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Showing posts from April, 2010

A slam at the bond rating agencies (updated)

Remember how bond ratings agency Moody's made the questionable assumption that there would be 225 events a year at the Barclays Center? There's no effective oversight regarding rating agencies like Moody's, Standard and Poor's, and Fitch.

In Ratings Agencies Are Overrated, Hugo Dixon (editor of Reuters Breakingviews, the commentary arm of Reuters) and Christopher Swan write in the Times: Why do markets still pay attention to what rating agencies have to say? After their appalling record predicting the subprime mortgage crisis, it is astonishing and sad that investors still seem to quake when Standard & Poor’s reduces Greece’s rating to junk status and downgrades Spain’s.

A Martian would find it hard to understand why anybody gives any credence at all to S.& P. and its rivals. It’s not just that they were pumping up the subprime market. For example, the agencies gave a AAA rating to Abacus, Goldman Sachs’s synthetic collateralized debt obligation, after smart inv…

More on Freddy's, including toasts on the Brian Lehrer Show

Here's a roundup of articles via NoLandGrab.

And here's Open Phones: Farewell To Freddy's, on the Brian Lehrer Show. It's embedded below, but check out the comments, including this one:Sarah Brown from Brooklyn by way of London

I'd like to propose a toast to Freddy's, the home of the Cringe Reading Series, the idea that changed my life and career and led me to meeting my fiance, with whom I toasted our engagement well until the early hours of the morning at where else but Freddy's?

Freddy's final night, the lost "patina that the patrons created," and the music/voices of Pinamonti ("The Burrow") and RebelMart ("Brooklyn Is Dying")

Also see a time-lapse portrait of Freddy's by Tracy Collins.

For a long time, I wasn't much of a fan of Freddy's Bar & Backroom, which closes its Dean Street location tonight, having taken a settlement in the wake of eminent domain.

Until the mayor banned smoking in bars and restaurants, I wasn't a fan of any bars, actually; they were just too smoky. And I'm not a big bar-goer.

But a lot of people who live in walking distance have their own Freddy's story, and here's what I'll remember most: Freddy's is where I discovered John Pinamonti.

Pinamonti is a Brooklyn-based roots musician--rock/country and a tinge of folk--who deserves much more notice than he's gotten.

"The Burrow"

I first heard Pinamonti at Freddy's nearly three years ago, playing his haunting Atlantic Yards anthem/elegy "The Burrow" as part of the quite variable "Ratnerville Singout." (One song presciently warned, "Freddy's is an Escalator N…

Public radio show State of the Re:Union visits Brooklyn and AY in broadcasts this weekend

WNYC this weekend will focus on Brooklyn, including Atlantic Yards, in its mini-series State of the Re:Union. It be broadcast Saturday May 1 at 2 pm and Sunday May 2 at 8 pm on AM820 and streamed live on www.wnyc.org.

The promo:
State of the Re:Union visits New York City's most populated borough to examine how this diverse collection of communities handles the friction of change, the pull of tradition, and discovers that special something that makes this neighborhood so celebrated.

New York's most populous borough, Brooklyn, is ever-evolving. Brooklyn has been celebrated as everything from a bastion of industry to a refuge for immigrants from around the world. This episode of SOTRU charts Brooklyn's evolution, celebrates the diverse communities and explores both sides of the dilemma that high-rise condos and gentrification has brought.

Segments include:

ATLANTIC YARDS IS____: Atlantic Yards is the biggest development project in the history of Brooklyn.? With 17 high-rise buildi…

Post columnist: "If it sounds too good to be true, it's probably just the media not doing its job."

Columnist John Crudele, writing in the New York Post: So if you read outrageous stories like the one on new-home sales, remember the old adage: "If it sounds too good to be true, it's probably just the media not doing its job." That old adage applies elsewhere. Did the media ever critique the Forest City Ratner brochure excerpted at right?

