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Showing posts from October, 2009

Would the AY arena, like the new Yankee Stadium, suck retail inside?

WNYC radio this week reported on a curious phenomenon: how the new Yankee Stadium gets Yankee fans to spend more money inside the ballpark rather than on the streets around it.

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn suggests that's a cautionary tale for boosters of the Atlantic Yards arena.

Is it? Surely in part. After all, the official arena web site proclaims:
The Barclays Center concourses are designed to be wide, graciously active and accommodating with well distributed food and beverage locations... Prominent, active retail spaces are integrated into the main public concourse so as to contribute to the street life and activate the internal space.Beyond the arena block

On the other hand, only some people would be arriving directly to the arena block by train or subway. Others would be taking buses or driving to parking lots, such as the interim parking lots sketched in the Atlantic Lots scenario created by the Municipal Art Society.

So those visitors would have the opportunity to go t…

"Eminent Decision for Brooklyn": Freddy's Brooklyn Roundhouse captures some key exchanges in Court of Appeals argument

Most of Eminent Decision for Brooklyn, the 25-minute episode of Freddy's Brooklyn Roundhouse concerning the October 14 Court of Appeals hearing in the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case, consists of plaintiffs and supporters speaking at a press conference.



But the producers have deftly chosen some of the most telling exchanges from the argument, leading off with the astonishing exchange--reminiscent of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's fiery dissent in the 2005 Kelo v. New London case, in which Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) attorney Philip Karmel admits, in response to a question from Judge Robert Smith about "a perfectly nice house," that such a house is vulnerable to taking via the state's loose eminent domain laws.

Then, a little after 21 minutes in, the video returns to some key moments in the hearing: Smith asks if the area was gerrymandered; Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman points out there's a great deal of public subsidy behind …

Forest City gets $55M in federal tax credits (corrected), but they're not for arena bonds

Forest City Community Development Entity, LLC, a Brooklyn-based subsidiary of Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises, has been awarded $55 million in federal tax credits for "real estate retail development projects located in highly distressed low-income communities." (See pages 7 and 72 of this PDF.)

Do the tax credits "seem to be for Atlantic Yards," as Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn suggests?

Yes.

Updated: While I initially wrote that I doubted that the credits would be predominantly used for AY, Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) spokeswoman Elizabeth Mitchell confirms that the description below is "a summary of the State's agreement to allocate $55 million of State bond volume capital to the Atlantic Yards project. It is not the State providing money – rather it is the State allowing some of the capital for this project."

(The state only has a limited amount of "volume cap" for tax-exempt funding. It's unclear whether the …

Pechefsky challenges 39th CD frontrunner Lander on AY, but differences are small; will Council hold the AY hearing Lander seeks?

David Pechefsky (right), the Green Party candidate for the 39th City Council District, may be a long-shot, but he's run a lively campaign, most notably challenging Democratic frontrunner Brad Lander (below, left) on the role of the Council and, secondarily, on Atlantic Yards.

Indeed, while Pechefsky critiques Lander for not having a plan to stop the project, neither does Pechefsky, though he contends that, should the City Council be able to block additional or approved-but-not-delivered funding, the project could be hampered.

Rather, Pechefsky's candidacy speaks more to reforming the City Council budget process (including member items), thus challenging a candidate like Lander who would represent a mostly progressive constituency but must also play nice with the power structure.

Indeed, both say Atlantic Yards should be scrapped (see position statements below) though Lander long took a more Brooklyn Speaks-ish position on AY, initially stating on his web site that "we should…

What's a Prospect Heights condo worth? ESDC low-balls Goldstein (who once walked away from $500K profit) and overpromises the public

If you go by what the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) offered Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn spokesman Daniel Goldstein for his condo in the Atlantic Yards footprint, and compare that to the values projected by ESDC consultant KPMG, you might suffer some vertigo.

After all, KMPG agrees that Forest City Ratner could get $1217/sf for condos in 2015, a figure that represents more than double the $600/sf price that consultant (for AY opponents) Joshua Kahr thinks is currently realistic.

KPMG says that the current condo market in Prospect Heights is $470-$1225/sf, though the latter seems a major stretch, limited perhaps to a few units in the Richard Meier-designed On Prospect Park, which isn't doing well and surely must be dropping prices.

