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June 30, 2009

State’s Top Court Will Hear Appeal Against Atlantic Yards

The New York Times
by Charles V. Bagli

New York’s highest court has agreed to hear a case challenging the state’s use of eminent domain on behalf of the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn.

The decision by the top court, the Court of Appeals, to hear arguments in October came as something of a surprise to the project’s developer, Bruce C. Ratner, who had expected a clear path after a lower court rejected the case in a unanimous decision in May.

And not a pleasant surprise, for sure. We wish we could've been there when Bruce got the news.

The Court of Appeals’ involvement, announced on Monday, is the latest hurdle to Mr. Ratner’s plans to build a $772 million basketball arena, the centerpiece of the project. The developer and his bankers intend to sell about $650 million in bonds for the arena in late September.

That $650 million figure is up some 10% from estimates just last week. One wonders, why the increase?

Mr. Ratner must finance the project and begin construction by Dec. 31 to qualify for tax-exempt status, which would save him millions of dollars in borrowing costs. Most analysts say it is unlikely that conventional bonds would sell in the current market.

“I certainly don’t envy anyone who has to raise capital in the current environment,” said Robert White of Real Capital Analytics, a research firm.


Posted by eric at 11:35 PM

It came from the Blogosphere...

Joshing Politics, M.T.A. And Ratner's Deal Breaks The Law

The M.T.A. has no problem raising the fare for straphangers in their attempt to make ends meet. Yet when it comes to the rich and powerful, they have no problem making deals with people like Bruce Ratner in his attempt to build part of his Atlantic Yards site. The only problem though with saving Ratner some money is that the M.T.A. violated the law in doing so.

Brennan said the likelihood that the arena project was a boondoggle was substantial, since the New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO) has already testified at a hearing of the State Senate Corporations Committee on May 29^th that a preliminary updated review of the costs and benefits of the arena showed that city and state outlays for the project would exceed positive tax revenues from the project even over a 30-year period.

I would say there is more than a substantial likelihood that this is a boondoggle, because it is definitely a boondoggle. Assemblyman Brennan knows that and so does everyone else in Brooklyn, including the principals who are orchestrating this deal. Forest City Ratner may think their legal troubles are over, but they've got another thing coming.

Gideon's Trumpet, Too Many Sports Arenas

From time to time, we have blogged about the problems of municipal waste of taxpayers’ money which cities have been squandering in their efforts to attract and support sports arenas. It appears that now the predictable is happening. Charles V. Bagli, As Arenas Sprout, a Scramble to Keep Them Filled, N.Y. Times, June 29, 2009, reports that there are just plumb too many arenas, even for a big market like New York...

And in Brooklyn, Forest City Ratner is rushing the start of construction of yet another sports facility, an arena for the Nets, which, if successful, will add another sports arena to the glut.

Moreover, this problem is not confined to New York. Bagli reports that similar difficulties are unfolding in New Jersey, Arizona, Minnesota, and Ohio. And given that the current recession is not disappearing, it looks like these folks are in for — shall we say? — interesting days. And so are the taxpayers who, lest you forget, are subsidizing this whole shebang with your tax dollars.

inversecondemnation.com, Tuesday Round-Up

The New York Court of Appeals (that state's highest court) will be hearing arguments in the Atlantic Yards cases.

structureHUB, Hotlanta: tons of towers, most of them ugly and with little prospect for a makeover

As desperate as Atlanta is for some architectural eye-candy, it is simple unnecessary to go to the most extravagant lengths to build some. Then again, my point is made harder to make in light of the ridiculous situation of the Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn. There, Forest City Ratner also assumed that architectural beauty is an all-or-nothing game. No Frank Gehry? Okay, lets put up a beastly warehouse “arena” that will suck away the potential for neighborhood redevelopment faster than you can say Metrodome.

Posted by eric at 10:59 PM

HEADLINES: Not-so-frivolous eminent domain lawsuit (late) edition

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Atlantic Yards Likely Delayed Until Winter

The Eagle's Ryan Thompson has an excellent wrap-up of today's legal news, and its implications.

The state’s highest court will consider the constitutionality of Atlantic Yards, and regardless of what it decides, the multibillion dollar project will likely be delayed until winter.

Arguments are scheduled for October, and a decision from the court is expected to be issued in November or December, meaning that resolution of the eminent domain issues and transferring of title likely won’t happen until the winter, if not next year.

Developer Bruce Ratner, facing financial deadlines, had vowed to break ground on the Barclays Center basketball arena in the fall. That now appears impossible, according to the court’s scheduling of the case.

“We are gratified that the state’s high court will hear this important case about whether our state’s constitution protects the homes of its citizens from the wrecking ball of greed wielded by influential developers and the public officials who do their bidding,” [plaintiffs' attorney Matthew] Brinckerhoff said. “This case provides an opportunity for the New York Court of Appeals to continue its proud tradition of interpreting this state’s constitution in a manner that affords more protection to individual rights and liberties. We look forward to the argument in October."


In a stunning move, the state's highest court has agreed to hear a legal challenge over the use of eminent domain to seize private land for Brooklyn's controversial Atlantic Yards project.

"It is a great day for New Yorkers concerned about abuses of power," Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn spokesman Daniel Goldstein said. "We will vigorously continue to defend our rights. But New York State and Mr. Ratner have a choice: they could avoid our legal challenge by finally taking eminent domain off the table."

Crain's NY Business, Atlantic Yards faces fresh obstacle

Just when it seemed that Forest City Ratner Cos. was overcoming all the obstacles blocking its controversial plan to develop Atlantic Yards, another potentially serious hurdle has emerged.

What Crain's means is "just one day after we wrote a silly whopper of an editorial supporting Atlantic Yards, another potentially serious hurdle has emerged."

WNYC Radio, Court of Appeals to Hear Atlantic Yards Case

By agreeing to hear the case, plaintiffs say, the court has already decided there's a constitutional issue worth settling. They also contend that the appeal will put Ratner dangerously close to a December 31st IRS deadline for issuing tax-exempt bonds. If it takes longer than that to sort out legal questions, Ratner would have to resort to conventional bonds, which would cost hundreds of millions of dollars more in interest payments. Last year, the court of appeals did decide all of its October cases by December 2nd. If that schedule holds this year, and Ratner wins the appeal, a late December groundbreaking for the basketball arena is still possible.

WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show, Gridlock at Ground Zero

"[Bruce Ratner's] got a very small window of opportunity here, which just got even a little bit smaller today."

[Atlantic Yards segment from 17:10 to 19:10]

NLG: The New York Times's Charles Bagli and WNYC's Andrea Bernstein confuse the dates of the Court hearing and the ESDC public hearings, but the upshot is still not great for Bruce Ratner.

Posted by eric at 6:24 PM

Clueless cheap owners?

NY Metro


Sound like anyone we know? You betcha!

Posted by eric at 1:54 PM

HEADLINES: Not-so-frivolous eminent domain lawsuit edition

NY Observer, New Uncertainty for Atlantic Yards as Court of Appeals Takes Eminent Domain Suit

New York’s highest court has agreed to hear an eminent domain case over the Atlantic Yards project proposed for Brooklyn, a move that infuses new uncertainty into the planned $4.9 billion development that entails a new Nets basketball arena and 6,400 apartments.

The decision by the Court of Appeals was not expected by the project’s developer—Bruce Ratner and his Forest City Ratner—at least based on its public statements and actions. After a year and a half of stagnation, the development seemed to gain new momentum in recent weeks after an appellate court ruled against opponents. Mr. Ratner had been pushing for new public approvals and renegotiated deals with the stated intent of breaking ground on the arena this fall.

Mr. Ratner already confronts a tight schedule in securing $530 million in tax-free financing for the arena. Based on a Dec. 31 I.R.S. deadline for the financing, the cost of the arena would jump by tens of millions of dollars without a tax exemption, and the task of securing financing would grow substantially harder (the broader real estate financing market is more inclement than the tax-free bond market). Thus the viability of the project seems to depend in large part on how fast the court can turn around a ruling.

NoLandGrab: The ESDC and MTA giveth, and the Court of Appeals taketh away.

Reason Hit & Run, New York Court of Appeals to Hear Atlantic Yards Case

The New York Court of Appeals (the state's highest court) agreed today to hear arguments in the case of Goldstein v. New York State Urban Development Corporation, which deals with the controversial use of eminent domain on behalf of developer and New Jersey Nets owner Bruce Ratner. As I discussed in an article last week, Ratner is the real estate powerbroker behind the Atlantic Yards redevelopment project in Brooklyn, a massive boondoggle centered on a new basketball arena for the Bruce Ratner-owned Nets.

Things are certainly heating up now. Last Monday, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), which controls a crucial 8-acre rail yard at the center of the Atlantic Yards footprint, offered Ratner a massively discounted new offer, whereby he would pay just $20 million up front for the land, then pay another $80 million over the next 22 years. Three years ago, however, the MTA wanted the full $100 million up front (and that's for 8-acres that have been appraised at over $200 million). Bear in mind that the MTA just raised subway and bus fares, yet somehow still has the cash to bail out Ratner and his lousy corporate welfare arena. So much for acting responsibly during an economic recession! As for Ratner, he still needs to raise over $500 million and break ground before the end of the year in order to qualify for tax-exempt status. So it's wonderful news that he'll be tied up in court trying to explain away eminent domain abuse while the clock keeps ticking away.

NY Daily News, Court challenge could delay Ratner plan to break ground at Atlantic Yards in fall

The developer has vowed to break ground this fall, but the latest court action could throw a wrench in those plans.

When a lower court threw out the eminent domain case in May, Ratner told the News: "This is really the last hurdle that we have and now we can do what our company does best and build an arena and houses."

NLG: Actually, Forest City did what it does best last week — secure more handouts of public money courtesy of the MTA and ESDC.

The Local [Fort Greene/Clinton Hill], Court of Appeals to Decide AY Suit

The suit was filed by nine property owners and tenants, including DDDB spokesman Daniel Goldstein, whose corner of Prospect Heights was deemed “blighted” and whose homes and businesses in the proposed Atlantic Yards footprint have been slated for government seizure.

The Architect's Newspaper Blog, See Bruce in Court!

We recently wrote above how opponent’s best hope of stopping Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards Project was not the departure of Frank Gehry but lawsuits. There was a good possibility the “sweetheart” deals the state had crafted to make Ratner’s project easier to move forward could have triggered further litigation, but it seems it may not even come to that, as the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, has decided to hear Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn’s challenge to the state’s use of eminent domain.

Nets Daily, Court of Appeals Will Hear Critics’ Lawsuit

New York’s highest court will hear a critics’ appeal against the Empire State Development Corp., further tightening the schedule for Barclays Center and possibly jeopardizing it. The court asked for briefs by July 31, with a hearing in mid-October. The ESDC, Ratner’s partner in the arena project, had asked the court for a hearing in September so Ratner could meet a Dec. 31 deadline for tax emempt bonds.

Curbed, Atlantic Yards Tripped Up Again

In a somewhat surprising decision, the state's highest court has decided to hear the appeal filed by Atlantic Yards opponents in the eminent domain case against New York State.

NY Politics, Atlantic Yards Eminent Domain Case To Be Heard By Court of Appeals

Willets Point United Against Eminent Domain Abuse, Appeals Court agrees to hear Atlantic Yards case

Queens Crap, Appeals Court will hear Atlantic Yards case

CastleWatch Daily, New York High Court to Consider Atlantic Yards Suit

Brownstoner, Court of Appeals Will Hear AY Eminent Domain Case

Posted by eric at 12:40 PM

State's highest court accepts eminent domain appeal; oral arguments in October, thus complicating AY end game

Atlantic Yards Report

The Atlantic Yards end game just got a whole lot more complicated.

Despite claims May 15 by Forest City Ratner CEO Bruce Ratner that the unanimous dismissal of the state eminent domain case in May "is really the last hurdle," the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, has accepted (PDF) an appeal in the case and won't hear oral arguments until the middle of October.

While eminent domain law still tilts significantly to the advantage of the condemnor, in this case the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), the court's willingness to hear it indicates that it believes the originating court, the Appellate Division, did not address some aspect of the legal argument.

Also, as Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) noted, last year half of all civil appeals were affirmed, and the other half were either reversed (about 40%) or modified (about 10%).

The case is brought by nine residential and commercial tenants and property owners in the AY footprint, and is organized and significantly funded by DDDB.

Delays in groundbreaking, arena bonds

At the very least, the appeal delays Forest City Ratner's announced plans to begin construction by October and severely narrows--but does not close--the window of opportunity to have crucial tax-exempt bonds issued by the end of the year.


Click through for a rundown of the constitutional issues in question.

NoLandGrab: The New York State Court of Appeals has just blasted a very large hole in any and all claims that legal challenges to the use of eminent domain for the Atlantic Yards project have been "frivolous."

Attorney George Locker, who represents a group of Atlantic Yards footprint rental tenants who are fighting condemnation, added this comment to Norman Oder's post:

The appeal halts all moves by ESDC to proceed with relocation and the EDPL Article 4 vesting proceeding. The project has just ground to a halt. There certainly will be no groundbreaking in 2009, and probably no groundbreaking ever. Or maybe the basketball coach sees it differently.

Posted by eric at 10:15 AM

DDDB PRESS RELEASE: Atlantic Yards Eminent Domain Case To Be Heard By New York’s High Court

Property Owners and Tenants Will Argue Their Case Against the Empire State Development Corporation In October

BROOKLYN, NY— The New York State Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state, has announced that it will hear the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case—Goldstein et al. v. N.Y. State Urban Development Corporation—in October. The owners of homes and properties targeted for seizure have argued that the use of eminent domain for the Atlantic Yards proposal violates New York State Constitution.

The appellants’ briefs are due on July 31 and the case will be argued in front of the High Court in October on a date to be scheduled. (The Court convenes for six days in mid-October.)

"We are gratified that the State’s High Court will hear this important case about whether our State’s Constitution protects the homes of its citizens from the wrecking ball of greed wielded by influential developers and the public officials who do their bidding," said Matthew Brinckerhoff, the lawyer representing the appellants. "This case provides an opportunity for the New York Court of Appeals to continue its proud tradition of interpreting this State’s Constitution in a manner that affords more protection to individual rights and liberties. We look forward to the argument in October."

The properties in question are required for developer Forest City Ratner to construct its proposed Barclays Center Arena and 16 skyscrapers.

Nine property owners and tenants, whose homes and businesses in the proposed Atlantic Yards footprint have been slated for government seizure for the megaproject proposed by developer Forest City Ratner, filed the original case. Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) organized the case, which is funded by thousands of donations from individual community members across Brooklyn and New York City.

The original case was filed in August 2008 in the Appellate Division, as required by New York State eminent domain law. The Appellate Division ruled on May 15th

Bruce Ratner told the Daily News, after that court ruling, "We're very, very happy. This is really the last hurdle that we have and now we can do what our company does best and build an arena and houses." The developer claimed he would break ground and issue the bond for his arena this fall. He has an end-of-year IRS deadline to float the bond for the arena.

"It is great news that New York's High Court will review the Atlantic Yards project’s use of eminent domain. It is a certain sign that the Court understands the seriousness of the issues my constituents have been dealing with for the past six years," said City Council Member Letitia James who represents the 35th District where the project is proposed and has been a stalwart opponent of its abuse of eminent domain.

"My co-plaintiffs and I are very excited that the Court will hear our case. It is a great day for New Yorkers concerned about abuses of power," said lead appellant and DDDB spokesman Daniel Goldstein. "We will vigorously continue to defend our rights. But New York State and Mr. Ratner have a choice: they could avoid our legal challenge by finally taking eminent domain off the table, and working to implement affordable housing over the rail yards based on the community’s development plan offered to the MTA last week—the UNITY Plan."

The appellants have asked the Court to decide:

  1. Whether the public use requirement of the NY Constitution imposes a more stringent standard for takings than does the Fifth Amendment—a question expressly preserved by the Court of Appeals in Aspen Creek Estates, Ltd. v. Brookhaven (2009), and never before considered by any court in New York;

  2. Whether the public use requirement of the NY Constitution "is satisfied when a condemning authority determines that he public benefit to be gained by forcibly appropriating citizens' homes and businesses is 'not incidental or pretextual in comparison with benefits to particular, favored private entities,"' without ever examining the nature and magnitude of the private benefit and thus failing to create any record that would allow a reviewing court to make such a determination—a question never before considered by any court in this State (and ignored by the Appellate Division in this action)";

  3. Whether, according to Article XVIII, Section 6 of the Constitution, subsidized "blight clearance" projects must be restricted to "persons of low income."

According to the 2008 annual report for the Court of Appeals about half of all civil appeals last year were affirmed, and the other half were either reversed (about 40%) or modified (about 10%).

All past case files and the Court’s letter can be downloaded at: http://www.dddb.net/eminentdomain


Posted by steve at 9:33 AM

Read the fine print: Investment analysts in bed with Forest City look positively on post-dealmaking Forest City

Atlantic Yards Report

A New York Observer piece yesterday, headlined Analysts: New Atlantic Yards Deal A 'Significant Positive' for Forest City Ratner, brought highly unsurprising news.

From the report by investment firm Keefe, Bruyette & Woods (KBW):
While many of the details have not been completely outlined publicly, we believe staging a takedown of the land and paying for the air rights portion starting in 2012 is a significant positive for Forest City. While the stretched-out takedown and payments will require a higher total outlay (implied 6.5% annual interest rate) over the 19-year period starting in 2012, this reduces current cash outlays in 2009 and near term. In addition, this means that Forest City's takedown of the additional parcels (or air rights) will be more closely matched with vertical development of stages of the project."

Who does KBW work for?

Consider analyst McGrath's concern for the public interest, when she chortled with approval when learning that FCR's Beekman Tower would, in the words of Forest City Enterprises executive Bob O'Brien, take advantage of "the beauty of the Liberty Bonds, tax-exempt rates and all market-rate units."

The report also states:
KBW either expects to receive or intends to seek compensation for investment banking services from Forest City Enterprises Inc. during the next three months. During the past 12 months, KBW acted as a manager or co-manager in an offering of equity securities of Forest City Enterprises Inc.

That's not an unusual entanglement for an investment firm, but it also gives reason to think KBW isn't inclined to be tough on Forest City.


Posted by eric at 9:33 AM

The Partnership for New York City's evolving (and misleading) support for Atlantic Yards

Atlantic Yards Report

One project booster is finding it harder to say nice things about Atlantic Yards:

The Partnership for New York City (PFNYC), which exemplifies the business community, is sure straining in its support for Atlantic Yards, dropping previous enthusiasm about Frank Gehry and affordable housing to focus on the goal of building an arena, while misleadingly suggesting that the project as it stands would generate many permanent jobs.

The PFNYC is essentially the city's Chamber of Commerce, a nonprofit membership organization with some 200 CEOs (“Partners”) from New York City’s "top corporate, investment and entrepreneurial firms."

Given that Forest City Ratner, Nets Sports & Entertainment, and Barclays Capital are among the partners, it's hardly surprising that the PFNYC supports Atlantic Yards, but testimony from PFNYC President Kathryn Wylde opening the June 22 Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Finance Committee meeting was notably thin, clocking in at half the allotted two minutes.


Posted by lumi at 5:58 AM

Ratner's bailout and the Barclays Bank subway station

The Examiner
By Bernie Mooney


While subway riders have to dig into their pocket for an extra quarter, the MTA handed Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner a multi-million dollar bailout.

For the last few years the MTA has cried poor mouth and insisted that a fare hike was needed to help their budget deficit. Yet, last Wednesday they voted to redo the Atlantic Yards deal by allowing Ratner to cough up only $20 million of the $100 million lump sum that was agreed to in 2006 for development rights to the site. The balance owed will be paid over the next 22 years.

They also relieved him of his $200 million obligation to make infrastructure improvements to the Vanderbilt rail yards in Prospect Heights.


Posted by lumi at 5:53 AM

yard work

This shot of recent work at the Vanderbilt Railyard was uploaded yesterday to the flickr Atlantic Yards Photo Pool, by photographer Tracy Collins.

Posted by lumi at 5:50 AM

Nets one step closer to Brooklyn

The Examiner
By Josh Lobdell

Talk about being "conclusory," here's a story that practically has Bruce Ratner measuring for the drapes:

The New Jersey Nets are now one step closer to a move to Brooklyn. In a move that has had more than its fair share of legal and financial problems the Nets owner Bruce Ratner cut a deal that will eventually lead to the construction of a new NBA arena on the site that was once proposed for a domed stadium for the Brooklyn Dodgers.


NoLandGrab: Some myth-busting is required here — just because Mayor Bloomberg tells people that the arena is planned for "the site that was once proposed for a domed stadium for the Brooklyn Dodgers," doesn't make it so. That site has already been developed... by Bruce Ratner for the iconic Atlantic Center mall.

Posted by lumi at 5:35 AM

Gehry Trims Staff As Projects Hit Snags

Architectural Record

Frank Gehry has trimmed his staff to "112 employees, down from 250 a year and a half ago," primarily because he is no longer working on Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards megaproject and "construction of the $3 billion Grand Avenue complex in downtown L.A. has been delayed until 2012."

But his other Ratner project, the Beekman Tower, is still on, and it is now being reported that the "building will rise 76 stories as originally designed."


Posted by lumi at 5:25 AM

Why Atlantic Yards matters

Mr. Ratner must act quickly, or it will be too late

Crain's NY Business, Editorial

Crain's justifies Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project by ignoring ever-growing public subsidies and dwindling public benefits.

It all began with a phone call from Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz to Forest City's Bruce Ratner. “You have to buy the New Jersey Nets and move them to Brooklyn,'' said Mr. Markowitz.
At the time, Mr. Ratner admits, he was clueless about professional basketball, both on the court and as a business.
Mr. Ratner was intrigued by the borough president's plea because it fit with his belief that the Atlantic Yards area, consisting mostly of a rail yard, was the perfect place to continue Brooklyn's revival.

NoLandGrab: The lie that the Atlantic Yards footprint consists "mostly of a rail yard" appeared in this weekend's NY Daily News editorial too. The railyard comprises approximately eight acres of the 22-acre project.

Also, "Atlantic Yards" is Bruce Ratner's own brand name for the project; there was no such thing as "the Atlantic Yards area" back when Ratner was pondering the project.

It is worth noting that while Forest City may wind up with a bonanza, up to now it has been a black hole.

NoLandGrab: Development company Forest City proposed a project that was tenuous at best, and now taxpayers are expected to turn a "black hole" into a "bonanza" for Bruce?

And here's Crain's flimsy justification for the project:

New York can continue to support Atlantic Yards, realize what is economically possible now and bet that the entire project can be built in the future. Or it can abandon Mr. Ratner and the project, in which case it is certain that Atlantic Yards will remain an open sore for decades to come.


NoLandGrab: Should New York support Ratner, who has consistently lied to the public and press, steadfastly refused to reveal the actual amount of subsidy required for the project, and has been disingenuous about the project timeline, on the hope that he'll eventually build the entire project?

Posted by lumi at 4:41 AM

June 29, 2009

Analysts: New Atlantic Yards Deal A 'Significant Positive’ for Forest City Ratner

NY Observer
by Eliot Brown

Well, duh!

We know Eliot Brown, who's covered this story for a few years now, isn't surprised, either. In fact, we can't imagine anyone would be surprised by this. It would only be news if the Atlantic Yards deal turned out to be even a wee bit positive for city, state and federal taxpayers.

After a renegotiation of the terms of the $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards project, financial analysts have warmed to the project.

A look at a recent rating of Forest City Enterprises by investment firm Keefe, Bruyette & Woods shows that the development company, which is the parent of Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner, seems to be making at least a little bit of a comeback. After months of tanking stock prices—the stock fell from $69 a share in early 2007 to a low of $3.26 before stabilizing around $6.50—there now is some reason for optimism with regard to Atlantic Yards.

The analysis by KBW comes after the developer renegotiated its deal with the M.T.A. last week. Now Forest City Ratner is giving the agency $20 million instead of $100 million in an upfront payment, pushing the other $80 million years down the road.

This pleased the analysts, who gave Forest City a rating of "outperform," which is better than "neutral" though less strong than "buy."

The headline really should have said "analyst," since we're only talking one firm, though two "analysts" authored the report.

The analysts, Sheila McGrath and Bill Carrier, also found it ironic that opponents of the project were in an uproar after Frank Gehry was dropped from the project, because, they write, a more functional, cheaper, and far less dazzling arena is better than more delay:

"The irony at this juncture is that the opposition is citing the delays in the project and a change of architect that should be considered as a negative to vote against Forest City and the project. If this project had not been tied up in litigation for years by the opposition, the MTA would have closed on the land for an upfront payment of $100 million several years ago, and affordable housing would already have been under construction. The litigation has increased the cost of the project and dragged timing of closing into one of the deepest recessions in decades and certainly a most difficult financing environment."

Well, duh, again. Opponents were in an uproar because Gehry's design was central to the project's selling and approval — a classic bait and switch. And analyze this: the legal strategy — if the court cases couldn't be won outright — aimed to tie up the project until it could collapse under its own weight.


Posted by eric at 6:21 PM

Public hearing set for July 29 & 30; arena due 2012, 25 years to get Phase 2 started

Atlantic Yards Report

An Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) legal notice (below; click to enlarge), which takes some three-quarters of a page in today's New York Post announces a public hearing on the Atlantic Yards Modified General Project Plan to be held from 2-5 pm and 6-8 pm on July 29 and July 30.

The location: the Klitgord Auditorium of New York City Technical College, where the epic 8/23/06 hearing on Draft Environmental Impact Statement and General Project Plan was held.

Speakers will be limited to three minutes. (Let's see if that's strictly enforced.) Comments will be accepted for 30 days after the close of the hearing. That suggests that the ESDC board will vote to approve the plan in early September.

The schedule is related to developer Forest City Ratner's need to secure tax-exempt bond financing for the arena by the end of the year. The financing would last approximately 33 years.

Time limits: 6 years, 12 years, 25 years

The hearing notice, for the first time, imposes a 25-year deadline on the project as a whole, though I read that as 25 years to get construction started, not completed. So AY indeed would take "decades," as ESDC CEO Marisa Lago has predicted.

It states that the developer "shall use commercially reasonable efforts to construct the Arena by 2012." (I've written previously that Forest City Ratner's announced 2011 opening date is dubious.) However, as stated in the State Funding Agreement, the developer has six years without penalty to complete the arena after vacant possession of the arena block.

The State Funding Agreement says the developer has 12 years without penalty to complete the buildings on the arena block after vacant possession. The legal notice states that the interim leases for the arena block will expire no later than the 12th anniversary of vacant possession. I read that as saying that construction must have begun, but not necessarily completed.


Posted by eric at 4:31 PM

In "Why Atlantic Yards matters" editorial, Crain's ignores inconvenient facts

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder offers a running correction of this week's Crain's NY Business blinders-on, error-filled editorial extolling Atlantic Yards, which is only available to subscribers, or else we'd have done the job ourselves.

We'll post the offending item if we can get our hands on it.

In an editorial headlined Why Atlantic Yards matters: Mr. Ratner must act quickly, or it will be too late, Crain's New York Business goes to bat for Forest City Ratner.

I've bolded sections for emphasis.

The editorial states:
Amid an outcry that the state and the MTA have given Forest City Ratner a sweetheart deal to keep alive its Atlantic Yards project, it's time to recall how this scheme originated and why it has such steadfast backing from responsible city and state officials. For those who are optimistic about the city's prospects, Atlantic Yards is crucial for realizing New York's potential.

The editorial closes:
New York can continue to support Atlantic Yards, realize what is economically possible now and bet that the entire project can be built in the future. Or it can abandon Mr. Ratner and the project, in which case it is certain that Atlantic Yards will remain an open sore for decades to come.

Why does Crain's, tribune of the business community, not endorse free market practices--an appraisal, an effort to seek new bidders--but rather embrace a "market of one"? Why does Crain's not even endorse the RPA's desire to harness the upside?

And why does Crain's call a working railyard "an open sore," and treat the railyard as a substitute for the site itself, which just happens to be bounded by a new historic district?


Posted by eric at 4:09 PM

MTA’s Change of Ratner Deal would Violate State Law without Independent Appraisal

Hot Indie News

[Assemblymember Jim] Brennan said the failure to include an independent appraisal prior to voting on the proposal violated the Public Authorities Accountability Act of 2005, which specifically requires that a public authority like the MTA conduct an independent appraisal prior to disposing of its property to assure fair market value to be paid for assets of public authorities.

Brennan said the purpose of the statute was to prevent public authorities from squandering assets in giveaways to the private sector.

Brennan said it was likely the MTA was squandering its assets to the detriment of the mass transit system, since in 2005 another bidder on the arena site and rail yards, the Extell Corporation, had already offered the MTA more money than what became the agreement between Forest City Ratner and the MTA at that time.

Brennan said the likelihood that the arena project was a boondoggle was substantial, since the New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO) has already testified at a hearing of the State Senate Corporations Committee on May 29^th that a preliminary updated review of the costs and benefits of the arena showed that city and state outlays for the project would exceed positive tax revenues from the project even over a 30-year period.

The NYC Independent Budget Office has agreed to undertake a further review of the Atlantic Yards Arena and possibly other aspects of the project, following a request last week from Brennan and five other elected officials representing the site and surrounding areas.

Brennan indicated that an independent appraisal of the site was essential prior to the MTA signing off on a deal. Brennan chairs the Assembly Cities Committee and is a senior member of the Assembly Standing Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions.


Posted by eric at 3:51 PM

Brooklyn Broadside: Keeping Pace with Albany, Adultery and Atlantic Yards

Brooklyn Daily Eagle
by Dennis Holt

If someone can get used coffee cups or fingernail clippings or hair samples from Dennis Holt and the Park Slope Courier's Stephen Witt, we'd like to conduct a CSI-style DNA test to establish paternity. 'Cause you certainly can't chalk up all the similarities to cluelessness.

But closer to home, we have the continuing saga of the fate of the Atlantic Yards project. The day that the MTA was to agree to a revised scope and financials for the rail yards part, Develop Don’t Destroy came along with a straight face and offers $120 million to replace Forest City Ratner.

The first question people asked was where did this “pass-the-hat-crowd” get the money? It turns out, the group doesn’t have the money: the sum would come from developers given the right to replace Forest City.

Actually, the first question people asked was "where is Ratner going to get the money?" DDDB, unlike the would-be Atlantic Yards developer, relies 100% on private donations. Ratner, on the other hand, counts on hundreds of millions, if not billions, in taxpayer-funded subsidies.

The plan these developers would have to follow doesn’t include an arena, and what really happened this week was nothing more than a replay of what happened just before the decision to accept the Forest City plan was made.

It’s like watching a bad movie that keeps being edited with new players all saying the same thing.

Couldn't have said it better ourselves, except Holt is talking about us and we're talking about Forest City. More hat-passing by Ratner? Check. More supportive "testimony" by entities that benefit financially if Atlantic Yards gets built? Check. More pre-cooked public giveaways given cover by phony public "hearings?" Check.

Knowing the track record of Develop Don’t Destroy, expect some monkey wrenches to be tossed around.

We know you are but what are we?


NoLandGrab: Far be it for Holt to treat any Forest City, ESDC or MTA action or statement with even a trace of incredulity.

Posted by eric at 3:30 PM

It came from the Blogosphere...

Joshing Politics, Markowitz...And Atlantic Yards Gets A Challenge

Borough President can be seen as a largely ceremonial job with no real duties but in Brooklyn this year, voters are going to be presented with a real choice for the office. Marty Markowitz is an affable guy, gets plenty of laughs and is generally well liked. Yet his hearty support for Bruce Ratner and the Atlantic Yards development is loathed by Brooklynites that wish to preserve their home and not let an obnoxious developer dictate what is blighted and what is not.

The Daily News recently started a "throw the bums out" campaign in response to the State Senate debacle. However, that "party" can be extended to local government and unfortunately, Markowitz is just another bum, despite the persona. I wish Myrick the best of luck in his race and hope that when Brooklyn goes to the polls, that they punish Markowitz for his collusion and install Myrick to give the borough a real chance for change.

Noticing New York, Is New York Coming or Growing? The Bloomberg Administration Is of Little Mind

If New York City's population will grow to nine million people by 2030, as the Bloomberg administration claims, why then, Michael D.D. White wonders, is the Mayor shrinking our infrastructure, such as with Bruce Ratner's undersized replacement railyard and the disappearing Coney Island amusement zone?

Just what does the Bloomberg administration have on its little mind? Does it think that New York will grow and will it then plan for growth accordingly? Or is the Bloomberg administration planning for a shrinking New York? We think we can perceive some unfortunate consistency in the Bloomberg administration’s inconsistent answers.

Brownstoner, Historic District and AY: Like Pieces of a Puzzle

This map that Tracy Collins put together for the Atlantic Yards Report last week caught our eye but we didn't have room to fit it in at the end of the week. It very nicely summarizes how the newly-designated Prospect Heights Historic District overlays with the footprint of Forest City Ratner's proposed Atlantic Yards project. Cozy!

NoLandGrab: "Cozy" yes, but "overlays" no. The historic district is carved out by the footprint of the Ratner project.

Nets Daily, Final ESDC Hearing on Barclays Center Skedded for July 29-30

New York’s Empire State Development Corp. has scheduled hearings July 29-30 on Bruce Ratner’s revised plans for the Barclays Center and Atlantic Yards project. It’s anticipated that the ESDC will move soon after to approve the project. Ratner needs the approval–and a favorable ruling from the Court of Appeals–before he can market a half billion dollars in arena bonds.

Third String Safety, Jay-Z Can Save the Nets

Bruce Ratner is having difficulty supporting his franchise in flux. Reports have surfaced stating that Ratner is looking for other investors to help him manage the cost of the New Jersey Nets. A couple of outsiders have been rumored as possibilities, but someone who is already on the inside could be the best man for the job.

Shawn Carter, better known as Jay-Z, is part owner of the Nets and may hold the key to their future, both on and off the court. His particular celebrity status has the innate ability to change the face of the Nets.

NoLandGrab: Unless Mr. Z can hit a three in the final two minutes of NBA games, its unlikely he'll be the savior.

Nets Daily, Thorn: “We’re in Position to Sign Two Maxed Out Players in 2010″

In a 45-minute conference call, Rod Thorn told season ticket holders he expects the Nets to be “$27 to $30 million under the cap” in 2010, permitting them “if we so choose, to sign two maxed-out players”. Thorn didn’t rule moves this summer. He denied Bruce Ratner forced him to trade Vince Carter, adding it’s a “terrible spot to be in when you have a star in the later stages of his career and not a good team.”

Posted by eric at 2:32 PM


NY Post
by Rich Calder

An East New York activist is trying to parlay the contempt many Brooklynites have for the embattled Atlantic Yards project into unseating Marty Markowitz as borough president.

Eugene Myrick, 37, recently became the first candidate to announce he's challenging the powerful two-time incumbent on the Democratic line in this September's primary. The underdog has yet to raise a cent but is already seeing a groundswell of support.

And it's mostly over Myrick opposing Bruce Ratner's $4.9 billion project to bring an NBA arena and 16 residential and office towers to Prospect Heights while Markowitz is widely considered its biggest booster.

The challenger -- who runs a bridal website with his wife, ex-Kiss-FM deejay Kesha Monk - told the Post he's upset with "sweetheart" cost-saving deals cut last week by the state and MTA to bail out Atlantic Yards and ripped Markowitz for openly supporting it.

He also pointed out a Post investigation last October that found Ratner since 2003 funneled more than $680,000 to nonprofits set up by Markowitz to run pet projects and said the beep "is obviously indebted to the developer."


NoLandGrab: With Republican Beep candidate Marc D'Ottavio criticizing Markowitz for not supporting Atlantic Yards enough, it's clear that Eugene Myrick has the anti-boondoggle vote all to himself.

Posted by eric at 1:46 PM

Yards supporters outnumber foes

Park Slope Courier
by Stephen Witt

Project booster Stephen Witt reports, in laughable fashion, from some parallel universe on last weeks MTA and ESDC hearings. We'll be taking up a collection to buy Mr. Witt a book on statistics, probability and sampling. And Norman Oder does some remediation work below.

The Empire State Development Corporation and MTA public meetings last week regarding the Atlantic Yards project highlighted once again how Brooklynites in support of the project far outnumbers opponents.

At the ESDC hearing before the vote to approve a modified General Project Plan, 40 members of the public gave comment with 31 speaking in favor of the project.

This group represented all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, while opponents were mainly white and⁄or property owners.

Ergo, the Atlantic Yards project is mostly loved, except by a handful of white people facing the prospect of having their homes seized. Mr. Witt forgot to add "gentrifying," "rich" and "interlopers," too, which would further help make his case.

Others spoke how even President Barack Obama realizes that economic stimulus is needed.

Why, the President practically endorsed the project himself. Did we mention the Prez enjoys a game of hoops now and then?

This outpouring of support did not stop opponent organization Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn and its spokesperson Daniel Goldstein from offering up a threats of new litigation.

Witt forgets to mention that the "outpouring of support" also came from paid and/or interested parties, like construction unions and Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development, which is funded, mostly or fully, by Forest City.

Goldstein also offered a counter proposal of $120 million for the parcel during the public speaking session of the MTA hearing.

Under this “Unity Plan,” the eight−acre MTA Vanderbilt Yards section of the site would be divided and developed as individual parcels and not include an arena.

This "Unity Plan" is actually called the Unity Plan, no quotation marks necessary.


Atlantic Yards Report, And how did the Courier-Life's Witt twist last week's news? With a head count

A little dose of truth serum from Atlantic Yards Report.

However, a companion article, headlined Yards supporters outnumber foes, showed Witt's uncanny ability to twist the news....

Witt somehow treats the decision of 31 people, most associated with organizations that profit from (or stand to profit from) the alliance with Bruce Ratner/Atlantic Yards arena, to testify at one board meeting--not a public hearing--during work hours as a definitive indication of community sentiment.

He neglects the fact that the issue before the MTA board was not the project itself, but whether it should renegotiate the sale of the Vanderbilt Yard into what even his own newspaper calls a "sweetheart deal."

In other words, their testimony about the virtues of the project was irrelevant. Sure, development brings jobs, but the MTA is a transportation agency.

Also, no elected officials (other than a rep for) Borough President Marty Markowitz spoke in favor of the MTA bailout, while four spoke against it. Also calling for caution were the Straphangers Campaign, the Regional Plan Association, and the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA--all organizations that represent far more people than the individuals/groups Witt cites.

Posted by eric at 1:23 PM

MTA Atlantic Yards bailout: post fare-hike edition

Noticing New York, Naming a Problem: The MTA Gives Ratner the Right to Name Brooklyn Subway Stations "Barclays"

Michael D.D. White raises a whole host of issues with the MTA's sale of station-naming rights to Barclays and Forest City, including whether the sum the MTA will receive is remotely adequate, the breakneck speed with which the deal was struck, and how the MTA board members raised nary a question.

How did the MTA negotiate handing Ratner the right to put the Barclay name on New York’s Brooklyn transit hub subway stations? WNYC reports that the MTA’s Gary Dellaverson, the MTA’’s Chief Financial Officer, explained: “We kinda felt our way into it.” That may be an understatement: Even as the MTA’s board meeting to approve the deal was underway, an MTA staffer was in the hallway outside the meeting on his cell phone trying to find out exactly what the deal was and what the board in the room next door should be told about it. When the board bothered to ask, it was clarified that the right to have the Barclays name on the subway station did not extend to the right to have the Barclay name on the interconnecting Long Island Railroad Station/Terminal. (Could it then still be named something else?) There were obviously a lot of other questions the board should also have been asking.

Advertising Age, Cash-Strapped Cities Turn to Marketers for Help

What's next? Will iconic American locales such as Route 66 or treasured public institutions such as the Smithsonian be up for grabs?

Actually, yes.

The MTA deal has gotten other New York agencies thinking. Selling naming rights is "not something that we've aggressively pursued in the past," said a spokesman for the New York Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. "But given the economic realities, it's something we're taking a closer look at."

NY Daily News, Voice of the People for June 29, 2009 [Scroll down]

Time on his side

Staten Island: Where do the city and MTA get off giving Bruce Ratner a break ("Yards upfront price chop," June 25). The MTA says it has no cash so there has to be a higher fare, but Ratner doesn't have to pay up for 21 years. Let the fare hike take place in 21 years.

Michael Scafiddi

Atlantic Yards Report, MIA again: The Times editorial page on the MTA's bailout of Ratner (except for the naming rights deal)

And it was not surprising, alas, that the New York Times editorial page was again missing in action regarding the deal as a whole, though today it offered a critical but essentially tangential editorial opposing the deal to add the name "Barclays Center" to the Atlantic Avenue/Pacific Street station.

Of course, the Times is unlikely to write anything that would fundamentally threaten the interests of Forest City Ratner, business partner of the parent New York Times Company in the Times Tower. After all, as editorial writer Carolyn Curiel has said, "Our goal is to reflect the spirit of the Times and the opinion of the publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr."

The same thing occurred last week.

In doing so, the Times went against the interests of not merely the Atlantic Yards opposition but the Straphangers Campaign, which represents a broad cross-section of New Yorkers and warned of a "rush to judgment," and even the AY-supporting Regional Plan Association, which, while not denouncing a dubious process, at least made the reasonable point that the deal should be retooled to give the MTA a greater share of future revenues.

Contrast in the past

And the Times's silence was glaring, when contrasted with a somewhat parallel situation in 1994, when the newspaper repeatedly editorialized against renegotiating a deal with a developer:
After so many years of delay, there is no need to rush into a sweetheart deal. The property will still be there in a few years. A rebounding economy will likely increase its value. It is wiser to walk away than stumble into a giveaway.

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, Times Misses Forest for Trees

Uhm, no, it is not a "goodly sum," it is a badly sum. And this is a non-issue, especially in relation to the MTA's bailout of Ratner.

Park Slope Courier, Bruce Ratner seals sweetheart deal with MTA

Project booster Stephen Witt reports, more or less straightforwardly, on last week's developments.

Next stop, Atlantic Avenue Barclay’s Center − home of yoooour Brooklyn Nets!

Both the Empire State Development Corporation and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority last week did their part in furthering along the 22−acre Atlantic Yards project, which includes bringing the borough its first major professional team since the Dodgers left Brooklyn.

2nd Ave. Sagas, Times kinda sorta supports naming rights deal

Posted by eric at 10:28 AM

As Arenas Sprout, a Scramble to Keep Them Filled

The NY Times
By Charles V. Bagli

...those who study sporting facilities say empty seats may become even more commonplace here, as New York faces a glut of sports arenas.
At least two of the existing arenas already lose money, and experts say further casualties are almost guaranteed.

The article takes account of the existing and planned arenas — Bruce Ratner's Barclays Center, Newark's Prudential Center, the Izod Center in the Meadowlands, the Nassau Coliseum, and Madison Square Garden — and explains how each, especially Ratner's arena, is hoping to cannibalize the others.


Atlantic Yards Report, The Times's "arena glut" story suggests Barclays Center is on the way, marginalizes IBO's analysis as the work of "critics'

An article in today's New York Times, headlined As Arenas Sprout, a Scramble to Keep Them Filled, makes some valuable points, including the money-losing (Newark) Prudential Center's need to attract the Nets and/or have the Izod Center close down, but deserves several footnotes, since it in some places frames the Barclays Center too generously.
The Times skates over an important issue:

The competition in the New York area is not just for fans and performers, but also for public subsidies, corporate sponsors and well-heeled tenants for luxury suites.

More importantly, the Times neglects to question whether, given the glut of arenas, federal tax-payers, via tax-exempt bonds, should subsidize a new arena to tune of $100 million-plus.

Also of great importance is that this article undermines the report, authored by Andrew Zimbalist and commissioned and released by Bruce Ratner, that predicted that a new Nets arena would be a net gain for the public, provided that it would "host 224 events during the year (assuming the eventual closing of CAA, no new arena in Newark, no NHL and no minor league hockey events at the Atlantic Yards arena.)"

Crain's NY Business, Top Row

The Yanks are filling a smaller share of home-game seats, vs. 90.7% in "08, though their new home holds fewer fans.

Trailing the pack of local pro teams, Bruce Ratner's NJ Nets reportedly only filled 75.8% of their seats during the 2008-09 season.

Posted by lumi at 5:55 AM

Video: MTA official say FCR's arena plans were "principal driver" of "cramped" timing for board to vote on revised deal

Atlantic Yards Report

It's all on tape. According to CFO Gary Dellaverson, MTA staff had to work over the weekend to hammer out the bailout of Atlantic Yards, so developer Bruce Ratner can issue the bond to finance the arena by the end of this year to take advantage of a federal tax loophole that has since been closed.

"I think that, in terms of why must it be now in the summer versus in the fall, I think that really relates to Forest City's desire to market their bonds as a tax-exempt issuance [by a December 31 deadline]. If the structure... is not such that allows for the marketability of the bonds, then the financial aspect of the transaction, as it relates to arena construction expenses that Forest City Ratner would incur, become less viable and perhaps not viable. That's not something that I'm prepared to say from my own knowledge... but I would be remiss if I suggested anything other--that's the principal driver of the timing."


NoLandGrab: In short, the MTA had to work weekends to get this deal done so that Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner can issue the bond to finance the arena by the end of this year to take advantage of a federal tax loophole that has since been closed.

Posted by lumi at 5:38 AM

Atlantic Yards YES! Transit Riders NO!!

The MTA claimed the fare hike that went into effect on Sunday was necessary to plug the gaping hole in the transit authority's budget. Just last week the MTA negotiated a huge discount to Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner.

Thank you cards can be sent to Governor Paterson, Mayor Bloomberg and their representatives on the MTA board.

NY Daily News, Subway riders feel MTA is taking them for ride as fare hiked to $2.25

"You shouldn't raise the fare if you're not going to increase service," said Emmanuel Louis, a 28-year-old hotel clerk from Brooklyn. "It's just not fair."

NoLandGrab: The MTA just approved developer Bruce Ratner's plan, which will shrink the capacity of the Vanderbilt railyard. That's a decrease in system infrastructure to go along with an increase in fares.

NY Newsday, NYC transit fare increase goes into effect

A fare hike that takes the price of a subway ride from $2 to $2.25 has gone into effect.
The MTA was poised to raise fares by twice as much before the state Legislature approved a bailout.

NoLandGrab: And then the MTA, in turn, bailed out Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project.

WCBSTV.com, Straphangers Not Happy With MTA Fare Hikes

Although not as steep as the draconinan hikes threatened earlier this year, a fare hike is a fare hike and straphangers were not happy about shelling out more for less.

Fares for subways and buses and shot up ten percent.

NY1, Straphangers Brace For MTA Fare Hike

Posted by lumi at 5:16 AM

Forest City in the News

The Cleveland Leader, How Hypocritical Can Sam Miller Get Before We Laugh Him Out of Town

Forest City Enterprises co-chairman and Treasurer Sam Miller says he’s willing to donate to the Cleveland libraries if budget cuts are made by the State of Ohio. Sam says that he will donate to keep libraries in poor areas open if the cuts are made.

Cleveland's watchdog journalist Roldo Bartimole explains how, Forest City Enterprises depends on reductions in property and sales tax to keep the company's projects fiscally viable. As these reductions starve local municipalities of the tax revenue used to provide basic services, the budget gap is made up by suckers who pay their full share of taxes, with Forest City occasionally tossing around some bread crumbs.

Associated Press, via CBS2.com, Las Vegas Mayor Losing Support For City Hall Plans

Another Forest City Enterprises politically backed boondoggle may be fizzling out. This time the local unions are against the project:

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman's visions of a revitalized downtown may be in trouble as he loses support for a new city hall.

A re-imagined downtown with two new casinos, busy office towers and a mass transit line can't happen without a new hall, Goodman says.
Goodman is hoping to finance the project using bonds that are based on the city making annual lease payments on the new building. City officials estimated the cost of the city hall at $150 million last year.
The plan Goodman backs would give developer Forest City Enterprises a parcel to build a hotel-casino in part for building the new city hall. The current city hall and an adjacent 12 acres owned by the city would then be put up for development.

Posted by lumi at 4:58 AM

June 28, 2009

Where Geography Matters

The New York Times, Editorial

The Times opines against — sort of — the selling of subway-station naming-rights to Barclays.

After five years of trying, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has sold the naming rights to a subway station. As of 2012 the M.T.A. will add the name Barclays to the Brooklyn station currently known as Atlantic Avenue-Pacific Street.

Yes, Barclays as in the British bank. Or more to the point, as in the British bank that bought the naming rights to the sports arena being built as part of the Atlantic Yards project. The buyer in this case is Forest City Ratner, the developer for Atlantic Yards. It will pay $200,000 a year for 20 years.

We know that is a goodly sum and times are very tough for the M.T.A. But there’s reason to be skeptical about all of this, which probably explains why it took so long to sell even this one.

The names of subway stations are beautifully utilitarian just as they are, shifting only as rapidly as the streets above them shift. The names of their sponsors are likely to shift with the economic climate, and somehow adding a name like Barclays to what is, after all, a public transit station — in Brooklyn — feels even more dissonant.


NoLandGrab: The Times remains silent, however, on the MTA's sell-out of straphangers for Forest CIty's benefit. And whoops — they must've forgotten that the very same company is their business partner.

Posted by eric at 11:17 PM

Another Word on Franchise Ownership – Beware the Real Estate Mogul


The first point specifically targets owners who try to use sports teams as pawns in a real estate project. Bruce Ratner is playing out this same game with the New Jersey Nets. He bought the team with the sole purpose of creating a mammoth development in Brooklyn with an arena, apartment buildings, and retail. The focus has been on his project, not the team for the past 5 years, as he has battled court cases, had his staff strike landmark sponsorship deals, hired and then fired a well-known architect, and for better or worse stirred controversy. Meanwhile, the team was forced to cut expenses and trade its best players, and is losing over $40 million a year. Admittedly, they probably needed to make the trades and start over from a player development perspective, but the franchise is in a holding pattern. Everything centers around “when the Nets move to Brooklyn” – the free agents will come, fans will come, profits will come.

The deal may never happen. Ratner reportedly wants to sell, another indication it will never happen. If that’s the case, they are stuck in the Meadowlands losing boat loads of money and have basically lost the last 5 years when they could have addressed the situation because Ratner was trying to leverage the team for a project to benefit his business.

Owners with real estate motives destroy franchises, then leave the problem to the next person. The franchise suffers, the league suffers, the fans suffer, and the players probably suffer. Given their control over the situation, leagues should recognize this type of deal and either prevent it or put stipulations in that prevent an owner from leveraging a franchise for real estate, ruining the team in the process, then walking out on it. The leagues should blame themselves – and do something about it.


NoLandGrab: He means you, David Stern.

Posted by eric at 11:10 PM

Daily News Sunday Sampler

On NBA draft night, rich (Magic, Cavs) get richer . . . and so do Knicks!

OK, OK, but what about the Nets?

Anybody know why Ratner still owns this team? Once Ratner decided he had to cut back on players' salaries, due to yet another season of heavy financial losses, he returned the Nets to the land of losers. They could be have-nots for a while.

Fans didn't exactly flock to the Meadowlands this past season to see Carter. Now they're going to break the doors down to see Courtney Lee, Rafer Alston and Tony Battie? Doubtful.

With the Carter deal, the Nets have opened more cap space for a run at free agents in 2010. But it remains to be seen if a single marquee player will commit to playing in New Jersey or Brooklyn or any place else Ratner has in mind.

Nets trade Vince Carter much to coach Lawrence Frank's chagrin

NOT FOR SALE? Four different groups are making offers to buy the Nets, including one headed by current minority owner Vincent Viola, according to si.com. But while not ruling out the possibility of a sale, Nets CEO Brett Yormark said interest in buying the team has increased only because of the team's impending move to Brooklyn and not because majority owner Bruce Ratner is looking to unload it.

"The current ownership group remains committed to the Nets and to Brooklyn and the Barclays Center," Yormark said.

Posted by eric at 10:54 PM

Atlantic Yards Report Sunday Sampler

When the MTA's Hemmerdinger called the AY arena a "public good," he was fantasizing

A humdinger from Hemmerdinger.

"And I think, in this economy, jobs and an arena in Brooklyn is a public good.”--Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger, June 24

I suspect Hemmerdinger meant that an arena in Brooklyn was a "good thing for the public," rather than a public good.

NoLandGrab: We suspect that by "public," Hemmerdinger, who has made his fortune in real estate, meant "Ratner."

The Bloomberg and Ratner dodge on indirect subsidies for Atlantic Yards

For months, Mike Bloomberg had been saying the gravy train for Atlantic Yards had run off the rails. And then what happened? His boys on the MTA board voted another sweetheart deal for Bruce Ratner. What gives?

Flashback, 2004

Shortly after the project was announced, in January 2004, Bloomberg, asked about government support for the project, claimed:
Fundamentally, the answer to your question is: this will be done with private money, and any city monies of any meaningful size will be debt issues financed by the extra tax revenues that come from this. So, we’re not going to have to divert money from education, or police or fire or any other part of the city to do this. No. It is private money in that sense.

Along with "police" and "fire," he might have mentioned "mass transit."

NLG: Best-case scenario? Bloomberg's stupid. Worst-case? He's a liar. Even worst-er? He pulled the plug on term limits.

Posted by eric at 9:14 PM

How did Barclays sign that naming-rights deal?

The Brooklyn Paper
By Cristian Fleming

Posted by steve at 8:12 AM

June 27, 2009

Reaction to Daily News Editorial

Today's Daily News editorial, "Build, Bruce, build: Developer Ratner presses ahead on Atlantic Yards" brought immediate reaction from the blogs Queens Crap (The Daily News editorial board smokes crack) and Atlantic Yards Report (Daily News disses straphangers, endorses Ratner bailout). Below is each point of the Daily News editorial followed by each blogger's reaction:

Bully to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for making a deal that keeps the Atlantic Yards development alive in Brooklyn. And bully to builder Bruce Ratner for hanging in there to get the project done.

AYR: It doesn't keep the development alive. It keeps the arena (and one building) alive. Ratner, who was willing to pause construction on the Beekman Tower in Lower Manhattan to renegotiate more favorable terms with unions, was not so much "hanging in there" but gaining the benefit of an agency run by a governor and mayor unwilling to challenge him.

QC: Bully? More like bullshit. The guy came in with a lower bid that for some strange reason was accepted by the MTA and is now scaling back every aspect of what he promised while the MTA is currently up shit's creek and forcing riders to pony up more money at the turnstile.

After five years, the defeat of 23 lawsuits and an economic meltdown, he is pushing to start the $4 billion development's first component: an 18,000-seat arena, home to the Nets and a major entertainment venue.

AYR: Or, alternatively, he's desperate to start before the December 31 deadline for tax-exempt bonds.

QC: The lawsuits aren't over yet. And the city needs this like we need a hole in our heads.

The plan then envisions construction of 6,400 apartments (35% of them deemed affordable), a school and a health care center, amid 8 acres of open space. This good stuff would be located primarily on land that has been vacant for decades, including a Long Island Rail Road yard.

AYR: "Primarily" is a weasel word. The railyard has always been used as a railyard--and still would be used as such. Only recently did the rise in property value make it feasible to deck over railyards. As for the rest of the properties, most haven't been vacant for decades. Some have been vacant only since Forest City Ratner bought them and razed them.

The school would be built by the School Construction Authority.

QC: Huh? They do realize that much of that 8 acres of open space was bulldozed and that there are still several buildings in the footprint of the planned development, right? Here's a map of a walking tour of the area. And the rest of the space is and always has been an active railyard... Vacant?

But financing is not as available as it was a few years ago. The MTA board wisely voted to let Ratner pay $100 million over time for the rights to build above the yards, rather than demand a lump sum. With interest, the agency comes out whole.

AYR: Comes out whole? What about the generous 6.5% interest rate? The $100 million loss (and savings to Ratner) on the new permanent yard? The temporary yard that would linger twice as long as projected?

QC: Does anyone not smoking crack seriously believe that? Especially when Bruce asks for more money every time you turn around and this very paper reported that the arena would be a big money loser?

Ratner will now seek private financing for the arena. His bankers hope to raise the money by the end of the year. Wouldn't that be nice for Brooklyn?

AYR: "Private financing" would be tax-exempt financing, with Ratner likely saving more than $100 million thanks to federal subsidies. The "end of the year" deadline drove the breakneck pace for this deal, in which the MTA board had all of two days to consider it. The newspaper somehow ignores that the New York City Independent Budget now says the arena would be a money-loser for the city.

QC: No, it wouldn't. The plan calls for eminent domain abuse, would put some parts of Brooklyn in 24-hour darkness, create a clusterfuck of traffic, and build an entire new neighborhood full of "superblocks" in the middle of low-rise areas. And those are just the things I can think of at 6am off the top of my head.

Posted by steve at 8:39 AM

In Bruce We Don't Trust.

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

Are the Nets for sale? Of course they are!

Just days after Ratner panhandled the MTA and hoodwinked the ESDC, it appears that Ratner (who just traded his most expensive player and biggest star Vince Carter), claiming he is bringing the Nets to Brooklyn, is trying to unload his money hemorrhaging team on minority owner Vince Viola to move it to Brooklyn. But surely Ratner's gotta be hedging other bets and shopping the team to buyers who'd move the team elsewhere should the Atlantic Yards Barclays Center Hangar fall through.

What does it all add up to? What we've been saying all along: Ratner bought the Nets as leverage to control 22 acres in the heart of Brooklyn. But if he can't get the Nets to Brooklyn, then Vince Viola doesn't want 'em. And if he can't get the Nets to Brooklyn, he can't have those 22 acres.


Posted by steve at 8:33 AM

Atlantic Yards Tottering

Castle Watch Daily

Despite recent moves by the MTA and ESDC to sweeten the sweetheart deal with Prospect Heights blighter Bruce Ratner, this article explains how the proposed Atlantic Yards project is far from a "done deal".

The Atlantic Yards project is inching towards total collapse even as it continues to be propped up on dozens of gigantic government-sponsored crutches. One of those crutches includes eminent domain, but the problems facing the Forest City Ratner redevelopment project won’t be fixed by condemnations.

When megadeveloper Bruce Ratner bought the Nets he pledged not only to move the NBA team out of New Jersey and into Brooklyn but also build an entire neighborhood around his proposed arena. The neighborhood was to be designed by celebrity architect Frank Gehry and was to include thousands of units of affordable housing. Ratner apparently did not think the fact that a neighborhood already existed at Atlantic Yards would matter too much. And he had good reason to believe so, due to New York’s horrendous eminent domain laws, which makes it nearly impossible for property owners to have an opportunity to defend what rightfully belongs them. However, the community in Brooklyn, led by resident Daniel Goldstein, has tried every possible legal argument in the courts to overcome Ratner’s use of state power for his own personal benefit.


The ESDC this week, as expected, approved the revised plans. However, Ratner’s cost-cutting measures seem to have been a quixotic adventure, as the costs of the project have increased by nearly another billion to $4.9 billion. And some local officials think that the promised affordable housing may go the way of Frank Gehry, too.

State and local officials continue to scramble to approve various measures because they’re on a deadline. If Ratner does not sell $586 million in bonds for the arena by the end of the year, those bonds lose their IRS tax exemption. Without the ability to obtain the tax-exempt financing the project could finally collapse.


Posted by steve at 8:15 AM

"Fair market value," from 2004 to 2009

Atlantic Yards Report

[F]or the land, the public land, the MTA land, is that, what we have agreed to is that we will lease or buy that land at the fair market value... by whatever independent process that they normally use. --Forest City Ratner executive Jim Stuckey, New York City Council hearing, 5/4/04 (transcript)

Below are some quotes from the MTA board meeting on Wednesday in which the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) agreed to let Forest City Ratner pay $20 million down for the Vanderbilt Yard, and pay the rest of the pledged $80 million over 22 years, at a generous interest rate.

