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June 30, 2010

Is ten-year AY schedule reasonable? Judge puts ESDC on the defensive as Development Agreement is scrutinized in 75-minute reargument

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder has an in-depth report on yesterday's Atlantic Yards court hearing.

In an unusual reargument of a case that was argued January 19 and decided March 10, a lawyer for the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) was put on the defensive yesterday, forced to acknowledge that there are far fewer penalties for delays in completing the Atlantic Yards project as a whole than those for the first phase, which includes the arena and three towers.

Will it make a difference? It’s hard to predict a yes, given that courts generally defer to agencies like the ESDC.

But the fact of the reargument itself--and the uncomfortable facts in the belatedly-released Atlantic Yards Development Agreement--suggest that, at the least, New York County Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman will chastise the agency, if not order a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) or otherwise throw a wrench into the project.

After all, in her March 10 ruling Friedman criticized the ESDC’s “deplorable lack of transparency” and acknowledged that the ESDC’s use of a ten-year timeframe for the project buildout in the Modified General Project Plan (MGPP) was supported “only minimally.”

The MGPP, approved last September, was amplified and modified by the Development Agreement, signed in December but released in January. And yesterday Friedman steadily put ESDC lawyer Philip Karmel through a careful cross-examination.

75-minute hearing

At the outset of the hearing, Friedman said she’d allow only 40 minutes of argument, but she spent 75 minutes listening to and questioning Karmel and lawyers for two groups of community petitioners. The latter had asked her to reconsider the ruling that the project's ten-year timeline was legitimate and that an SEIS was not necessary.

Key to the motion for reargument is the Development Agreement, which was not released until about a week after the oral argument in January--despite a pledge to release it earlier--and which Friedman had refused to add to the case.

Though Atlantic Yards may seem like a done deal--eminent domain was approved months ago and (perhaps not coincidentally) Forest City Ratner announced yesterday that concrete had been poured for the Atlantic Yards arena--attorneys for the ESDC and FCR evinced some tension, a sign that the courts remain a wild card.

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Posted by eric at 9:58 AM

INTERVIEW | JESSICA PICHARDO OF LINGER CAFE & LOUNGE BROOKLYN, NY

Eating Everywhere

Jessica Pichardo runs from the backyard space of Linger Café & Lounge, her restaurant on Atlantic Ave in Brooklyn where she’s chatting up a group of people to say hello to me. She seems a bit frazzled – the polar opposite of the mood in the restaurant which is more laid back and calm. But such is life when you run a café in a booming neighborhood; working six long days per week. But she’s in great spirits, and is genuinely happy with her life since opening the doors of Linger almost one year ago.
...

What do you see happening in this part of Brooklyn right now and going forward?
I see a lot of development – more & more people moving to the area. It’s such a great central location. We’re on the cusp of a lot of different neighborhoods (Boerum Hill/Fort Greene/Clinton Hill/Downtown Brooklyn/Park Slope) within walking distance. It’s definitely an up and coming area especially with the Atlantic Yards project happening. I expect a lot more hustle & bustle over the next few years. I’m excited about being one of the pioneers in this neighborhood, and one of the things that’s important to me is staying true to that mom & pop, small business sort of mentality regardless of how developed the area may become.

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NoLandGrab: Linger, unfortunately, is exactly the type of mom & pop shop that one doesn't find amid the fast-food chains surrounding Madison Square Garden, Yankee Stadium and other sports venues.

Posted by eric at 9:36 AM

Work begins on concrete foundation for Nets new Brooklyn home

Bergen Record
by John Brennan

The New Jersey Nets celebrated an important milestone in the construction of the Barclays Center basketball arena near downtown Brooklyn on Tuesday, as concrete began pouring for the foundation of the 18,000-seat facility.

Nearly 700 cubic yards of concrete from two plants was delivered to the site in 80 concrete-mixing trucks, according to Bob Sanna. He is a vice president with Forest City Ratner, which is developing the Atlantic Yards project at the site that ultimately also is scheduled to include thousands of condominiums.

“Over the next few months, we will continue with the mass excavation, underground plumbing and electrical work, along with ongoing foundation work,” Sanna said.

Arenas of this size typically take about 24 months to build, and the Nets hope to have the building ready to open by mid-2012. If that happens — and the weather temperatures would have to cooperate this winter so concrete can still be poured — then the team could meet its goal of moving into the Barclays Center in time for the start of the 2012-13 season.

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Related coverage...

The Brooklyn Blog [NYPost.com], Nets building a foundation -- on Brooklyn arena

The Nets might be a dark horse in the LeBron James sweepstakes as they try re-building their fragile foundation, but at least the foundation of their long-delayed Brooklyn arena project appears in better shape.

Forest City Ratner Co., developer of the Atlantic Yards project in Prospect Heights, announced today that The Laquila Group, a Brooklyn-based excavation and foundation contractor, along with WNW Concrete Contracting, a local minority owned business, has begun pouring concrete for the foundation of the 18,000-seat Barclays Center.

NetsDaily, Speaking of Building Foundations...

Barclays Center Press Release, CONCRETE POURED AT ATLANTIC YARDS [PDF]

Posted by eric at 9:26 AM

June 29, 2010

Atlantic Yards YES! Transit Riders, NO!!

Bus and subway riders who woke up yesterday to find that their regular buses and subways no longer exist can take solace in the fact that the deficit-riddled MTA gave Bruce Ratner a giant discount so he could build a shiny new basketball palace.

The Brooklyn Paper, MTA service cuts make it a Monday from hell

Mass transit became mass confusion on Monday, as the most severe service cuts to the city’s transit system in 30 years took hold in Brooklyn, where 26 bus lines were restructured or eliminated, a subway line vanished, and service became slower and more crowded.

Riders across the borough endured 90-degree heat as they made a sweaty trudge to new bus stops, where they deciphered new maps, grew frustrated by outdated information, and ultimately threw caution to the wind.

“I’ll take the B61, and hopefully it will work — but I’m not really sure where it goes,” admitted Richard Isaacson, a Park Slope resident who would normally hop on the B71 or B75 at Smith and Ninth streets, but can’t anymore because the two lines were eliminated in an effort by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to close an alleged $800-million budget shortfall.
...

The B64 bus used to stop right outside Vinny Galbo’s Bath Beach bakery on Harway Avenue and Bay 50th Street. But service south of 25th Avenue was cut, leaving Galbo without customers — and with a new job.

“I have to go outside every five minutes and tell people that there is no longer a bus stopping here,” he said. It’s like another job all in itself.”

It’s also disappointing considering that all these people paid their taxes, all for what?

NoLandGrab: For what? For Bruce Ratner's bottom line, of course.

Posted by eric at 11:10 AM

Motion to Reconsider Atlantic Yards in Court Tuesday

Brooklyn Daily Eagle
by Ryan Thompson

Tuesday a Manhattan Supreme Court justice will hear oral arguments on a Motion to Reconsider the approval of the multibillion-dollar Atlantic Yards project in Downtown Brooklyn.
...

Years of litigation has plagued and delayed developer Forest City Ratner from building Atlantic Yards on schedule, as lead opposition group, Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, challenged the state’s controversial use of eminent domain to take the land from private homeowners and businesses in the project’s footprint. The group BrooklynSpeaks claims that the new evidence consists of a master development agreement that was allegedly executed between Forest City Ratner and other parties in the Atlantic Yards project, after the Empire State Development Corporation had already agreed to approve the Modified General Project Plan.

That agreement was withheld from public disclosure until after the hearing in the case, the petitioners claim. While several lawsuits challenging Atlantic Yards remain pending, few legal analysts believe that any pose a real threat to stopping the project, now that the eminent-domain lawsuits are over.

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Posted by eric at 10:12 AM

Was there an "appeal" to the Appellate Division in the Columbia eminent domain case? The Court of Appeals gets it wrong

Atlantic Yards Report

Shhhh! Geniuses at work.

After watching the oral argument June 1 in the eminent domain case involving the Columbia University expansion, I suggested that Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman was being either incredibly ignorant or faux-naive when he asked if there is "statutorily-provided discovery in this kind of situation."

The answer, of course, is no, and that's why the law favors condemnors more than in any other state.

Deference, and new law

The court's decision last week offered deference to the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) blight findings.

Also, as attorneys at ESDC co-counsel Sive, Paget & Riesel admit, it created new law by "holding that 'civic projects' under the UDC [Urban Development Corporation] Act are not limited to public institutions, and may in fact include projects proposed by private educational institutions."

(What about trade schools and Shoot the Freak?)

Actual ignorance

It also included a line that was not faux-naive but rather incredibly ignorant:

There's no appeal to the Appellate Division in eminent domain cases.

Under the Eminent Domain Procedure Law, that's where cases start, which is why there's no "statutorily-provided discovery." They should've gotten that right.

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NoLandGrab: Based on the ruling by the Court of Appeals in the Columbia case, we're just curious about when it's not appropriate to use eminent domain in New York State?

Posted by eric at 9:54 AM

Oral argument today in motion to reargue Atlantic Yards timetable case

Atlantic Yards Report

I wrote on June 23 about the effort to get the belatedly-released Development Agreement to be considered as part of the record.

Here are the messages from Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and BrooklynSpeaks, both of which organized petitioners.

DDDB said:

If, as the Court ruled, the ESDC's rationale was "only minimally" supported before, it would seem that that minimal support erodes entirely due to the facts subsequently revealed in the Atlantic Yards Development Agreement.

BrooklynSpeaks said:

Judge Friedman's decision to proceed with oral arguments on the sponsors' motion to reconsider represents an important opportunity to put before the court new information from the development agreement indicating the 2009 MGPP failed to address impacts of the Atlantic Yards project that ESDC knew were not only possible, but likely. Members of the community are encouraged to join us for the June 29 hearing.

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Posted by eric at 9:46 AM

Tuesday, June 29: Oral Argument on Thorny Atlantic Yards Legal Issue

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

While Forest City Ratner has gained control of the arena site (by abusing eminent domain and a sweetheart deal with the MTA) and started excavation for the arena, there is still a thorny legal issue concerning the timeframe of the project and the resulting environmental impacts.

Oral argument on that thorny legal issue will take place on Tuesday, June 29th at 11am on the case DDDB et al. v. ESDC. The argument is on the plaintiffs' motion asking the court to reconsider and reargue their challenge to the state's September 2009 approval of the Atlantic Yards Modified General Project Plan.

Judge Marcy Friedman had ruled for the ESDC (Empire State Development Corporation). But the plaintiffs, DDDB and 19 other community groups, as well as BrooklynSpeaks, asked the court to allow reargument in light of new, critical evidence found in the Atlantic Yards Development Agreement between ESDC and Ratner, which had been made public only after the case was argued. Put more simply—the ESDC purposely held back key documents from the legal record.

Details on the oral argument:
Tuesday, June 29. 11 AM
60 Centre Street, Room 335
Manhattan

Please take some time out of your day, if possible, to attend the hearing. (Arrive a bit early to get through security.)

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Posted by eric at 9:26 AM

June 28, 2010

Flashback: Kidd, Gehry, and more on the old Atlantic Yards homepage animation

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder takes a stroll down memory lane.

This was the animation on the old Atlantic Yards web site, now defunct.

Can you guess how many Nets, project designers, and even buildings are no longer part of the scene?

Here's my list (but I may have missed a few):

  • Jason Kidd
  • Richard Jefferson
  • Vince Carter
  • Frank Gehry
  • Laurie Olin
  • Nenad Kristic
  • Bostjan Nachbar
  • Miss Brooklyn

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Posted by eric at 10:40 AM

In softball interview with hometown paper, Forest City Enterprises CEO Chuck Ratner stresses integrity, openness, and candor

Atlantic Yards Report

The Cleveland Plain Dealer, hometown paper of Forest City Enterprises, today offers a Q&A headlined Charles Ratner, president and CEO of Forest City Enterprises Inc.: Talk With the Boss.

The relevant section for Atlantic Yards watchers, is this:

The Question: What other key lessons have you learned?

The Answer: Perhaps the lessons that I've learned are best described by the core values that we have worked to develop and celebrate at our company. First among those is integrity. I guess what I've learned, as much as anything, is what goes around comes around, as they say. It's extremely important to conduct yourself with a sense of your own integrity, and then make sure that there's organizational integrity, institutional integrity.

The second is openness and candor. I think much of what we've seen recently, in the world both of public and private enterprise, is that that openness is often compromised. People are afraid to deliver bad news. There are always challenges there, and you need to know about them if you hope to deal with them.

Earlier this week, in a friendly profile in the New York Times, his cousin Bruce Ratner sounded a little more defensive:

“There’s a bittersweet feeling in having a majority owner in Brooklyn not be us,” he said, acknowledging his many critics will scoff because “when a developer speaks it’s not always believed.”

Maybe there's good reason for that, as I wrote.

As for openness and candor, there's DDDB's list of 20 times Forest City Ratner chose the opposite tack.

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NoLandGrab: We're not afraid to deliver bad news, Chuck — if what goes around really does come around, there's a giant s**tstorm headed in Forest City's direction.

Posted by eric at 10:27 AM

THE GATEWAY (WARNING: INCLUDES ACTUAL BREAKING POLITICAL NEWS)

Gatemouth's Blog [Room Eight]

WOW! You Heard It Here First Department:

Supposedly Purer Than Thou anti-development, anti-establishment, Doug Biviano is circulating joint nominating petitions with Mark Pollard, the pro-development shill Bruce Ratner is running against State Senator Velmanette Montgomery.

Does this make Biviano Ratner's means of punishing Joan Millman?

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Posted by eric at 10:22 AM

The Destruction Of NYC Mass Transit Commences

WOR Producer Writes

You may have noticed something: As of today a lot of the subway and bus service in New York City has been destroyed or radically cut back. If you haven’t noticed it today, then tomorrow in your Monday commute. Further cuts seem assured in the future, combined with ever-increasing fares that will eventually put what service survives out of the reach of the poor, the working class and even some of the middle class. This in a world of diminishing oil and increasing global warming, where mass transit is needed more than ever.
...

We’re told this act of vandalism– which carried to its conclusion will, for New York City, be an act of economic suicide– is needed to close an $ 800 million MTA budget gap. $800 million – oh boo-hoo. That’s less than the amount that was given in city and state subsidies to Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase to build new offices in lower Manhattan.
...

The MTA– the same MTA that sold the Atlantic Yards to power broker/ultimate insider Bruce Ratner to develop, even though another developer offered them three times what Ratner did– and then, when Ratner hit cash-flow problems, sweetened the deal for him– they too never explored fiscal alternatives to what they’re doing. And all this in addition to $ 511 million in tax-free bonds for a Nets arena for Ratner (and new Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, Russian mega-billionaire, whose source of colossal wealth has never been satisfactorily explained [you better not try]). And…

Oh, why go on?

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Posted by eric at 9:48 AM

June 27, 2010

Greg David of Crain's: Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff "orchestrated" Atlantic Yards

Atlantic Yards Report

Within a 25th anniversary retrospective headlined New York City: Then & Now: Whether in a real estate boom or fiscal bust, NYC revolves around Wall Street's siren song, Greg David of Crain's New York Business offers a section about former Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Dan Doctoroff, with a paragraph about Atlantic Yards:

Even without the Olympics as a rationale, he made remarkable progress. At the end of 2006, he conceived of a way for the city to finance a subway-line extension to Hudson Yards on the West Side, where he envisioned a multibillion-dollar residential and commercial neighborhood. Behind the scenes, he orchestrated the approval of a massive mixed-used project at Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, anchored by an arena for the New Jersey Nets basketball team.

Well, he helped orchestrate the approval--it's a state project, not a city one--and, more likely, orchestrated the package of city subsidies and the city's unswerving commitment to the project.

Note how David concludes that Atlantic Yards is and was a place, not a project.

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Posted by steve at 8:04 AM

Federal corruption investigation reportedly involves Senator Carl Kruger, whose attorney says he's "not a target"

Atlantic Yards Report

Southern Brooklyn State Senator Carl Kruger, he of the big political war chest and questionable allegiances (e.g., the "Three Amigos" insurrection in Albany), has long carried Forest City Ratner's water on Atlantic Yards.

And while a reported federal corruption investigation of Kruger does not apparently touch on Atlantic Yards, it suggests some more dubious behavior on the part of the Senator--though parties involved say that's not so.

...

Who can forget how, at a 5/29/09 oversight hearing, he criticized the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) for "foot-dragging in developing a dialogue” that could advance the project and also cited the MTA's “apparent refusal to move forward on a project that is critical to New York City’s economic future.”

Kruger represents another district tied to the Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club, , part of the southern Brooklyn zone from which Forest City Ratner executive Bruce Bender sprung (as noted by Matthew Schuerman in the Observer).

Kruger endorsed the $6 billion lie; he received $4000 from Bruce Ratner's brother and sister-in-law; and, though a Democrat, he campaigned for Republican Martin Golden in return for new district boundaries that protected his seat, as recounted by Seymour Lachman in Three Men in a Room.

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Posted by steve at 8:00 AM

Jay-Z expected to be among first to visit LeBron

Yahoo Sports
By Adrian Wojnarowski

This article mentions the exit of Rod Thorn, General Manager of the Nets.

Nets general manager Rod Thorn and coach Avery Johnson will also make the trip, but Thorn has decided to leave his job and retire in July. He hasn’t been happy with the pay cut the new owner has offered, and he also feels that at 69 years old his appetite for the job’s grind has diminished.

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NLG: A pay cut for Thorn? Is Mr. Billionaire Oligarch cheaping out, a la the Bruce? Isn't it supposed to be all "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" with the Nets now?

Posted by steve at 7:55 AM

June 26, 2010

Catching up on AY-related campaign contributions to Andrew Cuomo, and reasons to expect little reform when it comes to developers

Atlantic Yards Report

As with Attorney General-turned-Governor Eliot Spitzer, it's unwise to expect Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the gubernatorial front-runner, to enact fundamental reforms when it comes to developers.

The campaign finance system is just too entrenched.

And while Cuomo has said nothing about Atlantic Yards, and taken campaign contributions from those associated with the project, he--assuming he's elected--would have a significant role in overseeing the project via the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and the proposed (and yet undesigned) governance entity.

His lengthy campaign platform does not discuss reform of the ESDC when it comes to projects like Atlantic Yards. Nor does it address reforms regarding eminent domain, even though New York is an outlier among states that have tightened their laws in the last five years.

Even without following the advice of libertarians like the Institute for Justice, Cuomo might conclude that cases like that regarding the expansion of Columbia University show that the eminent domain system needs a second look.

Attorney General Cuomo sat on his hands for Atlantic Yards.

As Attorney General, Cuomo has remained singularly uninterested in Atlantic Yards. State Senator Bill Perkins last December asked Cuomo for a written opinion regarding the Atlantic Yards bond deal, focusing on the absence of a PACB review.

As far as I know, no formal response was issued.

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Posted by steve at 8:13 AM

Brooklyn Senator a Focus of Federal Corruption Inquiry

The New York Times
By Danny Hakim and A.G. Sulzberger

Atlantic Yards booster, Carl Kruger, is the object a corruption investigation. Kruger comes out of the Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club, which also produced Bruce Bender, aide to developer Bruce Ratner.

Federal investigators are examining whether Senator Carl Kruger, one of the State Legislature’s most powerful members, sought campaign contributions in exchange for political favors, according to court filings and people briefed on the case.

Mr. Kruger, a Democrat from Brooklyn who has amassed the Senate’s largest campaign account, declined to comment on the investigation.

But a Senate Democratic spokesman confirmed Friday that the F.B.I. and the United States attorney’s office in Brooklyn were reviewing allegations that Mr. Kruger helped businessmen with bureaucratic hurdles, with the expectation that they would hold fund-raisers for him.

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Posted by steve at 7:49 AM

L. Londell McMillan Receives Reginald F. Lewis Foundation Award at Third Annual Gala Luncheon in East Hampton

October Gallery

McMillan, who represents Spike Lee, was likely a factor in Spike's silence on Atlantic Yards. Spike ultimately endorsed the project by attending its groundbreaking this past March.

The prominent attorney, Mr. McMillan, will receive the Reginald F. Lewis Award, which honors African American entrepreneurs who succeeded internationally in business before the age of 50, as Lewis did. The first African American to build a billion-dollar company, Lewis led the largest leveraged buyout in the 1980s. He went on to shatter all expectations and inspire future generations of African American entrepreneurs.

Mr. McMillan, who has represented such luminaries as the late Michael Jackson, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Usher, LL Cool J, Roberta Flack and Spike Lee, joins the likes of Sean "Diddy" Combs and real estate mogul R. Donahue Peebles, past recipients. He is also one of the co-owners and partners with real-estate developer Bruce Ratner and hip-hop icon Jay-Z in the New Jersey Nets and the Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn, future home to the NBA team. Additionally, Mr. McMillan is owner and Group Publisher of The NorthStar Group, which publishes Jones Magazine (www.jonesmag.com) and The Source (www.thesource.com) .

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Posted by steve at 7:35 AM

June 25, 2010

City provides $32.5M cash for project infrastructure, claims total subsidy to Ratner is lower than previously stated; reasons for skepticism

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder takes another well-worth-a-read look at Atlantic Yards's fuzzy math.

Yesterday, the Empire State Development Corporation amended the State Funding Agreement for Atlantic Yards so it could pass along an additional $32.5 million in city funding to Forest City Ratner for project-related infrastructure.

From one perspective, it seems like a significant increase in city subsidies for Atlantic Yards, given that the Forest City Ratner will have directly received $171.5 million.

That's far more than the initial $100 million pledged in 2005.

City subsidy actually down?

However, representatives of the ESDC and New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYC EDC) both stated yesterday that the city's commitment to Atlantic Yards was well below the $205 million figure that has been reported for three years. (With $100 million from the state, that would be $305 million.)

I distrust that explanation, as I will explain below. After all, Forest City Ratner itself counted $205 million in city funds, as noted in the screenshot at right from the former Atlantic Yards web site.

Rather, the evidence suggests that NYC EDC is taking a very narrow view of subsidy--cash delivered directly to the developer--and excluding other infrastructure work that is related to the project but paid for directly by the city.

If so, that means that the administration of Mayor Mike Bloomberg has been willing to increase the city's commitment to a private-public project like Atlantic Yards, while proposing cuts to quintessential public services like libraries by $75 million. (The City Council just restored many of the library cuts.)

It all deserves a closer look, perhaps in an oversight hearing.

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Posted by eric at 11:03 AM

Jeffries on Atlantic Yards governance bill: optimistic, but "significant negotiation" still required

Atlantic Yards Report

I caught up today with Brooklyn Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, lead sponsor of the new version of the Atlantic Yards governance bill, to ask what's different this year, with the Empire State Development Corporation apparently on board.

"We have been working closely together over the last several months to convince the agency of the need to create a governance structure to improve transparency and accountability related to the project moving forward," he said. "In order for ESDC to create a subsidiary, we need to legislatively authorize that action, which is why Senator [Velmanette] Montgomery and I have introduced the bill."

Negotiations coming

Why is the ESDC more receptive? "I think agencies are generally more receptive when legislation is less proscriptive, as it relates to the manner in which they are expected to conduct themselves," he said. "The bill, as written, still requires significant negotiation between elected officials, community leaders and ESDC as to the precise nature of the governance structure moving forward."

That may be an interesting discussion; the legislation last year had clear roles for local appointees, while the structure right now is vague.

"The conversations with ESDC are ongoing," Jeffries said. "I have expressed the sentiment that the framework laid out in the governance legislation should be viewed as a working document for an agreement, in the future. Similarly, the subsidiary structure that currently exists with respect to Moynihan Station, Queens West, and Brooklyn Bridge Park provides an extremely useful model."

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Related coverage...

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Bill Would Require More Oversight for Atlantic Yards

[Jeffries's] bill has now passed the Assembly’s Corporations, Authorities and Commissions Committee, according to BrooklynSpeaks, a coalition of civic organizations and advocacy groups in the areas near Atlantic Yards.

State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery has introduced a similar bill (S08193). Both bills direct the ESDC (Empire State Development Corporation) to establish a subsidiary corporation for planning and oversight of Atlantic Yards.

Jim Vogel, a spokesperson for Montgomery, told the Eagle that Atlantic Yards is the only project of that size that the ESDC is sponsoring that does not have an official entity that oversees development, construction and governance. Example of such overseeing bodies Vogel gave include the Battery Park City Authority in Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corp. in Brooklyn.
...

A spokesman for Forest City Ratner told the Eagle that “FCRC does not have a comment on the proposed legislation.”

Posted by eric at 10:42 AM

Brooklyn pastor, congregation protest at Garden, ask NBA to fully vet Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov

NY Daily News
by Matt Gagne

Pastor Clinton Miller of the Brown Memorial Baptist Church in Brooklyn and dozens of congregation members protested in front of the Garden Thursday afternoon to express their disappointment in the NBA's appointment of Mikhail Prokhorov as the Nets' majority owner.

Wearing a grey pinstriped suit with a gold tie, Miller drew the attention of bystanders and passersby on the corner of 33rd St. and 7th Ave. as he called for the league to investigate the business dealings of Prokhorov, the Russian billionaire who has stirred controversy for his alleged ties to Zimbabwe's repressive government.
...

"We're not here to say he shouldn't be the owner of the Nets," said Miller, who added that he hoped Thursday's protest would lead to a meeting with Stern. "We seek clarification and clarity on the business ties of Mikhail Prokhorov and his connections to Zimbabwe. If we don't get clarification, who can outwardly support an NBA franchise that comes to our borough?"

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Related coverage...

NY Observer, Atlantic Yards Under Construction, Brooklynites Attack Nets Owner

As NBA fans lined up in anticipation of the NBA Draft Thursday night, Rev. Clinton Miller spoke to a small crowd about what he called the NBA's "double standard" for owners and players and how a company that Mr. Prokhorov partially owns has alleged ties to Zimbabwe, a country the U.S. holds sanctions against.