And it's more than two-and-a-half times--by my calculation--what the ESDC is offering Goldstein.

Both extremes, I suspect, are unrealistic: the ESDC is low-balling Goldstein and KPMG (and Forest City Ratner) are overly optimistic. Wh…

The Voice's Robbins: thin press means little scrutiny of Bloomberg (and what about AY?)

Village Voice columnist Tom Robbins, in a piece headlined The Mayor's Press Pass, provides some context about Mayor Mike Bloomberg and, I'd suggest, Atlantic Yards:
One reason for the remarkably charmed life of Mike Bloomberg's administration as he sails toward re-election has been the waning of the city's news business.... When this city enjoyed four fat daily newspapers, editors clamored for strong, tough copy to fill them.

...These days, the papers are onion-skin thin, and exposés are catch as catch can. Newsday, which once gave rival editors panic attacks every morning, doesn't even have a city edition anymore... Nowadays, to fill their meager space, editors prefer colorful yarns to investigations. Until this month, one newspaper carried an entire column about empty rooms. We have the Web, with all of its many hardworking blogs, but most of these spend their energies keeping political scorecards with all the obsession of fantasy baseball addicts: Who's on fir…

On the projected arena opening day, construction schedule proves to be a fantasy

Remember--today was supposed to be opening day for the Atlantic Yards arena, at least according to the construction schedule attached to the December 2006 approvals of the project by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC)

(Click to enlarge)

The headline on my 4/30/07 post was:
Reference or fantasy? The (projected) ten-year Atlantic Yards timelineI wrote that "time will tell whether it's a valid reference or a fantasy," though I noted there was much evidence for the latter.

Indeed there was.

Graphic by Abby Weissman, who combined elements of the construction schedule with the Atlantic Yards site plan.

ESDC has a planned bond sale on the week of November 16 (before any court decision comes down)

Not only is the next Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) meeting on November 19, the week of November 16 is when the ESDC will be issuing bonds, including (apparently) bonds for the Atlantic Yards arena, Reuters reports:Frances Walton, chief financial officer of the Empire State Development Corporation, told reporters after a Citizens Budget Commission conference that she did not expect lawsuits filed by opponents of the multibillion dollar Atlantic Yards project would block the debt issue by a local development corporation.

"The expectation is that they will be issued," she said. This would not be first time that bonds have been issued despite "legal challenges," Walton said.

"We have begun discussions with ratings agencies," she said.In other words, they're not waiting for the resolution of the eminent domain case, nor do they think any other lawsuits could stymie the project. The driver is a December 31 IRS deadline.

Bond buyers and the bond i…

With a (presumptive) new owner, is "Brooklyn Nets" name still up in the air?

Just about two years ago, Nets CEO Brett Yormark told an interviewer that, while "Brooklyn Nets” is the team's "working title," and “most people assume it’s going to be the Brooklyn Nets," owners still must "validate that” with some "research in the field."

Now reports NetsDaily's NetIncome, a consultant for presumptive Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is going over the same ground, asking people:
After the team’s move to Brooklyn, which NAME would you choose?
A) Brooklyn Nets
B) NY Nets
C) Brooklyn “other”
D) NY “other’Could Prokhorov want the New York moniker? Maybe. But isn't Brooklyn still a brand with huge potential (if the project ever gets over the legal and financial hurdles)?

And if Brooklyn were dropped, Borough President Marty Markowitz would positively plotz--not that the name is his call. And Forest City Ratner would have to explain away that flier they sent back in 2004.

My Little O debuts, underwhelms

Following in the footsteps of, oh, Brownstoner (sort of) and the New York Times's blog The Local, a new blog, My Little O, has launched to cover (and network) the vastly ignored neighborhoods of Fort Greene & Clinton Hill.

As The Local reported in August:
Because he is not a journalist himself, [founder] Mr. [Michael] Locke has hired two area freelance writers, Jeca Taudte and Nicole Caldwell, whose work will be interspersed with citizen journalism that he eventually hopes will become the bulk of his site.Well, I got an announcement today that the site was now live.

The latest piece of breaking news is nine days old, from October 20, headlined Car Accident at Atlantic Yards. Um, that's the Vanderbilt Yard.

