September 27, 2012

ESD names Derek Lynch for long-open position as Government and Community Affairs Manager

Atlantic Yards Report

Just before the Barclays Center opens, Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing Atlantic Yards has finally hired a Government and Community Affairs Manager for the position long left open by the June 2011 departure of Forrest Taylor, once billed as an ombudsman but more of a disempowered facilitator.

The position was left open as neighbors endured a steady stream of untoward impacts--violations of construction and traffic protocols or procedures with too little safeguards. Arana Hankin, Director, Atlantic Yards Project, ESD, said in August 2011 that she hoped to hire someone soon and that that person could be more proactive and responsive in community engagement.

New hire

Today Hankin circulated a message:

This past Monday, Derek Lynch started at Empire State Development as the new Government and Community Affairs Manager for the Atlantic Yards Project. He will be working in Brooklyn helping to mitigate the impacts of the Atlantic Yards Project while ensuring that the local community benefits from the jobs and affordable housing created.

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NoLandGrab: That job description sets Mr. Lynch up for major failure.

Posted by eric at 9:10 AM

September 21, 2012

Culture of Cheating: how state agency withheld document giving Forest City Ratner 25 years to build Atlantic Yards

Atlantic Yards Report

A good reminder that without heaping helpings of corruption and subterfuge, the Barclays Center would have never been built.

This updates and distills an article posted 4/13/12.

After the March 2010 Barclays Center groundbreaking, Daily News sports columnist Mike Lupica commented, "It was a hustle in broad daylight by Caring Bruce Ratner from the start."

The hustle wouldn't have worked without help from Forest City Ratner's partner in government, the Empire State Development Corporation, aka Empire State Development (ESD). It as clear an example of the Culture of Cheating as any.

ESD had recently completed a clever, devious move, withholding the Development Agreement for Atlantic Yards, thus obscuring a project timetable that gave Forest City 25 years to build the project, rather than the long-promised ten years.

Now courts have said definitively that the ESD chose expediency over candor, in order to get Atlantic Yards re-approved in 2009 and to enable that groundbreaking. Now a supplementary environmental review is necessary.

Moral victory

However little the decision may change things on the ground, it's a moral victory and an important message about honest government and the lack thereof.

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Posted by eric at 2:27 PM

August 15, 2012

The audacious timing of the Barclays Center Transportation Demand Management plan: prepaid parking not working (but no consequences); two important documents released after comment period

Atlantic Yards Report

The final Atlantic Yards Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plan, and the Response to Comments were both made public today, about two weeks after they should have been released, by Empire State Development (ESD), the state agency overseeing the project.

Even with the delay, ESD and Forest City Ratner could not obscure a significant glitch: a cornerstone of the plan to deter arena-goers from seeking on-street parking, an online parking reservation system, still isn't ready. (The Q&A promises that "full implementation [is] expected in the week of August 13.")

In other words, arena operators have sold hundreds of thousands of tickets without being able to sell parking at the same time. Now it's possible that many of them will try to buy parking later, but the promised "seamless" process simply isn't in place.
...

No way to comment

The Q&A document cites two important documents that were released after the comment period ended July 3, thus precluding public comment.

For example, an assessment of arena-area sidewalks "by Philip Habib & Associates in August 2012 identified a number of locations where sidewalk widths will likely be narrower" than previously assumed, though the locations "are still projected to operate at acceptable levels."

However, no one's seen that document, so it's impossible to evaluate.

Meanwhile, in early July, the city Department of Transportation released a study recommending against a residential parking permit system around the arena. There was no way to submit comments to ESD, though the study had many flaws.

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Posted by eric at 9:50 PM

July 26, 2012

Promises, promises: how the ESDC said care would be taken at the construction site, how complaints have been documented, and what might be done about noise

Atlantic Yards Report

As I wrote yesterday, a new report validates neighbors' concerns about disruptive Atlantic Yards constructions, and documents suggest that the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and its environmental monitor have condoned a cover-up of a Forest City contractor's falsification.

Some 19 months ago, an ESDC attorney--in retrospect, not so wisely--assured board members that all commitments to mitigate neighborhood concerns would be followed.

The comment came in the wake of the ESDC's breakneck preparation (via consultant AKRF) that a 25-year Atlantic Yards buildout would not result in any community impacts not disclosed in the agency's previous study of an official ten-year buildout and a five year delay.

Such a finding, in a Technical Analysis (not to be confused with a Technical Memorandum issued in June 2009), was ordered by Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman, who ultimately ruled that it was inadequate, and that the agency had to perform a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) to look at a 25-year buildout.
...

Board member's concern

After receiving the Technical Analysis (though with no evidence they'd had time to review it), the ESDC board on 12/16/10 unanimously approved the findings.

After the vote, public policy consultant Joyce Miller, as of June 2010 a new board member, offered a small olive branch to community members who'd expressed dismay and incredulity that a 25-year buildout, however attenuated, was no worse than a ten-year one.

"Having lived next to a construction site," said Miller, who lives on the Upper West Side near Riverside South, "I'm sympathetic to some of the complaints that are being made and I would like to know and be reassured that some of the complaints regard to construction hours, et cetera, noise you can't do anything about, obviously, pile drivers are pile drivers, but that care is taken to ensure that regulations and laws regarding the maintenance of the construction site, the hours of construction site, et cetera, the safety of the construction site, are all adhered to."

"Yes," came the response from ESDC attorney Robin Stout.

Actually, as the report compiled for Atlantic Yards Watch indicates, care has not been taken to follow the rules.

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Posted by eric at 11:06 AM

July 15, 2012

Will The Empire State Development Corporation (ESD), The MTA, NYC And New York State Sue Barclays Bank?

Noticing New York

Baltimore is suing Barclays Bank!* The Barclays LIBOR lying scandal is big stuff. The LIBOR rate that Barclays was manipulating (LIBOR stands for”London interbank offered rate”) is such a critically important universally resorted to benchmark rate that there is scarcely a man, woman or entity in the world that was unaffected by the rates that Barclays manipulated. For some people it might be good when interest rates go down (or are manipulated in that direction) but there is always someone on the other side of any such equation (pensioners for example) for whom it is correspondingly bad. And if rates get manipulated up instead the same thing is true vice versa.

(* See also: Baltimore city is among many suing big banks over allegations of rate-rigging For small investors, this could be the scandal that finally breaks their trust, July 09, 2012, By Eileen Ambrose, The Baltimore Sun.)

So here is a tantalizing irony to mull over: Will New York’s Empire State Development agency ("ESD," formerly the Empire State Development Corporation- its name keeps changing to protect the. . .? ) choose to get in line behind the city of Baltimore to sue Barclays? ESD should have a legal cause of action against Barclays given that the ESD is a state finance agency involved in a great volume of complicated financial transactions in which the LIBOR rates must have been key. If ESDC sues Barclays it will be suing the bank whose name has been plastered on the ESD-sponsored Ratner/Prokhorov Nets basketball arena effected by ESD through eminent domain abuse and false-fact environmental reviews. “EMPIRE STATE DEVELOPMENT AGENCY SUES BARCLAYS!”: What a headline!

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Posted by steve at 6:56 PM

An Additional Heaping Helping of Sports Glummery: Penn State Scandal Investigative Report- Power of College Football Out Of Control

Noticing New York

This blog post begins by observing the lack of whistle-blowers who might have prevented the Penn State football scandal, and moves to a similar lack in the ESDC and the Atlantic Yards development.

ESD is the state agency that was co-opted by developer Forest City Ratner to sponsor its mega-monopoly-enhancing Atlantic Yards megadevelopment. ESD’s designed-to-fail whistleblowing policies and practices did fail. ESD was the state agency that participated in scamming Justice Marcy Friedman’s state Supreme Court with false representations that the agency had a legitimate expectation that the Atlantic Yards megadevelopment would be completed within ten years (instead of twenty-five, very possibly forty+) which was the basis for the environmental review done for it. No whistleblowing state employee came forward from ESDC to inform Justice Friedman of the scam.

...

With no state employee coming forward to reveal the state’s misrepresentations, those misrepresentations were temporarily accepted by Justice Friedman as veracious. Had that not been the case it would have been incumbent upon Justice Friedman to rule, as she eventually did, based on the actual facts, that the mega-project had never been the subject of a proper environmental review. Had she made such a timely ruling the issuance of ESD bonds for the Ratner/Prokhorov (“Barclays”) sports arena oughtn’t to have proceeded. Since the issuance of those bonds were subject to an IRS deadline (the ending of a special exemption from the law against tax-exempt financing of private arenas and stadia) the developer’s private arena would never have been built and the entire megadevelopment would have fallen apart, probably being taken away from Ratner and distributed amongst multiple developers in the process.

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Posted by steve at 6:17 PM

July 5, 2012

State Authorities Budget Office asks: where's the annual report for Job Development Authority, creator of the Brooklyn Arena LDC?

Atlantic Yards Report

Sometimes, the ESDC doesn't even bother to pretend that it's accountable to anyone.

According to the 2012 annual report from the state Authorities Budget Office (ABO), the New York Job Development Authority (JDA), an affiliate of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC, aka Urban Development Corporation), has yet to file the required annual report, due more than a year ago, 6/30/11.

Of all the authorities listed, that's the longest delay in filing an annual report. Presumably the JDA, which is a legal entity distinct from ESDC but relies on ESDC staff, also has not filed the report due 6/30/12.

JDA and BALDC

The JDA is the creator of the Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation (BALDC), the special-purpose entity that issued bonds for the Barclays Center arena. And it would be interesting to learn how the BALDC operates, especially since Goldman Sachs earlier this year called a meeting of bondholders, only to step back when it was clear that the investment firm was not authorized to act as the BALDC.

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NoLandGrab: Surely Governor Status Cuomo is demanding that this report be on his desk tomorrow morning, no? He's all about reform and transparency, after all.

Posted by eric at 10:58 AM

June 27, 2012

Atlantic Yards faces a small setback

The state's top court ruled that the developer must forecast the Brooklyn project's effects over 25 years of construction, not 10.

Crain's NY Business
by Ian Thomas

Forest City Ratner and the Empire State Development Corp. must conduct a new supplemental environmental impact statement of the Atlantic Yards project, as the New York Court of Appeals revealed Tuesday that it would not hear an appeal of lower court rulings.

The developer and the state's development arm opened themselves up to the legal challenge by modifying the plan in 2009.

The plan for the Brooklyn project, which includes the nearly complete Barclays Center and was first unveiled in 2003, was changed when it became clear that it would take far longer than the original estimate of 10 years to complete because of the recession and lawsuits filed by opponents. They successfully argued that the environmental impact should examine the effects on the neighborhood from 25 years of construction.

"We're pleased the court did not hear the appeal," said Jeffrey Baker, a partner at the law firm of Young Sommer, which represents Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, a community group that was involved in bringing the original lawsuit back in November 2009. "This is an opportunity for the government to rethink and reformulate this project."

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NoLandGrab: Let's be clear — the plan was never "changed." The 10-year claim was pure hogwash from the start. And the project will take far longer than 10 years to build due not to the recession or (completely warranted) lawsuits, but because there was no way it could ever have been built in 10 years.

Related coverage...

Park Slope Patch, State Loses Final Appeal in Atlantic Yards Fight

Tuesday’s ruling ends more than a year of appeals by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC). There is no additional avenue for appeal.

Posted by eric at 5:39 PM

At (belated) meeting on arena operations, some specifics on parking, questions about loading dock and traffic agents, and a flat statement that the public will pay for extra police

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder reports in depth on last night's arena-perations meeting.

A long-awaited meeting last night on Barclays Center operational issues--parking, security, sanitation--was deemed useful but frustrating by community members who’ve been watching developer Forest City Ratner plow ahead with arena-related construction, even without official approvals.

“This is a start, six months late,” observed Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association, noting the tight timetable before the arena opens Sept. 28. He said he told Empire State Development Corporation CEO Kenneth Adams, a convenor of the Borough Hall meeting, that he almost didn’t attend because he was so frustrated by Forest City’s decision, for example, to proceed on the planned surface parking lot without a work permit.

The Barclays Center operational team, which did most of the talking, delivered a good amount of boilerplate, as well as occasional specifics, such as the configuration of parking lot and planned entrances and exits. Krashes pointed out, however, that a lot of questions remain unanswered, such as the location of Traffic Enforcement Agents (TEAs) to steer traffic so it doesn’t overly impact the residential neighborhood, or plans for emergency and fire service in the neighborhood. (Neither was the location of pedestrian managers noted.)

Community consultation will continue, but mainly after the arena opens.

Adams led off by saying that ESD, the Borough President’s Office, and Forest City will convene an Atlantic Yards quality-of-life committee once the arena opens. It will involve state and city agencies, and unlike the bimonthly Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet, which meets during work hours, will “meet regularly, in the evenings.” Arana Hankin, Director, Atlantic Yards Project for ESD, is working on it.

Forest City’s Ashley Cotton added that a community affairs officer would be hired for the arena.

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NoLandGrab: As long as these committees and staff positions continue to serve purely to push information at the community rather than to actually collaborate with it, they're essentially meaningless.

Posted by eric at 1:14 PM

New York State Court of Appeals denies ESDC and Forest City Ratner appeal of order to revisit 2009 Atlantic Yards plan

BrooklynSpeaks

In a final defeat for the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC) in their attempt to illegally extend construction of the Atlantic Yards project from 10 to 25 years, New York State’s highest court today denied their motion to appeal a July 2011 decision ordering a revisit of a 2009 modification to the plan and additional environmental analyses. ESDC and FCRC lost their previous appeal by a unanimous decision of the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division. The denial by the New York State Court of Appeals means that the July order by Justice Marcy Friedman will stand, and the supplemental environmental impact study (SEIS) must proceed.

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Related coverage...

Brownstoner, Court of Appeals: Forest City and ESDC Must Conduct Environmental Impact Study Based on 25-Year Atlantic Yards Timetable

Posted by eric at 12:28 PM

June 26, 2012

Court of Appeals denies effort by ESDC, Forest City to appeal timetable case; state must analyze impact of 25-year buildout; will leave cloud over project as arena opening approaches

Atlantic Yards Report

Bruce Ratner's legal losing streak continues...

Yes, the Empire State Development Corporation will have to conduct a court-ordered analysis of the potential 25-year impacts of Atlantic Yards construction after all, leaving a cloud of concern over the project--and a rebuke to the state agency--as the Barclays Center proceeds to a September 28 opening.

The project was long expected to take ten years, but document signed in late 2009 gave developer Forest City Ratner 25 years.

More like long claimed to take ten years. Everyone knew there was no way it would get done in ten years, especially those making the claim.

The state agency, as well as Forest City, had sought to appeal a unanimous Appellate Division decision upholding a lower court's requirement of Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS). The state Court of Appeals, in a decision issued without elaboration, denied permission for such an appeal. (Had the appellate court been split, an appeal would have been automatic.)

The decision to seek an appeal rather than pursue the SEIS and evaluate the impacts of an extended buildout had rankled community members who'd gone to court, in cases filed by two coalitions, led by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and BrooklynSpeaks.

The lower court ruling required an SEIS to evaluate Phase 2 of the project, the towers planned east of Sixth Avenue and the arena block, thus sparing the arena. However, many questions remain regarding the parking lot planned to serve the arena, located on the southeast block of the site, destined ultimately for towers.

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Posted by eric at 3:22 PM

June 5, 2012

An effort to appeal Atlantic Yards timetable case: is dispute about routine delay, or agency deception and failure to study 25-year impact?

Atlantic Yards Report

The battle over the Atlantic Yards timetable--whether the state should have studied the community impacts of a 25-year buildout for a project long said to take a decade--is the longest-lasting Atlantic Yards court case and the first one with clear victories for project opponents and critics.

At issue is whether a change in timing of a project whose fundamental elements seem unchanged is a fundamental change.

And, depending on which side you consult, it's either a dangerous intervention by the judiciary into agency discretion or the last check on an out-of-control agency that failed to tell the public that it faced 25 years of construction, extended surface parking lots, and lingering vacant lots.

The challenge by two community coalitions was originally dismissed by a state Supreme Court judge, then reopened and ultimately reversed, with that decision unanimously backed by a state appellate court. Now the Empire State Development Corporation, the agency overseeing Atlantic Yards, and developer Forest City Ratner have asked the Court of Appeals to agree to hear an appeal.

Such an appeal is not automatic, given the unanimous nature of the intermediate court's decision, so an agreement to accept the appeal would suggest that the Court of Appeals--which conveniently ignored certain arguments in its November 2009 decision upholding eminent domain for Atlantic Yards--is leaning toward reversal.

If the appeal is denied, then the ESDC would have to conduct the Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) ordered by the lower courts.

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Posted by eric at 12:56 PM

June 4, 2012

Flashback: ESDC attorney once assured court that Forest City have "to bring the Project to completion by 2019, with sanctions imposed for any failure to do so"

Atlantic Yards Report

Way back in January 2010, as the last major Atlantic Yards legal case faced its first hearing, I pointed to a key point of dispute. In retrospect appears to be either a glaring untruth or, more charitably, an incredibly misguided prediction about the state of New York's capacity to negotiate with Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner.

Which is Norman Oder's nice way of saying it's clearly a big, fat lie.

It's worth another look.

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Posted by eric at 10:43 AM

May 14, 2012

State seeks to reverse Atlantic Yards decision

The Empire State Development Corp. insists that its earlier approval of the $5 billion project was not illegal, as it had examined the impacts of delays in construction as required.

Crain's NY Business
by Theresa Agovino

The Empire State Development Corp. filed a request on Friday to appeal an earlier court ruling which said that the agency illegally approved changes to Forest City Ratner's massive Atlantic Yards project in 2009 by failing to examine how the long-term construction would affect the neighborhood.

The agency must get permission to appeal because last month's decision by the Appellate Division of New York state was unanimous in affirming a July 2011 lower court ruling. That earlier ruling said that the Empire State Development Corp. violated the law by not conducting another environmental study of the $5 billion project when the plan was modified in 2009.
...

However, the project’s opponents believe that there is a very slim chance that the ESDC will be allowed to appeal because two courts found it acted illegally.

“We are disappointed in ESDC’s decision to bring an appeal instead of working with the community to make the project better and just do the environmental impact study,” said Jeffrey Baker, a partner at the law firm of Young Sommer, which is representing Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, a group opposed to the project. “The appeal is a waste of resources.”

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Posted by eric at 4:36 PM

ESDC files request to appeal decision ordering new environmental review, says “shadow of uncertainty" shrouds project's Phase 2

Atlantic Yards Report

Some people monoliths don't know when to quit.

Yes, Empire State Development (ESD), the state agency overseeing Atlantic Yards, is not accepting defeat. It is seeking to appeal a unanimous loss last month in the Appellate Division, which upheld a lower court's requirement that a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) be conducted to examine the impacts of a 25-year project buildout.

The effort may seem like a long shot, but state Court of Appeals has proven friendly to Atlantic Yards before--remember the November 2009 eminent domain decision. It must first agree to accept the appeal. The key part of the ESD's motion:

The Appellate Division's order requiring that a SEIS be prepared to study the impacts of a delay in the Project's construction schedule is an unprecedented expansion of SEQRA [State Environmental Quality Review Act] that would interfere not only with progress being made on the Atlantic Yards Project, but with the progress of other large-scale projects that are subject to delays due to adverse economic conditions or other circumstances.

"Shadow of uncertainty"

I'll have more once I see Forest City Ratner's expected companion motion, and the petitioners' response. But the ESD contends that the court decision "casts a shadow of uncertainty on Phase II of the Project," a shadow elongated by the preparation of the SEIS and the inevitable legal challenges it will prompt.

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NoLandGrab: Any "shadow of uncertainty" has much more to do with the giant overreach of the Atlantic Yards project, and the shakiness of its developer's financial wherewithal, than with the state's court-ordered requirement to produce another sham environmental impact statement.

Posted by eric at 11:32 AM

May 9, 2012

Contradicting state agency, report says Carlton Avenue Bridge would not be finished before arena opens; as Forest City aims for speed-up, agency suggests plan to mitigate likely chaos

Atlantic Yards Report

So, is the Carlton Avenue Bridge on schedule?

Only if the state flunks transparency.

Last week, Arana Hankin, Director, Atlantic Yards Project for Empire State Development (ESD), assured those at a community meeting that "I'm more than confident that the bridge will be open before the first public event at the arena." That's a September 28 Jay-Z concert.

However, the regular site observation report issued yesterday by Merritt & Harris, the construction monitor for the arena bonds, predicted that the bridge would be completed five days later, by October 3.

At the meeting May 2, Hankin and agency CEO Kenneth Adams made no mention of that schedule, though it was surely known to them. While the October 3 date was referenced publicly in the report issued yesterday, it comes from a schedule dated March 30.

"The Developer is optimistic they can reduce the completion date by 2 weeks," states the report issued yesterday.

So it's possible the bridge will open on time. But the word "optimistic" indicates less certainty than Hankin's "more than confident" phrasing.

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Posted by eric at 1:42 PM

May 4, 2012

ESD CEO Adams says agency seeks ways to formalize public input on Atlantic Yards "before the project's done 25 years from now"

Atlantic Yards Report


(L-r.) Carlo Scissura, Arana Hankin, Ken Adams, Justin Ginsburgh. Photo and set by Tracy Collins.

It's actually not on the video, but there was a telling moment during the meeting May 2 held by Empire State Development (ESD) CEO Kenneth Adams with Atlantic Yards community stakeholders.

Adams was ruminating on the obligation he acknowledged for his agency "to be more responsive than we were as an agency in the past."

While ESD is still figuring it out, based on discussions with elected officials, Adams said they were open to a "formal structure for community input over the long life that we expect the project to have."

"25 years from now"

"Again, it's not a secret that there have been legislative efforts to do that," he continued. "So that sort of prompted my original interest, in conversations with Senator [Velmanette] Montgomery and Assemblyman [Hakeem] Jeffries, Council Member [Letitia] James and Council Member [Steve] Levin."

"We're having discussions, and we're open to doing it," he said. And that would be "a way to formalize a system for us to be more helpful, more responsive... before the project's done 25 years from now."

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Posted by eric at 11:26 AM

May 3, 2012

ESD’s Adams: Surface parking lot spaces halved (concession to neighbors or reality?); governance entity possible (ditto); appeal unresolved in SEIS case; meeting on transportation plan set for 5/22, then 30 days for comments

Atlantic Yards Report

In his second meeting with Atlantic Yards stakeholders in eight months, Kenneth Adams, CEO of Empire State Development (Corporation), the state agency overseeing the project, last night had some welcome news: the planned surface parking lot for the southeast block of the project, which was estimated to have up to 1,100 spaces, would have fewer than half that amount, obviating the need for noisy stackers that could compound gridlock.

The news was welcomed, albeit somewhat warily, by the two dozen people at Borough Hall, representing various neighborhood and merchant groups in the orbit of the Prospect Heights project.

While the lot, according to state documentation, could hold up to 1,100 spaces, and an application to the city Department of Buildings said 722 spaces, the genial Adams, a Brooklynite familiar with nearly all of the two dozen people in the room, said it would be under 550 spaces.

Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association called the result “good,” though he noted that the site, bounded by Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues and Dean and Pacific streets, could only accommodate about 520 surface spaces, according to calculations by local residents. “We've been expecting the number of 520 for some time.”

Follow the link for more about parking, and many other details of last night's meeting.

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Related coverage...

NY Post, Nets’ Brooklyn parking plan hits the skids

The state has put the brakes on an unconventional parking plan at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn that critics feared would have created neighborhood traffic nightmares.

Stack-parking — a time-consuming process that uses hydraulic lifts to stack anywhere from two to four cars atop one another — won’t be used, as previously planned, at a surface parking lot under construction next to the Nets’ new home.

Posted by eric at 11:51 AM

May 1, 2012

ESD CEO will again meet with select community reps; state agency has since lost big court case; despite changed dynamic, no sign of bending (but effort to restrict media)

Atlantic Yards Report

Some seven months after Empire State Development CEO Kenneth Adams met with select community representatives regarding Atlantic Yards, Adams will reprise such a meeting at 6 pm on Wednesday, May 2 at Brooklyn Borough Hall.

While the Nets' branding juggernaut proceeds and state officials have expressed no qualms about the project, community questions should have a bit more weight, given an appellate court decision last month slamming the state's oversight and continued obfuscation about plans to rebuild the Carlton Avenue Bridge.

Indeed, yesterday, the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council asked Adams's boss, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and Mayor Mike Bloomberg to stop the scheduled construction of a surface parking lot for the project, given that the release of plans for the lot has been delayed six months and there had been no response to residents' concerns.

New restrictions on meeting
...

Early yesterday, I queried Arana Hankin, the ESD's Atlantic Yards project director, regarding the ground rules for the May 2 meeting. She directed me to James's aide Alfred Chiodo, who told me that the ground rules were the same as last September.

In a later message, however, he followed up, stating, "we will be asking those reporting on meeting to refrain from taking photographs or taping." I asked for an explanation, but didn't get one.

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Posted by eric at 11:21 AM

April 13, 2012

Court: More environmental analysis needed at Atlantic Yards project

Meadowlands Matters [NorthJersey.com]
by John Brennan

As is (sadly) all to often the case, the Bergen Record's John Brennan is more on top of the Atlantic Yards story than most of his New York City brethren.

A New York State Appellate Court panel – in upholding New York Supreme Court Judge Marcy Friedman’s ruling from last July – dismantled the case made by the project’s backers, including ESDC, piece-by-piece.

To clarify up front for Nets fans who know that the $1 billion Barclays Center is scheduled to open in September: this ruling does not derail that opening.

But it does complicate matters for project developers who, in a second phase, are supposed to complete work on most of the 16 skyscrapers around the arena. That work, while of no direct impact on North Jersey sports fans, is of great importance in Brooklyn communities to when – or whether – the project ever produces anywhere near the jobs and affordable housing numbers touted when the project was in its pre-development stages years ago.
...

Sounds like ESDC has some ‘splainin’ to do. I’ll be curious to see if the mainstream New York media digs deeper, considering we have a multi-billion New York City project here – and successive court rulings rebuking the judgment of the state agency that is supposed to be the people’s watchdog to make sure the project rolls out properly.

Emphasis, ours.

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NoLandGrab: If the ESDC hadn't failed to disclose material information, New York State Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman would likely have required a supplemental environmental review and state reauthorization that would have prevented Bruce Ratner from beating the December 31, 2009 deadline to secure tax-free financing, rendering him unable to raise the funds necessary to build. Therefore, from this point forward, we'll be referring to it as the "fraudulently constructed Barclays Center."

Related coverage...

The Local [Fort Greene/Clinton Hill], Atlantic Yards Foes Win In Court, But Impact is Unclear

Opponents of the Atlantic Yards project — whose basketball arena is nearing completion at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues — are demanding changes to the mega-development in the wake of an appellate court ruling today that officials violated state environmental law by allowing the project’s developer far more time to finish the job.

Proponents, or better put, Forest City's state lackeys, are singing a different tune...

Empire State Development Corporation Director Arana Hankin issued a statement: “Although Empire State Development is disappointed with the decision, we are fully committed to building a world-class development that will bring thousands of jobs and affordable housing to Brooklyn. The decision does not prevent the arena opening this fall, nor does it affect any aspect of Phase I development, and we will continue working toward the full build-out of the project.”

WNYC, Court Upholds Atlantic Yards Project Ruling

Brooklyn Council Member Letitia James who has long criticized the project said "its clear that if the facts regarding the impact of the development two years ago, the resulting decision would have halted construction." She added that she believes the decision will affect some of the community enhancing parts of the plan. "We can be almost certain at this point that the jobs and housing originally promised will not come to fruition any time soon...."

New York Magazine Daily Intel, Appellate Court Rebukes State Agency for Backing Atlantic Yards

The ruling also backs community claims that there was something fishy about how the state agency went to bat for Forest City Ratner's $4.9 billion project. When the state chose not to study the environmental impact of an extended 25-year buildout in 2009, it helped Forest City meet a crucial deadline and save more than $100 million on tax-exempt bonds.

Reuters, Appeals court calls for review of Atlantic Yards project

An attorney for Develop Don't Destroy, Jeffrey Baker, said his clients were "pleased that (Thursday's) ruling vindicates everything we've been saying since 2009."

"What's disappointing is that we now have further proof from this court that the arena would never have even started construction if EDSC and Forest City Ratner had been honest about the process," Baker said.

Prospect Heights Patch, Appellate Court Orders Additional Review for Atlantic Yards Project

The Brooklyn Blog [NYPost.com], Appellate panel confirms state review of Atlantic Yards was illegal

AP via NBC New York, Court: Atlantic Yards Need Environmental Review

Posted by eric at 2:04 PM

How the appellate court, in its way, backed up Lupica: "It was a hustle in broad daylight by Caring Bruce Ratner from the start"

Atlantic Yards Report

After the March 2010 Barclays Center groundbreaking, Daily News sports columnist Mike Lupica commented, "It was a hustle in broad daylight by Caring Bruce Ratner from the start."

The hustle wouldn't have worked without help from Ratner's partner in government, the Empire State Development Corporation, aka Empire State Development (ESD), which had recently completed a clever, devious move, withholding the Development Agreement for Atlantic Yards, thus obscuring the project timetable.

Now the ESD, courts have said definitively, chose expediency over candor, in order to get Atlantic Yards re-approved in 2009 and to enable that groundbreaking. However little the decision may change things on the ground, it's a moral victory and an important message about honest government and the lack thereof. That's news, though not everyone thinks so.

"But the reason why we think Forest City will go forward with this project, and we have every reason to believe so, is that we have a Development Agreement with Forest City that requires it to do so," agency attorney Philip Karmel said in court in January 2010, as detailed below. "I don't know what else ESDC can do."

Well, it could have released that document, which would have revealed how the developer had 12 years to build Phase 1 and 25 years for Phase 2, rather than incentives to get the whole thing done in a decade.

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Posted by eric at 11:05 AM

April 12, 2012

Atlantic Yards Loses in Court. Court Slams ESDC and Orders New Project Review

VICTORY IN COURT FOR DDDB & COMMUNITY

Unanimous Appellate Court Decision Slams ESDC, Forces NY State to Do Supplemental Review and New Approval of Ratner's Atlantic Yards Project

Golden Opportunity for Governor Cuomo To Fix the Atlantic Yards Debacle

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB), BrooklynSpeaks and all of their co-plaintiff community groups have won another victory in court over the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and Forest City Ratner—their second in a row.

In a unanimous decision, the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court today found that Justice Marcy Friedman correctly ruled in July 2011 that the ESDC's 2009 approval of Atlantic Yards' Modified General Project Plan violated State environmental law.

The decision upholds the lower court's order that the ESDC initiate a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) and new approval process on Phase 2 of the Atlantic Yards project, which includes the bulk of the 22 acre project and the bulk of the non-arena portion of the demolished site.

A public hearing on the SEIS will be mandatory.
...

"The fact is that the project should never have been approved at all—it is entirely illegitimate," said DDDB's legal director Candace Carponter. "The tragedy here is, but for the blatant misrepresentations to the Court by Forest City Ratner and ESDC, it would been determined in 2010 that an SEIS was required and that would have stopped construction of Barclays Arena. ESDC's dishonesty has allowed that to go forward and the community is already feeling the adverse impacts that have long been forecast. We hope that ESDC will abandon its servile devotion to Forest City Ratner and start representing the citizens of this area."

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Posted by eric at 3:46 PM

Appellate Court smacks down ESD, upholds decision ordering new study of long-term Atlantic Yards impact, requires new approval of Phase II

Atlantic Yards Report

(This will be updated.)

In a unanimous decision with almost no chance for appeal, a state appellate court has unanimously upheld a lower court's decision to require the state to conduct a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement regarding the second phase of Atlantic Yards and to re-approve the second phase.

In other words, the state should not have misled the public with its irrational insistence that Atlantic Yards could be built in a decade rather than, as is likely, a much longer period, even 25 years, as allowed by a belatedly released Development Agreement.

Nor did the state analyze the possibility of a scenario "in which area residents must tolerate vacant lots, above-ground arena parking, and Phase II construction staging for decades."

