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December 31, 2010

Atlantic Yards in some end-of-year reflections: the Brooklyn Paper's slender round-up; awards from Curbed and Streetsblog

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder wraps up the year-end wrap-ups.

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NoLandGrab: Join us tomorrow as we embark on the Atlantic Yards fight, Year Nine. Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year.

Posted by eric at 10:24 AM

Arena pitch in China: ESDC's Davidson shares a laugh with FCR executives; long-departed Net Vince Carter portrayed as part of the attraction

Atlantic Yards Report

You didn't think a 16-part series was all Norman Oder had to say about Forest City Ratner's green card-selling adventure in China, did you?

Who are these happy Americans? They're Forest City Ratner executives, in China in October, along with a few others, trying to sell would-be immigrant investors on the questionable Brooklyn Arena and Infrastructure Project, a project of FCR and the New York City Regional Center (NYCRC).

(Photo from web page of Wailian immigration consultancy, which is still promoting events in January. Click on graphics to enlarge.)

From right: FCR's David Berliner, Christopher Clayton [I believe], and MaryAnne Gilmartin; the Empire State Development Corporation's Peter Davidson; the NYCRC's Paul Levinsohn; and Miller Mayer attorney Nicolai Hinrichsen.

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Posted by eric at 10:10 AM

Curbed Awards '10 Neighborhoods: Lost Landmarks, NIMBYs, Rants

Curbed

It's time to make up a bunch of awards and hand them out to the most deserving people, places and things in the real estate, architecture, and neighborhood universes of New York City. Yep, it's time for the Seventh Annual Curbed Awards! Today's topic: neighbors and neighborhoods!

Lost Neighborhood Landmarks of the Year

4) Hell Yes: The New Museum's rainbow-colored facade ornament was one of the biggest symbols of the Bowery 2.0. Now a single rose marks its former spot.
3) Fedora: The cozy restaurant was a throwback to simpler times in the West Village. Soon to be replaced by the new Fedora, from a restaurateur who meticulously designs establishments to resemble throwbacks to simpler times in the West Village.
2) Guss' Pickles: No more pickle producer on Orchard Street? Oy gevalt!
1) Daniel Goldstein's Apartment: All it took was a few years, a few lawsuits and a few million bucks to finally topple the home base for anti-Atlantic Yards agitprop. Finally, some Russki revenge for Rocky IV.

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Posted by eric at 10:02 AM

2010: What a crazy year that was

The Brooklyn Paper

No look back at 2010 would be complete without an appearance or two by Bruce Ratner and his favorite neighborhood-crushing megaproject.

What a year it was — from the installation of the Long Island Rail Road’s massive stone bollards at its new Atlantic Terminal to the snowstorm of the century during the last week of 2010. And through it all, The Brooklyn Paper has been there for you (try to remember us with something nice next Christmas!). But without further ado, here it is — our loving, somewhat cynical tribute to 2010.

January

Concrete coffins: The new Long Island Rail Road opens at Atlantic Terminal and everyone rips the granite sacophagi outside that give the place the look of a Green Zone fortified bunker. Not only did the NYPD admit that the cement bollards were bigger than they needed to be, but even Bruce Ratner’s architects said they stunk.
...

March

Yards groundbreaking: Developer Bruce Ratner, Gov. Paterson and future Gov. Jay-Z break ground at Atlantic Yards while about 100 counterprotesters mostly break Borough President Markowitz’s chops. By year’s end, the first set of steel pillars were up and Ratner was already making production deals.
...

April

Freddy’s closes: Beloved dive bar Freddy’s is shut to make room for Bruce Ratner’s basketball arena, but not before after an epic final party that left us wondering how the hell we ended up in the Greenpoint Hotel handcuffed to Norman Oder and New Jersey Net forward Brook Lopez.
...

August

Name game: The New Jersey Nets’ new owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, told us that the team would change its name by the time it moves to Brooklyn. We’re still trying to find out the big secret, but we kind of like the Brooklyn Knights (get it?) or The Brooklyn Papers.

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Posted by eric at 9:40 AM

December 30, 2010

Close, but no cigar

Here are a couple headlines that caused us to do double-takes today.

Bloomberg, Rattner Will Pay $10 Million to Settle Cuomo Probe

NoLandGrab: Two Ts? Damn.

Los Angles Times, Former Russian oligarch gets 14-year sentence

NLG: Former? Ach.

Posted by eric at 9:10 PM

Only a few days left to support The Civilians in 2010!

This very funny fundraising appeal from The Civilians just hit our in-box.

Only a few days left to support The Civilians in 2010!
Get your donation in before December 31st to take advantage of the tax deduction this year!

And don't forget: The Civilians is still seeking Russian Oligarchs to lead us to victory in our tenth anniversary season!

If 250 people sign on to be The Civilians' Russian Oligarchs with a donation of $25 or more, we will have A PARTY for all of you with free vodka shots!

Click HERE to donate now!

Because we cannot go to China and use the EB-5 provision to exchange green cards for investments...

Because we don’t anticipate that the Forest City Ratner Companies Foundation will be funding The Civilians this year...

Because we aren’t changing our name to The Barclays Center for Investigative Theater...

...we invite you to swoop in on your jet-ski and

BE THE CIVILIANS’ RUSSIAN OLIGARCH!

Posted by eric at 10:19 AM

A look back at 2010: definitive progress on arena, Prokhorov emergence, Chinese investors (!), same questions of accountability

Atlantic Yards Report

For those of you who haven't had internet access for the past year, who've been circumnavigating the globe in a skiff, or who just can't get enough news about Brooklyn's biggest boondoggle, Norman Oder looks back at Atlantic Yards, v.2010.

In a year less tumultuous than 2009 (retrospective), but not without its own significant drama and surprise, Atlantic Yards moved forward in 2010, with street closings, a much-ballyhooed ceremonial groundbreaking, the demolition of longstanding buildings on the arena block, and the indelible physical signs of an emerging basketball arena.

After final victories in condemnation court, the Empire State Development Corporation, at the behest of Forest City Ratner, was able to remove the remaining occupants of Phase 1 properties without any theatrics.

(Photo copyright Jonathan Barkey of protest at groundbreaking)

However, as I wrote in my 2009 retrospective, questions of accountability lingered, and those questions not only remained--as will a surface parking lot on the southeast block, Block 1129--they have merely grown.

A judge gave project opponents and critics their first, partial victory, ruling that the Empire State Development Corporation, in "what appears to be yet another failure of transparency," had failed to study the impacts of a 25-year buildout, rather than the officially approved ten-year timetable.

But the impact of that victory was muted when the ESDC, relying on ubiquitous consultant AKRF, produced the requisite report that, however questionable, declared that impacts of such a build-out would not be significant.

Forest City reached a controversial $3 million settlement with uber-opponent Daniel Goldstein, who, after having lost title to his apartment, was a tenant of the ESDC. While Goldstein "selling out" became a talking point for project proponents, far less attention to the speculators who made quick money on buildings like the one housing Freddy's Bar or Bruce Ratner's astonishing claim that the ten-year timeline "was never supposed to be the time we were supposed to build [the project] in."

As for Nets majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov, any skeletons in his closet were generally brushed away, in several mostly laudatory profiles occasioned by his American debut. As I wrote, money cleanses.

With the dropoff in legal action and the dormancy, though not quite demise, of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, the most obvious "news" regarding Atlantic Yards shifted to the Prokhorov debut and Forest City Ratner press releases regarding construction and plans for the arena.

However, with Atlantic Yards, controversy is never absent, and in the fall we learned of one answer to the lingering questions, as I noted a year ago, about the developer's capacity to fund the project. It's perhaps the most audacious attempt to leverage government help: the developer's effort to gain a no-cost (or low-cost) $249 million loan from immigrant investors via an obscure program that trades green cards for purportedly job-creating investments.

Click through for Oder's month-by-month recap.

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Posted by eric at 9:25 AM

News on Freddy's

Lost City

From a commenter, regarding the Prospect Heights bar that fell in the wake of Atlantic Yards:

Freddy's IS rising again on 5th Avenue near 17th Street in the old (well sort of, they only lasted about 2 years) Ellis...I am collaging the bathroom doors with images from Donald O'Finn's video collection...it's all looking swell, a mix of the old stuff salvaged from the original Fred's mixed with some new(old)..should open in about 3 weeks.

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Posted by eric at 9:20 AM

Jersey City Complex Awaits Tax-Credit Boost

The Wall Street Journal
by Shelly Banjo

With construction projects stalled throughout the region, developer George Filopoulos is hoping a vote by the New Jersey Senate next month will help him continue his high-profile redevelopment of the old Jersey City Medical Center into a 14-acre mixed-use complex.
...

Mr. Filopoulos's financing plans underscore the key role the public sector is playing these days in private construction projects. With the economy and banking system still under stress, conventional sources of construction financing are scarce. Other projects under way, such as the basketball arena at Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn and office buildings at the World Trade Center, have some form of public support.

"The market has been horrendous and folks are turning to government agencies for help," says Robert Antonicello, executive director of the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency.

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NoLandGrab: Some folks have always turned to government agencies for help, which is why New York City and New York State lease so much space in Forest City Ratner's Metrotech and Atlantic Center.

Posted by eric at 9:05 AM

December 29, 2010

Shoplifter Target-ed at Atlantic Terminal Mall

A 16-year-old girl is arrested after being caught purse snatching inside the mall

Park Slope Patch
by Zach Haberman

The holiday festivities continue, post-holiday, in Bruce Ratner's crime-addled Brooklyn malls.

A teenage girl was busted inside the Target store in the Atlantic Terminal Mall a day after Christmas as she hunted for five-finger discounts, sources and authorities said.

Target staffers spotted Dominiqu McWilliams, 16, trying to steal something from a shelf and quickly informed cops from the NYPD's 88th Precinct, who nabbed McWilliams while she was still in the store, according to employees and law enforcement sources.

When she was caught, authorities found an iPhone, an iPod, a cell phone, and cash, including a $2 bill shoved into the back of her pants, sources said. She also was carrying an undisclosed amount of Marijuana.

After going through surveillance footage, McWilliams was spotted nabbing purses from three different women in their 20s that day. Store cameras also show her stealing purses from two other women on Dec. 20, the sources said.

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Posted by eric at 11:05 PM

The meaningless of time: how the ESDC claims that a buildout of 25 years, rather than ten, would not significantly affect benefits or impacts

Atlantic Yards Report

Here's the question of the day: Does time have any impact on Atlantic Yards benefits and impacts?

No, says the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), thus perplexing anyone who's considered such mundane, time-related issues as compound interest or prison sentencing.

Being "reasonable"

Covering the latest ESDC board meeting, as I wrote 12/16/10, ESDC attorney Robin Stout (at 5:10 of the video), uttered what sounded like a zen koan:

"The agreements require the developer, as I said, to use commercially reasonable efforts to achieve a completion date of 2019, but perhaps more importantly, the agreements set a framework, where the market demand for the project's buildings can be expected to bring the project to completion as soon as it is commercially reasonable to do so. The documents separately set out the outside completion date of 2035."

So commercially reasonable means that the developer can get loans and make its profit.

OK, so if the ESDC would accommodate a reasonable situation for the developer, would it thus evaluate the reasonable impacts of that situation or the reasonable benefits that could be expected?

Not quite.

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NoLandGrab: Hmm, wonder if the State of New York would consider it reasonable for us to pay our 2010 taxes over the next 25 years or so.

Posted by eric at 11:21 AM

The 2010 NYC Streetsies, Part 2

Streetsblog
by Ben Fried

Congratulations, Bruce Ratner! Your fanciful (and misleading) vision of the vacant space created by the absence of your promised "Urban Room" just won a Streetsie!

Most Delusional Renderings: Forest City Ratner released drawings of shiny, happy people milling about the temporary plaza that will be situated between its new arena and the twin traffic sewers of Atlantic and Flatbush. Not pictured: The oceans of surface parking on the other side of the arena.

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Posted by eric at 10:57 AM

‘Police Navidad’ at Atlantic Terminal

The Brooklyn Paper
by Aaron Short

Bruce Ratner's Brooklyn malls were Ground Zero for holiday shop shoplifting.

Police Navidad

The Atlantic Terminal Mall, home to both Target and Chuck E. Cheese, was the site of five larcenies around Christmas. Here are the details:

• A thief swiped a woman’s wallet from her table at the game-filled fast-food eatery at 2 pm on Dec. 18.

• A thief took a woman’s wallet that she briefly left on top of her baby stroller while she was shopping at 2:30 pm on Dec. 20.

• A thief picked up a woman’s purse that she left on the floor at 2:30 pm on Dec. 20, collecting about $300.

• A thief snatched a woman’s Coach bag off a shopping cart at 10:15 pm while the woman was shopping at Target on Dec. 22.

• A thief took a woman’s bag right out of her Target shopping cart at 2:15 pm on Dec. 26, as she was trying to take advantage of some post-Christmas sales.

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Posted by eric at 10:50 AM

No Vacancy: Why Empty Condos Aren't Becoming Affordable Housing

Boom-time overbuilding left thousands of units vacant. But a city program to convert them to affordable housing has found the market uncooperative.

City Limits
by Diana Scholl

We've all seen the half-built boom-era condos and thought: "Wouldn’t it be great if this could be low-income housing? Everybody wins!”

So why hasn’t that happened yet?

In May 2009 City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and New York City’s Department of Housing and Preservation and Development (HPD) unveiled the Housing Asset Renewal Plan (HARP). Politically, it sounded great. The idea was to kill two birds with one stone: Build much-needed affordable housing while at the same time heading off the potential blight represented by what Quinn described as “tarnished trophies of the building boom.” The $20 million initiative provides developers and banks incentives to turn unused condo units into middle-income housing.

In her State of the City address that February, Quinn said, “These vacant apartments now represent our best asset in the fight for affordable housing.” The original estimate was that up to 500 units could be made affordable.

Flash forward almost two years after Quinn’s prophecy, and not one HARP deal has been signed.
...

Avi Rosenthalis, coordinator of Right to the City-New York City (RTC-NYC) advocates more publicly and community-owned residential properties. “The city is working under the premise that affordable housing must be profitable,” Rosenthalis says. In Right to the City’s recent report on vacant condos, it argues for using eminent domain to seize vacant residential buildings and turn them into affordable housing, and for using tax foreclosures to facilitate the conversion of tax delinquent vacant residential buildings in low-income communities into quality affordable housing.

Right to the City is currently looking into vacant buildings that would qualify for city takeover. The group proposes that these buildings be turned into community land trusts—non-profit entities that buy and manage land for the purpose of providing low- to moderate-income housing. Homeowners within a community land trust are only permitted to sell their homes back to the land trust or to another low-income family, guaranteeing that the units of housing remain permanently affordable.

“We’re talking about Robin Hood-type options,” Rosenthalis says. “These are the most feasible options on the books. But it takes political will.”

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NoLandGrab: Unfortunately, the only political will in New York City is for the reverse Robin Hood — taking from the needy to give to the likes of Bruce Ratner.

Posted by eric at 10:34 AM

Why I don’t like inclusionary zoning

Market Urbanism
by Stephen Smith

An article critiquing inclusionary zoning pays homage to Bruce C. Ratner.

Finally, I’d like to point out that discussion of “inclusionary zoning” and “affordable housing” suffers from serious framing problems. Like “compassionate conservatism” and “enhanced interrogation techniques,” it’s hard to argue against something with such a nice-sounding name. Sometimes the language and idea of affordability and inclusion is even co-opted by developers using politics to argue for their harebrained eminent domain and massive public subsidy schemes – Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner won ACORN’s support for the project by giving them millions and the right to manage the affordable housing units that were to be constructed.

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Posted by eric at 10:22 AM

December 28, 2010

Brodsky, in final report, warns of importance of further public authorities reform, "failure to receive value for investments," doesn't mention AY

Atlantic Yards Report

AYR remains the only source of Atlantic Yards news that has dug out from under the snow.

Departing Westchester Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, the crusader for public authority reform who focused on the new Yankee Stadium rather than the Atlantic Yards project, has left with a valedictory report warning of the need for further reform, including this common-sense statement, "In an era when government is instructed to behave more like business, the failure to receive value for its investments is a crisis that can no longer be ignored."

Unmentioned in the six-page report (embedded below) is Atlantic Yards, nor the state's failure to receive any value for giving away arena naming rights.

Indeed, "the massive transfer of public property into private hands... not... accompanied by commensurate public benefits" hints at Yankee Stadium ("publicly funded sports facilities by IDA's") and the Columbia University expansion ("university construction using eminent domain powers") but not the equally controversial Atlantic Yards.

But Brodsky, who ran unsuccessfully for Attorney General, does get the politics:

To be sure, the rhetoric of job creation and economic development is powerfully expressed by elected officials, authority leaders and private sector beneficiaries of these transfers. But in the end the State has failed to protect its assets and interests.

And the issues he cites in the report, including added staff and increased power for oversight (the need for which I've previously reported), remain basic. Brodsky told City Hall News the future if very much up in the air:

Ultimately, ensuring that PARA is enforced is up to everyone in state government, he said, not just one legislative chamber or one governor.

“Everyone, the speaker, the new chair, the members, the governor, the comptroller. This is real and big and it has enemies,” Brodsky said. “Everyone is on the hook.”

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Posted by eric at 9:57 AM

Ratner: construction is easier than "getting there"; Jay-Z's ad agency tapped to pitch Nets tickets starting in February

Atlantic Yards Report

The news from the Sports Business Journal article 12/20/10 (embedded below, as reproduced on the Barclays Center web site), is not merely the effort to dispel confusion about whether the project is happening and how sports and family events are already scheduled, as noted in the headline Barclays Center pitch: We're here and have a lot going on.

It's an oblique reflection by the man behind the project:

"Construction is the easy part," assured Bruce Ratner, chairman and CEO of Forest City Ratner Cos., developer of the Barclays Center and the associated 16-building Atlantic Yards mixed-use project. "Getting there is hard."

It's also a statement from a Barclays rep that the naming rights agreement is "a fantastic opportunity to build our brand," a quote that might give pause to the state officials who simply gave away naming rights.

Enter Translation

And, more importantly, it's the presence of Translation, a new ad agency co-owned by Jay-Z and aimed at the multicultural, youth market. Sports Business Journal reports:

"We are building an identity," said John McBride, director of the strategy group at agency Translation, newly hired to coordinate marketing behind the Nets' move to Brooklyn and the new arena. "When we are interviewing [Nets'] season-ticket holders, there is still a question of 'Is it real?' There are still people confused as to whether or not this is going to happen."

...[Brett] Yormark said the building has eight of the 12 founding partners sold, with others being pursued in the airline, insurance and domestic car categories. Suites, which range from $295,000 to $550,000, are almost 40 percent sold, with some more sales help via the New Meadowlands Stadium being added for an expected push early next year. Translation, another commercial entity in which Jay-Z and Steve Stoute have an interest, has been hired to orchestrate the first pitch for "Brooklyn Nets" tickets, with initial ads expected in February.

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Posted by eric at 9:47 AM

December 27, 2010

Reuters Nails Promoters of Green Cards for Investments as Liars, Gets Dubious Excuses on Brooklyn Arena

The Huffington Post
by Norman Oder

Norman Oder repackages some recent Atlantic Yards Report coverage of Bruce Ratner's green cards-for-dollars scheme, including a key player's dubious "hey, we're the victims here" claim about sales pitches packed with lies.

A couple of astonishing things happened last week in coverage of the EB-5 immigration visa program--green cards for investments--the dubious use of which I've investigated for months regarding Atlantic Yards, the controversial arena-plus-towers megaproject in Brooklyn.

Reuters, in "Special report: Overselling the American dream overseas," pointed to numerous problems in this essentially unregulated program, in which businesses and developers seeking cheap capital compete to recruit immigrant investors, who must park $500,000 in a purportedly job-creating investment in exchange for green cards for themselves and their families.

Many would-be immigrants don't get their green cards. Many don't get their money back. And many are misled by immigration brokers pimping the investment projects. And some of the regional centers--the federally-authorized investment pools that market the projects--are quite shady.

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Posted by eric at 3:48 PM

Exclusive: New audio of arena project presentation shows NYCRC principals making same deceptive claims they admit their Asian affiliates should avoid

Atlantic Yards Report

On this citywide snow day, can you guess which blog is still open for business? Yup.

It's stunning how George Olsen, managing principal of the New York City Regional Center (NYCRC), could profess to be shocked, shocked that the firm's affiliates in Asia are deceptively marketing green cards in exchange for investments in Atlantic Yards.

As Reuters reported last week:

At a recent seminar in Seoul, an agent for the Kookmin Migration Consulting Co., working on behalf of the New York City Regional Center, told would-be investors if they invested in the company's latest project their permanent green cards were "guaranteed." He also implied the investors would be financing the construction of the new home for the New Jersey Nets NBA basketball team.

In a subsequent interview with Reuters, George Olsen, managing principal of the New York City Regional Center acknowledged the claims were "not accurate" - the investors will finance the rebuilding of a rail yard and some related infrastructure near the new basketball court -- and promised he would jump on Kookmin "with two feet."

"But that's what's frustrating," Olsen said. "You can't be at every seminar, you can't be at every meeting, you can't be in the room when one of these people is talking. To raise $100 million, you have to get 200 investors. That's a lot of people. So there's a certain amount of mass marketing that has to go on.

Nah. As I pointed out December 23, those same claims were made by Olsen's own point man in China, Gregg D. Hayden.

And those same claims were made in the official project video as presented to investors in China, the audio of which I reproduce below, with annotations.

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NoLandGrab: Why is it that no one involved officially in promoting the Atlantic Yards project ever tells the truth about it?

Posted by eric at 9:45 AM

December 26, 2010

In review, Vitullo-Martin says Encyclopedia of New York City entry on Atlantic Yards is "almost laughable"

Atlantic Yards Report

In her review of the new edition of The Encyclopedia of New York City in the New York Post, Julia Vitullo-Martin mostly praises it, but finds that it runs aground in spots:

The seemingly neutral, non-judgmental tone combined with the persistent use of the passive voice can become grating, even counter-productive. To write, for example, that the Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn “encountered opposition from neighborhood residents concerned about potential crowds and traffic” is almost laughable. It’s rather like saying General Custer encountered a few Indians. In this instance, the courts have consistently ruled that the deeply subsidized project can go forward, but whether or not the project will ever get built is far from clear. My own guess is that the Indians — subdued by the courts though they have been — will triumph in the end.

I don't think the Indians will triumph in the sense of blocking the arena, though it's possible a judge may require additional findings regarding the impact the associated development.

But I think the critique that the Indians have long made--a glaringly undemocratic process leads to a result that glaringly favors the developer--will sustain.

And I'd wager any amount that that the project will never get built as proposed and approved: 17 buildings, 8 million square feet, ten years.

That means that the much-touted benefits (tax revenues, open space, affordable housing) and much-minimized impacts require re-evaluation. But of course the Empire State Development Corporation has waved that away.

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Posted by steve at 10:14 AM

From Planetizen: 10 Urban Planning Songs (plus two Atlantic Yards additions)

Atlantic Yards Report Click on over to this post to see videos of the referenced performances.

In 10 Urban Planning Songs, Planetizen's Abhijeet Chavan offers links, lyrics, and videos, including:

I can't think of a more concise criticism of planning decisions than these incisive lyrics from Joni Mitchell's 1970 hit Big Yellow Taxi:

They paved paradise And put up a parking lot

In this live version she sings an extra verse:

Late last night I heard the screen door slam And a big yellow tractor Came and took away my house, it took away my land

Some following Atlantic Yards may remember that Mitchell's song, performed by John Wesley Harding, was a hit at Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's October 2006 walkathon.

More songs, two on Atlantic Yards

Chavan's list includes The Pretenders' "My City Was Gone" and Billy Joel's "Allentown," while readers add such songs as The Jam's "The Planner's Dream Goes Wrong" and Jay-Z's and Alicia Keys's "Empire State of Mind."

In a comment, I suggested a couple of songs about the Atlantic Yards controversy, including "The Burrow," by John Pinamonti:

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

I also suggested "Brooklyn is Dying," by RebelMart:

If Freddy's [bar] goes down Brooklyn is gone

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Posted by steve at 9:57 AM

Revisiting a Classic Seasonal Tale: Ratnerville

Noticing New York

Here's a reminder that, in exchange for eminent domain abuse and massive public subsidies, Brooklyn is getting bupkis.

This is the season for revisiting and retelling classic tales about the eternal verities. A number of the most classic seasonal tales create their magic by investigating alternative realities, contrasting realities where greed goes unchecked versus the better, more marvelously rich world we could harmoniously all share if people's better nature prevails. In that vein, we think our Noticing New York post from last Christmas Eve stands the test of time rather well.

With one year passed it is clearer than ever what paucity of promise fulfillment comes with Ratnerville’s monopolistic takeover of Brooklyn: We are getting no jobs, no housing, no design, nothing but decades of imperious monopoly and acres of desolate parking lots. If the past year has done anything beyond making all this a lot clearer it has been to show us as well that as Ratner evicts Brooklynites from Brownstone Brooklyn he is using his monopoly as a springboard for even more greed and deception. We reference his deceptive sale of green cards to gullible Chinese millionaires. (See: Monday, December 20, 2010, Anatomy of a Shady Deal: an FAQ and restrospective on the effort to recruit EB-5 investors in China for the Brooklyn Arena and Infrastructure Project and Wednesday, October 6, 2010, Translation: Bruce Ratner Wants To Swindle 498 Chinese Millionaires?)

Here is the Noticing New York post we ran one year ago today: Thursday, December 24, 2009, A Christmas Eve Story of Alternative Realities: The Fight Not To Go To Pottersville (Or Ratnerville).

Happy holidays.

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Posted by steve at 9:50 AM

Top 10 Most Influential New Jersey Sports Personalities of 2010

Press Box
By Mike Vorkunov

  1. Mikhail Prokhorov- When a charismatic Russian oligarch takes over a team, it’s hard not to put him somewhere on here. The New Jersey Nets owners did plenty this year, although mostly symbolic than effectual. He allowed Nets fans to believe again when it seemed like his money and influence would land a big name free agent this summer. He certainly made things interesting by placing a billboard of himself and minority owner Jay-Z across from Madison Square Garden and sent Knicks owner Jim Dolan into a tizzy. Let’s not forget that while former Nets owner Bruce Ratner may have his slimy hands over the team’s future Brooklyn home and Atlantic Yards project, it was Prokhorov’s money that resuscitated it. The New York Observer put him No. 38 on its New York Power 150 list, 14 spots higher than New York’s actual NBA team owner. Considering all that, it’s hard to say nyet to him on this list.

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Posted by steve at 9:48 AM

December 25, 2010

In novel Prospect Park West, "Atlantic Yards" is a screenplay about terrorism and a character has the arena on the brain

Atlantic Yards Report

Amy Sohn's dishy novel Prospect Park West, optioned to be a mini-series starring Sarah Jessica Parker, has gotten lots of buzz for her satirical take on motherhood and Park Slope, with the park, the food co-op, the Park Slope Parents listserv, house envy, and more serving as the backdrop.

(See local reviews pro and con from FIPS and OTBKB.)

There are numerous real people and places in the book, but Atlantic Yards watchers may notice a few stretches:

Lizzie and Jay's brick walk-up [on Park Place] was between Vanderbilt and Underhill, in the footprint of the developer Bruce Ratner's proposed Nets arena, which meant that it might be knocked down in order to build the arena.

Actually, the project footprint doesn't go beyond Dean Street south to Park Place, nor does it go east of Vanderbilt Avenue.

Atlantic Yards, the film?

More entertaining is the name of the screenplay being written by Stuart Ashby, an Australian actor married to Melora Leigh, a Park Slope super-couple based loosely on Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly:

"Atlantic Yards. It's sort of a thriller about gentrification and terrorism."

"What's thrilling about gentrification?"

"Well," he said, "ultimately it's more about the clash between different types of people. There's a terror cell run out of a muffin shop, and a corrupt borough president funneling money to the terrorists, and then there's this weathered Seventy-eighth Precinct cop who catches on to the scheme and winds up saving the day. She's a woman. And I'm trying to figure out a way to work in that rape on the ball fields."

Well, you could probably get a good screenplay--Russian billionaire, Chinese millionaires, obsessed Borough President--involved in the real Atlantic Yards.

Ratner on the brain

There's also an entertaining moment in which a zonked-out Melora, unable to find a cab or orient herself homeward, winds up walking north in the Slope after a show at Southpaw:

Up Fifth Avenue, she could see the lights of the Atlantic Terminal mall.

What an atrocity. How this Ratner idiot had gotten permission to build it, she had no idea. When Heath [Ledger] was alive, he and Michelle [Williams] had gotten her and Stuart to sign on to the Develop-Don't Destroy advisory board. Even though Frank Gehry was supposedly going to design the arena, if Bruce Ratner was behind it, it was bound to be ugly.

Why was she thinking about the feasibility of the Nets arena at a time like this?

Good question. Maybe it sticks in too many people's minds.

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Posted by steve at 8:55 AM

LeBron Likes the Idea of NBA Contraction

The Big Lead

Here’s LeBron James talking about how contracting a couple – I say four – NBA teams could help the NBA:

“Just imagine if you could take Kevin Love off Minnesota and add him to another team,” he said. “Or, looking at some of the teams that’s not that great, you take Brook Lopez or you take Devin Harris off these teams that’s not that good right now and add ‘em to a team that could be really good.

“I’m not saying, ‘Let’s take New Jersey, let’s take Minnesota out of the league.’ But, hey you guys are not stupid. I’m not stupid. I know what would be great for the league.”

Couldn’t agree more with LeBron. If it’ll help the league avoid a labor stoppage next summer, then contract four teams. How to determine who gets the ax? You can look at attendance figures, consecutive years of ineptitude, or at owners who don’t seem to give a shit.

If we were going to trim the league from 30 teams, we’d dial it back to 26. Four teams we’d target:

...

