Thursday, September 30, 2010

The question Marty Markowitz can't answer regarding the "green cards for Atlantic Yards"

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz plans to join Bruce Ratner on a trip to China to help the developer gain low-cost financing in exchange for green cards: 498 of them.

From the New York Post:
Markowitz spokeswoman Laura Sinagra said in a statement that part of Markowitz's "role is to encourage investment in Brooklyn, and this program is designed to bring investors to the table for projects that create jobs. As the person who came up with the original idea of bringing major league sports back to Brooklyn and one of the biggest supporters of Atlantic Yards, he obviously believes this project is worthy of investment, and is seeking guidance from the Conflicts of Interest Board on the possibility of accompanying the group.”
My question to Markowitz's office, yet unanswered:
How will this investment create jobs?
I don't think it can.

Updated: Yes, Markowitz will go to China to flack green cards for Ratner's project (if he can get past Conflict of Interests Board)

(Also see coverage of the curious disconnect between the actual plans for the money and the NBA.)

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz has often gone that extra mile for Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner--who can forget Markowitz's praise of the Ellerbe Becket "hangar" arena design?--but now he's willing to fly to China.

Yes, even though Markowitz isn't talking, a spokeswoman confirmed that the Borough President plans to join the developer on a trip to China next month to sell Chinese investors on the EB-5 visa program, which offers green cards to investors who put $500,000 into a fund that creates ten direct or indirect jobs, or retains ten jobs.

(Markowitz's picture, along with that of other project principals, appears at right on a website flacking the project set up by Kunpeng International.)

COIB ruling

However, the trip is not certain, as a ruling from the city's Conflicts of Interests Board is awaited, spokeswoman Laura Sinagra told me tonight, after a meeting at Borough Hall regarding the Barclays Center arena plaza.

Who's paying Marty's way?

Would taxpayers pay Markowitz's way? Would Forest City Ratner? Would Markowitz's Best of Brooklyn charity?

(Updated 4:18 pm Sept. 30) No, it would be the entrepreneurs behind the New York City Regional Center, who include Paul Levinsohn, once known as one of the "Billboard Boys" for his involvement in a sketchy but legal scheme.

Either way, I've raised questions about whether the "jobs for green cards" program would actually create jobs or simply help out a developer seeking low-cost financing.

Sinagra, though reluctant to talk about the issue, was more forthcoming than Markowitz, who refused to answer any questions about the trip or his support for the EB-5 program.

(When I posed questions last week, Markowitz's office responded with a "no comment.")

A nine-city tour to potential investors begins October 11 and ends November 5.

(Updated) The Post reports:
[T]he beep will spent a week abroad -- – five days in China and two days traveling, sources told the Post. He also intends to pay out-of-pocket for his wife, Jamie, to accompany him.

...Markowitz and Ratner would be in China to help promote investing in the arena and the perks of living in America while the Nets play exhibition games there Oct. 13 in Beijing and Oct. 16 in Guangzhou.
ESDC role

(Updated) The Post reports:
A spokeswoman for Peter Davidson, Gov. Paterson’s economic development czar, confirmed Davidson is heading to the China-based recruiting sessions on the state’s behalf, saying that “there has been developing interest from China” in helping fund Atlantic Yards.
Actually, Davidson is a deputy.

An op-ed for the Observer on KPMG's fuzzy math regarding the Brooklyn housing market

I've written a lot about KPMG's curious market study for the Empire State Development Corporation.

Now I've threaded some of those observations and analyses into an op-ed for the Observer online, headlined KPMG's Fuzzy Math on Atlantic Yards, and tweaked to incorporate this week's news:
On Tuesday, Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner surprised reporters with his candor, acknowledging that the timetable for the project, despite the officially announced 10-year time span, was "market-dependent."

After all, if the arena and all 16 towers take 25 years, as he acknowledged was possible, then the much-ballyhooed benefits (affordable housing, open space, tax revenues) would not arrive as promised. And the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), the state's economic development agency, might find itself with some egg on its face.

Damningly, the ESDC's then-CEO said in April 2009 that the project would take "decades." However, in an August 2009 report for the ESDC, consultant KPMG pronounced the 10-year timetable valid.

Given that Mr. Ratner apparently doubts the timetable himself, it's worth looking at how KPMG's numbers just don't add up.
Why is this all important?
However dubious, the report remains crucial to the final Atlantic Yards court case. State Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman is considering requests from several community groups to force the ESDC to do an additional review of the project's longer-term environmental impacts.
The rest is here.

FCR's Gilmartin asserts "groups of four or more" youths will be dispersed at plaza, as at malls (and claims mall policy is "fairly typical")

Forest City Ratner MaryAnne Gilmartin, speaking calmly and clinically, raised numerous eyebrows at Borough Hall when she revealed that the developer would transfer a much-criticized policy of dispersing youth groups at its malls to the open space at the arena plaza.

Such is the difference between privately-operated publicly accessible space and, say, true public parks.

The question came up at a meeting last night on the plaza. Carlo Scissura, the Chief of Staff to Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, read the question: "Adjacent malls have a 'split-up-the-group' security policy that applies to young people. Will that policy be extended to the plaza?"

Gilmartin's response

"The policy at the Atlantic Terminal and Atlantic Center malls is a policy that is fairly typical and consistent with mall properties across the country," Gilmartin responded.

(Actually, as the Times reported, "Such a sweeping restriction is rare... Of the 1,418 malls in the United States, 66 now practice some form of constraining youthful visitors, up from 39 in 2007, said Jesse Tron of the International Council of Shopping Centers.")

"That policy is to disperse groups of four or more in a way that encourages a safe and comfortable shopping environment," she said. "It is our expectation to put policies forward to create a safe and comfortable environment for people to utilize that space, whether that's a mall or an open space plaza."

The unspoken underlying issue is race, with the belief (if not the proof) that minority youth are more likely to be targeted. That's why City Council Member Letitia James told me she's asked the city's Human Rights Commission to look into the developer's practices.

And, though it was meant partly tongue-in-cheek, my suggestion that a winning youth basketball team at the arena could be dispersed when it went to the mall now seems doubly true regarding the adjacent arena plaza.

Brooklyn Paper update

Here's coverage in the Brooklyn Paper, which has some after-the fact amplification:
“We will work closely with the local precinct and security experts to ensure that the plaza is safe, just as the police and security officials ensure that other public spaces in Brooklyn and throughout the city are safe,” said Joe DePlasco, spokesman for Forest City Ratner. “As of now, we have not developed a policy for the plaza, but our hope that it is used by lots of people in many different ways — all of them safely.”

FCR's Gilmartin claims affordable housing goes to (four-person) households earning only up to $90,000 a year; she's off by one-third

Well, you could say Forest City Ratner Executive VP MaryAnne Gilmartin explains affordable housing better than she did at a public appearance in July 2009, when she was unable (or unwilling) to describe the monthly rent range.

But you couldn't say she was fully able to explain it at a public meeting last night, given that she significantly downplayed the availability of subsidized housing to middle-income tenants.

She suggested that affordable housing for families of four would be limited to households earning up to about $90,000.

Actually, affordable housing would be available to those earning up to 160% of Area Median Income (AMI), or $126,720 for a family of four.

That means rents near or above $2000 a month for most affordable units (for four persons), under even the most optimistic scenario. As I wrote in August, with an AMI of $79,200, a four-person household would have to pay the following (at the top of each band from the MOU):
  • Band 1: $792
  • Band 2: $990
  • Band 3: $1980
  • Band 4: $2772
  • Band 5: $3168
Questions beyond the plaza

The meeting, held at Borough Hall, mainly concerned the planned plaza outside the Barclays Center arena. Despite drawing more than 70 people, the meeting ran only 90 minutes, rather than two hours, before questions ran out.

