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September 30, 2010

KPMG's Fuzzy Math on Atlantic Yards

NY Observer, Op Ed
by Norman Oder

On Tuesday, Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner surprised reporters with his candor, acknowledging that the timetable for the project, despite the officially announced 10-year time span, was "market-dependent."

After all, if the arena and all 16 towers take 25 years, as he acknowledged was possible, then the much-ballyhooed benefits (affordable housing, open space, tax revenues) would not arrive as promised. And the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), the state's economic development agency, might find itself with some egg on its face.

Damningly, the ESDC's then-CEO said in April 2009 that the project would take "decades." However, in an August 2009 report for the ESDC (below), consultant KPMG pronounced the 10-year timetable valid.

Given that Mr. Ratner apparently doubts the timetable himself, it's worth looking at how KPMG's numbers just don't add up. (In a somewhat similar instance, when buyers at the Trump SoHo Hotel Condominium New York became suspicious that the developers were inflating condo sales figures, they filed suit.)

If there were to be no sticks forcing the developer to build, the ESDC had to find some carrots. They had to find evidence that the housing market would be healthy enough to absorb 1,930 luxury condos—a good number wrapped around the arena. (There also would be 2,250 market-rate rentals and 2,250 subsidized rentals, although a good chunk of the latter would be at or near market rates.)

So KPMG had to find comps, other large Brooklyn condo projects that have been selling at a decent clip and at prices within plausible distance of the $1,217 per square foot (psf) FCR seeks in 2015. (The latter figure was revealed in the KPMG report, though it was supposed to be redacted.)

Consider the Toren condo building on Flatbush Avenue near the Manhattan Bridge, which KPMG, as of August 2009, asserted had been 98 percent sold. Some nine months later, the developer told the Times that the 240-unit building had reached the 55 percent mark.

How about the nearby Oro Condos, which KPMG claimed was 75 percent sold? An Oro press release this past March crowed that half of the units had been taken.

While real estate information is ever more transparent, KPMG in its report included no backing data, just vague references to obtaining "reference materials" from Forest City Ratner, "meetings or phone interviews with various Project sponsors" and surveying "numerous brokers, property managers and other market participants."

However dubious, the report remains crucial to the final Atlantic Yards court case. State Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman is considering requests from several community groups to force the ESDC to do an additional review of the project's longer-term environmental impacts.



Atlantic Yards Report, An op-ed for the Observer on KPMG's fuzzy math regarding the Brooklyn housing market

I've written a lot about KPMG's curious market study for the Empire State Development Corporation.

Now I've threaded some of those observations and analyses into an op-ed for the Observer online, headlined KPMG's Fuzzy Math on Atlantic Yards, and tweaked to incorporate this week's news....

Posted by eric at 9:25 PM

At public meeting on arena plaza, presentation from architect, answers from SHoP, FCR, ESDC, with video (to be updated)

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder has posted lots of video from last night's presentation of the publicly accessible private plaza planned at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.

I'll expand this post significantly, but here are a number of videos covering most of the public meeting held last night at Borough Hall regarding Forest City Ratner's plans for the arena plaza.

There were a lot of good questions, and a reasonable amount of responsiveness, if not complete candor. There were several questions that were not exactly on topic--the arena plaza design--but they were addressed.


Related coverage...

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, Ratner's Private Plaza

On Tuesday Bruce Ratner unveiled what he called a "public plaza" for his Barclays Center arena. Of course it is not a "public plaza." It is a private plaza. And last night at a public meeting that was made clear when Ratner EVP MaryAnne Gilmartin explained that the plaza rules will disallow "youth" in groups of 4 or more to use the private plaza.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Borough Hall Meeting Stays Focused on Design Of Barclays Public Plaza

Posted by eric at 9:12 PM

The question Marty Markowitz can't answer regarding the "green cards for Atlantic Yards"

Atlantic Yards Report

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz plans to join Bruce Ratner on a trip to China to help the developer gain low-cost financing in exchange for green cards: 498 of them.

My question to Markowitz's office, yet unanswered:

How will this investment create jobs?

I don't think it can.


Posted by eric at 9:07 PM

Markowitz planning China trip to trade green cards for Atlantic Yards funding

NY Post
by Rich Calder

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz’s latest planned overseas trip sounds more like a punch line than official business.

Markowitz – who racks up more frequent-flyer miles on government business than most local elected officials and all of the city’s other Beeps combined -- is seeking city blessing to travel expenses-paid to China.

His mission: fly 7,000 miles to the other side of the world to help his longtime ally, developer Bruce Ratner, peddle green cards to rich foreigners in exchange for investing in Ratner's embattled Atlantic Yards project.

They want to use a little-known federal program to raise about $250 million for the financially troubled $4.9 billion Prospect Heights project, which includes an arena for the NBA’s Nets, officials said.

"[Markowitz] is clearly taking full-advantage of permissible perks to boost economic investment in the borough,” said Dick Dadey of the government-watchdog group Citizens Union.

Markowitz’s many other expenses-paid business trips the past three years include visits to the Netherlands and Israel and a Trans-Atlantic cruise on the Queen Mary 2.

The planned China trip was first reported yesterday by the blog Atlantic Yards Report.

If the city’s Conflict of Interest Board says the China trip won’t violate city ethics laws, the beep will spent a week abroad -- – five days in China and two days traveling, sources told the Post. He also intends to pay out-of-pocket for his wife, Jamie, to accompany him.


NoLandGrab: Note to China — better hide the placemats.

Posted by eric at 8:58 PM

Basket bawler

NY Post
by Andrea Peyser

Why, we were reminiscing about acid-penned Post columnist Andrea Peyser just this morning.

Brooklyn's sorely needed Atlantic Yards has been redesigned as a shadow of its former glory, the fault of endless delays and a sagging economy. For that we can thank Daniel Goldstein, the so-called "activist" who held up the project for years as he hung onto his house in the path of the Yards in protest -- then sold it to developer Bruce Ratner for an unconscionable $3 million. But greed has not killed the dream.

Better late than never, basketball will be played in the Borough of Kings.


NoLandGrab: Actually, Daniel Goldstein held onto his home because it wasn't for sale, and he didn't "sell" it — the state seized it and he reached a settlement. And if Atlantic Yards is so "sorely needed," why is there no plan at this time for building 15 of the 16 proposed towers? If anything, Goldstein saved Ratner from the bankruptcy that would've surely resulted from building a project for which there's virtually no demand.

Posted by eric at 8:50 PM

Ratner Scraps Ten Year Timeline for Atlantic Yards Project

Only The Blog Knows Brooklyn

So it seems, the activists were right all along and now developer Bruce Ratner is admitting the truth: the Atlantic Yards project will not be completed in ten years. There is just no way.

Now he’s saying that the 10-year-timeline that was bandied about was just a guess for environmental impact statements. Here Ratner is quoted on WNYC:

“That was really only an analysis as to what the most serious impacts [would be], if all the other planned development in downtown Brooklyn happened right away,” Ratner said. “It was never supposed to be the time we were supposed to build them in.”

That is so much balderdash:

Wasn’t it the economics of the 10-year-timeline that convinced the city and state that it was worth the mega milliions in direct subsidies the project got?


Posted by eric at 2:23 PM

FCR's Gilmartin claims affordable housing goes to (four-person) households earning only up to $90,000 a year; she's off by one-third

Atlantic Yards Report

The errors just keep on comin'.

Well, you could say Forest City Ratner Executive VP MaryAnne Gilmartin explains affordable housing better than she did at a public appearance in July 2009, when she was unable (or unwilling) to describe the monthly rent range.

But you couldn't say she was fully able to explain it at a public meeting last night, given that she significantly downplayed the availability of subsidized housing to middle-income tenants.

She suggested that affordable housing for families of four would be limited to households earning up to about $90,000.

Actually, affordable housing would be available to those earning up to 160% of Area Median Income (AMI), or $126,720 for a family of four.

That means rents near or above $2000 a month for most affordable units (for four persons), under even the most optimistic scenario.

The follow-up

She was asked the definition of affordable housing.

"The definition of affordable housing as outlined by housing agencies," Gilmartin responded, noting that 100% of AMI is for a family of four is $79,200.

"What we do from that... families of four... making anywhere from 30,000 dollars a year to approximately 90,000 dollars a year would qualify for the housing based on those guidelines," she said.

But that significantly evades the actual configuration.


Posted by eric at 2:00 PM

Size does matter! Barclays Center plaza off limits to groups bigger than four

The Brooklyn Paper
by Andy Campbell

Here's the difference between "public space" and "publicly accessible open space."

You and your friends are welcome to hang out at the colossal plaza in front of the Barclays Center, but you’ll be kicked out if there are more than three of you.

Forest City Ratner officials dropped a bombshell on Wednesday night when they mentioned that they’ll institute a no-group policy at the new plaza — meaning that groups of four or more will be kicked out of what designers hope will become Brooklyn’s most popular outdoor community center.

“[Our] Atlantic Terminal Mall policy allows security to disperse groups of four or more — that creates a safe and comfortable experience,” said Jane Marshall [NLG: actually, MaryAnne Gilmartin], a spokeswoman for the mega-developer, at a meeting on Wednesday night to reveal the plaza plan to the public.

“We will continue to make policies that will create that same experience at the plaza,” she added.

Gasps rang out at the public meeting when Marshall [NLG: Gilmartin] made the announcement, but their cries went relatively unheard — Forest City officials took a few questions during the meeting, but refused to talk to reporters afterward.

Hey, wait a minute. We thought that "when it comes to sharing information with the public and governmental bodies, there’s no such thing as too much," as far as Forest City Ratner is concerned.

The rule essentially gives cops the same leeway they have at the crime-ridden, Bruce Ratner-owned malls down the street: the ability to kick out a kid who is under 21 if he happens to gather with three or more other friends.


NoLandGrab: So, FCR's policy is essentially this: we love Brooklyn's black youth when they come out in droves to one of our pro-Atlantic Yards rallies or to create the illusion of community support at a public hearing, but if more than three of them want to gather in our malls or on our private plaza — move along.

Related coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, FCR's Gilmartin asserts "groups of four or more" youths will be dispersed at plaza, as at malls (and claims mall policy is "fairly typical")

Forest City Ratner MaryAnne Gilmartin, speaking calmly and clinically, raised numerous eyebrows at Borough Hall when she revealed that the developer would transfer a much-criticized policy of dispersing youth groups at its malls to the open space at the arena plaza.

Such is the difference between privately-operated publicly accessible space and, say, true public parks.

The unspoken underlying issue is race, with the belief (if not the proof) that minority youth are more likely to be targeted. That's why City Council Member Letitia James told me she's asked the city's Human Rights Commission to look into the developer's practices.

Posted by eric at 1:26 PM

Yes, Markowitz will go to China to flack green cards for Ratner's project (if he can get past Conflict of Interests Board)

Atlantic Yards Report

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz has often gone that extra mile for Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner--who can forget Markowitz's praise of the Ellerbe Becket "hangar" arena design?--but now he's willing to fly to China.

Yes, even though Markowitz isn't talking, a spokeswoman confirmed that the Borough President plans to join the developer on a trip to China next month to sell Chinese investors on the EB-5 visa program, which offers green cards to investors who put $500,000 into a fund that creates ten direct or indirect jobs, or retains ten jobs.

(Markowitz's picture, along with that of other project principals, appears at right on a website flacking the project set up by Kunpeng International.)

COIB ruling

However, the trip is not certain, as a ruling from the city's Conflicts of Interests Board is awaited, spokeswoman Laura Sinagra told me tonight, after a meeting at Borough Hall regarding the Barclays Center arena plaza.

Who's paying Marty's way?

Would taxpayers pay Markowitz's way? Would Forest City Ratner? Would Markowitz's Best of Brooklyn charity? Sinagra couldn't offer any details.



Posted by eric at 1:18 PM

While Ratner wants to use Chinese millionaires' money for railyard and land loan, in China, program portrayed as a piece of Nets/arena

Atlantic Yards Report

There's something very, very strange about the way the New York City Regional Center, the private company authorized to sign up green card-seeking investors, is marketing the Atlantic Yards project in China.

While developer Bruce Ratner told the Wall Street Journal that the $249 million sought from perhaps 498 foreign investors would be used to build a permanent railyard and perhaps pay off the company's refinanced land loan, in China, the investment is being portrayed as strongly connected to the Nets and the Barclays Center.

Another oddity: a graphic below regarding the investment adds $249 million in EB-5 investment funding to city, state, and public/private bond funding, for a total of $1.448 billion, a project figure not previously presented.

On the web site set up by Kunpeng International Business Consulting, authorized agent for the NYCRC, Nets stars Brook Lopez and Devin Harris are at the top.

Click through for numerous screen shots, and a bit more commentary from Norman Oder.


Posted by eric at 1:08 PM

Brooklyn Tornadoes and a Cool-Headed Appraisal of Weather Weirding in New York

Noticing New York

Only Michael D.D. White would even think about trying to tie together tornadoes, blizzards, rising sea levels, hydrofracking and Atlantic Yards, but wouldn't you know, he pulls it off.

First, his own warning:

Get ready: This is going to be about New York and the environment in some very, very big-picture terms.

We confess we found ourselves initially irritated by the “apocalyptic thinking” of the “Rising Currents: Projects for New York’s Waterfront,” show at the Museum of Modern Art.

Its grand scale thinking made us uncomfortably ill at ease, reminding us of the kind of from-on-high it-is-easy-to-replace-everything planning arrogance* that is, for example, associated with Coney Island’s destruction.

(* Sure, its easy enough to tear down a portion of Prospect Heights, including newly renovated buildings, to construct the murkily unparticularized “Atlantic Yards” but the ability to actually fill in this hole developer Bruce Ratner created in the neighborhood becomes a theoretical maybe-someday exercise when the developer says of replacement construction: “it's really market-dependent as to when it will really be completed.”)

Storm Surge Barriers?

I was at the New York City Council during little reported hearings where the possibility and expense of buildings storm surge barriers was discussed. It’s done in the Netherlands. The cost was estimated at $5 billion and possible because there are only a few choke points in the harbor that would need to be addressed. Naturally, any public work estimated to cost $5 billion will probably cost more: The Brooklyn Bridge (built during the reign of Boss Tweed) cost more than twice its original estimate. But $5 billion is not much more than all the public subsidies we are putting into the Atlantic Yards project; money spent on such barriers would be for infrastructure of benefit to all rather than subsidizing one development firm’s private profit at the expense of others and wouldn’t even $10 billion likely be a small cost compared to the cost of a catastrophic storm surge?


Posted by eric at 12:52 PM

Local Blogging, Both Skeptical and Elegiac

City Room
by J. David Goodman

The blog of The New York Times, which never has any problem getting access to the developer of its headquarters building, recognizes that some others do.

But as Norman Oder of the Atlantic Yards Report keeps discovering, angering the powers that be can also lead to annoyances in the real world: Sometimes they won’t let you into their news conferences. In the latest instance, Mr. Oder reports that he was kept from attending the unveiling of new designs for the Atlantic Yards project on Tuesday.


NoLandGrab: Perhaps if The Times had ever bothered to take a hard look at Atlantic Yards, they might find themselves on Norman Oder's side of the velvet rope.

Posted by eric at 12:39 PM

Liu’s CBA task force recommends reforms; dissenters say it will foster too many CBAs; report buffs AY CBA but guidelines might have reined it in

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder offers an in-depth report on

In a report issued not without dissention, the Task Force on Public Benefit Agreements (PBAs) yesterday delivered to Comptroller John Liu “a proposed framework for public benefit agreements in New York City that would create clear expectations, encourage broad-based participation and result in enforceable public benefits that comply with legal standards.”

Included is an increased opportunity for community input by community boards, local elected officials, and small businesses; by contrast, the Atlantic Yards CBA was negotiated very quietly. Also, given that CBAs like the Atlantic Yards CBA are essentially unenforceable (except by signatories with no incentive to go to court), the Task Force recommended several enforceability mechanisms. Such CBAs also would be monitored by the Comptroller.

Notably, the report (PDF and embedded below) states that “the primary purpose of a benefit agreement is to mitigate project-related impacts”--a rationale absent from the Atlantic Yards CBA, in which the single largest component is affordable housing, a provision that could have been incorporated into any upzoning but which is not a specific response to the loss of housing on the AY site.

Still, the report’s rather rosy view of the Atlantic Yards CBA, the first in the city, may have contributed to the willingness to endorse CBAs.

Rosy view of AY CBA

As discussed below, the report makes no mention of the payments developer Forest City Ratner has made to its CBA “partners”--a practice CBA experts warn against, nor FCR's bail-out of ACORN.

Nor does it cite the criticism by three local community boards that FCR overstated their involvement.

Among the Task Force Members were Bruce Bender and Scott Cantone of Forest City Ratner, and Darnell Canada of Real Economics Building Unity and Innovative Local Development (REBUILD), notable for his public threats at a hearing on AY environmental impacts. Task Force member Bettina Damiani of Good Jobs New York in 2005 publicly criticized the AY CBA as diverging significantly from more transparent ones in Los Angeles.

Vitullo-Martin added, "Part of the problem is that Atlantic Yards is now so embedded in how people think about CBAs that it can't easily be ripped away--and once you start, you're likely to conclude CBAs aren't a good idea."


Related coverage...

Crain's NY Business, Controversial benefit-agreement report aired

According to the city, the first benefit agreement was executed in 2005 between Forest City Ratner Cos. and a coalition of eight organizations in connection with a large mixed-use development at Atlantic Yards. Since then, local benefit agreements have been used for other major projects across the city, including Yankee Stadium and Columbia University's Manhattanville expansion.

NoLandGrab: What do all those projects have in common? The crappy "community benefits" can't begin to make up for seizure of private property or public parks.

City Hall News, Liu To Release CBA Report, Positioning For Greater Role In City Development

The task force evaluated the four CBAs that have been signed in the city: Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, Yankee Stadium and the Gateway Center in the Bronx and the Columbia expansion in upper Manhattan, as well as 14 CBAs from elsewhere in the country.

The Wall Street Journal, Liu Task Force In Disarray

A task force charged by New York City Comptroller John Liu with examining what the city can and should demand from developers of publicly subsidized projects ended its work mired in dissension, with frustrated panel members resigning or refusing to sign the final report to be released Wednesday.

The flurry of resignations and the level of discord on the panel cast a dark shadow over an initiative that Mr. Liu and his aides heralded as one of the hallmarks of his first nine months in office. Mr. Liu, a former city councilman, is a potential candidate for mayor in 2013.

In response to an inquiry from The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Liu's office disclosed late Tuesday that four members of the task force have resigned and another four members are refusing to sign the final report. The report has 29 signatures attached to it.

Posted by eric at 12:20 PM

Monstrosity of a design only a mugger could love

NY Post
by Steve Cuozzo

One of the Post's hyper-angry columnists lambastes the Barclays Center plaza design.

Dem bums!

What a travesty in the name of bringing Brooklyn its first major-league team since the Dodgers left. Sure, the Barclays Center Plaza shown yesterday by developer Bruce Ratner is an improvement over today's barren site.

But it's still so singularly malevolent in its ugliness, it might actually rehabilitate Walter O'Malley's reputation.

You don't need a degree in architecture to hate the triangular mugging ground of "environmentally conscious landscaping, intimate seating areas" and a goofy, planted-roof subway entrance -- a "flexible open space" more conducive to hosting a Crips-Bloods scrimmage than the intended upscaling of the neighborhood.

Cuozzo's mad at a lot of people for this...

But the chief culprit is Daniel Goldstein, the activist who held up Ratner's Atlantic Yards for as long as it took to score a $3 million payout to move out of its way.

Goldstein failed to stop the project in the end, but delayed it long enough for Ratner to lose any chance of financing Gehry's vision.


NoLandGrab: Say what? We'll let Gothamist's John Del Signore handle that last bit of crazy talk.

Related coverage...

Gothamist, Post: Barclays Plaza "Travesty" Would Be Good For Gangs

The best part? When "He Who Yells At Cloud" lays the blame for this "travesty" at the feet of the project's biggest opponent.

"The chief culprit is Daniel Goldstein, the activist who held up Ratner's Atlantic Yards for as long as it took to score a $3 million payout to move out of its way," sprach the Cuozz. "Goldstein failed to stop the project in the end, but delayed it long enough for Ratner to lose any chance of financing Gehry's vision." Let this be a lesson to all those who would stand in the way of taxpayer-abetted boondoggles: Resistance only makes matters worse. Don't struggle. Submit. Open wide and let your rulers shove whatever they want down your neighborhood's throat. Cuozzo, of course, leads by example by warmly embracing the Bloomberg administration's changes to the neighborhood by his office.

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, We Blame the Post's Steve Cuozzo For Ratner's Atlantic Yards Failings (And Many Elected Officials)

What a buffoon. Perhaps if columnists such as Cuozzo didn't willingly keep their head in the sand for the past 7 years we wouldn't have the current mess at Atlantic and Flatbush.

Blame yourself Steve.

Atlantic Yards Report, Post columnist Cuozzo slams plaza design, blames elected officials but saves wrath for activist Goldstein

Right, it's all Goldstein's fault. No one else cared.

Was Gehry's vision ever finance-able? The initial plans were for four office towers around the arena. There wasn't a market in 2003 for such office jobs, and there isn't now.

Posted by eric at 11:46 AM

SHoP's Pasquarelli Self-ordains His Barclays Arena Oculus Rendering a Landmark

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

In a NY Post article on Ratner's new plans for a tax-revenue generating office tower and a grand "urban room" "public plaza" SHoP Architects Greg Pasquarelli tells a funny, chest-puffing joke:

But [the public plaza design's] most eye-grabbing feature will be a huge arena canopy with an oval window called the "Oculus" in its center. It will extend out 117 feet from the arena entrance and hover 36 feet above the plaza. A video screen that can display everything from game highlights to art installations will wrap the perimeter of the "Oculus."

The overhang itself could be lost once the initial office tower is built there.

Greg Pasquarelli, a partner at ShoP Architects, which designed the plaza, told the Post he "wouldn’t be shocked" if the next big community fight regarding the Atlantic Yards project "is to save the Oculus" once people get to use it.

Sure, DDDB is already lobbying the New York City Eyesore Preservation Commission to save Pasquarelli's big hole.


NoLandGrab: Develop Don't De-Oculus Brooklyn!

Posted by eric at 11:27 AM

Team Ratner Unveils Brooklyn’s Most Exhaust-Filled Public Space

by Ben Fried

Yesterday Forest City Ratner released images of the temporary public plaza slated for the triangle between Flatbush and Atlantic, and you’ve gotta appreciate the spin coming from the developer and his design team. Wedged between two epic traffic sewers, without much noticeable provision for shade or shelter, it will become, in the words of Bruce Ratner, “one of Brooklyn’s great public spaces.” (Until an office tower gets built in its place.)

Not convinced that the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic is conducive to any sort of public activity? Here’s Greg Pasquarelli of design firm SHoP, courtesy of the Brooklyn Paper:

Pasquarelli insisted that “the plaza [will] become a meeting place, and the focus of the neighborhood.”

When asked, Pasquarelli admitted that there would be considerable noise from the traffic on Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, but no more than in other urban plazas.

“There’s a lot of traffic around Union Square, with Broadway,” he said. “This plaza will feel safe and open.”

As of this month, there’s only one lane of moving traffic on two sides of Union Square. Ratner’s plaza will be enveloped by traffic, and unless you approach from Prospect Heights, you won’t be able to walk to it without crossing some of the deadliest streets in the city:


Map of pedestrian and cyclist injuries and fatalities: CrashStat

Posted by eric at 11:03 AM

Surprise, there are no plans for anything but an arena

Battle of Brooklyn via Kickstarter

Today FCR revealed plans for the plaza in front of the arena, and also mentioned that they wouldn't be building anything else until the economy improved.

We have started to expand the facebook page for Battle of Brooklyn - with extra scenes from the film as well as photos and news links. Please consider becoming a fan and following the progress.