That photo suggests that the far west segment of the railyard--one of 7+ blocks--would somehow become a full project with smudgy greenery and red-topped buildings.

Actually, it's slated to become half the arena block.

Urbanism, authenticity, and the suburban lives of several people running Atlantic Yards (AKA a "major zoning exception")

Atlantic Yards may be a public-private project, according to the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), but developer Bruce Ratner famously said, "This isn't a public project."

That means the single most influential person regarding Brooklyn's biggest project is Forest City Ratner Executive VP MaryAnne Gilmartin, who lives in the Westchester suburb of Edgemont.

As depicted in a cropped Google satellite photo, her home looks more like an estate than a house. Would Gilmartin lie to maintain her privileged lifestyle?

On authenticity

Why make a big deal of the contested term authenticity? Well, it's prompted new discussion, thanks to Sharon Zukin's book Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places.

And some of those overseeing Atlantic Yards have taken pains to establish their (somewhat tenuous) Brooklyn bona fides; remember how former Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) CEO Marisa Lago testified she'd gone to the dentist at the Williams…

Goldstein's attorney responds to Gilmartin's quote that sticking point in settlement was money: "This is an absolute untruth. "

Eminent domain attorney Michael Rikon wrote a letter to Stephen Brown of the Brooklyn Paper regarding the article (misleadingly) headlined Ratner exec: Goldstein was in it for the money! Gilmartin: 'He was in it for the money!'.
I read your story in which you quote Forest City executive [MaryAnne] Gilmartin saying "the sticking point was how much money he wanted." This is an absolute untruth.

I know that you were in court. After the argument, ESDC’s attorney asked for a conference. The reason was simple: its papers were defective as a matter of law. It could never obtain an eviction order on the Order to Show Cause it presented for a Writ of Assistance. We had a conference before the Court, first together and then individually. At this point is was only me. My son Joshua joined me much later as he was finalizing an Order to Show cause for Judge Gerges’ signature on another case.

The amount of money was calculated based on what our appraiser had indicated would be t…

At panel on eminent domain, Siegel describes abuses, proposes reforms; defender of status quo ignores problems raised in Columbia and AY cases


For those of us who have seen civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, victorious so far in the effort to block eminent domain for the Columbia University expansion, speak on panels or testify before an oversight hearing, most of his critique yesterday on "The Use (or Misuse) of Eminent Domain in NYC" at New York Law School (video) was not unfamiliar.

Siegel made some compelling points about eminent domain abuses, but more intriguing was the respondent, land use use attorney Ross Moskowitz, who offered a full defense of the status quo, warning of abuses--notably, the potential for holdouts to distort the process--while ignoring the problems raised in both the Columbia and Atlantic Yards cases.

Siegel's case

Siegel first noted that the definition of blight--"substandard or insanitary"--is vague, inviting subjectivity, selective enforcement, and favoritism. The law should be clarified, he said, noting that the Supreme Court of Ohio, in the 2006 Norwood case, had f…

In Times, City Bar task force members warn against CBA abuses; Atlantic Yards examples are actually more egregious

A New York Times Real Estate page (Square Feet) article today headlined Community Pacts Questioned in the Zoning Process takes off from the critical report on Community Benefits Agreements (CBA) issued last month (my coverage).

Notably, while the article makes but a glancing reference to Atlantic Yards, the abuses referenced all relate to projects that go before the City Council; Atlantic Yards didn't even face that level of oversight, given that it was shepherded by the unelected Empire State Development Corporation, ignoring the role of both the local Community Boards and the local Council Member.

Moreover, the report contains what might be consideredstruck me as a slap at ACORN, given that one influential lawyer warns against a Council Member designating which affordable housing group should be selected. (Update May 19: That lawyer, Kenneth Fisher, says he was not speaking about ACORN.) In the case of Atlantic Yards, there was not even that minimal level of local involvement; the…

First the Vanderbilt Yard, then Hudson Yards; the MTA seems ready to cave to a developer's revised deal

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is still at the mercy of developers who (apparently) have the ear of the governor and mayor who control the authority.