New Jersey Nets - Have more history than the two teams above, and their fortunes could change dramatically if they trade for Carmelo Anthony … but they’d be one of our four to go

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Posted by steve at 8:51 AM

The Day: Long Holiday Weekend

The Local (New York Times Blog)
By Annaliese Griffin

Included in these items is the echo of a Curbed item that is then noticed by No Land Grab and the Atlantic Yards Report. If only the Times would cover the Atlantic Yards story.

In other development news, Curbed posted an aerial shot of Atlantic Yards, saying that the lot is now beginning to “actually look like something” and wondering how such a large piece of real estate could have gone undeveloped for so long. This comment, and speculation as to its level of facetiousness or earnestness, has touched off some debate on Atlantic Yards watch-dog sites like No Land Grab and Atlantic Yards Report.

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Posted by steve at 8:39 AM

December 24, 2010

LeBron James not a Nets' fan

Bergen Record

Do we smell an LBJ-Hova feud coming on?

LeBron James thinks the NBA is watered down and hinted that contraction of teams, including the Nets, might not be a bad idea.

Speaking to reporters before Thursday night's game against the Phoenix Suns, James defended his decision to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami by saying the league was more popular in the 1980s because there were more teams with multiple star players.
...

"Looking at some of the teams that aren't that great, you take Brook Lopez or you take Devin Harris off these teams that aren't that good right now and you add him to a team that could be really good. Not saying let's take New Jersey and let's take Minnesota out of the league. But hey, you guys are not stupid, I'm not stupid, it would be great for the league."

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NoLandGrab: And the Nets wanted us to believe they actually had a shot at signing James?

Posted by eric at 10:21 AM

In the Brooklyn Paper, editor insists that the newspaper's covering Atlantic Yards

Atlantic Yards Report

In a very interesting phone interview (Vito speaks — sort of!) with Vito Lopez, in which the beleaguered Assemblyman urges the Brooklyn Paper to cover affordable housing issues--good idea--editor Gersh Kuntman asks,"Assemblyman do you really think we aren’t covering the Brooklyn Bridge Park and Atlantic Yards and other issues?"

Lopez says he doesn't read the paper, but I do, and I can say--sorry to sound like a broken record--that the Brooklyn Paper doesn't cover Atlantic Yards all that much any more.

Yes, there's some good stuff about the census in this week's issue, and the Paper covers Atlantic Yards news when it emerges via press release and yes, it's shorthanded, but...

Did the Brooklyn Paper cover the Empire State Development Corporation board meeting December 16 in which a 25-year project buildout was deemed not to have significant impacts or the subsequent court hearing December 22?

Nope.

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Posted by eric at 10:03 AM

December 23, 2010

In Reuters investigation of EB-5 program, NYC Regional Center principal admits lies in arena project pitch, but blames affiliates. That's not so.

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder's EB-5 series appears to have caught the eye of the folks at Reuters.

A major investigation of the EB-5 immigration visa program by Reuters, Special report: Overselling the American dream overseas, turns up numerous reasons for skepticism and an admission by a principal of the New York City Regional Center (NYCRC) that potential investors have been lied to about the Brooklyn Arena and Infrastructure project.

Astonishingly, however, the NYCRC's George Olsen gets away with blaming immigration brokers in foreign lands--in this case, Korea, not China--rather than acknowledging, or being forced to acknowledge, that the same statements have been made, in documents and on video, by the NYCRC itself.

In South Korea

Reuters reports:

At a recent seminar in Seoul, an agent for the Kookmin Migration Consulting Co., working on behalf of the New York City Regional Center, told would-be investors if they invested in the company's latest project their permanent green cards were "guaranteed." He also implied the investors would be financing the construction of the new home for the New Jersey Nets NBA basketball team.

In a subsequent interview with Reuters, George Olsen, managing principal of the New York City Regional Center acknowledged the claims were "not accurate" - the investors will finance the rebuilding of a rail yard and some related infrastructure near the new basketball court -- and promised he would jump on Kookmin "with two feet."

"But that's what's frustrating," Olsen said. "You can't be at every seminar, you can't be at every meeting, you can't be in the room when one of these people is talking. To raise $100 million, you have to get 200 investors. That's a lot of people. So there's a certain amount of mass marketing that has to go on. And once you get into that realm, it's hard to control."

Oh, come now. The same statements have been made by the NYCRC's Gregg D. Hayden in China, as I've documented. Here's my FAQ, and here's a report, with video.

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NoLandGrab: Oh, please. Yes, we got caught, but it's "these people" [read: untrustworthy yellow people] who are the problem. Except it's your own right-hand man doing the lying — ON TAPE! HELLO?!

Posted by eric at 11:00 PM

Prokhorov shoulders the burden of billions

The Moscow News
by Andy Potts

Being Oligarch-rich is a bitch.

With billions in the bank, an enviable status as Russia’s most eligible bachelor and a newly-purchased basketball team bouncing along in the glamorous NBA, Mikhail Prokhorov might seem to have it all.

But the Onexim president suffers as much of the rest of us – or so he would have us believe.

In an interview with Vedomosti, the man rated Russia’s second richest by Forbes lamented the woes of being wealthy in the midst of poverty.

“We must realise that to be rich in a poor country is a burden,” Prokhorov said.

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NoLandGrab: Well, in fairness, Bruce Ratner did grub a few hundred million off him.

Posted by eric at 10:51 PM

‘Freak’ out! Evicted shooting gallery is bulldozed in Coney

The Brooklyn Paper
by Alex Rush

The Disneyifcation of America's Playground continues apace, this time under cover of darkness.

What the freak?

The landlord who evicted the Shoot the Freak booth and seven other businesses on the Coney Island Boardwalk last month ransacked the paintball attraction overnight on Dec. 22, boarding up the main entrance and jacking paintball equipment, memorabilia and other props.

“They came like thieves in the night,” said booth owner Anthony Berlingieri. “Those little sneaks emptied out the place and there is nothing left, except for the Shoot the Freak sign.”

Central Amusement International — which has a 10-year lease to not only run a theme park, but fulfill a city plan to revive the entire amusement area — gave the eight businesses the boot on Nov. 1.

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NoLandGrab: First it was Bruce Ratner alleviating "blight" by creating real blight. Now it's Central Amusement International "reviving" Coney Island by bulldozing it.

Posted by eric at 10:41 PM

Year in Review: 2010

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Look back in anger.

MARCH

New York state takes ownership of the land inside the footprint of Atlantic Yards via eminent domain, after Justice Abraham Gerges finalizes a Court of Appeals ruling that deems it constitutional. Several days later, several floors of the courthouse are evacuated as Justice Gerges is sent an envelope filled with suspicious white powder, later found to be inert. In April, Develop Don’t Destroy co-founder Daniel Goldstein, plaintiff in numerous suits to stop the project, accepts $3 million from developer Forest City Ratner to move out of his condo. He is the last to vacate the footprint. In November, the first steel beams of the project are erected.

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Posted by eric at 6:37 PM

Look Back Brooklyn, 2010

Brooklyn Based

Here’s what we all got into last year:

Barclays’ Parking Lot

In April, one month after the groundbreaking for Atlantic Yards, Daniel Goldstein issued a sad yet inspiring public statement. After six-plus years of leading the battle charge against AY, he struck a $3 million dollar deal to step down as the “official” spokesperson for Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn and evacuate his home (which the state had already seized) in 17 days. Ratner had already tried four times to get him to drop the suits; this time, eviction was imminent and he could either accept a lowball offer from the state or get paid handsomely to pack up his family quickly. But Goldstein made clear that AY was never about one apartment, and despite the fact that this abuse of eminent domain was upheld by the courts, all was not lost. “Our fight has—and this is one of the victories—given hope, inspiration and encouragement to innumerable people that a community united can fight principled fights worth fighting, regardless of the outcome,” he wrote.

Case in point: Judge Marcy Friedman recently ruled against the Empire State Development Corporation for claiming in its review that the buildout would take 10 years, when they knew it would take 25. Now they have to go back and rationalize their findings. It’s not stopping the project–which is now looking like a big-ass parking lot–but it is exposing some of the lies that helped push it through, and hopefully prevent another boondoggle like this from ever happening. Other good AY news: Norman Oder is writing a book about the entire case, which has taken a strange turn as of late, with Ratner trying to lure Chinese investment in exchange for green cards.

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Posted by eric at 6:31 PM

Prokhorov Tells Russian Media Nets Have "Explosive Profit Potential"

NetsDaily

In an interview published Thursday in Vedmosti, Russia's leading financial journal, Mikhail Prokhorov once again says the Nets will be NBA champions by 2015 and that his investment in the team and arena will be worth $700 million as soon as they move to Brooklyn in 2012. He also expects to earn an annual profit of $30 million in Brooklyn.

Prokhorov called the Nets a "project with explosive profit potential" noting, "We have a team, we're building the arena, we've hired professional management". He adds that he also holds an option to buy part (20%) of the overall Atlantic Yards. As for the current situation, the Nets' owner tries to divert the interviewer from their on-court problems by playfully noting they have just added draft picks!

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NoLandGrab: As they say in Moscow, yada yada yada. And he forgot to reiterate his claim that they would make the playoffs this season.

Posted by eric at 6:26 PM

The dialogue (imagined) behind yesterday's court non-drama; what if someone challenged Justice Friedman on the Development Agreement?

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder imaginatively sums up the legal travesty that has allowed construction of the Atlantic Yards arena to progress.

I wasn't privy to the discussions among lawyers yesterday before state Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman, so I don't think this was the discussion that led to the lifting of a request for a stay on project construction.

I suspect the discussion was far more limited and politic.

But this is what might have happened had there been a law clerk in the room raising inconvenient arguments.

Dramatis personae include:

  • State Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman (MF)
  • Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn attorney Jeff Baker (JBa)
  • BrooklynSpeaks attorney Al Butzel (AB)
  • Empire State Development Corporation Phil Karmel (PK)
  • Forest City Ratner attorney Jeffrey Braun (JBr)
  • Friedman's imaginary, impudent law clerk (LC)

Read on for Oder's engaging — and infuriating — tragi-comedy.

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Posted by eric at 9:51 AM

The Observer's Power 150: many Atlantic Yards connections, with Prokhorov somehow well ahead of Ratner

Atlantic Yards Report

The New York Observer has issued its "purely subjective" ranking of the city's Power 150, and it's worth a look to see how many intersections there are with Atlantic Yards.

In the top 50, Mayor Mike Bloomberg is #1, while Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver ranks #9, and Kathryn Wylde, CEO, Partnership for New York City, snags the #11 spot. Wylde testified for Atlantic Yards, while Department of City Planning Director Amanda Burden, at #30, played a peripheral role.

At #38 comes Mikhail Prokhorov, pictured with a Nets logo in the background; he "embodies a new Russian elite swarming the city." Well, billionaires embody things slightly differently than the rest of the world, but it's hard to think Prokhorov has more local juice than a developer like Bruce Ratner who's built relationships over decades.

Prokhorov's billboard partner, Jay-Z, ranks #46, cited for remaining "a relevant musician while commanding a growing empire worth almost half a billion dollars."

And Bob Diamond, President of Barclays, is #47, not for the arena naming rights deal, which is unmentioned, but because next year he will run the firm.

The second 50 includes Knicks (and Cablevision) owners the Dolans at #52 (not an AY link, just a comparison).

NBA Commissioner David Stern ranks #79 and is credited for having "built 28 new arenas," which kind of scants the ability of team owners to extract local subsidies.

In the third 50, Bruce Ratner is #109:

Real estate developer; minority owner, New Jersey Nets

The saga over the Atlantic Yards, Mr. Ratner's baby, is fit for a long Russian novel, but this year he won his battle against landowners. Construction is under way at the multibillion-dollar arena and residential center. Now if he can only get the Nets to move to Brooklyn.

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Posted by eric at 9:41 AM

The Daily Bulletin Year in Review

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Atlantic Yards makes a few appearances in the Eagle's round-up of "top legal, judicial and courthouse news stories of 2010."

JANUARY

• Homeless people in Brooklyn attempt to arrest developer Bruce Ratner related to the use of eminent domain to take land for the multibillion-dollar Atlantic Yards project that Ratner is constructing for the Brooklyn/New Jersey Nets NBA basketball team.
...

MARCH

• New York state takes ownership of the land inside the footprint of Atlantic Yards via eminent domain, after Justice Abraham Gerges finalizes a Court of Appeals ruling that the taking is constitutional. Several days later, several floors of the courthouse are evacuated (see photo) as Justice Gerges is sent an envelope filled with suspicious white powder, later to be found inert.
...

NOVEMBER

• In an unexpected decision regarding the Atlantic Yards project, a Manhattan judge rules that the discrepancies between the project’s timelines warrant the granting of a motion to reargue the case concerning the environmental impact statement. Though the project is not expected to stop construction, it is a rare victory for Atlantic Yards opponents and allows the continuance of many years of litigation.

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NoLandGrab: "Unexpected?" Maybe by the Ratner-idolizing Eagle.

Posted by eric at 9:25 AM

December 22, 2010

No stay on construction, as petitioners in timetable case agree to withdraw motion in light of ESDC's report; will file new motion next month

Atlantic Yards Report

There will be no stay on Atlantic Yards construction for now and, given the momentum of time, the bar grows higher.

Two community coalitions sought a stay on some if not all Atlantic Yards construction because of the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) failure to analyze the impact of a 25-year construction schedule.

But last week, the ESDC issued findings that no Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) is necessary and, while petitioners Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and BrooklynSpeaks consider that analysis vastly inadequate, it was too soon to argue that in court.

So, in a very brief hearing today before state Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman in New York County Supreme Court, the parties--the petitioners as well as the defendants, the ESDC and Forest City Ratner--agreed that the request for a stay would be withdrawn.

"They acted last week," BrooklynSpeaks attorney Al Butzel said of the ESDC decision, "and there's a presumption [on the part of the court] that they acted legitimately, which changed the balance." BrooklynSpeaks and DDDB disagree and will argue that next month.

Next phases

As part of the stipulation, the petitioners have until January 18 to file a supplementary petition arguing that the ESDC's analysis is inadequate--and to bring another request for an injunction. The could lead to another oral argument in the case in February.

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Related coverage...

Park Slope Patch, Atlantic Yards Construction To Continue

Construction at Atlantic Yards will be allowed to continue after a deal was struck in court today by both sides of a lawsuit challenging development of the 22-acre Prospect Heights plot.

Calling it a "legal reality," representatives for the petitioners withdrew a motion to stop construction, but they continued to criticize how the Empire State Development Corporation, the state agency overseeing development, has handled the process.

"My view is the ESDC is responding in a way that misses the major concern, which is how 25 years of construction will affect people living in the neighborhood." said Al Butzel, attorney for BrooklynSpeaks, one of the community groups that is petitioning the development.

Posted by eric at 10:27 PM

Atlantic Yards Actually Looks Like Something Now

Curbed
by Joey Arak

A month after steel first started going up at the site, the Barclays Center arena is starting to take, well, some sort of shape. Chopper 880 was in the Brooklyn airspace this morning and came back with a gallery aerial shots of Atlantic Yardsville. Isn't it crazy how such a big piece of prime Brooklyn land was left empty until this project came along?

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Related coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, Atlantic Yards down the memory hole: "Isn't it crazy how such a big piece of prime Brooklyn land was left empty until this project came along?"

We think Norman Oder took Curbed a bit too literally, but he did post an interesting graphic from photographer Tracy Collins.

Well, there was a working railyard at the northern half of the arena site (the bottom of the photo at right), which had to be put up for sale--not that Forest City Ratner didn't have the inside track to get the railyard, and to get the deal renegotiated.

And there were three rows of buildings, on Dean and Pacific streets, as well at along Flatbush Avenue, at the southern half of the arena site.

Posted by eric at 10:14 PM

The Atlantic Yards timetable, and the significance of a decade unstudied

Atlantic Yards Report

As I wrote 12/15/10, noting that the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) did consider a potential five-year delay in the Atlantic Yards timetable, ESDC attorney Philip Karmel stated in a legal affirmation:

Remarkably, the five-year legal battle over Atlantic Yards has thus come down to this: a dispute as to whether the 2009 Technical Memorandum should have assumed a 25-year build out instead of a 15-year build out in its analysis of the environmental impacts of a market-driven delay in the schedule for the Project's development.

He seemed to be suggesting that ten years is an insignificant interval, even for an interim surface parking lot.

The timetable case will be heard today at noon in Manhattan Supreme Court before state Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman, at 60 Centre Street, IAS MOTION Part 57, Room 335.

The significance of a decade

As for Karmel's statement, it all depends on perspective, right? Consider some alternatives in which the difference between 15 and 25 is significant.

  1. Remarkably, it has come to this: whether we think the warranty on the boiler should last 15 years rather than 25.
  2. Remarkably, it has come to this: whether the pill should be 15 mg, not 25.
  3. Remarkably, it has come to this: whether he should have known that the female was 15 rather than, as she said, 25.

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Posted by eric at 11:48 AM

A developer (not Ratner) described as "in full marketing mode"

Atlantic Yards Report

There was an unusually skeptical close to an article in yesterday's New York Times headlined Council Approves West Side Apartment Towers:

Work on the new buildings may not begin until 2012, the developer said.

“It will be the capstone for the newest and most vibrant neighborhood in the city,” Mr. [Gary] Barnett said, in full marketing mode.

What about AY?

If only reporter Charles Bagli made similar observations when he covered Atlantic Yards. Consider this quote from an 11/25/09 Times article headlined Ruling Lets Atlantic Yards Seize Land:

Mr. Ratner called the court’s ruling a “light-switch” kind of decision for the long-stalled project. “I look at this as the last major hurdle; now we can proceed as we’ve wanted to for the last three years,” he said on Tuesday. “The courts have made it clear that this project represents a significant public benefit for the people of Brooklyn and the entire city.”

As I pointed out at the time, the courts had not made such a thing clear; they deferred to the Empire State Development Corporation rather than conducting any fact-finding.

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Posted by eric at 11:45 AM

Construction Hums Along On Barclays Center

CBSNewYork.com

Photo: Tom Kaminski/WCBS 880

Right now, they are the New Jersey Nets. That is set to change for the 2012-2013 NBA season.

That’s when the Nets, who currently play at the Prudential Center in Newark, are set to move into the Barclays Center at Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn.

Tom Kaminski flew over in Chopper 880 on Wednesday to take a look at construction of the arena. CLICK HERE to see more of his photos.

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NoLandGrab: Wow, flying over at 3,000 feet, it hardly seems neighborhood-destroying at all.

Related coverage...

Gothamist, Aerial Photos Show "Progress" At Atlantic Yards Project

The indispensable John Del Signore offers his take.

CBS 880's Tom Kaminski has obtained dramatic photographic evidence of construction at the controversial Atlantic Yards development/parking lot. The big arena that may one day be the home of the Brooklyn New Yorkers (currently the New Jersey Nets) seems to be coming along, despite numerous lawsuits attempting to stop it. Today, in fact, opponents of the project will square off in court against the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC). A coalition of community groups wants a court order to halt all construction because the ESDC's environmental impact statement analyzed Atlantic Yards as a 10-year construction project. Now it's expected to take a quarter century, and critics want the environmental impact reconsidered.

NLG: Be sure to check out the photo caption here.

Posted by eric at 11:26 AM

Atlantic Yards Stopped?

The Huffington Post
by Steve Ettlinger

Longstanding opponents Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and Brooklyn Speaks got a favorable response last month and will have a hearing tomorrow, Dec. 22 (State Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman, 60 Centre Street, IAS Motion Part 57, Room 335). At issue is a motion for a stay on the construction of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards development. The plaintiffs charge collusion to deceive the court on an environmental impact statement. It appears that this is clearly the case. This is more than what stopped the infamous Westway project years ago.

How, you might wonder, does Bruce Ratner's mega-development inspire such sustained assault? Let's see some basics.

Click through to read Ettlinger's cogent summary of why NoLandGrab is still covering stories like Ettlinger's.

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Posted by eric at 11:19 AM

Moses, Jacobs And You: The Battle For Gotham

A history of the philosophical battle between Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs, told by an author who, wisely, took it personally.

City Limits
by Jarrett Murphy

City Limits reviews Roberta Brandes Gratz's The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs.

But the problem with the Moses project of 2007, as Gratz observes, was that it stretched reexamination into rehabilitation. Suddenly Robert Moses was the reason New York had become a modern city, as if there had been no plausible way for the New York of 2010 to be created without, say, the Cross-Bronx Expressway cutting through the heart of the Bronx or Lincoln Center obliterating a West Side neighborhood. “The physical achievements, whether judged good or bad, are undeniably mighty in breadth, scale and obstacles overcome,” Gratz writes of Moses. “But the danger in a revisionist view of history is that it takes on a life of its own.”

Worse still was the timing of this Moses revival, coming at the end of a development boom that was Moses-esque in its scale and deafness to public outcry, from Atlantic Yards to Yankee Stadium to Willets Point. Community plans were pushed aside to meet developers' demands. Huge public subsidies were proffered and the threat of eminent domain brandished repeatedly. The defense of Moses was easily repurposed as a defense of the city's new power brokers, whose excesses Gratz details.

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Posted by eric at 11:10 AM

Brooklyn Broadside: Brooklyn in 2011 Will See More Downtown Development

Brooklyn Daily Eagle
by Dennis Holt

It is that time of the year, with only a handful of days left, to try to peer ahead and predict what may happen in Brooklyn in 2011.

After two years of squealing brakes and cries of woe because of the great recession in Brooklyn, projects began to move again, some with force, in the Downtown Brooklyn area and elsewhere in 2010.

Looking ahead to next year, we can expect more of the same, with a tag reading “To Finish in 2012,” on many of the projects.

Some of these projects are obvious. After years of holdups, Atlantic Yards began to take shape when the skeleton of the Barclays Center went up. But that first very important structure will not be finished until 2012. What we should see in 2011 is the beginning of the housing portion of the project.

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NoLandGrab: Don't set your watch by Holt's predictions. Here's last year's gaze into the crystal ball for 2010.

"If Forest City can hold to its schedule, the first residential building will start being built, and by the end of the year, there could also be news about the commercial part of the project."

Posted by eric at 10:54 AM

New York’s High Court Finally Gets Something Right

Reason Hit & Run
by Damon W. Root

It’s been an abysmal few years at New York’s Court of Appeals. First, the Empire State’s highest court voted to rubber stamp the despicable Atlantic Yards land grab, thereby allowing corporate welfare recipient Bruce Ratner (and his ugly allies) to profit at the expense of homeowner Daniel Goldstein, the fine folks at Freddy’s Bar, and other Brooklyn property owners and residents. Then the Court of Appeals allowed New York state to use eminent domain on behalf of—and in collusion with—Columbia University, thereby privileging the elite private institution at the expense of family business owner Nick Sprayregen. So it’s a strange day indeed to find good news coming out of that flawed judicial body. But as the Associated Press reports, the Court of Appeals just got one right:

Slices, hooks and other errant shots are a common hazard on the links and a golfer can't expect to get a warning shout of "Fore!" every time a ball comes his way, New York's top court ruled Tuesday in dismissing a personal injury lawsuit.

Bottom line? The courts won't protect you anywhere in New York State.

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Posted by eric at 10:46 AM

Bring Out Your Dead! 2010 Roundup of Lost New York Landmarks

Lost City

As in every year of the Bloomberg administration, 2010 was a bad one for preservation-minded New Yorkers. There were a couple major restaurant losses in Gino and Fedora, cultural signposts of their time and neighborhoods that can never be brought back now that they're gone. Otherwise, the two biggest victims of this final year of the first decade of this depressing century were Coney Island and New York's dive bars. The seaside playland continues to be the most maliciously punished neighborhood in the City, wrung of all history and character and dignity by the twin evils of City Hall and Joe Sitt. Meanwhile, crusty old taverns who patronize the kind of people who used to live in New York by the drove, but are now being forced out by escalating rents, are dropping left and right. Mars Bar, Ruby's Bar & Grill, Max Fish, Rum House, you name it.
...

Freddy's Bar, the great opponent of Atlantic Yards finally forced to give up the ghost. Supposedly to rise again in another location.

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Posted by eric at 10:40 AM

The Brooklyn New Yorkers? - Found in connection with IN THE FOOTPRINT

THE CIVILIANS BLOG

It looks like the current new name for The New Jersey Nets when they move into the Barclays Stadium in Brooklyn is THE BROOKLYN NEW YORKERS.
...

Too bad they didn't ask our audinece members at the Let Me Ascertain You: Atlantic Yards cabaret, where we asked our audience members what they thought would make a good team name. Some suggestions were:

The Daniel Goldsteins
The Brooklyn Baby-Strollers
and
The New York Nyets

not to mention the suggestion in In the Footprint of the New York Chipmunks.

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Posted by eric at 10:35 AM

December 21, 2010

Help BrooklynSpeaks' Atlantic Yards advocacy with your donation

BrooklynSpeaks

BrooklynSpeaks is an initiative of non-profit civic, advocacy, and community-based organizations committed to bringing transparency and accountability to Atlantic Yards. As more of our efforts take us into the courtroom, we need your help to continue the fight so that the community can have a meaningful role in the development of the site.

The Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council has established a fund for individual contributions to BrookynSpeaks' Atlantic Yards campaign. Your generous donation will fund continued legal and communications expenses related to Atlantic Yards advocacy.

Donate now!

through JustGive.org and enter "BrooklynSpeaks" in the box labeled, "Designate my donation".

Thanks for your support!

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Posted by eric at 1:24 PM

Atlantic Yards Report Round-Up: DDDB and BrooklynSpeaks vs. ESDC

Atlantic Yards Report, DDDB attorney: ESDC denied documents before board meeting, conducted illegal session, admitted role as "rubber-stamp"

In a legal affirmation (embedded below) in the case regarding the Atlantic Yards timetable, Jeff Baker, attorney for Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, takes aim at the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) board meeting last Thursday, saying the ESDC denied the public access to documents and conducted an illegal meeting.

Baker states:

Nevertheless, it is important for the Court to understand the extent of the deliberations by the ESDC Board of Directors to understand the cursory review they conducted and recognize that instead of customary deference, ESDC's actions should generate skepticism and the Court should grant the stay pending a final review of ESDC's compliance with SEQRA [State Environmental Quality Review Act].

Where's the report?

Anticipating that the ESDC would prepare a report complying with Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman's ruling and thus indicating that a 25-year project buildout would not be unduly burdensome, Baker sought such documents via a Freedom of Information law Request on November 29 by fax and regular mail.

On December 14, he received a response dated December 6 and postmarked December 9.

Immediately, on December 14, Baker demanded copies of the documents that would be presented to the ESDC board on December 16, to afford meaningful comment. He got no response.

Atlantic Yards Report, In timetable case, petitioners say ESDC's "illegal" actions shouldn't be rewarded; FCR argues against stay, but, if granted, bond should be $100M

In the courtroom argument tomorrow over the request in a stay in Atlantic Yards construction and a re-evaluation of potential project impacts over 25 years, the battle seems to be this:

Can charges of bad procedure and dereliction of duty overcome the facts of an official document in hand and ongoing construction--construction that developer Forest City Ratner thinks requires a $100 million bond (well-nigh impossible for community groups) to pause?

The hearing will be at noon in Manhattan Supreme Court before state Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman, at 60 Centre Street, IAS MOTION Part 57, Room 335. (I will reconfirm and update the location by tomorrow.)

Friedman made a preliminary ruling November 9 that the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) make "findings on the impact of the Development Agreement and of the renegotiated MTA agreement on its continued use of a 10 year build-out for the Project, and on whether a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement [SEIS] is required or warranted."

(The Development Agreement, which has a 25-year deadline, was released in January, months after the ten-year date was approved in the Modified General Project Plan, or MGPP, in September 2009.)

The ESDC responded with a flurry of arguments, notably that the arena is already well in progress, and that the 25-year outside date for project construction was long ago disclosed. On December 16, it issued findings that an SEIS is not necessary.

The findings were criticized by the BrooklynSpeaks coalition as obfuscatory and evasive. The meeting, according to an attorney for Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB), included an illegal executive session and denied the public the opportunity to comment on the findings.

Given that judges are supposed to defer to administrative agencies, the petitioners face a high bar--though one they're trying forcefully to overcome.

Atlantic Yards Report, When will the area open? The goalposts are already shifting slightly, thanks to "current schedule disputes"

When is the Barclays Center arena expected to open?

According to an affidavit from Forest City Ratner executive MaryAnne Gilmartin, arguing against any stay in construction, work is carefully timed so the arena can be finished by the summer of 2012 so it then be "commissioned" to open for the basketball season in October 2012.

However, there are apparently some delays in the schedule separate from any potential delays caused by litigation, as consultants report, detailed below.

It's also unclear when an arena not-yet-commissioned for basketball could open before the season to accommodate concerts (such as for Jay-Z) and other events, though presumably such events are planned and basketball is the most complicated to stage.

Atlantic Yards Report, Number of construction jobs should peak at 600 (plus "hundreds" offsite), says FCR; however, ESDC in 2006 estimated 3710, in 2009 predicted 1954

How many construction workers will be working on the Atlantic Yards site?

According to an affidavit (p. 244 of the document below) by Forest City Ratner executive MaryAnne Gilmartin that's part of the case challenging the Atlantic Yards timetable, the Number of workers will rise to about 600 or more when construction activities reach their peak:

Under the current schedule for building the arena, the census of approximately 120 union workers who are actually employed at the site is expected to increase dramatically, and will rise to about 600 or more when construction activities reach their peak. And there are hundreds of other workers now employed for the Project off-site.

Previous estimates

That's far fewer than the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) predicted in 2006 and again just last year.

The Technical Memorandum issued in June 2009 by the ESDC offers quarter-by-quarter construction jobs estimates over an elapsed time of 13 years, as shown below.

The peak, when the entire arena block was supposed to be in construction, was 3710, according to the Final Environmental Impact Statement, or FEIS.

Posted by eric at 12:36 PM

Another iPhone swipe

The Brooklyn Paper
by Thomas Tracy

Congratulations, Bruce Ratner! The Brooklyn Paper now refers to your Brooklyn malls as "Grinch HQ."