Posted by eric at 10:57 AM

BrooklynSpeaks Press Release: Bruce Ratner explains why Atlantic Yards needs oversight

Yesterday, Forest City Ratner Companies CEO Bruce Ratner acknowledged that Atlantic Yards won’t be built in ten years. Speaking to reporters at a presentation of the design for the “interim” plaza replacing the planned “Urban Room” in the project, Mr. Ratner said of the ten-year construction schedule promised and consistently confirmed by his company since the original unveiling of Atlantic Yards in 2003, “It was never supposed to be the time we were supposed to build them in.” Instead, he said, “It's really market-dependent as to when it will really be completed.”

In November of 2009, several BrooklynSpeaks sponsors, together with local elected officials and individuals residing near the Atlantic Yards footprint, filed suit against the ESDC and Forest City seeking to reverse the agency’s approval of the 2009 Modified General Project Plan, concerned that no environmental review was performed in order to study the increased impact of extending construction an additional 15 years. The case is currently pending action by New York Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman.

In January of 2010, the master development agreement between Forest City and the Empire State Development Corporation was made available for public review. That document showed that the ESDC had agreed to allow Forest City up to twenty-five years to develop the project with minimal remedies for non-performance. The agency further agreed to sharp reductions in the developer’s commitment to provide affordable housing units as part of the project. In March of 2010, BrooklynSpeaks released a report showing the effect of the renegotiated deal on public benefits promised by the project prior to its approval.

“It’s now clear that the whole time the developer was claiming that it would deliver significant returns on the public’s investment, it never believed its own story. The benefits promised were illusory. Mr. Ratner has essentially conceded they were ginned up to justify the massive direct and indirect government funding,” said Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council. “The BrooklynSpeaks analysis shows that the renegotiated project plan could erase as much as 94% of the value of the affordable housing benefits originally claimed.”


“Mr. Ratner’s comments make it obvious why a private developer cannot be allowed sole decision-making responsibility on a publicly funded project, particularly one of this size,” said Jo Anne Simon, Democratic Leader for the 52nd Assembly District. “We strongly urge the leadership of the State Legislature to take swift action on Assemblyman Jeffries’ and State Senator Montgomery’s bills to establish governance of the Atlantic Yards project.” Bills A11431 and S8193 would require the Empire State Development Corporation to create a dedicated subsidiary responsible for governance of the Atlantic Yards’ development. “There is real public outrage over the lack of oversight at Atlantic Yards. We’ve received more than 1,000 signatures supporting this critical legislation from New Yorkers who are wondering where their money went – New Yorkers want transparency and accountability at this, the largest development project in Brooklyn’s history,” Ms. Simon added.

Posted by eric at 10:50 AM

September 29, 2010

TONIGHT: "Public Information Meeting" for the Plaza Design at the Barclays Center

The company that claims that "when it comes to sharing information with the public and governmental bodies, there’s no such thing as too much, as far as we are concerned," will present its plans for the plaza at Atlantic and Flatbush avenues to the public this evening.

Senator Velmanette Montgomery, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, with Council Members Letitia James, Brad Lander and Stephen Levin, Empire State Development Corporation, Brooklyn Community Boards 2, 6 and 8 present a PUBLIC INFORMATION MEETING for the Plaza Design at the Barclays Center.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010, 6:00pm-8:00pm
Brooklyn Borough Hall
209 Joralemon Street (at Court Street)

Representatives will be present from Forest City Ratner Companies to brief interested residents on plans for the public plaza in front of the arena. There will be a Q&A session.

Posted by eric at 9:18 AM

Traffic-free plaza unveiled, with bollards (despite NYPD claim), but the big story concerns Ratner's timetable admissions; the Times whiffs

Atlantic Yards Report

Barred from the press conference, Norman Oder instead evaluates media coverage of Bruce Ratner's big plaza reveal.

The big news yesterday, led by the Brooklyn Paper and WNYC, was not the publication of oddly traffic-free Barclays Center plaza designs with a new subway entrance and the giant oval oculus at the center (remember, there's a meeting tonight at 6 pm), but Bruce Ratner's admission he has no timetable for the project.

As WNYC's Matthew Schuerman pointed out, "the city, state and Forest City all conducted or commissioned economic impact analyses that assumed a 10-year build out."

(I've previously pointed out that such analyses, such as the one conducted by the New York City Economic Development Corporation, depend on an over-optimistic ten-year time frame. And note the "vaportecture" in the official renderings, by SHoP Architects.)

And, Schuerman noted, "Ratner’s associates repeatedly used the 10-year time frame in talking to the press and the public." (I also pointed to Ratner's 2010 contradiction of his 2008 op-ed as well as a changing story regarding the first tower. But I wasn't allowed into the press conference.)

New York Magazine's Chris Smith also noticed that the contrast between the "unveiling" of a plaza versus the planned office tower, as well as the suspended timetable.


Posted by eric at 9:12 AM

Forest City Ratner refuses to let me into press conference on new arena plaza designs

Atlantic Yards Report

The company that claims that "when it comes to sharing information with the public and governmental bodies, there’s no such thing as too much, as far as we are concerned," apparently has its limits — especially if your name is Norman Oder.

Wonder why I wasn't at the press conference yesterday unveiling the new arena plaza designs?

Well, I filed an RSVP Monday night and was told by Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, "Hey, sorry, we are doing a small group of print press but will send out all to entire list in am, including you."

Yet somehow WNYC and NY1 made it in.

Some back story: I've been barred from some events and, with some nudging, have been admitted to others.

Maybe they're not so comfortable with someone who remembers how Bruce Ratner has contradicted himself.


Posted by eric at 9:03 AM

Tish: To fix arena parking mess, locals should pay for spots

The Brooklyn Paper

A key opponent to the Atlantic Yards mega-development and arena is now pushing for a parking system that would force locals, many of whom opposed the project in the first place, to pay to park in the neighborhoods around it.

Councilwoman Letitia James (D–Fort Greene) is calling for residential parking permits near the Barclays Center arena, requiring area residents to buy permits so that they, not thousands of sports and entertainment fans, will get the first crack at spots on the residential streets near the 19,000-seat arena.

The permits would also generate revenue for the city — which makes it doubly controversial.

“It’s highway robbery!” said Patti Hagan, a longtime arena and project opponent who lives nearby on St. Marks Avenue. “How many times are we going to get shellacked for this thing?”

James said the yet-to-be-determined fee associated with a residential parking permit was a necessary evil that would mitigate the space crunch after the arena is completed in mid- to late 2012.


NoLandGrab: Neighborhood advocates throughout Brownstone Brooklyn have been calling for years for a residential parking permit program, especially given the prospect of a huge influx of arena traffic. Such a program would have to carry a fee, in order to pay for itself, and a free program would only spread the cost of valuable street space to Brooklyn's non-car-owning majority — certainly less fair than charging a fee for giving over so much of our public streets to privately owned vehicles.

Posted by eric at 8:54 AM

Ratner says Barclays Arena will be ready for Nets' 2012-13 season

by John Brennan

A live camera that focused on the Barclays Center site in Brooklyn during a Manhattan press conference Tuesday appeared to show a construction site that isn't much more than what arena developer Bruce Ratner said was a hole about 30 feet deep.

But Ratner insisted that a $900 million arena at the site will be ready in time for the Nets to move to Brooklyn from Newark for the start of the 2012-13 National Basketball Association season.

Ratner estimated an opening date of "July or August of 2012," but he was asked whether the Nets might play any games in Newark in 2012 if the arena isn't finished on time.

"The answer is that we are going to finish on time," the developer replied. "Nothing is ever 100 percent, but in the construction area, things go pretty smoothly. And we left ourselves some time between July and Nov. 1, so I don't think that's going to be an issue."


NoLandGrab: Since Bruce Ratner always tells the truth, that's good enough for us.

Related coverage...

NY1, Developers Unveil Plaza Design For New Barclays Center

Prospect Heights residents have had to get used to the construction zone, with sidewalks closed and traffic even more tied up than normal at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues. Developers say once the Barclays Center is complete in two years, there will be minimal traffic in the heavily congested area and also a spacious public plaza with views right into the Nets basketball arena.

NLG: "Minimal traffic?" Like we said, Bruce Ratner always tells the truth. Uh huh.

NY Post, New plans for Brooklyn Atlantic Yards project released

Greg Pasquarelli, a partner at ShoP Architects, which designed the plaza, told the Post he "wouldn’t be shocked" if the next big community fight regarding the Atlantic Yards project "is to save the Oculus" once people get to use it.

Sure, that's likely. We might even trademark "Develop Don't De-Oculus Brooklyn."

Ratner, who is partnering in the arena with new Nets majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov, said he believes the plaza "will quickly become one of Brooklyn’s great public spaces." He and his staff said they envision such uses as café seating, fashions shows, a farmers market similar to one in Grand Army Plaza, movie nights and — specifically — hipster-favorite the Brooklyn Flea.

But he may have been jumping the gun. Jonathan Butler, the flea market’s co-owner, said he "never met Bruce Ratner — nor has anyone from his team approached us about this idea."

"The central location is clearly attractive from a market organizer’s standpoint, but I suspect the traffic situation would pose some logistical challenges," said Butler, adding: "I could definitely use some advice on obtaining tax-free bond financing for our tents though."

Posted by eric at 8:40 AM

Times looks into tainted past of Paladino aides; what about the New York City Regional Center, in charge of EB-5 visas?

Atlantic Yards Report

A New York Times article about the Republican nominee for governor, Carl Paladino, is headlined Paladino Has Aides With Tainted Pasts:

But some of the people whom Mr. Paladino has recruited to run his campaign are plagued by brushes with the law and allegations of misconduct, an examination of public records shows.

His campaign manager failed to pay nearly $53,000 in federal taxes over the last few years, prompting the Internal Revenue Service to take action against him. An aide who frequently drives Mr. Paladino on the campaign trail served jail time in Arizona on charges of drunken driving.

Another adviser has been indicted on charges of stealing more than $1 million from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s re-election bid last year. And Mr. Paladino’s campaign chairwoman left a local government position amid claims that she had steered $1 billion in public money to a politically connected investment manager.

Sure, that's worth covering.

But what about the questionable past of one of the two Managing Principals of the New York City Regional Center, the private company that has been delegated (like other private companies) to process immigrant investors under the EB-5 visa program? Shouldn't one of the "Billboard Boys" get some scrutiny?


Posted by eric at 8:32 AM

September 28, 2010

Matthew Brinckerhoff, prophet without honor: Atlantic Yards timetable "is complete, utter fantasy"

Atlantic Yards Report

August 6, 2010: "We now know [the ten-year project timetable] is complete, utter fantasy," declared attorney Matthew Brinckerhoff, representing petitioners in one of the last Atlantic Yards court cases.

The court didn't care.

But developer Bruce Ratner today essentially said Brinckerhoff was right.


Posted by eric at 11:36 PM

Atlantic Yards down the memory hole: the first tower was supposed to break ground this year, not next spring

Atlantic Yards Report

Forest City keeps moving the goalposts, and only Norman Oder seems to catch on.

Forest City Ratner is delaying the first residential building, but no one seems to notice.

The New York Observer today:

Mr. Ratner reiterated his intention to begin building housing by next year, in a tower on the south side of the arena, on Dean Street, though there is no funding in place.

Crain's New York Business:

Mr. Ratner will announced [sic] the name of the architects that will work on the project some time in the first quarter of 2011, while construction could begin in the spring of next year, with construction of a new residential building beginning every six to nine months thereafter.


He also said that construction on the first residential tower -- a mixed-income building -- would likely begin in 8 to 10 months.

Forest City Ratner executive Jane Marshall, 2/24/10: "As we've stated publicly, we intend to begin design of the first residential building in such a way that it can break ground in the fourth quarter of this year."


Posted by eric at 11:26 PM

Atlantic Yards Unveiling a Sad Echo of What Could Have Been

New York Magazine
by Chris Smith

Chris Smith gets it right — again.

Frank Gehry is long gone, of course, but today’s “unveiling” of designs for a public plaza outside the Atlantic Yards basketball arena seemed intent on mocking the original high-architecture ambitions for the site. Where an office tower was supposed to rise, Bruce Ratner is now planning a slab of concrete, suitable for hosting the occasional farmers’ market, with a roof covered in plants "that change color with the season." That’s called winter. But at least there's a plan for the plaza. Any firm commitment to housing on the site — the apartments and condos that were supposed to justify the millions in tax breaks and subsidies ladled out by the city and the state — just disappeared. Fifteen of the sixteen residential structures are now lost in the fog of "market dependence,” according to Ratner. But, hey, Brooklyn, we sure hope you like Carmelo Anthony!

Wait, he might not be coming either?


Related coverage...

City Room, Latest Design Is Unveiled for Atlantic Yards Plaza

The New York Times takes dictation.

NY Observer, Fashion Week Coming to Atlantic Yards?

More fantasy about what events could take place at Atlantic Yards.

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, Bruce Ratner and Greg Pasquarelli's Flatbush Fantasy

DDDB juxtaposes Bruce Ratner's fiction and Flatbush Avenue fact.

Posted by eric at 11:08 PM

Ratner Abandons 10-Year Timeline for Atlantic Yards

WNYC Radio
by Matthew Schuerman

Developer Bruce Ratner said Tuesday morning what many of his critics and even some of his associates have been saying for years: there is no way the entire Atlantic Yards project will be done in 10 years.

He said the 10-year timeline was always misunderstood. It was never meant to be more than a best-case scenario to be used in environmental impact statements.

“That was really only an analysis as to what the most serious impacts [would be], if all the other planned development in downtown Brooklyn happened right away,” Ratner said. “It was never supposed to be the time we were supposed to build them in."

Ratner is either a really bad liar, or a complete idiot. The whole point of the Environmental Impact Statement is to examine worst-case scenarios, not the best case. We didn't think it possible that he could make an even bigger mockery of the entire review process than he already had, but we were obviously wrong.

But the 10-year-timeline was also used by the city, state and Ratner’s own consultant to determine that the financial benefits to the public outweighed the roughly $300 million in direct subsidies the project is receiving. But the longer the construction schedule, the longer it will take the government to accumulate the benefits—in terms of income taxes from people who move into the complex, property taxes on the new buildings and other sources.

Daniel Goldstein, a chief opponent of the project who until recently lived in the project’s footprint said that Ratner’s admission undermines the official reason for state support of the project: to remove the blight on the six Brooklyn blocks that make up the footprint.

“What we have now is a site that was not blighted turning into a dormant site, nearly 20 acres of vacant lots and parking lots for 20, 25, 30, 40 50 years,” Goldstein said. “What was not blighted has become blighted for a very long time.”

The longer construction timetable also affects many of the assumptions the state and city made regarding whether the project is worthwhile for taxpayers to support, according to George Sweeting, deputy director of the city’s nonpartisan Independent Budget Office. That’s because the government is contributing about $300 million in subsidies in today’s dollars — but might not get that amount back for another 25 or 30 years, when that amount will be worth less.

“Those dollars — if you have to wait 15 years for them — are worth less in terms of today’s dollars,” Sweeting said.

The IBO, in conducting a cost-benefit analysis on Atlantic Yards last year, only considered the tax revenues from the basketball arena and ignored the impact of new residents and workers in the 16 other buildings because their construction dates were so uncertain. That analysis concluded that the arena would cost the city about $40 million more in subsidies than it would yield in new taxes. The IBO’s analysis was attacked by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Ratner’s company, Forest City Ratner.

By contrast, the city, state and Forest City all conducted or commissioned economic impact analyses that assumed a 10-year build out.


NoLandGrab: We, and others, have been calling bullshit on this whole scam for the past seven years, but elected officials, and — even worse — state and federal courts, have aided and abetted Bruce Ratner's Great Train(yard) Robbery at every juncture.

Related coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, Bruce Ratner 2010 contradicts Bruce Ratner 2008 on Atlantic Yards timetable

In a 5/4/08 Daily News op-ed, Ratner sang a different tune:

Our first goal is to break ground on the Barclays Center later this year. Shortly after that, we will break ground on the first residential building, which includes a significant amount of affordable housing.

We plan to complete and open both of these buildings at the same time. Then we plan to break ground on the next residential tower in 2010, and then on the final residential tower of the project's first phase in 2011.

In these three residential buildings, no less than 30% of the approximately 1,500 units will be dedicated to low- and middle-income New Yorkers. We will then start the second phase of development, nearly a dozen additional residential buildings - including the balance of the 2,250 units of affordable housing.

We anticipate finishing all of Atlantic Yards by 2018.

Posted by eric at 10:48 PM

DDDB PRESS RELEASE: Ratner Admits He Has No Plans To Build Atlantic Yards Affordable Housing and Office Tower

For his Atlantic Yards project Bruce Ratner promised a grandiose "urban room" and a tax revenue generating office tower at the gridlocked Atlantic and Flatbush intersection at the heart of Brooklyn. He also promised to build "affordable housing.”

None of that is going to happen.

Instead, today the developer unveiled designs for an outdoor "public plaza" where the tower and atrium structure were promised, and told reporters at a press conference that his firm has no plans to build 15 of the 16 towers he promised to build, which would include nearly all of the "affordable” housing Ratner used to sell his plans to Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Paterson and a long list of other politicians.

"Ratner's not-so-pretty drawings of a barricaded, exhaust-enveloped plaza—including the absurd rendered fantasy of a traffic-less Atlantic and Flatbush intersection—is not the Atlantic Yards news of the day. The news of day, which is not surprising but is very troubling, is that Bruce Ratner admitted that he has no plans whatsoever to build the affordable housing he promised or the office tower he promised. It is crystal clear that Atlantic Yards is nothing but a scam, a money-losing arena, surrounded by massive parking lots, in the middle of a housing and unemployment crisis," said Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn co-founder Daniel Goldstein.

"Bruce Ratner has broken every promise he has made to the public—Mayor Bloomberg, Governors Paterson, Pataki and Spitzer, Marty Markowitz, Senator Schumer, and all the politicians who rammed this debacle down Brooklyn's throat, owe the public a big explanation, and need to take this land back from Ratner since he is not going to meet any of his promises.”


There is one outstanding lawsuit challenging Atlantic Yards. The suit awaits a ruling from a Manhattan State Supreme Court judge. The case made by DDDB and its 21 community group co-plaintiffs, is further bolstered by today's admission by Ratner that Atlantic Yards needs a new environmental review as it is not the project that received a rubberstamp environmental approval in 2006. The case was argued on June 30th.

Posted by eric at 2:30 PM

Arena going up — but will the rest of the project?

The Brooklyn Paper
by Gersh Kuntzman

Atlantic yards developer Bruce Ratner will not build the $4-billion mega-project unless the economy — and more specifically, the housing market — bounces back.

The developer admitted on Tuesday that all but one of the project’s proposed 16 towers can’t move forward because they are “market dependent.”

“If the [housing] market never comes back, we’re all in trouble,” the developer told reporters after unveiling new designs for the public plaza in front of his Barclays Center arena, a $900-million sports complex under construction near the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.

That arena, plus one mixed-rent 400-unit tower on the south side of the complex, are insulated from the market conditions that affect the rest of the project — the arena because Ratner has put together the money to build it, and the residential building because it is already being prepped to begin construction early next summer.

Ratner’s less-than-rock-solid timeline for the full project contradicted his company’s own press release, which promises “construction of a new residetial building beginning every six to nine months” after the start of that first residential tower.

Virtually all of the economic and public benefits of the mega-development — which include more than 2,200 units of below-market-rate housing, thousands of construction jobs, tax revenues for the city, and public space — are dependent on Ratner finishing the project.


Posted by eric at 2:20 PM

Mindboggling Reveals: Atlantic Yards Arena Team Unveils Public Plaza Design


A day before the "public information meeting" on the design of the plaza adjacent to the Barclays Center, Forest City Ratner releases renderings and a press statement.

Know what would make a great venue for the Atlantic Yards musical? The Atlantic Yards public plaza! That's right, Brooklyn's most controversial megaproject isn't all basketball arenas and skyscrapers. It also includes a 38,885-square-foot space at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues, a sort of grand entrance to the Barclays Center that developer Bruce Ratner says in a press release "will quickly become one of Brooklyn’s great public spaces," at least until the B1 office building gets built.

The Plaza at the Barclays Center, like the arena itself, was designed by SHoP Architects, and features landscaping, a subway entrance, three types of pavement, seating areas for scalpers when LeBron James comes to town, in-ground lighting and the Barclays Center Oculus, which extends over the plaza and looks pretty trippy. Speaking of, is it just us or did the arena's overhang get smaller from earlier renderings? The new aerial shot makes it look a lot less like a bottle opener, which we're going to say is a good thing.

Here's everything you need to know about The Plaza at Barclays Center, except, of course, when it will funnel crowds into an arena with a winning team....


NoLandGrab: Actually, SHoP designed the exterior of the arena, after the huge public outcry over the "airplane hangar" design put forth by Ellerbe Becket after Trojan Horse Frank Gehry got his walking papers.

Permit us to make some observations about this new plaza design:

  • Once again, Forest City has released an absurdly traffic-free rendering of the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues. Either they have inside information about an effort to resurrect congestion pricing in Albany (God knows they are plugged into NY State pols), or they're once again painting a waaaaay too rosy picture of what we all expect will be traffic chaos.

  • What's with all those bollards ringing the site? Didn't the NYPD say they wouldn't be necessary?

  • Speaking of security, with the arena practically hanging over Atlantic Avenue, mightn't they have to close a lane or two during arena events?

  • What's up with that pathetic little ski slope? Is that supposed to be the "green roof" Forest City promised, oh, about seven years ago?

Related coverage...

The Brooklyn Paper, Plaza sweet — Ratner unveils new front for his Barclays Center

The plaza at the entrance to the Barclays Center arena could accommodate the Brooklyn Flea, a farmers market similar in size to the one in Grand Army Plaza, or a movie night as in Brooklyn Bridge Park, developer Bruce Ratner announced on Tuesday.

The plaza will also feature a subway entrance and exit and a sweeping view to the scoreboard hanging above center court. A canopy hanging over the entrance to the arena with a hole in the center — an oculus in architectural terms — will be wrapped with a video screen that bulges to 117-feet by 56-feet, big enough for a movie.

“The arena will be an icon that will sit on the Brooklyn skyline,” said Greg Pasquarelli of SHoP Architects, the firm designing the Barclays Center near the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues in Prospect Heights. “But it will integrate into the neighborhood and invite everyone to use it.”

AP via , Plaza design at NYC's new Nets arena unveiled

The developer of a new arena for the NBA's New Jersey Nets has released a design for a temporary plaza in front of the Brooklyn venue.

The plaza at the busy intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues will be replaced by an office building when the market improves enough to build one.

NY Daily News, Plans for public plaza outside new Nets arena unveiled, set to open in 2012

It's unclear how long the plaza will be around. Ratner eventually plans to put an office tower there, but couldn't say when that will get underway.

"This economy for office buildings is not very good," Ratner said, adding he wouldn't build until a major tenant was in place. "It could happen in a couple years, or it could be longer."

The timeline for the rest of the 16 tower project is just as fuzzy.

Crain's NY Business, New Atlantic Yards Barclays Center plaza unveiled

The next step in the Atlantic Yards project will focus on the first residential building, which will include affordable housing. Mr. Ratner will announced the name of the architects that will work on the project some time in the first quarter of 2011, while construction could begin in the spring of next year, with construction of a new residential building beginning every six to nine months thereafter.

The latest cost estimate for the arena is $900 million with the project still on budget. Mr. Ratner reiterated the fact that his company has applied for a federal program that gives green cards to foreign investors who lend money to job-creating projects. He's scheduled for a trip to China next month to raise funds.

Image: SHoP Architects

Posted by eric at 1:39 PM

The Litigious Legacy of Kelo

The Wall Street Journal, Editorial

Even in the best of circumstances, it is contentious when the government uses eminent domain to take someone's property. When Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy became the deciding vote in the 2005 Kelo decision—which allowed governments to seize private property for economic development—he guaranteed that contentiousness would be raised to a whole new level. In a Texas appeals court in Dallas today, we can see the high costs of Mr. Kennedy's concurrence.