The developer also would save $100 million on a cheaper permanent replacement railyard. There was no consideration of a last-minute offer of $120 million by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, no attempt to get an appraisal, no effort to test the market, and not even an acknowledgment of the Regional Plan Association's (RPA) proposal that the MTA get a cut of future project revenues.

“The market is what the market is.”--board member Jeff Kay, an appointee of Mayor Mike Bloomberg

“How can you sell off a valuable public asset without considering market value?”--City Council Member Letitia James

“It is likely to be years before the market recovers enough to attract new developers.”--Neysa Pranger of the Regional Plan Association

"I believe the only issue facing me as a board member is whether or not I believe... whether MTA was getting fair market value for its property."--board member Mitchell Pally, representing Suffolk County

“But there is no other market. No one else has come forward with a credible proposal at this time, and we should take advantage of that.”--Jeff Kay

"The most sensible course now is for the city to find out anew the market value of this property, and that cannot be accomplished through negotiations with one bidder."--New York Times editorial (1994)


Posted by steve at 8:08 AM

New Jersey Nets creating new identity in wake of Vince Carter trade

The Star Ledger
By Dave D'Alessandro

This article looks at what some of the team-building possibilities might be for the New Jersey Nets. The most interesting part is in the "Notes" section at the bottom of the article that show the difficulty team owner and blight-inducer Bruce Ratner continues to have in moving his team to Brooklyn.

The worst-kept secret in the NBA is that Nets owner Bruce Ratner needs investors to defray his operating costs, as the team has lost upwards of $35 million every year he's owned it. SI.com listed two viable candidates Friday: Brooklyn investor Vinny Viola, and Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov.

The team did not deny that Ratner needs help getting the team to Brooklyn, but CEO Brett Yormark would only confirm that "we have received interest from potential investors" and "that interest is growing as it is clear that we are moving to Brooklyn."


Posted by steve at 7:46 AM

Deciphering Words of a (Campaigning) Bloomberg on Atlantic Yards: “Enough Already” Means, “Bruce, We Have Another $180 Million Plus To Give You!'

Noticing New York

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg publicly states that there will be no more public subsidies for the proposed Atlantic Yards project, and then pushes through more goodies for blight-inducing developer Bruce Ratner via the MTA.

It says a lot about the unpopularity of Atlantic Yards that, even though Bloomberg has a seeming lock on a third term as mayor (given his extraordinary ability to spend on his campaign, mobilizing perhaps a half billion toward that end), Bloomberg still deems it politically prudent to disguise and downplay his support for Atlantic Yards.

Ergo, the mayor has basically been dishonest. Case in point? We offer to decipher Mr. Bloomberg’s words. Just weeks ago Bloomberg told the press it was time to turn off the spigot and that no additional public funds should be poured into Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards. What did Bloomberg really mean? He meant that he was about to ram through a deal to give his friend Bruce Ratner more than another $180 million out of the public till.

On Wednesday, May 20th the mayor reportedly “dashed Ratner’s hopes for more” money than the “$230 million for infrastructure and land-acquisition costs” the city is putting up for the project. (See: May 21, 2009, Bloomy to Bruce: Enough already, by Mike McLaughlin, The Brooklyn Paper.) This is actually, a typical understatement of the acknowledged cost to the public of the proposed Atlantic Yards. Its true total cost needs to be calculated in terms of billions.


That was May 20th. On May 29th it was revealed that a deal was in the works to give millions more, what turns out to be more than $180 million more, to Ratner. That day at hearings on the Atlantic Yards held by State Senator Bill Perkins it was disclosed that there was a deal proposed for substantial additional giveaways to Ratner. Seth Pinsky, president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (who works for Bloomberg) participated in presenting the parameters of the package of handouts to Ratner and it was announced then that the MTA’s board would be addressing the handouts at its June 24, 2009 meeting. Indeed, that meeting where the MTA, in fact, did approve the handouts occurred this past Wednesday, just as then disclosed.

Consistent with what was indicated on May 29th, the MTA at that Wednesday meeting approved the more than $180 million in giveaways for Ratner (without any corresponding givebacks, quid pro quos or return obligations from Ratner. In fact, the MTA went so far as to relieve Ratner of obligations to build anything other than the arena and extended to Ratner a low-cost, very long-term option on developing the rest of- the bulk of- the site. That is a blight-inducing (not blight-preventing) decision on the MTA’s part.


Posted by steve at 7:27 AM

Build, Bruce, build: Developer Ratner presses ahead on Atlantic Yards

Daily News

This editorial advocates for building Atlantic Yards, but doesn't actually say why that would be a good idea.

Bully to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for making a deal that keeps the Atlantic Yards development alive in Brooklyn. And bully to builder Bruce Ratner for hanging in there to get the project done.

In trying to force a boondoggle at taxpayer expense, yes the MTA and Ratner are bullies.

After five years, the defeat of 23 lawsuits and an economic meltdown, he is pushing to start the $4 billion development's first component: an 18,000-seat arena, home to the Nets and a major entertainment venue.

The plan then envisions construction of 6,400 apartments (35% of them deemed affordable), a school and a health care center, amid 8 acres of open space. This good stuff would be located primarily on land that has been vacant for decades, including a Long Island Rail Road yard. But financing is not as available as it was a few years ago. The MTA board wisely voted to let Ratner pay $100 million over time for the rights to build above the yards, rather than demand a lump sum. With interest, the agency comes out whole.

Wow, where to start... The proposed project is to be built in phases. Just about all of the above-mentioned benefits wouldn't happen until Phase 2. Nobody can say how far into the future that would happen, if ever. Also, how is a working rail yard and an adjoining, active neighborhood vacant land? If there's going to be a school and health care center, someone besides Bruce Ratner will be paying for it.

Ratner will now seek private financing for the arena. His bankers hope to raise the money by the end of the year. Wouldn't that be nice for Brooklyn?


NoLandGrab: No, this most definitely would not be nice, but it would be a big money-loser, as the Daily News has already pointed out: Study shows Atlantic Yards NBA arena project could cost city big-time

Posted by steve at 6:55 AM

June 26, 2009

DC Metro Crash Exposes Funding Strikeout

The Nation
by Dave Zirin

Nation sports editor Dave Zirin connects the dots among stadium giveaways, shortchanged infrastructure, mismanaged transit agencies and their catastrophic consequences. Monday, it was the District of Columbia. Next time, will it be New York City?

Who will be the next to die because our cities spend money on sports stadiums instead of basic infrastructure?

Two years ago, my former college town, the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul, was the site of thirteen needless fatalities when the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed. The tragedy occurred the same month that ground was broken on a $500 million stadium. Now, a mere ten minute walk from my home, two Washington, DC, Metro trains collided, killing nine and sending more than seventy-five to the hospital.

This is just too much to bear. My shock became anger as it became clear that none of these people had to die, that no one had to be hurt. This accident was about as predictable as the setting sun. The wreckage by my house is not an accident site. It is a crime scene. And it happened for one reason: the twisted policies of the underfunded Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. The WMATA gets no dedicated federal funds despite the fact that it serves thousands of federal workers. In fact, it has no dedicated source of funds at all, depending on fares and ads for three-fifths of its budget.

The rest is a pittance from the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia, creating an underfunded, overstretched system called by the Brookings Institution "deficits by design."

All the dirty laundry that Metro riders catch whiffs of on their daily commutes is now in plain view. Employees have told the Washington Post that the first two cars of the striking train were two months overdue for maintenance on "braking components." In addition, the trains involved in the collision were recommended to be taken off the tracks altogether or significantly retrofitted back in 2006.

Even worse, we now know that Jeanice McMillan probably pressed the emergency brake and it did not respond.

The Metro has now become our broken levee: an utterly preventable tragedy if only people in government had the will to do the public good. And as in New Orleans, whose Superdome sucked up public money better spent on flood control, if publicly funded stadiums hadn't become a substitute for urban policy, we wouldn't be mourning today.

The boondoggle of government-funded stadiums is just one example from a society that provides handouts to billionaires at the expense of ordinary citizens' needs.


NoLandGrab: On Wednesday, a spokesperson said the MTA was "pleased that we were able to reach an agreement with FCRC that acknowledges the current economic situation while still protecting the MTA’s transportation and financial interests."

Will that deal protect the MTA's riders, too?

Posted by eric at 5:32 PM

Note from a Fan - Time to Sell

Nets Daily
by NetIncome

Bruce Ratner finally broke NetIncome/Bobbo's spirit.

Let’s face it. This franchise is a mess.

After yesterday’s trade and last night’s draft pick, the New Jersey Nets are back where they were in 2000, a mismanaged operation that is a joke to its fans and the larger NBA universe.

It’s traded away its stars. It plays in the worst venue in the NBA, if not professional sports. Its fan base is shrinking and its move to Brooklyn questionable at best. Its respected basketball managers spend most of their time making excuses for an owner who is increasingly unavailable and when he does speak says little anyone believes.

There is no longer trust between those who are most passionate about the team and those who own and manage it. And quite frankly, it’s not going to get better any time soon. In fact, it is likely to get worse. It’s hard to root for the New Jersey Nets…or if you prefer, the Brooklyn Nets or the New York Nets.

It would be best for those running the team to say what the reality is: the decisions that have been made the last year and a half have made to save money. If the team got anything in return, it was a bonus. And the decision to dump Vince Carter along with other recent decisions was not made in the Nets’ corporate offices in East Rutherford or even Forest City Ratner’s offices in Brooklyn. It was most likely made in Cleveland, home of Forest City Enterprises, which assumes 54% of the team’s ever increasing losses and has seen its stock lose 75% of its value. Not good numbers.

The biggest canard of course is that this was done to help the “cap”, with front office types citing those big numbers that will be available next summer in the summer of free agency. No, it wasn’t. It was done to save money because the team is hemorrhaging it. Moreover, this looked like an operation that is up for sale even before the Sports Illustrated revelations. Companies looking to sell do all the things the Nets have done in the past several months: cut staff, shrink investments and, most of all, dump long term costs and conserve cash. This isn’t “Batten down the hatches. There’s a storm a-coming”. This is “Get me out of here”.


NoLandGrab: Mr. Income had no problem with Bruce Ratner running roughshod over Prospect Heights, stealing homes and money from taxpayers. But ruin his basketball team? That's just wrong.

Boo hoo.

Posted by eric at 2:19 PM

Nets for Sale?

Atlantic Yards Report, Nets for sale? SI says rumors explain Carter trade; deal contingent on Brooklyn move

So, Sports Illustrated reports that the Nets might be for sale, but not to an ownership group--as Newark Mayor Cory Booker contends is in the wings--that would keep them in New Jersey.

Rather, the sale is contingent on the move to Brooklyn, which certainly makes sense. Should a new arena be built, there would be new revenues and the value of the team would go up. I just thought the [added: increasing talk about a] sale would happen closer to the opening of the new arena.

Sale allowed by state

A clause in the Empire State Development Corporation's General Project Plan, as I wrote in December 2006, states, in part:
In addition, in the event the Nets professional basketball franchise is sold to another entity prior to the completion of the Arena, Project Sponsors may transfer their interest in the Arena to the purchasing entity or its affiliate, provided ESDC and the City are reasonably satisfied that such entity can satisfactorily complete the development of the Arena or if such entity retains the Project Sponsors to develop the Arena.

Potential owners

The potential owners include minority owner and native Brooklynite Vinny Viola (profile via NetsDaily's NetIncome/Bobbo) but also a group headed by the Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov owns Euroleague champion CSKA Moscow. And there are two other potential groups.

NoLandGrab: "I just thought the sale would happen closer to the opening of the new arena." Does Norman Oder know something we don't? If not, he's being a bit "conclusory" himself, since this is just the latest Nets-for-sale rumor. [Update: Oder added a qualifier to his post.]

In addition, if Ratner did sell the team, who would hold the arena lease? Ratner or the new team owner? Who would own the revenue streams? Without any answers to those questions, it's hard to evaluate the plusses and minuses of Brooklyn vs. Newark for a Nets' principal owner not named Ratner.

Atlantic Yards Report, Booker still optimistic about Nets in Newark, but weak on specifics (as well as promised date of Brooklyn move)

After a week in which governmental approvals--one final, one preliminary--fell into place to hasten the building of the Atlantic Yards project and thus move of the New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn, Newark Mayor Cory Booker is sounding only somewhat less optimistic than he did five weeks ago, when he declared, “I think there's going to be a comeuppance very soon where the team is going to go up for sale.”

That could mean a move, as Booker hopes, to the Prudential Center in Newark, where the Nets this October will play two of three preseason games. But Booker’s optimism should be taken with an extra grain of salt, given that he claimed that the Nets are slated to move to Brooklyn in 2014, not 2011, as developer Forest City Ratner claims, or 2012, as New York government officials and documents suggest.

Opening the WBGO radio show Newark Today with Mayor Cory Booker tonight, host Andrew Meyer pointed out that “it seems like [Nets principal owner Bruce Ratner] is getting his way. Last month you were certain the Nets’ deal was going to fall apart, putting Newark in a good position to get the team. Do you still feel that way now?”

Nets Daily, Ratner May Sell Nets - Team Investor, Russian Oligarch Interested

Bruce Ratner is trying to sell the Nets, reports Sports Illustrated. In explaining the trade of Vince Carter, Ian Thomsen writes four potential owners have emerged, including Vincent Viola, the team’s second biggest investor, and Mikhail Prokhorov, a Russian oligarch who until recently was an owner of CSKA Moscow, one of Europe’s top teams. Two other unnamed groups are in the mix, writes Thomsen.

Nets Daily, Who is Vincent Viola?

Does he support the move to Brooklyn?

Viola, a native Brooklynite, has supported the move to Brooklyn and as an investor in the Nets, he retains a significant financial interest in the Atlantic Yards. He points out that the arena site is nearby St. Cecilia’s elementary school, which he attended in the 1960’s.

NLG: We're not sure how "significant" Viola's "financial interest" is in "Atlantic Yards," but his stake in the club would certainly be worth more if Ratner can pull off the building of the arena.

Posted by eric at 12:38 PM

Despite MTA Nod, Atlantic Yards Saga Still Unfolds

by Cody Lyon

GlobeStreet's Lyon offers an excellent summary of this week's Atlantic Yards events, including an interview with the Regional Plan Association's Neysa Pranger.

The project, steeped in years of controversy, litigation and now a dried-up credit market, has evolved into a scaled-down version of what was originally sold to public officials and city residents. More evidence of a project facing challenges arrived on June 5, when despite being the recipient of millions of city and state taxpayer-dollar subsidies, Forest City Ratner admitted the shedding of star architect Frank Gehry. Soon after, renderings surfaced that showed less than dynamic designs for the centerpiece arena portion of the project. On June 8, New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ourousoff referred to the project renderings as a “monstrosity.”

When asked about the scathing Times critique that lambasted what it called more than a “betrayal of a particular community,” an ESDC spokesman tells GlobeSt.com that a final design and rendering of the project has not been released. The spokesman says that “an initial rendering was released, but that will look very different from the end product.”


NoLandGrab: Can't wait for that "end product!"

Posted by eric at 12:26 PM

It came from the Blogosphere... (Not just bailouts edition)

The Huffington Post, It's Atlantic Yards "Push" Week!

Steve Ettlinger runs down the week in bailouts.

If the ESDC had done its job, the MTA would already have cash it so desperately needs. Now, instead, the MTA has decided at its June 24th board meeting to bail out the billionaire developer, giving him 20 years to pay out what was supposed to have been paid up front. And this is despite at least two viable alternatives they completely ignored, one when this first came up (from successful developer Extell) and one from Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, at the board meeting, with $5 million of financing already in place . Amazing. We should all get such deals.

For all our subsidies, it looks like we'll get a run-of-the-mill arena and thousands of parking spots on the rubble-strewn lots.

It just doesn't figure right.

Malarky News — Pure Torture, NYC MTA’s Bailout Of Brooklyn Atlantic Yards Developer

Remember this corporate welfare bailout when fares go up and more aid is sought from New York State taxpayers.

There is an alternative. Vote Libertarian this year. Joseph Dobrian is our candidate for Mayor, Jim Lesczysnki is running for Public Advocate, while John Clifton is seeking the Comptroller’s post.

The Libertarian Party opposes corporate welfare and eminent domain abuse.

The Campaign for Community-Based Planning, MTA Approves Renegotiated Deal for Ratner at AY

Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn, Breakfast-of-Candidates (33rd Edition): Ken Baer

Louise Crawford interviews Ken Baer, candidate for the City Council in the 33rd District.

Baer was a very early opponent of Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project. In 2004, he attended one of the very first meetings organized by Develop Don't Destroy at a local school and instantly had a bad feeling about the oversized project which left the community out of the development process.

He continues to be an aggressive opponent of the project...

Curbed, Frank Gehry's Beekman Tower is Only Gehry on the Surface

Gehry's East River Guggenheim never happened, his New York Times Tower design was passed over for Renzo Piano's rods, and Atlantic Yards—well, we all know what happened there.

Gideon's Trumpet, Atlantic Yards Project — More Problems

It reports that the redeveloper is experiencing problems raising the funds necessary to complete the project as planned.

No kidding, fellows. Don’t that beat all?

The redeveloper, Bruce Ratner, is quoted as offering the excuse that “Delays due to litigation and a difficult economic environment required the approved changes.” But isn’t that how the development cookie crumbles? Surely, Mr Ratner did not expect that the property owners whose land he covets for his development would quietly go along with his vision, and offer no resistance to being kicked out of their homes and businesses for his benefit, without full compensation for all their economic damages. So litigation of this type — over proposed development — is par for the course; as the California Supreme Court once explained, it it is only to be expected as “normal” delay.

Cash Cow, Barclays gets a New York subway station named after it

While naming a subway station will certainly get a lot of visibility and awareness, it seemed to have created a negative impact judging by the comments on the article on New York Times. So the marketing move may rebound on Barclays.

Posted by eric at 12:02 PM

It came from the Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder must get paid by the word over at AYR, 'cause he sure is cranking out the blog posts this month — 119 this month, to date.

Crain's: blame Amanda Burden for the leaked "hangar" renderings

From Crain's Insider, under the headline Fixing Atlantic Yards:
Forest City Ratner is hoping changes to its Brooklyn basketball arena will stop people from likening it to an airplane hangar. Renderings were leaked—by Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden, sources say—prompting ridicule. But the leak was early enough to allow time to amend the design. Forest City needs to break ground this year.

The leak was early enough? That sounds like Joe DePlasco-esque spin. The leak was not early enough to allow time to get a new design in the revised documents issued this week by the Empire State Development Corporation.

But yes, there's always time to tweak.

NoLandGrab: And yeah, six years of "tweaking" have really made a big improvement.

Crain's also reports:
The Central Labor Council, a politically influential coalition of labor unions, left 10 Democratic City Council members off its list of endorsements this week. Thirty-three were endorsed without going through the formal interview process... [Council Member Letitia] James opposes Atlantic Yards.... [which] will create union jobs.

Still, Crain's does not count James in the category of the unendorsed incumbents appearing vulnerable to defeat in September.

The Prospect Heights Historic District passes, will wrap around block designated for AY parking

Note how two fingers of row houses would bookend the southeast block of the Atlantic Yards site, slated to be a staging area for arena construction, and also a massive parking lot for workers and visitors, ultimately with 2070 spaces.

The Atlantic Yards site, according to the Empire State Development Corporation, is blighted. I wonder how many blighted areas are abutted by historic districts.

WNYC, following the Times, gets conclusory: "basketball arena... will soon be built"

WNYC apparently read the New York Times story Wednesday about the naming rights deal signed by Barclays, but not the corrective comment posted on the online article or on my (and others') blogs.

So, just as the Times could declare "There will, however, soon be a Barclays Center," so an WNYC reporter could reference (starting at about 1:38 of the report) "the Nets basketball arena that will soon be built along Atlantic Avenue."

There are no shovels in the ground yet, and while governmental approvals this week certainly have made the arena more likely, it's conclusory to say it "will soon be built."

Here's the link to the original WNYC story.

Posted by eric at 11:35 AM

And from the mailbag

The Brooklyn Paper, Letters

To the editor,

The firing of Frank Gehry and the evolution of Atlantic Yards ought to provide a moment for reflection regarding the role of architecture, hubris, politics, and planning in our city. Will we continue to see another development deal, another architect, another political legacy all intertwined in a misbegotten attempt to control what perhaps should not be controlled?

Let us engage our most talented designers and let us see the alternatives to this mediocre scheme. Let’s insist on the best results for Brooklyn, for New York, for architecture, for urban design and for the people. There is no excuse for less.

James Garrison, DUMBO

link [The first two letters were published previously; scroll down for Mr. Garrison's letter.]

Posted by eric at 11:16 AM

AY goals 2006 vs. 2009: elimination of blight, "state of the art" arena and railyard, "first-class" office space all have vanished

Atlantic Yards Report

Has the Atlantic Yards project become far less ambitious? There are some curious and telling differences between two documents that describe the goals of the project, one issued by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) in December 2006 and the other by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) after the board voted on Wednesday to approve a revised Vanderbilt Yard sale with more generous terms for developer Forest City Ratner.

Even though the language is nearly the same, the MTA board resolution--not read aloud or made public before the vote--does not mention the removal of blight, perhaps because government officials recognize that persistent empty lots for "decades" might constitute the exacerbation of blight.

No longer is the term "state-of-the-art" applied to the planned arena or the permanent railyard, perhaps because starchitect Frank Gehry has left the project and both elements of the project have gone through value engineering. The railyard now would merely be "upgraded.'

The housing is no longer described as "critically needed," perhaps because it could take "decades," and the State Funding Agreement imposes no deadline for Phase 2. The promised office space is no longer even "first-class." And there'd no longer be a hotel.

There are some other changes as well.

Does any of this have legal import? I'm not sure, but it does suggest that the estimated benefits of the project--always open to question--have diminished.


Posted by lumi at 6:05 AM

It is a bailout

This week, The Brooklyn Paper editorial calls the MTA out on its bailout of Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards scheme and transfers the blame to the sitting governor:

There is no better word than “bailout” to describe the efforts of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority this week in propping up developer Bruce Ratner’s arena, residential and office complex near the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues.
We agree that government can — and often should — play a role in helping development. But the MTA’s responsibility is to the taxpayer, not the developer.
We do not blame Bruce Ratner for fighting for the best deal for himself and for an arena that we believe would be good for Brooklyn. But we are no longer alone in maintaining that the MTA, which made the original deal under Gov. Pataki, is misusing its resources as ineptly under Gov. Paterson.


Posted by lumi at 5:54 AM

The MTA Caught in the Act of the Ratner Giveaway

The Mother of All Boondoggles comes to reality TV.

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn just posted these YouTube clips from "BrooklynTruth." Check out dddb.net for a synopsis of each episode.

Bloomberg MTA Appointee: Railyard Sale Risk Free

DDDB $120M MTA Offer Challenges Forest City Ratner

DDDB Legal Chair Carponter Gives MTA Free Legal Advice

NY Electeds Slam MTA's Sweetheart Deal With Forest City Ratner

MTA Board Member Page Justifies Railyard Land Grab

Two MTA Board Members Vote NO to Brooklyn Land Grab

MTA Votes Even Sweeter Atlantic Yards Landgrab

Posted by lumi at 5:41 AM

Bruce Ratner dumps Vince Carter

If the Atlantic Yards arena and highrise megaproject is such a great idea, how come developer Bruce Ratner has been slowly gutting the NJ Nets and trimming salaries and staff?

Yesterday, Ratner dumped marquis player Vince Carter in hopes of losing less money or preparing the team for sale:

Pro Basketball News, Draft's big winners didn't draft at all

Ratner's NJ Nets scored the third spot on the "Losers" list in a post-draft analysis of yesterday's trades and acquisitions:

\3. New Jersey. Yeah, they saved $40 million in the Carter deal. You think that might have been a mandate from Bruce Ratner? The starting lineup is Yi Jianlian, Bobby Simmons, Brook Lopez, Devin Harris and Lee.

The Nets will have oodles of cap room next summer -- and a 55-loss team still playing in the New Jersey swamp that no one will want to join -- not even with Jay Z's influence.

Si.com, Weekly countdown: Draft edition

Four groups are positioned to invest in the Nets, a highly-placed source in the league office confided this week.

Two other league sources told me that minority owner Vincent (Vinny) Viola is moving to buy out majority owner Bruce Ratner and take control of the franchise.
The most intriguing group of potential new investors is headed by the Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, who until this season was the financier of the Euroleague champion CSKA Moscow.
Another potential investment group is headed by hedge-fund managers, while the fourth is drawn from the private equity field.
The Nets have long been rumored to be on the market. If a team is to be sold, then this often is how it's done: Remove as much furniture as possible so the new owner can remodel the place to his liking.

The Nets Insider, Nets say happy trails to Carter on draft day

The Nets have moved a cornerstone player in each of the last two drafts. Each time they seemed to go backwards, yet they were looking ahead.
The Nets will have money, but numerous questions remain, such as A) Will they be allowed to spend it?; B) Will they be Brooklyn-bound, Newark-bound or leaving this time zone?; C) Will Bruce Ratner still own the team; and D) Will players want to play here?

Atlantic Yards Report, Nets trade Carter in "salary dump"; all three stars from time of 2006 approval are gone

The ultimate goal is to save cap space for 2010, when the Nets, like many other teams, will be shopping for big-name free agents.
Well, Kidd's gone.

So is Jefferson.

And now Carter is gone, too. This isn't Dodgerland anymore. It's not about continuity; it's about money.

Posted by lumi at 5:21 AM

July 1, Wed, 10 am: City Council Hearing on Coney Island Rezoning

Noticing New York

The Bloombergian machine (assisted on Atlantic Yards by the increasingly confused and foundering Governor Paterson) is certainly revved up to shove things down the public’s throat.

Atlantic Yards, Willets Point, Dock Street — next up... Coney Island.


Posted by lumi at 4:59 AM

June 25, 2009

"As Naked an Abuse of Government Power as Could be Imagined."

How the Sotomayor nomination revived the debate over eminent domain abuse

Reason Online
by Damon W. Root

That headline refers to the case of Didden vs. Village of Port Chester, but it could just as easily apply to Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project — or the separate approvals this week by the MTA and ESDC to bail out the developer's tenuous boondoggle.

Property rights were probably the last thing on President Barack Obama's mind when he selected Judge Sonia Sotomayor to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter. But that hasn't stopped Sotomayor's nomination from reigniting the long-simmering national debate over the use and abuse of eminent domain.

The controversy centers on Sotomayor's vote in a 2006 eminent domain case, Didden v. Village of Port Chester. New York entrepreneur Bart Didden says Port Chester condemned his land after he refused to pay $800,000 (or grant a 50 percent stake in his business) to a developer hired by the village. One day after Didden refused to pay those bribes, Port Chester began eminent domain proceedings against him.

None of that is likely to derail Sotomayor's nomination, however, which the Senate is fully expected to approve next month. But this renewed national focus on eminent domain abuse might still benefit a group of long-suffering property owners in Brooklyn, New York, who have been waging a five-year battle against the combined forces of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), real estate developer Bruce Ratner, and the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), a controversial quasi-public entity empowered by the state to seize private property via eminent domain.

This week the saga went from bad to worse, as the MTA, which controls the central portion of the land needed for the project, released a disastrous new plan. Consider this: In 2006 the MTA agreed to sell Ratner its 8-acre Vanderbilt rail yard—which had been appraised at over $200 million—for a lump-sum payment of just $100 million. Now the MTA says Ratner can pay just $20 million upfront, with the rest due over the next 22 years.

So what happens next? The state will no doubt approve this sweetheart deal just as it approved the previous one. But Ratner still needs to sell more than $500 million in arena bonds and break ground before year's end in order to qualify for tax-exempt status. Here's hoping Goldstein's lawsuit, a lousy economy, and renewed public outrage over eminent domain abuse make the Atlantic Yards the perfect size to fail.


Posted by eric at 6:11 PM

Prospect Heights gets historic district; historic boondoggle TBD

Tracy Collins via flickr Atlantic Yards Photo Pool, Atlantic Yards v. Prospect Heights Historic District

Note how the newly approved historic district wraps the southeast section of the Atlantic Yards footprint like a fork. That section until last year contained the preservation-worthy Ward Bakery Building — which was perhaps Prospect Heights' most distinguished building — demolished courtesy of Bruce C. Ratner.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, LPC Votes Unanimously to Designate Prospect Heights Historic District

The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) Tuesday unanimously approved the designation of the Prospect Heights Historic District.

The 850-building district is the city’s largest since the 2,020-building Upper West Side Historic District was formed in 1990, according to LPC Chair Robert Tierney.

And with its mid-19th century and early 20th century rowhouses and apartment buildings designed in a broad array of architectural styles, it is certainly deserving, he added.

The Municipal Art Society of NYC, MAS Applauds Prospect Heights Historic District Designation

Prospect Heights is rich in historic architecture, with blocks of beautiful Italianate and neo-Grec rowhouses, interspersed with churches, small commercial and apartment buildings. Located just north of Prospect Park, the neighborhood has seen few changes since it was first developed in the late-19th century. Today, it is threatened by the Atlantic Yards project, a proposal by the developer Forest City Ratner to build 16 towers and a sports arena on a 22-acre site adjacent to the neighborhood.

This announcement marks a significant milestone for an innovative civic partnership between the Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) and the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council (PHNDC). The two groups teamed up in 2006 to advocate for historic district designation.

NoLandGrab: While MAS and PHNDC are to be commended for their efforts, had the two groups been more vociferous in their opposition to Atlantic Yards — both are members of the "mend-it-don't-end-it" BrooklynSpeaks coalition — one has to wonder if the Ward Bakery, too, could have been saved from Bruce Ratner's wrecking ball.

The Brooklyn Paper, City makes ‘history’ in Prospect Heights

Prospect Heights has joined its better-known upscale neighbor Park Slope as Brooklyn’s latest historic district.

On Tuesday, the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously to turn the 850-building area into a protected historical landmark.

The district stretches from Flatbush Avenue to Washington Avenue and from Eastern Parkway to Atlantic Avenue — up to, but not including, Bruce Ratner’s proposed mega-development, formerly known as Atlantic Yards until this week’s announcement that most of the project had been tabled.

NLG: No, it's still known as Atlantic Yards, and the project has hardly been "tabled." The Brooklyn Paper should try as hard to be accurate as it does to be cute.

AP via WCAX.com, Brooklyn neighborhood gets landmark status

The Prospect Heights district is next to the site where developer Bruce Ratner plans to build a basketball arena and 16 skyscrapers. However, his development will not directly encroach on it.

Posted by eric at 5:01 PM

NBA News: Shaq to Cleveland; Nets dumping Vinsanity?

AP via Yahoo! Sports, Blockbuster: Cavs acquire Shaq from Suns

The Cleveland Cavaliers have apparently made a big move to show LeBron James that they're serious about trying to win a championship.

The Cleveland Cavaliers completed a blockbuster trade Thursday, bringing superstar center Shaquille O’Neal from the Phoenix Suns to join current MVP LeBron James.

Bringing in O’Neal may soothe James’ concerns that the Cavs wouldn’t be able to get him enough help to make a run at numerous titles. Ferry still wants to re-sign Varejao this summer and may look to add another perimeter player through a trade or free agency.

Yahoo! Sports, Magic in talks to acquire Nets’ Carter

By contrast, Nets' owner Bruce Ratner is dumping salary faster than the MTA can give away money.

The New Jersey Nets have agreed in principal to send Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson to the Orlando Magic for Rafer Alston, Tony Battie and Courtney Lee, two league executives told Yahoo! Sports.

NoLandGrab: Nets' CEO and resident marketing genius Brett Yormark will have his work cut out for him selling seats at the IZOD Center for the 2009-2010 season

Posted by eric at 4:46 PM

Bailout-free news round-up

NYPost.com NETS BLOG, Psycho T or T-Will or. . .

Money, staff, scouts — and unis — are in short supply for the New Jersey Nets.

And now they've gone too far. No more blue uniforms.

The Nets have slashed inside personnel by 1/3. They've mandated summer Friday furloughs for office workers. They've whacked scouts (at least two), cut assistants' salaries all with their eyes of moving to Brooklyn, which remember was going to happen by 2008.

They are holding their draft party in New York. That's a slap in the face too but here's the kick in the gut.

The Nets are dropping their blue road jerseys. Why? Because they say "New Jersey."

So they keep their home whites that say Nets and those red things that make them all look like giant blood clots. Blood clots that say "Nets" on the front, not "New Jersey." Personally, we like the blue uniforms but again, this is all about moving across the river. Still, couldn't they have waited until they at least put a shovel in the ground before spitting on New Jersey?

Yahoo! Sports, Draft buzz: Shaq gone, Amare on the move?

Nets sources say that if owner Bruce Ratner is going to bail on the Brooklyn arena and sell his team to cut his losses, ownership groups who would potentially purchase the team would rather he doesn’t gut it.

Nets Daily, ESDC Approves New Plan for Atlantic Yards

Don't be fooled by the headline — this item's about tickets for Nets' games in Newark, not another bailout.

The next presale for the Newark Exhibition Series has started. The presale code is “prucenter”. Regular ticket sales start on Friday at 11 am.

The Moment [NY Times blog], The Concierge | Good Dive Bar Needed

Dear Concierge, 
I’m looking for a good dive bar.

In Brooklyn, he likes Freddy’s Bar & Backroom across from the police precinct just off Flatbush Avenue at Dean Street. (Get there before it’s knocked down to make room for the Atlantic Yards.)

The Epoch Times, Community Gardens May Become Protected Under Parks Department

In a city known for concrete and skyscrapers, the small community-run garden often gets overlooked. But in neighborhoods where clean air, open space, and fresh produce are hard to come by, these volunteer-run gardens are vital, be they producers of flowers or vegetables.

The constant tug-of-war between housing developers and preservationists in this land-scarce city put gardeners in a tough place.

Brooklyn Council Member Letitia James expressed concern for the gardens in her district when the 16 Atlantic Yards are built. “The gardens will be in the shadows,” she said. “I don't know how they will survive.”

NoLandGrab: "16 Atlantic Yards?" [Shudder] One Atlantic Yards is more than we can take.

Fast Company, Frank Gehry's Rx for New Orleans

Has Frank Gehry learned his lesson? Apparently he can do context.

In the wake of these letdowns Gehry last week unveiled his most modest plan in memory, a humble shotgun house to be built in the sixth ward of New Orleans. He designed the modular shotgun house, known as the "Modgun," with urban planner Robert Tannen (shown with model left right).

No titanium swoops here. Like traditional shotgun houses, it has an elevated pitched roof for natural cooling and stilts for flooding. It will be built on a rundown block on Ursuline Avenue, but it's meant as a prototype that can be duplicated in the various neighborhoods still blighted four years after Hurricane Katrina.

Posted by eric at 1:54 PM

Noticing New York Discloses What MTA Chairman H. Dale Hemmerdinger Has in His Closet

Noticing New York

Skeletons, sure, but Michael D.D. White is more interested in Mr. Hemmerdinger's cravat. And how it relates to the MTA's failure to carry out its fiduciary duty.

Yesterday we promised to disclose today what MTA Chairman H. Dale Hemmerdinger has in his closet and today we will do so. It may have seemed a little bit personal, which is exactly what we intended. When we made our promise we wanted to remind the MTA board members who were about to vote today that the exercise of their fiduciary duty in their role as members of the MTA board is not something that can be compartmentalized and separated from personal honor and integrity.

We have no doubt that all the evidence is resplendently stark that the bailout for Forest City Ratner approved* by the MTA board was a wired deal. We think that you would have to be a pretty dim bulb for that not to be clearly apparent. As such, we believe that members of the MTA board voting affirmatively today for all the additional giveaways to Forest City Ratner (the dim bulbs among them excluded) violated their fiduciary duty. This was pointed out by many of the public addressing the board before its vote today, including Assemblyman Jim Brennan, who spoke first and reminded the MTA members that they were lowering the price for the sale of the MTA property without first obtaining an appraisal.


Posted by eric at 1:25 PM

Bailouts and more bailouts

Brownstoner, MTA Ignores Fiduciary Duty, Approves Revised Yards Plan

If you read the Atlantic Yards Report's account of yesterday's MTA hearing that resulted in a 10-2 vote approving the sale of the Atlantic Yards to Forest City Ratner at a drastically reduced price (in both present and expected value terms), it's hard not to come to the conclusion that either (a) the people that sit on the MTA Board ain't too bright or (b) the fix was most certainly in. Or (c) both. The heart of the MTA's fallacious position was encapsulated by board member Jeff Kay's defense of the new pricing structure: “The market is what the market is,” declared board member Jeff Kay." Um, except that the board rejected a higher price from Extell back in 2005 and has refused to either get a current independent appraisal or solicit new offers to find out what the market price really is.

The Brooklyn Paper, BAILOUT! State cuts new deal to save stalled ‘Atlantic Yards’

For now, the ESDC is sticking to the line that the full “Atlantic Yards” project will someday be built.

“The remainder of the site will be acquired when necessary for development,” Steve Matlin, the ESDC’s counsel, told the agency’s board on Tuesday.

The “remainder” includes the vast majority of the 2,250 below-market-rate housing and open space that was part of the project when it was originally approved in December, 2006 — key public benefits that greased the approval process of the highly controversial project.

Field of Schemes, Nets arena gets land bailout, still needs bond backing

New Jersey Nets owner Bruce Ratner got his sweetheart land deal for a Brooklyn arena yesterday, as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board approved a plan that would let him defer payments and spend $100 million less on replacing a rail yard on the proposed arena site. In a last-minute twist, arena opponents Develop Don't Destroy tried placing their own competing bid for the land, saying they had just as good a shot at getting financing for their Unity development plan as Ratner did for his arena, but the MTA refused to consider the offer.

Regional Plan Association, RPA Testimony on Atlantic Yards

The RPA, which really ought to know better than to support the Atlantic Yards plan, even conditionally, testified against the revised deal terms at yesterday's MTA board meeting.

RPA weighed in at the MTA board meeting saying we oppose the deal as it's currently structured but think it should be salvaged under stricter provisions. Those include granting the MTA a greater portion of future proceeds, conducting a new cost benefit analysis and creating a new ESDC subsidiary to review design elements and oversee the development process as it goes through different iterations.

Posted by eric at 11:51 AM

Naming Rights... or Wrongs?

Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman H. Dale Hemmerdinger (who was recently sued by two family members who accuse him of bilking them out of millions of dollars), made a big deal at yesterday's MTA board meeting about the deal to append the name Barclays to the Atlantic Avenue/Pacific Street subway station:

"We’ve been trying to make money off naming rights for quite a while. This is the first time we’ve been successful... It’s a very important point."

It sure is an important point. Because all the MTA had to do to be "successful" in selling naming rights to the station for $4 million over 20 years was to throw in development rights to an eight-acre railyard for $114.5 million less than the MTA's own appraisal, reduce the down payment for said yards by 80%, and extend the payment terms by 22 years at a below-market interest rate.

With that kind of "successful" sale, we can expect the MTA to be coming back to the taxpayers for another of their own massive bailouts very soon.

NY Times DealBook Blog, No Sleep ‘Til … Barclays?

To determine its asking price for the Brooklyn station, the authority studied a few successful efforts, like a monorail in Las Vegas named for Nextel, the communications company, and streetcars in Tampa, Fla., named for a local electric utility. And the popularity of the station — the second-busiest in Brooklyn last year — was taken into account.

“It’s grounded in reasonable business practices,” Mr. Banks told The Times.

NoLandGrab: You can be sure that any determination of the "asking price" was done by Bruce Ratner. "Reasonable business practices," indeed.

Banking Times, Barclays to become New York subway stop

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is in the process of approving a $4 million deal to rename a stop in Downtown Brooklyn, close to the proposed Barclays Center.

The centre, which includes a sports arena, forms part of the Atlantic Yards regeneration project, currently under development.

NLG: "Regeneration project" is actually an accurate term. A starfish that loses a couple of arms can grow them back. A neighborhood that gets leveled by a "developer" can come back, too, but with no timetable for the bulk of the project, that neighborhood maybe de disfigured for a long, long time.

DallasPenn.com, The Travesty Of The Transit Authority Trollups…

Hip-hop blogger Dallas Penn sees through the smokescreen.

Like I just said to you earlier, I LOVE new construction. This is what keeps my lights on and my sneakers crispy. That is until Mountain Dew cuts me a check (prA’li in Nevuary 3009). The Atlantic Yards is an expansive site that needs consideration, and not the reckless whoring that the MTA is providing. Keep in mind that the things that make this city great are her infrastructure (roadways, waterways) and her transit system (buses, subways, commuter rails). These things move us through the city expeditiously and safely. Since the Forest City Ratner plans have little consideration for these elements the plans should be reconsidered.

Barclays Bank, Forest City Ratner’s underwriter, is offering the MTA 200K per year to rename the Atlantic Avenue transportation hub ‘Barclay’s Center’ for the next twenty years!?! The only two words that accurately sum up that proposal are “Negro Please”. The prA’li link is still up and running. I wonder if we could raise that same amount of cash to rename the Franklin Avenue station “MTA Kiss My Grits”?

The Brooklyn Paper, Next stop! Barclays Station

Posted by eric at 11:15 AM

MTA approves deal 10-2 despite warnings from Brennan, Straphangers, RPA; DDDB offer disdained; see video of testimony and board justifications

Atlantic Yards Report

Here's Norman Oder's synopsis of yesterday's MTA board meeting:

Despite a warning by veteran Assemblyman Jim Brennan that they were squandering their assets, a recommendation of caution by the Straphangers Campaign, and even a request by the Atlantic Yards-supporting Regional Plan Association that the deal be renegotiated, the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) yesterday voted 10-2 to allow Forest City Ratner to stretch payments for the Vanderbilt Yard over 22 years, at a generous interest rate, and to build a smaller railyard worth $100 million less than originally promised. A diminished temporary yard could persist more than twice as long as originally planned.

Board members--who were reported (see WNYC) to have been under pressure from the mayor and governor who appointed them--agreed that this was the best deal they could get at a time when development is difficult.

They ignored questions from state Senator Bill Perkins, including the need for an appraisal. While several opponents suggested board members were violating their fiduciary duty, the board was told that MTA legal counsel backed their vote.

They went though some convoluted defenses of their failure to challenge FCR further. “The market is what the market is,” declared board member Jeff Kay, disregarding the failure to actually test that market.

As for the last-minute character of the deal, which was aired only on Monday, board member Mark Page, claimed unrealistically that, because MTA staff had been busy working on the deal, “it’s not as though it’s something that’s been dropped in our laps suddenly to consider.”

Also, confirming the “done deal” aspect of the vote, they disregarded without discussion a last-minute--and, understandably, hardly fleshed-out--proposal from Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) to pay $120 million for the Vanderbilt Yard, $20 million more than FCR’s offer.

“It is highly probable that we will sue the MTA as a result of their actions,” DDDB spokesman Daniel Goldstein said afterward.

Check out the full article for the blow-by-blow account, complete with YouTube video from "BrooklynTruth."

Posted by lumi at 7:04 AM

HEADLINES: MTA approves Ratner bailout

AP, via Google, Land deal reworked for NBA arena in Brooklyn

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted Wednesday to give Nets owner Bruce Ratner what amounts to a big price break on the development rights for a rail yard where the arena is to be built.

NY Daily News, MTA allows Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner to pay $20 million now and $80 million in 21 years

Documents released by the state Tuesday showed the project will cost $700 million more and take at least three years longer than planned - and could stretch on even longer than that.

Hemmerdinger defended the agreement - approved four days before subway and bus fares will jump 25 cents - saying it was "as good as possiblem given the circumstances."
But some elected officials protested that they stuck their necks out to support a taxpayer bailout of the cash-strapped agency, only to see the MTA give a break to a private developer.

"I stood up for this agency to say ... they need the money to keep the bus and the subways running," said Councilman David Yassky (D-Downtown Brooklyn).

"If you turn around and say, 'Oh, forget it, we don't need the $100 million, we'll just take the 20,' it just undercuts everything ..that we've been saying."

The Brooklyn Paper, BAILOUT! State cuts new deal to save stalled ‘Atlantic Yards’

State officials threw Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner two lifelines this week in an effort to salvage the bare bones of his original 16-skyscraper office, residential and basketball arena complex.

NoLandGrab: Not one, but TWO lifelines. Don't think that's the end of it. Given Ratner's track record, the developer is going to seek even more subsidies.

Here's what the local pols that showed up to testify had to say:

“You are squandering your assets,” Assemblyman Jim Brennan (D–Park Slope) told MTA board members before the vote on Wednesday. He called the arena “a boondoggle.”

“This is a massive giveaway of our public assets,” added Councilwoman Letitia James (D–Prospect Heights).

She rattled off a litany of diminished public benefits.

“They’ve reduced the [amount of] affordable housing, the open space is off the table, and the capacity of the railyards is smaller. It’s literally a disappearing act,” she told The Brooklyn Paper.

Borough President Markowitz, a longtime advocate for Ratner around the borough, didn’t attend the board meeting, but his chief of staff, Carlo Scissura, read a statement:

“I am confident that when completed, [“Atlantic Yards”] will serve as a model for other cities,” Markowitz said. “This is a project that will benefit all Brooklynites — both now and for generations to come.”

Posted by lumi at 6:45 AM

Atlantic Yards Project Enters a Crucial Period

The New York Times
by Charles Bagli

Despite this week's preordained ESDC and MTA votes, Atlantic Yards is still far from a sure thing.

Armed with a set of concessions wrung from state officials this week for his Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn, the developer Bruce C. Ratner faces what may be his most daunting challenge. He is trying to raise more than $500 million over the next four months to build the $4.9 billion project’s centerpiece: the most expensive basketball arena in the country.

Mr. Ratner, chief executive of Forest City Ratner, the company that is to build the development, still must get final state approval and withstand any new lawsuits, while selling about $586 million in arena bonds by Dec. 31 in order to qualify for tax-exempt status.

On Wednesday, the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted 10 to 2 to revise a deal to sell Mr. Ratner a railyard that sits within the 22-acre development. Instead of insisting on a $100 million lump-sum payment, the authority gave Mr. Ratner 21 years to pay the money in increments. It also allowed the developer to build a more modest replacement railyard than he had once promised.

Critics, and even some supporters, have complained that the Atlantic Yards project’s public benefits are disappearing before construction even starts. Much of the housing at Atlantic Yards, including 2,250 units for moderate- and middle-income tenants, has been delayed, along with the creation of eight acres of open space.

"Nearly all the alleged public benefits are gone,” said Daniel Goldstein, a spokesman for Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, the project’s leading opponent. “It’s highly likely that we’ll sue the M.T.A. as a result of their actions.”


NoLandGrab: Like John Paul Jones, DDDB has not yet begun to fight.

More coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, Decoding a Times euphemism: "more modest" = "saving FCR $100 million"

That "more modest" replacement would save developer Forest City Ratner about $100 million.

That information has not appeared in the Times, not in print, and not on the web.

It certainly raises questions about whether the Times--which did disclose the parent Times Company's business relationship with FCR--can ever be exacting in its coverage of AY, as it should be.

Posted by eric at 12:23 AM

Goldstein Outbids Ratner, In Vain

The Local [Ft. Greene/Clinton Hill]
by Andy Newman

Shortly before it voted today to let Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner defer the payments on his $100 million purchase of the development rights to the Vanderbilt rail yard, the MTA heard from, and snubbed, a rival developer who offered $20 million more for the parcel and promised to build a project entailing less risk, more affordable housing, a more sensible streetscape and no use of eminent domain.

The developer was Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, Atlantic Yards’ loudest opponent. The project their spokesman, Daniel Goldstein, pitched to the board was the Unity Plan, an alternative vision that DDDB a team of planners and architects proposed in 2007. Mr. Goldstein conveyed to the MTA board today DDDB’s “firm offer” to pay $120 million for the development rights over the Vanderbilt Yard.

The board listened to Mr. Goldstein for a while, then told him his time was up. An MTA spokesman reached by phone this afternoon said only, “We have no comment.”

Mr. Goldstein insisted that the offer was serious.

“The fact that they’ve ignored this offer and dismissed it out of hand shows that THEY are not serious about getting the best financial return for their properties,” he said of the MTA.

Mr. Goldstein said that DDDB has already secured $5 million in financing for its alternative proposal. As for where the rest of the money would come from, Mr. Goldstein said DDDB’s plan was at least as likely to get financing as Forest City Ratner’s, given the developer’s current bleak fiscal situation.

Here’s how it would work, Mr. Goldstein said:

We negotiate an up-front payment with the MTA. We get financing for it from banks, not-for-profit and for profit developers and the community and private individuals. We are certain we could match the 20 up front, though we wouldn’t need to because the delayed payments would be bigger and faster.

We then create a Trust that controls the rail yard rights, and oversees the financing to pay the MTA for the rights, pay them the construction costs of the new yard and oversees the build out.

The Trust divides the Yards into multiple parcels and puts them out to bid. The competitive bidding process would bring in at least $120 million NPV and it would do so over approximately 12 years of build out. Though most would be front ended when the land deals close.


Posted by eric at 12:10 AM

June 24, 2009

This Week in Bailouts: MTA Edition

NY Observer, M.T.A. Approves Less Lucrative Atlantic Yards Deal

Bruce Ratner can now cross a major task off his to-do list.

For months now, Mr. Ratner, the developer planning the $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards apartment and arena complex in Brooklyn has been seeking financial relief from an agreement he struck with the M.T.A. in better times.

Voting 10-2, the M.T.A.’s board approved a new deal that involves $180 million less in upfront payments and early expenditures for the project than was pledged in 2005, accepting a reduced-size rail yard and $20 million at first, with another $80 million (in today’s value) to be paid in pieces over the next 22 years.

In a statement, Mr. Ratner praised the M.T.A. and the Empire State Development Corporation, from whom he also received an approval for a revised design.

“The MTA approval today, along with ESDC Board authorization yesterday, was critical to this project going forward. Delays due to litigation and a difficult economic environment required the approved changes. We have worked very hard, however, as have our colleagues in government, to ensure that these changes would in no way impact the overall benefits of the project. We’re are extraordinarily appreciative of the professionalism and vision of these two agencies and all who believe that development is good for the City, that jobs are good and that affordable housing is good should applaud their actions.”

NoLandGrab: Yup, professionalism. That's the term that always comes to mind first when thinking of the MTA board and the ESDC.

NY1 News, MTA Board Approves Extension For Atlantic Yards Developer

"From the MTA perspective, our goal was transportation; we're very satisfied that we have a yard that meets our needs," said MTA Interim Chief Executive Officer Helena Williams. "[I'm satisfied] that we have transportation improvements for the subway entrances."

Cityfile New York, Bruce Ratner Gets His Way

Critics took to the podium before today's vote to deride the deal as a "massive bailout." And, shockingly, the MTA didn't pay any attention to the last-minute counterbid that landed its lap when the main Atlantic Yards opposition group, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, "tried to upstage the meeting by offering $120 million for the development rights over the Vanderbilt Yard."

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, MTA Approves Revised Atlantic Yards Deal

Among those who spoke against the revised deal, said [MTA Spokesman Aaron] Donovan, were Councilwoman Letitia James, a longtime foe of Atlantic Yards; Councilman David Yassky, Assemblyman Jim Brennan, and Dan Goldstein of the anti-Atlantic Yards organization Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn.

Among those speaking in favor of the project were members of Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development (BUILD), which would provide jobs within Atlantic Yards for low-income area residents; and Carlo Scissura, chief of staff for Borough President Marty Markowitz.

BUILD is contractually obligated to support the project publicly.

Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), head of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, said, "The public just bailed out the MTA -- the MTA should not use the money to bailout a developer. Much to the public's dismay, the same authority that was crying for cash just weeks ago has now cut a generous break for a real estate developer. As difficult as times may be, it doesn't warrant a bailout for developers.”

WNYC Radio, MTA Approves New Deal for Atlantic Yards

REPORTER: Some board members expressed regret that they were accepting less cash up front and a less valuable rail yard than originally proposed in 2005. But Jeff Kay, who represents Mayor Bloomberg on the board, said it was better than nothing.

KAY: There is no other market, no one else has come forward with a credible proposal at this time.

Um, could that be because the deal with Ratner has been cooked from day one?

REPORTER: At the last minute, opponents of the Atlantic Yards project offered to pay $120 million over a period of 12 years for the rail yards. Developer Bruce Ratner is paying $100 million over 21 years under the new deal.

Board members did not appear to take the counter-offer seriously and the board chairman refused to comment when asked about it.

Crain's NY Business, MTA approves Atlantic Yards schedule changes

The outcome was expected despite a cadre of critics claiming that the MTA is shirking its financial responsibility by allowing the $100 million payment to be stretched out over two decades. Now instead of paying the money upfront, Forest City will deliver $20 million at closing and the rest in payments ending in 2031.

The MTA vote comes a day after the board of the Empire State Development Corp. approved changes to its deal with Forest City that also awards the developer more financial breathing room. Now Forest City will be able to pay for the land in pieces instead of all at once. A public comment period will follow the vote and any negative testimony—which is virtually guaranteed—will require another tally. The result is expected to be the same, however.

That's an understatement. Did someone say something about a cooked deal?*

Forest City’s next major agenda item is selling bonds to finance the project’s centerpiece: an arena that where the company’s basketball team, the Net’s will play. The company hopes to begin selling $490 million worth of bonds to finance the $772 million arena this fall.

Daily News I-Team Blog, Done deal: MTA approves Ratner pact - and that's that

MTA officials who approved a sweetened deal on Wednesday for Nets owner Bruce Ratner refused to consider an alternative plan for Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards which its proponents say would provide the embattled transit authority more money in a shorter period of time.

The UNITY Trust plan pushed by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, which has led the opposition to Ratner's plan to build a basketball arena and housing towers in Prospect Heights, calls for the MTA to receive $120 million over 12 years. The plan approved by the MTA calls for Ratner to pay $20 million up front and $80 million by 2031.

The Vanderbilt Rail Yards would be placed into a trust that would oversee financing and management of the project. The trust would generate more revenue by dividing up the land over the railyard and offering it to several developers.

The MTA's own appraisal valued the Vanderbilt Rail Yards at $214 million, and Extell Development offered $150 million for the site. So DDDB's Daniel Goldstein says he is not surprised that the MTA snubbed the UNITY Trust, even though the agency clearly could use the extra money (the state legislature approved a $2.26 billion rescue plan for the MTA last month).

2nd Ave. Sagas, MTA Board approves renegotiated Ratner deal

No surprise here, but the MTA Board has approved the sweeter sweetheart deal for Bruce Ratner. Instead of paying anything close to market price for land valued at $214 million four years ago, Ratner will pay the MTA the lump sum of $20 million with deferred payments over the next 22 years totaling $80 million. In return, he will provide a smaller-than-promised rail facility for the Atlantic Yards. Only two MTA Board members — Allen P. Cappelli and Mitchell H. Pally — voted against the new deal.

Posted by eric at 11:22 PM


NY Post Editorial

The Post's editorial board must have actually started reading Rich Calder's stories.

After pleading poverty, jacking up fares and squeezing $2 billion from Albany, the MTA is now flush with cash.

Or so one might think -- if the agency OKs a plan to let a developer pay for air rights over the Atlantic Avenue rail yard on a 22-year layaway plan.

It better not. When its board votes today, it should nix the plan -- and demand that Forest City Ratner stick to the old deal.

Forest City and CEO Bruce Ratner had agreed to pay $100 million up front for the rights. Now, it seeks to put just $20 million down, paying the rest over the next 22 years.

Plus, it wants a below-market interest rate. And it would scale back work to develop the yard for the agency.

This would be a bum deal even if the MTA was rolling in dough. It's surely not a bank or finance company, able to peddle valuable property rights on the installment plan.

Indeed, the agency lacks funding for its own critical needs -- like maintaining and upgrading equipment.

Sure, times have changed since the deal was reached in 2005.

But if the climate is so bad today that a major developer with a solid track record like Forest City can't raise $100 million, what hope is there that it'll be able to raise $4 billion-plus to cover the entire project's costs?

Make no mistake: We backed the Atlantic Yards development, including a new basketball arena for the Nets and 16 new buildings, from the start. We still think investment there will benefit Brooklyn.

But the MTA needs to watch its wallet. It can't afford to subsidize private developers, and it shouldn't try.

A "no" vote on the revised plan today will send that message clearly.


NoLandGrab: Guess the 10 MTA board members who voted "yes" today missed this editorial this morning — like we did.

Posted by eric at 3:20 PM

Atlantic Yards MTA Bailout: Tabloid Edition

The city's tabloids weigh in on today's straphanger-funded MTA bailout of Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project.


Bruce Ratner got his own MTA bailout today.

The agency approved a plan for Brooklyn's controversial Atlantic Yards project that lets the mega-developer pay off $100 million he owes the agency over 22 years.

The deal -- okayed after a heated three hour meeting at MTA headquarters in Midtown -- also allows him to shave off more than $100 million of the $345 million in transit improvements he had promised.

NY Daily News, MTA signs off on sweet Atlantic Yards deal Bruce Ratner: Money down drops from $100M to $20

The 10-2 approval lets developer Bruce Ratner off the hook for his $100 million cash payment for Brooklyn's Vanderbilt Railyards, part of the site for his planned new arena.

If Ratner couldn't proceed without help, the critics said, the MTA should have looked for other developers.

Posted by eric at 2:53 PM

"The Next Station is... Barclays"

WPIX 11 News, Barclays To Buy Name To Major Brooklyn Subway Station

Commuters passing through the Atlantic Avenue-Pacific Street and Flatbush Avenue subway station in Prospect Heights may soon hear the word "Barclays" to the already long subway station name.

If the deal goes through, the Barclays name change would not go into effect until 2012.

Brownstoner, More Naming Rights for Barclay's

All you Atlantic Yards fans out there in the blogosphere are gonna love this one. Now, not only will you get to (maybe) have an arena with the name Barclay's plastered all over it, you're also going to have a subway station with the name Barclay's plastered all over it.

Joe. My. God., Barclays Presents: The D Train

Ugh, ugh, ugh. NYC's cash-strapped MTA has sold the naming rights to downtown Brooklyn's massive subway station to Barclays Bank.

Tales from Real America, MTA Crosses a Rubicon

MTA sells naming rights to the Atlantic-Pacific Subway stop to Barclay's bank.

For $200,000 a year.

For 20 years.

MTA, Forest City Ratner and Barclays can all go to hell.

AP via Asbury Park Press, MTA sells renaming rights to N.Y. subway station

The developer of a new NBA arena in Brooklyn has bought the rights to rename a subway station for $4 million.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority approved the deal Wednesday.

Posted by eric at 1:45 PM

Atlantic Yards Developer Is Allowed to Defer Payments

City Room
by Michael Grynbaum

The developer Bruce C. Ratner can defer his payments for the Atlantic Yards project over a period of two decades, the governing board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted on Wednesday, despite objections from community advocates who derided the deal as a “bailout” for Mr. Ratner.

Only two members of the authority’s board voted against the plan, which will allow Mr. Ratner’s company to pay $20 million up front and $80 million in deferred payments through 2031. Mr. Ratner was originally obligated to pay $100 million up front to the agency, but he requested revised terms after the real estate market entered its steep decline.