Noticing New York: many clouds over the planned bond sale for the Brooklyn arena

Michael D.D. White, in his Noticing New York blog, offers a must-read, warning So Many Unchecked Approval Boxes: Why Any Sensible Bond Buyer Should Probably Steer Clear of Buying Atlantic Yards Nets Arena Bonds.

Atlantic Yards is a project with many, many moving parts, and the Wall Street Journal has reported major questions about whether the bonds could get crucial insurance, given questions about the arena's revenue-earning potential.

White suggests there's much more to worry about and, despite his curious use of the word "we," he knows whereof he speaks: We used to oversee the legal aspects of bond issuances for six agencies that were the state’s largest issuers of municipal bonds. This is NOT the kind of show we ran. Far from it.PACB approval?

The whole article is well worth a read. Surely the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) has considered and written off most of the concerns in White's checklist, but they don't go away that easily.

I'll point…

Why at least $7 million from New York City's Atlantic Yards budget doesn't belong

On 9/2/08, I reported on the rather incomplete information released by New York City in response to my Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request seeking information about the city's willingness to devote an additional $105 million to Atlantic Yards, on top of the original $100 million pledge.

The city stated that the additional $105 million "represents capital projects to support infrastructure and other capital needs in the area, some of which are independent of, but in the area of the planned Atlantic Yards project."

As I wrote, most of those capital projects did not seem independent of Atlantic Yards. Among them was $7 million for reconstruction of the Sixth Avenue Bridge. However, given changes in the plan for the arena block, the bridge will not need reconstruction, as noted on page 4 of the June 2009 Technical Memorandum produced by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC).

Where's the money?

So, what happens to that $7 million? Is it simply redeployed or fu…

The Times takes on stalled development: barely a mention of AY but questions about the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership

The photo attached to today's front-page New York Times article, headlined A Stalled Vision: Big Development as City’s Future, is of the CityPoint site at the Fulton Street Mall in Downtown Brooklyn, but it could just as easily have been of various parts of the Atlantic Yards site.

But Atlantic Yards--well, a segment of it--might get going, so maybe it wasn't the perfect poster child.

Still, the development deserves significant mention because it has been enormously delayed: when Atlantic Yards was announced in 2004, the arena was supposed to open in 2006; when the project was approved in 2006, the arena was supposed to open in 2009; and now it's supposed to open in 2012, though uncertainties abound.

Little mention of AY, but possible DBP malfeasance

In fact, Atlantic Yards gets barely a tangential mention in an article that touches on Downtown Brooklyn, Hudson Yards, new baseball stadiums, Willets Point, and more.

The mention follows up on an investigation by the Attorney Gene…

Press release: "DE BLASIO PROTECTS RESIDENTIAL BROOKLYN FROM HIGH RISE DEVELOPMENT‏"

Shocker! From a press release from City Council Member (and presumptive Public Advocate) Bill de Blasio:
DE BLASIO PROTECTS RESIDENTIAL BROOKLYN FROM HIGH RISE DEVELOPMENT

CITY COUNCIL IS EXPECTED TO PASS DOWN-ZONING IMPOSING STRICT HEIGHT LIMITS ON BUILDINGS IN CARROLL GARDENS

NEW YORK – The New York City Council today is expected to pass a zoning proposal sponsored by Councilmember Bill de Blasio which will protect a residential Brooklyn neighborhood from high rise development. The proposal imposes height limits on buildings in Carroll Gardens, capping them at 70 Feet or approximately 5-6 stories.

“For the past two years, we have been fighting to preserve the character and context of a unique Brooklyn neighborhood. Today, I am proud to announce that the Council will vote to legally protect residential blocks in Carroll Gardens from being transformed by out-of-scale development. This victory would not have been possible
without the many community organizations and activists who demanded…

FOILed: waiting for responses from ESDC (and comparing their practices with other agencies)

I suspect some staffers at the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) think I'm a bit of a pest, though they're professional and don't say so explicitly. After all, I file regular Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests, sometimes a couple each month.

And it usually takes a long time to get responses from the ESDC, especially compared to more responsive agencies such as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).

(The ESDC's public affairs office, by contrast, generally responds promptly to my queries, though the level of detail, um, varies.)