Today the court will hear an argument that a defamation case should be tossed. This case involves a book that was itself the product of a contentious eminent domain battle. In other words, we now have what any sensible person should have expected from Kelo's cavalier approach to the expropriation of private property for economic purposes: an explosion of litigation, neighbor set against neighbor—and taxpayers on the hook for millions in legal fees and project costs.

The defamation suit at issue was brought by a developer against Carla Main and Encounter Books, respectively, the author and publisher of "Bulldozed: 'Kelo,' Eminent Domain, and the American Lust for Land." The book tells the story of Freeport, a small Texas town whose Economic Development Corporation (EDC) tried to take land from a citizen who didn't want to sell as part of a plan for a new marina. Defending Ms. Main and Encounter is the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public-interest law firm based in Arlington, Va.

Freeport's original plan called for a private marina, with the city working in partnership with Dallas developer H. Walker Royall. When Wright Gore, owner of a local shrimping business, refused to sell land the city wanted, Freeport initiated eminent domain proceedings against him.

The defamation suits are an aftershock, brought by Mr. Royall in response to the bad press he was getting. He complains that when he signed on, the project was not controversial because Mr. Gore had not refused to sell.

When asked in a phone call what he most objects to, he says it is the portrait of him as a developer who wants to "steal somebody else's property and wants to silence anyone who wants to talk about it."


NoLandGrab: And his plan for disproving that characterization is... suing anyone who wants to talk about it? Poor, maligned real estate developers.

Posted by eric at 1:15 PM

Sports debate between Zirin ("The socializing of debt and the privatizing of profit") and Leitch ("I know I am willfully putting on blinders")

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder relates an interesting debate between two sportswriters at the recent Brooklyn Book Festival.

"It makes no sense to be a sports fan," says Will Leitch, founder of the influential sports blog Deadspin and now a contributing editor to New York magazine. "It's kind of dumb that we do it, but we do it, because it's awesome."

Leitch said that at the Brooklyn Book Festival on September 12, and his take on sports--savvy and clever, but willfully divorced from any overarching politics--deserves notice, because it's far more prevalent than that of fellow panelists Dave Zirin, who writes about the politics of sports for The Nation and his syndicated Edge of Sports column.

And Leitch and Zirin got into a forceful but friendly disagreement about that overarching frame.

"The problem is that Bruce Ratner is following a template which unfortunately we know the answer to," Zirin continued. "There used to be a time ten years ago when you would debate this question of public stadium funding... and there would be dueling opinions, one side saying they bring a benefit
. This cannot be seen as a debate anymore

(The subsidies for the New York arena and stadium deals are more subtle than in other states, but still substantial.)

Zirin said sports facilities serve "like neoliberal Trojan horses," gaining subsidies even as local leaders neglect infrastructure.

"We're talking about very real choices," he said. "
Ralph Nader says you better turn on politics or politics turns on you
. I feel, as a sports fan, we better turn on sports, or sports are going to turn on us with an absolute vengeance

Leitch acknowledged that fandom is illogical and said he agreed with most of the "vast majority" of Zirin's take.

But not all.

"There are so few things in the world that are black and white," he said. "If you win you're happy; if you lose you’re sad. Everything else is gray. Sports is the one thing that I have. I know that everything that goes into it is gray, but for three hours, if they win, I'm happy, if they lose I'm sad. That's something I want to protect."

"I know I am willfully putting on blinders," Leitch said. "I'm fully aware of that... but, sorry, life's hard enough, give me sports."

"Because I love sports," Zirin responded, "I don't want to be affected by a lot of the racism, sexism, homophobia, hyper-corporatism... we have an obligation to fight for sports." He suggested that, despite the offensiveness of the team name Washington 
Redskins, "you let it go because it's sports."

He also suggested that the economy of sports has changed drastically. However hated Dodger owner Walter O'Malley was, Zirin noted, he made money from fans buying tickets (and, I'd say, television).

Now, said Zirin, "we're scenery. Now it's public funding of stadiums, personalized seat licenses, sweetheart cable deals, corporate sponsorships."


NoLandGrab: And don't forget eminent domain abuse.

Posted by eric at 11:33 AM

Loft building near Barclays arena re-enters market at 50 percent off

The Real Deal

A 24,000-square-foot industrial loft building at 1199 Atlantic Avenue, just blocks away from the new Barclays Center sports arena, is back on the market at $72 per square foot, nearly half its original price. The property, marketed by commercial real estate firm TerraCRG, had been on the market in contract in mid 2008 for $3.3 million but the sale was never completed after developers couldn't obtain construction financing. The four-story loft building is currently vacant. Allowable uses include hotel, retail, offices, and as-is industrial and the site has approved plans from Howard Johnson for a 44-unit hotel. "With the construction of the Nets Arena underway, the location on Atlantic Avenue is becoming more strategic as an economy hotel site," said Ofer Cohen, founder and president of TerraCRG. "Unfortunately, the lingering recession and the tough economic climate prevented this development from moving forward in the previous round."


NoLandGrab: As with most claims about Atlantic Yards, the "just blocks away" description isn't all that accurate, unless your idea of "just blocks" means "more than a mile." It would, however, be closer than the Best Western Arena Hotel.

Posted by eric at 11:30 AM

This Week's Off-Broadway Openings: September 27th-October 3rd

City Guide NY

In the Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards

Presented by The Civilians, this lively theatrical production chronicles the conflicts surrounding the largest development project in Brooklyn's history and is inspired by interviews with the real-life players in the controversy. The culmination of a two-year-long company investigation, In the Footprint examines the conflicts that erupted in the case of the Atlantic Yards through to their current resolution in an attempt to discover how the fate of the city is decided in present-day New York and what can be learned from this epic and ongoing story of politics, money, and the places we call home.

Posted by eric at 11:25 AM

September 27, 2010

On the day of the Atlantic Antic, Flatbush Avenue gridlock (and no DDDB or FCR)

Atlantic Yards Report

Yesterday, returning home from the Atlantic Antic at about 3:30 pm, I stopped at the southwest corner of Sixth and Flatbush avenues--two short blocks south of the southeast corner of the arena block-- and took out my camera.

The Atlantic Antic, the borough's biggest street festival, closes down the Atlantic Avenue artery west of Flatbush Avenue (the intersection of which is the western tip of the Atlantic Yards site).

Needless to say, traffic was heavy and, as the video indicates, unruly. Without a traffic agent at the corner, some vehicles going northwest on Flatbush blocked the intersection at Sixth, thus stopping southbound vehicles from passage.

While a Sunday afternoon in September is too early for a basketball game, it's surely a good time for a family-oriented arena event. If so, on the day of the Atlantic Antic, then the gridlock on Flatbush--even with traffic agents--likely would be worse than was observed yesterday.


NoLandGrab: And in the case of Atlantic Antic vs. Bruce Ratner, whose side do you think the city will come down on?

Posted by eric at 9:54 AM

Petition asking Supreme Court to hear challenge to eminent domain for Columbia argues that Court of Appeals failed to address Kelo

Atlantic Yards Report

As plaintiff Nick Sprayregen of Tuck-It-Away Storage pledged, he'd go to the U.S. Supreme Court to fight the state's pursuit of eminent domain in the Columbia University.

Now, after seeing a surprising Appellate Division victory overturned unanimously by the state Court of Appeals, which relied on its Atlantic Yards decision, Sprayregen and the Kaur/Singh family that owns a gas station on the project site have filed their Petition for a Writ of Certiorari (below), the request for the court to hear the case.

It's always a long shot--fewer than 1% of petitions are granted--but this petition, authored by attorney Norman Siegel and a host of others, hammers home the state court's failure to address the guidelines seemingly set forth in Justice John Paul Stevens's majority opinion and Justice Anthony Kennedy's concurrence in the 2005 Kelo v. New London case, in which the court upheld eminent domain by a 5-4 margin.

Ignoring Kelo?

The petition states:

In sharp contrast to the situation in Kelo, in which a municipal agency adopted a “carefully considered” development plan which had no preselected private beneficiary, ESDC worked backwards, pre-ordaining Columbia as the beneficiary of its eminent domain power. Having settled on this, ESDC endorsed a plan, developed behind closed doors by Columbia itself, to transfer private property to Columbia in furtherance of the university’s expansion dreams. ESDC then collaborated with Columbia to devise after-the-fact traditional public purposes to justify the takings, and even allowed Columbia to create the very blight-like conditions that ESDC then proposed to remediate.

The use of eminent domain here was thus a fait accompli meant to circumvent any obstacles to the realization of Columbia’s private agenda. A two-judge plurality of New York's appellate court recognized that the takings were unconstitutional under Kelo, and a third judge joined the plurality to hold that the condemnation was invalid because ESDC had violated petitioners’ due process rights. New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals of New York (“Court of Appeals”) nonetheless reversed, upholding ESDC's actions in a 34-page decision that never once mentioned Kelo.


Posted by eric at 9:47 AM

The Anti-Trump

Gary Barnett, the builder of this era’s glitziest buildings, does not have cotton-candy hair or a big mouth—but what he does have is hubris.

New York Magazine
by Gabriel Sherman

The anti-Trump? More like the anti-Ratner. NY Magazine's profile of developer Gary Barnett goes into a good deal of Atlantic Yards backstory — some of which gets "Oderized" in the comments section.

Barnett’s lone-wolf style has not exactly endeared him to his peers. New York real estate has long attracted players who view business as both a commercial and a civic pursuit. Jerry Speyer, the co-CEO of Tishman Speyer, is perhaps the most famous archetype of the New York macher, serving as a confidant to mayors and governors. Inside the fishbowl of New York real estate, Barnett has few friends. He’s a subject of fascination and derision, a combative figure who is unafraid to challenge the industry order. Since blasting onto the scene at the start of the last decade, he has clashed with Bruce Ratner and the New York Times for control of the land under the Times’ new Eighth Avenue headquarters and made a surprise eleventh-hour bid for Atlantic Yards just as Ratner thought the massive development project was in his grasp.

The bid was not for "Atlantic Yards," as Norman Oder explains in the comments section, but for the MTA's Vanderbilt Yard. And "civic pursuit?" That's true, if NY Magazine defines it as "pursuit of civic subsidies and eminent domain powers."

In 2001, Bruce Ratner and the New York Times were maneuvering to buy a plot of land on Eighth Avenue and 41st Street to develop the Times’ Renzo Piano–designed headquarters. Barnett, who owned a parking lot on the site, tried to organize surrounding landowners. “I said, ‘Let’s all join together and we’ll be in control of the site, and if the New York Times really wants it, they’ll pay us more,’ ” he told me.

The effort failed, and when the state seized his property in an eminent-domain ruling, he sued. “The litigation can go for a lifetime, as far as he’s concerned,” says Ault. “He will tell lawyers, ‘I got more money, I got more time, and I got more lawyers.’ ”

The judge in the case ruled against him, a decision that still rankles. “I don’t think that whole process was fair at all,” Barnett told me. “The market turns great and [the state] turns around and hands it over to another developer and the New York Times to make money on?”

Welcome to justice, New York-style.

In June 2005, shortly after he signed the record deal for Riverside South, Barnett summoned John Cetra, a Harvard-trained architect who was finishing work on the Orion, to his office. Barnett told Cetra he was thinking of making a bid for Atlantic Yards. Cetra was shocked by the idea. At the time, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority was in the process of negotiating with Bruce Ratner over the rights to transform the area over the Brooklyn rail yards into a Frank Gehry–­designed future scape. Ratner’s team of engineers had done years of planning and invested millions in the project. Bloomberg, and much of the city’s political Establishment, was behind Ratner’s bid, as well as his plans to bring the Nets to Brooklyn. Barnett was undaunted by the long-shot odds. “Gary said, ‘I want to go after this,’ ” Cetra recalled. “We worked around the clock on it.”

Barnett’s improbable bid stunned the real-estate world. He offered to pay the MTA $100 million more than Ratner, and in a nod to community opposition, his proposal called for just 4,800 occupants compared with Ratner’s plan to house 18,000. Barnett left the controversial Nets arena out of his bid and agreed not to condemn any blocks, two principal demands by community activists. Owing to their prior battle over the New York Times headquarters, the real-estate press jumped on the feud, portraying Barnett and Ratner as bitter rivals once again at war over prized development rights. Advisers in the Ratner camp certainly viewed it that way. “It was an effort to throw a wrench into the process, given what happened earlier,” one person close to the process told me. Barnett downplayed the whole matter when I brought it up. He told me he’s never met Ratner and insisted his bid was strictly about business.


Posted by eric at 9:25 AM

September 26, 2010

Getting Close

Battle of Brooklyn via Kickstarter

We have been burning the midnight oil to finish the film and are extremely excited about the cut that we just submitted to the Sundance Film Festival. We feel very confident about the structure of the film and we are hard at work on smaller fixes.

Again- we have a trailer up at



Posted by eric at 3:05 PM

Atlantic Yards Sunday Trio

Atlantic Yards Report

Prokhorov's debut continues, with launch of Snob magazine, but Men's Journal's Taibbi offers darker portrait of oligarch's wealth

Mikhail Prokhorov is trying to fix up his unsavory reputation for an American audience.

Explaining billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov's backing of Snob magazine, New York Magazine's Michael Idov (a Snob contributor) wrote in May:

Prokhorov's endgame is to buy himself cultural and intellectual credibility on a massive scale and to will into existence, and lead, a group of the globalized world’s Russian-speaking elites.

That day is on us. The Wall Street Journal reported 9/13/10:

Mr. Prokhorov this week is bringing Snob, a Russian-language, general-interest magazine that caters to that country's global elite, to the U.S. Currently distributed in Russia and Britain, it will hit New York Wednesday with an initial run of about 20,000 copies of its September issue.

And a Bloomberg article made a connection to the Nets, however strained:

“Russians who live in the borough and come to games easily will be an important target audience for ticket sales,” once the Nets move, Prokhorov said. “There is certainly a crossover here with the potential Snob audience.”

A recent New Yorker article presents a softened view of Russian oligarchs, but investigative reporter Matt Taibbi has a more clear-eyed perspective:

"It's really funny--I lived in Russia for ten years, and one of the things I covered way back when was this scandal called 'loans for shares,'" Taibbi said.

"They privatized the jewels of Soviet industry into the hands of a few gangsters, basically, and I remember covering that story very well," he said, "and I remember how angry everybody was, that all this stuff that was public property was handed over to these guys who were friends of the president."

"And then, ten, 15 years later, I come back to America and find out that one of them has become owner of the New Jersey Nets," Taibbi continued. "Prokhovov was part of this company called Norilsk Nickel. They basically won a rigged auction for one of the world's largest metals companies... Yet this guy is a hero here in the States because he's tall and he says some funny stuff on TV."

A headline you might see in 2013

Winning high school team at Barclays Center forced to split up to enter mall across the street

Timesman explains move to Huffington Post: "old conventional notions of fairness make it hard to tell readers directly what's going on"

From Washington Post columnist Howard Kurtz's Media Notes, headlined Huffington snags N.Y. Times star:

In the latest sign that Web sites can compete on an equal footing with media giants, a top reporter for the New York Times is defecting to the Huffington Post.

Peter Goodman, until recently the paper's national economic correspondent and now a writer for the Sunday business section, has just signed the deal. And his reasoning helps explain why he would leave the high-profile platform of the Times.

"For me it's a chance to write with a point of view," Goodman says in an interview. "It's sort of the age of the columnist. With the dysfunctional political system, old conventional notions of fairness make it hard to tell readers directly what's going on. This is a chance for me to explore solutions in my economic reporting."

Goodman, who spent a decade at The Washington Post before his three years at the Times, says he will still rely on facts and not engage in "ranting." And while he was happy at the newspaper, he says, he found he was engaged in "almost a process of laundering my own views, through the tried-and-true technique of dinging someone at some think tank to say what you want to tell the reader."

(Emphases added)

Sometimes the problem is conventional notions of fairness--consider the not-uncommon frame in Atlantic Yards coverage of "jobs and housing" vs. "scale and traffic" (while ignoring or downplaying the sweetheart deals in the background).

Sometimes it's just lazy reporting, such as the Wall Street Journal's coverage of Forest City Ratner's quest for financing via the EB-5 visa program.

Posted by steve at 10:43 AM

September 25, 2010

Quote of the week: economist Shiller says people feel "a small group of wealthy people who get bailed out and bribe the government are in charge"

Atlantic Yards Report

Atlantic Yards is a reflection of something gone seriously wrong in the United States, not just Brooklyn.

Economist Robert Shiller, BusinessWeek:

There are many dimensions to trying to restore confidence. A plan to reduce the national debt is a relatively small part of it at this point. The really big thing is, people are very upset. They feel that the country is not theirs, and that a small group of wealthy people who get bailed out and bribe the government are in charge.


Posted by steve at 8:54 AM

Times still not sure whether arena would be "near" Downtown Brooklyn or in it

Atlantic Yards Report

The TImes continues to be thick-headed as regards Brooklyn geography.

From the today's New York Times, Nets Discuss 4-Team Deal to Acquire Anthony:

The Nets are scheduled to move to a new arena in downtown Brooklyn in two years, placing them squarely in competition with the Knicks. Anthony, who was born in Brooklyn, would provide instant star power and credibility and set up a rivalry with Stoudemire, his good friend.

From the Corrections box in the 4/27/06 New York Times:

Because of an editing error, an article in The Arts on Tuesday about Frank Gehry's design for the first phase of the Grand Avenue development project in Los Angeles misstated the location of the proposed Atlantic Yards project that Mr. Gehry is designing in Brooklyn. (The error also appeared in sports articles on Feb. 9 and April 11, in the City section on Jan. 15 and in several articles in 2003, 2004 and 2005.) It is on rail yards and other land in Prospect Heights and on a block in Park Slope; it is not in Downtown Brooklyn, although it is near that neighborhood.

A 9/12/10 Times Arts article said "near downtown Brooklyn."

A 6/30/10 Sports article said "in downtown Brooklyn."

A 6/26/10 Sports article said "in downtown Brooklyn."

A 5/20/10 Sports column said "near downtown Brooklyn."

C'mon, can't they get this straight?


Posted by steve at 8:50 AM

In Time Out New York, some curious agnosticism about arena impact, but no love from Prospect Height interviewees

Atlantic Yards Report

It's well past time for the New York media to step up and admit that the new Nets arena will be a disaster for surrounding neighborhoods.

From Time Out New York's Neighborhood Guides: Prospect Heights

In recent years, Prospect Heights has experienced a boom: Vanderbilt Avenue, the area’s main thoroughfare, is a thriving business district, with fancy cocktail bars, restaurants and several speciality stores, including a custom-bike shop and a bookstore. The Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Public Library are also within walking distance, adding to the draw. But the invasion of the Atlantic Yards development, which is finally underway, could change all of that. There’s no telling whether the new basketball stadium will have a positive or negative effect on the neighborhood.

No telling? There's going to be a massive surface parking lot on the block bounded by Dean and Pacific streets and Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues, and the users of that lot will walk to the arena along the narrow sidewalks of residential Dean Street, as I described in June.


Posted by steve at 8:47 AM

Sport Culture Capper: Yankees, Professional Sports and Criminals Wearing Yankee Hats

Noticing New York

This blog entry uses a New York Times story as a jumping-off spot. The story is about how many criminals are wearing Yankees garb.

I don’t usually pay much attention to the world of sports fan culture when I analyze the urban planning concerns of locating huge stadia in the middle of the urban fabric or complain about the unfairness of how these private profit-making enterprises are being financed on the backs of all of the rest of us, but I have an irresistible temptation to write about the subject now and before I’m through maybe I will have made clear why I personally am not much of a professional sports fan. . . .

. . . . Did everyone catch the story on the front page of the New York Times last week about how New York Yankee caps and baseball jackets seem to have become the apparel of preference for the city’s criminal element?:

A curious phenomenon has emerged at the intersection of fashion, sports and crime: dozens of men and women who have robbed, beaten, stabbed and shot at their fellow New Yorkers have done so while wearing Yankees caps or clothing.


Somehow it did not seem so surprising to our Noticing New York sensibility that predatory criminals, the bank robbers and thieves written about in the article, should identify with the Yankees who along with their owners have turned professionalized theft from the community into a business. While the recent new stadia including Yankee Stadium have fewer seats (to boost prices) the Yankee Stadium is actually bigger than the old in order to suck up “inside the cloister of its privately-owned walls the economic activity that once upon a time existed in the surrounding Bronx community.” (See: Saturday, November 14, 2009, The Yankee’s Hoggish New Stadium Monopoly Taxes The Rest of Us.) As reported by WNYC, and what we wrote in that story, the new Yankee Stadium includes: “a `mega-mall’ that is in decimating competition with local merchants taking away the business that used to be theirs.

Read the rest of the post to why it makes a kind of sense for criminals to emulate owners of sports franchises. There is also a critique of sports fan culture and why fans might channel their energies more constructively and keep from becoming antisocial.


Posted by steve at 7:50 AM

New Ad by Brooklyn-Bulldozing Company Barclays Shows City as Personalized Amusement Park

The Measure

Here's an indication that, instead of building a good name, Barclays will generate lots of ill will by having its name put on the new Nets arena.

Barclays, the company that now owns the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic (where it's begun building its Barclays Center), premiered this new ad earlier in the year, in which the British financial firm outlines its vision of urban design. The insinuation that New York City is your own private plaything pretty much makes sense coming from a company that's been handed a multi-billion dollar site by city agencies. Go Nets!

Barclays does not own the Atlantic Yards development, but the state did fail to derive any money paid by Barclays to Forest City Ratner for naming rights. Despite the factual mix-up, there's no mistaking the anger in this post.


Posted by steve at 7:33 AM

September 24, 2010

ESDC VP Bloch leaves to run The Capitol and City Hall newspapers for Manhattan Media

Atlantic Yards Report

Empire State Development Corporation Executive VP Darren Bloch, one of the agency's top officials overseeing Atlantic Yards, has left to run two well-regarded, specialized newspapers that cover politics: The Capitol and City Hall.

Bloch has not played too public a role in speaking about the project, but in January was on a panel of witnesses that uncomfortably parried probing questions from state Senator Bill Perkins over the agency's practices, notably hiring the ubiquitous environmental consultant AKRF.

In July 2009, he participated in a community information session sponsored by the ESDC, but said relatively little.

Bloch's role in Atlantic Yards presumably diminished in the past month after Arana Hankin was named Project Manager. And like some other agency officials, he might have been wondering about his place in the ESDC under a new gubernatorial administration.

Bloch in May 2009 was described by agency officials as overseeing AY Ombudsman Forrest Taylor, though Taylor had publicly indicated he was reporting to Susan Rahm, a volunteer.

As I wrote in August, additional evidence acquired via a Freedom of Information Law request strongly suggested that Rahm was indeed in charge.


NoLandGrab: No doubt Bloch knows some stuff about Atlantic Yards that could be front-page news at The Capitol and City Hall News.

Posted by eric at 12:33 PM

Gentrifier Rick Moody Drops F-Bomb on Atlantic Yards

NY Observer
by Matt Chaban

The only thing hated more by writers than their editors—at least within Brooklyn's sprawling literary scene—is Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards development. Jonathan Lethem is the movement's de facto leader, but Jennifer Egan, Chris Smith, Philip Lopate and even Jimmy Breslin (sorta) are among those who have lifted their pens in protest. Now none other than Rick Moody has made his displeasure known—not that it's going to stop this thing—in an aside for one of TONY's weekly Own This City neighborhood guides about his beloved Prospect Heights, which sits on the Atlantic Yards border.


NoLandGrab: "Not that it's going to stop this thing?" Au contraire, Matt Chaban. Don't discount the China Syndrome.

Posted by eric at 12:21 PM

70 Million Dollar Musician Terry Burrus To Play National Anthem in New Jersey March 11, 2011 New Jersey Nets vs Los Angeles Clippers at Prudential Center

Hot Event

Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, rapper, Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter and real estate developer Bruce Ratner and their New Jersey Nets will have International Concert Pianist, Composer, Terry Burrus to play the National Anthem in Newark, New Jersey for the Nets vs Los Angeles Clippers NBA basketball game at Prudential Center Friday March 11, 2011 at 7:00PM.