Now the issue is a revised deal for the Hudson Yards, which gets far more incisive treatment from Michael D.D. White, as described below, than from the New York Times.

The "bum's rush"

From a Times article today headlined Railyards Deal May Still Be Weeks Away: Members of the authority’s board, who received details of the deal on Sunday, expressed frustration that they had no time to review the plan before being asked to approve it. “I really feel that in these big developer deals we get the bum’s rush,” said Doreen Frasca, a board member. The finance committee issued no recommendation on the plan. And last June?

When the revised Vanderbilt Yard deal was revealed last June 22, Frasca said, "This is just an observation, and I know staff has worked very long and hard on this, including into this weeke…

Courier-Life: (unreliable) Gilmartin says sticking point for Goldstein was money; Goldstein says it was the gag order

An article from CNG--dubbed Courier-Life but written by Brooklyn Paper reporter Stephen Brown and first appearing on the New York Post web site--has the overhyped headline Ratner exec: Goldstein was in it for the money! Gilmartin: 'He was in it for the money!'.

Surely even Forest City Ratner officials don't think Daniel Goldstein spent more than six years fighting Atlantic Yards for the money. He could've doubled the value of his home in 2004. Rather, the headline refers to the action last week.

The article states: Forest City Ratner officials abandoned their diplomatic talk on Tuesday to explicitly portray Daniel Goldstein, who ended his long holdout in the Atlantic Yards footprint for $3 million last week, as an opportunist looking to make as much money as possible.

Countering Goldstein’s own spin that his fight against Atlantic Yards was a principled stand against eminent domain abuse, Forest City Ratner Executive Vice President MaryAnne Gilmartin told us that last wee…

Idling dump trucks block Pacific Street, pinning drivers in: photos

A photographer reports from Pacific Street: some 12-15 dump trucks being used for Atlantic Yards were parked idling and lined up throughout the block of Pacific Street between 6th and Carlton Avenues.

This blocked some drivers for up to an hour. Had the fire department needed to use Pacific Street or had mistakenly turned down the Pacific, it would have been a dangerous mess, he says.













Public Advocate de Blasio criticizes Bertha Lewis's comments about Daniel Goldstein (not)

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who issues a stream of public statements and comments on issues local and national, failed to say anything about the Atlantic Yards arena groundbreaking last month. And this is what he didn't say about his longtime ally Bertha Lewis of ACORN.

I based my support for Atlantic Yards after talking consistently with people who I believe are good advisors on affordable housing. I count Bertha Lewis of ACORN among them. In my inaugural speech, I said that "our future will be based on the quintessentially New York ideals of tolerance and compassion."

So I part company with Ms. Lewis when, in the name of affordable housing, she uses nasty, over-the-top, and irrational rhetoric to denounce a political opponent, Daniel Goldstein.

As I've said before, corporate political spending is a scourge on this country and Mr. Goldstein, as much as anyone, has pointed to the danger of corporate spending regarding development projects.

In my inaugural speech,…

New York Times Sports section buffs Prokhorov, ignores unflattering details; shouldn't the Times disclose business relationship? (updated)

Updated below with response from the Times's Sports editor and my response.

New York Times sports reporter Howard Beck, in an article headlined
Russian Billionaire Is White Knight for the Nets, buffs expected Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov: But we will soon begin to see what one hypercompetitive individual with a bottomless bank account can do for a team. The 44-year-old Prokhorov, the second-richest man in Russia, is expected to assume control of the woebegone Nets within the next few weeks. It may be the most anticipated ownership change in N.B.A. history.
Prokhorov is relatively young, wealthy, charming, tall, athletic and adventurous, a modern-day renaissance man with an air of cold war mystique. He could pass for a Bond villain, or a double agent in a Tom Clancy novel. The NetsDaily blog has dubbed him “the Most Interesting Man in the World,” after the suave fellow in the beer commercials.
Beck, with the assistance of two Times reporters, quoted the following sources in t…

In City Hall News article, Markowitz credits Chief of Staff Scissura for lowering the heat on AY; remember testimony to MTA?