The case, known as Matter of Develop Don't Destroy (Brooklyn), Inc. v Empire State Dev. Corp., involves two sets of petitioners, a coalition led by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and another led by members of Brooklyn Speaks. Both the Empire State Development Corporation (aka Empire State Development) and Forest City Ratner were defendants.

The decision has no impact on the Barclays Center arena, but complicates Forest City Ratner's plans regarding Phase II and casts a further shadow over the questionable approval process for the project. It also endorses skepticism about whether the promised jobs and affordable housing will be delivered in the long-promised ten years.

The defendants can appeal, but given the unanimous decision and the emphatic language, it's very unlikely.

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Posted by eric at 12:42 PM

BREAKING: State Court of Appeals agrees that 2009 Atlantic Yards plan was approved illegally

BrooklynSpeaks sponsors demand Governor and Mayor intervene to reduce project impacts, deliver promised housing and jobs

BrooklynSpeaks via press release

In a unanimous decision, the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court today found that Justice Marcy Friedman correctly ruled in July 2011 that the Empire State Development Corporation’s (ESDC) 2009 approval of Atlantic Yards’ Modified General Project Plan violated State environmental law. Among other changes, the plan renegotiated in 2009 between the State and Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC) extended Atlantic Yards’ construction schedule from 10 to 25 years. Justice Friedman’s order that the ESDC conduct additional environmental analyses and revisit the project plan will remain in effect.

“ESDC’s decision to appeal was deeply disappointing both to the community and to its elected representatives, who had pressed the agency to comply with the court order,” said Jo Anne Simon, 52nd District Democratic Leader. “Now that the Appellate Division has upheld the lower court’s decision, we strongly urge Governor Cuomo to act to restore credibility to this process, and direct his agency to conduct a thorough and transparent assessment of the environmental impact of this project on central Brooklyn that involves our communities in a meaningful way.”

BrooklynSpeaks sponsors had argued against the appeal, contending that ESDC fast-tracked its approval of the 2009 schedule concessions demanded by Forest City in order to allow FCRC to meet a deadline necessary for its arena bonds to qualify as tax-exempt. “ESDC’s actions saved the developer hundreds of millions in interest payments,” said Michelle de la Uz, Executive Director of the Fifth Avenue Committee, “but at the cost of thousands of units of affordable housing being delayed for decades. The Appellate Division ruling gives the Governor an opportunity to put the project’s public benefits back on the schedule promised.”

The Appellate Division rejected arguments by ESDC and Forest City that the impacts of 25 years of construction to surrounding neighborhoods were likely to be less severe than if Atlantic Yards were completed in 10 years, writing that such a conclusion “is not based on any technical studies of the environmental impacts of protracted construction. It is supported by the mere assertion that the build-out will result in prolonged but less "intense" construction and that most environmental impacts are driven by intensity rather than duration.” Significantly, the Appellate Division noted that ESDC “failed to consider an alternative scenario in which years go by before any Phase II construction is commenced — a scenario in which area residents must tolerate vacant lots, above-ground arena parking, and Phase II construction staging for decades.”

“In the two years since this suit was filed, nearby communities have had a ringside view of continued violations of Atlantic Yards’ stated commitments on air quality, noise and truck safety,” said Danae Oratowski, Chair of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council. “Less than six months before Barclays Center opens, we have yet to see the developer’s plans for parking and traffic management, or the City’s plans for crowd control and security. Today’s ruling should be a wake-up call for Mayor Bloomberg to engage the community and work together both to limit the impacts of continued construction, as well as to reduce the effect of the operation of an arena amid historic residential neighborhoods.”

“ESDC not only has allowed Forest City Ratner to steamroll local residents and their elected representatives, but has also played a role in violating State law to the developer’s advantage,” said Howard Kolins, President of the Boerum Hill Association. “Taken together with recent revelations of Forest City’s connection to political corruption cases in Brooklyn and Yonkers, today’s ruling shows the need to reform oversight of Atlantic Yards is more urgent than ever. The New York State Assembly has already passed legislation requiring ESDC to create a subsidiary to oversee the project. We now need swift action on the bill by the State Senate, and a commitment by Governor Cuomo to ensure Atlantic Yards is accountable to the public.”

Posted by eric at 12:26 PM

April 4, 2012

With no Building 2, arena boiler stack has to move 200 feet lower than announced; ESD says "there are no air quality issues"

Atlantic Yards

The delay in the first Atlantic Yards tower, Building 2, once expected to be constructed along with the Barclays Center arena, has some real-world consequences, notably the temporary relocation of a planned exhaust system for the arena boiler.

When the arena opens, the exhaust system will not be some 322 feet in the air, on the roof of B2, but instead 200 feet lower.

Empire State Development (ESD), the agency in charge of the Atlantic Yards project, says it's not a problem.

Plans in the Tech Memo

The ESD's June 2009 Technical Memorandum, produced to accompany the re-approval of the revised project, anticipated no delay in the construction of Building 2. It states on p. 5:

Heating systems for the arena block would be decentralized, with the arena and each of the surrounding buildings on the arena block having individual HVAC and microturbine/distributed power systems. The arena boiler exhaust would be vented through a single stack located on the roof of Building 2.

There was no further discussion of an alternative location if Building 2 does not open in time.

Nor was there mention of the issue in the December 2010 Technical Analysis, produced in response to a judge's order regarding the impact of delays on the second phase of the project, not the arena block.

ESD response

So I queried ESD about the location of the vent stack. The agency responded:

In the interim condition (before Building 2 is completed) the arena boiler stack is located in the southeast quadrant of the arena building (near Dean and Pacific). [Consultant] HDR has confirmed that the arena’s natural gas boiler meets the low NOx [nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide] requirement of 20ppm (MEC [Memorandum of Environmental Commitments] requirement). HDR has further determined that there are no air quality issues associated with this interim condition based on the low Nox natural gas and the height of the stack (122’ from ground level to top of stack). The stack will be relocated to Building 2 once it is constructed.

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Posted by steve at 8:05 AM

March 20, 2012

ESDC Now Stands for "Empire State gets 'D' for Corruptibility"

State Integrity Investigation

link

Posted by eric at 10:52 AM

March 15, 2012

As Sunshine Week continues, questions about Cuomo administration's responsiveness (and what about my 2010 FOIL requests?)

Atlantic Yards Report

It's Sunshine Week, a national initiative organized by press groups (and allies) to spotlight open government, but sunshine regarding New York State government--notably, Empire State Development ESD)--seems to be lacking.

I've been waiting 18 months for a response to a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request from ESD, as I'll describe further below.

And journalists from much larger organizations, and even lawmakers, have been stymied, according to a 3/10/12 Albany Times-Union article headlined Delay hurts public access: Cuomo administration offers a mixed record in release of information to New Yorkers.
...

What am I asking for?

Well, the 9/16/10 request, which might be considered fairly broad, sought several documents regarding the Atlantic Yards Development Agreement.

The 10/5/10 request, however, was more narrow, regarding Executive Director Peter Davidson's planned trip to China on behalf of the New York City Regional Center's effort, under the EB-5 visa program, to market an investment in Atlantic Yards that would bring Forest City Ratner a $249 million low-interest loan.

I sought records to explain:

  • the cost and itinerary of the trip
  • what Mr. Davidson is expected to do (outline of remarks, etc)
  • the solicitation for and decision to make the trip
  • any evaluation on ESDC's part of the job numbers used by NYCRC

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NoLandGrab: The Cuomo Administration, apparently, has stuffed those records where the sun don't shine.

Posted by eric at 12:12 PM

February 17, 2012

Judicial Panel Skeptical of ESDC and Ratner in Atlantic Yards Courtroom Drama

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

On Tuesday the state and Forest City Ratner lamely argued their appeal in front of a NY State Appellate Court panel which was not buying their contorted arguments. They were appealing the case the community won in which it was ruled that they are required to do a new environmental review for the bulk of the Atlantic Yards project.

Here is a round up of the court room drama...

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Posted by eric at 10:36 AM

February 16, 2012

Did Goldman, Sachs try to run the Brooklyn Arena LDC? It appeared so, but then an Investor Update call for today was canceled.

Atlantic Yards Report

Well, we knew that the Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation (BALDC), the entity set up to issue tax-free bonds for the arena, was little more than an alter ego of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), even though it is officially a "creation" of the Job Development Authority (JDA), another ESDC alter ego.

I was recently alerted to an Investor Update Call scheduled for today, apparently to alert arena bondholders on the progress of construction. The document, issued via the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, stated:

The Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation invites you to participate in an Investor Update Call related to the above-captioned transaction.

The RSVP went to a staffer at Goldman, Sachs.

Very curious

That sounded odd, given that the BALDC is a publicly created body, with board members appointed by public officials.

How could this be delegated to Goldman? Was the ESDC (also known simply as Empire State Development) involved?

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Posted by eric at 11:54 AM

February 15, 2012

ESDC asks appellate court to deny full study of 25-year Atlantic Yards impacts (and alternatives); some judges skeptical, others wonder what harm it would do

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder reports on yesterday's Atlantic Yards court hearing.

It was a somewhat uphill battle yesterday for the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and developer Forest City Ratner (FCR), asking a state appellate court panel to overturn a lower court’s order that the agency study the impact of a 25-year Atlantic Yards buildout, solicit public comment, and conduct a public hearing.

A couple of the five judges were clearly skeptical of the state, with one citing the ESDC's "obstinate adherence" to the long-professed ten-year buildout.

Others, taking in the objections from the defendants, questioned whether a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS)--which would analyze those extended impacts and even consider alternatives to Phase 2, since as revising the project to diminish impacts or welcoming new developers--would really cause any harm.

Then again, questions from the bench do not necessarily indicate how a court will rule after analyzing the legal papers.

Atlantic Yards was approved in 2006, with a ten-year buildout, then revised in 2009, as Forest City reopened settled deals with the ESDC (regarding the timing of condemnations) and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (regarding the payment of railyard development rights and the configuration of a replacement railyard), in order to save money.

As part of the 2009 approval, as the defendants stressed, the state did analyze the impacts of 15-year buildout (in the 2009 Technical Memorandum). In response to a lower court ruling by Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman, the state produced a document (the 2010 Technical Analysis) arguing that a 25-year buildout would not create any impacts not previously disclosed.

But that document was inadequate, argued the lawyers for the petitioners, community coalitions led by Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn and BrooklynSpeaks.

At the heart of the 35-minute argument before the Appellate Division, First Department, in Manhattan was whether an intense buildout of the 17-building project over a decade would be worse than an extended, if less intense, buildout over 25 years. The state says yes, the petitioners say no.

The legal dispute does not affect the building of the arena, nor the towers around it, but does address plans for and impacts of Phase Two of the project: the eleven towers east of Sixth Avenue, including those to be built on a platform over the Vanderbilt Yard.

A decision is expected in about two months. An appeal is not automatic unless two of the five justices dissent.

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Related coverage...

NorthJersey.com, An arena grows in Brooklyn – but it’s complicated

The Bergen Record's John Brennan stands out among mainstream media reporters for his dedication in covering the Atlantic Yards story.

Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner was in court in Manhattan on Tuesday – Valentine’s Day – arguing against critics’ claims that they have a sweetheart deal with New York State to develop the project on any timetable they choose.

First things first: This last remaining lawsuit, eight years into the saga, will not impact construction of the Nets’ $1 billion Barclays Center arena near downtown Brooklyn nor its scheduled opening in September. That is the first of more than a dozen buildings scheduled to go up – eventually.

And that’s where this legal action comes in: If the project’s original 10-year timetable is now more realistically a 25-year one for full buildout, is a Supplemental Environmental Impact statement required?

The Local [Fort Greene/Clinton Hill], How Long Will It Take to Build Atlantic Yards? No One Knows

Even the lawyers don’t know when Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project will be completed — if it will be completed at all.

That bombshell — and the equally explosive prospect of a massive parking lot just south of Atlantic Avenue taking up promised park space for more than a decade — were the highlights of yesterday’s appeals court hearing to consider whether the 16-skyscraper arena, commercial and residential project is so delayed that Mr. Ratner must perform a new environmental impact statement to analyze the effect of the longer buildout.
...

“This is the 13th and 14th litigation about the Atlantic Yards project,” [Empire State Development Corporation attorney Philip Karmel] said. “If we had a supplementary [environmental impact statement], there’d be yet another litigation.”

NoLandGrab: Well, if it was of the same quality as its predecessor, yes there would.

Posted by eric at 4:49 PM

January 6, 2012

After 15 months, still waiting for response to a Freedom of Information Law request regarding ESDC official's trip to China to support Forest City Ratner's EB-5 sales efforts

Atlantic Yards Report

So, how far did New York State go to assist Forest City Ratner in its efforts to raise a low-interest loan of $249 million from immigrant investors seeking green cards under the federal government's EB-5 program?

After 15 months, I'm still waiting for a response to my Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request to the Empire State Development Corporation. Nothing's changed since I wrote about my request nearly five months ago, in August.

Still, thanks to New York Times coverage of EB-5 gerrymandering, there's now much more concern about whether New York State bends the rules to help favored projects. So there's even more reason the state should practice transparency.

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NoLandGrab: Yeah, how's that transparency thing coming along, Status Cuomo?

Posted by eric at 12:33 PM

December 13, 2011

At community meeting on Atlantic Yards transportation issues, call for "buy-in" on Forest City Ratner's (delayed) plan, frustration that so little is in place, new study of baseline issues announced

Atlantic Yards Report

Funny that Forest City can put double- or triple-shifts on for construction (keeping nearby residents up all night), but the same urgency is absent when it comes to completing a transportation plan that might be those residents' only chance of avoiding an arena-generated traffic nightmare.

A long-awaited meeting last night on community input regarding Atlantic Yards transportation issues--a prelude to a Transportation Working Group (TWG)--generated significant community frustration that so little was in place less than ten months before the Barclays Center arena begins operations.

“This project, and its arena, opens in ten months,” declared Gib Veconi, an activist in the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council and BrooklynSpeaks. “We just heard we haven't figured out where the satellite parking lots would be. By the same token, we don't know what happened with the sidewalk plan that shows narrower sidewalks, fewer travel lanes... We don't know what the parking plan for Block 1129 is, which is in the middle of a residential neighborhood..”

He further asked how Traffic Enforcement Agents (TEAs) would be deployed, and how the three police precincts that touch on the site would divide their work.

“Early next year,” responded Arana Hankin, Director, Atlantic Yards Project, for Empire State Development, the state agency in charge of the project. About 30 people attended the meeting at Brooklyn's Borough Hall.

But Hankin faced considerable criticism that too little had been revealed, and that a crucial Transportation Demand Plan (involving incentives to reduce use of cars, free MetroCards, cross-marketing with local businesses, remote parking, and more) would be made available “in the first quarter,” rather than, as promised earlier this year, by the end of 2011.

Community approval?

Indeed, Veconi galvanized the audience by proposing that the Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plan--which, unlike the forthcoming arena security and operations plans, requires approval by ESD and the city Department of Transportation (DOT)--be subject to community buy-in.

Many in the audience clapped, and Veconi suggested that the vote could be by those present, or by nominees of elected officials representing the neighborhoods around the project site.

“We can think about it,” Hankin said with a smile, in response to Veconi’s initial proposal.

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Related coverage...

Park Slope Patch, Civic Groups Ask DOT, State for Veto on Atlantic Yards Traffic Plan

Atlantic Yards-area civic leaders asked state and city agencies to give them veto power over Forest City Ratner’s plan to help reduce the traffic onslaught when Barclays Arena opens next fall.

The request came after area community groups were invited by the Brooklyn Borough President’s office to participate in an Atlantic Yards “transportation working group.”

Posted by eric at 1:33 PM

December 6, 2011

ESD: roofing contractor that poured powder on Pacific Street "was appropriately reprimanded" (but we still don't know what it was)

Atlantic Yards Report

I wrote yesterday about an incident captured on Atlantic Yards Watch, and now I have a partial response.

On Saturday morning (12/3/11) at about 7:30 am, workers for Wolkow Braker Roofing, which has a $4.3 million contract to work on the roof for the Barlcays Center, were spotted taking a white drum from a van, inspecting it, and upending it on Pacific Street, discharging a white powdery substance.

Asking questions

I queried the firm, and Empire State Development (ESD), which oversees Atlantic Yards, as to the nature of the powder (and whether it poses hazards), the appropriate procedure for disposing of such powder, and, if the procedure was improper, what action would be taken.

I got a partial response today from Arana Hankin, Director, Atlantic Yards Project, for ESD, who said "the contractor was appropriately reprimanded yesterday and we don’t expect this to happen again."

That didn't answer my first two questions, or regarding the nature of the reprimanded, so I requested further clarification from Hankin. If and when I get it, I will post an update.

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NoLandGrab: What ESDC means is "we don't expect this to happen again" on camera.

Posted by eric at 7:10 PM

November 17, 2011

A departure at Empire State Development: former Atlantic Yards overseer (and booster in China) Peter Davidson

Atlantic Yards Report

From today's Crain's Insider:

MOVING OVER: Empire State Development Corp. Executive Director Peter Davidson joins the Port Authority Monday. He will initially focus on economic development and energy policy.

Davidson, I noted earlier this month, had long had Atlantic Yards in his portfolio, overseeing Project Director Arana Hankin. Now new Chief of Staff Justin Ginsburgh has overall responsibility for Atlantic Yards.

Last year, in a trip to China to boost Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project among potential investors, Davidson claimed, incredibly, that it would "be the largest job-creating project in New York City in the last 20 years.”

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Posted by eric at 1:42 PM

Whistleblowing and EDC: Culture and the Questionable Spirit In Which the State Agency Most Responsible For Atlantic Yards Wields Omnipotent Powers

Noticing New York

In a post that compares and contrasts the Penn State sexual abuse scandal and Atlantic Yards, Michael D.D. White explores the Empire State Development Corporation's shoddy record on compliance with state law.

Fully on notice about its noncompliance given my February 3, 2010 Noticing New York article, ESDC finally adopted the whistleblower policy it was legally required to on April 26, 2010 (i.e. also missing the March 1, 2010 deadline of the second law).

It was on the agenda for April 26, 2010 for administrative action as Agenda item #4. According to the minutes, when one of the board members asked, they were told that this was the first time the agency had such a policy but there is no mention recorded in the minutes or in the memo presenting the policy to the directors that the agency had been improperly without such a policy for many years.

JDA, ESD’s coadministered sister agency that was involved in issuing the (rather questionable) bonds for the Atlantic Yards Prokhorov/Ratner “Barclays” arena did not act to adopt the required whistleblower policy until more than a year after ESD, June 28, 2011.
...

The responses I received after inquiries to the ESD press office inform me that the policies, since their adoption, have been essentially inert.

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Posted by eric at 1:00 PM

November 9, 2011

A switch at Empire State Development: new Chief of Staff Justin Ginsburgh now has Atlantic Yards in his portfolio

Atlantic Yards Report

"Attention passengers: we have rearranged the deck chairs for your comfort. We hope you are enjoying your cruise on the Titanic Atlantic Yards."

According to a new Empire State Development (Corporation) organizational chart, dated 10/26/11, new Chief of Staff Justin Ginsburgh, whose appointment was announced 9/6/11, now has overall responsibility for Atlantic Yards.

The project previously was in the portfolio of Executive Director Peter Davidson, to whom Arana Hankin, Director, Atlantic Yards Project, reported.

The chief of staff is a newly created position. Before coming to ESD, Ginsburgh worked at Goldman Sachs for a year and seven months, following his 2009 graduation from Harvard Business School (where he signed the MBA Oath, joining others in aiming to “create value responsibly and ethically”).

Ginsburgh, who's in his early 30s, spent three years as Senior Project Manager for the New York City Economic Development Corporation and before that spent a year at the Boston Consulting Group.

What's the reason?

I queried agency spokesman Austin Shafran about the change. Shafran responded, "Mr. Ginsburgh has taken on some of the oversight of key ESD projects to ensure we maintain an active role in their progress."

That's not terribly helpful, given that, presumably no one at the agency would acknowledge that it had not previously been maintaining an active role.

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Posted by eric at 11:53 AM

October 19, 2011

Separating the regulators from the promoters: in Japan, it took a nuclear disaster

Atlantic Yards Report

There's a telling passage in the 10/17/11 LETTER FROM FUKUSHIMA in the New Yorker, headlined The Fallout : Seven months later: Japan’s nuclear predicament.

The full article's not online, but this passage appears near the end of the article, summarizing some of the policy reaction:

The Japanese government ordered an initial round of stress tests--simulated disasters--for most of the nation's nuclear reactors. It passed a tariff that promotes the use of renewable energy sources, which had withered during the heyday of the nuclear program. And, in an important legal change, it moved to separate the regulators in charge of policing the plants from the industrial ministry in charge of promoting them.

Hm--will it take a non-radiation version of a nuclear disaster in New York to separate the agency in charge of promoting a project like Atlantic Yards from the agency that oversees its environmental impact?

link

Posted by eric at 1:00 PM

October 16, 2011

ESD CEO Adams, in online Q&A, takes two Atlantic Yards questions, offers predictable answers

Atlantic Yards Report

Well, Empire State Development CEO Kenneth Adams took two pre-submitted Atlantic Yards questions yesterday in an online Q&A via the Governor's CitizenConnects web site.

His answers, surely composed with the help of staffers, were predictable, and not very forthcoming.

Extended construction no worse

Q.* Do you agree with ESDC’s December 2010 argument that 25 years of construction is no worse for the local community than 10 years?*

A. I do agree because the impacts of construction are more severe when there are multiple buildings under construction at one time. If only one building is constructed at a time, or if there are gaps between construction, the level of noise will not be as great on the site, there will be less trucks traveling to the site and there will be overall less disruption in the area. A more condensed schedule over a shorter period of time will have more severe impacts to the local community.

By contrast, state Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman, in her July ruling calling for the agency to conduct a study of the impact of 25 years of construction, disagreed:

The conclusion in the Technical Analysis that an extended delay to 2035 would not have significant adverse environmental impacts that were not addressed in the FEIS [Final Environmental Impact Statement] is, in turn, based on the repeated assertions that the delay in the build-out would result in prolonged but less “intense” construction, and that most environmental impacts are driven by intensity rather than duration.

The Technical Analysis, which was prepared with marked speed in the month after the remand, does not support these findings with any technical studies on the effects of significantly prolonged construction on various areas of environmental concern. Rather, it appears to take the position that it is a matter of common sense that less intense construction will result in lower impacts for conditions such as traffic, noise, and air quality.

Even assuming arguendo that ESDC’s common sense assumption is correct, under established standards for environmental impact analysis, the duration of construction activities is a factor that is required to be taken into account in assessing the impacts on both environmental conditions such as traffic, noise, and air quality, which are amenable to quantitative analysis, and conditions such as neighborhood character, open space, and socioeconomic conditions, which are largely subject to qualitative analysis.

Why appeal court decision?

Q. Why is your agency appealing a July New York State Supreme Court decision ordering ESDC to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement analyzing the effects of the 2009 modified Atlantic Yards plan on the surrounding neighborhoods?

A. ESD strongly believes that it has complied with all relevant laws, and that is why we have appealed Justice Friedman’s decision.

This echoes an ESD statement made last month.

link

Posted by steve at 11:13 PM

October 9, 2011

Blame game over Port Authority executive director position

Crain's New York

As speculation mounts that Patrick Foye—the deputy secretary for economic development for Gov. Andrew Cuomo—will succeed Christopher Ward as Port Authority executive director, insiders are revisiting his performance as head of the Empire State Development Corp. under Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

Not everyone liked what they saw. Mr. Foye's tenure at the state's primary economic development agency ended prematurely; he quit days after Mr. Spitzer resigned in March 2008. Insiders said he struggled to work with real estate developers and the Bloomberg administration to lift New York City megaprojects off the ground.

Some who worked with him on projects describe Mr. Foye as indecisive and unable to maneuver adeptly between various political stakeholders—deficiencies that critics said would be even more glaring if he ran the bistate, multibillion-dollar Port Authority.

“He couldn't advance the ball,” said one insider. “He didn't know what he was doing.”

Detractors said Mr. Foye took a hands-off approach toward Atlantic Yards and led the state to abandon its expansion plans for the Javits Convention Center, which were deemed too costly. The momentum to build Moynihan Station lost steam under his watch. And after his departure, the city wrested control of Brooklyn Bridge Park and Governors Island from the state.

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NoLandGrab: A "hands-off approach toward Atlantic Yards" amounts to tacit approval.

Posted by steve at 10:41 PM

October 2, 2011

Could the Atlantic Yards Monopoly Be Even Less Regulated Than It Is? Why A Mega-Monopoly Continuation Isn’t Workable

Noticing New York

Just how unregulated can the Forest City Ratner Atlantic Yards mega-monopoly be? Probably more unregulated than anyone can possibly imagine. Anyone, except perhaps the developer/subsidy collector himself, Bruce Ratner, who seems always to be able to envision the next steps to which his firm’s lack of accountability can be taken, and then implement it.

The signals being sent by Governor Andrew Cuomo indicate that Ratner’s fondest wishes for no effective regulation will be accommodated. One such signal is the appointment of mega-project booster Joe Chan for a top-ranking job at the Empire State Development (Corp.), the agency that theoretically supervises and regulates the megadevelopment. (See: Wednesday, September 14, 2011, Post: Atlantic Yards booster Joe Chan to leave Downtown Brooklyn Partnership for ESDC and Downtown Brooklyn economic development czar stepping down for state job, September 14, 2011, by Rich Calder)

The fact Atlantic Yards will be so blatantly unregulated should make clear to those considering the matter that seeking to regulate a continuing Ratner monopoly of vast size is not a solution. What is really needed is for the unjust and unjustifiable Ratner mega-monopoly to be broken up.

...

The answer, the only answer, is to break up Ratner’s mega-monopoly. Those who think the answer is to more effectively and meaningfully “regulate” Ratner’s monopoly are wrong. This is not 1913 when phone company president Vail was amenable to constraints to provide public benefit. Times have changed. The regulated have changed and the regulators have changed. You cannot expect to regulate a mega-monopoly like Ratner’s with politicians like Bloomberg and Cuomo in office. And you would still need an independent judiciary to enforce the law. Whereas once Professor Wu might have surmised that regulation of the 1913 phone company was tantamount to being ineffectual because it was superfluous to the good intentions of phone company president Theodore Vail, regulation of the Ratner mega-monopoly is, per se, going to be ineffectual for another reason: Because Ratner, running the show, will simply shrug off any meaningful restraints that the misguided struggle to impose.

link

Further coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, Noticing New York's White: "Just how unregulated can the Forest City Ratner Atlantic Yards mega-monopoly be? Probably more unregulated than anyone can possibly imagine."

Noticing New York's Michael D. D. White was not at the meeting September 26 in which Empire State Development CEO Kenneth Adams met with local elected officials and community members regarding Atlantic Yards, but his take on recent events, Could the Atlantic Yards Monopoly Be Even Less Regulated Than It Is? Why A Mega-Monopoly Continuation Isn’t Workable, is well worth reading:

Just how unregulated can the Forest City Ratner Atlantic Yards mega-monopoly be? Probably more unregulated than anyone can possibly imagine. Anyone, except perhaps the developer/subsidy collector himself, Bruce Ratner, who seems always to be able to envision the next steps to which his firm’s lack of accountability can be taken, and then implement it.

The signals being sent by Governor Andrew Cuomo indicate that Ratner’s fondest wishes for no effective regulation will be accommodated. One such signal is the appointment of mega-project booster Joe Chan for a top-ranking job at the Empire State Development (Corp.), the agency that theoretically supervises and regulates the megadevelopment.

One example unmentioned in White's critique: the state's unwillingness to crack down on blatant and continuing violations by trucks drivers of of site and city regulations.

Regarding the ESD

Regarding the Adams meeting, White writes:

It is an example of how the principal role of State Officials is to run interference and provide a insulating layer of separation between the entity actually responsible and in charge (Forest City Rather) and the community itself. In essence, ESD and its state officials are like the high-priced secretary who, with impeccable manners, brushes you off by telling you that her boss is not in but she will be sure to communicate to him everything you want him to know and she is sure it will be “looked into.”

Challenging the reponse

He also critiques the "cryptic and timidly expressed" joint press release from BrooklynSpeaks and Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn:

Does the third of those points, “open the development to additional teams,” with its ensuing etc eteras mean anything other than dismantle the Ratner mega-monopoly? Wouldn’t it be more courageous, frank and evocative of principle to simply say “dismantle the Ratner mega-monopoly and bid it out properly to multiple developers”?

...Here is a suggestion: Address a number of these matters simultaneously by saying that public funds should not be used to subsidize the mega-project’s excessive density and call for a per-acre limitation on subsidies (that excludes seized streets and sidewalks from the acreage calculation) that should not exceed what developers of normal density projects ordinarily get. This would help take the profit and the wind out of the sails of the Ratner’s eminent domain abuse monopoly.

Posted by steve at 11:02 PM

September 29, 2011

What ESDC must do now to make Atlantic Yards work for Brooklyn

Brooklyn Speaks

Construction of the Barclays Center arena is moving ahead, but the completion of Phase I and all of Phase II of the Atlantic Yards project risks being significantly delayed. Sadly, the promises of jobs, economic vitality for the area, income for the City of New York, affordable housing, and open space all seem unlikely to be realized for decades, if not generations.

BrooklynSpeaks and Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn want successful development of the Atlantic Yards site. We want what the State and City want: the economic development, the jobs, and the public benefits that a healthy development can provide—not in the 25 years now understood by all as being likely, but within the next few years as needed.

The project’s present path won’t lead us there. Although economic conditions may be discouraging for development, it is the project plan itself that is the constraint. Conceived at a time when financing was readily available and the market was ripe for a large new development, the project was planned from west to east, merging the difficult and expensive site development with the easy. As a result, the project plan has burdened what is feasible with that which has become infeasible, and risks bringing development to a halt. The project’s dependence on luxury housing hampers forward movement and adds exposure to market fluctuations that might otherwise be avoided.

In most ESDC projects, flexibility and managing risk are part of the plan. Without altering the intent or spirit of the Atlantic Yards project, ESDC should now consider pragmatic changes that will foster success and accelerate its benefits.

  • Build first on currently developable parcels, deferring the costly Vanderbilt Yards platform.
  • Develop affordable housing in the manner and context of recent successes nearby.
  • Open the development to additional teams in order to distribute the investment, the risk and the total work effort.
  • Bring the community and its elected representatives to the table so we can all work together and win.

link

Related coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, A caution on that BrooklynSpeaks/DDDB press release: wouldn't deferring railyard development prolong blight?

On Monday, before the community meeting with Empire State Development CEO Kenneth Adams, BrooklynSpeaks and Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) issued what I think was their first-ever joint press release, headlined What ESDC must do now to make Atlantic Yards work for Brooklyn.

It was very much BrooklynSpeaks language--DDDB never wanted to make "Atlantic Yards work for Brooklyn" but rather to stop the project. So perhaps it was an exercise in pragmatism.

The recommendations, including opening up the project site to additional developers, would require ESD to amend the project plan and numerous contract documents.

There's never been any sign of the political will to do so. If the state wanted to ensure that the project gets done without opening it up to additional developers, it could have impose tougher deadlines and fines to push Forest City Ratner.

Gentle deadline

And the joint recommendation to defer development on the railyard because of a costly platform--which the developer already has 15 years to start--implicitly endorses that gentle deadline to which the state agreed.

In other words, everyone now seems to agree that the railyard, the most prominent claim to blight on the oddly-drawn Atlantic Yards footprint, can remain a blighting influence.

(Astonishingly, FCR in March 2009 told the Empire State Development Corporation that "the vast majority" of benefits for the community would be "entirely realized in the remote circumstance of MTA's default scenario," in which no platform were built.)

Posted by steve at 2:27 PM

Downtown Brooklyn Partnership Exec Headed To State Development Corp.

Fort Greene-Clinton Hill Patch
By Paul Leonard

Despite its civic-sounding name, the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership is representative for developers. After years of being a cheerleader for Atlantic Yards, DBP head Joe Chan is rewarded with a post with the Empire State Development Corporation.

Joe Chan, head of Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, will step down from his post after years of overseeing the neighborhood's transformation from a underutilized outpost to a thriving retail and residential center.