NoLandGrab: $70 million? Maybe he wants to buy a few green cards.

Posted by eric at 12:15 PM

In Deed! Egyptian Billionaire, Forest City VP, Times Critic, Aussie Clothier, Oh My!

NY Observer
by Laura Kusisto

When you feed lavishly at the public trough, dropping close to four million bucks on a Manhattan townhouse is no big deal.

It's been hot in luxury apartment swapping lately, with places flying between billionaires, amater polo stars and minor celebs like there was a fire sale. Let the good times roll.

—A beautiful Upper West Side townhouse traded for just under $3.8 million. This rare 1904 elevator townhouse just off Central Park is the new home of Forest City Ratner VP Matthew Messinger and his wife.


Posted by eric at 12:06 PM

September 23, 2010

Brooklyn Democrat Is Said to Be Investigated

The New York Times
by William K. Rashbaum

Brooklyn political boss Vito Lopez, architect of the Atlantic Yards 421-a "carve out,", is under investigation by the Feds.

Assemblyman Vito J. Lopez, a long-serving Brooklyn Democratic leader who is widely viewed as the borough’s patronage king, is at the center of two separate federal investigations, according to several people briefed on the matter. A third inquiry, by the city’s Department of Investigation, those people said, is focused on a network of nonprofit groups Mr. Lopez controls.

All three investigations focus to some extent on the nexus of politics, nonprofit groups and real estate developers in Brooklyn, the people familiar with the inquiries said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was continuing.

“The name of the game” is real estate development, one of the people said, adding that the inquiries have produced masses of records, and in several of the cases the authorities have “mounds of paper to go through.” The person would not name the developers under scrutiny, saying only, “There is a lot of developers in the game here.”


Posted by eric at 11:52 AM

Forest City Ratner's green-cards-for-investments scheme is part of a pattern (MTA, Beekman), but job-saving claims demand scrutiny

Atlantic Yards Report

Forest City Ratner's green-cards-for-investments scheme is still pretty baffling. How exactly can they claim that using Chinese millionaires' money to pay off their land loan counts as creating or preserving jobs?

Sure, there has to be a document that makes that claim--and Forest City Ratner and partner the New York City Regional Center should make it public.

I suspect it essentially will say that by allowing the project to go forward it preserves jobs.

But that suggests that only this infusion of capital keeps the developer from moving ahead.

That can't be true. It's a business decision.

Parent Forest City Enterprises has more than $467 million in cash and credit capacity, according to its 9/8/10 earnings release. If it had to spend the money, it would.

It would rather not. That's understandable. Corporations are supposed to maximize value to their shareholders.

But the goal of the EB-5 program is economic development, not developer bailouts. So the press and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) should take a close look.


Posted by eric at 10:59 AM

Behind the New York City Regional Center's visas-for-investments program, one of New Jersey's questionable "Billboard Boys"

Atlantic Yards Report

Here's a shocker — one of the two key guys behind the front operation for Bruce Ratner's bowling-for-green cards scheme has a track record of being a sleazeball.

Paul Levinsohn, one of two Managing Principals in the New York City Regional Center--the investment vehicle Forest City Ratner aims to use to raise $249 million (mainly) from Chinese millionaires--has a bit of a history as an operator, exploiting a legal loophole to get rich.

He has an important cameo in The Soprano State: New Jersey's Culture of Corruption, by Bob Ingle and Sandy McClure [NLG: no relation] (as pointed out to me by Michael D.D. White):

Gary Taffet and Paul Levinsohn went from being on [Governor Jim] McGreevey's election campaign to being chief of staff and chief counsel, respectively. Their tenure was short-lived, however, and they became known as "the Billboard Boys."

Levinsohn and Taffet formed a billboard business three years before McGreevey's inauguration whiel working for McGreevey's campaign and with everyone knowing their clout with McGreevey--correctly predicted to be the next governor.

...[Philcor Media] developed billboards for which they needed local and state agency approval.

Just before becoming part of the McGreevey administration, Taffet and Levinsohn sold the approved billboards and billboard sites for $4 million. The Philadelphia Inquirer investigated and reported: "[Francis] Doyle is identified on public documents as the sole owner of Philcor, but his corporation received none of the billboard proceeds, sale documents show. Instead, the money was distributed to two corporations extablished by Taffet and Levinsohn.

But those corporations were not part of the public documents seeking government approvals.

Levinsohn claimed he and his partner sold the billboard company five days before McGreevey took office and they became state employees. However, according to the book, Levinsohn actually was sworn in a month earlier and was still doing billboard business with NJ Transit--even though that's against state law.


NoLandGrab: Amazingly, there really isn't a single aspect of Atlantic Yards that's on the up and up.

Posted by eric at 10:48 AM

Public information meeting on plaza design for arena will be held September 29 at Borough Hall

Atlantic Yards Report

Well, there won't be the Urban Room Frank Gehry promised, but there will be an "urban plaza" or "urban experience." And we'll learn more about it next Wednesday.

(There's also a formally unrelated--but conceptually related--meeting next Tuesday about streetscape improvements on Flatbush Avenue, from Atlantic Avenue to Grand Army Plaza.)

From a notice distributed by Community Board 6:

Senator Velmanette Montgomery, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, with Council Members Letitia James, Brad Lander and Stephen Levin, Empire State Development Corporation, Brooklyn Community Boards 2, 6 and 8 present a PUBLIC INFORMATION MEETING for the Plaza Design at the Barclays Center.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010, 6:00pm-8:00pm
Brooklyn Borough Hall
209 Joralemon Street (at Court Street)

Representatives will be present from Forest City Ratner Companies to brief interested residents on plans for the public plaza in front of the arena. There will be a Q&A session.


Posted by eric at 10:42 AM

"Really no hope" for AY opponents? Well, not from Gerges, but...

Atlantic Yards Report

The headline on the Observer's summary of the two Atlantic Yards court decisions reported this morning is Really No Hope For Atlantic Yards Opponents.

While there wasn't much hope that Kings County Supreme Court Justice Abraham Gerges would seriously grapple with the changes in the project, there remains some hope that the other extant case, yet to be ruled on by New York County Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman, will yield... something.

Yes, it's a longshot to expect Friedman, who's still considering a reargument of a case challenging the project timeline, to order the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) to issue a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

However, given her demeanor in court June 29, given that Friedman chastised the ESDC in her March ruling for a "deplorable lack of transparency," and given that she allowed a reargument, there's a good bet she'll be a bit tougher on the ESDC than was Gerges.


NoLandGrab: Tougher? Don't hold your breath.

Posted by eric at 10:29 AM

Really No Hope For Atlantic Yards Opponents

NY Observer
by Matt Chaban

There was something devilishly brilliant to how Daniel Goldstein, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, and a handful of lawsuits nearly brought down the massive $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards project. For years, the arena cum condos were held off by one suit after another, first at the federal level, then in the state courts. The legal challenges went on for so long that when the recession hit, it nearly killed the damn thing. (Someone should really write a book about all this.)

Obviously, it didn't work, as the project found a savior in Russia, broke ground in March, and the arena is (maybe) on its way to opening in time for the 2012-2013 basketball season.

Still, there are a few remaining court cases to unwind, and as the indefatigable Norman Oder reports today, two of them have been tossed out by the Brooklyn Supreme Court. On Monday, Justice Abraham Gerges yet again ruled that the state was justified in its use of eminent domain at the Atlantic Yards site. The particulars of the case charged that the Empire State Development Corporation needed to file a new set of Determinations and Findings because the project had changed so much.

As before, Yards opponents could take some small consolation from the judge's decision, in that he essentially said what the state did was a terrible thing, but it not being the judiciary's place to overrule the legislature (and its constitutionally mandated subsidiaries, like the ESDC), there was really nothing he could do about it....


Related coverage...

NetsDaily, Arena Critics Lose Again...and Again

Barclays Center construction continues apace with Bruce Ratner telling friends it's on schedule for completion in late spring/early summer 2012. At the same time, the same Brooklyn judge who pushed Daniel Goldstein to sell out back in April dismissed two of the last challenges to the arena on Monday.

Posted by eric at 10:17 AM

Own This City

Neighborhood Guides: Prospect Heights

Time Out New York
by Amy Plitt

In recent years, Prospect Heights has experienced a boom: Vanderbilt Avenue, the area’s main thoroughfare, is a thriving business district, with fancy cocktail bars, restaurants and several speciality stores, including a custom-bike shop and a bookstore. The Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Public Library are also within walking distance, adding to the draw. But the invasion of the Atlantic Yards development, which is finally underway, could change all of that. There’s no telling whether the new basketball stadium will have a positive or negative effect on the neighborhood.

Ellen Fishman, co-owner, Amorina Cucina Rustica and Aliseo Osteria del Borgo:

“I think Atlantic Yards will affect the community, there’s no question. I don’t think that we’ll get business, necessarily, from people going to the stadium. It’s very likely that people will drive or take the train to the stadium, stay in that area, and leave. It may not siphon off business in that sense. We’re also concerned that a lot of the neighborhood is just going to turn into a parking lot."

Rick Moody, author, The Ice Storm:

"Partly because of the experience of watching that fucking basketball thing happen, my cynical attitude is that money and power wins every time. It doesn’t matter what the people in the neighborhood actually want, the developers win every time. It’s irritating and it makes me feel slightly hopeless."


NoLandGrab: Moody is a member of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's Advisory Board.

Posted by eric at 10:06 AM

Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi Pulls Back the Mikhail Prokhorov Mask

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

Speaking of Mikhail Prokhorov...

Yesterday on Don Imus's Fox Business talk show Rolling Stone's no-nonsense reporter Matt Taibbi had a few pointed things to say about Russian oligarch, Nets and Barclays Center owner Mikhail Prokhorov.

"It's unbelievable to me [Prokhorov is] being celebrated as this great guy," Taibbi said. Taibbi is no stranger to the Russian scene or Prokhorov as he used to be a journalist in that country after the dissolution of the USSR.

Taibbi explained that Prokhorov's wealth was created by fixed, sweetheart deals, much like Bruce Ratner's. He also said what most observers have noted previously—that NBA commissioner David Stern basically looked the other way when his sports league "vetted" Prokhorov.

Watch the clip below:


Related coverage...

NetsDaily, Matt Taibbi rips into Mikhail Prokhorov

The impression I was left with by Taibbi is that Prokhorov is a lucky opportunist at best, a sleazy industrialist at worst who's image here in America has been carefully crafted and calibrated via the media.

NoLandGrab: In which case, he upholds perfectly the tradition of recent Nets owners.

Posted by eric at 9:52 AM

Who wants to be a snob?

The BSS Report

Or, more accurately, S.N.O.B., which is apparently a Russian acronym for "accomplished, independent, educated, and thriving."

Of course, once I start mentioning the Russians, the only accomplished, independent, educated, and thriving Russian I care about (since Maria Sharapova is still dating THE MACHINE) is Mr. Mikhail "Mike" Prokhorov. What has he done this time?

Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov is bringing his $100 million Snob media project to the United States as he seeks to attract a "global audience" for the New Jersey Nets basketball team.

Snob magazine, aimed at "the elite of Russia," will start selling in the United States on Wednesday at a cover price of $8 and without translation into English, Prokhorov said. Snob also runs an invitation-only social network and live events.

Stellar. Say what you want about the New Jersey Nets offseason, but you can't say their owner isn't trying. How amazing that Bruce Ratner is now a distant nightmare.


NoLandGrab: Distant nightmare? If you live anywhere near Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, Bruce Ratner will be an ever-present nightmare for the next, oh, thirty years or so.

Posted by eric at 9:46 AM

Public information meeting on Flatbush streetscape improvement project will be held September 28 at CNR

Atlantic Yards Report

The progressive and conscientious North Flatbush Avenue BID is kicking off a major streetscape improvement, a process that won't be made any easier by Bruce Ratner's mega-construction project.

The North Flatbush Avenue Business Improvement District (BID) has secured close to $3M is capital funding for its streetscape project, and the New York City Department of Transportation will present scoping and conceptual designs to the Transportation Committees of Community Board 6 and 8.

All neighbors, businesses, and organizations are invited to view the plans for Flatbush Avenue and to offer input or comments. The plans include a remake of the Triangle Parks at Carlton, 6th, 7th, and 8th Avenues.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010, 7:00PM
Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation
727 Classon Avenue


Posted by eric at 9:36 AM

September 22, 2010

Gerges dismisses final eminent domain challenge: "alleged additional changes... even if factually true... do not change the public purpose"

Atlantic Yards Report

This case, on the other hand, was the small, final hope for stopping Atlantic Yards through an eminent domain challenge.

So much for charges that the Atlantic Yards Development Agreement--which allows for 25 years, rather than ten, to build the project-- "was intentionally withheld in bad faith."

So much for attorney Matthew Brinckerhoff's assertion that "we now know [the ten-year project timetable] is complete, utter fantasy."

So much for Brinckerhoff's charge that the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) timed release of information to avoid judicial scrutiny.

In a decision that was hardly unexpected, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Abraham Gerges on September 20 dismissed a lawsuit--Article 78 Petition to Compel the ESDC to Issue New Determinations and Findings, with three remaining plaintiffs--arguing that the project had changed so much and the public benefits so attenuated that new eminent domain findings should be made.

(This was the final case challenging eminent domain. Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman is still considering a reargument of a case challenging the project timeline.)

Development Agreement not important

Gerges had already rejected most of the arguments in March, in a decision in a case challenging the ESDC's condemnation process.

But the Development Agreement had not been part of that case. No matter. His key paragraph in the new decision:

For the same reasons, the court further finds that the alleged additional changes to the Project that petitioners rely upon in this action, even if factually true, similarly do not change the public purpose to be served by the Project, i.e., to eliminate blight and the blighting influence of the below-grade rail yard and to construct a civil [sic] project. In this regard, it is noted that although the alleged changes to the Project are now discussed in more detail, based upon the assertion that more details have been revealed, the basic premise of the arguments have already been considered and rejected by the court in the Condemnation Decision and adopted herein.

(Emphasis added)

This raises a question: could even more extreme changes, "if factually true," change the public purpose? In other words, if the developer had 100 years to eliminate blight, with no effective penalties, would the public purpose be attenuated?


NoLandGrab: Justice isn't just blind in New York State — it's deaf and dumb, too.

Posted by eric at 11:00 AM

Gerges dismisses case claiming state had failed to condemn easement over Spalding Building

Atlantic Yards Report

Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Abraham Gerges on September 20 dismissed a claim by Peter Williams Enterprises (PWE) regarding air rights above 24 Sixth Avenue (the Spalding Building), agreeing with the Empire State Development Corporation that PWE released such rights when it sold its own nearby property, the one-story 38 Sixth Avenue and that the exercise of eminent domain "extinguished all easements."

Williams had publicly said that he had brought the claim for money and his attorney asserted that the state had made a "colossal mistake" in not specifying that the easement was subject to eminent domain.

In court arguments on August 6, there was a small twist, suggesting there might be something to PWE's claim. While the ESDC's appraisal to PWE covered the building and the easement, the sums were lumped together in the offer to PWE. But Gerges didn't address that directly.


NoLandGrab: With Peter Williams more interested in money than righteousness, this case held zero hope for opponents of Atlantic Yards from the get-go.

Posted by eric at 10:57 AM

Fort Greene Park is a mugger’s paradise

The Brooklyn Paper, Police Blotter
by Joe Anuta

With a New York State Supreme Court Judge just blocks away giving the mall's owner the final okay to take other people's property, is it any wonder that so many customers in Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Terminal mall consistently emulate the management?

Target takeaway

Some jerk stole a wallet out of a woman’s purse at the crime-ridden Target department store and then went on a shopping spree on Sept. 18.

The victim told cops she was inside Target, which is in the Bruce Ratner-owned Atlantic Terminal Mall near the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues, at 3:30 pm when the thief took her wallet.

Instead of fleeing, though, the perp went shopping spree at Target and at the PC Richards across the street.


Posted by eric at 10:51 AM

New Bill Would Create Atlantic Yards Oversight Body

BrooklynSpeaks Press Release via Brooklyn Daily Eagle

BrooklynSpeaks, a coalition of civic associations, advocacy groups and affordable housing organizations concerned about development at the Atlantic Yards site, yesterday announced that more 1,000 New Yorkers have signed a petition calling for legislation mandating public oversight of the project.

Bills introduced into the state assembly by Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (A11431) and into the state Senate by Sen. Velmanette Montgomery (S08193) require the Empire State Development Corporation to create a dedicated subsidiary responsible for governance of the Atlantic Yards’ development, now expected to extend as long as 25 years.

“As the largest development project in Brooklyn’s history, Atlantic Yards must be managed with no less transparency and accountability than other important state and city projects, like Brooklyn Bridge Park,” said Assemblyman Jeffries, who represents most of the Atlantic Yards footprint. “We will not accept a private developer being given sole decision-making power over this project’s future given the significant public investment that has been made.”

The Atlantic Yards Governance Act has passed the Corporations Committee in the Assembly, and is currently before Ways and Means. The bill is before the state Senate’s Rules Committee.


Related coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, BrooklynSpeaks: another push for governance bill, as "important first step"

According to a press release from the BrooklynSpeaks coalition (reprinted by the Brooklyn Eagle under the helpfully transparent byline of "Press Release"), more than 1,000 New Yorkers have signed a petition calling for legislation mandating public oversight of the project.

The key line in the statement is "important first step." As I wrote in June, the legislation last year had clear roles for local appointees, while the structure now proposed is vague, likely leaving more centralized power.

And this year the Empire State Development Corporation supports the legislation, though developer Forest City Ratner has not issued any statement.

Posted by eric at 10:21 AM

Atlantic Yards Report’s Plan to Turn the Development’s Story into a Book

by Steve Delahoyde

We’ve posted our fair share about the trials and tribulations of the seemingly always rocky creation of Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards development, from the early protests to Frank Gehry‘s removal to the disregard for public design reviews and the lawsuits that have nearly shut it all down at times. But as often as we’ve written about the project, we can’t hold a candle to Norman Oder, the man behind the Atlantic Yards Report, a blog that, since 2006, has laboriously chronicled all the many ups and downs the development has been through. Thanks to a tip from a reader, we were passed along the news that Oder has decided to quit his job as news editor of the Library Journal to concentrate on turning his blog about the Yards into a book. Though he doesn’t yet have a publishing deal for it, he’s striking out on his own in order to tell the story of this storied development.



Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, Norman Oder to Give Full Time to Atlantic Yards Book (No, He Hasn't Been Giving Full Time)

In a column on Library Journal, where Norman Oder does his day job, the Atlantic Yards Report creator and sole proprietor announces that he is leaving his journalistic duties at that publication to work on the definitive book about the Atlantic Yards epic.

We wish you, Mr. Oder, all the discipline you need and all the best in your pursuit of this massive endeavor.

NoLandGrab: Only DDDB knows as well as NoLandGrab how valuable Norman Oder has been to the Atlantic Yards fight. For the former, he unearthed numerous stories that fueled and aided their opposition; for us, he's provided about a quarter of our content.

Posted by eric at 10:12 AM

Bikes in buildings law is a big flat tire in Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Paper
by Stephen Brown

Bruce Ratner isn't all bad — or at least someone who works for him isn't.

“It went extremely well! The building’s management was really cooperative,” said Gail Kovach, who works for the Social Science Research Council, which has offices at 1 Pierrepont Plaza. “We filed the request, two weeks later the manager filed the necessary plan and a week later it was approved. It was really quick!”

After some planning, cyclists and the buildings management were able to make room for bikes in the office, so now roughly 10 two-wheelers are up against the walls and cubicles of the offices of the Social Science Research Council.

“It’s kind of funny seeing the bikes around the office,” said Kovach, “But no one objects and we feel we’re making a small dent in all the pollution of the environment.”

The building is owned by Bruce Ratner, who has also been quick to allow bikes in one of his Metrotech office buildings in Downtown. But the developer has not allowed bikes in his 1 Metrotech Center building.


Posted by eric at 9:58 AM

September 21, 2010

Atlantic Yards to Bribe Foreign Investors With Green Cards


Developer Bruce Ratner is flying to China next month, but he's not searching for the next Yao Ming. More like the next ch-ching! Now that the Barclays Center arena is under construction and the Nets are on their way, Ratner is onto the next phase of Brooklyn's beloved Atlantic Yards megaproject: Those 16 or so towers, the first of which is scheduled to break ground sometime in 2011. ...

With an arena built with Russian money and other parts of the project funded by the Chinese, Atlantic Yards is shaping up to be quite the international buffet!


Related coverage...

National Review Online, Green Card Sale — Half Off!

In the case of Atlantic Yards, the developers need $249 million, which means that 498 wealthy Chinese will be able to buy green cards for themselves, or for anyone else. As a Chinese businessman quoted in Oder’s story says, “It is time for me to buy a good future for my son.” Here, too, left and right should find common ground in opposing a policy that gives the rich an easy path to a green card, especially when no skills or knowledge are required and the recipient doesn’t even need to have a job or speak English.

If we’re going to sell residency permits, the honest way would be to simply auction them off to the highest bidder. But the EB-5 program is a bad idea for other reasons. First of all, when the government creates a non-economic incentive for investment, such as a green card, capital will be allocated less efficiently; and second, the calculations that show how your $500K bought ten jobs may be no more reliable than the “jobs created or saved” by the various stimulus bills. Still, real-estate developers love EB-5, and politicians love real-estate developers; so we can expect to see an ever-growing number of well-off Chinese immigrants who understand that if you have enough money, you can always advance to the front of the line.

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, Get a Green Card for Less Than the Price of One Luxury Suite at Ratner's Barclays Center Arena

That's correct. Short on money for his Atlantic Yards megaproject, Bruce Ratner is, once again, questionably utilizing an obscure federal program for a bailout from (probably) Chinese investors.

How? By using the government to sell green cards. (Just like he used the government to steal people's homes and businesses.)

Gothamist, Bruce Ratner To Lure Atlantic Yards Investors With Green Cards

Used to boost investment in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the EB-5 visa has been called an "interesting and clever way to provide financing." The program offers permanent residency to foreigners investing between $500,000 and $1 million in American businesses and projects, and now that the last holdout is gone, Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner is looking to use it to his advantage.

What about using it to get kids off the damn mall?

Brownstoner, Atlantic Yards Milking Green Card Loophole to Attract Chinese Investors?

According to Atlantic Yards Report, Ratner's going to be headed out on a dog-and-pony show to China to get a few hundred wealthy Chinese to cough up a million bucks apiece to finance Atlantic Yards. What do they get in return? A green card!

Brooklynian, Chinese to get green cards for Atlantic Yards investment?

Image: Curbed

Posted by eric at 6:52 PM

Norman Oder Quitting Day Job to Write Definitive Atlantic Yards Book

NY Observer
by Matt Chaban

Matt Chaban, another reporter who's done some good Atlantic Yards reporting of his own (until recently at The Architect's Newspaper), covers the man who's set the bar on Atlantic Yards coverage impossibly high.

Since he launched The Atlantic Yards Report in 2006, Norman Oder has written 3,747 blog posts on the contentious Brooklyn development project. It's probably enough to fill an encyclopedia, let alone a lowly paperback.

But that is exactly what Mr. Oder is setting out to do, when he announces later today—in his 3,748th post—that he is leaving his full-time job (that's right, he's got a day job) at Library Journal to dedicate himself to writing a book about Atlantic Yards.

"I think the story needs to be told," Mr. Oder said in his demure way. "It's been told in dribs and drabs. It will be mythologized, and it will be spun, and parts of the story will get lost. The story needs to to be synthesized and made sense of. And made compelling."

Therein lies the challenge—how to make DEISes, State Appeals Court cases, and eminent domain sexy. No one knows this stuff better than Mr. Oder. He had yet another blockbuster scoop this morning (more on that in an upcoming post) that was so juicy it was apparently leaked to the Journal to stem the bleeding. But can he write a best-selling book?

"I don't profess to be writing the next Power Broker," Mr. Oder said. "I hope it will be substantial and interesting." He points to Times Square Roulette and Little Pink House as inspirations, but says the former is too long and the latter "scants on policy." What he so loves about the prospects of the book is all the complex pieces involved.