The video below shows Gilmartin answering two questions about affordable housing. In the first, she's asked how many units would be built in the first building, and the first phase: the three residential towers on the arena block.

Her response was factual, reprising what has been publicly stated. "Forest City's overall commitment is 30% of the units that are built" on the arena block," she said. "About 1000 units of housing are planned; we are committed to 300.

The first residential building, B2, has between 380 and 400 units and could have a 50% level of affordability, she said, so that could mean 200 units online.

The follow-up

She was asked the definition of affordable housing.

"The definition of affordable housing as outlined by housing agencies," Gilmartin responded, noting that 100% of AMI is for a family of four is $79,200.

"What we do from that... families of four... making anywhere from 30,000 dollars a year to approximately 90,000 dollars a year would qualify for the housing based on those guidelines," she said.

But that significantly evades the actual configuration.

Note that, under one scenario for the first building, the affordable housing would go up only to 150% of AMI, or $118,800 for a family of four.

Liu’s CBA task force recommends reforms; dissenters say it will foster too many CBAs; report buffs AY CBA but guidelines might have reined it in

In a report issued not without dissention, the Task Force on Public Benefit Agreements (PBAs) yesterday delivered to Comptroller John Liu “a proposed framework for public benefit agreements in New York City that would create clear expectations, encourage broad-based participation and result in enforceable public benefits that comply with legal standards.”

Included is an increased opportunity for community input by community boards, local elected officials, and small businesses; by contrast, the Atlantic Yards CBA was negotiated very quietly. Also, given that CBAs like the Atlantic Yards CBA are essentially unenforceable (except by signatories with no incentive to go to court), the Task Force recommended several enforceability mechanisms. Such CBAs also would be monitored by the Comptroller.

Notably, the report (PDF and embedded below) states that “the primary purpose of a benefit agreement is to mitigate project-related impacts”--a rationale absent from the Atlantic Yards CBA, in which the single largest component is affordable housing, a provision that could have been incorporated into any upzoning but which is not a specific response to the loss of housing on the AY site.

Still, the report’s rather rosy view of the Atlantic Yards CBA, the first in the city, may have contributed to the willingness to endorse CBAs.

Dissention and fudging

Four who resigned from the task force, however, disagreed with a report that would incorporate a role for the city in such Community Benefit Agreements (CBAs), eliminate some uncertainty in the development of large subsidizied projects, and, presumably, ensure proliferation of CBAs by ensuring an independent consultant be designated to help elicit and coordinate public participation, as well as to staff the planning process and mediate negotiations.

Four others refused to sign it, according to the Wall Street Journal, while 29 did sign it:
In a letter to the task force co-chairs, four dissenters wrote that the task force's recommendations would create "additional red tape and bureaucracy and ultimately waste taxpayer funds on a new set of city-funded consultants."
(The cost would be proportional to the public assistance provided to the project, and is estimated at between $10,000 and $30,000 per month.)

"I think communities have very serious and legitimate concerns about mitigating the impacts of large developments--which is why I agreed to serve on the task force in the first place," former Task Force Member Julia Vitullo-Martin of the Regional Plan Association told me.

"I was unhappy with the substance of the report, which didn't seem to relate in any way to the recommendations, which were certainly aggressive," she added. "There was no evidence or even solid reasoning for why we should do public benefit agreements in the first place--much less implement them in the proposed cumbersome, bureaucratic fashion that formalizes PBA negotiations before ULURP starts. Then, having distributed whatever benefits & resources are agreed to in this initial phase, the developer must run the familiar, time-honored ULURP gauntlets. Is this any way to do business in a down economy? And do we really want to mandate Atlantic-Yards-type negotiations for every major development in the city?"

In Crain's, columnist Alair Townsend criticized the report in a piece (subscribers only) headlined Alair Townsend: It's absurd to buy project support:
Mayor Bloomberg must speak out forcefully about the absurdity of institutionalizing and codifying the buying of political support.
Major projects

The report suggests standards for “major projects,” which are defined as having at least one of these characteristics (of which AY has the first two):
  • seeking floor area of 500,000 square feet in excess of what is permitted as-of-right
  • with publicly subsidized financing valued at $75 million or more
  • generated through large-scale plans and Special District designations in excess of 27 acres.
The report states:
The most effective way to ensure long-term compliance with this new process is by adopting it into law. In the meantime, we recommend that the Economic Development Corporation voluntarily implement the proposed process by enabling technical assistance to be provided to community coalitions and including PBA terms within development agreements. Because the desirability of adopting benefit agreement standards for New York City- assisted projects applies equally to New York State-assisted developments, we commend the Empire State Development Corporation to do likewise.
Rosy view of AY CBA

As discussed below, the report makes no mention of the payments developer Forest City Ratner has made to its CBA “partners”--a practice CBA experts warn against, nor FCR's bail-out of ACORN.

Nor does it cite the criticism by three local Community Boards that FCR overstated their involvement.

Among the Task Force Members were Bruce Bender and Scott Cantone of Forest City Ratner, and Darnell Canada of Real Economics Building Unity and Innovative Local Development (REBUILD), notable for his public threats at a hearing on AY environmental impacts. Task Force member Bettina Damiani of Good Jobs New York in 2005 publicly criticized the AY CBA as diverging significantly from more transparent ones in Los Angeles.

Vitullo-Martin added, "Part of the problem is that Atlantic Yards is now so embedded in how people think about CBAs that it can't easily be ripped away--and once you start, you're likely to conclude CBAs aren't a good idea."

According to Gotham Gazette’s Wonkster:
The report is silent on the city’s Industrial Development Agency and its deals (which we covered extensively), despite Liu giving an early indication it might be included in the recommendations.
The rationale

Liu noted the rationale for the study:
“The City fell into the habit of announcing marvelous benefits for the public, such as jobs and affordable housing, in exchange for granting special subsidies to private developers. Too often, however, the promises fail to materialize long after the private developers have received their special subsidies.”
The report acknowledges that the current “project-based arrangement that ties benefits to a particular neighborhood.... [is] a poor substitute for a citywide process that evaluates current and prospective demands for better housing, jobs, health care, child care, schools, opens pace and transit.”

"The Task Force took extra care with recommendations that would meet a community’s needs while not adding undue costs and delays to an already-lengthy and expensive land use process,” Priscilla Almodovar, Task Force Co-Chair and former President of New York State’s Housing Finance Agency and the State of New York Mortgage Agency, said. “If implemented, these recommendations will make development of large projects in New York City more predicable for all stakeholders, including developers, the City, the community and lenders."

The recommendations

The recommendations, according to the official press release, include:
  • Encourage vigorous, broad-based and informed community participation to make public benefit agreements more accountable and more responsive to community needs and potential project impacts.
  • Better equip the respective elected officials and community boards with third-party subject-matter experts who can assist in developing strong terms of accountability and delivery of tangible benefits to the community.
  • The total value of a negotiated package of benefits should be proportional to the size of the subject development, as the primary purpose of a benefit agreement is to mitigate project-related impacts.
  • Contain within public benefit agreements clear, concrete terms and a schedule for delivery of implementation.
  • Ensure enforceability by incorporating public benefit agreement terms into a legally-binding regulatory agreement between the developer and the lead agency and/or a restrictive declaration for review by the City Council.
  • Monitoring by the New York City Comptroller all benefit agreements, related restrictive declarations and development agreements, and issue an annual public benefits agreement compliance report card.
  • Have executed agreements publicly available to facilitate monitoring of implementation, discourage conflicts of interest and to inform residents of potential employment opportunities and other negotiated benefits.
“Time after time, we see press conferences announcing new multi-million dollar subsidized developments that pledge benefits to the community in the form of job creation and economic growth,” said Bettina Damiani of Good Jobs New York in the press release. “Yet, down the road, evidence often indicates shortfalls on permanent job creation and tax-base growth. It is exciting to see a first plan to create a framework for holding developers accountable to the promises they make.”