Chan, a resident of Fort Greene, leaves DBP to become vice president of development at Empire State Development, the agency overseeing some of New York's biggest construction projects, including Atlantic Yards.

link

Posted by steve at 1:58 PM

September 28, 2011

Atlantic Yards Project Director Arana Hankin: project remains on schedule (despite trending slower), trucking procedures "a work in progress" (despite continued violations)

Atlantic Yards Report

After the cordial but not very productive community meeting on Atlantic Yards Monday with underinformed Empire State Development (ESD) CEO Kenneth Adams, I approached him and Atlantic Yards Project Director Arana Hankin with a few follow-up questions.

Adams listened briefly, but cordially--and not without reason--begged off to greet some of the elected officials who, after all, are his bosses.

...

I asked Hankin if the arena was on schedule, given the efforts at expensive after-hours work, unresolved discrepancies reported by a construction monitor, and, as discussed at the meeting with Adams, talk of a "recovery schedule," a construction term used to specific accelerated work.

...

Given that Forest City Ratner now has a hard deadline of September 2012 to open the arena, I suggested that community impacts come more into focus.

After all, at the Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet meeting on September 22, a Forest City Ratner executive said revamped trucking procedures were "very effective" in reducing the number of trucks inappropriately idling on a residential block--but that it wasn't working at all, as documented by Atlantic Yards Watch, again and again.

(For example, in this screenshot from a video taken that morning from Pacific Street looking west, the empty truck in the foreground is illegally parked, and the tractor-trailer in the intersection, poised to go into the arena site but not flagged in, is causing southbound traffic on Sixth Avenue to veer left into the northbound lane.)

“Like I’ve always said, it’s a work in progress," Hankin responded, repeating her mantra. "We constantly nag Forest City Ratner every day to make sure that they improve their game and modify their plan. They’ve already changed the way they manage the trucks at least five times.”

I asked about the first-ever "notice of violation" sent about a month ago to Forest City, giving them 30 days to comply with the state's Memorandum of Environmental Commitments. What did the developer say?

“They said they’re amending the truck rules and regs again,” Hankin said.

It still hasn't been working, I pointed out.

"Like I said, it’s a work in progress," Hankin responded.

link

Posted by steve at 11:21 AM

September 27, 2011

Genial ESD CEO Adams meets with community members, gets praised for showing up, says state solidly supports Forest City, opposes governance entity, admits he has much to learn

Atlantic Yards Report

Despite the general air of mutual cordiality and the non-defensiveness expressed by Empire State Development (ESD) CEO Kenneth Adams, the meeting last night which allowed Adams to meet with Brooklynites concerned about Atlantic Yards was somewhat odd on multiple levels.

First, the meeting for weeks was billed as an invitation-only affair, with questions to be submitted beforehand and to be delivered via elected officials.

However, just hours before the meeting, held at Brooklyn Borough Hall, ESD opened up the meeting to the press. (Besides me, the only other reporter to attend from the Daily News, and she left early.) During the meeting, community members were allowed to ask direct questions.

Second, though Adams was accompanied to the meeting by no fewer than seven ESD staffers, he pre-empted questions by saying he was "really here to understand." When faced with specific queries, he offered genial promises to look into things, rather than canvassing colleagues for an answer.

For example, Adams said he wanted to get more details about the community-sponsored UNITY plan, which would divide the site into multiple development parcels, as well as the developer’s specific obligations to get the project done.

Surely someone in the room could have told him that his agency long ago dismissed the UNITY plan, during the environmental review. Also, while several people, including Council Member Letitia James, said a 25-year project buildout was unacceptable, that’s exactly what the ESD negotiated.

Not discussed was that a state judge had slammed his agency for failure to study the impacts of an buildout that could last 25 years--and, rather than accept those decisions, the ESDC is appealing them (nonetheless while conducting a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement).

Bottom line

Still, the fact that Adams, a longtime Brooklynite who knew a reasonable slice of the 25 or so invited representatives and elected officials, had shown up was considered a major step forward, given the failure of any of his predecessors to hold such a meeting.
...

But Adams’ bottom line, delivered in his friendly manner, was unswerving: the state supports Forest City Ratner and believes the project will get done as promised.
...

It also was curious to see project opponents like Daniel Goldstein of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) and Eric McClure of Park Slope Neighbors/No Land Grab question Adams cordially, and get cordial, if somewhat brush-off answers in response.

article

NoLandGrab: We didn't think about it at the time, but yes, that was kind of surreal.

Posted by eric at 1:18 PM

September 26, 2011

A belated invite to a now-open Community Forum with Kenneth Adams

Atlantic Yards Report

Remember the behind-closed-doors community meeting with Empire State Development CEO Kenneth Adams scheduled for tonight?

Well, now it's open to the press. So I'll be there.

link

Posted by eric at 5:08 PM

September 16, 2011

ESD CEO Kenneth Adams to meet Brooklynites concerned about Atlantic Yards; session is invite-only, questions must be submitted beforehand

Atlantic Yards Report

In July, at the bi-monthly Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet meeting, Council Member Letitia James asked Arana Hankin, Atlantic Yards Project Director for Empire State Development, if she could get Empire State Development President and CEO Kenneth Adams, a Brooklynite, to come to a Town Hall meeting in Brooklyn.

Well, Adams will appear at a Brooklyn Borough Hall meeting September 26 from 6-8 pm, but the meeting is not public, and limited to representatives of specific community groups, which can each send one representative. Questions must be submitted in advanced and asked by elected officials.

James told me yesterday that she had requested that Adams attend the District Service Cabinet and a community meeting. "This is their version of a community meeting," she said in an email. Representatives from some 30 groups were invited to submit questions.

article

NoLandGrab: The ESDC is all about transparency and openness.

Posted by eric at 12:35 PM

September 15, 2011

Cuomo Administration to Appeal Court Order to Re-examine Atlantic Yards Environmental Impact

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

Speaking of the ESDC...

Governor (Status) Cuomo and his new appointee heading the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), Kenneth Adams, have decided that the most responsible thing it can do for the public in reaction to a July court order to rationally examine the environmental impacts of the 25-year (at minimum) Atlantic Yards project is to...appeal that court order.

The ESDC, again, is acting solely on behalf of the developer Forest City Ratner while gifting the public (DDDB and BrooklynSpeaks foremostly) the present of having to fight off an appeal that shouldn't have been brought in the first place.

Oh, and all the local politicians had called on Adams and the Governor to comply with the court order.

link

Posted by eric at 12:09 PM

Downtown Brooklyn economic development czar stepping down for state job

The Brooklyn Blog (NYPost.com)
by Rich Calder

The head of the development corporation created by Mayor Bloomberg to spur economic development in Downtown Brooklyn is leaving for a top-ranking job at the Empire State Development Corp., sources said today.

Joe Chan, president of the public-private Downtown Brooklyn Partnership since its inception in 2006, had been making $220,000 annually but recently took a pay cut to slightly below $180,000 to reflect the current economic downturn, sources said.
...

The Partnership is also now running the Fulton Mall, Court-Livingston-Schermerhorn and Metro Tech business improvement districts.

However, Comptroller John Liu ripped the Partnership in a recent audit for keeping shoddy payroll records, poorly documenting private donations and snubbing competitive-bidding laws. The Partnership has denied the findings.

article

Related coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, Post: Atlantic Yards booster Joe Chan to leave Downtown Brooklyn Partnership for ESDC

Assuming Chan will have a top job under CEO Kenneth Adams, that would make two Atlantic Yards-supporting Brooklynites at the top of the agency overseeing Atlantic Yards.

The Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, presumably influenced by Mayor Mike Bloomberg and member Forest City Ratner, has been a reliable cheerleader for Atlantic Yards, and once was (and perhaps still is) under investigation by the state Attorney General's office for improper lobbying.

Posted by eric at 11:44 AM

September 14, 2011

Update: ESDC to appeal Friedman's rulings but still will prepare a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement

Atlantic Yards Report

I wrote this morning that both Forest City Ratner and the Empire State Development Corporation are appealing state Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman's rulings that require a new Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS). However (as first noted on Patch), the state agency will still conduct an SEIS.

Agency spokeswoman Elizabeth Mitchell told me:

Empire State Development strongly believes we complied with all applicable laws when the Atlantic Yards General Project Plan was modified in 2009, including undertaking a thorough review of environmental impacts as required by State environmental law. This review demonstrated that the modified Project would not result in any impacts that were not already disclosed in earlier environmental reviews, and therefore, no Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, or SEIS, was required. Accordingly, on Monday, September 12, ESD filed an appeal of the New York Supreme Court order directing that ESD conduct an SEIS in connection with Phase 2 of the Project.

However, she also stated:

ESD has decided to comply with the judge’s order to prepare an SEIS to ensure that the impacts to the surrounding community are minimized to the maximum practicable extent.

That doesn't fully compute, to me. It could simply be that the agency is hedging its bets; if the appellate court does not overturn the lower court's decision, at least ESD will have an SEIS in place.

link

Posted by eric at 3:15 PM

ESDC, Forest City to appeal state court judge's ruling that requires Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement; legislators had asked state to comply with decision

Atlantic Yards Report

When it comes to Atlantic Yards and New York State government, everything is Status Cuomo.

Does the impact of extended Atlantic Yards construction, which could last 25 years, need to be studied further?

No, say the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and Forest City Ratner. They're appealing two decisions made by state Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman--strong criticisms of the state's processes--leading to 7/13/11 ruling and order that the ESDC conduct further environmental review, including a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS).

The defense argument, as described further below, is that it was "rational in all respects, and adequately supported by the record" for the state to assume a ten-year buildout and to assume that no significant adverse environmental impacts had not already been analyzed.

The question for the appellate court is whether, indeed, it was "rational"--not clear and convincing but simply "rational." That's a very low bar for a state agency to meet in an environmental review proceeding, which is why Friedman's rulings against the state were unusual.

The petitioners--in two combined cases--include civic groups organized by BrooklynSpeaks and Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB), as well as several individuals and local elected officials. The appeal decision was announced yesterday by BrooklynSpeaks, which in recent months has taken more of a leading role in the litigation.

article

NoLandGrab: Why you hittin' yourself, ESDC?

Related coverage...

Prospect Heights Patch, Order for Environmental Review of Atlantic Yards to be Contested

Brownstoner, Forest City, ESDC Appealing July Atlantic Yards Ruling

Posted by eric at 1:29 PM

September 9, 2011

Arana Hankin, navigating Atlantic Yards (and FCR relationship) for the state, after one year: some successes, some "work in progress," and more responsiveness when new staffer starts

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder recently scored an exclusive interview with Empire State Development's Atlantic Yards point-person. Here it is.

After one year overseeing Atlantic Yards, Brooklyn's (and perhaps the city's) most controversial project, Arana Hankin sounds enthusiastic about the job, that she's helped solve problems. But it's tough to call her position a comfortable one.

On the one hand, Empire State Development (ESD, aka Empire State Development Corporation) clearly needed a point person for all things AY. So Hankin, Director, Atlantic Yards Project, has done some worthy work, helping lead responses to the "rat tsunami" and illegal parking around the project site, among other things.

On the other hand, the state agency has the inherently conflicted role of shepherding Forest City Ratner's project while overseeing the developer, leaving Hankin--more a coordinator/good soldier than policy maker--in a tough spot, though it's not one to which she'd cop.

After all, the agency, before Hankin joined it (though she was involved in overseeing it), withheld a key Atlantic Yards document, the Development Agreement, thus gaining initial victory in the lawsuit filed by citizens' groups challenging the professed ten-year timetable.

The state lost after the document was finally allowed into the record, and we should know by September 16 whether the state will appeal a judge's order to conduct a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, or SEIS.

Hankin, a longtime aide to former Gov. David Paterson in his various governmental posts, is relatively young--she earned her undergrad degree in 2000--but she's no political naif. She's clearly confident in controlled settings, and, though occasionally discomfited in less congenial meetings, has grown steadier. She's received good reviews from allies but also prompted pushback from those who fear she's more lip service than action.

Some people involved with Atlantic Yards wouldn't comment when I asked them to weigh in on Hankin. That may say less about her than the inherently fraught issue that is Atlantic Yards, given the ongoing lawsuit and the effort by some to wrest the project from the ESD's direct control and establish an oversight body.

(Photo by Tracy Collins, from 9/29/10 public meeting on the arena plaza.)

article

Posted by eric at 9:01 AM

September 4, 2011

What if it gets loud? State says police "will seek to control unruly behavior," but expect "significant adverse noise impacts" from traffic (though they didn't study impact on plaza nor effect on pedestrians)

Atlantic Yards Report

The Empire State Development Corporation has posted (also embedded below) 68 questions and responses from the 6/14/11 public meeting on traffic issues.

I've already highlighted some questions and responses, including the capacity of sidewalks on Dean Street, plans for the surface parking lot, the impact of traffic on the Dean Street Playground, a post-arena opening traffic study, the Transportation Demand Management plan, and potential sidewalk closures.

Below is another question with a short answer but a longer backstory.

But what if it gets loud?

The question:

67 What are the plans to manage noise from traffic and pedestrians late at night?

The answer:

The FEIS [Final Environmental Impact Statement] determined that the Project would result in significant adverse noise impacts; thus some increase in noise is expected. Police officers patrolling Arena events will seek to control unruly behavior that would constitute an undue disturbance.

Note what's missing from "significant adverse noise impacts"--exactly who and where. Also unclear is how many officers will be available, and at what radius from the site. Will police be posted along residential Dean Street as event attendees walk back to the surface parking lot?

Click on the link to read about the noisy Atlantic Yards project, including a plaza that's destined to be less than serene.

link

Posted by steve at 8:40 PM

August 30, 2011

From ESD: increased vehicles/pedestrians on Dean Street not "anticipated" to provoke adverse effect on safety

Atlantic Yards Report

Empire State Development (aka Empire State Development Corporation) has posted (also embedded below) 68 questions and responses from the 6/14/11 public meeting on traffic issues. I've already highlighted some of the questions and responses, including the capacity of sidewalks on Dean Street and plans for the surface parking lot.

No problems from traffic/pedestrian increase?

This one jumped out:

10. Since the introduction of Astroturf to Dean Playground, activity at the playground has significantly increased. Will the increase in traffic and pedestrians make the playground less safe? Will parents still be able to watch their kids play from the sidewalk during league games on the weekends?

No adverse effect on safety in or around the playground is anticipated.

None? Is that why there will be extra cops and security guards around the perimeter of the arena and, presumably, adjacent streets?

As another response explains, there will be about 3000 additional pedestrians traveling between the accessory lot and the arena. It's unclear what fraction will use Dean Street, but it's a main route.

The word "anticipate," as I've documented, has a lot of flex to it.

article

Posted by eric at 10:50 AM

August 16, 2011

Ten months later, still waiting for a response to my FOIL request about state official Peter Davidson's trip to China promoting Forest City Ratner's misleading "green cards for investments" venture

Atlantic Yards Report

On 10/5/10, I sent the following letter to the Empire State Development Corporation (aka Empire State Development):

Under the Freedom of Information Law, I request records regarding Executive Director Peter Davidson's planned trip to China this month on behalf of the New York City Regional Center's effort, under the EB-5 visa program, to market an investment in Atlantic Yards.

Specifically, I seek records, including but not limited to correspondence to, from, and within the Empire State Development Corporation, that explain:
--the cost and itinerary of the trip
--what Mr. Davidson is expected to do (outline of remarks, etc)
--the solicitation for and decision to make the trip
--any evaluation on ESDC's part of the job numbers used by NYCRC

Last week, I received yet another letter from the state agency telling me they were still evaluating my request and searching for responsive records. I am to get an update on that search, and possible delivery of such records, by September 29.

I wonder why it's taking so long. Is the information really that obscure?

article

Posted by eric at 10:21 AM

August 12, 2011

The ESD, unmet environmental commitments regarding truck routes and rules, and the need for an ombudsperson (aka community/government affairs rep)

Atlantic Yards Report

Given what Atlantic Yards Watch describes as repeated violations of the Amended Memorandum of Environmental Commitments, Barclays Center Truck Rules and Requirements and city law, it couldn't be too soon before Empire State Development (aka Empire State Development Corporation) hires a new ombudsman (aka community/government affairs rep).

At the 7/14/11 Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet meeting, more than four weeks ago, state Atlantic Yards Project Director Arana Hankin said, "ESD is going to be hiring a new community and government affairs rep shortly. And we will be... ramping up the community engagement and... a communications strategy." (The original ombudsman left in June.)

Three days ago, on August 9, I asked the ESD for an update on that hiring, but haven't heard back.

article

Posted by eric at 10:14 AM

August 8, 2011

A change at the ESDC: executive Juanita Scarlett, who had (some) AY responsibility, moves on after six months (updated/corrected)

Atlantic Yards Report

Mrs. Errol Louis is moving on from the ESDC.

From City & State First Read, the newsletter of City Hall and The Capitol:

Today is Juanita Scarlett's last day at the Empire State Development Corporation, where she served since February as executive vice president for strategy, policy and public affairs. Scarlett, a Democratic operative who also worked for Cuomo in the attorney general's office, is taking an unspecified job in the private sector.

I wrote about Scarlett in February, so that's a pretty swift departure, suggesting 1) a really good offer, 2) some internal agency tensions, or 3) both.

I'm told Scarlett had supervisory responsibility over Arana Hankin, Director of the Atlantic Yards Project.

So presumably Scarlett's replacement might grapple with the ESDC's not-so-stringent approach to Forest City Ratner's (and contractors') repeated violations of the Amended Memorandum of Environmental Commitments.

Update/correction

I got a message from the ESDC responding to the earlier version of this post:

It is factually inaccurate and establishes a correlation between Juanita Scarlett’s departure and the management of the Atlantic Yards Project which absolutely does not exist and is nothing more than unfounded speculation on your part....

To clarify, Arana Hankin’s direct supervisor has always been Peter Davidson, ESD’s Executive Director. The Atlantic Yards Project was never in Juanita Scarlett’s portfolio; she was consulted from time to time on the public affairs and intergovernmental aspects of the project, but that is all.

I don't think I was suggesting that Scarlett's departure had anything to do with the Atlantic Yards project. Internal agency tensions could refer to a lot of things.

article

NoLandGrab: "Factually inaccurate?" ESDC's prickly defensiveness is pretty amusing considering that almost everything they've put forth about Atlantic Yards -- including what their attorneys have told judges in multiple courtrooms -- could be accurately described as "factually inaccurate."

And as for "unfounded specualtion," well, is there a more apt description of the Atlantic Yards project's alleged "benefits" ESDC has been touting now for the better part of a decade?

Posted by eric at 11:42 AM

August 6, 2011

ESDC acknowledges uncovered trucks leaving Atlantic Yards site not "isolated" incidents, but extent of penalties is unclear

Atlantic Yards Report

Yesterday, I wrote about evidence of repeated examples of dump trucks leaving the Atlantic Yards site uncovered--violations of the Amended Memorandum of Environmental Commitments.

I finally got an answer from the Empire State Development Corporation, but it wasn't a very satisfying one, even though it acknowledged that it was not an "isolated incident."

Raising the issue

To recap, on 7/25/11 I contacted the ESDC, pointing to additional evidence of trucks leaving the site without tarps, contradicting the agency's previous assertion that it "appears to be an isolated incident."

I got a response on 7/28/11 that they were working on a response. I followed up on 8/4/11, pointing to two more incidents.

I asked:

These are clearly not isolated incidents, so the question remains: if these are violations--and they sure seem to be--what steps or penalties have been or will be taken?

ESDC response

ESDC spokeswoman Elizabeth Mitchell responded yesterday, 8/5/11:

Once it was brought to ESD’s attention by our environmental consultant that this was not an isolated incident, ESD required FCRC [Forest City Ratner Companies] to work with the contractor to develop a more stringent review and disciplinary process which would result in immediate removal from the site if truckers leave the site with their load uncovered. In the past there has been a two-strike policy where truckers would have to be caught in the act twice before they are removed from the site.

More questions

My follow-up:

  • When did the process go into effect?
  • Is this one contractor, or more than one?
  • Have any truckers been removed? Are those individual drivers, or subcontractors?
  • And isn't it systemic, in a sense: if "Outgoing trucks shall be inspected at the gate," as per the environmental commitments memo, it seems to me there should be some leverage over the firm as a whole, not just the drivers. Does the firm, or whoever's in charge of inspections, face any penalties?

When I get an answer, I'll update this.

link

Posted by steve at 11:08 PM

July 15, 2011

Supreme Court judge orders new study of Atlantic Yards impact

The Brooklyn Paper
by Daniel Bush

A judge handed Atlantic Yards opponents a minor victory this week, ordering a new environmental review of Bruce Ratner’s $4.9 billion project — but one that is unlikely to halt the development of the under-construction Barclays Center.

On Wednesday, Supreme Court Judge Marcy Friedman ruled that the state acted illegally in 2009 when it approved the plan for the 22-acre Prospect Heights site without assessing the long-term impacts that its 25-year build-out would have on surrounding neighborhoods.
...

Friedman ordered the Empire State Development Corporation to conduct a new environmental study of the post-arena phase of the project, which consists of 11 additional high-rises slated to go up west of Sixth Avenue.

article

Related coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, After calling previous win in timetable case a "meaningless victory," the Brooklyn Paper deems latest decision "minor victory"

My comment on the latest article:

You can call the victory "minor" in the sense that it will have a minor impact on the project under construction. It could have a much larger impact on Phase II.

But it is much more than a minor victory in court, if you consider that judges almost always defer to government agencies, which need merely a "rational" basis for their decisions. The ESDC's ten-year timeline didn't pass that very minimal "rational" basis test.

Why should it have passed that test? After all, the ESDC's own CEO, in April 2009, admitted that Atlantic Yards would take "decades."

In other words, the decision confirms the belief--at least among many opposing the project or watching it closely--that the state has leaned over backward to accommodate the developer, Forest City Ratner.

But wait, there's more...

GlobeSt.com, Court Ruling Puts Part of Atlantic Yards Project on Hold

Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn scored a victory in a New York State Supreme Court Tuesday in its fight to force Forest City Ratner Cos. to re-imagine its Atlantic Yards project.
...

Jeff Baker, an attorney for DDDB, tells GlobeSt.com that he hopes the delay will provide time to re-evaluate the project.

“What it means at a minimum is that they have to go back and do a further environmental review and make the necessary findings to go forward with Phase II,” he says. “It’s an opportunity now, with a new administration, to take a fresh look at the project and do a better scale and a better structured development that will redevelop the area but not create a monstrosity or doom it to a protracted, 25 years or more construction schedule.”
...

Candace Carponter, the DDDB legal director, says that she’s not worried about Judge Friedman’s ruling being overturned. “She was very careful in writing this decision to make sure that it was unassailable on appeal,” Carponter says. “I believe that it will not be overturned. I’m not even sure that the ESDC will attempt to appeal it because I think it is such a strong decision.”

WNYC, More Delays Possible for Atlantic Yards

"We're satisfied with this decision," said attorney Jeff Baker who represents the group Develop - Don't Destroy, Brooklyn, which brought the suit. "We wish it had come a bit earlier because it could have stopped the whole project."

Metro Focus, Timeline: Atlantic Yards Grows, Slows in Brooklyn

Posted by eric at 11:16 AM

July 13, 2011

Court Says State Erred in Ratner Plan Review

The Wall Street Journal
by Eliot Brown

New York state's development agency erred in granting a 2009 approval to developer Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards basketball arena and housing project by not first conducting a thorough environmental review, a judge ruled Wednesday.

The ruling is a rebuke to the agency, the Empire State Development Corp., which approved the use of eminent domain to make way for the controversial Brooklyn development in 2006. The agency also re-approved a slowed-down version of the project after Mr. Ratner renegotiated the deal in 2009.

article

Related coverage...

Park Slope Patch, Judge Calls for Additional Review of Atlantic Yards Project

“While we disagree with the decision,“ said Joe DePlasco, a spokesperson for the developer, “it does not stop us from continuing work on the project and will not impact our current construction schedule. The arena is scheduled to open, as planned, in September, 2012 and we are working aggressively to start the residential portion of the project.”

NoLandGrab: If by "working aggressively" DePlasco means "doing absolutely nothing," then, yes, by all means, they're "working aggressively" [ ;-) ;-)] on the residential portion of the project.

Gothamist, Judge Orders Review Of Atlantic Yards Phase II

Judge Friedman ruled that the "ESDC's use of the 10 year build date in approving the 2009 Modified General Project Plan (MGPP) lacked a rational basis and was arbitrary and capricious," and that the ESDC failed to evaluate the impact of extensive delays for Phase II of the project. Phase I is already underway and involves the construction of a big basketball arena and beautiful sprawling parking lots. Phase II consists of the mixed-use residential and retail buildings with the low-income housing developer Bruce Ratner used to sugarcoat the project.

NY Post, Judge rips ESDC over Atlantic Yards, orders review of project’s second phase

Besides the arena, the rest of Atlantic Yards is on hold due to insuccifient financing, so critics say the judge’s decision could be a nail in the coffin for Ratner completing the project.

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, The Looooong Back Story on Today's Court Ruling on Ratner's Atlantic Yards

Today's NY State Supreme Court ruling against the Empire State Development Corporation and Forest City Ratner, condemning them for their irrational review of the Atlantic Yards project and ordering the state agency to conduct a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on Phase II of the project has a loooooong and winding backstory that couldn't possibly be captured in soundbites, press releases or print stories (or most blogs for that matter).

So leave it to Norman Oder, on his Atlantic Yards Report, to give the ins and outs of the sad history of this case which came down against the powerbrokers today.

About.com (Brooklyn, NY), Atlantic Yards: David Just Got Goliath (well, temporarily)

Synchronicity is a funny thing; I was just about to write a blog item urging everyone to go to the Brooklyn Heights Cinema to catch the last few showings of a movie about the Atlantic Yards debacle, called Battle for Brooklyn (not to be confused with the actual Revolutionary War Battle of Brooklyn). When...pop!... into my email falls a press release so excited it nearly jumped off the cyber page, announcing a 9th inning change of fortune for Atlantic Yard community activists.

Gotham Gazette (The Wonkster), Judge Orders Another Look at Atlantic Yards

The judge did not halt construction of the arena – although that has morphed too — from a Frank Gehry landmark to a generic box. And Norman Oder writes in Atlantic Yards report, the judge did give the state and the developer, “significant breathing room” by not issuing a stay to top Phase II.

The Local [Fort Greene/Clinton Hill], Judge Orders Further Review On Atlantic Yards Development

Michael Galinsky, the co-director of the documentary “Battle for Brooklyn” and a contributor to The Local, said he hopes that today’s decision will bring more government oversight to the Atlantic Yards project.

Reuters, New York court stalls second phase of Brooklyn arena project

The grass roots group that sued the developer, Forest City Ratner Companies, to halt or modify the Atlantic Yards project said the court decision is a "golden opportunity" for Governor Andrew Cuomo to overhaul the costly project.

A spokesman for the Democratic governor had no comment.

Posted by eric at 9:45 PM

ESDC Statement regarding State Supreme Court Decision

Empire State Development spokesperson Elizabeth Mitchell issued the following statement in response to getting pasted in court today:

Today’s decision on Atlantic Yards did not enjoin construction of the Barclays Center and all components of this important project will continue.

The court ordered ESD to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement focused principally on Phase II of the Project (the buildings east of 6th Avenue).

ESD believes that it complied with all laws applicable to the Project, and is reviewing today’s decision to decide on the best course of action for continuing to move the Project forward.

NoLandGrab: Since the best course of action would be to dismantle the arena and turn the land over to the community, we expect to be disappointed.

Posted by eric at 5:17 PM

VICTORY! Court Orders New Atlantic Yards Review. Golden Opportunity for Gov. Cuomo

VICTORY IN COURT FOR DDDB AND ITS CO-PETITIONER COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS

Court Rules NY State Must Undertake Supplemental Review of Ratner's Atlantic Yards Project

Presents Golden Opportunity for Governor Cuomo to Fix the Atlantic Yards Debacle

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project and its purported benefits were never feasible, it was all smoke and mirrors. In the past year it has become clear to everyone that the project the developer promised and New York State approved is never going to happen. Rather, parking lots and a demolition zone would persist for decades.

But now, because of a Supreme Court ruling, there is a way out of this debacle and a golden opportunity for Governor Cuomo and his Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) to fix the big Atlantic Yards mess in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.
...

"While the Court felt it could only reverse the approvals for Phase II and require a new environmental review, it is time for Governor Cuomo to assert control over the ESDC and the project site and require a complete reassessment of the Atlantic Yards project," said DDDB attorney Jeffrey S. Baker. "We regret that the Arena is going forward. However, the project was never justified in phases. All of the purported benefits would have come from full development, not a stand-alone arena and a couple of high-rises.”

"DDDB has always argued that the claimed benefits were illusory and would never occur and the community would be burdened by a poorly conceived project. It is now clear that the timeframes and benefits of the original project were never even remotely feasible,” said DDDB Legal Director Candace Carponter. "We call on Governor Cuomo to ensure that the ESDC do an honest, unbiased analysis of the redevelopment of Atlantic Yards and consider a project that truly provides affordable housing, public opens space and meaningful benefits in a timely and financially feasible manner. ESDC should look at all aspects of the project, except the arena, and utilize the Unity Plan or other similar community inspired approaches to redevelop the area."

Referring to the Ratner tail wagging the State dog, Carponter added, "Governor Cuomo and the ESDC should establish their independence from Forest City Ratner and engage in true planning that involves the community and locally elected officials, and no longer act as Bruce Ratner's lap dog."

link

Posted by eric at 4:02 PM

July 6, 2011

New ESDC spokesman says message is "New York is open for business" and promotes a "dynamic job creation strategy"

Atlantic Yards Report

The mission of Empire State Development, as noted last week, "is to promote business investment and growth that leads to job creation and prosperous communities across New York State."

So it makes sense that new VP of public affairs Austin Shafran, who comes from representing Senate Democrats and replaces Warner Johnston, would say in a statement (according to the Times-Union):

“I am honored to join the ESD team to get the message out that New York is open for business,” said ESD Vice President of Public Affairs, Austin Shafran. “It’s a privilege to work with one of New York’s premier business experts, ESD President & CEO Kenneth Adams, to help promote and implement Governor Cuomo’s dynamic job creation strategy to recharge our economy.”

We look forward to learning how Atlantic Yards fits into that job creation strategy.

link

Posted by eric at 11:25 AM

July 4, 2011

The need for an ESDC ombudsman--er, community relations manager--and responses to Atlantic Yards Watch concerns about truck routes

Atlantic Yards Report

Given reports on Atlantic Yards Watch of apparent improper construction activities, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) had better fill its job opening soon.

The ESDC has publicly posted the job opening (embedded below) for the position formerly known as Ombudsman, formally termed Manager – Community & Government Relations, Atlantic Yards Project.

The job description states:

The basic function of this position is to foster and manage communications and relationships with local elected officials and community groups/leaders within the Brooklyn community relating to the Atlantic Yards Project; and assist in mitigating the effects of construction by coordinating all relevant parties.

That may be an accurate description of the tasks faced by the former occupant, Forrest Taylor (who left last month after 3.5 years), rather than the formal definition of ombudsman, which is someone "who investigates complaints and mediates fair settlements."

article

Posted by eric at 11:09 AM

June 30, 2011

The ESDC conducted an internal audit of Atlantic Yards, but we can't see it; in response to my FOIL request, most was redacted

Atlantic Yards Report

Some web searching led me to learn that the Empire State Development Corporation had conducted an internal audit of Atlantic Yards project activity sometime last year.

So I filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request. I got a response (embedded below), but it wasn't very helpful.

Overall bill of health

As the first paragraph of the Executive Summary states:

Internal Audit completed a review of Atlantic Yards (AY) project activity processed and conducted through ESDC The review revealed that disbursements in connection with the project funding agreement were made in accordance with funding agreement terms and project costs were adequately supported by documentation.

Nearly all redacted

What else did the audit reveal? Were better procedures needed at all?