Grinch HQ

There were more sticky-fingered thieves than department store Santas inside the troubled Atlantic Terminal and Atlantic Center Mall last week. Here’s the rundown:

Several more thefts were reported at the troubled Atlantic Center and Atlantic Terminal malls this week. Here’s what happened:

• A thief swiped a wallet that was on a shopping cart inside the Target store at around 6 pm on Dec. 13.

• A mousy thief plucked a wallet from a woman’s handbag as she walked around the Chuck E. Cheese’s on Dec. 17. The woman said her bag was hanging off her shoulder the entire time.

• What’s worse than going to the Department of Motor Vehicles? Having your wallet taken away from you at the Department of Motor Vehicles!

A thief made off with a 40-year-old man’s wallet as he got his permit renewed at the office on Atlantic Avenue between Fort Greene Place and South Portland Avenue on Dec. 16.

article

Related coverage...

The Local [Fort Greene/Clinton Hill], The Day: Safer Subways and Shopping

The Brooklyn Paper, and the Brooklyn Eagle are both talking about crime in the neighborhood, and No Land Grab points out the the Atlantic Yards development was supposed to reduce crime in the project’s footprint. Much of the recent rise in crime can be attributed to thefts and robberies, and there was concern expressed at the public safety town hall meeting last week about shoppers falling victim during the holiday season. Anyone have a bad experience this weekend? We kept a handle on our valuables while picking up a few last minute items at the Flea, but fell victim to long lines, cranky employees and pushy fellow shoppers at Target.

NoLandGrab: We were kind of being facetious — it's the ESDC and AKRF who claimed, falsely, that the neighborhood crime incubator was the footprint, rather than Bruce Ratner's "Grinch HQ."

Posted by eric at 12:24 PM

Ratner's Green-Card Fundraising Scheme: Is This a Scandal, or What?

Runnin' Scared
by Neil deMause

​The ever-epic Norman Oder of Atlantic Yards Report today closes out his epic series on Bruce Ratner's bizarre green-cards-for-financing scheme with a (wait for it) epic FAQ on exactly how the New Jersey Nets Brooklyn New Yorkers co-owner plans to take advantage of an obscure federal job-promotion program to save himself a jabillion dollars.

It's a great read if you're an economic development policy wonk; not so much if you're looking for something you can read on your phone during your morning commute and then convert into a Facebook status update. So, without further ado, here's the considerably-less-epic "The Great Ratner Green Card Fiasco: Who, If Anyone, Is Getting Screwed and How?"

Click through for deMause's three-bullet-point summary.

article

Related coverage...

Field of Schemes, Ratner's green card funding scheme explained (in brief, and in briefer)

If you were wondering what was up with that plan to trade green cards for Atlantic Yards arena development loans, Atlantic Yards Report just finished a 16-part series (no, seriously) on all the ins and outs of the proposed deal. And if you can't be bothered to read a 16-part series, AYR today sums it all up in a 2,400-word FAQ.

And if you can't even be bothered with a FAQ, there's my still-shorter "We read Atlantic Yards Report so you don't have to" summary for the Village Voice news blog.

NoLandGrab: Wait, we thought we were the "we read Atlantic Yards Report so you don't have to" guys.

Posted by eric at 12:14 PM

Gentrification: Inspiring Art, Regardless of Implications

A new show at the Brooklyn Artists Gym explores gentrification through art

Park Slope Patch
by Deborah Lynn Blumberg

When Brooklyn painter Geoffrey Raymond thinks about gentrification, an image pops into his head of Bruce Ratner, the real estate developer bringing the New Jersey Nets to the Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn in 2012.

So Raymond created an interactive portrait of the developer entitled "The Annotated Ratner" for a new show at the Brooklyn Artists Gym that opened Saturday—"Gentrified."

The show features some 45 paintings, photographs, videos and other works from 20 local artists that address the huge transformations New York neighborhoods have undergone in recent years — the upheaval, friction and changing populations.

Ratner's "brass-knuckles use of eminent domain in clearing the way for his development of the Atlantic Yards almost defines gentrification," said Raymond, a Brooklyn resident known for painting Wall Street titans at key moments in history, such as during the Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers collapses.

Visitors to the "Gentrified" show, which runs through January 8, will be able to "annotate" their thoughts on Raymond's painting in magic marker, helping to complete the painting as scrawls start to look like small brushstrokes, and providing a snapshot of how visitors feel about the subject at a particular time in history.

article

Posted by eric at 11:50 AM

ESDC's response to court order shows Governor not yet willing to reform Atlantic Yards

BrooklynSpeaks

The BrooklynSpeaks sponsors are disappointed that board of the Empire State Development Corporation has voted to adopt findings regarding the delayed Atlantic Yards build out that obfuscate the issues raised by the Master Development Agreement ESDC executed with Forest City Ratner, are dismissive of the greater impacts which will now be sustained by the communities surrounding the project, and totally ignore the time value loss on New Yorkers’ substantial investment in Atlantic Yards given the deferment of its public benefits for decades.
...

ESDC’s continued dissembling in favor of FCRC and against the public interest reflects poorly on an agency that reports to the Governor of New York State, and whose board is appointed by him. We remind the Governor that the findings approved yesterday were necessitated by a Court order which characterized ESDC’s prior claims about its ability to enforce a 10-year schedule as “totally incomplete” and “yet another failure of transparency on ESDC’s part.” We are sorry the Governor has passed up yet another opportunity to reform his agency’s oversight of Atlantic Yards.

Click through to see how BrooklynSpeaks nimbly pokes gaping holes in the ESDC's nonsensical "findings."

article

Related coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, BrooklynSpeaks: ESDC findings on extended building "obfuscate the issues," evade time value loss, dismiss impact of surface parking lot

In a statement responding to the Empire State Development Corporation's approval December 16 of findings that a 25-year buildout would not impose any significant impacts not previously disclosed, the BrooklynSpeaks sponsors declare ESDC's response to court order shows Governor not yet willing to reform Atlantic Yards.
...

In other words, if a project takes 25 years to build, the value of the expected benefits is significantly decreased, since they were calculated over a ten-year buildout.

The impact of the findings will be discussed in oral arguments before Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman at noon on Wednesday, December 22.

Posted by eric at 11:41 AM

December 20, 2010

Anatomy of a Shady Deal: an FAQ and restrospective on the effort to recruit EB-5 investors in China for the Brooklyn Arena and Infrastructure Project

Atlantic Yards Report

After two weeks, this series (list of stories at bottom) deserves a retrospective and FAQ.

This is a complicated story. Can't you summarize it briefly?

Private interests win, the public interest loses. Not unlike much of the Atlantic Yards saga.

That's too brief.

Taking advantage of a federal immigration program known as EB-5 that's supposed to trade green cards for job-creating investments, developer Forest City Ratner (FCR) would get a no-interest (or low-interest) $249 million loan and save perhaps $191 million; the New York City Regional Center (NYCRC), a federally-authorized investment pool, would earn big bucks; and 498 Chinese millionaires would gain green cards for themselves and their families by parking $500,000 each for at least five years.

But no new jobs beyond those long forecast would be created thanks to that loan the immigrant investors would give to FCR via the NYCRC. Moreover, those investors are being told their money would go to the Atlantic Yards arena, which is already funded. And the process could delay Phase 1 of Atlantic Yards by another seven years, meaning it could take 19 years for the minimum square footage on the arena block to be built.

Is this legit? Doesn't anybody examine it?

Good question. We'll get to that below.

article

What's the "Brooklyn Arena and Infrastructure Project"?

That's what they're calling it in China. It's a curious, $1.448 billion subset of the $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards project, said to involve the Atlantic Yards arena, associated infrastructure, and a new railyard. No official body has ever approved or segmented Atlantic Yards in that way.

How can investors be investing in the arena--isn't it already funded? Does it need new money to go forward?

It is funded, state officials acknowledge, so new money isn't needed. (It is, however, wanted by the developer.)

According to available evidence, including statements from Atlantic Yards point woman MaryAnne Gilmartin, it looks like Forest City would substitute new, low-cost capital for at least part of an existing $161.9 million land loan at a much higher cost. (And, in 2012, use some money for the railyard, which should cost $147 million.)

Then why are they pushing the arena and the team in China?

Basketball is the most popular sport in China, silly. So a new arena is glamorous. Hoopsters are gods.

Don't developers try to refinance whenever they can?

Sure, but in this case, the only way they can get a cheap loan from green card-seeking investors is if the loan serves to create jobs. Should they really get credit for job creation simply by refinancing?

Well, how does job creation work?

Under the EB-5 program, you don't need to count employees to calculate job creation based on investments made through regional centers. Rather, a report by an economist--which applies a multiplier to the total amount of money spent--is used to calculate the jobs.

That's plausible, right?

Yes, if not uncontroversial. The problem is the total amount of money--in this case, $1.448 billion--is used as the base for the multiplier, not simply the $249 million in new money from immigrant investors. They're claiming 7696 jobs, far more than the 4980 required--ten per investor--and far more than we'll see on the Atlantic Yards site.

Should immigrant investors get credit for job creation based on the entire $1.448 billion, which is money already committed and already spent by private investors and government entities?

That's the big, unanswered question. It's plausible that EB-5 investors might get credit for job creation based on the whole pot of money--as long as their investment served as seed money or "last mile" funding, thus crucial to a project having enough to actually moving forward.

In this case, the project would go forward with or without EB-5 funding.

Are there any rules on this?

Well, there are, but they're very, very murky. I asked the federal agency that oversees this program, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), if they could clarify the rules regarding whether and how immigrant investor capital gets credit for jobs created by the total amount of capital.

I was pointed to a vague portion of the Code of Federal Regulations.

Is that a loophole?

It looks that way to me. Proponents obviously believe what they're doing is legit, based on past practices. However, if this passes muster, what's to stop any developer from refinancing with immigrant investor capital and claiming job creation based on both the new capital and previously committed capital?

But the spirit of the law regards the creation of a new commercial enterprise. This episode just might prompt the USCIS into clarifying its rules. Though regional centers have until recently faced little oversight, the USCIS recognizes there may be a need for more scrutiny.

In an October 14, 2010 quarterly presentation to stakeholders, the agency stated: "Many USCIS External Stakeholders have expressed concerns regarding the potential for fraud and misrepresentation within the EB-5 program."

(According to that presentation, members of the public may report instances of fraud or misrepresentation to the EB-5 mailbox at Uscis.immigrantinvestorprogram@dhs.gov.)

NYCRC reps are telling potential investors immigration risk is eliminated--true?

Nope. That's not what the USCIS says.

Step back--why does a program like this exist in the first place? Isn't the U.S. just selling green cards?

So it seems, at least to some, but there's a logic to it. Twenty years ago, when the program emerged, countries like Canada and Australia were offering similar programs. The U.S. has to compete.

The regional center program, which allows investments into investment pools rather than directly into businesses, has gotten enormously popular lately, as domestic capital has become scarce. Of 10,000 EB-5 visas a year, 3000 are reserved for regional center-based investments, according to the trade group IIUSA.

Didn't the economics editor at Yahoo say it was a good idea to market green cards to investors?

He did. And, on a superficial level, there's a logic to it. But as we see, the program is run so loosely, at least for now, that dubious projects can move forward. Canada, by contrast, puts the money into public works.

Is this a lock for investors?

No. Their green cards are not a certainty, despite what the NYCRC is assuring them.

What about getting their money back?

That's also a question mark. There's no publicly stated plan for cash flow dedicated to repaying this loan.

Is this really senior-most debt, only 17% of the project?

Only if you think that immigrant investors get priority for repayment ahead of bond investors. The latter bought debt that was publicly rated, and for which specific arena cash flows have been identified for repayment.

What if Forest City Ratner defaults?

Then the immigrant investors would gain development rights to seven towers, appraised at $542 million.

Would they really double their money?

No way. The rights would have to be marketed to a buyer. And it takes subsidies and other investments to turn the development rights into an ongoing project. The fungible value of the collateral is pretty fuzzy--the appraisal isn't public--but it's likely much lower than the appraisal figure.

Has Congress done much oversight of this program?

Not really. A Senate hearing last year was a lovefest, with both Republicans and Democrats citing home state programs they like. The focus has been on streamlining the program to make it work better, not to look into possible abuses.

According to David North of the Center for Immigration Studies, one of the few people to look critically at EB-5, the USCIS does not keep statistics on such basic information as how many EB-5 investments are still in place after four years.

Is there any self-policing?

Not too much, it seems. The trade group Association to Invest in the USA (IIUSA) offers a list of Best Ethics Practices, including avoidance of "dishonesty, fraud, or deceit." There's evidence, at least, of dishonesty by the NYCRC and those supporting this effort.

Will Forest City Ratner really save $191 million? Are they getting a no-interest loan? Don't they have to pay something?

Well, it's clearly a no-interest loan in that the investors won't get any interest. It's not clear whether the NYCRC is charging FCR interest, or a fee, or nothing.

Still, my $191 million estimate was based on a conservative interest rate of 8.3%, so even a moderate interest rate charged by the NYCRC--in comparison with a more likely interest rate (such as 12%) FCR would have to pay for a non-recourse loan--might still provide savings of about $200 million.

What about that seven-year delay?

It's part of a Recognition Agreement that the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) signed with the NYCRC and FCR. The developer's supposed to pay back the loan in five years. They have two more years to "cure" the default.

If not, there's a complex process to market the collateral to another buyer. And that would re-set the clock on Phase 1, meaning that only after the loan is bought would the 12-year deadline kick in. That would add up to 19 years.

Isn't Phase 1 supposed to take four years and the entire project ten years?

Uh-huh. But no one believes that's going to happen. The question is whether delays in Phase 1 will make it into the legal arguments regarding the timetable in a pending case in New York Supreme Court.

So far they haven't, since the judge focused on the discrepancy between the official ten-year timetable and the 25 years allowed by the Development Agreement. But the Phase 1 gap is also significant.

That's not the first Recognition Agreement?

Right. Just last week we learned that a similar agreement was signed last December, as part of the master closing, with Gramercy Warehouse Funding, Forest City's lender for land in Phase 1.

The ESDC won't release the Recognition Agreement without a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request), but I'd bet that the collateral is similar, and so too is the delay.

How did you miss that part of the master closing documents?

Last January, the ESDC made the master closing documents available in response to FOIL requests in a massive set of hard copies, so anyone curious had to visit agency office and slog through literally dozens of binders.

I found the highlights in the Development Agreement, but missed the Recognition Agreement. Or maybe it wasn't there. If they'd provided the documents on disc, or online, I and others would have had more of a chance to peruse it. Maybe that was the plan.

Were these Recognition Agreements approved by the ESDC board?

No, just by staff.

So staff has been renegotiating the Atlantic Yards deal? Who's in charge?

Good question.

Why is the NYCRC pitching this project in China? Don't immigrant investors come from around the world?

That's where the money is, and the desire for green cards. It's also where marketers of EB-5 projects push the envelope on credibility.

Why are the city, state, and borough playing along?

They want to see the project get done, and Forest City Ratner has apparently convinced them, or threatened them, that without cheap capital it won't move ahead.

The ESDC even used taxpayer money--presumably--to send an executive, Peter Davidson, to China and present the NYCRC's Chinese partners with proclamations and to tell potential investors how great the deal is.

Did Davidson really say this would be the largest job-creating project in the past 20 years?

Yes. But I bet he wouldn't say so under oath.

Did Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, in an appearance taped for a project video, really say the people of Brooklyn support Atlantic Yards "1000 percent" and that Forest City Ratner's "reputation is unbelievably reliable"?

He did. And to think, when he campaigned in 2001, he vowed, "Real estate money will never control me."

Are potential investors told what the role of the city, state and borough is?

Unclear. They're told that this project is "in conjunction with" city and state governments. Presumably the fine print in project documents is more precise.

Public and elected officials have enthusiastically talked about the jobs and housing.

That's part of the problem. They keep pitching the entire Atlantic Yards project. That's not what immigrant investors have in front of them.

What's the role of retired hoopsters like Darryl (Chocolate Thunder) Dawkins at investment seminars in China?

Exotic window dressing, it seems.

As I wrote, it's a magical moment of international arbitrage, as slick marketing and basketball fever aim to sell investors on their green card dreams, perhaps distracting them from due diligence.

Is the misleading promotion unique to this project?

Apparently not. In September, Florida immigration attorney Jose Latour, who serves as one of the few EB-5 watchdogs, wrote (without reference to this or any specific project):

"Yes, we are not investment advisers, but as immigration counsel we are bound to reasonable care, and it doesn’t take Gordon Gekko to see the obvious scams and failures which characterize the majority of the Regional Center projects being shopped overseas."

Does it matter that NYCRC principal Paul Levinsohn was one of the "billboard boys" involved in getting rich from a dubious project in New Jersey?

Well, he wasn't charged with anything, but even his former boss, ex-Governor Jim McGreevey, thought it unseemly. Past practices at least hint at his willingness to push the envelope.

Does the law firm Miller, Mayer, working for the NYCRC and also representing investors recruited by the NYCRC, have a conflict of interest?

It may look like a conflict, but conflicts can be waived by clients. The question is: how much do clients actually know?

Who is the spiritual cousin of Gregg D. Hayden, the NYCRC's main pitchman in China?

Brett Yormark, the Nets' uber-marketer. Hayden, literally, is selling the Chinese an arena he doesn't--or shouldn't--have to sell. Then again, Hayden also spoke gibberish when asked about Nets majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov. They're trying hard to avoid talking about Prokhorov.

The list of articles

Part 1 of this series concerned the seven-year extension available on Phase 1 of the project should Forest City Ratner not repay the EB-5 loan. Part 2 estimated the developer could save at least $191 million. Part 3 examined the sales effort in China, with the arena front and center, even though it's already funded.

Part 4 reported on claims made in China, on video and in person, by public officials supporting the project. Part 5 concerned the value of the development rights, contrasted with those in last year's deal for the Vanderbilt Yard. Part 6 described reasons to think the development rights are overvalued.

Part 7 explained why China is such a popular target for those seeking EB-5 investors. Part 8 provided another reason why the Nets played exhibition games in China in October. Part 9 cited the curious avoidance of Mikhail Prokhorov during the pitch in China.

Part 10 noted NYCRC's belated announcement of the project in a newsletter. Part 11 described misleading promotion in the Chinese media and by Chinese firms working with the NYCRC. Part 12 covered the proclamations that are part of the pageantry in China.

Part 13 concerned the role of the NYCRC's preferred law firm. Part 14 linked the land loan to a previous one from Gramercy Capital. Part 15 analyzed the use of weasel words and ambiguous language. Part 16 took another look at a web video pitching the project.

Posted by eric at 10:39 AM

Nets battle perceptions?

NetsDaily

Even as Barclays Center construction goes horizontal as well as vertical –with steel for the first floor being installed last week– there remains within the sports industry, and among the team’s fans, confusion about the move to Brooklyn.

Sports Business Journal reports the perception of a clouded future has caused the organization to hire an ad agency with the sole purpose of making sure everyone knows “we’re here and there’s a lot going on.” The first step was a reception last week, hosted by Bruce Ratner and Nets chairman Christophe Charlier, to dispel the confusion and let 100 sponsors and season ticket holders know the arena will be done by summer of 2012.

link

Related coverage...

SportsBusiness Journal, Barclays Center pitch: We’re here and have a lot going on [Trial subscription required]

Last week, Barclays Center officials gathered their business partners for what was billed as the first corporate summit for the long-delayed 19,500-seat Brooklyn arena, scheduled to open in 2012.

NoLandGrab: Hope this ad campaign works better than their Knicks-taunting effort, as the rejuvenated 16-12 Knicks are playing to sold-out MSG crowds while the woeful (again) 8-20 Nets find themselves last in the league in attendance. Maybe Brett Yormark should spend a little less time talking to NY Times reporters and a little more time working his "genius."

Posted by eric at 10:22 AM

Attention, Fort Greene shoppers! Robberies are up — just in time for the holiday

The Brooklyn Paper
by Aaron Short

Wait a second — we though depopulating the Atlantic Yards footprint was going to put an end to neighborhood crime?

Hold onto your wallets in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill — robberies are up more than 42 percent this month.

The spike in thefts — 20 this month compared to 14 during the same period last year — is part of a year-long trend in the 88th Precinct. For the year, robberies are up 18.3 percent.
...

In other crimes, perps ripped iPods off music lovers on N. Portland Avenue and Cambridge Place in separate incidents, stole a Pratt Institute student’s laptop from a school cafeteria, and snatched four purses at stores within the troubled Atlantic Center Mall.

article

Posted by eric at 10:15 AM

'Little' film, big stars

NY Post
by Cindy Adams

Bruce Ratner and his arena find their way into the Post's gossip pages.

Bruce Ratner's coming Barclays Center on Flatbush and Atlantic in Brooklyn opens 2012 with Ringling Brothers and then Disney on Ice.

link

NoLandGrab: The circus and Disney on Ice? For this we're paying a billion dollars?

Posted by eric at 10:07 AM

December 19, 2010

Flowers, champagne, and hoops: on web video from China, the EB-5 pitch

Atlantic Yards Report

Part 16 of a series

I already in Part 3 embedded the video below, excerpted from a video by the Wailan immigration consultancy, showing how the "Brooklyn Arena and Infrastructure Project" is being pitched to potential investors from China seeking green cards.

You don't need to understand that actual statements--about the value, importance, and alleged uniqueness of the project--to get the subtext.

The tower of champagne glasses says it all. So does the portrayal of Westerners as the generous heroes and exotic hoopsters. So does the continuing backdrop of basketball, the NBA, and the Nets.

Actually, some of the people in the crowd look a little glum, or skeptical. But they don't speak, so it doesn't matter.

The Nets are in action! Important men in suits travel across the ocean! There's a raffle! Winners get basketballs!

By the way, the same soaring soundtrack is used on another Wailan EB-5 video.

link

Posted by steve at 10:28 AM

Brooklyn the Brand: from indie culture to the Marcy projects (and the Barclays Center)

Atlantic Yards Report

This blog post reminds us that Brooklyn has become a brand that can be seen as promoting the borough and its enterprises, but can also be easily glommed onto by corporate interests, as in the case where a two-page New Yorker spread featuring the e-mail newsletter Brooklyn Based was an advertisement for the Ford Edge, a crossover S.U.V. Another example is the attempt to market Atlantic Yards as being authentically Brooklyn.

The Voice captured the tension:

On the one hand, great! Who doesn't want independent businesses to gain exposure and introduce their high-quality products to a wider audience? On the other: An entire borough (to say nothing of a "movement") is now so neatly and reductively defined that it can be packaged in a car ad and used, albeit indirectly, to sell hoodies made in China. Which is, well, sad.

...

The AY angle

As I commented on the Times article:

Let's not forget that the branding of Brooklyn extends well beyond food to such things as the under-construction Barclays Center arena. (The state gave away naming rights to developer Forest City Ratner.)

While occupying land formerly home to row houses and loft apartments, the arena will offer to high-rollers "Brownstone" and "Loft" suites.

...

Many Brooklyns

Fact is, there are many versions of Brooklyn, perhaps even "Four Brooklyns," as in the song in The Civilians' IN THE FOOTPRINT: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards.

Remember how, at that 8/23/06 hearing on the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement, a man named Umar Jordan asserted, "If you never been in the Marcy projects, you’re not from Brooklyn."

Well, it's highly unlikely that Atlantic Yards condo buyers paying $1,217 per square foot in 2015 will be taking a detour to Marcy, which as many know, birthed rapper, entrepreneur, Nets part-owner, and former drug dealer Jay-Z.

link

Posted by steve at 10:07 AM

Thinking about the press: David Cay Johnston on "news on the cheap;" Jay Rosen on "radical doubt"

Atlantic Yards Report

Who's covering Atlantic Yards any more?

From David Cay Johnston in Neiman Reports, It’s Scary Out There in Reporting Land: ‘Beats are fundamental to journalism, but our foundation is crumbling.’:

Far too much of journalism consists of quoting what police, prosecutors, politicians and publicists say—and this is especially the case with beat reporters. It’s news on the cheap and most of it isn’t worth the time it takes to read, hear or watch.

Like, um, this?

A reporter's job?

NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen quotes Michael Massing on New York Times Reporter Judith Miller:

Asked about this, Miller said that as an investigative reporter in the intelligence area, “my job isn’t to assess the government’s information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of The New York Times what the government thought about Iraq’s arsenal.”

Rosen adds:

That’s not getting the story wrong. That’s redefining the job as: reflecting what the government thinks.

"Radical doubt" and Atlantic Yards

Rosen connects the dots to WikiLeaks:

Radical doubt, which is basic to understanding what drives [WikiLeaks founder] Julian Assange, was impermissible then. One of the consequences of that is the appeal of radical transparency today.

You don't need "radical doubt" to question some aspects of Atlantic Yards. Entry-level doubt would suffice.

link

Posted by steve at 10:01 AM

Journalism 101: false dichotomies when it comes to Atlantic Yards

Atlantic Yards Report

Students at Columbia Journalism School produce a web site of local coverage called City Beats. One recent BUILD-centric article, headlined Atlantic Yards project needs further review, shows a student journalist falling for a false dichotomy:

November 9th was a great day for the Brooklyn residents who want to see the Atlantic Yards project reevaluated, but it was an awful day for Lloyd Mathews.

State Supreme Court Justice Marcy S. Friedman ruled that the $4.9 billion Forest City Ratner development project, known as Atlantic Yards, needs further review. To critics of the project, it means a progress; to Mathews, the decision means his job prospects are uncertain.

...Despite the potential benefit of more jobs in Brooklyn, opponents also take issue that the Community Benefits Agreement was designed without public input.

Let's rewrite that:

...Despite the potential benefit of more jobs in Brooklyn, opponents also take issue that the Empire State Development Corporation operates with little oversight.

ad absurdiam....

...Despite the potential benefit of more jobs in Brooklyn, opponents also take issue that Prospect Park shouldn't be used for a new development.

link

Posted by steve at 9:45 AM

Notes on a Year: Christopher Hawthorne on architecture

Los Angeles Times
By Christopher Hawthorne

This piece by the Los Angeles Times architecture critic is an example of how adding the name of starchitect Frank Ghery to the Atlantic Yards project helped to blind some to the eminent domain abuse and opaque political process used to impose the project on Brooklyn.

A livelier, more political sort of fallout is the subject of "In the Footprint," which closed Dec. 11 after a buzzed-about run in Brooklyn's Fort Greene neighborhood. (I didn't see the production, but its creators at a Brooklyn company called the Civilians — Steve Cosson, Jocelyn Clarke and Michael Friedman — sent me a copy of the script.) Like an Anna Deavere Smith script set to music, the show uses verbatim quotations from published interviews with public officials, neighborhood activists, developer Bruce Ratner and Gehry. Among its goals is to understand why many local residents were so deeply opposed to the proposed Atlantic Yards development, which in its hyper-ambitious original version would have added 16 towers and a staggering 8 million square feet of new construction, covering 22 acres, to a mostly midrise landscape near downtown Brooklyn. After the credit crunch hit the project was significantly downsized and Gehry was fired by Ratner; the only portion going forward is an arena designed by a young New York firm called SHoP. The Civilians' treatment of the story does the work of cultural historians with unexpected flair and an effectively light touch, as when one resident says of the SHoP design, which to put it kindly was produced rather hurriedly, "Some people think it looks like the George Foreman Grill." Now that you mention it, that's not too far off.

There is no question that the development was overscaled, but Gehry's enthusiasm for it gave the project momentum and at least a sheen of cultural legitimacy. Indeed, the contrast between its elephantine mass and some nimble architectural moments — particularly in Gehry's innovative initial design for the arena — made it difficult for me to easily pigeonhole. For many locals, on the other hand, it represented a takeover of their streets by outside interests, a new brand of urban renewal hiding beneath celebrity architecture's endlessly diverting cloak.

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NoLandGrab: It is certainly a new brand of urban renewal when it's applied to a neighborhood that already had $1 million condos when the project was first revealed to the public.

Related coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, The "sheen of cultural legitimacy" Gehry provided, confounding one critic from afar

Yes, Gehry did provide some cultural legitimacy. It was Gehry who drew praise from the Times editorial page, which told us that the buildings "would add a sense of excitement." It was Gehry who convinced New York magazine essayist Kurt Andersen that "Our long architectural snooze is over... Brooklyn should embrace him."

But the "nimble architectural moments"--perhaps the concept of the Urban Room connected to the arena?--should have been connected to street-level analyses of the project, not to mention the role of the Empire State Development Corporation and eminent domain.

Architectural critics--notably Herbert Muschamp and Nicolai Ouroussoff of the New York Times--never even met the first, easier challenge.

Posted by steve at 8:00 AM

December 18, 2010

Second look: a view of the arena and interim open space, as if a hovercraft; also, there's a new arena entrance on Sixth Avenue

Atlantic Yards Report

Thursday I showed this new image of interim open space, looking northwest at the Atlantic Yards arena toward the corner of Dean Street (left) and Sixth Avenue.

The comment from Eric McClure: NoLandGrab: Okay, no one loves bike parking and picnic benches more than we do, BUT THAT ILLUSTRATION MAKES THE ARENA APPEAR NO BIGGER THAN THE KEY FOOD AT FIFTH AVENUE AND STERLING PLACE! ARE THEY KIDDING?!

I'd add that the perspective is not from street level but from a hovercraft. Paging Nicolai Ouroussoff, the New York Times architecture critic, who has slammed the "distorted reality" of project renderings, but not regarding Atlantic Yards.

Also, the arena looks awfully narrow, as if it's just nudging part of the way down Dean Street. That's rather doubtful, if you look at a schematic, reproduced below.

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Posted by steve at 9:50 PM

Weasel words and ambiguous language: selling the Brooklyn Arena and Infrastructure Project to immigrant investors whose English may be shaky

Atlantic Yards Report

Part 15 of a series

One technique of salesmanship is deception. Presentations trying to convince Chinese to invest in the Atlantic Yards project obscure the nature of the project, One example is the way New York City Regional Center's Gregg D. Hayden says that the project will produce "abundant job creation" precisely because the project's job creation will be quite anemic.

What is abundant job creation?

According to NYCRC's Hayden, in a webcast (at 2:48), there's "abundant job creation that we are producing with this project." That refers to the Brooklyn Arena and Infrastructure Project--the arena, infrastructure, and railyard--not the entire Atlantic Yards project.