The overview

As noted in a report from City Hall:
The task force evaluated the four CBAs that have been signed in the city: Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, Yankee Stadium and the Gateway Center in the Bronx and the Columbia expansion in upper Manhattan, as well as 14 CBAs from elsewhere in the country.
In New York, the problems were grouped into five categories the taskforce found lacking: accountability, fairness, transparency, feasibility and enforceability.
The report cites a March 2010 City Bar Association report that concluded that the city should either refuse to consider CBAs in the land use approval process or consider only those CBAs that conform to clear standards. However, given the high stakes and potential impacts, “communities are unlikely to resist seeking concessions, and developers would be unwilling to cease trying to attract their support,” the Task Force states. “Accordingly, the responsible course of action is to ensure that CBAs conform to clear standards and are guided by the principles of accountability, transparency and enforceability.”

Accountability questions

The report acknowledges numerous questions have been made about accountability:
There is a clear tension arising out of the question of who represents the community. While groups negotiating benefit agreements may take care to involve community residents and local businesses, protect against conflicts of interest, and ensure an inclusive bargaining process, at bottom, there is no consensus as to what the “community” is – whether it is the immediate neighborhood surrounding a proposed project, a larger area, or an advocacy group. In addition, there is no consensus on how a negotiating process can be made more accountable.
The AY summary

The report states:
The first Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) in New York City was executed in connection with the 22-acre development of the Long Island Vanderbilt Railroad yards. In December 2003, Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC) announced plans to construct a 19,000-seat sports and entertainment arena that will be the home to the NBA's New Jersey Nets, along with 6,430 units of housing, office and retail space, a hotel and parking on the site. The proposed $4.9 billion project would be the largest NYC development outside Manhattan in more than 25 years.
Actually, when project was announced, it was to have 4500 residential units, with about 2 million square feet of office space, housing 10,000 jobs. Later office space was swapped for 1930 condos. The development would include the 8.5-acre railyard as well as adjacent properties and blocks, rather than be limited to the yards.

The CBA process?

The report states:
In July 2004, FCRC convened a meeting of community groups, including the New York chapter of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development (BUILD), the Downtown Brooklyn Oversight and Advisory Committee (DBOAC), as well as members of Community Boards 2, 6 and 8 to discuss a community benefits agreement. Regular meetings continued until June 27, 2005, when FCRC signed a CBA with eight organizations (the Coalition) in exchange for their public support for the project.
While this draws on the City Bar report, it’s not accurate. According to an affidavit from Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, discussions began in February 2004 and did not represent all community groups.


According to the report:
Under the agreement, FCRC committed to provide an array of benefits, including:
• intent to award at least 20 percent of the total construction contract dollars to qualified minority owned businesses (MBEs) and at least ten percent of the total construction contract dollars to qualified women-owned businesses (WBEs);
• good faith efforts to ensure that at least 35 percent of the construction workers are people of color and 10 percent are female;
leasing of at least 15 percent of the gross retail space to qualified community based businesses;
• a promise to make 50 percent of the 4,500 residential rental units affordable to low- and moderate-income families pursuant to a separate Memorandum of Understanding with ACORN;
• community amenities, including a health center, Intergenerational Center, and at least six acres of parks and open spaces;
environmental mitigations;
• arena-related programs, including seats for community use groups at least ten times per year:
• development of four schools and the funding of capital improvements to libraries and recreational centers at NYCHA properties;
However, none of these have been officially reviewed, and some are essentially meaningless; for example, the environmental mitigation is achieved by following the state-mandated process. And the affordable housing is subject to the availability of subsidies.


The report states:
The CBA sets forth a detailed structure for the implementation of the agreement's provisions. To oversee overall implementation, an Executive Committee composed of representatives of the Coalition and FCRC is to meet bimonthly. The agreement also establishes eight councils to be headed by a Coalition member to address each major subject area. In addition to participating in the Executive Committee and heading its respective Council, specific responsibilities are also delegated to each Coalition member. For example, BUILD is responsible for coordination, management, implementation and initial oversight of workforce development and small business initiatives.
None of the signatories has had a public meeting describing their work

Reporting, Monitoring and Enforcement

The Task Force Report states:
The Atlantic Yards CBA contains clear reporting provisions with respect to the workforce and contracting requirements. Within 30 days after the end of each quarter, FCRC is required to report on the actions taken to fulfill the agreement, including the:
• number of community residents enrolled in the pre-apprentice training initiative, the percentage of minority and women workers, the number who completed training and were hired, the length of time they were employed;
• number of persons placed through the CLE program;
• total number of construction workers and journey level workers, the percentage of them that are minority and women workers;
• total non-construction and construction contracts award and the percentage awarded to community-based, minority or women-owned businesses; and
• status of job fairs, including the number of employers participating, the number of attendees and the status of any applicants filed by them with FCRC or affiliates.

Specific implementation timeframes and reporting requirements are absent with respect to the other CBA terms.

In the event FCRC fails to perform a term or provision, the Coalition must provide written notice documenting the alleged default and offer to meet to resolve the issue. FCRC then has 60 days to cure the alleged default. If the parties are unable to resolve the disagreement, they may request assignment of an independent mediator at FCRC’s expense. The Coalition may also elect to waive the default to pursue binding arbitration or judicial remedies. There are also similar provisions in the agreement to address default by a Coalition member.
But Forest City Ratner is not subject to any oversight beyond its chosen partners.


The report states:
The Atlantic Yards project secured approval from the Empire State Development Corporation in early December 2006 and the Public Authorities Control Board in mid December 2006. The project experienced a series of delays due to prolonged litigation. The project's official groundbreaking occurred in March 2010 and the arena is projected to be completed in the summer of 2012 with residential and commercial components to follow.

Delays in starting the project pushed back implementation of the CBA’s terms, but progress has been made in some key areas (according to information provided by Cantone):
During the initial phases of demolition and construction, FCRC exceeded the total M/WBE prime contract and total contract dollar goals;
• 35 residents from the local community have been placed through FCRC’s Community-Labor Exchange (exceeding the CBAs 1-to-4 requirement);
• A Project Labor Agreement has been negotiated and executed with the construction trade unions and thus far FCRC has secured 200 slots from the construction trade union pre-apprenticeship programs for BUILD graduates;
• BUILD has recently commenced its pre-apprenticeship program and training is underway for 30 individuals; and,
• Discussions are underway with FCRC and the Coalition to implement the affordable housing component of the project’s first residential building, the establishment of a community charitable foundation, and a new charter school as well as other terms of the CBA.
None of this has been subject to public scrutiny.

Missing from the list

In Appendix D of the report, which lists New York City Subsidized Development 2006-2009, which lists developments with subsidized funding in excess of $75 million, Atlantic Yards is not on the list, though it has received at least $131 million in direct funding.
PBA Task Force - Final Report[1]

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

While Ratner wants to use Chinese millionaires' money for railyard and land loan, in China, program portrayed as a piece of Nets/arena

(Also see coverage of Marty Markowitz's plans to go to China.)

There's something very, very strange about the way the New York City Regional Center, the private company authorized to sign up green card-seeking investors, is marketing the Atlantic Yards project in China.

While developer Bruce Ratner told the Wall Street Journal that the $249 million sought from perhaps 498 foreign investors would be used to build a permanent railyard and perhaps pay off the company's refinanced land loan, in China, the investment is being portrayed as strongly connected to the Nets and the Barclays Center.