Well, we don't know, because nearly everything else was redacted, under a FOIL exemption that provides that an agency may deny access to records or portions thereof that are inter-agency or intra agency materials which are not:

  • statistical or factual tabulations or data
  • instructions to staff that affect the public
  • final agency policy or determinations
  • external audits

OK, I get it, but then why redact nearly all of it? Why not simply deny me the document? Otherwise it leaves the impression that there may be some less positive news that's not getting out.

link

Posted by eric at 8:21 AM

If Empire State Development's newly-adopted Mission Statement emphasizes job creation, shouldn't there be some oversight regarding Atlantic Yards jobs?

Atlantic Yards Report

So, what's the mission of the Empire State Development Corporation (aka Empire State Development)?
...

Well, the agency no longer uses the phrase "New York Loves Business," but its Mission Statement and Performance Measures, adopted this past April and embedded below, state the following:

Mission Statement
The mission of Empire State Development is to promote business investment and growth that leads to job creation and prosperous communities across New York State.

Performance Measures

  • Customers served: number and types (private, public, not-for-profit); size of entity by number of employees; MWB status
  • Financing provided and leveraged: amounts of ESD support, other public support, private investment
  • Jobs projected to be retained and created
  • Regional and industry breakdowns of assistance, jobs retained and created, and leveraged investment

Hearing on jobs needed

If that really is the mission, then shouldn't they be concerned about the number of jobs created by the Atlantic Yards project, and whether the help offered to get Forest City Ratner low-cost financing under the federal government's EB-5 program actually creates new jobs?

Maybe Brooklyn Assemblyman Jim Brennan, who now chairs the Corporation's Committee, can hold an oversight hearing and ask a few questions.

link

Posted by eric at 8:16 AM

June 14, 2011

Atlantic Yards ombudsman Taylor leaves ESDC after 3.5 years as disempowered facilitator; agency says candidates for job are being interviewed

Atlantic Yards Report

Sharp-eyed readers of the Empire State Development Corporation's Atlantic Yards page (click on graphics to enlarge) might notice that this:

has been replaced by this:

The difference? Ombudsman Forrest Taylor, who took the job in November 2007 calling Atlantic Yards a "sexy project", but soon came to experience the uncomfortable role of not-so-empowered go-between, is no longer listed.

So he won't be at the ESDC/Forest City Ratner meeting tonight about traffic changes.

In response to my query, ESDC spokeswoman Elizabeth Mitchell said, "Forrest Taylor has left ESD for another position and we are currently interviewing prospective candidates for the Atlantic Yards Ombudsman position."
...

I wouldn't bet on the ESDC re-empowering the ombudsman.

article

Photo: Jonathan Barkey

Posted by eric at 10:58 AM

June 13, 2011

Atlantic Yards Ombudsman Forrest Taylor leaves his post

Atlantic Yards Watch

Atlantic Yards Ombudsman Forrest Taylor has left the ESDC for a job at New York State Homes and Community Renewal, (HCR). Will the ESDC simply refill his seat, or will they reform oversight to improve the way they address impacts from the project?

Forrest Taylor was personally liked by community leaders, who found him sincerely interested in resolving problems. But Mr. Taylor's position was a difficult one. He was an advocate for the community within an oversight structure that is not transparent and lacks the staff and independent board of other ESDC projects smaller than Atlantic Yards. Until the appointment of Project Director Arana Hankin in the fall of 2010, Taylor was the only public employee ever to work full-time on the project. And in an agency that has had six leaders under four governors since Atlantic Yards was announced, Mr. Taylor’s three and a half years with the project represents an unusual example of continuity.

Mr. Taylor's potential often seemed constrained by his situation because his position had little authority or decision-making capacity within the ESDC. Despite his availability, he was often frustrated by his inability to resolve problems in a way that was satisfactory to the community.

article

NoLandGrab: Not quite as frustrated, however, as the community was — and is.

Posted by eric at 11:00 PM

June 2, 2011

In legal papers, an ESDC admission slips through: the BALDC was created by the ESDC (and why that matters)

Atlantic Yards Report

Notice this line from Empire State Development Corporation legal paper's in today's other post (above)?

All income from such events would be lost, leaving this venue, financed by PILOT (payment-in-lieu-of taxes) bonds issued by ESDC's local development corporation, Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation ("BALDC"), without event income.

(Emphasis added)

It may just seem semantic, but the BALDC is actually not ESDC's local development corporation.

Rather, the BALDC was created by an essentially dormant ESDC alter ego, the Job Development Authority, which allowed it to skirt the review of the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB) and Comptroller.

But if the BALDC is the product of the ESDC, then shouldn't there have been a review?

link

NoLandGrab: The more lies they tell, the harder it is to keep them straight.

Posted by eric at 9:34 AM

May 24, 2011

COMMUNITY NOTICE: Permanent Changes to the Roadway Network on Fourth Avenue and Pacific Street

AY Community Notice 52311

link

Posted by eric at 12:40 PM

May 10, 2011

In profile of ESDC head Adams, Jeffries expresses optimism about stability and accountability; did Adams's AY testimony merit that?

Atlantic Yard Report

From a profile in The Capitol headlined Empire Building: Andrew Cuomo, Kenneth Adams and the struggle to restore New York’s economy:

The governor’s desire to grow the private sector will be tested, though, by the internal complexities at ESDC, a sprawling agency with 10 regional offices, 430 state employees, hundreds of subsidiaries and oversight over thousands of public-private partnerships, from mega-projects like the $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn to much smaller grant programs for equipment procurement and facility upgrades.

Optimism about Adams

The article notes:

But even critics of the agency’s work express optimism that change is on the way.

“Ken Adams should provide a greater measure of stability and accountability at the agency, which has suffered over the years as a result of the constant musical chairs at the top,” said Assembly Member Hakeem Jeffries, an outspoken critic of the agency’s handling of the Atlantic Yards project.

Jeffries is more of a selective critic than an "outspoken critic," making the legitimate case that a subsidiary is needed to oversee Atlantic Yards but, unlike some fellow elected officials, steering clear of any lawsuits challenging or criticizing the project.

Accountability coming?

Beyond that, during testimony last month at a confirmation hearing, Adams expressed optimism that the delayed project would proceed, spoke vaguely about ensuring community voices would be heard, and, when asked about eminent domain, changed the subject to explain how, with incentives for projects smaller than Atlantic Yards, the state does better to ensure that promised results be delivered before benefits are paid out.

Adams's entrance may suggest stability, but his testimony didn't promise accountability.

link

NoLandGrab: Jeffries is more like a CINO — a "critic in name only," since his "criticism" has accomplished a whole heap of nothing.

Related content...

The Capitol, Empire Building

Posted by eric at 11:40 AM

April 14, 2011

ESDC CEO Adams, asked about AY at third Senate Committee, calls arena the project's "core," fully supports project, expresses optimism about buildout

Atlantic Yards Report

This updates and corrects my coverage of last week's set of state Senate hearings on the nomination of Kenneth Adams as President and CEO of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC).

I mentioned two committee hearings on 4/5/11, but missed another, that involving the Corporations, Authorities and Commissions Committee. And at that hearing, unlike the other two, Adams was asked briefly about Atlantic Yards.

Adams expressed optimism that the delayed project would proceed, spoke vaguely about ensuring community voices would be heard, and, when asked about eminent domain, changed the subject to explain how, with incentives for projects smaller than Atlantic Yards, the state does better to ensure that promised results be delivered before benefits are paid out.

He described Atlantic Yards as a project that his agency fully supports. No one challenged him on how such support, manifested in contracts like the Development Agreement that give the developer a long leash, can be harmonized with incentives that ensure promised results are delivered.

Click through for more, including video.

article

Posted by eric at 12:55 PM

April 7, 2011

Senate confirms Adams as President/CEO of ESDC; no questions about Atlantic Yards

Atlantic Yards Report

In a press release yesterday, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the State Senate unanimously confirmed Kenneth Adams as President and CEO of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and Commissioner of the Department of Economic Development, as well as Darrel J. Aubertine as Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Markets.

Adams appeared at a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee and of the Committee on Commerce, Economic Development and Small Business , but Atlantic Yards didn't come up.

link

Posted by eric at 10:12 AM

March 23, 2011

About that Ken Adams confirmation hearing

Atlantic Yards Report

Well, the confirmation hearing yesterday for the Empire State Development Corporation's Ken Adams was supposed to be streamed on the Internet. But I couldn't get access, and I haven't yet found any reports on the hearing.

link

Posted by eric at 10:24 AM

March 22, 2011

Would modular construction require a new environmental review? ESDC says there's no official plan, so speculation is unwise

Atlantic Yards Report

On March 17, I asked this question publicly: Does modular construction mean a new environmental review is needed for Atlantic Yards?

I suggested it might, given that the delivery of 900 modules, "lifted into place by crane and bolted together at the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Dean Street," as the Times described it, could introduce a different set of impacts on traffic, or on street closures.

Querying the ESDC

I followed up by posing the question to the Empire State Development Corporation:

Would the introduction of modular construction at the Atlantic Yards site require a new environmental review or technical memo?

Spokeswoman Elizabeth Mitchell responded:

The fact that the building would be modular as opposed to conventional construction would merit another environmental review only if the design guidelines or any other MGPP [Modified General Project Plan] requirement could not be met using the modular approach. If such a decision would be made to adopt modular construction in lieu of conventional construction, ESD would first ascertain as to the modular building's ability to meet the design guidelines and fulfill any other applicable project requirements. If it was determined that the modular approach did not, then ESD would consider adopting modifications to the guidelines, or if necessary, the MGPP. In this case, an additional environmental review might be required, depending on the degree of the modifications.

article

Posted by eric at 11:22 AM

March 21, 2011

ESDC CEO Ken Adams has a Senate confirmation hearing; here are some questions about Atlantic Yards

Atlantic Yards Report

On Tuesday at 10:30 am, the New York State Senate's Commerce, Economic Development and Small Business will hold a confirmation hearing for Kenneth Adams, Commissioner of New York State Department of Economic Development and CEO of the Empire State Development Corporation.

The hearing, to be held in Albany, will be streamed on the Internet. The Chair of the Committee is Sen. James Alesi (R-Rochester), who at least knows something about Atlantic Yards after joining Sen. Bill Perkins (D-Harlem) at a January 2010 oversight hearing in Harlem on eminent domain.

Only an hour has been allotted, and surely there are many things on the minds of the Senators and of Adams, but they still should ask a few questions about the ESDC's most controversial project.

Some Atlantic Yards questions

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Does Adams support a governance entity to provide some oversight and continuity regarding the project?
  • Given that the ESDC has acknowledged that the project won't be completed in the announced decade-long timetable, shouldn't the agency conduct a cost-benefit analysis that provides multiple scenarios, including a delayed buildout, delayed office space, and modular construction?
  • Does the ESDC stand by its statement, made a year ago in reference to the Ridge Hill case, that they "remain confident in Forest City as a developer and as a good corporate citizen"?
  • Does Adams agree with ESDC President Peter Davidson's claim, in China in support of Forest City Ratner's effort to get immigrant investor funding, that Atlantic Yards would "be the largest job-creating project in New York City in the last 20 years”?

link

NoLandGrab: Here's betting Atlantic Yards never even comes up.

Posted by eric at 11:27 AM

March 17, 2011

Does modular construction mean a new environmental review is needed for Atlantic Yards?

Atlantic Yards Report

On the one hand, the modular construction considered by Bruce Ratner as a money- and time-saving solution to building towers on the Atlantic Yards site would reduce and de-concentrate typical construction activity.

On the other, the delivery of 900 modules, "lifted into place by crane and bolted together at the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Dean Street," as the Times described it, could introduce a different set of impacts on traffic, or on street closures.

So too could modular construction for the rest of the site.

And, whether or not those impacts would be less significant than those already studied, these new impacts sure have not been studied.

Is the Empire State Development Corporation working on--i.e., having ubiquitous consultant AKRF write--another Technical Memorandum/Technical Analysis right now, as AKRF did in 2009 and 2010?

link

Posted by eric at 10:34 AM

March 16, 2011

BrooklynSpeaks and DDDB battle ESDC and FCR in inconclusive court hearing over AY timetable impacts; no stay issued; judge won't hear sanctions case

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder has the complete blow by blow from yesterday's New York State Supreme Court argument over the failure of the Empire State Development Corporation to properly weigh the effects of 25 years (or more) of Atlantic Yards construction impacts.

What was likely one of the last court hearings in a long skein of Atlantic Yards legal cases was an inconclusive but hard-fought affair yesterday afternoon in state Supreme Court in Manhattan.

A lawyer for the community coalition BrooklynSpeaks assailed a "cover up" by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) over the legitimacy of the ESDC's response to a court order requiring it to explain why it didn't need issue a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement to study the impact of a potential 25-year buildout.

In response, the ESDC and developer Forest City Ratner (FCR) forcefully defended themselves.

Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman, who in a hearing last June had evinced skepticism toward the ESDC--and issued a ruling in November partly backing community petitioners, requiring the ESDC to make new findings--asked relatively few questions.

The judge, whose default posture seems to be weary, wary skepticism, ultimately expressed some exasperation with both sides.

She heard a request for a stay on Atlantic Yards construction--a request with the provision that ongoing arena construction could continue--but did not indicate when she'd rule.

No hearing on sanctions motion

One thing was clear: Friedman was not about to take seriously the unusual motion, filed by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and by Brooklyn Speaks--and later withdrawn by the latter--for sanctions and lawyers' fees from the opposing side, for failure to produce the crucial Development Agreement last year in court.

Though that issue was the subject of some heated legal papers, Friedman said at the outset that she would not devote any oral argument time on it.

She announced she'd give each side 20 to 30 minutes for their arguments, but they each wound up taking about 45 minutes. As is typical.

Click through for a full report on the arguments.

article

NoLandGrab: Our favorite part? Forest City attorney Jeffrey Braun getting himself extolling the virtues of ubiquitous environmental impact consultant AKRF, calling them "rigorous" and the "gold standard" for such firms. Had we been able to cross-examine, we would have asked him, in all their rigor, how many times they've ever found a project had unacceptable impacts. If he could cite just one instance, we'd throw in the towel.

And as Norman Oder reminds us, the ESDC admitted at an early 2010 oversight hearing held by state Senator Bill Perkins, that AKRF has never provided a determination that did not lead to a blight finding. Perhaps Mr. Braun meant to say "gold standard for real estate developer-friendly" consultants.

Posted by eric at 12:15 PM

March 9, 2011

New ESDC chair named: (female) technology executive from upstate

Atlantic Yards Report

Balancing Empire State Development Corporation CEO Ken Adams, a male Brooklynite with an experience running business organizations, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has named a female upstate resident who heads a technology firm to be the agency's chair.

A press released issued Monday was headlined Governor Cuomo Announces Nomination to Empire State Development Corporation

Albany, NY (March 7, 2011)

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the nomination of Julie Shimer to Chair the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC).

Julie Shimer is joining a first-class team of economic development leaders including Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy and Empire State Development Corporation President Kenneth Adams," Governor Cuomo said. "Her extensive experience in the upstate and downstate business communities will be essential to the reconstruction of New York's economy. Attracting and retaining business in New York is job number one, and Julie and the rest of the ESDC team will work tirelessly to make that happen."

link

Posted by eric at 12:10 PM

March 8, 2011

ESDC current and former board members in the news: Cephas leaves bank, Holland in Harlem controversy

Atlantic Yards Report

Empire State Development Corporation board member Derrick Cephas has resigned, Crain's New York Business reports, in Amalgamated Bank's CEO resigns:

Amalgamated Bank Chief Executive Derrick Cephas has resigned, after falling out of favor with bank Chairman Bruce Raynor, sources said.

Mr. Raynor, who is president of garment workers union Workers United, had grown frustrated with the union-owned bank's results in recent years, a banking source said. The CEO's resignation also follows a period during which the bank was in the middle of a protracted dispute between the garment workers and hotel workers unions. As per a divorce agreement reached last summer, Mr. Raynor's union held on to the bank.

While Amalgamated went to a net loss of $1.2 million from net income of $7 million in 2009, the bank seems seems well-capitalized, Crain's said.

A fierce dispute for a former board member

Meanwhile, a much stranger tale involves former ESDC board member Joseph Holland, as detailed in a long Amsterdam News article headlined HARLEM RUMBLE (reg. req.).

It involves a project, Uptown Grand, with broker Thomas Lopez-Pierre, which has gone very wrong.

In copious detail, Lopez-Pierre calls Holland "the Black Bernard Madoff." Holland and relatives have had Lopez-Pierre arrested for stalking and aggravated harassment.

link

Posted by eric at 9:16 AM

March 1, 2011

Uncertainty at Empire State Development Corp. Continues

Gotham Gazette
by David King

Cuomo has outlined a number of proposals that he says will get the organization back on track toward creating jobs and attracting and fostering new businesses. Past that, it is unclear if Adams or even the Cuomo administration knows what, exactly, they are going to do to turn around the corporation, which has been seen in recent years as ineffective, scattered and bloated.

Not to mention crooked.

Neither Cuomo nor officials at the Empire State Development Corp. would comment for this story.
...

To appreciate why changes to the ESDC matter so much you have to understand what the ESDC has done up until this point, but many experts say that, too, is hard to quantify.

The ESDC was created in 1968 primarily to oversee the construction of subsidized housing projects. As an authority, the ESDC can issue bonds to fund major projects without voter approval, and it also has the ability to use eminent domain. That has been a hot topic because of the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn.
...

The ESDC has come under major criticism in its role for Atlantic Yards. Homeowners and property rights advocates say the organization justified the project and seized to benefit one major company rather than the many small businesses that have been forced to relocate to make way for the project.

In its other role -- overseeing programs created by the legislature -- the ESDC has faced major criticism for its handling of the Empire Zones, a program developed to attract companies to upstate. It isn't clear that any of the major tax breaks and funds it handed out led to any significant job creation. Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, who was staunchly anti-big government, famously received $3 million in tax breaks from the state but only created 25 jobs.

article

NoLandGrab: And Bruce Ratner's deal makes Paladino's look almost legit.

Related coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, Gotham Gazette on ESDC: questions about job creation, city focus, and what exactly it did in service to Atlantic Yards

There are a couple of curious passages in a Gotham Gazette overview article today headlined Uncertainty at Empire State Development Corp. Continues.

First, everyone agrees that the ESDC should focus on job creation, and the debate is whether the gubernatorial-controlled agency should focus on small business or large projects--and whether new CEO Kenneth Adams, former CEO of the Business Council, is partial to the latter.

Atlantic Yards, one of the ESDC's signature projects, is not primarily about job creation, however. Rather, it's about the ESDC helping get a project done, acceding to changes in the plan--from a promised 10,000 office jobs to a perhaps 1340 jobs, 30% of them new, in one delayed tower.

The article states:

[Andrew Rudnick, CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership] does believe, though, that the ESDC needs to refocus its values and core mission. "The ESDC needs new criteria. Most economic development experts would tell you that they no longer use the standard of how many jobs are created, which is what the ESDC uses. Instead, you look at quality of job, investment opportunities, the scope of a project and the potential for using green technology," he said.

With Atlantic Yards, I don't think they're measuring it by job creation.

Posted by eric at 11:12 AM

February 20, 2011

Now at the ESDC, succeeding Laremont and Bloch: Leecia Eve, the almost-Lieutenant Governor, and Juanita Scarlett, veteran governmental/political hand

Atlantic Yards Report

A reader points me to news of two executive appointments at the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), who should have some role, as had their predecessors, in Atlantic Yards.

The summaries are from The Business Council:

Leecia Eve, Senior Vice President and Counsel to the Empire State Development Corporation Ms. Eve most recently served as Vice President for Policy of the No Limits Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that promotes economic issues at home and abroad and advocates transforming American foreign policy around the world, including advancing the rights of women. She is a former partner at Hodgson Russ, Western New York's largest law firm. She served as a judicial clerk to the New York State Court of Appeals Judge Fritz W. Alexander II, Judiciary Committee Counsel to then-Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr., and as Senate Counsel to then-Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Eve succeeds Anita Laremont, who took the state's early-retirement incentive. Laremont had the uncomfortable task in her last year of service of claiming at a Senate hearing that the ESDC's board, rather than ubiquitous consultant AKRF, finds blight.

...

Also at the ESDC, succeeding Darren Bloch (who left to run The Capital and City Hall newspapers), is, according to The Business Council:

Juanita Scarlett, Executive Vice President of Strategy, Policy & Public Affairs, Empire State Development Corporation. Throughout Juanita’s career, she has held vital roles in both government and public relations including Director of Intergovernmental and Community Affairs at the New York State Office of Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo and Executive Advisor for Public and Governmental Affairs at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Juanita began her career in public service as Press Officer to Governor Mario M. Cuomo.

Scarlett, as it happens, is married to Louis, a noted supporter of Atlantic Yards. (I've had, um, my differences with Louis, who now anchors Inside City Hall on NY 1, but never any dealings with Scarlett.)

link

Posted by steve at 5:08 PM

February 11, 2011

More from AY cabinet meeting: few workers on site, reversible lane snag, demand management upgrade, sidewalk dispute with LIRR, wariness re public

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder has an in-depth report on yesterday's of the "Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet."

The lead news from the second meeting of the Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet,held yesterday at Brooklyn Borough Hall, concerned the delayed (but architect-assigned) Building 2 and the re-launch of Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards web site.

But there were several other pieces of news, including a rather low number of local workers. FCR said there are about 150 workers at the site now, with 58 local residents placed though a Community Labor Exchange since the start of construction, with 19 now on the site. (Here's more on the lag between numbers and projections.)

A Community Board District Manager expressed dismay over the weather-related demise of a reversible lane along Flatbush Avenue.

Forest City Ratner said it would beef up a previously announced demand management plan to reduce driving to the arena, and then share it for public comment.

The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) reported on an unresolved dispute involving the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and the city Department of Transportation (DOT) regarding clearing/cleaning of the railyard perimeter.

There also was an unsettled/unsettling vibe regarding transparency, given a relatively low level of participation by cabinet members as well as a wariness toward the public and press, as described below. (The meeting wasn’t announced, and videotaping was banned.)

The meeting was attended by representatives of various agencies, Community Boards, and elected officials involved in the project. The only elected official to attend was Council Member Letitia James.
...

At the outset, Scissura announced that it was not a public meeting, and that videotaping would not be permitted.

That statement was clearly aimed at me--the only other press person was Rich Calder of the Post, who wrote an overview-- and a minute later, when Scissura was no longer speaking to the group, I approached him. He told me that if I shot video (as I did in November) they’d have me removed.

Later in the meeting, ESDC project manager Hankin, with a bit of edge in her voice, stated that meetings of the Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet are not subject to the open meetings law.

She said that had been confirmed with the legal counsel of the ESDC and the Borough President’s Office. “Therefore we are not required to post the date of the meetings or invite the public; as a courtesy we've agreed to allow the public to attend,” she said.

Hankin noted that there are multiple avenues for the public to ask questions, via Forest City Ratner and the ESDC. “This body is really serving as an interagency working group.”

After the meeting, I asked Hankin and Scissura by email for documentation that explained why the meeting was not subject to the open meetings law, as well as the rationale for banning videotaping. Hankin told me I’d get an answer today.
...

At one point during the meeting yesterday, Prospect Heights activist Peter Krashes moved to sit next to James aide Alfred Chiodo at the conference table--otherwise limited to cabinet members--and spoke to him. That led Scissura to say a bit sourly, “Alfred, I see you've been fed some questions.”

There were only a couple of members of the public present, but it still seemed that scrutiny and questions were considered intrusive.

article

NoLandGrab: How dare the little people ask questions! We see Scissura has been learning from his boss/client.

Posted by eric at 10:42 AM

January 29, 2011

Markowitz, James comment with enthusiasm (and, in the latter's case, some challenge) on appointment of Brooklyn's Adams to head ESDC

Atlantic Yards Report

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz issued a statement enthusiastically endorsing the appointment of Brooklynite Ken Adams as CEO of the Empire State Development Corporation:

“I congratulate Cobble Hill’s own Kenneth Adams on his appointment as the head of the Empire State Development Corporation. Ken is superbly qualified for this new role—he is an innovative trailblazer who made a huge and lasting impact on Brooklyn’s business community while president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. I have no doubt this will be Governor Cuomo’s top appointment, and all of Brooklyn is proud to share him with the rest of New York State.”

City Council Member Letitia James was enthusiastic, but more challenging:

“I want to congratulate Kenneth Adams on his new appointment as President and CEO of the Empire State Development Corporation. This pick to lead a restructured ESDC is a great match. As former president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and Director of the MetroTech Business Improvement District in downtown Brooklyn, Ken recognizes that small businesses serve as an economic engine in Brooklyn.

The community looks forward to partnering with an innovative leader to resolve outstanding issues in and around the Atlantic Yards footprint. I’m confident that Ken will address the high rate of unemployment in Central Brooklyn, the lack of procurement for minority and women owned businesses in the state of New York, as well as the impact of the recession on all small businesses.

Congratulations as well to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for this superb choice; Ken is one of Brooklyn’s own!”

And No Land Grab's Eric McClure reminds us:

Adams also headed the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce during a shameful episode in 2005, when the public and owners of businesses opposed to the Atlantic Yards project were barred from a Chamber luncheon sponsored by Forest City Ratner, at which the project was discussed. Members of the press attending the function had to agree to a gag order, and opponents were relegated to protesting outside Gargiulo's locked doors.

link

Related coverage...

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn Leaders Praise Gov’s Choice of Ken Adams
by Raanan Geberer

This item contains a brief version of Ken Adams' resumé, including his time as head of the Ratner-driven MetroTech Business Improvement District.

Brooklyn public figures Friday praised Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s choice of Kenneth Adams, president of the New York State Business Council and former president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, to lead the Empire State Development Corp., which oversees state incentive programs.

Adams grew up in Cobble Hill, the son of community activist Murray Adams, a former president of the Cobble Hill Association. Before leading the Chamber, he served as head of the MetroTech Business Improvement District (BID). He left the Chamber to join the Business Council in November 2006.

Posted by steve at 8:09 AM

January 28, 2011

Ken Adams, former head of Brooklyn Chamber and MetroTech BID, named new CEO of ESDC

Atlantic Yards Report

Well, in naming Kenneth Adams as president and CEO of the Empire State Development Corporation, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is seen as reaching out to business.

And, despite some gubernatorial concern about the top-down growth model, I wouldn't bet on any changed course on Atlantic Yards.

After all, Adams in 2006, as president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, testified in favor of the project, on behalf of the organization. And he previously headed the MetroTech Business Improvement District, of which Forest City Ratner is a major member.

Still, give the guy a chance; maybe Adams has the integrity to recognize that the ESDC's support of Forest City Ratner's effort to get immigrant investor funding is a tad unseemly.

article

NoLandGrab: Adams also headed the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce during a shameful episode in 2005, when the public and owners of businesses opposed to the Atlantic Yards project were barred from a Chamber luncheon sponsored by Forest City Ratner, at which the project was discussed. Members of the press attending the function had to agree to a gag order, and opponents were relegated to protesting outside Gargiulo's locked doors.

Related coverage...

The Brooklyn Blog [NYPost.com], Cuomo appoints CEO of state’s top business association to head ESDC

Adams’ proud father, longtime Cobble Hill civic leader Murray Adams, told the Post he believes his son “will do a great job” and hopes “he’ll end ESDC’s long history of being pretty arrogant.”

The elder Adams -- who in 2006 was part of a group that took on ESDC during a failed legal fight to keep condos out of Brooklyn Bridge Park – said, “I think Kenneth will listen to local concerns.” He cited both the park and the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn as two examples of ESDC ignoring residents' concerns.

NLG: Hmm, maybe Cuomo should've appointed Ken Adams's dad.

The Brooklyn Paper, Brooklyn man — Ken Adams — to run state economic agency

Adams’s reputation as a bridge-builder could help put a positive face on the Empire State Development Corporation, which has drawn fire for rubber-stamping the Atlantic Yards project, and for approving housing inside Brooklyn Bridge Park.

The agency finances and operates state projects by issuing tax-exempt bonds — and often avoids the city’s usual public review process for its projects.

“The Empire State Development Corporation was used in Brooklyn Bridge Park and the Atlantic Yards to skirt all public scrutiny and evade community input,” [Cobble Hill Association President Roy] Sloane charged.

But that doesn’t mean he’s not willing to give Adams — a Brooklyn Friends graduate, after all — a chance.

“Do I have issues with the Empire State development Corporation? Yes. Do I have issues with Ken Adams? No,” he stated.

Posted by eric at 11:19 AM

January 27, 2011

The Capitol: ESDC still waiting for a leader, but top-down growth model (AY?) seen as history

Atlantic Yards Report

From The Capitol, Empire State Building: Details about Cuomo’s economic development strategy emerge, but a new ESDC chair does not:

In his State of the State speech, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that the only way to make New York the Empire State once again was through “a vibrant private sector that was creating great jobs.”

But the 10 regional councils Cuomo has vowed to create to drive economic development around the state are still unformed and his plan to remake the Empire State Development Corporation is shrouded in secrecy, with no word on who will get the top spot at the agency.

What can be gleaned from sources close to the discussions is that Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy, who will oversee the regional councils, are intent on moving away from the top-down, New York City-and-Albany-driven models of the past, empowering the regional councils with funding and bond-buying powers, and instilling a sense of competition in the process to encourage growth.

After years of turnover, failed programs and conflicting mission statements, ESDC is widely seen as in desperate need of a jump-start.

(Emphasis added)

It's hard to believe that the concept of "top-down, New York City-and-Albany-driven models of the past" doesn't include Atlantic Yards.

In December, ESDC Chairman Dennis Mullen had his valedictory. Mullen, in an unguarded moment last March, half-joked that Atlantic Yards was "a project that I would like to move off our portfolio."

link

NoLandGrab: Ha ha! Does that mean only half the joke is on New York's taxpayers?

Posted by eric at 8:48 AM

January 19, 2011

State Authorities Budget Office still waiting for budget reports from ESDC and affiliate JDA

Atlantic Yards Report

According to the state Authorities Budget Office (ABO), Public Authorities That Have Failed to File Reports in the Public Authorities Reporting Information System as of January 4, 2011 (embedded below), the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC, aka Urban Development Corporation) and its affiliate, the Job Development Authority (JDA), did not file required budget reports 90 days prior to the start of the fiscal year.

I asked the ESDC last week about the reason for the delay and the plans to comply, but haven't heard back. The ABO was beefed up somewhat after reforms strengthening oversight over public authorities, but it can't do its job if agencies don't comply.

In July, I reported that the JDA had not filed an annual report; the latest ABO report suggests that it has since done so. I'm waiting for details on that, too.

link

Posted by eric at 10:16 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.

article

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

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.

link

Posted by eric at 11:48 AM

December 21, 2010

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

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 18, 2010

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.

link

Posted by steve at 9:59 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).

article

NoLandGrab: Oops.

Posted by eric at 6:41 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?

article

Posted by eric at 12:19 PM

December 16, 2010

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.

link

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.

link

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

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?

link

Posted by eric at 10:12 AM

December 15, 2010

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

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

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

October 29, 2010

State Comptroller criticizes ESDC for lack of transparency, no-bid contracts

Atlantic Yards Report

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who not coincidentally is running for election next Tuesday (for the post to which he was appointed in 2007), on October 27 issued a brief report criticizing the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC).

The press release was headlined DiNapoli Public Authority Spotlight: Urban Development Corp.: Hundreds of Millions Spent on No-Bid Contracts and High Salaries.

News of the high salaries--more than a quarter of staffers earning six figures--actually surfaced in June, in a report from the Authorities Budget Office, and it's hardly surprising that the ESDC (the name under which the agency mainly does business) has awarded no-bid contracts.

After all, ubiquitous consultant AKRF has often been chosen, via no-bid contracts, to conduct environmental reviews, such as for Atlantic Yards and the Columbia University expansion.

"We also are able to hire people on the basis of a sole source if we can articulate a rationale for why it would be cost effective or otherwise appropriate," ESDC General Counsel Anita Laremont said at a tense oversight hearing in January.

But DiNapoli put a number on it, stating that the Urban Development Corp. awarded 32 contracts worth $344.9 million in fiscal year 2008-09 without seeking competitive bids. By contrast, it awarded 97 smaller contracts, with a value totaling $216.1 million, through a competitive process.