Some of those gathered held signs with slogans like "NBA DAVID, GET STERN WITH THE OWNERS" and "DID THE NBA REALLY VET THE NET(s)?"
...

Attending the protest was Daniel Goldstein, the longtime holdout who lived in the Nets arena footprint until he finally sold his apartment to arena developer Bruce Ratner earlier this year.

"I think that the NBA is playing with fire in that they looked the other way and didn't fully investigate Prokhorov because they are desperate for the money he is bringing to the Nets and I think it's going to burn them in the end," Mr. Goldstein told the Observer at the protest.

Posted by eric at 10:28 AM

NY's Highest Court Upholds Columbia University Expansion Plan

WNYC Radio
by Matthew Schuerman

The state's highest court has unanimously rejected a lawsuit by two West Harlem businesses that challenged Columbia University's $6.3 billion expansion plan. The university controls the overwhelming majority of the 17 acres where it wants to build a third campus, and has already begun digging sewage trenches and demolishing buildings. The Court of Appeals decision will allow the university to proceed more confidently while also putting to rest a decision from an appeals court that sided in favor of the property owners.
...

Nick Sprayregen, the owner of a self-storage company that was one of the two plaintiffs, said he is considering taking the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. "It means that entities such as Columbia or a developer can bring on their own blight into a neighborhood and then benefit from it," Sprayregen said. "It really has far-reaching consequences and none of it is positive."

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Additional coverage...

Joshing Politics, NY Top Court Fails On Eminent Domain Yet Again

Allowing a wealthy developer to take the homes of a neighborhood to profit from condos and a basketball arena under the guise of community development was bad enough. Now New York's top court, the Court of Appeals, is bending for the will of an economic giant and against small businesses that stand in their way. We are talking of course, about the private Columbia University, the largest land owner in Uptown Manhattan versus the few business owners that stand in their way of a major campus expansion.

To be clear, nothing is standing in the way of Columbia's major campus expansion. The properties owned by the Singhs and Nick Sprayregen stand only in the way of a contiguous expansion.

Instead of claiming the arguments shown above, the Court should come clean, and admit to what's really behind all this. When push comes to shove, the rich are given deference over those that are not. Campaign donations from those that can afford it are used to unfairly sway those that are elected to serve the people. Ultimately, the judges fall in line and make flimsy excuses for allowing this shameful practice to continue.

AP, NY's top court upholds Columbia expansion plan

Three businesses in the project zone sued. They claimed collusion between the school and state agency, arguing that findings of blight were based on vermin, garbage and mold in buildings Columbia owned. Attorney Normal Siegel argued the university should not be rewarded for that with the forced sale of others' property.

Siegel said he expects his clients to seek a review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"We respectfully disagree with the reasons, the analysis and the conclusion," he said. "At minimum this should be a wakeup call for the people in New York regarding the abuse of eminent domain. It calls out for major legislative reform."

Crain's NY Business, Columbia wins key legal battle on expansion

The Singh and Sprayregen families, who combined own about 9% of the area Columbia wants to redevelop, sued the ESDC to block it from condemning their property. Columbia owns the lion's share of the rest of the land, although the city also owns a portion. The families had alleged, among other charges, that there was no evidence of blight in the neighborhood until Columbia started buying up buildings and letting them fall into disrepair. A finding of blight is necessary for the use of eminent domain. The families also alleged that there was collusion between Columbia and the ESDC, and that they acted in bad faith.

Gotham Gazette, Seizure Power

The ruling is the latest victory for the state and city as they have declared property blighted so that another private owner can develop it for another, purportedly better use. In earlier rulings, the courts also upheld the state’s use of eminent domain in clearing the way for Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards complex in downtown Brooklyn.

Faced with such decisions, some advocates have called for legislation to change the eminent domain law. For more on the issue, see Eminent Domain Changes Seek to Limit State’s Power to Seize Property.

GlobeSt.com, High Court Upholds Columbia Expansion

The business owners, represented by civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, argued that there were no findings of blight in the area before Columbia acquired property there. “Despite the objective data in the record to the contrary, the Appellate Division plurality agreed, stating that there was ‘no evidence whatsoever that Manhattanville was blighted prior to Columbia gaining control over the vast majority of property therein,’” wrote Judge Ciparick. “This argument is unsupported by the record.”

The state’s highest court ruled that the lower court had disregarded the results of a 2003 study conducted by consulting firm Urbitran Associates at the request of the New York City Economic Development Corp., when the university had just begun acquiring property in the area. “Indeed, the Urbitran study unequivocally concluded that there was ‘ample evidence of deterioration of the building stock in the study area’ and that ‘substandard and unsanitary conditions were detected in the area,’” according to Judge Ciparick’s opinion.

NoLandGrab: Let's just be clear that nothing is as "unsupported by the record" as a study commissioned by the New York City Economic Development Corporation.

Posted by eric at 10:00 AM

The Absurdity of Eminent Domain in New York

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

From the NY Law Journal:

...Judge Robert S. Smith said he agreed with all of the Court's ruling except the part explicitly extending eminent domain consideration to most, if not all, educational and recreational projects.

"Surely this approach will, in some imaginable cases, cause the statute to be unconstitutional as applied: would anyone seriously suggest, for example, that private tennis camps or karate schools ('educational' uses), or private casinos or adult video stores ('recreational' uses), qualify as 'public' uses in the constitutional sense?" Judge Smith wrote in a brief concurring opinion.

Given the Court's ruling today, yes many would seriously suggest this...those many just happen to be powerful government officials and their developer friends. The State's attorney in the Columbia case basically said such uses would be proper.

And this is the road of absurdism the Court has laid out for New Yorkers.

link

Posted by eric at 9:50 AM

Universities and Eminent Domain

The Volokh Conspiracy
by Ilya Somin

In Kaur v. New York Urban Development Corporation, its recent decision upholding the condemnation of property for transfer to Columbia University, the New York Court of Appeals claimed that the use of eminent domain to transfer land to a private university is more defensible than its use to transfer land to commercial corporations, as in the Atlantic Yards case:

Unlike the [New Jersey] Nets basketball franchise [one of the key beneficiaries of the Atlantic Yards takings], Columbia University, though private, operates as a non-profit educational corporation. Thus, the concern that a private enterprise will be profiting through eminent domain is not present. Rather, the purpose of the Project is unquestionably to promote education and academic research while providing public benefits to the local community. Indeed, the advancement of higher education is the quintessential example of a “civic purpose”.... It is fundamental that education and the expansion of knowledge are pivotal government interests.

I think this line of argument is seriously flawed. I tried to explain why in one of my earliest posts on the Columbia University takings back in 2006.
...

Given the Court of Appeals’ ultradeferential approach to blight condemnations, I have no doubt it would have reached the same result even if Columbia were a for-profit corporation. I just wanted to make the point that such judicial abdication does not become more defensible merely because the new owner of the condemned property is a university.

article

Posted by eric at 9:44 AM

New York’s Eminent Domain “Blight” Grows

Commentary
by Jonathan Tobin

The ruling of New York’s Court of Appeals — the state’s highest judicial body — in favor of Columbia University’s bid to have the property of landowners who will not sell their land to the institution condemned is another depressing chapter in the sorry history of the corruption of the use of eminent domain.

While I have no quarrel with the university’s desire to expand the Morningside Heights campus, where I spent my undergraduate years north into Harlem, the idea that it can use its clout with the state to bludgeon those who will not sell to it is repulsive. Moreover, the court decision, which overruled a lower appeals court’s rejection of the use of eminent domain in this case, is especially troubling. Though most of the property owners in the West Harlem area desired by Columbia sold it, some did not. In response, Columbia prevailed upon the State of New York to condemn the recalcitrant owners’ property upon the doubtful premise that it was “blighted,” which mandated its demolition and replacement with more useful (at least to Columbia) projects, which might ultimately generate more tax revenue. The four active warehouses and two bustling gas stations that Columbia wished to flatten to make way for new buildings of its own do not fit that description of “blighted,” though there is no shortage of locations in New York City that do.

Referring to another eminent-domain case in which the Court had recently ruled in favor of the effort to bulldoze businesses and apartments in order to make way for a new basketball arena and other real-estate projects in the Atlantic Yards section of Brooklyn, the decision, which was written by Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, claimed that “if we could rule in favor of a basketball arena, surely we could rule for a nonprofit university.”

But in making this point, Judge Ciparick revealed that what is on display in this decision is not the application of a coherent legal principle but rather merely the justification of an act of judicial tyranny. In this way, New York has ratified a procedure by which the powerful, be they the real-estate developers who own the NBA Nets or the trustees of one of America’s most prestigious universities, can simply force small property owners out of their businesses and homes for the sake of the convenience of the wealthy and of those who are better connected to power brokers. This means that the state has the power to label any property as “blighted” in order to create a legal fiction device that allows powerful interests to acquire it without the consent of its owners. This is state-sponsored theft by any definition and the fact that it is practiced on behalf of a “nonprofit university,” as well as an NBA team, does not make it any less odious.

article

Posted by eric at 9:33 AM

Court of Appeals, citing precedent in Atlantic Yards case, overturns lower court ruling blocking eminent domain for Columbia expansion

Atlantic Yards Report

In less than four weeks after a contentious oral argument, the state Court of Appeals brought an unsurprising end to the Cinderella story that was the Columbia University eminent domain case, ruling unanimously--though with a very reluctant concurrence--that the courts should defer to the Empire State Development Corporation in its finding of blight.

As I reported after watching the oral argument in Kaur v. N.Y.S. Urban Development Corp., the judges--including Atlantic Yards dissenter Robert Smith--felt bound by their decision in the Atlantic Yards case last November, a decision that was glaringly ignored by the two-judge plurality who shortly afterward ruled against the ESDC in the Columbia case.

Wrote Smith:

I concur in the result on constraint of Matter of Goldstein v New York State Urban Dev. Corp. The finding of "blight" in this case seems to me strained and pretextual, but it is no more so than the comparable finding in Goldstein. Accepting Goldstein as I must, I agree in substance with all but section VI of the majority opinion.

The decision, I wrote, would hinge on how seriously the court took allegations of bad faith by the ESDC and biased methodology by its consultants. Answer: not much.

The court ignored a memo from an ESDC lawyer, as cited by property owners' attorney Norman Siegel, that stated, We are going to manufacture support for condemnation.
...

Appeal coming

According to the Observer, Nick Sprayregen, who owns Tuck-It-Away storage company and has spent more than $2 million on legal cases--more than twice as much as has been spent in the Atlantic Yards cases--vowed to appeal.

"This decision, if not overturned, will allow eminent domain abuse in New York to become even worse than it is now," he wrote. "In effect, this court is sending a clear signal that a blight designation, even is caused by the very developer seeking the use of eminent domain, is acceptable."

article

Posted by eric at 9:24 AM

High Court Overturns Columbia Eminent Domain Ruling; No One's Property is Safe in New York

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

DDDB trumpets a badly needed call to action.

Back in October the Court of Appeals allowed Ratner and New York State to move forward with eminent domain for Atlantic Yards. In a contrasting decision a Manhattan lower appellate court said Columbia could not use eminent domain to seize businesses in West Harlem. Today the high court ruled that any time government says there is "blight" the court has basically no role whatsover in reviewing that decision, no matter how corrupt or collusive that decision appears on its face.

So the Columbia expansion and Atlantic Yards bogus blight findings have now been given the stamp of approval by the state's high court. And the same court thinks that private arenas and private schools are somehow a public use.

Nonsense.

It is a very sad day for all New Yorkers. There appears to be no judicial review allowed when state actors and their developer friends collude to take homes and businesses from the little guy. Twice now the high court has excused itself from any meaningful review of the government's abuse of this awesome power.

The upsetting rulings leave no doubt for what must be done. Legislative reform must occur if we are going to protect our citizens from eminent domain abuse such as what has occurred in Prospect Heights, West Harlem and elsewhere.

There is such reform afoot. Senator Bill Perkins has a bill that would not allow these kind of bogus blight findings. The bill has made it out of committee and the full Senate must vote on it.

Please call or email Senate Leader John Sampson to tell him that New Yorker's no longer have any protection against eminent domain abuse—not from the Court's and not from the Legislature—and so the Senate must vote on the Perkins bill and must pass it...today. There is no more time to wait.

Call Senator Sampson at: (518) 455-2788
Email Senator Sampson at: sampson@senate.state.ny.us

Until this bill passes, everyone New Yorker's home or business is vulnerable to government seizure if a developer covets it.

link

Posted by eric at 8:59 AM

June 24, 2010

PRESS RELEASE: New York’s High Court Slams Door On Property Owners in the Empire State

INSTITUTE FOR JUSTICE, www.ij.org

If you own a piece of property in New York State, you won’t like today’s ruling by the state’s high court.

The New York Court of Appeals—that state’s highest court—today overturned a lower court’s ruling that had blocked the New York State Urban Development Corporation from using eminent domain to take property away from a group of small-business owners in upper Manhattan and turn it over to Columbia University for private development. Today’s decision comes on the heels of the court’s decision last year in Goldstein v. Urban Development Corporation, which allowed homes and businesses in Brooklyn to be turned over to wealthy developer Bruce Ratner to build luxury condominiums and a basketball arena.

“Once again, New York’s courts have completely ignored the abuse of power by government bureaucrats and politically connected developers,” said Dana Berliner, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice. IJ litigates nationwide against eminent domain abuse and filed a brief with the Court in favor of Harlem property owners. “The sad truth is that, in New York, the government not only can hand your property over to private developers for no better reason than that it likes them more than it likes you, but it does so on an alarmingly regular basis.” Last year, IJ catalogued the staggering rate at which properties are taken for private use in the Empire State in a report, Building Empires, Destroying Homes, available at www.ij.org/BuildingEmpires.

According to another report by the Institute for Justice on eminent domain abuse in New York, titled Empire State Eminent Domain: Robin Hood in Reverse, eminent domain abuse disproportionately targets those who are less well-off and less educated, as well as ethnic and racial minorities—populations least able to fight back and thus most in need of protection from abuse. In New York, more than elsewhere in the country, this means taking from the poor to give to the rich. A copy of that report is available at: http://www.ij.org/3045.

A lower court had previously refused to allow the condemnations to go forward, noting that the state agency’s assertion that it was taking the properties to eliminate “blight” was clearly nothing but a pretext for using government power to further Columbia’s pre-existing expansion plans. In today’s ruling, Kaur v. New York State Urban Development Corporation, Judge Carmen Ciparick wrote that the lower court should not have looked so closely at the agency’s blight findings, which should be “entitled to deference by the judiciary.”

“In other words, the court is saying that judges shouldn’t judge,” said IJ President and General Counsel Chip Mellor.

Associate Judge Robert S. Smith concurred in the result, noting that he was bound by the court’s earlier decision in the Goldstein case. “The finding of ‘blight’ in this case seems to me strained and pretextual,” Judge Smith wrote, “but it is no more so than the comparable finding in Goldstein.”

“No one taking a fair look at the state’s finding of ‘blight’—which is based on a report that was commissioned years after Columbia decided it wanted these properties—could think it is anything but a pretext for handing over these properties to another private owner,” explained Robert McNamara, an Institute for Justice staff attorney. “This isn’t judicial ‘deference.’ It’s judicial blindness.”

The New York opinion comes only one day after the fifth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Kelo v. City of New London. That opinion—which allowed the government to condemn homes in the name of “economic development”—spurred a national backlash, leading to legislative changes and court decisions providing property owners with greater protection in 43 states. Political and judicial leaders in New York, however, have refused to reform their eminent domain laws, which are among the worst in the nation. More information on the post-Kelo backlash is available at: www.ij.org/KeloAt5.

“New York remains one of only seven states that has failed to provide any legislative reform of eminent domain, and it is the only state whose highest court has allowed private property to be taken for private use since the Kelo decision,” explained Christina Walsh, IJ’s director of activism and coalitions. “Every state high court to hear an eminent domain case since Kelo has applied greater judicial scrutiny—every state, that is, except New York. The New York Court of Appeals is the only state high court that gives complete and abject deference to the actions of condemning agencies, no matter how suspicious.”

“Today’s decision confirms what we already knew: Judicial review of eminent domain in New York is fundamentally broken,” concluded McNamara. “Unless the Legislature takes meaningful steps to protect property rights, New York property owners will find themselves out in the cold—in some cases all too literally.”

Posted by lumi at 5:01 PM

NY Top Court OKs Columbia's West Harlem Expansion

NY Observer
by Eliot Brown

Rest easy, New York's powerful, wealthy, politically connected developers (and private universities)! The state's highest court has reversed the Appellate Division's moment of temporary sanity, and reaffirmed that no one's property is safe in New York if somebody richer lays an eye on it.

For Nick Sprayregen, the owner of a set of West Harlem warehouses in the footprint of a 17-acre expansion planned by Columbia University, there was a brief glimmer of hope earlier this year. The landlord, to the surprise of most everyone watching, won a state appellate court case that challenged the state's use of eminent domain to take his property for Columbia's campus, with a judge writing a blistering opinion that excoriated the state agency leading the process. Contrary to most precedents, it seemed possible that Mr. Sprayregen might actually stave off a land-taking and defeat the university.

Today, the narrative returned to its expected track.

New York's top court Thursday morning issued a decision that overturned the lower court's decision, ruling that eminent domain could indeed proceed.

The Court of Appeals, in a 7-0 decision, found that the Manhattan appellate court was improper in ruling for Mr. Sprayregen, as precedent clearly is on the side of the state, the area is indeed blighted, and the courts generally are deferential to the state agency.
...

Even the member of the court who is most skeptical of the use of eminent domain, Robert Smith, approved, issuing a concurring opinion. Mr. Smith was the lone dissenter in a case that challenged the use of eminent domain to build a basketball arena and housing in Brooklyn, brought by Daniel Goldstein and other landowners.

"The finding of 'blight' in this case seems to me strained and pretextual, but it is no more so than the comparable finding in Goldstein," Mr. Smith wrote. "Accepting Goldstein as I must, I agree in substance with all but section VI of the majority opinion."

article

Related coverage...

Columbia Spectator, Court OK'S Manhattanville expansion

In a blow to opponents of Columbia’s Manhattanville expansion, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday that eminent domain can be used to obtain private properties in the area.

The opinion, written by Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, overturned the December 2009 ruling by the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, in which Justice James Catterson had stated that the Empire State Development Corporation’s finding of blight in Manhattanville was made “in bad faith,” and that the expansion of an “elite” private university did not constitute a public use, as required by eminent domain law. Ciparick dismissed that ruling in harsh terms.

The expansion of a private university can serve the public good, Ciparick wrote: “The indisputably public purpose of education is particularly vital for New York City and the State to maintain their respective statuses as global centers of higher education and academic research,” the ruling reads. “The purpose of the Project is unquestionably to promote education and academic research while providing public benefits to the local community. Indeed, the advancement of higher education is the quintessential example of a ‘civic purpose.’”

The two remaining private property holdouts in the 17-acre expansion zone—Tuck-it-Away Self-Storage owner Nick Sprayregen and gas station owners Gurnam Singh and Parminder Kaur—had also argued that ESDC’s decision to hire consulting firm Allee King Rosen and Fleming to conduct a blight study constituted “collusion,” since AKRF was also a consultant for Columbia. That was one of the primary bases on which the Appellate Division had condemned eminent domain, but the Court of Appeals defended ESDC, noting that it hired a second, independent consultant, Earth Tech, to replicate the study, and Earth Tech also found the area blighted.

“Contrary to petitioners’ assertions, Earth Tech did not merely review and rubber stamp AKRF’s study, but conducted its own independent research and gathered separate data and photographs of the area before arriving at its own conclusions,” Ciparick wrote. “Further, unlike AKRF, Earth Tech had never previously been affiliated with or employed by Columbia. Simply put, petitioners' argument that ESDC acted in 'bad faith' or pretextually is unsubstantiated by the record.”

NoLandGrab: Wait, you mean the ESDC's other paid consultant conducted its own "independent research" (even taking photographs!) and found the same "blight" the ESDC hired it to find, completely independently of AKRF? Well, that settles it.

Reason Hit & Run, New York's Highest Court Upholds Columbia University's Eminent Domain Abuse

New York’s Court of Appeals—the state’s highest court—issued its decision today in the Columbia University eminent domain case, upholding the state’s controversial land grab on behalf of the elite private university. Exactly as it did in last year’s disastrous Atlantic Yards ruling, the Court of Appeals shirked its judicial responsibility and ruled that the Empire State Development Corporation’s flawed and pretextual blight findings “were rationally based and entitled to deference.” So much for an independent judiciary that stands up for constitutional rights.

New York Law Journal, Breaking News: In Eminent Domain Case, High Court Puts Columbia Expansion Back on Track

The Court also held that under §6260(d) of the Urban Development Corporation Act, the development corporation is empowered to acquire property for a range of projects, including "educational, cultural, recreational" and for other purposes.

The potential public good of the Columbia project is "at least as compelling in its civic dimension" as the Atlantic Yards construction given the go-ahead in Goldstein, the Court held today.

NoLandGrab: That's not setting the bar very high, is it?

The New York Times, Court Upholds Columbia Campus Expansion Plan

The ruling cited a decision in a similar eminent-domain case last year involving the Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn, where the state was condemning property on behalf of a developer who planned to build a basketball arena for the Nets and up to 6,000 apartments. “We ruled for Atlantic Yards, and if we could rule in favor of a basketball arena, surely we could rule for a nonprofit university,” the court said Thursday in its decision, which was written by Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick.

NLG: That's kind of the whole point, isn't it?

The complete 34-page decision can be found here. [PDF]

Posted by eric at 1:18 PM

REMINDER: Today, Noon Press Conference and Protest of NBA's Approval of Prokhorov as Nets Owner

WHO:
Rev. Clinton M. Miller, Pastor, Brown Memorial Baptist Church; elected officials; Brooklyn residents

WHAT:
Protest and rally

WHEN:
Thursday, June 24 at 12:00 p.m.

WHERE:
The Theater at Madison Square Garden W. 33rd St. and 7th Avenue, Manhattan

More info

Posted by eric at 10:39 AM

Atlantic Yards governance bill, round two; new version aims to establish ESDC subsidiary to enhance accountability (& ESDC is supportive)

Atlantic Yard Report

A new bill establishing a different version of a governance entity to oversee Atlantic Yards and make it more accountable has been introduced in the state Assembly by Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries. It's already passed the Corporations, Authorities and Commissions Committee.

(A companion bill has been introduced in the state Senate by Senator Velmanette Montgomery.)

It may mean a different fate than the bill that died last year.

Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) spokesman Warner Johnston stated, "We are aware and have been working with Assemblyman Jeffries and other electeds on elements of this bill. We are extremely supportive of what this bill will mean for the future of the Atlantic Yards project. More details will be forthcoming at a later date."

I'm waiting to learn whether powerful Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has expressed any opinion on the bill.

The rationale and the structure

The essential argument, pushed by BrooklynSpeaks in the summer of 2007, is that projects like Atlantic Yards can change enormously over decades, which is why all other major projects, from Brooklyn Bridge Park to Battery Park City, have their own governance entities and are more accountable to the public.

A lack of such a governance entity leaves more power in the staffers of the ESDC, who have multiple responsibilities and (ultimately) will leave, and thus in developer Forest City Ratner.

The entity would oversee implementation of the design guidelines, coordinate the involvement of state and city agencies responsible for the environmental impact mitigations, coordinate policies regarding transportation, and approve changes to the General Project Plan.

(Today, the Empire State Development Corporation board is expected to approve changes to the Atlantic Yards state and city funding agreements, but those changes have not been made public in anticipation of the vote.)

The big change in the new bill is that, rather than set up a new public benefit corporation, it directs the ESDC to establish a subsidiary corporation for planning and oversight of Atlantic Yards.

Also, unlike the previous Atlantic Yards Governance Act, it does not specify how members of that corporation are appointed, but leaves that to be resolved later. That may be part of why the ESDC is supportive.

article

NoLandGrab: Maybe it's us, but the ESDC's enthusiasm portends that this will end up being little more than lipstick on a hockey mom.

Posted by eric at 10:22 AM

BQE planners take Heights off the hit list

The Brooklyn Paper
by Gary Buiso

Eminent domain is off the table for BQE renovation in Brooklyn Heights. But it's still on the table for less fancy neighborhoods — and, of course, for big private real estate development projects.

State officials have slammed the brakes on a controversial plan to eviscerate part of historic Brooklyn Heights in order to modernize the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, conceding on Wednesday night that the shocking scheme is untenable.

A week after our exclusive report that the state was considering condemning buildings in the northern part of the neighborhood as part of a long-term project to widen the roadway, the Department of Transportation announced that it would simply need to buy too many homes and businesses near Willow and Middagh streets.

When they finally did a ground survey, state inspectors discovered that 300-400 residential units and 80 commercial properties would need to be condemned, admitted Peter King, a project manager overseeing the $300-million first phase of the renovation of the BQE between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street.

“You cannot talk about an alternative that runs roughshod in a neighborhood, regardless of what benefits you might have,” King told a stakeholders group that met at St. Francis College on Remsen Street.

Apparently you can, however, if the benefits inure mostly to a private developer.

But just because homes in the northern heights have been saved, doesn’t mean that eminent domain is off the table.

That’s because other possible scenarios to cure the aging highway include lower-impact designs that would involve little new construction and no property takings, but also three tunnel alignments that would involve property takings at the south end of the tube, at Kane Street in Cobble Hill, and at the northern portal at North Portland Avenue in Fort Greene.