Another oddity: a graphic below regarding the investment adds $249 million in EB-5 investment funding to city, state, and public/private bond funding, for a total of $1.448 billion, a project figure not previously presented.

(Here's a translation.)

Above, a blogger's web site shows a Nets ball and a water bottle with a Nets and the logo of the NYCRC, the New York City Regional Center, a private company authorized to market investments to immigrant investors in exchange for green cards.

Nets stars at top

On the web site set up by Kunpeng International Business Consulting, authorized agent for the NYCRC, Nets stars Brook Lopez and Devin Harris are at the top.

The screen shots below include most of the web site. Click to enlarge.

Various dignitaries are shown at the groundbreaking in March.

Note that the graphic below, in English, sets up a total of $511 million in state bond financing, $457 million in FCE/partners' bonds, $131 million in city funding, $100 million in state funding, and $249 million in EB-5 investment funding, for a total of $1.448 billion, a project figure not previously presented.

The web site offers information on the project and arena.

The web site offers information on the developer.
Below are some Forest City projects.

Marty Markowitz, other city/state leaders, other investors, and some immigration lawyers are also involved. (Markowitz may join Ratner on tour in China.)

The certificates below? Perhaps they refer to the visa program.

Another reference

The project is also referenced on this web site.

Post columnist Cuozzo slams plaza design, blames elected officials but saves wrath for activist Goldstein

New York Post columnist Steve Cuozzo, in Monstrosity of a design only a mugger could love, takes aim at the design unveiled yesterday but saves his greatest wrath for the Atlantic Yards opposition.

He writes:
Dem bums!

What a travesty in the name of bringing Brooklyn its first major-league team since the Dodgers left. Sure, the Barclays Center Plaza shown yesterday by developer Bruce Ratner is an improvement over today's barren site.

But it's still so singularly malevolent in its ugliness, it might actually rehabilitate Walter O'Malley's reputation.

You don't need a degree in architecture to hate the triangular mugging ground of "environmentally conscious landscaping, intimate seating areas" and a goofy, planted-roof subway entrance -- a "flexible open space" more conducive to hosting a Crips-Bloods scrimmage than the intended upscaling of the neighborhood.

There are numerous villains behind the abomination, including city and state officials who winked at it after giving owner Bruce Ratner huge subsidies largely on the basis of the original, magnificent Frank Gehry design.
Actually, they didn't offer subsidies because of the design, though that certainly led to praise of the project. They expected housing, jobs, and new tax revenues, which always were inflated.

Blaming Goldstein

Cuozzo concludes:
But the chief culprit is Daniel Goldstein, the activist who held up Ratner's Atlantic Yards for as long as it took to score a $3 million payout to move out of its way.

Goldstein failed to stop the project in the end, but delayed it long enough for Ratner to lose any chance of financing Gehry's vision.
Right, it's all Goldstein's fault. No one else cared.

Was Gehry's vision ever finance-able? The initial plans were for four office towers around the arena. There wasn't a market in 2003 for such office jobs, and there isn't now.

Traffic-free plaza unveiled, with bollards (despite NYPD claim), but the big story concerns Ratner's timetable admissions; the Times whiffs

The big news yesterday, led by the Brooklyn Paper and WNYC, was not the publication of oddly traffic-free Barclays Center plaza designs with a new subway entrance and the giant oval oculus at the center (remember, there's a meeting tonight at 6 pm), but Bruce Ratner's admission he has no timetable for the project.

As WNYC's Matthew Schuerman pointed out, "the city, state and Forest City all conducted or commissioned economic impact analyses that assumed a 10-year build out."

(I've previously pointed out that such analyses, such as the one conducted by the New York City Economic Development Corporation, depend on an over-optimistic ten-year time frame. And note the "vaportecture" in the official renderings, by SHoP Architects.)

And, Schuerman noted, "Ratner’s associates repeatedly used the 10-year time frame in talking to the press and the public." (I also pointed to Ratner's 2010 contradiction of his 2008 op-ed as well as a changing story regarding the first tower. But I wasn't allowed into the press conference.)

New York Magazine's Chris Smith also noticed that the contrast between the "unveiling" of a plaza versus the planned office tower, as well as the suspended timetable.

DDDB response

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn issued a press release:
"Ratner's not-so-pretty drawings of a barricaded, exhaust-enveloped plaza—including the absurd rendered fantasy of a traffic-less Atlantic and Flatbush intersection—is not the Atlantic Yards news of the day. The news of the day, which is not surprising but is very troubling, is that Bruce Ratner admitted that he has no plans whatsoever to build the affordable housing he promised or the office tower he promised. It is crystal clear that Atlantic Yards is nothing but a scam, a money-losing arena, surrounded by massive parking lots, in the middle of a housing and unemployment crisis," said Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn co-founder Daniel Goldstein.
(Note that Goldstein is exercising the free speech rights he didn't sign away, though he agreed to step down as DDDB spokesman--whatever that means in this context--as part of the settlement he signed in April.)

Bollards, meet Oculus

No one but No Land Grab's Eric McClure noticed that the design includes bollards that police said wouldn't be necessary.

Still, in New plans for Brooklyn Atlantic Yards project released, the New York Post's Rich Calder offered some skepticism:
Greg Pasquarelli, a partner at ShoP Architects, which designed the plaza, told the Post he "wouldn’t be shocked" if the next big community fight regarding the Atlantic Yards project "is to save the Oculus" once people get to use it.

But it’s still a far cry from the rising public atrium, or "Urban Room," that fronted a glass-walled arena in star architect Frank Gehry’s original design for Atlantic Yards.

Calder even checked on the claim that the plaza could house the Brooklyn Flea:

But he may have been jumping the gun. Jonathan Butler, the flea market’s co-owner, said he "never met Bruce Ratner — nor has anyone from his team approached us about this idea."

"The central location is clearly attractive from a market organizer’s standpoint, but I suspect the traffic situation would pose some logistical challenges," said Butler, sarcastically adding: "I could definitely use some advice on obtaining tax-free bond financing for our tents though."
Arena delays?

The Record's John Brennan raised the possibility that the arena wouldn't open in time for the 2012 season as scheduled, in Ratner says Barclays Arena will be ready for Nets' 2012-13 season:
Ratner estimated an opening date of "July or August of 2012," but he was asked whether the Nets might play any games in Newark in 2012 if the arena isn't finished on time.

"The answer is that we are going to finish on time," the developer replied. "Nothing is ever 100 percent, but in the construction area, things go pretty smoothly. And we left ourselves some time between July and Nov. 1, so I don't think that's going to be an issue."

Ratner added that he and other arena executives "hadn't really approached" backup plans if construction lags. But the Nets' deal to play two seasons in the Prudential Center in Newark, starting this fall, contains an option to play in Newark in 2012-13 if necessary.
The Times whiffs

The New York Times's Charles Bagli was particularly accommodating, writing, in Latest Design Is Unveiled for Atlantic Yards Plaza:
The developer Bruce C. Ratner on Tuesday unveiled the latest design for a large public plaza and subway entrance to accompany the $900 million Nets arena he is building near Downtown Brooklyn, saying the plaza would “quickly become one of Brooklyn’s great public spaces.”
Actually, there was barely an "earlier design" for a plaza, because it was a pretty general rendering. They never previously claimed to be unveiling a particular plaza design.

Bagli also wrote:
Mr. Ratner, chief executive of Forest City Ratner, took possession of the 22-acre Atlantic Yards property in May, after years of delay and community opposition.
First, enough with the personalization. Ratner didn't take possession of anything. More importantly, there are several properties in Phase II of the project that have not been subject to eminent domain and thus are not owned by the state and leased to Ratner.