Nearly 50 speakers, ranging from private citizens to labor representatives to politicians, spoke before the board’s vote, although their opinions on the matter were mixed.*

Voting against the plan were Allen P. Cappelli, an appointee of Gov. David A. Paterson, and Mitchell H. Pally of Long Island. Andrew M. Saul, the vice chairman, abstained, and Norman I. Seabrook was absent.

In the board’s debate, Mr. Cappelli said he was bothered by Mr. Ratner’s plans to ratchet down the renovation of the railyards at the heart of the project. He added that the sales price determined by the authority might be below market rate.

“This land is very valuable,” Mr. Cappelli said. “I know the economy has changed a lot in the four years since this plan was initially approved. There may be some risk in pushing the developer back to the table, but unfortunately it’s a risk that I would recommend we take.”

* Norman Oder offers a correction:

Re: “Their opinions on the matter were mixed.”

Actually, no. Almost all the supporters of Forest City Ratner’s plan praised the project as a whole, ignoring the transportation and fiscal impacts of the offer before the MTA.

No elected official other than (a rep for) Brooklyn BP Marty Markowitz spoke in favor of the project.

Along with Letitia James, Assemblyman Jim Brennan and state Senator Bill Perkins (via a rep) spoke against the deal. So did Council Member David Yassky.


Posted by eric at 1:35 PM

This Week in Bailouts: ESDC Edition

The Brooklyn Paper, Another bailout! This time, ESDC lets Ratner off the hook

The Atlantic Yards mega-project, initially envisioned by developer Bruce Ratner as a 16-skyscraper office, residential and basketball arena complex, is now officially dead, thanks to a new deal with state officials that calls for Ratner to only acquire land to build the arena and one or two buildings around it.

On Tuesday, the board of the Empire State Development Corporation approved a new “General Project Plan” that reveals that Ratner only wants to develop the eight acres above the Vanderbilt railyard near the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues. The state and Ratner have put off acquiring the other 14 acres that comprise what was once called the Atlantic Yards project site.

“The remainder of the site will be acquired when necessary for development,” Steve Matlin, the ESDC’s counsel, told the agency’s board on Tuesday.

In other words, the remainder of the project, which includes the vast majority of the below-market-rate housing and open space that was part of the project when it was originally approved in December, 2006, has been put off indefinitely.

NoLandGrab: Actually, the revised General Project Plan still indicates that the entire Atlantic Yards project will be built in 10 years (wink, wink).

Curbed, Today in Atlantic Yards: Subways Sell Out, Costs Rise, More!

The Empire State Development Corporation approved Forest City Ratner's amended, Frank Gehry-less plan for the Atlantic Yards yesterday, and the MTA's board of directors should approve the new sweetheart deal today. With all the Atlantic Yards action, new details about the arena and its 16 or so companion towers are coming to light. Here's a summary...

GlobeSt.com, ESDC Approves Modified Atlantic Yards Plan

Unlike a raucous public hearing on Atlantic Yards earlier this month, at which ESDC representatives warned of cuts to the project, order and procedure permeated Tuesday’s ESDC meeting. Board members listened to 40 speakers. The majority were project supporters, some wearing red ACORN shirts, while others sported blue "Build Atlantic Yards" buttons, all mixed with a smattering of hard hats and orange vests. Project supporter talking points included union job creation, minority participation, praise of FCRC’s track record in downtown Brooklyn and the eventual arrival of the Brooklyn Nets at the project’s arena.

Although outnumbered in the speaker roster, project opponents articulated concerns that included peppering the board with questions of transparency, oversight and taxpayer financed developments. There was even a moment of public policy theatre, when an Atlantic Yards opponent sporting a "Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn" T-shirt used his entire allotted three minutes as a silent protest.

Later, board members assured the audience that they were indeed listening, that they did not speak or engage speakers because it was "never their intent to engage the witnesses."

Posted by eric at 12:59 PM

MTA full board rubber-stamps Ratner bailout

The Brooklyn Paper
by Mike McLaughlin

As expected, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority approved a massive public bailout of the struggling Atlantic Yards project today, changing the project’s financing to save developer Bruce Ratner hundreds of millions of dollars.

The full MTA board, following a presentation on Monday, met this morning and overwhelmingly rubber-stamped a deal to allow Ratner, who had originally promised $100 million for rights to build over the Vanderbilt railyards in Prospect Heights, to pay just $20 million up front for the prime eight-acres.

The remaining $80 million would be paid out, at 6-1/2 percent interest, over the next 22 years.

Ratner secured the railyard development rights in 2006 for less than its MTA-appraised value because he also promised $345 million in infrastructure improvements to the MTA facility.

Under the new deal, though, Ratner would make just $147 million in railyard improvements.

The MTA board vote was 10-2, and it came moments after the main Atlantic Yards opposition group, Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, tried to upstage the meeting by offering $120 million for the development rights over the Vanderbilt Yard.

The group’s spokesman, Daniel Goldstein, made the offer during the public comment period. The offer was not accepted. In fact, it was not discussed at all by the board members.


Posted by eric at 12:55 PM

Three from WNYC

The Skinny on the New Atlantic Yards Project

Two state agencies are spending this week revising the deal that would bring the Nets basketball team and a massive real estate development, to Brooklyn.

The board of the MTA is expected to vote this morning on a new payment schedule, that would allow the developer to put only $20-million down on the project, instead of a promised $100-million up front. And yesterday, the state economic development agency gave a preliminary green light to that plan.

Atlantic Yards Hearing Draws Overflow Crowd

A grassroots group opposed to Atlantic Yards, Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, has made a last-ditch move to avert the rail yard sale. The group’s spokesman Daniel Goldstein offered $120 million dollars for the rail yard which is $20 million dollars more than Ratner has proposed.

Goldstein said afterwards that the group would form a trust that would sell off the land and development rights to developers. He said he was confident that the trust would be able to pay the full amount in 12 years, while Ratner would take 21 years.

MTA to Vote on New Atlantic Yards Plan

ESDC originally planned to buy rights to the entire nine-acre rail yard all at the same time, and then lease them, also all at the same time, to developer Ratner.

Now, Ratner wants to acquire the rail yard in pieces, the first this year or next, the other perhaps not until 2016. That gives the economy time to recover and the developer a better chance of raising the money he needs.

For the 62 people who still live in the footprint, however, the news is the same: they will have to move in the coming months, or be forced out through eminent domain.

Posted by eric at 12:44 PM

BREAKING NEWS: MTA Board Approves Amended Deal to Sell Vanderbilt Yard to Ratner

In a vote that was only surprising because several two (we were trying to count hands via the MTA's web cast) board members actually voted no, the MTA's board at 12:05 p.m. approved the sale of Brooklyn's Vanderbilt Yard to developer Forest City Ratner for just $20 million down, with another $80 million to be paid out over the next 22 years.

For everybody not named Bruce Ratner, the MTA will be raising fares this Sunday across all its divisions, in most cases by double digits.

Posted by eric at 12:05 PM


New York City - The MTA today announced that Bruce Ratner, the developer of the controversial Atlantic Yards project, will be allowed to defer $80 million of the $100 million total he has agreed to pay for the site. The final installments will not be paid until 2031. The MTA board members who will meet tomorrow to vote on the revised agreement were given only 48 hours to review the complex documents.

“It only points out how this project should never have been approved in the first place,” said Council Member and Mayoral candidate Tony Avella. “It's time to kill this monster once and for all.”

The Atlantic Yards project has been diminishing in recent months as the developer attempts to cut costs. Frank Gehry’s ambitious stadium plans were replaced with a smaller barn-like structure by architectural firm Ellerbe Becket. The number of cars that can operate out of the Long Island Railroad station has also been reduced from 76 to 56 cars.

“This project would tear the fabric of Brooklyn for many generations to come,” Avella said. “It must be stopped.”

Posted by eric at 11:59 AM

DDDB PRESS RELEASE: Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn Offers $120 Million to MTA for Vanderbilt Yard

Offer is More Money, Less Risk Than Forest City Ratner’s

New York, New York — On Wednesday a Brooklyn community organization, Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, Inc. (DDDB), made a firm offer of $120 million to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to purchase the development rights for the 8-acre Vanderbilt Yard in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. The group proposes a mixed-use development plan over the rail yards based on the UNITY Plan framework. (See: www.unityplan.org and download the full PDF.)

To complete their offer, the Vanderbilt Yard would be placed into a trust (modeled after the successful Hudson River Trust), for the purposes of financing and managing the development over the yards. It will be called the UNITY Trust.

The UNITY Trust would be administered by local community organizations, a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corporation, and local elected officials. The Trust would be mandated to bid the yards out in smaller, manageable parcels (6-8), for development and payment over a far shorter timeline than developer Forest City Ratner’s proposed 22-year Atlantic Yards timeline. The UNITY Trust will seek out both for-profit and not-for-profit development teams.

The group estimates—based upon comparable efforts elsewhere and extrapolating the 2005 MTA appraisal and rail yard construction cost projections—that the project can be completed in approximately 12 years.

Benefits to the MTA

• The offer is secured by the land; there is no risk of default.

• The amount paid to the MTA for this valuable asset will exceed the amount promised to the MTA in a proposed agreement between the MTA and Forest City Ratner. It will be paid over an accelerated timeframe (about 12 years vs. 22 years by Forest City Ratner).

• The MTA will directly control the newly built, permanent rail yard under the development and will be able to construct it to their capacity needs. There will be no need to waste money on a temporary solution, since Forest City Ratner’s urgency to build its proposed arena—the only reason for a temporary rail yard—will not be an issue. The MTA will be reimbursed for the rail yard construction costs.

• The UNITY Trust will not be forced into an immediate disposition of development rights into an uncertain economy (which undervalues them); it will be able to coordinate the sales and construction over time in order to obtain the best value for the UNITY Trust.

• In aggregate the payments to the MTA will be over $200 million, and the net present value of the payments will be nearly $120 million. Both amounts exceed MTA’s renegotiated proposal with Forest City Ratner’s.

Public Benefits

The project will result in true public benefits (affordable housing skewed towards lower income levels, union labor, open public space designed for public use, a community center, a school, small retail space for local businesses, light industry and new roads connecting neighborhoods):

• Eminent domain will not be used;

• Streets will not be removed, new neighborhood connecting streets will be constructed;

• There will be true affordable housing for low and moderate incomes delivered in the early phases of the project;

• 10,000 construction job years;

• A legally binding, city and state guaranteed Community Benefits Agreement will be negotiated, involving all community stakeholders in the project’s impact radius;

• It will be a less risky project than Atlantic Yards by including multiple developers and the financial resources that each would bring to the UNITY framework;

• The project will be financed, in part, with tax-free municipal funding in a legitimate fashion (rather than the murky use of PILOTS contemplated by Forest City Ratner), reducing overall costs;

• Community organizations in Central Brooklyn have signed on to the UNITY framework and strongly support it. They would not challenge it or litigate against it.

The group has secured working capital in excess of $5 million towards this effort.

DDDB’s proposal will provide the MTA with a more attractive financial return than the Forest City Ratner offer, and on the basis that DDDB’s proposal will likely engender widespread community and civic support, DDDB hopes and expects that the MTA will provide the opportunity through discussion and negotiation for further refinement of the UNITY proposal.

“DDDB is certain that our offer would receive stiff competition if the Vanderbilt Yard were put out to bid with a Request for Proposal and underwent a competitive, fair bidding process. But we feel fortunate that we can make such a discounted offer, for such a great piece of real estate, due to the absence of a competitive bidding process,” said Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn spokesman Daniel Goldstein. “The MTA Board must table any decisions on the Vanderbilt Rail Yards sale until it has time to review our offer along side its renegotiated agreement with Forest City Ratner. The Board has a fiduciary duty to do this.”


Posted by eric at 10:59 AM

Greetings from Scott Turner: The Lessness of Senses

via Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn

I'm amused these days thinking about a remark someone made at Rocky's a couple of months ago. Things weren't going well for Bruce Ratner. Community opposition, the crashing economy and Ratner's own incompetence had brought the Atlantic Yards project to a halt. Hadn't killed it, mind you, but halted it was.

Noticing my Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn badge, a gentleman said "C'mon, man, whattya want? The project's dead. You want his head on a pike, too?"

Only if it would end the madness that is the Atlantic Yards project. Once and for all. But Bruce Ratner, the zombie who doesn't know he's dead, just keeps coming and keeps coming, so selfish and self-absorbed is he. And that's why the project's not packing the moving van for Kaputsville.

As it stands, the MTA -- the same one always threatening to cut subway and bus routes, services, repairs and new capital projects -- is feeling so flush and happy that it's letting Bruce Ratner pay $20 million for a property the MTA had originally valued at $214 million.

For a property that another developer offered $150 million for when Ratner was offering only $50.

For a property that currently has ten tracks and Ratner's design will leave a growing system with only seven.

For a property that Ratner will be allowed to pay off during the next twenty-two years as fare hikes jump and services get cut, so warns the same MTA honchos bending over backwards to accommodate Bruce.


Posted by eric at 10:57 AM

MTA Board Meeting: Live!

Watch the MTA give your tax dollars away to Bruce Ratner LIVE on the MTA's web site.

Watch Now

Posted by eric at 10:56 AM

Atlantic Yards, Metaphorically Speaking

Noticing New York

NNY's Michael D.D. White searches for just the right term to describe Atlantic Yards. Is it a zombie? A possum? Dracula? Click through to find out.

Finding the right metaphor to describe Atlantic Yards can be edifying and, at the same time, a challenge. Recently, ESDC head Marisa Lago formulated the metaphor of Atlantic Yards as a kitchen renovation. We found that her metaphor adapted quite well for our purposes. (See: Monday, June 1, 2009, Negotiating With Your Contractor: The Atlantic Yards As Kitchen Renovation Metaphor.)

It is not so clear that Ms. Lago herself had success with the metaphor because exactly one week after she coined it she was let go from ESDC after having served barely nine months in her position.

We noticed that Develop Don’t Destroy was recently offering a new metaphor, describing Atlantic Yards as a “Zombie Project.” (See: Nets, Ratner, Yormark Desperately Trying to Market Zombie Project, posted: 6.04.09.) The idea behind that, of course, is that the strange political forces that keep re-animating Atlantic Yards don’t seem to recognize when a natural death and permanent grave rest under the lilies is appropriate.


Posted by eric at 10:45 AM

Atlantic Yards Report Two Times

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder looks at two pieces from The Times, one from yesterday's paper, and the other from 15 years ago. [Unlike a fine wine, The Times is not getting better with age.]

The Times gets conclusory: "There will... soon be a Barclays Center"


There may soon be a Barclays Center. And certainly the MTA's passage of the deal today with Forest City Ratner, coupled with the Empire State Development Corporation's preliminary approval of a new AY plan, make it more likely than before.

However, when the Atlantic Yards arena was announced in 2003, it was supposed to open in 2006. Every year the goalposts move. A little skepticism--or at least a little hedging--is in order, especially since FCR is the parent New York Times Company's business partner in the Times Tower.

New York Times editorial (in 1994): "It is wiser to walk away than stumble into a giveaway"

The Finance Committee of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) was told Monday by CFO Gary Dellaverson that they had to go ahead with a sweeter Vanderbilt Yard deal for Forest City Ratner because it would be hard to get development on the property in this economy.

He also acknowledged that FCR's deadlines for tax-exempt bonds were driving the breakneck schedule.

Other than Nicole Gelinas in the New York Post, no one's editorialized about the deal, which is expected to be approved tomorrow (though not without some dissent). The New York Times's news coverage seemed especially tailored to downplay the controversy.

Once upon a time, however, the Times crusaded against a somewhat parallel effort to lowball a land deal and said it was better to wait than to rush.

NoLandGrab: We know that The Times would never let its business dealings influence its editorial page, so we're sure that it's just coincidence that their crusading against the sale of the old New York Coliseum site to developer Mortimer Zuckerman had nothing to do with the fact that Mr. Zuckerman was and is the publisher of the rival Daily News, just as the paper's silence on the giveaway to developer Bruce Ratner surely has nothing to do with the fact that Ratner is The Times's development partner.

Posted by eric at 10:21 AM

AY project cost rises to $4.9 billion; ESDC promises arena 2012, one tower; maintains ten-year timeframe while saying delay wouldn't be material

Atlantic Yards Report

Atlantic Yards, at least for the purposes of environmental review--and avoidance of pesky lawsuits--is pretty much the same, according to documents released yesterday by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) at a board meeting.

It’s just been delayed, and time has led to increasing costs, to a projected $4.9 billion. However, despite public statements by departing CEO Marisa Lago that the project would take “decades,” AY--according to the amended General Project Plan (GPP)--would still take ten years to build, would still generate the same number of construction jobs, and still generate the same $944 million in net tax revenue.

(Lago is pictured at right with board member Kevin Corbett. Photos by Jonathan Barkey.)

However, documents also suggested a significant chance of delay, thus decreasing the likelihood that claimed project benefits would be produced as promised. There's also an apparent contradiction between the ESDC's claim that a new railyard would be finished in 2013 and a Metropolitan Transportation Authority contract--to be voted on today--that would give developer Forest City Ratner until 2016.

Conspicuously missing--and a sign of the pressure to get the project passed even as the arena’s being designed, with a December 31 outside date for tax-exempt financing--were any posterboard renderings of the new arena and surrounding buildings, or a schematic diagram of the arena block.


Posted by lumi at 6:05 AM

Even sweeter deals for developer of Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards project

NY Daily News
By Jotham Sederstrom and Erin Durkin

It's been a sweet week for Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner.

State officials Tuesday rubber-stamped a plan for the controversial Brooklyn project, giving Ratner an extra three years to complete the job.

Earlier in the week, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority unveiled an agreement giving Ratner 21 years to pay for the Vanderbilt Railyards, where he plans to build an arena for the New Jersey Nets and 16 office and residential towers.

The revised plan calls for the 22-acre project to be completed by 2019 - not 2016 as originally scheduled. The new plan also costs $4.9 billion, up from $4.2 billion.

Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco said Ratner was "confident" he can meet the new schedule, and again vowed to break ground this fall.

One state official acknowledged the time line could not be guaranteed.

"Meeting that schedule is going to require the cooperation of the [financial] markets," said Empire State Development Corp. counsel Steven Matlin.


Bergen Record, Atlantic Yards project closer to final approval

Joe DiPlasco, a spokesman for Forest City Ratner, said that the recently leaked “barn-like” revised renderings of the Barclays Center basketball arena “do not represent the arena design.” The revised design — in the wake of the departure of star architect Frank Gehry — are expected to be made public later this summer.

That frustrates Daniel Goldstein, who may lose his condominium in the arena footprint to eminent domain proceedings.

“The project appears to have no clothes,” Goldstein told the board. “When you approved [the original plan] three years ago, there were grand designs all over the room of the arena and the rest of the project. I don’t see any here today, yet you are about to approve a modified plan when no one even knows what it looks like.”

EmpireStateNews.net, ESDC Board approves over $16 million in grants
NJ.com, New Jersey Nets' Atlantic Yards project takes another step toward final approval

Posted by lumi at 5:58 AM


monopoly.gif Lost City, Play Bloomberg-opoly! (We're All Forced To, Anyway, Right?)

The Angry New Yorker blog has come up with perfect board game for our time. It's frustrating! It's hilarious! It's all true! It's Bloomberg-opoly!!!
Community Chest is now the City Council Slush Fund. Chance is now "Rezone?" The green squares are a series of failed developments: Coney Island, West Side Yard and Atlantic Yards. Only developers are allowed to land on the yellow space labeled "eminent domain.

[Click on image for full board.]

Posted by lumi at 5:49 AM

It came from the Blogosphere...

More coverage in the blogosphere of this week's Atlantic Yards-MTA deal.

CityFile, Bailout in Brooklyn?

Under terms of a new deal that was revealed just this week (and goes to a vote tomorrow): Ratner will only have to pay the MTA $20 million upfront, and he'll get to spread out the other $80 million over the next 21 years.

kindlypogmothoin.com, What the fuck? No, really, what the fucking fuck?

We’re selling naming rights to subway stations now?
I might have known. The MTA and Forest City Ratner are awfully cozy these days. And the Times blithely rolls along with cute little gosh-that’s-a-mouthful jokes and largely uncritical coverage of the massive boondoggle that is Atlantic Yards.

NYPolitics.com, MTA Set To Approve New Atlantic Yards deals

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority agreed to let Atlantic Yards developer Forest City off the hook for some of its financial obligations in a bid to jumpstart the long-stalled Brooklyn project.

Posted by lumi at 5:42 AM

Today Barclays-Atlantic Avenue, Tomorrow Disney-Times Square? MTA "Very Open" To Selling Subway Naming Rights

Runnin' Scared [The Village Voice blog]
By Neil deMause


That resounding "Ewwwww!" you heard emanating from Brooklyn was the sound of locals discovering that as part of Bruce Ratner's revamped deal with the MTA for the Atlantic Yards site, he's set to get naming rights to the Atlantic Avenue subway station. If it's approved by the MTA board tomorrow as expected, the new station name — which as Ben Kabak notes at Second Avenue Sagas would bear the unwieldy moniker "Atlantic Avenue/Pacific Street/Barclays Center — would presumably be put in place once Ratner's new basketball arena opens, which is set to happen any century now.


The NY Times, M.T.A. Sells Naming Rights to Subway Station

Posted by lumi at 4:51 AM

June 23, 2009

Bottom Line at Rock Bottom

Nets Daily

Bruce Ratner does not appear to be reinvesting his big railyard savings in his basketball team.

The bottom half of Dave D’Alessandro’s blog Tuesday is all about the bottom line and it’s not good. Among other things, Dave D reports 1) all four Nets’ assistants will return, but are taking “huge pay cuts”; 2) the Nets have laid off their advance scout and will share reports on upcoming teams; and 3) the franchise has lost one-third of its employees in the last nine months. Hoping for a big summer signing? Stop.


Posted by eric at 11:17 PM

It came from the Blogosphere...

Restless, Thank You Mayor Bloomberg!

This morning I noticed a personal note from Mayor "Mike" Bloomberg in the City Room comment section, on complaints about developer Bruce Ratner getting yet another break on Atlantic Yards, this time from the MTA:

Bruce Ratner is rich.

He deserves special treatment. The rest of you should be thankful we even let you live in NYC. It’s very difficult being around all you poor people.

— Bloomie

To me, Bloomberg's greatest sin is his relentless effort to turn NYC into a whitewashed suburban simulation of a city, where his buddies -- the developers and their Masters of the Universe clientele (now getting back to business as usual, rebuilding the house of cards) -- can feel comfortable in their self-centered skin, and party-on undisturbed by the notion that other people, unfathomably unlike them, exist.

Field of Schemes, Revised Nets deal includes reduced payments, subway naming rights

A bigger break for the developer — and one not mentioned by many news outlets, including the New York Times — is that Ratner would also spend $100 million less on replacing the MTA's train yard than he'd previously promised.

Brownstoner, MTA Finance Committee Approves New Ratner Deal

In... what may end up being the quote of the year, MTA finance chief Gary Dellaverson said of the deal, "It's not quite as good as we had hoped." Priceless.

Nets Daily, ESDC Approves New Plan for Atlantic Yards Tuesday

Just as the MTA moved Monday to expedite Bruce Ratner’s request to stretch out payments for the railyards beneath Barclays Center, the state’s main development arm–Ratner’s partner in Atlantic Yards, did the same Tuesday in permitting changes in his plans for the project.

Posted by eric at 10:51 PM


NY Post
by Rich Calder

The Post's Rich Calder has a must-read wrap-up of today's "brutally weird" Atlantic Yards developments.

All the bells and whistles have been stripped from it -- most notably "starchitect" Frank Gehry and his expressionist building and arena designs -- but the cost of developer Bruce Ratner's controversial Atlantic Yards project has ballooned by nearly a billion dollars, state officials said today.

The now-$4.9 billion plan re-introduced by the Empire State Development Corp. claims Ratner will deliver a project similar to the $4 billion plan approved in Dec. 2006 that called for an NBA arena and 16 residential and office towers.

But the new plan is filled with many holes. It anticipates a 2019 project completion date for the long-delayed project but leaves the door open to future delays.

Following today's meeting, critics of the plan, many of who supported the original Atlantic Yards concept, questioned whether the 2,250 units of affordable housing Ratner promised to help win community support are now a pipe dream. Some even accused the state and Ratner of trying to dupe the public with a "bait and switch."

"The sweeping promises of affordable housing made by the developer at the onset of this project have now evaporated to a mere whisper," said Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn), who supported the original project plan.

"At this point, it is not clear that the developer plans to build anything other than an arena and a few affordable apartment units, and that is simply unacceptable."

The ESDC says the modifications are strictly financial and don't require a new application process because key facets of the project remain unchanged, including the arena still calling for 18,000 seats and the project expected to create thousands of jobs.

But opponents say the plan is so dramatically different that the ESDC must start the state environmental review process from square one -- a process that could delay the project by months if not years years.

Ratner already successfully panhandled the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The cash-strapped agency Wednesday is planning to help bail the project out by giving Ratner 22 years to pay off $100 million he owes the MTA and by letting him shave off more than $100 million of the $345 million in transit improvements he promised in exchange various state approvals.


Posted by eric at 6:33 PM

Ladies and Gentlemen, introducing your Modified, $5 Billion Atlantic Yards Project!

NY Observer, The New Atlantic Yards: Less Pretty, More Pricey

Two and a half years after receiving the go-ahead to build a $4 billion complex of apartments and a Nets basketball arena, developer Forest City Ratner is back with a modified plan, trying, once again, to wrap up approvals and to get financing for the project.

The plan has been heavily battered by the recession and rising costs: Star architect Frank Gehry was once promised and relentlessly advertised as designer of the whole project, including the arena—now he’s out, on account of costs. Payments to the public sector—in the form of cash up front and a new rail yard for the M.T.A., have been delayed and curtailed, respectively. The housing is slated to start after the arena starts. And the total price tag now is estimated in state documents at about $4.9 billion, up from $4 billion.

Tuesday, the state released some early renderings of the new, trimmed down and less attractive arena by arena architect Ellerbe Becket (The Times architecture critic called it a “stunning bait-and-switch”).

Be sure to check out the Observer's slide show, complete with new landscaping design by Field Operations — though according to Forest City spokesman Joe DePlasco, the "master plan" is still the work of Laurie Olin.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, State Approves Changes To Atlantic Yards Plan

The original General Project Plan was approved by ESDC in December 2006. The proposed modifications approved Tuesday are summarized below:

Acquisition of the Project Site in Stages — This would allow Forest City Ratner to move forward with the development of the planned Nets basketball arena and four surrounding towers, as well as construction-phase parking and parking for the arena. The first stage would include construction of the arena as soon as the company gains possession of the intended site and the beginning of construction for the first non-arena building. The remainder of the site would be developed during the second phase.

MTA Site Acquisition — ESDC will acquire a portion of the MTA property for $20 million, which will be paid by Forest City. Forest City will agree to pay the MTA the balance of the $100 million purchase price, plus interest, in installments. This is basically the same deal Forest City Ratner made with the MTA.

Upgrades to Vanderbilt Railyard — Forest City will provide the MTA with a letter of credit (in the amount of $86 million) to secure its future obligation to upgrade the Vanderbilt Railyard, prior to the first property acquisition by ESDC.

Crain's NY Business, Atlantic Yards developer wins longer schedule

The entire modified plan hasn’t been publically disclosed, but the ESDC says it allows for Forest City to acquire the 22-acre site in stages instead of all at once. It said the developer would first take possession of the parcel that is set to hold the arena, its parking, and four towers, and take over the rest later on.

In a statement, Forest City Chief Executive Bruce Ratner said, “The modified plan will allow us to proceed and at the same time ensure that the many benefits of Atlantic Yards become a reality.”

The Cross Pollinator, Atlantic Yards: Poster Child For NY State Corruption

I wouldn’t want to waste too much breath on a corrupt process that has come off the rails (no pun intended). However, as an honest person who lives in New York City, watching this deal go down while the Republicans and Democrats have a cosmic pissing match upstate, it is hard not to see New York State as a gigantic toilet where rich developers get what they want and normal folks get it up the ass.

There’s no hesitation in raising fares on subway riders, and there’s no hesitation in allowing Ratner out of the deal he made with the MTA but can no longer afford. They are a match made in heaven. The MTA should be dissolved and Ratner should throw in the towel on this ill advised attempt to stuff his no good basketball team into a Kentucky Fried Chicken Box style arena in the middle of Brooklyn.

How do you look at this deal and say the fix is not in?

Posted by eric at 6:06 PM

Atlantic Yards Developer Agrees To MTA Payment Plan

NY1 News

The "through the looking-glass" award goes to NY1, whose headline would have gotten a big accuracy boost had it read "MTA Agrees To Atlantic Yards Developer's Payment Plan."

The MTA reached a new deal Monday with the developer of the controversial Atlantic Yards project.

Instead of paying $100 million all at once for the nine acre site, developer Bruce Ratner will now pay $20 million up front and make additional payments for the next 21 years.

Ratner asked for the new deal because of the slumping economy.

It also scales down Ratner's requirements to build a replacement yard for the Long Island Rail Road.


Posted by eric at 5:42 PM

DDDB PRESS RELEASE: Empire State Development Corporation Continues Atlantic Yards Charade

Decision Makes Agency Vulnerable to Litigation

New York, New York – Today the unelected members of the Empire State Development Corporation board voted with a straight face to adopt a Modified General Project Plan (GPP) for Bruce Ratner’s failed Atlantic Yards development proposal in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.

The adoption of the plan triggers a sixty-day comment period and a public hearing, followed by an ESDC board vote likely to come in the Fall.

During the public board meeting none of the board members asked a single question once the summary of the Modified Project Plan was introduced. None asked if the “affordable” housing could be funded, if there was a cost-benefit analysis. Especially noteworthy was the complete absence of any renderings of the proposed arena or any of the 16 skyscrapers Forest City Ratner insists it will build. None of the board members asked to see what the project looks like.

ESDC claims the project has not changed substantially and that it will be built in ten years as originally planned. But in April the outgoing head of the ESDC Marisa Lago stated publicly the project would take decades to construct.

“The ESDC engaged itself in a charade today that the project it approved in 2006 would still be built. It won’t be. What is planned now, in the middle of a housing crisis, is an $800 million arena that will be a money loser for New York City and sit empty most of the time, one skyscraper and a handful of ‘affordable’ housing units, while the rest of the site stagnates under Ratner’s land speculation,” said Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn spokesman Daniel Goldstein.


Posted by eric at 5:33 PM

MTA report updated; note that Forest City Ratner's arena financing drives deal timing; questions about FCE's credit rating raised

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder posted an update to his report on yesterday's MTA Finance Committee hearing, which includes this exchange:

Board member Doreen Frasca said, "This is just an observation, and I know staff has worked very long and hard on this, including into this weekend, but I note that it's one month shy of four years since the board accepted the Forest City Ratner proposal, and this committee and this board is being given less than 48 hours to understand the complexities and vote intelligently... I think that's pretty outrageous. Why do we have to vote on Wednesday?"

"Well, of course, you don't," MTA Chief Financial Officer Gary Dellaverson responded. "It's entirely at the board's discretion to accept or reject or send back to the negotiating table... I think that, in terms of why must it be now in the summer versus in the fall, I think it really relates to Forest City's desire to market their bonds as a tax-exempt issuance [by a December 31 deadline]. If the structure... is not such that allows for the marketability of the bonds, then the financial aspect of the transaction, as it relates to arena construction expenses that Forest City Ratner would incur, become less viable and perhaps not viable. That's not something that I'm prepared to say from my own knowledge... but I would be remiss if I suggested anything other--that's the principal driver of the timing."

"The arena?" Frasca followed up.

"Sure," Dellaverson responded.


Posted by eric at 5:18 PM

MTA says arena would open in 2012, not 2011

Atlantic Yards Report

Oops, an MTA official let slip something we knew all along:

It was an aside during the presentation yesterday by Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chief Financial Officer Gary Dellaverson, but he clearly said (upon review of my recording) that "now until 2012 is the anticipated construction of the arena."

That's the date that I've been using as a best-case scenario for an arena opening, even as Forest City Ratner still claims it could open in 2011.


NoLandGrab: This kinda stuff never stopped Atlantic Yards developer and NJ Nets owner Bruce Ratner from misleading the public and press about the arena opening date before. We don't expect Ratner to be stricken by a bout of honesty any time soon.

Posted by lumi at 6:59 AM

TODAY: ESDC Board Meeting

While business in Albany has ground to a halt, Bruce Ratner has all the State agencies in lockstep.

Today the public will get to witness the Empire State Development Corporation claim with a straight face that the Atlantic Yards project hasn't changed that much... really!

JUNE 23, 9am

Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) Board Meeting
ESDC offices, 37th Floor, 633 Third Avenue (40-41), Manhattan

The ESDC Board is expected to present and adopt a modified General Project Plan for Atlantic Yards, triggering a 60-day comment period.

RSVP Required:
Members of the public who wish to attend the meeting are instructed to RSVP to (212) 803-3760. [If you get a voicemail, leave your name and phone number and that you will attend the board meeting.]

Posted by lumi at 6:54 AM

ESDC will announce a ten-year buildout for Atlantic Yards, but MTA deadlines make that timetable very dubious

Atlantic Yards Report

While the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), at its board meeting today, will announce that Atlantic Yards still would take ten years to build--thus avoiding a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement and delay in project approval--the revised deal for the Vanderbilt Yard revealed yesterday puts that timetable in significant doubt.

Notably, Forest City Ratner would have until September 1, 2016 to build a new permanent railyard. That would leave a little more than three years--until the later part of 2019--to finish the project.

However, the construction schedule approved as part of the Final Environmental Impact Statement projected that, to complete the project, it would take six years and eight months to build new platforms and then towers on them after the railyard had been built.


NoLandGrab: Bruce Ratner and the Empire State Developerment Corporation is planning on lying? We're shocked, SHOCKED!.

Though this week's events are a farce, it is disheartening that Ratner knows that the courts don't take into account whether or not NY State and the developer are telling the truth.

Posted by lumi at 6:43 AM

It came from the Blogosphere...

Huffington Post, MTA Hands Millions to Billionaire Developer

Surely one of the most bizarre events in the tortured story of the city's relationship with developers occurred today, in what may be the first of several upsetting events this week.

At a time when the city and MTA are scrambling for money through fare hikes and budget cuts, the Finance Committee of the MTA, which more or less controls the fate of billionaire developer Bruce Ratner (of Forest City Ratner), recommended Monday to drop the price of the air rights to their Brooklyn Vanderbilt Yards and let him off the hook for tens of millions of dollars. What's weird is that his billion-dollar proposed Atlantic Yards development can't go forward without a deal, so you'd tend to think the price would go UP, not down.

Second Avenue Saga, For $200,000 a year, a subway station name

I’ll get to the nitty-gritty of the MTA’s sweetheart deal for the Atlantic Yards rights later today. If you want to read about this embarrassment of riches for Bruce Ratner and the MTA’s dereliction of duty ahead of time, check out Mike Grynbaum’s coverage on City Room.

Right now, I want to instead turn my attention to an intriguing bit of news that came out of the MTA Board’s Finance Committee meeting on Monday. For the first time, the MTA will be taking in money in exchange for the naming rights to a subway station.

Posted by lumi at 6:38 AM

Headlines: Acting Governor Bruce Ratner directs MTA to bail out Acting Governor Bruce Ratner

NY Daily News, MTA lets Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner go on the installment plan

"If the MTA is flush with cash to such an extent that they can delay payment over 21 years, then ... there should not be any cutbacks in service. There should not be any discussion of any future fare hikes, said Councilwoman Letitia James (D, WFP-Brooklyn).
"Forest City Ratner has defaulted on this proposal that you all accepted four years ago. Why is he being rewarded with major concessions?" he asked members of the MTA's Finance Committee.


The deal was renegotiated because Ratner is having trouble financing the plan to build an NBA arena for his now-New Jersey Nets and 16 office and residential towers on 22 acres in Prospect Heights.

The rail yard Ratner is supposed to build would be reduced from what was to be nine tracks with a capacity for 76 cars to seven tracks that could handle 56.

The developer, however, is providing the agency a new funding source -- a 20-year, $4 million agreement to add the name of the planned Barclays Center arena to the Atlantic Avenue transit hub.

It would be the MTA's first-ever subway-station naming-rights deal.


Columnist Nicole Gelinas puts it bluntly:

Developer Bruce Ratner wants to renege on his deal with the MTA -- and the MTA is going along with it.
But lots of those "public benefits" have vanished in recent months: The stadium lost its "starchitecture" features; the affordable housing and the office tower have disappeared.

And now the MTA is going to let Ratner get away with not even paying for the site for decades.

This is crazy. The MTA needs this cash now to invest in physical assets like subway cars and signal refurbishment; its budget for these areas already faces a huge cash shortfall.

Remember, the MTA is so cash-strapped that it had to beg the state for a permanent $2 billion-a-year bailout a couple of months back. Yet now, in effect, it's proposing to lend money to a speculative developer at a 6.5 percent interest rate for decades.

That rate is laughable -- market-rate financing is unavailable at even twice that rate.
The board should vote it down and start from square one in finding a responsible deal for its valuable land, as is its legal duty.

Yes, it's hard to do a real-estate deal now. But the MTA can hardly do any worse.

amNY, Ailing Atlantic Yards development seeks revisions this week

Under the revised plan, Ratner would only promise to build one out of the 16 residential and commercial towers. The others will be delayed indefinitely, said Jim Vogul, a spokesman for state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery (D-Brooklyn). “It’s pretty murky,” Vogul said.

Meanwhile, Corporation officials characterized the plan revisions as minor.

MetroNY, MTA to give break to Yards developer

Over cries of a sweetheart deal, the MTA will vote tomorrow on whether to give a break to developer Bruce Ratner on the sale of its portion of the Atlantic Yards site in Brooklyn.

The Architect's Newspaper, Be My Sweetheart Deal

As for the new rail yards, they are expected to cost $147 million, down from an expected $240 million. (Some accounts put the ultimate amount at closer to $340 million in infrastructural and environmental work, much of which is now out of the deal.) The scaled-down seven-track yards will have a capacity of 56 cars, down from the 76 cars allowed by nine tracks. While questions had been raised as recently as a month ago about whether a reduction in tracks would jeopardize the planned East Access megaproject, MTA officials said this was no longer the case.

“Helena is satisfied her usage will not be impacted,” H. Dale Hemmerdinger, the board chair said, referring to Helena Williams, president of the Long Island Railroad, which operates the yards. A number of committee members struggled to grasp how this was possible, repeatedly asking question about it, without ever getting a clear answer. It was also revealed that the developer approached the MTA about value engineering the site toward the end of last year, and worked with Parsons Brinckerhoff on “value engineering” the design of the station.

The NY Times, M.T.A. Sweetens Deal on Atlantic Yards

Without explaining why Bruce Ratner's sweetheart deal with the MTA makes good-government watchdogs cringe, the "Paper of Record" wiffed on yesterday's presentation of the new deal by running a short outline which included only a few key points.

Atlantic Yards Report, Contemptible: the New York Times's print coverage of revised MTA deal with (NYTCo business partner) Forest City Ratner
Atlantic Yards watchdog Norman Oder explains what's missing in the Times coverage:

No mention is made, as the Times's CityRoom blog reported, of the complaint by board member Doreen Frasca: “It is one month shy of four years since the board accepted Forest City Ratner, and this committee is being given less than 48 hours to understand a complex transaction... I think that’s pretty outrageous."

Nor does the Times report, either in print or on the CityRoom blog, that Forest City Ratner would save about $100 million on the "changed" railyard.

Nor does the Times report, either in print or on the CityRoom blog, that the temporary railyard, which was once supposed to last 32 months after construction, could now last six years and eight months, or 80 months. It would have capacity for only 42 cars.

No mention is made of the provision that Forest City could walk away from the requirement to build a new railyard by paying $86 million.

Nor does the Times disclose, as it used to do, that the parent New York Times Company built the Times Tower in partnership with Forest City Ratner.

Atlantic Yards Report, Rounding up the coverage: several news outlets get the "sweetheart deal"; Post columnist calls it "outrageous giveaway"

Posted by lumi at 5:59 AM

Noticing Noticing New York: a twofer

More on Planning in Advance to Bail Out Forest City Ratner Upon the Inevitable Arrival of an Economic Downturn

Contrary to what Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner would have you believe:

...in an economic downturn the ability to negotiate a better deal should be in the public's favor, not the developer's!

Thoughts on the MTA’s Finance Committee Meeting Wherein Atlantic Yards Was Considered as an “Information Item”

Notwithstanding, it seemed clear that the most important news is that MTA’s ability to provide transportation will suffer.

The concessions to accommodate Forest City Ratner involve significantly diminishing the capacity of the rail yard and doing so in a way that allows little or absolutely no flexibility to ever expand it again afterwards despite the fact that the city is growing and such flexibility is valuable and highly desirable.

Posted by lumi at 5:31 AM

What could $20 million buy? Only a little more than this small Lower East Side site

Atlantic Yards Report

The day after the Metropolitan Transit Authority Finance Committee rubber-stamped the $20M cash-up-front deal for the arena portion of the Vanderbilt Railyard with Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner, watchdog Norman Oder continues his series examining what $20M will get you on the open market.


From the Fourth Quarter 2008 Massey Knakal Sales Journal:

A 91’ x 75’ development site at 154 Delancey Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan was sold by Massey Knakal Realty Services in an all-cash transaction valued at $15,750,000. The property is located on the north side of Delancey between Clinton and Suffolk Streets. Based on the C6-2A proposed zoning (current zoning is C6-1), it contains approximately 47,706 buildable square feet.

The segment of the Vanderbilt Yard at issue is 495' x 200', or 99,000 square feet, some 14.5 times larger than the Lower East Side site. If you multiply the Upper East Side price by 14.5, it comes out to $228.4 million.


NoLandGrab: Bruce Ratner knows that only poor suckers buy property on the open market and secure private financing to develop it.

Posted by lumi at 5:15 AM

DDDB, Latest News: Kabuki, Mockery and Malarkey

And Now for Season Six Act Two of the Atlantic Yards Kabuki
Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn calls it "kabuki," but it may be more like the theater of the absurd — today developer Bruce Ratner's new plan is to be annointec by the ESDC:

Today, June 23. 9am
Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) Board Meeting
at ESDC offices, 37th Floor, 633 Third Avenue (40-41) in Manhattan.

The ESDC Board is expected to present and adopt a modified General Project Plan for Atlantic Yards, triggering a 60-day comment period.

Members of the public who wish to attend the meeting are instructed to RSVP to (212) 803-3760.
(If you get a voicemail, leave your name and phone number and that you will attend the board meeting.)

MTA's New Deal Ratner Makes Mockery of MTA's Fiduciary Duties

[T]his is the key moment from today's Finance Committee "deliberations"...:

Board member Doreen Frasca asked why the committee and board were being given less than 48 hours to review the deal and called it "pretty outrageous."

"It relates to Forest City Ratner's desire" to market the tax-exempt bonds, [MTA Chief Financial Officer Gary] Dellaverson said of the approval process. "That's the primary driver of the timing."

Get that? The Metropolitan TRANSPORTATION Authority is rushing a bailout for Forest City Ratner not because of some urgent transit need or urgent need for revenue but, rather, out of concern for Forest City Ratner's ability to issue bonds.

Bruce Ratner's Malarkey

Ratner said in a statement Monday, "While the world has changed significantly since Atlantic Yards won public approval in December 2006, and we are trying to adapt to those changes, the project and the project benefits, including the arena, the jobs and the affordable housing will remain the same."

The world has changed, but everything remains the same? What malarkey. Bruce, you're a land speculator not a magician.

Posted by lumi at 5:03 AM

PRESS RELEASE: State Senator Velmanette Montgomery

Montgomery.jpg (NEW YORK) Today New York State Senator Velmanette Montgomery called on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Finance Committee and Board of Directors to cancel all contracts with Forest City Ratner Companies relating to the Atlantic Yards Project.

At this morning’s monthly meeting of the MTA’s Finance Committee, details were presented of a new financing arrangement being proposed to “bail out” Forest City Ratner, the developer of the controversial, troubled project proposed for the Prospect Heights area of Brooklyn within the Senator’s district.

In her statement the Senator said, “To approve these (financial) changes would be to continue the entirely questionable series of decision regarding this rail yard and cast further doubt on the MTA’s ability and commitment to provide proper stewardship of this vital public authority… I have been informed the proposal being considered is for an even lower payment than negotiated, or some undetermined schedule of deferred payments, and a “temporary” rail yard until such time as FCRC feels able or willing to construct a certainly less than state of the art rail yard; less money, less rail yard, no schedule, no commitment.”

She continued, “I urge this committee and the MTA Board of Directors to not only reject these changes but to cancel all contracts with Forest City Ratner for non-compliance, and reissue an RFP. Having just endured the negotiations on the so-called “Doomsday Budget,” to do any less would further undermine the MTA’s management reputation.”


The MTA Board is proposing to alter its agreement with Forest City Ratner Companies regarding the air rights and construction of a new rail yard for the Vanderbilt Rail Yards in Brooklyn. I urge this Committee and the MTA board to reject these changes. To approve these changes would be to continue the entirely questionable series of decision regarding this rail yard and cast further doubt on the MTA’s ability and commitment to provide proper stewardship of this vital public authority. I urge you to reject these changes, cancel all contracts with FCRC, and issue a new RFP.

When the Atlantic Yards proposal first surfaced, the MTA hadn’t done an assessment or even prepared an RFP until goaded into action by the Community. The Board approved entering into contract with FCRC despite it’s inferior bid (compared to the Extell Corporation’s proposal) at a price far below the rushed assessment, trumpeting the inclusion of a “state of the art” rail yard as the decisive factor, this despite the fact that all bidders had been informed they would have to provide such a replacement rail yard and platforming.

I have been informed the proposal being considered is for an even lower payment than negotiated, or some undetermined schedule of deferred payments, and a “temporary” rail yard until such time as FCRC feels able or willing to construct a certainly less than state of the art rail yard; less money, less rail yard, no schedule, no commitment. No responsible board should entertain such a ludicrous proposal. When will the next reduced proposal arrive from FCRC after this one is approved? This is not a reliable partner for the disposition and management of this valuable and vital property. Last week, along with 7 other legislators, I sent a letter to acting MTA Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer Helena Williams requesting this hearing be delayed and that we be provided with details of the proposed changes. My colleague, Senator Bill Perkins, also sent Ms. Williams a series of questions regarding this proposal; we all still await a response.

I urge this committee and the MTA Board of Directors to not only reject these changes but to cancel all contracts with Forest City Ratner for non-compliance, and reissue an RFP. Having just endured the negotiations on the so-called “Doomsday Budget,” to do any less would further undermine the MTA’s management reputation. Respectfully,

Senator Velmanette Montgomery
18th NYS Senate District

Posted by lumi at 4:29 AM

June 22, 2009

Ratner To Pay $180 M. Less Upfront For Atlantic Yards

NY Observer
by Eliot Brown

In the world of public-private real estate deals, the word “renegotiation” has been popping up a lot lately.

The latest installment came early Monday afternoon, when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced a revised plan for the Atlantic Yards project on M.T.A. land in Brooklyn, for which the agency was once promised $100 million upfront and a $250 million new rail yard.

Developer Forest City Ratner, which intends to build a basketball arena for the Nets and thousands of apartments at the site, has renegotiated a deal with the agency to the point where it pays about $180 million less, at least at first.

Forest City would build a new rail yard for about $150 million with one-fourth less capacity than planned, and pay $20 million upfront. Over the next 22 years, according to the agreement, the developer would give payments worth $80 million in today’s dollars to the M.T.A.


NoLandGrab: The most amazing thing about the massive MTA giveaway is that the MTA actually has Forest City by the balls. The developer owns an albatross of an NBA team that loses some $30 million per year and is most likely worth less than what Forest City paid for it. The only way they can salvage that bad investment is to move the team to a new arena in Brooklyn, and the only way they can do that is if the MTA sells Ratner the railyard and the ESDC seizes other properties. Ratner needs the MTA way more than the MTA needs Ratner.

So why, then, does the MTA act like Ratner has them by the balls?

Posted by eric at 5:41 PM

MTA deal revealed: $20M down, 22 years to pay the rest; smaller yard may save FCR $100 million; some skeptical about rush

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder fleshes out more details of today's MTA meeting, much of them not previously reported elsewhere.

Here are the highlights of today's Metropolitan Transportation Authority Finance Committee meeting, in which a deal under last-minute negotiation was finally revealed. The committee did not vote; it was a purely informational session.

Less railyard capacity, savings of $100M?

The permanent railyard, instead of having nine tracks with capacity for 76 cars, would have seven tracks with capacity for 56 cars. While there would be several improvements, it still would be less capacity than the previous iteration of 72 cars.

The new railyard would be valued at $147 million, while MTA Chief Financial Officer Gary Dellaverson said the previous iteration was worth $240-$250 million.

(That issue's murky, since FCR valued the railyard at $182 million and the package of improvements at over $300 million. MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin explained afterward that the MTA never independently costed out the original yard construction, but said he believed FCR increased its estimate as construction and oil costs went up. That's plausible, given that the cost of the project itself rose from $2.5 billion to $4 billion.)

The initial 2005 RFP noted that the Vanderbilt Yard could store up to 72 cars and that the yard "is contemplated to provide addition storage to accommodate the 40% system-wide fleet expansion in 2009 through 2012, which would cause it to be used 24 hours a day."

Previously, a nonbinding letter of agreement between the MTA and the developer stated that FCR would produce a yard with nine tracks or an alternative configuration "that does not reduce yard/station capacity or functionality."

Temporary railyard lingers

The temporary railyard, which was once supposed to last 32 months after construction, could now last six years and eight months, or 80 months. It would have capacity for only 42 cars.

Rest of AY not guaranteed

After building on the arena block, Forest City Ratner could get out of the deal by paying the MTA $86 million, which could pay for a less elaborate permanent railyard with the same capacity.

MTA officials said they were focusing on getting railyard improvements and transportation improvements--notably a new entrance to the Atlantic Avenue/Pacific Street subway stations. They would not guarantee that a platform over the central and eastern segments of the railyard site would be built.

Some skepticism

With an MTA board meeting set for Wednesday, and a widespread belief that the board will approve the proposal, some board members wondered why they had only 48 hours to digest such a complicated deal.

The answer: the deal must go forward so Forest City Ratner can meet end-of-the-year deadlines to have tax-exempt arena bonds issued.


Posted by eric at 3:43 PM

MTA "Yard" sale: Everything must go, no offer too low!

The Brooklyn Paper, So here’s the deal: Ratner to get huge break from MTA

A Metropolitan Transportation Authority panel has recommended a massive public bailout of the struggling Atlantic Yards project, calling for changes in the project’s financing that would save developer Bruce Ratner hundreds of millions of dollars.

The MTA’s finance committee met on Monday to approve a new deal with the developer, who had originally promised $100 million for rights to build over the Vanderbilt railyards in Prospect Heights, but will now pay just $20 million up front for the prime eight-acres.

The remaining $80 million will be paid out, at 6-1/2 percent interest, over the next 22 years.

Ratner had originally gotten the railyard rights for less than its MTA-appraised value because he also promised $345 million in infrastructure improvements to the MTA facility.

Under the new deal, which is expected to be rubber-stamped by the full MTA board on Wednesday, Ratner would make just $147 million in railyard improvements.

“It’s not quite as good as we had hoped,” said Gary Dellaverson, the MTA’s chief financial officer, who added that the reduced renovations would result in diminished capacity.

NoLandGrab: Presumably, Dellaverson said that with a straight face.

City Room, Developer Seeks to Defer Payments on Atlantic Yards Site

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, as expected, has offered the developer Bruce C. Ratner, a break on the sale of the Atlantic Yards site in Brooklyn.

Crain's NY Business, MTA gives Atlantic Yards developer breathing room

“This is not a good market for transacting large real estate deals," Mr. Dellaverson said. He added that it was unclear when the financial and real estate markets would rebound so mothballing development plans didn’t make sense either.

Many residents and legislators are livid that the MTA opted not to rebid the deal, claiming that many of the community benefits have been diluted or erased during the downsizing.

2nd Ave. Sagas, Will the MTA kowtow to Ratner on Atlantic Yards plans?

This deal has the potential to be a flat-out giveaway. The MTA is going to give away valuable public lands. They’re going to give away provisions requiring a modern rail facility. They’re going to gift wrap this for Bruce Ratner.

The MTA has long suffered from a credibility problem. People don’t understand why the fares have to go up. They don’t understand delays and service advisories. What New Yorkers see is this blatant back-room bargaining.

Brownstoner, Big Week for Atlantic Yards Sweetheart Deal-Making

The revised plan is poised to be breathtaking in its concessions to Forest City Ratner.

AP via Philly.com, Transit agency reaches new Brooklyn arena deal

Government agencies are set to approve new deals for a $4 billion plan for a Brooklyn basketball arena and thousands of apartments.

But critics say the developer of the New Jersey Nets arena shouldn't get special government favors to build a scaled-down version of the project.

Nets Daily, ESDC: Further Appeals Would Put Arena “In Jeopardy”

Posted by eric at 2:50 PM

MTA throws the "switch" on Vanderbilt Yard

Acting New York State Governor Ratner has just instructed the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to restructure the terms of his deal for the Vanderbilt Yard, and — you'd have never guessed — those terms are sweeter than ever before.

MTA acting executive director Helena Williams has okayed a "staff summary" from MTA Finance head Gary Dellaverson, laying out the "renegotiated" terms for the sale of the Vanderbilt Yard to Forest City. Those new terms include just $20 million down for the portion of the railyard on which the arena would sit, and a ridiculously extended payment schedule for the remaining $80 million for the balance of the yard: a "down payment" of 10%, payable in $2 million installments on the first of June of 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, and then 15 subsequent payments of $11,033,357, with Forest City's obligation being fulfilled on June 1, 2030, by which time acting Governor Ratner will be 85 years old.

Oh, but Ratner will pay the MTA $200,000 per year to have the name "Barclay's Center" [sic] affixed to the Atlantic Avenue/Pacific Street subway station. No word as to whether they might up the payment to $250,000 per year to have "Barlcays" spelled correctly.

Did we mention that the replacement railyard will consist of just seven tracks with capacity for only 56 cars, rather than Ratner's promised nine tracks and 76-car capacity?

Click on the following link for all the gory details: Download file [PDF]

NoLandGrab: Special prize to any NLG reader who can email us with the identity of any actual "public benefit" of the Atlantic Yards project.

Posted by eric at 2:04 PM

Stand clear of the closing deal! Pols seek delay on MTA’s new Yards pact

The Brooklyn Paper
by Mike McLaughlin

A coalition of Brooklyn politicians has asked the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to postpone Wednesday’s vote to renegotiate a deal with Bruce Ratner for control of railyards at the center of his Atlantic Yards project.

Ratner has asked the MTA to loosen their 2006 agreement that called for the developer to pay $100 million for air rights over the train depot at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues.

Ratner now wants to pay far less — perhaps as little as $20 million up front.

The MTA said it will unveil the details of the classified proposal at today’s Finance Committee hearing, giving the public two days to digest the reconfigured transaction before it will be presented to the full board for a final approval.

The group of local pols — which includes Assemblyman Jim Brennan (D-Park Slope), Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D–Fort Greene), Assemblywoman Joan Millman (D–Carroll Gardens), state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery (D–Park Slope) and Councilwoman Letitia James (D–Prospect Heights) — wrote to the MTA that two days is not enough time to consider the financial impact it will have on the chronically indigent transit authority.


NoLandGrab: Anyone else get the sense that Lee Sander was axed as MTA chief 'cause he wasn't playing ball with Ratner's lower-low-ball offer?

Posted by eric at 1:41 PM

What could $20 million buy? Not even this 50-foot-wide storage building in Manhattan

Atlantic Yards Report

Hard to keep up with Norman Oder — he slipped this one by us in the wee hours of the morn.

From the First Quarter 2008 Massey Knakal Sales Journal:
A ten-story storage building at 305 East 61st Street on the Upper East Side of Manhattan was sold... [for] $28,000,000. The nearly 50-foot-wide storage facility is located on the north side of East 61st Street at Second Avenue. Based on its current R8B zoning distinction, the property allows up to 24,849 square feet. However, the building is currently overbuilt with a total of 65,853 square feet above grade. It was delivered vacant at closing. The property sold for $425.19 per square foot to a Manhattan self-storage investor.

The segment of the Vanderbilt Yard at issue is 495' x 200', or 99,000 square feet, more than 50% larger than the Upper East Side site. If you multiply the Upper East Side price by 1.5, it comes out to $42 million.

The Upper East Side site only supports 65,853 square feet. The Atlantic Yards arena block, of which this segment (Block 1119, Lot 7) would be at least a third, would support an 800,000 square foot arena and at least 1.5 million in development rights, according to the City Funding Agreement.


NoLandGrab: The Governor, the Mayor and the MTA continue to throw any semblance of service to the public interest on the scrap heap.

Posted by eric at 1:29 PM

DDDB PRESS RELEASE: Expected New MTA Deal With Forest City Ratner Is Not In The Public Interest

A New Request for Proposals Must Be Issued

New York, NY — Today the MTA Finance Committee is expected to present, and recommend to the MTA Board, a renegotiated agreement with developer Forest City Ratner for the purchase of the development rights of the 8 acre Vanderbilt Rail Yard. The MTA Board is expected to vote on the new deal on Wednesday June 24. New York magazine’s Chris Smith reported that the developer has been lobbying Governor Paterson directly for approval of the new deal.

Such an approval would violate the Board’s fiduciary duty.

"Using the MTA to bail out Bruce Ratner's failing project is an insult to straphangers and taxpayers, who just rescued the MTA one month ago. It is irresponsible in the extreme for Governor Paterson to have the MTA make Ratner's sweetheart deal even sweeter in order to prop up the zombie Atlantic Yards project," said Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn spokesman Daniel Goldstein. "The MTA must maximize its return on this piece of real estate by putting it up for bid in a proper, fair and competitive manner rather than reward Ratner for defaulting on his commitments."


Forest City Ratner (Ratner) is defaulting on its commitments to the MTA and offering nearly nothing to the transit authority. Now the MTA seems prepared to makes deep concessions tailored to benefit Ratner’s bottom line (which still has not been made public.) while doing nothing for the public interest, transit-riders or taxpayers.

In September 2005 Ratner reached an agreement with the MTA to purchase the development rights for the 8-acre Vanderbilt Yards (VY), a portion of the proposed 22-acre Atlantic Yards project site. The MTA had appraised the development rights at $214.5 million after subtracting the cost of moving the active rail yard and building a platform over the new yard.

Despite a Request for Proposals (RFP) that came 18 months after the Mayor and Governor gave their support to Ratner’s project, and an attenuated bidding process, a competing developer, Extell Development Company, outbid Ratner $150 million to $100 million.

The justification for accepting the lower cash bid (and a bid less than half the appraisal) was that Ratner would build a new “state of the art,” 9-track rail yard at a cost of $180 million. Ratner was to pay $100 million cash at closing, decommission the active yards where the arena would, in part, be located and build the new, permanent yard.

Now, nearly 4 years after this deal was struck and nearly 3 years since the overall project was approved, Ratner is pleading poverty, with no explanation as to why they haven’t closed their deal with the MTA over the past three or four years.

Acting MTA Chairwoman Helena Williams stated at a May 29th Senate oversight hearing that there have been “sensitive negotiations” ongoing with the developer to strike a new deal overriding the 2005 deal. She stated that an agreement has been reached, at least in part, and will be presented to the MTA Board for a vote at its June 24th meeting. She did not explain why the developer needs or should get a new agreement.