“Depending on what we do, there may need to be takings,” King said. “Eminent domain is a tool, but taking away property is a very serious issue.”

article

NoLandGrab: We're not advocating for the use of eminent domain, least of all for a highway that cuts through a dense, vibrant urban neighborhood. But only in New York is eminent domain verboten for a highway project but just peachy for a basketball arena and 16 privately owned high rises.

Posted by eric at 10:10 AM

Atlantic Yards reform bill clears key Assembly committee

BrooklynSpeaks

BrooklynSpeaks has learned that Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries’ bill (A11431) reforming Atlantic Yards governance has passed the Corporations, Authorities and Commissions Committee.

“The BrooklynSpeaks sponsors support the new legislation and are monitoring the legislative progress closely. Today, we are beginning a public campaign to see that the legislation passes both the Assembly and the State Senate and becomes law. For the last three years, BrooklynSpeaks sponsors have advocated for transparency with respect to project governance, as well as for the involvement of the public in the decision-making process. This legislation is an important first step towards those goals,” said Jo Anne Simon, District Leader of the 52nd Assembly District. “We encourage all Brooklynites and New Yorkers concerned about accountability at Atlantic Yards to sign our online petition calling for swift passage of this legislation.”

The BrooklynSpeaks petition is available at http://www.PetitionOnline.com/reformay/petition.html.

State Senator Velmanette Montgomery has introduced a similar bill (S08193).Both bills direct the ESDC (Empire State Development Corporation) to establish a subsidiary corporation for planning and oversight of Atlantic Yards.

link

Posted by eric at 9:56 AM

Cuomo Accepts Millions From Interests He Assails

The New York Times
by Serge F. Kovaleski and Griffin Palmer

The more things change, the more Albany remains a nest of dysfunctional sleazeballs.

Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, declaring his candidacy for governor of New York, could not have been clearer.

“The influence of lobbyists and their special interests must be drastically reduced with new contribution limits,” Mr. Cuomo said last month. “We will be taking on very powerful special interests which have much to lose. We must change systems and cultures long in the making.”

But as he delivered his announcement, Mr. Cuomo was sitting on millions in campaign cash from the very special interests whose influence he said he wanted to limit.

One of those "special" interests was none other than Bruce C. Ratner, who gave Mr. Cuomo a nice $5,000 "gift."

An analysis by The New York Times shows that of the estimated $7.1 million that the Cuomo campaign has received from political action committees, associations, limited liability corporations and other entities, more than half has come from the biggest players in Albany: organized labor, the real estate and related industries like construction, the health care sector and lobbying firms.
...

The donations underscore the awkwardness of Mr. Cuomo’s effort to run against Albany and its insiders at the same time he is benefiting from their largess and, in some cases, his long relationships with them. He drew a similar proportion of his campaign money from special interests in his failed 2002 campaign for governor and his 2006 bid for attorney general.

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this article.
...

Kenneth L. Shapiro, managing partner of the Albany office of the law firm Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker L.L.P., is also not put off by Mr. Cuomo’s remarks.
...

A political action committee of Mr. Shapiro’s firm and the partnership itself — whose clients have included the Atlantic Yards Development Company, Consolidated Edison, the New York State Hospitality and Tourism Association and numerous hospitals — has contributed about $59,200 to the Cuomo campaign.

article

NoLandGrab: Of course, The New York Times is one to talk.

Posted by eric at 9:41 AM

June 23, 2010

In Philadelphia, naming rights for transit station near sports facilities is worth three times more (per year) than MTA/FCR deal for Brooklyn's hub

Atlantic Yard Report

While the bumbling MTA cuts subway, bus and train service while even-more-inept Albany "legislators" feign concern, Philadelphia's transit agency is cutting a deal that will bring it three times the amount the MTA secured in giving away selling Atlantic/Pacific Station naming rights to Barclays and Bruce Ratner.

Here's some more evidence that Forest City Ratner (on behalf of Barclays) got a very nice deal from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on naming rights for the Atlantic Avenue/Pacific Street station.

For a similar deal in Philadelphia, the local transit authority is about to get three times as much: $600,000 a year, vs. $200,000 a year.

(The deal must be approved tomorrow. Here's a tough editorial from the Philadelphia Daily News warning that "taking corporate money in this way leads to less, not more, public commitment to the so-called social contract.")

The deals aren't directly comparable. In Philadelphia, the AT&T Station deal with SEPTA lasts only five years, worth $3 million, while the deal with the MTA is $4 million over 20 years.

MTA opacity

How did the MTA set a price? The agency's then-CFO Gary Dellaverson had said, "We've never successfully completed a naming rights before.... I don't have a nifty little spreadsheet to show you how we came up with $200,000. Our real estate division did review some naming rights that had been done by transportation and other entities. But y'know, we kinda felt our way into it."

I asked for information about that review, but my Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request was stonewalled, as I wrote last July.

article

Posted by eric at 10:57 PM

Court of Appeals' Atlantic Yards decision gets singled out in IJ's post-Kelo report

Atlantic Yards Report

The libertarian Institute for Justice has issued a report titled Five Years After Kelo: The Sweeping Backlash Against One of the Supreme Court’s Most-Despised Decisions.

And, not surprisingly, New York is singled out as not having made any reforms, with the November 2009 Atlantic Yards case, Goldstein vs. Empire State Development Corporation, singled out:

There is one significant exception to this good news for property owners in state courts—New York. The Court of Appeals (New York’s highest court) seems stuck in the days when courts routinely ignored evidence of eminent domain abuse, refusing to give the facts any real scrutiny at all. This latest ruling from the court, which completely ignores the fundamental role of the courts in properly interpreting essential constitutional rights, tells the whole story:

It may be that the bar has now been set too low—that what will now pass as “blight,” as that expression has come to be understood and used by political appointees to public corporations relying upon studies paid for by developers, should not be permitted to constitute a predicate for the invasion of property rights and the razing of homes and businesses. But any such limitation upon the sovereign power of eminent domain as it has come to be defined in the urban renewal context is a matter for the Legislature, not the courts.

The Court of Appeals does have a chance to redeem itself in another challenge to a completely trumped-up claim of blight, combined with concealment of relevant evidence, in another case currently pending before it. New Yorkers can only hope the Court of Appeals will remove its head from the sand before reaching its final decision.

The latter is the case involving the Columbia University expansion; a decision is expected in a few weeks.

link

Posted by eric at 10:50 PM

Thursday June 24. Noon Press Conf and Protest of NBA's Approval of Prokhorov as Nets Owner

via Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

NEWS ADVISORY -- June 23, 2010

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE from Brown Memorial Baptist Church Pastor, Reverend Clinton Miller

On Thursday, June 24th (NBA Draft Day)
Noon

BUSLOADS OF RESIDENTS TO JOIN CLERGY AND ELECTED LEADERS TO PROTEST NBA’S DECISION TO ACCEPT MIKHAIL PROKHOROV AS MAJORITY OWNER OF THE NETS

Group cites a failure of NBA Commissioner David Stern to thoroughly investigate Prokhorov, his ownership in a questionable investment bank and disappointment in Stern and his failure to respect global human rights

NEW YORK, New York – On Thursday, June 24 at noon, busloads of Brooklyn residents will travel across the Brooklyn Bridge to Madison Square Garden with area clergy members, lead by Pastor Clinton M. Miller of Brown Memorial Baptist Church, and elected officials to protest the NBA’s decision to accept Mikhail Prokhorov as the majority owner of the Nets basketball franchise.

In a tersely worded letter signed and delivered to NBA Commissioner David Stern, more than 300 residents, community organizations and congregations have called on Commissioner Stern to open a thorough investigation of Prokhorov and Renaissance Capital, an investment bank of which he is part owner. It is alleged that Renaissance Capital violated U.S. sanctions against Zimbabwe.

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Posted by eric at 3:17 PM

At ESDC board meeting Thursday, another amendment to the funding agreements on the agenda

Atlantic Yards Report

One item on the 22-item agenda for tomorrow's board meeting of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) involves Atlantic Yards.

The agenda states:

ATLANTIC YARDS LAND USE IMPROVEMENT AND CIVIC PROJECT
7. New York (Kings County) – Atlantic Yards Land Use Improvement and Civic Project – Authorization to Amend Funding Agreements; Authorization to Take Related Actions

What exactly that means is to be determined, but previous amendments--as noted last September--relaxed rules or timetables to ease Forest City Ratner's cash flow.

Details

Empire State Development
37th Floor Conference Room
633 Third Avenue
New York, New York 10017

The meeting will be webcast.

Due to 633 Third Avenue building procedures, those attending in New York City must RSVP by 5:00 pm. on Wednesday, June 23, 2010. Members of the public should call (212) 803-3794.

Public comment

According to ESDC rules, public comment is welcomed:

To ensure maximum opportunity for participation, speakers representing themselves may speak for up to 2 minutes each, and those representing groups may speak for up to 4 minutes (1 speaker per group). Speakers’ comments may address only items considered at today’s meeting.

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NoLandGrab: Public comment is welcomed, but always ignored.

Posted by eric at 12:32 PM

Justice Friedman schedules motion for reargument in case challenging ten-year timeline; Development Agreement should get its day in court

Atlantic Yards Report

The belatedly-released Atlantic Yards Development Agreement should get its day in court, after all. A hearing in the effort to reopen the case challenging the Modified General Project Plan--essentially the legitimacy of the ten-year timeline--will be held on Tuesday, June 29.

It will be held before state Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman at 60 Centre Street, Room 335, at 11 am.

Chance of success

Given general judicial deference to the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and other agencies, it's a long shot to expect a ruling in favor of the petitioners, community groups organized by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) and BrooklynSpeaks.

However, the petitioners have some inconvenient facts to air in court regarding the dubiousness of the official ten-year project timeline.

If the case is successful, it could severely slow the project--at least the non-arena portion--by requiring new analyses of the project's environmental impact.

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Posted by eric at 9:31 AM

Atlantic Yards Court Argument Scheduled for Tues, June 29, 11am

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

Oral argument has been scheduled for Tuesday, June 29th at 11am on the case DDDB et al. v. ESDC. The argument is on the motion by the petitioners asking the court to reconsider and reargue their challenge to the state's September 2009 approvlal of the Atlantic Yards Modified General Project Plan.

Judge Marcy Friedman had ruled for the ESDC. But the plaintiffs, DDDB and 19 other community groups, as well as BrooklynSpeaks, asked the court to allow reargument in light of new evidence found in the Atlantic Yards Development Agreement between ESDC and Ratner, which had been made public only after the case was argued.

Details on the oral argument:
Tuesday, June 29. 11 AM
60 Centre Street, Room 335
Manhattan

The ruling on the original case—which challenged the ESDC's September 2009 approval the Modified General Project Plan—hinged on whether or not there was a rational basis for the ESDC to claim the project would take ten years.

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Posted by eric at 9:22 AM

Charter Revision Commission hearing Thursday on land use

Atlantic Yards Report

The New York City Charter Revision Commission meets tomorrow night, June 24, to hear testimony on whether land use reform should be part of the charter revision on the ballot later this year.

It will begin at 6 pm at the Flushing Branch, Queens Borough Public Library, 41-17 Main Street, Flushing.

As with previous hearings, it will begin with expert testimony but later accept brief public testimony (with time limits). The hearing will be streamed and archived.

Many commentators have suggested that the commission--which, despite outreach, has been pretty much under the radar--stick to very simple proposals, such as term limits, given the complexity of such issues as land use.

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Posted by eric at 9:18 AM

It came from the Blogosphere...

Arquine, Learning Cities: An Interview with Cassim Shepard of Urban Omnibus

Cassim Shepard’s enthusiasm for cities is inspiring and wonderfully contagious. During my interview marathon last Thursday with a few of the participants from Postopolis!DF, Cassim generously shared with me the vision for Urban Omnibus and the ways it functions as a platform for fostering and giving exposure to good, optimistic ideas for making NYC a better place.
...

So, one last question with regards to this idea of engaging in other places or virtually with different communities. Urban Omnibus is a site which focuses on NYC, how do you feel the site ends up relating to or impacting what happens physically in NYC and how do you think it comes to engage in a larger conversation about cities?

We don’t do news as such, so you could say that Urban Omnibus does this kind of irregular and/or clunky mapping of physical development in New York. However, there are certain recurring issues that relate to the big urban issues in New York. Another thing that I hadn’t really mentioned before was the way in which we try to focus on things that are underexposed. For example, one of the most contentious and major developments in NYC in recent times has been the Atlantic Yards, which is a basketball stadium and a series of residential towers at the intersection of downtown Brooklyn and Prospect Heights. It is contentious for a number of issues: from public-private partnerships to the amount of tax dollars used to subsidize luxury homes etc. etc. that really racially polarized the debate in a way that was really tragic.

So I wasn’t about to do a story about Atlantic Yards in itself. One: because it’s in the News everyday and two: because we try to focus on optimistic, good ideas.

Talk of the Sound, The Great IDA Hoax: Does IDA Just Apply Lipstick To NR Council's Pig?

The time has come for the [New Rochelle] City Council to commission an independent and full investigation of the practices and procedures of the New Rochelle IDA, its general membership and particular woefully conflicted members belonging to the city manager's office and the council itself, with especial attention paid to the glaring absence of candor, accountability and transparency in the gifting of tax abatements, other economic incentives and, other non-economic incentives such as rights to exclusive dealing, Memorandums-of-Understanding etc. granted to the likes of Louis Capelli, Bruce Ratner, their respective companies, and Home Depot and others since the days of Tim Idoni's operation.

If the Democrat-laden body will not act, may we leave it to the Republican-turned-Democrat County Attorney? Or do we pray for the day when some brave new State Comptroller or authentic crime-busting Attorney General, devoted to upholding traditional notions of civic virtue and public integrity, jumps into the fray?

Posted by eric at 9:01 AM

Ratner's Latest Gobbledygook

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

Literally every time Bruce Ratner is quoted in news article his odd use of the English language or illogical statements or foot-shooting statements lead one to wonder who lets this guy speak to the press? From today's Times puff piece:

"Slowly but absolutely surely you will have Brooklyn Knick fans, particularly the younger generation, become Nets fans, especially if they live in Brooklyn," said Ratner. "I also think it will be somewhat true for Staten Island, somewhat true for Queens and for Long Island certainly."

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Posted by eric at 8:56 AM

June 22, 2010

My Times op-ed: "A Russian Billionaire, the Nets and Sweetheart Deals"

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder on Norman Oder.

Balancing (?) a one-source portrait of Bruce Ratner, today's New York Times Sports section offers a piece by me labeled "essay" (initially "analysis") that I'd simply call an "op-ed," headlined A Russian Billionaire, the Nets and Sweetheart Deals.

OK, take a read. The conclusion:

But the arena process should have been fair, and [Prokhorov] should have paid full freight. Surely he can afford it.

Someone might've called foul

I posted an FAQ below, but first I'd like to amplify the piece slightly by restoring one line that was cut from the edit I saw three weeks ago:

All was forgotten as flashbulbs popped for Prokhorov, as was the notion that had a man worth nearly $18 billion put his hand out for subsidies, someone might have called foul.

Would it have been possible for Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Governor David Paterson to justify helping Prokhorov's cash flow, as they did with Ratner last September?
...

FAQ

Why write the piece?

I was astonished how much the sports press buffed Prokhorov, as if his purchase could be disassociated from the Atlantic Yards controversy and the public subsidies involved.

Why'd they accept the piece?

I can only speculate. But there's been overwhelmingly positive publicity about Prokhorov. And there's a very friendly article about Bruce Ratner today. So there's a hint of balance.

Where was the photo taken?

On the north side of Dean Street east of Sixth Avenue; in the background are two houses subject to eminent domain, but that "taking" has been shifted to a later phase.

Lots more FAQs via the link.

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NoLandGrab: Since Oder submitted his piece several weeks ago, we can only speculate that The Times assigned Araton to interview Ratner to "balance" Oder's facts.

Related coverage...

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, Norman Oder on Prokhorov, Ratner and Atlantic Yards in the NY Times

Norman Oder, who began his Atlantic Yards reporting as a critic of the NY Times faulty coverage of the controvrsial project, has an oped in today's NY Times sports section. Kudos to the paper for holding back ego and publishing one of its chief critic's columns. But shame on the paper for waiting until the Atlantic Yards horse was so far out of the barn.

Oder offers a synopsis of the Atlantic Yards rip-off, honing in on the public subsidies and government support benefitting one of the richest men in the world, Mikhail Prokhorov, and the fawning press gaggles that followed every little joke and cute remark by the oligarch during his whirlwind April visit to New York.

The question remains: would the Mayor and various governors have propelled Atlantic Yards forwards with all of its public favors if it were a project driven by and owned by Russia's wealthiest man? We doubt it, but that is what has occurred, in the end.

Brownstoner, Oder Does The Times

After years of (rightly) criticizing The New York Times for its failure to bring a critical eye and adequate resources to its coverage of the Atlantic Yards project, Norman Oder, publisher of the Atlantic Yards Report, got his own essay (that's what The Times calls it; he calls it an Op-Ed) in the paper of record. A central point of the essay, and the one that he parses further in a follow-up post on his blog, is that public officials might have thought harder about handing out hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies if they'd known that someone with unlimited financial resources--in this case Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov--would end up being the beneficiary.

Battle of Brooklyn via Kickstarter, Norman Oder article in the Times

Norman Oder has an op-ed (according to the Times it's an essay) in today's Times.
...

In film news- We are finally digging into the final sections of footage- the ground breaking. Yesterday we viewed a long assembly of the footage and it was very powerful.

On July 9th- we will be part of a kickstarter film fest- in conjunction with our very good friends at rooftop films. At that event we will likely show the end of the film- we'll certainly send out an update as it comes closer.

Posted by eric at 10:58 AM

A Russian Billionaire, the Nets and Sweetheart Deals

The New York Times
by Norman Oder

We had to read that byline three times, too. Yes, Atlantic Yards Report's Norman Oder, voluble critic of The Times's Atlantic Yards coverage (or lack thereof), has gotten inside the Death Star.

The Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov, the Nets’ new majority owner and the N.B.A.’s first overseas owner, magnetized members of the news media during his recent whirlwind tour of New York.

Prokhorov, a 6-foot-8 kick boxer, international playboy and shrewd businessman, did his best to make people forget the team’s performance last year at the dreary Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J. He was droll (“America, I come in peace”), playfully evasive about changing the team’s name and confident of a championship in five years “maximum.”

As Prokhorov, Russia’s second-richest man, dangles cash for a coach, free agents and first-class facilities, let’s not forget the money that he and his business partner Bruce C. Ratner saved because of taxpayer help for the arena under construction in Brooklyn. The help includes eminent domain, major subsidies, a naming-rights giveaway and bad, undemocratic urban planning.
...

“Sports entertainment corporations” (an apt term from Bettina Damiani of Good Jobs New York) have been quite successful at getting the public to pay for sports facilities. The financing for the nearly $1 billion Barclays Center is more subtle, but the public still pays significantly.

Consider that the state and the city each allotted $100 million, ostensibly for infrastructure like utilities. The city’s subsidy, part of which could be used for land, went solely to reimburse Ratner for property he bought from residents and businesses.

Later, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg allotted $105 million for infrastructure. That was not enough; Bloomberg agreed last year to shift $31 million from that sum to land, making it likely that future mayors will be asked to pay more for infrastructure. The New York City Independent Budget Office calls the arena a net loss for taxpayers.

A more direct gift involved arena naming rights, once reported at $400 million, now at least $200 million.

Why do the arena operators keep the naming-rights revenue for what the state calls a publicly owned arena?
...

Prokhorov’s strategy, off to a flying start, is to build a dynasty, become a household name in North America and open investment opportunities.

But the arena process should have been fair, and he should have paid full freight. Surely he can afford it.

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NoLandGrab: Thanks, New York Times! That's only about three years too late.

Photo: Yana Paskova for The New York Times

Posted by eric at 10:40 AM

Ratner, in Times Sports section portrait, admits, “when a developer speaks it’s not always believed”

Atlantic Yards Report

A one-source New York Times Sports section portrait of Bruce Ratner, headlined Ratner Content to Succeed in the Shadows, offers the message that Ratner still can make a bunch of money from Atlantic Yards:

As the owner of 55 percent of the planned arena, Ratner will have a sizable stake in what could become a fascinating battlefront — downtown Brooklyn against Midtown Manhattan, or the Barclays Center versus Madison Square Garden.
...

Norman Oder lists some reasons why, in Ratner's words, "when a developer speaks it’s not always believed.”

Maybe there's good reason for that. The chairpersons of three community boards criticized Forest City Ratner for "overstating" the CBs participation in "crafting" the Community Benefits Agreement.

Forest City Ratner told prospective renters that half the affordable units--rather than half the square footage--would be two-bedroom and three-bedroom units.

Or the $6 billion lie.

Or the no-towers brochure.

The list could go on.

Civic venture?

The article continues:

Ratner conceded that he would continue to be assailed as a franchise snatcher and team destroyer, all for the sole purpose of constructing a small city of residential towers, while insisting that bringing a major professional sports team back to Brooklyn was always his first priority. The residential component, he said, was necessary to finance an arena on a railyards site that was going to require extraordinary infrastructure costs the city would not incur.

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NoLandGrab: "Bringing a major professional sports team back to Brooklyn was always his first priority?" That's funny, because his flunky in charge of Atlantic Yards told attendees at last week's Brooklyn Real Estate Summit that "Atlantic Yards is primarily a housing initiative with an arena attached." But like Bruce says, "when a developer speaks it’s not always believed."

Related coverage...

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, Bruce Ratner: “when a developer speaks it’s not always believed."

Really? Bringing pro sports back to Brooklyn was always the first priority? Creating investor and shareholder value by gaining cheap ownership to prime real estate wasn't the first priority? Or, wasn't it affordable housing? It is difficult to know what to believe when this developer in particular opens his mouth.

Posted by eric at 10:25 AM

Ratner Content to Succeed in the Shadows

The New York Times
by Harvey Araton

It's Bruce Ratner vs. Norman Oder in today's New York Times. Ratner's up first, and gets to tell his own story without any counterpoint. He does say one honest thing, however:

“There’s a bittersweet feeling in having a majority owner in Brooklyn not be us,” he said, acknowledging his many critics will scoff because “when a developer speaks it’s not always believed.”

The other interesting bit in the story involves yet another major blunder by Knicks' owner James Dolan, Ratner's main competition as worst NBA team owner ever.

[Former Madison Square Garden President Dave] Checketts said it was possible that Dolan might have fought the wrong venture when he opposed the Jets’ attempt to build a stadium on Manhattan’s Far West Side. A Brooklyn arena that is roughly the same size as the Garden may pose a much bigger threat, he said.

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NoLandGrab: It's safe to say that had Dolan invested a fraction of the $13 million it spent fighting the West Side Stadium in Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn — and had he similarly enlisted the help of his buddy, Shelly Silver — Atlantic Yards would now be one for the history books.

Posted by eric at 9:58 AM

Panelists at Real Estate Summit Flourish in Midst of Controversy

Brooklyn Daily Eagle
by Linda Collins

Another uncritical report from the "Brooklyn Real Estate Summit."

[Forest City Ratner EVP MaryAnne] Gilmartin, in her presentation, emphasized that Atlantic Yards is primarily a housing initiative with an arena attached. Of 6,430 planned residential units, 35 percent (or 2,250) will be affordable with preferences given to those in the community board districts immediately surrounding it.

Right, which is why they're building the arena first.

“We are committed to building 30 percent of the affordable units in a first phase building adjacent to the arena,” she said, adding that it is now in the design phase, funding will be sought next year and construction could begin in mid- or late-2011.
...

Gilmartin noted that FCRC has partnered with eight different community groups on the Atlantic Yards development and an inter-generational center is planned.

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NoLandGrab: What Ms. Gilmartin meant is that "FCRC has 'partnered' with eight different 'community' groups on the Atlantic Yards development and an inter-generational center is 'planned'."

Posted by eric at 9:46 AM

Mermaid Parade: A Coney Island Tradition

Brooklyn Daily Eagle
by Samantha Sherman

Bruce Ratner can thank BP for taking the heat off.

The parade is not often thought of as a political hotbed (even though its very existence could be seen as a cultural and political statement), but this year many costumes carried with them notes of unrest and frustration at the aftermath of the BP oil spill.

Made to look like they were covered in crude oil, many mermaids and sea creatures covered themselves in black paint and carried fishing nets strewn with blackened creatures.

In the past, some groups of parade participants conveyed messages criticizing developer Bruce Ratner and his planned Atlantic Yards development.

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Posted by eric at 9:36 AM

June 21, 2010

Smart growth bill passes, suggests that public infrastructure be prioritized for downtown developments--but with community-based planning (unlike AY)

Atlantic Yards Report

Both the state Assembly and Senate last week passed a bill establishing a state smart growth public infrastructure policy.

On one level, the bill--which offers guidance rather than anything enforceable and does not apply to projects already in process--seems to argue for projects like Atlantic Yards, high-density developments near transit.

But a closer look suggests some contradictions.

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Posted by eric at 10:58 AM

In Progress: Beekman Tower / Frank Gehry

ArchDaily
by Karen Cilento

Compared to its context, the monstrously tall tower will dominate the neighborhood which is predominantly filled with lower rise building. In the beginning of the construction phase, developer Forest City Ratner threatened to cut Gehry’s 76-story Beekman Tower in half due to cost, but in a press release on the matter, the developer concluded, “FCRC’s critical decision to build the full skyscraper was due to a combination of factors, including a reduction in the cost of construction materials and interior build-out and finishes. In addition, a successful collaboration with the Building and Construction Trades Council and the Building Employers Trade Association resulted in a beneficial Beekman Project Labor Agreement. Completing the Beekman tower will keep hundreds of workers employed at a time when construction in New York has slowed dramatically.”