Bagli also wrote:
It has been clear for some time that he would not be able to complete the project within the original 10-year time frame.
Sure, it's been clear to anyone who took a look, but the state has claimed in court that the ten-year timetable was reasonable, and Ratner has always said his firm aimed to complete the project in ten years. (Ratner wouldn't complete it himself, will he?)

As the graphic at left suggests (click to enlarge), I have three comments pending, on the timetable, the "possession" of the site, and the failure to disclose the Times Company's business relationship with Forest City Ratner.

While the other two dailies included print coverage, the Times did not.

Staying on message

Some other coverage emphasized the message of the day. The Daily News, in Plans for public plaza outside new Nets arena unveiled, set to open in 2012, reported:
Developer Bruce Ratner can't predict when a massive office tower planned for the Atlantic Yards project will go up - but in the mean time, he'll build a sweeping public plaza outside his new Nets arena.
Office tower assured?

The New York Observer accepted some Ratner optimism, in Fashion Week Coming to Atlantic Yards?:
Though it will someday be capped by a sizable office tower, a new SHoP-designed public plaza at the entrance to the under-construction Brooklyn Nets arena was unveiled today. The key features of the roughly 39,000-square-foot plaza are a greenroof-capped subway entrance and a large oculus at the prow of the arena with programmable, wrap-around displays. Everything from live game footage to Prospect Park live-cams has been contemplated.
It may be capped by an office tower, but that's not certain.

EB-5 visa program proven?

The Observer's Matt Chaban was the only reporter to mention the EB-5 visa angle:
Mr. Ratner briefly addressed reports by the Altantic Yards Report about the sale of visas to attract investment to the project, saying it is a proven program dating to the 1990s.
A proven program in this case?

Dutiful Crain's

Crain's reported, in New Atlantic Yards Barclays Center plaza unveiled:
Mr. Ratner is hoping that the plaza will serve as public space for the Brooklyn community since it could also eventually be used for outdoor cafés, a farmers' market, a flea market or outdoor movies.

An oculus in the canopy of the arena will stand over part of the plaza, allowing light to come in, “like at the Pantheon in Rome,” said Gregg Pasquarelli of SHoP Architects, which worked on the plaza design.

The plaza will be temporary though, as the goal is to eventually build an office building instead. But its construction will depend on the economy and on a rebound of the office space market.

Unmentioned: a good chunk of the promised tax revenues would depend on the office tower.

What about the traffic?

From NY1, with video:
Developers say once the Barclays Center is complete in two years, there will be minimal traffic in the heavily congested area and also a spacious public plaza with views right into the Nets basketball arena.

...It's expected to be welcoming not only for those attending a game but also for shoppers and commuters. The plaza features a new exit from the Atlantic/Pacific Street subway station and the LIRR.
The voiceover more accurately said "their animation shows minimal traffic in this heavily congested area..."

Actually, the exit does not link to the LIRR unless LIRR commuters pay a subway fare.

Another look at traffic

DDDB combined a low-traffic rendering with the video I took of traffic on the day of the Atlantic Antic, an unusually congested day.

Brue Ratner and SHoP Architects Greg Pasquarelli's fever dream of Atlantic/Flatbush traffic:

Video of the real thing:

The press release

FCRC and SHoP Architects Release New Design Images of Plaza and Barclays Center

(Brooklyn, NY) - September 28, 2010 - Forest City Ratner Companies, the developer of Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, and SHoP Architects today released the new design for the Plaza at the Barclays Center at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues.

The Plaza, which will serve as the primary entryway to the arena, integrates a new transit entrance with environmentally conscious landscaping, intimate seating areas and flexible open space that can be used for community programming and arena events. The Plaza will be sponsored by ADT, one of the founding partners of the BarclaysCenter.

"The Plaza at the Barclays Center will quickly become one of Brooklyn's great public spaces," said Bruce Ratner, Chairman and CEO of Forest City Ratner Companies. "The Plaza will create a new destination while also allowing for a smooth flow of pedestrian traffic to and from the arena as well as to the many subway lines at the Atlantic Avenue subway station. The unique transit entrance, along with the Sedum room and plantings and distinctive pavement that will create the experience of diverse walkways, will establish the Plaza as an iconic part of the larger Brooklyn landscape."

The Plaza is 38,885 square feet, 74 percent open space and 26 percent soft landscape and seating, primarily around the transit entrance that will serve as the centerpiece of the Plaza. As part of the design preparation for the plaza area, SHoP Architects conducted significant research of public space designs around the world to incorporate best practices related to movement, lighting, and sustainability.Â

"The remarkable pedestrian pocket created by the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues is a natural transit way," SHoP's Gregg Pasquarelli said. "The Sedum roof transit entrance, along with the Sedum planters, will signify the importance of mass transit to this area of Brooklyn as well as to the entire City. The use of greenery will also allow for a changing, seasonal look in terms of color and an element of natural warmth in an otherwise very urban setting."

In designing the Plaza, SHoP looked at multiple uses of the plaza, including local, commuter and fan traffic and then analyzed how these pedestrian communities interacted under different use scenarios. In addition, the architects had to incorporate into the design security and safety issues, including weight load restrictions for the area over the subway station. "It is the diversity of movement and use that gives a public space a unique feel," Pasquarelli said. "We wanted to capture that movement in our design features and also enhance that movement and the experience of the space by using materials that seem natural to the different parts of the plaza."

Mr. Pasquarelli explained as well that the design features for the space offer exciting possibilities when B1, the office building slated for the tip, along with the building's open urban room, is introduced sometime in the future.

The roof of the transit entrance, along with two-semi rings of planters that wrap around the entrance, will be planted with Sedum, a large genus of flowering plants that are known as stonecrops. The plants, which are indigenous to the northern hemisphere, will create a living, wave like ambiance and provide seasonal colors. The planters closest to the transit entrance will also include curved, Ipe seat benches. The planters, along with other benches at the periphery of the plaza, will be reinforced for security and traffic safety.

The architects designed as well three different types of pavement treatment to reflect the different use areas along the plaza: sidewalk space, a random mix of concrete pavements, and a concrete carpet that will run from the transit entrance to the arena.

In-ground lighting will also illuminate sections of the plaza, providing additional directional assistance as well as creating distinctive areas within the plaza. The Barclays Center Oculus, which will extend over a 5,660 square foot section of the plaza closest to the arena, is 117 feet by 56 feet and 36 feet from the top of the plaza paving. The Oculus will also contain a state-of-the-art display screen that can be programmed for games, events and other activities on the plaza.

"We of course want the Plaza to function well as a gateway to the Barclays Center," Mr. Ratner said. "But it was also designed much like a park so it can be programmed for community events and diverse activities, such as a greenmarket and holiday fairs."

Images from the press preview are available at Username is PressRelease and the password is Arena2010.

The architects will also present the design review at a public meeting tomorrow, September 29, 2010 from 6 to 8:00 p.m. at Brooklyn Borough Hall in the Court Room.

Forest City Ratner refuses to let me into press conference on new arena plaza designs

Wonder why I wasn't at the press conference yesterday unveiling the new arena plaza designs?

Well, I filed an RSVP Monday night and was told by Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, "Hey, sorry, we are doing a small group of print press but will send out all to entire list in am, including you."

Yet somehow WNYC and NY1 made it in.

Some back story: I've been barred from some events and, with some nudging, have been admitted to others.

Maybe they're not so comfortable with someone who remembers how Bruce Ratner has contradicted himself.

Times looks into tainted past of Paladino aides; what about the New York City Regional Center, in charge of EB-5 visas?