Need for accountability

“These numbers raise more questions than answers,” DiNapoli said in his news release. “The state’s public authorities spend billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money in the dark shadows of state government.

Posted by eric at 12:13 PM

October 9, 2010

Why is the ESDC's Peter Davidson going to China? Could it be "agency capture"? Or maybe a hostage situation?

Atlantic Yards Report

I'm still trying to figure out why Empire State Development Corporation Executive Director Peter Davidson is going to China to flack for the Forest City Ratner/New York City Regional Center effort to raise $249 million from immigrant investors in exchange for green cards.

Davidson surely doesn't believe the effort would directly create nearly 7700 jobs.

And while there may be a document that asserts the investment would help create jobs indirectly or preserve them, we haven't seen the calculations.

It strains credulity to attach the railyard investment to the already-funded arena, or to claim that it ensures future jobs that would also depend on housing bonds.

...

Perhaps this is an example of the concept of "agency capture," which, as stated in the Encyclopedia of White-Collar and Corporate Crime, occurs when "regulatory agency officials with a pro-industry bias are appointed... and when various forms of inducement or influence, political or psychological, are evident."

...

Another way to look at it: Forest City Ratner has the state over a barrel--remember the Beekman Tower renegotiation with unions?--and the state will do what it takes to make sure the project moves forward and delivers some of the promised benefits.

link

NoLandGrab: Yet another way to look at it: A farmer named ESDC lets the hogs feed at the trough.

Posted by steve at 1:44 PM

September 30, 2010

KPMG's Fuzzy Math on Atlantic Yards

NY Observer, Op Ed
by Norman Oder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

article

Related...

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

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

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

Posted by eric at 9:25 PM

September 24, 2010

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

Atlantic Yards Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

article

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

Posted by eric at 12:33 PM

September 16, 2010

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

Atlantic Yards Report

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

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

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

Subject: Atlantic Yards Construction Update for the weeks beginning

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

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

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

Why no search?

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

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

article

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

Posted by eric at 9:28 AM

September 3, 2010

"Judicial Deference to Unaccountable Agencies, and Reality in the Flatbush Avenue Lane Closure"--or, what's missing in the ESDC response to NY1

Atlantic Yards Report

I have to admit, when I punched up the title of the law review article cited yesterday, "Urban Redevelopment Policy, Judicial Deference to Unaccountable Agencies, and Reality in Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards Project," I wondered if readers would think it over the top.

After all, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) is, on paper, at least somewhat accountable. And they do answer my questions--not in a very forthcoming way, but they answer.

But they're not accountable.

Consider how, as I've written, the ESDC and Forest City Ratner (FCR) announced in July that the Flatbush Avenue lane closure would be resolved by "early 2012," but three weeks later, FCR said it would be "summer 2012."

The ESDC couldn't explain why.

link

Posted by eric at 12:41 PM

August 26, 2010

In the Atlantic Yards footprint today, new ESDC project manager Arana Hankin

Atlantic Yards Report

A Prospect Heights resident leaves me a message: Arana Hankin, the new Atlantic Yards project manager for the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), was spotted walking around the project site today accompanied by Forrest Taylor, the ESDC's ombudsman, who presumably has a few more trips around the footprint under his belt.

link

NoLandGrab: Ms. Hankin might want to keep her hands firmly on her pocketbook should she venture over near one of Bruce Ratner's malls.

Posted by eric at 9:46 AM

August 25, 2010

Governor's spokesman re ESDC appointment: "Ms. Hankin directly supervised all broad policy matters related to ESDC in the Governor's Office"

Atlantic Yards Report

So this his how news works, apparently.

More than a day after my article on Arana Hankin's appointment as Atlantic Yards project manager appeared, the Daily News followed up with a blog post that wasn't merely a one-line cite but essentially a rewrite with no new information (and pretty much my critical perspective, calling her a "loyalist").

The Daily News didn't wait for a confirmation or comment from the Empire State Development Corporation, nor was the agency asked the obvious question: why was the job not advertised?

But Morgan Hook, a spokesman for Gov. David Paterson, did respond later today:

"Arana Hankin has worked tirelessly on behalf of the State of New York for more than six years, including better than three years in the Governor's Office during the Spitzer and Paterson administrations. As part of her vast portfolio, working under the guidance of Deputy Secretary Tim Gilchrist, Ms. Hankin oversaw all economic development in downstate New York, including Atlantic Yards and lower Manhattan development. You correctly write that ESDC oversees the project, but fail to point out that as part of her portfolio, Ms. Hankin directly supervised all broad policy matters related to ESDC in the Governor's Office. Additionally, Ms. Hankin worked as a senior member of the Governor's stimulus cabinet, tasked with the distribution of billions of dollars in federal aid to New York. Ms. Hankin is more than qualified for her new position. To characterize her appointment in any other way is both factually inaccurate and unfair."

I don't doubt that Hankin had her hand in various policy matters. But if she really oversaw economic development in downstate New York, how could she let Paterson claim, ridiculously, that Atlantic Yards would "have job creation the likes of which Brooklyn has never seen"?

link

NoLandGrab: The Governor's office is a tad defensive about Arana Hankin's qualifications, no?

Related coverage...

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, Seven Years Later Atlantic Yards Gets an Official State Project Manager. But Who Is She?

Norman Oder breaks the news that the Empire State Development Corporation will soon announce, for the first time, the state's project manager for the Atlantic Yards project.

The announcement will name Arana Hankin as the project manager and first "head" of the project for ESDC. Oder tries to find information on Ms. Hankin beyond her loyalty to Governor Paterson. Though there is a thin record of her work, Oder does find some pertinent facts.

Good luck Ms. Hankin, you'll need it to oversee this debacle.

Posted by eric at 11:15 AM

August 24, 2010

Gov. Paterson Loyalist To Take Charge Of Controversial Atlantic Yards Project

The Daily Politics [NY Daily News blog]
by Celeste Katz

A Gov. Paterson loyalist is set to take the reins of Brooklyn's controversial Atlantic Yards project, reports our Erin Durkin:

Sources tell Atlantic Yards Report's Norman Oder that 33-year-old Arana Hankin, Paterson's Assistant Secretary for Cultural and Economic Development, will soon be named Atlantic Yards project manager at the Empire State Development Corporation.

Though ESDC has overseen the $5 billion project for years - doling out $100 million in subsidies to developer Bruce Ratner and fighting a high-profile court battle to seize private homes and businesses for the Nets arena and housing and office towers - the agency hasn't actually had a full time project manager running the show until now.

Hankin's only public connection to the Prospect Heights mega-project so far has been as a board member of the Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation, which rubber-stamped the $511 million in tax-free bonds Ratner needed to get the long-delayed arena underway. She previously served as a senior policy adviser to Paterson and on his campaign for lieutenant governor, and got some attention for pressing ESDC to fund the Museum for African Art project run by Controller Bill Thompson's wife Elsie McCabe.

Paterson, who railed against the use of eminent domain for private development when he was a state senator representing Harlem residents fighting Columbia's eminent domain-reliant expansion, has been an Atlantic Yards booster since taking office, touting its job creation benefits in a speech at the groundbreaking in March.

article

Posted by eric at 11:19 AM

Following up (or not) on the ESDC and Arana Hankin; former CBN co-chair recalls getting stonewalled by Hankin

Atlantic Yards Report

So, after I yesterday broke the (anonymously sourced) news that Arana Hankin would be named the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) Atlantic Yards project manager after, a job that apparently wasn't advertised, did anyone follow up?

Nah.

Yes, the story was linked yesterday by the New York Observer, The Real Deal, and Curbed.

But the ESDC issued no statement, and no one chose to follow up. Perhaps, they think, the Atlantic Yards story is ovah. Except it's not.

Hankin's AY history

It turns out that Hankin has intersected with Atlantic Yards, though not in a way that gave assurance to project critics and opponents.

After David Paterson became governor in early 2008, the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN) and other groups pressed to meet with him, Terry Urban, former CBN co-chair, told me.

Paterson promised that Tim Gilchrist, who was in charge of economic development for his office, would attend that August 2008 meeting. "[Architect] Marshall Brown flew in from Chicago to present the UNITY plan, and several representatives from the larger community groups were there to show the extent of support for it, and to put a reasonable face on our suggestions for changing the proposed project, and demonstrate our willingness to work with the new leadership," Urban recounted.

"Gilchrist was a no-show. Ms. Hankin, as a Paterson aide, explained that she worked in the city office, and so chaired the meeting in his absence," Urban stated. "With the low-level staff on hand, she listened politely, and said she'd re-schedule with Gilchrist. She never did. Unfortunately for us, it was a competent stonewalling maneuver, merely another of many to which we were accustomed."

link

Posted by eric at 11:00 AM

August 23, 2010

Exclusive: Paterson loyalist with thin résumé to be ESDC's first official Atlantic Yards project manager; why wasn't position advertised?

Atlantic Yards Report

The news of the appointment is based on sources believed reliable; the rest of the article is based on public sources. The ESDC confirmed that an announcement about a new project manager is coming this week, though no name was mentioned.

After years with no individual formally overseeing Atlantic Yards, the government agency in charge of the project, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), will soon name a project manager.

However, that new staffer--at least according to the minimal publicly available evidence--lacks experience facing up to developers like Forest City Ratner and scrutinizing complex development projects, much less engaging the public.

And that may be the point, given that the ESDC has dutifully found blight on the project site, overstated expected economic benefits, and insisted in court that the official ten-year timetable is reasonable.

Getting a loyalist in place

This week, the ESDC is expected to name 33-year-old Arana Hankin, who has a relatively thin résumé but close connections to Governor David Paterson--a staunch, if misinformed, Atlantic Yards supporter--to this new, unadvertised position.

(Though the ESDC wouldn't say so, it looks like a volunteer, attorney, Susan Rahm, served as project manager during a two-year stint that ended last year.)

Is the appointment of Hankin, nearly five years after the agency began evaluating the project, an effort to impose order on Atlantic Yards?

That may be the ESDC's posture. Equally important, however, may be the governor's desire to place a loyalist in an ongoing position after his administration ends this year.

(Didn't Paterson impose a hiring freeze? Maybe there will be vacancies at the ESDC if some staffers take a state incentive program to retire. But shouldn't a position like this new one be announced and advertised, as was the ombudsman job?)

Though Hankin's been a Paterson aide in two stints, the only press account of her government service I could find--as described further below--suggests her willingness to pursue her boss's agenda, pressing the ESDC to move forward in funding a questionable project led by Elsie McCabe, wife of then-New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson.

article

Posted by eric at 11:11 AM

August 20, 2010

Case closed (more or less): yes, ESDC volunteer Rahm was in charge of Atlantic Yards, serving at times as a sole contact person for FCR officials

Atlantic Yards Report

Who's in charge here?

Rumors that the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) will soon announce a new staffer as Atlantic Yards project manager make the below account especially timely.

Documents unearthed via a long-lingering response to a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request offer strong evidence, if not definitive confirmation, that a below-the-radar volunteer was, during a crucial period, the ESDC's leading overseer of Atlantic Yards.

After all, lawyer Susan Rahm (below, in the audience at the 5/29/09 state Senate oversight hearing) was the sole recipient at least once of key communications from developer Forest City Ratner.

Disputed takes

As I wrote 6/2/09, there was evidence that suggested Rahm, a several-days-a-week volunteer since the summer of 2007, was running the show, a highly unusual position, given that the state agency had no other volunteers.

I had questioned whether Rahm was in a policy-making position, and was told by the ESDC that no, she was just a consultant.

Another person intersecting with Atlantic Yards disagreed. "When I was introduced to Susan Rahm, she was called the 'project manager' for Atlantic Yards," my correspondent told me. "Yeah, it’s a pretty general term, but I got the impression she was the chief operating official for the project, salary or no."

Rahm left her role in the second half of 2009, some two years after she signed on, but after Forest City Ratner and the ESDC had revised the General Project Plan and granted Forest City Ratner more flexibility.
...

Adding it up

Was Rahm in charge? It sure looks that way, though obviously she shared responsibility with Matlin and their superiors.

The question now: is anyone in charge? (And who might be coming?)

And if the rather vague and weak Atlantic Yards governance bill, now pending, is passed, will it set up a structure with real oversight?

article

Photo: Jonathan Barkey

Posted by eric at 11:42 AM

August 4, 2010

When KPMG lies about condo sales, it gets a pass; when Trump SoHo (allegedly) lies, they get sued

Atlantic Yards Report

Funny, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) calls a lie by consultant KPMG about Brooklyn condo sales an "alleged inaccuracy" that is "trivial" as a legal matter.

It's just one of several lies in a report KPMG prepared to give the ESDC cover in its dubious judgment that the Atlantic Yards project could be built in a decade.

And so far, KPMG gets a pass.

Trump gets sued

Not everyone sits idly by when bogus sales figures get promoted. By contrast, in an article yesterday headlined Fifteen Buyers File Lawsuit Against Trump SoHo Project, the Times reported:

A group of 15 buyers at the Trump SoHo Hotel Condominium New York is suing groups and individuals behind the project, contending that they inflated sales figures in the first year and a half of marketing the project.

According to the complaint, which was filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan on Monday, representatives of Trump SoHo said the project was “30, 40, 50, 60 percent or more sold” — both in individual sales pitches and statements to the press — but after the offering plan became effective in May, buyers learned that just over 15 percent of the building, 62 of the 391 units, had been sold.

“They had a concerted and consistent pattern of lying about the numbers of units sold,” said William J. Geller, a lawyer at Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C., who is representing the buyers. As a result, Mr. Geller said, his clients bought units they otherwise would not have. “They never would have signed contracts if they knew only 10 percent of the units were sold, instead of the 50 or 60 percent they were told,” he said.

(Emphasis added)

Drawing the parallel

By the same logic, the ESDC would never have approved the project timetable last year if it knew the Brooklyn condo market was so much weaker than claimed by KPMG.

link

Posted by eric at 1:41 PM

July 30, 2010

Wiggle room: In FEIS graphics, ESDC suggested Flatbush Ave. lane closures would be temporary, but text was ambiguous (& referred only to utility work)

Atlantic Yards Report

Wiggle room, or weasel words?

So, did the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) study the impact on Flabush Avenue traffic of the need to build a lay-by lane for the arena and thus upgrade Metropolitan Transportation Authority subway vent structures?

On July 27, when I reported on the announcement of a "temporary" 17-month lane closure on Flatbush between Dean Street and Atlantic Avenue, I suggested no.

That morning, I asked the ESDC if it had been studied in the November 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) or the June 2009 Technical Memorandum and whether ESDC had documentation on the rationale for the change and estimates of its potential impact.

Yesterday morning, I got an answer, and it deserves a close look.

Essentially, the text of the ESDC documents left enough wiggle room for the closure currently planned, but the attached graphics indicated that Flatbush Avenue lane closures would be temporary.

The asterisk, however, is the FEIS mentioned only the impact of utility work, not the upgrade of vent structures.

article

Posted by eric at 12:06 PM

July 16, 2010

What's violating fiduciary duty for a public authority? "I don't care what the facts are; I'm going to do what the governor or mayor told me do"

Atlantic Yards Report

The road to reforming public authorities is a long one, but, with the expansion of the Authorities Budget Office (ABO) and the release of a report July 1, New York is moving down that road, right?

Yes, and no.

It's not merely that the ABO is understaffed, with a cohort so small it "borders on insanity," according to corporate governance expert Ira Millstein.

(Working pro bono, noted attorney Millstein with colleagues shaped the contours of the 2009 Public Authorities Reform Act, leading New York to what Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, the legislative sponsor, calls "a grand experiment" in reforming government.)

It's that even an expert like Millstein assumes that "you'll never have on the board everybody thinking uniformly." And, for some authorities--I'll point to the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and its quasi-spawn, the Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation (BALDC)--that hasn't been true.

There's been little discussion and no dissent when it comes to Atlantic Yards; the board members ask the barest of questions, are glaringly uninformed, and uniformly vote as predicted.

article

Posted by eric at 10:46 AM

July 13, 2010

The Job Development Authority, creator of BALDC (issuer of AY debt) & staffed by ESDC, fails to file annual report, budget info, mission statement

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder has an interesting and eye-opening story on one of the most shadowy of New York's shadowy Public Authorities.

t sure looks like State Senator Bill Perkins' concerns about the Job Development Authority (JDA), the shadowy alter ego of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) that was used to create the Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation (BALDC) to issue arena debt, deserved--and deserve--attention.

In one important official accounting, the JDA--which has no dedicated staff--appears to be a cipher.

Nearly alone among state authorities, it didn't submit a mission statement, an annual report, or a budget report, according to the first annual report by the state Authorities Budget Office (ABO).

The unusual transaction

Last December, Perkins in a letter to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo asked a question that, to my knowledge, has never been answered:

In essence, the ESDC crafted an unusual transaction whereby a nearly defunct entity, the Job Development Authority (JDA) was used to form the Brooklyn Atlantic Yards Development Corporation (BALDC) which then issued the $511 million worth of arena construction bonds.

I believe that the bond issuance was done in this manner to avoid a review by the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB) and the state Comptroller. I respectfully request that your office issue an opinion as to whether the process employed during the bond issuance was legal, as the public must have utmost confidence in the processes of government.

Such a review by the PACB might have delayed the arena bonds, possibly beyond the end-of-year deadline for a crucial tax exemption.

ESDC response

I asked the ESDC why no filing had been made by the JDA, whether it would be made, and whether the BALDC would be included.

I got the following response last week from spokeswoman Elizabeth Mitchell:

ESDC has been working towards a JDA filing, and has held discussions with ABO about filing for JDA. JDA is a legal entity distinct from ESDC without a separate staff (ESDC staff functions as JDA’s staff, although JDA has an independent board) and much of the information asked of public authorities is not applicable. Therefore we have been working to prepare a customized filing that takes into account JDA’s unique nature, and once the prior three years of filings are complete, we will immediately file this year’s report. We are currently preparing these filings and hope to submit them within the next few months. As the Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation is an affiliate of JDA, information regarding it will be covered in JDA’s filing.

There was no explanation for the delay.

Read on for lots more, including the news that more than a quarter of ESDC employees earn in excess of $100,000 a year. Is it any wonder that New York State is just about broke?

article

Posted by eric at 12:04 PM

July 10, 2010

Office towers in New York and the question of subsidies; the Observer suggests skepticism

Atlantic Yards Report

An article in by Eliot Brown notes that "10 of the 11 new major office towers to be constructed since late 2001 will have gone up with substantial government assistance." Is this assistance warranted?

Brown notes that developers argue they need tax breaks to make costs feasible, thus "showering the city with new jobs." However, he suggests the structure is inconsistent and "inherently vulnerable to political manipulation." (Case in point unmentioned in this article: Atlantic Yards.)

...

He got a quote out of the proponents:

Elizabeth Mitchell, a spokeswoman for the Empire State Development Corporation—the state agency that administered the incentives for many of these projects, including the Gem Tower—defended the existing structure, saying in a statement that "the State undertakes a rigorous cost benefit analysis that ensures that any benefits yield results in the form of economic return many times over.

Well, I'd question the concept of rigorous; after all, with Atlantic Yards, the revenue projections depend on a chimerical ten-year buildout of the project.

link

Posted by steve at 8:43 AM

July 6, 2010

KPMG's Atlantic Yards market study: not just blatant lies but shameless plagiarism (from Corcoran)

Atlantic Yards Report

In court June 29, Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) attorney Philip Karmel said that "probably the most important factor" in the ESDC’s decision to assume a ten-year buildout for Atlantic Yards was not the Development Agreement that provides 25 years without sanction but a KPMG report that backs the timetable.

The KPMG report got very little discussion, but it contains lies--blatant, checkable lies--about condo sales.

And, as I discovered when I took another look, it contains more than two pages of shameless borrowing--plagiarism that is not diminished by a vague footnote.

Borrowing from Corcoran

The entire section on New York City Market Dynamics is cribbed from The Corcoran Report(s) for Manhattan and Brooklyn for the second quarter of 2009.

Yes, there's a footnote to the section headline that cites "The Corcoran Report--2nd Quarter 2009" as a source, but there's no indication that nearly all the text--with the slightest of changes--comes from Corcoran.

No quotation marks, no indentations, no italics.

Nor did KPMG change a line like "We estimate that sales are down," which indicates not KPMG's observation but that of Corcoran.

article

NoLandGrab: So let us get this straight. "Probably the most important factor" in the ESDC's assumption of a 10-year build out was a market report published by a real estate company that counts on a robust real estate market to make money? Which they copied, like test answers in high school?

Additional coverage...

Brownstoner, Busted! KPMG Blatantly Plagiarized from Corcoran In Its Yards Report

Mega-consulting firm KPMG got big bucks to prepare a market study report for ESDC that was used to justify all sorts of overly-optimistic assumptions about the future of the real estate market. Sounds like they should have kicked some of that dough Corcoran's way though, since the highly-paid execs indulged in a liberal dose of the old cut-and-paste in its preparation of the report.

Posted by eric at 7:51 AM

June 23, 2010

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

Atlantic Yards Report

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

The agenda states:

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

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

Details

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

The meeting will be webcast.

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

Public comment

According to ESDC rules, public comment is welcomed:

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

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NoLandGrab: Public comment is welcomed, but always ignored.

Posted by eric at 12:32 PM

June 17, 2010

ESDC adds two board members

Atlantic Yards Report

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by eric at 10:41 AM

May 31, 2010

Price drops at On Prospect Park provide another reason to doubt KPMG report on housing market

Atlantic Yard Report

New information gives even more reason to question the KPMG report for the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) on the housing market in Brooklyn, a report that asserted that there was sufficient demand for the planned Atlantic Yards luxury condos for the entire project to be completed in the announced decade.

So far, judges have deferred to the ESDC's "experts," but the expert is not very reliable.

Remember, KPMG last August 31 claimed that Richard Meier's On Prospect Park was 75% sold; however, the New York Times quoted the developers as saying half the units have been sold and that StreetEasy.com documented only 25% the units as sales.

Now, the developer counts 54 units sold, with--after the consolidation of some units to make larger apartments--42 yet unsold, according to a New York Times Real Estate section article headlined Larger Units for a Richard Meier Condo.

That's still way under 75%. (StreetEasy counts 38 recorded sales.)

Prices going down

Moreover, the prices for On Prospect Park are likely much lower than assumed in the KPMG report. The Times reports:

To get the building’s original buyers — some of whom had put down deposits in early 2008 — to close on their apartments, Mr. [Louis] Greco [of developer SDS Procida] said, he had to deduct 15 or 20 percent from the agreed-upon prices...

Mr. Greco said that 42 apartments remained to be sold, at prices starting from about $680,000 to $5 million; per square foot, the prices are about 28 percent lower than in 2008.

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NoLandGrab: Long story short — Brooklyn needs a real estate bubble unlike anything we've seen over the past decade to make the Atlantic Yards numbers work.

Posted by eric at 9:24 AM

May 24, 2010

Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth? An Examination of Brooklyn Bridge Park in Terms of the Politics of Development

Noticing New York

Michael D.D. White publishes an epic three-part look at the politics of development in New York City, viewed through the prism of Brooklyn Bridge Park. It touches only tangentially on Atlantic Yards, but the delays in construction of the park conjure scary visions of a 50-year buildout in Prospect Heights.

This three-part article, which is principally about the new Brooklyn Bridge Park currently under development, wends a long, more serpentine path through the politics of New York City development than perhaps any other we have written. As you would expect, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's appearance is much more than a cameo. We don’t offer him praise.

Inevitably the metaphor of looking a gift horse in the mouth comes to mind when we contemplate the spectacular change to the city’s waterfront that will one day be Brooklyn Bridge Park. Whatever our government agencies ultimately do, the park will provide desirable benefits that will be extremely hard to complain about. But not conscientiously examining “gifts” that government officials deliver just doesn’t work in the political environment of New York. Besides Brooklyn Bridge Park is not truly a gift; it is something that community activists worked for years to obtain. Our elected representatives are, after all, supposed to be working for us. It is their job to properly administer our available public resources. Whether they are doing so requires a conscientious examination. We hope you will find that conscientious examination takes us on an interesting and worthwhile trip.

Part I

Part II

Part III

Posted by eric at 10:59 AM

May 20, 2010

Run, Dennis, run? ESDC Chairman Mullen, a Republican, said to be tapped to run for governor (but ESDC says no)

Atlantic Yard Report

Capitol Tonight's Liz Benjamin wrote today, in a piece headlined Source: Cox Approached ESDC Chair To Run For Gov:

State GOP Chairman Ed Cox is so worried about party-flipping Suffolk County Steve Levy’s chances of getting on the ballot at the party’s upcoming convention that he has been actively recruiting a fourth gubernatorial candidate, multiple sources confirm.

Less than one month ago, Cox approached Dennis Mullen, a Rochester businessman who was confirmed by the Senate last week as ESDC chairman, to sound him out about potentially running, according to a source with direct knowledge of the conversation.

State GOP spokesman Alex Carey told Benjamin the two spoke but didn't discuss a gubernatorial run, and ESDC spokesman Warner Johnston said "Mullen’s number one priority is his work as the leader of New York State’s economic development agency" and "has no plans to seek elected office."

What if? Mullen would move AY

Well, that sounds definitive. But a Mullen governorship--he'd have to get the nomination and then beat Andrew Cuomo, which is a tall order--might prove interesting for the Atlantic Yards project.

After all, at an ESDC meeting March 26, Mullen joked that Atlantic Yards is "a project that I would like to move off our portfolio."

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NoLandGrab: Uh, desperate much, NYS Republican Party? With the fine fettle in which Democratic rule has placed us, this is the best you can do?

Posted by eric at 10:46 PM

May 6, 2010

ESDC, Have you No Shame (Or Fear) For the Irony of it All? Asking for a Court Comparison of Atlantic Yards to Battery Park City?

Noticing New York

With apparently no compunction or sense of the appalling irony of it all, ESDC has gone into court swearing that they have given the time and thought necessary to compare the inexcusable Forest City Ratner Atlantic Yards project they endorse with that exemplar of large-scale development projects, Battery Park City.

For years we have been holding Battery Park City side-by-side with Atlantic Yards in order to stress by comparison what a bad large-scale project Atlantic Yards is. Even as recently as a few weeks ago we invoked the Battery Park City model when speaking with Senator Charles E. Schumer to make explicit why his continuing support for Atlantic Yards is misguided and sanctions unprecedented favoritism for a single developer mega-monopoly.

Atlantic Yards Report carried the story Monday that ESDC was attempting to invoke the inestimable good grace in which Battery Park City is held to counter the dismay provoked by Atlantic Yards documents that provide for the potential (some would say extreme likelihood ) that Atlantic Yards will involve “25 years of construction in Prospect Heights rather than the announced and promised ten years.” ESDC pointed to Battery Park City to argue that this wouldn’t be so bad and that presumably the promised 10 years should be considered no different from current 25 years provided for. Atlantic Yards Report’s Norman Oder pointed out that this embarrassingly little feint was despite the fact that there were some “key contrasts” between the projects.

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Posted by eric at 10:48 AM

May 4, 2010

KPMG's lies about condo sales? ESDC calls "alleged inaccuracy" trivial and belied by current "robust demand," but ignores the deep discounts

Atlantic Yards Report

So what do the attorneys for the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) say when faced with legal papers calling attention to a blatant lie from consultant KPMG regarding condo sales in Brooklyn?

They question the conclusion, call it trivial, and say it's belied by other evidence.

It's quite a strained performance, given that current prices at the Oro development are less than half the prices Forest City Ratner expects for condos coming on line in five years.

Timetable issues

The statement comes in a motion (below) arguing that Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman should not reopen the case in which she dismissed a challenge to the ESDC's 2009 approval of the Modified General Project Plan, though she criticized the ESDC’s “deplorable lack of transparency."

One of the key issues is whether it was reasonable for the ESDC to assume a ten-year timetable for the project and thus evaluate environmental impacts based on that scenario, an issue seemingly belied by the Development Agreement that sets 25 years as an outside date.

The condo market

But another key issue concerns the current condo market in Brooklyn.

The KPMG market study concluded that the market could absorb the projected market-rate units by 2019. In her 3/10/10 decision, Friedman wrote, on p. 9:

KPMG concluded that FCRC's residential absorption rate estimates were supported by current market data for condominiums...

(Emphasis added)

Current market data?

But they weren't supported by current market data, because the market data was a lie.

As I wrote 3/30/10, while KPMG said that as of last August the Oro condo development had sold 75% of its units, a 3/29/10 press release indicated that the development had finally reached the halfway mark. And a New York Times article demolished KPMG's claims regarding sales of Richard Meier's One Prospect Park.

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NoLandGrab: The ESDC — liars or morons? You decide!

Posted by eric at 12:06 PM

April 19, 2010

No sleep at 752 Pacific: ESDC tries to take possession by cutting lock; Weinstein replies in kind; then tenants and subtenants show up

Atlantic Yards Report

It's been a wild and woolly few days at 752 Pacific Street in Prospect Heights, where, not long after property owner Henry Weinstein got his tenants and subtenants evicted on April 15, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) tried to take control of the property that night and those tenants also returned today.

A changed lock

Late on the night of April 15, Weinstein told me, he passed by the building and was surprised to see half the lights on the sixth floor illuminated. He'd shut off the circuit breakers, so he thought a timer might be at work.

The locks were secure. The next day, however, he couldn't get into the building.

"Unbeknowsnt to me, someone had cut off my lock and replaced it," Weinstein said. That was the ESDC, whose counsel told him that the agency, not Weinstein owned the building.

On Saturday, April 17, Weinstein spoke with an employee of Grubb Ellis, the managing agent, who told him that a guard and been hired and, if he wanted to get into the building, he could get a key when the workweek began.

Weinstein said no, that he had legal possession of the building. So, on Sunday, he cut off the new locks and installed his own--after first showing the 77th Precinct the paperwork that indicated he had possession.
...

ESDC position

ESDC spokeswoman Elizabeth Mitchell told me, "It is our position that ESDC was within its rights to have the locks changed at 752 Pacific on April 16th as ESDC became the owner of the property as of March 1st. Yesterday Mr. Weinstein broke the lock at 752 Pacific Street and replaced it with his own. For the time being ESDC will not seek to change the locks again. ESDC's motion for a writ of assistance as to 752 Pacific Street, among other properties, will be heard this Wednesday before Justice Gerges. We will apprise Justice Gerges at that time of what has recently transpired with respect to the property."

The ESDC wants Gerges to set May 17 as a final date to compel condemnees to leave the footprint, though a few, including Weinstein, are expected to oppose it.

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NoLandGrab: The ESDC's predilection for acting in bad faith is matched only by its predilection to act like a sullen teenager. "For the time being ESDC will not seek to change the locks again?" That's an actual statement from a state agency? Good grief.

Posted by eric at 10:21 PM

Three months after AY was approved last year by the ESDC, the Development Agreement allowed for even gentler deadlines

Atlantic Yards Report

Would you believe that, in three short months last year, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) took gentle deadlines for the Atlantic Yards project and relaxed them further?

Um, yes?

In doing so, it made further mockery of its dubious claim that the Atlantic Yards would be completed in a decade.

The ESDC's September 2009 approval of the Atlantic Yards 2009 Modified General Project Plan (MGPP) proposed penalties for delays on only the first three towers and claimed, vaguely, that Forest City Ratner would have to "use commercially reasonable efforts" to build the project in ten years.

That was all to come in a secretive process, the professed arms-length negotiation of the Development Agreement.

And when those documents were signed in December 2009, the state agency provided even more generous deadlines regarding those first three buildings, no teeth to the term "commercially reasonable," and an completion date of 25 years.

The timing of the ESDC's release of the development agreement would be comical if it weren't so deeply corrupt.

Delayed revelation

The penalties were not revealed until January--when the Development Agreement was finally made available for inspection to those of us willing to visit the ESDC offices.

That was one week after the oral argument in a state Supreme Court case challenging the ESDC's professed ten-year timetable in the project--and two weeks after the ESDC initially said the documents would be made available.

Was the ESDC's unwillingness to reveal the Development Agreement before the oral argument an effort to avoid uncomfortable facts? It sure seems so.