Details about the new deal have not been forthcoming, but Ms. Williams and published reports have alluded to a $20 million cash payment at closing (or a $10 million payment) with an unknown delayed payment schedule, and a newly structured temporary rail yard that would cost substantially less than the $180 originally proposed by Ratner, and worse, would drastically reduce the train capacity from the current, active yard. It has also been reported that Ratner will not build a platform over the rail yards as committed to previously.

The MTA appears to be poised to approve a new deal where the developer will basically give nothing to the MTA and construct a temporary rail yard on the cheap.

The public and elected officials will have little time to evaluate the specifics of the agreement if it is introduced today and goes to a Board vote on the 24th.

There is no public interest in cutting this new deal with the developer, considering:

> The MTA needs more cash now; the value of such a deal—$66 million present value—is well below market, and the transit authority is not planning on testing the market.

> Ratner broke his 2005 commitment to the MTA, and future commitments have to be questioned.

> The promised state of the art rail yard has, apparently been scrapped

> The new yard, only necessitated by the arena, would have less capacity than the active Vanderbilt Yard

> The arena would be a money-loser for NYC, according to the Independent Budget Office (IBO).

> Promised office space has been scrapped entirely, reducing overall new revenues and jobs

> Proposed affordable housing is on backburner, Ratner required to build only 300 units over 12 years (there is no plan or timeline for Phase 2 where the bulk of the affordable housing and open space is proposed)

> The promised world-class Frank Gehry architecture has been scrapped for the whole project

> The “Urban Room” public space amenity has been discarded, and the privately owned, publicly accessible open space is all in Phase 2, which has no plan or timeline

> Empire State Development Corporation Chair Marisa Lago publicly stated that the project would take “decades” even though it was approved under a 10-year timeline. This would leave large demolished areas blighted for decades, nullifying the project’s stated goal of removing alleged “blight.”


Now that Ratner is defaulting on its commitments the MTA must issue a new RFP and open a fair and competitive bidding process for the Vanderbilt Yards development rights

The current economy provides the opportunity, and necessity, for the MTA to divide the yards in parcels and issue a new RFP. This will bring more money to the MTA, spread the risk and lead to a much faster pace of construction providing affordable housing and construction jobs more quickly, and more of them.

The MTA, which needs money for both its capital and operating budgets, can ill-afford another below market real estate deal. $20 million for the development rights over the Vanderbilt Yards, surrounded by some of Brooklyn’s great neighborhoods and great public transportation, is unacceptably low, as was the $100 million Ratner had agreed to.

The MTA has a fiduciary duty to maximize the revenue from the disposition of the land, and minimize the risk that the development rights get developed. This would be accomplished by dividing the 8 acres into multiple parcels (likely between 4 and 8) and producing an RFP that invites multiple developers.

The RFP would be detailed and targeted to expedite the decision-making process and focus on the most pressing needs for Brooklynites and New York City — affordable housing, job creation and open space.

The RFP would be solely for Vanderbilt Yards as that is all the MTA has the authority to provide to prospective developers. It would not include the site proposed and drawn up by Ratner.

Financial, construction and management oversight should be in the hands of an ESDC subsidiary LDC under the responsibility of elected officials and community appointees. According the MTA’s 2005 appraisal (understanding a new appraisal will need to be done) the construction of a new rail yard and platform would cost between $56 and $72 million. Funding for a new rail yard (if necessary) and for a platform would be provided by the city and the state and paid back over time by the developers as the project(s) go up and to lease/sale.

Public money should be used for infrastructure such as a school and a park as described in the UNITY Plan (the community’s plan to develop Vanderbilt Yards – www.unityplan.org), it should not be used towards building thousands of units of luxury condos and luxury rentals, such as the 4,180 proposed by Ratner.


Posted by eric at 12:52 PM

New Agreement Expected on Atlantic Yards Project

WNYC Radio
by Matthew Schuerman

About a year ago, Ratner said he couldn't afford that deal any more. He's offered a slimmed down rail yard and a down payment on the $100 million up front, with the rest coming later.

The MTA didn't have any good choices: it could reject the offer, but then it would have to find another buyer for those air rights in the middle of a recession. And in the process, it would upset Mayor Bloomberg and the coalition of construction workers and others who support the project.


NoLandGrab:Something tells us that with just a smidgen of effort, the MTA could find a developer (or developers) willing to put down a heck of a lot more than $20 million for the Vanderbilt Yard.

And upsetting the Mayor and construction workers and other project supporters? What about all the transit-riding public, who get stuck with big fare hikes, service cuts and a deteriorating system in return for Bruce Ratner's bailout?

Posted by eric at 12:42 PM

The Unbuilding of Frank Gehry

Has New York lost its great chance with an architectural legend? Gehry speaks.

New York Magazine
by Justin Davidson

NY Mag's architecture critic laments the woulda/coulda/shoulda of Frank Gehry and Atlantic Yards, laying the blame at the feet of one Bruce C. Ratner.

By far the worst disappointment is Atlantic Yards. For years, opponents of the project, appalled by its scale and hostile to the developer Bruce Ratner, warned that Gehry was providing a fig leaf of avant-gardism to cover a real-estate magnate’s obscene greed. A project so debased couldn’t generate good architecture, they insisted. In 2007, the author Jonathan Lethem wrote an open letter pleading with Gehry to walk away. “These buildings,” he wrote, “have emerged pre-botched by compromise, swollen with expediency and profit-seeking.”

But for Gehry, Atlantic Yards represented an irresistible chance to do for an urban district what he had done for the museum and the concert hall: establish a new archetype. In his desire to believe, he made the mistake of trusting Bruce Ratner, or at any rate got himself so enmeshed that the developer’s company, Forest City Ratner, once represented 35 percent of Gehry’s business. When I visited the architect at his Los Angeles studio in April, he described Ratner as “a decent guy. He goes to concerts, buys art, can quote from Joyce. He wants an architectural legacy.” Gehry insisted to me that he has a nose for cynics, and that Ratner wasn’t one. “We turn work down if it’s not real, or if people have a warped image of what I do. This stuff works only when there’s a true partnership between client and architect. If they’re trying to build a monster on the landscape and they’re just using me to get more approvals, I usually opt out.”

A few weeks after that conversation, Ratner scrapped six years’ worth of design work. Pleading financial straits, he fired Gehry from the whole project and replaced his arena design with a graceless Cow Palace knockoff by the journeyman stadium-builder Ellerbe Becket. To judge by early renderings, the new offering isn’t simply inferior; it’s insultingly bad. Yet Gehry has served Ratner well. His involvement helped strong-arm the city and the state into delivering tax breaks, permits, and the power to evict holdouts. It helped beat back opposition, secure $400 million in naming rights from Barclays, and win over the architectural press. Ratner didn’t just toss Gehry into the drink; he betrayed the city, blighted a neighborhood he promised to transform, validated his opponents, and blew a colossal opportunity to bring great architecture to a city that badly needs it.


Posted by eric at 12:27 PM

Why an economic downturn should have been factored into AY plans

Atlantic Yards Report

I've pointed out that Forest City Ratner started renegotiating the deal before the economic downturn, and Michael D.D. White follows up in his Noticing New York blog:
One can try to blame the proposed Forest City Ratner’s bail out on the economic downturn in the economy but that is not how it actually works.

To quote former ESDC head Marisa Lago... it would be a multi-decade project of perhaps 30 or even 40 years duration... That means that the mega-development could never have been done in a single real estate cycle so encountering the “downturn” was virtually inevitable.


NoLandGrab: And blaming opponents of the Atlantic Yards project for the project's myriad problems would be like victims of Bernie Madoff's pyramid scheme blaming investigators for exposing it.

Posted by eric at 12:14 PM

ESDC claims AY will take just ten years (though Phase 2 and new railyard fuzzy); Brennan, Montgomery express dismay

Atlantic Yards Report

Despite Empire State Development Corporation CEO Marisa Lago’s candid acknowledgment in April that Atlantic Yards would take “decades,” the revised Modified General Project Plan (GPP) to be released by the ESDC Tuesday will assert that the project would take just ten years, the timteable in previous construction documents, even though there’s no contractual requirement to meet the timetable.

Lago, who has resigned but hasn’t yet left her post, vigorously defended the plan at a briefing for local elected officials, held Friday at ESDC offices in Manhattan. ESDC officials asserted that project was essentially the same--thus not triggering a new environmental impact statement (EIS) or vote by the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB).

Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn has said it would sue regarding these issues.

Assemblyman Jim Brennan and state Senator Velmanette Montgomery, in interviews yesterday, both expressed dismay about the ESDC’s plans. Brennan said he didn’t find the timetable credible--”I think the project will limp along piecemeal”--and noted that some three-quarters of the project is “still subject to market conditions and further financing requirements.”

Brennan asserted that, given the Independent Budget Office’s estimate that the arena would be a money-loser for the city, the arena shouldn’t be built. (The arena’s Forest City Ratner’s priority, however, given losses in New Jersey and the potential for new revenues.)

Montgomery said she felt “very frustrated that the ESDC does not consider itself representing the people of this city and state” but rather serves as “an arm of the developer.”


NoLandGrab: With all the dysfunction in Albany, is it possible Forest City Ratner is actually running New York State's government? The idea seems farfetched, yet when one reads things like this, one has to wonder.

Posted by eric at 7:26 AM

ESDC asks for eminent domain appeal to be dismissed or heard ASAP, says delays put AY "slum clearance" project in jeopardy

Atlantic Yards Report

Further delays in resolving the Atlantic Yards state eminent domain lawsuit would put the project's future in jeopardy, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) argues in court papers, calling for the final appeal to be dismissed or, if accepted, heard in early September so tax-exempt bonds could be issued by the end of the year.

Norman Oder examines the "legal fiction" submitted in court documents, that "'once constructed,' the project: 'will eliminate long-standing blighted conditions.'" Unmentioned in the court filing is the fact that there is no construction timetable for the entire project, and that the blighted conditions cited and created by Ratner demolitions would persist indefinitely.


NoLandGrab: The truth is Ratner's entire strategy and schedule is hinged around getting these tax-exempt bonds.

Posted by lumi at 6:35 AM

DDDB breaks down the "bait and switch"; New York magazine critic seems to agree

Atlantic Yards Report reviews Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's latest flier covering the mother of all bait and switches. [article]

Click image to enlarge.

Posted by lumi at 6:29 AM

Questions Hold Up Atlantic Yards Project

New York Post reporter Rich Calder talked to some off-the-record sources who attended Friday's behind-the-scenes meeting between officials of the Empire State Development Corporation and local legislators, where the new plans for Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards megaproject were revealed:

Some who attended the closed-door session told The Post they're furious the agency is claiming revisions are minor, when they feel the project has completely changed from the one state officials approved three years ago.

One angry source called it a "bait and switch," and another said, "I think there needs to be an investigation into why this is being rubber-stamped."

They want the developer to start from square one and resubmit the plans for another full public review, a process that could take years.

Ratner can't wait years and is pulling out all the stops in a last-ditch effort to get the project moving forward this year, in order to receive tax-exempt financing.

In a new twist, the ESDC is saying that eminent domain will be used in stages because it will save Ratner money.

ESDC spokesman Warner Johnston yesterday said... that eminent domain is being broken up into phases -- not because certain parts of plan won't be built -- but because this will allows Ratner to "defer acquisitions costs" associated with a controversial deal to buy a rail yard from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority needed for the project.

The community coalition Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn is planning on seizing upon these new twists as grounds for further litigation.


Posted by steve at 6:16 AM

How Forest City Ratner deceived the MTA and the public by not acknowledging the need for affordable housing bonds

Atlantic Yards Report

I wrote in June 2007 how the Empire State Development Corporation, while that Atlantic Yards project approached approval in December 2006, never revealed that some one-third of the project funding sources would $1.4 billion in scarce housing bonds issued (most likely) by the New York City Housing Development Corporation.

The figure was revealed to the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB), however, and later revealed, after the project was approved, in litigation over the AY environmental review.

There's no evidence that, before the project was approved, the ESDC considered the availability of sufficient housing bonds to construct the affordable housing.

Last December, I filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request with the ESDC to see if any documents indicated such deliberations. Each month, I get the same response: they're still looking for responsive documents.


NoLandGrab: We know that this seems to be a nit-picky technicality. However, this little-known fact, which the State and developer Bruce Ratner are trying not to discuss, indicates that the financing of Atlantic Yards relies upon these scarce housing bonds, rendering suspect the overall viability of the project and all of the promised benefits.

Posted by lumi at 6:16 AM

New Jersey Nets' CEO and Ellerbe Becket Principle Respond to Atlantic Yards Critics

Media Bistro gags on NJ Nets CEO Brett Yormark's "empty PR:"

Thanks to a tip from our friend Kristen Richards over at ArchNewsNow, we found our way over to this extended piece where Brett Yormark, CEO of the Nets and Bill Crockett, Ellerbe's principle on the project, were busy defending the decision and the new plans, explaining how great this all will be for Brooklyn in the end and Yorkmark saying things like "We're going to brand Brooklyn in a big-time way." Though outside of naming the two levels in the building "Brownstones" and "Lofts" (ugh), moving the entrances to street level, and building a practice facility next door, there's not a lot of explanation as to why this is going to be so great for the area -- it seems like just coasting on enthusiasm and hoping no one catches on. Ooh, maybe they could paint a couple of quick murals showing Brooklyn's famous moments in history? Or have "authentic New York hot dogs"? That stuff always works in every single other city in the world.


NoLandGrab: It's worth mentioning that the image posted on MediaBistro is of a previous Frank Gehry-designed version of the project, not Ellerbe Becket's design.

Posted by lumi at 5:53 AM

June 22, 23, 24: Three Key Atlantic Yards Meetings

From Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (dddb.net):

Monday, June 22. 11:45am
MTA Finance Committee Meeting
at MTA Headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue (44-45), 5th Floor Board Room.

The committee is expected to present a renegotiated agreement with Ratner for the rights to the rail yards, and approve passing the agreement to the Board for its approval.

Tuesday, June 23. 9am
Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) Board Meeting
at ESDC offices, 37th Floor, 633 Third Avenue (40-41) in Manhattan.

The ESDC Board is expected to present and adopt a modified General Project Plan for Atlantic Yards, triggering a 60-day comment period.

Wednesday, June 24. 9:30am
Full MTA Board Meeting
at MTA Headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue (44-45), 5th Floor Board Room.

It is expected that the Board will be presented with a new Ratner rail yard deal and vote on it, if the Finance Committee recommends such action to them.

For further details on meeting rules and requirements for attendance, please check out http://www.dddb.net/php/latestnews_Linked.php?id=2131.

Posted by lumi at 5:46 AM

Plus Ça Change, (The More Things Change,) Plus Une Chose En Particulier Ne Change Pas: La Transaction Fixée (The Wired Deal)!

Noticing New York posted a preview of the issues facing today's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Finance Committee Meeting.

Here's an overview of the terms of the MTA bailout of Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner:

  1. Letting the developer construct a project of significantly lesser public value under rubric of "value engineering" (translated, that means, among other things, constructing a train yard with 7 tracks rather than 9 or the original 10, delivering a project of much lesser quality, and with less “green space”).
  2. Giving the MTA’s property to the developer (property for which the developer did not bid in the first place) for a considerably smaller payment despite this currently being a time of financial need for the MTA. (We are now talking in terms of the pathetically paltry. See Atlantic Yards Report “What could $20 million buy?” series.)
  3. Less will be done by the developer up front, and
  4. Postponing, even further, the borrower’s obligation to deliver the ostensible benefits of the project. For instance, one housing tower that would be front-loaded with luxury units while others will be postponed.

The article continues by analyzing how the politics and economy have changed... and how little that matters, when the only one getting things done in Albany seems to be Bruce Ratner.


Posted by lumi at 5:38 AM

June 21, 2009

Bait and Switch - Cooking With The ESDC

Bait and Switch

"Lago compared the project’s current budgeting for the project’s centerpiece arena ... to a wish list one makes when planning the renovation of a 45-year-old kitchen. Suddenly faced with the sobering realization that the wish list is too expensive, Lago says of the centerpiece stove, the planned 'six- burner stove becomes a four-burner.'" -- GlobeSt.com

Posted by steve at 6:21 PM

AY: "Out of the barn" or driven by Forest City Ratner's tightening timetable?

Atlantic Yards Report

In an article headlined Atlantic Yards won't be derailed and, bizarrely enough, accompanied by a rendering of a previous iteration of the AY arena block, Crain's New York Business offers the conventional wisdom: Forest City Ratner's long-delayed, dramatically altered Atlantic Yards project faces two key votes this week on its latest changes. Critics say the modifications will dilute—or erase—the plan's pledged public benefits.


Despite fierce opposition to the shrinking project, bets are running heavily in favor of state officials' reaching the necessary compromises to push it along. Far too much time and money has been invested, officials say. It's also unlikely that another developer could be found to take over in this economic climate.

“Too much has happened on this project,” said Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association [RPA]. “The horse is out of the barn on this one.”

As DDDB and NLG point out, the horse isn't exactly out of the barn, because the project has changed so much, with the promised benefits far attenuated.


As for finding "another developer," the question is a false one. There indeed might not be another developer to build Forest City Ratner's project, but there might be other developers to build on the MTA-owned land, and at a faster pace than Forest City Ratner and the ESDC are willing to project.

What's driving the timetable is the need to issue tax-exempt bonds for the arena by the end of the year, and Forest City Ratner's aim to reverse losses on the Nets by moving them to a new building in Brooklyn.

The RPA conveniently forgets its endorsement of Frank Gehry's arena block and its dismay over the process.


Posted by steve at 4:29 PM

Atlantic Yards won't be derailed

By Theresa Agovino

The proposed Atlantic Yards project, and its promised public benefits, have continued to shrink over the years. This assessment continues to inisist on the inevitability of the project.

Forest City Ratner's long-delayed, dramatically altered Atlantic Yards project faces two key votes this week on its latest changes. Critics say the modifications will dilute—or erase—the plan's pledged public benefits.

On Tuesday, the Empire State Development Corp. board is expected to weigh in on a timetable that would put the completion date for the $4 billion, 22-acre project far past the original 2014 target. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will probably vote the next day on a proposal allowing Forest City to delay delivery of a $100 million lump-sum payment to the MTA for development rights, and possibly reduce the payment amount.

Despite fierce opposition to the shrinking project, bets are running heavily in favor of state officials' reaching the necessary compromises to push it along. Far too much time and money has been invested, officials say. It's also unlikely that another developer could be found to take over in this economic climate.


The reality is that a host of lawsuits and the recession have forced so many delays and design changes that, at this point, Atlantic Yards disappoints everybody, perhaps even Forest City—which declined to comment for this story.

“Is this still the best deal for the people?” asks state Sen. Bill Perkins, D-Manhattan, who chairs the committee overseeing the MTA. “It's a deal being done behind closed doors, and at the rate it is changing, it doesn't seem to deliver on the promises.”

Mr. Perkins has written Ms. Williams demanding to know why the MTA is renegotiating with Forest City and whether the agency has considered that the “alleged public benefits have since substantially diminished or vanished altogether.” Seven elected officials have asked that this week's vote be postponed to allow for public hearings.


When plans for Atlantic Yards were announced in 2003, Forest City boasted that stararchitect Frank Gehry was the master planner and designer of the development's showpiece: an arena for the Nets basketball team, which the company owns. But by last year, the cost of his arena had hit nearly $1 billion, and Mr. Gehry was officially ousted from the project earlier this month. Though not everyone was enamored of his striking design, the initial renderings by his successor, architectural firm Ellerbe Becket, have been likened to an airport hangar.


Foes point out that the Independent Budget Office, which monitors the city's finances, said last month that it no longer believed the arena would generate the $25 million net positive benefit over 30 years that the group had forecast. The benefit was wiped out by the city's doubling its contribution to the project to $205 million—a figure officials dispute.


Affordable housing, which many in the community saw as a key sweetener, is also on hold. Three residential buildings were supposed to be up by 2010 offering as many as 633 units of low-, moderate- and middle-income housing. Construction on one of the buildings is slated to start later this year, and a second at an undetermined time after. The total number of units in each is not available.

“This was a classic bait-and-switch,” says Councilwoman Letitia James, a Brooklyn Democrat. “They [Forest City] made promises so they could get their arena.”


NoLandGrab: If the proposed arena is going to be a money-loser for the City, and the highly-touted affordable housing is pushed into a an ever-receding future, and there can be no jobs created without office towers, maybe those officials who say "far too much time and money has been invested" could instead realize that there's no public gain to be had from this money pit.

Posted by steve at 6:28 AM

What could $20 million buy? Not even three of these tiny buildings in LIC

Despite public benefits that are being pushed far into the future, the MTA is preparing to give Bruce Ratner a sweetheart deal for the Vanderbilt Yards. This is one of a continuing series.

The segment of the Vanderbilt Yard at issue is 495' x 200', or 99,000 square feet, more than eleven times larger than the Long Island City site, which is 8664 sf. If you multiply the LIS price by eleven, it comes out to $85 million.

The LIC site only supports only 73,008 buildable square feet. The Atlantic Yards arena block, of which this segment (Block 1119, Lot 7) would be at least a third, would support an 800,000 square foot arena and at least 1.5 million in development rights, according to the City Funding Agreement. (The towers on the area block, as approved, were supposed to contain 2.69 million square feet.)


Posted by steve at 5:44 AM

June 20, 2009

The four ways FCR could "railroad" (as per New York magazine) the MTA on the value of the Vanderbilt Yard

Atlantic Yards Report

How will the MTA screw taxpayers for the benefit of Bruce Ratner? Let me count the ways. Here are four of them from the Atlantic Yards report as commentary on the New York magazine item by Chris Smith, Smith: Ratner Close to Railroading MTA on Atlantic Yards.

Smith cites two examples of such railroading--the cash payment and the quality of the replacement railyard--and they're worth pointing out. However, as I note below, I think there are two more examples.


The key piece is the closing paragraph, in which Smith suggests that the public commentary at the MTA meetings next week will be irrelevant, and implies that efforts by elected officials to have the MTA delay the vote would come to naught.

Why? Forest City Ratner doesn't lobby the MTA but, according to a government insider, "just try to do business right through the governor, and expect that the governor will tell the MTA what to do.”

So it's up to Governor David Paterson, who's been AWOL on AY, with many other things on his plate.


Reduced price: railroad #1

Smith writes: But the MTA appears willing to settle for a drastically reduced price in order to salvage some kind of short-term development at Atlantic Yards: Sources say the new price tag is likely to be either $20 million upfront or $10 million per year for ten years.

Only the former had been reported. While $10 million a year would mean a lower down payment, it might mean a steadier delivery of the entire $100 million. But why, the MTA must explain, does it think that the segment Forest City Ratner wants is worth only $20 million?

Cheaper permanent yard: railroad #2

Smith writes: As disappointing as the cash may turn out to be, there’s another significant change in the works. “The thing to watch is whether the MTA gets screwed on the rail yards,” one party to the negotiations says. Ratner had agreed to build a new and improved rail yard for the LIRR. But he’s trying to cut back there, too, possibly delivering a new yard with 25 percent less capacity than the existing facility. “That would be a real loss,” the official says. “Ratner is supposed to build a rail yard that’s worth $200 to 300 million.”

Well, it's already been reported that the permanent railyard would have seven tracks rather than the promised nine tracks. The new railyard was said by FCR to be worth $182 million, but maybe inflation would take it over $200 million. The MTA has not provided a figure on the value of the replacement railyard. Nor has it revealed whether the new permanent railyard would have lesser capacity.

The other two examples: original cost and temporary yard

One of the other examples of "railroading" is simply the deal the MTA originally cut: accepting $100 million in cash for a site appraised at $214.5 million, and not questioning FCR's dubious math on the value of the extras.

The other involves the quality and persistence of the interim temporary railyard at the site. Once, this railyard, with space for 30 fewer cars, was supposed to operate for 32 months before being replaced by the higher-capacity permanent yard.

Now, there are hints--though we can't be sure--that the temporary yard might be delayed much longer and might not ever be replaced.


Posted by steve at 11:20 AM

"Calling bullshit," accountability journalism, the WaPo's Dan Froomkin, and Atlantic Yards

Atlantic Yards Report

The disturbing trend of an increasingly credulous press is the focus of this blog entry.

The big political journalism story this week is the firing of Dan Froomkin, the "White House Watch" blogger for the Washington Post. Note the hundreds of critical comments in response to the blog by the WaPo's ombudsman.

I'll point below to quotes from and about Froomkin in Glenn Greenwald's Salon piece headlined The Washington Post, Dan Froomkin and the establishment media.

The key quotes, to me, are Froomkin (a journalism colleague in college) saying that a journalist's job is to "call bullshit" and NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen describing Froomkin as an "accountability journalist."

The same challenges arise for the Atlantic Yards story.

  • Did any of the journalists at the May 29 state Senate oversight hearing believe Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) Marisa Lago when she claimed that the Atlantic Yards project had not changed?
  • Did they believe New York City Economic Development Corporation President Seth Pinsky's claims about new revenues?
  • Did reporters believe Forest City Ratner's claims that railyard work stopped because of litigation?
  • Have sports reporters believed Brett Yormark's ever-changing assertions about the arena opening date?

The list goes on.


Posted by steve at 11:05 AM

Brennan, other elected officials ask IBO to update its report on Atlantic Yards

Atlantic Yards Report

Testimony given by George Sweeting of The New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO) indicated that the proposed Barclays arena will be a money loser for the City. The IBO is being called upon to complete its cost/benefit analysis of the proposed Atlantic Yards project.

Assemblyman Jim Brennan and five other elected officials have asked the New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO) to extend its testimony at the May 29 state Senate oversight hearing by completing a new analysis of the Atlantic Yards project.

The letter to Director Ronnie Lowenstein was signed by Assemblymembers Hakeem Jeffries and Joan Millman; State Senator Velmanette Montgomery; and Council Members Letitia James and David Yassky.

IBO spokesman Doug Turetsky responds, "We are considering how best to follow up the testimony with an updated fiscal impact analysis."

Posted by steve at 10:25 AM

What could $20 million buy? A 50-foot-wide site in Chelsea

Atlantic Yards Report

The MTA is seriously considering an offer of only $20 million from Bruce Ratner for the portion of the Vanderbilt rail yards he wants for building a new arena for the Nets. Norman Oder continues his series that essentially asks: "What would $20 million normally get you in the New York City real estate market?" Today's example: a 50-foot wide lot in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood.

The segment of the Vanderbilt Yard at issue is 495' x 200', or 99,000 square feet, more than six times larger than the Chelsea site, even though the price would be about the same.

The Chelsea site only supports 51,557 buildable square feet. The Atlantic Yards arena block, of which this segment (Block 1119, Lot 7) would be at least a third, would support an 800,000 square foot arena and at least 1.5 million sf in development rights, according to the City Funding Agreement. (The towers on the area block, as approved, were supposed to contain 2.69 million square feet.)


Posted by steve at 10:14 AM

N.Y. officials ask MTA to postpone decision on Atlantic Yards

The Record
By John Brennan

Here is coverage, missing in New York's newspapers, of the upcoming meetings of state authorities and how they may affect the proposed Atlantic Yards development. The MTA, owner of the Vanderbilt rail yards, and the ESDC, a tool of developer Bruce Ratner, are scheduled to meet in the coming week.

On the eve of several critical votes next week on the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, seven New York city and state elected officials have asked the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to postpone any decision indefinitely.

The move comes at a time when executives for the Nets basketball franchise — which seeks to move to a new arena at the Atlantic Yards site in Brooklyn — have urged for expedited state approvals so that groundbreaking on the arena can begin later this year.

The group — which includes a state senator, three state Assembly members and three City Council members — asked MTA officials to disclose any modifications to an air rights deal above an MTA rail yard within the project footprint.

Nets principal owner Bruce Ratner and his business partners in the housing and arena project reportedly have sought to pay only $20 million up front out of the promised $100 million for those air rights.


The MTA’s finance committee is expected to send the revised agreement to the board of directors Monday, with a board vote scheduled for Wednesday.

The MTA also is under fire from state Sen. Bill Perkins, D-Manhattan, who held a four-hour hearing in Brooklyn recently to discuss the project. In his own letter to Williams on Tuesday, Perkins said the public needs to be reassured that “the MTA is not granting sweetheart deals to developers at the expense of taxpayers.”

Meanwhile, the state agency that oversees the Atlantic Yards project — the Empire State Development Corp. — is expected to vote Tuesday on a modified project plan.

Perkins said he was concerned that the project has changed substantially during the past four years.

He pointed to the departure of world-renowned architect Frank Gehry from Atlantic Yards; a new Independent Budget Office report that projects a net loss for the city on the project, and possible lengthy delays in construction of most of the promised affordable housing.


Posted by steve at 9:53 AM

Electeds Call On The MTA To Postpone Vote On Ratner Sweetheart Deal

Atlantic Yards Report, Brennan, other elected officials urge MTA to delay June 24 vote, say hasty decision may hurt transit system

In a letter sent yesterday, seven elected officials asked Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Acting Executive Director Helena Williams to delay the June 24 vote to modify the deal with Forest City Ratner for the Vanderbilt Yard, saying a "hasty decision may be detrimental to the needs of the transit system" and that the public and elected officials "should have a fair opportunity to present their views."

Rather than pay the full $100 million in cash promised, Forest City Ratner has reportedly offered $20 million for the segment of the railyard needed for the arena block, with the rest to be paid later. Details have not been confirmed.


In the letter, the officials not only asked for details of Forest City Ratner's proposal but also questioned whether the MTA was obtaining fair market value for its assets, as required by law.

They also referenced the letter sent earlier in the week by Sen. Bill Perkins asking tough questions about the deal, including why a new bidding process and a new appraisal were not considered.

The Observer, Electeds Want Delay on M.T.A. Atlantic Yards Vote
By Eliot Brown

A group of seven state and local elected officials are trying to thwart an M.T.A. board vote scheduled for Wednesday on the $4 billion Atlantic Yards project, seeking to delay the agency’s final approval for the project, which includes a new arena for the Nets in Brooklyn.

The officials’ consternation comes as the M.T.A. is expected to recommend a deal in which developer Forest City Ratner gives less upfront cash than it initially agreed to—it previously committed to $100 million, all at the closing—as well as a scaled-back rail yard the developer pledged to build.


The project—which now calls only for an arena at first and has dropped architect Frank Gehry—is also scheduled to come up for review at a Tuesday board meeting of the state's main development arm. That agency, the Empire State Development Corporation, would vote on the modified plan, then take public comment and likely would need to vote again. An ESDC spokesman said the agency's position is that the project does not need to gain approval from the Public Authorities Control Board again.

Update 4:12 p.m.

The M.T.A. will actually first address the new deal Monday before the board's finance committee, according to agency spokesman Jeremy Soffin. In an e-mail, he said, should the agreement be finalized over the weekend, it would go before the committee as "an informational item," before a "potential vote on Wednesday."

Star-Ledger, New York politicians urge MTA to delay vote on New Jersey Nets' Atlantic Yards project

Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project needs approval from state authorities before it can break ground this year.

The New Jersey Nets potential move to the Atlantic Yards site in Brooklyn could hit another snag this week. Elected New York officials are urging the Metropolitan Transportation Authority not to approve the project yet, according to a report by The Record.

Nets executives are trying to expedite the process of state approvals so the team can break ground on the facility before this year is over. New York state Sen. Bill Perkins, D-Manhattan, wrote a letter to the MTA, demanding that citizens know "the MTA is not granting sweetheart deals to developers at the expense of taxpayers."

The MTA board of directors will vote on Wednesday whether to approve the plans.

Posted by steve at 9:34 AM

Letter to MTA Requesting A Postponement On Vanderbilt Yards Decision

June 17, 2009

Ms. Helena Williams
Acting Executive Director & Chief Executive Officer
347 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10017-3739

RE: Atlantic Yards

Dear Ms. Williams:

It is our understanding that the MTA plans to vote on a Forest City Ratner proposal with respect to the Vanderbilt Yards and the Atlantic yards project on June 24. We respectfully suggest that a hasty decision to modify the obligations of the developer could be detrimental to the needs of the mass transit system and that any decision should only be made after the public and elected officials have had a fair opportunity to present their views. We therefore request that you postpone any decision on this matter and disclose the proposed details of any modifications to the current agreement with Forest City Ratner to the signers of this letter and the general public.

State Senator William Perkins recently wrote you with similar concerns and detailed various questions that necessitate a response. These include why the changed circumstances of the project should not compel a re-bid of the development rights, and whether or not the MTA needs to do an appraisal to assure receipt of fair market value of its assets.

We look forward to a most expeditious response. Thank you.

Assemblymember James F. Brennan Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries
Senator Velmanette MontgomeryAssemblymember Joan J. Millman
Councilmember Letitia JamesCouncilmember Vincent Gentile

Posted by steve at 7:22 AM

June 19, 2009

Ratner Close to Railroading MTA on Atlantic Yards

New York Magazine Daily Intel
by Chris Smith

When Bruce Ratner says "jump," Governor David Paterson, apparently, says "how high?"

According to an MTA spokesman, on Monday morning the transit agency will be “presenting a revised agreement” with developer Bruce Ratner for the Atlantic Yards site. The schedule change in itself is an interesting revision: Originally the MTA was going to wait until a meeting of its board on Wednesday to reveal the new deal, and then move straight to a board vote. But State Senator Bill Perkins, among others, has been pushing for more transparency about the revised deal, and this appears to be an attempt by the much-maligned state agency to marshal support in advance of the board’s decision.

The MTA needs all the goodwill it can get, because it’s likely to give Ratner an enormous discount from the original $100 million he agreed to pay to build on state land. The developer is arguing that he deserves the price cut because Atlantic Yards has been hobbled by recession and by pesky lawsuits. Yet Ratner was campaigning for increased taxpayer subsidies from the city and state even before the economic downturn. Now his project has dwindled severely. Gone is the glossy Frank Gehry design; the other great selling point, below-market-rate housing, won’t arrive anytime soon, if ever. What’s left is a drab, bargain-basement basketball arena at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues. Ratner is desperate to get shovels in the ground by the end of 2009 or he’ll risk losing his existing tax breaks and sponsorship arrangements.

The MTA has its own money problems, as you may have heard. And the sweetheart deals the city and state cut for the new Yankee Stadium should provide a lesson in driving a hard bargain when it comes to sports arenas. But the MTA appears willing to settle for a drastically reduced price in order to salvage some kind of short-term development at Atlantic Yards: Sources say the new price tag is likely to be either $20 million upfront or $10 million per year for ten years.

As disappointing as the cash may turn out to be, there’s another significant change in the works. “The thing to watch is whether the MTA gets screwed on the rail yards,” one party to the negotiations says. Ratner had agreed to build a new and improved rail yard for the LIRR. But he’s trying to cut back there, too, possibly delivering a new yard with 25 percent less capacity than the existing facility. “That would be a real loss,” the official says. “Ratner is supposed to build a rail yard that’s worth $200 to 300 million.”

Next week’s public MTA meetings will produce impassioned argument on both sides. The train may already be out of the barn, however. Though transit-agency executives have been negotiating the fine points with Ratner’s representatives, the serious deal-making has taken place in Albany. “Ratner’s people don’t lobby at the MTA board level, or even the MTA executive level,” a state government insider says. “They just try to do business right through the governor, and expect that the governor will tell the MTA what to do.” Governor David Paterson has been preoccupied with Albany’s State Senate circus for the past two weeks. Let’s hope he pays some attention to Brooklyn before the next great land-grab goes through.


NoLandGrab: If you ever doubted the whole Atlantic Yards deal was crooked, you're probably not doubting any more.

Posted by eric at 7:48 PM

What could $20 million buy? Well, not even two small Alphabet City sites

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder continues his effort to provide the MTA with "comps" for the pricing of the Vanderbilt Yard. Who wants to bet they're not paying attention?

From the Spring 2009 Massey Knakal Sales Journal, covering the second half of 2008:
644 East 14th Street
sold : $12.3 milion
Neighborhood: Alphabet City
Type: Conversion Site
Lot Size: 115’ x 88’
Buildable Square Feet: 68,262

The segment of the Vanderbilt Yard at issue is 495' x 200', or 99,000 square feet, nearly 10 times larger than the Alphabet City site, which is 10,120 square feet. If you multiply the Alphabet City price by 10, it comes out to more than $120 million.


Posted by eric at 9:00 AM

Keep your eye on the ball: FCR began renegotiating this deal well before the economic downturn

Atlantic Yards Report

As we approach key meetings next week, expect the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, (MTA), the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and and Forest City Ratner (FCR) to say the deal for the Vanderbilt Yard and the Modified General Project Plan for Atlantic Yards as a whole must be renegotiated because of the economic downturn.

But the economy crashed last September.

The State Funding Agreement and City Funding Agreement, which provided no schedule for Phase 2 (which would contain all the open space and a large majority of the affordable housing) and allowed FCR to build a much smaller project without penalty, were signed in September 2007.

And it was April 2008 when Chuck Ratner, CEO of parent Forest City Enterprises, said "we still need more" subsidies.


Posted by eric at 8:56 AM

Not even a four-burner stove: the temporary AY railyard might be more akin to an outdoor grill (but persist for years)

Atlantic Yards Report

Public benefits? Norman Oder looks at some of the ways in which Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project will shortchange the MTA — with that agency's apparent acquiescence — and the riding public.

The discussion about changes at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA) Vanderbilt Yard has focused on the quality of the permanent replacement yard that Forest City Ratner (FCR) is supposed to build.

But the more immediate question concerns the temporary yard, which would result in diminished capacity, perhaps lingering for years, and could leave the MTA facing some challenges in implementing its crucial East Side Access project, which would bring Long Island Rail Road trains to a new station under Grand Central Station, in a project now scheduled for completion in 2015.

To apply a metaphor used regarding the value-engineered Atlantic Yards arena, the permanent yard, which would contain seven tracks rather than the promised nine--and just might contain less storage capacity than the current formation--would be the four-burner stove.

But the temporary yard--with less capacity, no long-term guarantee, and exposure to the elements--would be more like an outdoor grill.


NoLandGrab: Like Nero, Governor Paterson is seemingly content to fiddle while Forest City Ratner burns the taxpayers.

Posted by eric at 5:53 AM

June 18, 2009

Web readers ask: What WAS that pro-arena editorial?

BrooklynPaper.com, Letters

Readers of The Brooklyn Paper were overwhelmingly dismayed — actually, stronger words are required — by last week’s editorial supporting Bruce Ratner’s now-Frank Gehry–less basketball arena plan (“Just do it,” editorial, June 12). In fact, we got more comments than we’ve ever received on an editorial. Here’s a fair synopsis.

“Gehry or not, Brooklyn doesn’t need this arena. The economic development in this part of Brooklyn was just fine before the city and Ratner became involved. This is a land and power grab, not an opportunity for economic development. Please, spare us Brooklyn Paper’s editorial crying. Crying for the corrupt and powerful is no way to live.”

Charles, Park Slope

“Brooklyn has muddled along without a major league sports franchise for decades. It will do fine with or without Ratner’s pick-pocketing. Good riddance to the abuse of process, lack of transparency, and back-room deals by those who don’t make the borough their home.”

Freddy, Park Slope

Read on for plenty more where those came from.

Posted by eric at 11:16 PM

The Brooklyn Paper mailbag

The Brooklyn Paper, Letters

Two letters this week address the last week's kooky pro-Conseco Fieldhouse, um, new Barclays Center editorial.

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's Daniel Goldstein weighs in first.

To the editor,

Ralph Waldo Emerson railed against “foolish consistency.” Surely he had even less respect for foolish inconsistency. A newspaper’s editorial opinion means nothing if it is inconsistent. In last week’s editorial (“Just do it,” June 11), The Brooklyn Paper seems to be priding itself on some imagined consistency when it advocates for a taxpayer-funded arena on top of private property, city streets and the Vanderbilt Rail Yards — part of the proposed Atlantic Yards project — even more vehemently now that starchitect Frank Gehry has been dropped from the whole project.

But The Paper is downright defensive in its claims of consistency. That defensiveness is understandable because there is nothing consistent in the Paper’s opinion. In March, 2008, it editorialized: “The state must take back the development rights over the rail yards and put them out for bid. Doing so would not only cleanse state officials of the Original Sin of Atlantic Yards (namely selling Ratner the air rights for $100 million less than their appraised value), but it would also set right Bruce Ratner’s very wrong project.” So, while the Paper may now claim it has always wanted this arena, it hasn’t; it has never actually supported Ratner’s plan and never supported eminent domain or public subsidies upon which the arena and the rest of the project are dependent.

Did “Bruce Ratner’s very wrong project” suddenly become very right because the developer dumped the architect whose reputation he levered for project approval?

[Warning: The following letter to the editor is rated NC-17.]

To the editor,

Just do it???????

Are you f—ing kidding me?

On the front page of our newspaper????

You f—ing traitor!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Just build a f—ing shack so Ratner can make money??????? What the f–????

Do you have any principles??? Do you have any balls at all????

“Just do it”???? I’ll just stop reading the only paper that told the truth!!!

Holy f–!! I’m disgusted!!!!!!!

Shame on you!!!!!!!

Shame on you!!!!!!!!

Robert Frumkin, Prospect Heights


Posted by eric at 5:25 PM

Perkins, warning of "sweetheart deals," asks MTA to reveal terms of Vanderbilt Yard contract and answer other questions

Atlantic Yards Report

After failing to ask many tough questions at the May 29 state Senate oversight hearing on Atlantic Yards, Sen. Bill Perkins, who chairs the Committee on Corporations, Authorities, and Commissions--or at least does so as long as the Democratic Party maintains control--has begun to grill the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).

In the letter (below) to MTA Acting Executive Director Helena Williams, Perkins asked the MTA to reveal the terms of the deal it is renegotiating with Forest City Ratner and further asked:

  • why no new RFP was issued
  • whether the MTA recognizes that many promised public benefits would be gone
  • whether the MTA has had the railyard site appraised and knows the Fair Market Value
  • whether the MTA thinks an independent appraisal is needed
  • what happens if Forest City closes the deal but doesn't proceed with the project

Perkins asked for a response by Friday, June 19, in anticipation of the June 24 MTA board meeting. The letter was CC'd to various state officials and local elected officials.

Update 1:50 pm: "We'll certainly respond to the letter," said MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin.

(Whether that means a detailed response or a "no negotiating in public" brushoff remains to be seen.)


Posted by eric at 2:28 PM

Re: Atlantic Yards

We're told that New York State Senator Bill Perkins, who chairs the Senate Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, sent the following letter to acting Metropolitan Transportation Authority chief Helena Williams on Tuesday:

June 16, 2009

Ms. Helena Williams
Acting Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer
347 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10017-3739

Re: Atlantic Yards

Dear Ms. Williams:

I write to follow up on the hearing that was held on May 29th regarding the Atlantic Yards project.

At the hearing you testified that MTA was engaged in renegotiations with Forest City Ratner regarding the development rights over the Vanderbilt Yards. The original deal required FCR to make various infrastructure improvements and remit 100 million dollars at closing. You reported at the hearing that the developer now wants to significantly scale down its commitments both in terms of infrastructure and money. It has been reported that the new terms of the deal will be voted on at the MTA’s next board meeting, scheduled for June 24th.

I write to request that the MTA immediately fax me a copy of any proposed amended agreements between MTA and FCR. There is already a great deal of public concern about the terms of the various deals at Atlantic Yards, in particular MTA’s acceptance of a substantially below-appraisal offer. Given MTA’s deep financial problems, its reliance on public bailout, and the many concerns raised about the viability of the Atlantic Yards project, MTA must make every effort to engage the public now, so that no new Vanderbilt Yards deal is ratified without the public having a substantial opportunity to review and comment.

Public engagement is always important, but it is particularly critical now that so many of the alleged public benefits of the Atlantic Yards project have diminished or vanished altogether. For example, the state of the art rail yard FCR was to build is no longer on the table as the new yard would have fewer tracks than are currently in place and that were originally promised; the IBO has concluded that the arena will now be a money-loser for the city; promised office space has been scrapped, substantially reducing revenue and jobs; there are no concrete or near-term plans to build the bulk of the promised affordable housing, which is contained in Phase 2 of the project plan, which has no timeline; the “world-class” Frank Gehry design has been scrapped for a cookie-cutter alternative; the much-touted “Urban Room” public space has been discarded; the remaining so-called public space is all contained in Phase 2, which again has no timeline; and then ESDC CEO Marissa Lago stated publicly that the project will take “decades” to complete, which will continue or even exacerbate for a generation the so-called blight the project was intended to resolve, and significantly delay or deny the public’s accrual of benefits.

The public needs to know that it is getting the best deal possible and that the MTA is not granting sweetheart deals to developers at the expense of taxpayers, straphangers and the local community. To that end, in addition to immediately providing a written copy of the renegotiated terms, please provide detailed written answers to the following questions:

1) Why is MTA renegotiating terms with FCR rather than demanding performance or rescinding the agreement and re-issuing the RFP in order to determine whether there are other interested parties?

2) In renegotiating the terms, did MTA consider that most of the alleged public benefits it considered in 2005 have since substantially diminished or vanished altogether?

3) Has the MTA contracted an independent appraiser to appraise the Vanderbilt Yards to determine their current Fair Market Value? If not, why not? What is the current Fair Market Value of the Vanderbilt Yards?

4) Given that the new agreement will be substantially and materially different from the original, making it a new agreement, does not the Public Authorities Accountability Act of 2005 now apply and impose a fiduciary duty on MTA board members and require that the sale of property for fair market value be supported by an independent appraisal? If not, why not?

5) What are FCR’s obligations to the MTA if the deal closes but the developer does not proceed with the project?

Time is of the essence. These answers need to be known and made public prior to the MTA board considering any new deal regarding the Vanderbilt Yards. Therefore please provide a written response to my office no later than Friday June 19, 2009. Thank you.


Senator Bill Perkins

Cc: Governor David A. Paterson
Dennis Mullen, Acting CEO and President, Empire State Development Corp.
H. Dale Hemmerdinger, Chairman, Metropolitan Transportation Authority
Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith
Senator John Sampson, Democratic Conference Leader
Senator Martin Malave Dilan, Chair Transportation Committee
Senator Velmanette Montgomery
Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries

Posted by eric at 2:15 PM

Apology Doesn’t Go Far Enough

by Phil Reisman

Bill Brody, whose Port Chester, NY, property was taken by eminent domain for the "higher use" of a Stop & Shop and a parking lot, gets the last laugh, though it's hardly a hearty one.

There’s also an extraordinary final chapter to the Brody-Port Chester story. The village had to eat crow. As part of a settlement agreement, the village paid Brody $475,000 and publicly apologize. The apology came at a village board meeting Monday night…and set in stone at a settlement signing ceremony held today at Village Hall.

That’s not all. The village also agreed to rename the corner where Brody’s building stood—William Brody Plaza.

Having covered this story in the early years, I never thought I’d see anything like this happen.

However, the apology to Brody isn’t enough. The village should extend it to the scores of merchants, landlords and apartment dwellers who were bullied, terrorized and swindled during that terrible period.

Brody had the means and forbearance to fight back. Others didn’t. They had to cut their losses and leave.


NoLandGrab: For those who castigate the property owners who have stood fast in the way of Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project for getting in the way of progress, let us remind you that they are simply exercising their rights under the law — which all too often favors the powerful vs. the just.

Posted by eric at 2:01 PM

The six ESDC board members--half from upstate, none from Brooklyn--who (likely) will rubber-stamp AY

Atlantic Yards Report

So, let's meet the board of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), the gubernatorial appointees who almost surely will approve revised plans for Atlantic Yards with no dissent, as the board did in December 2006.

All the directors (including ex-officio ones) are appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate. All are male. Three of the six are from upstate. Two are from Manhattan and one from Westchester. None are from Brooklyn.

Two of the six were appointed by Gov. George Pataki. Two spots are vacant. (The list does not appear on the ESDC site, but was provided in response to my request.)

In December 2006, I described the ESDC board as "team players and big donors;" the current configuration contains only one big donor to statewide campaigns, but surely includes team players.

Dennis M. Mullen* (Chairman)   Governor   Pleasure of Governor
Kevin S. Corbett   Governor   Pleasure of Governor
Stanford Lipsey   Governor   Pleasure of Governor
Mark E. Hamister   Governor   1/1/2009 (holdover)
Derrick D. Cephas   Governor   1/1/2013
Richard Neiman   Governor   Ex Officio

Check out the rest of the article for a review of the starting line-up.

Syracuse Post-Standard, ESDC adrift

Here's our favorite laugh from an editorial about the mayhem at the ESDC:

[ESDC President and CEO] Lago announced earlier this month she was leaving her $215,000 post, amid reports of turf battles with Wilmers. Now Wilmers, too, is out.

Gov. David Paterson appointed Dennis Mullen, whom he chose last September to handle Upstate economic development, to take over Lago's duties. Now Mullen has been tapped to take on Wilmers' job as well. One hopes Mullen won't have turf battles with himself.

NoLandGrab: Once again, we gotta hand it to Bruce Ratner, who not only manages to advance his interests before the public's, but gets it all done in an agency in disarray.

Posted by lumi at 6:41 AM

Atlantic Yards Watch

Brooklyn Downtown Star
By Sean Elder

Bruce Ratner has finally made it official: Frank Gehry is out as designer of the ill-fated Atlantic Yards Project.
"At this point the Atlantic Yards plan has nothing to do with the project New Yorkers were promised," the Times concluded. Gehry was always just the shiny bauble, or maker of shiny baubles, that hypnotized some well-meaning citizens.
I was at a benefit for the Brooklyn Museum not long ago, seated between a couple of well-heeled museum supporters - both from the Upper East Side - when one of them mentioned how much she loved Jhumpa Lahiri's last book. I mentioned that Lahiri had done a reading at my house to benefit Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn. An awkward silence followed. "We're all for not destroying Brooklyn," one of them finally said, "but we also care about The Future."

For her The Future meant a big behemoth, representing progress, the kind that cultural missionaries have always brought to ungrateful primitives like us.


Posted by lumi at 6:38 AM

David Yassky Weasels on Atlantic Yards

Daily Gotham

Among Atlantic Yards watchdogs, David Yassky is notorious for trying to have it both ways (aka "The Yassky-Nossky"). These days, he's not too proud of his track record and is trying to recast himself as an anti-project crusader.

Daily Gotham blogger "Mole333" takes readers down memory lane:

During the campaign for Congress, Yassky had a habit of doing favors for supporters.... Similarly, right after Yassky was endorsed by BUILD President James Caldwell, a Ratner ally, Yassky proposed relieving Ratner of his promise to fund BUILD and instead funding it with city money. This second devil's bargain seemed to ally Yassky with Ratner, and given his weak language regarding Atlantic Yards, most voters assumed Yassky was pro-Atlantic Yards.

I always said that had Yassky been stronger on that one issue, he could have won the Congressional race. Instead he weaseled, and lost.


NoLandGrab.org: This should come as no surprise. Remember, this is the City Councilmember who first proposed that the extension of term limits be decided by a voter referendum. That didn't pass, so he (naturally) cast his own vote in support of the extension.

Posted by lumi at 6:29 AM

What could $20 million buy? Little more than this East New York site (adjusted for size), with much lower development rights

Atlantic Yards Report

Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner is about to strike a deal with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to only cough up $20M for the arena portion of the development rights for the Vanderbilt Railyard. Norman Oder has been poking around the metropolitan area, looking for comparable land values.

Today he digs up a site in East New York that is slated for affordable housing.

The Spring 2009 Massey Knakal sales Journal, covering the second half of 2008, indicates that a 20,000 square foot lot in East New York sold for $3.45 million, to support affordable housing.

The segment of the Vanderbilt Yard at issue is 495' x 200', or 99,000 square feet, 4.95 times larger than the East New York site. If you multiple the East New York price by 4.95, it comes out to $17.08 million.


NoLandGrab: If approved, this would make another giant sweetheart deal between Ratner and the MTA. It is truly amazing how Ratner manages to advance his interests before that of commuters.

Posted by lumi at 6:28 AM

Looking for hope

Brooklyn Daily Eagle
By Henrik Krogius

The news got worse. Forest City Ratner had held back on telling us that not just the arena but all of Atlantic Yards would no longer be built to the designs of Frank Gehry. The project would have no touch of greatness.

But don't worry, Ratner can still forceably take private property (Phew!):

From a legal perspective, a change of architects would not seem to affect Bruce Ratner’s use of eminent domain...

Huge as the disappointment is, a second-best project may yet be better than none.


NoLandGrab: Though, these soundbytes make Kroguis sound like a complete heel, they betray an inferiority complex among Brooklynites of a certain era.

In all fairness, Kroguis goes on to make some of the same suggestions project critics have proposed since the beginning.

Posted by lumi at 6:12 AM

Vegan-friendly catered lunch in Brooklyn


Rice.gif You never know what will turn up on the "Atlantic Yards" morning search. Here's an item that is evidence of the success of developer Bruce Ratner's mega-project branding campaign:

Yesterday, someone on Chowhound posted:

I am looking for a place in Brooklyn (specifically near Fulton St. Mall / Atlantic Yards / LIU), that I can either pickup or have delivered a lunch with a vegan-friendly option (and of the catered variety, i.e. I'm not putting in 30 indiv. orders).

NoLandGrab: We suggest checking out the folks and fare at Rice in Ft. Greene, who not only frequently cater for Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn events, but could probably tell you that "Atlantic Yards" is Bruce Ratner's brand name for a project that isn't even built yet. [The real name of the railyard is "Vanderbit Railyard."]

Posted by lumi at 5:51 AM

Norman Foster Loses Russia Tower Project


Norman Foster joins Frank Gehry on the recently fired starchitect roster.

With Richard Rogers losing a major project thanks Prince Charles' interference, Frank Gehry finally getting an axe on Atlantic Yards, and the list going on and on for buildings that never shall be, it's been a tough couple of months to be a starchitect lately.


Posted by lumi at 5:45 AM

June 17, 2009

The amazing shrinking railyard deal: partial payment, partial benefits, and (possibly) no platform and a much-shrunken AY project

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder adds up the costs of the "switch" in Forest City's replacement railyard bait 'n' switch.

It's not just that Forest City Ratner (FCR) was awarded the right to develop the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA) Vanderbilt Yard for $100 million in cash, even though another developer bid $150 million and the MTA's own appraiser valued the site at $214.5 million--after deducting the cost to a bidder of constructing a new railyard (albeit a more basic one than FCR promised).

It's not just that the MTA, after initial resistance, has agreed to let FCR build a replacement railyard of seven rather than nine tracks, a successor to a railyard that once had ten shorter tracks but with (apparently) greater capacity.

It's not just that the MTA apparently is being requested to allow Forest City Ratner to make a much lower down payment--a reported $20 million, though that's not confirmed--for the portion of the railyard needed for the arena block, and pay off the rest over some (yet) unspecified time.

It's also that Forest City Ratner's multi-component railyard bid, which the developer variously claimed was worth $492.4 million or $445 million or $329.4 million, would be worth significantly less than promised. (I address the calculation lower down in this article.)

What about the platform?

Most crucially, it's also that one of the most important components of the project--the plan to deck over the central and eastern segments of the railyard (Blocks 1120 and 1121)--has become less likely.

That would put in doubt the six towers scheduled for those two blocks, and the attendant housing and open space.

The current version of Atlantic Yards already appears to be significantly different than the plan that was promoted to the public and to elected officials. The configuration of the buildings shifted, but it was supposed to be a 16-tower buildout in ten years.

Both those numbers have become suspect, and the absence of a platform would take Atlantic Yards further down the road toward Atlantic Lots.


Posted by eric at 11:05 AM

Would the new MTA railyard actually accommodate fewer cars? Do the math

Atlantic Yards Report

Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner proposed to increase the storage capacity of the Vanderbilt Railyard. In the effort to save money, could he be renegging on his promises?

According to Forest City Ratner's 2005 bid to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) for the Vanderbilt Yard:

The new yard would have a modern signal system, new employee facilities, new lighting and an enclosure, new toilet servicing options, an improved track structure, and better rail access. And it would accommodate 76 rather than 72 cars.

However, to save money, Ratner is changing the deal to even fewer tracks:

While the MTA has not publicly released details about the seven-track replacement yard it has accepted, in place of the nine-track yard it was promised, a look at the chart and the schematic drawings suggests that storage capacity would go down.

Consider that the longest tracks planned in the new yard would accommodate ten cars. There would be two ten-car tracks and seven eight-car tracks, an improvement over the longstanding configuration of ten tracks, but with five of them accommodating only six cars.

However, a reduction to seven tracks, even if each accommodated ten cars, would mean that the new yard would fit 70 cars rather than the 76 promised. And 70 cars may be overoptimistic.


NoLandGrab: In otherwords, the most optimistic analysis of Ratner's latest proposal means that the LIRR railyard would have less storage capacity (70 cars) than it does now (72 cars). That's a net LOSS, not benefit.

Posted by lumi at 5:32 AM


Photo by Tracy Collins, via flickr Atlantic Yards Photo Pool.

Ratner recently demolished two buildings that used to stand on this lot. This week, he moved in the trailer in the photo and two others.

Posted by lumi at 5:19 AM

Yards foes ‘suit’ up for another appeal

The Brooklyn Paper
By Mike McLaughlin

Nine property owners inside the Atlantic Yards footprint moved last week to appeal last month’s Appellate Division ruling that said the state could use eminent domain to seize privately owned land for the controversial arena and skyscraper proposal.

The plaintiffs want the Court of Appeals, the highest court in New York, to review the plan’s constitutionality, and ultimately, overturn the May decision by the lower court.

At issue is whether or not the NY State Consitution allows for property seized by eminent domain to be used for anything other than "low income housing" and whether or not an economic analysis is actually required.


NoLandGrab: Basically, the plaintiffs want the justices to rule whether or not the State Constitution is enforceable, or do developers get to change the rules along the way.

Posted by lumi at 5:19 AM

What happened to the two "central" and "critical" towers closest to the transit hub? Never mind

Atlantic Yards Report

MISSING: "Miss Brooklyn," the "Urban Room," and Tower at "Site V"...

The demise of Frank Gehry's arena block design, and the realignment of the planned arena from a diagonal to a north-south placement casts significant doubt on the future of Building 1 (aka Miss Brooklyn), the office tower (with attached Urban Room, now missing from renderings, below) once destined for the western wedge between Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, as well as the tower at the western point of the footprint, Site 5.

They once were "central" and "critical" to the project and thus, presumably, to the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) approval, so we'll have to see what emerges when the ESDC releases a revision of the Modified General Project Plan (GPP) at its meeting June 23.

Forest City Ratner and the ESDC should be asked about the fate of both Building 1 and the tower at Site 5, the site now occupied by P.C. Richard and Modell's, bounded by Pacific Street and Flatbush, Atlantic, and Fourth avenues. Neither appear in the latest renderings of the arena block.


Posted by lumi at 5:11 AM

What could $20 million buy? Not even two small DTB development sites

Atlantic Yards Report

While Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner is set to strike a deal with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority by which he'll cough up only $20M up front for the development rights to the portion of the Vanderbilt Railyard on which he plans to build the arena, Norman Oder pokes around looking for comps:

Here's an example of a lot nearly one-seventh as small that in late 2007 sold for more than half the $20 million sum.

From the First Quarter 2008 Massey Knakal Sales Journal:A 187’ x 80’ development site with plans for hotel rooms at 300 Schermerhorn in Downtown Brooklyn was sold by Massey Knakal Realty Services in an all-cash transaction valued at $11,900,000 to a hotel developer and operator... The as-of-right buildable square footage is approximately 83,000 square feet for a mixed-use development project, or 90,000 square feet for a community use property. The site is also located near several mixed-use retail, residential projects, office buildings and is only blocks from one of the strongest retail corridors in New York City, the Fulton Mall.