"It's about a certain project in a certain time. It's about development in a certain time. It's about Brooklyn in a certain time. It's a story about our time. It's got politics and planning and architecture and neighborhoods. And journalism, that will be a big subplot." (The blog started as the Times Ratner Report, a critique about the lack of coverage of the project.) "This is a story about a whole bunch of things."

Here's hoping he can get that all sorted out before the arena opens in the fall of 2012. It would make a way better door prize/giveaway than Ratner bobbleheads.


Posted by eric at 6:22 PM

After the film and the play, time for a book about Atlantic Yards

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder is leaving his day job (how does he even have time for a day job?) to pen Atlantic Yards: The Book.

Well, if Atlantic Yards has spawned a documentary film, Battle of Brooklyn, and documentary-inspired theater, In the Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards, shouldn't it also generate a book?

That's what a number of people have told me, and why I'm leaving my job to get it done, as I explain in a farewell column for Library Journal, where I've written about library issues for more than 14 years:

With so much to cover, why am I leaving? For more than four-and-a-half years, I’ve been moonlighting on my own blog, the Atlantic Yards Report, about an enormously controversial real estate development—Atlantic Yards—that would bring an arena for the relocated New Jersey Nets basketball team and 16 towers to Brooklyn, just a short walk from my apartment.

I’ve immersed myself in issues like urban planning, affordable housing, and eminent domain. It’s been tiring but rewarding; I’ve written for the New York Times (though I’ve been a fierce critic of its coverage) and cowritten a law review article. Now, I’m working on the book the saga deserves. (Agents, yes, you’re welcome to contact me. Librarians, yes, I’m happy to visit on book tour.)

I'm still in the early stages--just keeping up with the blog has kept me busy--but there's a lot of material to go over.

You can read Oder's valedictory Library Journal column here.


Posted by eric at 5:29 PM

Nail Household Fighting Against Bruce Ratner?

While Bruce Ratner is on his China green-card-peddling tour, will he take the time to demolish some nail houses?

Posted by eric at 11:43 AM

The Anatomy of a "Scoop"

Several weeks ago, a friend called to tell us about a story he'd heard from a business contact — Forest City Ratner was planning to raise funds for Atlantic Yards in China through something called the EB-5 Visa program. He told us to Google EB-5, which we did, and we discovered that there's a two-decade-old U.S. program that essentially trades U.S. resident alien status for half-million-dollar investments that allegedly create at least 10 jobs.

Amazed that Forest City, even with Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov's ill-gotten billions, would need or want to raise yet more money, especially through such a non-traditional and none-too-savory means, we passed the tip along to Atlantic Yards Report.

At first, Norman Oder didn't seem especially interested. After a little more prodding, he started to look into it, and when he came across this Chinese tour itinerary, he quickly became convinced that this was a big story that needed telling. The more he dug into it, the murkier it got. He started calling around, to the Empire State Development Corporation and the New York City Economic Development Corporation, who told him to talk to Forest City Ratner and the New York City Regional Center, who stonewalled him. Even motor-mouthed Marty Markowitz went mute.

Oder was prepared to publish his exhaustive look into Atlantic Yards and the EB-5 program this morning. Late last evening, however, he got "scooped" by The Wall Street Journal's Eliot Brown. Brown, one of the few mainstream media reporters to distinguish himself with his Atlantic Yards coverage, published a 434-word story that barely scratches the surface, and raises no questions about the Atlantic Yards project's ability to actually deliver on the program's "requirements" for job creation.

It's clear to us that Forest City Ratner, while brushing off inquiries from Atlantic Yards Report, scrambled to leak the story before Norman Oder could publish. It's now up to the mainstream media to dig deeper, and toss a wrench or two into Forest City's spin-control operation. Oder's done all the hard work — let's see if they can pick up the ball and run with it.

Posted by eric at 11:07 AM

Forest City Ratner seeks Chinese millionaires for capital bailout, with green cards as bait; job-creation math is dubious, but nobody's talking

Atlantic Yards Report

"Scooped" by The Wall Street Journal last night (more about that above), Norman Oder publishes an absolute must-read exposé of Forest City Ratner's efforts to raise nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in China through a federal program that essentially trades green cards for investments in U.S. real estate projects. Want proof that it's fishy? Just about no one will respond to Oder's inquiries.

“I have no debt. The only expense I have is the operation of it and the utilities to run it. I’m going to be successful. I’ve been able to defer and, in large part, eliminate the biggest cost of development, which is capital.”--Bill Stenger, developer of the Jay Peak resort in Vermont, Burlington Press, Turning green cards into gold, 11/23/08

“At the end of the day, it’s all about the cost of the capital. And if we can do it at a reasonable, affordable cost, we’ll do so. I think the opportunity exists to bring partners into some of our development projects."--Forest City Enterprises Executive VP Bob O’Brien, 9/13/10 conference call with investment analysts

Though some think the Atlantic Yards saga is over, it's simply hit a new phase. The most audacious quest for government assistance--after direct subsidies, tax breaks, eminent domain, and the giveaway of arena naming rights--awaits.

Just as Forest City Ratner found a sports-loving Russian billionaire to buy 80% of the Nets and 45% of the arena as part of his plan to make a splash in America, now the developer has targeted another group of foreigners whose motives go beyond economics.

Thanks to a little-known provision in immigration law known as EB-5, the developer--with green cards as the carrot--seeks 498 Chinese millionaires, to supply $249 million in low-cost financing for the project.

(For what exactly? While the graphic below cites the arena, or "Nets stadium," the Wall Street Journal last night reported that it could finance the rail yard, or pay off part of a land loan.)

In exchange for creating ten direct or indirect jobs or retaining ten direct ones--a formulation that offers enormous wiggle room--the investors would get permanent residency for themselves and their families, a chance to live anywhere in America, and an opportunity to get kids educated in the American system.

Thus the New York City Regional Center (NYCRC), a government-authorized private investment vehicle, is planning an eight-city roadshow through China, beginning October 11, as noted on this blog (graphic at right) that tracks EB-5 news. And, according to the Journal, Bruce Ratner will be on the trip.

(NYCRC is the source of graphics above and below left.)

Can they get away with it?

It looks like they might get away with it, thanks to the EB-5 visa program, which, beyond its philosophical flaws--more on that below--allows regional centers to demonstrate job-creation via economic models.

Thus, the NYCRC would have to:
1) suggest the project in the next few years could generate or save at least 4980 direct or indirect jobs
2) argue that, without this new investment of $249 million, those 4980 jobs would be lost.

It's likely the NYCRC, with the help of Forest City Ratner, will submit documents backing both claims.

Both, however, are ridiculous, as I'll detail below.


NoLandGrab: When it comes to dubious subsidies, turn over a rock, and it's almost certain Bruce Ratner will slither out. But it's all about Brooklyn, right?

Posted by eric at 10:55 AM

PlaNYC guru plays West Village; gig sold out

Capital New York
by Katharine Jose

Behind Michael Bloomberg’s long-term plan for the city is a Danish professor and urban planner named Jan Gehl, who for several years has been quietly, if not slowly, guiding the remaking of New York.

Gehl is a legend in his field. Events at the Center for Architecture in the West Village are always well-attended, but Wednesday night there were, among other signs of something remarkable, a line to get in the door that stretched halfway down the block, overflow seating on the first floor that would beam the lecture from the gallery two floors down, and reserved seating for the press, almost all of which was occupied.

It's the “Brasilia Syndrome,” he said, referring to the capital of Brazil, which was built from a master plan in the late ‘50s. “It looked fantastic from a airplane,” but “at ground level, it was shit.” Gehl said much the same thing about Dubai, where he felt as if he were at “an exhibition of perfume bottles.” (He also showed a slide of Atlantic Yards, which drew audible approval.)

Gehl called the authors of these developments “birdshit architects,” because they are “planning from high above and dropping their things down.” Building towers, he said, makes “a collection of towers." The prospectus drawings are filled with “happy people” milling about and carrying out “unspecified” public activities.


NoLandGrab: "Approval" as in they agreed about how horrible Atlantic Yards is, or because they're out of their freakin' minds?

Posted by eric at 10:36 AM

Atlantic Terminal Mall Really Wishes Teens Wouldn't Hang Out There

The L Magazine
by Mark Asch

More coverage of Bruce Ratner's controversial teen ban.

Bruce Ratner's ugly, stupid Atlantic Terminal mall in downtown Brooklyn, across the street from his ugly, stupid Atlantic Center mall and near the future location of his ugly, stupid Atlantic Yards, is tired of being a mall, apparently, inasmuch as it's recently instituted policies designed to discourage—nay, to prevent—teens from hanging out there.

Though obviously peevish, impractical, and counterintuitive, these new restrictions seem to me to be something of a gift to Brooklyn teenagers, who live in the capital of the world, after all, and really ought to be hanging out somewhere cooler than the mall, it's not like this is fucking South Portland, Maine, where the Maine Mall's slogan, "Where Else Would You Go?", is hideously, tauntingly appropriate.


Related articles...

Minyanville, Old Enough to Fight A War, Too Young to Shop in Peace

Barring four or more unsupervised 21-year-olds means barring:

Four or more 19-year-olds serving in the US Navy and are on shore leave.

Four or more 18-year-old college freshmen who headed to the mall to share notes after class.

Four or more 20-year-old Suffolk County police officers who must be accompanied by their parents if they want to enter the Atlantic Terminal as a group.

New York Press, The Kids in the Mall

Spurred by an “unauthorized flier on a social-networking site,” which drove thousands of hungry teenagers to descend upon the mall, last year’s violence resulted in at least three injuries.

Since this particular instance of what seems now to be an epidemic of fried-chicken-deprivation-induced madness took place a few blocks from the Terminal, after cops turned the young’ns away, it seems only natural to put these teens out on the streets again. Better they shoot each other outside than spill or drop things inside.

Posted by eric at 10:19 AM

September 20, 2010

Ratner Mulls Visa Financing

The Wall Street Journal
by Eliot Brown

Not content with raising money through "traditional" means, like below-market, backroom purchases of publicly owned railyards and investments from Russian billionaire oligarchs, Bruce Ratner is going to start selling green cards through an obscure, dubious, government-backed program, proving that no subsidized financing scheme is too wacky when it comes to Atlantic Yards.

Developer Bruce Ratner is eyeing a federal program that gives green cards to investors as a way of raising new financing for his massive Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn.

Mr. Ratner is planning to fly to China next month hoping to use the program to raise about $250 million for the $4.9 billion development, which is slated to include a basketball arena, thousands of apartments and office space. While he had enough to begin construction this spring of Atlantic Yards' centerpiece $900 million arena for the Nets, he still is seeking financing for other pieces.

Enacted in 1990, the federal program has raised more than $1 billion by granting green cards to investors who lend at least $500,000 to job-creating projects in needy areas. Last year, 4,218 green cards were issued through the program.

The funds being sought by Mr. Ratner's company, Forest City Ratner would be among the largest amount borrowed for one project through the program, called EB-5 because it represents a fifth category of employment-based visas. The program had been rarely used in New York, but this spring the Brooklyn Navy Yard sought $125 million in financing through EB-5.


NoLandGrab: Worried that the "coyotes" might shake you down or abandon you to drug lords when they're supposed to be sneaking you across the border from Tijuana? Just plunk down 500 large with Bruce Ratner, and you can stroll into the U-S-of-A like you were born here.

Posted by eric at 11:08 PM

Atlantic Yards: The Videogame

It was only a matter of time before someone came up with an Atlantic Yards-themed videogame.

Well, almost.

Introducing Nail Household Fighting Against Demolition Squad.

The Wall Street Journal, Fighting Eviction: The Videogame

A new online game lets players join China’s ongoing battle between property developers and homeowners.

Nail Household vs. Demolition Team, released by Mirage Games in August, is set in a cleared pit, empty except for a lone three-story house marked “chai” — the Chinese word for demolition.

The goal? To defend your house against guards and gangsters brandishing knives and bouncing on jackhammers. The characters you can play include a woman in curlers who throws sandals at encroaching attackers, a pot-bellied man who drops dynamite from the roof, and an old man with a shotgun.

When you win a level, the woman appears, pointing a finger at the Forbidden City, the symbolic center of the government’s power. When you lose, the house collapses in a cloud of dust.

The game is the latest example of how chai is bleeding into Chinese pop culture. Earlier this year, Li Chengpeng drew attention for “Avatar: An Epic Nail House Textbook,” which compares the plight of James Cameron’s Na’vi to the people who live in “nail houses,” so named because they stick out of construction sites like a nail out of a plank of wood.

Nail Household vs. Demolition Team is popular online, with more than 50,000 comments about it on social-media site Renren.com and more than 10,000 users discussing the game in their online diaries.

But players complain that they can never complete the final “survival” level, where swarms of demolition workers overwhelm the house’s defenders.

“The cruel fact from the game is: Even if you survive the previous six levels, your house will be demolished at the end anyways,” a Twitter user named “windchaos” wrote.

Play the Game, in Chinese

Play the Game, (partially) translated version

NoLandGrab: We've made it to Level Four Five Six the final level. But is it any surprise that "your house will be demolished at the end anyways?"

Image: Mirage Games

Posted by eric at 6:32 PM

Bicycle Mischief Targets Barclays

The Wall Street Journal
by David Enrich and Paul Sonne

It would appear that the British megabank, none too popular in Prospect Heights, isn't wowing them at home, either.

When British bank Barclays PLC agreed to shell out £25 million ($39 million) to sponsor London's new public bike-rental program, it envisioned the marketing benefits of seeing its sky-blue logo draped on thousands of cycles around the city.

But this week Barclays' prime marketing opportunity quite literally turned into a curse.

Londoners woke up Friday morning to find obscene stickers affixed to a number of the rental cycles. Attached to the bikes just above the bank's logo, the decals delivered a one-word message that, combined with the bank's name underneath, succinctly conveyed many Britons' anger toward the banking sector: "F– Barclays."

"There are fairly resourceful people out there, even if they've got potty mouths," said Matt Brown, a spokesman for Transport for London, which runs the city's extensive network of public buses, trains, boats and now bikes.


NoLandGrab: First Bruce Ratner, now Barclays. To what do they owe their popularity? Visit Wooster Collective for NC-17 photos of London's rebranded bicycles.

Posted by eric at 6:19 PM

Brooklyn Historical Society exhibit mistakenly claims Ratner built on site O'Malley wanted, which "remained largely unchanged until 2003"

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder has a fascinating post on a new, factually inaccurate exhibition by the Brooklyn Historical Society. Be sure to check out the maps of the several locations proposed in the Fifties for a replacement for Ebbets Field.

OK, it's not an uncommon error. The New York Times got it wrong, and so did an author relying on the newspaper.

But the Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS)?

Yes, the BHS dismayingly continues the meme--nudged by developer Forest City Ratner and perpetuated by journalists and authors--that the Atlantic Yards arena would be situated on the "same site" Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley sought for a successor to Ebbets Field.

The meme mars a generally good BHS exhibition, Home Base: Memories of the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field, which includes a panel stating:

Across town, the site where O'Malley had hoped to build his new stadium remained largely unchanged until 2003, when real estate developer Bruce Ratner announced plans for the area. He envisioned eight million square feet of apartments, offices, shops, and an arena for the New Jersey Nets basketball team. Neighborhood opposition and an economic recession slowed progress. But Ratner finally broke ground on March 11, 2010.

(Emphasis added)

That's not true--and it's disappointing (see below) that the BHS plans only to have its guides offer clarifications, rather than re-do or annotate the panel.


NoLandGrab: The Brooklyn Historical Society, which has accepted money from Ratner and Barclays, is not distinguishing itself by shaping "history" to Bruce Ratner's benefit. BHS? More like BS.

Posted by eric at 10:14 AM

Forest City Ratner Wants Kids To Get Off Their Damn Mall


Straight from the "Get-off-of-our-lawns" files: Forest City Ratner, developers of the huge Atlantic Yards project, doesn't want groups of teens hanging out around the Atlantic Terminal mall they operate in Fort Greene. The mall has a policy that groups of four or more people under 21 years old and unaccompanied by a parent are not allowed to linger at the mall. According to Jesse Tron of the International Council of Shopping Centers, the policy is unusually harsh, “more all-encompassing” than others around the country, and “more restrictive” of young shoppers.

Some teens contacted Councilwoman Letitia James, who represents the area; she allegedly wrote back, "I am meeting with management next week to resolve this illegal ban."


NoLandGrab: And all this time, we thought the way to deal with crime was to use eminent domain.

Posted by eric at 10:04 AM

Did Team Prokhorov Once Want an NBA Franchise in Moscow?


The Nets fan blog reports that Mikhail Prokhorov had hoped to start the wheels turning on a Moscow-based NBA franchise back in 2006.

When the NBA announced it was going to open a Russian office--and word got out that the Nets will hold an open practice in Moscow, Prokhorov advisor Sergey Kushchenko told Russian media that the NBA has long wanted to do business in Russia, even before Mikhail Prokhorov bought the Nets.

He would know. Kushchenko is the man who tried to put the earlier deal together. It's an interesting bit of NBA history, one that indicates that the Nets were Prokhorov's Plan "B". Plan "A" was making CSKA Moscow a global brand and maybe even an NBA franchise!


Posted by eric at 9:31 AM

September 19, 2010

On signs for trucks, "Carlton Street" and "Pacific Avenue" now covered and corrected

Atlantic Yards Report

Do not let it be said that Forest City Ratner does not listen to criticism.

Remember how they were tweaked in June for putting up signs that welcomed truckers to "Carlton Street" and "Pacific Avenue"?

Well, that's been remedied. (I don't know how quickly it was done, but I took the photo when I was out earlier this month.)


Posted by steve at 9:25 AM

Hunters Point South: open competition draws at least two bidders

Atlantic Yards Report

It's possible to take a large development site, divide it into smaller parcels and have different developers submit competitive bids? Wow, why didn't the Empire State Development Corporation Bruce Ratner think of this?

In June, I wrote about Hunters Point South, an affordable housing project, unlike Atlantic Yards, in which public land is divided into multiple sites for which competitive bids will be solicited.

Well, at least two developers will be bidding for the first parcel, 1000 of the expected 5000 units.

Crain's reported September 16, in an article headlined Developers line up for shot at huge Queens project:

At least two major developers will be submitting their proposals to develop a huge 30-acre Queens plot which was once envisioned as the site of an Olympic Village to house athletes for the 2012 games.

Both L+M Development Partners and Douglaston Development said they will respond to the city's request for proposals by the Friday deadline. The site along the waterfront in Long Island City, Queens, dubbed Hunters Point South, is expected to be turned into a $175 million residential and retail development with 5,000 apartments—60% of them reserved for middle-income residents—plus a high school for 1,100 students, a community facility and retail space. Bids were originally due Sept. 7, but due to the Labor Day weekend and developers' request for more time, the deadline was extended, according to the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

A housing department spokesman said, given the number and range of attendees at the pre-submission conference, the city is optimistic that it will get a good response from a wide array of developers. “We hope to designate one or more development teams around the end of this year or beginning of next year,” he said.

Atlantic Yards didn't work like that.


Posted by steve at 9:15 AM

Staten Island’s Cedar Grove: City Wants the Next Chapter of a 50-Year Eminent Domain Saga to Be Final Dismantling of a 100-Year Old Community

Noticing New York

An article in the Village Voice is the jumping-off spot for this entry about an attempt by the city to exercise eminent domain. It's a twisted tale that begins 50 years ago when land was taken for a project that never happened, and then leased back to the original owners. Now the city wants to again kick this group out for ... what purpose? Blog author Michael D. D. White may not be able to reveal all, but he's raised some interesting questions.

The Village Voice has a new must read article about Staten Island’s small summer community of Cedar Grove (brought to our attention by the Historic Districts Council) that provides much food for thought. See: "Poor Man's Bermuda" in Staten Island? Not anymore, By Elizabeth Dwoskin Sep 15 2010. Though the story concerns itself with a community of just 41 families it manages in microcosm to provide perspective on a superabundance of important issues, far more than arise in a typical public development story: eminent domain, the unreliability of public officials and their vision, parks, privilege, municipal budgeting, and finally historic preservation.


At first blush it might seem like a simple story pretty much the way City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe wants to tell it: That this private community (and club) is on public park land and its residents have been able to be there only because the Parks Department has let them occupy their premises at an exceedingly low rent. Ahem: It ain’t that simple.


Posted by steve at 9:03 AM

September 18, 2010

Blight? Perceived problems with teens prompts unusually draconian Forest City Ratner policy (that is also over-enforced) at Atlantic Terminal Mall

Atlantic Yards Report

Oh, remember the Blight Study conducted for the Empire State Development Corporation that concluded that "the relatively low number of crimes reported at the shopping centers indicates that the high crime rate in sector 88E is more likely a result of crimes occurring on the project site than in Atlantic Center or Atlantic Terminal"?

I wrote in March 2009 that that was bogus, and a continuing stream of crime reports from those malls confirms that.

And there has been at least one major incident at the Atlantic Terminal mall, last November, when large numbers of teens--drawn by an “unauthorized flier being circulated on social networking sites,” according to a Buffalo Wild Wings executive--gathered at the mall and were forced to disperse, with two people being shot.


However, instead of having the malls declared blighted, mall owner Forest City Ratner (the Atlantic Yards developer) is cracking down with enforcement. The New York Times reports, in an article headlined Brooklyn Malls Try to Limit Youth Loitering:

Groups of four or more people under 21 years old and unaccompanied by a parent are not allowed to linger, lest they become a large unruly group or even an impromptu gathering known as a flash mob.

Students said they had noticed a zestful enforcement of the policy since the school year began.

Read the rest of the blog post to learn about contradictory enforcement policies and how plans for the crackdown in the mall were not shared anyone in the community, despite Forest City's claims otherwise.


Posted by steve at 5:50 PM

Times reports on school visit by Nets coach and two dancers: "Nets Already In Brooklyn"

Atlantic Yards Report

In trying to encourage better nutrition, school cafeterias these days are trying to steer students' tastes away from cold cuts. However, some baloney found its way to students of Brooklyn's Middle School 51 by way of the New Jersey Nets. The New York Times dutifully passed said baloney onto its readers.

The New York Times Metro section doesn't see fit to report on, say, the curious appointment of Arana Hankin as Atlantic Yards Project Manager, but the newspaper so often has room to promote gratuitous Nets fluff.

Remember that long Metro section article last January about promoting the Nets in Brooklyn or that Sports section puff piece last November about Devin Harris?

Well, yesterday the Sports section offered a standalone photo showing new Nets coach Avery Johnson at a middle school in Brooklyn, accompanied by two Nets dancers in very short skirts (great role model, right?). No players apparently showed up


Posted by steve at 5:43 PM

September 17, 2010

The Day: Atlantic Terminal Teen Ban

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

Is Bruce Ratner getting tough on crime? Or just picking on kids?

Lastly, we heard about minors being turned away from the Atlantic Terminal mall yesterday. Brooklyn Technical High School students were told they need to be accompanied by someone at least 21 years old to enter the mall. For some students at the high school the ban seems unwarranted, and it prevents them from using a student government card that gives discounts at many stores in the mall. Which gives us an idea: We’ve always heard that to go to Chuck E. Cheese’s at Atlantic Terminal you need to have a minor in tow. Sometimes, even as an adult, you just want some skeeball and pizza. Maybe we can set up a Local exchange program pairing teens and childlike adults?


Posted by eric at 12:34 PM

Now they tell us: ads for Montgomery proclaiming independence from "special interests" come from (not disclosed) special interest (NYSUT)

Atlantic Yards Report

Like other residents of the 18th Senatorial District, I got several slick mailings with the same "Velmanette Montgomery" logo but no returning mailing address, just a tiny, unreadable logo.

And Montgomery's campaign said they didn't know who was responsible.

That's unacceptable. Either they were lying or should know. (It's shades of BUILD's James Caldwell, in 2005, claiming he didn't know who was paying for the group's public relations.)

The day after Montgomery cruised to a more than 4-to-1 margin--thanks, in part to a 10-to 1 advantage in volunteers, many from unions--I got a message from Montgomery staffer Jim Vogel.