Jobs are calculated via an economist's report. There's no reason to think that the jobs calculated--7696, far more than the 4980 needed, ten per investor--have anything to do with the number of people who might be seen at the Atlantic Yards site, or even the number for the project as a whole in official estimates by the Empire State Development Corporation.

Why it matters: The phrase is used to convince potential investors that they will meet the requirements of federal immigration law: ten jobs per investor.

But the calculation seems to make a mockery of the immigration program, which aims to generate investment that actually creates jobs. This investment, in significant part, likely would substitute lower-cost funding for higher-cost capital rather than serve as seed money or matching funds.

Click on the link below to read more and watch the weasel words flow.

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Posted by steve at 10:30 AM

At Thursday's ESDC meeting, a valedictory for Chairman Dennis Mullen and an Atlantic Yards omission

Atlantic Yards Report

Dennis Mullen says "adieu" to the ESDC, the tool of developer Bruce Ratner. His parting remarks display the usual blandness of ESDC public statements that mask a public agency whose projects primarily serve private interests, drain public funds, and produce no discernible public benefits.

'This has been a privilege, an honor, to be able to do this," Mullen said in response, adding, with perhaps a reference to the citizens in the room prepared to comment about Atlantic Yards, "Not everything is agreed upon by everybody, and I think it's made it challenging. For the record, I've done the best as I possibly could do, to be as balanced as fair as I possibly could be, in the decisions throughout the state."

"I do in my heart believe we have made good decisions to be able to improve the overall economic environment for the state of New York over the past year and a half," he said, offering praise for the "dedicated employees."

...

They then went into executive session for 34 minutes. After that, they sat through public criticism of their Atlantic Yards findings from several Brooklynites, and proceeded to approve the new Technical Analysis that said a 25-year buildout would be no more burdensome, under state law, than a ten-year one.

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Posted by steve at 9:59 AM

NJ/BKN NETS ~ C'Mon!? Brooklyn New Yorkers? Really?

Brooklyn Trolley Blogger

Of all the things to be outraged concerning Atlantic Yards (eminent domain abuse, a sweetheart deal, etc.), this has to be near the bottom of the list.

Don't even waste my time; It's Brooklyn or nothing! Anything other than Brooklyn will be a colossal mistake. A populace of 2.5 million should play second fiddle to no one.

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Posted by steve at 8:05 AM

Unlike Brooklyn, Manhattan construction impacts get ink in Times; BP Stringer wants oversight entity

Atlantic Yards Report

Even as the New York Times (natch) ignores the Empire State Development Corporation's meeting to massage Atlantic Yards, during which Prospect Heights residents complained about the impact of current and future construction, the newspaper today presents a sympathetic profile of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, experiencing Second Avenue subway construction.

Of course the latter project is much bigger and has a much bigger impact, but it's also more clearly a civic project.

The article offers another contrast with Atlantic Yards:

And he has called for an independent agency to supervise the project’s construction, similar to a group created in 2004 to oversee redevelopment in Lower Manhattan.

Stringer's Brooklyn counterpart, Marty Markowitz, has not endorsed such an oversight entity, despite support from local groups and elected officials.

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Posted by steve at 8:00 AM

December 17, 2010

The gap in yesterday's ESDC documents: the new use for 470 Vanderbilt and its impact on traffic, parking, and pedestrians

Atlantic Yards Report

There's one very big gap in the seemingly comprehensive Technical Analysis (embedded below) released yesterday by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) as part of its findings that a 25-year buildout of the Atlantic Yards project would not require a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement.

It's called 470 Vanderbilt Avenue, the former tire plant turned telecom offices turned combination office and housing complex, located just north of the northeast block of the Atlantic Yards site. (Click on graphic to enlarge; highlighting in red is added.)

The plans for 470 Vanderbilt have changed significantly in the past year, as it's slated to house the city Human Resources Administration, with 1880 employees and 1500 clients a day, opening in Spring 2012, just before the arena is scheduled to open.

And the city aims to add parking along Atlantic Avenue, which contradicts a mitigation in the Atlantic Yards plan.

When the City Planning Commission approved the plan in September, it noted that "a letter was received from a resident of the surrounding area suggesting that with respect to this action and Atlantic Yards that a full Environmental Impact Study should be performed by the City under ULURP which is outside the scope of this action."

Perhaps, but the changes are not acknowledged in the ESDC documents. As in the 2009 Technical Memorandum, 470 Vanderbilt is described as:

376 residential units, 115,424 sf retail, 579,645 sf office, 397 accessory parking spaces 7
Build Year 2035

Footnote 7 states:

Includes 578,554 sf of existing office and 200 existing parking spaces; project will add 1,091 sf office and 197 accessory parking spaces.

The analysis

There's no mention of the new use. In the new ESDC analysis, 470 Vanderbilt gets a mention under the category of Pedestrians (but not regarding Transit or Parking).

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NoLandGrab: Oops.

Posted by eric at 6:41 PM

Three new Atlantic Yards images: interim public space at Dean/6th; arena broadcast support area across the street; looking NE at surface parking

Atlantic Yards Report

A Technical Analysis, embedded and excerpted below, issued today by the Empire State Development Corporation as part of its findings regarding the Atlantic Yards timetable, provides some new views of the project.

Click on all images to enlarge.

Interim open space at the northwest corner of Sixth Avenue and Dean Street, the site of Building 3, and once the home to Freddy's Bar and other row houses.

An indication that the northeast east corner of Sixth and Dean, home to a vacant lot created after demolitions but also three remaining houses, will after eminent domain become home to not just parking but an arena broadcast support area.

Finally, a view from the southwest corner of Dean Street and Carlton Avenue, looking at Block 1129, slated to be home to an 1100-space interim surface parking lot. Little traffic is visible.

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NoLandGrab: Okay, no one loves bike parking and picnic benches more than we do, BUT THAT ILLUSTRATION MAKES THE ARENA APPEAR NO BIGGER THAN THE KEY FOOD AT FIFTH AVENUE AND STERLING PLACE! ARE THEY KIDDING?!

Posted by eric at 6:24 PM

State Board to Park Slope: 10 Years, 25 Years, What's the Diff?

Park Slope Patch
by Amy Sara Clark

Fifteen years of additional construction will have no further impact on area residents, according to a Thursday vote by the state agency that oversees the Atlantic Yards project.

Robin Stout, an attorney for the Empire State Development Corporation, told the board that the agency's staff found that "further modification to an outside date of 2035 would not result in any new or substantially different significant impacts than those addressed" in the first environmental impact study.

Not different, just two-and-a-half times longer. Not different at all.

An ESDC spokesman says the board never hid the possibility the project would take 25-years, though the board's belief that the project would be likely to only take 10 years has been more prominent in construction plans.

They didn't hide it, they misplaced it. As for their beliefs, how about neighborhood residents' belief that the ESDC is full of s**t?

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Posted by eric at 12:19 PM

Roofus: Atlantic Yards remains a circus, Ringling or not

The Brooklyn Paper
by Christian Fleming

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Posted by steve at 11:43 AM

What investing in the "Brooklyn Arena and Infrastructure Project" likely means: "Extend, pretend, and find some Chinese friends"

Part 14 of a series

Atlantic Yards Report

Where would the $249 million in EB-5 funding go?

In an unskeptical 9/21/10 article, Ratner Mulls Visa Financing, the Wall Street Journal nonetheless provided this important detail, one that seems contradicted by the project's promotion in China:

[Forest City Ratner executive MaryAnne] Gilmartin said she expects much of the money raised through the program would go toward financing the construction of a new rail yard for the Long Island Rail Road to replace the one that occupied a large portion of the site. Some may also be used to help pay off land loans on the project, she said.

(Emphasis added)

That last sentence is key. As I wrote in Part 3, Forest City Ratner need not begin to build the railyard until June 2012. The EB-5 loan would arrive next year.

Rather, new evidence suggests that a primary goal would be paying off land loans, thus arresting a cycle known in the real estate industry as "extend and pretend" (or sometimes "pretend and extend"), in which borrowers are simply given more time under the hope that the situation will improve.

"Extend and pretend" at Atlantic Yards

The developer's land loan from Gramercy Capital was reported 3/31/10 to be $161.9 million, and was refinanced earlier this year.

Earlier that month, Bruce Ratner suggested at the arena groundbreaking, Gramercy progressed from "our land lender" to "our partner." Apparently Gramercy, having already extended the loan, was given a piece of the Atlantic Yards project.

Yesterday, as I reported, an ESDC response to the State Supreme Court's 11/9/10 order regarding the failure to study a 25-year buildout confirmed that suggestion.

Read on to find out who all the winners are in this shell game — but before you do, see if you can guess who the big loser is.

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Posted by eric at 11:17 AM

Roman Abramovich just a ‘poor’ relation to compatriot rolling into town

London Evening Standard
by Michael Weinstein

Forget William and Kate — Londoners can hardly contain themselves in anticipation of the big March showdown between the Nets and Toronto Raptors, two teams battling for last place in the NBA's Eastern Conference.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich will briefly lose his status as the richest Russian in town when the New Jersey Nets' Moscow contingent roll into London next March.

Abramovich (£7.1billion) trails Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov (£8.5bn) in the Forbes rich list, although neither can hold a candle to Russia's mightiest oligarch, Vladimir Lisin, the 32nd richest man in the world with a £10bn fortune.

Chris Charlier, the Nets chairman who represents Prokhorov on the boards of six Russian companies, vowed: “Mikhail will be there in London.

“We'll come in force from Moscow and there will be a big Russian contingent. We're still in the process of getting Russia's people to think of the Nets as Russia's team and London is a big part of getting that done.”
...

The former owner of CSKA Moscow's football and basketball set-up had to pass stringent NBA tests before he was voted in by his new peers in the summer.

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NoLandGrab: If by "pass stringent NBA tests" they mean "prove that he wasn't Bruce Ratner, then by all means, yes he did.

Posted by eric at 10:51 AM

'Brooklyn New Yorkers' Is a Terrible, Terrible NBA Team Name

The Atlantic Wire
by Ray Gustini

Seriously?

Nets Daily, which broke the story, notes attorneys from the Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton "sought trademark protection for the name, "Brooklyn New Yorkers", three logos featuring either a basketball or a basketball player and the Brooklyn Bridge and even a slogan, "We Come to Play." In each case, the trademark sought is for clothing including among other things: shirts, jerseys, jackets, athletic uniforms, headbands, hats, caps and footwear." Additionally, the domain name brooklynnewyorkers.com was recently registered through a proxy service.

Basketball fans struggled to contain their aesthetic outrage.

Click below if you want links to any more of this silliness.

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NoLandGrab: By comparison, that logo almost makes the arena attractive.

Posted by eric at 10:37 AM

Violet and Green: NYU’s LEED Platinum-Hopeful Wilf Hall Opens To Positive Reviews — And Protests

The Energy Collective
by Stephen Del Percio

Bruce Ratner and Atlantic Yards make cameos in a perspective on a new NYU building in the West Village.

As I’ve written in the past, there are times when it’s instructive — or at least interesting — to ask the green building aficionado’s version of WWJD — call it WWJJT, What Would Jane Jacobs Think? The legendary urbanist and rabble rouser did battle with a wholly different set of powers-that-be than the ones that currently, um, be in New York City — where Robert Moses’s power resided in City Hall, the real power in New York City real estate today resides with the mega-developers to whom City Hall has effectively ceded power through a series of official and unofficial policies. But while it’s easy enough to figure out where Jane Jacobs — or her disciples, or anyone of good faith — would come down on grandiose mega-developments such as Riverside Center and New Domino, it’s perhaps even easier to tell where she would come down on some of the massive neighborhood overhauls being undertaken by NYC’s major educational institutions. While Columbia prepares for a massive $6.3 billion, eminent domain-powered neighborhood re-imagining of Manhattanville, NYU is already going ahead with the first stage of an equally ambitious — and much-protested — expansion in the West Village. Given that the West Village was Jacobs’ old stomping/living grounds, it’s likely that she’d be on the front lines with the protesters.
...

That NYU seems comparatively well-intentioned, or at least brand-sensitive enough to attempt to play the good neighbor in this case, is nice, but beside the greater point — the system isn’t working when the best that communities can hope for is that the Implacable Megaforces terraforming their neighborhood are of the comparatively benign higher-educational variety as opposed to purely profit-motivated mega-developers. (Just as the political discourse is dysfunctional when it pits cynical billionaires against moderately more tolerant billionaires) This isn’t the way that it is supposed to work, and for every community board taking a tenuously successful stand against this sort of thing, a great many more are either bulldozed by the political power of big developers and institutions or hornswoggled — as at Atlantic Yards or New Domino — by the city’s unwillingness to hold developers accountable for their higher-minded promises of affordable housing, public space, and so on.

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Posted by eric at 10:27 AM

December 16, 2010

City dangles carrot to help produce a Google

Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Steel says the city is ready to offer cash or real estate to attract an applied science school and bolster the area's economic future.

Crain's NY Business
by Jeremy Smerd

This has nothing to do with Atlantic Yards, eminent domain, or Forest City Ratner — yet. But it's worth noting that Forest City Enterprises "is recognized as one of the country's leading developers and owners of life science campuses," by its own humble admission. And since they are also to subsidies what a pig is to truffles, and the Bloomberg Administration said today that the city "will contribute an as-yet undefined but 'significant' sum to persuade a university or applied science organization to set up shop here," you can expect that the gears in Bruce Ratner's head are already turning — if, in fact, the deal hasn't already been cooked up in some Metrotech back room.

The Bloomberg administration wants the next Google to be made in New York.

The city is looking to attract engineers whose innovations could help shift the local economy away from its reliance on the financial services industry. Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Steel announced in his first policy speech that the administration is seeking to attract to the city a new school for applied science and engineering.
...

In his speech, made Thursday at Google's New York City headquarters on Ninth Avenue, Mr. Steel said the city is issuing a formal request for expressions of interest and will contribute an as-yet undefined but “significant” sum to persuade a university or applied science organization to set up shop here.

He said incentives could come in the form of cash or city real estate in locations such as the Navy Hospital Campus at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, several sites on Governors Island, Goldwater Hospital Campus on Roosevelt Island, Farm Colony on Staten Island or in central business districts around the city. Mr. Steel cited Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City as an example of the kind of remote campus the city envisions.

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Posted by eric at 5:11 PM

Before signing Recognition Agreement to allow immigrant investors more time for Phase 1, ESDC signed similar document with Gramercy, FCR's lender

Atlantic Yards Report

Documents released today by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) indicate that the agency was willing to allow extended delay of the project's Phase 1 even as it signed Master Closing documents in December 2009.

An ESDC response (also embedded below) to the State Supreme Court's 11/9/10 order regarding the failure to study a 25-year buildout reveals that, while the Recognition Agreement the ESDC signed in October allowed potential immigrant investors development rights to part of the future Atlantic Yards site, a previous Recognition Agreement did something very similar.

In that case, additional time was allowed if Forest City Ratner defaulted on its obligation to Gramercy Warehouse Funding, which "holds a leasehold mortgage on certain Project parcels."

Neither the additional time nor the parcels were specified.

Phase 1 has an outside date of 12 years for a minimum amount of square footage, but the immigrant investors were given an additional seven years, for a potential 19-year outside date.

The new document suggests that Forest City Ratner, as it indicated to the Wall Street Journal, would at least in part use the $249 million no-interest loan from immigrant investors, via the EB-5 program, to replace higher-cost funding. The developer's land loan from Gramercy Capital was last reported to be $161.9 million.

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Posted by eric at 3:11 PM

2010 ESDC Board Meeting

threecee via flickr

Tracy Collins snapped some photos at today's Empire State Development Corporation board meeting, where the ESDC applied yet another rubber stamp to Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project.

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Posted by eric at 3:00 PM

ESDC, as expected, approves findings that 25-year buildout not significant enough for SEIS; graphics show interim surface parking for up to 25 years

Atlantic Yards Report

Wow, even a Columbo rerun is less predictable than the ESDC!

As expected, the Empire State Development Corporation today approved findings that the Development Agreement--which has a 25-year outside date--and MTA contract for the Vanderbilt Yard "do not have a material effect on whether it is reasonable to use a ten-year construction schdule for the purpose of assessing the environmental impacts of Atlantic Yards." (Documents are here.)

They also agreed that, while it appears unlikely that the project would be constructed on a ten-year schedule--because it's already lagging and because of continuing weak general economic and financial conditions--that a delay in the ten-year construction schedule "would not result in any new significant adverse environmental impacts not previously identified and considered... and would not require or warrant an SEIS [Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement]."

I'll have more on the meeting today, with video, but for now, take a look below at one potential scenario, which shows the impact of a parking lot on the southeast block, 1129, that would last nearly 25 years.

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NoLandGrab: The only surprise is that they could muster a quorum — we thought they were all in China pimping for Bruce.

Posted by eric at 2:19 PM

Conflict of interest? A law firm works for NYCRC, promotes "very exciting NBA arena project" in China, represents investors, won't answer questions

Part 13 of a series

Atlantic Yards Report

Crucial to the "Brooklyn Arena and Infrastructure Project" is Ithaca, NY, law firm Miller Mayer, a leading law firm in the narrow field of immigration investment.

Miller Mayer wears multiple hats regarding the project. It works directly for the New York City Regional Center (NYCRC), filing paperwork with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the federal agency overseeing the immigrant investor program.

Miller Mayer lawyers have helped the NYCRC recruit investor clients in China, while a NYCRC rep has called the firm "our preferred immigration attorney." It also represents such NYCRC clients in their applications to the USCIS.

While that could pose a conflict of interest, as described below, the firm wouldn't respond to my questions about how it safeguards against such a conflict.

I suspect that firm avoids conflict, following State Bar rules, by informing its clients of its roles and having them sign consent statements.

But the firm's performance still poses questions, especially since overseas clients likely have trouble getting independent information about the Brooklyn Arena and Infrastructure Project.

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Posted by eric at 11:10 AM

Roofus: Atlantic Yards remains a circus, Ringling or not

The Brooklyn Paper
by Christian Fleming

This week, Roofus reacts to the deal between Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner and the producers of the Ringling Brothers circus.

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Posted by eric at 10:38 AM

The Battle for Atlantic Yards Simmers On

The Cooper Gazette
by Helen Buyniski

For seven years, Atlantic Yards, a 16-skyscraper mixed-use development anchored by the Barclays Center arena, has been the subject of a bitter battle between community activists and real estate developer Bruce Ratner. With a ten-foot black sign advertising the arena planted in the construction site like a victory flag, Ratner appears to have won the war, but for the two key opposition groups, the fight continues.
...

DDDB has filed court papers seeking a stay of construction based on last month’s ruling in the state Supreme Court against the Empire State Development Corporation. In the first legal victory for Atlantic Yards opponents in over a year, Judge Marcy Friedman accused the ESDC of “purposefully withholding information” about the project’s timetable and failing to evaluate the additional environmental effects of a 25-year construction period as opposed to the 10 years originally approved by the state. If DDDB is awarded the stay, it hopes to force a reevaluation of the plan that takes into account the impact of an additional 15 years of construction. One major issue is the 1100-space “temporary” parking lot that would be the second-largest in Brooklyn, constructed on a block that was to include affordable housing and public open space but is now needed for construction staging, according to the developer.

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Posted by eric at 10:22 AM

ESD Directors Meeting 10:30am - Live

Empire State Development

It's kinda like watching a re-run of Columbo when you've already seen the episode and know how it's going to end, but for those of you who are gluttons for punishment, the Empire State Development Corporation will air its board meeting live today at 10:30.

First on the agenda — the rubber-stamping of a document asserting that no Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement is necessary and that a 25-year build-out won't cause a ruffle in Prospect Heights, anyway.

Are you watching, Marcy Friedman?

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Posted by eric at 10:12 AM

Could the NJ Nets Become the Brooklyn New Yorkers? Fuggedaboutit!

NBC New York
by Jonathan Eiseman

The New Jersey Nets are a team that has been going through a lot of changes. A new owner in Mikhail Prokorov, new players in Sasha Vujacic, and a possible new home in Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards. Could a new name come along with that?

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NoLandGrab: For the record, our favorite name choice remains the New Jersey Nets.

Posted by eric at 10:07 AM

On the edge

NY Post
by Katherine Dykstra

What makes a new condo building desirable? Not proximity to an endless construction site.

After four years on the market, One Hanson Place is down to its last eight condos.

While the former Williamsburg Savings Bank building — which has been hosting the Brooklyn Flea in its magnificent ground-floor space — is undeniably beautiful, part of the slow sales can likely be attributed to its less-than-ideal location. Though it sits at the intersection of desirable neighborhoods — Fort Greene, Boerum Hill — it’s also on a noisy, windy block that’s near Atlantic Yards, which will be a construction site for years to come.

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Posted by eric at 10:01 AM

December 15, 2010

Pageantry and puffery: doing EB-5 business in China involves proclamations stressing job creation, quality of local partners

Part 12 of a series

Atlantic Yards Report

Doing business in China involves pageantry and ceremony, and Chinese immigration consultancies--responsible in no small part for exaggerations regarding the Brooklyn Arena and Infrastructure Project--nevertheless can proudly display proclamations from governmental agencies and law firms honoring them.

In China, there's "a love of ceremony and ostentation and obsession with brands," as Christina Larson wrote in the November/December 2010 issue of the Washington Monthly. That plays into the elaborate seminars presented to potential investors.

The proclamations (in English) in the certificates below are piffle, but the form may impress some unsophisticated potential clients.

The first two proclamations, as noted below, were likely drafted by the New York City Regional Center (NYCRC).

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Posted by eric at 10:04 AM

ESDC response in timetable case: no stay needed, since arena's on its way, and 25-year outside date was known (but was 10-year buildout likely?)

Atlantic Yards Report

You wouldn't expect the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) to roll over, and the agency has responded to a request for a stay of Atlantic Yards construction with a flurry of arguments, notably that the arena is already well in progress, and that the 25-year outside date for project construction was long ago disclosed.

Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman, in her November 9 ruling on the Atlantic Yards timetable in favor of two community coalitions, did not resolve the issue. (The ruling came after an unusual reargument of a case that was decided March 10.)

Rather, she remanded the proceedings "to ESDC for findings on the impact of the Development Agreement and of the renegotiated MTA agreement on its continued use of a 10 year build-out for the Project, and on whether a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement [SEIS] is required or warranted."

ESDC says no SEIS is necessary, and that the Development Agreement's not so meaningful. ESDC staffers have been working on the required analysis, and it's likely that the report will be approved by the ESDC's directors at a meeting tomorrow.

The ESDC's legal response, embedded at bottom, will be followed by reply motions from the two coalitions, led by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and BrooklynSpeaks, and then oral argument before Friedman at noon on December 22.

Read on for more of the "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain" arguments for which we've come to love the ESDC.

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Posted by eric at 9:53 AM

2010 Park Slope 100

Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn

Louise Crawford's annual list of Park Slope's best and brightest alights on one refuge from the Atlantic Yards footprint.

Freddy’s Bar because even though you were displaced by that ratty Atlantic Yards Project you fought the good fight and now you’re reopening in the South Slope and bringing Prospect Heights-style activism, drinking, music and good fun to the South Slope. As you say on the website: “The inmates now run the asylum — three cheers for Donald O’Finn, Matt Kuhn, and Matthew Kimmet, partners and owners of the new place which is set to open soon.”

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Posted by eric at 9:47 AM

Of Mandates and Minarets

The Center for the Advancement of Capitalism

A post about the recent Virginia ruling challenging provisions of federal healthcare legislation circles its way back to eminent domain abuse.

One cannot count on the Supreme Court to concur with Judge Hudson’s ruling, nor to recognize how inadequate his reasoning is. The Court is not governed by reason, either. Witness its concurrences with the legality of eminent domain in the Kelo case, recently in the Atlantic Yards case, and most recently in the Columbia University case, all of which sanctioned the taking of private property for the benefit of private interests in conjunction with local governments’ claims of reviving “blighted” areas to generate greater tax revenues than they got from existing property owners.

In the latter case, for example, the Empire State Development Corporation coerced or intimidated New York City property owners into selling their economically viable property and then allowed the abandoned property to become “blighted,” in order to compel the last holdouts to sell out or see their property arbitrarily condemned. Columbia University, not a litigant in the case but which wanted the land to expand on, was merely the government’s silent partner in the taking.

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Posted by eric at 9:35 AM

Forest City Divesting of NYC Retail Portfolio

Does Not Include Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn

via the Brooklyn Daily Eagle

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NoLandGrab: We stopped reading after the sub-head.

Posted by eric at 9:30 AM

December 14, 2010

This Thursday 12/16: ESDC Meets To Rubberstamp Atlantic Yards For The Third Time

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

Norman Oder reports that the ESDC will be meeting this Thursday. They'll be doing their level best, to quote Fielding Mellish, to make a "travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham."

link

Posted by eric at 9:44 PM

’Tis the Season
Nets Giving Away Toys, and Wins, During Holidays

Brooklyn Daily Eagle
by John Torenli

Though things have been tough on the court for the New Jersey (soon-to-be-Brooklyn) Nets of late, that didn’t prevent starting center Brook Lopez, rookie forward Derrick Favors and reserve players Ben Uzoh, Quinton Ross, Stephen Graham and Joe Smith from spreading a little holiday cheer in our fair borough Monday.
...

New Jersey has dropped a season-high seven in a row and nine of 11 to slip into last place in the Atlantic Division at 6-18 after beginning the campaign with the promise of a new coach, Avery Johnson, and new ownership in Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov.

link

NoLandGrab: Make that 6-19. Didn't Mikhail Prokhorov guarantee the play-offs this season?

Posted by eric at 9:28 PM

ESDC will meet Thursday (presumably) to approve document saying 25-year Atlantic Yards buildout won't be too burdensome; public comment welcome

Atlantic Yards Report

As indicated December 10 by a Forest City Ratner executive, the Empire State Development Corporation on Thursday apparently plans to approve a required document asserting that a 25-year potential buildout of the Atlantic Yards project doesn't require a Supplemental Impact Statement (SEIS) and that the community impacts of such a timetable wouldn't be too burdensome.

Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman, in her November 9 ruling on the Atlantic Yards timetable in favor of two community coalitions, did not resolve the issue.

Rather, she remanded the proceedings "to ESDC for findings on the impact of the Development Agreement and of the renegotiated MTA agreement on its continued use of a 10 year build-out for the Project, and on whether a SEIS is required or warranted." A hearing is scheduled for December 22.

Board meeting Thursday

According to an ESDC press release, the Board of Directors of the New York State Urban Development Corporation d/b/a the Empire State Development Corporation, will meet Thursday, December 16, at 10:30 am.

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

The meeting will be webcast, and is open to the public for observation and comment. Those planning to attend should RSVP by 5:00 pm on Wednesday, December 15, to (212) 803-3794.

Rules on commenting

Public comment is welcome, though it won't be easy to comment cogently if the document to be approved is not made available ahead of time (and there's no indication it would be).

link

NoLandGrab: There's that good ol' transparency for which the ESDC is famous. Can't wait to see the "documentation" they've cooked up.

Related coverage...

Park Slope Patch, Public Invited to Atlantic Yards Board of Directors Meeting

The meeting agenda only states that the second agenda item will be an "Adoption of Findings Related to the Atlantic Yards Land Use Improvement and Civic Project."

Posted by eric at 5:42 PM

Atlantic Yards project needs further review

City Beats
by Julia Pyper

November 9th was a great day for the Brooklyn residents who want to see the Atlantic Yards project reevaluated, but it was an awful day for Lloyd Mathews.

State Supreme Court Justice Marcy S. Friedman ruled that the $4.9 billion Forest City Ratner development project, known as Atlantic Yards, needs further review. To critics of the project, it means a progress; to Mathews, the decision means his job prospects are uncertain.

“Jobs in the construction field right now are at a low,” said Mathews, 43, who is training to become a construction worker. “I’m trying to have a good outlook on things, but things aren’t going the way I planned.”
...

As a member of the Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development (BUILD) pre-apprenticeship program, Mathews beat out almost 8,000 people to receive free construction training that will prepare him to work at Atlantic Yards. He’s worried about the effect the November 9th ruling and future court cases on his employment prospects.

Only days away from completing the apprenticeship course, he desperately needs a job once he’s done.

“I’m just hoping and praying everything goes right,” said Mathews. “Christmas is coming and I’ve got a baby, so I have to do right by this.”
...

There are worries, however, that even if construction continues unimpeded by lawsuits, there won’t be as many jobs as Forest City Ratner promised BUILD and the other seven organizations that signed the Community Benefits Agreement. In the agreement, signed on June 27th, 2005, the Atlantic Yards Development Co. pledged to “establish training, hiring and referral initiatives for pre-construction and permanent jobs for Minority and women, Low Income and Moderate Income Individuals.”

But last month, the Daily News reported there were only 100 people working on the site, when state documents projected there would be 1,426 by the end of 2010. The article also stated that the number of employment opportunities created by Atlantic Yards could be 95 percent below expectations. The possibility of fewer jobs than anticipated is an issue for supporters of the project, and fuel for its challengers.
...

BUILD has already had to handle some disappointments from the Atlantic Yards developers. The pre-apprenticeship program Mathews is a part of took Forest City Ratner three years to implement, and when Ratner began the course in September 2010, they cut down the number of available positions initially agreed upon from 100 to 30.

Still, Tracy Gibbs-Brown, a job developer at BUILD, remains confident that once the legal battles are dealt with there will be work available.

“A lot of jobs aren’t open yet because the arena has to get built,” she said, “and with so many people opposing it, it will never happen.”

article

Posted by eric at 5:11 PM

Development, Zoning Fights Fuel Push For NYC Roadmap

City Limits
by Jarrett Murphy

It was hard not to be impressed by the December 2006 rollout for Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC 2030 initiative. Guests who took the subway out to Flushing were carted via trolley-bus to the stunning Queens Museum of Art. The crowd of dignitaries, advocates and reporters packed the floor of an exhibition hall and flowed onto a mezzanine above. A slick multimedia presentation accompanied the mayor's remarks, and the former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw oversaw a panel discussion after Bloomberg spoke. The mayor himself was masterful, weaving together civic confidence, moral purpose and self-deprecating humor. And how sweeping his vision was: carbon emissions reduction, affordable housing, new parkland, better transit and cleaner water.