A New York Times article about the Republican nominee for governor, Carl Paladino, is headlined Paladino Has Aides With Tainted Pasts:
But some of the people whom Mr. Paladino has recruited to run his campaign are plagued by brushes with the law and allegations of misconduct, an examination of public records shows.

His campaign manager failed to pay nearly $53,000 in federal taxes over the last few years, prompting the Internal Revenue Service to take action against him. An aide who frequently drives Mr. Paladino on the campaign trail served jail time in Arizona on charges of drunken driving.

Another adviser has been indicted on charges of stealing more than $1 million from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s re-election bid last year. And Mr. Paladino’s campaign chairwoman left a local government position amid claims that she had steered $1 billion in public money to a politically connected investment manager.

Their backgrounds could raise questions about the kind of cabinet Mr. Paladino, a Republican, would assemble if elected in November and cast doubt on his ability to radically remake the dysfunctional culture of Albany, government watchdogs said.
Sure, that's worth covering.

But what about the questionable past of one of the two Managing Principals of the New York City Regional Center, the private company that has been delegated (like other private companies) to process immigrant investors under the EB-5 visa program? Shouldn't one of the "Billboard Boys" get some scrutiny?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Matthew Brinckerhoff, prophet without honor: Atlantic Yards timetable "is complete, utter fantasy"

August 6, 2010: "We now know [the ten-year project timetable] is complete, utter fantasy," declared attorney Matthew Brinckerhoff, representing petitioners in one of the last Atlantic Yards court cases.

The court didn't care.

But developer Bruce Ratner today essentially said Brinckerhoff was right.

Atlantic Yards down the memory hole: the first tower was supposed to break ground this year, not next spring

Forest City Ratner is delaying the first residential building, but no one seems to notice.

The New York Observer today:
Mr. Ratner reiterated his intention to begin building housing by next year, in a tower on the south side of the arena, on Dean Street, though there is no funding in place.
Crain's New York Business:
Mr. Ratner will announced [sic] the name of the architects that will work on the project some time in the first quarter of 2011, while construction could begin in the spring of next year, with construction of a new residential building beginning every six to nine months thereafter.
He also said that construction on the first residential tower -- a mixed-income building -- would likely begin in 8 to 10 months.
Forest City Ratner executive Jane Marshall, 2/24/10: "As we've stated publicly, we intend to begin design of the first residential building in such a way that it can break ground in the fourth quarter of this year."

Bruce Ratner 2010 contradicts Bruce Ratner 2008 on Atlantic Yards timetable

From WNYC today, Ratner Abandons 10-Year Timeline for Atlantic Yards:

Developer Bruce Ratner said Tuesday morning what many of his critics and even some of his associates have been saying for years: there is no way the entire Atlantic Yards project will be done in 10 years.

He said the 10-year timeline was always misunderstood. It was never meant to be more than a best-case scenario to be used in environmental impact statements.

“That was really only an analysis as to what the most serious impacts [would be], if all the other planned development in downtown Brooklyn happened right away,” Ratner says. “It was never supposed to be the time we were supposed to build them in.”

He added: “I would say it's really market-dependent as to when it will really be completed.”

WNYC's Matthew Schuerman added a bit of skepticism:
But the 10-year-timeline was also used by the city, state and Ratner’s own consultant to determine that the financial benefits to the public outweighed the roughly $300 million in direct subsidies the project is receiving.
Here's coverage from the Brooklyn Paper: Arena going up — but will the rest of the project?:
The developer admitted on Tuesday that all but one of the project’s proposed 16 towers can’t move forward because they are “market dependent.”

...Ratner’s less-than-rock-solid timeline for the full project contradicted his company’s own press release, which promises “construction of a new residential building beginning every six to nine months” after the start of that first residential tower.
Ratner in 2008: ten years

In a 5/4/08 Daily News op-ed, Ratner sang a different tune:
Our first goal is to break ground on the Barclays Center later this year. Shortly after that, we will break ground on the first residential building, which includes a significant amount of affordable housing.

We plan to complete and open both of these buildings at the same time. Then we plan to break ground on the next residential tower in 2010, and then on the final residential tower of the project's first phase in 2011.

In these three residential buildings, no less than 30% of the approximately 1,500 units will be dedicated to low- and middle-income New Yorkers. We will then start the second phase of development, nearly a dozen additional residential buildings - including the balance of the 2,250 units of affordable housing.

We anticipate finishing all of Atlantic Yards by 2018.

Sports debate between Zirin ("The socializing of debt and the privatizing of profit") and Leitch ("I know I am willfully putting on blinders")

"It makes no sense to be a sports fan," says Will Leitch, founder of the influential sports blog Deadspin and now a contributing editor to New York magazine. "It's kind of dumb that we do it, but we do it, because it's awesome."

Leitch said that at the Brooklyn Book Festival on September 12, and his take on sports--savvy and clever, but willfully divorced from any overarching politics--deserves notice, because it's far more prevalent than that of fellow panelist Dave Zirin, who writes about the politics of sports for The Nation and his syndicated Edge of Sports column.

And Leitch and Zirin got into a forceful but friendly disagreement about that overarching frame.

First, the AY angle

Zirin, whom I've criticized for not writing about Bruce Ratner in his new book about owners, Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love, was ready for a Brooklyn crowd.

After explaining how the land takeover for the Dodgers' stadium in Los Angeles was the template for future owners riding roughshod over communities, he said, "There's a terrific irony that folks in Brooklyn are dealing with the Atlantic Yards project... which I think absolutely every Brooklyn resident should oppose with the fiber of their being."

There were maybe 40 people in the audience--it was early--and only light applause.

Then again, most Brooklynites aren't that excited about the Nets coming to Brooklyn, or so the response to Borough President Marty Markowitz's most recent State of the Borough address suggested.

Zirin criticized Atlantic Yards for, among other things, causing gentrification
, which led moderator Jason Otaño, Markowitz's counsel, to interject that gentrification had come to Brooklyn decades before, with tens of thousands blacks and Puerto Ricans uprooted.

(True enough, though the use of eminent domain wasn't that blatant. The more potent criticism of Atlantic Yards emerges from the developer's capacity to get the inside track on valuable public land

The template

"The problem is that Bruce Ratner is following a template which unfortunately we know the answer to," Zirin continued. "There used to be a time ten years ago when you would debate this question of public stadium funding... and there would be dueling opinions, one side saying they bring a benefit
. This cannot be seen as a debate anymore

(The subsidies for the New York arena and stadium deals are more subtle than in other states, but still substantial.)

Zirin said sports facilities serve "like neoliberal Trojan horses," gaining subsidies even as local leaders neglect infrastructure.

"We're talking about very real choices," he said. "
Ralph Nader says you better turn on politics or politics turns on you
. I feel, as a sports fan, we better turn on sports, or sports are going to turn on us with an absolute vengeance

(Also see Michael D.D. White's take on sports fandom in his Noticing New York blog.)

Willful blinders

Leitch acknowledged that fandom is illogical and said he agreed with most of the "vast majority" of Zirin's take.

But not all.

"There are so few things in the world that are black and white," he said. "If you win you're happy; if you lose you’re sad. Everything else is gray. Sports is the one thing that I have. I know that everything that goes into it is gray, but for three hours, if they win, I'm happy, if they lose I'm sad. That's something I want to protect."

"I know I am willfully putting on blinders," Leitch said. "I'm fully aware of that... but, sorry, life's hard enough, give me sports."

"Because I love sports," Zirin responded, "I don't want to be affected by a lot of the racism, sexism, homophobia, hyper-corporatism... we have an obligation to fight for sports." He suggested that, despite the offensiveness of the team name Washington 
Redskins, "you let it go because it's sports."

He also suggested that the economy of sports has changed drastically. However hated Dodger owner Walter O'Malley was, Zirin noted, he made money from fans buying tickets (and, I'd say, television).