The Development Agreement's provision of a 25-year deadline is now the subject of two motions--by groups allied with Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and BrooklySpeaks--asking state Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman to reconsider her decision deferring to the ESDC's ten-year timetable. (The Development Agreement was also not entered into the record of the case.)

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Posted by eric at 9:57 AM

April 13, 2010

ESDC pushes for eviction order by April 21; lawyer for some condemnees says timeline is unlikely, given judge's desire to avoid role of sheriff

Atlantic Yards Report

After yesterday's hearing on the case challenging the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) 2006 Determination & Findings to pursue eminent domain, I also inquired about a hearing April 9 before Kings County Supreme Court Justice Abraham Gerges regarding the condemnation process.

Bottom line: the ESDC wants to get an eviction order after an oral argument in court on Wednesday, April 21; attorney Matthew Brinckerhoff thinks it's unlikely.
...

What happened April 9

Brinckheroff said that the lawyers discussed "very specific details of the valuation process," including the provision of advance payments, which are necessary in order for people to seek new premises even though they may no longer have title to their property.

ESDC lawyer Charles Webb, according to Brinckerhoff, said such payments would be available within two weeks of fulfilling certain conditions.

"They also presented an order to show cause," said Brinckerhoff. "They want to make a motion requesting an order allowing them to get the sheriff to evict everybody. That was made returnable for argument on April 21."

Soon or later?

That could lead to a writ of assistance, essentially an order of eviction issued by the court. "There's a very strong argument that it's incredibly premature," Brinckerhoff said. "Normally that's a process that takes many, many months."

The ESDC's justification, he said, is that "the developer is losing something like $7 million a month" on carrying the property. (He later said he wasn't certain of the figure; I haven't seen the document yet.)

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NoLandGrab: If that's the case, than the ESDC and Forest City Ratner could solve the problem by making reasonable compensation proposals to the property owners, rather than the ridiculous low-ball offers they've put forth.

It's actually somewhat comical that the state and city have been profligate with Ratner, but now that only a handful of property owners remain, and they're this close to completing site assemblage, they open their wallets — and moths fly out.

Posted by eric at 2:09 PM

April 12, 2010

Lessons from Hastings: no tradeoff between economics and environment; the need for reasoned argument; the goal of sustainable development

Atlantic Yards Report

The legal and procedural battle behind Atlantic Yards is so fraught--did the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) really withhold the crucial Development Agreement until after oral argument in January regarding the project timetable?--that it's refreshing to see that some people believe in ideals.

A slate of three candidates in the suburban village of Hastings-on-Hudson was elected in March 2009 under the banner Hastings Forward, and a look at their web site (thanks to Google's cache but no longer available), pointed to an essay "Living Well in Our Landscape: Environmental Responsibility and Civic Community in Hastings," by Bruce Jennings.

(Why was I noodling around Hastings Forward? It was supported by Hastings resident Philip Karmel, the ESDC's lead outside lawyer in the Atlantic Yards cases.)

The highlights

Notably, Jennings argues that knotty issues "do not involve a choice between environmental conservation and economic development," since framing a trade-off wrongly "implies that economic development exists somehow in a vacuum unaffected by natural systems."

Rather than pit development against nature, he suggests that the issue is "responsible, careful development and economic improvement within the context of a sustainable relationship between human activity and natural system."

Moreover, a true forum "is not a shouting match, an occasion to assail one’s opponents" but "a space of civic imagination and reasoned, deliberative argument," he writes, suggesting that the result can be "adequately protective and sustainable modes of development."

Does that sound much like the ESDC process?

link

Posted by eric at 10:07 AM

April 1, 2010

ESDC leader jokes that he'd like to move Atlantic Yards "off our portfolio;" AKRF's tab tops $5 million; new owner's rep signed after conflict

Atlantic Yards Report

This, incredibly, is not an April Fools gag.

Humor, sometimes, masks deep discomfort.

The Atlantic Yards project is apparently such a hot potato that last week Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) Chairman-designate Dennis Mullen joked that Atlantic Yards is "a project that I would like to move off our portfolio."

The comment came about 24 minutes into the March 26 ESDC board meeting (agenda, webcast).

The ESDC board and staff had just concluded discussion about the city takeover of Brooklyn Bridge Park, initially a state-city project.

Moving on to AY

"Rachel, you're up," Mullen said, pointing to Rachel Shatz, Director of Planning and Environmental Review. "You're going to talk to us about Atlantic Yards--a project that I would like to move off our portfolio."

There was healthy laughter around the boardroom table in New York.

"No comment," said one person.

More laughter.

"Oh-kay," said Shatz jocularly. "Thank you."

"Did I actually say that out loud?" Mullen mused, on video from the Albany office.

More laughter.

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NoLandGrab: Haha! $5 million for AKRF! You're slaying us, ESDC!

Posted by eric at 11:29 AM

March 4, 2010

The ESDC's dubious delays: the release of master closing documents and the claim that time doesn't affect AY benefits

Atlantic Yards Report

The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) has said a lot of questionable things about the Atlantic Yards project, but two of them deserve another look, given the events of the week.

Both were highlighted at the BrooklynSpeaks press conference Tuesday.

They are:

  • the impact of delay on Atlantic Yards project benefits
  • the delay in releasing master closing documents

Pace of benefits

In Supreme Court Justice Abraham Gerges's decision Monday approving condemnation of properties for the Atlantic Yards project, the judge failed to reject the state's assertion, "Whatever the pace may be for the delivery of the many public benefits of the Project, the nature of those benefits remains the same."

Really? As BrooklynSpeaks' Gib Veconi pointed out, a delay in delivering affordable housing makes a big difference.

And, to pick a non-AY example, doesn't the nature of benefits change when you get a structured settlement--annuity payments, at a discount--in place of a lump sum? Isn't that why companies now buy structured settlements?

Master closing documents

Also, as BrooklynSpeaks' Jo Anne Simon pointed out, it was quite questionable that the ESDC didn't release the Atlantic Yards master closing documents--which actually govern the project, rather than the more aspirational 2009 Modified General Project Plan (MGPP)--until January 25.

That was six days after a hearing in a case challenging the MGPP was heard in court.

It was also about three weeks after the ESDC told me the documents would be made available.

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NoLandGrab: Attention New York State taxpayers*! Feel free to pay your taxes over whatever period of time you see fit, since according to the state, timing doesn't matter.

* By "taxpayers," we mean "Bruce Ratner," who probably doesn't pay much tax, anyway. His Atlantic Yards project certainly won't.

Posted by eric at 2:31 PM

February 19, 2010

Is Governor Paterson paying any attention to the ESDC? Previous upstate head of authority couldn't get a meeting

Atlantic Yards Report

I asked Wednesday who's in charge of Atlantic Yards at the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC).

Maybe a more pressing question is who's in charge of the ESDC. The answer: not Governor David Paterson.

From a New York Times article today headlined As Campaign Nears, Paterson Is Seen as Increasingly Remote:

Mr. Paterson’s approach to his job differs markedly from that of his predecessor. Mr. Spitzer, when he became governor, promised major change, installed appointees with substantial credentials and took a deep interest in their work, peppering them with e-mailed policy questions in the early-morning hours. Mr. Paterson is less involved with those who run the agencies, and less curious about how they are operating and whether their policies are succeeding, current and former aides say.

Shortly after Mr. Paterson took office in March 2008, Dan Gundersen, who was commissioner of economic development and chairman of the Upstate Empire State Development Corporation, requested a meeting with the new governor. He could not get on Mr. Paterson’s schedule, he said, and kept asking: 12 requests over a period of about 100 days. No meeting was ever scheduled, and Mr. Gundersen resigned that June.

“Governor Spitzer was completely engaged and responsive with me,” Mr. Gundersen recalled. “And when Governor Paterson assumed office, it was important for me to brief him on the upstate agenda and the projects we were working on.”

(Emphasis added)

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NoLandGrab: Who's in charge of the ESDC? Here's a hint.

Posted by eric at 10:31 AM

February 18, 2010

Memo suggests ESDC overstated AY economic benefits by assuming 10-year buildout, office space on track, full 8 million square feet

Atlantic Yards Report

So, how credible are the rosy figures for jobs and tax revenues stated in the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) "Economic Benefit Analysis" for Atlantic Yards?

We're going to go out on a limb here and guess: not credible?

The numbers conveyed in a 9/17/09 memo from ESDC President Dennis Mullen to the board may sound good, but a look at the backing document--received via a Freedom of Information Law request--shows numerous holes in the analysis.

Knew it!

1) Timing. The calculations of new tax revenue rely on a ten-year buildout of the project, which is highly unlikely. No alternative calculations or assumptions were provided, despite the likelihood, as even supporters such as then-ESDC CEO Marisa Lago have said, the project would take "decades." The Development Agreement allows 25 years, plus extensions.

2) Office jobs. The new tax revenue--as we learned back in 2006--relies significantly on office jobs, which are highly unlikely to come online within ten years.

3) Size of project. The revenue relies on a full buildout of the project, nearly 8 million square feet. But the development agreement allows for a much smaller project, less than 5.2 million square feet.

4) Costs underestimated. The costs are most likely underestimated and there's no effort to explain the calculations.

There are other fudges, such as an increase in the amount of commercial space.
...

The bottom line

The fact remains: no one has done a credible cost-benefit analysis of the project as a whole. The IBO has come closest, given its study of the arena, but that's not very close.

Nor has anyone done a cost-benefit analysis based on multiple timetables and scenarios, such as a 25-year buildout or the absence of office space.

And if a non-economist like me can poke so many holes in the memo, what would peer reviewers do?

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Posted by eric at 9:19 AM

February 17, 2010

Who's in charge of AY at the ESDC? A team, but there's no point person (any more); FOIL request regarding mystery volunteer still pending

Atlantic Yards Report

Who's in charge of the Atlantic Yards project at the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC)?

Is there an in-house project manager, a point person, similar in function to the way, for example, Regina Myer serves as president of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation? Is there a board with oversight responsibilities and a process for seeking local input?

Nope. For a while, though, depending on whom you talk to, the ESDC had a volunteer in charge.
...

Why is that question important? Well, as I wrote 6/2/09, there was evidence that suggested lawyer Susan Rahm, a volunteer, was running the show.

Norman Oder is FOILed, again.

On 4/20/09, I filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request with the ESDC, asking in part:

Specifically I request records that explain 1) how Susan Rahm's role and responsibility was introduced to ESDC colleagues when she joined ESDC as a volunteer in 2007 and 2) direct contacts by Rahm and/or Darren Bloch from 2007-present with Forest City Ratner executives regarding such issues as the timing, financing, legal status and scope of the Atlantic Yards project.
...

Every month, I get a response from the ESDC's FOIL officer, telling me they're still working on my request. It's been nearly ten months now.

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NoLandGrab: Ten months? And they expect us to believe that Atlantic Yards will be completed in 10 years.

Posted by eric at 10:20 AM

February 12, 2010

ESDC amends mitigation memo on timing, open space, etc.; more important is leeway on affordable housing, paying for TEAs, and "practicable" procedures

Atlantic Yards Report

The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) has quietly--i.e., with no press release--posted an updated version of the Amended Memorandum of Environmental Commitments (aka Memorandum of Mitigation Commitments), which was signed in December.

Notably, the document--which was posted either in late December or early January--describes:

  • more time to build a school
  • more time to build a day care center (or not build it at all)
  • larger stormwater detention tanks, in the absence of an arena green roof
  • plans for temporary open space, such as kiosks, seating areas, and landscaping
  • plans for a temporary Urban Plaza

Most if not all of the changes are also memorialized in the master closing documents signed in late December and finally made available on January 25.

Still, most of the changes seem minor. The key text, most likely, the significant amount of wiggle room built into the language of both documents, leaving the city or the ESDC--which have not exactly pressed hard on developer Forest City Ratner--in charge of enforcing some vague agreements.

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Posted by lumi at 5:55 AM

February 3, 2010

Whistleblowing, the ESDC, and the investigations that may or may not be happening

Atlantic Yards Report

In a long but interesting post on his Noticing New York blog, Michael D.D. White alerts us that the Empire State Development Corporation, "the state agency theoretically most responsible for Atlantic Yards," does not have a whistleblower protection policy even though it's required, not by the public authorities reform bill passed last year but one passed in 2005.

White thinks that the indictments in Yonkers relating to Forest City Ratner's Ridge Hill project might hint at some similar investigation of Atlantic Yards, but, I'd add, there's no evidence that's happening, nor is there a fact pattern similar to a Council Member dramatically changing her vote.

Could the race among candidates to replace Attorney General Andrew Cuomo turn into a race to investigate Atlantic Yards as well, as White suggests?

Well, there are always wild cards, as White notes. Still, I'd point out that one leading candidate, Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, was notable last year for shying away from opportunities to look into AY, not embracing them.

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Posted by eric at 11:19 PM

When it comes to the Urban Room, the Development Agreement is confusing, confounding, and nonsensical

Atlantic Yards Report

If you were trying to make sense of the Development Agreement allegedly negotiated at arm's length by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and Forest City Ratner entities, you might get confused, especially when it comes to the Urban Room, the dramatic entrance that's supposed to be attached to Building 1.

Building 1 is an office building with no timetable, but that's the least of it.

The language is confounding, sloppily drafted, since the contract provisions fail to make sense at more than one juncture. They pose damages where none exist and attribute such damages to the wrong party.
...

Can it be trusted?

Likely very few people have read the Development Agreement, much less tried to make sense of it. But it does not appear to have been drafted carefully.

If these mistakes jump out, how many others are there?

Click thru for Norman Oder's best stab at navigating the nearly incomprehensible documents.

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NoLandGrab: We have to wonder if the confusion is a) due to the ESDC rushing headlong to get the documents done on Ratner's timetable, or b) intentional so as to render the agreements unenforceable, thus eliminating the threat of financial penalty to the developer for failure to meet the already-cushy targets.

Posted by eric at 10:40 AM

February 2, 2010

ESDC debuts new, more transparent web site; drops "New York Loves Business" but does claim it's "Open for Business"

Atlantic Yards Report

The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) has managed a long-overdue revamping of its web site, adding significantly more background information and transparency, thus bringing it (belatedly) up to par with some other state agencies and authorities.

Notably, the ESDC--mainly referred to simply as Empire State Development (though the names seem interchangeable)--has finally dropped the "New York Loves Business" slogan and nylovesbiz.com web address.

Now, the home page proclaims that New York is "Open for Business."

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Posted by lumi at 5:19 AM

February 1, 2010

EMPIRE STATE DEVELOPMENT LAUNCHES NEW WEBSITE

Empire State Development

The Empire State Developerment Corporation has launched a new website!

The new site — wait for it — "offers increased agency transparency in outlining the organizations [sic] structure." [NLG: Emphasis, ours.]

"Governor Paterson has tasked all of us with fostering economic growth and job creation in New York State on the principle that we must do more with less," said ESDC Chairman Dennis Mullen. That, obviously, doesn't apply to Bruce Ratner, whom the ESDC is allowing to do less with more of the taxpayers' dollars.

Bet you'll never guess by looking at it that the redesign "was created internally at a cost under $1000." And if you're able to locate any of the Atlantic Yards Construction Updates on the site, do let us know.

link to site

read the press release [PDF]

NoLandGrab: Note that the press release points to a non-existent URL (www.esd.ny.us) as the new home page — the actual address is www.esd.ny.gov. Thanks to Curbed for the tip-off on the redesigned site.

Posted by eric at 9:49 PM

January 27, 2010

ESDC claims arm's-length negotiation of damages for AY default, but relationship with FCR has been cozy (and developer has 25 years to build project)

Atlantic Yards Report

We've suggested once before that ESDC should stand for "every statement defies credibility" — excuse us while we dust that off again.

A fundamental question in the Atlantic Yards controversy is whether the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) is an enabler of projects and developers or, rather, an independent representative of the public interest.

The evidence favors the former--indeed, an ESDC lawyer once said so in court. However, in a key section of the Atlantic Yards development agreement, signed by Forest City Ratner affiliates and the ESDC, a passage improbably claims that the state and the developer have been negotiating at arm's length.

Such a claim seems aimed at dampening any questions about the damages facing the developer in case of default on various obligations associated with the project. The document essentially says that the damages would be significant but impossible to calculate, so "reasonable" damages have been negotiated.

(The agreement emerged as part of the Atlantic Yards master closing documents, first made available yesterday.)

How reasonable?

Are the damages reasonable? In a post tomorrow, I'll look in detail, but consider the outline: the transaction allegedly negotiated at arm's-length allows the developer 12 years to complete Phase 1 and 25 years to complete the entire project, with significant opportunities for extensions--even as the state and developer claim in legal papers that the project would take just a decade.

Just tonight, Forest City Ratner Senior VP Jane Marshall, speaking at a meeting of the 78th Precinct Community Council in Park Slope, said that "the construction schedule is ten years," a careful locution that avoids promising that the project would actually get built in that time.

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NoLandGrab: Arm's length? More like pulling our leg.

Posted by eric at 12:24 AM

January 21, 2010

ESDC will make master closing documents available beginning Monday, but only if you visit their offices

Atlantic Yards Report

Here's the latest Atlantic Yards doc-u-drama:

documents.jpg

In December, I was told by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) that it might take a week or two after the December 23 master closing before the master closing documents were released.

More than two weeks ago I was told that the documents would be made available "in the next few weeks."

In court Tuesday on the case challenging the ESDC's 2009 approval of Atlantic Yards, a lawyer for the ESDC pointed to a development agreement signed as part of the master closing, though he acknowledged it was not part of the case record.

And Jeff Baker, attorney for the coalition led by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, questioned whether the development agreement actually covered Phase 2 of the project rather than just the arena and arena block.

So what's in there? We may soon find out, as the ESDC next week will provide in-person access to hard-copy documents--not the easiest task for those who don't have the time or mobility to go to ESDC offices.

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Posted by lumi at 6:19 AM

January 15, 2010

For its defense of case challenging AY project approval, ESDC relies on deference to documents still under wraps

Atlantic Yards Report

The last major Atlantic Yards case to go before a judge is the one challenging the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) September approval of the Modified General Project Plan (MGPP), in part because the ESDC board was not (allegedly) told the details of how the deal for the Vanderbilt Yard was renegotiated.

I'll have a broader preview before the court hearing next Tuesday, but first want to point to a key point of dispute between the ESDC and the groups (led by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn) bringing the case, which is consolidated with a similar suit brought by groups that are part of BrooklynSpeaks.

The petitioners assert that the Vanderbilt Yard deal points to a project that would last some 22 years rather than the promised ten years. The ESDC claims they're wrong, and buttresses its case by pointing to a set of documents that has not been made public.
...

No one other than representatives of the ESDC and Forest City Ratner have seen these documents. So how can they be fairly assessed?

link

NoLandGrab: We suppose we could just trust them, right?

Posted by eric at 12:56 PM

January 14, 2010

How ESDC practices ensure that, in cases like Atlantic Yards, the developer's choice of consultants, AKRF, will work for the state

Atlantic Yards Report

Well, thanks to the oversight hearing last week, we finally have a public answer to a question I posed in July 2007, when I queried the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) about guidelines regarding hiring consultants who formerly worked on the projects that they will review.

There are virtually no guidelines. Though there's a paper-thin conflict-of-interest policy, described below, the ESDC's policy encourages the practice, essentially ensuring it will continue, absent legislative action.

If the consultant, namely AKRF, has already been hired by the project applicant--such as Columbia University or Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner--that gives them an advantage, because the knowledge gained gives AKRF a head start and thus provides a more cost-effective product in the ESDC's eyes.

While state Senator Bill Perkins considers the ESDC's policy of hiring AKRF--while it was simultaneously employed by Columbia and after it had done work for FCR--a "glaring conflict," ESDC representatives defended it at the oversight hearing Perkins called January 5.

But their defense was weak, because they claimed AKRF merely provides a factual report, leaving the lay people on the ESDC board--who've been shown to be uninformed--to determine blight.

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Posted by lumi at 6:47 AM

January 12, 2010

If the BALDC gets a smaller slice of the arena bond fee than the ESDC, is the bond issuance some kind of organizational shell game?

Atlantic Yards Report

Did New York State give Bruce Ratner a special discount on the financing fee for the sale of arena bonds?

One telling footnote to the Atlantic Yards arena tax-exempt bond deal is that the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) gets a larger cut of the agency financing fee than the Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation (BALDC), which formally issued the bonds and is officially--if not practically--quite separate from the ESDC.

The ESDC received a fee of $1 million and the BALDC received a fee of $533,000. Some $511 million in bonds were issued.
...

How do those fees compare to other bond issues? The closest comparison, though not a direct one, concerns new stadiums for the Yankees and the Mets. The New York City Industrial Development Authority (NYC IDA) charged developers of the stadiums both an agency financing fee and a state bond issuance fee.
...

And while direct comparisons are impossible, it appears that Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner got a better deal, since the agency financing fee for the arena bonds was a lesser percentage of the total bond issue than were the fees for the stadium bonds.

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Posted by eric at 10:14 AM

Was AKRF really hired to do a study of neighborhood conditions? It was hired to "prepare a blight study in support of the proposed project"

Atlantic Yards Report

As noted yesterday, probably the most astounding statement during the January 5 oversight hearing on eminent domain was the statement by Anita Laremont, General Counsel of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), that consultant "AKRF does not find blight. Our board finds blight."

"AKRF does a study of neighborhood conditions," she continued. "And they give us a report, and we make a determination based on that whether or not the area is blighted."

However, AKRF, to Laremont's knowledge, has never turned in a report that doesn't lead to a finding of blight.

Following the contract

That's no coincidence. Because AKRF isn't hired to do a neutral study of neighborhood conditions.

It's hired to "prepare a blight study in support of the proposed project," as shown in the contract scope for AKRF's work for ESDC, excerpted at right, part of a document I obtained via a Freedom of Information Law request.

It was hired to "[d]etermine the study area for analysis of blight conditions" and to "[d]ocument blighted conditions." It did that.

What was missing

Curiously enough, among those blighted conditions, AKRF was supposed to "[a]analyze assessed value trends on the project site, and compare to sample blocks with comparable uses in the study area, such as the Atlantic Center."

AKRF didn't do that, perhaps because it might have suggested that the project site wasn't so blighted. Or, perhaps, because it would have come closer to the task that Laremont described, of studying "neighborhood conditions."

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Posted by eric at 9:56 AM

January 11, 2010

Atlantic Yards Report: The Video(s)

Norman Oder — reporter, blogger, music video director — trains his lens on the Empire State Development Corporation.

Does ESDC board determine blight? On video, Dorkey can't find Pacific, Gargano evades Lehrer; both avoid Pinamonti's invitation to "come down and see"

It was probably the most astounding statement during the January 5 oversight hearing on eminent domain held by state Senator Bill Perkins: the General Counsel for the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), Anita Laremont, asserted that consultant "AKRF does not find blight; our board finds blight."

Now Laremont was speaking technically; legally, the board is charged with determining blight. But how does it work in practice? AKRF works for the project applicant either simultaneously (in the case of Columbia University's expansion) or consecutively (in the case of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project) with the ESDC.

AKRF gets contracts worth several million dollars to produce reports (paid for by the project applicant) on blight and environmental impact. (As of May 2007, the Atlantic Yard tab approached $5 million.) Board members, as far as I know, get no compensation. They have no special training. They're not even listed on the ESDC web site.

In new and better view on video, ESDC General Counsel acknowledges no disagreement ever with consultant AKRF

Given the availability of new video, with a better view of those testifying, it's worth another look at the sequence during the January 5 oversight hearing when state Senator Bill Perkins questioned Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) Anita Laremont about the agency's record hiring consultant AKRF, which always seems to find blight when asked to report on neighborhood conditions.

The ESDC: "quasi-governmental corporation," "public benefit corporation," "economic development agency," or just an "entity"?

State law calls [the ESDC] "a corporate governmental agency of the state, constituting a political subdivision and public benefit corporation," which a federal judge has shorthanded to a "public entity."

So ESDC General Counsel Anita Laremont was not incorrect in calling it (video) "my entity" during testimony at a January 5 oversight hearing chaired by state Senator Bill Perkins. But should "entities" be in charge of determining blight and eminent domain?

Posted by eric at 11:05 AM

January 8, 2010

At Senate hearing on eminent domain reform, forceful criticism of the status quo and the ESDC's answers, but reform won't happen overnight

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder offers another in-depth report on Tuesday's State Senate hearing on eminent domain.

They should have stuck around.

Though three representatives of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), answering questions about contracting with AKRF and the operation of the Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation (BALDC), faced persistent (if not all too lengthy) scrutiny from state Senator Bill Perkins during the first hour of an oversight hearing Tuesday, they left before hearing others offer forceful criticism of both the agency's performance and the state's notoriously condemnor-friendly eminent domain laws.

After all, the ESDC representatives who spoke--Executive VP Darren Bloch and General Counsel Anita Laremont--not only admitted no qualms about hiring AKRF but were unwilling to suggest any ideas for reforms.

(The third representative, Executive Director Peter Davidson, was silent. He's their boss, but didn't join the ESDC until September.)

Assessing the ESDC

That left Perkins highly critical of their performance.

Asked about the ESDC's responsiveness, he said, "The word does not apply. Clearly, intellectually, they cannot be telling the truth that they think it's OK for AKRF, paid by Columbia for a blight study, can be the best choice for a similar kind of study by the agency. I can't believe that they believe it's no glaring conflict."

What about their openness to legislative reform?

"Upon being asked, do you have any ideas about how to do this better, to have more respect and credibility in the community... they were silent, evasive, and I thought irresponsible because, after all, they have an opportunity to be a part of change, in terms of trying to do this better," Perkins said. "So I don't think we're going to get what we're looking for from them that way… They like the status quo."

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Posted by eric at 11:14 AM

January 7, 2010

ESDC: Every Statement Defies Credibility?

Atlantic Yards Report, ESDC general counsel claims that ESDC board, not consultant AKRF, "finds blight"

There was a telling moment last night during state Senator Bill Perkins's oversight hearing on eminent domain.

I'll have more coverage tomorrow, but the statement below by Anita Laremont, general counsel for the Empire State Development Corporation, is worth consideration.

Laremont was responding to a series of tough questions about AKRF, the ubiquitous environmental consultant that consistently delivers the reports that government agencies need to get projects past legal challenges.
...

Laremont says AKRF just does research

"Let me just say though, to clarify one thing," Laremont told Perkins. "AKRF does not find blight. Our board finds blight. AKRF does a study of neighborhood conditions. And they give us a report, and we make a determination based on that whether or not the area is blighted."

What the board can't find: Pacific Street

Well, AKRF gets paid millions of dollars while board members show up very, very uninformed. Remember, as shown in the video below from the December 2008 ESDC board meeting, board member Charles (Trip) Dorkey asked to know the location of Pacific Street, a key block in the Atlantic Yards footprint.

The issue of blight was determined months earlier. How could he have found blight if he couldn't find Pacific Street?

Atlantic Yards Report, ESDC: master closing documents will become available... in next few weeks

Remember, contract documents signed during the Atlantic Yards master closing, rather than the more aspirational and vague Final Environmental Impact Statement and the Modified General Project Plan, are where we get to see the real oversight of the project.

Last month, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) told me it would be a week or two after the December 23 master closing before the master closing documents were released.

Now, ESDC spokeswoman Elizabeth Mitchell tells me it will be a little while longer:

The Master Closing documents have been finalized and remain in escrow pending title acquisition or vacant possession. The "final" documents - in unexecuted form - should be made available to the public at our offices under supervision in the next few weeks.

NoLandGrab: "Under supervision?" If there's anything that could use some supervision, it's the ESDC.

Posted by eric at 12:11 AM

January 5, 2010

"Your views [at public hearing] will be taken into consideration"? Not by the UDC in the early 1980s

Atlantic Yards Report

Earlier today, I wrote that the public process for Atlantic Yards was mostly a formality.

And in a commentary I received today, Ross Sandler, director of the Center for New York City Law and New York Law School, similarly describes a process in which the Urban Development Corporation--the Empire State Development Corporation's formal name--avoided acknowledging that it would take the public's views into consideration.

The commentary, headlined "Empire State Development gets an earful on public hearings," appears in the December 2009 issue of NYLS's CityLand.
...

In the early 1980s I was asked to be the hearing officer for an Urban Development Corporation project located on Roosevelt Island. The project was limited and seemed worthy. On the night of the hearing, however, a large turnout of persons consistently spoke against the project. The hearing took place in a church basement and I sat in the front at a desk as the hearing officer. At the conclusion of each speaker's statement I thanked the speaker and said, “Your views will be taken into consideration.” I thought such a neutral statement was both courteous and appropriate.

After I had said the “your views will be taken into consideration” a number of times, the UDC lawyer watching over the hearing, came up behind me and whispered. “Please do not say ‘your views will be taken into consideration.' You are going beyond your authority.”

I don't have a personal view of the Columbia plan, but it is certainly a nice feeling to have a court stand up and say that the public hearings really do mean that “your views will be taken into consideration.”

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NoLandGrab: We're pretty sure that Edward Kramer, who served as hearing officer for the ESDC's public hearings on Atlantic Yards, never once claimed that “your views will be taken into consideration.” And we're also pretty sure they weren't.

Posted by eric at 12:01 AM

December 24, 2009

While JDA bonds are state-guaranteed, its "creation" (not subsidiary) BALDC operates by different rules

Atlantic Yards Report

So, the murky, single-purpose Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation (BALDC) is not a subsidiary but a creation of the Job Development Authority (JDA), the Governor's counsel told state Senator Bill Perkins.

Why is it so important to keep a distance? Because the bonds issued by the JDA itself--I'm not sure about subsidiaries--are guaranteed by the state, while the $511 million in tax-exempt bonds issued by the BALDC are non-recourse, with no guarantees. (BALDC officials last month said such a bailout wasn't foreseeable, but wouldn't rule it out.)

And bonds backed by the JDA would certainly require review by the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB), which was avoided in this case.

What the JDA usually does

The JDA, which has no dedicated staff, is an alter ego of sorts of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), which has shepherded and approved Atlantic Yards. I already pointed out that the ESDC's own web site indicates that its Urban Development Corporation (UDC) program authorizes Sports Stadium Assistance, while the JDA helps New York companies build and expand facilities and acquire machinery and equipment.

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NoLandGrab: A "creation?" Like something that comes out of the kitchen of a three-starred Paris restaurant? The Paterson administration's embrace of "creationism" is only the latest bizarre step in the bizarre six-year history of Atlantic Yards. Perhaps they meant "cretin?"

Posted by eric at 10:17 AM

December 21, 2009

Alphabet soup: if the UDC aims to offer Sports Stadium Assistance, why was the BALDC created by the JDA (which finances machinery and equipment)?

Atlantic Yards Report

The text on the web page of the Bond Program offered by the state's economic development agency compounds questions raised by state Senator Bill Perkins about the legitimacy of the bonds issued for the Atlantic Yards arena.

It states:
Empire State Development is the parent organization for New York’s two principal economic development financing entities: the Empire State Development Corporation (formerly known as the Urban Development Corporation), and the Job Development Authority. In 1995, these agencies, which had previously functioned independently, were consolidated in order to increase efficiency, reduce overhead and enhance the delivery of the State’s economic development initiatives. Reorganized as Empire State Development, the combined agencies now function as a streamlined economic development organization whose primary mission is the facilitation of business growth and job creation across New York State.

As part of this economic development role, Empire State Development Corporation oversees the issuance of debt under the programs of both the Urban Development Corporation and the Job Development Authority. On the UDC side, bonding programs include Corporate Purpose, Correctional and Youth Facilities, Sports Stadium Assistance, and various educational and civic related project revenue bonds. The Job Development Authority issues both taxable and tax exempt bonds to finance its business lending programs. These programs are designed to promote job growth by providing loans to assist New York companies to build and expand facilities and acquire machinery and equipment.

(Emphases added)

The questions

If the UDC is supposed to offer Sports Stadium Assistance, then why was the Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation (BALDC) created instead by the Job Development Authority (JDA)?

