. Still, he concludes:
What are the chances of a second marriage between [superfan Frank] Capece and the Nets by 2010?

Better than the team’s chances of landing the eighth playoff seed next spring.

At LPC hearing on Prospect Heights Historic District, mention of the Ward Bakery and AY briefly unsettles the mood

Yesterday’s public hearing held by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) on the designation of part of Prospect Heights as a historic district, involving some 870 properties, was hardly contentious. Various interested parties, residents, neighborhood groups, and preservationists saluted the LPC for its decision to move forward in designating part of Prospect Heights as a historic district.

(Photo of Marty Markowitz testifying, by Michael D.D. White, who offers his own account of the hearing. Videos by Raul Rothblatt here.)

One question was what exactly people might say about the planned Atlantic Yards project, the blocks of which were not considered as part of the district. (Why? Because the project was going through state environmental review, an LPC staffer said last year, which essentially means that the decision was political. Previous coverage of the historic district is linked here.)

Council Member Letitia James, Lisa Kersavage of the Municipal Art Society (MAS), Gib Veconi o…

Report: Ratner talked with Russians, Dubai group about ownership

Sources are beginning to come out of the woodwork regarding Bruce Ratner's apparent efforts to sell the New Jersey Nets. First, the Daily News reported Ratner was trying to sell the team. An anonymous team spokesman told the Post that wasn't true.

Then Yahoo! Sports columnist Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Ratner talked to Russian oil tycoons not just about the Nets but the entire Atlantic Yards project. A Middle Eastern group also expressed interest to the NBA and Nets ownership.

OK, anyone with oil wealth might have to reconsider investments after the price of oil took a dive. But the accumulating reports must have project backers like Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz a little antsy.

After all, after the New York Times reported last March on the AY stall, Markowitz declared, "I remain confident that Forest City Ratner, with its successful track record of development through all economic climates, will fulfill its vision of bringing the Nets, affordable housing,…

If Ratner was trying to sell the Nets, what might that mean?

If New Jersey Nets principal owner Bruce Ratner, along with Forest City Enterprises, was trying to sell the team within the past year (but not walk away from plans to build the Atlantic Yards arena) as the Daily News reports today, what might that mean?

1) Ratner, who had previously sought additional investors to spread the losses, instead was willing to sell completely. It's just not the right time to sell a team.

2) Ratner may have been willing to sell the team at a loss compared to what he paid, just to stop the annual losses.

3) Ratner knows his core business is not sports, but real estate development.

4) If the goal now is to staunch the annual losses without selling the team, a temporary move to Newark has to be considered, despite the inter-county conflict in New Jersey.

5) What next?

Is "adoption" really "approval"? Looking more closely at ESDC board action in July 2006

In the Atlantic Yards chronology, the meaning of one action by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) is a key to whether tax-exempt bonds for the project would be grandfathered in under new Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules.

Last week, I (like others) concluded that the ESDC's vote to adopt the Atlantic Yards General Project Plan (GPP) at its 7/18/06 meeting likely constituted what the Treasury Department requires as "official action evidencing its preliminary approval of the project before October 19, 2006."

The issue may be more ambiguous. "Adoption" might also be seen merely as an agreement to release a "proposed" plan for public comment. On the other hand, "adoption" of a plan that receives no comment means it will go into effect, which does indicate approval.

(All emphases in text below are added.)

City/state argument

A May 8 letter to the IRS and Treasury Department from the ESDC and the New York City Industrial Development Aut…

Jobs, housing, and (not) hoops: the city's justification for arena bonds

Before a Congressional subcommittee hearing Friday regarding tax-exempt bonds for Yankee Stadium (and other projects), the New York City Economic Development Corporation, whose affiliate New York City Industrial Development Authority issues such bonds, produced a document called Yankee Stadium, Fact v. Fiction (PDF).

While the document only glancingly mentioned Atlantic Yards, the framework was quite curious. The tax-exempt bonds at issue would be used only to build the AY arena, not any other components of the project.

But what's the justification for the arena? Affordable housing and job creation. Most of the latter would be related to office, retail, and building services, not the arena. And affordable housing could be built without the arena.

From the document

IRS Regulations
Opponents:
New regulations are attempt to prohibit use of tax-exempt debt for future projects like Yankee Stadium
Facts:
Proposed regulations made technical changes to how some payments backing tax-exempt bonds …

Yassky's doubletalk on the term limits issue

City Council Member David Yassky, known for his waffling on Atlantic Yards, today circulated a letter (full text below) explaining his equivocation on term limits.

Note the curious logic. On the one hand, Yassky wants voters to have a choice, not acknowledging the huge power of Mayor Mike Bloomberg's incumbency, and the mayor's $100 million war chest:
I became convinced that the right choice at this point in time was to leave open for voters the option of choosing to continue the Bloomberg Administration next November.

