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May 2, 2008

Thompson says other developers might join AY; “I’m not sure what that project is any longer”

Atlantic Yards Report

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Norman Oder attended a panel discussion at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs and found that Atlantic Yards came up quite often.

Atlantic Yards was the most contentious element of a panel discussion Wednesday at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs titled Maintaining Momentum: Can New York’s Ambitious Development Agenda Survive an Economic Downturn?

Moderator Greg David, editor of Crain’s New York Business, and City Comptroller (and mayoral candidate) William Thompson urged that the project proceed, while Julia Vitullo-Martin of the Manhattan Institute (who called the project "corporate socialism") and Brad Lander of the Pratt Center for Community Development endorsed a rethink, albeit for somewhat different reasons.

Still, Thompson acknowledged, “I’m not sure what that project is any longer” and even dangled the hint that it might be revived by bringing in additional developers, as the city comes to the belated realization that single-developer projects pose certain dangers. He also agreed that most projects should go through ULURP, the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, rather than state review.

In other words, Thompson gave AY critics and opponents an opportunity for a “told-you-so,” to quote the New York Times’s recent coverage, just as David pressed his own “told-you-so,” nearly taunting Lander for opposing a project that has steadily survived court challenges.

Later in the discussion, Thompson includes Atlantic Yards in his discussion of development issues with David:

He said the market was affecting projects. “The greatest example is Atlantic Yards. You are going to see a rethinking of that in one form or another, only because that project--a project that I supported--I’m not sure what that project is any longer. That is a problem. It has morphed and changed, gone through ups and downs. Right now, the financing side of that--they’re not going to be able to move forward right now. I still think that--it was a good idea two years ago, it will be a good idea in five years and in ten years.”

Of course, he was ignoring the fact that the good idea was premised on a certain timetable and a certain amount of public funding.

“It may be a slightly different project," he continued, "and we may need to bring additional developers--and that’s one of the things I think you’ll see also, it’s no longer relying on one developer on megaprojects, you will look at multiple developers in different stages, so it all doesn’t fall on one person’s shoulders.”

(The alternative UNITY plan is premised on dividing the railyards into parcels for multiple developers.)

David asked “the fundamental, immediate question”: would Thompson proceed with the arena, as Bruce Ratner intends?

Yes, Thompson said.

(Keep in mind that, in 2001, his campaign received $22,500 from five people associated with developer Bruce Ratner. Still, as readers point out, there are other reasons for him to support the project, just as there are other reasons to be critical of Thompson.)

Afterwards, Oder from asks for clarification from Thompson :

I caught up with Thompson afterward. Given that the project was approved under the assumption that the benefits would arrive in ten years, rather than two or three decades, I asked whether he thought it deserved a new review, as some in Brooklyn contend.

“The first thing, we’d like to define it and fully understand it,” he replied. “What is the project going to be over the next two, three, five, ten years? I think that’s the course that we’d like to do. People would like to go back and re-trigger things and look at it again--I don’t know that we should do that.”

So what’s the process to define it, I asked.

“Government has an obligation,” he said "to fully make sure” what the short- and long-term goals of the project are and make them public.

That, I pointed out, might be complicated by the news I’d reported that morning that the developer had the city’s permission to build a much smaller Phase 1 than previously anticipated, and over 12 years.

Yesterday, Bruce Ratner said in a statement denying rumors about talks with New Jersey investors, "We are focused on breaking ground on the Barclays Center in Brooklyn later this year and building all of Atlantic Yards, nothing else."

Expect him to be asked to define what "all of Atlantic Yards" actually means.

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Posted by steve at May 2, 2008 6:36 AM