There was just one problem: PlaNYC wasn't actually a plan. Nor was it meant to be one. "It's supposed to be an agenda, and that's what it is," says one former PlaNYC staffer. "We made a mistake by calling it a plan."

No shock there. As the new issue of City Limits magazine reports, real planning is not something New York City has ever done. Other major cities have drafted comprehensive plans that linked land development to transit improvements and government services. But New York has always relied on zoning, which creates rules for what the private market can build, rather than planning. Some attribute this to the city's political complexity, others to the power of the local real estate industry. Many argue that New York is too spontaneous a place for a plan.

But there are growing calls to re-examine those assumptions. Pitched battles over recent redevelopment plans—from Atlantic Yards to Manhattanville—have fueled a fervor for more community input into how the city grows. Developers face lengthy environmental reviews that can increase the cost and alter the marketability of a project. Deals in which builders offer benefits in exchange for community groups' support are under increasing legal and political scrutiny. New York, with a transit system strained by growing ridership and crumbling finances, is struggling to compete with other cities in offering a greener and more efficient commute.

In "City Without A Plan," City Limits looks at the past, present and possible future of planning in New York, with reporting from the South Bronx to the Brooklyn waterfront to suburban Staten Island.

article

Posted by eric at 5:04 PM

Ringling Bros. circus to perform at Barclays Center

The Brooklyn Blog [NYPost.com]
by Rich Calder

“The Barclays Center will be all about family, entertainment, and fun for people of all economic means,” said Bruce Ratner, chairman and CEO of Forest City Ratner Companies, the developer of the Barclays Center.

Especially if your "means" enable you to purchase a $500,000-per-year-suite.

"We look forward to the Barclays Center creating memories that will last a lifetime.”

Or the completion of the project, which ever comes first.

link

Posted by eric at 4:57 PM

Lost in translation: Chinese promotional videos, web pages, and media reports present misleading account of the EB-5 "arena project"

Part 11 of a series

Atlantic Yards Report

Like a game of telephone in which the message gets mangled at each node, so has the story of the Atlantic Yards EB-5 deal been distorted in the Chinese media, due to the deceptive promotion of the project and sloppy and/or misleading reporting.

Compounding that are exaggerated promotional statements by Chinese immigration consultancies working with the New York City Regional Center (NYCRC).

A promotional video

Consider a promotional video produced by the Wailan consulting firm after a meeting for EB-5 investors in China in October 2010.

In the excerpts below, recorded with upbeat, triumphant music, the montage aims to convey luxury and inspire confidence. Flower arrangements and cascading champagne, as well as a raffle, help turn a hotel ballroom into launching pad for a new life.

Among people pictured, developer Bruce Ratner shakes hands with ex-NBA player Darryl Dawkins (aka "Chocolate Thunder") with Forest City Ratner executive MaryAnne Gilmartin looking on; a Chinese speaker is heard using the terms "NBA" and "Barclays;" the NYCRC's Paul Levinsohn turns to salute the crowd; the Empire State Development Corporation's Peter Davidson appears at the podium; and lucky raffle winners pose with Nicolai Hinrichsen of the law firm Miller Mayer.

But the message was quite misleading.

article

Posted by eric at 11:20 AM

Nets donate toys to children at Borough Hall, with sponsorship; press release generates coverage

Atlantic Yards Report

In case you're wondering how an event generates "news" (such as coverage in the New York Post's Brooklyn blog and Prospect Heights Patch), consider this press release, issued by the New Jersey Nets and then by Borough President Marty Markowitz's office.

Note that Brook Lopez got bumped up to "star" in the headline, and the entire cast, most of them unknowns, were deemed "stars" in Patch, which did manage to get some candor from Lopez about how a sports team's move is "always tough."

Note the role of the Salvation Army, which has sent representatives to public hearings to support the Atlantic Yards project.

Also note the hand of marketer Brett Yormark, who manages to shoehorn in another Nets sponsor to get some publicity. Paging Daniel Boorstin?

link

Posted by eric at 11:02 AM

The most awful (and best) Police Blotter item — ever!

The Brooklyn Paper
by Thomas Tracy

Is it possible all these crooks will ride their sleighs into Whoville on Christmas morn to return all the loot they've been pinching from Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Center and Atlantic Terminal malls?

Grinch grabs

There were more sticky-fingered thieves than department store Santas inside the troubled Atlantic Terminal and Atlantic Center Mall last week. Here’s the rundown:

• A thief snagged a 70-year-old’s purse as she shopped inside the Marshall’s on Dec. 5. The woman left her purse in her shopping cart at 4:30 pm as walked around the store between Fort Greene Place and S. Portland Avenue. When she returned a few minutes later, it was gone.
...

• A goon grabbed a man’s wallet from the Flatbush Avenue Target on Dec. 6 — as his victim applied for a job!

The 22-year-old accidentally left his wallet on a desk inside the store between Hanson Place and Atlantic Avenue at 12:30 pm after filling out his application. When he realized his mistake and returned to the desk a few moments later, his wallet was no longer there.

• A snuggly shoplifter swiped a woman’s pocketbook on Dec. 10 as the 39-year-old shopped for a pair of comfy pajamas inside the Flatbush Avenue Target.

The victim left her pocketbook inside her shopping cart as shopped in the store between Hanson Place and Atlantic Avenue at 5 pm. But when she was ready to make a purchase, her bag was gone.

• A man stepped up to the mic — then took it — inside the Guitar Center on Dec. 10.

The $1,600 Neumann Studio microphone was on display at the store between Hanson Place and Atlantic Avenue when someone made off with it at 12:44 pm, employees told police.

article

Posted by eric at 10:53 AM

2010 In Review: Amusement Rides Fly High In Coney Island2010 In Review: Amusement Rides Fly High In Coney Island

NY1
by Jeanine Ramirez

Groundbreaking finally took place on the Barclays Center after years of legal challenges. The latest designs were also revealed in the ever-evolving Atlantic Yards project and developers say it will be ready for the Nets 2012 basketball season.

New principal Nets owner and Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov has vowed to make it a winning team. He made history in May becoming the first non U.S. citizen to own an NBA franchise.

article

Posted by eric at 10:38 AM

December 13, 2010

Are The New Jersey Nets Set To Become The 'Brooklyn New Yorkers'?

SB Nation
by Andrew Sharp

We just checked the calendar, which swears it's not April 1st.

Mikhail Prokhorov arrived on America's with big dreams and plan to make the New Jersey Nets the hottest ticket in the NBA. It takes time, though. One awesome billboard across from the Knicks isn't going to change decades of history. But moving to Brooklyn, with a state-of-the-art arena and a new name? That might do the trick.

Unless, of course, you opt for a nickname like the "Brooklyn New Yorkers." And according to SB Nation's Nets Daily, it certainly looks like they're leaning in that direction:

On September 30, two lawyers associated with a large Philadelphia law firm sought trademark protection for the name, "Brooklyn New Yorkers", three logos featuring either a basketball or a basketball player and the Brooklyn Bridge as well as a slogan, "We Come to Play".

[...] Separately, the url, brooklynnewyorkers.com, has also been registered in recent months. The url was registered through a proxy domain register. The owner is not identified.

HOLD UP: Are these people serious?

link

Posted by eric at 11:09 PM

Nets deliver toys to Brooklyn children

The Brooklyn Blog [NYPost.com]
by Rich Calder

Now here's a heart-warming story after that eminent domain downer.

Nets star Brook Lopez and four teammates came to their future home borough today to dish out 1,100 toys for Brooklyn children.

Lopez and teammates Derrick Favors, Damion James, Ben Uzoh, Quinton Ross, Stephen Graham, and Joe Smith gathered at Brooklyn Borough Hall for a holiday party where they helped distribute toys for needy children from five Salvation Army community centers in Brooklyn.

Wow, a veritable who's who? of NBA stars.

The toys were donated by the Barclays/Nets Community Alliance, which includes a partnership among Barclays, the Nets and Forest City Ratner Companies. Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, and representatives of The Salvation Army and National Grid also attended the event.

"Every year during the Holiday season we celebrate and are thankful for what we have," said developer Bruce Ratner, chairman and CEO of Forest City Ratner Companies. "There is no better way to do this than by remembering and helping those who are less fortunate.”

He means "thankful for what we have been given by the State of New York, and the City. And the "better way" would be to give it back.

article

NoLandGrab: We wonder how many kids ended up in tears when they realized Amar'e Stoudemire wasnt coming?

Related coverage...

Prospect Heights Patch, Nets Players Distribute Gifts to Delighted Children

Asked how he felt about moving from New Jersey to Brooklyn, Lopez said. "Everybody has been welcoming, it's been a very positive experience."

But when prodded, Lopez admitted the move is bittersweet. "Whenever a sports team switches locations it's always tough," he said, adding, "Hopefully the way we have been playing will be good enough to have a few fans come with us."

6-18? Where do we sign up?

But 8-year-old Malakai Williams, of Bushwick, seemed less than impressed.

After getting her basketball autographed by Lopez, she said LeBron James was her favorite player, adding, with a sigh, "I wish he could be here."

New Jersey Nets Press Release, NETS C Lopez and Teammates to Deliver Toys to Brooklyn Children

Posted by eric at 10:55 PM

There Goes Manhattanville: Supreme Court Turns Down Columbia Expansion Case

NY Observer
by Matt Chaban

The kleptocracy is alive and well in the good ol' US of A.

Nick Sprayregen knew the chances were slim that the Supreme Court would hear his case against the state and, by extension Columbia University, yet still, the owner of Tuck-It-Away self-storage held out hope.

"It was a shocking decision, even with the chance of the court taking the case being one percent," Sprayregen told The Observer by phone today. He was referring to the odds that all cases face in being heard by the court, though he believed his had a good chance, both on merit and import, given the particulars of his suit and the dearth of opinions from the high court since it decided the landmark Kelo case five years ago, which basically rewrote the rules around eminent domain.

"I though we've put together, in terms of facts, about the strongest case anyone could," Sprayregen continued. "What the state and Columbia have done to collude on this is horrifying. We really thought they'd take a look at this. It strikes fear in me for others about how anyone else could put together a stronger case. We spent six years on this. How anyone else will mount a stronger challenge to eminent domain, I don't know."

article

Posted by eric at 10:47 PM

Supreme Court refuses to hear appeal in Columbia eminent domain case

Atlantic Yards Report

Justice denied is... justice denied.

The effort to get the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal on the eminent domain ruling in the Columbia University expansion has been denied, without comment.

Thus the court passes for now on the opportunity to clarify the meaning and legacy of its controversial 5-4 Kelo vs. New London decision in 2005.

While the federal appellate court hearing an appeal in the Atlantic Yards litigation interpreted Kelo quite narrowly, denying the challenge, courts in other states have used language in Kelo to more closely examine the actions of governmental agencies pursuing eminent domain.

The Supreme Court also passes on an opportunity to pronounce on eminent domain law as practiced in New York State, seen as an outlier among states, given that all challenges start in the state's appellate division, with no opportunity for testimony under oath, further evidence-gathering, or cross-examination.

link

Related coverage...

Bloomberg, Columbia's Expansion Allowed by U.S. Supreme Court in Eminent Domain Case

Columbia University can move ahead with plans for a $6.3 billion expansion of its Manhattan campus after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal by neighboring businesses whose property may be taken over by eminent domain.

The justices today refused to question findings by a state development agency, Empire State Development Corp., that the area is blighted and that the Columbia expansion has a legitimate public purpose. The New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, upheld the plan in June.

AP via The Washington Post, High court won't block Columbia expansion plan

Posted by eric at 10:58 AM

In newsletter, NYCRC finally announces Brooklyn Arena and Infrastructure Project, "in conjunction with" city and state governments

Part 10 of a series

Atlantic Yards Report

The New York City Regional Center (NYCRC), as noted in Part 3, has not announced the Brooklyn Arena and Infrastructure Project on its current projects page.

However, the NYCRC's November 2010 newsletter, made available on the NYCRC's web site recently and embedded below, finally offers this announcement:

UPCOMING PROJECTS FOR THE NYCRC
Brooklyn Arena and Infrastructure Project
The NYCRC is pleased to announce another project in conjunction with the governments of both the City of New York and State of New York. Located at the Atlantic Yards development site in Brooklyn, this $1.4 billion Brooklyn Arena and Infrastructure Project is a subset of the $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards Project and is one of the most important development initiatives underway in New York City today and one of the largest job-creating projects in over a decade. EB-5 funding will be combined with significant funding from the City of New York, the State of New York, and the developer of the Project, Forest City. On September 23, 2010, all components and documents of the Brooklyn Arena and Infrastructure Project were fully approved by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”).

(Emphases added)

Misleading the reader

As I suggested on Part 3, the phrasing here is misleading.

Despite the statement "in conjunction with," neither the city nor the state are formally involved in the Brooklyn Arena and Infrastructure Project beyond a finder's fee for the New York City Economic Development Corporation and a Recognition Agreement for a first mortgage, signed by the Empire State Development Corporation.

None of the above-mentioned contributors--city, state, developer--made their investments in a project purported to create jobs for immigrant investors at the time.

As described in Part 3, it's questionable to credit the latter for jobs created by funding committed long before.

After all, as state officials admit, the arena would be built with or without this funding.

Beyond that, the NYCRC's reference to "fully approved" does not mean potential investors face no risk their immigration petition would be denied, USCIS officials told me.

link

Posted by eric at 10:49 AM

The missing billionaire: Why nobody pitching EB-5 investments to Chinese millionaires wants to talk about Mikhail Prokhorov

Part 9 of a series

Atlantic Yards Report

Does Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, majority owner (80%) of the New Jersey Nets and minority owner (45%) of the arena, have anything to do with the "Brooklyn Arena & Infrastructure Project" for which immigrant investor funding is sought?

Of course.

However, when asked during a webcast in September why Chinese investment was needed if Prokhorov was the owner of the Nets, the New York City Regional Center's (NYRC) Gregg D. Hayden simply punted, deflecting the question with a nonsense answer.

Since then, he and colleagues, in presentations to potential investors, have assiduously avoided the suggestion that Prokhorov has a key role in the arena. That's part of the misdirection that characterizes the EB-5 sales job.
...

That significant, strategic omission seems aimed to avoid this question: Why couldn't Prokhorov be asked to pick up the slack?

Answer: Presumably, in exchange for contributing more money, he'd ask for a greater share of the arena itself, rather than accept some murky collateral. And that would lower Forest City Ratner's return.

article

Posted by eric at 10:41 AM

Forest City nears selling stake in NYC retail portfolio

Forest City executives said the sale would involve a 49% stake in a portfolio that includes 15 New York properties; the portfolio is 96% leased and executives declined to name the buyer.

CrainsCleveland.com via Crain's NY Business
by Stan Bullard

Looks like money is still a little tight at Forest City.

Executives at Forest City Enterprises Inc. said in a conference call today that the company is close to selling a minority interest in its New York City retail properties and will exit the hotel market.

The measures are the latest to surface in the two-year odyssey by the Cleveland-based real estate developer to increase liquidity and to reduce debt to clean up its balance sheet. Forest City Ratner, a wholly owned subsidiary, currently owns and operates 11 million square feet of commercial property in the New York metro area.
...

Charles Ratner, Forest City's chief executive, described the prospective investors as retail-oriented real estate investment trusts and real estate funds. However, he said the company would not disclose a prospective price, nor would it identify the properties or the prospective joint venture partners by name. Unlike a sale, a joint venture allows a company to continue to reap management and leasing fees on properties and to enjoy future gains from the properties if their fortunes improve.

Forest City developed its retail portfolio in New York over the last two decades by introducing large-format stores such as OfficeMax, Staples, Old Navy and H&M to the boroughs.

We commonly call those "big-box retailers."

“We remain cautious, but also very confident,” Mr. Ratner said, though he noted problems remain in the economy.

Indeed, the company in its earnings report issued Thursday, Dec. 9, reported impairment charges totaling $77 million that soured the improved performance of its properties and revenues in the quarter that ended Oct. 31.

article

NoLandGrab: Let's see, they've already partnered up with a billionaire Russian oligarch and they're trying to sell green cards to wealthy Chinese investors. How about a Middle Eastern sultan or an African dictator?

Posted by eric at 10:32 AM

The Week in Crime: Holiday Season Shopping Brings Spate in Wallet and Purse Snatching

The Local [Fort Greene/Clinton Hill]
by Jacqueline Vergara Amézquita

Petty crime is pretty much a fact of life in Bruce Ratner's Fort Greene malls, but things get really merry for the miscreants around the holidays.

Store Thefts

-A bag was stolen from the shopping cart of a 27-year-old woman while she shopped at the Target on Flatbush Avenue on Dec. 1, sometime between 6:15 p.m. and 6:20 p.m. The suspect made off with a debit and credit card, a wallet, and a cell phone charger.

-A thief struck again at the same store, Target, and stole a wallet on Dec. 3 between 4 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. The 34-year-old victim told police that it was removed from her shopping cart. The wallet contained her credit cards, a debit card, and her Social Security card.

-A 14-year-old girl was arrested on Dec. 5 at 3:35 p.m. after the Marshalls department store on Atlantic Avenue reported stolen items. The suspect allegedly took a women’s and a men’s shirt without paying, police said. The Brooklyn District Attorney’s office did not release information on charges against the minor.

-At the same Marshalls store and on the same day, a woman’s bag was stolen between 4:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. The 70-year-old victim told police that her wallet, keys, credit cards and $11 in cash were in the bag. She reported $211 in losses.

-Another woman’s bag was stolen at the Burlington Coat Factory store on Atlantic Avenue on Dec. 5 at 5 p.m. The 34-year-old woman told police that she hung the bag on her baby stroller while she shopped. When she looked again, it was no longer there. A debit and credit card and $160 were in the bag.

Guitar Center Swindle

-A 30-year-old man was arrested on Dec. 1 at 2:13 p.m. after attempting a fraud at the Guitar Center on Flatbush Avenue, police said. The suspect, who worked in the store, allegedly knew a person who came into the store to sell a guitar for $1,200 on Oct. 8, police said, and he was fully aware that the instrument was not worth the price. The suspect cashed the check, police said. The Brooklyn District Attorney’s office did not release the name of the suspect, the charges against him, or any other information about the crime.

article

Posted by eric at 10:25 AM

Incentivizing transit ridership with…beer?

2nd Ave. Sagas
by Benjamin Kabak

When the Nets new arena opens at the Atlantic Yards complex in a few years, it will bring with it traffic to a few of Brooklyn’s quieter residential neighborhoods. With Park Slope to the south, Prospect Heights to the east and Fort Greene to the north, the area doesn’t lend itself to the multitude of cars that will throng its streets on game days. Unfortunately, despite sitting atop one of the city’s busiest subway hubs and a Long Island Rail Road, the project will come with more parking than we’d like. To encourage mass transit use then, one advocate has proposed an idea for the masses: free beer.
...

Ultimately, though, the Nets and Forest City Ratner should figure out a way to encourage transit use. Whether that includes supporting a residential parking permit program for the neighborhood’s streets or offering MetroCard- and LIRR-based discounts, driving to this arena should be discouraged. I’d drink to that.

link

Posted by eric at 10:21 AM

Elephants Will Walk Down Flatbush Ave. In 2013!

Gothamist
by Ben Yakas

Earlier this week, it was reported that the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus will be skipping town to Jersey for the time being. But Brooklyn Paper reports today that the circus will soon have a new home in Brooklyn—at the Barclays Center. One of the productions of the “Greatest Show on Earth” will take up residency at the future home of the Nets in March 2013, about six months after the arena is slated to open.

In a statement, Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner sounded rather pumped: “I can’t wait to see circus elephants marching down Flatbush Avenue and into the Barclays Center." Elephants and free beer? It almost makes one forget about all those irate protests and furious residents.

link

Posted by eric at 10:16 AM

December 12, 2010

"Just when you think it can't get any weirder, it does": catching up on the "Anatomy of a Shady Deal" series re EB-5 visas for Chinese investors

Atlantic Yards Report

In The Civilians' play with music, IN THE FOOTPRINT: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards (which closed yesterday, but perhaps will be revived), one character, remarking on the surprising entrance of Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov as owner of the Nets, observes, "Just when you think it can't get any weirder, it does."

Still.

The next level--brutally weird--involves the effort to raise $249 million from Chinese investors seeking green cards.

My "Anatomy of a Shady Deal" series has gotten nods from New York Magazine's Daily Intel, the New York Daily News's Sports I-Team blog, Prospect Heights Patch, and the New York Times's City Room blog, and I also summarized it in the Huffington Post.

No one's followed up with their own reporting, but the story's not going away.

Part 1 concerned the seven-year extension available on Phase 1 of the project should Forest City Ratner not repay the EB-5 loan. Part 2 estimated the developer could save at least $191 million. Part 3 examined the sales effort in China, with the arena front and center, even though it's already funded.

Part 4 reported on claims made in China, on video and in person, by public officials supporting the project. Part 5 concerned the value of the development rights, contrasted with those in last year's deal for the Vanderbilt Yard. Part 6 described reasons to think the development rights are overvalued. Part 7 explained why China is such a popular target for those seeking EB-5 investors. Part 8 provided another reason why the Nets played exhibition games in China in October.

The series will continue this week.

link

Posted by steve at 12:13 PM

Who Wants to Turn Brooklyn into a Big Parking Lot?

Change.org
By Zachary Shahan

This blog post points out the folly of building acres of parking in Prospect Heights and suggests signing an online petition to oppose it.

What is one of the absolute worst uses of land, environmentally speaking? A surface parking lot. In other words, the type of parking lot you see in front of Wal-Mart—one level, not above or below any buildings. (They're also just plain ugly...can you think of anything uglier than a large, surface parking lot?)

Where is the worst place to build a surface parking lot? How about in the middle of the downtown areas of one of the most densely populated counties in this nation.

A 1,100-space surface parking lot is being proposed as part of the Atlantic Yards project, a controversial planned $4.9 billion mall, residential development, and sports stadium, in the downtown area of Brooklyn, New York. While the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and project developer Forest City Ratner are portraying this as a temporary parking lot, it has been revealed that the parking lot may sit there for up to 25 years.

The environmental review for the Atlantic Yards project used ESDC and Ratner's initial estimate that the project would take 10 years. With the project expected to last up to 25 years, the environmental review does not meet legal requirements, and, thus, a number of groups are pushing for a halt to the controversial project until this review is adequately performed. The 25-year potential time frame is apparently written into the development contract between New York City and Ratner, but was not revealed in legal battles over the project last November.

ink

Posted by steve at 12:06 PM

December 11, 2010

Why did the Nets visit China in October? It wasn't a mistake. They were there to help sell green cards (even though they didn't say so).

Part 8 of a series

Atlantic Yards Report

In a New York Times Magazine cover story October 31, The N.B.A.’s Oligarch and His Power Games, writer Chip Brown misread the Nets' recent trip to China, suggesting it was an unhelpful detour, part of the rocky road facing new owner Mikhail Prokhorov:

The brand-building preseason games in China were arranged when the team had a seven-foot Chinese forward named Yi Jianlian as well as a Mandarin speaker in the marketing department. But with Proky’s arrival, the Nets were suddenly covered with Russian dressing: a new Russian-language Web site, an office in Moscow, a five-year deal with Stolichnaya vodka. Worse, they were bound for China without Yi, who had been packed off to the Washington Wizards in June, or the Mandarin whiz, who’d been globalized out of a job. Ni hao? Nyet!

True, the game was announced in April, when Yi was still a Net. Still, the trip was much more than what the National Basketball Association (NBA) billed as "the homecoming of Houston Rockets All-Star Yao Ming and the debut of the state-of-the-art Guangzhou International Sports Arena."

And it was more that what the Nets, on their Flickr page, called an opportunity "to participate in the NBA China Games 2010, where they played a pair of games against the Rockets and were active alongside NBA Cares."

Nets help sell project

The Nets were there to help Forest City Ratner, via the New York City Regional Center (NYCRC), market green cards to immigrant investors who would invest $500,000 each in the "Brooklyn Arena and Infrastructure Project."

The teams played October 13 in Beijing and October 16 in Guangzhou.

Before each game, the NYCRC held seminars for potential investors, featuring NBA iconography, photos of current Nets players, retired NBA players as guests, and raffles for autographed basketballs and tickets to the upcoming games.

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Posted by steve at 9:53 AM

Patricia Lynch, former Silver aide and lobbyist for FCR, among others, gets fined, but will that clean up Albany? Doubtful.

Atlantic Yards Report

One of Forest City Ratner's (and many others') lobbyists got her hand slapped this week, but it's hardly clear it will make a difference.

From an editorial yesterday in the New York Times, Lobbying for Gold in Albany:

Patricia Lynch, one of the most influential lobbyists in New York State, has agreed to pay a $500,000 fine and will be prohibited from doing any business with the state pension fund for five years. When one considers the sleazy way she maneuvered to get lucrative pension investments for her clients, that is only a slap on the wrist.

Ms. Lynch, who was once the top aide to Sheldon Silver, the Assembly speaker, did acknowledge that she tried to “curry favor” with Alan Hevesi, the former comptroller, and his office. (Mr. Hevesi was one of eight people who pleaded guilty in a pay-to-play scheme.) As part of her agreement with Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, she was not required to admit any wrongdoing.

We fear it is going to take a lot stronger medicine to change Albany’s relentlessly corrupt culture.

Albany’s lobbyists have far too much power to craft legislation or, more often, kill it. State lobbying codes are scandalously unfair to regular people who don’t have the $10,000 a month that is the going rate to hire Ms. Lynch and her well-connected colleagues.

(Emphasis added)

Among the non-regular people who do have the scratch to hire Lynch are Walt Disney, General Motors, Vornado Realty Trust, the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, and (ta da) Forest City Ratner, as shown in the state's Project Sunlight and the city lobbying database.

Read the rest of this blog post to see why skepticism is needed if anyone thinks that incoming governor Cuomo will act to diminish the influence of lobbyists.

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Posted by steve at 9:33 AM

Prospect Heights: Slope Appeal With Edge

The Wall Street Journal
By Joseph De Avila

This overview of Prospect Heights tries to gloss over the disaster of placing an arena near a residential area.

The character of the neighborhood is in for a big change. The controversial Atlantic Yards project, being built by developer Forest City Ratner, has begun construction. The Barclays Center, the sports arena that will become home for the Nets, is slated for completion in 2012. Forest City Ratner also has rights to build 16 buildings of commercial space and some 6,000 apartments.

The construction is causing headaches at Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, already one of the busiest intersections in Brooklyn, said Terry Robison of Prudential Elliman, who lives in Prospect Heights. But once the construction is finished, he thinks having an arena where residents can walk to concerts and basketball games could have positive impacts on home values.

"Getting used to that will take some adjustment," Mr. Robison said. But "prime Prospect Heights is close enough yet far enough away that it won't have a detrimental effect."

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NoLandGrab: Yes, all of the tonier neighborhoods are clamoring to have an arena built near them.

Posted by steve at 9:17 AM

Theater Review: In The Footprint

UrbanOmnibus
By Caitlin Blanchfield

Here's another review of "In The Footprint" as the play completes its run tonight.

The Civilians say they use a journalistic approach to examine the layers of complexity around a certain issue. In the case of Atlantic Yards, drama and complexity abound. In the Footprint becomes a lens to scrutinize the deeper socioeconomic and racial conflicts entangled in the new Nets arena. Often, the debate over the development was a vehicle to air grievances about the gentrification of Prospect Heights and express tension between black and white residents – a reality that, at the time, escaped many onlookers who were not directly ensnared in the issue. Through the dialogue, the audience can piece together a history of Prospect Heights and Fort Greene from redlining to gentrification. Ultimately, very little is said about basketball, but much is revealed about Brooklyn and Brooklyn identity. Sports, as is often the case, became a metaphor for hometown pride – the Dodgers are invoked a number of times, usually by Borough President Marty Markowitz – and everyone seems to weigh in on what it means to be a Brooklynite. As the Hagan character point out, Brooklyn, despite the fact that it could easily exist as its own city, has no local newspaper. It does, though, have a lot of bloggers.

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Posted by steve at 9:10 AM

Will the Supreme Court Hear the Columbia University Eminent Domain Case?

Reason
By Damon W. Root

Cato Institute legal scholar Ilya Shapiro highlights a big feature story from The Columbia Daily Spectator, Columbia’s undergraduate newspaper, on New York’s controversial decision to use eminent domain on behalf of the elite private university. As Shapiro notes, the Supreme Court is discussing today whether or not to hear property owner Nick Sprayregen’s lawsuit challenging the eminent domain taking, and a decision is expected as early as Monday.

At least four justices will have to vote yes if the full Court is going to take the case. Unfortunately, the liberal bloc will likely vote no. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer both joined Justice John Paul Stevens’ disgraceful majority opinion in Kelo v. City of New London (2005), so there’s little reason to think they’re interested in limiting or overturning that unfortunate eminent domain precedent now. As for the new faces, Justice Sonia Sotomayor has her own dubious record when it comes to protecting property rights in the Empire State, and as a self-professed fan of judicial restraint, Justice Elena Kagan may not want to subject New York’s practices to much judicial scrutiny.

But that still leaves five possible yeses. Justice Clarence Thomas will definitely want another shot at curbing eminent domain abuse. His Kelo dissent predicted exactly the sort of government malfeasance we’re now witnessing in both the Columbia and Atlantic Yards cases in New York. Justice Antonin Scalia also dissented in Kelo, though it’s possible his sense of judicial restraint will prompt him to let the 2005 precedent stand. Let’s hope not.

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Posted by steve at 9:05 AM

Columbia University Expansion Project

Biersdorf & Associates

The Conflict: After announcing the project in 2003, Columbia University threatened “eminent domain” and quickly and amicably acquired all but 2 properties contained within the project’s footprint. Negotiations could not be reached with these owners, so In 2008, the State hired consultant AKRF to conduct a blight study. AKRF evaluated each of the 67 lots in the neighborhood and determined that there were high enough instances of physically poor conditions, emptied properties, and underdevelopment to label the area “blighted”. In New York, the blight designation provides government with the necessary means to use eminent domain to acquire property.