"Senator Montgomery’s campaign finally discovered who sent out the mailer you were wondering about," he wrote. "Yesterday afternoon we had a visit from the local head of the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) who told Senator Montgomery they did the mailing. She really had no idea before then."

It's a logical contribution, given that Montgomery was opposed by Mark Pollard, funded by charter school supporters, but it wasn't a transparent one.

(And I'm now assuming that the campaign call I thought was funded by Pollard's campaign came from the teachers.)

There's no little irony in Montgomery not only getting support from the teachers, but having them produce a somewhat deceptive campaign mailer about her opposition to Atlantic Yards.

After all, they're not on the same page regarding the project.

In August 2006, there was United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten at a pro-project rally, declaring confidently that “the advantages outweigh the risks,” citing the importance of affordable housing to schoolteachers who want to live near the communities where they work.


NoLandGrab: As Oder points out, Montgomery finally got some financial support from State Senate Conference President (and Forest City fundraiser beneficiary) John Sampson on September 3rd — likely once they figured out she was going to crush her opponent on Primary Day.

Posted by eric at 12:04 PM

Storm knocks down construction fence on Dean Street, offers back view of 24 Sixth Avenue

Atlantic Yards Report

The storm yesterday also took down (at least temporarily) part of a construction fence on Dean Street between Flatbush Avenue and Sixth Avenue, allowing views of the two remaining buildings on the arena block.

At right is 636 Pacific Street.

(Photo and video by Raul Rothblatt.)

As shown in video below, the demolition of several buildings, notably the set-back 475 Dean Street, offers an unusual view of the light-colored back of 24 Sixth Avenue, the Spalding Building, known for its red-brick facade.


NoLandGrab: Any damage done by yesterday's storm pales beside the damage already wrought by Hurricane Bruce.

Posted by eric at 11:49 AM

Zoning Changes for Comptroller

The Wall Street Journal
by Eliot Brown

Reportorial whiz-kid Eliot Brown has apparently made his way over to the WSJ, where he reports today on efforts by City Comptroller John Liu to change the way Community Benefits Agreements are done.

A task force commissioned by City Comptroller John Liu is poised to call for a major change in the way that the city determines what amenities—such as affordable housing and parks—to extract from real-estate developers in exchange for approving their plans.

Those decisions are among the most controversial parts of the city's rough-and-tumble land-use approval process and are often criticized for the inconsistent way in which they are made. A draft report by the task force, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, recommends that new groups made up of community representatives—and monitored by the comptroller—negotiate benefit deals with developers involving major rezoning decisions.

Currently there's no formalized way in which these deals are made. Rather a collection of interest groups typically participate, including elected officials, community organizations and others, with the ultimate decision on the zoning being made by the City Council.

Under the comptroller's proposal, the City Council would still get to vote on the zoning decision. But the negotiations with the developer for parks, affordable housing, job training or other benefits would be removed from the council because they would be completed months before the zoning vote.

The draft, issued by the task force this week, has immediately stoked concerns among city officials, some real-estate executives and others that the new negotiations would add cost and time onto an already-lengthy development process and give new power to the comptroller. Mr. Liu's office cautioned that the report on so-called Community Benefits Agreements is not final and is subject to change.

The question of how community benefits are determined was an early priority for Mr. Liu when he took office in January. Benefits agreements struck on projects such as Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards and the Columbia University expansion have been criticized as being inconsistent, unpredictable, unenforceable, and possibly illegal. Those are typically negotiated with input from the City Council during the rezoning process.


NoLandGrab: Of course, in the case of Atlantic Yards, there was no rezoning, and the Council had no input into CBA "negotiations," which were, for the most part, carried out between Bruce Ratner and organizations created and funded by Bruce Ratner.

Posted by eric at 11:37 AM

Blight Fight

Why is the city of Montgomery condemning the property of African-Americans along a civil rights trail?

by Radley Balko

Bruce Ratner's eminent domain-abusing megaproject makes a cameo in a report of abuses that make Atlantic Yards seem downright benign.

When the city of Montgomery, Ala., razed the home of Karen Jones' family last April, there were still photos and family furniture inside. The city says it gave Jones notice the bulldozers were coming, but she says the notices were sent to her deceased grandmother (the home's former owner) and a deceased uncle. The reason given for the demolition was that the front porch wasn't up to code. The city declared her properly "blighted," and destroyed the building, rather than helping Jones and her family fix the porch, or fixing it and sending her a bill. And then Montgomery sent Jones a bill of $1,225, the cost of the demolition. If she doesn't pay, the city will put a lien on the property. If she still doesn't pay, the city can seize the land or sell it at auction.

What happened to Jones isn't unusual. Over the last decade or so, dozens—perhaps hundreds—of homes in Montgomery have been declared blighted and razed in a similar manner. The owners tend to be disproportionately poor and black, and with little means to fight back. And here's the kicker: Many of the homes fall along a federally funded civil rights trail in the neighborhood where Rosa Parks lived. Activists say the weird pattern may not be coincidence. "What's happening in Montgomery is a civil rights crisis," says David Beito, a history professor at the University of Alabama who, as chair of the Alabama State Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, held hearings on the demolitions in April of last year.

Just how many homes have been targeted over the years isn't clear, in part because most of the people targeted haven't the means or the will to fight the condemnations. But some residents believe the number is in the hundreds.

Beito calls these actions "eminent domain through the back door." And they're actually more sinister than the take-from-the-poor, give-to-the-rich eminent domain schemes you may have heard of, like the infamous Kelo v. New London Supreme Court case, or the more recent Atlantic Yards project in New York City. Alabama state law actually forbids the use of eminent domain for private development. Instead, Montgomery deems property blighted based on a section of state law that gives code inspectors wide leeway. The owner must then correct the problem to the satisfaction of the inspectors, or the city will do it what it did threatened to do to Jones: Raze the property, bill the owner for the demolition, and then sell the property off to developers if the owner doesn't pay. If you can't afford repairs, you may well lose your home.

This is much worse than eminent domain, which requires the government to pay owners fair market value.


Posted by eric at 11:28 AM

September 16, 2010

Latest ESDC (from FCR) Construction Update comes from Director Arana Hankin; ESDC says it found "a good fit" without advertising to fill position

Atlantic Yards Report

Arana Hankin is on the job directing the Atlantic Yards project--well, at the least, forwarding Forest City Ratner-prepared Construction Updates.

Consider that an August 30 email from the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), updating community members on construction activities for the next two weeks, came as usual from Project Associate Harlan Pruden.

By contrast, the email sent yesterday, with some words missing:

Subject: Atlantic Yards Construction Update for the weeks beginning

In our ongoing effort to update you on construction activities surrounding the Atlantic Yards project; attached is the construction update for the weeks beginning September 13, 2010.

As always, please let us know if you have any questions.

Arana J. Hankin
Director, Atlantic Yards Project
Empire State Development Corporation

Why no search?

I asked the ESDC why no one other than Hankin (who earns $110,000) was considered for the job--a job that was never announced or advertised.

Spokeswoman Elizabeth Mitchell responded: "In selecting a candidate for this position, ESD engaged in a review first internally and then externally to identify an individual suitable for the position. In this case, ESD found someone within our administration who we believe is a good fit. Ms. Hankin is well qualified and was already intimately familiar with the project, the players and the progress."


NoLandGrab: A no-bid project director for a no (real)-bid project? Not a surprise.

Posted by eric at 9:28 AM

In Cleveland, public corruption indictments leave Forest City unscathed, but lucrative land deal remains "a head-scratcher"

Atlantic Yards Report

In August 2008, Cleveland-area media reported on a public corruption probe that involved, among other things, a curiously lucrative return to a subsidiary of developer Forest City Enterprises.

Today some indictments came down, but the developer--shades of the Ridge Hill case involving subsidiary Forest City Ratner?--seems unscathed.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on the indictment of Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora, a man who once declared "I'm not an angel, but I'm no crook... I'm not doing anything different than any other public official does."

The article stated:

In 2000, Dimora ballyhooed the purchase of contaminated Cleveland land that, after a decade and millions of additional tax dollars needed for environmental cleanup, is finally set to house a new Juvenile Justice Center. He said then that the project would create 200 jobs.

The deal has always been a head-scratcher. The county's interest in the land was known, but a subsidiary of real estate developer Forest City Enterprises bought it at a county auditor's sale for about $400,000. Then, months later, the county bought the property back for $2.75 million.

On the day the deal was signed, Campbell, according to an audio recording of the meeting, marveled that a project in limbo for years took off after Dimora became a commissioner.

"It's being Italian," Dimora replied then. "You make people an offer they can't refuse."

Federal agents sought documents related to the project when they raided his office in 2008.

Indeed, it's a real head-scratcher. It's not even part of the 139-page indictment. Another Plain Dealer article reported that the overall investigation continues.


NoLandGrab: Head-scratcher? With all the mutual back-scratching that goes on between Forest City and Cleveland's public officials, it's hardly surprising.

Posted by eric at 9:21 AM

Leading Atlantic Yards Opponents Trounce Opponents in Democratic Primary

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

While Bruce Ratner is making a mess over at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush after putting shovels in the ground, two of the most high profile political opponents of Atlantic Yards were held in high regard yesterday by the voters. Of course Atlantic Yards was not the defining issue in yesterday's races for State Senate in the 18th district and State Committee member (Male District Leader) in the 52nd district, but the fervor of the opposition sure helped Chris Owens win office for the first time and Senator Velmanette Montgomery retain her seat in the Senate. And both highlighted their Atlantic Yards opposition during their campaigns.

It is pretty clear that in Central Brooklyn an overwhelming percentage of the electorate is very comfortable with the position these two leaders have held over the past seven years.


Posted by eric at 9:17 AM

The rippling New York building which looks like the set of movie Inception

The Daily Mail

Bet you couldn't guess from the headline whose building they might be talking about.

It looks like a scene from the movie Inception, but this rippling 76-storey megalith is actually a real life building which stands in downtown Manhattan.

The Beekman Tower, which was designed by architect Frank Gehry, is the latest addition to the New York skyline and is set to be one of the city’s tallest buildings when it launches later this year.

It’s undulating steel frame provides the illusion of movement, which is reminiscent of the transforming architecture in Christopher Nolan’s Inception starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a thief who extracts information from the subconscious mind of his victims while they dream.


NoLandGrab: Which is in turn reminiscent of the plot of Atlantic Yards, which stars Bruce Ratner as a thief who extracts private property and a billion dollars in subsidies from homeowners and taxpayers while our elected officials are wide awake.

Posted by eric at 9:07 AM

Candidates of Wall Street, Charter Schools Wash Out in Democratic Primaries

The L Magazine
by Mark Asch

Earlier this year, the great Tom Robbins reported on deep-pocketed charter school advocates essentially sponsoring primary challenges to three Democratic state senators "whose tough talk during the debate rubbed charter advocates the wrong way," though they eventually did vote for a bill that worked out to charters' advantage (having gotten concessions about auditing and conflicts of interest inserted into the bill). The piece begins at a meet-and-greet sponsored by a rich millionaire, at which candidates are introduced to the hedge-fund millionaires largely behind the candidacy of Reshma Saujani, the former finance-industry professional running as a "fresh face" against Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, of the Upper East Side.

The three Senators who offended the charter schools were Harlem's pretty great Bill Perkins (also a persuasive, vociferous opponent of Atlantic Yards), who chaired hearings on the subject and wondered aloud, "What about the 97 percent of kids in regular schools? Where's the energy and attention for them?"; my state senator, the distinguished Velmanette Montgomery (asked why he was gunning for the state senate, the opponent recruited to run against her told Robbins only said, "It's time for new, energetic leadership), and Shirley Huntley, of Queens, who also voted against gay marriage (her opponent, previously a candidate for City Council, also received support from gay advocacy groups).

Yesterday, in the Democratic primary, Perkins defeated former Hillary Clinton aide Basil Smikle with more than three quarters of the vote. Montgomery defeated lawyer Mark Pollard, garnering more than four fifths of the vote. Huntley won with slightly less than three quarters of the vote.


Posted by eric at 7:55 AM

September 15, 2010

In the 52nd, Owens, Simon win big over machine; Restler edges out Cohn; Montgomery, Millman, Towns cruise to victory

Atlantic Yards Report

In the 52nd District: Owens and Simon

Despite endorsements and robo-calls from Borough President Marty Markowitz and 33rd District Council Member Steve Levin, and a slew of mailings, the two machine candidates for District Leader in the 52nd Assembly District, Hope Reichhbach and Steve Williamson, lost big.

One source of suspense was whether Jesse Strauss, who ran with Simon, both endorsed by the Independent Neighborhood Democrats, would split the reform vote with Owens sufficiently to let Williamson prevail.

That was not to be, as Owens, who has more name recognition due to longer service and his 2006 race for Congress (in which he was the candidate against Atlantic Yards), relied on the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats (CBID) and other endorsements.

Owens: anti-Atlantic Yards spirit helped

CBID First VP Raul Rothblatt shot the video below, in which Owens said an anti-Atlantic Yards spirit helped him win.


Posted by eric at 12:34 PM

No surprises at all in local primaries

The Brooklyn Paper
by Aaron Short and Andy Campbell

The headline overstates the absence of surprises, but one thing was very clear: candidates with a strong record of fighting Atlantic Yards won big.

State Senate — Democrats
Velmanette Montgomery, 12,742
Mark Pollard, 3,104

18th District

Fort Greene, Park Slope and Red Hook

Incumbent Velmanette Montgomery won in an 81-19 percent landslide over newcomer Mark Pollard, yet another weak challenger to a senator who has been in Albany since 1986.

Some said Pollard was a fresh face, but Montgomery won big, in part due to her support for the federal Superfund clean-up of the Gowanus Canal, the fetid waterway that now has a federal budget, and her longtime opposition to the Atlantic Yards mega-development.

District leaders
Chris Owens, 2,154
Jesse Strauss, 1,361
Stephen Williamson, 771

Jo Anne Simon, 2,645
Hope Reichbach, 1,657

52nd Assembly District

DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Park Slope


Posted by eric at 12:19 PM

Atlantic Yards: The Musical


The Daily News describes a couple of the musical numbers in the Atlantic Yards stage spectacular, which is a thing that exists: "In one song, 'A Word of Advice,' a new arrival cautions against telling friends about how much space you can get for the money in gentrifying areas - so they don't bid up prices. In 'White People,' long-time residents mock a clueless newcomer who thinks it's fine to jog down a sketchy block near midnight." It's too bad the Barclays Center groundbreaking was already the best Atlantic Yards theater imaginable.


Posted by eric at 12:11 PM

A mugging at the Martyrs Monument

The Brooklyn Paper, Police Blotter
by Thomas Tracy

What we said last week.

Malled again

There were two more crimes inside the troubled Atlantic Terminal and Atlantic Center malls last week:

• A 14-year-old electronics addict tried to swipe an iPhone from a 10-year-old boy inside the Target in the crime-ridden Atlantic Terminal on Sept. 11, but was stopped before he could make off with the super-pricey toy.

The child’s step-father was named hero for the day after he chased down the teen inside the troubled shopping center at 5:30 pm and held him for police.

• A shoplifter was arrested on Sept. 12 after she tried to sneak out of the Old Navy in the Atlantic Center with $1,000 worth of stolen goods. Employees said the teenage thief tried to smuggle out 33 shirts and 12 pairs of pants from the store between S. Portland Avenue and Fort Greene Place at 2:10 pm, but was grabbed up before she could lug the clothes past the cash registers.


NoLandGrab: Funny, we first read that headline as "A mugging at the Marty's Monument."

Posted by eric at 11:20 AM

September 14, 2010

Atlantic Yards fight tale hits a new stage: Play tells story from all sides

NY Daily News
by Elizabeth Lazarowitz

The controversy surrounding Atlantic Yards may have settled down, but the curtain's just going up on a play about the battle.

As the fight over the $4.9 billion development project was raging two years ago, Manhattan-based theater troupe The Civilians set out to bring that real-life drama to the stage.

"We wanted to let the people involved speak for themselves a bit more - in particular the residents of Prospect Heights and those most closely affected by the project," said The Civilians' artistic director Steve Cosson, who lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

The group interviewed neighborhood activists, residents, politicians and key players from community groups and labor unions and combed through recordings of community meetings and speeches.

The result is "In the Footprint: The Battle Over the Atlantic Yards," a collection of monologues and songs that opens in November.

The show will take place just blocks from the site of the planned 22-acre arena, apartment and office tower complex at the Irondale Center in the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church.

The group is now adding in the latest twists and turns to the full-length version.

"I don't think anyone would have guessed that a Russian oligarch would have dropped in out of the sky," Cosson said, referring to Mikhail Prokhorov, the billionaire mining tycoon who now has a stake in both the New Jersey Nets and the new arena.


NoLandGrab: The controversy surrounding Atlantic Yards has "settled down" only because a passel of judges has failed to stop the corrupt steamrolling of an entire Brooklyn neighborhood.

Posted by eric at 10:20 AM

Ex-federal agent: Barclays, banks get "wrist slaps" for violating trade sanctions, but individuals should be held responsible

Atlantic Yards Report

Last month, I wrote how Barclays Bank PLC, has committed, as part of deferred prosecution agreements, "to forfeit $298 million... in connection with violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Trading with the Enemy Act."

Barclays voluntarily disclosed its long-running violations only eight months before the Atlantic Yards naming rights deal was announced. While the settlement was approved by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, it came after Sullivan a day earlier criticized it as "a sweetheart deal."

Who's responsible?

Today, former federal agent Robert Mazur, takes aim at the deal in a New York Times op-ed headlined Follow the Dirty Money. His point? Individuals should be held responsible.


Posted by eric at 9:36 AM

Forest City Enterprises conference call: earnings from Nets sale, concern about the cost of capital, and 80 DeKalb satisfaction

Atlantic Yards Report

In a conference call yesterday with investment analysts, Forest City Enterprises executives said relatively little about Atlantic Yards, but emphasized moderately positive results, careful attention to the cost of financing, and the challenge of refinancing.

Sale of Nets key

They reiterated that the sale of 80 percent of the Nets to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov was key to improved second quarter results.

Not only did Prokhorov mean a $31.4 million gain and increased earnings "as we recovered a portion of our losses," said Executive VP Bob O'Brien, so did earnings for the Nets improve by $7.7 million, "primarily due to reduced amortization of player contracts compared to 2009."

I think that means that the departure of some high-priced players meant for a smaller payroll.


Posted by eric at 9:30 AM

It Now Comes Down To This: Democrats Should (Run Off and) Vote Tomorrow For Eric Schneiderman as Attorney General

Noticing New York

To get a feel for all of these issues we still feel that best touchstone is Atlantic Yards and the hard questions that can be asked about the specifics that come to light when that is given focus. That includes the fact that Andrew Cuomo, our current state Attorney General and presumptive governor-to-be, has taken and not returned campaign contributions from Forest City Ratner, the developer of Atlantic Yards notwithstanding requests that he take action with respect to the megadevelopment. (At an event not long ago one of his campaign representatives explained that the contributions did not need to be returned because of the timing of their acceptance!)

We therefore suggest that the best way to get a feeling for what the candidates might do in terms of cleaning up Albany (a better feel than you will get listening to the debates) is to read our earlier article that uses Atlantic Yards and eminent domain abuse as a touchstone. We think that when you have duly considered the matter you will vote Eric Schneiderman especially when you consider that he seems to be the one with the momentum necessary to defeat Kathleen Rice.


Posted by eric at 9:23 AM

Primary Day: A few mini-endorsements

Joshua Malbin

For most of the ultralocal races, it matters most who’s most willing to take on Kings County boss Vito Lopez. So I’m following The Brooklyn Paper and going with Chris Owens for male District Leader over Jesse Strauss and Steve Williamson; and Jo Anne Simon over Hope Reichbach for female District Leader. (I’m breaking my personal rule of thumb here to always do the opposite of what Gatemouth wants.)

And Velmanette Montgomery over Mark Pollard. Montgomery is one of the guys with her heart in the right place. She stood up against the Atlantic Yards project and so as far as I’m concerned she gets to go back to Albany until I see a strong reason why she shouldn’t.


Posted by eric at 8:58 AM

September 13, 2010

Election preview: why the race in the 18th Senatorial District is no inspiring example of democratic debate

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder has an in-depth rundown on the race for the 18th State Senate district, in which anti-Atlantic Yards stalwart Velmanette Montgomery faces a challenge from Charter School advocate Mark Pollard, who promises he'll keep a close eye on Bruce C. Ratner. Uh huh.

I can't say the 18th Senatorial District race between 26-year incumbent Velmanette Montgomery and challenger Mark Pollard has been a particularly inspiring example of democracy.

While the candidates have been out campaigning, the main contact many of us have with this race is by receiving propaganda in the mail.


Posted by eric at 10:24 AM

September 12, 2010

Real estate ad: Beat the Nets to Brooklyn

Atlantic Yards Report

Rising real estate values are anticipated with the construction of the Nets arena? Why not? The area around an arena is probably as attractive as, say, the residential streets adjoining Bruce Ratner's mall.

Well, maybe real estate agent Delroy Bodley could use a little help with fonts and proofreading (click on graphic to enlarge), but he gets credit for being the first to presume that the arrival of the Atlantic Yards arena will boost downtown real estate values:


If so, then shouldn't those luxury condos on the Atlantic Yards site go up lickety-split?

Well, maybe not. The apartment at issue is about $700 a square foot. Forest City Ratner, according to a KPMG report, is counting on sales prices of $1217/sf in 2015 up to $1369/sf in 2019.


Posted by steve at 11:03 AM

How did the Ward Bakery go unprotected? "The key is what the [Landmarks Preservation] commission avoids doing."

Atlantic Yards Report

There's an important clue regarding the fate of the Ward Bakery, now demolished, in The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs, by Roberta Brandes Gratz.

Writes Gratz, a member of the Landmarks Preservation Commission:

The fundamental dilemma of the Landmarks Preservation Commission is the conflict between preservation and new development in a city where real estate ownership trumps all else in access to power and influence… But when a site does get put on the commission calendar to be considered… the public hearing process is quite admirable.. The measure of the commission is not just what gets designated a landmark or a landmark district. The key is what the commission avoids doing.

Indeed, the commission, which is controlled by the mayor, avoided considering the Ward Bakery in its map of the new Prospect Heights Historic District.

Today's panel

Gratz will be on a panel at 1 pm today at the Brooklyn Book Festival:

Change Is Gonna Come: The Fluid Life of New York City. In a city like New York, change is constant. Yet with that change comes numerous and oftentimes competing interests. Sharon Zukin (Naked City), Roberta Brandes Gratz (The Battle for Gotham), Jonathan Soffer (Ed Koch and the Rebuilding of New York City) and Martin Lemelman (Two Cents Plain) consider the perpetual ebb and flow of the Big Apple and how it affects us all.


Posted by steve at 10:57 AM

Yankees parking garages nearing default on bonds

Field of Schemes

The publicly-subsidized parking garages for the new Yankee Stadium are losing money. This is an example why claims like the $6 billion lie for the Atlantic Yards project need to be examined closely so that government doesn't give away taxpayer money while receiving no public benefit.

When New York Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez reported back in June that the parking garages at the new Yankee Stadium were losing money and could cause the garage operator to skip rent payments to the city, city Economic Development Corporation spokesperson David Lombino wrote to Gonzalez (and to me):

When the bonds were issued, an independent analysis found that typical parking demand would eventually generate enough revenue to cover bond expenses, rent and PILOT. Last year, occupancy was lower than the analysis predicted. As the economy improves, we can expect that occupancy would improve. So far this year, there are more vehicles using the parking lots (through April), and if occupancy returns to typical historical levels in line with the independent analysis, revenues will increase and based on these assumptions the lots will generate enough revenue to cover bond expenses, and to begin paying rent and PILOT. That could be as soon as this year.

Or not. Gonzalez writes in today's News that the garages are on the verge of defaulting on their bonds, with the nonprofit Bronx Parking Development warning bondholders that it has "insufficient funds" to make a $6.8 million payment due October 1. The problem: Too many Yankees fans are taking the train to the game, or parking at the nearby Gateway Center mall where rates are much cheaper.