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Photo: Moonman82 via ArchDaily

Posted by eric at 10:51 AM

Carl Andrews Goes From Clownish Antics to More Serious Trouble

Runnin' Scared
by Wayne Barrett

Sleazeballs of a feather flock together.

I remember when Carl Andrews was an innocent. The focus of scorching New York Post stories the last two days, Andrews is now a target of a probe that threatens the brief Democratic reign in the New York State Senate. It's the culmination of a life of clownish crime, though the usually ebullient Andrews has never been convicted of one.

The Post reported this morning that Senator John Sampson, whose leadership of the narrow Democratic majority has restored at least some semblance of sanity to the chamber in recent months, actually gave Andrews an internal Senate document summarizing the details of the six bids received by the state for one of its most lucrative contracts ever, the operation of 4,500 electronic slot machines at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. Andrews, a former state senator with close political ties to Sampson, was the lobbyist for Aqueduct Entertainment Group, the eventual winning bidder whose contract is so engulfed in scandal it was subsequently cancelled.

The State Inspector General and the United States Attorney are probing the award to A.E.G., which revised its bid after seeing the Senate summary of their competitors' offers.
...

To me, it is all Brooklyn chickens coming home to roost in Albany.

Sampson and Andrews joined forces under onetime Brooklyn Democratic boss and ex-Assemblyman Clarence Norman, who wound up convicted in a series of corruption cases in recent years and doing up to nine years in state prison.
...

You'd think a dossier like that might make [Andrews] a hard sell as a lobbyist, but in Albany, he was flooded with paying customers the minute he hung a shingle, everything from builders like Forest City Ratner and the McKissack Group, which have giant Brooklyn projects, to eBay and Brooklyn Philharmonic. A.E.G. knew it was buying access, and they didn't care whether it was the seediest kind.

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Posted by eric at 10:44 AM

What Do BP, New York Multifamily & Atlantic Yards Have In Common?

MultiFamilyInvestor

MultiFamilyInvestor weaves together BP's corner-cutting and the absence of proper government oversight, a crooked real estate deal involving the Rev. Floyd Flake, and Atlantic Yards.

What does this remind us of?

Atlantic Yards.

Forest City Ratner got to purchase the MTA-owned property for $100 million (and he only put $20 million down). No other developer or organization had an opportunity to bid on the space, even though MTA’s bylaws required it.

The Flake quartet may operate the Jamaica apartment complex flawlessly. Forest City Ratner may construct a complex that improves downtown Brooklyn. But they both had an unfair advantage to get to that point.

They didn’t jump the line.

There was no line.

BP was supposed to have regulatory lines in the sand that it was not supposed to cross.

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Posted by eric at 10:33 AM

The new book on ACORN, AY gaps, and full disclosure in a review

Atlantic Yards Report

I'll have a review shortly of John Atlas's new book, Seeds of Change: The Story of ACORN, America's Most Controversial Antipoverty Community Organizing Group, published by Vanderbilt University Press.

It's a serious book, though highly sympathetic and quite sloppy. And after reading it, I can say with confidence that the headline for Peter Dreier's TPMcafe review, ACORN's Kick-Ass Activism - New Book Reveals the Whole Story, is far from accurate when it comes to Atlantic Yards.
...

Indeed, the bailout by Forest City Ratner is a glaring omission.

(Note the non-advertisement for NLG on the cover of the book.)

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Posted by eric at 10:24 AM

June 20, 2010

Sunday Funny: Mikhail Prokhorov Nets

bjackbjack33 via YouTube

This video is ostensibly a series of outtakes from an earlier video, also posted on YouTube.

link

Posted by steve at 11:00 AM

The Aqueduct racino deal: AEG deal seen as unethical but not illegal; Sampson-Andrews leak provokes more controversy; bonus: AY/AEG parallels

Atlantic Yards Report

The scandals keep coming from the state's attempt to award the contract for a Racino video casino at Aqueduct Raceway. Those following the Atlantic Yards fight might wonder why this particular story is getting so much play in New York papers, while the MTA's decision to award rights to the Vanderbilt Yard to developer Bruce Ratner 18 months before issuing an RFP in 2005 was largely ignored.

Is it really surprising that some of the cast of characters for the Racino scandal also show up in Atlantic Yards dealings? Amongst those making an appearance are Senate Democratic leader John Sampson and Carl Andrews, a lobbyist for Aqueduct Entertainment Group (one of the parties vying for the contract).

Andrews famously asked a Forest City Ratner representative, "What are you going to do for my support?" a question a former staffer apparently interpreted as a request without civic betterment at its heart.

A fundraiser for Sampson was held last October at Forest City Ratner's MetroTech offices.

Rap entrepreneur Jay-Z, who has a small piece of the Nets, had a small piece of the AEG deal before he dropped out.

Shady minority contracting consultant Darryl Greene, source of much controversy in the AEG deal, exited that deal but has received little flak for his role in the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement.

link

Posted by steve at 7:17 AM

Behind the Brooklyn Paper's LeBron-maybe-at-Toren story

Atlantic Yards Report

I'm trying to imagine how the Brooklyn Paper went about the article headlined (online) Apartments that are fit for a king — King James and in print "A HOME FIT FOR A KING: Rumor: LeBron looked for Bklyn crib, but he shouldn't miss these palaces."

Here's how it might have gone down.

Editor Gersh Kuntzman: "Hey, Steve, did you see that New York Times interview with Donald Capoccia, the developer of Toren?"

Reporter Stephen Brown: "Yeah."

GK: "He said LeBron James might be looking at the penthouse apartment."

SB: "Shouldn't he know? He's the developer. LeBron is kind of a noticeable individual. He's just trying to get some free publicity."

GK: "If a rumor's good enough for the Times, it's good enough for the Community Newspaper Group."

SB: "Some blogger guy checked into it and found an original purveyor of the online rumor admitted it was a joke."

GK: "We don't listen to that blogger guy any more."

SB: "But Gersh, even if LeBron joins the Nets as a free agent, he'll play in Newark for at least two years. He can't commute from Brooklyn."

GK: "Don't you understand, the story's not about the Toren and LeBron, it's about super-premium real estate still available in several buildings. That's news. Get to it. We'll even put it on the front page."

SB: "If you say so."

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Posted by steve at 7:05 AM

The Atlantic asks, "Can Anyone Replace the Local Beat Reporter?" Not that likely (but City Limits is trying to crowd-fund a development story)

Atlantic Yards Report

This blog entry starts by referencing an article from The Atlantic that shows, although a beat reporter can be well-positioned to find a story that might otherwise be missed, sometimes ordinary citizens can come up with story on their own.

Norman Oder's perspective on beat reporter versus citizen reporter:

I'm pessimistic that beat reporting can just bubble up.

Writing in April 2009 on a debate about the future of news between Princeton sociologist Paul Starr, a pessimist, and Outside.in founder Steven Johnson, an optimist, I noted that Johnson agrees that traditional reporting skills are needed "for the macro issues, but on the hyperlocal level the true experts are people on the streets."

As I pointed out, Atlantic Yards is both hyperlocal (and thus too fine-grained in its iterations for daily print coverage) as well as macro (encompassing a wide range of beats, including real estate, public policy, sports business, law, and local politics). So traditional reporting skills are necessary. It's very hard to become an expert on that stuff.

Oder points to one attempt at filling in the gap between the numbers of reporters available and the stories that ought to be written.

Meanwhile, City Limits magazine, which does solid work on a shoestring, is now trying to crowdsource funding for an investigation, aiming to raise $5000 with the following pitch:

Anyone who has lived in or visited New York in the past decade has seen the tower cranes and orange netting that color the skyline—harbingers of the new developments that are remaking the city, from baseball stadiums to shopping malls to luxury condos. This progress has costs, primarily the impact these projects have on existing neighborhoods.

To fend off opposition to their plans, developers often promise “community benefits” in the form of housing, amenities and jobs.

But do the benefits ever get delivered?

If so, who gets them?

And if not, who holds the builders’ feet to the fire?

City Limits wants to conduct a detailed investigation of big projects—and big promises—around the city to figure out which developers have kept their word.

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Posted by steve at 6:39 AM

June 19, 2010

Should the Public Advocate be in charge of overseeing CBAs? Or is some more general oversight needed?

Atlantic Yards Report

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has issued several proposals for reforms of the City Charter, and a couple involve oversight of Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs).

(He believes that the Charter Revision Commission should only place questions regarding term limits on the 2010 ballot, and to reserve action on all other issues until 2012.)

His proposals include:

• Increasing disclosure by making more government operations and decision-making available online including capital and discretionary funding requests, Requests For Proposals, Community Benefits Agreements, the responsiveness of City agencies to Freedom of Information Law requests, lobbyists visits, and other aspects of City government;

• Granting subpoena power to the Public Advocate’s office to strengthen its oversight role and empowering the office to track compliance with Community Benefits Agreements;

It certainly makes sense to put all CBAs--at least those in which the government is involved--online.

But empowering the Public Advocate to track CBA compliance is hardly a reform to inspire confidence, considering de Blasio's failure to do due diligence on Atlantic Yards and its CBA.

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Posted by steve at 8:27 AM

The Atlantic: one idea that has outlived its usefulness is "publicly financed stadiums"

Atlantic Yards Report

From the July/August 2010 issue (Ideas) of the Atlantic magazine:

Ideas That Have Outlived Their Usefulness
• The mortgage-interest deduction
• Jared from Subway
• Publicly financed stadiums

I think Neil deMause of Field of Schemes (interviews) was ahead of the curve on this one.

Note that Atlantic Yards, as with the new baseball stadiums, is not directly publicly financed in the blatant way some other sports facilities are, but relies on significant infrastructure subsidies, tax breaks, and a tax-exempt financing scheme that the Treasury Department no longer allows.

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Posted by steve at 8:23 AM

June 18, 2010

Ratner YES! Rat Population Control NO!!

While New York City lavishes hundreds of millions of dollars on Bruce Ratner so he can build a basketball arena that will lose even more money for the city, it's laying off dozens of pest-control workers to scrounge up a measly $1.5 million.

Gotham Gazette, A New Tactic for the War on Rats

Natalie Hunnicutt’s first assignment as a pest control aide for the city, was, she recalls, also her most memorable: crashing a party of dozens of rodents at a Queens supermarket.

“There were rats scurrying left and right and I just thought ‘Oh my goodness,’” the Brooklyn resident said. The pests were leaping over her feet and into a mountain of trash, the result of people using the store’s parking lot as a garbage dump. By the end of the day, Hunnicutt said she and seven of her colleagues removed about 400 bags of garbage from the site.

Hunnicutt continued to clean private and public properties with rodent problems for a little more than two years until the city laid her off in May.

“It hurt,” the 28-year-old said about the pink slip. In her job, she said she was “cleaning up communities and making a difference. I was keeping New York City clean.”

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, where Pest Control Services resides, laid off Hunnicutt and 48 of her coworkers. That will save $1.5 million, according to the department. It will leave the department with 41 workers.

NoLandGrab: The added irony here is that Ratner's construction has been creating rat problems for Prospect Heights residents.

Posted by eric at 10:51 AM

Planner Garvin on Atlantic Yards: “A single site rezoned for a single owner with a set of towers and an arena. That's not a public realm."

Atlantic Yards Report

Architect, planner, and educator Alexander Garvin is hardly an anti-development NIMBY. He calls himself pro-development and is proud of his work steering the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) and serving as managing director of the NYC 2012 Olympics effort.

But Garvin, stubbornly enough, is a believer in the public realm--streets, parks, transit system--and thinks that’s where government investment should go, and the private development will follow.

He believes in clear rules and an even playing field, rather than a governmental attempt to pick winners.

And that means that he can’t avoid taking shots at Atlantic Yards as an example of where things went wrong, a project where the public realm was scanted in favor of a single developer and the city's land use review process was circumvented.

Last night, he discussed the major planning ventures with which he’s been involved, part of “Conversations on New York,” sponsored by the Architectural League, in conjunction with its exhibition The City We Imagined/The City We Made: New New York 2001-2010 (which will move to Governors Island next month).
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Criticizing AY

“Atlantic Yards: what kind of public realm is there? None,” he responded rhetorically. “A single site rezoned for a single owner with a set of towers and an arena. That's not a public realm. If you're going to increase what you can support on the site, you need to be able to support them with something, such as community facilities, mass transit, and streets, and I have a problem when the upzoning isn't related to that.”

Actually, Atlantic Yards is not an upzoning but an override of zoning. There might be some new facilities, but the timing of a school and a day care center is unclear, and dependent on public money. Meanwhile, streets have been subtracted, rather than added, and there’s no opportunity for multiple developers to bid on separate sites.

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Posted by eric at 10:19 AM

June 17, 2010

At Forest City's annual meeting, talk of "de-risking the business," the huge improvement over 2009 for AY, and a "very profitable" arena

Atlantic Yards Report

The unencumbered development opportunity with Atlantic Yards and its expected “very profitable arena” were among the highlights cited by Forest City Enterprises (FCE) executives yesterday at the corporation’s homey annual meeting in Cleveland. (I listened via a webcast.)

Referring to the corporation’s efforts as a whole, CEO Chuck Ratner said “we have de-risked the business,” surely an important message to shareholders but a statement that should raise questions among the developer’s governmental partners and the public.

If they’ve gotten rid of risk, has it simply evaporated, or been shifted?

In the case of Atlantic Yards, run by subsidiary Forest City Ratner, evidence suggests it’s been shifted. The New York City Independent Budget Office, for example, considers the arena a net loss for New York City. (It calls the arena a modest gain for the state, but that’s without considering the naming rights the state gave away.) Penalties for delay are slight.

Forest City's CEO got to indulge himself in a fantasy sequence.

Chuck Ratner said, “Look folks, we’ve come a long way… Think about the fact that one year ago, standing right about where [Executive VP] David [LaRue] is sitting, was one Mr. Goldstein, who had come to our annual meeting to take on our board over the Atlantic Yards transaction, and how unfairly we were treating him and his neighbors, and why don’t we just leave and go away.”

(While Goldstein did cite “staunch and widespread community opposition, ongoing and potential new litigation, diminished political support, and an extremely challenging economic environment,” he didn’t complain about unfair treatment but asked Forest City executive to tell shareholders its contingency plans “if and when you don't break ground in 2009 and can't open the arena in Brooklyn in 2011?”)

“[Co-chairman] Albert [Ratner] handled him, I thought, extremely well, and he basically left,” Chuck Ratner continued. “And here we sit one year later, and for an exorbitant price, we bought him and his interest out.”

Exorbitant? That’s the official line, but it’s pretty much what they paid speculators five years earlier for the buildings containing Freddy’s Bar & Backroom.

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NoLandGrab: "Exorbitant" is the bill being hung on the taxpayers — and the cost to property rights in New York State.

Posted by eric at 11:10 AM

One mean text

The Brooklyn Paper, Police Blotter
by Thomas Tracy

The week wouldn't be complete without a crime (or two) taking place in one (or both) of Bruce Ratner's malls.

iPod insult

A thief swiped an iPod from a 29-year-old woman on June 5 then insulted her intelligence during a text exchange later that day.

The woman said that she and the thief — an acquaintance — were leaving the Pathmark inside the Atlantic Center Mall at Atlantic Avenue and Fort Greene Place at 2 pm when the 24-year-old suspect asked to see her iPod Touch.

When the woman handed it over, the thief started to exit the cab, suddenly claiming he had to go back inside the supermarket.

The woman grabbed the iPod from him, but he snatched it back, explaining he’d return in a few minutes.

He didn’t.

Upset, the woman texted the suspect, asking him where he was so she could get her iPod back.

His response made it quite clear she wasn’t going to see him or the iPod again: “I’m at [the corner of] Psyche and You’re a Fool avenues.”

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The Local [Fort Greene/Clinton Hill], The Week in Crime: Purses, iPods and More Van Theft

June 12: At 1:53 p.m. a woman left her purse in the bathroom at Target. When she went back to get it five minutes later, the purse was gone.

Posted by eric at 10:52 AM

ESDC adds two board members

Atlantic Yards Report

The Empire State Development Corporation’s (ESDC) Board of Directors has had some vacancies, as I've reported.

The board, according to a press release, has added two members:

Paul F. Ciminelli is President and CEO of Ciminelli Development Company, Inc., where he has played a key role in securing major projects for organizations like Tops Markets Inc. Corporate Headquarters, the New York State United Teachers Association, First Niagara Bank Corporate Headquarters and the Buffalo Medical Group. In addition to his business activities, Mr. Ciminelli is involved in many professional and not-for-profit organizations related to business development, tourism and education. Mr. Ciminelli is a graduate of SUNY Buffalo.

Joyce L. Miller. is the Founder and CEO of Tier One Public Strategies, a consulting firm which provides in-depth public policy analysis in the areas of infrastructure finance, real estate and energy policy,. A New York native, Ms. Miller is also a trustee of the Citizens Budget Commission, serves on the board of the Community Service Society. For more than three decades, Ms. Miller has worked in various fields of government, business and finance, including the Offices of the New York State and New York City Comptrollers. While with the City Comptroller’s office, she served as Chief of Staff to the First Deputy Comptroller/Chief Financial Officer who oversaw the capital markets activities of the Comptroller's office, including management of the assets of the New York City Retirement Systems. She established the multi-billion dollar real estate investment program and served as Director, Real Estate Investment, investing over $2.5 b. Ms. Miller received her B.A. from City College of New York, M.B.A. from New York University and M.Phil. from Columbia University. She resides on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

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NoLandGrab: No word on how they feel about the use of eminent domain to transfer land from one private owner to another wealthier, more powerful, politically connected private owner, but we can guess.

Posted by eric at 10:41 AM

ACORN's Kick-Ass Activism - New Book Reveals the Whole Story

Talking Points Memo
by Peter Dreier

That would be the "whole story" written by a sympathetic author, and reviewed by that author's "friend and occasional co-author."

Seeds of Change also recounts the "battle of Brooklyn" that pitted ACORN against one of the city's most politically-connected developers, Forest City, that planned to build a megaproject - including a new arena for an NBA basketball team, luxury housing, and high-rise offices - at Atlantic Yards. ACORN threatened to stop the project if developer Bruce Ratner didn't include a significant number of housing units affordable to poor and working class tenants. ACORN won that fight, but earned the emnity of the project's opponents, including some local residents, for whom Atlas shows great sympathy, leaving the reader to wonder who won and who lost.

"Pitted ACORN against one of the city's most politically-connected developers?" We need to check our dictionary again for the definition of "pitted against." We thought that implied an adversarial relationship.

As Atlas describes in this lively book, ACORN learned the art of playing the inside-outside game. Although it was best-known as a kick-ass activist group, it also formed alliances with sympathetic politicians and even some corporations willing to negotiate with ACORN to avoid being the target of protest.

That sounds more like the ACORN we know.

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NoLandGrab: "Kick-ass activism?" More like kiss-ass activism, which helps when it comes to needing a $1.5 million bailout. Or is it kiss asses?

Posted by eric at 10:16 AM

Nets Basketball: First Newark, then Brooklyn ... and then the world

New Jersey Newsroom
by Evan Weiner

The NBA's worst basketball team has grandiose dreams of being the world's worst basketball team, aiming to transcend "borders and cultures and countries."

So how do you push your way onto the world stage and become a global sports brand name like Manchester United, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods? That is the question that Irina Pavlova will be attempting to answer in the upcoming months as she leads the campaign to make the New Jersey, soon-to-be Brooklyn Nets a player on the world stage.

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Posted by eric at 10:08 AM

Thor’s Sitt says he was "blindsided" at Coney Island, others say challenges to be expected

The Real Deal
by Candace Taylor

The developers of three significant -- and often controversial -- Brooklyn projects commiserated about the challenges of building in the borough at a panel today, while sharing how they embrace those challenges.

The panel, part of GreenPearl's Brooklyn Real Estate Summit, was held at St. Francis College in Downtown Brooklyn. Panelists included Joseph Sitt, the chairman and CEO of Thor Equities, which owns much of the commercial real estate in Coney Island even after selling 6.9 acres to the city for $96 million last year. Also present were MaryAnne Gilmartin, an executive vice president at Forest City Ratner, the developer of the massive Atlantic Yards project in downtown Brooklyn, and Andrew Kimball, the CEO of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corp.

The moderator of the panel, the Brooklyn Economic Development Corporation's Joan Bartolomeo, asked the three if they ever get sick of the politics and hassles that accompany large development projects in New York City.

Perhaps Joan should've asked Brooklyn residents and property owners if they ever get sick of having their homes seized for private development fueled by massive public subsidies, or the gridlock and endless horn-honking caused by the absence of planning, or the corrupt politics that masquerade as public "process."

Sitt said he was surprised by the emotional public response to his plans to redevelop Coney Island, including removing aging buildings to make way for newer attractions.

"I admit, in the case of Coney Island, I got kind of blindsided," he said.

Ten years ago, the Brooklyn-native said, "nobody had any interest in Coney Island," adding that he got involved in the seaside amusement district "not so much for the investment," but more "as a personal hobby, to try to give back" to the community.

Joe, why didn't you say so? If we'd only known it was all about philanthropy, we would've tossed roses at you and kissed your benevolent feet.

Gilmartin said her company Forest City Ratner is prepared for the "great challenges" that come with their projects. "If you want to be an urban developer, this is what comes with the territory," she added.

Forest City Ratner's projects are often more challenging because they build from the ground up, rather than purchase properties built by others, and the company often engages in complicated public-private partnerships.

Those "complicated public-private partnerships" are well worth the billions in free taxpayer dollars and the handover of other people's properties.

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Posted by eric at 9:51 AM

June 16, 2010

Atlantic Yards YES! Parks, farm land, open space, historic preservation and recycling, NO!!

What are the only kinds of parks that don't have to fear severe cuts thanks to New York State's massive budget deficit? Ball parks!

Gotham Gazette, Pitting Parks Against Open Space

Singling out the state parks and environment for symbolic belt-tightening, Gov. David Paterson last month pressured the state legislature into accepting steep and disproportionate cuts to conservation funding in exchange for reopening 55 shuttered parks and historic sites in time for the Memorial Day weekend.

With the budget two months late and negotiations stalled, the governor chose an area representing less than one quarter of a percent of the total budget to launch his strategy of forcing cuts through temporary budget extender bills needed to keep the state operating.

In a move that has troubling implications for the future of the city and state's environment, legislators were cornered into choosing between two programs that have broad public support -- the state parks and the l Environmental Protection Fund, the state's main source of capital expenditures for open space and farmland preservation, parks and recreation, historic preservation, waterfront revitalization and recycling.

"There is no free lunch," Paterson said in a press release. "If legislators want to fully fund the parks, that money must come from a real source."

Actually, there's a free all-Bruce-can-eat buffet, at breakfast, lunch and dinner — but it's only open to real estate developers and Russian oligarchs aiming to build the metropolitan area's fourth basketball arena.

One recent analysis from New Jersey found that every dollar invested in a bond measure for conservation would return $10 in economic benefits such as farm and fish products, outdoor recreation and ecosystem services such as flood prevention.

Yet the state routinely allocates an amount almost equivalent to this year's entire Environmental Protection Fund appropriation to individual brick and mortar projects whose benefits flow primarily to a few large corporations or developers, such as $104 million for infrastructure for one private sports arena at Atlantic Yards and $63 million to subsidize parking garages for the benefit of the privately owned New York Yankees.

Posted by eric at 12:19 PM

Ask Why: Enron, "the diffusion of responsibility," and the Atlantic Yards parallels (will anyone look at the Development Agreement?)

Atlantic Yards Report

What does Atlantic Yards have in common with the worst corporate scandal of the past decade? Plenty.

Alex Gibney’s 2005 documentary, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, contains several memorable quotes, but the most apt one, at least for Atlantic Yards watchers, is not listed on the IMDB quotes page.

It comes from whistleblower Sherron Watkins, with only about five minutes left to go in the film:

“Enron should not be viewed as an aberration, something that can’t happen anywhere else. Because it’s all about the rationalization that you’re not doing anything wrong. We’ve involved [accountants] Arthur Andersen, we’ve involved the lawyers, the bankers know what we’re doing. There’s a sense--the diffusion of responsibility. Everyone was on the bandwagon. And it can happen again.”

So the message of the film is a reminder to take seriously Enron’s (ironic, in retrospect) slogan, "Ask Why."

And what about AY?

Atlantic Yards isn't Enron--right?--but who's responsible for taking responsibility and telling the truth?

Government agencies and courts have punted on numerous issues, most glaringly regarding the timetable implied in the belatedly-released Development Agreement, which contradicts earlier promises.

Remember, the release in January came six days after a hearing in a case challenging the Modified General Project Plan (MGPP) was heard in court. It was also about three weeks after the ESDC told me the documents would be made available.

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Posted by eric at 12:14 PM

Stadium Status: Federal Subsidy for Private Development

Next American City
by Willy Staley

More coverage of the Internets Celebrities' Stadium Status.

New York City, as Stadium Status shows, was fooled three times over in one year. Starting in Queens, our hosts Dallas and Rafi take a look at Shea Stadium’s replacement, Citi Field, which uses the old Shea Stadium’s footprint as a parking lot. Then, they go uptown to The Bronx to see The House that Ruth Built reduced to rubble directly across the street from a shinier version of the same, only this time with a Hard Rock Cafe built into the ground level, and prohibitively expensive tickets. About half of each stadium’s cost was covered by taxpayer subsidies. In the case of the new Yankee stadium, the taxpayer bill was about $1 billion. And yet, in interviews with fans in and around the stadiums, no one seems upset. Everyone, after all, likes a new ballpark.