From a City Hall News article headlined The 20 Most Influential Unelecteds: That most New Yorkers Have Never Heard Of
CARLO SCISSURA
Chief of Staff, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz....“He said, ‘Here is how budgeting works, here is how to appoint community boards,’” said Brad Lander, the new Council member from Park Slope and one of Scissura’s luncheon companions. “He has a sense of how things work and he is willing to be helpful and share that knowledge.”Scissura calls himself the “consigliere” to the colorful borough president, and says his job description is simply “everything.”Markowitz credits him with helping reach out to communities affected by the Atlantic Yards and Domino developments.“If we aren’t able to get everyone to agree all the time, Carlo is at least able to lower the heat,” Markowitz said. “Plus, I value his judgment. He has a great ability to present all sides of an issue.”What's missing

Hold on. Scissura's surely an able aid…

Greg David of Crain's gets it very wrong: "New Yorkers, through their political process" decided "Atlantic Yards was in the best interest of the city"

In a column headlined An eminent name in domain debate, Crain's New York Business editorial director Greg David defends eminent domain for Atlantic Yards while, astonishingly, neglecting to acknowledge how local elected officials were ignored.

David writes: In the aftermath of the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision on eminent domain—the famous Kelo v. City of New London case—I tried to explain my uncertain views on the topic in a Dec. 5 column:

“The once-esoteric legal doctrine of eminent domain has put me in the middle of an unusual lobbying blitz. On one side are people who support important development projects like Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn or the expansion of Columbia University, both of which will need to involve eminent domain. On the other is my daughter, who has taken up the issue as part of her American government class and is sure eminent domain needs to be outlawed. More and more, I think my daughter is right.”

At 9:30 that Monday morning, my phone rang. “Hold for Mayor Bl…

Despite FCR's announced demolition plans, building at 752 Pacific may become developer's construction headquarters

Though Forest City Ratner executive Maryanne Gilmartin has said in court papers that the developer plans to demolish the building long owned by Henry Weinstein at 752 Pacific Street for parking, another court document suggests that the six-story building, renovated into office space, more likely will serve as offices during the construction phase of the arena.

That makes sense on two levels. First, it would be an expensive and lengthy process to demolish such a staunch building.

(Gilmartin, in paragraph 37 of the affidavit below that's part of the Order to Show Cause, says it would take "several months to perform the work necessary to prepare for an actual demolition" of 636 Pacific Street, the taller but much narrower warehouse-turned-condo building where Daniel Goldstein lives, and approximately five months for the actual demolition.)

Second, Forest City Ratner will be demolishing the similarly staunch Spalding Building, now home to project offices, at Sixth Avenue and Pa…

The denunciation of the ESDC's condemnation push that was never resolved, but surely influenced the Goldstein settlement

Why did Forest City Ratner settle with Daniel Goldstein last Wednesday for $3 million? The most obvious reasons were to save the alleged $6.7 million monthly cost of delay it alleged, and to pave the way for Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov's purchase of the Nets, which was depending on vacant possession of the site.

Another reason--and a reason for Goldstein to settle--was that Kings County Supreme Court Justice Abraham Gerges pushed for a settlement. He didn't want to adjudicate the case, nor preside over an eviction that could easily have become a media event.

Given the Empire State Developmeny Corporation's initial and ridiculous lowball appraisal of his apartment, Goldstein had to calculate his vulnerability to pursuing the case and getting a check that was worth far less than a replacement apartment.

That said, it would have been of significant interest had the case continued, because, at least according to a response from Goldstein's attorney, the ESDC was way…