Keep in mind that the segment of the Vanderbilt Yard at issue is 495' x 200', or 99,000 square feet. The 300 Schermerhorn site is 14,960 square feet.

Yes, the market has changed, but has it changed that much? And isn't a site supporting an arena, housing, and more somewhat more valuable than a hotel site?


NoLandGrab: Long-time watchdogs will recall that Ratner's deal with the MTA was already the lowball bid. Uh-huh... RATNER IS SHORTCHANGING HIS OWN LOWBALL BID.

Posted by lumi at 5:02 AM

ESDC meeting moved up; schedule now is MTA June 22, ESDC June 23, MTA June 24

Atlantic Yards Report

Today, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) announced that its board meeting would be held Tuesday, June 23, at 9 am, rather than, as previously indicated, June 24.

While ESDC spokesman Warner Johnston told me that changes in meeting times aren't unusual--true--the switch also apparently gives the board the opportunity to adopt a revised Modified General Project Plan for Atlantic Yards before the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) acts.

The MTA Finance Committee on June 22 is expected to examine on a revised deal with Forest City Ratner to develop the Vanderbilt Yard. On June 24, the full MTA board is expected to approve the deal.


NoLandGrab: With the recent resignations of key executives, things must be pretty chaotic over at the Empire State Developerment Corporation and Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

However, Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner must have some sort of guardian angel looking over its project, because the review and approval of important changes made it on to the schedule of both agencies' board meetings.

Posted by lumi at 4:50 AM

June 16, 2009

It came from the Blogosphere...

Curbed LA, Sold! Forest City Unloads Mercury Units To Investors

A press release just issued from real estate development [sic] Kennedy Wilson notes that their firm has purchased the remaining 149 units in The Mercury, that 23-tower condo project developed by Forest City Residential West. The project, which has a total of 238 units, opened in 2007.

Senior Managing Director Stuart Cramer stated that the condominiums will be priced from the low $200,000’s to the high $700,000’s." Just a few weeks ago, the project was advertising prices starting in the mid-$300s.

UPDATE: According to a spokesperson for Kennedy Wilson, 89 units sold in the Mercury previous to their purchase of the building. So that's 89 units sold over about two years.

NoLandGrab: It's a safe bet that Kennedy Wilson didn't buy all those units to take a loss, and if they've dropped the prices by a third from what Forest City was trying to sell them for, it's also a safe bet that Bruce Ratner's parent company took a hefty loss on this project.

The Provocateur, Ratner and ACORN: Alinsky Would be Proud

More on the strange tale of Brooklyn's odd couple, Bruce Ratner and Bertha Lewis.

In other words, the accumulation of power is far more important that being true to your ideology. Saul Alinsky is the philosophical and strategic god father to groups like ACORN. Keep those thoughts in mind as I unravel this story.

So, the same person who only years earlier had turned ACORN from an adversary to an ally was now giving a life line to the same group. The story doesn't end there. It turns out that the date on the loan was September 4th, 2008. In other words, Lewis had already signed onto the loan on behalf of ACORN before she even presented the deal to the board. Then, Lewis orchestrated a sham vote in favor of the same deal she had already put into motion. of course, before most of this could be properly investigated internally, most of those that protested were removed and are now members of ACORN 8.

Meanwhile, Ratner, for $2 million, some marketing expenses, and about a thousand underpriced units, was able to get the most effective grassroots group to organize in his favor rather than against him. ACORN, on the other hand, had just gained a long term powerful ally.

Brownstoner, Nets Poised to Cash In on Brooklyn, the Brand?

Newsday checks in on why the Atlantic Yards arena, no matter what it looks like, would be such a boon for the Nets in terms of revenue.

Nets Daily, Critics File “Last, Best Chance” Appeal

Critics of plans for the Nets’ Brooklyn arena have appealed a lower court ruling upholding the state’s right to condemn land for the arena. New York Law Journal called the appeal the critics’ “last, best chance”. The Court of Appeals doesn’t have to take the case. If it does, oral arguments wouldn’t take place for months, perhaps beyond a Dec. 31 deadline for ground breaking, threatening the project.

TimesUnion.com, Looking Back

Technically not from the blogosphere, but hey.

On this date in...

1984: Troy Industrial Development Authority laid down a tax-exempt red carpet for Forest City Enterprises, the Cleveland-based company ready to buy Uncle Sam Atrium.

NLG: The more things change...

Posted by eric at 3:00 PM

Résumé Review

Crain's NY Business
by Ware Sykes

Crain's occasionally features a resumé, and some advice as to how to punch it up.




A managerial career in construction and real estate development


Forest City Ratner Cos., Manhattan, 2006-March 2009. Project development coordinator: analyzed and assessed subcontractor estimates for Barclays Center, Brooklyn; obtained substantial savings in construction schedules for Beekman Tower, Manhattan; value-engineered foundation and road design for significant savings for Ridge Hill, Yonkers


In the current economic environment, employers are looking for people who can generate revenue and save money. In your cover letter and when you're speaking with recruiters, emphasize that you not only have the skill set they need but that you also have the ability to deliver projects on time and under budget.

link [May require a subscription]

NoLandGrab: "On time and under budget?" The Barclays Center is neither.

And why would Forest City have laid off someone working on the arena three months ago (assuming that's why Ms. Jabaji left)?

Posted by eric at 2:46 PM

What's supposed to happen at the Vanderbilt Yard? And why did the MTA initially resist Ratner's money-saving changes?

Atlantic Yards Report

What was approved in December 2006 by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) is surely to be changed in new plans likely to be released at the June 24 board meeting, but the below graphic, Figure 1-13, from the Atlantic Yards Final Environmental Impact Statement, shows what was supposed to happen.

The ten-track railyard for servicing the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), located in the western third (Block 1119) of the Vanderbilt Yard, would be given up, replaced by a nine-track yard in the eastern third (Block 1121) capable of storing, cleaning, and toilet servicing longer trains, given that the LIRR now has longer cars.

The new yard would be reduced to just seven tracks, and that change, I'm told, was initially resisted by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). (Click to enlarge)


NoLandGrab: To extend outgoing Empire State Developerment Corporation exec Marisa Lago's kitchen renovation metaphor, it's like getting a new kitchen, only smaller.

Add this to the list of incredible shrinking "public benefits" touted by developer Bruce Ratner and his political supporters.

Keep in mind that Ratner also proposes to pay only $20 million up front, instead of the $100 million that he previously promised to pay.


Posted by lumi at 5:47 AM

Trailers on Sixth Avenue site a prelude to further construction activities

Atlantic Yards Report

For those of you who think that the project is dead, or dying... these trailers were brought to you by the letters F, C, and R (Forest City Ratner).


Forest City Ratner has moved two trailers into the space created after the demolition of the houses at 487 and 489 Dean Street, on the northeast corner of Sixth Avenue opposite Freddy's Bar & Backroom. There's a third trailer, not pictured, deeper in the lot.

They all seem a prelude to increased construction activities at the adjacent railyard and, should plans progress as developer Forest City Ratner intends, construction on the adjacent arena block. Keep in mind that the "blight" found in the 100 feet of land just east of Sixth Avenue is highly arbitrary, but FCR did say it needed the space for construction staging to build the arena.


Posted by lumi at 5:33 AM

So, where would they put the practice facility? And would the team bond with Brooklyn?

Atlantic Yards Report

With some lack of precision, [SportsBusiness Journal] reports:

In addition, the Nets are building a practice facility next to Barclays Center, on the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic streets, something that was not part of Gehry’s design. The add-on ties in with the team’s effort to form a close bond with Brooklyn’s 2.5 million residents by having the players spend more time on-site, Yormark said.

Well, Flatbush and Atlantic are avenues, not streets. If the practice facility does occupy that wedge area, then it could block any plans for the once-promised Urban Room. (Maybe they could call it the Urban Room.)

Attached practice courts are nothing new in NBA arenas. They're included in the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis (model for Brooklyn), the TimeWarner Center in Charlotte, and the Verizon Center in DC, among others.


Posted by lumi at 5:32 AM

After Ratner - 9902

Photo by b'klynborn, via flickr Atlantic Yards Photo Pool.

Vanderbilt Ave btw Dean and Pacific Streets, either side deconstructed by Bruce Ratner.


Posted by lumi at 5:20 AM

What could $20 million buy? A Manhattan site for a 46,000 square-foot building

Atlantic Yards Report

WW$20MB? Norman Oder is finding that $20M doesn't get you much on the open market in and around NYC, certainly not development rights on a "great piece of real estate," to quote Charles Ratner.

From the 10/3/08 Real Deal:

Chelsea development site asking $20 million
A three-story, 27,600-square-foot commercial building at 537-543 West 20th Street is on the market with an asking price of $20 million. The site, located between 10th and 11th avenues, has 100 feet of frontage and lies in a split zoning of M1-5 and C6-3. This allows for a 46,000-square-foot office, hotel or gallery development. Bermuda Limousine Corporation occupies the space but will relocate, and the building will be delivered vacant.

That's a much, much smaller development than that planned for the segment of the railyard.


NoLandGrab: The point is that if the Metropolitan Transportation Authority accepts developer Bruce Ratner's offer to pay $20M up front for the development rights for the arena portion of the Vanderbilt Railyard, it would be another sweetheart deal for Ratner.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, LOCAL INTELLIGENCE, June 15, 2009
Yesterday's Eagle round-up of stories in the blogosphere carried another installment of Oder's series about other ways to blow $20M:

Forest City Ratner wants to pay just $20 million to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for the portion of the Vanderbilt Yards it needs to build the Atlantic Yards arena, says Atlantic Yards Report. (It initially promised to pay $100 million for the whole rail yard.) Comparison: Forest City Enterprises/Bruce Ratner are scheduled to pay star guard Vince Carter $16.1 million next year alone.

Posted by lumi at 5:09 AM

Statistics on accepted appeals suggest eminent domain appeal has tough road

Atlantic Yards Report

Every case is different, and lawyers for Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn think they have a strong argument for appealing the unanimous rejection of the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case to the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court.

But the New York Law Journal suggests that chances are low...

That means if the case does gets accepted, the delay could throw a monkey wrench into plans to have tax-exempt bonds issued by the end of the year.

Then again, I've been told, there are ways to have bonds issued but to put a hold on the process, thus raising costs for the borrower somewhat but not removing the substantial advantage--at least $150 million on the arena--such tax-exempt bonds would offer.


Posted by lumi at 4:42 AM

June 15, 2009

Atlantic Yards YES! New York City's sales-tax payers, NO!!

While Bruce Ratner will reap millions in savings because the Empire State Development Corporation has exempted all Atlantic Yards arena construction materials from sales taxes, the New York City Council has just endorsed a sales tax increase for the rest of the city's taxpayers.

City Room, City Council Endorses Sales Tax Increase

By a 37 to 10 vote, the New York City Council on Monday called on the State Legislature to raise the city’s share of the sales tax to 4.5 percent from 4 percent, a move that is expected to raise $518 million in the fiscal year that starts next month and help alleviate some of the city’s mounting fiscal pressures.

If Albany goes along with the proposal, which Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has described as essential, the sales tax in the five boroughs would rise to 8.875 percent from 8.375 percent. (The state’s sales tax is 4 percent, and the city, as part of the area served by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, pays a Metropolitan Commuter Transportation District surcharge of 0.375 percent.)

NoLandGrab: One of the causes of the "city’s mounting fiscal pressures" is the massive giveaway, in cash and tax breaks, to Bruce C. Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, which, you can be sure, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg considers "essential."

Posted by eric at 10:14 PM

EMINENT DOMAINIA: The Big Apple Bites!

New York Law Journal, Coalition Tries for Last Time To Halt Atlantic Yards Project

A community group in Brooklyn has filed what may be its last, best chance to block the construction of the massive Atlantic Yards project. Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, which was formed in 2004 to oppose Forest City Ratner's 16-tower plan for downtown Brooklyn, submitted on Friday its notice of appeal for the Appellate Division, Second Department's rejection last month of the coalition's eminent domain claims. The group claimed the appellate court's unanimous decision in Goldstein v. New York State Urban Development Corp. , 2008-7064 (NYLJ, May 18), presents three "substantial constitutional questions," including whether the public use requirement of the state Constitution "imposes a more stringent standard for takings than does the Fifth Amendment." Last year, 152 notices of appeal were filed in New York, according to a Court of Appeals spokesman. Of those, 70 were subjected to preliminary inquiries and of those 70, all but 10 were dismissed. The average length of time from a notice of appeal until oral arguments was seven months.

NorthJersey.com, Eminent domain ruling on Nets' Brooklyn site appealed

The appeal is based on three constitutional issues:

  • Whether New York State’s eminent domain laws are more stringent than federal laws.
  • Whether it is legal for state agencies to approve condemnation of land without ever reviewing the magnitude of the private benefit for a project developer, in this case Nets owner Bruce Ratner.
  • Whether the project plan is not sufficiently designed to aid local lower-income residents.

The New York Times, Issue of Property Rights Is Likely to Arise in Sotomayor’s Confirmation Hearings

The Supreme Court nominee was a member of the U.S. Second Circuit panel that heard Didden v. Village of Port Chester — and ruled against the property owner in a case reviled by proponents of property rights.

The brief decision in Didden made two points. First, it said Mr. Didden had filed his suit too late. The village had announced the redevelopment plan in 1999, and Mr. Didden did not sue until 2004. His claim, the court said, was therefore barred by a three-year statute of limitations.

That was a curious ruling, Professor Epstein said, because it required Mr. Didden to sue over his claim of extortion before it happened.

The court also rejected Mr. Didden’s claim that Port Chester should not be allowed to take his property so that another company could build a different drug store. The takings clause of the Fifth Amendment — “nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation” — should not apply, he had argued, to such transfers.

Judge Roberts, at his confirmation hearings in 2005, seemed sympathetic to that kind of argument. The takings clause is uncontroversial when it is used to take property for public purposes like roads and schools. But it is a “basic proposition,” Judge Roberts added, that “government can’t take property from A and give it to B.”

Posted by eric at 9:52 PM

Wedding bells

Bleed Scarlet

The Rutgers University sports fan site has this to say about the Nets' owner.

Is it possible at this point not to hate Bruce Ratner and his Major League-level nefarious scheming? Now the architects are mad at his plans for moving the Nets to Brooklyn.


Posted by eric at 9:46 PM

A Puerto Rican In Brooklyn & The Clyde of Watchdog Bloggers

Who Walk In Brooklyn

Brooklyn native, octogenarian blogger and Walt "Clyde" Frazier fan Cal Dolowicz compares Norman Oder to the Hall of Fame Knicks' guard.

...thankfully, Norm isn’t taking “nobody cares” for an answer and here breaks down the defense of the Brooklyn Paper’s bought-and-paid for petit editorialist a hell of a lot better than any fucking Nets point guard ever will. Norman Oder: swishing and dishing!


NoLandGrab: We know Norman Oder pretty well, and we have to admit, we've never thought of him as "The Clyde of Watchdog Bloggers." The Big "O", maybe. The Mad "O"? Definitely.

Posted by eric at 9:29 PM

Evoking Brooklyn like never before

Nets Daily has posted some excerpts from a SportsBusiness Journal update on the Conseco Fieldhouse, we mean new Barclays Center, complete with some novel new spin from Nets' CEO Brett Yormark.

SportsBusiness Journal, Nets’ arena vision: ‘Brooklyn brand’ [Subscription required]

With sports architect Ellerbe Becket officially replacing renowned civic designer Frank Gehry on the New Jersey Nets’ Barclays Center project, the Nets are redeveloping their venue plans by focusing on the “Brooklyn brand.”

Nets Daily, Yormark Provides Details on Arena Design…and New Practice Facility

Before flying off to China Saturday, Brett Yormark provided Sports Business Journal with details on the new Barclays Center design…and a Brooklyn practice facility. The design includes a tighter seating bowl entered from street level, a mix of large and “mini-suites”, more in-house TV feeds, and plenty of natural light, said Yormark. Bottom line: “the building is now going to evoke Brooklyn like never before.”

Nets Daily, Excerpts: Sports Business Journal on New Arena Design

Yormark needs to rethink his alleged "I only sleep three hours a night" routine, because every time he opens his mouth, he sounds more and more delirious.

Gehry had never designed a big league arena before Nets owner Bruce Ratner called, whereas Ellerbe brings experience in building multiple NBA arenas that will help get the job done in time for a planned 2011 opening.

NoLandGrab: That was the whole point — the big sell on the arena was that it would be Gehry's first big-league arena. And Metrotech will freeze over before a Brooklyn arena opens in 2011.

"The biggest change is that the building is now going to evoke Brooklyn like never before,” he said. “There’s such a legacy there. Wherever I travel, it is an international brand. They wear it on their hats and on their chests. We’re going … to brand Brooklyn in a big-time way, and it will start with the look and feel of the building."

NLG: Yes, nothing evokes Brooklyn like a knock-off of an Indianapolis design knocked off from another Indianapolis design. There is, however, a Brooklyn, Indiana. Brooklyn, New York is pretty well branded already, no?

The 18,000-seat arena’s two suite levels will be called the Brownstones and the Lofts.

NLG: In memory of the brownstones and lofts Ratner is tearing down?

Here's confirmation that the Urban Room is d-e-a-d.

In addition, the Nets are building a practice facility next to Barclays Center, on the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic streets, something that was not part of Gehry’s design. The add-on ties in with the team’s effort to form a close bond with Brooklyn’s 2.5 million residents by having the players spend more time on-site, Yormark said.

NLG: Nets players are sure to be psyched that they'll have to drive in from their homes in New Jersey on off-days, too. And nothing says "lively public space" like a closed practice facility.

Is it just us, or is this whole plan getting weirder and weirder by the day?

Posted by eric at 10:40 AM

Atlantic Yards Eminent Domain Plaintiffs File Notice of Appeal to the Court of Appeals

From Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (dddb.net):

Late last Friday the nine owners and tenants challenging New York State's effort to seize their properities by eminent domain for Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards development plan, filed their Notice of Appeal to the Court of Appeals on Constitutional Grounds.

Atlantic Yards Report, Plaintiffs in eminent domain case file Notice of Appeal; the Court of Appeals is not required to accept it

Though, the "Notice of Appeal states that 'this appeal is taken as of right... because the judgment directly involves the construction of the New York Constitution and presents multiple substantial constitutional questions,'" Norman Oder points out that the Court of Appeals may not agree and refuse to hear the case, though attorneys for Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn are optimistic that the court will.

The constitutional questions include:

1) whether the public use requirement in the state Constitution "imposes a more stringent standard for takings" than does the federal Constitution, a question not yet considered by any state court

2) whether the state Constitution's public use requirement can be satisfied when the condemning authority does not examine whether the public benefit "is not incidental or pretextual in comparison with benefits to particular, favored private entities" (a phrase from a separate 2009 case)

3) whether the project violates a clause of the state Constitution which requires that subsidies for reconstruction of blighted areas must be restricted to "persons of low income"

Posted by lumi at 6:57 AM

Don’t build it — They will come


As public apathy turns to disdain for Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards megaproject, commentator Neil deMause recalls other publicly funded megaprojects that died a slow death for the better:

But history shows that red tape sometimes has its silver lining:

• The better part of my childhood was spent in anticipation of Westway, which for roughly a zillion dollars was going to tear up the Hudson River waterfront and bury an expressway beneath it. Thirteen years of bitter public fights later, an endangered-fish lawsuit finally killed the plan, at which point the city instead got the cash for new subway cars and a beautiful scaled-down waterfront promenade.

• Before that, Robert Moses’ Lower Manhattan Expressway, which would have linked the Holland Tunnel to the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges, was debated for most of the 1960s before being abandoned. In the interim, the “blighted” district he had wanted to pave over became ... Soho.

When big projects falter, there’s no shame in stepping back and asking: “Why are we doing this again?” and “What else could we do instead?” It’s what a bunch of good-government groups have already asked about Ground Zero — which blew yet another deadline of its own last week — saying a Westway-style trade-in for mass transit cash makes more sense than subsidizing office towers that will sit empty for a generation.


Posted by lumi at 6:52 AM

Affordable housing in Atlantic Yards project could mean just 300 units in 12 years, 120 of them low-income (or ten a year)

Atlantic Yards Report

Over the years, "affordable housing" has become the big selling point for Bruce Ratner's highly subsidized Atlantic Yards megaproject. As evidenced by last month's public hearing, details on how much housing will be built when and for what cost are still pending. However, the picture that's emerging isn't as impressive as Ratner and politicians would have you believe:

One element of the testimony May 29 at the state Senate oversight hearing on Atlantic Yards deserves more attention: a city official acknowledged that Phase 1 might result in only 300 affordable units.

What he didn't say was that Phase 1 could take 12 years--after the delivery of property via eminent domain--and that the 300 subsidized units would include 120 low-income units.

In other words, just ten low-income units a year over 12 years would go to the prime constituency of ACORN, the organization that signed the Housing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with developer Forest City Ratner.

Of the promised total 2250 affordable units, 900, or 40%, would be low-income, or up to 50% of Area Median Income. The rub is that Area Median Income, which is based not only on New York City but some wealthy suburbs, is a good deal higher than the median income in Brooklyn.


NoLandGrab: Public officials and Ratner don't want to cough up real figures because the inescapable conclusion would be that the same affordable housing resources could be devoted to other projects which would deliver more badly needed affordable units more quickly.

Posted by lumi at 6:34 AM

Daughtry slams Yards critics

Courier-Life Publications
By Stephen Witt

The Reverend Herbert Daughtry takes aim at project critics by sidestepping some of the most serious issues, in an interview with project sympathizer and reporter Stephen Witt.

“I think they [Sen. Velmanette Montgomery and City Council member Letitia James] have been captured by a tiny minority that are bent on destroying the project,” said Daughtry.

NoLandGrab: It's worth pointing out that the State Senator and City Councilmember are free to take whatever stand they wish, while Daughtry has struck a deal with Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner and must publicly stump for the project.

Here's the best hey-lookie-over-there moment of the article:

When questioned about how Atlantic Yard (sic) blogger Norman Oder, who many media outlets utilize for information without checking his facts, continually writes how CBA signatories have taken money from FCR, Daughtry said his CBA strategy comes from working directly with Martin Luther King.

“Was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a sell−out? If he was a sell−out, then I’m a sell out,” said Daughtry, explaining how he headed King’s Operation Breadbasket initiative in New York City.


Atlantic Yards Report, Sloppy and irresponsible, the Courier-Life’s Witt gives the Rev. Daughtry a platform to soliloquize without rebuttal

Norman Oder is such an obvious sore spot with Bruce Ratner and supporters, that Stephen Witt can't help but to grumble about other media outlets' reliance on his track record of solid reportage on Atlantic Yards.

Today, Oder, who has studied the published works of Daughtry, explores Witt's own track record and publishes a line-by-line rebuttal of the article, citing facts, quoting officials, and (gasp!) linking to primary source documents.

...the Courier-Life’s notorious Stephen Witt irresponsibly chose to give an unskeptical platform to the Rev. Herbert Daughtry (at right, heckling), a project supporter and the most disruptive person at the event.

The article is wrongheaded and unfair, so I'll go through it line by line.

Posted by lumi at 6:24 AM

Frank Gehry, recession victim?

Crane Country

Industry publications and blogs are still buzzing about Frank Gehry's removal from the Atlantic Yards project:

It's official: Frank Gehry, the starchitect behind Abu Dhabi's coming Guggenheim, will no longer be designing any of the buildings in Brooklyn, New York's Atlantic Yards project that he has been working on for the past six years. Why? Because his designs cost too much. That's the line from Bruce Rattner (sic), the developer on the 22-acre project, as reported in the New York Times.


NoLandGrab: Ratner knew all along that he was paying a premium for starchitecture, so the cost excuse is pretty flimsy.

Posted by lumi at 6:19 AM

What could $20 million buy? A warehouse in the Bronx

Atlantic Yards Report

Would the Metropolitan Transportation Authority be getting a raw deal if it agreed to Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner's offer of $20 million up-front for the development rights for the arena portion of the Vanderbilt Railyard. To get a sense of what $20 million is worth these days, Norman Oder has been running a series on what $20 million will buy you these days.

From the 6/10/09 LoHud.com: NAI Friedland Realty, a commercial real estate firm based in Yonkers, said that it recently helped complete one of the largest real estate sales of the year in the Bronx. The 144,000-square-foot Paradise Foods warehouse at 1080 Leggett Avenue in the Hunts Point area of the Bronx has sold for $20 million. Manhattan Beer Distributors purchased the 4.9-acre property from Paradise Foods.

That's a little more than twice as much acreage as the section of Vanderbilt Yard at issue, but the warehouse is much smaller than the development planned for the segment of the railyard.


Posted by lumi at 5:25 AM

June 14, 2009

On Brooklyn's Side

The Post has published Daniel Goldstein's response to Steve Cuozzo's rant titled ""'Net' Loss Is Devasting."

Steve Cuozzo laments Frank Gehry's departure from the Atlantic Yards project while grossly misrepresenting Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn ('Net' Loss Is Devastating," June 6).

His column tars us as "bullies," "liars" and "Orwellian-titled."

Orwellian-titled? Not even close. We're called Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn because we favor developing the eight-acre rail yard, but not Bruce Ratner's speculative 22-acre land grab. Bullying?

We've never done it. Cuozzo must have missed the May 29 Atlantic Yards Senate hearing, at which Ratner orchestrated a five-hour-long disruption. His minions taunted, shouted down and, yes, bullied elected officials and citizens seeking answers to legitimate questions that Ratner won't answer. The developer, whom Cuozzo calls "courageous," refused to testify at the hearing.

We're liars? Cuozzo can't produce one lie we've told. On the other hand, Gehry was used as a tool to gain approval of Ratner's plans and then dumped. Isn't that one of Ratner's biggest lies?

Daniel Goldstein,

DDDB co-founder, Brooklyn


Posted by steve at 2:59 PM

Two On A Sunday Morning From The Atlantic Yards Report

Atlantic Yards Report

An AY thread in the election for Community Board 8 Chairperson

Though not explicitly an issue, the race for CB 8 Chairperson featured a choice between a supporter and a skeptic of the proposed Atlantic Yards project.

It can’t be said that the election Thursday for Community Board 8 Chairperson, in which First Vice-Chairperson Nizjoni Granville was elected handily over Second Vice-Chairperson Marlene Saunders, was about Atlantic Yards.

After all, Granville ranked higher on the board, was publicly endorsed by the retiring chairperson, Robert Matthews, and, according to attendees at the hearing, gave a better speech.

But Atlantic Yards, though not an explicit theme in the contest, was a thread, with Saunders known as an AY supporter and Granville as something of a skeptic, if not an opponent.


Saunders is a board member of BUILD (Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development), a signatory of the AY Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), which brought over 150 people to support the project to the May 29 state Senate oversight hearing.


Granville, in her brief remarks, said it was important to be careful about alliances with developers, and said it was important to listen to the people most affected by development, citing the example of Atlantic Yards.

Her biographical note mentioned her contribution to CB 8's response to the AY Draft Environmental Impact Statement; as chair of the Housing/ULURP Committee, she raised questions in her brief submission about the accuracy of some neighborhood information.

Lupica: new AY arena design looks "like a White Castle"

Jumping on the bandwagon of architectural criticism, Daily News sports columnist Mike Lupica today opines:
Is it just me, or is the design for Bruce Ratner’s new Nets arena starting to look more and more like a White Castle?

I'd say it looks like Conseco Fieldhouse and its inspiration, Hinkle Fieldhouse at Butler University, both in Indianapolis.

Posted by steve at 9:48 AM

Nets expected to thrive with 'Brooklyn' brand

By Alan Hahn

The proposed Atlantic Yards project has apparently shrunken down to just an arena and one other building. Promised public benefits continue to be shed. What keeps Ratner & Co. motivated? If they can move the Nets to Brooklyn, their team's value increases and they get to keep all the profits from the state-owned arena!

The "Brooklyn" brand is expected to be an instant merchandising success. The change in address alone will increase the value of the franchise - Forbes ranks the Nets 26th in value ($295 million) in the 30-team NBA; the Knicks ($613 million) are No. 1 - but Forbes senior editor Kurt Badenhausen says the move into a more viable arena will be the biggest asset.

"They will control all of the revenues at the arena," Badenhausen said. "Right now, they share a significant amount of the revenues at the Izod Center with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority."

There remains some skepticism in the grandiose plans by Nets owner Bruce Ratner, the mega-developer who in 2003 introduced the idea of building an arena within a major infrastructure at Atlantic Yards and relocating the Nets to Brooklyn. The $4.2-billion development plan recently changed after architect Frank Gehry removed himself from the arena project. The architecture firm of Ellerbe Becket was brought in to produce a new design, one that would be far more cost-effective (read: scaled down) than Gehry's original - and visually stunning - creation, which had a whopping $950-million price tag.


Posted by steve at 9:31 AM

June 13, 2009

Tonight - Screening of "Brooklyn Boondoggle" At Freddy's

Meerkat Media Collective

Documentary:  Brooklyn Boondoggle

Freddy's Bar & Backroom (485 Dean St.)
Saturday, June 13th
Mixer from 5-8pm, Screening at 7pm

On Saturday, June 13th at 7pm The Meerkat Media Collective's new short film, BROOKLYN BOONDOGGLE will screen at Freddy's Bar & Backroom (485 Dean St.)

Exploring the highly controversial Atlantic Yards project, BROOKLYN BOONDOGGLE questions the trend of top-down urban development and asks, what if we were allowed to decide the future of our own neighborhoods?

The 11 minute film takes to the streets and talked to our neighbors about their feelings about the project. We talked to folks who are being kicked out of their homes, business owners hoping for increased sales, young people hoping for jobs and families concerned that the development would lower their quality of life.

Since there are already a lot of people doing good, in-depth investigative work into the project such as Norman Oder's Atlantic Yards Report Blog and Isabel Hill's long form documentary "Brooklyn Matters", this film simply tries to start a dialogue about this kind of top-down, corporate-led development, and use the example of Atlantic Yards as a case study that can be used in any city that is experiencing these kind of issues to begin to rethink this model and imagine alternatives.

While the story of the Atlantic Yards has been raging on , as it has already been widely debated, we hope to use this film as a cautionary tale and do what only a short doc can do best- inspire insight and action.

Posted by steve at 1:47 PM

The short documentary Brooklyn Boondoggle screens tonight at Freddy's

Atlantic Yards Report

The 11-minute documentary Brooklyn Boondoggle, which I described last month, will be screened tonight at 7 pm at Freddy's Bar & Backroom, which is slated to demolished for the Atlantic Yards project.

Though the title signals the film's general posture, it includes some ambivalent voices not heard much in the AY debate.

The screening is part of the Meerkat Media Mixer, which starts at 5 pm. According to the producers, many of the community members interviewed in the film will be there, as well as representatives from organizations involved in the ongoing conflict. The event lasts until 8 pm. There's no charge.


Posted by steve at 10:49 AM

Catching a Ratner - Post Gehry, Atlantic Yards opponents plot their next moves

The Architect's Newspaper
By Matt Chaban

Here is coverage of a public meeting last Tuesday, June 9th, sponsored by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn that reviews possible strategies to be used in the coming months to stop the proposed Atlantic Yards project.

While the news that Frank Gehry is officially off Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project may not come as a surprise, it has certainly stirred up new feelings for the project, most of them negative. Whether or not the departure of the famed Santa Monica architect will have any political impact remains to be seen. But at a public meeting held last night by anti-Yards group Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, the “bait-and-switch” was mentioned, but also pushed aside as a tactic in what the group sees as the final, crucial fight for the site through the end of the year.

Instead, the activists, politicians, and attorneys who spoke focused squarely on the same battlefield that has carried them throughout the process: The courts.

Factors that will influence DDDB's strategy include:

Depending on what the State does, further litigation could be brought by DDDB.

The article ends with Daniel Goldstein, DDDB spokesman, advising all concerned to stay vigilant and active.

“As you saw in today’s Times, architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote that the departure of Frank Gehry was a betrayal of the public trust,” Goldstein told the audience of about 100 at the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church. “It is, but this project from the beginning was a betrayal of the public trust, the way it was conceived, the way it proceeded. It’s all been one big bait-and-switch.”

“We don’t know, but we suspect this may be make or break time for this developer,” he continued. “We’ve held them at bay for this long, so it would be a real shame to hold back in the next few months.”


Posted by steve at 10:21 AM

How To Unmake A Frank Gehry Building and a Section of a City

Regional Plan Association
By Alex Marshall

The author of this piece explains how being a fan of Frank Gehry helped him to abandon his principles and endorse the proposed Atlantic Yards project.

Last week, Forest City Ratner announced it was dropping Gehry as the architect of the New York Nets arena that is at the center of the much debated Atlantic Yards, the project that would cover the now open LIRR train yards, and wipe out several of the surrounding blocks. More importantly perhaps for the public, Ratner has asked to be relieved of some of his public obligations. This after having drastically trimmed away at the project and reduced the number and composition of offices and apartments.

I have long opposed the process that created this project, as well as many aspects of the final design, even while ultimately supporting the construction of the project itself, despite all its flaws. I supported it because it got a lot of things right, including the scale of offices, housing and amenities for that location. The project sits right next to the largest collection of subway lines in Brooklyn if not the city. It is probably the most appropriate place in the city to build a lot of something. I even swallowed my dislike of how the project closed existing streets and put in few cross streets, making the project essentially a collection of street-deadening super-blocks.

But it's also true that having a Frank Gehry building sweetened the pot for me. And living just a few blocks from the site, this was not an abstract question.

With Gehry out of the picture, a more pragmatic approach appears.

Should the MTA and the city make some sort of arrangement with Ratner? That depends on whether a new deal can be constructed that can still provide net economic benefits to the city and MTA over the long run. But any renegotiation should also extract a price from Ratner by demanding greater oversight over the future evolution of the project. That would go a long way toward fixing the deeply flawed process whose outcome is playing out exactly as predicted by astute observers like Rob Lane of RPA.


Speaking for myself, I would say the public sector has to act robustly in almost every development project now under way, including Atlantic Yards, the WTC site redevelopment, Hudson Yards and more. The basic model should be the city designs and supervises; the private sector builds. Right now, it's too often the private sector designs, the public sector accommodates.

When will we learn?


NoLandGrab: Will RPA demonstrate what has been learned and reconsider its endorsement of the proposed Atlantic Yards Project as has been suggested by Norman Oder in his Atlantic Yards Report?

Posted by steve at 9:15 AM

Architect Frank Gehry stripped of lead role in New York project

By Ed Pilkington

The American dollars in this article are translated to British pounds, but this story has, otherwise, become a familiar one.

New York's hard-headed commercial approach to urban development has delivered a blow to the celebrity architect Frank Gehry by stripping him of his lead role in a multi-billion dollar project in Brooklyn.


At the centre of his plan would have been a $1bn arena with seating for 20,000 fans of the Nets basketball team which is currently squatting in New Jersey. The arena bore many of the hallmarks of Gehry's unique style, it would have been surrounded by tumbling towers, though in this case built in glass.

In its place, Ratner has placed a new design by a conventional mid-western firm of architects, Ellerbe Becket. Their design would cost $200m less than Gehry's but would have none of the star quality or inventiveness of its predecessor.

The switch in designs has invoked a furious response. The influential architecture critic of the New York Times, Nicolai Ouroussoff, savaged the move as a "shameful betrayal of the public trust that gave New Yorkers the message that good architecture was an expendable luxury".

He described the Ellerbe Becket design as a monstrosity, "a colossal, spiritless box" that would fit more comfortably in a cornfield than in a vibrant city. "The arena is as glamorous as a storage warehouse," was his conclusion.


Posted by steve at 8:52 AM

Celebrity Architect Dropped From Urban Renewal Scheme

Ground Report
by Richard Cooper

The exit of Frank Gehry from the proposed Atlantic Yards project provides an opportunity for Libertarians to remind us that they've never cared for this boondoggle.

Celebrity architects are nothing new in eminent domain and corporate welfare schemes. The new New York Times headquarters building was designed by Renzo Piano. Their partner in this scheme, which I dubbed "Time$cam" , was Forest City Ratner. Not suprisingly, the Times has supported Atlantic Yards. (See "NY Times Building Climbers Protest Wrong Causes" http://groundreport.com/articles.php?id=2862703 .

The financial difficulties of the Atlantic Yards scheme which led to Gehry being dropped by Forest city Ratner come as no suprise. See "Atlantic Yards Eminent Domain Abuse Scheme Confronts Reality" http://groundreport.com/articles.php?id=2857809.

As a Libertarian, I believe that corporate welfare and eminent domain are legalized theft. Because Libertarians believe in personal responsibility, I must regard Frank Gehry as an accessory profiting from the theft of land from the property owners and the theft of money from the taxpayers for this project. This comes despite my admiration for many of his designs including that for the Nets Arena for basketball. Let us hope that professionals like architects, bankers, lawyers, planners will take a pledge not to be accessories to the legalized crime of urban renewal.


Posted by steve at 8:41 AM

Gehry too costly for major New York development

International Construction Review (iCON)

Famous architect Frank Gehry will now not be designing any of the 17 buildings planned for the US$4 billion Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn.

Gehry has laboured for the past six years on the 22-acre project in the borough of New York City but he has been judged too expensive to hire for the individual buildings. Gehry’s original masterplan for the overall development remains in place and he has already earned millions of dollars from the project.

Last week, the developer, Bruce C. Ratner, owner of Forest City Ratner of Cleveland, Ohio, cited the “economic climate” as the reason to switch architects for the project’s lynchpin, a basketball arena for the Nets at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues. The Barclays Center basketball arena will now be designed by the architectural firm Ellerbe Becket for about $800 million, $200 million less than Gehry’s design.

Nor will Gehry be the architect for any of the other high-rise residential developments, or other commercial buildings. Again, cost is the issue, the developer told the New York Times on Wednesday, June 10.

Mr. Ratner, who has been plagued by lawsuits and a flagging economy, has already delayed the office building and most, if not all, of 6,000 planned apartments - 40 per cent of which were set aside for low-, moderate- and middle-income families. He is racing to start building the arena by the end of the year to qualify for tax-exempt financing.


Critics say Gehry’s departure contributes to a sense that Ratner is stripping away the things that garnered support for his ambitious project — world-class architecture, affordable housing and an unusual arena that fit into an urban landscape.


Posted by steve at 8:35 AM

June 12, 2009

Forest City in the News

Arizona Daily Star, Gladden Farms buys up debt

The master-planned community Gladden Farms has avoided foreclosure on roughly 625 acres of undeveloped land, buying up its debt from lender GMAC Financial Services at a negotiated price.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Dean Wingert, senior vice president of Ohio-based Forest City Enterprises, its developer, said Gladden Farms paid off its debt at a discount of slightly more than 50 percent, enabling it to commit to finishing the community despite a massive housing downturn.

"We basically paid them less than 50 cents on a dollar than what we owed them," Wingert said. "The foreclosure proceedings have all been canceled, and we have re-committed and re-evidenced our long-term interest in the property."

NoLandGrab: Is there a pattern emerging here? Forest City is seeking to pay the MTA only $20 million of the $100 million it promised to pay at closing for the Vanderbilt rail yard.

San Francisco Business Times, Oakland, Concord Smart Places To Grow


The Greenbelt Alliance, a Bay Area advocate of open spaces and vibrant communities, released a research report called "Room to Grow" in which it outlines specific areas including Oakland and Concord that are ripe for infill development.

Infill development refers to building new structures in places that have already been built out. The idea of making cities more dense has gained significant traction as people look for ways to commute less and have more amenities near home.

One example is Oakland's Uptown neighborhood where major residential developments like Forest City's Uptown apartments, Signature Properties' Broadway Grand and Essex Property Trust's The Grand have added hundreds of new units and spurred dozens of new restaurants and bars in areas that used to empty parking lots and boarded up buildings.

NLG: Holy contextually appropriate development, Batman! We're pretty sure that if Forest City had proposed an infill project like that in Prospect Heights, it would be occupied by now. But they went for overkill, not infill.

Maryland Community Newspapers Online, Vying for bio

Forest City's Biopark business is doing better than its basketball portfolio, marginally.

"There is some competition between us," said Scott Levitan, senior vice president and development director for the Science + Technology Park at Johns Hopkins, developed by the Forest City-New East Baltimore Partnership. The first of five planned buildings in that biopark near medical giant Johns Hopkins opened about a year ago, and the 280,000-square-foot, $100 million facility is 50 percent occupied, with an additional 20 percent committed to leases, he said.

NLG: The Science + Technology Park at Johns Hopkins was the beneficiary of eminent domain takings.

Posted by eric at 11:58 AM

"What's Going On Here?"

Atlantic Yards developer finds another great use for duct tape!

Photographer Tracy Collins snapped some shots of this sign in the footprint of Atlantic Yards that has not only been cleverly redacted, but is also in need of some editing, since we highly doubt that the infrastructure work on the site will actually "be completed by June 2009."

Atlantic Yards Report, "What's Going on Here?" Well, no answers from FCR on Sixth Avenue

Norman Oder explains that developer Bruce Ratner is no longer staffing the "Community Liaison Office," thus "transparency has decreased."

Though former Ratner PR flack Loren Riegelhaupt is no longer around to remind us, this is what he probably meant when he said:

"When it comes to sharing information with the public and governmental bodies, there’s no such thing as too much, as far as we are concerned."

Posted by lumi at 5:44 AM

Brooklyn Paper, fulfilling predictions after Murdoch sale, endorses Gehry-less arena

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder takes his red pen to this week's Brooklyn Paper editorial, which, after the sale of the paper to Rupert Murdoch's media empire, cannot be blamed on former publisher and arena fan, Ed Wientrob.

[The Brooklyn Paper] has not only retreated from aggressive coverage of the Atlantic Yards issue, it has continued to roll over for the project on the editorial page.

So, rather than taking an opportunity to criticize Atlantic Yards supporters for shameful behavior at the May 29 state Senate oversight hearing, the Brooklyn Paper this week urges that the AY arena be built. It's a follow-up from the "brutally weird" editorial the newspaper ran in February, shortly before it was purchased by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.

And this time, the editorial is not signed by Ed Weintrob, the publisher who wrote the February editorial and is now publisher emeritus. So we can assume it's the corporate view. Convergence with the Courier-Life continues.

NoLandGrab: The Courier-Life was purchased by News Corporation in September, 2006.

Check out the rest of the article to learn more about how The Brooklyn Paper conveniently ignores the fact that the arena is now expected to be a money loser for the city and gets in the way of righting the project's "original sin."

Posted by lumi at 5:32 AM

What could $20 million buy? Apparently a smaller plot in Sheepshead Bay

Atlantic Yards Report

While Forest City Ratner is desperately trying to convince the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to accept $20 million up front for the arena-portion of the Vanderbilt Railyard, instead of the full $100 million, Norman Oder is attempting to put things in perspective by exploring what $20 million will buy you these days.

In November 2007, according to the Real Deal:

White Plains-based developer Arcadia Realty Trust bought a two-acre site in Sheepshead Bay last November for $20 million with plans to build a mixed-use project with 300,000 square feet of retail space.

Is this "great piece of real estate," to quote Forest City Enterprises CEO Chuck Ratner, really worth less per acre than a couple of acres in Sheepshead Bay where a much smaller project is destined?


NoLandGrab: Interestingly, while the Ratners are trying to low-ball the up-front payment to the MTA, the property valuations for other land in the arena site are skyrocketing. This move is in anticipation of the triple-tax-exempt bond offering, the size of which is tied to the value of the land.

Posted by lumi at 5:04 AM

June 11, 2009

Gehry or not, Brooklyn needs this arena

The Brooklyn Paper, Editorial

Indianapolis knock-off or no, the Brooklyn Paper is gung-ho for Bruce Ratner's arena.

Bruce Ratner’s bid to save his Atlantic Yards basketball arena by simplifying its design was predictable, but for our part, we’ll stick with consistency: Whatever serious reservations we’ve had about the larger Atlantic Yards project, the plan for the arena — though no longer the grandiose one envisioned by Frank Gehry — still merits support.

Consistently wrong, that is.

The arena remains what we have always said it is: a fundamentally vital civic project in the right place at the right time.

Um, wrong place (Brooklyn's most-congested intersection), wrong time (when actual vital things, like schools, mass transit and city services are being slashed).

Now the timing better fortifies our long-held position. In the current economic climate, it would be foolhardy to walk away from both the economic development opportunity and heightened civic identity offered up by the arena and the Nets.

Now here's where it gets silly. Did the Brooklyn Paper miss the big news from the State Senate hearing two weeks ago, you know, the bit where the city's Independent Budget Office declared the arena a money-loser for the taxpayers? Now that's an economic development opportunity.

Read on to hear how Brooklyn won't be whole without its very own mediocre pro franchise, how Frank Gehry's arena design was like ladies' undergarments, and the caveats. And boy, are there caveats.

Posted by eric at 11:57 PM

Deal or No Deal?

Architect's Newspaper Blog
by Matt Chaban

Maybe Forest City Ratner won’t get a deal on the MTA rail yards after all.

Sez MTA deputy press secretary Aaron Donovan: “It’s too early to say right now because an agreement has yet to be reached. Check back with me once we get closer to the 24th.”

This could mean one of two things: Either the final details are just being hashed out, confirming DDDB’s worst (if expectant) fears. Another possibility, however, is that the deal might be faltering in the heat of negotiations and recent events. It is well known that the MTA is woefully short on cash, so it is possible some of the board could be resistent to taking a smaller payment. Furthermore, the increased scrutiny the news of Frank Gehry’s departure could be putting increasing public (and possibly even political) pressure on the project. And so, with baited breath, we wait for June 24.


NoLandGrab: The public pressure is definitely there; now let's see if tone-deaf Albany gets the message (if they haven't all quit by the 24th).

Posted by eric at 11:29 PM

The Post notices that the Brooklyn arena couldn't be open until the 2012-13 season

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder is happy to see any acknowledgment from the mainstream media — even from an obscure NY Post blog — that there's no way the Nets will be playing in Brooklyn in 2011.

I've been encouraging everyone to do the math about the best-case arena opening. Now there's finally a mainstream media acknowledgment, albeit online and somewhat in passing, that the earliest Brooklyn basketball season would be 2012-13, not 2011-12.

The observation came from an unbylined "web editor" writing in a New York Post sports blog, The Back Page, about the prospects for Cleveland superstar LeBron James moving to the Nets....


NoLandGrab: Yes, we know, that "obscure NY Post blog" surely has oodles more readers than we do, but that's what we're callin' it.

Posted by eric at 11:20 PM

Nets’ New Sponsor Comes in High Def From China

City Room
by Charles Bagli

Nets' CEO Brett Yormark isn't letting the Gehry debacle get him down — he's fixin' to announce a new sponsor. How does he do it?

The New Jersey Nets may not have gotten final approval or the financing for their proposed $800 million arena at the Atlantic Yards project near Downtown Brooklyn, but the team has rounded up another lucrative sponsorship deal, with Haier, the giant appliance manufacturer from China.

The agreement with Haier, which makes the National Basketball Association’s official high-definition television, is expected to be announced within the next several days, according to an executive who was briefed on the deal. The company will have a store within what would be known as Barclays Center, which is part of a planned 22-acre development near Downtown Brooklyn.

The Nets already have a $400 million naming rights deal with Barclays Bank. The team has also signed eight other “founding partners,” or sponsors, including Anheuser-Busch, Cushman & Wakefield, Emblem Health and Phillips-Van Heusen. There will be a Jones Soda Shoppe and a Foxwoods club. Those deals are worth more than $100 million.

The value of the Haier deal is unknown.


NoLandGrab: How does The Times know it's “another lucrative sponsorship deal” if the “value of the Haier deal is unknown?” Because Brett Yormark said so? They really ought to know better by now.

Hope this one works out better than Yi Jianlian.

Posted by eric at 10:57 PM

Even more turmoil at ESDC: the Chairman resigns, and a Republican businessman from Rochester will be in charge

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder provides a little background on the heir-apparent at the Empire State Developers' Development Corporation.

So, who'll be in charge? ESDC Upstate President Dennis M. Mullen, who's been based in Rochester. After Lago's departure, Mullen was set to become President and CEO of the ESDC; now he'll be combined Chairman and CEO, though that requires legislative approval. (There hasn't been a Downstate President since Avi Schick left in January, after a long goodbye.)

Mullen, then President and CEO of the Greater Rochester Enterprise, a regional economic development organization supported by both private and public sector leaders, was named ESDC Upstate President last August, the same time Lago was appointed.

A gubernatorial press release at the time noted that, at GRE, Mullen had focused on marketing Rochester’s core assets: alternative energy, biotechnology, food and beverage manufacturing and optics.

He previously served a decade as the chairman, president and CEO of Birds Eye Foods and headed three other food enterprises.

His approximately $16,000 in state political contributions in the past two years have been focused on the Rochester area and all but one (a $1000 contribution) have gone to Republicans.


Posted by eric at 9:47 PM

Chair of NY economic development agency quits

Crain's NY Business
By Erik Engquist

Holy crap! Less than a week after Empire State Development Corporation's Downstate Chairperson tendered her resignation, the head honcho quits too. The ESDC is the Atlantic Yards state sponsor.

Another high-level resignation rocked the Paterson administration Thursday. Robert Wilmers, the unpaid chairman of the Empire State Development Corp., the state’s primary development agency, quit to devote more time to his paid job as head of M&T Bank.

Mr. Wilmers’ departure after one year comes five days after Marisa Lago quit as president and chief executive of ESDC with no explanation beyond a desire to take one of the job offers that were coming her way. Published reports indicated she and Mr. Wilmers had clashed. Ms. Lago had been hired only eight months ago.
Mr. Paterson said in a statement, “Under Bob’s leadership, Empire State Development Corp. moved forward, creating jobs and expanding opportunities for all New Yorkers.”


NoLandGrab: Under Paterson's leadership, ESDC has moved nothing, except for pushing paper for Bruce Ratner.

Two resignations in less than a week, that makes the ESDC not only rudderless, but also headless. Lucky for Ratner, the ESDC accepts volunteer help.

Posted by lumi at 8:24 PM

Barclays to stuff Nets deal?


With sponsorships out of favor for big banks, it comes as little surprise that the National Basketball Association's New Jersey Nets should fear the possibility of Barclays plc (NYSE:BCS) abandoning the team's plans to move to Brooklyn, N.Y.

The Nets, which currently play in the New York suburb of East Rutherford, N.J., have had plans to move to Brooklyn on the table ever since 2004 when real estate dealmaker Bruce Ratner and rap impresario Jay-Z bought the team for $300 million (The Deal Pipeline subscribers see additional details). Part of that deal included a $400 million, 20-year naming rights agreement with the British bank.

However, the plans to move to Brooklyn have been blocked first by activists opposed to the arena's construction and then by the credit crisis. The latest "pick" is a Dec. 31 deadline to issue tax-free bonds to build the arena, notes New Jersey newspaper The Record. If the bonds aren't issued, then Barclays may seek a fast break from the deal.


NoLandGrab: If the bonds aren't issued by December 31st, then there likely will no longer be any deal from which Barclays could seek a fast break.

Posted by eric at 6:29 PM

More farewells to Frank

We have to admit, even we're starting to tire of this storyline.

Crain's NY Business, Gehry off the case in Brooklyn

The company plans to use a number of architects to design individual buildings, according to the statement, which noted that Mr. Gehry remained the master planner.

NoLandGrab: It's quite funny that Gehry's only remaining role is that of "Master Planner," something his entire career demonstrates he is clearly not.

The Business of Sports (SunSentinel.com), Arena design: economics v. art

But those that chose to be different have successfully built sports venues that represent their communities, ones for which fans can immediately identify their place. Think PNC Park overlooking the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh; the old brick warehouse that’s part of Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore; and, even American Airlines Arena, overlooking Biscayne Bay.

Isn’t making progress correcting bad decisions of the past? Do we want to regret a decision that was made based on economics? Miami Arena, anyone? The pink elephant was obsolete when it opened in 1988, lost its tenants and was demolished last year.

“Unfortunately the world we live in today is very different than what it was three or four years ago when we hired Frank," Nets chief executive Brett Yormark said Wednesday according to the piece. "The world is more simplistic. It's not as grand and glitzy. And I'm not sure that design would have been appropriate right now, as much as we all loved it. I think the design that we have now is very appropriate. It speaks to Brooklyn."

I’m not so sure.

Posted by eric at 6:19 PM

It came from the Blogosphere...

Gothamist, No More Frank Gehry At Atlantic Yards At All

According to the Times, DePlasco also "conceded that the announcement issued last week 'should’ve been clearer.' But, he added, Mr. Gehry’s master plan for the development and his guidelines remain in place." Whatever!

Flashback to the February 2, 2004 issue of the New Yorker, where in a Talk of the Town piece by Ben McGrath, FieldofSchemes.com's Neil deMause predicted, "I’d guess it’s probably fifty-fifty the arena gets built entirely...I wouldn’t be shocked if five years from now we’re still arguing the logistics."

Brownstoner, Ratner Cans Gehry For Good

Yesterday Forest City Ratner made official what everybody already knew: Architect Frank Gehry, his name having been prostituted to sell a sham project to the public, will have nothing to do with the design of any of the buildings in the Atlantic Yards footprint.

But don't cry any tears for Gehry: The Times reports that he's already been paid "tens of millions of dollars" for his work up to this point.

Brownstoner, Quote of the Day

The final dots that need to be connected are left unconnected by Ourossoff. Bait-and-switchers don't just bait-and-switch once, it is a pattern. And if Ratner's Gehry bait-and-switch is stunning, so is the bait-and-switch on "affordable" housing, "publicly accessible open space," job creation, commercial space, reneging on a contract with the MTA, and changing the project timeline from 10 years to, unofficially "decades" and officially 6 years to build just the arena according to state financing documents. Atlantic Yards itself is a monument to bait-and-switch.

— by DDDB in Ratner Cans Gehry For Good

The Back Page [NY Post blog], No Brooklyn, no LeBron for Nets

Less than a month ago, Ratner told The Post that groundbreaking would take place in September and the Nets could play in Brooklyn by the 2011-12 season.

Now, the timetable for the project's completion is 24-29 months, down from the 30 months predicted for the Gehry project. So the Nets would be in a new Brooklyn arena for the start of the 2012-13 season.

Daily Intel, Frank Gehry Completely Out at Atlantic Yards

According to the Times, even supporters of the project are turning sour on it.

The Architect's Newspaper Blog, Gehry Officially Gone

While this is unsurprising news, it highlights just how challenging the project will be going forward, from the prospective of design, and also reaffirms a frequent criticism of Ratner’s project, that the developer has no interest in building anything but the arena.

Who Walk In Brooklyn, Bonus!

Atlantic Yards Report notes a certain type of alchemy, or as Caz Dolowicz might put it, how the New Jersey Nets turn bullshit into bigger bullshit (with apologies to all Bovine-Americans...)

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, Gov. Paterson Is Worried About the Lobbyists

As you probably know there is a big mess going on up in Albany right now. What did Governor Paterson say to persuade Senate lawmakers to open the chamber doors and get to work? The Times reports:

The governor also made one of the more unusual pleas for sanity, imploring lawmakers to “think of the lobbyists,” explaining that they had worked hard “to persuade legislative leaders and legislators of issues.”

Is this a serious comment? Though he is known for his sense of humor, he wasn't joking.

So this Governor, who is about to let the money-hungry MTA bail out Bruce Ratner and give him a sweeter sweatheart deal for the 8-acre Vanderbilt Rail Yards, is more interested in the welfare of lobbyist types who have been pushing deals, such as this one with Bruce Ratner, than the taxpayers and transit riders who will lose out if he lets his MTA rubberstamp Ratner's New Deal.

Plan NYC, Many Locals Upset About Design Changes at Atlantic Yards

Posted by eric at 5:27 PM

It Came from the Twittesphere (Twittesphere?)

Susan Dybbs

"If you agree to buy a Mac you should not end up with a commodore 64"
architect's response to the bait and switch of Atlantic Yards design


Posted by eric at 12:02 PM

What We’re Reading: Enraged Ouroussoff Eviscerates New Atlantic Yards Plan

Off the Record (Architectural Record blog)
by Bryant Rousseau

[W]here I do have a quibble with Ouroussoff’s piece is his utter avoidance of one of the critical questions with the Atlantic Yards project: the use of eminent domain to condemn private property in a fully functioning, if not vibrant neighborhood—for a fully private project. (For the record, I am adamantly opposed to this practice and believe it’s clearly unconstitutional, despite the 5-4 Supreme Court ruling in Kelo v. City of New London.)

For me, the sheer brilliance of Gehry’s plan made this eminent-domain play a lot more palatable. If, instead, all we’re going to get is a conventional stadium design—and as someone who works literally on top of Madison Square Garden, I experience firsthand everyday the blight that arises around poorly designed arenas—then I hope the people and public officials of New York will rise up to kill this deal outright.


NoLandGrab: We're not quite sure how Frank Gehry's design would make Atlantic Yards "more palatable" to someone "adamantly opposed" to the "clearly unconstitutional" use of eminent domain for a private project, but we're down with sending the project to the great beyond.

Posted by eric at 11:52 AM

A box to put your dreams in


The Brooklyn writer/editor/blogger offers a rebuke to the "cultural missionaries" who swallowed Bruce Ratner's Gehry-bait hook, line and sinker.

I was at a benefit for the the Brooklyn Museum not long ago, seated between a couple of well-heeled benefactors — both, notably, from the Upper East Side — when the subject came up.

One of them mentioned how much she loved Jhumpa Lahiri’s last book. I mentioned that Lahiri (or “Jhumpa” as I like to call her) had done a reading at my house to benefit Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, a neighborhood association that opposes the AY project. The silence that followed was deafening, or would have been if you could hear silence in the museum’s cavernous ballroom. “We’re all for not destroying Brooklyn,” one of them finally said, “but we also care about The Future.”

She pronounced it with caps like that, and I don’t think she was talking about the Leonard Cohen song either. She meant a big behemoth, representing progress, that cultural missionaries have always brought to simple primitives like us. The fact that the wheels are coming off Gehry’s glimmering gift gives me qualified pleasure (though it ain’t dead yet, kids! Get involved!). I guess we’ll just have to make do with the blossoming food and music scenes here, the non-stop party that is Fulton Street, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the countless artists, musicians and writers who have chosen to make this area their home. Somehow we’ll make do.


Posted by eric at 11:37 AM

The BQA: Daniel Goldstein

Brooklyn Based

The excellent best-of-Brooklyn "bleemail" (blog and email) publisher interviews Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's Daniel Goldstein.

We've excerpted a couple highlights, but it's well worth clicking through.

One thing few people know about you:
I like pro sports a lot.

What else do you want to be or do?
I also want to be a painter, author and political operative with a direct line to Governor Paterson’s ear to explain that the populist position on Atlantic Yards would be to scrap the project.

Your dream place to live in Brooklyn:
Well, I was living in my dream place until Forest City Ratner asked Governor Pataki to take it from me, forcing me to fight for years to stay in it. Brooklyn has so many great neighborhoods it is really impossible to choose. So I’ll stick with where I live, Prospect Heights, and keep working to keep it from becoming that mega-schlock known as Atlantic Yards.


Posted by eric at 9:25 AM

New York and Los Angeles Mayors Engage in Crisis PR for ACORN

Hot Air Green Room
by Anita MonCrief

"The world’s first full-service conservative Internet broadcast network" posts a commentary by the ACORN whistleblower.

