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Showing posts from February, 2009

"Little guy" Gehry says Atlantic Yards is "stopped"; what are the implications?

As architect Frank Gehry turns 80, a valedictory interview in his home newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, is headlined Frank Gehry considers an accomplished past and uncertain future. Notably, when it comes to Atlantic Yards, Gehry considers himself "the little guy."

Christopher Hawthorne writes:
Most distressing of all for Gehry, two projects that he saw as capstones to his career, gigantic mixed-use developments on L.A.'s Grand Avenue and at Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards, have both been put on hold.

"I've had a disappointing year, couple of years, with Grand Avenue and Brooklyn," he said in a wide-ranging conversation in his office last week in which he was by turns ruminative, weary and hopeful. "All my life I've wanted to do projects like that, and they never came to me. And then all of a sudden I had two of them. I invested the last five years in them, and they're both stopped. So it leaves a very hollow feeling in your bones."

In response…

ESPN's Simmons on NBA contraction: "Welcome to the No Benjamins Association"

In a piece cleverly headlined Welcome to the No Benjamins Association, ESPN columnist Bill Simmons points to the parlous economic future faced by the National Basketball Association (NBA).

He notes that, at previous All-Star Games, the topics were various:
This season? We talked about money. Constantly. We didn't even know about the line of credit on the horizon; that didn't leak until the Monday after the All-Star Game. (On Thursday, we learned that 12 teams will accept the league's offer to borrow $200 million from JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, with between $13 million and $20 million available to each team...) We knew about layoffs of employees within the league and various franchises. We knew various local and national sponsors were bailing, most notably car companies and major banks (two staples for the NBA). We knew certain franchises were losing significant wads of money and reacting accordingly.

Attendance down

Simmons points to the common dodge in which attend…

Yormark claims (incorrectly) that Bloomberg saluted AY affordable housing

Yesterday, commenting on the most recent court ruling regarding the Atlantic Yards case, New Jersey Nets CEO Brett Yormark said, in a Fox Business Network (FBN) interview (at 3:45 of video):
"I'd love to echo the mayor's sentiments when he said we've got to get this project started, the affordable housing, the jobs, it's much-needed."

Well, Atlantic Yards backers may have memorized the affordable housing mantra, but that doesn't mean everyone else has done so. Why does Yormark have to make things up?

Here's the statement Mayor Mike Bloomberg issued:
“The Atlantic Yards project will create thousands of jobs and generate badly-needed tax revenue. The court’s unanimous affirmation today that the review and approvals processes were comprehensive and properly completed is a big step towards the start of construction.”

DDDB noted that affordable housing is on the back-burner.

Lack of skepticism

Unskeptical FBN host Alexis Glick enthused over the "Snowbird Tic…

Lawsuit coverage round-up: missing the story and, in most cases, the big picture

The most surprising thing about the coverage of yesterday's big appellate court decision rejecting the case challenging the AY environmental review is how little there is.

Missing the story in the first place

[Updated] Of the three big newspapers in New York City, only one covered it in print.

The New York Times's CityRoom blog headlined its brief post Legal Victory for Atlantic Yards Developer and, in what may be a first (in a Times story, as opposed to a Blogtalk roundup), actually linked to my coverage.

While the Times didn't think the story fit for print, it did cover two other legal disputes: a union hearing involving actor Jeremy Piven's exit from a play and a trial involving a Saks saleswoman charged with theft.

The Daily News story isn't online, but it's a three-sentence round-up, under the headline "Yards scores in court," in the NYMinute column. While the article mentions that "opponents... vowed to appeal," it says nothing about the mi…

Appellate court, despite some misgivings, dismisses EIS case; one judge concurs but slams blight study, says his hands were tied

In a decision that constitutes a crucial advance for the Atlantic Yards project (even if only an arena is planned as of now), an appeals court has rejected an appeal in which 26 community groups challenged a trial judge's dismissal of a wide-ranging challenge to the project's environmental review.

In the opinion (Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, et al., v. Urban Development Corporation dba Empire State Development Corporation, et al.), the judges in the Appellate Division, First Department, took pains to express some skepticism about the project, calling it “purportedly transformational” and noting that the ESDC, rather than being a neutral agency, had “promoted” Atlantic Yards.

And one judge, in a concurrence that had the tone of a dissent, slammed the ESDC for a "ludicrous" claim regarding the blight study.

However, the main opinion ignored a contract signed by the ESDC that gives the developer vastly more time than established in project approval documents.

Ultimat…

Paterson on stimulus spending: transparent, immediate, and effective

At a Leaders Briefing on Economic Recovery yesterday, Gov. David Paterson laid out (video) the areas in which the state expect to spend federal stimulus funds.

They include transportation, housing (especially weatherization), energy issues, water and sewer treatment programs, and the establishment of broadband service.