Now, said Zirin, "we're scenery. Now it's public funding of stadiums, personalized seat licenses, sweetheart cable deals, corporate sponsorships."

The public/private balance

An audience member suggested that, in Colorado, where until recently kids didn't have "access to [major league] baseball," maybe the subsidies were worth it.

"It's the socializing of debt and the privatizing of profit," Zirin responded. If teams need public funding, then a team should be partially a public utility, or be partly owned by fans.

"I'm talking crazy," he quipped. "I'm talking Green Bay, Wisconsin," a reference to the Green Bay Packers, the only non-profit, community-owned franchise in American professional sports major leagues.

Leitch and Zirin in New York magazine

In July, Leitch interviewed Zirin for New York magazine.

Leitch's opener:
We've always found that the majority of sports fans try, sometimes to extreme lengths, to keep their personal politics, whatever they are, out of their sports. They imagine sports as a purer thing, unsullied by the ugliness of the real world. This is obviously a fallacy, and most are aware of that fallacy. But can you blame them for wanting to keep their real-world chocolate out of their sports peanut butter? That is to say: Is there a route to being a better, more satisfied sports fan while still knowing how all the sausage is made, and actively protesting its creation?
Zirin's response:
There's nothing I'd like more than a world where sports were served to us à la carte. Kill the extra commercialization. Kill the insane ticket prices. Kill the public funding of stadiums. Kill the inability to watch games unless you have the correct cable package. But until that's the case, we have every right to try and reclaim sports from those who would make it alienating and unenjoyable. Most people love sports but hate what sports have become. We have three choices: We can take it the way it is and just drink more during games, we can stop watching altogether, or we can demand change.
Leitch brought up the Packers:
You talk about the beauty of the Green Bay Packers being publicly owned, and then explain why that can never happen again, in any sport. Is there an owner out there who IS doing it right? Or is at least close?
Zirin's response:
An owner has one job and one job only: to protect the integrity of their sport and to protect the integrity of their teams. They have failed at this task in spectacular fashion. They are supposed to care for our games so we can pass them on to our kids and our kids' kids. Instead, we get insane ticket prices, price-gouging stadium deals, and nine-dollar beer. It's become an abusive relationship, between fan and sport, and every owner is complicit. If forced, I would say that Mark Cuban is great because he promotes his team relentlessly while never pretending to know more than his GM or coaches. At this point, that's the least we can ask.

I'm not sure that's how owners actually see their jobs.

Leitch and Zirin on Deadspin

In August 2007, Leitch interviewed Zirin for Deadspin. His intro:
We've joked about being politically agnostic in these parts before, but that's not actually true. Like any breathing human, we have all kinds of political thoughts; we just don't think they belong on a sports site. Sports are one of the few realms that, if you try hard enough, can be separated from politics. Life and politics are complicated; sports are not. That's one of the reasons we love them.

Dave Zirin does not take this perspective. Zirin, columnist for The Nation and op-ed contributor to the Los Angeles Times, has been a longtime progressive voice in the world of sports, railing against racism, extreme capitalism and all the things the sports world does to screw you.
Leading up to his first question, Leitch tried to explain himself:
We know politics is involved in everything, and that sports is about money, and that when you peek behind the curtain of sports, you'll find all kinds of ugly things. We're fully aware. But isn't there something to be said for ignoring that? Sports are, more than anything else, black and white: If our team wins, we are happy, and if they lose, we are sad. Isn't that a rare, beautiful thing? Nothing else in life is like that. Being a sports fan is an irrational act; we're all rooting for ugly corporations that are out to screw us. If we think about that every time we watch a game ... jeez, that's not very fun, is it?
Zirin's response:
But it's precisely because I love sports that I feel there is a crying need to have some sort of political framework for understanding both the games we watch and the political messages pumped through our play (salute the flag, pay $8 for a beer, support your local enormo-dome/billion dollar welfare hotel).

I think if we as a fans can develop this framework then we could separate what we love about sports from what we hate about sports and demand it to change.

Think about how much space on Deadspin - by utter necessity! - is dedicated not to the "irrational act" of loving sports, or to scores and feats of derring-do, but to the sludge and detritus that clings to sports like so many maggots.

The very success of Deadspin shows how the anger of alienated sports fans is bursting-at-the-seams. So many people I meet fit that description: those who love sports but hate what they have become. Now if we could only take all that steam - all the disgust and anger people feel toward the 21st century athletic industrial complex - and direct it away from the typical easy targets: ("spoiled" athletes, the WNBA, soccer, Mr. Popularity Barry Bonds) and toward those - as you so aptly put it - screwing us over - then we can both fight to reclaim sports and demand a relationship with our games that isn't so numbingly abusive.

Monday, September 27, 2010

New York Magazine profile of Gary Barnett addresses competition with Ratner (and gets "Atlantic Yards" wrong)

From No Land Grab's Eric McClure:
The Anti-Trump

Gary Barnett, the builder of this era’s glitziest buildings, does not have cotton-candy hair or a big mouth—but what he does have is hubris.

New York Magazine
by Gabriel Sherman

The anti-Trump? More like the anti-Ratner. NY Magazine's profile of developer Gary Barnett goes into a good deal of Atlantic Yards backstory — some of which gets "Oderized" in the comments section.

Barnett’s lone-wolf style has not exactly endeared him to his peers. New York real estate has long attracted players who view business as both a commercial and a civic pursuit. Jerry Speyer, the co-CEO of Tishman Speyer, is perhaps the most famous archetype of the New York macher, serving as a confidant to mayors and governors. Inside the fishbowl of New York real estate, Barnett has few friends. He’s a subject of fascination and derision, a combative figure who is unafraid to challenge the industry order. Since blasting onto the scene at the start of the last decade, he has clashed with Bruce Ratner and the New York Times for control of the land under the Times’ new Eighth Avenue headquarters and made a surprise eleventh-hour bid for Atlantic Yards just as Ratner thought the massive development project was in his grasp.

The bid was not for "Atlantic Yards," as Norman Oder explains in the comments section, but for the MTA's Vanderbilt Yard. And "civic pursuit?" That's true, if NY Magazine defines it as "pursuit of civic subsidies and eminent domain powers."

On the day of the Atlantic Antic, Flatbush Avenue gridlock (and no DDDB or FCR)

Yesterday, returning home from the Atlantic Antic at about 3:30 pm, I stopped at the southwest corner of Sixth and Flatbush avenues--two short blocks south of the southeast corner of the arena block-- and took out my camera.

The Atlantic Antic, the borough's biggest street festival, closes down the Atlantic Avenue artery west of Flatbush Avenue (the intersection of which is the western tip of the Atlantic Yards site).

Needless to say, traffic was heavy and, as the video indicates, unruly. Without a traffic agent at the corner, some vehicles going northwest on Flatbush blocked the intersection at Sixth, thus stopping southbound vehicles from passage.

While a Sunday afternoon in September is too early for a basketball game, it's surely a good time for a family-oriented arena event. If so, on the day of the Atlantic Antic, then the gridlock on Flatbush--even with traffic agents--likely would be worse than was observed yesterday.

Who was missing?

At last year's Atlantic Antic, with a municipal election and an eminent domain oral argument upcoming, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) had a table, as it had in previous years.

This year, with the arena under way and DDDB essentially dormant, the group had no presence at the Atlantic Antic.

Nor did Forest City Ratner or the Nets, as they had at some previous Antics. Be assured they'll be back when the arena opens.

Petition asking Supreme Court to hear challenge to eminent domain for Columbia argues that Court of Appeals failed to address Kelo

As plaintiff Nick Sprayregen of Tuck-It-Away Storage pledged, he'd go to the U.S. Supreme Court to fight the state's pursuit of eminent domain in the Columbia University.