After weeks of getting hammered in the press, the article is the sort of feel good puff piece that ACORN proudly splashes on its website. The only problem is that the two mayors mentioned by name happen to be Bloomberg and Villaraigosa. We will come back to Villaraigosa in a minute, but Mayor Bloomberg’s storied history with ACORN deserves a moment’s attention.

Bloomberg’s relationship with ACORN spans a number of years and goes back to when Bertha Lewis, ACORN’s CEO and Chief Organizer, was the Executive Director of the New York ACORN. Though Lewis and Bloomberg have engaged in the occasional street theater, they have managed to push through lucrative deals including the highly controversial Atlantic Yards project. A deal so financially lucrative to ACORN that it earned Bloomberg a kiss on the lips.


Speaking of Bloomberg, his mayoral re-election campaign has so much money to burn that it served up his ad at the top of the story page — a story critical of Bloomberg. Now that's synergy!


Posted by eric at 9:00 AM

What should $20 million buy? What if the Nets move Vince Carter?

Atlantic Yards Report

AYR has another money-making idea for Forest City, which could help keep them from reneging on their financial commitment to the MTA.

How might the developer raise some more scratch? Well, Forest City Enterprises and Bruce Ratner are the majority owners of the team, and they're scheduled to pay star guard Vince Carter $16.1 million next year and $17.5 million in two years.

But the MTA wouldn't bring that up, would they?


NoLandGrab: That reminds us — wonder how the Nets' 2009-2010 season-ticket sales are going so far?

Posted by eric at 8:52 AM

Dean backs Josh Skaller for council seat

by Dan Margolis

Atlantic Yards pops up as a key campaign issue in this People's Weekly World story about the race to replace Bill de Blasio in the NY City Council.

Skaller has distinguished himself as being the only candidate to have always been fully against Atlantic Yards, a project to be funded with billions of public dollars, though it is a for-profit project by private mega-developer Forest City Ratner. Forest City wants to build luxury condos and a sports arena, and would seize private homes and businesses through eminent domain. Since the area’s median income is $29,000, the plan to replace exiting housing with expensive condos has been termed “instant gentrification.”


NoLandGrab: The "plan" also includes affordable units — some day, some way, maybe, maybe not.

Posted by eric at 8:32 AM

Clock ticking on Nets move to Brooklyn

by John Brennan

The Nets have just over six months left to wrap up their planned move to Brooklyn, Nets Chief Executive Brett Yormark said today.

“We have to break ground this year for various reasons,” Yormark said during a panel discussion at the audience at the annual Sports Facilities and Franchises event in Manhattan.

One reason is the Dec. 31 expiration of an IRS provision allowing tax-free bonds to be issued for construction of the team’s proposed Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Yormark was asked during the panel discussion what would happen if the Dec. 31 deadline was not met.

He said that he asked Ratner the same question when being interviewed for the job several years ago. He said he was told, “There are no other options.”

A few hours later, Devils principal owner Jeff Vanderbeek said Newark’s Prudential Center could be an option if the Brooklyn plan falls through.

“We’ve always said that we would” share the Newark arena, he said when asked about the idea by an audience member. “We’d welcome them with open arms. I think that they certainly would do very well here.”


Posted by eric at 8:20 AM

Gehry Is Out as Designer of Project in Brooklyn

The NY Times
By Charles V. Bagli

Two days ago, WNYC reporter Matthew Schuerman had an off-the-record scoop that architect Frank Gehry was off the Atlantic Yards project. Today, the Times finally nailed down the story, resulting in an on-the-record admission from a Forest City Ratner PR flack.

Atlantic Yards is really through with Frank Gehry.

An award-winning architect, Mr. Gehry will not be designing any of the 17 buildings planned for the 22-acre development in Brooklyn on which he has labored for the past six years, a spokesman for the architect confirmed Wednesday.
“We do not anticipate that Mr. Gehry will be designing any of the individual buildings,” Joe DePlasco, a spokesman for Mr. Ratner, said Wednesday.

He conceded that the announcement issued last week “should’ve been clearer.” But, he added, Mr. Gehry’s master plan for the development and his guidelines remain in place.


NoLandGrab: The lede could just have easily read, "Frank Gehry is really through with Atlantic Yards," which would make Gehry the lucky one.

Come on, SURRENDER BRUCE and put Brooklyn out of your misery.

Atlantic Yards Report, Gehry's gone from AY completely, so how do the design specifications remain in place?

Norman Oder examines PR flack Joe DePlasco's claim that "all of the design specifications that [Frank Gehry] developed, and which were approved, remain in place."

Maybe those specs remain in place, but that doesn't mean they're realistic.

There's no Urban Room if there's no Building 1, so this excerpt from the Design Guidelines attached to the Modified General Project Plan seems rather quaint:

ii. The Urban Room shall include a café or other eating and drinking establishment and shall incorporate an entrance to the Atlantic Yards transit hub as well as provide entrances to Building 1 (other than entrances to residential uses) and the Arena...

Gehry, suggested TIME critic Richard Lacayo, had gone from master planner to master fig leaf. How exactly the design specifications he developed might persist should be an ongoing question.

NoLandGrab: Or DePlasco could be ducking the truth, which, these days, is pretty much his job.

Posted by lumi at 6:11 AM

MISSING: atlanticyards.com

Sure, it's a lot of work keeping up on Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, but, here at NoLandGrab, we don't have the inside track... which makes us wonder about what's going on at Forest City Ratner, if the company's atlanticyards.com web site is now being redirected to barclayscenter.com.

dddb.net, Atlantic Yards Dot Com Is Dead

If ever there was any doubt that Atlantic Yards as proposed (in 2003) and as approved (in 2006) will never be built as planned, and that Brett Yormark and Joe DePlasco are extraordinary spinmeisters facing their toughest challenge, try visting the official site for the project, www.atlanticyards.com...

You can't.

Atlantic Yards Report, For now, at least, AtlanticYards.com doesn't exist, but resolves to BarclaysCenter.com

I think AtlanticYards.com is more likely suspended (pending major modifications) than dead (as per DDDB, which noticed first), but it sure suggests that the arena is the developer's priority, not the housing, open space, or other promised benefits that seem ever more attenuated.

Here are some screenshots of the now-hidden AY site.

And the designers of the Barclays Center site didn't get the memo, because that site still sends visitors to AY and claims that Frank Gehry is designing the project.

Posted by lumi at 5:50 AM

Is ESDC approval a "formality"? The truth and fallacy of Yormark's observation--plus a 2012 best-case arena opening date

Atlantic Yards Report

Nets CEO Brett Yormark is caught in a truth, but we expect him to recover:

As the Record, reported:

[Yormark] also said approval by the Empire State Development Corp. for a revamped construction plan was a “formality” to be finalized later this month.

Yormark added that public hearings would follow this summer, “also as a formality.”

Well, he's right--and he's wrong. Few doubt that the ESDC will "adopt" a revised Modified General Project Plan, setting forth a 60-day process, including a public hearing, and board approval.

But it's not just a formality. It gets the ESDC to state, on the record, whether it predicts a ten-year buildout, as before, and how many buildings might be constructed at first. And it opens up the ESDC to potential litigation.


Posted by lumi at 5:43 AM

Brooklyn Daily Eagle lays blame on "The Spoilers" and "carpers and cranks"

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Missing Real Culprit in Arena Debacle

Ignoring the fact that developer Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards plan was never viable to begin with (hence, Ratner's demand for even more public subsidies) and his track record of banal architecture, Senior Editor Dennis Holt blames Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn for "ordinary things."

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, The Spoilers

Henrik Krogius passes over Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and lays blame on everyone else who by "going beyond the concern with their local interests they fail to appreciate what may be good for a greater Brooklyn outside the confines of their home precincts" and "have been unable to grasp the huge potential of Atlantic Yards."

The first-tier group would not have had their “success” were it not for a kind of reflex anti-development sentiment infecting the various brownstone neighborhoods surrounding downtown. The Cobble Hill Association, for instance, even though its neighborhood is considerable distance away from Atlantic Yards, lent encouragement to the opposition. Cobble Hill and Community Board 6 have on the whole taken a carping view toward new development, in some cases justified but in others verging on plain obstructionism. The Brooklyn Heights Association, still farther removed from the site, took a negatively-tinged wait-and-see stance on Atlantic Yards. What is so disappointing is that so many Brooklynites jumped immediately to a hostile view of the project rather than seeing it for the brilliant proposal it was. Some sensational local papers abetted the hostility. The literary and intellectual set, which might have been expected to respond to so imaginative and idea, tended instead to retreat to a sentimental preservationism (preservation of what?!), as manifested by such as the author Jonathan Lethem and the children’s performer Dan Zanes. There was even a purported “documentary” film created to fight the project.

Atlantic Yards Report, OK, we get it: It's all BrooklynSpeaks's fault (and other Brooklyn Eagle misreadings)

Norman Oder actually takes time to parse through and analyze Krogius's screed.

Posted by lumi at 5:20 AM

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross ranks No. 2 in real estate “Power 100”

The Business of Sports [The Sun-Sentinel]

The New York Observer’s latest Power 100 ranking of “The Most Powerful People in New York Real Estate,” places Dolphins owner Stephen M. Ross No. 2, behind only… President Barack Obama.
Two other sports team owners made the list: New Jersey Nets owner Bruce Ratner, who is still trying to develop Atlantic Yards with a new Nets arena in Brooklyn, fell from No. 8 last year to No. 23 this year; and New York Jets owner Woody Johnson ranks No. 68, as board president of luxury co-op 834 Fifth Avenue.


Posted by lumi at 5:15 AM

June 10, 2009

Nets CEO defends decision to jettison Gehry

Associated Press
by Ronald Blum

Oh, my. Like a poor imitation of Jon Lovitz's Tommy Flanagan (that's Flan-AY-gan), Nets CEO Brett Yormark just can't help himself.

The chief executive of the Nets defended his team's decision to jettison architect Frank Gehry's design for a new arena in Brooklyn and replace it with a more conventional and less costly option.

"Unfortunately the world we live in today is very different than what it was three or four years ago when we hired Frank," Nets chief executive Brett Yormark said Wednesday at Street & Smith's SportsBusiness Journal's conference on sports facilities and franchises.

"The world is more simplistic. It's not as grand and glitzy. And I'm not sure that design would have been appropriate right now, as much as we all loved it. I think the design that we have now is very appropriate. It speaks to Brooklyn."


NoLandGrab: As if it is appropriate to grab more than $1 billion in subsidies, renege on financial and structural/logistical commitments to the MTA, hijack a State Senate hearing, bait-and-switch with impunity, cook up economic-impact analyses and take people's homes and businesses for private gain.

We'll leave it to Norman Oder to address Yormark's "speaks to Brooklyn" comment (see below), but NoLandGrab does have exclusive video of Yormark's appearance at the conference:

Atlantic Yards Report, Nets CEO Yormark, 3 months after asserting Gehry was still on the job, now says the world's changed from 3 years ago

Speaking to Brooklyn?

Well, let's put aside how much it speaks to Indianapolis, being modeled on the Conseco Fieldhouse (itself modeled on the Hinkle Fieldhouse at Butler University there).

Instead, consider that, less than three months ago, on March 25, Yormark told WFAN:
Frank Gehry is still the architect of this project. And he loves it. It’s very dear to his heart, no different than it is to all of us – Bruce Ratner, our investors and myself. I think his statements were misconstrued.

Thanks for clearing that up.

Posted by eric at 8:34 PM

Gehry Departure Confirmed

The Local [Fort Greene/Clinton Hill]
by Andy Newman

This afternoon, Forest City Ratner confirmed WNYC reporter Matthew Schuerman’s report. FCR spokesman Joe DePlasco said in an email:

“Frank Gehry was and remains the master planner for the arena and larger project and all of the design specifications that he developed, and which were approved, remain in place. Obviously the world has changed significantly since the project was proposed and we are making every effort to adapt to these changes while meeting the high standards that we set for project. Going forward we anticipate that we will use a number of architects, well known and new, to design the individual buildings as part of Frank’s larger plan. Update | 3:16 p.m. We do not anticipate that Mr. Gehry will be designing any of the individual buildings.”


NoLandGrab: Though Gehry has surely been paid handsomely for the cover he's provided the Atlantic Yards project these past five-and-a-half years, here's betting he rues the day he first met Bruce Ratner.

Posted by eric at 4:49 PM

Tate George: Move the Nets to Newark's Prudential Center

NJ Voices [Star Ledger blog]
by Tate George

We missed this one back in April. Ex-New Jersey Net and present-day real estate developer and Newark-booster Tate George thinks his former team belongs in his home town.

The Nets are scheduled to go to Brooklyn, to a facility that is likely never to be built. As a real estate developer, I know projects and I don't see how the Brooklyn arena can even get started. But, the Nets insist it will so we will see. Until then, the Nets should, in fact must, come to Newark. Mayor Cory Booker is right. We have a great arena with a strong fan base. Instead of letting the Nets languish in their current home, bring them to Newark.

One of the biggest lessons I've learned in life is from my Nets coach Chuck Daly. Chuck used to tell me, "life isn't fair." Mostly he is right but for both the city of Newark and the loyal fans of the Nets, we've suffered from too much unfairness. Now it's time to be fair -- to the team, to the fans, and to our city. I second Mayor Booker in his support of the Nets coming to the Rock. Without them, Prudential Center has made great moments. But it is time for the Nets' next great moment. It is time for Gov. Jon Corzine to help push the Nets to Newark.


Posted by eric at 2:13 PM

At DDDB update on AY, talk of changed public opinion, potential strategies, and a crucial next six months

Atlantic Yards Report

Like a modern-day version of You Are There, Norman Oder recreates yesterday's DDDB-hosted Atlantic Yards update meeting, for those of us who weren't.

The tide may not have turned regarding Atlantic Yards, which has been officially approved and likely heads for new approvals, but public opinion is shifting, with the widespread disapproval of new designs for the arena.

Yesterday New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff called it a “"stunning bait-and-switch" and a "shameful betrayal of the public trust" and today the New York Daily News quotes general disdain from locals.

So last night was an opportune time for Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn to hold a long-scheduled community update on the project, drawing some 130 people to the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in Fort Greene.

I saw a good number of unfamiliar faces, and there was a distinct energy in the crowd; they enthusiastically applauded speakers and gave City Council Member Letitia James a partial standing ovation.

The project, as a DDDB handout (below) explained, is neither a dead deal nor a done deal, and the next six months will be crucial, as project backers pursue revised approvals. They hope to get the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to accept a new deal for the Vanderbilt Yard--perhaps $20 million down, instead of $100 million--and get the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) to issue a revised Modified General Project Plan (GPP).


Here's more coverage of the meeting, in pictures, from photographer Tracy Collins: 2009 DDDB Atlantic Yards Community Meeting

Posted by eric at 1:48 PM

Checkin’ in with…Robert Scarano, Brooklyn’s ‘bad boy’ architect

The Brooklyn Paper
by Mike McLaughlin

Brooklyn's least-beloved architect weighs in on the Brooklyn architect who never was.

MM: ...So what do you think of Frank Gehry’s dismissal from Atlantic Yards and the Kansas City firm Ellerbe Becket, the architect replacing him?

RS: Why can’t we get a guy from New York to do it? Gehry’s designs, as magnificent as they are, are not for the faint of heart. They’re only for those with an unlimited budget. When they’re wildly overpriced to begin with, the real drama comes later when there are 80 percent cost escalations. [Forest City Ratner] brought him in to be the main star guy and he had a shelf life, as did Daniel Liebeskind at the World Trade Center. When that shelf life was up, they let him go.


Click through for Mr. Scarano's appraisal of the Conseco Fieldhouse, um, new Barclays Center, and his fear of Fourth Avenue redux.

Posted by eric at 1:39 PM

Much (more) adieu about nothing

Comment on the parting of Frank Gehry and Atlantic Yards continues to roll in, along with appraisals of the Conseco Fieldhouse, er, new Barclays Center (or is it Centre?).

The Local [Fort Greene/Clinton Hill, The Day: Is Gehry a Goner?

WNYC reported last night that Frank Gehry is not only out as the architect for the arena at Atlantic Yards, he has been dumped by Forest City Ratner as the master architect for the entire $4 billion project. relieved by Forest City Ratner of any future duty on the $4 billion project, for which he served as master architect. Mr. Gehry was supposed to design all of the individual buildings on the 22-acre site.

Forest City Ratner officials did not answer questions about Mr. Gehry’s status last night.

Looking Around [Time Magazine blog], More on the Gehry Departure

From the start the Atlantic Yards faced heavy opposition from Brooklynites who said it was too big, too dense, too tall — too much of everything for the still mostly low-rise borough. All the while, Gehry's name — and his gifts as an architect, the imagination he brought to the project — did a lot to keep it moving forward. But there have already been any number of revisions to Gehry's design, not only for the arena, but for other buildings in Atlantic Yards, and it's less and less clear what role if any he will end up playing in the final product — except maybe just to lend the prestige of his name to a grossly adulterated outcome. Master planner? Master fig leaf might be a better word for it.

UnBeige, Atlantic Yards' Gehry Dumping Leads to Kansas City vs. New York Brawl

Following the big-yet-not surprising story that Frank Gehry is now officially off the Atlantic Yards/New Jersey Nets stadium project, we have two newspapers with very differing pieces about the matter.

BD Online, Developer ditches Gehry basketball arena for New York Atlantic Yards

Gehry’s arena, known as the Barclays Centre, is the centrepiece of the Atlantic Yards scheme being developed by Forest City Ratner at an estimated cost of $950 million.

Gehry has confirmed that he will continue to work with Forest City Ratner on another New York project, the Beekman Tower, with a spokesman describing the relationship between the architect and the developer as “amicable”.

Sports Business Daily, Impact Of Gehry's Departure From Atlantic Yards Project Debated [subscription required]

Curbed, Robert Scarano Mad Nobody Wants to Hire Robert Scarano

Scarano loves thee not: Atlantic Yards in general

Brownstoner, More Renderings of New Arena Design

I Cover The Automat, “HELLO, CLEVELAND!”

So, young Nicolai has weighed in with his opinion on the Atlantic Yards bait-and-switch. While I might not share in his enthusiasm for our neighbor from the North, I do continue to marvel over the cut rate Metroteching that Forest City Ratner’s pushing for. Couple that with the complete failure of the BAM LDC/cultural district, the rise of the Oro, Toren and the newly named Brooklyner, not to mention the fact that Gage & Tollner is going to become an Arby’s, and all one can do is fret.

Posted by eric at 12:51 PM

Ellerbe Becket arena slideshow

The NY Times published this slideshow of a preview of the Ellerbe Becket arena design for Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards. Based on the comments on the Times web site, it's fair to say that the college-rec-center-inspired design isn't winning many fans.

Atlantic Yards REport, The view of the arena from Flatbush--and the departure of Frank Gehry from the project as a whole

From Norman Oder's assessment of the slideshow images:

Three of the four Ellerbe Becket renderings had previously surfaced, all of them--as far as I can tell--showing the view from Atlantic Avenue. The rendering at right, however, seems to show the view from Flatbush, with the cars going in the direction of Atlantic.

That glass-enclosed structure seems to be the replacement for the Urban Room; more than anything, it looks to serve as a ticket window.

At right is the view from Atlantic Avenue. I'm still waiting for the view from Dean Street. (Here's the original site plan, though the arena now would point north-south.)

Posted by lumi at 7:04 AM

Jay-Z: “September We Break Ground”

Nets Daily

Either Jay-Z blundered, or the Nets really think that they are going to break ground on a new arena in Brooklyn in SEPTEMBER (as in after August and before October).

The Nets haven’t been very specific about when they’ll break ground for the Barclays Center, saying only “this fall” or “later this year”. Jay-Z, who owns a small piece of the team, gave a little more detail Tuesday. At the end of an interview on his latest album, he twice said ground breaking will take place in September, adding “We went through all the law proceedings and we refined the drawings”.


See below for reaction to the "refined" drawings.

Posted by lumi at 6:56 AM

Brooklynites call foul on new designs for Atlantic Yards arena project

NY Daily News reporters Ben Chapman and Jotham Sederstrom got the man-on-the-street reaction to the new designs for Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards arena and not all are negative:

Airplane hangar aesthetic

"It looks like an airplane hangar from the '50s - not a good look," said Joe Voden, 40, of Prospect Heights, a supporter of the $4.2 billion project who opposes the new design.

Gehry, not!
One reaction to Ratner's contention that the Frank "Gehry designs would be used as a 'blueprint' for the new arena":

"These are obviously two very different designs," said Soffer, 32, who bought a condo nearby. "We've been duped."


"It looks like a barn that should have horses and cows out front," cracked Karp, 62, a supporter of the project. "It looks like something you would see when driving upstate."

The big box arena

"It looks a little like a Home Depot," said Taylor, 19. "It's not as extravagant as I thought it would be."

[Garbage] in, [garbage] out

"The entirety of the design is dull," said Levy, 34, who is opposed to the Yards project. "It's suburban. We have [garbage] here now and in the future we're going to have [garbage]."

There's no place like home

"I like the new design better," said a 27-year-old Prospect Heights bartender who grew up in Eastern Europe and gave only her first name, Izabel. "It reminds me of a train station back at home in Poland."


Posted by lumi at 6:42 AM

What's new with the mothership in Cleveland?

Norman Oder of Atlantic Yards Report listened in on yesterday's first quarter conference call with investment analysts.

Forest City executives to investment analysts: everything's fine with AY

Unlike past conference calls, Atlantic Yards does seem to be on the minds of some investment analysts, though Forest City executives still contend that the project is still on.

During the Q&A, about 30 minutes into the call, Analyst Sheila McGrath asked for an update on New York projects, including Atlantic Yards.

[Forest City Ratner President Joanne] Minieri responded: As it relates to Atlantic Yards, yes, there’s been a lot of press on Atlantic Yards, but we maintain, we’re committed to the project. We’re targeting a second part of the year master closing. We’re moving toward finalizing all the necessary negotiations with the public parties. We’re working very closely with Barclays and Goldman [Sachs] on the arena bond financing that is anticipated to occur so that we can go vertical on the arena. You probably have read today that we’ve announced the new architects on the arena. We are moving quickly to complete the design and cost estimates for that. That will enable us to meet our timetable for a second-half master closing.

Not only were the new architects announced, they were denounced. Minieri did not mention that there would be a new General Project Plan, and that there are pending appeals and potential new lawsuits.

What should $20 million buy? How much walking-around money do FCE family members have?

Though Forest City Ratner wants to short change the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, by only paying $20 million up front for the portion of the Vanderbilt Yard it needs to build the arena, instead of the $100 million as promised, family members of the parent company scrounged up $20 million to purchase more stock from the recent offering, intended to raise more capital to deal with the company's crushing debt burden.

Posted by lumi at 6:25 AM

Project renderings: A look back

Atlantic Yards Report has two posts, looking back at previous renderings of the Atlantic Yards project and the much touted Barclays Center arena.

AY Image Galleries: 2006, 2008, 2009

Norman Oder posted screen caps from previous versions of the "Image Gallery" on www.atlanticyards.com.

The Barclays Center web site has subtracted Gehry, the "Visionary"

The Barclays Center web site, unlike the official Atlantic Yards site, has expunged Frank Gehry. The only solution is to present the arena, for now at least, as a set of interiors.

Posted by lumi at 6:09 AM

June 9, 2009

It Came from the Blogosphere... (More Ourousoff fallout edition)

Brooklyn Born, An open letter to Nicolai Ouroussoff

The Brooklyn blogger gives Nicolai Ourousoff a nod for admitting, albeit just a tad, his complicity in this debacle, but isn't having any of this we're-all-in-this-together nonsense.

Now the part where I become conflicted to a personal degree is where I want to point out how hypocritical it is of the lead architectural critic of the New York Times to basically say I played a part in the process of selling the public on celebrity/aspirational architecture that is out of scale for it's intended surroundings and may actually be harmful when complete; but then end his article as if we all need alter our behavior and learn from this failing project.

To end on that note is to cast responsibility on everyone as if we are all equal players in this play.

I am tired of people in positions of responsiblity not being responsible and then offering a "what we all need to learn from this..." message when in fact we all didn't support this mess.

The Local [Fort Greene/Clinton Hill], Arena Fallout, Cont’d.

Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff’s willingness to admit having drunk and served up the Kool-Aid on the Atlantic Yards arena does not get him off the hook, Brooklyn Born writes in an interesting open letter to Mr. Ouroussoff.

Golden Icing, Atlantic Yards – a disappointing update

For all my critiques of Gehry’s proposal, the plan described here is far worse.

Creative Contact, Gehry Departs, Brooklyn Rejoices?

Since its conception, the entire Atlantic Yards project has been a center of controversy - too big, too flashy, too costly - and this recent bit of news does not help.

TEXTSCAPE, Worst possible outcome for Atlantic Yards

Despite the skepticism and abuse of some of my friends, I'd been a fan of Atlantic Yards.

Now we have the official announcement of Gehry abandoning the project and of the project going to Ellerbe Becket. All the potential urban congestion issues with none of the compensations of great architecture. Atlantic Yards will now join the less than mediocre Atlantic Terminal/Atlantic Center and the single story big box windowless stores across Flatbush.

The Cleveland Leader, Forest City Walloped by New York Times Critic

Ouroussoff writes that the arena design for the Nets team would make it “fit more comfortably in a cornfield than at one of the busiest intersections of a vibrant metropolis.”


Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, Dear Barclays Bank: This is Worth $400 Million to You??!!

DDDB wonders how Barclays likes its arena now.

Posted by eric at 5:24 PM

Frank Gehry Out of Rest of Yards Too

WNYC Radio

More bait-and-and switch from the folks who brought you the Conseco Fieldhouse, um, new Barclays Center.

Just two years ago, developer Forest City Ratner was insisting Gehry would design each and every one of the 16 towers that surrounded the arena. Gehry had dubbed one of them Miss Brooklyn. But two sources close to the project say now the developer is not planning to use Gehry any more, citing costs, the architect's lack of interest and the complications of meshing different architectural styles in a small space. A spokesman for Forest City Ratner said Gehry is still "involved" in the project but did not answer specific questions. The developer says it plans to break ground on the arena this fall, and the first residential building six months later.


NoLandGrab: Gehry is still "'involved' in the project" to the extent that Forest City Ratner (not even trying) and Barclays (giving it the old college try) have failed to scrub his presence from AtlanticYards.com and BarclaysCenter.com, respectively (yo, guys, there's a text-only version of BarclaysCenter.com — don't forget to purge that of Gehry mentions, too).

Posted by eric at 4:57 PM

How Many Different Ways Can Nicolai Ouroussoff Say ‘Do Not Want’?

The Daily Intel
by Chris Rovzar

For those of you overwhelmed with all the Gehry vs. Ellerbe media buzz, the New York Magazine blog boils down Nic Ourousoff's lament about the new Atlantic Yards arena design to little more than Tweet length:

The new "colossal, spiritless" stadium is "a blow to the art of architecture" that "should enrage all those who care about this city." It is "a shameful betrayal of the public trust." Its "low-budget, no-frills design embodies the crass, bottom-line mentality that puts personal profit above the public good" and would "fit more comfortably in a cornfield than at one of the busiest intersections of a vibrant metropolis." "As glamorous as a storage warehouse," it "lacks the sense of mystery and surprise that was such an essential part of the Gehry design … adding nothing." If it is ever built, "it will create a black hole in the heart of a vital neighborhood."

Also, it's fat. Ugh.


Posted by eric at 4:34 PM

Turning a blind eye in exchange for big-budget architecture

The Cornell Daily Sun
by Ann Lui

Frank Gehry gets knocked for being a slavery enabler, and it's got nothing to do with Barclays' slave-running past. But Atlantic Yards does score a mention.

A couple weeks ago, the Human Rights Watch released an 80 page report documenting the varied human rights violations that are the foundation for construction in Dubai and its sister city Abu Dhabi.

But some starchitects aren't exactly taking a stand.

Christopher Sell, also for the Architect’s Journal reported that, “A source close to the Saadiyat Island project said: ‘Neither Gehry nor Hadid have shown concern for the issues. It is quite surprising if they didn’t know what is going on in Abu Dhabi.’”

Dubai and Abu Dhabi are opportunities to take a stand – to say: slavery and injustice are not the foundations on which our visions for the future are built. The monumental pyramids in neighboring Egypt are too easy of a comparison to make. Times are tough, the economy sucks, I know, I know. It’s hard to get commissions in the States – Gehry’s stadium at the Atlantic Yards was just abandoned for generic suburban architecture; it’s understandable what his project in the UAE means to the firm. Nonetheless, the economy should not be an excuse for sanctioning evil.


Posted by eric at 4:17 PM

’08 construction spending rose

Despite the recession, spending swelled by 4% last year. Still, all signs point to a decline in ’09 as major projects such as the Atlantic Yards development stall out.

Crain's NY Business
by Theresa Agovino

While construction spending actually increased in New York City in 2008, at least according to the New York Building Congress, the outlook for 2009 is not so rosy.

However, some of projects that spurred that spending, such as the new stadiums for the Yankees and Mets as well as the Bank of America Tower, are essentially complete. Meanwhile, other projects such as the World Trade Center, Atlantic Yards and numerous residential projects are stalled, portending a drop in spending this year. The Building Congress identified 17 announced projects that are delayed.


Posted by eric at 4:10 PM

It came from the Blogosphere...

Who Gives A Shit, It's Gone, Yet Another Reason to Root Against the Nets

I'm not going to go into all the many, many ins-and-outs of the highly contentious Atlantic Yards development project, which consists of a new arena for the New Jersey Nets and 16 residential/office towers right in the heart of Brooklyn.

By my unofficial tally, however, there are probably 1,000 or so reasons to be against the project. But until developer and Nets owner Bruce Ratner had the gaul to fire architect Frank Gehry in favor of Ellerbe Becket, the architectural equivalent of trading Michael Jordan for Kerry Kittles, nobody of institutional import dared to chime in against Ratner's plan. Enter the New York Times, whose line in the sand is, apparently, bad architecture...

Realty Collective, Atlantic Yards arena scrapped in favor of Tractor Supply Company

In a stunning turnaround, Forest City Ratner released their latest plans for what was to be the Nets stadium at Atlantic Yards - Brooklyn's first Tractor Supply Company. The new proposal may finally unite community groups, civic leaders, and the developers.

Given Brooklynites' deep commitment to sustainable living and local organic produce, Tractor Supply Company may finally fill the need for small farm vehicles, manure spreaders, and rototillers currently unmet by other big box chains. The new design is fresh and rural, and sends a meaningful message for these bleak economic times - thumbing its nose at "fashion" and "quality."

Brownstoner, Ouroussoff, Tell Us How You Really Feel

New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff doesn't mince words in reviewing the new design for the Atlantic Yards Arena.

WCWP Sports, Nets, Atlantic Yards Ditch Gehry -- Get Gymnasium

Damn, Nicolai. That's cold... but true.

Pray extra hard tonight, people. This cannot be built.

Curbed, New Nets Arena Renderings Make Critic No Less Angry

...not only does the new Barclays Center threaten to destroy the neighborhood, but it could also wreak havoc on the entire city and architecture as a whole.

Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn, Times on Ratner: A Stunning Bait and Switch

In yesterday's New York Times Nicolia Ouroussoff wrote a scathing piece about Forest City Ratner's decision to change architects on the Atlantic Yards Project.

Taunter Media, Bait and Switch

It seems they had a bit of a change of heart, and decided to go with something a bit more Oversized Costco:

Actually, that’s not quite fair. It is simply a relocated Conseco Fieldhouse, which nicely saves everyone the trip to Indianapolis:

Tropolism, Atlantic Yards: The First Post

Instead, the project has simply been redone, shorn of its residences and shops and now it's simply become one of those deadening black holes in the city, just like "Madison" "Square" "Garden". It's a classic, bald-faced bait-and-switch, which is a cute New York way of saying that Forest City Ratner are crooks. They have stolen the public's patience and benefit of the doubt in exchange for their own personal profit. The effect of which is that this part of Brooklyn will be dumb and cold and dead until 2050 when some even more stupid gyration will have to happen in order to renovate the dumb thing that might get built right now.

NY Times City Room, The Atlantic Yards Development: Two Designs, Many Opinions

Nicolai Ouroussoff’s assessment of the new scheme for the Nets arena in Brooklyn, which replaces a more elaborate and expensive Frank Gehry design, has drawn a lot of reader comments — he’s apparently not the only one with strong feelings.

Nets Daily, Architecture Critic Laments New Arena Design

Amazingly, there are actually a couple Atlantic Yards-related blog posts today that don't mention Nicolai Ourousoff or the new arena design.


Atlantic Yards ranks #3 among TANY's reasons why the Mayor's re-election bid is about to come undone.

Curbed, Brooklyn's New Tallest Gets a Name: The Brooklyner!

Atlantic Yards gets a mention in this story about Brooklyn's excitingly named new tallest building.

For all the hubbub that was created when Frank Gehry designed his Miss Brooklyn skyscraper at the Atlantic Yards to replace the Williamsburgh Bank Building as Brooklyn's tallest building (before it was eventually downsized), the Clarrett Group's 111 Lawrence Street has flown relatively under the radar.

NoLandGrab: Downsized? As of now, Miss Brooklyn is non-sized.

Posted by eric at 1:54 PM

Battle Between Budget and Beauty, Which Budget Won

The NY Times
By Nicolai Ouroussoff

Calling it "a shameful betrayal of the public trust"," The Time's architecture critic blasts Bruce Ratner's arena bait and switch.


Whatever you may have felt about Mr. Gehry’s design — too big, too flamboyant — there is little doubt that it was thoughtful architecture. His arena complex, in which the stadium was embedded in a matrix of towers resembling falling shards of glass, was a striking addition to the Brooklyn skyline; it was also a fervent effort to engage the life of the city below.

A new design by the firm Ellerbe Becket has no such ambitions. A colossal, spiritless box, it would fit more comfortably in a cornfield than at one of the busiest intersections of a vibrant metropolis. Its low-budget, no-frills design embodies the crass, bottom-line mentality that puts personal profit above the public good. If it is ever built, it will create a black hole in the heart of a vital neighborhood.

Ouroussoff later adds:

A massive vaulted shed that rests on a masonry base, the arena is as glamorous as a storage warehouse.
Building this monstrosity at such a critical urban intersection would be deadly. Clearly, the city would be better off with nothing.

Refreshingly, instead of taking the simple-minded tack of blaming project opponents, Ouroussoff acknowledges one of the early criticisms of the arena:

I suppose we should have seen this coming. The scale and location of the project posed serious challenges — challenges that could not be solved by the conventional development formulas. Arenas are notorious black holes in urban neighborhoods, sitting empty most of the year and draining the life around them. And in this case, the arena would dominate a major intersection and anchor a dense 22-acre residential development several blocks to the east.

The Times also published a closer preview of the arena design (above) than the rendering released late last week.


Atlantic Yards Report, NYT critic Ouroussoff wakes up, calls new arena design a "stunning bait-and-switch" and a "shameful betrayal of the public trust"

Norman Oder chronicles Ouroussoff's conversion:

OK, in July 2005 New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff enthused that Frank Gehry's Atlantic Yards plan "may be the most important urban development plan proposed in New York City in decades." (I thought he missed a few things.)

In June 2006, he wrote a more pensive if hardly tough assessment of the project,

In March 2008, he wrote something of an elegy, urging Gehry to leave the project, predicting blight (accurately, it terms out), and even seeming to emerge as a project opponent.

Today, however, he pulls out the big rhetorical guns, calling Forest City Ratner's decision to trade Gehry's arena for a more pedestrian design by Ellerbe Becket a "stunning bait-and-switch" and a "shameful betrayal of the public trust."

Posted by lumi at 6:40 AM

AYR twofer

Here are two quickies from Atlantic Yards Report:

What should $20 million buy? What can Forest City afford?

On one hand, Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner is trying renegotiate a deal with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), hoping to only cough up $20 million up front for the arena portion of the railyard, instead of the entire $100 million. On the other hand, the parent company wants investors to know that the company is on better financial footing.

NoLandGrab: So can't the company afford the $100 million, or is this another bait and switch?

So, when did the ESDC conclude that AY wouldn't take ten years? A debate in court

Yesterday, attorney George Locker tried unsuccesfully to get a judge to add a recent statement from an Empire State Development Corporation executive to the record in hopes of reopening a case from last year:

Was it only in April, when ESDC CEO Marisa Lago publicly predicted [Atlantic Yards] would take "decades"? Or was it earlier?

That distinction was at the heart of a 20-minute argument in state Supreme Court yesterday, during which attorney George Locker, who represents eight rent-stabilized tenants in two buildings within the Atlantic Yards footprint, [updated/corrected 7:20 am] unsuccessfully tried to vacate the decision that rejected his request that the ESDC hold a new hearing to re-approve the project.

After the hearing, however, Locker was nonplused. Given that the ESDC is expected to issue a revision of GPP on June 24, a new public hearing would in fact be held, thus mooting his appeal.

Posted by lumi at 6:15 AM

Was eminent domain ruling the last hurdle? And when would the arena open?

Atlantic Yards Report

Is the eminent domain case the "last hurdle," as Bruce Ratner contends, or "one of the few remaining obstacles," as his cousin Chuck said?

And when is the arena supposed to open? In 2011, as the Ratners tell a "credulous press," or is the opening date still murky, as indicated by a recent SEC filing.

Watchdogs will be watching this morning's conference call with investors.


Posted by lumi at 6:07 AM

Bloomberg Lauds Change to Atlantic Yards Arena


After collecting responses to the preview of the new arena design from political boosters and one detractor, reporter Paul Bubny notes that the architecture isn't the only bait and switch:

During his weekly radio show, Bloomberg said that thanks to the lower cost of the Ellerbe Becket plan for the Barclays Center Coliseum, lining up financing for the Brooklyn mega-project would be possible. "It looks like it will go ahead, which is great," he said.
Also being scaled back is the upgrading on the Long Island Rail Road’s Vanderbilt Yard, which FCRC is performing as part of its deal with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for air rights over the yard.


NoLandGrab: A "scaled back" replacement railyard should be added to the list of dwindling public benefits from the project.

Posted by lumi at 6:00 AM


TC-rigs.jpg According to Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner, via the Empire State Developerment Corporation, the company is mobilizing to start work again on the railyards.

Here are details from the Update for "Weeks beginning June 8, 2009 and June 15, 2009" (full text after the jump):

Long Island Rail Road/Vanderbilt Yard Work

  • Remobilization of contractors
  • General excavation in the Yard, starting on Block. 1120 -Work at the East Portal in preparation for concrete pour -Work in preparation for cap beams required for Trestle
  • Work is anticipated to continue through the end of the year.

Environmental Remediation

  • Rigs are on site, Block 1118, lot1 and Block 1119, lots 1, 64, in connection with soil borings that are being conducted.

Atlantic Yards Photo Pool, "Rigs are on site" ?

Neighborhood photog Tracy Collins went looking for the rigs, and found none.

The NY Observer, Gehry or Not, Here He Comes! Ratner To Get Shovels Moving Again for Atlantic Yards

Reporter Eliot Brown observes:

[P]er a construction update from the state agency overseeing the project, in the next two weeks, we’ll see a “remobilization of contractors” and “general excavation” in the rail yard.

Of course, this doesn’t mean the project is a go just yet. The biggest hurdles remaining for Mr. Ratner are the successful financing of his arena with tax-free bonds, along with a renegotiation of agreements with the city and state.

Atlantic Yards Report, AY Construction Update: Yard work through end of year (which means no arena start?)

Norman Oder focuses in on another detail from the Construction Update, and puts to bed one myth:

OK, Forest City Ratner sounds serious, but if they're working through the end of the year, arena groundbreaking wouldn't happen until 2010--as the ESDC has already acknowledged--wouldn't it be delayed until 2012 at best?

How exactly did pending lawsuits stop Forest City Ratner from continuing the work? They didn't, as noted in past coverage. But the developer did have some cash-flow problems.

Weeks beginning June 8, 2009 and June 15, 2009

In an effort to keep the Atlantic Yards Community aware of upcoming construction activities, ESD and Forest City Ratner provide the following outline of anticipated upcoming construction activities.

Please note: the scope and nature of activities are subject to change based upon field conditions. All work has been approved by appropriate City and State agencies where required. In addition to the activities described below noise attenuation and vibration monitoring measures are underway in connection with the Memorandum of Environmental Commitments dated 12/08/06.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact our project Ombudsperson at: 212-803-3233 or AtlanticYards@empire.state.ny.us

Posted by lumi at 5:28 AM

KC sports architecture firm snares Brooklyn arena project

The Kansas City Star
By Kevin Collison

Last week's stunning announcement that Bruce Ratner ditched Frank Gehry's arena design for a cheaper off-the-shelf version isn't the first time that a Kansas City architecture firm edged out the world-famous starchitect.

Kansas City sports architecture firms 2, Frank Gehry 0.

For the second time this decade, the local team has knocked off one of the world’s best-known architects for a major sports design commission, this time an NBA arena planned for Brooklyn, NY.
In 2004, Gehry led a group that was competing to design the Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City. The city wound up choosing an all-star consortium of local sports architecture firms, the Downtown Arena Design Team. Ellerbe Becket was part of the winning group.


Posted by lumi at 5:18 AM

June 8, 2009


Abby Weissman from SouthOxford.com posted the bait-and-switch with a twist.

Posted by lumi at 9:27 PM

Developing News

The Brian Lehrer Show, WNYC Radio

Real estate reporter Matthew Schuerman updates the host on the latest Atlantic Yards rigamarole. Our favorite bit came in the discussion of the departure of Empire State Development Corporation CEO Marisa Lago.

Brian Lehrer: Did her release have anything to do with this project?

Matthew Schuerman: Not that I know of. All I can say, Brian, on that, is that I saw her at the [State Senate Atlantic Yards Oversight] hearing, this was a little more than a week ago, and she was sweating bullets, in fact, she ran through a couple bottles of water there when she was on the stand, and so it may have been that the pressure got too much for her.

link (the Atlantic Yards discussion begins at about the 1:35 mark, and runs for six minutes)

NoLandGrab: "The pressure got too much?" Wonder if that was the pressure of having to listen to a bunch of morons blowing whistles, or of having to mislead the public constantly about the Atlantic Yards project.

Atlantic Yards Report, On Brian Lehrer Show, WNYC's Schuerman talks about architect shift, IBO info, and Lago's departure

Norman Oder adds some detail to the Lehrer-Schuerman conversation:

Even though the Independent Budget Office has concluded that the arena would be a money-loser for the city, in terms of new tax revenues, Mayor Mike Bloomberg still supports AY. Lehrer asked why.

Schuerman pointed out that city officials expect their own cost-benefit analysis—I think it’ll be a fiscal impact analysis, without costs—to say the project as a whole is a net positive.

I’m sure it will, but there’s a lot of reason to doubt that the city’s projections about the timing of AY. I think Bloomberg, like many elected officials, wants a ribbon-cutting.

Posted by eric at 3:34 PM

So, Daniel, how was YOUR weekend? Redux

by Gersh Kuntzman

It was inevitable that Rupert Murdoch's media empire would begin to realize economies of scale from its purchase earlier this year of The Brooklyn Paper. Evidence of that popped up today, when the NY Post's web site republished word-for-word Brooklyn Paper editor Gersh Kuntzman's story on DDDB's Daniel Goldstein's trip to the Forest City shareholder meeting.

For now, we can be thankful that The Brooklyn Paper (so far) hasn't republished Steve Cuozzo's loony Saturday column painting opponents as the Atlantic Yards fight's deep-pocketed, bullying liars.

Regardless, however, media consolidation does not bode well for the future of elucidation and exposition, for this story or any other.

Posted by eric at 2:40 PM

June 9th Community Meeting on the Fight Against the Atlantic Yards Project

Develop Don't Destroy Broklyn


Posted by eric at 2:01 PM

The Approval Matrix: Week of June 15, 2009

Our deliberately oversimplified guide to who falls where on our taste hierarchies.

New York Magazine

The misconduct at the May 29th State Senate oversight hearing on Atlantic Yards falls decidedly on the disapproving end of NY Mag's "Approval Matrix."



Posted by eric at 1:08 PM

Forest City Posts Smaller 1Q Loss; Occupancy Rates Down

Dow Jones Newswires via WSJ.com

Buffeted by the New Jersey Nets' $13-and-a-half million quarterly operating loss, Forest City Enterprises lost more money in the last quarter than Wall Street analysts expected them to — though not quite as much as they lost a year ago.

Forest City Enterprises Inc. (FCEB) reported a narrower fiscal first-quarter loss as the real-estate investment trust posted weaker-than-expected results amid largely weaker occupancy rates.

For the quarter ended April 30, Forest City reported a loss of $30.7 million, or 30 cents a share, compared with a prior-year loss of $40.4 million, or 39 cents a share. The bottom line benefited from reduced project write-offs and increased rental-property income, but that was partially offset by $8.7 million in job-cut charges and $10.7 million in other write-downs.

Revenue rose 2.6% to $313 million.

The mean estimates of analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters were for a 17-cent per share loss on revenue of $346 million.


Here's the official Forest City press release. CEO Chuck Ratner is not too bullish on the near-future for his line of business:

"As we have stated now for several quarters, we continue to be cautious in our outlook," Ratner said. "While we believe efforts to stimulate the economy will have a beneficial impact over time, we see no measureable improvement in current conditions, and we believe the recession will continue to deepen, particularly for real estate, before the economy turns around. As a result, we expect to see continued softness in fundamentals, particularly in retail and, to a lesser degree, in residential."

However, he's gung-ho about Forest City's "great" Atlantic Yards project:

"In mid-May, a significant legal victory was achieved for the Company's Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, when the Appellate Division, Second Department, unanimously upheld New York State's right to use eminent domain to acquire property at the site, given the significant public benefit associated with the project. This was an important win and affirmation for Atlantic Yards, and effectively removes one of the few remaining obstacles to moving forward with this great project."

More coverage...

Cleveland Plain Dealer, Forest City says losses narrowed, EBDT rose in first quarter

Executives at Forest City and Forest City Ratner Cos., the company's New York arm, also have said they plan to break ground this year for a new arena in Brooklyn for the New Jersey Nets. The arena is part of the company's much-delayed Atlantic Yards project. Last week, Forest City announced that architect Frank Gehry will not longer design the arena. Gehry, the master-planner for Atlantic Yards, has been replaced with architectural firm Ellerbe Becket, which has designed sports facilities including Quicken Loans Arena.

As of right now, Wall Street appears unimpressed by Forest City's results: shares are trading down 25 cents, or 3.52%.

Posted by eric at 12:05 PM

Gehry leaves Brooklyn megaproject

Good news for the architect, bad news for the neighbourhood

Toronto Globe and Mail
by Simon Houpt

Why does it take a north-of-the-border author/columnist/art critic to see through Forest City's smoke and mirrors?

So much for architecture.

Late last week, the developer of Atlantic Yards, the massive insta-neighbourhood planned for downtown Brooklyn, confirmed the rumour that had been swirling since late last year: Frank Gehry is off the project.

Gehry should pour himself a glass of Champagne at the news: He just safeguarded his legacy.

It's clear now that Ratner doesn't have much regard for architecture, no matter his words of praise when he first signed Gehry. His choice of replacement architects, Ellerbe Becket, has a numbing track record of uninspired sports complexes: Their other professional sports arenas include the Memphis Grizzlies' FedEx Forum and the Washington Wizards' Verizon Center, both buildings about as lacklustre as the teams inhabiting them.

With all of the changes to the master plan, New York State should be calling for a new environmental-impact review, which would cause a potentially crippling delay to the project. (Ratner needs to break ground by the end of this year in order to be able to sell tax-exempt bonds.) And will Barclays, which pledged $400-million for 20-year naming rights to the arena, really want to put its insignia on what critics are already calling a tricked-out airplane hangar?


Posted by eric at 11:35 AM

DDDB PRESS RELEASE: Assemblyman Brodsky Warns That New MTA Sweetheart Deal for Ratner Would Violate Fiduciary Duty

City Has Been Raising Land Assessments Under Proposed Ratner Arena, Raising Serious Questions

New York — Assemblyman Richard Brodksy, Chair of the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, as reported by the Atlantic Yards Report, made the following comment on the MTA’s plans to approve a sweeter deal with developer Forest City Ratner’s Nets team during a conference titled "The Proposed Legislation to Amend the Public Authorities Law: Maintaining the Balance Between Authority Autonomy and Accountability,” held June 3rd at the Government Law Center at Albany Law School:

On the MTA…this [fiduciary duty] is going to come up very quickly, because the Nets are going to ask the MTA to take less money for the Nets arena. I believe that the decision to accept that offer would be a violation of the fiduciary duty of the board members.

The MTA has announced that it plans to propose a newly negotiated deal with Ratner for the developer’s purchase of the MTA’s 8-acre Vanderbilt Rail Yard. The original agreement was $100 million in cash at closing (the yard was appraised at $214.5 million) and a new state-state-of-the art rail yard. Reports are that Ratner wants to pay only $20 million up front, and build a rail yard on the cheap.

“The MTA has no business sweetening its sweetheart deal with Ratner, not when the authority is so needy of money for operations and capital expenses. Gifting Ratner further would be a punch in the face of transit riders and taxpayers,” said Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn spokesman Daniel Goldstein.

Talking about the misuse of PILOTS (Payments in Lieu of Taxes) the Assemblyman also made these comments:

So you go ahead and create a PILOT--a payment in lieu of taxes. And that you securitize. And that’s what the [Yankee] stadium deal and the Mets deal and the Nets deal is probably going to be. That is diversion of tax money into debt without any elected officials looking at it. That is an extraordinary kind of thing.

“We have been concerned for years that Forest City and New York City would inflate land values in the Atlantic Yards footprint in order to game IRS regulations governing tax-exempt bond financing,” Goldstein said. “Our concerns are becoming even stronger now that we see the City’s land assessments in the Barclays Center arena footprint skyrocketing in broad daylight.”

Norman Oder, also reporting on his Atlantic Yards Report, has done the numbers, after Independent Budget Office official George Sweeting stated at a Senate hearing that the land values under the arena have increased threefold in the past year alone.

In a report published this morning Oder has found some parcels that “have leaped 17 or 20 or 34 times in one year” in their re-assessments by the New York City Department of Finance. These re-assessments are eye-popping, even more so because they are all within an area designated as “blighted” by New York State’s Empire State Development Corporation.

“These re-assessments are extremely fishy and the IRS, Senator Perkins and Assemblyman Brodsky, who oversee the authorities that will deal with the arena bonding, need to take a very close look at what the heck is going on here,” Goldstein said.

Why do these skyrocketing assessments matter? Forest City plans to pay for most of its arena construction with a triple-tax exempt bond. The bond is estimated to be at least $800 million. Forest City will make PILOT (Payments in Lieu of Taxes) payments to pay off the bond and debt service. In other words they will use money otherwise meant to go to the City treasury like all other property taxes, to pay their construction costs.

The problem is that the IRS requires the PILOT to be the equivalent of the foregone taxes for the assessed land. A legitimate assessment of the land under the proposed arena would not come close to meeting the $800 million bond the developer wants to float for the arena. So, the developer and city officials appear to be working backwards—start with the $800 million PILOT it wants to pay and then fix the land assessments to meet that payment. If that is what is going on that would be a violation of IRS regulations.

“An investigation into these land assessments and the PILOTS is necessary. Now.” Goldstein concluded.

Posted by eric at 11:06 AM

In plain sight: are dramatic re-assessments on arena block a prelude to "gaming" PILOTs to pay off construction?

Atlantic Yards Report

Something is rotten in the state of land valuations in the Atlantic Yards arena footprint.

Will the city’s dubious practice regarding assessments of land for Yankee Stadium--in which the value of the site went up eight times in a single day, using dramatically different land sales as comparables--recur regarding assessments for the Atlantic Yards arena site?

Well, we don't have an assessment for the arena block as a whole, but evidence of questionable decisions by the Department of Finance (DOF) is mounting. For some properties on the block, land assessments--which are a percentage of market value, and rise with the latter--have leaped 17 or 20 or 34 times in one year. Perhaps an oversight hearing is in order.

Meanwhile, Forest City Ratner wants to lower the amount it pays upfront for another piece of the arena block, the Vanderbilt Yard, to a reported $20 million, instead of the $100 million it initially promised.

I took a look at Department of Finance records myself, and found several questionable aspects:

  • some properties have rocketed up more than 17 times market value and assessment just in the past year
  • even though official market value may remain below what Forest City Ratner paid for the land--a not uncommon occurrence--the increase in value occurred only recently, several years after the land was purchased, even though city officials say that NYC assesses each property every year
  • the increases include land owned by the city that has never been on the market
  • while the increase in assessment might be tied to a change in classification, the leap in value sometimes occurs after the change
  • the land value under several major neighboring properties--the stores at Site 5, Forest City Ratner’s two malls, 470 Vanderbilt--has remained stable for several years
  • anomalies abound; the site at Flatbush and Dean street that formerly housed a Mobil station is valued at more than 50% of the land under the much larger Atlantic Center and Atlantic Terminal malls


NoLandGrab: While Oder's post is dense with numbers, we suggest you read through, because we expect we're going to be hearing a lot more about land-valuation shenanigans in the coming months.

Posted by eric at 10:53 AM

What should $20 million buy? What's the Block 1119, Lot 7--the western railyard segment--worth? (First in a series)

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder begins a multi-part look at the next big Atlantic Yards scam — the coming manipulation of land values designed to maximize the benefit to Forest City at the expense of taxpayers.

Will New York State and New York City officials aid and abet the developer, or actually serve the public interest? We know how we're going to bet.

Forest City Ratner reportedly wants to pay just $20 million to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for the portion of the Vanderbilt Yard it needs to build the Atlantic Yards arena. It initially promised to pay $100 million for the whole railyard. This series attempts to add some context.

Let's put aside, for the moment, the bait-and-switch aspects of pledging to pay for the whole railyard, then offering to pay for it in segments. (After all, if that were preferred public policy, then parcels could have been bid out, as with the UNITY Plan.)

One strange aspect about FCR's apparent plan to pay $20 million for Block 1119, Lot 7, is that it doesn't even represent a pro rata payment.

According to city Finance Department records, the segment is approximately 495 feet x 200 feet. That 99,000 square feet represents 2.27 acres, or 26.7% of the 8.5-acre railyard. So a pro rata payment of 26.7% would be $26.7 million.

(The arena block is above. The full AY footprint Block and Lot map is here; the yellow indicates properties owned by either the MTA or the city.)


Posted by eric at 10:31 AM

Brodsky: MTA board’s acceptance of Ratner’s lesser offer for railyard would violate its fiduciary duty

Atlantic Yards Report

Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, who chairs the state Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities, and Commissions, warned last week that, if the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) board accepts “less money” for the property destined for the Brooklyn arena, it would “be a violation of the fiduciary duty”--their obligation to act with the highest standard of care.

Forest City Ratner, which agreed to pay $100 million for the MTA’s 8.5-acre Vanderbilt Yard, has reportedly offered only $20 million upfront for the segment of land it needs for the arena, with the rest to be paid at some later date. The MTA board meets June 24.


Posted by lumi at 6:56 AM

Two reasons Ratner's arena switch is fishy: construction costs down and Gehry design impossible; are other costs being off-loaded?

Atlantic Yards Report

Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner tries to lay blame for the decision to ditch Frank Gehry's design for a second-class arena on "construction costs," even though, by all accounts, construction costs have fallen dramatically. The project's red herring is smelling fishy:

Forest City Ratner, in its announcement that the Frank Gehry arena design has been traded for a more pedestrian design by Ellerbe Becket, claimed that "rising construction costs impacted the budgets of all developers," and the press and public officials have uncritically repeated that.

Ratner would be saving only about 20%--$200 million on an arena reported at $1 billion or $950 million--so that's fishy, since lowered construction costs should already have taken care of much of that gap.

Atlantic Yards watchdog Norman Oder explains that Ratner is currently unable or unwilling to construct the highrises and atrium that were to surround the Frank Gehry arena, which is technically impossible to build as a stand-alone arena. Therefore the decision to go with an off-the-shelf second-class arena design probably had more to do with the inflexibility of Gehry's initial masterplan.

However, when Oder estimates the costs of the new watered-down arena design, he finds that there's still some slack:

Is Forest City Ratner attaching indirect project costs to the arena price tag, thus having them paid for via tax-exempt bonds, which are a cheaper way to raise money?

We need some specifics about the costs of the arena. The ESDC, which is supposed to oversee the project, should explain.


Posted by lumi at 6:41 AM

So, Daniel, how was YOUR weekend?

The Brooklyn Paper
By Gersh Kuntzman

When you're "Atlantic Yards most dogged critic," the price of admission to developer Forest City Enterprises's annual stockholder's meeting in Cleveland is just a few shares.

Daniel Goldstein of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, went to Cleveland on Friday to confront development company officials on why their project should be abandoned.

As one might expect, company officials were not persuaded.

Goldstein listed a litany of recent problems with the project, followed by a question:

“You don’t own the land you need or have the financing you need to construct the arena or the rest of the project. Yet you claim you will finance it, break ground this year and open the arena in 2011, which is already an impossibility. This means the losses from keeping the team in Meadowlands will continue to mount. “You also have a looming end-of-year IRS deadline to issue the tax-exempt arena bond, and missing the deadline would cost Forest City an estimated $150–190 million, likely spelling doom for the project.

“Given all of these challenges, can you let the Forest City Enterprises shareholders know [the] contingency plans if and when you don’t break ground in 2009 and can’t open the arena in Brooklyn in 2011?”

The answer came from Forest City Enterprises Co-chairman Al Ratner:

“The company does believe that it will start the project during this year,” he said, declining further comment because, he said, of ongoing litigation.


Posted by lumi at 6:28 AM

No hint of Phase 2, Site 5, or future Gehry role; also, has promised open space been cut from eight acres to six?

Atlantic Yards Report

Parsing through last week's press release, Norman Oder keeps track as Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner keeps backtracking:


Posted by lumi at 6:17 AM


Did someone say that the new design for the "Barclays Center" arena looks like an airplane hangar?

This cheeky photocollage by Abbey Weissman of SouthOxford.com was, "Created from a vintage photograph of Floyd Bennett Field from the website Abandoned & Little Known Airfields (photo courtesy of Everett Priestley of CGAS Brooklyn)."

Posted by lumi at 6:09 AM

It's Official (and Surprising to No One): Frank Gehry is Off Atlantic Yards


Remember the very long, drawn out process over the last few months where the only people who still believed Frank Gehry getting kicked off the Atlantic Yards project was mere rumor were those working PR for Bruce Ratner (the project's developer)?


NoLandGrab: Which makes us wonder why members of the press still take the Ratner PR flacks seriously.

Posted by lumi at 4:36 AM

June 7, 2009

Media Advisory

WHO: Willets Point United Against Eminent Domain Abuse and Councilman Tony Avella

WHAT: Press conference/Rally

WHERE: Shea Gas Station 127-48 Northern Blvd, Willets Point, Queens.

WHEN: Monday, June 8th at 1:30pm

WHY: The City Economic Development Corporation has announced condemnation proceedings against Willets Point business and property owners while Article 78 challenge is still pending in court. EDC has also decided to do this before negotiating with property owners and after telling many of them that negotiations will not start for more than a year.

CONTACT: Councilman Tony Avella: (718) 747-2137
Jerry Antonacci, President, WP United Against Eminent Domain Abuse, (718) 446-7297
Jake Bono, Spokesperson, WP United Against Eminent Domain Abuse (917) 334-7926

Posted by lumi at 8:50 PM

Atlantic Yards Team Fade-Out

From left to right: James Stuckey, Frank Gehry, Laurie Olin.