Seeking info on affordable housing

Last December, I filed a FOIL request for records explaining whether the ESDC considered the availability of tax-exempt financing for affordable housing when it was approving Atlantic Yards.

For months, I got a certified letter each month explaining that they were still looking, given that my request was broad. That's hard to judge, but it sure seemed like a long time.

In a brief publ…

Thompson criticizes Bloomberg on MTA, ignores AY

From a press release from Democratic Mayoral candidate Bill Thompson regarding remarks today on the MTA:
Thompson said, “Our City’s economic health and quality of life depend on leadership at City Hall that speaks up for transit riders. Unfortunately, New Yorkers haven’t had that advocacy under Mayor Bloomberg. The Mayor’s top-down decision-making approach has led to two fare hikes in 15 months, service cuts, and crumbling subway stations. As fares have gone up, the Mayor and his MTA appointees have been largely silent.”

During Bloomberg’s eight years in office, the city's financial contribution to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has remained relatively stagnant -- even while the city had surpluses.

Addressing the MTA’s mismanagement, Thompson said, “I will appoint MTA Board members who are transit activists and more representatives of the riding public—unlike the Bloomberg Administration’s loyalists who have no special knowledge or even prior familiarity with transit. And …

Nets Are Scorching interview with me on lawsuits, press coverage, and the unclear AY endgame

I was interviewed via email by Mark Ginocchio of the blog Nets Are Scorching.

His intro:
As the Atlantic Yards saga has unfolded, the Atlantic Yards Report has served as a well-researched watchdog, analyzing details that were being overlooked by the mainstream press. The blog is run by Norman Oder, a journalist with more than 25 years of experience. Oder is not shy about the fact that he’s a critic of the Atlantic Yards proposal by Forest City Ratner, which would include a new arena for the New Jersey Nets. But he also prides himself of the amount of sourcing that goes into his posts.

With two new lawsuits recently filed against the project, NAS thought this was a good opportunity to talk to Oder about his recent research, and where he believes this project, and the Nets potential move to Brooklyn, may be headed.1. Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) has already lost several rounds in the legal fight challenging the Atlantic Yards project. What makes the latest suits--challenging t…

Google Maps' satellite photos play catch-up with Atlantic Yards site

Photographer Tracy Collins has been uploading Atlantic Yards site photos from Google Maps and adding some helpful information.


Above is one example. Go to Collins's annotations to learn, for example, his estimate that the photo was taken sometime in August 2008, given that the Ward Bread Bakery is half demolished--its top (Pacific Street) side seemingly intact, its bottom (Dean Street) side gone. Now it's all gone except for a (still handsome) segment used for storage.

How 2005 fudge from the mayor's office on AY affordable housing led the Times into a 2009 error it won't correct

So, what happens when a newspaper relies on a governmental statement that's just not true, or is significantly overstated? Shouldn't that be worthy of a correction?

Last month I wrote to New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt about the newspaper's straightfaced reprint of an erroneous quote--from a spokesman for the New York City Economic Development Corporation-- that the Atlantic Yards site was "a site that is now an open railyard without any public benefit."

And now the Times claims that city officials were "signing off" on an "agreement" to help finance the Atlantic Yards affordable housing, even though the Housing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), excerpted at right, involved only Forest City Ratner's subsidiary Atlantic Yards Development Company and the advocacy group ACORN, not the city.

The error, as noted below, apparently was derived from a mayoral press release that inaccurately announced the deal as a fait accompli.

Bottom line

Th…

Number of projected Brooklyn arena events declines to 200, but the state couldn't have adjusted revenue estimates

A 9/16/09 Barclays Center press release about suite sales slipped in some new information:In addition to NETS Basketball, most suite buyers will receive access to other Barclays Center events, anticipated to include world-class concerts, college sports, the circus, ice shows, and much more. Overall, the arena will host over 200 events annually.(Emphases added throughout)

That number represents a small but steady decline in Forest City Ratner's official projections and an implicit acknowledgment of a competing arena in Newark.

It also suggests that the economic projections by both Forest City Ratner consultant Andrew Zimbalist and the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) were overstated, since they based sales tax assumptions on about 225 events.

And, even though the projection of 200 events obviously can't be confirmed, that number backs up the more conservative estimates made by the New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO).

2004 projections

Zimbalist, in his 5/1/04 rep…