Posted by steve at 10:48 AM

A Downtown Hub Is Missed, and a Replacement Is Stalled

New York Times
By Abby Goodnough

The Times seems to be able to summon up regret for the destruction of Filene's Basement in Boston for a project that may never happen. Where is the concern for the Prospect Heights blocks that will be destroyed for the Atlantic Yards project which will only bring an arena and acres of parking lots for decades?

Two years have passed since the demolition of Filene’s Basement, where generations of Bostonians tussled over cut-rate designer clothes in a dingy but fiercely loved downtown store.

It was razed two years ago, and a $700 million tower, with a replacement store, was to rise at the site. The project was halted by the recession.

In its place, a $700 million tower was to rise with offices, condominiums, a hotel and a new Filene’s for the bargain hungry. But the recession halted the project, possibly for good, leaving Boston with a deserted construction pit in one of its busiest neighborhoods.


While such scars on the landscape are common these days, cities that gave up iconic buildings or businesses for outsize projects that may now never happen are suffering from a rising sense of regret.


Posted by steve at 10:19 AM

September 11, 2010

Atlantic Yards Report Saturday Morning Coverage of Local Races

Atlantic Yards Report

In the 57th, a District Leader debate that wasn't, and some signs of the times

Given the charged nature of the battle (as cited in The Local) between incumbent Olanike Alabi and challenger Renee Collymore for the position of Female District Leader in the 57th Assembly District, and given the announcement of the first debate for a District Leader position this season, I hauled over to the Humble Martial Arts Dojo on Fulton Street last night.

After all, some of these District Leader races are highly charged, but fought mainly with press releases and campaign fliers. Nobody debates.

It was not to be.

A handful of people showed up, a couple of them organizers from the Prospect Heights Action Coaltion (aka sisters Patti Hagan, who lives in Prospect Heights, and Schellie Hagan, who lives nearby in Clinton Hill) who know both candidates well; guest moderator Medhanie Estiphanos, a candidate for the 35th District Council seat last year; a couple of bloggers; a staffer for City Council Member Letitia James, and a couple of civilians.

Collymore came 15 minutes late. Olabi never arrived. (She told The Local her attorney advised her not to show and she had another engagement.

In 52nd District race, Owens mailer takes aim at both opponents

I was wondering how Chris Owens, running for Male District Leader in the 52nd Assembly District, would try to distinguish himself from not only the machine candidate, Stephen Williamson, but the other reform candidate, Jesse Strauss, who has the endorsement from one major political club (while Owens has more endorsements).

The answer: call Strauss the "Albany candidate." There's no proof, but maybe that's supposed to mean support from Assemblymember Joan Millman. (The rest of his fundraising has no obvious Albany connection.)

A more subtle critique--and one that should've been aired in a debate between the two--comes from Owens supporter David Michaelson, who writes that Owens said he wouldn't have run without the Lambda Independent Democrats' endorsement, while Strauss said he'd stay in.

Michaelson doesn't call Strauss an "Albany candidate," just a potential spoiler. The lesson, again, is that Instant Runoff Voting is needed, so voters can rank preferences. And that debates would help, so we don't have to rely on campaign advertising.

(Also, watch Room 8 blogger Gatemouth, aka Howard Graubard, and Strauss go at it.)

Posted by steve at 8:58 AM

Guest Blog: Hope Reichbach, Candidate for District Leader 52nd AD

Brooklyn Heights Blog

Hope Reichbach, endorsed by Brooklyn Democratic Party boss and Atlantic Yards supporter, Vito Lopez, uses this blog entry to take swings at her opponent, Jo Anne Simon. One big miss is her mischaracterization of Simon, a long-time opponent of Atlantic Yards.

Up until recently, she was pro-Atlantic Yards. Suddenly, when it seemed politically beneficial, she became a crusader against Atlantic Yards.

Despite Reichbach's claim of not wanting to sling mud, click through for the mudfest.


Posted by steve at 8:46 AM

September 10, 2010

District Leader races: Lopez issue gets more play in Voice than Brooklyn Paper; an Orwellian mailing in the 52nd; a debate tonight in the 57th

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder takes a well-worth-reading look at a number of contested races in Tuesday's primary — a job the Brooklyn Paper fails to tackle.

There a primary election Tuesday, with some hard-fought races, especially on the District Leader level.

So what does the Brooklyn Paper put on the quite-diverse front page of its new issue? Tabloid stuff, mostly, stories to get people talking but not that address that boring but important issue of power.

So, along with some news, we get a report on the Brooklyn Cyclones (hm, the Cyclones page inside is sponsored by stadium sponsor MCU, which means there's another article), an article about kickball (!), and a story plus major graphics about an all-insect dinner.

The editorial page? No endorsements, but a safe enough stand for religious tolerance.

There's a full page ad about using the new voting machines. On page 12, there's an Election Guide that takes up about one-third of a page, with brief descriptions of contested legislative races.

(It's the first mention, as far as I can tell, of the 18th District Senate primary between incumbent Velmanette Montgomery and challenger Mark Pollard; I'll have more on that race Monday.)


Posted by eric at 8:16 AM

September 9, 2010

Friday, Sept. 10: The Civilians Present "Atlantic Yards" at Joe's Pub, One Night Only

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

The Civilians presents
Let Me Ascertain You: Atlantic Yards
Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater
Friday, September 10 at 9:30 PM
425 Lafayette Street, New York
Tickets: $15. Purchase HERE!


Posted by eric at 11:50 PM

Sports facilities win as libraries lose: Times columnist points to New Jersey, but the case is even stronger in New York City

Atlantic Yards Report

Following up on some tough coverage of how stadiums in New Jersey soak taxpayers, New York Times sports columnist George Vecsey today points out the parlous state of Camden libraries, which will be closed now on Fridays.

He writes:

Obviously, there is no direct economic link between stadiums new and vanished and libraries shuttered or unshuttered. But the cost of extravagant new stadiums all over the country suggests a skewed sense of priorities in all of us.

Bringing it home

Um, actually, there is a link. Right here in New York City.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg wanted to cut libraries by, oh, about $75 million. Most of that proposal was scaled back to "only" about $15 million, so five-day service was "saved," which is another way of saying a day of service was lost.

The city gave $100 million in direct subsidies for Atlantic Yards, then added $105 million, and since has said--though it's questionable--that the total is under $180 million.

Either way, that's money that could have gone to libraries (unlike in New Jersey, where Camden libraries rely mainly on city, not state funds).


Posted by eric at 11:46 PM

Forest City Enterprises: sale of Nets was crucial to company's bottom line

Atlantic Yards Report

In a press release issued yesterday, Forest City Enterprises reported that:

  • earnings were up
  • earnings per share were down, given share dilution
  • revenues were down slightly
  • crucial to the bottom line was the sale of the Nets
  • more than half of forecast contractually obligated income (e.g., sponsorships) for the arena is under contract
  • office space at Atlantic Yards, a main driver of expected new tax revenues, was not even mentioned in the project description


Posted by eric at 11:10 AM

Forest City Swings To 2Q Profit On Rental Properties Gains

Dow Jones Newswires via The Wall Street Journal
by John Kell

Forest City Enterprises Inc. (FCEA, FCEB) swung to a fiscal second-quarter profit on a rental properties sale gain as the real-estate company also reported higher residential and office occupancies.

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.

For the quarter ended July 31, Forest City posted a profit of $122.8 million, or 61 cents a share, compared with a year-earlier loss of $1.8 million, or a penny a share. The company's earnings before depreciation, amortization and taxes grew 11% to $105.6 million.

Revenue slid 1.4% to $309.2 million.


Posted by eric at 10:59 AM

From "Intractable Democracy," the tension between regional and local; also, RPA's Marshall sees power imbalance as source of (discredited) superblocks

Atlantic Yards Report

In Intractable Democracy: Fifty Years of Community-Based Planning, a new collection of articles and interviews by and with people associated with the Pratt Institute City and Regional Planning Program, there's an intriguing article by Michael Flynn, director of capital planning at the New York City Department of Transportation.

As a community planner turned city bureaucrat, Flynn knows well the tension between bottom-up planning and municipal power, and knows that it's not easy to resolve.

He muses:

One thing that's become clear to me over time (and I can hear the cries of "Sellout!" now) is that there is an interesting tension between the concept of community-based planning and the institution of government in general. It's the same tension we're all familiar with between the archetypes of Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses. We humans clearly organized ourselves into societies, and evolved government to tackle problems that must be addressed collectively and to look out for the common good. As planners we understand from experience that some issues are too spread out, too interlinked, or to "acute costs, diffuse benefits" to be tackled at a granular level. Sometimes the good of the many must trump the good of the few, or the regional must trump the local.

On the other hand, what good is government if it's not responsive to the needs of communities. What good is power without a grounding in real hopes, real concerns, real lives? At least when it comes to local issues, who better to decide the fate of a community than the locals themselves? The question is, where is the proper balance between community-based planning and getting things done for the greater good? For example, is it more important that the city have a citywide, interlinked network of bike paths, or should communities who don't want bike lanes have the final say? Should we price on-street parking higher because it's been proven to improve turnover and reduce congestion, or acquiesce to local businesses who think cheaper parking will improve foot traffic?

These are questions that localities everywhere face not just New York City. I sure don't know the answer--like most things, it probably lies somewhere in between the extremes.

The AY angle

These questions came up, of course, with Atlantic Yards. Issues like affordable housing and the siting of a major sports facility are not merely local issues. But they have disproportionate local impact, so a planning process should take into account local considerations, as well the balance between public and private benefits.


Posted by eric at 10:54 AM

6th Avenue sunset

Tracy Collins via Vimeo

6th Avenue sunset from tracy collins on Vimeo.

6th Avenue between Atlantic Avenue & Pacific Street
Prospect Heights
Brooklyn, New York

This time lapse was shot at sunset on August 30, 2010, facing south of 6th Avenue.

The two buildings on the right (l to r) are 24 6th Avenue (aka The Spalding Building) and 636 Pacific Street (aka The Atlantic Arts Building and the former home of Daniel Goldstein and family). They are the 2 last buildings standing in the footprint of the Barclays Center Arena of the 22-acre Atlantic Yards project of Forest City Ratner.

The Barclays Center Arena is being built to the west (right) of 6th Avenue. This stretch of 6th Avenue would be along the rear of the arena.


Related coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, From Tracy Collins: shrouded buildings in the sunset on Pacific Street

Posted by eric at 10:35 AM

Barclays eyes tennis events

NY Post
by Mark DeCambre

Brett Yormark is at it again.

Move over, Flushing.

Barclays Capital is aiming to serve up professional tennis at the Barclays Center, which is being erected as the future home of the New Jersey Nets in downtown Brooklyn.

Either they've moved the arena or the Post got it wrong — the site we're familiar with lies amidst Fort Greene, Prospect Heights and Park Slope, near, but not in, downtown Brooklyn.

Brett Yormark -- president and CEO of Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, the sales and marketing arm of the Barclays Center -- hopes to showcase at least two tennis events a year.

"This is about adding more cachet to the facility and adding more [events] to the arena," said Yormark, who added that the goal for the facility is to host 225 events a year outside of basketball, including pro boxing and music concerts.

What kind of "tennis events" might these be?

Yormark said it's unclear if the Barclays Center will be hosting any tennis tournaments akin to the US Open but noted that "all options are being explored."


NoLandGrab: In addition to Wimbledon, Yormark is also "exploring" hosting air shows, the Super Bowl and the America's Cup races.

Posted by eric at 10:23 AM

September 8, 2010

As Stadiums Vanish, Their Debt Lives On

The New York Times
by Ken Belson

Shocker! The Times discovers that stadiums are a money-suck for taxpayers. Double-shocker! They focus on New Jersey, with nary a mention of business-partner Bruce Ratner's super-colossally expensive basketball palace.

It’s the gift that keeps on taking. The old Giants Stadium, demolished to make way for New Meadowlands Stadium, still carries about $110 million in debt, or nearly $13 for every New Jersey resident, even though it is now a parking lot.

The financial hole was dug over decades by politicians who passed along the cost of building and fixing the stadium, and it is getting deeper. With the razing of the old stadium and the Giants and the Jets moving into their splashy new home next door, a big source of revenue to pay down the debt has shriveled.

New Jerseyans are hardly alone in paying for stadiums that no longer exist. Residents of Seattle’s King County owe more than $80 million for the Kingdome, which was razed in 2000. The story has been similar in Indianapolis and Philadelphia. In Houston, Kansas City, Mo., Memphis and Pittsburgh, residents are paying for stadiums and arenas that were abandoned by the teams they were built for.

How municipalities acquire so much debt on buildings that have been torn down or are underused illustrates the excesses of publicly financed stadiums and the almost mystical sway professional sports teams have over politicians, voters and fans.

Let's not forget newspapers.

Rather than confront teams, they have often buckled when owners — usually threatening to move — have demanded that the public pay for new suites, parking or arenas and stadiums.

With more than four decades of evidence to back them up, economists almost uniformly agree that publicly financed stadiums rarely pay for themselves. The notable successes like Camden Yards in Baltimore often involve dedicated taxes or large infusions of private money. Even then, using one tax to finance a stadium can often steer spending away from other, perhaps worthier, projects.

Unless those economists, like Andrew Zimbalist, are paid by the developer.

“Stadiums are sold as enormous draws for events, but the economics are clear that they aren’t helping,” said Andrew Moylan, the director of government affairs at the National Taxpayers Union. “It’s another way to add insult to injury for taxpayers.”


Related coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, Times continues tough scrutiny of stadium deals in... New Jersey

The article doesn't mention Atlantic Yards, or the new baseball stadiums. However, even if they don't have taxpayers on the hook for bonds, they have significant infrastructure and land subsidies--about $300 million in direct subsidies for the arena--and highly questionable bond financing schemes, in which PILOTs are used to pay off the debt, relying significantly on federal tax breaks.

Indeed, the combination of subsidies and tax breaks, including $194 million in federal tax breaks on tax-exempt bonds, added up to what the New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO) calculated (using somewhat higher estimates for the total bond deal) as $726 million in savings on the arena for developer Forest City Ratner.

And that's without assuming--as did Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, in the case of the new Yankee Stadium--that the use of PILOTs to pay for a sports facility constitutes a full subsidy in itself.

And, unmentioned in the article, the state in the case of the Brooklyn arena simply gave away naming rights, another subsidy (worth more than $200 million) that even the IBO didn't calculate.

Field of Schemes, Times fumbles ball on Giants Stadium debt

Neil deMause weighs in on the problems with The Times's conclusions.

Whether the debt on an old stadium is paid off before it's demolished doesn't matter one whit. While "Whattaya mean, we're still paying for that pile of rubble?!?" is a natural reaction, it doesn't make much economic sense. Stadium debt is, when you come down to it, a bookkeeping measure — the construction expense is sunk the moment you sign the contract to build the thing. The rest is just a matter of (in a manner of speaking) what kind of mortgage your municipality wants to take out.

If the state of New Jersey had chosen to pay off Giants Stadium by selling 20-year bonds, in other words, it still would have represented the same expense to the public — but since the bonds would have been retired faster, suddenly it wouldn't make Belson's hall of shame. That's nonsensical. If cities shifted to paying for their stadiums with suitcases full of twenties, would that make them better deals?

The real scandal here isn't how debt service is financed, but rather that cities and states are tearing down perfectly functional stadiums just so that teams can stop paying rent, costing taxpayers millions. Now there's a headline I'd like to see in the Times.

Posted by eric at 11:36 AM

Jane Jacobs on Atlantic Yards: “What a shame” (really)

Atlantic Yards Report

Alex Marshall's review of The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs, by Roberta Brandes Gratz, reminded me to go back to my notes for several posts I had planned.

There's a lot to mine from the book, but first, consider Gratz's mini-scoop regarding Jacobs and Atlantic Yards. After delineating the story of AY--a throwback to Robert Moses-style development--Gratz takes aim at those who claim the legacy of Jacobs just because they create a project with "mixed use."

Change and "catalysmic" money

Jacobs, she writes, was not against "change," but supported a mix of old and new:

And, of course, a true reading of Jacobs’s books versus a pseudounderstanding would indicate her disapproval of everything about Atlantic Yards but also her expectation for continued change and growth, just not [Bruce] Ratner’s idea of change and growth, any more than a Moses plan. A basic Jacobs precept is complexity: no complexity is possible in a monolithic development of this scale by one developer and designed by one architect.

Another basic Jacobs precept is opposition to "cataclysmic” money and development. Surely, this project qualifies as cataclysmic change. The proposal is so inimical to the character of the district and, in fact, the whole borough of Brooklyn that it is off any chart of Jacobs’s’ principles.

Trying to show how Atlantic Yards contradicts every Jacobs principle can be tiresome. And, in fact, she was too unpredictable for such an exercise. Furthermore, Jacobs was never about how to develop or design as much as how to think about development, how to observe and understand what works, how to respect what exists, how to scrutinize plans skeptically, how to nurture innovation, new growth, and resilience. That says it all.

As it happens, I had a brief conversation with Jane about Atlantic Yards in one of my last visits with her before her death. The development had only recently been proposed [Jacobs died 4/25/06], and she agreed that it was right out of the pages of old, discarded development models derivative of Moses. There was not much to discuss. She shook her head and said, “What a shame.”


Related coverage...

Regional Plan Association, Spotlight Vol. 9, No. 16: Gratz: An Urban Memoir

It's certainly shaped Gratz's viewpoint that a bulldozer and eviction notices have been following her family around for most of her life. New York University tore down her parents' home, Moses' policies shoved out her father's dry-cleaning business on 8th Street, and another urban renewal project in the 1960s tore down the building that housed her husband's metal-working shop on West 32nd Street. (It successfully moved to Long Island City.)

Gratz's stories of her past glide smoothly into her commentary into the present, which is equally valuable. She points out, accurately in my view, that the Empire State Development Corporation has essentially replaced Robert Moses in doing big projects, like Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, with little real public input and which often sit like islands in the city they are nominally part of.

Posted by eric at 11:21 AM

Knifepoint mugging

The Brooklyn Paper, Police Blotter
by Thomas Tracy

Rarely does a week pass without a report of a crime in one of Bruce Ratner's allegedly crime-free Brooklyn malls.

Handbag heist

A thief swiped a handbag from a woman’s shopping cart on Sept. 3 as she made a pit stop inside the Target inside the crime-ridden Atlantic Terminal Mall.

The woman said she had to go to the bathroom, but couldn’t take her cart with her, so she left it — and her bag — outside the door. When she came out, her bag was gone.


Posted by eric at 11:14 AM

Atlantic Yards Report: "Stealing the common from the goose": Henry Stern's compelling case against 15 Penn Plaza (and the glaring Atlantic Yards blind spot)

Save Hotel Pennsylvania

A blog dedicated to fighting Vornado's massive 15 Penn Plaza discovers Atlantic Yards Report.

An interesting blog that I came across. He makes a valid point, and just for those who are wondering, it's not over, yet.


Posted by eric at 10:55 AM

September 7, 2010

"Hope that something pure can last": "The Wilderness Downtown," on-the-fly web videos, and Atlantic Yards nostalgia

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder takes a tragical history tour of the Atlantic Yards footprint, courtesy of indie-rock darlings Arcade Fire and Google.

The Arcade Fire and Google have teamed up to create "The Wilderness Downtown," a platform for custom web videos based on the song "We Used to Wait." The goal: provide a nifty new angle on nostalgia for your childhood home.

But it works, just as powerfully, for any place, especially any lost place, like addresses in the Atlantic Yards footprint.

Plug in an address (assuming it's in Google's Street View) and see street scenes incorporated into multiple browsers. (Use Google Chrome and close other browsers.) You can write a letter to your younger self, as per the lyrics:

But by the time we met
By the time we met the times had already changed

So I never wrote a letter
I never took my true heart I never wrote it down
So when the lights cut out
I was left standing in the wilderness downtown

Looking back at the Atlantic Yards footprint

At Prospect Heights activist Peter Krashes's suggestion, I plugged in the address for the Ward Bread Bakery. It's pretty eerie.

Ditto for Krashes's suggestion of Daniel Goldstein's building.

Click through for more.


Posted by eric at 10:21 AM

From "Intractable Democracy": Tom Angotti on "No More Affordable Housing Scams"

Atlantic Yards Report

In Intractable Democracy: Fifty Years of Community-Based Planning, a new collection of articles and interviews by and with people associated with the Pratt Institute City and Regional Planning Program, there's an interview with former Chair Tom Angotti, now a professor in the Hunter College Department of Urban Affairs and Planning.

Angotti, who writes pungently in Gotham Gazette about planning issues, including Atlantic Yards, and served as a consultant for the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods, tells his interviewer:

I've co-organized a conference that's coming up in a week called "No More Affordable Housing Scams." It comes out of a lot of dissatisfaction that what we fought for--and Pratt was really instrumental in this too--was inclusionary zoning, but that's not what we got. What we got was a very poor stepchild; it's not mandatory, and it's not truly affordable, because it uses the area-wide AMI--area median income--instead of using the median income for local neighborhoods. So it's been the Trojan horse that brings luxury housing to communities like Harlem's 125th Street, the Lower East Side and so forth, and people are looking for an alternative, looking for a way out of these "scams."

The issue of AMI also applies, of course, to the subsidized housing destined for the Atlantic Yards site. As officially planned, only about half of the 2250 units would go to families at 80% of AMI, the upper bound for the category the Daily News defined as "the real Brooklyn."

And it could be far more skewed for the first tower, which, under five of the six scenarios contemplated, would have 60% to 80% of the units at 165% of AMI.


NoLandGrab: Note that the conference Angotti references has already transpired.

Posted by eric at 10:13 AM

Throw Your 'Diamond' in the Air! Barclays Bumps Bob to CEO Spot

NY Observer
by Mike Taylor

Barclays, the giant British criminal enterprise bank and Brooklyn icon, is getting a new Godfather CEO.

Barclays, the British banking giant that bought Lehman Brothers shortly after its September 2008 bankruptcy, today announced that John Varley would be stepping down as CEO on March 31. Bob Diamond (pictured with Jay-Z at the March 11 Atlantic Yards groundbreaking ceremony in Brooklyn) will succeed Varley.

Diamond, originally from Massachusetts, has been with Barclays for 14 years and currently serves as president in charge of corporate and investment banking and Barclays Wealth. He played a key role in Barclays' purchase of Lehman.


NoLandGrab: And, let's not forget, a key role in Barclays' purchase of Bruce Ratner's arena naming rights.

Photo: Getty Images

Posted by eric at 9:59 AM

For Developers, a Time of Opportunity

Economic Downturn Leads Civic Groups and Community Boards to Rethink Their Longtime Policies of Limiting Retailers

The Wall Street Journal
by Anton Troianovski

Developers are gearing up to bring more national retailers to Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island—if local politics allow it.

Long Island civic groups are infamous among developers for their success in blocking projects such as a huge mall proposed by Taubman Centers Inc. at the site of the old Cirro Wire factory and Old Plainview, a 166-acre mixed-use project that Charles Wang and Scott Rechler wanted to develop in the town of Oyster Bay.

Community boards in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Staten Island and Queens are similarly prickly about major projects involving national chains, fearing traffic woes for area residents and competition for home-grown retailers.

But developers may have an easier time these days because of the economic downturn and the efforts of local governments to boost employment. "There's a heightened sensitivity to the idea of anything new, anything vibrant, anything fresh on the Island because it potentially represents jobs," said Kate Murray, supervisor of the town of Hempstead.

Ms. Murray's town board of appeals recently gave a green light to a proposed shopping center called the Gallery at Westbury Plaza. The developer, Equity One, a national shopping-center landlord based in North Miami Beach, Fla., is negotiating to lease some of the space to Trader Joe's and the Container Store, people familiar with the project say.

Other plans slowly moving forward include one by a venture of developers Forest City Ratner and Philips International to bring a major retailer to a development site in the Mill Basin neighborhood of Brooklyn.