Posted by steve at 1:19 PM

Looking for Respect from Markowitz and A Walk Down A Memory Lane of Gehry Designs

Atlantic Yards Report

Marty Markowitz's (failure to) comment on the state Senate oversight hearing

Well, Borough President Marty Markowitz does try to instill an attitude of respect in Brooklyn.

However, the Beep, quick to opine on a myriad of issues--including democracy--has been strangely silent on the behavior of his pro-project allies at the state Senate oversight hearing May 29.

Screenshots of Gehry and his design from the AY and Barclays Center sites (before they disappear)


Given that the New York Times must have surprised Forest City Ratner by breaking the news Thursday that Frank Gehry was no longer designing the Atlantic Yards arena, FCR has not yet updated its Atlantic Yards site or the Barclays Center site, both of which tout Gehry and the 2008 iteration of his design.

Just in case the developer gets around to erasing the record, the screenshots below should provide a trip down memory lane...

Posted by steve at 8:32 AM

Markowitz Embraces New Arena Design

The New York Post catches Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz in a contradiction as he praises the new design for the proposed Barclays Center. Norman Oder hopes that this is the beginning of new wisdom for the Post.

New York Post, Brooklyn Beep's Big Basketball Spin

Now that star architect Frank Gehry is out as designer for the Nets' planned Brooklyn arena, Borough President Marty Markowitz is flip-flopping and claiming it's for the best.

In December 2003, when developer Bruce Ratner first unveiled his plans for the Atlantic Yards project in Prospect Heights, Markowitz called the Gehry design "world class."

But yesterday, a day after Ratner announced that Missouri-based Ellerbe Becket had been tapped to replace Gehry so arena costs could be shaved, Markowitz told The Post he now believes Gehry's glass-and-steel design was "too ultramodern."

"I think the new design is actually better for Brooklyn," said Markowitz, the project's biggest booster.

Gehry declined comment.

Atlantic Yards Report, The Post says Markowitz flip-flops (and what about the Mayor?)

So, a local newspaper is playing "gotcha," calling out one piece of AY hypocrisy. Let's see if there's more.

The New York Post reports: Now that star architect Frank Gehry is out as designer for the Nets' planned Brooklyn arena, Borough President Marty Markowitz is flip-flopping and claiming it's for the best.

In December 2003, when developer Bruce Ratner first unveiled his plans for the Atlantic Yards project in Prospect Heights, Markowitz called the Gehry design "world class."

But yesterday, a day after Ratner announced that Missouri-based Ellerbe Becket had been tapped to replace Gehry so arena costs could be shaved, Markowitz told The Post he now believes Gehry's glass-and-steel design was "too ultramodern."

The Post could have pointed to Mayor Mike Bloomberg's flip-flop, as well, but quoted Bloomberg's statement without comment.

Posted by steve at 8:17 AM

Marisa Lago Exit Roundup

Here's a quick look at coverage of the resignation of Marisa Lago, Head of the Empire State Development Corporation which is the state entity overseeing the proposed Atlantic Yards project.

The New York Times, Paterson’s Economic Development Chief Announces Resignation

One of New York State’s top economic development officials announced her resignation on Saturday, after less than a year in office, in yet another setback for the troubled agency she had been appointed to lead.

The official, Marisa Lago, president and chief executive of the Empire State Development Corporation, said she would step down at the end of the month, according to a press release from Gov. David A. Paterson’s office. Just last August, Mr. Paterson appointed Ms. Lago to run the agency, which had long been buffeted by turf wars, management problems and a lack of direction.


A spokesman for Mr. Wilmers, who is chairman and chief executive of MT Bank Corporation of Buffalo, said he could not be reached for comment on Ms. Lago’s departure or his role in the direction of the agency, which is involved in the expansion of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, the planned expansion of Pennsylvania Station and the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn.

Newsday, Head of NY economic development agency quits

The president of the state's economic development agency has quit after less than a year.

Gov. David Paterson announced Marisa Lago's resignation Saturday as president of the Empire State Development Corp. The former Wall Street executive was named to the job last August. She says she wants time to pursue jobs outside government.

Paterson praised Lago for pushing ahead work on the Javits Convention Center in New York City and Buffalo's Erie Canal Inner Harbor.

The economic meltdown has stalled several of the agency's key projects, including the rebuilding of Penn Station and the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn.

Dennis Mullen, upstate president of the agency, will take over Lago's positions.

NY1, Economic Development Head To Step Down

The head of the Empire State Development Corporation and the Department of Economic Development is stepping down.

Marisa Lago was appointed eight months ago and issued a statement saying she wants to pursue positions outside of state government.

The corporation provides state financing for projects like Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn which underwent a major redesign this week, with the replacement of architect Frank Gehry.

The Empire State Development Corporation's Upstate President, Dennis Mullen, will replace Lago.

AP Via WCAX-TV, Head of NY economic development agency quits

The president of the state's economic development agency has quit after less than a year.

Gov. David Paterson announced Marisa Lago's resignation Saturday as president of the Empire State Development Corp. The former Wall Street executive was named to the job last August. She says she wants time to pursue jobs outside government.

Paterson praised Lago for pushing ahead work on the Javits Convention Center in New York City and Buffalo's Erie Canal Inner Harbor.

The economic meltdown has stalled several of the agency's key projects, including the rebuilding of Penn Station and the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn.

Dennis Mullen, upstate president of the agency, will take over Lago's positions.

Lago joins top administration aides to leave in recent weeks, including Insurance Superintendent Eric Dinallo and budget director Laura Anglin.

Posted by steve at 7:53 AM

Atlantic Yards Report Looks at "Brutally Weird" Criticism of Project Opponents

Atlantic Yards Report

Brutally weird: Post columnist blames "cunning, well-financed"... DDDB

A column by Steve Cuozzo was so wrong in so many ways that opponents of Atlantic Yards were likely just to dismiss it without a second thought. Norman Oder has the patience to go over each point.

New York Post columnist Steve Cuozzo is giving the Courier-Life's Stephen Witt a run for his money in brutally weird interpretations of Atlantic Yards.

In a column headlined 'NET' LOSS IS DEVASTATING: DREAM PROJECT DEAD WITHOUT GEHRY, Cuozzo laments Forest City Ratner's decision to trade architect Frank Gehry's magnificent design for the Nets arena" for a design he likens to a "Dumpster" in comparison to Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

[Here's DDDB's response: NY Post real estate columnist Steve Cuozzo writes an Orwellian column, where it is Develop Don't Destroy that has been the "Orwellian-titled," "well-financed," "bullying", "liars." Not Ratner with his billionaire Cleveland backers, his orchestrated bullying disruptions of public hearings by his surrogates and partners, and his—yes we'll use the word—lying (see: Gehry, Frank, still "our lead architect").]

Cuozzo offers a conclusory lament: Reconfiguring the arena and much else on the site will require a whole new set of state and city approvals for design and financing -- a return to square one when the credit markets are frozen and government has no appetite for subsidizing developers.

There's no way to sugar-coat the calamity. There's near-zero hope for Ratner's declared plan to proceed. With apologies to "King Lear," nothing more will come of nothing.

Can't the man read? His own newspaper reported today that there will be no need to re-approve the design, just the financing. And that's expected to be rubber-stamped on June 24, starting a 60-day process.

Nor does he bother to inquire why Gehry's arena, approved in 2006 at $637.2 million, ballooned by half, and is being replaced by a pedestrian arena with an $800 million price tag. Why did costs go up?

Missing the boom?

Cuozzo sounds like he hasn't gotten outside of Manhattan much, writing: Its tall towers weren't necessarily in the same league. But the multi-use arena, beautiful and humane, was possessed of the transformative power unique to the greatest architecture. At a stroke, it would have ennobled and energized a swath of Brooklyn that the boom mostly passed by.

He should have checked this October 2006 New York Times article on Prospect Heights.

Blaming DDDB

Cuozzo writes: Great enterprise requires great ambition and courage. Ratner had both, but he needed to start work immediately. The main reason he couldn't was the Orwellian-titled Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn -- a cunning, well-financed advocacy group that sued, lied and bullied for four years, all with the purpose of foiling development.

DDDB's raised about $1 million, which is about how much Forest City Ratner spends on lobbying each year. And it's certainly less than the amount Forest City Ratner has paid Community Benefits Agreement signatories, given the developer's $1.5 million bailout (including a $1 million loan) of ACORN, a piece of news that seems to have evaded Cuozzo.

The Orwell prize, actually, remains with former Forest City Ratner point man Jim Stuckey.

Missing the facts

You'd think a columnist might be curious about Forest City Ratner's continued attempts to renegotiate the deal, notably a much-lowered initial payment of $20 million--instead of $100 million--to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Or the developer's willingness to help orchestrate a hijacking of a state Senate oversight hearing.

Rather, facts are so distant from Cuozzo that he calls the project a "15-building kit and caboodle on the triangular site where Atlantic and Flatbush avenues diverge."

It's not even close to a triangular site. And it was approved at 17 buildings: an arena and 16 towers.

Brutally weird: Markowitz says legal challenges to AY are examples of misusing democracy

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and New York Post columnist Steve Cuozzo are apparently drinking the same Kool-Aid.

Markowitz, opining on democracy, might have taken the opportunity to criticize the pro-Atlantic Yards people who hijacked the May 29 state Senate oversight hearing on Atlantic Yards. He might have mused on whether unelected, quasi-public bodies like the Empire State Development Corporation are sufficiently transparent or whether eminent domain law in New York state needs a revision.

He might even, should he look in the mirror, wonder whether the overturning and extension of term limits, which gave incumbents like himself an enormous advantage, was really so healthy, given that all potential Democratic challengers for his post have withdrawn.

No. Instead he blamed Atlantic Yards opponents for seeking redress through the courts. And the Courier-Life, often friendly to Markowitz, didn't let him off the hook.

The article

The article, headlined "Just too much democracy for Marty," begins: Former President George W. Bush was always fond of saying how much easier governing the United States would be if only it were a dictatorship. Old Number 43 may be history, but that sentiment about our democracy has apparently not faded out with him.

Earlier this week, Borough President Marty Markowitz told the Manhattan Beach Neighborhood Association meeting at PS. 195 on Irwin Street, "I love democracy. It works. It's always worked for us. But you can use it for good, and you can use it sometimes where it may not be good."

The borough president-- currently running for a third term - was talking about legal challenges to the Atlantic Yards project and his ongoing efforts to transform the borough.

"Having the [New Jersey] Nets and having an arena in Brooklyn opens up unbelievable opportunities for economic growth," Markowitz declared.

As for economic growth, Markowitz is assigned to read the works of Brooklyn author Neil deMause.

Posted by steve at 7:26 AM

Gehry: Going, going, going... gone (Part Quatre)

Gothamist, Bloomberg, Markowitz Support New Brooklyn Nets Arena Design

Now that Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner has kicked renowned architect Frank Gehry's design for the (potential) future home of the Brooklyn Nets aside for a less expensive design by way of Kansas firm Ellerbe Becket, it's time for politicians to weigh in. Mayor Bloomberg said he understood the economic realities that Ratner was facing; the Post reports that he said on his radio show, "I think Ratner came to the conclusion, in this day and age, you just cannot finance something as complex to build. There's no such thing as a straight wall with Frank. Frank is into curves."

Gehry's design would have cost $1 billion, while the Ellerbe Becket design could be around $200 million less. Bloomberg did pump Gehry up, also saying, "Frank Gehry, who is a genius, designed a spectacular [arena]." The Post also notices that Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz seems to have backtracked on his statement that the Gehry design is "world class"—now the Beep says Gehry's design is "too ultra-modern...I think the new design is actually better for Brooklyn."

And the Post's Steve Cuozzo laments the end of the Gehry design, "SO sad. So irreversible. And so inevitable... The new arena design now on the table bears as much resemblance to Gehry's as a Dumpster does to his Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao." He lays blame (credit?) for the Gehry structure's demise on the "Orwellian-titled" Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn for stalling Ratner's Atlantic Yards development for the past four years. DDDB writes, "While Cuozzo is correct that dumping Gehry could be devastating for the Atlantic Yards project (though his hyperbole that the project is dead is Orwellian), his Orwellian doublethink, newspeak makes milk come out of our noses, full speed. "

Tao of FAU, Downtown Brooklyn is saved

Just a reminder: Prospect Heights, the site of the proposed Atlantic Yards, is not in downtown Brooklyn.

In 2003, when I lived in Park Slope, I loved the idea of a basketball team in Brooklyn, especially one right next to the spot where the Dodgers would have moved had Robert Moses not blocked their stadium. But, like many, I was not happy with the details: the high towers, the arena by Ghery, etc.

Full disclosure: I love architecture. I am fascinated by it. I like all types and styles of architecture from classical to modern to postmodern. I also HATE Frank Ghery. I think he is a hack who took one idea (lots of reflective metal) and stretched it out for far too long.

So I welcome this move and the fact that the recession may cause the whole project to get scaled down. Brooklyn needs development, but not the kind that will radically interrupt it's character.

Archsource, Ghery Officially Off Barclay Center Designs

The Barclay Center, which is to be the Nets new basketball arena had originally intended to be the main focal point and anchor of Frank Ghery's sprawling 22-acre Atlantic Yards complex located in central Brooklyn. Now it seems that though Ghery will be master planner for the site, the "starchitects" firm had been replaced by Ellerbe Becket as designer of the arena itself.

One reason that seems very likely is that Ghery's proposal as usual would end up being way to pricey and indeed Forest City Ratner, the developers said in the statement. “The current economic climate is not right for this design, and with Frank’s understanding, the arena is undergoing a redesign that will make it more limited in scope.” So what happened to his magic "Digital Project" software? According to the Times, the arena is now expected to cost $800 million, down from a projected $1 billion.

Posted by steve at 6:58 AM

Hanger Wan

Gumby Fresh

Here's one that was missed yesterday. Gumby Fresh muses on both last week's state oversight hearing and Frank Gehry's departure from the proposed Atlantic Yards project.

About the hearing:

I'm still unsure about the provenance of the people who were so insecure about the Atlantic Yards rationale that they needed to drown out a rather milque-toast set of interrogations. I read variously that they were genuine unionised construction workers or a mob assembled by the community groups that Ratner has paid to support the project. That said, I have an enduring fascination with the iconography of the American hard-hat. That the use of the hard-hat in the practice of wedge politics still has an edge even as America's native working class has largely abandoned the construction sector to recent, usually non-union, immigrants, and the country's heavy industry sector has hollowed out.

About Gehry:

I was tempted to carve out the news about the replacement of Frank Gehry with the hanger-building hacks into its own post, but the pub beckons, and I don't have much to say about architecture.

I'll just leave you with this datapoint. Last year, the Louisville Arena Authority started construction on a $238 million arena with a capacity of 22,000 seats. That can host ice shows, concerts and swimming. Even after tossing Frank Gehry's design and "value engineering" the hell out of the arena, they've managed to come up with an $800 million arena that won't host ice hockey and has a capacity of 18,000. AND IS UGLY AS HELL.

I'm not going to go over the model again. I'm not even going to argue about whether New Yorkers are going to pour three times as much love into a second-rate NBA basketball franchise as the good people of Louisville will into their top-ranked NCAA basketball franchise.

Let's remember the lower naming rights payments from Barclays, the slowing economy, the lackluster suite sales, the crumbling political support and say: Good. Luck. With. Your. $800 million. Hanger. Brooce.


Posted by steve at 6:47 AM

June 6, 2009



NY Post
by Steve Cuozzo

The Post columnist is bereft over what he believes is Atlantic Yards's fate.

There's no way to sugar-coat the calamity. There's near-zero hope for Ratner's declared plan to proceed. With apologies to "King Lear," nothing more will come of nothing.

You'll never guess where he lays the blame.

Great enterprise requires great ambition and courage. Ratner had both, but he needed to start work immediately. The main reason he couldn't was the Orwellian-titled Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn -- a cunning, well-financed advocacy group that sued, lied and bullied for four years, all with the purpose of foiling development.

DDDB co-founder Daniel Goldstein gloated time and again over the effectiveness of his delaying tactics. He ran Ratner ragged until the bottom fell out of the market and made financing impossible.

So, don't expect Brooklyn's ugliest wasteland of exposed rail tracks and rat-strewn lots to blossom -- the Dodgers will return sooner.


NoLandGrab: Cuozzo appears to be off his meds, or maybe suffering from hallucinations. We really shouldn't waste our time on this brand of twaddle, but we feel a duty to correct his "Orwellian" load of bull.

Courage? Ratner may have ambition, but courageous he ain't. Try greedy.

Orwellian-titled? Not even close. DDDB, and nearly everyone else opposed to Atlantic Yards, has advocated tirelessly for the UNITY Plan, a version of which Vanderbilt railyard high-bidder Extell Development was ready to build — more than three years ago.

Well-financed? That's priceless. Shall they buy or lease a corporate jet? DDDB has been supported by 4,000 community donors whose median donation is about $50. Forest City Ratner has been given $305 million cash money by the City and State, and total subsidies pledged for Atlantic Yards are most likely north of one billion dollars.

Lied? We invite Mr. Cuozzo to point out any lies by Atlantic Yards opponents. To help him better recognize lying, we point him to Forest City Ratner's "liar fliers."

Bullied? Apparently, Mr. Cuozzo is confusing project opponents with project supporters, many of whom are recognizable by their spotless hardhats, brand-new safety vests and ear-piercing whistles.

Lastly, those rat-strewn lots, Mr. Cuozzo, are courtesy of the "courageous" Bruce Ratner."

Hope you're right about the fate of Atlantic Yards, though. Have a nice day!

Posted by eric at 12:56 PM

On Second Thought

by Martin Pedersen

The Metropolis columnist, who wrote what he terms a carefully hedged appraisal of the Atlantic Yards project more than five years ago (seems like a fair description), symbolically joins with critics and opponents of Bruce Ratner's boondoggle.

In fairness to the opposition, Forest City never engaged the community in a serious dialogue. They did try to buy off and co-opt various neighborhood factions, but the sheer size of the project—and the possibility of scaling it down—was never up for discussion. And, yes, it seems as if the opposition was right about Frank Gehry’s real role here: he was the pixie dust that Ratner & Co. sprinkled over the project to make it more attractive to culturally susceptible types like me, and the late Herbert Muschamp, and good government groups like the Municipal Art Society (who in the Times today began to express their doubts).

I think today’s news should be greeted for what it is: an act of desperation on the part of Forest City Ratner. The clock is ticking. According to Charles Bagli of the Times, Forest City must start the arena by December or they will lose the ability to use tax-exempt bonds. As it stands today, Atlantic Yards is no longer a massive mixed-used development featuring a glitzy arena by Frank Gehry (World’s Most Celebrated Architect), but a stand-alone building that, according to Bagli, “bears a likeness to an ‘airplane hanger.’” And if the arena does move forward, given the current state of commercial and residential real estate, that is all we’re likely to get on that corner for many, many years to come. So, put me down as a “No!” for that one. Here’s hoping Daniel Goldstein can successfully stall into the new year.


NoLandGrab: Given reports that Ellerbe Becket has been consulting with Forest City since 2006, it's possible that Ratner never intended to build a Gehry-designed project. Regardless, the bloom is now fully off the rose, and all that's left are thorns.

Posted by eric at 12:13 PM

Oversight hearing coverage in the weeklies: underplayed in the Brooklyn Paper, predictably mangled in the Courier-Life

Brooklyn residents depend on local papers to stay close to important stories. Norman Oder looks at the coverage of last week's state Senate oversight hearing (the first such hearing ever held for the project) given by The Brooklyn Paper and the Courier Life.

He wonders why The Brooklyn Paper, despite some in-depth coverage in the past of the proposed Atlantic Yards project, seems reticent to give the hearing proper coverage.

Now we have an oversight hearing hijacked by groups supported by or orchestrated by Forest City Ratner--an event that led one onlooker to describe it to me as "something out of Weimar Germany" --and the Brooklyn Paper puts the article on page 5 and (see below) gives the same space to a meaningless challenge to Borough President Marty Markowitz from a Republican who thinks the Beep doesn't defend Atlantic Yards enough (see below).

Instead, a "fun" feature attempting to plumb the difference, book-wise, between Park Slope and Prospect Heights makes the front page.

And the Brooklyn Paper, rather than editorializing about the shameful behavior of protesters or the deceptions by government officials, chose to opine about the Fulton Street BID.


That said, the Brooklyn Paper's report was creditable, if relatively brief, while the sister Courier-Life chain's article, as noted below, was predictably obtuse.

The Brooklyn Paper article, headlined LIRR chief: Sweeter MTA deal for Ratner could get Yards back on track, got the gist: Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner is poised to receive new, generous terms from the MTA that supporters say could jumpstart his stalled mega-project even as a new report revealed that the city would actually lose money on the basketball arena at the heart of the $4-billion housing and office complex.

And the newspaper noted the curious behavior at the hearing: No one from Forest City Ratner appeared at the hearing, the Senate’s first investigation into the 22-acre development.

The company’s presence was felt in the form of 200 or so construction workers (and would-be construction workers) who showed their support — punctuated by frequently shouting down their opponents.

Despite its shortcomings, The Brooklyn Paper's coverage looks great next to what is presented by the Courier-Life:

The Courier-Life article, by the redoubtably pro-project Stephen Witt, focused on the MTA land sale. It curiously omitted any mention of testimony by the Independent Budget Office's George Sweeting, who estimated that the arena, once predicted to supply a modest boost in tax revenues for the city, would instead be a loss.

The article misidentified the 8.5-acre MTA railyard as 11 acres. And it stated that Forest City has been "winning lawsuit after lawsuit," which is incorrect; the developer, for example, was not party to the state eminent domain lawsuit, which was filed against the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC).

And there was a nice unattributed quote from an ESDC spokesperson: "We can all agree having the project stalled doesn't help anybody, especially when this project can bring forth jobs to residents of Brooklyn."

Helping anybody? Unmentioned is that the major beneficiary would be Forest City Ratner.

And what happened?

The article gave one acknowledgment, in the third-to-last paragraph to the disarray at the hearing: The developments follow a recent raucous Senate hearing on the project last week at Pratt Institute, in which hundreds of community and union members repeatedly interrupted the proceeding with catcalls and demands that it's time to start the project.

Unmentioned: that's behavior for a political rally, not an oversight hearing.


Posted by steve at 12:12 PM

Norman Oder on Atlantic Yards Oversight

Brian Lehrer Live

CUNY TV posted video of the segment from Wednesday's show featuring Atlantic Yards Report's Norman Oder, which you can watch right here. It's Must-See TV for anyone interested in the truth about the Atlantic Yards project.

Norman Oder on Atlantic Yards Oversight from Brian Lehrer Live on Vimeo.

Posted by eric at 11:58 AM

More Disarray for the ESDC: Chairwoman Marisa Lago Quits

Develop Don't Destroy's take on the resignation of Marisa Lago, the CEO of the ESDC, is notable because it includes a list of individuals who have played a part in the Atlantic Yards saga over the years.

First Ratner dumped Gehry on Thursday. On Friday, according to the NY Observer, the Chair of the Empire State Development Corporation, Marisa Lago, called it quits only ten months after her appointment. This will bring even more disarray to the dysfunctional ESDC at a time when it is trying to fasttrack a modified Atlantic Yards plan.

Apparently the Lago testimony at last week's Atlantic Yards Senate hearing was her grand finale.

Ms. Lago, we hardly knew ye.

While we're on this subject, here is a list of all of those Atlantic Yards players who have come and gone while the opposition fights on into the end of its sixth year:

George Pataki
Eliot Spitzer

Roger Green

ESDC Heads:
Charles Gargano
Patrick Foye
Avi Schick
Marisa Lago

MTA Heads:
Peter Kalikow
Katherine Lapp
Eliot Sander

Team Ratner:
Frank Gehry
Jim Stuckey
Loren Riegelhaupt
Randall Toure

Team Nets:
Kenyon Martin
Jason Kidd
Richard Jefferson

(Any key players we're missing is unintended.)


NoLandGrab: All of these folks will be included in the Atlantic Yards Fight edition of 'Trivial Pursuit'.

Posted by steve at 8:01 AM

Marisa Lago, CEO of the ESDC, Quits

The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) is the state entity in charge of the proposed Atlantic Yards project. How will the loss of the head of the ESDC effect the project? It's too soon to tell, but here's an account of the resignation from The Observer and commentary from the Atlantic Yards Report.

The Observer, Marisa Lago, Paterson’s Development Chief, Quits

Marisa Lago, the state’s top economic development official since August 2008, is resigning from her post, according to multiple people informed of the decision, adding to a growing number of top aides to leave the Paterson administration.

As CEO of the Empire State Development Corporation, her departure adds to the turmoil at an agency that has seen its fair share in recent years. The agency, which oversees incentive programs statewide and large-scale development projects in New York City, has been rocked by infighting, both between Ms. Lago and ESDC chairman Bob Wilmers, and among top Spitzer administration officials as well. (Much more on the disorder at ESDC in an article I wrote a few weeks back).

According to multiple people who have talked with Ms. Lago directly, she has expressed unhappiness in the position, perhaps in part because she did not have as strong a connection with the governor or his top aides as did previous officials in that post.

Atlantic Yards Report, Observer: internal ESDC turmoil leads to resignation of CEO Lago; AYR: did testimony gnaw at her conscience?

The New York Observer reports that Empire State Development Corporation CEO Marisa Lago has resigned after little more than nine months in her post.

She was appointed last August, along with Upstate ESDC President Dennis Mullen. No Downstate President has been appointed, and the tensions between Lago and Chairman Bob Wilmers were the subject of an Observer report last month.


There's no evidence that Lago's performance on Atlantic Yards led to her resignation, but her deceptive testimony at last Friday's state Senate oversight hearing (video excerpt here) could not have impressed her superiors. And perhaps it gnawed a bit at her conscience.

What does this mean for Atlantic Yards? Unclear, but maybe it's good to have volunteer help, given the role of Susan Rahm, who has a murky role, perhaps as project manager. Someone will have to be in charge of the ESDC on June 24 when the authority is expected to adopt a revision of the Modified General Project Plan for AY.

When the project was approved, Charles Gargano ran the ESDC. The Spitzer Administration brought in Patrick Foye. When Foye left, Avi Schick was acting head. Lago came next. (DDDB has a list of more Atlantic Yards players who've moved on.)

Posted by steve at 7:29 AM

Silver hints W.T.C. consensus is to build more towers

Downtown Express
By Julie Shapiro

The main point of this article is to try to understand what is planned for the World Trade Center Site, even though elected officials are keeping those plans secret. The proposed Atlantic Yards project gets a mention.

Silver listed the other office projects that are falling through, from Hudson Yards to Atlantic Yards, which will make the World Trade Center towers all the more important.


Posted by steve at 7:12 AM

Bloomberg, who once said we don't have to settle for the conventional, now praises new arena design, ignores other AY changes

Atlantic Yards Report

Earlier today, on the radio show Live from City Hall with Mayor Mike and John Gambling, Mayor Mike Bloomberg offered expected support for Forest City Ratner's vastly changed design for the Atlantic Yards arena and arena block, saying the new design was more affordable.

Bloomberg, not unexpectedly, did not bring up the loss of the planned office building that was supposed to bring significant new revenues, or the attached Urban Room. Nor was he asked about the Independent Budget Office testimony that the arena would actually be a money loser for the city.

Nor did anyone bring up that the reported $800 million price tag is significantly more than the $637.2 million figure announced when the project was approved in December 2006. No one has explained why the cost of the arena has gone up so much.

Bloomberg did say that Forest City Ratner and architect Frank Gehry "decided to part company," even though Gehry, at least in some accounts, remains the project's master-planner. But Bloomberg sure sounded like he got his information secondhand.


Posted by steve at 6:49 AM

Daniel Goldstein of DDDB Attends Forest City Annual Meeting

Develop Don't Destroy spokesman Daniel Goldstein attended yesterday's Forest City Enterprises' annual meeting to ask questions about the status of the proposed Atlantic Yards project. It makes sense to travel to Cleveland since state officials here in New York keep much about the project a secret.

Atlantic Yards Report, DDDB’s Goldstein goes to annual meeting in Cleveland, publicly asks Forest City questions, gets shrugged off

Goldstein was the first and only questioner. He spoke respectfully but his words were not those of a happy investor but of a company critic. (Had he been speaking at last Friday’s oversight hearing, supporters orchestrated by Forest City Ratner would have quickly shouted him down.)

“My name is Daniel Goldstein. I am shareholder. Thank you for allowing me to speak,” he said, noting he’d have a comment and then some questions. [Goldstein bought a few shares earlier this year to be able to attend.]

Forest City, he noted, is losing some $30 million a year owning the New Jersey Nets. The AY project is being redesigned, faces new political approvals, and faces a “staunch and widespread opposition.” (Well, it also has a lot of political juice.)

He cited ongoing litigation, diminished political support, and an “extremely challenging economic environment for an $800 million arena and 6400 housing units.”

Yesterday, he noted, it became official that architect Frank Gehry was no longer designing the arena, thus raising questions about the $400 million naming-rights deal with Barclays and thus the arena revenue model.

Forest City doesn’t own the land it needs or have the financing it needs to start the arena, he pointed out. “Yet the company claims it will finance the project, break ground and open the arena in 2011,” Goldstein said, suggesting that losses will continue to mount.


Forest City has an end of year deadline for tax-exempt arena bonds that would save the developer at least $150 million, Goldstein said, then offering questions:

  • Given all of these challenges, can you let Forest City shareholders know what contingencies you have if you can’t break ground in 2009 and can’t open the arena in 2011?
  • And why has Forest City chosen this particular project, “fraught with so many major obstacles,” as the only development to begin vertical construction this year?

FCE Co-Chairman Albert Ratner, on the webcast, seemed nonplused. “The company does believe that it will start the project during this year,” he said. Then, he calmly evaded the rest of the questions by claiming that ongoing litigation precludes further discussion of the issue.

Of course ongoing litigation did not deter an announcement about Gehry yesterday.

Even if construction begins in this calendar year, Forest City can’t open the arena in 2011—Ellerbe Becket arenas take 27+ months to build—so that’s a question that should be asked again and again of those promoting the project.

The Plain Dealer, Atlantic Yards opponent, Daniel Goldstein, shows up at Forest City Enterprises' annual meeting

Executives at Forest City Enterprises Inc. got a bit of a surprise Friday when the most vocal opponent of the company's Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, N.Y. showed up at the annual shareholders' meeting.

But an exchange between Daniel Goldstein and Forest City Co-Chairman Albert Ratner was short and polite, doing little to detract from the meeting's generally upbeat tone. Goldstein, whose apartment sits in the path of the project, raised questions about Forest City's ability to pull off the $4 billion, 22-acre development.

Ratner responded simply: Forest City believes it will start the project this year, beginning with a new arena for the New Jersey Nets basketball team. Then, citing outstanding litigation, he ended the conversation.

Posted by steve at 6:31 AM

Gehry: Going, going, going... gone (Part Trois)

Here are yet more takes on the starchitect Frank Gehry's exit from the proposed Atlantic Yards project.

Artinfo, Gehry Arena Design for Atlantic Yards Project Dropped

A Frank Gehry–designed, $1 billion glass-walled basketball arena for the Nets is now out of play at Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards project. The project’s developer, Bruce Ratner, has scrapped Gehry’s proposal primarily for economic reasons in favor of a less expensive design from architectural firm Ellerbe Becket.

Still, Gehry, the award-winning architect behind the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, remains the master planner for the 22-acre, $4 billion development. The arena is the centerpiece of Atlantic Yards, which has had to deal with a host of obstacles, including lawsuits and a collapsing real estate market. Ratner is trying to cut costs and start construction of the 20,000-seat arena by the end of the year. He’s also had to delay a proposed office tower and plans to build 6,400 apartments, some reserved for low- to middle-income families. The new arena design will cost about $200 million less than Gehry’s now-scuttled proposal.

AP (Via The Globe and Mail), Developer replaces Gehry as architect of arena

The owner of the New Jersey Nets has replaced the Canadian-born architect of a pricey planned arena in Brooklyn. The $1-billion Frank Gehry-designed arena was a centrepiece of the $4-billion (U.S.) Atlantic Yards development of office towers and apartments, but has been scrapped for a cheaper design.

UPI, Gehry off New York arena project

Famed architect Frank Gehry announced he is no longer involved with the planned Atlantic Yards basketball arena in New York.

A spokesman for Gehry, who had created a futuristic metallic design for the proposed NBA arena, said the split between the architect and developer Forest City Ratner was amicable and Gehry will still be working with the company on the Beekman Tower project in New York, the New York Daily News reported Friday.

Gotham Gazette, After Gehry

So what effect will Bruce Ratner’s decision to drop Frank Gehry’s much-touted design for the basketball arena mean to the future of Atlantic Yards? For one thing, the massive complex when — or more accurately if — built will have little resemblance to the glossy original plans.

The switch to a more conventional arena designed by Ellerbe Becket could save $200 million, a key consideration at a time when money for real estate projects is tight. And, the Times reported, Ratner has to act quickly. He has to start building the home for the Nets by the end of the year, according to Charles Bagli’s article, or face losing his right to use tax-exempt financing.


Such a change could reinvigorate opposition to the entire project. “The current Atlantic Yards plan bears increasingly less resemblance to the project that was approved in 2006,” said Vin Cipolla, the president of the Municipal Art Society, told Bagli. “The replacement of Gehry further reduces the public benefits of the project, which urgently needs re-evaluation and oversight.”

Engineering News-Record, Ellerbe Becket Replaces Gehry As Architect for Brooklyn Arena

Architect Ellerbe Becket, Kansas City, has been retained by Nets owner and Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner, of Forest City Ratner Cos., to come up with a new design for the long-delayed and controversial Atlantic Yards basketball and entertainment arena in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Ellerbe Becket replaces Gehry Partners. Other key designers, New York City-based structural engineer Thornton-Tomasetti, and mechanical-electrical-plumbing engineer, WSP Flack + Kurtz, will remain on the project.

New York Press, Frank Gehry's Nets Arena Design is Dropped

The New York Times is reporting that the recession has trimmed back the development of Atlantic Yards in a major way. Developers have scrapped Frank Gehry’s $1 billion design for the new Nets Stadium in favor of a $200 million cheaper design from the Kansas City based architecture firm Ellerbe Beckett. The developer of Atlantic Yards, and chief executive of Forest City, Bruce C. Ratner saying, “the current economic climate is not right for this design,” continuing, “and with Frank’s understanding, the arena is undergoing a redesign that will make it more limited in scope."

In his article, Charles Bagli sums up some of the major problems the project is facing, “the developer is under pressure to get government approval for changes to the development’s master plan and to start the arena by December, before he loses the ability to use tax-exempt bonds. Ratner must also hold together a group of corporate advertisers at a time when companies are trying to shed those kind of financial obligations.”

Daily Intel, Frank Gehry Officially Out at Atlantic Yards Stadium

After years of lawsuits, cost-cutting, and public debate, Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards stadium project has been reborn again— this time without starchitect Frank Gehry and his daring $1 billion design. The new version of the arena will be $200 million cheaper and designed by Kansas City firm Ellerbe Becket, architects who specialize in stadiums and convention centers. The new Atlantic Yards design revealed on the Times Website—which includes the plan for the massive new Nets basketball stadium—resembles their Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, home to the Indiana Pacers. From the looks of it, the building will be a lot less striking than the glass bubble amid Gehry’s wobbly pile of boxes, but rumors that he was out have been building for months, and reports of the scaling back of his design bit by bit have been trickling out for over a year now...

Posted by steve at 5:40 AM

June 5, 2009

State Senator Perkins Hosts First Hearing on Atlantic Yards

Our Time Press
by Mary Alice Miller

Helena Williams, president of the Long Island Railroad and the interim executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, touted Atlantic Yards’ benefits to public transportation system: new rail yards, a new subway entrance for the arena, and new tax revenues (based upon the assumption that fans from NJ would come to Brooklyn to see the Nets). After intense questioning, Williams admitted the original 2006 deal for Ratner to pay MTA $100 million for the Vanderbilt rail yard would have to be modified due to the current economic climate. When pressed if it would be closer to $50 million, Williams said there may be an upfront payment of $20 million with incremental payments as MTA parcels are consumed by the project. In addition, the new rail yard would be downscaled from nine to seven rails to reduce costs. A final determination is expected when the MTA holds its next board meeting on June 24.


NoLandGrab: Given the radical new undesign of the Conseco Fieldhouse, um, new Barclays Center, is that "new subway entrance for the arena" even in the cards anymore? Is there any benefit to the MTA at this point?

Posted by eric at 2:26 PM

Atlantic Yards Nets Arena: From "World Class" to Provincial Crass

by John Del Signore

The Conseco Fieldhouse, er, new Barclays Center, is not dazzling the folks over at Gothamist.

So redesign it they did, if by redesign you mean a banal homage to any number of unremarkable "field house" arenas across America; places where you can watch college ball, check out weekend flea markets, and sometimes see Ice Capades. But that last diversion won't even be an option for New Yorkers, because unlike Gehry's design, the Ellerbe Becket reboot doesn't include a rink. Of course, there's nothing inherently wrong with a modest, utilitarian hangar like this, but after all Ratner's talk about Gehry's "world class" designs, and all the legal battles and controversy and threats, this is best they could come up with for Brooklyn?

It's tempting to call it a joke, but it's on taxpayers and Brooklyn residents and businesses the city has been trying to relocate for years. In a press release announcing the new design, Ratner blames opposition groups for delaying this boondoggle for so long that the "slowing economy" finally made the more ambitious designs untenable. Develop Don't Destroy, the developer's main foe, fires back, and sees the whole debacle as a bait and switch:

[Forest City Ratner] should blame themselves for their arena going from really bad to worse... Here's our explanation: Forest City Ratner's reckless incompetency as a mega-developer, leading to an inability to manage costs. Because if incompetency is not the reason, then it is very likely that Ratner never intended to construct a Gehry-designed arena, but rather used the starchitect for publicity to gain respect and applause from cultural critics and media elites, and get the project approved. And then, throw the Gehry design under the bus.


Posted by eric at 1:04 PM

Gehry: Going, going, going... gone (Part Deux)

Lots of news coverage today. Here are a few stories that have come in over the past couple hours — or managed to wriggle through our usually trusty boondoggle net.

NY1, Famed Architect Departs Atlantic Yards Project [with video]

The group Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, which has been fighting the project, is calling on Governor David Paterson to stop the development. They say it will not deliver on Ratner's promises.

"This is just one more piece of evidence that they never intended to build it the way they said they would," said Candance Carponter of Develop, Don't Destroy Brooklyn. "It's really, at this point, the icing on the cake, because one of the main draws was Frank Gehry and obviously he was too expensive or they couldn't build the plan they wanted and it's another bait and switch from Forest City Ratner."

WNYC Radio, Developer Replaces Architect of NJ Nets Arena

Ratner used Gehry's name liberally while winning government approvals for Atlantic Yards. But in the end the developer couldn't afford the world-famous architect. Gehry's design would've cost nearly a billion dollars. Instead, Ratner has turned the project over to Ellerbe Becket, a lesser-known firm that's designed NBA arenas in Memphis, Tennessee, and Charlotte, North Carolina. The developer says Ellerbe Becket's design will be "more limited in scope" and images will be shown later this month. Ratner's office hasn't said whether Gehry will continue as architect for any of the other 16 buildings at Atlantic Yards.

The Architect's Newspaper, Gehry'd Away

Asked for a timeline on the rest of the project, which includes 16 residential and office towers in addition to the arena, the [Ratner] spokesperson said that remained undecided, as the first priority was finishing the arena. But the spokesperson also suggested that Gehry Partners’ involvement might have come to an end. “Frank might design one of the buildings later, I don’t think it’s impossible,” the spokesperson said. “But right now, he just the master planner.”

Gehry had long been seen as a linchpin to the project’s success, touted on the Atlantic Yards website and by numerous politicians. At the announcement of the project in December 2003, Borough President Marty Markowitz declared, “Brooklyn is a world-class city, and it deserves a world-class team in a world-class arena designed by a world-class architect.”

NorthJersey.com, Nets replace renowned architect Gehry as Barclays Center designer

The more modest design may help in reducing the overall cost, but it could make it more difficult for the Nets to market the arena to potential sponsors as an internationally renowned project. Nets Chief Executive Brett Yormark said last year he was pitching the Barclays Center to potential European corporate partners not as an arena but “as a landmark.”

The Nets, who have a year-to-year lease to remain at the Meadowlands’ Izod Center, are running out of time to break ground in time for a fall 2011 opening in Brooklyn.

GlobeSt.com, Gehry Off the Job at Atlantic Yards

As recently as last Tuesday, Ellerbe Becket principal Bill Crocket told GlobeSt.com, "we are working with Forest City Ratner, doing analysis, and as far as when any decision is going to be reached, I can’t tell you." He added that he didn’t think any decisions about timing, or anything else, had been made at that point. But that was Tuesday, and as has been the case at Atlantic Yards, events change almost daily.

NoLandGrab: It would be more accurate to say "stories change almost daily."

Posted by eric at 12:13 PM

It Came from the Blogosphere... (Frank, we hardly knew ye edition)

Brownstoner, Gehry Officially Off Yards Project

Unfortunately for all of us, The Times describes the new design as bearing a resemblance to Conseco Field as well as an "airplane hangar."

Curbed, The De-Frankified Barclays Center React-o-Matic!

Curbed serves up a round-up of some reactions to the Gehry news, with a Bob Guskind-esque headline, who, it so happens, was honored last night with a posthumous award for community service by the Park Slope Civic Council.

Following yesterday's formal announcement of the junking of starchitect Frank Gehry's Atlantic Yards arena for a cheaper design, a look at how the Interweb is reacting to the new Barclays Center, aka The Hangar.

The Local [Fort Greene/Clinton Hill], Arena Plan: Gehry Out, Ellerbe In

Our colleague Charles Bagli reports over on the mother Web site that Forest City Ratner has formally dropped Frank Gehry’s plan for a billion-dollar arena at Atlantic Yards in favor of a more modest $800 million model designed by the Missouri architectural firm Ellerbe Becket.

Gothamist, It's Official: No Gehry At Brooklyn Nets Arena

Ratner has stated he hopes to break ground on the arena this year; his opponents doubt that will happen.

Runnin' Scared, Atlantic Yards Scales Back; Gehry's Playhouse Gives Way to "Airplane Hangar"

Of course, scaling back the project doesn't mean scaling back what it demands of the city: Ratner is asking to be permitted to pay the MTA only a fraction of the cost of air and land rights needed for the project upfront, with the remainder to be tendered when the big bucks start rolling in. It's beginning to get around that this scheme is going to cost more than benefit the city, and even longtime booster Mike Bloomberg is getting cold feet. And as for the neighbors, forget it. Sometimes it seems like the only people left in Brooklyn who want this thing are the people who run the borough and the people who want to run it.

Not Another F*cking Blog, Gehry’s out, Becket’s in, as Atlantic Yards arena architect

I’d love to be a fly on the wall by the water cooler across the pond at Barclays. They had said they were willing to toss $20,000,000 per year for 20 years (that’s $400,000,000!) at Forest City Ratner for the honor of having their name and logo plastered all over a Gehry design. Becket? Who? Airplane hanger??! They have lots of web site updating to do over at www.barclayscenter.com.

In the Crease [Newsday.com], No hockey in Brooklyn

Scratch one more prospective site for the Islanders to move, if they are in the mood to move. According to a story in the New York Times today, the new plan for the Nets' arena at the proposed Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn does not include accommodations for a hockey rink.

Atlantic Yards, like Charles Wang's Lighthouse development proposal on the Nassau Coliseum grounds, has been delayed far beyond the developer's intentions. Lawsuits and the recession have plagued the Brooklyn plan. It will be interested to see which site gets a shovel in the ground first--or if either ever does.

Islanders crazy, Brooklyn we go small

With the situation on the Island being uncertain and the recent court victory for Ratner, fans have now plotted Brooklyn on their wish lists for alternative homes of Islanders hockey. But the notion that Brooklyn could be the new home for hockey might not be a reality anymore.

Nets Daily, Gehry Design Out, New Design Like Pacers Arena

Curbed LA, Gehry's Brooklyn Arena Design Replaced

Curbed, Frank Talk on Atlantic Yards

Posted by eric at 11:31 AM


Frank Gehry, Who Produced Overall Master Plan, Relinquishes Role as Architect of the Barclays Center

NEW YORK, June 4, 2009 - Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC) and Gehry Partners today announced a mutual agreement in which Pritzker Prize winning architect Frank Gehry, who produced the master plan for the Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn, will no longer serve as the architect for the arena to be called the Barclays Center.

As the master planner for the Atlantic Yards development, Frank Gehry created a blueprint for what will be a vibrant new urban community blending an arena, housing, retail and commercial space, as well as six acres of landscaped public open space.

FCRC also announced that it has retained the award-winning architectural firm Ellerbe Becket to design the Barclays Center, which will be the home of the Nets basketball team and host over 200 concerts and family shows annually. The new arena design will incorporate all of the approved design standards.

"I have an immense gratitude toward Frank Gehry for his amazing vision, unparalleled talent and steadfast partnership," said FCRC Chairman and CEO Bruce Ratner. “Both at Atlantic Yards and with the Beekman tower in lower Manhattan, he has continually produced beyond our expectations. Throughout this process - as litigation produced delay; as rising construction costs impacted the budgets of all developers; and a slowing economy altered expectations - Frank and his team have shown remarkable flexibility and professionalism, making cost-effective revisions as needed. The current economic climate is not right for this design, and with Frank’s understanding, the arena is undergoing a redesign that will make it more limited in scope.”

Mr. Gehry said, "We remain extremely proud of our work on the Atlantic Yards master plan and on the original arena, which we designed in close collaboration with Forest City Ratner. While there are always regrets at designs not realized, we greatly appreciate our ongoing relationship with Bruce and his team."

link [PDF]

FCRC hopes to unveil the new images of the Barclays Center in late June and intends to break ground later this year in anticipation of a completed arena in time for the Nets to play the 2011-2012 NBA season in Brooklyn.

Ellerbe Becket has designed some of the world’s most notable and successful sports and entertainment facilities, most notably Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis,IN, Qwest Field in Seattle,WA, and the Guangdong Olympic Stadium in China.

“Ellerbe Becket has been responsible for designing some of the finest sports and entertainment venues in the world,” said NBA Commissioner David Stern. “From Conseco Fieldhouse to FedExForum, Ellerbe Becket has created a first-class fan experience in all of its buildings. I am excited for Ellerbe Becket to design a world-class arena for Brooklyn and I look forward to opening night at the Barclays Center.”

Mr. Ratner said, "Working with Ellerbe Becket, I am confident that we will meet all of our design objectives while providing a dynamic environment and the best sightlines for basketball fans and spectators for all events.”

About Forest City
Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC), a wholly owned subsidiary of Forest City Enterprises, owns and operates 31 properties in the New York metropolitan area. Forest City Enterprises, Inc., a $10.9-billion NYSE-listed national real estate company, is principally engaged in the ownership, development, management and acquisition of commercial and residential real estate and land throughout the United States.

About Gehry Partners
Gehry Partners, LLP is a full service firm with broad international experience in academic, commercial, museum, performance and residential projects. Frank Gehry established his practice in Los Angeles, California in 1962. The Gehry partnership, Gehry Partners, LLP, was formed in 2002 and employs a large number of senior architects who have extensive experience in the technical development of building systems and construction documents, and who are highly qualified in the management of complex projects. Every project undertaken by Gehry Partners is designed personally and directly by Frank Gehry.

About Ellerbe Becket
Ellerbe Becket is internationally recognized as a leader in the architecture, engineering and interior design industries. The firm’s sports practice specializes in the design of facilities that are renowned for providing outstanding patron experience. With offices worldwide, the firm has designed more arenas than nearly any other architectural firm, including 15 new arenas for the NBA and NHL in the past two decades. Ellerbe Becket brings together fans, athletes, and sponsors through the design of iconic venues that are efficient to build, own and operate. 2009 marks Ellerbe Becket's 100th anniversary. For more information, visit www.ellerbebecket.com.

Posted by eric at 10:44 AM

Gehry's design was impossible, so dropping him wasn't just cost; what do MAS and RPA say now?

Atlantic Yards Report

AYR has more on the latest Atlantic Yards bait 'n' switch.

None of the news coverage this morning notices that, as I pointed out last night, the rendering omits the much-touted Urban Room, a large, glass-enclosed public space.

Given the hold-up in constructing the flagship Building 1 (formerly Miss Brooklyn), the Urban Room became an impossibility and, I'd contend, so became Gehry's design. His arena, as the New York Times's architecture critics rhapsodically reminded us, was to be different.

  • Herbert Muschamp: Instead of sitting isolated in a parking lot, the stadium will be tucked into the urban fabric, just as buildings surround a Baroque square. The arena becomes a stage, with the towers around extending the bleachers to the sky.

  • Nicolai Ouroussoff: If a new model is ever going to emerge, it may well be in Brooklyn, where Frank Gehry is designing a stadium for the Nets that will be embedded in layers upon layers of housing.

Not anymore. And even though the Ellerbe Becket arena would be more expensive, at $800 million, than the $637.2 million Gehry arena approved in 2006, at least it doesn't have Building 1. Given that Forest City has been working with Ellerbe Becket for three years, did the developer--when the plan was approved in 2006--really intend to build the Gehry design?


NoLandGrab: We have to admit, we're really looking forward to Nic Ourousoff's review of the Conseco Fieldhouse, um, we mean, new Barclays Center.

Posted by eric at 10:16 AM

Guess what: the Brooklyn arena, accommodating Ratner's short-term goal, would be too small to fit in hockey

Atlantic Yards Report

We gave Norman Oder short shrift yesterday in our haste to publish links to his posts, which deserve a fuller treatment.

Now that architect Frank Gehry is off the Atlantic Yards project, forget Gehry’s dream to design an arena that could accommodate not just basketball but hockey.

Value engineering, sources tell me, means scrapping Gehry’s design to make the building smaller, without space for professional hockey.

But the failure to leave space, at least, for hockey means one potential source of additional tax revenues--and arena activity--would be precluded. So Ratner's decision might not benefit the city and state in the long-term.


NoLandGrab: The all-out rush to build an arena — any arena, even an off-the-shelf, already-done-in-Indianapolis arena — could seriously affect Ratner's ability to sell luxury suites. Would you rather buy a suite in the basketball-only Conseco Fieldhouse, um, we mean Barclays Center, or in Madison Square Garden, the World's Most Famous Arena™, and get hockey games, too?

Posted by eric at 9:16 AM

Ratner Dumps Gehry from Atlantic Yards Proposal

With All of the Purported Project Benefits Gone Gov. Paterson Must Act Now To Scrap Atlantic Yards Plan

Brooklyn, New York -- Forest City Ratner made it official yesterday, they dumped Frank Gehry. The "starchitect" has officially been taken off of the Atlantic Yards project—the arena, all of it.

Kansas City-based Ellerbe Becket will design the arena, which, according to an article in the New York Times and obvious from the rendering published by the Times, looks like an airplane hangar and is just as incongruent with its neighborhood surroundings as the Gehry designs were.

The jettisoning of Gehry is just the latest in broken promises from Ratner and the disappearing benefits touted by the developer and his supporters when the project was approved in 2006.

If constructed, the arena would be a monument to one of the most notorious bait and switches in City history, built on a foundation of Ratner's broken promises.

"It is time for Governor Paterson to take control of this debacle, end the charade that the Atlantic Yards proposal is a viable project that provides any benefit for the public and make it official, on paper, that Atlantic Yards is scrapped," said Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn spokesman Daniel Goldstein. "Then, finally, stakeholders and our elected officials can work together with multiple developers to construct affordable housing and reasonable density over the Vanderbilt Rail Yards. The community has the plan—the Unity Plan—and its viability and public benefits are light years ahead of the zombie project known as Atlantic Yards."

Nearly all of the purported public benefits of the project have disappeared or dwindled to nearly nothing over the past year:

With the focus on the arena, the "affordable" housing is barely still in the picture, with the number of units and income levels unknown and financing non-existent.

The world class, one-of-a-kind Frank Gehry arena is now gone.

The office jobs and their projected revenue are gone, as there are no plans to buld the office tower.

The so-called "urban room," a glorified lobby at the base of the office tower and entrance to the arena, touted as a great public amenity will not come to fruition without the office tower and with the new hangar-like arena design.

Last week the Independent Budget Office (IBO) testified that the arena would be a money-loser for NYC.

Purported "blight" would be replaced with the real blight of Ratner's demolished properties and parking lots.

Bye-bye Gehry calls into question whether Barclays Bank, which bought $400 million naming rights for the starchitect's landmark design, will be willing to fork over that kind of cash for...an airplane hangar. It's doubtful. And the same goes for other arena sponsors, and the unfortunate few who have put deposits down on the slow-to-sell luxury suites. Ratner's entire arena revenue model is faulty.

It's clear that the project approved in 2006 no longer exists as a possible reality, but still does exist in official project documents. But that will change as the ESDC will soon release a new project plan, and the MTA will attempt to ram a new sweetheart deal for Ratner down the throats of taxpayers and transit-riders. The clock is ticking on Ratner as he attempts to gain concessions one last time from the MTA, the ESDC and Governor Paterson.

"Will Governor Paterson enable a zombie project with no public benefit to go forward? The ball is now in the Governor's court," Goldstein concluded.

Posted by lumi at 7:25 AM

Missing from the arena block: the much-touted Urban Room

Atlantic Yards Report

Also gone with architect Frank Gehry is the "Urban Room," which was advertised as one of the great public amenities of the project:

So, what's missing from the new renderings of the arena block by Ellerbe Becket released today, along with news that Frank Gehry is gone?

Oh, how about two of the four buildings on the arena block, including the office tower known as Building 1 (which, though no longer "Miss Brooklyn, " had become "very special to me," Gehry said last year) and the much-touted Urban Room, a large, glass-enclosed public space.

The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), while calling the Urban Room (below) "a significant public amenity" in the General Project Plan it approved 12/8/06, some ten months later, in the State Funding Agreement, required developer Forest City Ratner only to provide "subway station access" to the arena, not the Urban Room "destination" (a term from the Final Environmental Impact Statement, or FEIS) that wowed some architecture critics.

Remember, ESDC CEO Marisa Lago said just last Friday that nothing in the General Project Plan had changed.


Posted by lumi at 7:15 AM


Photo by Tracy Collins, via flickr Atlantic Yards Photo Pool.

Project critics wasted no time keeping up with the headlines that architect Frank Gehry has been replaced by Ellerbe Becket.

Posted by lumi at 6:28 AM

Gehry: Going, going, going... gone

Here are the headlines from the media barrage, following Charles Bagli's scoop in the NY Times, after which Forest City Ratner was forced to issue a press release finally confirming Frank Gehry's departure from the project.

Associated Press, via The Star-Ledger, Developer drops Frank Gehry design to cut costs on future Brooklyn home of N.J. Nets

Developer Bruce Ratner said Thursday that Gehry's design has been scrapped for a cheaper design of the arena, named the Barclays Center. Ratner said "the economic climate is not right" for Gehry's design.

Ratner says revised images released by a Kansas City, Mo., architect should be out for the arena this month. He still hopes to break ground on it this year.


Along with the Times, the Post was able to obtain a rendering of the new arena:

It is unclear who will be designing the 16 residential-office towers that would make up the rest of Atlantic Yards in Prospect Heights.

Although the Post obtained a rendering showing the arena's new vision, Ratner said he'll formally unveil the new images of the arena later this month and break ground by September.

Here's one more reason to question anything Ratner and his henchmen ever say in the press:

Ratner has also been shooting down rumors since January that Gehry was canned from the project, but previously admitted bringing in engineers and other architects to seek cheaper ways to build.

The NY Times, Developer Drops Gehry’s Design for Brooklyn Arena

Here are some more details and observations from the Times story:

The switch met with the approval of David Stern, the commissioner of the National Basketball Association, who said that Ellerbe Becket had designed “some of the finest sports and entertainment venues in the world.”

If the arena is built, however, it will most likely take more than two years to complete. Unlike the Gehry design, the new arena would not accommodate a professional hockey team.
“The current Atlantic Yards plan bears increasingly less resemblance to the project that was approved in 2006,” said Vin Cipolla, the president of the Municipal Art Society. “The replacement of Gehry further reduces the public benefits of the project, which urgently needs re-evaluation and oversight.”

NY Daily News, Starchitect Frank Gehry dumped from Atlantic Yards for cheaper option

So long, Frank Gehry.

The famed starchitect announced Thursday he will no longer be involved in designing the controversial Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn - a move rumored for months.
"It's all about money," said a source close to the project.
Jessica Schaffer, 28, an art gallery assistant who lives in Prospect Heights, worried a design without Gehry's stamp would add to the area's dreary architecture.

"The Atlantic Mall is already incredibly ugly," said Schaffer. "Now it's just going to be a giant sprawling ugliness. If it was beautiful, I'd maybe be down."

The Brooklyn Paper, Bruce to Gehry: You’re fired

The local weekly ran a quote from Brooklyn Borough President and Atlantic Yards Cheerleader in Chief Marty Markowitz:

Borough President Markowitz, whose longtime support for Gehry’s design softened earlier this year when out-of-control costs threatened the viability of the entire $4-billion mega-development, urged Ratner to press ahead without the Los Angeles-based genius.

“The great architect Frank Gehry has been absolutely central to creating the guiding vision for this project, and Ellerbe Becket is one of the best firms in the business — so we can be confident that the Nets and Brooklyn will indeed have a world-class, stunning arena here in Downtown Brooklyn and we will be bringing more affordable housing to those who so desperately need it,” he said in a statement.

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn spokesperson Daniel Goldstein stated the obvious:

“The project that was approved [in 2006] no longer exists,” he said. “Is Barclays going to pay $400 million to put their name on what will be an airport hanger? Will other sponsors stick with a building that is no longer Gehry, no longer world-class building?”

Goldstein also mentioned that other benefits of the project, including tax revenues, have also been scaled back.

“It’s a bad project that has gotten worse,” he said. “The alleged benefits are diminising on a daily basis. The state needs to step in.”

Crain's NY Business, Gehry ousted as Nets stadium designer

Crain's covered some of the business angles of the story, though it is an "arena," not a "stadium," as the headline suggests:

“The current economic climate is not right for this design and with Frank’s understanding, the arena is undergoing a redesign that will make it more limited in scope,” said Forest City Ratner Chairman Bruce Ratner, in a statement.
Mr. Gehry’s departure from the project has been rumored for months because stadium’s cost of nearly $1 billion represented about a quarter of the overall development’s $4 billion cost. Sources said that Forest City’s banker Goldman Sachs Group Inc. told company officials they needed to cut the cost of the stadium if they were ever going to find a way to finance it. The stadium’s $950 million price tag is nearly double the cost of other arenas built in the United States, according to Sports Business Journal.
Still, financing for the project is a major hurdle. Banks have virtually stopped lending, especially for huge projects like Atlantic Yards.

Reuters, Forest City names new architect for Brooklyn arena

Here's architect Frank Gehry's statement:

"While there are always regrets at designs not realized, we greatly appreciate our ongoing relationship with Bruce and his team," Gehry said.

NoLandGrab: By "ongoing relationship," we assume Gehry means the Beekman St. Tower in Lower Manhattan, currently under construction.

Field of Schemes, Nets ditch Gehry for cheaper option; can this save Atlantic Yards?