And if the JDA aims to help companies "build and expand facilities and acquire machinery and equipment," then why is it financing an arena?

link

Posted by eric at 10:52 AM

December 18, 2009

Due diligence on the BALDC leads down a rabbit hole, while other state agencies are more transparent than ESDC/JDA/BALDC

Atlantic Yards Report

The Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation (BALDC) was omitted from most press coverage of the arena bond sale, with some reports claiming that Bruce Ratner sold the bonds himself and others acknowledging the role of an unnamed "local development corporation," or LDC.

It's enough to leave readers wondering, perhaps to wonder if the unnamed BALDC might be similar to the Atlantic Avenue LDC, or the LDC of East New York, or the Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project LDC, or the BAM LDC.

It's not.

About the BALDC

Should someone be curious about the obscure, single-purpose entity that authorized and issued the bond, maybe they'd try to find a web site for the BALDC. There isn't any. There's no way to see its bylaws or learn about its board members.

The BALDC was created by the New York State Job Development Authority (JDA), a sibling agency of the ESDC, “to facilitate financing for the arena and certain infrastructure improvements related to the project.”

Why the JDA? “ESDC and JDA have differing statutory powers,” spokesman Warner Johnston told me earlier this year.

The JDA has no staff and no budget. But the JDA's creation of the BALDC allowed the arena bond transaction to skirt the review of the Public Authorities Control Board and the Comptroller, because only subsidiaries which have the same members or directors as the ESDC or JDA are included, according to Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn attorney Jeff Baker.

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NoLandGrab: We've asked this before, we'll ask it again — if the Atlantic Yards project is so great, why be so secretive about it?

Posted by eric at 12:22 AM

December 17, 2009

Curious omissions of the BALDC in most press coverage of the arena bond sale

Atlantic Yards Report

There was a curious omission in most of the press coverage of the sale Tuesday of bonds for the Atlantic Yards arena: the issuing agency, the Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation (BALDC), an entity that deserves a lot more scrutiny.

The press release didn't claim that Forest City made the sale, but rather announced "pricing" and omitted mention of the BALDC, which, as a government-created not-for-profit corporation, is able to issue tax-exempt bonds to save the developer well over $100 million.

(When the tax-exempt bonds were supposed to total $678 million--rather than $511 million, as it turned out--the New York City Independent Budget Office estimated the savings to the developer at $193.5 million.)

Some--as I delineate below--ignored the role of the LDC completely, while others omitted its name, perhaps taking a cue from the New York Times, which, in initial CityRoom coverage, declared that developer Bruce Ratner sold the bonds, later adding "and a local development corporation."

Click through to see who made the grade — and who didn't.

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Posted by eric at 12:16 AM

December 10, 2009

ESDC responds to Perkins letter on eminent domain: Appellate Division was wrong on Columbia, appeal will continue, AY not impacted

Atlantic Yards Report

Governor David Paterson's office says that it defers to the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) to respond to state Senator Bill Perkins' call for a moratorium on the use of eminent domain, and the ESDC says its response remains the same as last week:

ESDC believes the decision of the Appellate Division, First Department in the matter of the Columbia University Manhattanville Campus to be wrong and inconsistent with established law, as consistently articulated by the New York State Court of Appeals, most recently with respect to ESDC's Atlantic Yards project.

ESDC continues to fully support this project. The expansion of one of New York’s oldest educational institutions will enhance the vitality of both the University and its neighboring West Harlem community, while meeting the long-term needs of its residents.

This recent ruling does not impact Atlantic Yards, and ESDC intends to appeal the decision.

link

Posted by eric at 11:02 AM

December 2, 2009

How the BALDC seemingly flouts the state Open Meetings Law, and why it probably doesn't scotch the AY bond deal

Atlantic Yards Report

When the Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation (BALDC) adopted several resolutions in September--including a predicate to the issuance of tax-exempt arena bonds--without a public meeting, it seemingly violated the state's Open Meetings Law.

However, that seeming violation likely had no impact on the issuance of those bonds because another clause in the law says its provisions won't affect the validity of bond issues.

Official concerns

The issue was first raised in a report on WNYC radio, quoting Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government (COOG):

REPORTER: Robert Freeman, a state official overseeing freedom of information law, says the September decision was apparently invalid anyway, given that it took place not in an open meeting, but by written consent.

(This report concerned only the now-abandoned plan to issue $400 million in tax-exempt bonds for infrastructure.)
...

Freeman, in an interview, said that the BALDC, which he called a "dummy not-for-profit corporation," should not be allowed to avoid meeting in public. However, he backed off from assertions that decisions made by the BALDC regarding bonds were thus invalid.

Read on for the fine print.

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Posted by eric at 10:41 AM

December 1, 2009

Outsourcing government to Forest City Ratner: three examples

Atlantic Yards Report

  1. The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) lets developer Forest City Ratner supply the Atlantic Yards Construction Updates sent out under ESDC cover.

  2. The ESDC, as noted by the Court of Appeals decision in the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case, lets the developer [indirectly] pay for a Blight Study by AKRF--part of the ESDC's General Project Plan--that declares blighted the properties needed for the project.

  3. Mayor Mike Bloomberg relies on Forest City Ratner's figures regarding jobs, rather than more conservative government estimates.

link

Posted by eric at 12:04 PM

November 30, 2009

ESDC: no tax-exempt bonds for infrastructure will be issued

Atlantic Yards Report

The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), says the Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation is not going to issue tax-exempt bonds for Atlantic Yards infrastructure, as documents prepared in September suggested (as I reported this morning).

The ESDC issued a statement:

ESDC was at one time considering additional tax exempt bonds for infrastructure financing. Ultimately ESDC decided not to pursue that type of financing. Last week’s Board authorization of last week is the only financing under consideration by the Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation. Additional details of the bond sale will be released once documents are finalized. There will be a formal mid-December closing and we anticipate marketing the bonds prior to that time.

I'm several hours late posting this because I was in transit, but the ESDC had a day and a half last week to tell me that the plan was off.

link

NoLandGrab: OK, did they only decide "not to pursue that type of financing" after Norman Oder wrote about it? Why are we having a hard time trusting anything that comes out of the ESDC?

Posted by eric at 10:58 PM

Revealed: state is prepared to issue up to $400 million in tax-exempt bonds so FCR could save on Atlantic Yards infrastructure

Atlantic Yards Report

While Governor Paterson is implementing $1.6 billion in emergency budget cuts aimed at partially closing New York State's $3 billion-plus-and-growing budget deficit, his administration is working feverishly (and secretively) to close Bruce Ratner's budget deficit.

According to a previously unrevealed action in September, developer Forest City Ratner could benefit from $400 million in state-authorized tax-exempt bonds for much more than the planned arena.

The recently-formed Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation (BALDC) is prepared to authorize up to $400 million in tax-exempt bonds for Atlantic Yards infrastructure, thus allowing FCR to save tens of millions of dollars and filling a funding gap discernible in project documents.

This raises significant questions:
--When, if ever, would such bonds be issued?
--What revenues would back bond payments?
--Could the state be on the hook to pay off the bonds?
--Would the bonds be used to build the new railyard?
--Would the full $400 million be issued?
--Why wasn't this funding mentioned in the Modified General Project Plan issued in 2006 or its update in 2009?
--How could bonds be paid off in the "delayed buildout" scenario envisioned in the Technical Memorandum (p. 55) issued in June by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC)?
...

No disclosure

The size of this important funding component--revealed in response to a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request--was not disclosed by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) during the public comment period earlier this year regarding the revised Atlantic Yards plan nor before the ESDC approved the plan in September.

There was no opportunity for the public to comment at the November 24 BALDC meeting authorizing arena bonds.

(The BALDC authorized up to $825 million for the arena, including $150 million in taxable bonds, though in September it set a cap of $1.1 billion. Thus, while the infrastructure cap is $400 million, that total need not be issued.)

"[W]e are issuing governmental bonds and there is no federal or state requirement for a hearing," ESDC spokeswoman Elizabeth Mitchell stated before the meeting. "The distinction is based on the fact that governments are already subject to a public process, in our case ESDC's prior hearings, for governmental projects."

But the public process did not include any mention of tax-exempt financing for infrastructure. Thus, the public costs of such tax-exempt bonds were not available to those examining the project, such as the New York City Independent Budget Office.

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NoLandGrab: Why so secretive?

Posted by eric at 12:17 PM

November 18, 2009

Atlantic Yards is not on the agenda for ESDC board meeting tomorrow

Atlantic Yards Report

The Empire State Development Corporation does have a board meeting tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. Atlantic Yards is not on the wide-ranging agenda, but the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership is expected to get $50,000 (via the Assembly) and use it for a marketing campaign of some sort.

The authorization for arena bonds, however, is coming on November 24.

link

Posted by eric at 11:07 PM

November 12, 2009

Arena bonds down to the wire? ESDC likely waiting until mid-December

Atlantic Yards Report

It looks like the sale of tax-exempt bonds for the Atlantic Yards arena would occur, at the earliest, in mid-December, two months after the date once predicted by developer Bruce Ratner.

A press release (bottom) from the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) today announced a meeting November 16 of the ESDC's Bond Finance Committee.

Was that regarding Atlantic Yards arena bonds? (Seemingly the latter would involve the Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation, or BALDC).

No, said ESDC spokeswoman Elizabeth Mitchell. (The ESDC is issuing other bonds.)

Coming in December?

So, when might arena bonds be on the agenda? "We expect by mid-December," Mitchell responded.

That suggests that the ESDC--perhaps nudged by bond rating agencies?--doesn't want to issue arena bonds until and unless the state Court of Appeals rules in favor of the ESDC's use of eminent domain.

A decision is expected in the next weeks.

But a December date already represents a two-month delay for Ratner, who told the 10/1/09 New York Observer that, after bond ratings were determined in "about two weeks... then we'll start selling them."

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NoLandGrab: Ratner, who once claimed his Nets basketball club would be playing in Brooklyn by 2006, has been wrong before.

Posted by eric at 10:13 PM

November 11, 2009

The first ESDC stamp of approval

Battle of Brooklyn via Kickstarter

We posted a text link to this clip on Sunday, but the Battle of Brooklyn filmmakers sent us a YouTube link so we could embed it here for easier viewing.

The scene: the Empire State Development Corporation Board's don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-it deliberations and approval of the Atlantic Yards project on December 8th, 2006.

Several years ago in a galaxy far far away a group of government officials got together to approve a multi billion dollar project and in discussing it - it was very clear that few if any of them had visited the site... or even the borough of Brooklyn to gauge the validity of the facts presented to them. I'd like to say that there was a vigorous discussion back and forth about the merits of the project, the legality of the process, and the viability of the project. There wasn't. The meeting wasn't too long- but this isn't it in it's entirety. I would say it's the meeting in a nutshell.

http://www.youtube.com/v/zSOw8-kbtmQ&hl=en&fs=1http://www.youtube.com/v/zSOw8-kbtmQ&hl=en&fs=1">

link

Posted by eric at 11:12 AM

November 9, 2009

How Bruce Ratner further undermines the ESDC's dubious AY "economic benefit analysis"

Atlantic Yards Report

The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) has never produced a real cost-benefit analysis for the Atlantic Yards project, because it never bothered to consider costs beyond the direct subsidies.

And it never produced an honest "economic impact analysis" or (most recently) "economic benefit analysis" because the analysis was premised on a decade-long build-out of the project. No alternative timetable was considered.

And the ESDC's analysis was further undermined in the recent Crain's profile of Forest City Ratner CEO Bruce Ratner, who acknowledged there was no timetable for the project's single office tower: “Can you tell me when we are going to need a new office tower?”
...
So the ESDC's numbers--$657.6 million in new city tax revenues over 30 years, on a present value basis--deserve much skepticism. First, those numbers aren't offset by costs. Second, they depend crucially on an office tower that doesn't appear in any renderings and thus hasn't even graduated to "vaportecture."

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Posted by lumi at 4:53 AM

November 6, 2009

Paterson calls special session, will include public authority reform

Atlantic Yards Report

NY Governor David Paterson has called a special legislative session for this month, and the reform of Public Authorities (i.e. Atlantic Yards sponsor the Empire State Development Corporation) is on the agenda. However, since the Public Authorities-reform standardbearer, Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, would rather rail at the Yankee Stadium deal after the fact than unwind an equally twisted boondoggle yet in the works, don't hold your breath for any reforms that could get in the way of Bruce Ratner's megaproject.

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Posted by lumi at 5:36 AM

October 30, 2009

Atlantic Yard Bonds May Be Sold, Escrowed: Official

The Bond Buyer via Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn
by Ted Phillips

The $700 million of bonds to finance a professional basketball arena at the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn could be sold and the proceeds placed into escrow as legal challenges to the project are resolved, an official at the Empire State Development Corp. said yesterday.

“The expectation is that they can be issued,” said Frances Walton, chief financial officer of the ESDC. “It wouldn’t be the first time that bonds have been issued with those types of legal challenges.”
...

The structure and the timing of the bonds are still in flux, Walton said.

Typically an issuer would structure an escrow bond “short term with the expectation that it would be coming out of escrow to be restructured. That’s one of the possibilities they are looking at,” Walton said. “But they’re also looking at the structure with an early call ... if something changes, if the court ruling went against you, you’d just refund the bonds. Those are the two different approaches.”

abridged article via DDDB

full article [subscription required]

Posted by eric at 11:03 AM

What's a Prospect Heights condo worth? ESDC low-balls Goldstein (who once walked away from $500K profit) and overpromises the public

Atlantic Yards Report

The Empire State Development Corporation had to inflate the residential-condo projections for Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards megaproject, so the project appears to be financially viable. On the other hand, the public-private corporation is lowballing the price for one home owner whose condo the agency is planning to seize, using the state's power of eminent domain.

If you go by what the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) offered Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn spokesman Daniel Goldstein for his condo in the Atlantic Yards footprint, and compare that to the values projected by ESDC consultant KPMG, you might suffer some vertigo.

After all, KMPG agrees that Forest City Ratner could get $1217/sf for condos in 2015, a figure that represents more than double the $600/sf price that consultant (for AY opponents) Joshua Kahr thinks is currently realistic.

KPMG says that the current condo market in Prospect Heights is $470-$1225/sf, though the latter seems a major stretch, limited perhaps to a few units in the Richard Meier-designed On Prospect Park, which isn't doing well and surely must be dropping prices.

And it's more than two-and-a-half times--by my calculation--what the ESDC is offering Goldstein.

Both extremes, I suspect, are unrealistic: the ESDC is low-balling Goldstein and KPMG (and Forest City Ratner) are overly optimistic. Whether Atlantic Yards proceeds or dies, iit's unlikely Goldstein would ever (nearly) double his money, as Forest City Ratner once offered. (To be precise, his gain would've been 83%.)
...
Looking at the price per square foot

$466: what Goldstein paid in 2003
$850: what Forest City Ratner paid in 2005 in one building
$850: what FCR estimated in 2006 it would get for Atlantic Yards condos
$600: what Joshua Kahr estimates is the current Brooklyn condo market
$470-$1225: what KPMG says is the current Prospect Heights market
$450: what (I estimate) Goldstein has been offered

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Posted by lumi at 5:52 AM

October 29, 2009

NYS sets big bond sale, waits on other large issues

Reuters
by Joan Gralla

New York State's main economic arm will sell as much as $1.7 billion of debt during the week of November 16, although bond financing for two other developments -- Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards and the World Trade Center site -- have not yet been finalized.

Frances Walton, chief financial officer of the Empire State Development Corporation, told reporters after a Citizens Budget Commission conference that she did not expect lawsuits filed by opponents of the multibillion dollar Atlantic Yards project would block the debt issue by a local development corporation.

"The expectation is that they will be issued," she said. This would not be first time that bonds have been issued despite "legal challenges," Walton said.

"We have begun discussions with ratings agencies," she said.

article

NoLandGrab: Actually, according to a Wall Street Journal article two weeks ago, arena bond underwriters Goldman Sachs and Barclays had already "spent weeks in discussions with three credit-rating services and bond insurer Assured Guaranty Ltd. over ratings and terms on the bonds" — and the Journal called the odds of the bond sale succeeding "a toss-up."

Additional coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, ESDC has a planned bond sale on the week of November 16 (before any court decision comes down)

Not only is the next Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) meeting on November 19, the week of November 16 is when the ESDC will be issuing bonds, including (apparently) bonds for the Atlantic Yards arena, Reuters reports.
...

In other words, they're not waiting for the resolution of the eminent domain case, nor do they think any other lawsuits could stymie the project. The driver is a December 31 IRS deadline.

Bond buyers and the bond insurance company, however, had better calculate some risk, as Michael D.D. White pointed out.

NLG: Not only did White point out all the problems with the bond issue — it's likely that his blog post prodded reporters to start asking questions.

Posted by eric at 8:50 PM

October 22, 2009

It came from the Atlantic Yards Report

For first game, Nets slash ticket and concession prices 50%--plus free M&Ms

Norman Oder, who attended last week's Nets debut in Newark, just got an email from Nets point guard Devin Harris:

I wanted to thank you for coming out to our preseason game at the Prudential Center. As the season begins, it is important that we get off to a great start and now more than ever my teammates and I need the support of fans like you.

That's why I'm bringing you this 50% Off Discount when you use Offer Code THANKS for tickets to our opening night game against Vince Carter, Dwight Howard, and the Orlando Magic on October 30th at 8pm. You will also be receiving free schedule magnets, free M&M's after the game, and 50% off all hot foods, candy, select beverages at the concession stands.

Mark your calendars: next ESDC board meeting is November 19

From an Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) press release:

The next meeting of the Board of Directors will tentatively be held on November 19, 2009 at a location to be announced closer to the time of the event.

Now I can't be certain that is when the ESDC will announce and approve final leases, contracts, and other documentation regarding Atlantic Yards, but that's probably the earliest potential date. As for the arena bonds, the Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation (BALDC) has to meet, as well.

Posted by eric at 4:03 PM

October 8, 2009

"Different opinions," different facts; finding more gaps in the KPMG market study of Atlantic Yards

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder's first look at the KPMG "market" "study" covered the report's astronomically high real estate value projections and totally bull-sh*t made up sales figures for existing projects.

Today, Oder compares the KPMG report (released yesterday by the Empire State Development Corporation) to the Kahr report (commissioned by Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods) and stumbles over some more "gaps" in the KPMG doc.

Here, perhaps, is the most significant fabrication of the market study commissioned by the ESDC and Ratner:

Yesterday I pointed out that KPMG said that only a "modest inflation factor" could lift the average of $950/sf high value for condos (in three neighborhoods) to the $1217/sf Forest City Ratner expects in 2015.

Well, first consider that the $950/sf may not be a fair comparison, given that it's skewed by the stratospheric prices of the not-so-well-selling On Prospect Park, by Richard Meier.

Second, consider that an inflation factor of 5%--not so modest--would bring $950/sf to $1212/sf over five years. (It would actually be five years and nearly four months until that first condo building opened on 2/1/15.)

article

NoLandGrab: We repeat, if the Atlantic Yards project is so great, then must the developer Forest City Ratner, the ESDC, and every study they have commissioned have to stray so far from the truth to make it appear viable?

Posted by lumi at 6:16 AM

October 6, 2009

ESDC Won't Release Key Atlantic Yards Document or Come Clean on Timeline

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

The public authority (ESDC) won't produce what should be a public document (KPMG's financial feasibility study) for a supposedly public project (Atlantic Yards). And senior ESDC counsel Steve Matlin twists himself in knots to explain how Atlantic Yards could, maybe, might be built in ten years because of some unknown, undetailed guesswork called "incentives."

link

Posted by eric at 9:23 PM

September 30, 2009

Ratner-Prokhorov Deal: What Did the ESDC Know, and When Did They Know It?

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

Our sources tell us the NBA knew of the Prokhorov-Ratner deal at least 6 months ago.

If true, this begs the question: What did the ESDC know and when did they know it?

link

Posted by eric at 12:28 PM

Department of City Planning official said design changes to AY were "obviously quite significant," but ESDC told the public "no"

Atlantic Yards Report

Via Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request, Norman Oder learns that Winston Von Engel, Deputy Director of the Brooklyn Office of the Department of City Planning (DCP), agrees with the rest of the project watchdogs that "the design changes to the project are obviously quite significant. Under the circumstances, we believe that a more detailed review of the proposed design is appropriate."

However, according to the official response, filed with the "Modified General Project Plan," to the community's concern about the design changes, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) stated:

No modifications to the Design Guidelines or overall program are proposed, and the Arena, although redesigned, does comply with the Design Guidelines as required by the GPP [General Project Plan]. The Design Guidelines, which establish the framework for the design and development of the Project Site, were developed in close consultation with ESDC and DCP staff and are attached as an exhibit to the GPP.

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NoLandGrab: It was in developer Bruce Ratner's self-interest that the modifications to the design were not deemed "significant," otherwise the Empire State Development Corporation would be forced to issue a "Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement" (SEIS), which would take months to complete and would blow past Ratner's end-of-year deadline for taking advantage of triple-tax-free bonds.

This is one of many examples of how governmental agencies have been bending over backwards to accommodate developer Bruce Ratner in every way possible.

Posted by lumi at 6:59 AM

PETER DAVIDSON appointed EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR of empire state development

On the heels of Marisa Lago's abbreviated tenure, which represented only a portion of the chaos at the helm of the Empire State Development Corporation in the wake of Eliot Spitzer's resignation, the quasi-public corporation announced a new Executive Director. [Full press release after the jump.]

Long Island Business News, ESDC names new executive director

A longtime media executive has been appointed the new executive director of Empire State Development Corp., New York’s chief economic development agency.

Peter Davidson is the former owner and publisher of El Diario/La Prensa, the leading Spanish-language daily in the United States, and for the past nine years served as chairman of the New York City-based J.M. Kaplan Fund.

Atlantic Yards Report, ESDC names media executive Peter Davidson as Executive Director

The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) has recently been rather thin on top, with the departure this summer of CEO Marisa Lago, a yet-unconfirmed Chairman, Dennis Mullen of Rochester, and the long goodbye from Avi Schick.

Now media executive Peter Davidson has been named Executive Director, and will oversee Atlantic Yards, among many other projects.

(By the way, Susan Rahm, the mysterious volunteer who apparently played a key role on the ESDC's Atlantic Yards, was notably absent at the September 17 board meeting when Atlantic Yards was approved. Update: I didn't see her, but another person there said she was in the building. She certainly wasn't at the table.)

For Immediate Release: September 29, 2009

Contact:
Warner Johnston (ESD) | wjohnston@empire.state.ny.us | 1-800-260-7313

PETER DAVIDSON appointed EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR of empire state development

Davidson will oversee statewide subsidiaries and large-scale urban development projects ensuring capital investment growth for New York State
Will also manage State’s Tourism Division, home of the iconic I LOVE NY brand

Empire State Development (ESD) today announced the appointment of Peter W. Davidson as the agency’s new Executive Director. Mr. Davidson, an experienced dealmaker and executive in the private sector, will oversee the management of all ESD’s statewide subsidiaries and its large-scale urban development projects, as well as its divisions of Marketing, Advertising, and Tourism.

Mr. Davidson is a long time media executive, having founded and operated six different media companies in New York in newspaper, radio, television, advertising, and market research, with many of them geared toward the Hispanic community. From 1989 to 2000, he was owner and publisher of El Diario/La Prensa, the leading Spanish-language daily in the United States. Known as a creative business leader, he has piloted complex deals, structured numerous equity and debt-raising transactions, and acted as lead negotiator in multiple financings, acquisitions, and asset sales.

For the past nine years, Mr. Davidson was also Chairman of the New York City based J.M. Kaplan Fund, where he oversaw grant-making focused on waterfront access, transportation, and infrastructure in New York City, the protection of immigrants throughout the United States, and archeological conservation worldwide.

“Peter brings a wealth of experience as an entrepreneur to Empire State Development,” said Dennis M. Mullen, Empire State Development Chairman & CEO, designate. “He is a well-respected business leader, and with his vision and energy, we will be able to move forward with important development projects that stimulate the economy while providing important capital investment. Peter’s knowledge and expertise, particularly of business and government leaders in New York City, make him a perfect addition to ESD, and we welcome him to the team.”

As Executive Director, Mr. Davidson will work under the leadership of Mr. Mullen to spur economic growth and foster job creation in New York State through large-scale urban development projects, such as the development of Governor’s Island, the revitalization of Erie Canal Harbor, the expansion and renovation of the Jacob Javits Convention Center, and the construction of Brooklyn Bridge Park. He will also oversee ESD’s direct development work on such projects as Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn and Midtown Rising in Rochester.

“I am honored that Dennis has given me this incredible opportunity,” said Mr. Davidson. “Our economy faces significant challenges, and I am eager to bring fresh ideas and energy to the organization in whatever way I can.”

Mr. Davidson is a graduate of Stanford University and the Harvard University Graduate School of Business Administration. He is an active member of the Brooklyn community, where he lives with his wife and three children.

Mr. Davidson’s first day at Empire State Development is Thursday, October 1, 2009. He will be based in ESD’s New York City office.

Empire State Development is New York’s chief economic development agency. ESD also oversees the marketing of “I LOVE NY,” the State’s iconic tourism brand. For more information, visit www.nylovesbiz.com.

###

Posted by lumi at 5:32 AM

September 29, 2009

The Orchestrated Timing of the Ratner-Prokhorov Deal

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

Was the Ratner-Prokhorov deal in the works prior to the ESDC's September 17th vote to re-rubberstamp Atlantic Yards? Of course it was.

Was the letter of intent signed before the 17th ESDC Board vote? It probably was (or at least could have been and was just waiting to be signed after the re-rubberstamp.)

Was it all orchestrated? Of course it was. Why would the Board members want to discuss such things as Norlisk Nickel, Courchevel, the Kremlin, and Rusal, when they could stick with their known quantity and buddy Bruce Ratner? That way the discussion about Mr. Prokhorov could occur without any accountability.

link

Posted by eric at 11:44 AM

The ESDC's non-responsive Response to Comment document: looking at evasions about benefits, renderings, timetables, signage, blight, etc.

Atlantic Yards Report

"Atlantic Yards Modified General Project Plan for Dummies:" Norman Oder spells out the issues and evasions in the official Empire State Development Corporation document that was adopted as part of the re-approval of Bruce Ratner's controversial arena and highrise megaproject.

I've already written about major changes agreed to by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) at the September 17 approval of the Modified General Project Plan (MGPP), including:

  • a speed-up of government funds
  • a pass-through of city payments
  • a hedging defense of the announced ten-year timetable
  • the dubious "economic benefit analysis"
  • a cut in size of the project by one-third
  • an acknowledgment that affordable housing depends on subsidies.

The Response to Comments document distributed by the ESDC at the September 17 board meeting is notable for non-responsive or evasive responses, including, as I've previously explained:

  • the claim that an "economic benefit analysis" equals a cost-benefit analysis
  • the claim that a construction schedule represents a "useful timetable"
  • the evasion of the question of whether affordable housing financing would be available
  • the claim that a ten-year timetable is reasonable
  • the questionable critique of the New York City Independent Budget Office's report on the Atlantic Yards arena.

But the rest of the document deserves scrutiny, as well, given the ESDC's avoidance of candor.

Below are some selected responses, with my commentary. Among the highlights, the ESDC:

  • punts on whether project benefits would be binding
  • ignores the request for architectural renderings
  • claims an Arena block program required closing Fifth Avenue
  • doesn't acknowledge the likelihood of extended surface parking
  • ignores a question about the timetable for reopening the Carlton Avenue bridge
  • disregards how an extended project timetable would extend blight
  • ignores a request for renderings of signage.

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Posted by lumi at 5:40 AM

September 22, 2009

IBO responds to ESDC critique of fiscal analysis: "we remain confident in our methodology and results"

Atlantic Yards Report

One intriguing mini-drama during the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) board meeting on September 17 concerned the agency's response to a New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO) report concluding that the Atlantic Yards arena would be a loss for the city.

The ESDC's dismissal of the IBO's report was noted both verbally and in a Response to Comments document, but the ESDC's logic was sketchy, as I'll describe below.

And, after I forwarded the critique to the IBO, the official behind the report told me "we remain confident in our methodology and results."

Indeed, as I'll describe, I think the IBO could've been considered too conservative.

Click thru for more on the ESDC's hypocrisy, the IBO's rebuttal, and why Norman Oder thinks the lost public opportunity cost may be even greater than what the IBO reported.

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NoLandGrab: The bottom line is that the ESDC has never, ever provided any credible analysis of the Atlantic Yards project's bottom line.

Posted by eric at 11:00 AM

September 21, 2009

Dave crony collects 'money for nothing'

NY Post
by Tom Topousis

More evidence that the Empire State Developerment Corporation is asleep at the wheel — or more aptly, driving on the wrong side of the road.

Gov. Paterson's former economic-development czar, Avi Schick, stepped down from his post at the helm of the Empire State Development Corp. in January -- but, astonishingly, continued to quietly draw his $213,000 annual salary for eight more months, The Post has learned.

Schick, who has close ties to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, managed to hang on to his full salary -- more than what the governor earns -- in return for advising Paterson on lower Manhattan issues, said ESDC spokesman Warner Johnston.

The ESDC revealed Schick's continuing compensation to The Post last week after more than a month of requests, and just days after he was removed from the payroll on Sept. 11 so that he could begin a new job with a law firm that began three days later.
...

"Total waste of taxpayer money," said another official familiar with Schick's work downtown, where his most significant project was the deconstruction of the Deutsche Bank building -- a project that cost two firefighters their lives and has taken years longer than anticipated.

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NoLandGrab: In no way do we mean to make light of the terrible, avoidable tragedy that occurred at the Deutsche Bank building, but that project could perhaps be considered well-managed in comparison to Schick's other big downstate project — Atlantic Yards.

Additional coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, Post: ESDC paid Schick for eight months after resignation

Norman Oder parses the Post:

It was unclear on what specific issues Schick advised Paterson.

He could not be reached for comment, and state officials would only say that he was asked to stay on during a leadership change at ESDC over the summer.

..."People assumed he wasn't paid because no other LMDC chairman had ever received a salary," said a well-placed lower Manhattan source.

Actually, if Schick could be described as anyone's "crony," the person would be Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who appointed him.

But if Schick resigned in January, his role "over the summer"--after CEO Marisa Lago left--didn't kick in until well after his resignation.

Posted by eric at 11:26 PM

Why did Ratner say AY could take 25 years? Because that's what the ESDC gives him (despite official claims of a decade)

Atlantic Yards Report

"It would be less complicated if the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and Atlantic Yards supporters simply" told the truth, but that ain't happening, so project critics have to slog through official documents just to piece together the lies.

It would be less complicated if the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and Atlantic Yards supporters simply professed that Atlantic Yards would have a ten-year timetable in official documents while acknowledging in public statements that the project could take much longer (as project opponent Daniel Goldstein pointed out in comments at the ESDC board meeting last Thursday).

Actually, the ESDC's been speaking out of both sides of its mouth in official documents. According to the 2009 Modified General Project Plan MGPP), issued in June:

The build-out of the Project is likely to occur in two phases, with the Project elements on the Phase I Site and the Upgraded Yard (collectively, "Phase I") anticipated to be completed by 2014 and the Project elements on the Phase II Site (collectively, "Phase II") anticipated to be completed by 2019.
(Emphases added)

However, as Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn has pointed out, the revised deal for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard gives the FCR 22 years, until 2030, to pay for the railyard, and only after payment would the six development parcels be conveyed to the developer.

In other words, the only way to meet the ten-year timetable would be for Forest City Ratner to speed up payments.

Why all the fuss about the how long the project takes to build?

Does the ESDC think the ten-year period likely? It didn't say so. Indeed, the evidence from the MTA and the ESDC's own leases indicates that the timetable is unlikely and nearly impossible.

And that means that the claimed project benefits would come much more slowly, and that claimed blight would persist rather than be removed.

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Posted by lumi at 6:12 AM

September 19, 2009

ESDC Rubberstamps Atlantic Yards Approval

The Empire State Development Corporation, the tool of developer Bruce Ratner, continues its support of the proposed Atlantic Yards project.

NY Post, 'Net' gain for Ratner
By Rich Calder

State officials yesterday approved a revised plan for Brooklyn's embattled Atlantic Yards project.