On the other hand, Yassky admits that he won't challenge the sitting Comptroller, who has the advantage of incumbency:
Finally, I know that some on the other side of this debate have accused Council Members of acting out of self-interest in voting to change term limits. For my part, I can say unequivocally that I saw no personal benefit in the Mayor's proposal. As you know, I have been planning to run for City Comptroller next year, and have felt confident…

As Prospect Heights Historic District gets hearing Tuesday, some politic omissions

From 1:30 to 3:30 pm Tuesday, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) will hold a public hearing on the proposed (PDF) Prospect Heights Historic District, parts of which would border the Atlantic Yards footprint. (Previous coverage.)

The hearing is important both because of its the goal, long sought by Prospect Heights residents, and because it reminds us how landmarking is a political process, especially when historic preservation intersects with the Atlantic Yards project.



The hearing will be at the LPC’s offices in the Municipal Building, One Centre Street, in Manhattan, and approval at a later LPC meeting, which is expected, must be followed by approval by the City Planning Commission and City Council.


Public support

"Landmarking has received the support of hundreds of Prospect Heights residents," says the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council. "It's also critical that community members attend the public hearing (and testify) in order to demonstrate …

Caveats regarding the real estate media (#9 In Brownstoner's list) and the "Men of Myrtle"

In Brownstoner's list of the Top 50 "most influential people who have shaped Brooklyn neighborhoods," the Media (including me) snag the #9 slot and, while I won't quibble with the ranking, I do think the congratulatory air deserves some caveats.

Brownstoner states:
If a tree falls in the woods and nobody hears it, does it make a sound? No matter, with hundreds of reporters and bloggers in Brooklyn even the mere crack of a twig can turn into a fever pitch, and as a blog, we see media as a collective force since its work product is consolidated on our pages (yes, we know this is shameless cheating). Battles over projects like the Downtown Brooklyn redevelopment, Atlantic Yards and Coney Island are played out in the media daily, swaying public opinion, galvanizing activists, and selling the borough to buyers and investors. Speaking of buyers, a National Association of Home Builders study found during the boom years, over half said media reports had an impact on their deci…

In basketball saga, is Brooklyn more like Oklahoma City or Seattle?

Could it be that it is only smaller cities that need major league sports to feel "major league"?

Bruce Schoenfeld's New York Times Magazine article yesterday, headlined Where the Thunder Comes Dribbling Down the Plain, describes the transformation of NBA's Seattle SuperSonics into the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the latter city's embrace and support of the team.

The lessons for Brooklyn, I think, are mixed. Unlike some other medium and large cities, where existing major league teams suck up attention and media coverage, Brooklyn's in a big enough market to support a team, should the Nets ultimately move here.
Brooklyn is more like?

However, the Atlantic Yards saga suggests that New York behaved more like Oklahoma City than Seattle, offering political support, lobbying, and public funds to attract the team and built the arena, while in Seattle voters approved a measure, proposed by a group called Citizens for More Important Things, that ensured that any public mone…

Lupica: Commissioner Stern is watching

From Daily News sports columnist Mike Lupica today:
Commissioner Stern must be pretty proud of the way things are working out for the Nets, geography-wise, and attendance-wise, the whole ball of wax.

And team-less Seattle, as noted on NetsDaily, may see Key Arena get renovated.

The IRS decision this week on tax-exempt bonds was very good news, from the perspective of Atlantic Yards backers. The deadline for Barclays Capital to renew and possibly renegotiate the naming-rights deal for the Barclays Center is less good news.

And the tanking stock price, and lowering of Forest City Enterprises' credit rating makes it more difficult, though not impossible, for the developer to wait patiently on Atlantic Yards.

Does anyone think that, even if the Brooklyn arena gets built, the Nets will spend four full seasons at the Izod Center in the Meadowlands?

Update: Mitch Lawrence of the Daily News (right) doesn't think the arena will be built at all. I'm not so sure.

Vox populi on term limits vote missing from the print Times

While the New York Times published six letters on Thursday, the day of the City Council's vote to overturn and extend voter-imposed term limits, it had not published a letter since. That's a serious lapse, after all, there were 710 comments on the Times's CityRoom blog responding to the Council's vote and 105 comments after Bloomberg defended the move on the radio.

Even if the Times eventually publishes some letters, it has partly squelched the instant voices of dissent.

Oh, and the Sunday City section surely has an article about the implications of the term limits extension, right? Nope. The lead article is about the proliferation of specialty coffee shops.

Testy Kucinich presses city officials on “gaming” Yankee Stadium assessment; big disagreement over “smoking gun”

During a charged but inconclusive Congressional subcommittee hearing yesterday, a sometimes testy Rep. Dennis Kucinich pressed officials from the New York City Department of Finance (DOF) and New York City Industrial Development Authority (IDA) on how and why an assessment for the land under Yankee Stadium leaped sixfold in a day.

The officials stood their ground during the three-hour hearing, insisting implacably that nothing untoward had gone on, even as a fellow witness, New York Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, periodically expressed disbelief at their testimony.

(From left: Brodsky, Department of Finance Commissioner Martha Stark, Industrial Development Authority President Seth Pinsky; and New York Yankees President Randy Levine.)

While the hearing proceeded under the conclusory title, “Gaming the Tax Code,” and Brodsky and Kucinich walked in convinced of exactly that, the only “gaming” that clearly occurred was accomplished by the city and the Yankees, given that, as a frustrated Kucin…