The latest news didn't take sports-economy writer Neil de Mause by surprise:

In a development that surprised exactly one guy who was living under a rock, the New York Times revealed today that New Jersey Nets owner Bruce Ratner has ditched Frank Gehry's design for a Brooklyn basketball arena, and will instead attempt to move ahead with a cheaper design by Ellerbe Becket, architect of several other NBA arenas. The revelation comes six months after Gehry quit the project, and a week after Sports Business Journal predicted that Ellerbe Becket would be taking over.

amNY, Gehry out as architect of Atlantic Yards arena

This short item ran in the commuter daily published by Newsday (no online version available):


MetroNY, Architect out of Nets project
The other commuter daily ran a short item as well:


Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Gehry Officially Off the Atlantic Yards Project

We haven't seen the press release yet, but we're fairly certain that you can find it on the Daily Eagle's web site.

Atlantic Yards Report, The FCR press release refers to Gehry in the past tense, not as "master planner"

Norman Oder carefully parses the press release from the Daily Eagle's web site for clues of Frank Gehry's further involvment with Atlantic Yards, and notes that Bruce Ratner continues to mislead the press and public about the projected arena opening date.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Forest City drops Frank Gehry as architect on planned Nets arena

News of of the break with Gehry has reached Bruce Ratner's hometown of Cleveland.

Posted by lumi at 5:49 AM

June 4, 2009

Atlantic Yards Report non-Gehry Arena Coverage

Here are two from AYR regarding this afternoon's startling Atlantic Yards news:

NYT: Gehry, as predicted, is gone from the Brooklyn arena; it will look like Indianapolis or "airplane hangar"

Guess what: the Brooklyn arena, accommodating Ratner's short-term goal, would be too small to fit in hockey

Posted by eric at 5:14 PM

Developer Drops Gehry Design for Brooklyn Arena

The New York Times
by Charles V. Bagli

Big breaking news from The Times: Frank Gehry is officially no longer the architect for the Atlantic Yards basketball arena. We'll have more as this develops, but suffice it to say, this is just one more bait and switch courtesy of Forest City Ratner.

Frank Gehry is out as the architect for the Barclays Center, an exotic, $1 billion glass-walled arena that is the centerpiece of the long-delayed and financially challenged Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn, according to government officials and real estate executives who have been briefed on the plans.

The design by Mr. Gehry, the award-winning architect behind the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, has been replaced with a less-expensive, $800 million arena.

The new design comes from Ellerbe Becket, an architectural firm based in Kansas City, Mo., that specializes in convention centers, stadiums and arenas, and designed Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, where the Indiana Pacers play. Officials who have seen the design for the Brooklyn arena say that while it resembles Conseco Fieldhouse, it also bears a likeness to an “airplane hangar.”


Posted by eric at 4:59 PM

Finally, someone challenges Marty (oops, he’s a Republican)

The Brooklyn Paper Politicrasher

Who would have thunk it! Marty Markowitz is the Atlantic Yards critic in the race for Brooklyn Borough President!


Opponents of Atlantic Yards who hoped for a candidate to run against project cheerleader Borough President Markowitz got half their wish this week — a challenger has finally emerged, but he thinks Markowitz hasn’t championed the mega-development enough!

During an interview with The Brooklyn Paper, D’Ottavio, a sales manager at an auto dealership on Nostrand Avenue, stuck mostly to the Beep’s supposedly lackluster support for Bruce Ratner’s $4-billion basketball, housing and retail development in Prospect Heights — a project that Markowitz has made his signature issue.

“He was very gung-ho about it [at the start], but where is he now?” asked D’Ottavio. “He’s closed his mouth since there have been stories about the economic problems [at Atlantic Yards].”


NoLandGrab: Have Republicans all gone crazy? What ever happened to the Party of smaller government, individual freedom and fiscal responsibility?

Just one question for the GOP standard-bearer: how does championing a subsidy-laden boondoggle "protect mom-and-pop shops" — unless Marisa Lago is your mom and Bruce Ratner is your pop?

Posted by eric at 11:08 AM

New Nets arena could cost city money

Arena Digest

With a name like Arena Digest, they could still be objective, right?

Now, with the price of the arena rising to $950 million, this advantage could be gone, according to a preliminary opinion from the city's Independent Budget Office.

Could be, we say, becuse IBO officials actually didn't perform any sort of financial analysis. They were going with their gut feelings about the project and looking only at the arena, not the total Atlantic Yards project.

So this "news" may not be as significant as the New York tabloids would have us believe -- or, rather, we'll be waiting for the real analysis with real numbers.


NoLandGrab: Actually, the IBO did perform a financial analysis, and they're the only official entity that has done so with any degree of credibility (we assume that Arena Digest would prefer the NYC EDC method of cost-benefit analysis, which assigns a $0 value to costs and then subtracts it from wildly inflated "benefits").

Keep in mind that IBO looked only at the arena because all of the other elements of the Atlantic Yards project are up in the air: size of project, amount of office space, mix of housing, public contribution, timing, etc., etc. Of course, come to think of it, the cost of the arena and the identity of its architect are up in the air, too.

Posted by eric at 10:17 AM

On Brian Lehrer Live, video from Friday's state Senate oversight hearing

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder was a guest last night on CUNY TV's Brian Lehrer Live show (the program can be viewed on the CUNY TV web site — click on the "RealVideo" button, segment begins at about the 8:00 mark), and he filed a report this morning on his appearance, featuring a summary of the discussion.


Perhaps the most important element of the show is video shot by Steve de Sève for Freddy's Brooklyn Roundhouse, showing the disruption in the room, with state Sen. Bill Perkins trying to maintain order, and Sen. Velmanette Montgomery reminding the crowd that it was not up to Sen. Marty Golden, a Republican, to move legislation forward, but Majority Leader Malcolm Smith.

Bogus numbers

Then Lehrer showed Seth Pinsky of the New York City Economic Development Corporation claiming Atlantic Yards will achieve half a billion dollars in net incremental revenue.

I said the numbers were bogus, because it wasn't a cost-benefit analysis, and it was based on an old configuration of the project, with four office towers.

Lehrer asked what government officials are obligated to do.

"They're obligated to tell the truth at an oversight hearing," I said, offering a version of that quote from Three Days of the Condor: "Not getting caught in a lie is not the same as telling the truth."


Posted by eric at 9:15 AM

Daily News follows up on IBO revelation; FCR stonewalls, NYC EDC repeats claim of cost-benefit analysis

Atlantic Yards Report

AYR follows up on today's Daily News story.

As for the New York City Economic Development Corporation, it repeated the argument it made to WNYC:
...by only analyzing the arena - and not the 16 residential and commercial towers also proposed for the site - the IBO had released inconclusive information. "In light of new conditions, the city is updating a cost-benefit analysis, and any decisions related to the project will be informed by this revised analysis with the goal of ensuring a significant net positive fiscal impact to the city," said EDC spokesman David Lombino.

Well, there's little evidence the rest of the project will be built in a timely fashion, if ever, so the arena is a legitimate, if incomplete, subset, even though Lombino is correct in suggesting there should be a full analysis.

But there's no evidence the city has done a real cost-benefit analysis as opposed to just adding up benefits.


NoLandGrab: When David Lombino says "any decisions related to the project will be informed by this revised analysis with the goal of ensuring a significant net positive fiscal impact to the city," does he mean that they want to ensure that the analysis shows a net positive impact? Or the project itself? Based on the NYC EDC's past sleight of hand, we're betting they just want to make the numbers look good.

Posted by eric at 8:21 AM

The Power 100: The Most Powerful People in New York Real Estate

An Observer List! Who Runs This Town?

NY Observer

The Observer has updated its list of the most powerful people in New York real estate, and Bruce Ratner's not half the titan he used to be.

No. 23: Bruce Ratner (2008: 8)

CEO of Forest City Ratner

He controls prime real estate in downtown Brooklyn and has two architecturally distinct new Manhattan towers, one unfinished. But his real test will be whether he can cobble together the money and political support to launch the project that has defined Forest City for the past half-decade: Atlantic Yards.

Here's the complete list.

Atlantic Yards Report, The Observer's Power 100: Ratner drops down the list; Gehry, Oder, Lipsky drop out

Norman Oder, no longer among the powerful, runs down the notables.

Last year, according to the New York Observer's quite arbitrary list of the 100 Most Powerful People in New York Real Estate, Bruce Ratner was #8, Frank Gehry was #51, and I was number #77.

Things sure change. Ratner has dropped to #23 in The Power 100: The Most Powerful People in New York Real Estate, indicating uncertainty about Atlantic Yards, and Gehry and I have been dropped from the list--as has lobbyist Richard Lipsky, who snarked at my selection.

Well, Gehry appears to be off Atlantic Yards. And I sure can't be too powerful if elected officials holding an oversight hearing don't bother to consult the questions I've publicly posed.

Posted by eric at 7:48 AM

Study shows Atlantic Yards NBA arena project could cost city big-time

NY Daily News
By Jotham Sederstrom

Poof! The arena's slim $25M net benefit to NYC just evaporated. Now it looks like the arena is going to cost the city:

The Independent Budget Office released data Friday suggesting that the rising costs of a planned NBA basketball arena and increased public funding have chipped away at an estimated $25 million in revenues projected for the city.

"It now appears that given the additional city contributions and the higher cost of the arena that the net fiscal impact from the public investment for the arena will be negative," said Independent Budget Office Deputy Director George Sweeting.

The findings are a reversal from a 2005 Independent Budget Office analysis, which had determined that ticket sales and other spending in Brooklyn by out-of-towners coming to Nets basketball games would provide an estimated $25 million in tax revenues over 30 years.

With city funding to the project skyrocketing from $100 million to $205 million over the past four years, the economic benefit to the city has diminished significantly, Sweeting said.


NoLandGrab: Those original findings were specious to begin with, and counted on a certain percentage of the dwindling NJ fanbase to make the trip to Brooklyn and for players to live and pay income tax in NYC.

What was a joke has now graduated to a farce. Hopefully, the IBO will eventually present an honest accounting of actual benefits and losses to the city, but we're not holding our breath.

Posted by lumi at 5:57 AM

Big week for FCE: at annual meeting, will they discuss Gehry, arena opening, changed AY plan?

Atlantic Yards Report

Though watching paint dry is more exciting than being a spectator for the upcoming Forest City Enterprises annual meeting, the release of first-quarter numbers and the subsequent conference call with investors...

...it's still worth watching to see if they say whether architect Frank Gehry is still involved in the Atlantic Yards project and when they predict an arena opening. (The official plan is still 2011, but that's impossible if work begins at the end of the year, as the Empire State Development Corporation has indicated.)

And will they explain if the contour and timetable of the AY plan has changed?


Posted by lumi at 5:51 AM

Nets Face Deep Potholes On Road To Brooklyn

The basketball team is trying to make its move from New Jersey to the big city seem inevitable. Don't bet the ranch on it.

By Tom Van Riper

Though Atlantic Yards developer and NJ Nets team owner Bruce Ratner is making a full-court press to move the team to Brooklyn, several obstacles stand in the way:

The problem: There's a 50-50 chance at best that the arena gets built. The legal and political hurdles are now mostly cleared, but because opponents delayed the project so long, it's pushed construction into an era of economic turmoil and tight credit.
Forest City Ratner, whose Nets are making the move sound inevitable, isn't saying how much private financing it has lined up, according to a spokesman.

"I don't know of a single venue that has been financed since last summer," says sports law expert Gary Roberts, who is dean of Indiana University Law School. "In normal times, I'd see it as very likely to get done, but there are enough variables that you can't bet the ranch."


Forbes.com, citing tight credit, estimates Nets move to Brooklyn at 50-50

Norman Oder finds this bit a little interesting.

"The timing is about as bad as it gets right now," says industry consultant David Carter of the Sports Business Group. A big risk that's caught lenders' attention recently: Can teams charge prices high enough these days to cover the debt service on an expensive new venue? The empty premium seats at Yankee Stadium and the slow sales of personal seat licenses for the new football stadium for the Jets and Giants in New Jersey are evidence of misjudged pricing power.

Posted by lumi at 5:44 AM

June 3, 2009

FCE Press Release: Forest City to Webcast 2009 Annual Meeting of Shareholders

PR Newswire

CLEVELAND, June 3 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Forest City Enterprises, Inc., (NYSE: FCEA) (NYSE: FCEB) today announced that the Company will webcast its 2009 annual meeting of shareholders beginning at 2:00 p.m. Eastern time on Friday, June 5, 2009. The annual meeting is being held at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Cleveland.

The business portion of the meeting will be followed immediately by management presentations. The meeting and presentations will be broadcast live over the Internet through an audio-only webcast on the Company's website. To access the live broadcast, please visit the investor relations page of the website, www.forestcity.net. A webcast replay will also be available on the website, beginning approximately 24 hours after the live meeting concludes.

Posted by eric at 4:03 PM

It came from the Blogosphere...

Room 8: Hildy Johnson's Blog, FAIR, BALANCED AND WELL-SOURCED

The still-pseudonymous Room 8 blogger responds to our criticism of a recent piece with a spate of source-material links, and critiques our critique:

Were perhaps unfair aspersions cast upon City Council candidate Brad Lander?

...Lander cannot hide from his paper trail documented above. He equivocated on Atlantic Yards in a manner which often provided its supporters with cover; he failed to criticize ACORN‘s race-baiting of his potential constituents, he accepts support from its political party, and he strongly supports its tactics and its agenda.

As “No Land Grab” notes, some serious questions have been raised about the WFP's role in elections and development. They are openly and notoriously trying to game the political projects to choose the people who will decide if their projects get built and their pockets get lined. Even if we can take Brad Lander’s recent conversion on Atlantic Yards seriously, can anyone doubt where he will stand on every other ACORN project in the City, whatever its merits?

The Campaign for Community-Based Planning, Task Force Submits Testimony on Atlantic Yards

The task force headed by the Municipal Art Society Planning Center published its testimony submitted to the State Senate Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions for last Friday's hearing. The plan was to deliver oral testimony, but "because of the chaotic nature of the hearing, the... testimony was submitted in writing to the State Senators present."

Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn, Breakfast-of-Candidates (33rd Edition): Ken Diamondstone

Louise Crawford talks with the candidate for the 33rd City Council district.

Diamondstone estimates that he has owned approximately 20 properties over the years and currently oversees 85 units of housing which he rents at "way below market value."

"I could have made a killing in real estate over the years," he said. But that wasn't his interest. Clearly, Diamondstone business has sustained him over the years and allowed others to live well, too. Recently he found someone to manage his real estate holdings, which gives him more time to devote to his political goals.

Affordable housing is clearly Diamondstone's passion and with his business has been able to translate his ideals into action. He is also a member of three local Democratic clubs and was an early opponent of Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project.

Pardon Me For Asking, Comment Of The Day: The Toll Brothers' PR Firm

Never would've expected this — Toll Brothers, the would-be Gowanus Canal overdevelopers, have hired Geto & deMilly, the lobbying firm that has done the Atlantic Yards bidding of Forest City Ratner.

Toll Brothers has hired the Geto/Demilly PR firm to campaign against the possible Superfund designation of the Gowanus Canal. The firm specializes in representing real estate interests. In 2007, they ranked 9 in NYC's top ten lobbyists, right before Yoswein you mention being instrumental for IKEA.
Info about them on: http://www.cityhallnews.com/news/127/ARTICLE/1218/2007-07-16.html
"Geto is a lobbyist who works with leading real estate development firms like Bruce Ratner's Forest City Ratner...He's also a .. frequent political advisor. He's worked on campaigns for George McGovern, Robert Abrams, and Howard Dean."
"Prior to becoming a lobbyist. Michele DeMilly was press secretary for the Empire State Development Corporation. She feels that her experience there largely shaped the firm’s client list, which includes some of the city’s largest developers."

NoLandGrab: Hmm, wonder if G&d had anything to do with the anonymous anti-Superfund Liar Flier that Gowanus-area residents started receiving in the mail these past few days?

CoStar Group, IN THE PIPELINE: CoStar Development News for June 1-7

Last month, In the Pipeline reported a step forward in the long effort by Forest City Ratner Cos to break ground on a new arena in Brooklyn, NY, for the New Jersey Nets in the $4 billion Atlantic Yards development. Out-of-work construction workers and neighborhood activists have faced off over plans for the arena and other building projects around the city that have been stalled by the recession and/or legal challenges.

planning to succeed, Crowd Jeers As Elected Protect Their Interest in Atlantic Yards

Hakeem Jeffries served his constituency handsomely by asking the MTA why it hadn’t collected all or most of the $100 million up front from FCR, given its recent proposal to raise fares, defer maintenance and cut bus routes. Rather, the MTA agreed to accept allotment payments and can’t commit to holding fares to the increases that go in effect June 28, 2009.

Posted by eric at 2:40 PM

Counterfactual: what if Daniel Goldstein had testified first at the Senate oversight hearing?

Atlantic Yards Report

Citing significant portions of Atlantic Yards-footprint resident testimony, Norman Oder imagines how Friday's Atlantic Yards hearing could have gone differently.

Counterfactual history considers what might have happened should key events proceeded differently. So, what might have happened at the state Senate oversight hearing Friday on Atlantic Yards if Daniel Goldstein, spokesman for Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, had testified first, before state officials got their turn?

Goldstein testified later and was given only a brief amount of time; he departed from his prepared remarks to respond to the crowd and the testimony of the government officials in the preceding panel.

But his prepared testimony would've essentially put the government officials on the defensive and prompted state legislators, who seemed underequipped to challenge those officials, with questions.

It would have been a very different hearing.


NoLandGrab: Heck, they should've just let Goldstein, or Oder, ask the damned questions. And next time, put the ESDC, MTA and NYC EDC under oath, and issue a subpoena to one Bruce C. Ratner.

Posted by eric at 11:27 AM

DOT says Ratner may be trying to stretch deadline past three years for completion of Carlton Avenue bridge

Atlantic Yards Report

Officials of the NYC Department of Transportation met with the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods last night, and Forest City Ratner's lack of progress with reconstruction of the Carlton Avenue Bridge was a hot topic.

The state eminent domain case dismissed last week, [DOT Downtown Brooklyn Transportation Coordinator Christopher] Hrones said, was cited by FCR as "something that prevented them moving forward in their estimation, because it really put the project in doubt."

"Since that court case has been resolved, at least by the Appellate Division, I think we feel like, we'd like to get an explanation why they aren't proceeding," Hrones said, adding that DOT is seeking a meeting with the developer. "We definitely want some answers from them.

[CBN co-Chair Candace] Carponter pointed out, however, that, when the demolition began in early 2008, eminent domain litigation had already been filed in federal court. (It was coordinated by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, for which she is legal chair.)

"If that's preventing them now," she said, "it should've been preventing them from taking it down in the first place" and inconveniencing people with a half-demolished bridge.


NoLandGrab: Agencies like DOT and the MTA always seem to take heat from grandstanding elected officials, but DOT, especially, sure seems more responsive and straightforward than Forest City Ratner and its proxy, the ESDC.

Posted by eric at 11:11 AM

Atlantic Yards Report Lightning Round

Democracy vs. demagoguery (redux): Daily News blog is only mainstream outlet for condemnation of bullying tactics at hearing

It's dismaying to me that none of New York City's daily newspaper columnists thought to show up at the state Senate oversight hearing Friday on Atlantic Yards.

As with the similarly-ignored (by columnists and editorialists) 8/23/06 public hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, it was a remarkable piece of street theater, and the fodder for much potential commentary about, as i wrote nearly three years ago, "democracy versus demagoguery."

Indeed, there's a curious story line generating just from the New York Daily News. Columnist Errol Louis denounced the hearing ahead of time but didn't bother to show up. Would he have been proud that the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, the single most disruptive individual during the 4.5-hour hearing, invoked his column?

Yes, the good Reverend seems to have forgotten the Golden Rule.

Indeed, there's a column to be written about the fundamental category error displayed last Friday: this was an oversight hearing, more akin to a courtroom trial than to a public hearing. The aim was to solicit information from and about the performance of government agencies, not to seek public input about the merits of the project.

I've been to state oversight hearings held on the 19th floor of 250 Broadway near City Hall. They're sober affairs, with no disruptions. That should've been the case Friday. And people other than O'Keeffe and a couple of online journalists should've pointed it out.

ESDC Construction Update emerges, late and inaccurate

Looks like there is slightly more going on at the Vanderbilt Yards than we and the ESDC reported yesterday — and we accept responsibility, since inaccuracy appears the norm for the Atlantic Yards sponsor.

Work in the past two days has been going on in Blocks 1120 and 1121, the railyard blocks to the east, bounded by Sixth Avenue to the west, Vanderbilt to the east, and Atlantic and Pacific.

I'll be on CUNY-TV's Brian Lehrer Live tonight

Not content with keeping NoLandGrab from even taking a bathroom break, the ubiquitous Norman Oder will be on TV tonight, too.

I'll be on CUNY-TV's Brian Lehrer Live tonight talking about--what else--Atlantic Yards. The hour-long show starts at 7:30 pm and the segment in which I'll appear should be in the first half of the show.

CUNY TV can be viewed on most cable systems in the New York metropolitan area on Channel 75* as part of the NYC TV, the City's cable television network. (Check the web site for explanation of the asterisk.)

Posted by eric at 10:32 AM

June 2, 2009



NY Post
by Lenn Robbins

Although there remains some opposition to the Nets' move to Brooklyn, [NBA Commissioner David] Stern seemed confident it will happen.

That's putting it mildly [we mean the opposition, not Stern's confidence].

"I remain confident that [Nets owner] Bruce Ratner is accurate in telling us that they're going to begin construction by the end of the year," added Stern.


Norman Oder's not quite as bullish as the Commish:

Atlantic Yards Report, NBA Commissioner Stern changes tune on Brooklyn arena groundbreaking, press doesn't notice

Less than a month ago, NBA Commissioner David Stern was predicting that the Brooklyn arena groundbreaking would occur this summer. Now he's changing his tune.

The Star-Ledger reported May 6:
Stern was confident the Nets' Brooklyn relocation project, the future of which has been in doubt, would break ground this summer. "Yes, they will, I'm told," he said. "I'm sure."

The New York Post reported today:
"I remain confident that [Nets owner] Bruce Ratner is accurate in telling us that they're going to begin construction by the end of the year," added Stern.

No one in the mainstream press has yet done the math and figured out that, if construction begins by the end of the year, the promised 2011 arena opening is impossible.

Posted by eric at 10:43 PM

Time to stop bullying at Atlantic Yards

NY Daily News I-Team Blog
by Michael O'Keeffe

The Daily News's O'Keeffe apparently didn't get the internal memo that everything Atlantic Yards is wonderful and all that's preventing it from being even more wonderful are rabid development foes. Speaking of rabid...

Why do the people who turn out at public meetings to support Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project insist on acting like thugs?

The boorish behavior was on full display at Friday's State Senate hearing on the proposal to build luxury condos and an arena for the New Jersey Nets in Brooklyn. According to Norman Oder’s Atlantic Yards Report, once again the bullies acted like they were going to school on a Saturday: absolutely no class.

The supporters, primarily construction union members, acted like Johnny Friendly's crew from "On the Waterfront." Union members handed out whistles to disrupt the meeting, and they hooted and hollered in support of every statement made by AY proponents, no matter how inane. They also heckled project critics, no matter how gentle the question or criticism.

State Senator Bill Perkins, who was running the hearing, never asked for security to step in and enforce a minimal level of decorum, but even he became frustrated by the end: "Everything you disagree with does not have to be sounded out," he told the proposal's supporters.

Blogger Michael D.D. White of Noticing New York called the supporters thuggish behavior "manufactured chaos."

These attempts at intimidation are par for the course at AY public meetings. There's no question these bullying tactics are supported and perhaps coordinated by Forest City Ratner and the company's allies.


NoLandGrab: It's humorous, though not surprising, that Atlantic Yards supporters (we're talkin' 'bout you, Daily News) use words like "rabid," "obstructionist," "frivolous" and "propaganda" to describe project critics and their constitutionally protected efforts to oppose Bruce Ratner's boondoggle, while ignoring what O'Keeffe very accurately describes as the "boorish behavior" of their compadres.

The shouting, whistle-blowing (near a baby's ears, no less), heckling and all-around disruptiveness at Friday's hearing betray the lack of actual, measurable, verifiable project benefits — the forces orchestrating the outbursts know that when substance is lacking, creating a circus sideshow may well divert attention from the truth.

Posted by eric at 9:01 PM


Weeks beginning May 25, 2009 and June 1, 2009

In an effort to keep the Atlantic Yards Community aware of upcoming construction activities, ESD and Forest City Ratner provide the following outline of anticipated upcoming construction activities.

Please note: the scope and nature of activities are subject to change based upon field conditions. All work has been approved by appropriate City and State agencies where required. In addition to the activities described below noise attenuation and vibration monitoring measures are underway in connection with the Memorandum of Environmental Commitments dated 12/08/06.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact our project Ombudsperson at: 212-803-3233 or AtlanticYards@empire.state.ny.us

• Rigs are on site, Block 1118, lot 1 and Block 1119, lots 1, 64, in connection with soil borings that are being conducted.


Contrary to what Norman Oder and Tracy Collins posted earlier today, it seems like the rigs in the Vanderbilt Yard are doing exactly what they were doing for Construction Updates numbers 50, 49, 48 and 47. To quote David Byrne and Talking Heads, "same as it ever was, same as it ever was, same. as. it. ever. was."

Posted by eric at 5:28 PM

ESDC: Atlantic Yards Project Will Shrink

by Cody Lyon

Lyon gives Norman Oder a run for his money in terms of word count, but Atlantic Yards Report beat GlobeSt to the punch by some 90 hours, give or take. And we don't think ESDC admitted to any shrinkage, except maybe in arena fit and finish.

[Independent Budget Office Deputy Director George] Sweeting noted that current plans call for the Atlantic Yards arena, much like Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, to be financed through an "aggressive interpretation of Internal Revenue Service regulations that will make it possible to use tax exempt bonds for most, if not all, of the arena’s construction costs"--provided they break ground by the end of the year. However, he said, in the previous stadiums’ cases, the city finance department indicated what the property tax assessments would be prior to the start of construction. In the case of Atlantic Yards, he said no similar announcement had been made. But he did say it was notable that the land assessments for the parcels under the arena have more than “tripled in the last three years.”


NoLandGrab: If land assessments have indeed "tripled in the last three years," doesn't that mean that the Vanderbilt Yard, appraised by the MTA in 2005 at $214.5 million, is now worth $643.5 million? And if so, why is the MTA apparently going to allow Forest City to back pedal even more from its already-low balled "commitment"?

As with just about everything else Atlantic Yards, these numbers just don't add up.

Posted by eric at 1:25 PM

Crain's MTA Double Bill

Gov’s panel makes infrastructure push

Not everyone thinks that more public-private partnerships are New York State's ticket out of dire financial straits, and here's a reason why:

Gene Russianoff, senior lawyer for the Straphangers Campaign, praised the report’s emphasis on transit-oriented development, but noted it could be dangerous for the state to rely on the private sector during tough times. The privatization of Midway Airport in Chicago went up in smoke last month when private investors were unable to obtain financing. And the MTA was counting on about $1 billion in revenue from the sale of land at Atlantic Yards and Hudson Yards that has not yet come in because of the faltering economy.

Partners sue MTA chairman over building deal

No, this item doesn't apply directly to Atlantic Yards or other land grabs, but jiminy crickets, could we maybe get an MTA Board Chairman who's not a double-dealing real estate titan?

H. Dale Hemmerdinger, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and a major real estate figure in New York City, was sued Monday by partners in one of his buildings. They allege he illegally drained $2.2 million from funds set aside to run the property in order to create a crisis and buy them out.

The lawsuit, filed in New York State Supreme Court, claims that Mr. Hemmerdinger and his son, Damon, put unqualified general partners on the board which controlled 555 Fifth Ave., creating an artificial majority. It also says those partners hired companies run by the Hemmerdinger family to manage, lease and construct various projects in the building but failed to arrange a mortgage or other credit line for the building. Plaintiffs in the suit include two half-brothers of Mr. Hemmerdinger, whose term as MTA chairman ends this week.

Posted by eric at 12:58 PM

What’s going on with the Carlton Avenue Bridge?

According to a media advisory from the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods, New York City Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner David Woloch and Brooklyn Borough Commissioner Joseph Palmieri will be on hand at the organization's bi-monthly meeting tonight to answer questions about Atlantic Yards-related traffic issues — like what the future might hold for the aforementioned semi-demolished bridge.

CBN Meeting with NYC DOT
Tuesday, June 2nd 7:00 p.m. — 8:30 p.m.
St. Cyril of Turau Belarusian Cathedral
401 Atlantic Avenue (at Bond Street)

All CBN meetings are open to the public.

Posted by eric at 12:27 PM

Not So Suite: Ratner's Faulty Arena Revenue Model

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

No new luxury suite sales over a one year period, and now a reduction in the overall number of luxury suites. Clearly there is no demand for Barclays Center suites. Luxury suites are the raison d'être for building a new arena.

The lack of demand and the reduction of suite sales demands attention towards Ratner's revenue model for paying back the arena bond holders. The revenue model appears to be faulty, making the $800 million arena bond more risky for the bond holders and New York State which would be on the hook if there were to be a default.


NoLandGrab: We're pretty sure this raises no flags in the NYC EDC's sophisticated financial analysis model.

Posted by eric at 12:04 PM

Some confirmation on the ESDC's mystery volunteer: it sure sounds like she's in charge

Atlantic Yards Report

Who is that unmasked woman?

After I suggested yesterday that someday an oversight committee will ask what lawyer Susan Rahm, a volunteer, does for the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) on the Atlantic Yards project, I got an interesting email from a reader.


Remember, I had questioned whether Rahm was in a policy-making position, and was told by the ESDC that no, she was just a consultant.

Project manager?

"When I was introduced to Susan Rahm, she was called the 'project manager' for Atlantic Yards," my correspondent wrote. "Yeah, it’s a pretty general term, but I got the impression she was the chief operating official for the project, salary or no."


NoLandGrab: Is it just us, or should there perhaps be a little more disclosure — ok, yes, a lot more disclosure — about Ms. Rahm's role in the Atlantic Yards project? Here's a starter question: does she have any relationship with Forest City Ratner?

[Photo courtesy Jonathan Barkey]

Posted by eric at 10:56 AM

Breaking down the AY fiscal analysis: why if you follow NYC EDC in your personal economics you could go to jail

Atlantic Yards Report

In this must-read entry, Norman Oder applies NYC EDC's "analysis" method to his own financial situation, and likes the results.

So let's talk "economic and fiscal impact analysis." That was the exercise by which the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYC EDC) concluded that Atlantic Yards would bring more than half a billion dollars in revenue to the city over 30 years, a figure touted enthusiastically by NYC EDC president Seth Pinsky at Friday's AY oversight hearing.

To NYC EDC, "economic and fiscal impact analysis" concerns revenue you take in. That's it. No costs, no subsidies.

A personal example

OK, I have just conducted an "economic and fiscal impact analysis" regarding my personal future revenue stream. After 20 years, I conclude, I will easily become a millionaire.


Oops--I forgot to factor in rent, food, and tons of other things, including taxes. If I don't pay taxes, well, I go to jail.

It renders my "economic and fiscal impact analysis" slightly flawed.

Didn't this kind of shoddy math lead to our economic meltdown?


NoLandGrab: While Oder's approach is humorous, the implications are certainly no laughing matter. He outlines a number of deep flaws in the EDC's alleged "analysis," which clearly seems designed to make the Atlantic Yards project look fiscally, and misleadingly, attractive.

Seems to us that a key duty (perhaps the most significant duty) of the President of the NYC EDC is to deliver the result the Mayor wants, truth be damned.

Posted by eric at 10:41 AM

MTA board member "concerned" about amended Vanderbilt Yard plans, says board has yet to be fully briefed

Atlantic Yards Report

The one Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) board member who voted against the deal to award the Vanderbilt Yard to Forest City Ratner said he remains “concerned” about reports of amended plans, but can’t formulate his position on the issue until board members are provided with briefing materials in about two weeks.

Mitchell Pally, who represents Suffolk County, told me that, at the MTA board meeting last Wednesday, members were briefed verbally about negotiations regarding Forest City Ratner’s request for extending payments rather than paying the pledged $100 million at the time of closing. (Press reports have indicated FCR wants to pay just $20 million up front.)

He said board members were not briefed regarding a reconfigured Vanderbilt Yard replacement, though Williams testified Friday at a state Senate oversight hearing that the MTA and FCR reached an agreement—to go from the planned nine tracks to seven—before Memorial Day. Pally told me that, while the agreement had been reached by MTA management and staff, the board had not yet weighed in.

Is this basically a done deal? Pally said there was significant backing, from both the political structure and from many individual board members, for the project, and to make changes to continue to make it happen. “What those changes are I don’t know yet, and how they’d impact the project,” he said.


Posted by eric at 10:32 AM

It came from the Blogosphere...

2nd Ave. Sagas, A sweeter sweetheart deal for the Atlantic Yards

Transit blogger Benjamin Kabak weighs in on the shady dealings between Forest City Ratner and the MTA.

So let me get this straight. A few months after the MTA needed an Albany bailout to avoid Doomsday cuts, they’re going to accept $50 million less than they had originally agreed to and $164 million less than market rate for the Atlantic Yards land, and this is somehow acceptable? No wonder the public does not trust the MTA.

MyBrooklynReport.com, 172 Brooklyn Avenue: Whose in Charge of this Eye Sore

Atlantic Yards is invoked by a real estate blog that wonders why the City of New York has allowed a Crown Heights building to sit vacant for decades.

Like most states, New York has exercised its power of Eminent Domain for what the State deems for the highest possible use for its land. Projects like Yankee Stadium, the expansion of Columbia University’s campus, Atlantic Yards project, etc… were all projects that began with the legal condemnation of existing property.

Yet, this property’s highest possible use for 38 years was being a tax shelter.

Do you think that buying this property and rehabilitating it for affordable condo ownership would be a project worth using some of the $24 million dollar grant for the Neighborhood Stabilization Program?

(or is it absurd to assume that the city is interested in stabilizing neighborhoods hard hit by the foreclosure crisis; neighborhoods like Crown Heights?)


This lengthy, allegedly "investigative" piece on ACORN and the Working Families Party is short on citations, obscured by anonymity ("Hildy Johnson" was a character in the newspaper-themed classic films The Front Page and His Girl Friday), and casts perhaps unfair aspersions* on City Council candidate Brad Lander. But we publish it here because it does raise some serious questions about the WFP's role in elections and development.

...a questionnaire sent out by the Party to prospective candidates for Brooklyn Borough President included a section on “Land Use”. The section notes that “Borough Presidents appoint representatives to local community boards and the City Planning commission, which vote on land use and zoning actions under the NYC Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.”

It then asks if the candidate will “pledge to”:

“A. Consider the advice” of the party “regarding your appointments”.

“B. Commit to consulting with” the party “on development before deals with the developer are struck”.

Council candidates were asked to make similar pledges.

This is already a substantial grab for power for a political party. But WFP is not merely interested in using this power to increase its influence and increase its leverage. It is, itself, an actual beneficiary of the deals over which it seeks power.

* Norman Oder wrote the following this past Sunday, in an article headlined "Council candidate Lander, in testimony prepared for Senate hearing, gets tougher on AY, saying deal should be canceled":

Lander, the fund-raising frontrunner for the seat held by Bill de Blasio, has long had a more nuanced position on Atlantic Yards, previously taking a more BrooklynSpeaks-ish position, on his web site stating that "we should use the opportunity to either fix the flaws or reconsider the project." (Lander, former director of the Pratt Center for Community Development, is now a senior fellow there.)

Recently, in debates, Lander has ramped up his criticism of AY. Lander told me that, when he wrote his position a year ago, "I imagined that the economic crisis (which was then just beginning to become clear) might be an occasion for a renegotiation between ESDC/MTA/City/State and FCRC that might include the opportunity to fix some of the fundamental flaws. But as has become clear over the past year, and was evident at the hearing, that is not the case."

Lander's position also might be seen as an effort to compete with Josh Skaller, who's second in fundraising and has long been fundamentally opposed to the project, allying himself with Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn.

Posted by eric at 9:31 AM

Brooklyn Daily Eagle Tuesday Trifecta


Numerous media outlets reported on the State Senate hearing on Atlantic Yards that took place at Pratt Institute on Friday. Many of the 300 seats at the Pratt auditorium were filled with union workers who support the project because of the thousands of jobs it would create. The five-hour hearing was called by State Senator Bill Perkins and other senators to determine the status of the $4.2 billion project, which is being reevaluated by designers in a bid to cut costs. Officials from several city agencies testified, as did supporters and opponents of the plan. Conspicuously absent was the developer, Forest City Ratner, who declined an invitation to attend the hearing.

Ratner’s 80 DeKalb Project Benefits From Union Pact

Forest City Ratner’s residential development in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, will benefit from an agreement signed Friday by the city’s construction unions and their management counterparts.

For Brooklyn GOP, Rudy’s Still the Man

It was a tale of two mayors as Brooklyn Republicans endorsed former Mayor Rudy Giuliani for governor and honored current Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the party’s annual Abraham Lincoln Dinner on Thursday evening.

Bloomberg emphasized his priorities such as education, welfare reform, stronger private investment and lower crime rates. He got applause when he declared, “Atlantic Yards is going to be built!”

NoLandGrab: Ah yes, the eminent domain-loving, public subsidy-embracing GOP!

Posted by eric at 9:16 AM

Atlantic Yards, for Better or Worse

WNYC News Blog
by Matthew Schuerman

Atlantic Yards is looking like a worse and worse deal for the city treasury, according to the Independent Budget Office. Back in 2005, the nonpartisan IBO said the new Nets arena would bring the city $28.5 million more in tax revenue than it would cost in subsidies, over the next 30 years (PDF). But the city has since decided to pitch in about twice the amount of money it said it would spend back then. And as the costs of the arena have grown, the city stands to lose more money because of an agreement that it would not collect mortgage recording taxes and sales taxes.

The IBO didn’t come up with a new estimate, but numbers outlined at a state legislative hearing Friday suggest that the city would see a net loss of about $76 million (PDF).

David Lombino, spokesman for the Economic Development Corporation, said the IBO report is incomplete since it only considers the economic impact of the arena, and not the housing and office space.


NoLandGrab: EDC spokesman Lombino's contention that the IBO report is "incomplete" is laughable, since the only "analysis" of the Atlantic Yards project's fiscal impact conducted by EDC a) relied wholly on Forest City Ratner's unsupportable claims and b) didn't deduct the cost of subsidies.

Posted by eric at 9:02 AM

Work on the railyard appears to resume, but there's no ESDC Construction Update

Atlantic Yards Report and threecee's flickr photostream

As hinted Friday in testimony by MTA Acting Executive Director Helena Williams at the state Senate oversight hearing on Atlantic Yards, work has apparently resumed at the Vanderbilt Yard, at least according to these photos (1, 2) taken yesterday by Tracy Collins.

“They have since informed me they will resume construction and will complete construction,” Williams said Friday of Forest City Ratner, though she didn’t offer a timetable.

Where's the announcement?

No new Construction Update was issued by the Empire State Development Corporation, though the agency--which essentially passes on updates from Forest City Ratner with a new header--is already behind schedule, given that the last update covered the weeks beginning May 11 and May 18.


NoLandGrab: Parking a couple pieces of heavy machinery in the rail yard doesn't necessarily constitute resuming work. Maybe Forest City can pose some of those phony construction workers from Friday's hearing there, too.

Posted by eric at 8:44 AM

Atlantic Yards Report Lightning Round

Waiting for June 24: both the MTA and ESDC will hold board meetings

Well, we already know that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority at its June 24 board meeting (9:30 am) plans to consider a revised payment plan for the Vanderbilt Yard.

I've since learned that the Empire State Development Corporation plans to hold its June board meeting at 10:30 am the same day.

There's no official word yet, but that would be the first time the board could officially adopt a revision of the Modified General Project Plan (GPP), setting the stage for a new hearing process.

Moment of cognitive dissonance: how "public" is AY?

A Rochester Assemblywoman cited Atlantic Yards as an example of a "public work" in promoting her bill calling for the payment of prevailing wages to construction workers employed by such projects.

It's an interesting example. Sure, there's an argument that, if public subsidies are used, they should go to prevailing wage jobs, especially on a large project.

At the same time, if we're going to call Atlantic Yards a "public work," shouldn't the public, for example, have a little more input on the configuration of affordable housing, rather than let Forest City Ratner and its partner ACORN (in hock to the developer) make the call? And shouldn't there be a little more public oversight?

Senate hearing condensed for Twitter: double standard obvious

OK, first I published some 10,000 words on Friday's Senate hearing on Atlantic Yards, then distilled it earlier into a medium-lengh Cliff's Notes.

Here's a version almost short enough for Twitter:
Why do the state and city proclaim public benefits based on old fiscal data, but renegotiate with Forest City Ratner based on changing economic conditions?

NoLandGrab: Why, indeed?

Posted by eric at 8:33 AM

June 1, 2009

Negotiating With Your Contractor: The Atlantic Yards As Kitchen Renovation Metaphor

Noticing New York

Michael D.D. White's brilliant, entertaining, sardonic, must-read blog entry riffs on ESDC CEO Marisa Lago's testimony at Friday's Atlantic Yards hurly-burly — and it could come in handy, too, if you're planning any home renovations.

At Friday’s state senate hearing on Atlantic Yards, Marisa Lago (head of the Empire State Development Corporation and responsible for Atlantic Yards on behalf of Governor Paterson) tried to make current negotiations with proposed project developer, Forest City Ratner easy to explain by likening Atlantic Yards to a kitchen renovation. That therefore allowed Ms. Lago to tell Senators Bill Perkins, Velmanette Montgomery and Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries that Forest City Ratner is going to give the public a lot less than the public was once supposedly going to get by telling the legeslators that there isn’t going to be a garbage disposal, the level of trim and finishes won’t be the same (Formica countertops instead of granite?) and that the stove was only going to have four burners rather than six.

We rather like the kitchen renovation metaphor. Maybe it provided Ms. Lago with an out to avoid saying things in less blunt, specific or informative terms but we think that it does help make some things easier to explain.

(Applicable also to NYC megadevelopments)

1. When selecting a contractor, get bids.

2. If you can (as noted above), it is good if you can bid out your kitchen renovation when things are otherwise slow in the construction business.

3. Establish a schedule by which the contractor must complete the renovation.

4. Specify ahead of time all the work to be done before bidding out the job.

5. Don’t let the contractor demolish the kitchen before you have a contract.

6. Don’t front-load the payments to the contractor.

7. If you advance money to the contractor that is going to be used to buy materials, you probably want to specify that the materials bought will belong to you rather than the contractor.

8. If you’re trying to economize and save money, don’t let the contractor turn the job into a bigger, more costly job than it needs to be by going crazy and ripping out and throwing away a lot of walls, baseboard moldings and appliances that are perfectly serviceable and ought still to be used.

9. Check out your contractor’s credit worthiness before engaging him.

10. Maintain the option to terminate and bring in another contractor- especially if the contractor wants to renegotiate after accepting the job.

Click through to learn all the ESDC's secrets for how not to get the most from your contractor!

Posted by eric at 3:52 PM

It came from the Blogosphere...

Joshing Politics, Atlantic Yards Continues To Be A Debacle

This past Friday state lawmakers tried to have a discussion about the controversial Atlantic Yards development. Ratner's supporters however, decided that they'd rather create a ruckus than anything that resembled a civil discourse.

Brownstoner, Recapping the State Senate Hearing on Atlantic Yards

After more than five years since Atlantic Yards came onto the public radar screen, the State Senate finally got around to holding a hearing on Friday, and from all reports it was the standard spectacle-over-substance event that has come to define the process. The auditorium at Pratt was filled with BUILD employees dressed up as construction workers who persisted to disrupt the proceedings with only a few reprimands from State Senator Bill Perkins, who was running the show.

Curbed, It Happened One Weekend: Half-Price Yards

Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner might end up paying the MTA only half of the $100 million he was supposed to pony up for the Vanderbilt Rail Yards land, the Post reports. Meanwhile the Times wonders if the Nets will ever play in Brooklyn, and if ground is broken on the arena by December 31 (the deadline to sell tax-exempt bonds), they very well might. Hurry up, good seats are still available!

Field of Schemes, Nets crystal ball says: Reply cloudy, ask again in December

The New York state senate held a hearing on Ratner's Atlantic Yards project on Friday, but that didn't shed much light on things, unless you had a burning desire to find out what it sounds like for a roomful of construction workers to blow whistles at the same time.

The Local [Ft. Greene/Clinton Hill], The Day: Backwards and Forward

If you’ve still yet to apprise yourself of what happened at Friday’s jam-packed much-heat-relatively-little-substance state senate committee hearing on Atlantic Yards at Pratt, Norman Oder has condensed his 9,695-word exegesis from Friday night down to Powerpoint size.

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, A Civics Lesson for Bruce Ratner's Bruce Bender

Here we'd like to give a civics lesson to Bruce Bender:
The hearing on Friday was not a debate. It was a Senate oversight hearing by the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions. The way government works is that legislative committees hold hearings to oversee government action. The hearing was to get answers to scores of questions arising from the Atlantic Yards project.

Unfortunately Mr. Bender's corporation and his boss Bruce Ratner didn't deign to testify at the hearing and explain, over/under the din of the disruptions Bender orchestrated, what jobs, housing and tax benefits his imperiled project would bring.

American Chronicle, Detroit, New Jersey Mentioned As Boozer Possibilities

Are the Nets in the running for Utah Jazz all-star forward Carlos Boozer?

New Jersey would be a surprise destination for Boozer. The Nets went 34-48 last season and owner Bruce Ratner reportedly has lost tens of millions in recent years while trying to move the team to a development in Brooklyn.

The Nets ranked 25th in the NBA in attendance (15,147) and are expected to do everything to cut costs from reduce the number of assistants coaches on Lawrence Frank's staff to field a consolidated summer-league entry with another team.

Nets Daily, Ratner, MTA in “Intense Negotiations” over Yards

In an effort to expedite construction of the Nets’ new arena, the MTA appears willing to give Bruce Ratner a break on the price of the railyards at the center of his Atlantic Yards project. Ratner originally agreed to pay $100 million for the rail yards, but now wants to cut that number in half, and pay in installments. The MTA is on board and in “intense negotiations” with Ratner to get it approved this month.

NoLandGrab: The next time any government entity or NY pol has "intense" negotiations with Ratner will be the first time any government entity or NY pol has "intense" negotiations with Ratner. Pardon us if we think our definition of "intense" might differ from theirs.

Posted by eric at 3:20 PM

LIRR chief: Sweeter MTA deal for Ratner could get Yards back on track

The Brooklyn Paper
by Mike McLaughlin

Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner is poised to receive new generous terms from the MTA that could jumpstart his stalled mega-project even as a new report revealed that the city and state would actually lose money on the $4-billion arena, housing and office complex.

Helena Williams, president of Long Island Rail Road and the interim executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, told a state Senate committee on Friday that she’s in “intense negotiations” with Forest City Ratner to alter the deal to sell the Vanderbilt rail yards to the developer.

Ratner agreed to pay $100 million to acquire air rights to build over the trench between Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Street. But pleading hardship due to the global credit crunch, Ratner is looking to pay perhaps as little as $20 million up front and to spread the remainder out of over years.

And the MTA appears to be on board.


NoLandGrab: Okay, let us get this straight.

Later this month, straphangers are going to start paying 25 cents more for each bus or subway ride, a 12.5% increase. Long Island Railroad and Metro North passengers will start paying between 5% and 20% more.

Bruce Ratner, however, because of "hardship due to the global credit crunch," is only going to have to put down $20 million for the Vanderbilt Yard, an 80% decrease from the $100 million he was obligated to pay.

So every time you swipe our MetroCard or buy an LIRR or Metro North ticket after June 28th (perhaps on your way to a job interview or to plead with your mortgage lender for a little more time to make your payment), you can feel good that the higher rate you'll be paying will be going to help a near-billionaire (and his corporation) make ends meet.

Oh, and one other thing. The MTA will apparently allow Ratner to construct a new railyard with only seven tracks, two less than what they'd originally agreed upon. This despite the terms of the MTA's own request for proposal for the sale of the Vanderbilt Yard, which stated that the sale should:

"maximize the economic benefit to MTA for improvement of the public transportation facilities and functions of the MTA" and that "any development on the site should contemplate that LIRR would maintain uninterrupted use of the yard and support facilities at no less than the existing capacity and functionality."

Just for the record, there were 10 tracks in the original yardclick here and count 'em yourself.

Posted by eric at 11:12 AM

DDDB PRESS RELEASE: At State Senate Hearing on Ratner's Atlantic Yards Proposal:

NYC IBO: Nets Arena Would Be Money-Loser for NY City

MTA: Will Bail Out Ratner from Financial Commitments

ESDC: Modified Project Plan Will Require New Hearing & Vote

BROOKLYN, NY— The NY State Senate Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, chaired by Senator Bill Perkins, held an oversight hearing on Friday on the beleaguered and indeterminate Atlantic Yards project proposed by developer Bruce Ratner in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.

Bruce Ratner, CEO of Forest City Ratner, refused Senator Perkins' invitation to testify before the committee, which was seeking answers to questions about the project's past and future viability. Though the developer did not deign to testify, he did send his flacks Joe DePlasco and Bruce Bender to orchestrate ongoing disruptions of the Senate hearing by people claiming to be union construction workers.

But key agency heads did testify, including: Marisa Lago, Chair of the project's lead agency the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC); Interim MTA Chair Helena Williams; and NYC Economic Development Corporation President Seth Pinsky.

The biggest news to come out of the hearing is that:

  1. The $800-900 million Barclays Center Arena, with its $400 million in naming rights for Ratner, will be a money-loser for New York City;

  2. The sweetheart deal the recently bailed-out MTA gave to Ratner in 2005 is about to get sweeter for the developer and sour for the transit riding and taxpaying public;

  3. The ESDC will release a modified project plan in the coming months, which will require a new public hearing on the project and a new unanimous vote by the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB) comprised of Governor Paterson, Assembly Speaker Silver and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith.

(Here is a roundup of key, but simple, questions that were not asked and, thus, not answered.)

"Had the MTA and ESDC chosen the higher competing bid, and viable development proposal, from Extell Development Company in 2005, we would have affordable housing going up over the rail yards now, rather than an impossible development plan, pie-in-the-sky talk about a money-losing arena, and a negotiated developer bailout on the backs of MTA riders and taxpayers," said Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn spokesman Daniel Goldstein.

"Ratner and the ESDC continue to blame our opposition for their problems, but had they listened to us in 2005 they wouldn't be in their self-made mess. They must learn from history and stop trying to prop up the zombie Atlantic Yards project. It's a debacle harming the public interest while draining public resources and energy.”

The most enlightening testimony of the day came from George Sweeting of the New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO), who said that the project's proposed Barclays Center Arena would be a financial loss for New York City. Since the IBO's last report in 2005 the City subsidy had more than doubled from $100 to $205 million. Sweeting said, "This change alone therefore eclipses the $25 million net positive benefit to the city that we previously estimated for the arena."

Norman Oder on the Atlantic Yards Report dug deeper:
(He didn't provide the math, but it's apparently a $66 million loss.) The bottom line, Sweeting told Perkins, was that all the assumptions about benefits touted by the city and state officials need to be recalculated based on current numbers, and they're not available yet. Notably, most of the gains in tax revenue come from commercial space, and there are no plans to build an office tower as of now.

More shocking is the news from the MTA. Ms. Williams confirmed in her testimony that a tentative agreement has been reached with Ratner, pending MTA board approval which will come as a rubberstamp after a public comment session during their June 24th board meeting. In 2005 the MTA appraised the Vanderbilt Rail Yard at $214.5. Eighteen months after Atlantic Yards was announced and Ratner anointed the MTA site, the transit authority issued an RFP which, unsurprisingly due to the stacked political deck, received only one other bidder. Extell Development Company outbid Ratner $150 to $50 million. The MTA, which was just bailed out by taxpayers, forced Ratner to up his bid to $100 million still well below the Extell bid and the appraisal.

The MTA justified acceptance of the lowball cash offer because of the benefit the developer promised to the MTA of a new "state of the art" rail yard. Of course Extell was offering the same thing, but Ratner inflated the value of that new yard. Now, the MTA is set to allow Ratner to build a scaled back version of that promised yard, and, depending on which rumor pans out, pay only $50 million for the 8-acre site in the heart of Brooklyn, or require only $20 million at closing of the deal with the balance to come in "delayed payments."

"It is not apparent how saving $50 million overall or $80 million up front puts Ratner over the top in his effort to build the project, those don't seem to be make or break numbers. So, apparently, it's just another giveaway to Ratner and a fleecing of the public," Goldstein said.

The ESDC's Marisa Lago declared with near certainty that there will be a modified General Project Plan coming out sometime in the coming months, which will trigger a new public hearing, a new vote by the ESDC board and a unanimous vote by the PACB. This would require Governor Paterson to put his stamp of approval on the project for the first time, which would be difficult to do considering the state of the economy, budget cuts, public opposition to the project and changed political perspectives since it was first approved in 2006.

Finally NYC EDC Presdient Pinsky spent his testimony using outdated financial data to continue the city's outdated argument for the project and the New York City Housing Development Corporation testified that they do not know how many "affordable" housing units the project would include or when those units would be built.

Though Forest City Ratner did not bother to come before the Senate Committee, his partners at the MTA confirmed that the developer has a December 31, 2009 deadline to float the tax-exempt bond for the arena. If that deadline is not met, Ratner would lose the tax-exempt option costing him an estimated $150 million, severely jeopardizing the project.

For complete, comprehensive coverage of the hearing visit the Atlantic Yards Report:

DEVELOP DON'T DESTROY BROOKLYN leads a broad-based community coalition fighting
for development that will unite our communities instead of dividing and destroying them.

DDDB is a 501c3 non-profit corporation supported by over 4,000 individual donors from the community.

Posted by eric at 10:38 AM

Recapping the Senate hearing: what was learned/missed, plus the biggest deceptions, memorable moments, and more

Atlantic Yards Report

For those of you who don't have hours to sift through all the coverage of last Friday's Atlantic Yards hearing political theater, today's post from Norman Oder gets our vote for best recap. Featuring the best and worst and most "brutally weird" moments from the event, it also sums up what we learned and what we still don't know.

Our vote for best category:

Most "Monty Python" moment: After DDDB attorney Baker accused Forest City of orchestrating disruptive forces, a construction worker bellowed, "We're not disruptive"

Click through for the rest of the "awards."

"Boy, what is it with you people? You think not getting caught in a lie is the same thing as telling the truth?"--CIA employee Joe Turner (Robert Redford), in Three Days of the Condor.

The state Senate oversight hearing Friday, held by the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions (chaired by Sen. Bill Perkins), was titled “Atlantic Yards: Where are We Now, How Did We Get Here, and Where is this Project Going?”--an enormous goal that was hardly met.

Almost no light was shed on the past and relatively little shed on the present. As suggested by the quote above, government officials were hardly candid--and they (and others) get their due below.

What we learned

But we did learn some important things:

  • the Independent Budget Office (IBO), recalculating its 2005 cost-benefit analysis, concluded the arena would be a money-loser
  • the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is willing to compromise with Forest City Ratner on the timetable (and perhaps the total) for the $100 million owed, as well as the quality of the new Vanderbilt Yard
  • neither the state nor the city have updated their analysis of new revenue--already deeply flawed, because it excludes costs--to acknowledge current conditions
  • that the New York City Housing Development Corporation is waiting for Forest City Ratner and ACORN (which is in hock to the developer) renegotiate the configuration of the affordable housing
  • the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) likely will produce a revision of the Modified General Project Plan (GPP) in the next month or two, which will trigger a new public hearing

What we didn't learn

Some other important things we didn't learn:

  • how long the project might take
  • when construction might begin
  • when affordable housing might begin
  • whether there are enough bonds for affordable housing
  • how the per-unit cost of affordable housing compares to other projects
  • whether architect Frank Gehry is on the project
  • whether officials realized FCR decided to seek more subsidies well before the economic downturn
  • why the ESDC lets private companies benefit from naming rights to public buildings


Posted by lumi at 6:30 AM

A thousand words

WeNeedAY.jpgThis photo by Jonathan Barkey taken outside of last Friday's State Senate hearing on Atlantic Yards pretty much explains it all.

Posted by lumi at 6:03 AM

Two points got lost in media circus

Who were the hard-hatted guys in orange vests really?

In general, the media gave a pass to all of the newly minted hard hats who showed up at last Friday's hearing on Atlantic Yards. Most of the press coverage called them "construction workers," yet no one appeared to have interviewed any of these workers to learn where they received their brand new hard hats (notice the lack of scuff marks) and safety vests (ditto, and you can still see the folds). Presumably, they were compliments of Forest City Ratner or one of the astroturf organizations founded to support the megaproject.

Land valuation coming up

Toward the end of the hearing, George Sweeting, from the city's Independent Budget Office, brought up the issue of the upcoming bond offering, the value of which will be based on the value of the land:

"...it is notable that the land assessments for the parcels under the arena have more than tripled in the last three years."

The value of this land will allegedly be based on comparisons with property in the surrounding area, a comparison that was never made when the land was declared blighted by the Empire State Development Corporation.

Seriously, if this neighborhood is "blighted," then how in hell is the land underneath the arena supposed to triple in value during the past few years?

Posted by lumi at 5:31 AM

Brooklyn Day (2008) vs. Perkins hearing (2009); why FCR's operatives got better results

Atlantic Yards Report

So, why was Brooklyn Day, the Forest City Ratner-sponsored event June 5 at Borough Hall, such a dud, while the FCR-orchestrated response at the state Senate oversight hearing on Friday succeeded in disrupting the event and--in some news accounts--overshadowed more analytical coverage?

Here are a couple of suggestions:

1) It's easier to be against something than to be for something.

2) The above goal is much easier to accomplish when you're committed to being disrespectful.

3) A group is much louder inside a building than outside a building.

4) Probably the most important witness, at least in volunteering vital information, was George Sweeting of the Independent Budget Office (IBO), and he spoke late in the hearing, which meant some in the press had already checked out.


Posted by lumi at 5:24 AM

Forest City in the News

GlobeSt.com, $42 Million Forest City Project Breaks Ground

WASHINGTON, DC-Ground was broken yesterday on a piece of one of the District’s largest development projects – a waterfront park overlooking the Anacostia River. The 5.4-acre development is being built for $42 million in a public private partnership with Forest City Washington. It is part of the District’s plan to transform 42 acres of the former Southeast Federal Center site into an urban waterfront destination.

AP (via Forbes.com), DC mayor breaks ground on waterfront park

Mayor Adrian Fenty has broken ground for a waterfront park to be located between Nationals Park and the historic Navy Yard on the Anacostia River.

The Park at the Yards is part of Washington's largest development project. Fenty broke ground for the $42 million park Thursday, along with officials from private developer Forest City Washington and the General Services Administration.

Washington Business Journal, Forest City breaks ground on D.C. park

The Yards is the only public-private partnership in the country being built on federal land, which was made available by Congress in 2000. Altogether, Forest City and its partner, MacFarlane Partners, plan 2,800 residential units, 1.8 million square feet of offices and as much as 400,000 square feet of retail.

Dallas Observer Blogs, Forest City's "Not Ready" For Mercantile Continental to Become Landmark. Or Apartments Either. Not Just Yet.

Forest City is dragging its heels in hopes that two of its historic properties in Dallas are not encumbered by protective landmark status.

Posted by lumi at 5:03 AM