Is the property really blighted? The concept of “blight” is a controversial term at the heart of this case and other similar cases in New York. Because New York’s statutory definition of “blight” is so vague, government agencies can easily obtain a “blight” designation in order to use eminent domain to acquire property. Norman Siegel, civil rights attorney for Sprayregen and Sing said it best when he stated, “nobody really knows what it (blight) is”. He further emphasizes that understanding the inherent flaws in the blight law is essential—mainly that blight is a vague tool crafted to be whatever government wants it to be.

...

Unfortunately, New York is one of only seven states that have not passed post-Kelo reform aimed at curbing eminent domain abuse. Several New York lawmakers have attempted to do so, but failed after receiving opposition from the Bloomberg administration. Until New York passes eminent domain legislation addressing “blight” and the right to take, this type of abuse will continue.

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Posted by steve at 8:47 AM

The Brooklyn Paper tally: two Ratner/Nets announcements, no coverage of EB-5

Atlantic Yards Report

Last week, the Brooklyn Paper covered the debut of a Russian-language web site for the Nets.

This week, we learn that the circus will come to the Barclays Center.

It's easy for a newspaper to cover such press releases, and while the information may be worth sharing, is it more important than:

  • the new seven-year potential delay in Phase 1 of the project?
  • Brooklyn Borough president Marty Markowitz's astonishing words in China?

The answer is no.

Both of the latter stories are connected to Forest City Ratner's attempt (my series) to raise a $249 million no-interest loan from Chinese investors seeking green cards under the federal government's EB-5 visa program, thus saving the developer perhaps $191 million.

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Posted by steve at 8:43 AM

Circus coming to town! Ratner, Ringling ink deal at Barclays Center

The Brooklyn Paper
By Aaron Short

The development of Atlantic Yards has been sometimes compared to a three-ring circus — but now the real thing is coming to Prospect Heights.

The producers of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced on Friday that they had inked a deal to bring one of their productions to the under-construction Barclays Center in March, 2013, about six months after the arena is slated to open near the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues. Mac Support Store

A spokesman for Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner said that the Ringling Bros. show would be the same “Greatest Show on Earth” mega-production that fills Madison Square Garden, a rival arena, though a spokesman for the circus was not 100 percent sure.

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NoLandGrab: In addition to eminent domain abuse that has taken place in Prospect Heights, we can now look forward to elephant abuse.

Posted by steve at 8:31 AM

BK Nets Consider Tempting Fans With Free Beer

Gothamist

The headline here is misleading. The beer concept is the idea comes from Ryan Lynch of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. Ratner's solution for reducing traffic for events at the Nets arena is: "we're still working on it."

The Nets' season is quickly hitting the crapper with a six game losing streak, leaving them with a less-than-sterling 6-17 record. And while the mere fact that they exist may be enough to develop some fan base in Newark, it ain't gonna cut it once the team moves to Brooklyn in a few years. But you know what might get the fans in? Forget Carmelo Anthony—try free beer.

That's one idea that transportation advocates are suggesting for the Nets when they move to their new home at the Barclay Center at Atlantic Yards. But it has more to do with traffic and parking than the Nets woeful current team. “There needs to be more incentives from the developer and events promoters to encourage event-goers to get on mass transit. You could show your Metrocard or LIRR ticket and get a discount at the concession stand,” said Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s Ryan Lynch. Residents are concerned about the increase in traffic that will occur when the Nets move in, clogging up the neighborhood, as well as a potential lack of available parking. “We’re working on a fully integrated transportation plan that will look at a variety of ways of using mass transit instead of driving to the arena on game nights or event nights,” said the spokesman, Joe DePlasco.

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Related coverage...

The Village Voice, Brooklyn Nets Want to Woo Subway Riders With Free Beer
By Myles Tanzer

This awesome solution would create a crazier fan base and help conquer traffic problems. It's a win-win! Plus, free beer!

...

However, this does have the potential to go badly. Recall the Cleveland Indians' infamous "10 Cent Beer Night" in 1974, in which they offered a 10 cent beer promotion to attract a larger attendance for the game. Needless to say, everyone showed up -- and came to party. The fans got so rowdy that the umpires had to call the game.

Posted by steve at 8:13 AM

FCR executive: state plans to deliver to judge study regarding (presumably minimal) impact of 25-year project buildout

Atlantic Yards Report

At a Forest City Enterprises (FCE) quarterly earnings conference call today with investment analysts, company representative indicated that the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) does not plan to appeal Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman's 11/9/10 ruling that it had failed to consider the impact of a 25-year project buildout but instead would deliver a document that would make the problem go away.

(There were no questions about EB-5 financing.)

About the lawsuit

One analyst asked about the remaining Atlantic Yards lawsuit that "cropped up recently."

Joanne Minieri, President and COO of subsidiary Forest City Ratner, responded, "Right now, the opponents filed for a stay of the construction until the state complies with the judge's order to do a further study and to make new findings relating to the project buildout timeline."

"The state is complying with that order right now and work is well under way," she continued. "And, towards the end of the month, papers are due and a hearing is scheduled. But it's FC's, as well as the state's intention to comply with the order and do the study in connection with the timeline and the buildout. So, by the end of the month, there'll be a court hearing regarding this particular lawsuit."

"And no stay of construction in the meantime?" came the follow-up question.

"Correct," responded Minieri.

A hearing is scheduled for December 22. While Minieri did not characterize the study at hand, presumably the ESDC will deliver a document that does not delay the project or give project opponents any more ammunition.

AY timeline up to them

In an unintentional nod to that timetable issue, David LaRue, Chief Operating Officer of parent FCE at another juncture in the call indicated that the developer plans to move forward on Atlantic Yards--but only when the time is right.

"We're heavily invested in Atlantic Yards," he said. "We fully believe in the future of that opportunity, as a value-creating mechanism for us. The example of [FCR's] 80 DeKalb opening and leasing up in nine months to where I think it's 97 percent leased now... is just an indication of the strength and depth of that [Brooklyn] market. So, [CFO] Bob [O'Brien] mentioned earlier, we're going to look, I guess not offensively, but at the right time to develop those assets and take advantage of the entitlement we have."

In other words, as FCE said in November 2008, "We control the pace."

Click on the link to read how Forest City Ratner is trying to find more sponsorships for the new Nets arena and how unloading the Nets has helped the bottom line.

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Posted by steve at 7:32 AM

December 10, 2010

Why seek immigrant investors in China? Much new (& dumb) money, bball fever, little transparency or tough reporting, flexible attitude toward truth

Part 7 of a series

Atlantic Yards Report

Under the EB-5 program, investment pools known as regional centers--an increasingly popular way to raise cheap financing--can solicit immigrant investors from around the world to park $500,000 each in a job-creating investment.

However, the New York City Regional Center (NYCRC), in the case of the "Brooklyn Arena and Infrastructure Project," has focused on China, a country that offers a particular set of advantages to EB-5 promoters, and an even greater set of advantages for this project.

For the NYCRC and Forest City Ratner, China presents a valuable, unique opportunity, given the confluence of basketball fever, plentiful new money, the desire to get children educated (and other opportunities) in the United States, a language barrier, limited watchdog reporting on this issue, little emphasis on transparency, variable amounts of business sophistication, and flexible business ethics.

It's the new Wild Wild West.

Road shows

Even before a series of high-profile sales sessions in major cities in October, involving developer Bruce Ratner and the Empire State Development Corporation's Peter Davidson (but not, as once billed, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz), the NYCRC was hustling.

As the NYCRC's Gregg Hayden said during a webcast produced by the Kunpeng immigration consultancy (excerpts) in mid-October, "Myself and my assistant General Manager, Zachary Woods, from Shanghai, have just finished a 45-day, 23-city tour, of the China market, raising preliminary interest and pre-sales for this project, and they're going extremely well, we have a lot of strong interest, because of the safety and security of this program, and the abundant job creation that we are producing with this project."

(Well, that's their story. This series challenges the claims of safety, security, and "abundant job creation.")

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NoLandGrab: Why, Gregg Hayden sounds like the Brett Yormark of green-card sales.

Posted by eric at 11:27 AM

Jeffries says ESDC "has fallen down on the job" regarding AY oversight; will new governance bill help?; Governor-elect Cuomo wants an AY meeting

Atlantic Yards Report

At the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council's forum Wednesday on Atlantic Yards traffic, it was impossible for Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries to untangle potential solutions from governance issues.

Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries said his goal was that “if this project comes to fruition we will minimize the detrimental impacts it will have on quality of life.”

He reflected on the “interesting time” in state politics since he took office in January 2007, with turmoil in the governor's office, state Senate, and other Albany entitities.

From December 2006 through January 2011, Jeffries said, “We will have been through four governors in five years, and the consequence of that, I believe, given that this initiative was conceived at least as a public-private partnership with public involvement and oversight at the state level from the Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC], is that there's been chaos and uncertainty and a lack of direction and focus from the state agency that is charged with oversight and accountability and responsibility.”

“And that's been very detrimental,” he said. “Because in essence, what has occurred is that we've had a public-private project without any real public input.”
...

Later, Council Member Letitia James reported that, at a recent meeting, Cuomo “whispered in my ear that we need to have a conversation about Atlantic Yards.” Several people in the audience clapped.

“I said, thank you Governor-elect, but said Governor Paterson said the same thing and let me down," James said. "I hope you don't let me down.”

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NoLandGrab: We expect that conversation to go something like this:

Status Cuomo: Tish, Bruce Ratner gave my campaign a lot of money, so cool it, ok?

Tish James: [Steam coming from ears.]

Posted by eric at 11:17 AM

The PHNDC's forum on traffic: discussion of Atlantic Yards impact, residential permit parking, and warning about turning over planning to FCR (update)

Atlantic Yard Report

The Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council's forum last night on traffic, held at P.S. 9 on Underhill Avenue in Prospect Heights, featured some critical comments on the Empire State Development Corporation's Atlantic Yards oversight from Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, and significant dismay from neighborhood residents regarding current impacts on traffic and yet-to-be-implemented solutions.

Notably, there was both enthusiasm for and resistance to residential parking permits (RPP) for game days at the Atlantic Yards arena. While they would preserve local car owners' options to park, such RPP were seen as an increased cost for residents, and a couple of attendees suggested the cost should be paid by developer Forest City Ratner, since the impact comes from the arena.

Beyond the arena issue, a free RPP presumes that the current access to street parking is a right rather than a subsidy of sorts--the subject of potential significant debate about RPP in general.

Also, a planner from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign warned about the conflict of interest involved in having developer Forest City Ratner and its paid consultant be in effective charge of transportation planning.
...

With an arena seating 18,000 for basketball (41 games) and a predicted 225 events, some of which will accommodate crowds up to 19,000, “it's going to be a deluge of traffic, and much of it is going to flow through Prospect Heights,” said Danae Oratowski of the PHNDC, kicking off the session.

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Posted by eric at 11:10 AM

The editorial that hasn't (yet) appeared: "Shame on you, Marty Markowitz, promoting Atlantic Yards in China as if there's no opposition"

Atlantic Yards Report

Markowitz in October backed out of a plan to take a privately-funded trip to China to support Forest City Ratner's effort to get a no-interest loan from Chinese millionaires interested in trading purportedly job-creating investments for green cards.

Still, he did his best to support the project--which could save the developer at least $191 million while delivering questionable public benefits--from afar.

Markowitz appeared several times in a video aimed to convince potential investors that this distant, hard-to-grasp project was a valid one, likely to bring green cards and ensure the return of their capital.

"All I can say, Brooklyn is 1000 percent, 1000 percent behind Atlantic Yards, and we invite Chinese investors to join with us, because there's nothing better than China and Brooklyn together," the Borough President declared.

His statement is laughable. First, there's no way Brooklyn is "1000 percent behind Atlantic Yards," and Markowitz knows that. The borough is divided, and many people are indifferent.

Moreover, clownish lines like "there's nothing better than China and Brooklyn together" simply distract potential investors from looking closely.

His statement is also grimly disturbing. Markowitz was elected to fulfill a public trust, not to boost the borough's most powerful developer.

Markowitz has every right to support Atlantic Yards and to devote some of his office's resources to that end.

He doesn't have the right to lie, here or overseas, regarding Atlantic Yards.

And he should have the sense to recognize that Forest City Ratner's plan to raise money from immigrant investors tests the spirit if not the letter of federal immigration law.

Shame on you, Marty.

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Posted by eric at 11:02 AM

"Retail and residential protections" around the Atlantic Yards site? Nope

Atlantic Yards Report

Just in case you were wondering, a City Hall News article, Bing Pitches Greater Economic Impact Of Second Avenue Subway Construction, got an Atlantic Yards reference wrong:

In front of the Second Avenue entrance to Delizia Pizza on the Upper East Side was a crane and the camped materials of a continuous construction site underway. In front of the 92nd Street entrance to the table-service area was another unit, humming and blocking the view from the north. And inside was Assembly Member Jonathan Bing, his hands deep in dough and tomato sauce.

...If not, Bing said, the consequences will go far behind his district which is one of the most affluent in the state, but has so far not been provided with the special retail and residential protections granted at other major construction sites around the state, such as on the Far West Side or around the Atlantic Yards development.

(Emphases added)

Really? That would be very surprising to those who endured utility work at the site in 2008.

Nope.

Bing's office tells me he didn't say that.

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NoLandGrab: Maybe City Hall News editor Edward-Isaac Dovere was channeling his Brooklyn Standard days.

Posted by eric at 10:53 AM

Corrections

The New York Times

The Times has been correctin' up a storm this week, but still doesn't seem interested in Forest City Ratner's green cards-for-cash program.

The Arts

A Critic’s Notebook article on Wednesday about political theater based on real events, including the show “In the Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards,” misstated the circumstances under which Daniel Goldstein, an opponent of the Atlantic Yards project portrayed in the show, lost ownership of his condo in a building that needed to be emptied for ground to be broken. While he did receive $3 million in a settlement, the State of New York took the condo under eminent domain. He did not sell it. (Go to Article)

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Posted by eric at 7:22 AM

Columbia eminent domain case: One of the Supreme Court "Petitions to Watch"

The Eminent Domain Law Blog

SCOTUSblog has included the Columbia University eminent domain case Tuck-It-Away, Inc. v. New York State Urban Development Corporation, dba Empire State Development Corporation, Docket 10-402 in this week's edition of "Petitions to Watch." The petition for certiorari filed by these Harlem property owners will be included among the many the Court will consider when the Justices conference tomorrow, December 10. The Justices' decisions to grant or deny will be released on Monday, December 13.

This case concerns the proposed expansion of Columbia University into a Harlem neighborhood by way of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), the same agency that enabled Forest City Ratner to take private homes and businesses for the Atlantic Yards arena and multi-use redevelopment.

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Posted by eric at 7:16 AM

Residents Decry Traffic, Parking Problems from Atlantic Yards Project

Some suggest developer Forest City Ratner pay for extra trains to stadium and residential parking permits for those living in the area.

Prospect Heights Patch
by Amy Sara Clark

More than 75 people came to P.S. 9 last night to discuss traffic problems caused by the Atlantic Yards project.

Since several streets including Pacific between Fifth and Sixth avenues was closed Feb. 1, traffic has been brutal along Dean, Bergen, St. Marks, and other streets that still go through, speakers and residents said at the meeting.

"I live on St. Marks Place and it feels like a major highway," said Maggie Williams, a 33-year-old lawyer, before the meeting.
...

Jay Crockett, a retired commodities broker said she was pessimistic that there was much the community could do to prevent the onslaught of traffic. But she said she came to the meeting to make a statement.

"I feel it's essential to just show up to say: I do care and it is a problem," she said.

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Posted by eric at 7:08 AM

Beer on Bruce? Could be, if you take the subway

The Brooklyn Paper
by Aaron Short

Take the train to a Nets game — and get a free beer!

It’s one idea being floated by transportation advocates as an incentive to get future Barclays Center ticketholders to take the subway and regional rail to the arena instead of driving and parking on congested Prospect Heights and Fort Greene streets.

“Give people a free beer — they’re not driving!” said Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s Ryan Lynch.

Lynch, invited by the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council to present suggestions for easing traffic at Atlantic Yards, demanded that the arena’s developer, Forest City Ratner, commit to subsidize mass transit for game nights such as including mass transit fares into ticket prices and urging additional trains on game nights.”
...

Thousands of cars will flood streets surrounding the Atlantic Yards footprint on game nights — which has alarmed residents concerned about traffic and pedestrian safety after games.

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NoLandGrab: Sure, Bruce'll give you a free beer — and charge you $9 for the cup.

Posted by eric at 6:57 AM

December 9, 2010

Anatomy of a Green Card Pitch: In China, Atlantic Yards Backers Rely on the Distraction of Basketball

The Huffington Post
by Norman Oder

Norman Oder somehow finds the time to repackage his EB-5 series for The Huffington Post.

The controversial Atlantic Yards megaproject in Brooklyn, involving a basketball arena for the relocating New Jersey Nets plus 16 planned towers, has already gotten a boost from Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who last year bought 80% of the team and 45% of the arena, known as the Barclays Center.

But the next astounding step for Brooklyn developer Forest City Ratner (FCR)--which has already benefited from eminent domain, significant subsidies, a naming rights giveaway, and tax breaks--involves raising a $249 million interest-free loan from 498 Chinese millionaires seeking green cards.

The effort tests the spirit, and perhaps the letter, of an obscure federal immigration program known as EB-5, which trades immigration benefits for purportedly job-creating investments--as little as $500,000 per family.

In October, I wrote here about the emerging plan to use the program. Now, as suggested in the ongoing Anatomy of a Shady Deal series on my Atlantic Yards Report blog, it seems the benefit would tilt significantly to the developer rather than to the public or even the investors.

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Posted by eric at 5:28 PM

Claimed value of collateral for immigrant investors lowered by lack of timetable for office tower; no announced publicly announced plan for revenue

Part 6 of a series

Atlantic Yards Report

Exactly how valuable is the collateral offered to 249 prospective Chinese investors seeking green cards in exchange for each parking $500,000 in an investment pool that would support the Brooklyn Arena and Infrastructure Project under the EB-5 program?

There are several reasons to think that a new appraisal that calculates $542,375,000 for 3,025,654 square feet--seven towers on both the arena block and Block 1129, the southeast block--may have overvalued the development rights.

First, as noted, the MTA in 2005 appraised development rights over the Vanderbilt Yard at $75 a square foot and said in 2009 that it would be dangerous to get a new appraisal because of the bad economy. The new appraisal, which includes some land over the railyard, values development rights at more than $179 a square foot.

Also, as noted, even if the actual value is closer to $179 a square foot, it would be tough for the creditors to unlock the stated value of the collateral without a series of transactions that likely would reduce the value.

Unknown timetable for office tower

Third, included in the collateral is the value of development rights for the tower known as B-1, currently slated to be an office building--for which no market is expected soon.

The new appraisal, by the real estate firm Massey Knakal, has not been made public, but the conclusions have been outlined in both a promotional brochure (excerpt at right) and public presentations by the New York City Regional Center (NYCRC), which is working with Forest City Ratner to raise $249 million from Chinese investors.

There's no demand for office space in Brooklyn. Manhattan already has an over-capacity of office space, plus an additional projected surplus, should the current office space now on the drawing board come to fruition.

B-1 requires both a boost in the economy and an anchor tenant. In November 2009, Forest City Ratner CEO Bruce Ratner asked Crain's rhetorically, “Can you tell me when we are going to need a new office tower?”

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Posted by eric at 5:21 PM

Are Atlantic Yards development rights offered to Chinese overvalued as collateral, or should the MTA have gotten double from FCR for railyard?

Part 5 of a series

Atlantic Yards Report

Did the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) get snookered last year when it agreed to renegotiate the deal with Forest City Ratner (FCR) for Vanderbilt Yard development rights, giving the developer more generous terms than in 2005 because of the weakened real estate market?

Or are prospective Chinese investors seeking green cards in exchange for parking $500,000 each in an Atlantic Yards-related investment pool being misled about the value of the development rights on the site used as collateral?

One or the other seems likely, because a new appraisal of development rights on the site is more than double the 2005 appraisal. That appraisal was never re-done and last year was seen by the MTA as overvaluing the site.

And both may be true--that public transit is losing out on tens of millions of dollars, and the potential investors are being offered a shakier deal than billed--if the real value is somewhere in the middle.

The two parcels do not fully overlap--the Vanderbilt Yard (8.5 acres) occupies the northern portion of the 22-acre site, while the collateral offered to the immigrant investors involves two development parcels on that northern portion and five on the southern segment.

However, the value per square foot of development rights should be fairly constant across the site. (Development costs, such as the cost of a platform for the railyard, would serve as downward adjustments, as described below.)

Value per square foot: $75 vs. $179

The MTA in 2005 appraised railyard development rights at $75 a square foot--and said in 2009 that it would be dangerous to get a new appraisal because land values had undoubtedly declined.

However, the NYCRC and its Chinese agents, promoting Atlantic Yards to immigrant investors under the EB-5 program, tout a new appraisal that calculates the value of the seven parcels at more than $179 a square foot.

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NoLandGrab: To be fair, the MTA's appraisal was just "some guy's idea of what it's worth."

Posted by eric at 5:12 PM

Wikileaks and the role of Documentary

rumur.com

Battle of Brooklyn filmmaker Michael Galinsky draws some parallels between the Wikileaks controversy and Atlantic Yards.

I’ve been pretty much ignoring the wikileaks mess because I know that if pay attention I’ll get infuriated. I understand that governments need a certain level of secrecy to function properly. So when I first heard about some of the diplomatic cables being released I cringed a little. In some ways these releases seem vindictive and counter productive in terms of bettering relations among nations. On the other hand, as a documentary filmmaker, working without support or credentials, my hackles are raised by the way Assange is being attacked by both governments and the media. Still, I tried to avoid paying attention because all of the focus on Assange takes away from the very legitimate concerns of those who want to hold governments and the military accountable when they cross the line. When soldiers accidentaly kill innocent people, even when following protocol, it’s important that we have the right to discuss it. Knowing that there are consequences for our actions gives us a reason to be more careful.

Last night, while going through footage for our current documentary, “Battle of Brooklyn” I came across the footage embedded below. The occasion was a hearing on the environmental impact statement about the Atlantic Yards project in 2006. This hearing was supposed to be an opportunity for community residents to air their concerns about the environmental impacts of the proposed project. I was filming the crowds outside the event when a publicist instructed me to head across the street to a press conference being given by the developer. I was extremely excited because I knew that I needed the developer’s point of view to keep my documentary balanced. some parallels between the Wikileaks controversy and Atlantic Yards.

I ran across the street and got set for the fun to begin. After about 10 seconds another publicist told me that I had to leave. I explained to this gentleman that his colleague had instructed me to come over, but as you can see in the footage he made it clear that the event was only for credentialed media. What made this particularly galling to me was that the publicity company organizing the event was owned - or at least previously owned - by documentary filmmaker Dan Klores.

There is no question that Mr. Klores is a very talented filmmaker, and I would hope that he understands how important the free flow of information is to telling even-handed, complex stories. I also understand that he now has very little to do with the day to day running of the organization that bears his name. Last year, while discussing a recent film on the radio, when questioned about the project, he made statements in support of it. While I believe that he has every right to support the project, I object to the fact that the company bearing his name worked diligently for 7 years years to obstruct the flow of useful information.

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NoLandGrab: Keep in mind that Forest City Ratner is the company that claims: "When it comes to sharing information with the public and governmental bodies, there’s no such thing as too much, as far as we are concerned."

Posted by eric at 4:57 PM

Times profile of Brett and Michael Yormark: in response to "opponents of the arena," twins "sniff at their critics"

Atlantic Yards Report

In an article headlined in print "Yormark Twins Put Their Marks on Nets and Panthers" and online as Twins that Look Alike, and Work Alike, the New York Times Sports section offers a predictable profile of uber-marketers Brett Yormark of the basketball Nets and Michael Yormark of the Florida Panthers hockey team.

(The article does come with an oddly dismaying photo of the twins at a Nets game, busy with their Blackberries, while Brett's children look off into the crowd.)
...

Meanwhile, reporter Ken Belson, practicing "he said, she said" journalism, doesn't try to evaluate what [Daniel] Goldstein said.

Yormark has moved the goalpoasts, as I described in a January 2009 post that weaved together several statements, embedded below.

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Posted by eric at 4:50 PM

Twins that Look Alike, and Work Alike

The New York Times
by Ken Belson

Must be a slow news day at The Times, which, almost inconceivably, spills yet more ink on Brett Yormark, CEO of the New York metro area's losingest pro sports team. And they toss in his brother as a bonus.

As salesmen, the identical twins talk relentlessly about the future, perhaps for good reason: The Nets won just 12 games last season, and the Panthers have not made the playoffs in a decade. They seem to relish the uphill battles, and they seem uninterested in joining big-name teams that would be easier to sell.

Big-name teams, which, no doubt, have not offered them jobs.

“We’ve both worked for franchises that are challenged, which breeds more creativity and competitiveness,” Brett said. “We’ve made the most of it.”

Detractors, including executives at rival clubs, contend that the Yormarks chase too many small deals. One sports consultant said last year that the Nets devalued their brand by giving away reversible jerseys with a Nets player on one side and stars like Kobe Bryant on the other side. Michael takes heat from Canadians opposed to any hockey team in Florida, while Brett has been criticized by opponents of the arena the Nets are building in Brooklyn.

“We, who have observed him, have learned not to take him at his word,” said Daniel Goldstein, a co-founder of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn. “He, along with other people involved with the Nets and the Brooklyn arena, have moved the goal posts numerous times.”

The Yormarks sniff at their critics. “There are benefits of working in nontraditional environments,” Michael said. “I like to wake up in the morning and be ultracreative. It’s forced us to diversify.”

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NoLandGrab: "Wake up in the morning?" Wait, we thought the Yormark boys went to bed in the morning and woke up in the evening on their way to working 36 hour days. Just ask them.

Posted by eric at 4:38 PM

2010 PHNDC Atlantic Yards Traffic Forum

threecee via flickr

Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council
December 8, 2010
P.S. 9
80 Underhill Avenue
Prospect Heights
Brooklyn, New York

link

Posted by eric at 4:30 PM

The Week Atlantic Yards Report Caused a Stir

Reports about Forest City Ratner's use of an immigration program to raise funding has also raised a few eyebrows.

Prospect Heights Patch
by Graydon Gordian

Norman Oder, ever-vigilant observer of the Atlantic Yards development, has created quite the buzz with his reports on Forest City Ratner's use of the EB-5 immigration program to raise money from Chinese investors interested in the Atlantic Yards project.

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NoLandGrab: Well, a bit of a buzz, which hasn't quite reached The New York Times yet, among other media outlets.

Posted by eric at 4:20 PM

A Musical Comedy About the Atlantic Yards Case? Yep. That’s New York For You.

Gideon's Trumpet

The New York Times reports that some creative folks in Brooklyn have produced a musical comedy about the Goldstein v. Pataki controversy, a.k.a. the Brooklyn Atlantic Yards redevelopment project in which the courts have permitted the taking and displacememt of a Brooklyn neighborhood in order to facilitate the plans of Bruce Ratner, a mega-developer. It’s called In the Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards. The inspiration for this musical was the eminent domain case in which the state agency (ESDC) took an entire Brooklyn neighborhood by eminent domain, displaced its occupants, and turned the land over to good ol’ Bruce so he can build a new stadium for the Nets so they can move from New Jersey to Brooklyn.

The plans for the project also include a whole bunch of high rises — all for Ratner’s private gain. That’s what is called “public use” in America, at least if you listen to the New York state and federal courts, and to the New York Times which has a conflict of interest because the midtown Manhattan building in which its operations are housed sits on land that was taken by eminent domain from its rightful owners, razed, and then turned over to — guess who? The selfsame Bruce Ratner who built a high rise buiding housing the Times. Surprise, surprise! What a coincidence. As for us, we call this sort of stuff kleptocracy.

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Posted by eric at 4:16 PM

Bing Pitches Greater Economic Impact Of Second Avenue Subway Construction

City Hall
by Edward-Isaac Dovere

In front of the Second Avenue entrance to Delizia Pizza on the Upper East Side was a crane and the camped materials of a continuous construction site underway. In front of the 92nd Street entrance to the table-service area was another unit, humming and blocking the view from the north. And inside was Assembly Member Jonathan Bing, his hands deep in dough and tomato sauce.

Bing made it through college and law school without having to spend a summer waiting tables, and his pizza experience before Wednesday night was limited to eating an occasional pepperoni slice. But he got behind the counter and pulled on a white T-shirt with a picture of a gondolier to make a point: in the three-and-a-half years since the most recent groundbreaking, one-fifth of the businesses along the construction for the line that will eventually run through his Upper East Side district have been forced to close, and he wants the state to do something about it.

If not, Bing said, the consequences will go far behind his district which is one of the most affluent in the state, but has so far not been provided with the special retail and residential protections granted at other major construction sites around the state, such as on the Far West Side or around the Atlantic Yards development.

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NoLandGrab: Special what? If by "special protections," Bing means having the state seize your home or business to hand it over to Bruce Ratner, then yes, he's correct.

Posted by eric at 7:57 AM

December 8, 2010

Forest City Enterprises reports third-quarter results; sale of Nets, smaller share of team losses help boost bottom line

Atlantic Yards Report

Forest City Enterprises announced, in a press release, Forest City Reports Fiscal 2010 Third-Quarter and Year-to-Date Results, results for the third-quarter that ended October 31, 2010.

This is the only reference to Atlantic Yards:

Work continues at the Barclays Center arena at Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, where vertical steel erection began in mid-November. Since the beginning of the third quarter, the Company, together with its partners, has continued to add to a growing list of premier corporate sponsors and further increase the level of contracted revenue for the arena.
...