Now, after seeing a surprising Appellate Division victory overturned unanimously by the state Court of Appeals, which relied on its Atlantic Yards decision, Sprayregen and the Kaur/Singh family that owns a gas station on the project site have filed their Petition for a Writ of Certiorari (below), the request for the court to hear the case.

It's always a long shot--fewer than 1% of petitions are granted--but this petition, authored by attorney Norman Siegel and a host of others, hammers home the state court's failure to address the guidelines seemingly set forth in Justice John Paul Stevens's majority opinion and Justice Anthony Kennedy's concurrence in the 2005 Kelo v. New London case, in which the court upheld eminent domain by a 5-4 margin.

Ignoring Kelo?

The petition states:
In sharp contrast to the situation in Kelo, in which a municipal agency adopted a “carefully considered” development plan which had no preselected private beneficiary, ESDC worked backwards, pre-ordaining Columbia as the beneficiary of its eminent domain power. Having settled on this, ESDC endorsed a plan, developed behind closed doors by Columbia itself, to transfer private property to Columbia in furtherance of the university’s expansion dreams. ESDC then collaborated with Columbia to devise after-the-fact traditional public purposes to justify the takings, and even allowed Columbia to create the very blight-like conditions that ESDC then proposed to remediate.

The use of eminent domain here was thus a fait accompli meant to circumvent any obstacles to the realization of Columbia’s private agenda. A two-judge plurality of New York's appellate court recognized that the takings were unconstitutional under Kelo, and a third judge joined the plurality to hold that the condemnation was invalid because ESDC had violated petitioners’ due process rights. New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals of New York (“Court of Appeals”) nonetheless reversed, upholding ESDC's actions in a 34-page decision that never once mentioned Kelo.
The decision is Appendix A to the cert petition.

I wrote in June that the court didn't look at Kennedy's concurrence, which sets out indicia of a sweetheart deal. As the petition points out, the court didn't even look at the majority opinion.

Note that, in the Court of Appeals' decision last November in the Atlantic Yards case, the majority opinion also ignored Kelo. Dissenting Justice Robert Smith, rather than looking to Kelo for reasons to crack down on eminent domain, rather suggested that it eased the burden on government agencies.

The challenge posed by Kelo

In an effort to convince the Supreme Court to accept the case, the new petition argues that guidance is necessary beyond New York:
The Court of Appeals’ conscious disregard of Kelo should warrant certiorari in its own right, but, in any event, has ramifications far beyond the particulars of this case. The Kelo majority made clear that its decision was predicated on the existence of certain minimum safeguards that demonstrated the absence of favoritism or pretext on the part of a condemning authority. Since Kelo, however, courts have struggled to interpret concepts like “mere pretext,” “favoritism,” and “a comprehensive development plan,” leading to inconsistent results around the country. The Court of Appeals’ outright refusal to address Kelo brings this confusion to a new level. if such significant evidence of bad faith, pretext, and impermissible favoritism in the context of eminent domain is insufficient to trigger the protections discussed in Kelo, then Kelo itself, and its safeguards, have been rendered meaningless.
And there's one more reason:
Moreover, Respondent’s arbitrary and premature closing of the administrative record prior to the resolution of petitioners’ freedom of information law (“FOIL”) litigation violated petitioners’ due process...
The Petillo email

While I'd previously quoted Siegel as saying an ESDC staffer's memo stated, We are going to manufacture support for condemnation, that's not quite right--though it's still pretty blatant.

According to the petition:
Indeed, by e-mail dated May 12, 2006, ESDC's Senior Counsel, Joseph Petillo ("Petillo"), questioned a draft Request for Proposal ("RFP") for the Manhattanville blight study, stating, "Why do this?... I'm uncomfortable with us shining a spotlight on the process used to manufacture support for condemnation." Petillo then added: "In this post-Kelo period, perhaps we want to craft the support for our blight findings in a less public way--such as more discretely wrapping this up with work being performed by the EIS consultant."
The email itself is Appendix C to the petition.
Petition to U.S. Supreme Court in Columbia University eminent domain case

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Prokhorov's debut continues, with launch of Snob magazine, but Men's Journal's Taibbi offers darker portrait of oligarch's wealth

Explaining billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov's backing of Snob magazine, New York Magazine's Michael Idov (a Snob contributor) wrote in May:
Prokhorov's endgame is to buy himself cultural and intellectual credibility on a massive scale and to will into existence, and lead, a group of the globalized world’s Russian-speaking elites.
That day is on us. The Wall Street Journal reported 9/13/10:
Mr. Prokhorov this week is bringing Snob, a Russian-language, general-interest magazine that caters to that country's global elite, to the U.S. Currently distributed in Russia and Britain, it will hit New York Wednesday with an initial run of about 20,000 copies of its September issue.
And a Bloomberg article made a connection to the Nets, however strained:
“Russians who live in the borough and come to games easily will be an important target audience for ticket sales,” once the Nets move, Prokhorov said. “There is certainly a crossover here with the potential Snob audience.”
An ad in the New Yorker

Part of the campaign (here's a press release from the firm behind it), as seen in the advertisement at right, includes ads in English-language publications.

The ad appeared in this week's New Yorker, perhaps not coincidentally including an article (full text for subscribers only) about arts patron Dasha Zhukova, the girlfriend of oil billionaire Roman Abramovich.

(This apparently aims to improve on the disastrous marketing campaign for Snob in London, the first place outside Russia for a brand extension, where Russian-language ads succeeded in "perplexing Brits and embarrassing local Russians," according to New York Magazine.)

The Prokhorov connection

The New Yorker article includes a few paragraphs of observations on Russia's oligarchs ("[y]ou really need to think in terms of Napoleonic France") from academic and publisher Irina Prokhorov, the sister of Mikhail.

The New Yorker notes that Mikhail Prokhorov is best known outside Russia for buying the New Jersey Nets.

It also describes an evolution in philanthropy, pointing out that, while most foundations are funded year to year or project to project, there are a few exceptions, including the Prokhorov foundation, which "tries to bring culture to dilapidated industrial towns across Russia."

Taibbi's tough take

From the New Yorker article, you wouldn't get any idea there's a bit of controversy about the source of Prokhorov's wealth, but, in a Men's Journal article (not online yet), investigative reporter Matt Taibbi (known for his slashing take on Goldman Sachs), lays out the history.

He appeared on a Fox Business interview show with Don Imus.

"It's really funny--I lived in Russia for ten years, and one of the things I covered way back when was this scandal called 'loans for shares,'" Taibbi said.

"They privatized the jewels of Soviet industry into the hands of a few gangsters, basically, and I remember covering that story very well," he said, "and I remember how angry everybody was, that all this stuff that was public property was handed over to these guys who were friends of the president."

"And then, ten, 15 years later, I come back to America and find out that one of them has become owner of the New Jersey Nets," Taibbi continued. "Prokhovov was part of this company called Norilsk Nickel. They basically won a rigged auction for one of the world's largest metals companies... Yet this guy is a hero here in the States because he's tall and he says some funny stuff on TV."

Imus asked if NBA Commissioner David Stern looked into Prokhorov.

"They said they vetted him thoroughly," Taibbi replied. "I can't speak for David Stern, but this guy, for Russians, he's sort of a symbol of this whole era when there were absolutely no rules and public wealth was just turned over to a bunch of insiders. It's unbelievable to me that he's being celebrated as this great guy."

And, I'd add, Prokhorov's gaining the benefits of subsidies, tax breaks, and eminent domain that, had he been the applicant to the city and state, might have caused legislators to pause.