NoLandGrab: We recommend the "state override" as a tried-and-true tactic for steamrolling local opposition — and the archaic notion of "democracy."

Posted by eric at 9:50 AM

September 6, 2010

New York Times Public Editor seeks to maintain "sacred cloak of impartiality." Isn't it a bit late?

Atlantic Yards Report

In his second column, Arthur Brisbane, the new New York Times Public Editor, is already wading into deep waters.

His column yesterday, In an Age of Voices, Moving Beyond the Facts, expresses alarm about news articles that contain "opinion" or "interpretive journalism":

When I asked Matt Bai about his Aug. 12 “Political Times” column on Representative Paul Ryan — the one Mr. Johnson criticized — he said: “I guess my column is part of a broader effort to take some chances in the paper and explore different formats for a new era. I think that represents a great and exciting trend for the paper; none of us can afford to think in old rubrics for new generations of readers.”

Bai’s editor, Richard Stevenson, the deputy Washington bureau chief, elaborated on how The Times is navigating the new norms. “We are still exploring how much of a voice you can have ... what kinds of conclusions you can draw when it comes to politics,” he said.

A news-page column like “Political Times” carries the “freedom to reach a reported conclusion,” he said. Not to “throw opinion around,” but to “express in a restrained and fact-bound way a conclusion about something.”

The "reported conclusion"

I think the notion of a "reported conclusion" is legitimate. Why? Because the Times, and the "objective" press, is full of implicitly reported conclusion.

Consider, for example, the egregious example of the Times quoting, without qualms, the claim last September by a New York City Economic Development Corporation spokesman that Atlantic Yards was "a site that is now an open railyard without any public benefit."

What made that claim even more egregious was that, well before the deadline for print, I posted a comment on the CityRoom blog demolishing that claim. I ran this all by Brisbane's predecessor, Clark Hoyt, who, predictably enough, ignored it.


NoLandGrab: If it emanates from Seth Pinsky's mouth, that ought to be reason enough for a healthy dose of journalistic skepticism.

Posted by eric at 9:56 AM

Not even close to enough

Queen's Crap

QC reacts to a Daily News story about the scraping together of funds for a counseling program for veterans, and our screwed-up priorities.

So we have a measly non-guaranteed $540,000 for veterans, who have to sell off pieces of their St. Albans campus to make ends meet...

But we have billions of dollars for development schemes like Willets Point and Atlantic Yards, hundreds of millions of dollars for tweeding programs and $64M for Marty's potato chip?



Posted by eric at 9:43 AM

September 5, 2010

In race for State Committee in the 52nd: Jo Anne Simon (finally) takes gloves off; also, Lopez candidate gains as Owens, Strauss vie for reform votes

Atlantic Yards Report

This is a look at races for Female and Male District leaders in the 52nd Assembly District, with a short mention of the the Female District Leader race in the 57th Assembly District.

A year after it really mattered, Jo Anne Simon has directly gone after the candidate endorsed by Brooklyn Democratic Party boss Vito Lopez.

This time it's for re-election to her unpaid position as State Committeewoman, or Female District Leader (Democratic) for the 52nd Assembly District (represented by Joan Millman). The vote will be during the primary election on September 14.

Like a couple of other races, it is essentially (as the Brooklyn Paper described) a referendum on Lopez, the political powerhouse, who, among other things, ensured that a new law toughening subsidies for affordable housing would not apply to Atlantic Yards. (The developer's argument was that the project was planned under the assumption 421-a subsidies would be available.)

And unlike the race for Male District Leader, in which the presence of two reformers should help the Lopez candidate, this one's one-on-one.


Reichbach's running mate, Williamson, also worked on Levin's campaign. He was set to challenge incumbent Alan Fleishman, a Lopez foe.

But Fleishman has since withdrawn, which has set up an interesting situation. Simon's mailer says that Jesse Strauss has "taken Fleishman's place on the ballot," which isn't quite true.

Strauss, a CB2 member and a member of the executive committee of the Independent Neighborhood Democrats (IND), has been endorsed, as has Simon, by Joan Millman and the IND.

Chris Owens, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2006 and has a long history of activism challenging Atlantic Yards (among other things), got endorsements from the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats (of which he was once president) and the Lambda Independent Democrats.

In such obscure races on a primary day with no major race to bring voters to the polls--the biggest statewide contest is the Attorney General primary--the candidates understandably want most to get voters out in the first place.

But without IRV, Strauss and Owens should be doing their best to remind reform-minded voters not merely that they are reformers, but that only one of them has the best chance to beat the candidate favored by Lopez and Markowitz.

(By the way, the race for Female District Leader in the 57th Assembly District is getting rather tabloid, at least according to The Local.)


Posted by steve at 11:10 AM

Edward Dalhberg’s Brooklyn, Part I

Who Walk In Brooklyn

This blog entry is primarily a tribute to the American author, Edward Dahlberg. The blog's author points to under-appreciated work by Norman Oder and Amy Lavine as a comparison to the similarly under-appreciated Dahlberg.

Edward Dalhberg spent some of the last years his singularly fraught and brilliant life teaching at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. Some readers otherwise unfamiliar with Dahlberg might know this from Jonathan Lethem’s essay “The Disappointment Artist”; while I value more of Dahlberg more highly than Jonathan, we agree on the great merits of Because I Was Flesh (1963). In 1997, while in Lawrence, Kansas, I purchased a few late-period Dahlberg books which had been deaccessed from UM/KC; an odd but cool coincidence. Were they mad or something, I wondered, or did people not care? They should! Likewise the underheralded work of Norman Oder of the Atlantic Yards Report which— with that of article co-author Amy Lavine— has recently turned up in The Urban Lawyer, a journal edited by students and faculty of the University of Missouri at Kansas City School of Law. Is anyone going to get mad now? They should, like Mother Jones, be furious!


Posted by steve at 11:00 AM

September 4, 2010

"Stealing the common from the goose": Henry Stern's compelling case against 15 Penn Plaza (and the glaring Atlantic Yards blind spot)

Atlantic Yards Report

Former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern was absent during the Atlantic Yards fight. He is now arguing against a variance being requested in Manhattan using much of the same reasoning as opponents of Atlantic Yards used.

Henry Stern, the former Parks Commissioner and founder of the watchdog group New York Civic, has written a compelling column, Gargantuan Tower Approved Two Blocks From King Kong, regarding the city's approval of 15 Penn Plaza, Vornado's fat skyscraper near Penn Station. (It's also on HuffPost, as The Great Giveaway.)

His point, relying on Community Board arguments, is that the issue is not accepting "change" or blocking a view from the Empire State Building, but whether a connected developer gets a set of variances to build 56% bigger than officially allowed.

(I referenced this point as well when I wrote about the issue on August 24, but could have emphasized it more.)

And his rhetoric is firm:

We believe that what happened in this case is a textbook example of unsound public policy, favoritism to a particular extremely well-connected developer, and lack of regard for the future of the commercial neighborhood around Penn and Moynihan Stations. To grant a massive upgrade to a property owner with no tenant, no financing and no immediate plans to build is premature and irresponsible.

...It is a top-down decision, clearly made at City Hall and not by the Planning Commission, which should have been embarrassed at the tricks they had to turn.

The blind spot

Sounds like... another top-down decision, the approval of Atlantic Yards, that had even less process, because the state, not the city, is in charge.

Remember, while Forest City Ratner very much wanted to build an arena, given the New Jersey Nets' losses at the Izod Center, the main tower, Building 1 (aka Miss Brooklyn), has no financing or tenant, the affordable housing depends on scarce subsidies, and the officially-stated plan to build the 16 towers in a decade is chimerical.

And remember, Forest City Ratner promised not to block the clock of the Williamsburgh Bank tower, but then it did, even after Miss Brooklyn was made a foot shorter than its neighbor, at the ostensible behest of the City Planning Commission, which should have been embarrassed at the tricks they had to turn.

But Stern is Bruce Ratner's old mentor, and Ratner has contributed to New York Civic. So Stern's critical scrutiny has reliably bypassed Atlantic Yards.


Posted by steve at 7:54 AM

September 3, 2010

"Judicial Deference to Unaccountable Agencies, and Reality in the Flatbush Avenue Lane Closure"--or, what's missing in the ESDC response to NY1

Atlantic Yards Report

I have to admit, when I punched up the title of the law review article cited yesterday, "Urban Redevelopment Policy, Judicial Deference to Unaccountable Agencies, and Reality in Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards Project," I wondered if readers would think it over the top.

After all, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) is, on paper, at least somewhat accountable. And they do answer my questions--not in a very forthcoming way, but they answer.

But they're not accountable.

Consider how, as I've written, the ESDC and Forest City Ratner (FCR) announced in July that the Flatbush Avenue lane closure would be resolved by "early 2012," but three weeks later, FCR said it would be "summer 2012."

The ESDC couldn't explain why.


Posted by eric at 12:41 PM

Barclays Center Construction Forces Pedestrians Onto The Street

by John Mancini

NY1 reports on the recent constriction of Flatbush Avenue.

Things are tight all over near the basketball arena going up in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn -- so tight that creating a safe path for pedestrians means putting them in an unlikely spot.

"The only way we could achieve that was to put the pedestrians in the roadway, which meant that we had to take a lane of traffic from Flatbush Avenue," says Forest City Ratner traffic consultant Sam Schwartz.

In the best of times, there is congestion between Atlantic Avenue and Dean Street, where six lanes are now five. To keep traffic moving, three lanes flow toward Manhattan in the mornings and pedestrians walk on blacktop between barriers.

Ratner's goal is to get all lanes open as soon as possible, perhaps as a few months before the arena opens.

Bruised by the long fight, residents are skeptical.

"We've seen more closures of sidewalks, more closures of streets at this point in the project than we were told were going to happen," says Prospect Heights resident Peter Krashes.

article [with video]

Posted by eric at 12:30 PM

Prospect Heights 9/2/10

raulistic via flickr

Prospect Heights activist Raul Rothblatt had his trusty camera out yesterday, taking still photos and video of Bruce Ratner's neighborhood beautification efforts.

Here are some of the people around Ratner/Prokhorov's highly subsidized project in my neighborhood. The security service was following me from Atlantic Avenue to 6th Avenue.


raulism via YouTube, Atlantic Yards Construction 9-2-10 #1

raulism via YouTube, Atlantic Yards Construction 9-2-10 #2

Posted by eric at 12:01 PM

September 2, 2010

Law review article: "Urban Redevelopment Policy, Judicial Deference to Unaccountable Agencies, and Reality in Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards Project"

Atlantic Yard Report

Atlantic Yards has survived all court challenges, but some of the wins have been ugly, leaving significant doubts about the capacity of the legal system to oversee such projects. So let the revisionism begin. (Cf. a line from the New York Times on Atlantic Yards.)

In the same issue of The Urban Lawyer that contains a revisionist article on the seminal Berman v. Parker eminent domain case, the author of that article, Amy Lavine, a staff attorney at Albany Law School's Government Law Center, and I collaborate on an article titled "Urban Redevelopment Policy, Judicial Deference to Unaccountable Agencies, and Reality in Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards Project."

The article is embedded at bottom. Lavine did the first draft, and offered me credit because she relied so much on my work. I collaborated significantly on revisions. (Note Lavine's disclosure--unknown to me until this article--that she "provided limited research for Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn’s state eminent domain and MTA lawsuits.")

(The quarterly journal is published by the American Bar Association Section of State and Local Government Law, and edited by professors and students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law.)

Below I offer some choice excerpts.

Click through for those excerpts, as well as access to the full paper.


Posted by eric at 10:27 AM

Why no company has signed a naming-rights deal with the Giants and Jets

New Jersey Newsroom
by Evan Weiner

Looks like Barclays was the last of the big-time spenders — and even they won't be spending anywhere near what they were once said to be spending.

Fred Wilpon is clearly one lucky owner although New York Mets fans will clearly disagree with that statement based on the on-field results of Wilpon's baseball team. Bruce Ratner was also one lucky owner while he controlled the New Jersey Nets basketball team although Nets fans will clearly disagree with that statement based on the on-court results of Ratner's Nets.

Both Wilpon and Ratner are in much better shape than the owners of the Giants (the Mara and Tisch families) and the Jets (Woody Johnson) in that they got two banks, Citibank and Barclay, to come up with a multi-year, multimillion dollar agreement for naming rights at Wilpon's Queens baseball park and Ratner's Brooklyn multi-purpose arena.

The Mara-Tisch-Johnson troika is still looking for a financial angel and if one major industry player is correct, it may be a long while before the East Rutherford, New Jersey home for the Giants and Jets along with the Arlington, Texas-based Cowboys Stadium and Major League Baseball's Nationals Stadium in Washington, D. C. will get naming-rights partners.


Posted by eric at 10:17 AM

New Yorkers Called Upon to Turn Out Lights for Birds

90,000 migrating birds die in New York City every fall

The Epoch Times
by Jack Phillips

Thousands of migrating birds are killed every fall in New York City. To combat this, the New York office of the National Audubon Society is calling on New Yorkers to turn their lights out at night in the coming months.

The initiative, known as “Lights Out New York,” aims to get all New Yorkers and especially skyscraper owners to turn their lights out between Sept. 1 and Nov. 1, from midnight until dawn.

Notable skyscrapers with lights being shut off at night include the Time Warner Center, Rockefeller Center, the Chrysler Building, Con Edison Clock Tower, the New York Times Building, and 601 Lexington Avenue.

Forest City Ratner Companies, Durst Properties, Silverstein Properties, and JP Morgan Chase Properties have also promised to turn their buildings’ lights out.


NoLandGrab: Here's one bird that won't be saved by Forest City Ratner.

Posted by eric at 10:04 AM

September 1, 2010

More city leasing at MetroTech

Atlantic Yards Report

Forest City Ratner has a long history of getting government tenants in its MetroTech and Atlantic Center complexes, and that string continues.


Posted by eric at 11:28 PM

Quote of the day: "The M.T.A. does not think of its real estate as either an investment opportunity or a development opportunity”

Atlantic Yards Report

From today's New York Times article, headlined Above Ground, a 2nd Ave. Subway Plan Attracts Critics:

The Second Avenue subway, finally under construction on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, is of course a vast underground project...

But the project will also include construction above ground — not just station entrances but also a half-dozen boxy buildings on corners along Second Avenue that the transit agency acquired through condemnation. These so-called ancillary buildings, ranging in height from five to eight stories, will house ventilation equipment. They are also intended to disperse smoke and allow for evacuation from subway tunnels in the event of an emergency.

To the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York, the proposed buildings, designed by DMJM+Harris and Arup, part of the team that designed the Jet Blue Terminal at Kennedy International Airport, are “handsome in proportion and detail, while simple and straightforward in design.”

But to some real estate specialists, the structures represent a missed opportunity or an unwelcome industrial intrusion into a residential neighborhood, or both. Richard Bass, the chief planning and development specialist for Herrick, Feinstein, a law firm based in Midtown Manhattan, said that at three of the sites — on 97th Street, 72nd Street and 69th Street — the M.T.A. could have worked with private developers to incorporate the ancillary buildings into residential towers.

...On each of the corners cited by Mr. Bass, the developers could have sought development rights, known as air rights, from smaller adjacent residential buildings, Mr. Bass said. He said taller apartment buildings would have been more in character with a residential neighborhood and would have helped fill a need for moderately priced housing. In addition, the M.T.A. could have had the developers share in the cost of the subway structures, Mr. Bass said.

For those of us who remember the charges about how the Vanderbilt Yard site just "sat" undeveloped for years, here's the money quote:

But transit-oriented developments can also be used to defray construction costs. Julia Vitullo-Martin, director of the Center for Urban Innovation at the Regional Plan Association, said the M.T.A. typically had not engaged in strategic thinking when it came to its real estate. “The M.T.A. does not think of its real estate as either an investment opportunity or a development opportunity,” she said.


Posted by eric at 11:21 PM

City takes 82K square feet at MetroTech

Inks 20-year lease for office and data-center space for Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications.

Crain's NY Business
by Jeremy Smerd

Inventory was getting a little flabby at Bruce Ratner's MetroTech complex, so guess what? We New York City taxpayers just bailed him out by taking more space!

The city's Department of Citywide Administrative Services has signed a lease for 81,800 square feet at 2 MetroTech Center in downtown Brooklyn. The asking rent was $35 a square foot.

The space, which is under a 20-year lease that officially began in May, will be used by the city's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, which plans to use it for offices and a data center. DoITT will take over the entire second floor and part of the fifth floor—64,000 square feet—in the 20-year-old, 10-story property. The remaining nearly 18,000 square feet will be used for the city's expanded data center.

That's just a drop in the bucket, however.

The city already leases 216,000 square feet at 11 MetroTech Center. That lease was first signed in 1993 and amended in 2004 with an option to extend until 2020.


NoLandGrab: Yes, folks, the city leases the equivalent of 1/3 of the entire Atlantic Yards footprint at MetroTech.

Posted by eric at 7:23 PM

The seminal Berman v. Parker case: "precedent without context," and leading dangerously to cases like Kelo and Goldstein

Atlantic Yards Report

The U.S. Supreme Court's unanimous 1954 decision in the case known as Berman v. Parker is a foundation of eminent domain jurisprudence, guiding courts to defer to decisions made by legislative authorities and to allow a generous definition of blight.

Of course, there's an enormous contrast between the blight found in 1954 in Washington, DC slums--nearly half the residences relied on outhouses--and the "relatively mild conditions of urban blight" in Prospect Heights, as described last November by the New York Court of Appeals in the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case, Goldstein v. Urban Development Corporation (aka Empire State Development Corporation, or ESDC).

That's because successive court decisions expanded and elaborated on the base of Berman.

But what if the unanimously-decided Berman was wrongheaded? If so, and the setting was ignored, that further undermines controversial decisions like the Supreme Court's 2005 Kelo vs. New London case and the New York Court of Appeals' 2009 decision in Goldstein vs. ESDC.

Berman and urban renewal

As Amy Lavine, a staff attorney at the Government Law Center in Albany explains in an article for The Urban Lawyer, "Urban Renewal and the Story of Berman v. Parker" (embedded below, as well as excerpted), a closer analysis, plus hindsight, suggest that the court got it wrong, missing the point and ushering some very mixed results.

And, as noted in a footnote at the end of the article, one of the most egregious examples of the spawn of Berman--"precedent without context"--is the Atlantic Yards eminent domain litigation, which just happens to be the subject of another article in that same Urban Lawyer issue, which Lavine wrote with me.

I'll have more on that article, titled "Urban Redevelopment Policy, Judicial Deference to Unaccountable Agencies, and Reality in Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards Project," tomorrow.


Related coverage...

Gideon's Trumpet, Two Good Articles on Redevelopment

We found of special interest the factual tidbit that though the Southwest redevelopment project was sold to the Supreme Court as an effort to uplift the poor slum dwellers who — so went the plan — would be provided with low-cost housing renting at $17 per month per room, in fact, after the court approved the plan and allowed the eminent domain takings to proceed, that provision of the plan was dropped. Ten years later, the Wall Street Journal reported that rents in the new, redeveloped Southwest were so high that they inspired a rent strike by affluent tenants.

Posted by eric at 11:06 AM

Black swans over Long Island

Cap'n Transit Rides Again

Here's a week-old commentary on the Long Island Railroad that somehow snuck past us.

Last week Planet Money had a great "Deep Read" with economist Nassim Taleb. Taleb's major point is that when you're vulnerable to "black swans" - rare and unpredictable, but high impact events - you need to invest in reserves and redundancy to be able to survive them.

It's an argument that all transportation providers should pay attention to, but railroads in particular are dependent on linear infrastructure. The current mess with the Long Island Railroad's switches in Jamaica show that at least one railroad isn't getting it.

The vast majority of train trips on the LIRR go through Jamaica. That's great for transfers, but it sucks for redundancy. You would think they'd have a backup plan, but apparently the MTA prefers to let the riders - and the taxpayers - bear the full brunt of any black swans that affect Jamaica.

Yup, that's the kind of perverse thinking the public authority structure encourages. If we had a sane system, Helena Williams' head would already be on a pike for giving public property to Bruce Ratner for nothing. Well, if we had a sane system, Williams would probably never have been allowed anywhere near the top post, and maybe we'd have someone competent actually running the railroad.


Posted by eric at 10:59 AM

Fake cop scams man

The Brooklyn Paper, Police Blotter
by Joe Anuta

If it's Wednesday, it must be news of more crime in one of Bruce Ratner's Brooklyn malls.

Target target

Cops arrested two perps who stole a wallet containing $300 from a woman while she was shopping at a department store inside the notorious Atlantic Terminal Mall on Aug. 27.

Cameras inside the store, which is located near Atlantic Avenue, caught one of the jerks taking the wallet then handing it off to her partner-in-crime at 8:15 pm.


Posted by eric at 10:53 AM

Lunch with the Critics: Park51 & 15 Penn

Design Observer

The specter of you-know-what looms in a discussion of NYC's latest development controversies.

For this second installment of Lunch with the Critics, Mark Lamster and Alexandra Lange traveled to midtown to visit the Hotel Pennsylvania, across from Penn Station and Madison Square Garden on Seventh Avenue. It is the site of a planned 67-story office tower developed by Vornado Realty Trust that would dramatically alter the midtown skyline, rivaling (perhaps) the Empire State Building. On the subway there, they talked about Park51, the proposed community center and mosque in lower Manhattan that has become a political target. In their previous lunch, they explored the recent renovations to Lincoln Center.

Mark Lamster: What’s rather insane about 15 Penn is that it actually adheres to the zoning code, and exploits it quite cannily. It seems silly that this property should be allowed a 56 percent (!) bonus because it’s adjacent to a major transit hub and the developers are making a variety of accommodations. The $100 million in transportation renovations Vornado is kicking in will create some very real improvements to the area, but they don’t necessarily assuage all the extra square footage and skyline-hogging bulk. Also, you can’t put all kinds of new pressure on the transit system and then ask for a pat on the back for making sure it doesn’t totally collapse the day you open for business. More to the point, Penn Station needs a massive and comprehensively planned overhaul. It’s not a pig that needs more lipstick.

Alexandra Lange: I agree with all of that. Even in the glory days of the plaza bonus in the 1960s and 1970s, when a mid-block, all-but-hidden passage with a tiny tree sign indicating it was public space could get you extra floors, we were never talking 56 percent. What Vornado is “giving” us is what they should be required to do. Their building isn’t going to be attractive to tenants unless they renovate the transport and paths to it.

The craziness of piling tower on tower in one of the most congested parts of the city reminds me of the oft-ignored community objections to the original Atlantic Yards scheme. Sure, it is great to put an arena on top of a transit hub, but only if it is a transit hub (and an intersection, for that matter) that has extra capacity. The reason the Citibank tower still sits in lonely splendor in Long Island City is an earlier administration’s attempt to spread the office worker wealth, not concentrate it. Unfortunately, it didn’t really work. Or hasn’t worked yet.


Posted by eric at 10:27 AM

The Civilians Presents Let Me Ascertain You: Atlantic Yards At Joe's Pub 9/10


The Civilians (Steven Cosson, Artistic Director), the award-winning Brooklyn-based theatre company known for projects investigating real life topics, presents Let Me Ascertain You: Atlantic Yards, part of an ongoing series of cabaret performance at Joe's Pub. The September 10th performance at 9:30 PM is dedicated to The Civilians' multi-year investigation into the controversial Atlantic Yards development project and will include highlights from the previously announced In the Footprint coming in November.

In the Footprint will premiere at the Irondale Center in Fort Greene from November 12th - December 11th. The full creative team and casting to be announced.

Let Me Ascertain You: Atlantic Yards, September 10th, 2010 at 9:30 PM
Joe's Pub at The Public Theater at 425 Lafayette St.


Online at joespub.com,

Phone 212-967-7555,

In Person At The Public Theater Box Office (1 PM to 6 PM), or at the Joe's Pub Box Office from (6 PM to 10 PM) both located at 425 Lafayette Street, NYC

For table reservations please call 212-539-8778. Purchase of tickets does NOT guarantee a table reservation; you must call to reserve seats.


Posted by eric at 10:14 AM