The main event of the video is Dallas and Rafi’s examination of the controversial Atlantic Yards project in Downtown Brooklyn. The project, which will receive twice the amount of subsidy that the Yankees received, is a basketball arena for the New Jersey Nets, and 16 high-rise residential buildings. As Dallas and Rafi point out, the only thing worse than the Nets was the use of eminent domain to remove so-called “blight” from the neighborhood, clearing out a few hundred residents to make room for the project’s massive footprint.

Despite all the destruction, the development got most of its political support because of Ratner’s promise of 2,250 units of affordable housing, which that particular area or Brooklyn lacks. But, even that is dependent on a great deal of public subsidy, and some critics fear Ratner won’t deliver. Even if he does, the Internets Celebrities point out, he only has to deliver a fraction of those units in the first decade of development.

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Additional coverage...

The Consumerist, Do New Stadiums Really Give Back All They Get From Taxpayers?

Are new stadiums, like Citi Field, the new Yankees stadium, and the proposed new Nets stadium/Atlantic Yards project, really worth the oodles of public dollars, tax breaks, and the hundreds of residents displaced, their land seized under eminent domain? Stadium Status is an awesome new 20 min documentary by the Internets Celebrites that examines the issue and has come to a firm "Nahhhh" as its conclusion.
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I was in Detroit recently. They have a nice new stadium. Just a few blocks away down the main drag it still looks like a bombed-out warzone.

Posted by eric at 11:35 AM

Chuck Ratner Explains Who Atlantic Yards Benefits

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

At yesterday's analyst conference call Forest City Enterprises CEO Chuck Ratner explained how Atlantic Yards is a public use, legitimizing eminent domain...oh, wait, no he didn't.

Norman Oder reports (and transcribes) the CEO's words, which actually explain what a sweetheart deal the whole scam is for the Ohio-based firm:

"But let me just share this reflection," [Charles Ratner} added. "Y’know, in the last three to five years, all that anybody ever saw at Atlantic Yards was risk and losses from the basketball team. Look where we are now. We’ve sold 80% of the team, which was a major drag on our earnings, to a well-capitalized owner who is committed to the business. As to the arena, we are investors in a great real estate asset and we are managing partners in a great real estate asset in a great market. We together with our partners own 55% of the arena and we are the managing partner. It is a real value proposition for Forest City."

That's not all anybody ever saw. What so many saw was one of the biggest land grabs in the city's development history. But at least it is a "real value proposition for Forest City."

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Posted by eric at 11:29 AM

New Council Land Use Chair Leroy Comrie: "I think Atlantic Yards... should've come before the Council, definitely"

Atlantic Yards Report

It's conventional wisdom these days that Atlantic Yards should have gone through the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), and that's what we hear in a Commercial Observer interview with the chair of the City Council's Land Use Committee, Queens Council Member Leroy Comrie: The Sheriff of Land Use....

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Related coverage...

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, Getting Back to the Original Sin of Atlantic Yards

The new chair of the City Council's Land Use Committee explains why, in part, it was wrong for Atlantic Yards to bypass the entire City Council and the City's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, aka ULURP. ULURP provides for multiple publich hearings on the project itself and votes by community boards, borough presidents, council committees including land use, city planning and, finally, the entire City Council. In stark contrast Atlantic Yards did not require the vote of a single elected official and only underwent a fantastical environmental impact disclosure process.

Posted by eric at 11:17 AM

June 15, 2010

Brooklyn Museum’s Populism Hasn’t Lured Crowds

The New York Times
by Robin Pogrebin

When it opened a new glass entrance in 2004 meant to beckon the masses, the Brooklyn Museum said it hoped to triple attendance in 10 years by concentrating on a local audience. It had stopped worrying about competing with Manhattan museums or about its image — despite its world-class collections — as a poor man’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Instead, the museum invited the neighborhood to view its McKim, Mead & White Beaux-Arts building as a community resource and openly celebrated popular culture with shows like its recent photographic history of rock ’n’ roll.

But six years in, the effort to build an audience is not working. Attendance in 2009 dropped 23 percent from the year before, to about 340,000, though other New York cultural institutions remained stable.
...

The attendance drop of 23 percent in 2009 came as attendance at 32 other cultural institutions monitored by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs lost an average of 1 percent, according to city statistics.

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NoLandGrab: What The Times fails to realize, or at least acknowledge, is something that's obvious to folks who've followed the battle over Atlantic Yards. In April, 2008, the Museum chose to honor the immensely unpopular Bruce Ratner at its annual gala. Is it any wonder Brooklynites have stayed away since?

Posted by eric at 11:41 AM

Forest City executives call AY "real value proposition," says "land prices seem to have come back for new opportunity" (what about that railyard?)

Atlantic Yards Report

Executives at Forest City Enterprises (FCE), speaking yesterday in a conference call with investment analysts to discuss first quarter results, said their optimism about the real estate market was continuing to grow--and that progress on the Atlantic Yards project was significant.

"We believe the bottom has been reached for most real estate fundamentals," declared FCE CEO Chuck Ratner, who acknowledged that "clearly that recovery is fragile."

AY progress

"Without question, however, our biggest pipeline-related achievement during the first quarter was obtaining vacant possession in Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, closing our new partnership with Mikhail Prokhorov for the ownership of the Barclays Center arena and the Nets team and continuing construction work on the arena," Ratner said.

"Vacant possession" referred not to the entire Atlantic Yards site, or even the entire first phase, but the arena block.

"All projected debt and equity needed to complete the arena construction has been fully funded, and we expect to open in late spring/early summer of 2012," he said.
...

"But let me just share this reflection," he added. "Y’know, in the last three to five years, all that anybody ever saw at Atlantic Yards was risk and losses from the basketball team. Look where we are now. We’ve sold 80% of the team, which was a major drag on our earnings, to a well-capitalized owner who is committed to the business. As to the arena, we are investors in a great real estate asset and we are managing partners in a great real estate asset in a great market. We together with our partners own 55% of the arena and we are the managing partner. It is a real value proposition for Forest City."

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Posted by eric at 11:35 AM

Leroy Comrie: The Sheriff of Land Use

The Commercial Observer
by Jotham Sederstrom

In January, Leroy Comrie was appointed chairman of the City Council’s powerful Land Use Committee, taking over where Councilwoman Melinda Katz left off. The 52-year-old Queens councilman, who was first elected in 2001, spoke to The Commercial Observer about his once-frenzied, now relatively sluggish committee amid an economic downturn and hypothesized about land-use issues he would have liked to have seen come before him, like the Atlantic Yards project and the World Trade Center.
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Among the few city land-use issues that, in one way or another, managed to avoid City Council scrutiny-say, the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn or aspects of ground zero-are there any that, had you been the land-use chairman at the time, you would've liked to have had come before the committee for review?

Those things happened before I was chair, but I definitely want the Council to be involved in every project. I think Atlantic Yards and ground zero should've come before the Council, definitely. I think the Council is the most transparent and open process. Those processes were not open, and I think the public is still upset about the outcome of both of those projects, only because they didn't have the full opportunity to air their grievances.

The Council is a democratic party, a transparent body. We have a responsibility to make sure that anybody who comes before the Council has an opportunity to air all of the aspects of a project so that at the end of the day the residents can know exactly the pros and cons and why we came to the decisions we've made after hearing those pros and cons.

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Posted by eric at 11:31 AM

Criminals Also Fans of Frank Gehry's Beekman Tower

Curbed

There's panic on the streets of FiDi, caused by that greatest of urban menaces: landscaping. You see, Frank Gehry's wavy 76-story Beekman Tower won't only have rental apartments, a school and hospital offices when it makes its debut in 2011. It will also have two street-level plazas, with beautiful bushes and trees..."and other places where a criminal might hide while waiting to assault somebody who walked by," according to a concerned Community Board 1 member. And so the committee passed a resolution urging developer Forest City Ratner to staff the plazas with full-time security, after, the Broadsheet Daily reports, FCR reps "weren't very forthcoming" about their security plans. Suspicious! Maybe they plan on mugging tenants to make up for a soft rental market.

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NoLandGrab: Actually, Forest City Ratner is perfectly content to mug taxpayers, which appears to be much more lucrative.

Posted by eric at 11:26 AM

ARCHITECTS ONSTAGE

NewYorker.com
by Paul Goldberger

Let’s kill all the lawyers,” Dick the Butcher famously said in Henry VI, Part II, but lately it has seemed like it is the architects whom playwrights have wanted to kill off. Well, maybe they don’t exactly want to kill them off, since they seem to need them more than ever as protagonists, given that two plays about architects were staged in New York at the same time this spring. But if playwrights have awakened to a new love of architecture as a subject, it doesn’t appear to translate into love for architects themselves. Neither of these plays is exactly what you would call a flattering portrait.
...

Gehry looms large over Safdie’s play, since part of the plot involves the claim that glare from the building created problems for a neighbor, which in fact did happen when light reflected off the steel surface of Gehry’s Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles. And the whole Staten Island scheme is a stand-in for Gehry’s Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn. The plot is contrived, and becomes more so as it goes on, since Safdie, who is the son of the architect Moshe Safdie, is torn between wanting to give architects room to be creative and telling the world how overbearing they can be. But at its best the play is a hilarious sendup of idiotic architect-speak, and a reminder of the gap between the public’s demand that buildings be ever more exciting and entertaining, and their need to fulfill certain practical functions. One of many plot twists involves a confession by the former architecture critic of the Times that he and several other leading architecture critics—the “Bilbao 12,” they were called—conspired with developers and public officials to create “archi-tourism by starchitects,” and were paid off to write an endless series of positive reviews of buildings by the likes of Eberhardt Shlaminger, which in the real world translates to Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, et al. It’s comforting, I suppose, to know that Safdie isn’t inclined to let the critics get away with anything, either.

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Posted by eric at 10:08 AM

Bites of Heights

BQE could chomp posh B'klyn nabe

NY Post
by Rich Calder

The abject unpopularity of Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards land grab will apparently make the use of eminent domain harder in New York, even for traditional purposes like roads.

It’s highway robbery!

Some 30 to 50 buildings along the pricey Brooklyn waterfront -- including multimillion-dollar historic brownstones in Brooklyn Heights -- could be demolished by the state to modernize and revamp the crumbling Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, officials confirmed yesterday.

The state Department of Transportation is reviewing many ways to widen lanes, lengthen ramps and renovate a section of the decrepit roadway between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street, including the two-level portion that runs under the Brooklyn Heights Promenade -- and one controversial possibility would use eminent domain to seize property.
...

DOT Spokesman Adam Levin said the plan is among many being considered – including one calling for less extensive renovations and another to run a tunnel under Brooklyn Heights. He said the agency plans to take a hard look at all these options before resorting to a “worst-case scenario” of taking people’s homes.

“We are well aware of all the controversy caused by Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn,” he said.

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Posted by eric at 10:00 AM

Prudential Center tour might get Mikhail Prokhorov thinking Nets belong in Newark -- long-term

The Star-Ledger
by Steve Politi

Mikhail Prokhorov got his first look yesterday at the Prudential Center in Newark, the Nets' interim home for at least the next two years.

Maybe there is a very good reason his new partners, the ones who needed his billions to make their boondoggle Brooklyn project a reality, decided to wait so long to take the oligarch to the Rock.

Maybe they didn’t want him to see it.

Prokhorov isn’t the second richest man in Russia for making poor business decisions. You had to wonder, as he walked through the pristine building and shot 3-pointers with the city’s charismatic mayor, if the thought at least popped into his sizable noggin.

I’m paying how many rubles to build a new arena in Brooklyn when this place is already here?!

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Posted by eric at 9:53 AM

Modern Day Page Surfing

The Wall Street Journal
by Steven Kurutz

Jennie Egan, author and Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn advisory board member, has just published a new novel, A Visit From the Goon Squad.

Ms. Egan spent her youth attending punk rock shows at San Francisco's legendary Mabuhay Gardens. She moved to New York in 1987, and has published a story collection and four novels, including the National Book Award finalist "Look at Me." In recent years, Ms. Egan has chronicled old Brooklyn (she interviewed women who worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II for an oral history project) and defended the current version (she publicly opposed the Atlantic Yards project and its centerpiece basketball arena).
...

WSJ: Did the opposition to the Atlantic Yards project affect the final plans?

Ms. Egan: What was accomplished was a gigantic delay. I guess they're going to build this monstrous stadium, which no longer even has an interesting design or architecture. It's going to be a box.

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Posted by eric at 9:46 AM

June 14, 2010

Will Development Agreement get its day in court? Unlikely, as Justice Friedman moves case back to condemnation judge who already dismissed issue

Atlantic Yard Report

It looks like the belatedly-released Atlantic Yards Development Agreement--which signals significantly relaxed deadlines for the project--won't get its day in court, after all.

In a brief, five-page decision in the case known as Peter Williams Enterprises, et al., vs. New York State Urban Development Corporation (aka Empire State Development Corporation, or ESDC), state Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman essentially rejected a challenge by property owners that the Atlantic Yards project has changed so much that the ESDC should be forced to issue a new Determination & Findings to proceed with eminent domain.

Friedman did not formally reject the case, because she didn't examine the Development Agreement or get to the merits.

Instead, she moved it from New York County (Manhattan) to Kings County, as the ESDC had requested. In Kings County, Justice Abraham Gerges, who handles condemnations, already rejected similar arguments when rejecting a direct challenge from property owners to the condemnations.

The decision was dated May 26 and filed June 1, but I only learned about it last week. I asked the attorney for the petitioners, Matthew Brinckerhoff, for a comment, but didn't get one.

Development Agreement still at issue in separate case

Friedman is still considering a request by two groups of petitioners--organized by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and BrooklynSpeaks--to consider the Development Agreement in revisiting her March 10 ruling that the ESDC's ten-year timeframe for Atlantic Yards was reasonable.

In her ruling, Friedman disagreed that a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to reflect the burden of a 25-year project on communities was necessary. Nor would she annul the 2009 Modified General Project Plan, or MGPP.

But she refused to let the Development Agreement--released in January a week after oral argument--to be added to the case, known as Develop Don't Destroy (Brooklyn), et al., vs. Empire State Development Corporation and Forest City Ratner Companies.

She's still considering the request for reargument, but such motions, like appeals, are generally more of a long shot than new cases, as was the Williams case.

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Posted by eric at 12:48 PM

Gov. Chris Christie says he's ready to get involved in N.J. sports issues

The Star-Ledger
by Steve Politi

You pushed the Nets to give up their territorial rights as part of the move out of the Meadowlands. Is there any hope for NBA in the future here when the Nets leave?

The Prudential Center is a world-class basketball arena, and it could attract interest from teams not doing very well in this area. And I do think this area, if it had good teams, could support three teams. We support three teams in hockey. I don’t think there’s any reason we couldn’t support three in basketball. So if the Nets do leave — and I’m still waiting for that building to be built in Brooklyn, I’ll believe it when I see it — I think it’s something we should look at aggressively.

Why the skepticism about Brooklyn?

Just the economy. I know they have lots of legal issues to get over — I know they’ve gotten over a number of them. This thing was supposed to be built already. I haven’t seen any steel go in the ground yet. I wish them all the luck, but we’re ready to host the Nets for the next two years. At least.

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Posted by eric at 12:39 PM

Doblin: To build a tunnel, you need tunnel vision

Bergen Record
by Alfred P. Doblin

Congratulations, Bruce Ratner. You've replaced Robert Moses as the poster child for the ruthlessly efficient deployment of eminent domain.

This month, The New York Times reported that more than 3,000 occupants of buildings in the way of the ARC Tunnel and deep-station project will be displaced. Maybe Bruce Ratner, the developer of the long-delayed Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, can offer the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey some tips on moving that process along.

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Posted by eric at 12:33 PM

Toren sales figures illustrate yet another example of KPMG's lies about condo sales (bonus: joke about LeBron James moving in cited as rumor)

Atlantic Yards Report

Speaking of fanciful price predictions...

KPMG's Atlantic Yards market study, conducted on request of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and dated August 31, is supposed to back up the assertion that Atlantic Yards might be completed in the announced ten years, rather than, as then-ESDC CEO Marisa Lago said in April, "decades."

But it doesn't.

I've written before about KPMG's lies about sales figures at Richard Meier's On Prospect Park and the Oro condos. (The Empire State Development Corporation calls the latter lie "trivial" as a legal matter.)

Now let's take a look at the figures regarding the Toren condos. KPMG reported (see graphic above) that it had been 98% pre-leased/sold.

However, the New York Times reports today, in a "Square Feet" interview with developer Donald A. Capoccia, that the 240-unit building is 55% sold:

We launched this project in May 2008 and probably sold about a third of the building up to September. Then we had a hiatus. The building was completed in March 2010, and we’ve basically gotten up to a point where we’re now just about 55 percent sold, and we’re moving pretty quickly toward 60 percent. We’ve done 20 contracts in the last 12 days, and that’s just gangbusters!

We’re hoping — with our fingers crossed — that we could be at 180 units sold by the end of this year, which is just about what we need to get square with the bank, in terms of the repayment of the construction financing.

Click through for the LeBron James rumor/joke. The punchline? The joke's on us.

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Posted by eric at 9:12 AM

New rental tower fills tall order

Downtown's Beekman seen drawing good crowd, but units are pricey, and market is still shaky

Despite years of community opposition over its size, a financial crisis that briefly threatened to halve its height, and falling debris that rendered neighboring streets hazardous, the city's tallest residential spire will officially open its doors in about six months.

And after all that, the 867-foot Beekman Tower is already being hailed as a winner. In a remarkable about-face, many community officials expect their new 76-story, Frank Gehry-designed neighbor to raise the profile of the entire area. Meanwhile, real estate brokers predict developer Forest City Ratner Cos. will not only have little trouble renting the building's 903 high-end apartments but that their arrival on the market will be perfectly timed.
...

Beekman is fortunate to open in a strengthening rental market,” says Gary Jacob, executive vice president of developer Glenwood Management, which raised rents and eliminated concessions in February.

With many of the off-price leases due to expire in the fall, however, the market faces a major test. That factor, combined with a still uneven economic recovery, could yet make Forest City Ratner's hope of garnering rents that brokers predict will work out to be around $80 per square foot overly ambitious. Rents at nearby Liberty Plaza and 10 Barclay are $60 to $65 per square foot—and even those are considered high. According to Platinum Properties, rents in luxury financial district buildings range from the mid- to high $40s per square foot.

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NoLandGrab: $5,000 a month for a 750-square-foot apartment is almost as fanciful as the $1,250 per square foot Forest City hopes to get for Atlantic Yards condominiums.

Posted by eric at 9:04 AM

June 13, 2010

Sunday Comix

The New Yorker
By David Sipress

Link

NoLandGrab: Alternate caption: "We LOST again, and guess what? A Russian oligarch wants to buy us!"

Posted by steve at 10:00 AM

Times Public Editor Hoyt offers valedictory; no mention of Atlantic Yards

Atlantic Yards Report

The New York Times's Public Editor, Clark Hoyt, is leaving his post after three years and, in his last column (A Final Report From Internal Affairs), he offers some reflections:

The public editor receives as many as 300 messages on a typical day, and the total can spike into the thousands if a blogger or one of the media watchdog sites urges its followers to protest something the paper has published. Coverage of presidential politics in 2008, the Middle East at any time, and the latest developments in the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church reliably produced torrents of protest.

He doesn't mention any concerns raised about the Times's coverage of Atlantic Yards, and he surely had enough to keep him busy. But he was certainly put on notice.

link

Posted by steve at 7:38 AM

June 12, 2010

Bruce Ratner Drops $5 Million On Hampton Bays Home

Huffington Post

Divisive Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner just closed on a Dune Road estate in Hampton Bays for $5 million.

Ratner sold his $10 million Montauk property in 2009.

The ocean front home has 5 bedrooms, a pool and a three car garage.

Worth it?

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NoLandGrab: Click through to have a look at the slide show. It's a gorgeous setting — Forest City CEO Chuck Ratner might call it "a great piece of real estate" — but the place itself looks like a cheese factory akin to cousin Bruce's Atlantic Center mall. Sure, Ratner's decorator hasn't had at it yet, but finish-wise, it looks like it won't survive the next hurricane.

Posted by eric at 4:23 PM

Barclays/Nets Community Alliance now supports Brooklyn Public Library

Atlantic Yards Report

After getting on the charitable map with contributions to playgrounds and to the Brooklyn Historical Society, the Barclays/Nets Community Alliance is now supporting the Brooklyn Public Library's summer reading program.

(For perspective, the donation is far, far less than what the library needs to keep its doors open if planned budget cuts go through. Supporters of the city's three library systems are having a 24-hour read-in at the Brooklyn Public Library's Central Library beginning today at 5 pm.)

The summer reading program

As stated on SummerReading.org:

Target is the lead sponsor of Brooklyn Public Library’s Summer Reading 2010 program. Barclays/Nets Community Alliance, Astoria Federal Savings, National Grid Foundation and Con Edison have also provided generous sponsorship support. Additional funding is provided by Federal Library Services and Technology Act funds awarded to the New York State Library by the Federal Institute of Museum and Library Services. In-kind support is provided by Con Edison, Scholastic, Sesame Workshop and Tops Trumps USA.
...

And how much are they giving? It doesn't say, but consider that lead sponsor Target last year donated between $25,000 and $49,999, according to the library's annual report.

Presumably the Barclays/Nets Community Alliance contributed less. It's a worthy cause, of course, but, given the public subsidies for the project, and the sweet naming rights deal for the Atlantic Avenue transit hub, why not eliminate the middleman?

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NoLandGrab: See if you can follow the ironic trail here.

In February 2007, the Brooklyn Public Library re-exhibited a collection of artworks that had first appeared the previous fall in Prospect Heights, entitled Footprints: Portrait of a Brooklyn Neighborhood. Only they excluded some of the works from the original exhibition, including a portrait of Daniel Goldstein, and photos of a Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn protest taken by our own Amy Greer. Among the Library's lame excuses for the exclusions was that they "didn't take positions on issues currently being decided" and were "publicly funded."

Now, however, that public funding is withering; the city's libraries are being called the "biggest losers" in the mayor's proposed budget, facing almost $75 million in cuts. That, of course, is but a fraction of the bounty that the mayor, and the state, have handed to Bruce Ratner to help him build his Brooklyn basketball palace. And now, flush with the taxpayers' hundreds of millions, he's going to give a few thousand crumbs to the Brooklyn Public Library — which was careful not to offend his eminence back in 2007.

Posted by eric at 9:13 AM

Highway robbery! State is mulling taking Heights homes for BQE repair

The Brooklyn Paper
by Gary Buiso

Classic brownstones and other homes in historic Brooklyn Heights may be demolished by the state as part of the long-overdue effort to shore up and modernize the aging Brooklyn–Queens Expressway revealed this week.

State transportation planners are currently considering several ways to impliment a $300-million reconstruction project of the triple-canitlever portion of the BQE under the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, plus other portions between Sands Street and Atlantic Avenue — but one scenario calls for homes to be taken near Willow and Middagh streets to accommodate the wider highway.

Peter King, project manager with the Department of Transportation, called the possibility of an eminent domain taking unlikely, but confirmed that it is being considered.

“It is well-established that the public sector has the authority to acquire properties for public purposes,” he said. “It would be premature to rule out anything, and a violation of process to start discounting things,” he said.

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NoLandGrab: Actually, it's now well established that the public sector has the authority to acquire property for any purpose, including but not limited to taking your home so a rich real estate developer and his Russian billionaire savior can build a private arena for a horrible basketball team for which we also get to foot most of the bill.

Posted by eric at 8:58 AM

Answers From a Brooklyn Blogger, Part 3

City Room
by Emily Rueb

Following is the third and final set of responses from Louise Crawford, the founder of Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn, and creator of the annual Brooklyn Blogfest.
...

The Brooklyn Blogfest is not a political platform, it is a celebration of a blogging as a form of free speech and self-expression. As you can imagine, we are a feisty and diverse bunch and we do have strong feelings about our politicians and the rapid development in Brooklyn we have seen in the last 10 years. However, you do not have to be a foe of the Atlantic Yards to be a blogger or to attend Blogfest. There is no party line at Blogfest, nor should there be. That would be very narrow-minded and limiting in our attempts to get bigger and more inclusive. Past Blogfests were sometimes dominated by the anti-Atlantic Yards sentiment. Many bloggers, including me, felt very strongly about that issue and that was reflected in those Blogfests. This year, one of the Blogs-of-a-Feather groups was dedicated to Political and Social Activist Bloggers.

About Borough President Marty Markowitz, I know that he gives out those proclamations to a lot of people and events in Brooklyn. I see them on my rounds of the borough. When I heard he wanted to give me one, I was fine with that. I may not agree with Marty’s viewpoints and policies about many things, but I believe that it is possible to have a civil relationship with the borough president and his excellent staff.

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Related coverage...

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn Blogfest Bashed

Many took to their Twitter accounts as well to bash the event. Daniel Goldstein (@degoldstein) of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, on June 9 tweeted, "Spike has done the wrong thing when it comes to Atlantic Yards and complaining about gentrification while shilling for Absolut."

Posted by eric at 8:50 AM

June 11, 2010

Documentary on Freddy's prompts reflection on a unique Brooklyn place

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder reviews the debut of the documentary about the dearly departed Prospect Heights bar.

It was a little like a wake, the first showing Wednesday of the compelling new documentary (Freddy's) on the now-closed Freddy's Bar & Backroom, a chance for some of the regulars and staff to remember a unique Brooklyn place, a product of a particular time and place, Prospect Heights preceding and riding a wave of gentrification.

And like some wakes, it was a mix of remembrance and release and raucousness, with some knowing, hearty laughs punctuating certain scenes, responses that likely wouldn't be elicited from a mostly civilian audience.

"Freddy's was a hub of wonderful people, musicians and lovely weirdos," director Vicente Rodriguez Ortega observes (as cited in Found in Brooklyn). "I only managed to scratch the surface what it was, what it is, what it will be because in many ways it's timeless."