For the third quarter, the "Nets provided a pre-tax EBDT increase of $10.4 million, compared with the same period in 2009, due to the decrease in Forest City's allocated share of team losses."

For the year to date, the increased EBDT was $31.4 million, "from the gain on disposition of a partial interest in the Nets."

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NoLandGrab: In other words, the Nets are Proko's problem now.

Posted by eric at 10:39 PM

Almost a Year since we asked for your help

Battle of Brooklyn via Kickstarter

It's hard to believe that it's been almost a year since we finished our kickstarter campaign, but it has.

Even before we asked for your help we had been editing for over a year and shooting for nearly 6 years. As you can imagine, with 6 years of footage we have spent a lot of time struggling with what's important enough to be in the film and what can litter the cutting room floor.

Over the last three months we have had a small screening in our house every 10 days to 2 weeks. It seems as if every week we take two steps forward and one step backwards. We shift some things, trim bits, and add new ideas. It flows better in some ways and worse in others. Steadily though, it has gotten sharper, more emotionally charged, and the information has become less overwhelming.

We hope to launch the film this spring. In the meantime, if you still can use a tax deduction this year- we could certainly use the help. You can make a tax deductible donation through our fiscal sponsor MPI.

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Posted by eric at 10:30 PM

LA Version Coming Soon

Curbed LA
by Neal Broverman

Speaking of eminent domain: The Architect's Newspaper reviews "In the Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards," a stage retelling of the epic Brooklyn development battle, a review which ends by pointing out how the unlucky Brooklyn Dodgers had a better shot at winning the World Series (there was a segue) than Atlantic Yards does at including affordable housing. Suggestion: a prequel on the building of Dodgers Stadium and Chavez Ravine?

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NoLandGrab: Yup, a land grab figured in the Dodgers' move to Los Angeles, too.

Posted by eric at 10:20 PM

Review> Ratner to Neighborhood: Drop Dead

The Architect's Newspaper
by David D'Arcy

The Civilians theater group performs In the Footprint: The Battle over Atlantic Yards in the Irondale Theater in the drafty, bare-boned auditorium of the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in Fort Greene, an old Sunday school space in a building from the 1860’s. It’s a world away from what’s proposed for 22 acres nearby.

On this stage, the Atlantic Yards Project is a stadium gambit imposed by a developer and his powerful allies that’s already displaced hundreds of people and won’t create many local jobs or affordable homes if it’s ever built. Written and directed by Steve Cosson, In the Footprint also faults local ministers, elected officials, and organizers as enablers of the project dividing potential local support that could have stopped it or at least made it more community-friendly.

In 90 minutes, it’s a distillation of the opponents’ side of the Atlantic Yards furor of a few months ago. The project has since been stalled by a New York State Supreme Court judge who ruled that the developer, Forest City Ratner tried to fast-track the environmental review process. There’s also doubt whether capital is available to make the deal sweet enough for Mikhail Prokhorov, the oligarch described as “Russia’s richest man” who now owns the New Jersey Nets. In the play, eminent domain to make way for private development is a lose-lose situation for locals—displacement whether the project goes up or not.

In the Footprint doesn’t give you all the facts, but it does pile on the emotions, as residents of the neighborhood where developers said “no one lived” scramble to save their homes from the 22-acre stadium project.

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NoLandGrab: Actually, the judge has not stayed construction of the arena, which is ongoing. A request for a stay is pending, and a hearing on the matter is scheduled for December 22nd.

Posted by eric at 10:08 PM

Anatomy of a Shady Deal: Norman Oder Takes A Close Look At Ratner's Quest for Money in China

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

While The New York Times publishes its third article about The Civilians' extraordinary production of "In The Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards" (and we congratulate The Civilians for this deserved accomplishment and the rave reviews the play has been receiving) Norman Oder has been running an extensive series on Bruce Ratner's shady cash for green cards scheme otherwise known as the EB-5 program. The Times has not once made mention of this highly questionable use of the little-known immigration program.
...

It is a complicated issue which boils down to this: The Ratner crew and its public and private enablers are gaming this federal EB-5 immigration program by making stuff up, deceiving potential Chinese investors, double counting and wildly exaggerating job numbers all to pump up the developer's bottom line rather than benefit the public.

In other words: The usual, only overseas.

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Posted by eric at 10:02 PM

Pitching potential EB-5 investors, Markowitz shills on video ("BK is 1000% behind AY"); ESDC's Davidson stretches jobs claim; Bloomberg misleads

Part 4 of a series

Atlantic Yards Report

The New York City Regional Center's (NYCRC) misleading effort, in partnership with developer Forest City Ratner, to market the "Brooklyn Arena and Infrastructure Project" to Chinese investors seeking green cards, relies significantly on statements from public officials aimed at bolstering investor confidence.

Thus, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Empire State Development Corporation President Peter Davidson, and New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, on video and in person, have promoted the project to potential investors in misleading and even ridiculously dishonest ways.

The statements, which praise the overall Atlantic Yards project rather than the Brooklyn Arena and Infrastructure Project at hand, may distract potential investors from due diligence, despite reasons to question the job creation claims and the solidity of the investment.

Thus, the three officials help convince potential investors to commit their $500,000 to the project, benefiting Forest City Ratner and the New York City Regional Center but not necessarily the public: the loan process could delay the Atlantic Yards arena block another seven years and otherwise reduce public benefits.

Misleading the audience

Markowitz claimed that Brooklyn is "1000 percent" behind Atlantic Yards.

No way.

Davidson asserted that Atlantic Yards "will be the largest job-creating project in New York City in the last 20 years.”

Unbelievable.

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NoLandGrab: Hey, that's only fair — why should Chinese investors get the truth when we've been getting lie after lie for the past seven years?

Posted by eric at 11:12 AM

In effort to get Supreme Court to hear Columbia eminent domain case, AY precedent and New York practices seen as outliers favoring condemnors

Atlantic Yards Report

The Columbia University expansion case should reach a reckoning this week at the U.S. Supreme Court, which, if in the unlikely case it accepts the appeal, could place a check on eminent domain as practiced in New York State.

As I wrote in September, after seeing a surprising Appellate Division victory overturned unanimously by the state Court of Appeals, which relied on its Atlantic Yards decision, Tuck-It-Away owner Nick Sprayregen and the Kaur/Singh family are trying to get to the Supreme Court.

On his Inverse Condemnation blog, land use attorney Robert Thomas has posted the entire set of briefs in the petition for certiorari (Tuck-It-Away, Inc. v. New York State Urban Dev. Corp.) at the United States Supreme Court.

Will cert be granted?

The justices will meet December 10 to consider a number of cases and are expected to announce December 13 which cases they will accept (aka "grant certiorari").

It's always a long shot to get a case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Plaintiffs in the federal Atlantic Yards eminent domain case were rejected in June 2008, though one justice, the conservative Samuel Alito stated that he would've granted the petition.

As I wrote at the time, a decision to reject does not mean that the cases below were decided correctly, just that the appeal didn't present enough issues of law--conflicts in the interpretation of the Supreme Court's highly contested 6/23/05 Kelo v. New London decision--to merit review.

However, with some two-and-a-half years for additional cases that seemingly clash with Kelo to emerge, the petitioners in the Columbia case have a somewhat better shot.

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Posted by eric at 10:44 AM

Bruce Ratner Seducing Atlantic Yards Investors With Green Cards

New York Magazine

Norman Oder recently began his sixth year of reporting on the Atlantic Yards saga at his website, Atlantic Yards Report, and his best work may have just begun. This week he’s posted a fascinating series of stories about how developer Bruce Ratner, the city, and the state are dangling green cards in front of Chinese investors in order to lower Ratner’s funding costs and save him an estimated minimum of $191 million. The pieces are long and dense — though the sight of former Net Daryl “Chocolate Thunder” Dawkins signing autographs in Guangzho is entertaining — but they contain a bunch of intriguing and maddening insights, including how the deadline for building the first phase of the behemoth arena-and-skyscraper project may have been quietly extended to 2029, which could further stall the purported “community benefit” from subsidized housing. The green-card scheme, while apparently legal, is borderline sleazy; it’s supposed to swap immigration help for the creation of American jobs, but the economic worth of the program is highly dubious. But a Brooklyn NBA team owned by a Russian billionaire playing in a tax-break-larded arena surrounded by Chinese-backed buildings … hey, only in America, as the great hustler Don King would say.

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Related coverage...

The Sports ITeam Blog [NY Daily News], Shady dealings surround Atlantic Yards project

Atlantic Yards Report blogger Norman Oder has posted "Anatomy of a Shady Deal," an exhaustive series that looks at Forest City Ratner and the EB-5 program, the federal program that provides green cards to foreign investors to obtain no-interest loans for its massive Atlantic Yards project.
...

Oder notes that the pitch aimed at potential investors in China is questionable. The Barclays Center, the future home of the Nets, is featured in materials provided to the potential investors even though it is already funded. The chance of not getting the green cards is dismissed, and the risk of the investment is downplayed.
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The Daily News reported in October that the Empire State Development Corporation doesn't expect money raised through the EB-5 program to create any new jobs beyond those already forecast for the $4.9 billion project.

Posted by eric at 10:35 AM

Property: The Musical

PropertyProf Blog
by Steve Clowney

There is a property-themed musical. It centers on eminent domain issues. It is getting good reviews from the likes of the New York Times.
...

Christmas has come early my friends. Yes it has.

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Posted by eric at 10:32 AM

A theater critic lectures The Civilians on journalism regarding "In the Footprint." He has a point. Maybe the Times should follow it, too.

Atlantic Yards Report

As per normal, Norman Oder covers a story with a bit more nuance than we do.

This is kind of rich: New York Times theater critic Jason Zinoman pens a Critic's Notebook column for tomorrow's paper, When News Events Are Retold Onstage, raising (reasonable) questions about the balance in The Civilians' IN THE FOOTPRINT: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards, then lectures solemnly about the value to a documentary theater company of "the rules taught in journalism school."

Well, if the New York Times were following "the rules taught in journalism school," it might be giving paying attention to stories like state Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman's decision last month rebuking the Empire State Development Corporation for "what appears to be yet another failure of transparency" regarding Atlantic Yards.

Instead, we got a blog post a day later.

If the Times were doing its job, we might see some coverage of Forest City Ratner's attempt to save some $191 million--a conservative estimate-- by marketing green cards to Chinese millionaires enticed to invest in an arena that doesn't need funding.

If the Times were doing its job, we might have seen a dollop of skepticism in the Times Magazine 10/31/10 cover story lionizing Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, the new Nets owner.

Instead, in the last month, we've seen two feature articles and a review regarding The Civilians, as if Atlantic Yards is ovah, history, an arts story. Nah.

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NoLandGrab: Oder also points out that The Times barely covered, and only belatedly, Forest City Ratner's $1.5 million bailout of ACORN — something In the Footprint skips over, too.

Posted by eric at 10:18 AM

When News Events Are Retold Onstage

The New York Times
by Jason Zinoman

The Times, which has failed in its coverage of Atlantic Yards in so many ways, thinks The Civilians should be more "balanced" in their staging of In the Footprint. Say what?

If the company uses tools of journalism and benefits from the authority of real reporting, does it have an increased responsibility to journalistic standards? Is it enough to aim for the essence of truth, or should its artists also be concerned about conflicts of interest or that famously elusive virtue, balance?
...

In reviving the debates over a plan to reconfigure 22 acres of urban landscape in Brooklyn, displacing residents and small businesses in the process, “In the Footprint” expresses a range of viewpoints, but make no mistake: the way its material is edited, expressed and contextualized belies a passionate perspective.

“In my work, I don’t think about balance,” Steve Cosson, who wrote and directed “In the Footprint,” said in an interview. “I think more about conflict. To have a good conflict in a real-life story, the opposing perspective needs to be equally strong. I try to make that conflict as difficult to solve as it is in real life.”

Judged by these standards, the show succeeds much more often than most examples of its genre, but not as much as it could. The arguments by those opposed to the Atlantic Yards are more fleshed out than those in support of the project, partly because they are based on actual interviews, while major players on the other side, like the developer Bruce Ratner and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, did not agree to talk. Their lines were taken from public events, making them seem remote. Instead of being played by actors, they are represented by symbolic props. (Mr. Bloomberg is an empty suit.) In a show that humanizes a wide range of real people, they are figures from a morality tale.

Atlantic Yards supporters generally come off as defensive, while the opponents are reasonable and endearingly ordinary.

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NoLandGrab: Gee, could that possibly be because we're right, and they're all in on the fix? Get back to us when you run a story on Bruce's magical mystery EB-5 China tour.

Posted by eric at 10:09 AM

Corrections

The New York Times

The Arts

A theater review on Nov. 24 about “In the Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards” misstated the name of the rail yards that the Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn is to be built over, in part, and also referred incorrectly to them. They are the Vanderbilt Yards, not the Atlantic Yards, and they are still used by the Long Island Rail Road. They have not been abandoned.

A listing of credits with the review misspelled the surname of an opponent of the project who is played by Colleen Werthmann. As the review noted, she is Patti Hagan, not Hagen. (Go to Article)

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NoLandGrab: There, New York Times. Doesn't that feel better?

Posted by eric at 10:02 AM

December 7, 2010

As FCR pitches Chinese investors seeking green cards, ESDC admits EB-5 arena funds not needed; is this legit if money's supposed to create jobs?

Part 3 of a series

Atlantic Yards Report

Nearly 500 Chinese millionaires, hoping for green cards and starry-eyed at the thought of pro basketball, may hold the key to developer Forest City Ratner's (FCR) progress with the Atlantic Yards project. Potential investors have been attending investment seminars in China like the one October 19 (promoted below); such sessions continue through December 19.

However, as detailed below, the effort to raise $249 million tests the spirit and perhaps the letter of an obscure but newly popular federal law that grants fast-track green cards in exchange for job-creating investments.

Rather than use investors' money as seed money or matching funds, as in some other EB-5 projects, it seems that Forest City Ratner would in large part simply be trading higher-cost financing for a no-interest loan.

Thus, it wouldn't create new jobs, even if it may fit within the loose strictures of the federal law, in which the total sum of money must generate 4980 jobs, ten per investor.

Should such tactics--essentially endorsed by the state, city, and Borough President, who have joined in project promotion--pass muster, they invite an absurd process: any developer might save hundreds of millions of dollars, substituting cheaper capital for existing capital, claiming it creates jobs because it's tied to a project with existing, committed investment.

That would help monopolize a limited federal resource--visas for job creation--while skirting the goals of the immigration program.

The "Brooklyn Arena and Infrastructure Project," a $1.448 billion subset--the arena, plus infrastructure and a new railyard--of the $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards project, has never been approved by any official body nor previously announced before the effort to solicit immigrant investors.

It is apparently formulated to generate--at least on paper--the necessary number of jobs.

It prominently features the Barclays Center arena, as in the graphics above and below, but the pitch involves some dodges:

  • the arena, though the prime attraction, is already funded
  • the role of government is exaggerated
  • the chance of not getting green cards is dismissed
  • the risk regarding the investment is downplayed

And the public officials promoting the effort may be helping Forest City Ratner above all else.

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Posted by eric at 11:27 AM

Atlantic Yards Traffic Forum in PH; 12/8; PS9; 7:30PM

team tish

Join Council Member Letitia James, Assembly Member Hakeem Jeffries, and the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council at their Atlantic Yards traffic forum at PS9 in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.

WHEN: Wednesday, December 8, 2010
7:30- 9:00PM
WHERE: PS9, 80 Underhill Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11238

The Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council presents a forum on traffic and transit issues raised by Atlantic Yards construction and the planned opening of the Barclays Center in 2012.

  • What impacts are already being felt?
  • What is coming from the arena and future construction?
  • What does the recent court decision mean to the community?
  • What can we do now?

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Posted by eric at 11:22 AM

New York's 15 Biggest Real Estate Machers of the Year

NY Observer

The Observer is wild about Bruce — and his newest edifice.

#3. Bruce Ratner

It has been a banner year for the Brooklyn-based developer. He finally broke ground on the new Nets arena, and while a long haul remains ahead to find financing for the rest of Atlantic Yards, Ratner can take solace in the completion of his Beekman Tower, one of the best buildings of the year.

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New York's Most Eye-Popping New Buildings of the Year

#1. 8 Spruce Street, Frank Gehry

New York finally has the Frank Gehry building it has been hungering for for years. We missed out on the Times Building, the East River Guggenheim and Atlantic Yards, and the IAC Building is meh. This tower, soon to be the city's tallest residence, makes it plain why Gehry is the world's most famous living architect. While the rentals at 8 Spruce Street will not open until early next year, this building came into its own in 2010, as an underwhelming concrete frame was transformed by those rippling steel panels. The curtain wall has been pulled back and a masterpiece revealed.

Posted by eric at 11:04 AM

A real low ‘Budget’ crime

The Brooklyn Paper
by Thomas Tracy

The "door buster" specials continued last week at Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Center mall.

No shrimp

A 46-year-old man was arrested on Dec. 1 after he bowled over a security guard trying to stop him from swiping a bag of shrimp from the Pathmark in the crime-riddled Atlantic Center Mall.

The thief was trying to leave the store between Hanson Place and Atlantic Avenue at 6 pm when the guard blocked the exit.

The thief shoved the guard aside, knocking the supermarket sentry to the ground — but he didn’t get far: Cops caught up with the shrimp stealer a short time later, charging him with robbery.

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Posted by eric at 10:48 AM

Feds Eye Nick Spano Court Appointments

Rising Times

A report on a White Plains political-corruption case that might have longer tentacles touches upon Forest City's Ridge Hill project.

The Ridge Hill portion of the Feds case is still unknown, with the big question being, who put Zehy Jereis in touch with developers Forest City Ratner. Jereis ended up getting a $60,000 consulting contract from Ratner. The feds allege that Jereis got the contract in exchange for Councilwoman Sandy Annabi changing her vote.

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Posted by eric at 10:34 AM

December 6, 2010

Institute for Justice Press Release: U.S. Supreme Court Decides Whether to Hear New York Eminent Domain Abuse Case

On Friday, December 10, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to decide whether to take Nick Sprayregen’s appeal and protect his family’s property. You have probably never heard of Nick Sprayregen, but his legal challenge has the potential to impact the lives of ordinary Americans more than most cases seeking U.S. Supreme Court consideration.

It is exactly because he is such an ordinary American that his experience should be taken to heart, because unless the U.S. Supreme Court takes some specific action on his behalf and stops the actions of a politically powerful private interest, the fate of his family business could be the fate of your home, your family business or any other property you and your family own.

Even though Nick worked hard his whole life, he now stands to lose what is rightfully his because of government’s use of eminent domain for someone else’s private gain.

The politicians and judges in New York, where he lives, have turned their backs on his constitutional rights. Now, the fate of his property and his family’s future lies in the hands of the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. If they do not take his case and reject their infamous Kelo ruling from five years ago, Nick Sprayregen will be the latest American to lose his private property and constitutional rights, but he won’t be the last.

In 1980, Nick’s father created a self-storage business in West Harlem called Tuck-it-Away. Self-storage back then was a new idea in the region and their business thrived. Nick joined the family business, ultimately taking it over after his father retired and expanding it to more than a dozen locations beyond their West Harlem headquarters. For Nick, his business represents a secure little corner of the world that is his own—a hard-earned possession he hopes some day to pass on to his children.

In 2004, however, his American Dream started to turn into an American nightmare. Columbia University—a private institution—began its efforts to expand its research facilities—which generate millions of dollars in private profits for the school each year. Columbia has convinced the Empire State Development Corporation to help it expand the private university’s facilities onto the very land where Nick’s business now stands. While New York’s Appellate Division invalidated the taking on the grounds that it (and the “blight” designation it was based on) was nothing more than a land-grab designed to advance Columbia’s private interests, the Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court) reversed that decision, holding that the state’s courts were not allowed to second-guess the government’s decision to seize private property.

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Posted by eric at 10:30 PM

Dec. 9th: "In The Footprint" Performance to Benefit DDDB Legal Fund

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

This Thursday night, December 9th, at 8pm join DDDB for a special benefit performance of The Civilians' extraordinary "In the Footprint", to help support the DDDB legal fund (please see the item below regarding that legal fight).

Just follow this link and enter the promotional code "DDDB" to purchase your tickets.
The benefit ticket is just $5 more than the regular price, but half of the promotional ticket price will go towards DDDB's legal fund. Please note that if you want to see the play and cannot make it to the December 9th performance, the Fort Greene world premiere run ends on December 11th (see calendar here.)

DDDB's co-founder Daniel Goldstein will join Stacey Sutton, Urban Planning Professor at Columbia's Architecture Grad Department, after the performance to discuss the issues raised in the play with, and take questions from, the audience.

link

Posted by eric at 9:47 PM

Join BrooklynSpeaks for The Civilians’ 'In the Footprint'!

BrooklynSpeaks

If you want to have a great night at the theater, hear the latest in the fight for public engagement on Atlantic Yards, and help the cause all at the same time, join BrooklynSpeaks for

a special benefit performance of

In the Footprint

Monday, December 6
7:00PM
The Irondale Center
85 South Oxford Street, Brooklyn

Click here for tickets and enter code “FUTURE”!
...

A portion of the ticket cost will support continuing legal action challenging the Atlantic Yards development process.

link

Posted by eric at 12:58 PM

The Eyesore of the Month

Kuntsler.com

Architectural Abortions from the USA and Around the World
(And Sometimes Other Miscellany Infecting the Landscape)

December 2010

Unsustainability foe James Howard Kunstler is apparently becoming a big fan of the Bruce Ratner oeuvre.

Presenting the new Frank Gehry-designed extravaganza, No. 8 Spruce Street (a.k.a. The Beekman) in lower Manhattan, 76 stories and more than a million square feet of luxury apartments – with a school and a hospital on the lower floors. "It's stupid how good it is!" the architect crowed to The New York Observer. Well, I agree with the first part of that sentence. He probably thinks it's a "green" building, too. What it actually is is a declension of floor plates that produce a whopping fee through sheer repetition, and yet another instantly obsolete tall building that will never be renovated, to clutter up the already skyscraper-plagued island at the center of New York City. The dents running up the building's exterior are a cute touch accomplished with Mr. Gehry's proprietary computer-aided-design (CAD) program. Gosh, does that make the building look special! What the building actually conveys most vividly is the despotic narcissism of celebtriy architecture.

My guess is that the developer, Bruce Ratner, will fall short of selling enough units in this monstrosity to avoid foreclosure. It's the economy, stupid!

link

Photo: Jonas Maciunas, Hartford, CT

Posted by eric at 9:53 AM

The savings on the $249 million no-interest loan sought by Forest City Ratner? Likely $191 million (at least) to $314 million over seven years

Part 2 of a series

Atlantic Yards Report

On October 11, I did some very imprecise math, trying to estimate the savings on a $249 million no-interest loan that Forest City Ratner seeks from immigrant investors under the EB-5 program, which trades green cards for supposedly job-creating investments.

I estimated the developer would save nearly $100 million over five years. Actually, the savings would likely be double that, at least, so it's no wonder the developer is pushing very hard to get this deal done.

My estimate needs an update because the loan could last seven years, not five, according to a Recognition Agreement signed by the state; the impact of compounding was not calculated; and a wider range of interest rates should be considered.

Savings: likely $191 million (at least)

A reader more versed in finance has produced the charts below. (Click to enlarge.) The bottom line: over seven years, at a conservative 8.3% interest rate, Forest City Ratner could save nearly $191 million.

At a somewhat more likely 10% interest rate, FCR could save $244 million--nearly the value of the loan.

At the plausible interest rate of 12%, the developer could save $314 million.

article

NoLandGrab: Did we mention that this series is a must-read?

Posted by eric at 9:12 AM

Arena block could take 19 years, as ESDC grants seven-year extension, enabling FCR's plan to recruit Chinese investors under EB-5 program

Part 1 of a series

Atlantic Yards Report

The effort by the New York City Regional Center (NYCRC), the private investment pool federally authorized to accept immigrant investor funds, and developer Forest City Ratner (FCR) to raise $249 million from 498 Chinese millionaires under the EB-5 immigration program may be legal, but there is ample reason to question whether it will serve the public interest. I called it "the most audacious quest for government assistance" in the Atlantic Yards saga.

Here's brief and extensive background on the "Brooklyn Arena and Infrastructure Project," an ad hoc name for the project as presented to immigrant investors. FCR likely would save at least $191 million with a no-interest loan, while the NYCRC, along with immigration attorneys, would reap substantial fees. Additional coverage will include the marketing effort in China, the role of public officials, and the collateral at issue.

The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), the state agency with oversight over Atlantic Yards, has again extended the deadlines to get the project built, allowing seven additional years for Phase 1.

Why? Because Forest City Ratner wants a valuable, no-interest loan from immigrant investors looking for green cards.

The beneficiaries? The developer, and the Chinese investors who might end up owning nearly half of the non-arena project site, development rights to seven of 16 towers, as shown in the screenshot below right.

The losers? The public, since expected project benefits such as affordable housing and new tax revenues could be delayed, while burdens like an interim surface parking lot could be extended.

Under the scenario--in a Recognition Agreement for the loan approved by ESDC staff, with no need for board action--the 12-year timetable for Phase 1 would be suspended for seven years.

Thus, the minimum square footage required for Phase 1 could take 19 years, nearly twice as long as the entire project was supposed to take.

Is such a delay likely? We can't be sure, but considering the extensive provisions documented in case Forest City Ratner defaults on the loan, the state and the developer seem to take a default scenario seriously.

Indeed, the scenario casts huge doubts on FCR's public rhetoric, via executive MaryAnne Gilmartin (video below) that it is "100 percent committed to delivering the Atlantic Yards project and all of its benefits to the borough of Brooklyn."

And it suggests that the ESDC, rather than protecting the public interest, is more concerned with saving the developer money.

article

Posted by eric at 9:04 AM

On the web, a ‘Nyet’ gain for Prokhorov

The Brooklyn Paper
by Gary Buiso

Who says there’s no “I” in team?

Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov put a cyber-stamp on his New Jersey Nets this week, launching a “team” website in his native tongue — but the site also heavily promotes the owner and his business ventures back in the Motherland.
...

The fledgling website offers articles, interviews, schedule photos and video and ticket information. It does not reveal the current NBA standings, where the Nets are 6–15, good enough for the third-worst record in the league.

The current on-court struggles follow last season’s debacle, when the Nets lost a franchise high 70 games — but on the Russian-language website, the Nets are a league leader (albeit as one of the “most-socially savvy teams” in culling new fans through Facebook and Twitter).

Not these "fans," apparently.

In the borough’s southern Brooklyn Russian enclaves, basketball fans said the website is hardly a slam-dunk.

“I love basketball, but I won’t go on the site just because the team owner is Russian,” said Raisa Chernina, a Sheepshead Bay resident who heads the Be Proud Foundation, a Russian-American advocacy group.
...

And a Russian-language website is not something Brooklyn’s Russians immigrants even need, said Lena Makhnin, executive director of Brighton Beach Business Improvement District.

article

NoLandGrab: See it for yourself — NetsRussia.com.

Posted by eric at 8:51 AM

The Week The Neighborhood Saw In the Footprints

Writers around Brooklyn reacted to a new play by The Civilians.

Prospect Heights Patch
by Graydon Gordian

Prospect Heights Patch's Rachel Merrill Moss enjoyed watching The Civilians new theatrical analysis of the Atlantic Yards saga, In the Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards. Apparently, she wasn't the only one. Writers around brooklyn are talking about the innovative new production, that combines reporting, acting and song.

link

Posted by eric at 8:48 AM

Vote Could Mark End of Long Quest for Project

The Wall Street Journal
by Eliot Brown

Extell Development, which offered the MTA more money for the Vanderbilt Yard than Forest City Ratner did, but lost the bidding anyway, is hoping to start a big Manhattan project soon.

After years of planning and public tussle with the Upper West Side community, a giant set of apartment towers planned to rise by 59th Street and the West Side Highway is nearing approval from the City Council.

But between now and then, key issues need to be resolved between the developer, Extell Development, and the community. While the size of the project is likely to be close to what Extell wants, the two sides are still debating the amenities that Extell will put into the neighborhood like a school and park.
...

One of the largest privately-held development sites in Manhattan, the project marks the latest of a string of multi-thousand-apartment megaprojects planned in recent years to seek public approvals.

Those projects, including Atlantic Yards, the West Side rail yards, the development of a former Con Edison site on the East Side, and the conversion of the Domino Sugar factory in Brooklyn, all have yet to start construction of the housing.

article

NoLandGrab: Better change that slogan to "Hoops, Jobs & Housing."

Posted by eric at 8:32 AM

December 5, 2010

Frank Gehry and a West Coast patron make up. Sound familiar?

Atlantic Yards Report

Connie Bruck's New Yorker profile this week, The Art of the Billionaire: How Eli Broad took over Los Angeles, contains several mentions of architect Frank Gehry and his "bitter history" with the headstrong Broad, including over the Disney Hall plan Broad wanted to dilute.

Bruck writes:

Some weeks before the opening, Broad invited about seventy people to a private celebration on the stage at Disney Hall. Gehry told me that his wife, Berta, had persuaded him to make peace with Broad. "Frank knew there was hardly a commission in L.A. he might want in which Eli wouldn't have some role," a close friend of Gehry's told me. Gehry gave Broad a rendering of Disney Hall, signed, "For Eli Broad, our visionary genius, with love, Frank Gehry '97." Gehry recalls rising to toast him. "All of you have heard about the problems Eli and I had, but look at what we made. We're both control freaks of different types and we collided."

Broad got up. "All I want to say is Frank was right."

