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August 23, 2009

Atlantic Yards Report - Sleeping Watchdogs and Thoughts From The Walking Tour

Are newspaper watchdogs? Wyman looks nationally, AYR locally

Norman Oder points out Bill Wyman's piece in the web magazine Splice Today, "Five Key Reasons Why Newspapers Are Failing." Wyman finds that the role of watchdog supposedly served by local newspapers has been overstated.

Oder looks at a recent Atlantic Yards story to see how this how the watchdogs are doing:

Did the other two dailies cover the recent dust-up in the race for the 35th District Council seat, in which challenger Delia Hunley-Adossa (via the Courier-Life's notorious Stephen Witt) called the New York Times blog The Local biased?

Did they try to figure out whether the charges were legit?

Nope.

...

Did any of the blogs in Clinton Hill (and adjacent Fort Greene), the alleged "bloggiest" neighborhood, cover it? Clinton Hill Blog? The Real Fort Greene? (The latter has publicly ceded its role to The Local.)

What about the comprehensive-in-aspiration Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn or Brooklyn the Borough?

What about Brownstoner, which, Steven Berlin Johnson predicted, in five years would be one of the "big bloggers [that] will break stories [about civic controversies like Atlantic Yards], comment on events, and even make money."

Nope.

(The only journalist/blogger besides me to pick up the story was journalist Aaron Short, who also covers politics and news for the Courier-Life and other news outlets.)

Yes, journalists and others using blogs can serve as watchdogs. But it isn't happening enough.

Learning from the walking tour: Fifth Avenue and naming rights

A walking tour led by Norman Oder of the areas surrounding Vanderbilt Yards causes him to revisit the issues of street closings and naming rights as regards the proposed Atlantic Yards project.

The importance of Fifth Avenue

I know that urban analysts now say that closing streets can actually diminish traffic rather than merely divert it to cause bottlenecks elsewhere. But I think that the plan to close and demap Fifth Avenue between Flatbush and Atlantic avenues deserves more discussion. After all, we saw a lot of cars heading north on Fifth for drop-offs and pick-ups at the Atlantic Center Mall, notably Pathmark.

As I've pointed out, the Municipal Art Society (MAS), in its 2006 testimony on the project (graphic above), suggested that, with a north-south re-orientation of the arena, Fifth Avenue could be kept open. Now, though we don't have updated renderings, the arena has apparently been re-oriented.

So I don't think Forest City Ratner's MaryAnne Gilmartin ended the debate when she asserted last month that the reduction in the arena bowl "doesn’t change the general footprint for the arena itself… and the Urban Room has not been eliminated.”

After all, we haven't seen the site plan. And the Urban Room wouldn't arrive until Building 1 arrives, and that's on indefinite hold, given the market for office space.

Naming rights

One of the tour participants reminded me afterwards that, while I did mention the name "Barclays Center," I didn't discuss the naming rights deal for the arena or the subway station.

The arena naming rights deal lowers the risk for the developer enormously, even though there's little justification for governments to simply give up naming rights. And the naming rights deal for the subway station is not a "goodly sum."

At the July 22 community information meeting ..., moderator Craig Hammerman asked, "Why will Forest City Ratner get to keep the naming rights revenues for what the ESDC [Empire State Development Corporation] claims will be a publicly-owned arena?"

(The reported sum is $400 million over 20 years, which would pay for more than half of the arena construction.)

“It’s part of the financing for the project,” responded ESDC attorney Steve Matlin.

While it certainly is counted on by Forest City Ratner, it was never, as far as I know, suggested to be part of the benefits or part of the sources and uses for the project.

Perhaps someone will ask about that in comments (due by August 31) on the ESDC's pending Modified General Project Plan.

Posted by steve at August 23, 2009 8:26 AM