As one regular says, "It's a precious cultural meeting place--and there's alcohol."

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Posted by eric at 10:57 AM

Over 3,300 New Daily Visitors to Our Neighborhood?

My Little O

The New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA) is in the process of negotiating a 20-year lease to occupy six floors (400,000-square-feet) of the telecom building at 470 Vanderbilt Avenue. If approved, HRA will consolidate over 1,700 employees from two current locations (210 Livingston Street in Brooklyn, and 330 W. 34th Street in Manhattan). The two agencies slated to move are Family Independence Administration (FIA), which provides food stamps and job services, and Medical Insurance and Community Services Administration (MICSA), which provides Medicaid.

In addition to the 1,700 staff, the two agencies will service about 1,600 clients each day. This will bring over 3,300 new daily visitors to the area. A presentation by representatives of HRA at last night’s Community Board 2 general meeting was not received will by both members of the board and the community. The primary concern is that the neighborhood’s infrastructure (parking and public transportation) is not equipped to handle the influx of that many daily visitors. CB2 board member, Mr. Andrew Lastowecky said, "The Clinton/Washington A and C subway stop cannot handle an additional 3,000 people each day during peak hours." If employees and clients do drive there are no parking facilities or roadside parking in the area to accommodate them either. Board members also expressed concerns about the potential traffic congestion that will occur if there's a significant increase in cars during the development of Atlantic Yards.

The board discussed the possibility of withholding support until the NYC Department of City Planning provided more information. But after further discussions, they voted to send a letter of disapproval to the NYC Planning Commission.

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NoLandGrab: Maybe they could use some of those 1,100 new surface parking spaces that Bruce Ratner plans as a gift to Prospect Heights, ensuring traffic jams in the a.m. as well as the p.m.? The sad thing is, 1,700 office workers would actually spend money in the community, unlike the basketball fans who'll be encouraged to part with their dollars solely within the confines of the Barclays Center.

Posted by eric at 10:32 AM

Answers From a Brooklyn Blogger, Part 2

City Room

Following is the second set of responses from Louise Crawford, the founder of Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn, and creator of the annual Brooklyn Blogfest.
...

Blogfest is a highly democratic and diverse event. Sometimes it’s like a see-saw that goes this way and then that.

There have been years when the Develop Don’t Destroy crowd dominated the Blogfest. Although I agree with their views on the Atlantic Yards project, there was criticism from other kinds of bloggers that Blogfest is not just for political activists.
...

Sure, the inclusion of Borough President Marty Markowitz may have put some people off. He is a highly divisive figure in Brooklyn due to his support of the Atlantic Yards, but his purpose was to give me one of those proclamations, and I was happy about that.

To paraphrase what I said in my opening remarks: Brooklyn is a place where people strive to know their neighbors, their politicians, their artists, their educators, their shop owners, their developers, their social activists, and those they agree — and disagree — with.

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Related coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, Absolut and authenticity

So, why did the clever but heavy-handed Absolut Brooklyn marketing campaign strike such an awkward chord with some people?

I think it has to do with contested term authenticity, which got a lot of play in February, thanks to sociologist Sharon Zukin's new book Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places, and subject of a major New York Times article.
...

So the Barclays Center markets "brownstone" and "loft" suites, and a canvas bag distributed at the groundbreaking places the giant arena next to the Brooklyn Bridge.

A nondescript new residential tower is dubbed The Brooklyner, and its advertising fudges the neighborhood description to encompass more amenities.

Posted by eric at 9:36 AM

Forest City in the News

Curbed, Gehry's Beekman Tower to Hit the Market in Early 2011

Is Frank Gehry's Beekman Tower the most eagerly anticipated NYC rental building of all time? It's certainly the flashiest, and with the rippling skyscraper now hogging the Lower Manhattan skyline (without the aid of medical science!), we're wondering when these 900 slices of starchitecture will hit the market. A Curbed tipster writes we're one winter away:

Forest City Ratner has selected Citi Habitats to lease, Nancy Packes as marketing consultant and co-op as the advertising agency for Beekman Tower. Kick off meeting on Monday and leasing to commence early spring 2011.

According to a Forest City Ratner rep, leasing will begin in the first quarter of 2011, but that's all the developer will confirm. Will the apartments be snapped up quickly? We haven't heard much about prices or amenities, but Ratner can always throw in Nets season tickets with every signed lease, though that might actually discourage most people.

Image: Roccocell/Flickr via Curbed

PR Newswire, Press Release: Forest City Announces Closing of Permanent Financing for East River Plaza Retail Project

Forest City Enterprises, Inc. today announced that a subsidiary has closed on the conversion of the construction facility for the East River Plaza retail center in Manhattan, to a $214.3 million ($107.2 million at the Company's pro-rata share) term loan.

The conversion to permanent financing, with maturity in January 2019, is through the same lender group that provided construction financing for the center. The loan carries an effective all-in fixed interest rate of less than 4.5 percent. The major financial terms of the conversion were negotiated in conjunction with the initial construction loan. Coupled with the conversion of the construction loan, the existing $40 million credit enhancement in tax-exempt Empowerment Zone bonds has also been extended to the 2019 maturity date. In addition to conventional bank financing, the center was made possible by financing provided by the State of New York, New York City and the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone.

Posted by eric at 9:12 AM

June 10, 2010

The hidden history of Freddy's: real estate profits not for longtime bar operators but for the flippers--and the developer gaining a zoning override

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder explores the ownership history of 485 Dean Street — until recently, the home of Freddy's Bar & Backroom.

In the new documentary on the now-closed Freddy's Bar & Backroom--I'll have a review tomorrow before its second showing Friday at 6 pm--manager Donald O'Finn explains how the bar operators tried but failed to buy the building in which they had a lease.

"[Developer] Bruce Ratner owns the buildings that Freddy's is in," O'Finn says. "We had tried to buy it... the price kept going up and up and up. And then it was purchased suddenly by some real estate speculators who then sold it to Ratner."

Really? Yup.

While Forest City Ratner will gain an enormous increase in the land's value thanks to a state override of city zoning, the biggest beneficiary until that sale was not a longtime landowner but an ownership group that flipped the property.

That group made a deal in October 2003, two months before Atlantic Yards was officially announced on 12/10/03. (Word of the project had emerged in July 2003.)

In little more than 16 months, they turned an $850,000 purchase into a $2,825,000 sale.

That's a profit of nearly $2 million.

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NoLandGrab: Let this put an end to any phony outrage about Daniel Goldstein's settlement with Forest City. These vultures got nearly as much almost five years earlier, for a building that Ratner could have actually built around.

Posted by eric at 10:00 AM

the edit

Battle of Brooklyn via Kickstarter

Here's the latest news from Battle of Brooklyn filmmakers Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley.

Just wanted to give you all a quick update on where we are with the film. Over the last couple of months Suki has been working with the final 40 hours of footage. She's finished viewing it all and we are now working hard to craft an ending so that we can submit it to the Toronto Film Festival by the end of the month. The Toronto Festival takes place in September. If we don't have a strong enough cut by then it's likely that we will push forward towards getting the film into the Sundance Film Festival.

As many of you know, the story is incredibly complex. As filmmakers it is our goal to find a way to touch on that complexity without overwhelming the audience with information. It's an especially profound balancing act considering the story.

link

Posted by eric at 9:50 AM

Exhibit: The City We Imagined/The City We Made: New New York 2001-2010 (including, of course, Atlantic Yards)

Atlantic Yards Report

An exhibition at The Architectural League, The City We Imagined/The City We Made: New New York 2001-2010, concerns architecture, planning, and development in New York since 2001.

It's well worth watching and, yes, Atlantic Yards is a component of the story. Still--and this is some useful perspective for those of us focused on AY--so much in New York has changed that it's understandable that those elsewhere in the city may find it hard to pay attention to all.

The free exhibition is on view at 250 Hudson Street (entrance on Dominick Street) until June 26 and should move to a summertime venue beginning on the July 4th weekend. It's open Wednesday-Sunday, Noon-7 pm.

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Posted by eric at 9:34 AM

How Communism Shaped New York—Literally

NY Observer
by Nicholas Juravich

In his new book, Manhattan Projects: The Rise and Fall of Urban Renewal in Cold War New York, Samuel Zipp, an assistant professor of urban studies at Brown, explores the competing visions of the city that arose in the two decades following World War II. Charting the rise of four major sites of clearance and construction, Mr. Zipp argues that these projects must be understood as products of Cold War battles for cultural superiority, as well as of local developments.

At each stop along the way—the United Nations Headquarters, Stuyvesant Town, Lincoln Square and East Harlem—we encounter government planners, business and real estate interests, liberal reformers and local residents, all struggling to articulate their own ideas of what the postwar "Capital of the World" should be, fighting for "the right to give imaginative shape to the city." The resulting account breathes new life into the ink-stained history of urban renewal and asks important questions about its legacy in today's global metropolis.
...

And yet, New Yorkers today not only enjoy the fruits of urban renewal—concerts at Lincoln Center, strolls along the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, apartments—but continue to renew their city—Atlantic Yards, save for its ZIP code, would be right at home in Manhattan Projects—even as they curse the phrase.

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NoLandGrab: Then it was Communism, today it's Socialism — for the rich.

Posted by eric at 9:28 AM

Forest City Announces It Has Financing to Build Barclays Center

NetsDaily

Forest City Enterprises announced Tuesday that it now has all the money it needs to complete the billion dollar Barclays Center by 2012. It will be the most expensive arena ever built...anywhere.

In a statement of its quarterly earnings, FCE, Bruce Ratner's parent company, briefly noted, "All projected debt and equity needed to complete the construction has been fully funded and the Company expects the arena to open in 2012." FCE's New York subsidiary, Forest City Ratner, will build the arena, for a 5% development fee. In previous statements it reported Barclays Center should be open in time for the 2012-13 season, which will require construction to be complete by July. The NBA requires a four-month "qualification" period to test everything from security to heat and AC.

Much of the funding comes from the $511 million bond sale in December,. Mikhail Prokhorov's Onexim Group is providing several hundred million more while the state and city is funding infrastructure improvements at the site. Prokhorov will control 45% of the arena but under certain conditions, the stake can go up to 80%.

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Posted by eric at 9:14 AM

June 9, 2010

Bruce Ratner Closes on $5M Hampton Bays Oceanfront Estate

Curbed
by Ian Ratner

Courtesy of a tip from our friends at PropertyShark, notorious real estate developer Bruce Ratner has closed on a $5 million Dune Road estate in Hampton Bays. The property spans two adjacent parcels, which together create a two acre oceanfront spread. At 4,200 SF, the home also boasts six bedrooms, an oceanfront pool, views of Shinnecock Bay, and a detached three car garage.

Ratner buys this estate after selling his $10 million Montauk estate in 2009. According to an older Post article, Ratner wanted to scale down a bit and move further west—all while staying on the ocean. After looking around in Quogue, he apparently settled on this place. Looks like his wildest dreams came true!

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NoLandGrab: Did you catch that byline?

Related coverage...

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, Ratner's New Hampton Home is Blighted and Vulnerable to Eminent Domain Seizure

Because Bruce Ratner's new Hamptons beachfront getaway is exhibiting characteristics of blight (weeds, underutilized, presumably vacant most days, etc.) it is vulnerable to seizure by eminent domain. Under current New York State law, removing those blight characteristics would be a public use justifying eminent domain.

Posted by eric at 11:00 PM

Green Oasis of Trees and Fountains to Open Next to Frank Gehry’s Beekman Tower

DNAinfo
by Julie Shapiro

A burbling oasis of trees and fountains will open beside the new 76-story Beekman Tower as early as next year.

Sounds almost like a "Garden of Eden."

The plaza includes fountains and landscaped sitting areas.

The 13,000-square-foot plaza will sit just west of the Frank Gehry-designed skyscraper, spanning the length of the building from Beekman Street to Spruce Street. The project also includes a smaller 2,500-square-foot landscaped walkway just east of the building at William Street.

Forest City Ratner, the tower developer, unveiled new designs for the plazas, by landscape architect Field Operations, at Community Board 1’s Seaport/Civic Center Committee Tuesday night.
...

Susi Yu, a senior vice president at Forest City Ratner, said the plaza would have security cameras and “appropriate oversight.”

“We will do everything we need to do to protect our investment,” she said.

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Rendering: Field Operations via DNAinfo

Posted by eric at 10:45 PM

In Search of Lonely Diners and Unbought Bloggers

City Room
by J. David Goodman and Andy Newman

For the opposite of geographic mystery and ambiguity, we turn to Eric Fischer’s Flickr heat map of photography in New York.

With an apparently simple rule to divide those who shoot a lot of pictures of New York from just-visiting interlopers, the map presents a fascinating portrait of the city, something akin to seeing the movement of cells under a microscope. And while it may be obvious that Midtown and Museum Mile are red hot — the location of tourist photos appear red, and those of locals, blue — with visitors, there are some surprises, such as the absence of tourists from Governors Island and Hudson River Park. Also strange: Lots of New Yorkers take pictures around Atlantic Yards.

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NoLandGrab: Strangest of all? Atlantic Yards takes a lot of pictures of you.

Posted by eric at 10:37 PM

Nobody Could Have Predicted...Oh, Wait, Yes They Did

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

A traffic mess created by street closures and superblocks in the early stages of Bruce Ratner's Barclays Center Arena construction?!? What a surprise.

link

Posted by eric at 10:34 PM

New book says ACORN will be back

Politico
by Ben Smith

ACORN, the community organizing group which collapsed earlier this year under the weight of a furious conservative assault, aims to reconstitute itself under a new name after the midterm elections, according to a new book on the group.

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, as it is formally known, could not survive the embarrassing videos produced in 2009 by guerilla journalist James O’Keefe that appeared to show ACORN workers advising a would-be pimp and effectively dissolved into its local chapters.

But strong local ACORN chapters swiftly regrouped under new names, like the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment and New York Communities for Change. Those groups “will retain ACORN’s commitment to building national power and are beginning discussions” about relaunching a national organization some time after November, John Atlas writes in his sympathetic new history of ACORN, “Seeds of Change.”
...

The book also offers a portrait of a group with a powerful reach, into, for instance, New York’s embattled Working Families Party, whose chief is a former ACORN organizer. Two ACORN organizers, Madeline Talbott and Keith Kelleher, started Project Vote, the organization that gave Obama his start in Chicago politics.

And in New York, ACORN emerged as a major player —and deal maker — in the real estate industry, playing a central role in one of the largest projects in the city’s history, the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn.

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NoLandGrab: When it comes to shilling for Bruce Ratner, the more seeds change, the more they stay the same.

Posted by eric at 10:23 PM

Freddy's Gets Filmed: The Shuttered Brooklyn Bar Is Featured in a New Documentary

Fork in the Road
by Chantal Martineau

Freddy's Bar & Backroom fought a long, hard fight against Bruce Ratner and his Atlantic Yards project. That fight came to a rowdy, bittersweet end on April 30, when the bar bid its patrons farewell. A reincarnation, Freddy's Next Bar, is expected to open this summer, but in the meantime, you can reminisce about the good times during the screening of Freddy's, a new documentary by Vicente Rodriguez Ortega, premiering at the Brooklyn International Film Festival this week.

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NoLandGrab: Details on the screenings here.

Posted by eric at 12:37 PM

Brutally Weird Times Front Page Juxtaposition: Brooklyn Neighborhood Afflicted By Withdrawn Funds and Simultaneous Subsidies to Atlantic Yards

Noticing New York

Those who caught the front page of Saturday’s New York Times were witness to a brutally weird juxtaposition of stories concerning: 1.) the angst of Brooklyn neighborhoods faced by city budget cuts surrounding the proposed Atlantic Yards Forest City Ratner mega-monopoly, and 2.) the frivolous focus of the Bloomberg administration on subsidizing basketball. Were the Times editors aware of the contrast they were setting up or out-of-touch with the linked import of their stories?

Brooklyn Woe: Concentrated Overlapping City Budget Cuts

One of the Times stories, the one that clearly deserved to be on the front page, began with three short truly remarkable paragraphs setting forth a tale-of-Job-style account of how a single individual Brooklynite, Christina Nieves, in the Prospect Heights vicinity, has been beset by multiple city budget cut woes:

Christina Nieves’s life revolves around a handful of blocks in Brooklyn: Drop off her 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son at the Strong Place day care center. Make sure her 75-year-old grandmother, who uses a wheelchair, makes it to lunch at the Gowanus Senior Center. Then, on too many occasions to count, take her son, who is asthmatic and prone to seizures, to the Wyckoff children’s clinic.

And with warm days now here, watch her children frolic at the Douglass and DeGraw pool.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg plans to close all four places.

(Budget Cuts Hit a Brooklyn Area Over and Over, by David W. Chen, June 4, 2010.)

Bouncing Basketball Fluff Onto the Front Page

The second story, appearing right beside this tale of woe, reveled in Bloombergian PR fluff. (See: Luring a Star: Big City Beckons; Cleveland Begs, by Alan Feuer, June 4, 2010.) It really didn’t deserve to be on the front page except that it is actually critically important for its meta-story, for the way that it stands as an example of how the Times, by preoccupying itself with the dutiful and superficial pass-along of Bloomberg and Ratner promotional materials, is missing the bigger stories in this city, including how intrinsically related the tale of budget woes was to this sillier second story about luring LeBron James to play basketball in New York. Play basketball where? Perhaps within about a half mile of all the four community facilities the Bloomberg administration will, by closing, remove from Christina Nieves’s life. Play basketball where? Perhaps in the highly, highly subsidized Prokhorov/Ratner basketball (aka “Barclays”) arena that the City Independent Budget Office calculated will be a $220 million net loss for the city.

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Posted by eric at 12:22 PM

Blogfest meets Shillfest, as Spike Lee declares "This is to celebrate Absolut, so we're not going to get into gentrification"

Atlantic Yards Report

Nothing about Atlantic Yards in this off-topic, though entertaining, AYR post — except some Atlantic Yards-related photos in the video produced by Brit in Brooklyn's Adrian Kinloch.

The video below, produced by Kinloch, was shown last night. Note the credit to Barkey, who contributes photos (and also video) to AYR, but is not responsible for the blog, as well as to Kinloch, who also shot photos at the Blogfest and contributes to AYR, and to Tracy Collins, who also contributes to AYR.

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Related coverage...

Found in Brooklyn, A Puzzling Blog Fest.

The appearance of Marty Markowitz was the cherry on the sundae. If the organizers of the blogfest wanted to alienate many of the bloggers in the audience who have spent the last couple years fighting the Atlantic Yards, the Sitt invasion of Coney Island or the Toll Brothers plans for the Gowanus, they did it here. I was incredulous!

The Free School Apparent, Brooklyn Blogfest 2010

The appearance [of] Marty Markowitz always makes me uneasy, as his unbridled and naive enthusiasm occasionally give rise to a foot-in-mouth moment. He behaved, as he did also at our Democracy in Education Symposium earlier this year. But most times his mixed idealism runs counter to my own. Especially where it concerns the construction of the future abomination at Atlantic Yards.

Posted by eric at 11:57 AM

Is The Business of Jay-Z Bad For Brooklyn?

Atlanta Post
by R. Asmerom

Here's an interesting-if-sometimes-error-prone article on the ballad of Jay-Z and Atlantic Yards (not brought to you by ABSOLUT™ Vodka).

Every good story needs a well rendered setting. For the narrative charting his rise, the one Jay-Z’s been burnishing since his 1996 debut, this is Brooklyn. He may have deserted it for Manhattan, a place more suited to his appetite for luxury and glamour, but the frequency with which he continues to invoke the culture, lessons and aesthetics of the borough, portray a man unwilling to relinquish his status as its chief emissary.

So it made sense that when real estate tycoon and then-majority owner of the New Jersey Nets Bruce Ratner was drumming up support for Atlantic Yards, a $4.9 billion development project (to include the Barclay’s sports center) in the heart of Brooklyn, he had a sit-down with Mr. Carter.

The opportunity to not only be part of bringing professional sports back to Brooklyn, but also cement his place in its textbook history, proved too tantalizing an offer to turn down.
...

Aside from the controversial use of eminent domain and the process by which the project was greenlit, concerns range from increased congestion to the dilution of the borough’s unique aesthetic and dynamism. “Brooklyn has a very specific flavor,” said Bed-Stuy native Craig Samuels, owner of restaurants Peaches in Bed-Stuy and The Smoke Joint in Fort Greene, a direct neighbor of Atlantic Yards. “People come to Brooklyn for that. They want a place where they can decompress, where they know their neighbor, where they could walk down the sidewalk and feel as though they’re in a small town.”

As a business owner in the neighborhood, Samuels should be an example of the kind of person the projects’ supporters are claiming to help; however, he’s yet to be convinced by the rhetoric around the stimulus for the local economy.

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Posted by eric at 11:09 AM

Traffic is a full-court press near Atlantic Yards, residents say

NY Daily News
by Erin Durkin

It's a traffic nightmare around the Atlantic Yards site, say residents.

Rush hour brings gridlock that can stretch for blocks on to once-quiet chunks of Dean and Bergen Sts., neighbors say.

The traffic snarls have increased since parts of Pacific St. and Fifth Ave. closed in early March to make way for developer Bruce Ratner's new Nets arena and 16-tower project, pushing more vehicles onto neighboring streets.

"It's crazy here," said Dean St. resident Gwen Orta, 49.
...

John Buchbinder, 57, of Pacific St., said whether he's walking, biking, or driving, it's gotten much harder to get around.

"This really has not been thought out," he said. "It's gridlock. It's brutal. I understand they need to do their construction thing, but this is making it quite intolerable for anyone who's around here."
...

Matthew Ingle, 41, who has lived on Dean St. for 11 years, said frustrated drivers jockey for position, block crosswalks, and blast their horns. "If it were just traffic, I couldn't care less," he said. "The horn honking is out of control."

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NoLandGrab: Who wants to bet that incredibly annoying horn-honking was not even mentioned in the Atlantic Yards Environmental Impact Statement? Or the increase in emissions from gridlocked vehicles, in a neighborhood with one of the city's highest asthma rates?

Related coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, Daily News follows up on Dean Street traffic issues

The story is headlined Traffic is a full-court press near Atlantic Yards, residents say. There's no credit to previous coverage by AYR.

From the article:

Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco said the developer is working on fixes such as traffic signal timing changes. The Department of Transportation will evaluate how well it's working and request changes if necessary, he said.

NLG: Yes, lengthening or shortening signal timings by two or three seconds ought to fix it. That's the ticket.

Posted by eric at 10:55 AM

Forest City 1Q Loss Narrows As Signs Of Turnaround Seen

Dow Jones Newswires via The Wall Street Journal

Forest City Enterprises Inc.'s (FCEA, FCEB) fiscal first-quarter loss narrowed as the real-estate company said momentum in the most recent period inspired optimism about a turnaround.

The company, which owns commercial and residential properties, has seen its results improve recently because of fewer write-downs and tax credits. The real-estate bubble popped just as Forest City was embarking on a contentious $4.3 billion revamp of downtown Brooklyn, N.Y., known as the Atlantic Yards development.

That would be Prospect Heights, actually. And "contentious" is putting it mildly.

For the quarter ended April 30, Forest City posted a loss of $15.6 million, or 10 cents a share, narrowing from a year-earlier loss of $30.7 million, or 30 cents a share. The company's earnings before depreciation, amortization and taxes surged 69% to $70.5 million on decreased write-offs of abandoned development projects and lower severance and outplacement costs, among other effects.

Revenue dropped 9.6% to $281.7 million on joint ventures entered into during the quarter and reduced sales of commercial outlots.

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NoLandGrab: Like the Nets, who managed not to set the NBA record for futility, Forest City managed to lose less money last quarter.

Related coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, Forest City Enterprises reports better first-quarter results, AY milestones

Forest City Enterprises reports its first-quarter results, which are better than last year. Notably, the developer states--as it has in the past--that the arena would open in 2012 (not for the 2012-13 season):
...

Finally, results from the Nets segment increased $6.5 million, compared with the prior year's first quarter, primarily due to reduced amortization of intangible assets related to the purchase of the team.

AY mentions

The comments in quotes come from CEO Chuck Ratner:

"Another major highlight for the Company occurred early in the second quarter when we achieved vacant possession of the land at our Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn on May 7. This was the culmination of a six-year journey for Forest City. It allowed us not only to continue to move forward on the overall project, including ongoing construction of the Barclays Center arena, but also to complete the transaction, on May 12, with Mikhail Prokhorov for his investment in the Nets and the arena. With Mr. Prokhorov's $200 million investment completed, he now owns 80 percent of the Nets and 45 percent of the arena project. Once again, our New York team, led by Bruce Ratner and Joanne Minieri, deserves credit for their hard work, creativity and perseverance in achieving these important milestones.

...Finally, construction activity continues for the Barclays Center arena project at Atlantic Yards. All projected debt and equity needed to complete the construction has been fully funded and the Company expects the arena to open in 2012.

Forest City Enterprises Press Release, Forest City Reports Fiscal 2010 First-Quarter Results

Posted by eric at 10:35 AM

Internets Celebrities Take On Atlantic Yards

The Local [Fort Greene/Clinton Hill]
by Liza Eckert

Do you have any idea how big 22 acres really is? The Internets Celebrities, a trio of gonzo online filmmakers, didn’t. So while they were out shooting their most recent video, “Stadium Status,” they decided to walk the perimeter of Atlantic Yards.

It took them 30 to 40 minutes to make the whole trip, said director Casimir Nozkowski, though their stroll is shown manically speeded-up in the film, above (which contains some profanity).

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NoLandGrab: Based on current (and future) traffic conditions, however, walking might still be speedier than driving.