Such unsurprising pragmatism from Gehry recalls somewhat his consistently positive statements about his friend and client Bruce Ratner, who bounced him from the Atlantic Yards but kept on the Beekman Tower.

link

Posted by steve at 9:13 AM

The worth of Wall Street, Goldman Sachs, and the arena bonds

Atlantic Yards Report

John Cassidy's much-remarked 11/29/10 New Yorker article, What Good Is Wall Street? Much of what investment bankers do is socially worthless, is worth a look:

In effect, many of the big banks have turned themselves from businesses whose profits rose and fell with the capital-raising needs of their clients into immense trading houses whose fortunes depend on their ability to exploit day-to-day movements in the markets. Because trading has become so central to their business, the big banks are forever trying to invent new financial products that they can sell but that their competitors, at least for the moment, cannot. Some recent innovations, such as tradable pollution rights and catastrophe bonds, have provided a public benefit. But it’s easy to point to other innovations that serve little purpose or that blew up and caused a lot of collateral damage, such as auction-rate securities and collateralized debt obligations. Testifying earlier this year before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, said that financial innovation “isn’t always a good thing,” adding that some innovations amplify risk and others are used primarily “to take unfair advantage rather than create a more efficient market.”

What does the tax-exempt bond issuance for the Atlantic Yards arena do? It allows the developer to save money, for New York state to poach local taxes from New Jersey, and represents a subsidy of perhaps $150 million from federal taxpayers.

Social purpose?

"Useless activity"

Cassidy writes:

Other regulators have gone further. Lord Adair Turner, the chairman of Britain’s top financial watchdog, the Financial Services Authority, has described much of what happens on Wall Street and in other financial centers as “socially useless activity”—a comment that suggests it could be eliminated without doing any damage to the economy. In a recent article titled “What Do Banks Do?,” which appeared in a collection of essays devoted to the future of finance, Turner pointed out that although certain financial activities were genuinely valuable, others generated revenues and profits without delivering anything of real worth—payments that economists refer to as rents. “It is possible for financial activity to extract rents from the real economy rather than to deliver economic value,” Turner wrote. “Financial innovation . . . may in some ways and under some circumstances foster economic value creation, but that needs to be illustrated at the level of specific effects: it cannot be asserted a priori.”

Turner’s viewpoint caused consternation in the City of London, the world’s largest financial market. A clear implication of his argument is that many people in the City and on Wall Street are the financial equivalent of slumlords or toll collectors in pin-striped suits. If they retired to their beach houses en masse, the rest of the economy would be fine, or perhaps even healthier.

What would Forest City Ratner have to have done? Paid for the arena itself.

...

As I wrote 1/25/10, there's much momentum for deals like the $511 million arena bond issuance because all parties involved get paid. As part of the Atlantic Yards master closing documents, there's a list of the funds paid various participants in the transaction...As I wrote 1/25/10, there's much momentum for deals like the $511 million arena bond issuance because all parties involved get paid. As part of the Atlantic Yards master closing documents, there's a list of the funds paid various participants in the transaction...

Mintz Levin, the bond counsel, earned $2,726,633
Fried Frank, the counsel to Forest City Ratner, earned $626,684
Nixon Peabody, the counsel to the underwriters (Goldman Sachs), earned $2,325,000
Ratings agency Moody's earned $360,000
Ratings agency Standard & Poor's earned $388,080
Auditor Price Watershouse earned $60,000
Printer Bowne & Co. earned $76,618.63

Goldman Sachs presumably earned much, much more.

link

Posted by steve at 9:02 AM

December 4, 2010

At MetroTech tree lighting, Ratner, Markowitz, and a few pols; the crowd does not seem particularly enthused about the Brooklyn Nets

Atlantic Yards Report

There's a kind of efficiency in seeing much of the crew who think that the only way to improve a Brooklyn neighborhood is to destroy it while at the same time you get a dose of holiday cheer. That's life in Brooklyn in 2010.

On Tuesday, November 30, I headed over to MetroTech for the annual tree-lighting ceremony and some curiosity about just what developer Bruce Ratner and Borough President Marty Markowitz might say, and who else would show up.

Once again, no elected officials from Downtown Brooklyn and adjacent districts showed up.

In contrast with the event two years ago, which featured representatives of four Community Benefits Agreement signatories, this year's event featured representatives of just one, Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development (BUILD).

And Markowitz, though doing his very best to incite kids in the audience to get jazzed about the coming of the Brooklyn Nets (thanks to "Cousin Brucie"), generated a tepid reaction. Atlantic Yards backers will have to do a bunch more marketing to get the borough primed.

Who was there

Elected officials present were:

  • City Council Members Darlene Mealy (whose 41st District includes parts of Bedford Stuyvesant, Ocean Hill-Brownsville, East Flatbush)
  • Mathieu Eugene (whose 40th District includes Kensington, Prospect-Lefferts, Ditmas Park; parts of Crown Heights, Flatbush, East Flatbush)
  • Lew Fidler (whose 46th District includes Bergen Beach, Canarsie, Georgetowne, Starrett City, Flatlands, Futurama, Marine Park, Mill Basin, Mill Island, Gerritsen Beach, Madison and Sheepshead Bay)
  • State Senator Marty Golden (whose 22nd District ranges from Bay Ridge to Gerritsen Beach).

link

Posted by steve at 8:13 AM

An Arena Grows In Brooklyn ~ December 2010

Brooklyn Trolley Blogger

This latest look at the BARCLAYS CENTER construction site is as-of December 2, 2010. The arena is finally taking form.

...

Future home of Professional Basketball in Brooklyn.

link

NoLandGrab: Atlantic Yards will also be a permanent symbol of bad urban planning and corruption.

Posted by steve at 8:06 AM

The Marty Markowitz Memorial Parking Lot

The Huffington Post
By Jimmy Askew

Here is a suggestion that credit be given where credit is due.

But let's not kid ourselves. The fix is in and Prospect Heights is stuck with this vibrant use of public space: a parking lot. Markowitz has been a big booster of this white elephant of a project for years now. He's attacked opponents in the press, argued that this kind of out of scale development is what Brooklyn needs, and generally been obstinate. So I suggest we make sure his legacy is remembered, and name this the Marty Markowitz Memorial Parking Lot. That way, when future generations wonder why there's a city block used as a parking lot instead of for a park or for housing, and why the traffic along Atlantic Avenue and in Prospect Heights is so miserable, they can remember: this was the man that helped make it happen. When, in 50 years, our children wonder why we tore down a neighborhood just as it was revitalizing itself and built it over with a vacant lot, they'll know that the foresight was vested in wise men like Marty. When the New York (not Brooklyn) Nets eventually abandon the Barclay Center for another location that offers them even more taxpayer money (long after FCR and ESDC abandon their plans to build the rest of the project, no doubt), at least Marty's name will live on in a useless lot that exemplifies the kind of urban blight that this project was supposed to alleviate.

link

Posted by steve at 7:42 AM

The Hipsters Hoop Dream Holiday Wish List

Global Grind

Here is a rather distorted history of the Atlantic Yards fight. The point this blogger seems to be making is that it's okay to support eminent domain abuse and the destruction of a neighborhood for the benefit of a well-connected developer because hipsters from Williamsburg don't.

In 2004, as northern-Jersey residents were first witnessing the imminent departure of their beloved New Jersey Nets, a new wave of immigrants descended upon a forgotten industrial neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Unlike the figures depicted in turn of the century photographs of Ellis Island, these people came not with cradled babies, nor brimming with the hopes of a life free of oppression in America's welcoming arms but, rather; they came wielding wi-fi capable laptops and the common dream of establishing an artistic community. Beatnik novels and little Ivy degrees in tow, the hipsters planted their flag in Williamsburg.

...

By 2009, the Nets franchise became the joint property of Bruce Ratner (the Iago of Prospect Heights), Mikhail Prokhorov (Russia's steelier version of Richard Branson) and Jay-Z (the fella who makes a Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can) and the team was set to move to Brooklyn. Jersey residents lamented as Brooklynites old and new rejoiced.

Of course, as it goes when a birthday cake is cut at an office party, there was just not enough to go around. Once the announcement was made that the team would play its home games in the brand-spankin' new Barclays Center in Atlantic Yards, the Williamsburg militia, armed with Facebook statuses, blogs and Flickr accounts let their voices be heard.

link

NoLandGrab: It's good that anyone opposes corruption, no matter if he's a blogger who's lived in the neighborhood for 25 years or someone who just arrived yesterday.

Posted by steve at 7:31 AM

December 3, 2010

Carlton Bridge demo 12-2-10

raulism via YouTube

Wow! Bruce Ratner is finally getting around to finishing the demolition of the Carlton Avenue bridge — almost a year after he was supposed to be finished rebuilding it!

link

Related coverage...

raulistic via flickr, Carlton Demo 12-2-10

More of raulistic's Atlantic Yards construction videos...

Walking Vanderbilt railyards

AY Construction 12-2-10

AY workers & girders 12-2-10

Posted by eric at 10:28 AM

The "Brooklyn buy-in" for the Aqueduct "racino" involves the Darman Group and the state minority contractors' group (and Forest City, tangentially)

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder looks at the sleazy shenanigans behind the Aqueduct "racino" bidding.

As I wrote November 29, Forest City Ratner continues to rely significantly on The Darman Group, a firm run by Darryl Greene, which was unfit to participate in a bid for the Aqueduct "racino" because of Greene's criminal record.

Indeed, in the past two years, Greene's firm has expanded beyond its Queens office, as indicated in the screenshot below, to Brooklyn and Philadelphia.

The Brooklyn office is at 182 Duffield Street, a row house adjacent to the MetroTech development, which is owned by Forest City Ratner's First New York Management division.

(Photos by Jonathan Barkey)

The IG's Aqueduct report

Greene and his firm came in for some tough treatment in the state Inspector General's 10/21/10 report that criticized the Governor’s Office and state Legislative leaders for failing to fulfill their public duty in the January 2010 selection of Aqueduct Entertainment Group (AEG) to operate Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs) at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. (Full report here.)

According to the IG, AEG should have been disregarded at the start, and that the chaotic process resulting in AEG’s multi-billion dollar award was a “political free-for-all” marked by unfair advantages and more than $100,000 in campaign donations.

The report has been forwarded to United States Attorney Preet Bharara and New York County District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., for appropriate action and referring Senators John Sampson and Malcolm Smith (Greene's former partner) and Senate Secretary Angelo Aponte to the Legislative Ethics Commission.

article

NoLandGrab: Surely Governor-elect Status Cuomo is going to clean up this mess, though, right?

Posted by eric at 10:20 AM

Senate Democrats spend big bucks on consultants, including Melvin Lowe and BerlinRosen, both with Forest City Ratner ties

Atlantic Yards Report

A City Hall News article yesterday, headlined Helping Build Senate Democrats’ Debt, $6 Million In Outside Consultants And Vendors, explains that state Senate Democrats spent more than $6 million between consultants and outside vendors.

And two of those recipients have ties to Forest City Ratner and the Community Benefits Agreement.

article

NoLandGrab: Surely Governor-elect Status Cuomo is going to clean up this mess, though, right?

Posted by eric at 10:16 AM

'In the Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards' review: Urban planning made fun!

NY Daily News
by Joe Dziemianowicz

Leave it to the ace docutheater company the Civilians to turn a convoluted and contentious saga of urban planning into something concise, juicy and entertaining.

And with playful tunes, to boot.

"In the Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards" finds the troupe in fine form showcasing characters embroiled in the controversial plan to develop a 22-acre chunk of downtown Brooklyn for a sports arena and high-rise housing.

It's actually near downtown Brooklyn, but why quibble?

Characters include people on various sides -- builders pushing for the project, activists pushing back, locals getting pushed out of apartments.
...

That "In the Footprint" is running at the Irondale Center in Brooklyn, just two blocks from the Yards, adds to its potency.

Ingenious touches add to its humor.

Brooklyn Brough President Marty Markowitz, a major player in the scheme, is portrayed as a talking basketball, while developer Bruce Ratner is hilariously brought to life as a blathering bulldozer.

Skewed? Sure.

But in a show about land development run amok you have to expect some digs.

article

Related coverage...

Brooklyn The Borough, Michael Friedman’s Footprint in Fort Greene

Brooklyn The Borough interviews In the Footprint composer and lyricist Michael Friedman.

Brooklyn The Borough: How was the process? How did the point of view of the show evolve? Did you try to stay neutral?

Michael Friedman: I don’t think there is such a thing as being neutral, when you do something you start having a point of view on it and to a certain extent just presenting what everyone says is not the same. We try to show the arguments as we begin to see them. I think there are certain places where we agree more with certain people we’re hearing, or that, I guess as a journalist just in your editing choices and the choices of who gets most and the choices of what do you say for them. You’re making decisions about what point of view you’re showing and what points of view you’re not showing and so nothing can ever be neutral, only reality is the full story, you know as every single person sees it.

BTB: How willing were the people of the community to talk?

MF: People are pretty willing to give, especially in a story like this where they want to have their point of view told. We were not able to get an interview with Bruce Ratner or with Bloomberg; really with almost anyone from Forest City Ratner. We did get an interview with Marty Markowitz; we did get Leticia James. So a lot of political figures did talk to us. The ones who you’d expect wouldn’t want to – which would be Ratner and Bloomberg – we were not surprised that that happened. Oh, and Frank Gehry. So for those people we were able to use their public statements and at least present what they had put forward as their point of view on this project so that’s as much as we could do.

The Civilians Blog, Additional Speakers for IN THE FOOTPRINT Talk-Back Series!

Our talk-back series has been going great! New York City Council Members Brad Lander and Stephen Levin provided some great insights into the role of the city council in the project moving forward, and Brad gave us some fascinating history about Brooklyn's development patterns and community involvement. Tonight, we've got Tom Angotti, Urban Planning Professor from Hunter College, to give us more insight into how these development decisions that literally shape our cities are made.

Also! Next Monday, December 6 we are lucky to have

Deb Howard, Pratt Area Community Council
Jo Anne Simon, District Leader, 52nd Assembly District
Gib Veconi, Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council

They will talk about the future of the Atlantic Yards development, since it's not over yet!

Posted by eric at 9:53 AM

December 2, 2010

Gentrification, race/class, the Atlantic Yards play, and just one half-basketball court for a 16-tower project

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder takes an interesting look at race, class and open space (or the lack of it).

One of the sub-themes in The Civilians' new play with music, IN THE FOOTPRINT: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards, is gentrification and the politics of public space.
...

But the issue is likely more class than race. In Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City, Northwestern University professor of sociology and African-American Studies Mary Pattillo describes the same kind of tensions between newcomer homeowners and longstanding renters, including those in much-maligned public housing.

They're all black, in Chicago's North Kenwood–Oakland neighborhood, and while there is some racial solidarity, and likely fewer of the hair-trigger tensions that accompany cross-racial gentrification, the transition is by no means easy, as Pattillo describes in great detail.

The Atlantic Yards open space: not a park

What does this have to do with Atlantic Yards? Well, consider how Forest City Ratner promised "new open space for the entire Brooklyn community to enjoy."

The eight acres of open space would be managed by a conservancy or nonprofit agency, but would not be city park space. And it's likely that at least some of the draconian restrictions imposed at the developer's MetroTech Commons (accompanying the MetroTech office complex) would be enacted.

Forest City's Atlantic Yards open-space plan includes two bocce courts and a volleyball court, but only a single half basketball court. What, no putting green?

A half-basketball court for a 16-tower project slated to include 6430 apartments, perhaps some 15,000 people?

That definitely did not "used to be so Brooklyn."

Rather, it's a subtle way to ensure that "certain people" do not do too much "congregating."

In other words, Forest City Ratner, ready to welcome thousands of gentrifiers--4180 market-rate apartments, plus another 900-plus subsidized units likely to track the market--has thought very carefully about the use of public space.

article

Posted by eric at 10:24 AM

On Jay-Z: the unresolved "ethical pickle" regarding the drug game, the banality of "Brooklyn," and the curious notion of black capitalism

Atlantic Yards Report

With Mikhail Prokhorov, as I wrote, money cleanses. With Jay-Z, it's not just money but profound talent.

That still doesn't mean the hustler should get a bye, and a couple of articles spurred by his memoir Decoded go part of the way there.

From the New York Observer's profile, He Shall Overcome: Jay-Z Is $450 M Beyond the Marcy Projects. Where Does He Go From Here?:

Jay-Z is vague about the numbers, but one gets the sense that he made heaps of money on the streets. It is unlikely that he would ever speak on the matter candidly. "No one is more paranoid than Jay," [co-author] Ms. [dream] hampton explained, not suggesting that he is crazy, but rather that his exploits are real, not rumor.

Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah cites Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's awkward allusion (my coverage) to Jay-Z making it from "bricks to billboards.":

Sure, it was an allusion to one of Jay-Z's lyrics, but bricks is one of the better-known slang terms for packages of cocaine. Jay-Z's very formidable face froze and then bulged with shock. One wonders if he will ever be able to leave the bricks behind. If anyone will ever let him.

The unresolved "ethical pickle"

Maybe they shouldn't, as Sam Anderson's surprising review in New York Magazine, American Hustlers (which twins Jay-Z and George Washington), suggests:

Jay-Z describes his childhood in Bed-Stuy explicitly as “life during wartime.” Late-twentieth-century America, in his view, was “almost genocidally hostile” toward black culture, waging an endless campaign of institutionalized racism, cutting inner-city social services, and launching a War on Drugs that punished an illness—addiction—as a crime. “We came out of the generation of black people,” he writes, “who finally got the point: No one’s going to help us … Success could only mean self-sufficiency, being a boss, not dependent.” This epiphany gave birth to a figure Jay-Z calls “the hustler”—an antihero who manages, by any means necessary, to convert extreme poverty into wealth. Which brings us to the ethical pickle at the core of the Jay-Z myth. He moves very quickly, in Decoded, from lamenting the tragedy of the crack epidemic to profiting from it as a dealer—and he never quite makes clear the moral steps that justify that transition. When pushed about his contradictory image, he falls back on “I’m complex.”

article

Posted by eric at 10:16 AM

Lone Local Manufacturer Fights to Survive

The Bragley Manufacturing Company has had to fight competition abroad and a difficult economic environment at home.

Prospect Heights Patch
by Justin Hunte

Why, here's one Prospect Heights business that has survived the coming of Atlantic Yards — for now.

"My father started this business," says Neil Lurie, owner of Bragley Manufacturing Company, Prospect Height's lone remaining manufacturing company. "From the age of 12 or 13 I was in a machine shop with him so that's where I learned how to do this. These are generational businesses and once they're shut down, they're gone. They never open up again."

Lurie's frustration with the current state of US manufacturing is apparent almost immediately. Straddled with increased competition abroad and an ominous economic environment at home, he's witnessed the industry's downward spiral as America transitions into a service-oriented economy first hand.
...

The daunting economic climate continues to plague Bragley's operating environment. Despite a seemingly constant barrage of new challenges -- severe shortages of suppliers and customers, increased unemployment taxes and looming real estate tax increases expected with the arrival of the Atlantic Yards project -- Lurie continues to fight to maintain position, one order at a time.

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NoLandGrab: If Lurie's business can't survive, there are sure to be plenty of good jobs selling cotton candy at the Barclays Center, right?

Posted by eric at 10:07 AM

ATLANTIC YARDS: BRUCE RATNER, YOU SUCK. YOU REALLY DO!

F**ked in Park Slope

I haven't always followed the whole Atlantic Yards hullaballoo as closely as I should have but I do seem to remember a WHOLE lot of talk about stuff like thousands of units of low-income housing, reciprocal ACORN love, an end to urban blight, lots of jobs...

Yeah, not so much.

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Posted by eric at 10:01 AM

December 1, 2010

Atlantic Yards: Home of the Nets and a Massive Parking Lot

Gothamist
by John Del Signore

Developer Bruce Ratner's controversial Atlantic Yards project will bring a beautiful, pristine, blight-free 1,100 car parking lot to Prospect Heights, but where Ratner sees a paved paradise, other neighbors see a lifeless void. On Thanksgiving eve, twenty community organizations led by Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) filed a motion with New York State Supreme Court seeking to halt all construction at the project. The court case hinges on the environmental impact statement conducted by the Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC], which analyzed Atlantic Yards as a 10-year construction project. Now it's expected to take a quarter century, and critics say the environmental impact should be reconsidered.
...

The motion for a stay follows a November 9th decision from Justice Marcy Friedman, finding that the ESDC "lacked a rational basis for assuming that Atlantic Yards project would be completed in ten years." The lawsuit calls for a new appraisal of the potential environmental impacts of the project, and accuses Ratner and the ESDC of "colluding in their misrepresentations to the Court."

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Posted by eric at 10:41 PM

Lawsuit Tries to Slow "New Domino" Development

Gothamist
by Garth Johnston

Crying poor environmental review seems to be the hot way to try and stop Brooklyn developments of late. Just as Develop Don't Destory Brooklyn is attempting to slow the Atlantic Yards project because of misrepresentations in its enviromental impact statement another group of Brooklynites is using a similar tactic to try and halt the massive development planned for the old Domino Sugar refinery (which got City Council approval back in June after much community opposition).

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Posted by eric at 10:35 PM

Blogger says new book doesn't give full story on ACORN's support of new Brooklyn arena

The Sports ITeam Blog {NYDailyNews.com]
by Michael O'Keeffe

"Seeds of Change" by John Atlas has earned favorable reviews since it came out a few months ago. But in a lengthy and detailed analysis, Atlantic Yards Report blogger Norman Oder says the book about ACORN, the anti-poverty group that's become a favorite target of Republicans, is rife with errors and omissions when it comes to the organization's support of the Nets' Brooklyn basketball arena and the rest of the massive Atlantic Yards project.

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Posted by eric at 10:26 PM

When "low six figures" makes the Times (a new Nets sponsor) and when it doesn't (the failure to hire a monitor for the Community Benefits Agreement)

Atlantic Yards Report

From today's print New York Times, Nets Add Zippo as Team Sponsor:

The Nets and Zippo announced on Tuesday a sponsorship deal that includes courtside advertising, advertising on local radio broadcasts, and ads on the Nets’ English and Russian-language Web sites. The one-year agreement is thought to be worth “low six figures,” according to an industry executive.

Funny, but the Independent Compliance Monitor Forest City Ratner was supposed to hire to oversee the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement required a payment of $100,000 in escrow, and presumably annual fees, as I reported Monday.

Sounds like "low six figures," as well.

Not that the Times deemed it worthy of coverage.

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NoLandGrab: "Zippo" is also the number of stories in The Times we can recall about minor sponsorship deals involving any metro-area team not partly owned by its headquarters development partner.

Posted by eric at 7:46 PM

Atlantic Yards – war seems over yet legal battle continues

Meadowlands Matters
by John Brennan

The milestone of steel recently being erected at the site of the Barclays Center Nets basketball arena in Brooklyn sure makes it feel as if the multi-year legal Atlantic Yards battle must be over for good. Even ‘last holdout’ Daniel Goldstein finally took a buyout, and his building has been knocked down.

So what will New York State officials and Atlantic Yards opponents be doing on Dec. 22? Not giving each other Christmas gifts, that’s for sure. Instead, they have a tentative meeting with Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman regarding a possible halt to construction until state officials get their environmental impact statement house in order. That filing was made on Thanksgiving Eve.

This comes as a result of a Friedman ruling three weeks ago that was a basket for Nets owners but not quite a slam dunk. Friedman accepted the possibility that opponents are right to say that since a 10-year buildout plan has been changed to 25 years, maybe new environmental analysis is required. But Friedman didn’t stop the Nets from continuing their feverish work at the site designed to have the building finished in less than two years from now.

So what’s the point of the meeting?

Good question.

Opponents are convinced that the Empire State Development Corp. state agency and the Nets owners are complete allies, to the point where state officials will do anything to make the project happen. The project was in peril in 2009 because a federal tax exemption on construction bonds for stadiums and arenas – one enjoyed by the Mets and Yankees, for instance - was expiring at the end of the year.

The developer agreement was signed with days to spare, and the money was raised – but not coincidentally, these opponents claim, the details of the deal weren’t revealed until Jan. 2010. Friedman didn’t even address the issue in her key March 2010 ruling that paved the way for site work to pick up in earnest. In her ruling in early November, Friedman seemed annoyed with state officials for the lack of transparency; she may have been embarrassed to have ignored complaints last spring by these opponents.

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Posted by eric at 3:25 PM

Enough kvetching already. RT @NoLandGrab 1,100 Space Parking Lot at Issue in Latest Atlantic Yards Fight

@ShellySilver via Twitter

If @ShellySilver keeps it up, he will get his giant bobblehead.

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But wait, there's more:

You're complaining @StreetsblogNYC? Look at how much parking space Bruce Ratner is bringing to Brooklyn. It's a gift.

Look at all of the downtown parking garages in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse. Now Brooklyn can be like those cities.

What good is an official parking placard if you can't find a parking spot? Bruce Ratner and the ESDC understand this.

Posted by eric at 2:05 PM

Seeds of Change, new history of ACORN, contains a fundamental myth regarding Atlantic Yards, Bertha Lewis hagiography, plus many AY misreadings

Atlantic Yards Report

The demise of ACORN, coupled with the failure to organize sufficient voters to stem the Republican tide in the recent election, has generated some respectful reviews of John Atlas's book, Seeds of Change: The Story of ACORN, America's Most Controversial Antipoverty Community Organizing Group, published in June.

I can't disagree much with the analysis from Harold Myerson in The American Prospect and Tom Robbins in the Village Voice--that ACORN was mostly a victim of the right-wing media, fixated on the spurious "pimp" video.

Still, I can't trust Atlas's sympathetic book, because the chapter devoted to Atlantic Yards is riddled with errors, large and small.

Neither of the above reviews addresses the chapter titled "Atlantic Yards, the Nets, and the Battle of Brooklyn," and presumably none of the respected figures blurbing the book (William Julius Wilson, Sudhir Ventkatesh, etc.) knew much about Atlantic Yards beyond what Atlas wrote.

Fundamental flaws

Though Atlas adds some texture to the story--notably ACORN leader Bertha Lewis's tendentious account of the deal with Forest City Ratner--the chapter is skewed by focusing on the early years of the controversy.

Atlas concludes that Atlantic Yards was a reasonable compromise and a battle between two groups of Brooklynites: the better-off, and the poor. That leaves little room to examine the larger bypass of democracy, the unhealthy power of the developer-government alliance, and the increasingly tenuous nature of the project's promised benefits.

(It's of a piece with the Brooklyn Paper's mis-judgment that Lewis, in the new play IN THE FOOTPRINT: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards, makes a completely rational case for the project.)

More fundamentally, Atlas mythologizes ACORN's role. He suggests that, only after the project was announced did ACORN pressure Forest City Ratner to include affordable housing. Rather, ACORN was onboard from the start.

And he fails to analyze--despite clear evidence--how ACORN leaders manipulated their constituents. As I pointed out in August 2006, ACORN negotiated an affordable housing deal in which most of the subsidized units would not be accessible to the group´s core constituency.

Atlas is not unsympathetic to the Atlantic Yards opposition. He's obligated to take AY opponents seriously, as the two progressive activists in Brooklyn who ushered ACORN into New York in the early 1980s wound up on the other side of the Atlantic Yards controversy: Ron Shiffman of the Pratt Center for Community Development and the Rev. David Dyson of the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church.

Still, Atlas underplays the breadth of the opposition to the ACORN/Ratner deal among housing activists whose politics might otherwise be consonant with ACORN.

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NoLandGrab: We have to admit, though — we like their taste in lawn signs.

Posted by eric at 9:57 AM

Elected officials, traffic planners to appear at PHNDC traffic forum December 8

Atlantic Yards Report

The Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council is sponsoring an Atlantic Yards traffic forum on Wednesday, December 8, 2010, from 7:30 to 9 pm.

The location is P.S. 9 at 80 Underhill Avenue in Prospect Heights.

From the blurb:

Can the traffic really get worse? Unfortunately, the answer is "yes." The Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council presents a forum on traffic and transit issues raised by Atlantic Yards construction and the planned opening of the Barclays Center in 2012.

  • What impacts are already being felt?
  • What is coming from the arena and future construction?
  • What does the recent court decision mean to the community?
  • What can we do now?

Speakers include Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries, Councilmember Letitia James, and Ryan Lynch, Senior Planner with the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

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Posted by eric at 9:53 AM

Atlantic Yards, As Told in Song

UnBeige
by Steve Delahoyde

Speaking of cursed-developments, as we were in that last post, if you thought all the kerfuffle over the Atlantic Yards project had finally ended this summer and all there was to do was to wait for Norman Oder‘s tell-all book about it, you’re so sorely mistaken. Building upon their 2008 workshop performances entitled Brooklyn at Eye Level, the theater group The Civilians, are in the middle of their run of In the Footprint, a musical all about the Atlantic Yards development. From the big protests of 2008 to the high-profile booting of Frank Gehry off the project, it’s apparently both an informative and entertaining performance. And according to outlets like the NY Times, perhaps one of the best musicals ever about eminent domain.

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Posted by eric at 9:49 AM

He Shall Overcome: Jay-Z Is $450 M Beyond the Marcy Projects. Where Does He Go From Here?

NY Observer
by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah

Another installment in "The Legend of Jay-Z," almost as long as his new book.

He vacations in the South of France; he makes songs with Coldplay's Chris Martin about sitting in his beach chair; and he cracks jokes over dinner with Bill Clinton. In the years since he divided his record label and clothing kingdom, Roc-A-Fella Records and Rocawear, between himself and his former partners, Jay-Z has spread his money and influence out into the city. From 2004 to 2007, he was president of the record company Def Jam. He is a minority owner of the New Jersey Nets with Bruce Ratner and Mikhail Prokhorov and in on their Barclays Center project in Brooklyn. Jay-Z holds a 1.5 percent stake in the team.
...

At the groundbreaking, Jay-Z, Beyoncé and Mr. Ratner sat together on the platform. Everyone was smiling, and then Marty Markowitz, the bouncy Brooklyn borough president, stepped forward anxiously to introduce Jay-Z and gush over his beautiful wife. Cluelessly, Mr. Markowitz then praised him for making it from "bricks to billboards." Sure, it was an allusion to one of Jay-Z's lyrics, but bricks is one of the better-known slang terms for packages of cocaine. Jay-Z's very formidable face froze and then bulged with shock. One wonders if he will ever be able to leave the bricks behind. If anyone will ever let him. When I emailed Marty Markowitz for a comment, he emailed me a paragraph that once again mentioned "bricks to billboards." It is hard to know if Jay-Z's past is a concern to him in business. Maybe he doesn't even care.

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Posted by eric at 9:40 AM