"Those are the areas we want to get shovels in the ground and people working as soon as we possibly can," Paterson said. "We want these projects to be transparent, so that there is no waste in the process. We want them to be immediate, so we can get people back to work as soon as we possibly can. And we want them to be effective, meaning that they will put the most people back to work on the projects that will serve the greatest public policy and also public need at the same time. Those are the three principles that we wish to operate from."

During the session, Timothy Gilchrist, who heads the Economic Development Recovery Cabinet, explained that $14 bi…

Why Brooklyn arena tax revenues likely would be lower than projected (and why the IBO should take another look)

New York City's Independent Budget Office (IBO) may not be ready to recalculate a cost-benefit analysis for the planned Atlantic Yards arena, but there's surely a reason to do so, because one key statistic has likely changed, and one key assumption was likely wrong from the start.

As I describe below, that could mean a 23.2% decline in expected new spending, and a significant--if not quite as high--decline in sales tax revenues. If so, there'd be even more evidence that the arena would represent a loss to the city rather than, as previously analyzed by the IBO, a "modest fiscal surplus."

And it would be another reason to tilt the balance between public and private benefit from the project--the question at the heart of the AY eminent domain case argued Monday--a bit toward the latter.

My estimates are hardly foolproof. But any future study should offer a range of potential outcomes, rather than rely on past efforts at precision, which are inherently flawed.

And a …

Avoiding AY example, Schick, former ESDC leader, proposes "transparent" investment fund for commercial real estate

Former Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) president Avi Schick, in a Daily News op-ed headlined How to get N.Y. building again: Create a real estate financing fund, suggested that the city and state Comptrollers should allocate $2 billion of the $200 billion in pension assets they manage to create a fund to finance commercial real estate.

And that would be matched from union pension funds, banks and others, thus financing a $5 billion real estate portfolio, though of course "requiring substantial equity participation from those seeking financing." (The term "substantial" isn't defined.)

Schick's idea has drawn severe criticism for ignoring market issues and for serving to further the interests of Daily News publisher, Mort Zuckerman.

But first let me point out how Schick's guidelines for public investment set out--at least on paper--a severe contrast with the way his former agency has shepherded the Atlantic Yards project.

Contrast with AY: transp…

Noticing New York's critique of major projects, and the path not taken of site preparation (at Hudson Yards and AY)

If you want a one-stop critique of megadevelopments and major projects in New York City, go to Michael D.D. White's latest Noticing New York post, headlined UN-FUNNY VALENTINES ARRIVING LATE: YOUR COMMUNITY INTERESTS AT HEART.

There White takes on stadium projects, Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Columbia University expansion, the Rudin/St. Vincent’s Real Estate Deal, and a whole lot more. Atlantic Yards, not surprisingly, is deemed "Poster Child For Everything Developmentally Bad."

Site preparation + stimulus

But probably the most resonant observation regarding AY comes in the segment White devotes to the Hudson Yards project, to be built on railyards that require some very expensive platforms. (The Vanderbilt Yard, less than 40% of the AY site, also would require a platform but not one as extensive.)

White observes:
If the government (as opposed to a private developer) was preparing the site it would not be necessary to postpone the site’s preparation at this time. Site preparati…

"If a shot falls in the woods," well, what if there weren't many Nets fans there to begin with?

Last night the Meadowlands hosted just about as exciting a game as you could possibly imagine," wrote Henry Abbott yesterday in ESPN's TrueHoop blog, referring to the New Jersey Nets-Philadelphia 76ers contest that ended with an astonishing half-court buzzer-beater from Nets point guard Devin Harris.

But his local newspaper, the New York Times, didn't send a staffer to the game, and it was covered with three paragraphs of bland AP copy. (The New Jersey papers, the Star-Ledger and the Record, surely played it big, and New York's tabloids hardly ignored it.)

The Times's omission--actually, they cover the Nets, but inconsistently--says more about shrinking newspaper budgets than anything.

How many people were there?

But Abbott's headline, If a Shot Falls in the Woods..., has another meaning: what if there weren't that many Nets fans in attendance in the Izod Center in the first place?

The reported attendance was 13,235, or 66.3% of the 19,968 capacity. Now, I know…

In a swift half-hour, eminent domain argument touches on balance of public and private benefit--but not much more

In a quick but somewhat disjointed 30-minute argument before a four-judge appellate court panel yesterday, attorneys in the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case touched lightly but inconclusively on several contested issues.

Does the state constitution, as the plaintiffs contend, require a stricter evaluation of public use--the bedrock of condemnation--than does the federal constitution? The judges in the ornate Brooklyn Heights courtroom of the Appellate Division, Second Department, seemed willing to consider the argument, but also injected skepticism.

The plaintiffs gained ground on one potentially important point. While the defendant Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) had in legal papers claimed (without foundation) that a document quantified the private benefit to developer Forest City Ratner, that document went unmentioned.

Indeed, an ESDC lawyer conceded no such analysis comparing private and public benefit was performed, but quickly argued that no such analysis was required…