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April 29, 2009

Second thoughts from a former state official; could Times Square have been reclaimed without eminent domain?

Atlantic Yards Report

The former insider and CEO (1983-85) of the state Urban Development Corporation (UDC) has publicly concluded that the use of eminent domain actually hindered the progress of developement of the Times Square area. Norman Oder examines William Stern's arguments and matches them against competing opinions.

The recently transformed Times Square area is a poster child proffered by city officials like Mayor Mike Bloomberg in defending the use of eminent domain. But what if eminent domain really didn’t work?

Here's a taste of Stern's arguments:

In hindsight, eminent domain was not merely unnecessary; eminent domain was destructive and counterproductive to the aim of achieving redevelopment. The properties surely could have all been bought out by the mega-developers. After all, that is how mega-development traditionally has taken place in the United States. It used to be called an “assemblage,” and good developers know how to do it without eminent domain. That kind of process would have been fairer and less costly. It also would have helped assure from the start that the buildings ultimately constructed on the site had the best chance of meeting the market’s demand—rather than government officials’ caprice. It was the way, after all, that Times Square had been developed in the first place. During my time at the UDC, developers approached me privately and said eminent domain was not needed. They had previously implemented large-scale development without eminent domain and were confident they could do so in Times Square.
While eminent domain may have made it easier two decades later to build (since the property was already condemned), the city lost far more than what it could ever gain from the lands’ new uses. It destroyed legitimate local businesses that create the patchwork of unique attractions that bring tourists from across the country to any major city. It delayed any resurgence of Times Square, as property owners and government officials remained in limbo and tax dollars were lost.

Our efforts ignored the root causes of the problems in Times Square, blinding us to any true cures and setting a dangerous precedent for future projects in New York City. Property owners who were anticipating massive buy-outs as a result of the West Side’s upzoning were shocked when they learned this simply ushered in a plan that effectively wiped them out, with “fair” market value in place of negotiation.

Check out the rest of the article for more analysis, including how Bruce Ratner's eminent domain-dependent Atlantic Yards megaproject is Stern's example of current abuse of power.

Posted by lumi at April 29, 2009 5:20 AM