Posted by eric at 9:32 AM

June 8, 2010

Fifth Annual Brooklyn Blogfest = first Absolut shillfest?

Atlantic Yards Report

As with the borough, the Brooklyn Blogfest sure has changed.

There's a lot of shilling for Absolut Brooklyn before the Fifth Annual Brooklyn Blogfest, which is sponsored by Absolut. And surely there will be more, thanks to Absolut's Brooklyn Stoop Life campaign, where "Bloggers Share Their Love for Brooklyn."

Absolut has generated sponsored blog posts as well as other posts that sure look like they're sponsored, since the bloggers have "been chosen to collaborate with Absolut Vodka, to celebrate Absolut Brooklyn."

Renaming Brooklyn

So let me suggest an update of John Pinamonti's classic Atlantic Yards elegy/fight song, "The Burrow."

Original version:

"It makes me mad/and it's such a pity/they're trying to rename Brooklyn/Forest City"

My update:

"It makes me mad/and for so little loot/they're trying to rename Brooklyn/Absolut"

Absolut accountability

Yes, as I wrote after last year's Blogfest, the disparate blogs of Brooklyn all have their role.

But relatively few people in the “bloggiest place in America” provide what we need most: solid civic information, "holding institutions accountable on a daily basis," to quote author, The Wire creator, and former reporter David Simon.

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Posted by steve at 3:32 PM

Second look at Columbia eminent domain argument, with FAQ; will bad faith claim be the key? Also, law professors debate public use, land assembly

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder updates his observations of the Kaur v. N.Y.S. Urban Development Corp. case.

After watching the newly-posted webcast of the June 1 oral argument in the eminent domain case (Kaur v. N.Y.S. Urban Development Corp.) at the Court of Appeals regarding the Columbia University expansion, I've expanded and amended my original post, which was based solely on an audio file.

The 40-minute argument is well worth watching. Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) attorney John Casolaro, cerebral and persistent, seemed aggrieved when he had to defend weaker positions. The property owners' attorney, Norman Siegel, was about as passionate as you can get in the relatively restrained confines of an appellate court.

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, with the help of a few colleagues, did a good job ensuring that the major issues are highlighted. (The Atlantic Yards oral argument got bogged down in places, by contrast.)

And Judge Robert Smith, the dissenter in the AY case (Goldstein v. N.Y.S. Urban Development Corp.), more than once played devil's advocate, challenging Siegel to convince him to vote to overturn the very recent precedent, set last November nine days before the Appellate Division, in a split decision, ruled against the ESDC.

Read the rest of this post which covers highlights from the hearing, the lack of coverage by New York City's three major daily papers, and a debate about eminent domain.

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Posted by steve at 9:08 AM

Overriding Broad Public Use in the Face of Bad Faith Blight: In re Parminder Kaur and Redeveloping Eminent Domain in New York State

Albany Government Law Review Fireplace
By Robert Barrows

Here is a look at the eminent case recently heard by the New York State Court of Appeals. The ESDC is trying to claim Manhattanville is blighted so as to justify the use of eminent domain, but ESDC claims of blight seem to have been manufactured, not so differently from the ESDC claiming blight in a Prospect Heights neighborhood that has million-dollar condos.

The conclusion indicates that the Court could rule against the ESDC if it considers the Kaskel exception where "“the physical conditions of an area might be such that it would be irrational and baseless to call it substandard or insanitary.”

The taking of Manhattanville appears to be, on its face, manufactured and so ostentatious that the Kaskel exception could come into play. Much of the ire of the First Department’s opinion was directed at the ESDC’s process for making its determination and the court placed strong importance on timing and procedure in the exercise of eminent domain – a theme that perhaps will continue on appeal. More importantly, given the current public outrage and uncertainty surrounding the law of eminent domain, employing a long invoked exception that places a check against engineered pretenses to justify a taking would perhaps be a sensible solution. With In re Parminder Kaur v. N.Y.S. Development Corp., the use of the hypothetical exception illustrated in Kaskel may be justified.

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Posted by steve at 8:42 AM

June 7, 2010

In Queens, a major affordable housing project involves multiple sites and competitive bidding

Atlantic Yards Report

Heard about the affordable housing project, unlike Atlantic Yards, in which public land is divided into multiple sites for which competitive bids will be solicited?

From a New York Times article today headlined City Proceeds With Big Middle-Income Housing Project on Queens Waterfront:

After four years of planning and delays, the city will start soliciting bids on Monday to begin building what could become the city’s largest development for middle-income residents in 40 years.

The Bloomberg administration, which is heavily subsidizing the project, is asking developers to compete to build 1,000 apartments on a once industrial strip of Queens land known as Hunters Point South, where Newtown Creek enters the East River.

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Posted by eric at 11:06 PM

Revenge Fantasies About Ratner

Photo, by Tracy Collins, via flickr Atlantic Yards Photo Pool.

Students in Brooklyn College’s Performance and Interactive Media Arts MFA Program tabulated and visually represented votes from patrons of Freddy's Bar & Backroom in a poll of Ratner revenge fantasies. Click the photo for a larger view.

Disclaimer: Neither NoLandGrab.org nor Tracy Collins advocate violence in any way, shape or form against anyone, even you-know-who.

Posted by eric at 11:51 AM

"Freddy's", the Documentary, to Screen on June 9 and 11. Find Out What's Been Lost

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

On June 9th and June 11th the Brooklyn International Film Festival will screen the World Premiere of "Freddy's"—the documentary about the world's best bar which has been confiscated and shuttered forever by the State of New York for Bruce Ratner and Mikhail Prokhorov's billion dollar arena.

Many have heard that Freddy's was taken by eminent domain but may be wondering what the big deal is about this bar, this cultural hub. This film will help you understand what has been lost.

More on the film from Norman Oder here.

Details and tickets: http://www.brooklynfilmfestival.org/films/detail.asp?fid=1079

Screenings:
Wednesday, June 9th at 7pm at Brooklyn Heights Cinema (70 Henry Street, Brooklyn)
Friday, June 11th at 6pm at indieScreen (285 Kent Avenue, Brooklyn)

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Posted by eric at 11:37 AM

Was accident on Dean Street caused by increased congestion linked to street closures? Neighbors say yes, as traffic has doubled

Atlantic Yards Report

We know that Atlantic Yards-related street closures have caused an increase in congestion on certain streets in Prospect Heights, but a car accident?

Residents of Dean Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues say aggressive driving, driver frustration, and a long traffic light has made their street more perilous, and they blame the traffic increase in the past two months for a three vehicle accident that occurred May 26 at about 6 pm and blocked the street for some 40 minutes.

(Approximate location of accident marked by oval. Map from mitigation plan. Click on graphics to enlarge.)

That's hard to pin down, and the Empire State Development Corporation says that the accident was not directly related to Atlantic Yards. But it is clear that, at the very least, driving on Dean Street has become much more fraught.

Before the street closures in early March--Fifth Avenue and parts of Pacific Street--it was rare for traffic to back up on Dean during rush hours.

Now that's typical, residents say, with the most intense traffic on weekdays in the late afternoon, as well as in the morning (as per my video) and on Saturday afternoons.

So that's an argument for much closer attention from the authorities.
...

The accident

Dean Street resident David Schlesinger reported: "I heard brakes, sliding on pavement, and then the collision. A car smashed into a van, and a third SUV hit the car, I assume while trying to avoid the accident."
...

"The accident blocked Dean Street for about 40 minutes. Vehicles used the sidewalks to get around the accident. It seemed like a very dangerous situation for pedestrians and cyclist. The police did not arrive on the scene for at least 30 minutes. The police pulled up just as the vehicles involved in the accident were cleared from the street."

"The aftermath was unreal," his neighbor Matt Ingle added. "First they were going up on sidewalk to Vanderbilt. Then ambulances showed up, and people were driving the wrong way down Dean Street [back to Carlton]."

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NoLandGrab: It is obvious to everyone who's observed Dean Street post-street closures that the Atlantic Yards environmental review didn't begin to anticipate the traffic chaos — despite plenty of warning from locals.

Posted by eric at 11:02 AM

Atlantic Yards YES! MTA paint NO!!

What's a fresh coat of paint when we're getting a shiny new basketball palace?

The Brooklyn Paper, MTA’s Jay Street paint chip disaster

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is spending $110 million to rehabilitate the bustling Jay Street subway station, but it is content to treat the hub’s entryway as an ugly stepchild.

The transit agency said this week it will not repaint the peeling ceilings on either exit on the west side of Jay Street between Willoughby Street and Myrtle Avenue, leaving a moonscape of potentially toxic paint chips raining down.

The ceiling work is not included in the current rehab plan, which will be completed by August, 2011. Transit officials said that intra-agency discussions are underway to try to secure funding for the paint job — but could not provide a cost estimate or a time frame for the work, vexing area business leaders.

“If this was Midtown Manhattan, I’m not sure we’d be having this conversation,” said Joe Chan, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, a quasi-governmental group.
...

“The MTA has to stop blighting the neighborhood through its neglect of this building,” Chan said, adding that the investment the agency made to rehabbing the station justifies cleaning up the exterior. “Saying this sticks out like a sore thumb is a huge understatement.”

NoLandGrab: Perhaps if Chan, whose "quasi-governmental group" has been a big supporter of Atlantic Yards, had spoken up about the MTA's giveaway of the Vanderbilt Yard for a fraction of its value, there might be enough money to paint the ceiling. Or maybe he could cough up some of that $6 million no-bid contract from the city to buy some paint.

Photo: The Brooklyn Paper

Posted by eric at 10:12 AM

Jay-Z not wooing LeBron James to Nets

Yahoo! Sports
by Mark J. Miller

Jay-Z is a minority owner of the New Jersey Nets, a team on the undercard for the battle for LeBron James(notes) this summer. The Nets are considered a long shot to land James in this summer filled with big-name, big-dollar NBA free agents, but Jay-Z tells Rolling Stone that he won't get involved in trying to woo his friend to his team, according to the New York Daily News.

"That's his decision," he told the magazine. "We're friends - we've still gotta hang out! I don't want to convince somebody to do something, then have to see him and say, 'Uh, yeah, we're 4-30 ...sorry.'"

Such confidence in his team! Of course, the real reason Jay won't get involved in the recruiting effort may be that the big boss told him "nyet."

Jay-Z is leaving all recruiting to the new owner, Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who first met with the hip-hop exec at the Manhattan Four Seasons. "I'd been staying there for 10 years, and I always thought I was at the top level," Jay-Z told the magazine. "But when I met Prokhorov, they took me up to this extra, extra room that I had never even heard of before. Now there's something else to shoot for. There's always an extra level you don't know about."

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NoLandGrab: You got that right, Hov, especially when you've only been brought in for "street cred."

Posted by eric at 9:55 AM

The Week in Crime: Madiba Burglary

The Local [Fort Greene/Clinton Hill]
by Mitchell Trinka

May 21: A woman shoplifted over-the-counter drugs from Target at 9:37 a.m., police said. Police used store surveillance footage to identify and arrest Michele Wheelock, 25, three days later, they said.
...

May 22: Jewelry valued at $35,495 was removed from a safe at Sterling Galleries in the Atlantic Center mall at 6:15 p.m., police said. An employee, known to store owners only as Mike, was accused of stealing the rings, bracelets, chains and pendants, police said.

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NoLandGrab: We know that Bruce Ratner's malls are prone to criminal activity, but really, if you own a jewelry store, it's probably not a good idea to give the safe combination to an employee whose last name you don't even know.

Posted by eric at 9:46 AM

June 6, 2010

Compelling documentary about Freddy's debuts this week at the Brooklyn International Film Festival

Atlantic Yards Report

Less than six weeks after Freddy's Bar & Backroom closed in the wake of eminent domain for Atlantic Yards, an intimate documentary (titled Freddy's) about the noted Prospect Heights watering hole will debut this week at the Brooklyn International Film Festival.

The film will be screened (tickets) on Wednesday June 9 at the Brooklyn Heights Cinema (7 pm) and on Friday June 11 at indieScreen in Williamsburg (6pm). The director is Vicente Rodriguez Ortega.

Having seen the film, I highly recommend it--it hits deeper than the whimsical trailer below, with lots of (engaging) talking heads, music, and some intriguing filmic composition. And I learned a bunch.

I have some questions and quibbles, of course, but I'll save them until after the first screening, where manager Donald O'Finn and other Freddy's staffers will be present for the Q&A.

...

In case you're wondering, the anti-folk song in the trailer is Bumbling Along, by Steve Espinola.

It's clear why it was chosen--it serves as a bridge between the artsy bohemianism of Freddy's and the development project that ended Freddy's.

Near the end of the song, the music pauses, and Espinola unleashes a rapid-fire rant: "The ones who are trying to destroy my multicultural neighborhood so they could build a basketball stadium and skycrapers. They are efficient, they are organized and sometimes murderously effective, but they are ethically short-circuited and spiritually adrift."

Then the whimsical music picks up, with the segue, "But they don't know what's going on, even they are bumbling along."

As noted, the documentary, though often lighthearted, doesn't stick at that level of whimsy.

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Posted by steve at 8:01 AM

Is Coney starting to remind you of Atlantic Yards?

Coney Rocks

This blog entry is here to remind us that the city is all too often ready to bend to the wishes of developers. The author seems to be someone who wants to suck up to the powerful, and doesn't care if Coney Island becomes a generic, indoor mall.

First they try to stop hotels through zoning. They lose. Then they try to stop hotels through a historic district designation. They lose again. Now they want to tell the developer how he should develop the buildings. LOL What's next?

Looks quite obvious that those dilipated buildings will be bulldozed and hotels will eventually happen in Coney.

Coney will go year round. Like it or not!

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Posted by steve at 7:45 AM

June 5, 2010

That new office to monitor public authorities? Hamstrung by funding shortfall

Atlantic Yards Report

Remember the big battle last year to get the state legislature to reform the state's myriad public authorities?

In Manhattan Media's The Capitol newspaper, a 5/10/10 article headlined New Authorities Budget Office Could Be Swept Away By Lack Of Funding explains:

When Gov. David Paterson signed a bill last December to regulate the state’s 700-plus public authorities, the legislation was hailed as one of Albany’s most significant reforms in decades—the beginning of the end for the state’s “Soviet-style bureaucracies” that have amassed $45 billion in public debt.

The centerpiece of the dense 25-page bill was the creation of the Independent Authorities Budget Office, which replaced a similarly named office that had existed with limited scope and responsibility since 2006. The new office was given a host of new powers—such as the ability to issue subpoenas and remove authorities’ board member. It also was given a number of responsibilities, including the ability to audit authorities for potential financial abuses, oversight of new lobbying regulations for authority board members and regulation of the sale of authority land, among others.

But the office appears to have so far fallen victim to the same budget woes that it was supposed to help alleviate.

The office had seven employees before the law took effect March 1, and is supposed to go to 11 under Gov. David Paterson's budget, even though, when the bill was "first being seriously considered," it was supposed to have at least 25.

So here's where they're at:

With its resources limited, the office had not launched a new review of any public authority’s operations since the law was passed in March, said the office’s director, David Kidera.

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NoLandGrab: The mostly unaccountable public authorities (including the tool of developer Bruce Ratner, the ESDC) are responsible for running up most of the state's debt, yet an agency designed to reign them in is endangered due to cost-cutting.

Posted by steve at 8:41 AM

New Tactic in Fight Against Publicly Financed Stadiums: Humor

The Sporting Blog
By Andy Hutchins

Kudos continue to roll in for the Internets Celebrities and their latest video "Stadium Status."

"Stadium Status" is the brainchild of bloggers Dallas Penn and Rafi Kam, who together with director Casimir Nozkowski are the Internets Celebrities. (They're now NYT-famous, too.) In it, they bring their lenses and pens to bear on the changes wrought in the Big Apple by Citi Field, the new Yankee Stadium, and the Atlantic Yards project that will include the future home of the Brooklyn Nets.

They capture anger, in protesters chanting "Brook-lyn is not for sale!" They get laughs, from Mets fans conceding that a day at Citi costs hundreds of dollars and from public financing watchdog Neil deMause, author of Field of Schemes and the blog of the same name, as he considers how much everything cost. And they hit a lot of the necessary melancholy notes, talking to fans who saw Babe Ruth in his coffin and telling their own stories about hearing roars after Darryl Strawberry moon shots.

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Posted by steve at 8:29 AM

Atlantic Yards YES! City Services in Gowanus NO!!

The New York Times, Budget Cuts Hit a Brooklyn Area Over and Over
By David W. Chen

It's funny how a small area in Brooklyn can get hit with so many city service cuts while nearby, a single developer like Bruce Ratner can receive so much city largesse.

When Mr. Bloomberg unveiled his budget a few weeks ago, he warned that no neighborhood would be spared in his struggle to plug a $5 billion gap. But in making steep across-the-board cuts to dozens of agencies and programs, it was almost inevitable that they would fall heaviest on some neighborhoods.

And if there is one place that for sheer density and variety of affected services is the epicenter of budget pain, it is a tiny slice of Brooklyn covering six blocks by eight blocks, straddling Gowanus, Carroll Gardens and Boerum Hill, according to an analysis by The New York Times of the location of the facilities already singled out for closing.

Within a 10-minute walk, three day care centers, one senior center, one swimming pool, one after-school program and a health clinic are to close. Venture 20 minutes more, and six additional facilities — two day care centers, two after-school programs, a senior center and a health clinic — are also to shut down on July 1, the start of the new fiscal year. Making matters worse, the nearest public transit option — the B37 bus along Third Avenue — is being eliminated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

There's no word on how much the city is saving by closing down all of these services, but you can bet it won't be anywhere near the $205 million in direct cash subsidy promised by the city to developer Bruce Ratner so that he can build a much needed ... arena???

Posted by steve at 7:51 AM

June 4, 2010

“Freddy’s” Showing Next Friday at BIFF

Videology

A documentary about Freddy’s bar in Prospect Heights; victim of the Atlantic Yards project. See the world premiere next Friday at Williamsburg’s new cinema: indieScreen (Kent & S. 2nd St.)

FREDDY’S
World Premiere

Director: Vicente Rodriguez Ortega
United States, 2010, 99min
Documentary

showtime: 6:00 pm | Friday June 11 | indieScreen

synopsis
Freddy’s Bar & Backroom was a thriving cultural hub situated in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. Open since prohibition, the bar featured a unique and colorful history. This documentary chronicles the diverse set of characters in Freddy’s community - the bartenders, the regulars, the artists and the musicians. Through their barside reflections, both hilarious and poignant, we see the true importance of this Brooklyn institution. Beyond the late nights and naked Mondays, Freddy’s was a vital part of the neighborhood. Unfortunately, it also sat in the footprint of a controversial real estate deal that has threatened to radically transform Brooklyn’s character.

notes
Donald O’Finn and other members of Freddy’s staff will be available for Q&A after the screening.

link

Posted by eric at 12:48 PM

The Gallerina Guide to NYC's Ugliest Buildings

WNYC News Blog
by Carolina Miranda

This week, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) unveils its latest Guide to New York, the must-have architectural bible that tracks -- block by block -- the city's significant structures. To celebrate the book's release (it's been a decade since the last update!), we combed through its 1,000-plus pages to come up with our own guide...to the city's 10 homeliest buildings.
...

10. METROTECH CENTER, Downtown Brooklyn (from 1989). This 11-block development at Flatbush and Tillary is an architectural mixed bag -- some of it interesting (Davis Brody Bond's sleek Othmer Residence Hall), much of it a snore (15 Metro Tech Center). Walking through this dull morass can be soul-crushing. But the real problem here, says the AIA, is the way in which one company appropriated a vast swath of public space and made it into their own quasi-private territory, complete with battalions of security guards. The complex should serve as a lesson on letting developers and architects build monuments to themselves, with little consideration for how these projects might weave into the greater urban fabric. It may be a lesson we have yet to learn. Metrotech's developer, Forest City Ratner, is now working on another behemoth 22-acre project nearby: the highly controversial Atlantic Yards.

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Photo of 15 Metrotech Center: See-Ming Lee/flickr

Posted by eric at 12:31 PM

Internets Celebrities In Brooklyn: Do Not Despair

Who Walk In Brooklyn

Regular denizens of Eastern Parkway hardly need an introduction to writer and guerilla filmmaker Dallas Penn but with the ICs, DP has two partners, co-conspirator and co-host Rafi Kam, and director Casimir Nozkowski. Tonight they’ll be screening their latest and— dare I say it?— greatest work yet, Stadium Status. Don’t be jealous! It literally couldn’t have been done without you too, at least those of you who pay taxes and have seen “one thin dime” of your money go to support scumbags like George Steinbrenner, Fred Wilpon and Bruce Ratner.

One might wonder, is “scumbags” a proper term for an editor and historian to use? And what about “scumbags,” as I’ve put it, like Rudy Giuliani, George Pataki and Michael Bloomberg, not to mention almost the entirety of the New York State legislature, New York City council and the Borough Presidencies of Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens? In 1995, Christopher Wallace famously asked “Who Shot Ya’?” It’s long past time the people of NYC demanded their own answer, especially at a time when great institutions and good people like the Brooklyn Public Library are threatened with severe budget cuts.

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NoLandGrab: Please note that the screening took place on Tuesday, June 1st.

Related coverage...

Nostrand Park, Internets Celebrities Stadium Status Premieres

As you can well imagine Stadium Status examines the forthcoming Barclay’s Arena, future home of the Brooklyn Nets. Since the film was produced after Citi Field and the new Yankee Stadium were complete, it’s in the scenes featuring the opposing sides in the Atlantic Yards battle where Kam, Nozkowski and Penn show their growth as filmmakers. Already well versed in delivering men on the street satire and punditry, the Internet Celebrities step aside and let the Atlantic Yards antagonists speak for themselves. A particular rich scene finds a worn out Daniel Goldstein, Devevlop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn founder, and the last Atlantic Yards holdout, making his case one last time to halt Atlantic Yards.

Found in Brooklyn, Stadium Status-Our Tax Dollars at Work!

I don't know about you, but shouldn't we be paying for better schools and keeping the libraries open? Here is an excellent short touring the new Yankee, Shea and future New Jersey Nets Stadium in the Atlantic Yards. Showing how the stadiums really ARE NOT revitalizing the neighborhoods they take over.

Posted by eric at 12:20 PM

Columbia Oral Argument Recap - Blight, Civic Purpose, And Bad Faith

Inverse Condemnation

We've been busy filing an appellate brief and drafting another, so until now, haven't had the chance to post up links about Tuesday's New York Court of Appeals oral argument in Kaur v. New York State Urban Development Corp.

We live blogged the arguments, following along on the court's video webcast. The court usually posts an archived video of oral arguments, which we expect next week.

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Posted by eric at 12:14 PM

Reader Comments

The Indypendent

HOME SWEET HOME
Responses to “Life After Atlantic Yards: An Interview with Daniel Goldstein” May 12:

I thank you for your good fight, Daniel Goldstein. I did not consider you a sellout after taking that deal one bit because it was not the first offer. The fact that you stayed in your place for about seven years when others left long before you shows how you were willing to stand up to fight when others could not.
—Tal Barzilai

There was something I neglected to say in the interview. Develop, Don’t Destroy Brooklyn and the community that opposed the Atlantic Yards development (it was not a “small army” but a large movement) did not just oppose Ratner’s project, we advocated for the fair development of the rail yards and found a developer willing to bid for the yards and propose a version of the community plan. That developer, Extell, outbid Ratner for the MTA’s rail yards $150 million to $50 million. In its infinite wisdom, the MTA chose the low bidder. The “develop” in Develop, Don’t Destroy Brooklyn was not rhetoric. We wanted the yards developed, but with the community’s input and vision, not developed in the vision of one single developer through an undemocratic process.
—Daniel Goldstein

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Posted by eric at 11:49 AM

New AIA Guide to New York City calls Atlantic Yards "ill-advised"

Atlantic Yards Report

The fifth edition of the AIA Guide to New York City has emerged, all 1088 pages worth, with some tart words for Atlantic Yards, thanks (I assume) to a new co-author who got to know Prospect Heights after playing music at the now-closed Freddy's Bar & Backroom.
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The Prospect Heights setting

The book states:

Prospect Heights, a severed pizza slice (in plan), a bite missing from its side (at Grand Army Plaza; the southern half of the slice is Institute Park), is an ethnically diverse neighborhood just north of Park Slope, featuring leafy blocks of 19th-century brownstones designed by then leading architects, including Rudolph Daus and the Parfitt Brothers. its western edge is marked by the hubbub of Flatbush Avenue; its eastern, less defined edge, blends at Washington Avenue into Crown Heights.

The Long Island Railroad yards and a swath of the neighborhood is the site of the controversial proposed Atlantic Yards project. Partial demolition of buildings in the seven blocks of that project's "footprint" has created "developer's blight," a phenomenon in which a developer declares a neighborhood "blighted" in order to justify the use of eminent domain, then, by demolishing buildings, creates the very blight that didn't exist in the first place (a self-fulfilling prophesy). The result (for now) is a thriving neighborhood with incongruous blocks of contiguous wasteland, reduced to rubble, on its northern edge.

Actually, the wasteland isn't so contiguous.

Atlantic Yards

The book, finished months ago, lists AY as "unbuilt" rather than "partly under construction." It states:

UNBUILT: Atlantic Yards (basketball arena and housing)... Ill-advised. A massive proposal by developer Forest City Ratner (of MetroTech fame: see Brooklyn Civic Center section) that, if built, would forever change the character of small-scale, tree-line Prospect Heights. The plan call for buildings over the rail yards between Atlantic Avenue and pacific Street (good idea) and demolishing blocks of homes and businesses in Prospect Heights, replacing them with modern residential towers and a basketball arena (bad idea). Frank Gehry's master plan (a swiveling cadre of towers) captivated many a City official and architecture critic, but opposition among community groups in Prospect Heights was fierce. As the downturn in the financial markets delayed the project, Gehry's designs were replaced by less flashy plans by the firms SHoP and Ellerbe-Becket. Now that Gehry isn't involved, more and more critics are coming out against the project. Where have they been?

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Posted by eric at 11:34 AM

June 3, 2010

Stadium Status

Internets Celebrities

Sports fans know when the fix is in, and it's in big in New York City. The Internets Celebrities deconstruct stadia mania.

Stadium Status from Internets Celebrities on Vimeo.

"It's hard being a sports fan these days."

Stadium Status is a documentary which examines the rush of new sports stadiums in NYC as the latest example of an obscene national trend. New stadiums are built every year and the private businesses that own them benefit from huge sums of public money for their creation. Are we getting our money's worth?

Internets Celebrities are Dallas Penn, Rafi Kam and director Casimir Nozkowski
Featuring Neil deMause and Killian Jordan
Additional Cinematography - Ian Savage
Original Music - Bless-1

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Additional coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, From the Internets Celebrities, short film "Stadium Status" takes a cheeky look at two new stadiums, with a segment about Atlantic Yards

The Internets Celebrities--guerrilla filmmakers and comedic investigators--have done short films on such subjects as bodegas and the "Ghetto Big Mac."

They got some ink from the Times the other day as their more ambitious new film Stadium Status debuted.

I'll get to the Atlantic Yards segment in a bit, but first, their explanation for the project:

Our starting point for this movie was simply asking the question: why did the Yankees and the Mets get to build record-breakingly expensive stadiums in the SAME YEAR? Considering we were on the brink of a massive recession and now face massive budget shortfalls in New York state, it seemed problematic that so much public funding went into these buildings – with little assurance of any tangible public benefit.

From there, we employed our usual investigation methods. Namely, go to a place and start filming. We actually got into Citifield and were able to film there. Yankee Stadium confiscated our tape – but we still managed to talk to people and capture the exterior of the massive new structure.

We looked at the communities being affected by these stadiums and tried to see who exactly was benefiting from these teams getting to build new revenue-maximizing ballparks – directly across from the old ones.

Sources

Their on-camera sources include the indispensable Neil deMause of the Field of Schemes blog--"Yankee Stadium is about half public money," he says. The problem isn't that the city's fronting the money in the first place, says deMause, it's that they're not getting it back.

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, Watch "Stadium Status": The Funniest Take Down of Bloomberg's Stadium Mania

The short includes something we've not seen through all these years, a sped-up real time walk around the permiter of the project site to show just how enormous it is.

Posted by eric at 10:58 PM

Must See on the Internets: "Stadium Status"

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

Coming soon on YouTube is the Internets Celebrities' must-see video "Stadium Status," which humorously and bitingly eviscerates the stadium/arena mania under the Bloomberg administration.

Atlantic Yards is front and center.

Stadium Status should be live on YouTube later today, and we'll post it as soon as we're able to. Here's a short preview to tide you over.

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Related coverage...

The New York Times, Three Men and a Video Camera, Out to Reveal Urban Truths

Their most recent and ambitious effort, “Stadium Status,” which will be shown for the first time Tuesday evening at the Brooklyn Public Library, takes on local sports franchises that get millions of dollars in tax breaks and other incentives while their neighbors scramble to make ends meet in a sour economy. The idea that luxury lives next door to poverty is not lost on the filmmakers.

“In this city you can have the poorest and the wealthiest, sometimes in the same ZIP code,” Mr. Penn said. “But even in this huge city, people feel separated and that shouldn’t be. I hope our films can show that one way or another we are all connected.”
...

In “Stadium Status,” the filmmakers lament that sports franchises promise trickle-down benefits to local merchants who never get the same type of economic incentives. “You go to the stadium, you’re not going shopping or eating on River Avenue,” Mr. Penn said. “Yankee Stadium is like a mall, where everything happens in the confines of the stadium. At the end of the game, you just go to your car and get on the Major Deegan.”

Posted by eric at 9:35 AM

Throwing Stones at Builders’ Crass Houses

The New York Times
by Jason Zinoman

The Times gets around to reviewing The Bilbao Effect.

Mr. Safdie deserves credit for trying something more ambitious, a farce of ideas in a style that only certain playwrights, like John Guare, can pull off. Echoing the recent brouhaha over Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, the plot imagines a controversy about a Staten Island development designed by a famous architect with little concern for the public.

That “starchitect,” Erhardt Shlaminger (Joris Stuyck, performing with a mix of vanity, wit and entitlement), faces censure by his peers at the American Institute of Architects. Riffing on a problem that beset Mr. Gehry’s design of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, Mr. Safdie has Shlaminger’s creation reflect sunlight into the windows of a nearby apartment building with such fierceness that the temperature inside soars. Paul Bolzano (Anthony Giaimo) lived in one of those apartments and claims the reflection sent his wife into a depression.

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NoLandGrab: Having peered up at Gehry's (and Ratner's) Beekman Tower a few weeks ago on a sunny day, we can attest that the reflected sunlight issue wasn't limited to Disney Hall.

Posted by eric at 9:27 AM

Review and Comment: New Guide for New City

Brooklyn Daily Eagle
by Henrik Krogius

A review of the new AIA Guide to New York City reveals what architecture critics really think about Atlantic Yards, now that they no longer need to kowtow to the project's deposed starchitect.

The new Guide has nothing good to say about Atlantic Yards, especially with Gehry now out of its planning.

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Posted by eric at 9:19 AM

Talking Point: The Angry Buddhist takes a stroll on the boardwalk

The Villager
by Carl Rosenstein

I walked down the boardwalk to the Russian Sector where the buzz is over their newest homeboy, megalomaniac Brooklyn Nyet owner Mikhail D. Prokhorov — Nyet worth $14 billion. Just what our town needs, another tumid billionaire. Our billionaire mayor had him over for breakfast. Afterward he was ushered around town, including a visit to the new billionaire Steinbrenner Stadium, scandalously funded with $300 million in public money. This was apparently to show Prokhorov just how easy it is to rip off the public coffers, as will be done in suit for the construction of his Atlantic Yards basketball-arena-office-and-condo development.

The Atlantic Yards plan was opaque enough and without a semblance of participatory democracy when it was billionaire Bruce Ratner’s alone. But now for taxpayers to subsidize this Russian plutocrat and playboy raises the level of arrogance and contempt toward the public to where it would make Robert Moses blush. James Dolan, the billionaire owner of the Knicks and Cablevision, has never blushed about Madison Square Garden’s property-tax-free status dating back to 1982 that has cost the city more than $300 million to date. “Off with their heads.”

Public records on Mr. Prokhorov are scarce and incomplete and the NBA accepted a certain amount of ambiguity. David E. Hoffman, the author of “The Oligarchs: Wealth and Power in the New Russia,” said that Mr. Prokohorov emerged from a business climate that has “no rule of law, a lot of shadiness, a lot of violence, a lot of coercion.” Welcome to Crooklyn, Mikhail, you’ll fit right in.

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Posted by eric at 8:54 AM

Job Growth Requires Vibrant Urban Neighborhoods

The Huffington Post
by Vin Cipolla

The president of the Municipal Art Society, which wouldn't dirty its hands by joining with fellow BrooklynSpeaks members to sue the Empire State Development Corporation over Atlantic Yards, laments the failures of mega-projects to create good jobs while touting the job-growth potential of Columbia U's land grab (with nary a mention of eminent domain abuse).

The debate about the physical development of New York City inevitably focuses on large-scale projects: Atlantic Yards, Hudson Yards, and the World Trade Center site. But those massive developments are not where most job growth typically takes place; they largely involve relocating existing jobs much more than creating new permanent ones. The current slow-down in development brought about by the recession provides a chance to refocus attention on how urban planning can create jobs. With unemployment at 10 percent in New York City, we cannot afford to miss any opportunities, and a number of good ones are in front of us.
...

Second, the new 17-acre campus of Columbia University, being developed on the West Side at 125th Street, provides another opportunity. The campus offers enormous advantages to the city, expanding New York's intellectual base and research capacity, and the challenge for the city now is to ensure that, as it develops, the surrounding areas benefit sufficiently from job generation. This, in part, requires that the nearby neighborhoods have the amenities and attributes needed to attract the entrepreneurs and related businesses that the new campus can inspire.

New York will always be a city of mega-projects. It's a city of big dreams. The challenge is to ensure that those dreams are compatible with business growth and do not undercut the job-generating potential of the city's fundamental fabric of urban neighborhoods.

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Posted by eric at 8:43 AM

The Dean Street Squeeze: widening the crosswalks won't help sidewalks never built for arena crowds

Atlantic Yards Report

Call it the Dean Street squeeze.

The main path to the arena from the 1100-space interim surface parking lot in the Atlantic Yards site will be along residential Dean Street.

The parking lot will be located between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues. The arena will be located west of Sixth Avenue.

Between Carlton and Sixth avenues, however, the route would get very tight, given that the sidewalk narrows to less than six feet in places, as shown above and in the photos below.

That's not what the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) says; it describes the "effective width" as 10.5 feet.

The bottom line: people will be tramping in tree beds and walking in the street.
...

To accommodate the overburdened crosswalk at Carlton and Dean, the ESDC agreed in 2006 to expand the crosswalk. When the parking lot was expanded last year, the ESDC again expanded the crosswalk.

The parking lot has again been expanded, without any attendant crosswalk revision, but, either way, the exercise is ridiculous.

Like water squeezed in a bag, the flow has to emerge somewhere. And that somewhere is Dean Street.

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Posted by eric at 7:37 AM

As law proposed to require minimum wages on subsidized project (so as to avoid CBAs), Bloomberg resorts to distortion

Atlantic Yards Report

Here's a shocker — the Mayor talking out of both sides of his mouth.

At a panel May 17 on Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs), Al Rodriguez, General Counsel to the Bronx Borough President, argued that that certain aspects of CBAs--such as living wages and local hiring--should be institutionalized, not negotiated.

And last week a bill was introduced in City Council to require living wages on certain economic development projects that are benefiting from city subsidies, thus removing it from "negotiations," such as with the Atlantic Yards CBA.

Affordable housing

It's notable that Mayor Mike Bloomberg's criticism of the bill relies on a mischaracterization of it.

In a May 25 article headlined City Takes Another Pass at a Living Wage Bill, WNYC's Matthew Schuerman reported:

Bloomberg spoke out against the living wage bill Monday, saying that the reason these projects need city subsidies is that they wouldn't stand on their own otherwise.

"We’re trying to build more affordable housing. We're trying to provide more services for the elderly," he says. "The economics don't work if you have to pay more."

But according to a copy of the bill introduced Tuesday, affordable housing projects and buildings that house social services organizations would be exempt from the living wage requirements.

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Posted by eric at 7:27 AM

June 2, 2010

Getting To Know New Nets Owner Mikhail Prokhorov

The Onion

Sometimes, the fake news seems less outlandish than the real news. Case in point:

Since buying the New Jersey Nets, Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov has become a media fascination. Onion Sports takes a closer look at the man:

• Bought Nets after being impressed by Jayson Williams' killing ability
• Feels that owning an NBA basketball team is good for his cover
• We're just going to go ahead and guess that he has a yacht you could land a helicopter on
...

• "You like ride in tank? We go for ride in tank! The girls, they also come! Is make fun, yes? Ha!"
• Also owns controlling interest in 80 percent of Russia's nuclear arsenal
• Just checked on that yacht and helicopter thing, and sure enough, we called it

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Photo: The Onion

Posted by eric at 9:17 PM

A fire truck barrels west along Dean Street against traffic; won't the potential for conflict increase?

Atlantic Yards Report

Fire trucks leaving the firehouse on Dean Street east of Sixth Avenue frequently drive west, against the traffic on the one-way street. Sometimes they go only a short distance to Sixth Avenue, and turn.

Other times, as in this case (filmed at about 9:15 am on June 1), they go all the way to Flatbush Avenue, along Dean, at the southern flank of the arena block, causing cars to scurry to the curb. The blue fencing begins outside the site of Freddy's Bar & Backroom.

(That's Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association in the video, encouraging documentation.)

Potential for traffic conflict?

As demolition and construction increase at the site--not to mention traffic for an arena--wouldn't the potential for traffic conflict increase?

But that's not what the Empire State Development Corporation's Final Environmental Impact Statement says, in Chapter 5, Community Facilities:

Similar to NYPD operations, FDNY response times are not expected to be significantly affected by the closing of local streets or increased traffic as the project site is accessible by three of the borough’s major thoroughfares and service to surrounding areas is from FDNY facilities that have a broad geographic distribution.

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NoLandGrab: What's a minute or two of delayed response to a fire when we're getting the NBA's worst team?

Posted by eric at 10:34 AM

Bloomberg’s Do-Gooder Charity

NY Observer
by Reid Pillifant

Since taking office, Mayor Bloomberg has made the Mayor's Fund a particular priority, transforming a little-used nonprofit into a robust public-private player that has helped stem deep budget cuts in city agencies, and advanced objectively good causes like tree planting, reducing domestic violence and increasing economic literacy.

In Mr. Bloomberg's eight years in office, the Mayor's Fund has raised more than $150 million--for everything from portrait conservation, to eye care for underprivileged kids, to Katrina and Haitian relief efforts. But it's tough to deny the fact that a substantial part of that money comes from people who do business, in one way or another, with the city. "It's a really great arrangement for people making the donations, because they get to please an influential elected official and they get a tax deduction," said Susan Lerner of Common Cause NY. "There is an increasing tendency-which is pushed very vigorously by this administration-to completely blur the lines between public and private, between profit and charity," Ms. Lerner said.
...

The mayor, who has sole discretion to appoint the fund's directors, placed friends and supporters on the board to help fill the fund's coffers. Financier Steven Rattner--the mayor's personal money manager--was tasked with tapping the donor community; gossip columnist Liz Smith organized a lavish fund-raiser for the society set.

Around the same time, the Conflicts of Interest Board revised its guidelines for city nonprofits: City officials could pursue private donations for pet projects, as long as the donor didn't have a "specific matter either currently pending or about to be pending before the City official or his or her agency."
...

Real estate interests, including the Rudin and Speyer families and the Association for a Better New York, are all consistent contributors. (Rob Speyer, the co-CEO of Tishman-Speyer and currently the chairman of the fund's board, declined an interview request.)

Bruce Ratner, one of the board members, gave liberally--a fact occasionally noted by the press, since his controversial Atlantic Yards project was, at the same time, winding its way through the city bureaucracy. In one December 2005 flurry, three Ratner-related entities-Forest City Beekman Associates LLC; Forest City East River Associates; and Forest City Ratner LLC-together gave between $450,000 and $1 million to restore a Coney Island carousel.

"Bruce and Forest City Ratner have indeed supported the rehabilitation of that amusement, and they are guilty of thinking it will be much loved again by kids and their families," a spokesman told The Observer in 2007.

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NoLandGrab: Guess that whole conflict-of-interest thingy needs a little reworking.

Posted by eric at 10:28 AM

2010 Brooklyn International Film Festival

Nathan Kensinger Photography

The 13th Brooklyn International Film Festival (BiFF) takes place this June 4th to 13th, 2010. This year, BiFF will present over 100 films from 26 different countries. As the Director of Programming for this year's festival, I led a team of screeners and programmers to select these films from a field of more then 2,400 submissions coming from 92 different countries.

While all of the selected films merit equal attention, several have subjects related directly to this website's themes, especially in the documentary category. Locally, Our House documents an illegal Christian Anarchist squat in an abandoned Williamsburg warehouse, while Freddy's tells the story of a historic bar in Prospect Heights that was recently closed by the controversial Atlantic Yards development.

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Posted by eric at 10:23 AM

Columbia eminent domain case draws heated arguments, frequent references to Atlantic Yards cases

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder provides the blow-by-blow of yesterday's argument in the New York State Court of Appeals over the Columbia University eminent domain case.

In the highly contested 40-minute oral argument yesterday in the Columbia University eminent domain case, attorneys significantly reprised arguments in the briefs, with frequent references to the Atlantic Yards case the Court of Appeals decided last November.

I didn’t make it to Albany and none of the city’s three daily newspapers sent a reporter. That’s dismaying, given that the Appellate Division’s surprising and contested rejection of the Empire State Development Corporation’s eminent domain findings was big news last December.

The bottom line of the argument is unclear, given there are various strands of argument. In other words, if the court upholds the ESDC on its finding of blight--as is not unlikely, given its decision in the AY case--it could find other reasons to block Columbia.

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Related coverage...

Columbia Spectator, Court of Appeals grills state on M'ville blight, civic purpose of expansion

After more than six years of buildup, the fate of eminent domain in Manhattanville came down to 45 minutes in a small courtroom in Albany.

On Tuesday, the seven judges of the New York State Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state, heard oral arguments on whether the state should be allowed to invoke eminent domain—the process of seizing private properties for a “civic purpose” in exchange for market-rate compensation—on Columbia’s behalf. The University plans to build a 17-acre campus in West Harlem, but two business owners, who represent about 9 percent of the land in the expansion zone, have refused to sell their properties.

Former New York Civil Liberties Union director Norman Siegel argued on behalf of Tuck-It-Away Self-Storage owner Nick Sprayregen and gas station owners Gurnam Singh and Parminder Kaur, and attorney John Casolaro represented the Empire State Development Corporation, the body that approved eminent domain for the project in December 2008.

Sprayregen, Singh, and Kaur challenged that approval in court in January 2009, and last December, the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division declared eminent domain in Manhattanville illegal in a 3-2 decision, which ESDC immediately appealed.

That brought the fight to the Court of Appeals, where Siegel called on the judges to uphold the Appellate Division ruling on several bases: one, that ESDC declared the neighborhood “blighted” in “bad faith” and based on faulty methodology; two, that there was “collusion” between ESDC and Columbia, because ESDC hired a company to conduct a blight study when that company was also a contractor for the University; three, that the expansion of a private university does not constitute a “civic purpose”; and four, that Sprayregen’s due process rights were violated when ESDC refused to turn over certain documents requested under the Freedom of Information Law in time for them to be included in the record for this case.

AP via Victoria Advocate, NY top court considers Columbia expansion plan

A state redevelopment agency urged New York's top court on Tuesday to approve its use of eminent domain so Columbia University can expand its Ivy League campus over 17 acres in West Harlem.

At oral arguments, Empire State Development Corp. attorney John Casolaro said the Court of Appeals should overturn a divided lower court and conclude this constitutes an appropriate civic project for educational purposes where the state can take land, even when the land goes to a private, not-for-profit institution.

"The Legislature has indicated this is a proper public purpose," Casolaro said.

NoLandGrab: Casolaro meant, of course, that the unelected, unaccountable ESDC had made that determination (surprise, surprise) — not the Legislature.

Bwog, Manhattanville Goes To NY Court of Appeals

This is kinda-sorta-maybe-it!

As you may recall, December brought a major obstacle to Columbia’s dreams of expansion: the New York State Supreme Court decided 3-2 that that state could not use eminent domain to secure parts of West Harlem for Manhattanville. The Empire State Development Corporation, the only major defendant in December’s case, has appealed the decision with the Columbia administration’s support.
...

In November, the New York Court of Appeals gave the uber-fraught Atlantic Yards a 6-1 approval of use of eminent domain, but the Atlantic Yards project did not stumble in the NY Supreme Court like Manhattanville has.

A decision is expected this summer, which could mean this month and could also mean three months from now.

Crain's NY Business, Court date set for Columbia eminent domain case

Last November, the same judges that will hear the Columbia case ruled that eminent domain could be used to clear the Atlantic Yards site in Brooklyn so that developer Forest City Ratner could build a huge mixed-use project there.

However, experts say the Atlantic Yards decision doesn't guarantee a similar outcome because there are numerous differences between the two cases. For starters, the opponents of Columbia using eminent domain won in the lower court, unlike their counterparts in the Atlantic Yards case. Last December, in a strongly worded opinion, the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division said it would be unconstitutional to use eminent domain to benefit “a private, elite education institution.”

“You are never the favorite when you are seeking a reversal,” said Scott Mollen, a partner at law firm Herrick Feinstein, who isn't involved in the case.

Posted by eric at 10:00 AM

June 1, 2010

Stanley Cup economic impact in Philly: Not so much

Field of Schemes

Has Andrew Zimbalist gotten religion? Or is it just that he's not being paid by the Philadelphia Flyers?

Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer featured a rare article that debunks the usual wild claims of economic windfalls from pro sports playoff games: Despite the Flyers playing in the Stanley Cup Finals, notes the paper, neither the team nor the city will reap all that much money as a result.

In particular, notes economist Andrew Zimbalist, the claims by Flyers president Peter Luukko that the city will gain $200,000 in tax revenue per game are likely inflated, since "pretty much all the people who are going to be at the arena will be from Greater Philadelphia, and they spend money at the arena instead of spending it somewhere else in the Philadelphia economy."

Of course, that's not exactly what Zimbalist said in his economic impact analysis paid for by then-New Jersey Nets owner Bruce Ratner, in which he assumed substantial increased tax benefits to New York from moving the Nets to Brooklyn. But like they say in academia, better late than never.

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Posted by eric at 8:47 AM

Brooklyn’s first iPad theft is reported!

The Brooklyn Paper, Police Blotter
by Thomas Tracy

This week, Forest City Ratner wasn't just the host to the crime — it was a victim, too.

Pretty pinch

A jeweler selling baubles at the Atlantic Center Mall lost several pricey pieces on May 24 — and his own employee may be to blame.

The shop owner in the Bruce Ratner-owned mall on Atlantic Avenue between Fort Greene Place and S. Portland Avenue said the employee put the bling in the safe right before closing on May 22.

But when the safe was opened on May 24, six diamond rings, five chains, four pendants and four bracelets were missing.

So was the employee, who didn’t show up for work that morning — and his phone number was suddenly disconnected.

FCRC felony

In other Ratner-related news, someone broke into his company’s satellite office on Rockwell Place on May 26, swiping a $600 computer.

Cops were not sure how the thief got into the office between DeKalb Avenue and Fulton Street, although the theft occurred sometime after 4:30 pm.

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NoLandGrab: One wonders if the Forest City heist, too, was an inside job; perhaps a whistleblower, gathering evidence?

Posted by eric at 8:38 AM

Columbia eminent domain appeal today in Albany; Atlantic Yards decision invoked regularly; will Court of Appeals revise NY's role as national outlier?

Atlantic Yards Report

The eminent domain case involving the Columbia University expansion--a $6.28 billion, 17-acre project in West Harlem's Manhattanville--will be heard this afternoon at 2 pm (webcast) before the Court of Appeals in Albany.

It may seem like an uphill battle for the appellant Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), which--shockingly--lost a split decision (a two-judge plurality, a concurrence on other grounds, and a two-judge dissent) last December, before the Appellate Division, the intermediate court where all eminent domain cases begin.

But it's probably more of an uphill battle for the winners, property owners represented by attorney Norman Siegel, since Justice James Catterson, author of the plurality opinion, glaringly failed to grapple with the Court of Appeals' ruling just nine days earlier in the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case.

In the latter, the court 6-1 upheld the use of eminent domain, saying that when there were reasonable differences of opinion on blight judges had to defer to agencies like the ESDC.

So in legal papers the ESDC argues that the Columbia case is essentially like the Atlantic Yards case (Goldstein vs. New York State Urban Development Corporation, aka ESDC), and the Columbia plaintiffs (Tuck-It-Away, a company owned by Nick Sprayregen, and a gas station owned by Parminder Kaur and family members) say it's not, in part because the AY site includes part of a previously-designated urban renewal area as well as a railyard, considered to be de facto blight.

(Of course the plaintiffs in the AY case were all from outside those zones.)

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Columbia Spectator, M'ville property owners prepare for eminent domain hearing

Posted by lumi at 6:47 AM

A bad day on Pacific Street: trucks in a jam, major delays, unprepared contractors; will it happen again?

Atlantic Yards Report

Welcome to Ratnerville, have a nice day!

A two-hour delay on Pacific Street. Vehicles driving on the sidewalk. 45 minutes of truck repairs. A school bus that had to back up more than a block along Pacific to Vanderbilt Avenue. Unprepared contractors.

So it was on April 27, as shown in a video shot by a Prospect Heights resident. The focus is on Pacific between Carlton and Sixth avenues, a block that contains the Newswalk condo building and--unlike the blocks of Pacific Street to the east and west--remains a public street.

Norman Oder queried the Empire State Development Corporation, who had to check with the developer to get their story straight. In brief, mistakes were made...

Posted by lumi at 6:35 AM

NEW — DO NOT ENTER

Photo, by Tracy Collins, via flickr Atlantic Yards Photo Pool.

Pacific Street at Vanderbilt Avenue
Prospect Heights
Brooklyn, New York

This block of Pacific Street has been closed and eventually would be demapped for Atlantic Yards.

See a close-up of the sign here.

All buildings in the background would be demolished for a temporary surface parking lot for over 1000 cars, and would eventually be the site for several residential towers. This photo has notes. Move your mouse over the photo to see them.

Atlantic Yards Report, Welcome, trucks, to "Carlton Street" and "Pacific Avenue"

Just because developer Bruce Ratner is going to demap sections of Carlton and Pacific, doesn't mean he gets to rename them too:

... whoever prepared the "arena trucking rules"--rules that, by the way, have not always been followed--seems to think there are blocks called "Carlton Street" and "Pacific Avenue."

The sign is placed at the corner of Pacific Street and Vanderbilt Avenue and is aimed at drivers turning west on Pacific, whereupon they are supposed to queue up to Carlton (where there's a light), then go one long block (past the residential Newswalk building) to Sixth Avenue (where there's a light), and then to the arena site.

Posted by lumi at 5:46 AM