The Empire State Development Corp.'s step allows developer Bruce Ratner to secure private land needed for the $4.9 billion project to build an NBA arena for the New Jersey Nets and 16 office and residential towers. But it is also expected to spur more lawsuits from opponents who've already delayed construction for years. One group, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, said the ESDC should have started the environmental-review process over because the revised plan dramatically departs from the 2006 original.

GlobeSt.com, State OKs Atlantic Yards Changes
By Paul Bubny

The Empire State Development Corp.’s board voted Thursday to approve modified plans for Atlantic Yards. In a statement, developer Bruce Ratner said the vote “means that the Atlantic Yards project can move forward”; however, critics of the Brooklyn mega-project have threatened further legal action.

...

Following the ESDC vote, Daniel Goldstein, co-founder of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, issued a statement of his own. Calling the board’s action a “rubberstamp re-approval,” Goldstein says, “It is unfortunate for the ESDC and Forest City Ratner. Had they done things by the book, by the letter of the law, the project wouldn’t be in such substantial trouble. But they haven’t.”

Critics of the project, including Goldstein and City Council candidate Brad Lander, assert that the ESDC has failed to provide a complete site plan for public comment, or to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement as required under the State Environmental Quality Review Act. According to Goldstein, SEQRA requires an SEIS “if there is newly discovered information, changes proposed for the project or a change in circumstances related to the project. The newly discovered information, in part, is the clear realization that the project will, at best, take decades to complete.”

Goldstein says that with its vote on Thursday, “and no SEIS, the ESDC is taking irreversible steps that will send Atlantic Yards further into community litigation.” He adds that the “likely outcome” of the ESDC’s vote “is that they will be sued.” Lander issued a statement citing a recent Independent Budget Office report that the arena would lose money for the city—a projection disputed by the New York City Economic Development Corp.—and calling for the entire project to be withdrawn.

An ESDC spokesman tells GlobeSt.com, “We are confident that the process we followed fully complies with all applicable laws and that an SEIS was not required. We are confident that we will prevail in any lawsuits that may claim otherwise.”

On Oct. 14, the New York State Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear an appeal of the May 15 ruling that upheld the ESDC’s use of eminent domain for Atlantic Yards. The appeal was filed in late June by Goldstein and other landowners; both sides have expressed confidence of prevailing for the state’s highest court. However, the time frame for the court hearing could jeopardize the tax-exempt status of a sale of bonds to finance construction on the arena.

SmartBrief, Decision allows Atlantic Yards developer to move forward

A decision by the Empire State Development Corp. approving the Atlantic Yards project planned for Brooklyn will allow developer Forest City Ratner to move forward with the project. Observers also expect another round of lawsuits from groups opposed to the 16-building project, which will include mixed-use commercial and residential buildings, an arena and open space. The developer must start construction on the project before the end of this year to be able to use tax-free bonds.

Posted by steve at 7:17 AM

NY state approves downgrading Nets arena from platinum-plated to gold-plated

Field of Schemes
by Neil deMause

Neil deMause manages to find the humor in the ESDC's rubber-stamp approval of the proposed Atlantic Yards project.

New York state's Empire State Development Corporation signed off on Bruce Ratner's revised Brooklyn Nets arena plan yesterday, something that's been a foregone conclusion for at least two months now. It is noteworthy, though, for prompting this Reuters headline:

NY agency OKs modest basketball arena plan for Nets

This is no doubt the first time in human history that a basketball arena costing between $800 and $900 million — which would still easily break the record as the most expensive ever — has been described as "modest."

link

Posted by steve at 7:04 AM

September 18, 2009

Noticing New York Comment on and at Today’s ESDC Board Meeting

Noticing New York

This post furnishes Noticing New York’s comments delivered at the ESDC board meeting today on “Atlantic Yards.” We have to put “Atlantic Yards” in quotes because “Atlantic Yards” is so ill-defined it is quite uncertain what it is other than a giveaway scheme to benefit a developer.

Michael D.D. White sets the stage for yesterday's meeting, praising the ESDC support staff's professionalism and offering some background, before presenting his biting testimony.

This comment is in the name of Noticing New York, dedicated to the proposition that developing New York and appreciating New York go hand in hand. I am Michael White, a lawyer and urban planner. A lot of you know me. I have more than a quarter century experience in government, entrusted with the same kind of responsibilities you now intend to abuse.

  1. You are approving a $220 million net loss for the city with more than $726 million in no-bid subsidies to a private developer. (We think these conservative Independent Budget Office figures for the arena actually understate its true cost, including the developer’s megalodonic ripping apart of the community.)

  2. There is no benefit in the arena. In addition, with no requirement of benefit or corresponding obligation (and again without bid), you are giving a single developer a multi-decade blight-producing monopoly on a swath of valuable Brooklyn real estate.

  3. ESDC’s phantom arrangements involving no designs, leave ESDC with absolutely no negotiating leverage to insist on benefit or counteract Forest City Ratner’s future blackmailing of the public for subsidy. (Not that ESDC ever intended anything other than to heap benefit upon Forest City Ratner.)

  4. You shower Forest City Ratner now with additional multi-million dollar benefits such as excusing it from its railyard obligations, and we can expect that you will similarly shower more benefits upon them in the future, again without quid pro quo.

  5. What you are doing is destructive of neighborhoods, the city, our public finances, destructive of government and destructive of the basic fabric of trust required for a civilized society.

  6. Those who have never worked in a public agency and experienced the integrity with which they can operate probably wonder whether this is “business as usual.” It is not. This is cynical corruption, the worst I have ever seen.

  7. There are words of a Leonard Cohen song we think apply here:

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died

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Video of White's testimony courtesy of Atlantic Yards Report.

NoLandGrab: We kind of wish Michael D.D. White had had a piano brought in — or better yet, Leonard Cohen himself — for the finale.

Posted by eric at 3:54 PM

At ESDC board meeting, new revelations of ESDC's concessions to Ratner and forceful criticisms from opponents (with video)

Atlantic Yards Report

The Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) approval yesterday of the revised Atlantic Yards plan was predictable, which is probably why a number of news outlets--including even the Brooklyn Paper and the Courier-Life, both on deadline--didn't bother to send a reporter.

But there was news, both in the statements made at the ESDC board meeting and in the board documents distributed later, which indicated a significant effort to advance government funding to Forest City Ratner, a hedging defense of the official ten-year project timetable, an acknowledgement that Forest City Ratner would only be required to build a project at 65% of announced square footage, and an "economic benefit analysis" that, even by the ESDC's lax standards, fails to come clean about the net tax revenues.

Moreover, as I'll detail below, the Response to Comments issued to the board evaded or disregarded some important questions.

And while there were renderings of the arena, in contrast to absence of images at the ESDC's board meeting in June, there were no renderings of the rest of the project, giving credence to project opponents' criticism that the project timetable was bogus and that a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) was needed to assess the impact of the project over a much longer period of time.
...

The decision by the board was a crucial step toward the use of eminent domain to acquire property for the project, and to have the state issue tax-exempt bonds for the arena. The latter is likely on schedule, though condemnation would have to wait until the results of the eminent domain lawsuit, to be heard October 14 by the Court of Appeals, is learned in November.

ESDC attorneys expressed confidence they would win that lawsuit, and that any other challenges--such as a suit charging the ESDC with failing to issue a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement--would not deter the project.

There's lots more where this came from, including video and a rundown of comments from the likes of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's Daniel Goldstein — all well worth clicking thru for.

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Posted by eric at 9:58 AM

From "economic impact analysis" to "economic benefit analysis;" behind the ESDC's funny numbers and methodology

Atlantic Yards Report

If you've ever wondered how and why economic bubbles and other financial fiascos happen, read on.

There are multiple layers of deception, obfuscation, and inconsistency attached to the "Economic Benefit Analysis" included in the memorandum distributed yesterday to the board of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) before it voted to approve the 2009 Modified General Project Plan (MGPP) yesterday.

First, it was once called, somewhat more accurately, an "economic impact analysis," given that the ESDC was willing to consider some public contributions and thus not simply tote up new revenues. Second, the ESDC once mentioned the value of public improvements and infrastructure.

More importantly, the "economic impact analysis" was never a full cost-benefit analysis, given that it looked at public costs and subsidies quite narrowly.

And most importantly, the new numbers--even if you accept the ESDC's methodology--are almost surely a fantasy, since they're based on a full buildout of the project in ten years and the first 30 years of operations. Not only is that schedule highly unlikely--as evidenced even in informal admissions from the ESDC and developer Forest City Ratner--new tax revenues are based crucially on operations of the one office tower, which faces a forbidding market in the short term.

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Posted by eric at 9:43 AM

September 17, 2009

Dean Street Block Association Letter to the ESDC

The Dean Street Block Association, whose member-residents live directly adjacent to the Atlantic Yards footprint, presented the following letter today to the Empire State Development Corporation.

On June 23rd, when the ESDC board adopted the modifications of the general project plans for Atlantic Yards, then President Marisa Lago promised as part of the public review process, two community informational sessions with the opportunity for questions and answers.

On August 10th, following the initial community informational session and the public hearings for this review process, our block association sent a letter to Mr. Mullen requesting the opportunity to host the second community informational session promised the public. In that letter we noted that the plan and implementation of the Atlantic Yards Project uniquely and adversely affects the community in which the members of our block association live, work and worship. Because President Lago referred to the community information sessions in relation to the public comment period, we reasonably assumed the information sessions were to provide the community information as a way to make effective comment on the project. We noted that our members have approached us with questions about the project we continue to be unable to answer, and that the previous community information session had not been satisfactory because it did not offer an opportunity for questioners to follow up on their own questions directly. We never received a response from the ESDC.

We counted on the second meeting as a way to follow up on answers we found unsatisfactory at the first, and as a way to inform our comments. Unfortunately, the ESDC chose not to complete the process outlined by President Lago, and instead replaced the community informational meeting with a “public information session” outside the period of the public review for the modifications to the general project plan. It had a narrowed agenda with a focus only on the architecture of the arena. The prospect that the agenda of the second information session would be narrowed was never raised until the announcement by the ESDC this past Friday, for a meeting scheduled Monday. As a result of this change, members of our community were unable to follow up on what many believe were the ESDC’s insufficient answers on critical topics such as the timetable and feasibility of the project’s mitigations and benefits.

The ESDC also made a short and ineffective effort to inform the community the meeting was taking place. Although the ESDC had two months to schedule the meeting, preliminary notice occurred four business days before the meeting took place and formal notice occurred one business day before the meeting in the form of a press release. It is unclear what notice was provided to the community, when, and to whom. In addition, another party facilitated the meeting, and it is reported that they were given notice they were facilitating it on behalf of the ESDC at an extremely late date. As a result, they did not have the operational capability to facilitate a meeting that is part of a government process, (for example the RSVP link in the ESDC press release led to a page labeled “page not found” until the morning of the meeting). That other party, the American Institute of Architects, has stated it only gave notice to its members who are architects, and that in their view this meeting was “on architecture.”

The ESDC did not fulfill the process outlined to the public and the ESDC board at the June 23rd meeting. As a result, the community has been placed in the difficult position of providing comment on a project without sufficient information. Given the tremendous impact of the Atlantic Yards plan and implementation on our community it is essential the community trust the oversight of the project. Given the willingness of the ESDC to not fulfill its own promised commitments in relation to the review period, it is apparent it is not essential to the ESDC that we trust them.

Sincerely Yours,
Peter Krashes
For the Board of the Dean Street Block Association, 6th Avenue to Vanderbilt

Posted by eric at 9:42 PM

Huge Atlantic Yards project wins crucial approval

State's Economic Development Corp. gives the project a thumbs up, even as critics of the downtown Brooklyn site vow to file more lawsuits.

Crain's NY Business
by Amanda Fung

"Wins" crucial approval? As if it was actually a contest? Coverage of today's decision has been light, since the outcome can hardly be considered "news."

Forest City Ratner Cos.’ modified plans for its massive Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn won a critical approval Thursday from the Empire State Development Corp. The decision, which had been widely anticipated, is expected however to spark yet another round of lawsuits from groups that have opposed the project from the start.

No, the decision was universally anticipated.

The final approval by ESDC allows the developer to go ahead with assembling land for the site and proceed with the project. Just last week, Forest City unveiled its new plans for the design of an 18,000-seat sports arena, the future home to the Nets basketball team, which is the centerpiece of the Atlantic Yards project. The project will eventually include 16 mixed-use commercial and residential buildings, including affordable house and approximately eight acres of public open space.
...

“Today’s vote means that the Atlantic Yards project can move forward,” Mr. Ratner said, in a Thursday statement. “We now need to work aggressively to break ground by the end of the year. We look forward to achieving these goals.”

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Additional coverage...

NY Observer, Once Again, State Approves Atlantic Yards; City May Pay Ratner for Infrastructure Work

Bruce Ratner today got to check off another box on his Atlantic Yards “To-Do Before the New Year” list.

The state’s development agency Thursday morning approved Mr. Ratner’s revised plan for his $4.9 billion Brooklyn project, giving New York's assent to the planned Nets arena as well as the surrounding 15 apartment towers nearly three years after the state's initial approval. (Changes were made to plans for phasing and the size of the arena amid the economic crisis.)

The O.K. now leaves one less loose end as Mr. Ratner scrambles to get financing before a Dec. 31 deadline imposed by the IRS. Still, opponents threatened more litigation as the agency, the Empire State Development Corporation, re-approved the project, and perhaps even more lawsuits loom as the state plans to approve about $700 million in tax-free financing for the arena.
...

Mr. Ratner’s Forest City Ratner appears to be rounding up as much cash as it can as the year closes, as the ESDC said it would speed up an outstanding $25 million in subsidy, loosening the restrictions on the money.

The city, which has another $15 million in subsidy not yet given to Forest City, would be allowed to do the same, according to the ESDC document, speeding up its payments by loosening restrictions. Further, in a footnote in a state document, it was revealed that the Bloomberg administration may simply pay Forest City Ratner to do infrastructure work that it had been planning to do itself, giving the developer the cash upfront in the coming weeks or months, an additional subsidy of sorts.

WNYC News Blog, Goodbye to Gehry

The original architect, Frank Gehry, wanted to build the arena and adjacent buildings all at the same time, smack up against each other, and have them share heating and ventilation systems. Now, since it’s unclear when those neighboring buildings will be built, the arena is designed to stand alone–for years if necessary.

The vote was 3-0. The Empire State Development board generally has eight members. But there are four vacancies now, and one member present, Kevin Corbett, abstained because his employer, AECOM, has done business with Ratner in the past.

Compared to three years ago, when the ESD approved an earlier version of Atlantic Yards, board members seemed a bit chastened by the economic crisis and by the relentless opposition that the project has encountered. Mark Hamister asked about a lawsuit that opponents had threatened because the revisions had not been subjected to a full-scale environmental review. Derrick Cephas asked what the likelihood was that the entire project–16 towers with about 6,000 apartments, a hotel and some office space–would ever get built.

Steven Matlin, the special counsel on the project, summarized a report by KPMG that concluded it was “not unreasonable” to assume the real estate market could absorb that much new housing over the next 10 years, as the developer and planners hope. “This could happen,” he said.

Then again, it could not. The Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods commissioned its own report that found the full project will take at least 20 years to complete.

WNYC Radio, Final Approval of Revised Plan for Atlantic Yards

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, State Affirms Modified Atlantic Yards Plan

Forest City Ratner Chairman and CEO Bruce Ratner commented, “We greatly appreciate the Board’s support. The world has changed significantly since we announced the Atlantic Yards project in 2003. However, our commitment to the project, including the housing, the jobs and of course bringing the Nets to the Barclays Center, has remained steadfast even as the changing economic environment made this project more challenging, but also more important.”

Ratner explained as well that he planned to start the first residential building within six to nine months from the start of arena construction.

Timetables for the beginning of construction of the project have repeatedly been postponed during the past few years. The Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods and Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn have repeatedly raised questions about whether Ratner can meet the announced 10-year project timetable.

The two organizations have also sought a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS). A representative of Councilman Bill de Blasio, now running for public advocate, also reportedly called for an SEIS.

Brownstoner, ESDC Approves Revised Plan for Atlantic Yards

The headline says it all.

NetsAreScorching, ANOTHER APPROVAL FOR ATLANTIC YARDS

For weeks, opponents of the Atlantic Yards plan have expected the ESDC to “rubber stamp” the project, despite the fact that the public comments period ended at the end of August without updated renderings being released and once renderings were released last week, they still lacked details of other aspects of the development outside of the Barclays Arena, where the Nets would play.

Curbed, Atlantic Yards Rubber-Stamped

Reuters, NY agency OKs modest basketball arena plan for Nets

Posted by eric at 5:25 PM

ESDC agrees to allow a project cut by one-third; affordable housing depends on availability of subsidies

Atlantic Yards Report

Forest City Ratner provided the bait, now the Empire State Developerment Corporation delivers the switch.

According to the Technical Memorandum issued by the Empire State Development Corporation in June, the Atlantic Yards project (residential version) was to be 7,961,000 square feet, including a 850,000 square foot arena.

However, according to board materials distributed today, the project would include a 675,000 square foot arena and "improvements containing at least Four Million Four Hundred Seventy Thousand (4,470,000) gross square feet (exclusive of the square footage of the Arena)."

That's a total of 5,145,000 square feet, or a little less than 65% of 7,961,000 square feet.

What about affordable housing?

That 4,470,000 gross square feet presumably could not include 1930 condos, 4500 units of mixed-income rentals (2250 subsidized "affordable" units), and an office tower.

What could be cut? Obviously, if the condo market and office market don't improve, they'd be cut. What about the rentals?

The proposed development agreement also includes "no less than Two Thousand Two Hundred Fifty (2,250) affordable housing units, subject to governmental authorities making available to Party B or its applicable successor or assign, after good faith review by the applicable administering agency, affordable housing subsidies consistent with then applicable programs rules and standards then generally available to developers of affordable housing units."
(Emphasis added)

In other words, the affordable housing gets built only if there are subsidies. And there's no proof, as I've written, that the ESDC has done due diligence to check whether such subsidies would be available.

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NoLandGrab: [Still speechless].

Posted by eric at 4:11 PM

In spite of the State Funding Agreement, ESDC will now pay Ratner's "soft costs" and speed up $25 million

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder has a scoop, and here it is, in full.

In testimony today before the board of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), project supporter John Holt of the Carpenters Union said, "[Developer Bruce] Ratner's not asking you for a handout. He's asking for a hand in partnership."

Well, that partnership has just gotten a little easier for Forest City Ratner, given that the developer will get $25 million in state money faster and can use the funds for purposes previously disallowed in funding agreements signed in September 2007.

Statement at meeting

ESDC Senior Counsel Steve Matlin said, "We are requesting authorization to amend, as necessary, the city and state funding agreements. Pursuant to board authorization, ESDC entered into a funding agreement with a Forest City affiliate in 2005 to provide up to $100 million in funding for infrastructure improvements. Approximately $75 million has been disbursed or is pending disbursement. We are seeking authorization to amend the funding agreement to allow the corporation to advance the remaining funds at closing. The total state funding commitment to be made available by ESDC will remain unchanged."

According to Section 3.02 (b) of the State Funding Agreement, p. 9-10, the ESDC would not advance State Funding Payments
which (1) would reimburse Soft Costs, (2) aggregate more than the Eligible State Project Costs actually incurred as of the date of such request, (3) would result in the aggregate State Funding Payments disbursed pursuant to this Section 3.02 exceeding the aggregate City Funding Payments disbursed by ESDC pursuant to Section 3.04 hereof, (4) would result in the sum of (x) the aggregate State Funding Payments disbursed pursuant to this Section 3.02 and (y) the aggregate City Funding Payments disbursed pursuant to Section 3.02 hereof, exceeding fifth percent (50%) of the Eligible Project Costs actually incurred as of the date of each request.

Changes made

According to board materials just released, however, that's changed:
It is proposed that ESDC enter into an amended State Funding Agreement with Forest City to permit the Corporation to disburse the balance of the State funds at closing for eligible costs – including soft costs incurred by Forest City in connection with the design and engineering of the infrastructure improvements and certain site preparation costs (e.g. demolition costs) related to the development of the Arena or Vanderbilt train yard.

Maybe that's why another supporter, Travis Lock of the Salvation Army, testified today, without irony, "It is my sincere hope this morning that you would move forward with this project, the Atlantic Yard projects, on behalf of the Forest City Ratner Corporation."
(Remarks as delivered)

link

NoLandGrab: [We're speechless].

Posted by eric at 3:48 PM

ESDC consultant: ten-year project timetable for housing "not unreasonable"

Atlantic Yards Report

Does the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), as it approved the Atlantic Yards project, have a rebuttal to the statement by real estate analyst Joshua Kahr, who, in a report commissioned by the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods, emphatically declared that "the project cannot be completed anywhere near 2019."

(That's backed up by further analyses and even a comment by then-ESDC CEO Marisa Lago, who in April said the project would take "decades.")

Well, sort of, but it wasn't exactly emphatic.

ESDC Senior Counsel Steven Matlin told the board this morning, "In addition, under separate cover, we’ve provided the directors with a confidential report prepared by KPMG with respect to the development model and the potential absorption of the residential component of the project during the development period. KPMG has concluded that it’s not unreasonable to assume that the housing units to be developed can be absorbed in the marketplace during the projected development period."

(Emphasis added)
...

Will the public get to see the KPMG report? (Remember, a previous KPMG report surfaced officially only in litigation.)

"The KPMG report was provided to the directors on a privileged and confidential basis," Matlin said. "Quite frankly we're looking at now whether we can release the document. We may have to redact a portion. There could be some proprietary information. So we haven't reached that decision, but we're going to look at it in the next few days."

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Posted by eric at 2:55 PM

DDDB PRESS RELEASE: ESDC Re-rubberstamps Ratner’s Atlantic Yards Project

Action is Likely to Lead to Community Lawsuit

NEW YORK, NY— Today the Empire State Development Corporation, the lead agency for Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards development proposal, gave its rubberstamp re-approval to the Modified General Project Plan.

The Brooklyn community’s comments to the ESDC were not given adequate response. Today’s actions will likely lead to new litigation against the ESDC and the Atlantic Yards plan because the agency is required by law to undertake a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), but did not. (Some of the community’s comments are here.)

“It is unfortunate for the ESDC and Forest City Ratner. Had they done things by the book, by the letter of the law, the project wouldn’t be in such substantial trouble. But they haven’t. And with today’s actions, and no Supplemental EIS, the ESDC is taking irreversible steps that will send Atlantic Yards further into community litigation," said Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn spokesman Daniel Goldstein. "The likely outcome of today’s actions by the Empire State Development Corporation is that they will be sued."

The State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) requires an SEIS if there is newly discovered information; changes proposed for the project or a change in circumstances related to the project.

The newly discovered information, in part, is the clear realization that the project, will, at best take decades to complete. Forest City Ratner’s agreement with the MTA guarantees a 22 year project at minimum.

The decline in the developer's significant capital investment represents a change. Among the changed circumstances are changes in the financial markets and the demand for housing, as noted in an expert real estate analysis [PDF] submitted to the ESDC.

Most outrageous is the absence of any renderings or design information concerning any part of the project other than the arena. The arena is only 8% of the proposed square footage.

The ESDC’s conclusory Technical Memorandum is not a substitute for an SEIS, which allows full public comment and forces the lead agency to respond to comments.

Posted by eric at 1:46 PM

ESDC approves project; DDDB warns of lawsuit; electeds comment

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder promises video of the ESDC meeting; for now, here's his topline report — he promises more of that later, too.

In a meeting that lasted less than two hours--the bulk of which was public comments--the board of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) today re-approved the Atlantic Yards project after a process that took less than three months.

I'll have a detailed report this evening or in the morning; notably a representative of state Senator Velmanette Montgomery spoke in opposition to the project.

Also, a representative of City Council Member Bill de Blasio--now in a runoff for Public Advocate with AY supporter Mark Green--said the Council Member appreciated the project benefits but thought a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement was in order. (Supporters say that would delay the project, perhaps fatally.)

link

Posted by eric at 1:42 PM

EMPIRE STATE DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION BOARD AFFIRMS THE Modified General Project Plan FOR ATLANTIC YARDS  

In a completely unshocking development, the ESDC Board "affirmed" the Atlantic Yards Modified General Project Plan today.

We're sure that there will be plenty of coverage, which we'll link to, but this doesn't really count as news. Here's the ESDC's press release:

EMPIRE STATE DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION BOARD AFFIRMS THE Modified General Project Plan FOR ATLANTIC YARDS

Empire State Development Corporation’s (ESDC) Board of Directors met today and affirmed the Modified General Project Plan for the Atlantic Yards Land Use Improvement and Civic Project that was first outlined in June and took other actions that will allow the Corporation to proceed with the site assemblage process.

These actions signify a crucial step toward the implementation of the Atlantic Yards Project. The phased economic development project will ultimately encompass 16 mixed-use commercial and residential buildings—including 2,250 units of affordable housing—approximately 8 acres of publicly accessible open space, and a 675,000 square-foot sport and entertainment complex at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues that will be the home court of the NETS professional basketball team.

“Today’s vote demonstrates ESDC’s confidence in Atlantic Yards, and offers proof that this project is moving forward,” said Chairman and CEO designate Dennis M. Mullen. “Like the release of the Barclays Center designs last week, this milestone provides tangible evidence that the Atlantic Yards project is on track to be a monumental urban renewal development for New York City, bringing thousands of jobs and opportunities for economic growth to Downtown Brooklyn.”

NoLandGrab: Uh, right. By the way, the weird UPPER CASE/lower case treatment is the ESDC's, not ours.

Posted by eric at 1:26 PM

CBN, DDDB say Supplemental EIS needed; what will ESDC respond at meeting today?

Atlantic Yards Report

No one doubts that the board of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), at its meeting this morning, will approve the 2009 Modified General Project Plan (MGPP) and set the stage for the issuance of tax-exempt bonds and--though delayed by a pending legal challenge--the use of eminent domain.

Before it does so, however, the ESDC will have to consider some forceful comments, notably from the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN) and Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB), raising big questions about the announced ten-year project timetable and the need for a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS).

Surely the ESDC, in a memorandum prepared by environmental consultant AKRF, will dismiss those questions--given that an SEIS would delay the project, and the developer wants the bonds issued before a crucial end-of-year deadline--but the explanations will be interesting.

CBN, in part of its submission, included a report from a real estate analyst questioning the economics of the timetable. DDDB, in its submission, noted that the revised deal between Forest City Ratner and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) regarding the Vanderbilt Yard allows the developer until 2030 to pay for development rights--and cannot begin construction on each parcel until after payment.

In other words, the project simply can't be built in a decade.

Changes mean SEIS

The ESDC, actually, allows for the possibility of a delayed buildout, but says there's no reason for an SEIS. CBN and DDDB disagree.

They argue that the significant changes in the project require a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to evaluate project changes.

CBN, in comments authored by urban planner Tom Angotti, gave three reasons:
1. The MGPP is substantially different from the 2006 plan;
2. The new plan creates a new and different Worst Case Scenario – parking lots for decades; and
3. Background or No Build conditions have changed dramatically since 2006.

Also, argued attorney Jeff Baker on behalf of DDDB, given the evidence that suggests there are no commitments to build Phase II, the project could no longer be considered by the ESDC as a Land Use Improvement or a Civic Project.

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Posted by eric at 11:03 AM

TODAY: ESDC to rubberstamp Atlantic Yards

This morning, the Empire State Developerment Corporation (ESDC) will take out the rubberstamp and give another nod to Bruce Ratner's "Modified Atlantic Yards General Project Plan."

Re-approval is limited to modifications to the financing structure of the plan and will not address the changes in the actual buildings and timeline, which would require a lengthy review and a revised Environmental Impact Statement, all things that Ratner wants to avoid in order to make the end-of-year deadline for federal tax-free bonds.

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn is encouraging people to come out and speak during the public comment period against the ESDC's latest move to make Bruce Ratner happy.

Please come out to the meeting, we encourage you to speak during the public comment segment of the meeting.

Meeting Notice from ESDC:

To attend the meeting public should RSVP to (212) 803-3772, though you can still show up without RSVPing.

Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) Meeting of the Directors
Thursday, September 17, 2009 - 10:30 a.m.
ESDC Offices
633 Third Avenue (btw 40-41) in Manhattan.
37th Floor [Map]

AGENDA
Atlantic Yards Land Use Improvement and Civic Project
New York (Kings County) – Atlantic Yards Land Use Improvement and Civic Project – Affirmation of Modified General Project Plan; Authorization to Amend Funding Agreements; Authorization to Enter into Leases; Authorization to Convey Real Property; Authorization to Enter into other Project Documents and to Take Related Actions.

The public should RSVP to (212) 803-3772.
RSVP is for attendance at the meeting only and not registration for public comments – sign-up sheets for public comments will be made available after admittance to the building. This meeting is open to the public for observation and comment.

PLEASE NOTE - We welcome public comment. To ensure maximum opportunity for participation, speakers representing themselves may speak for up to 2 minutes each, and those representing groups may speak for up to 4 minutes (1 speaker per group).

Posted by lumi at 5:53 AM

September 15, 2009

YOU'RE INVITED: Atlantic Yards Rubberstamp Party (RSVP Required)

Thursday
September 17, 2009 - 10:30 a.m.

ESDC Offices
633 Third Avenue (btw 40-41) in Manhattan.
37th Floor

DDDB.net, Thurs, 9/17: ESDC's Rubberstampers Rush To Re-approve Ratner's Phantom Project

Seventeen days after the close of the public comment period and one week after arena renderings were released, without renderings of any other part of the Atlantic Yards proposal, the ESDC is preparing to rubberstamp their second approval of the project.

Keep in mind that the ESDC has to respond to all on point comments submitted by the public, such as these commetns from DDDB, this Kahr Real Estate Services's fiscal feasibility study and response to the modified plan by Dr. Tom Angotti each submitted by the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods. And scores of other substantive comments from other organizations and individuals (including DDDB co-founder Daniel Goldstein.) Many of these comments conclude that a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement must be undertaken by the ESDC.

Atlantic Yards Report, As expected, ESDC vote on Atlantic Yards will be Thursday; RSVP required

Is there any chance that the ESDC board will vote against the project? No.

Is there any chance there will be a dissenting vote, as at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board meeting in June? Unlikely.

Will they ask any more incisive questions than they did when they first rubber-stamped the project in December 2006? We'll see--there surely are, as DDDB notes, serious comments that deserve response.

Posted by lumi at 6:01 PM

September 11, 2009

CBN-commissioned report, by independent real estate analyst, cast huge doubts on official claims about timetable, benefits

Atlantic Yards Report

Representatives of the city and Forest City Ratner objected strenuously yesterday to the New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO) report concluding that the Atlantic Yards arena would be a loss for the city.

Perhaps soon they'll confront another report--discussed further below--that concludes that projections by the state and Forest City Ratner that the project would take ten years are way overoptimistic--and that the developer assumed rental and condo rates well over the current market.

That suggests delays in the project and thus delays in the promised benefits about which government officials and FCR seem so certain.
...

All the promised benefits, in fact, are premised on a ten-year buildout of the project. But the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN) yesterday released a sober assessment, by an independent real estate analyst, which concluded that "the project cannot be completed anywhere near 2019" and likely would take at least 20 years.
...

CBN submitted the report, “A Decades Long Project: Atlantic Yards Financial Feasibility Study [PDF],” as part of its comments to the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) on the 2009 Modified General Project Plan.

(It also submitted comments calling for a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement, or SEIS, which I'll address in another post. CBN, a coalition of community and neighborhood groups concerned about or opposed to the project, has received funding via state and city officials.)

Presumably consultants AKRF will respond to the comments in a technical memorandum presented to ESDC board members before they vote to approve the project at their meeting September 17.

The report was commissioned from Kahr Real Estate Group, a firm that works with commercial and investment banks, private real estate investment firms, REITs, developers, and government organizations throughout the world.

Principal Joshua Kahr writes frequently for Urban Land, the monthly magazine of the Urban Land Institute, an organization that includes major developers, including FCE. In other words, he's hardly a flaming radical; nor would it be prudent of him to do work that would damage his credibility.

Click thru for highlights from the report.

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NoLandGrab: Norman Oder also reminds us that when the IBO issued its initial report, in 2005, "Forest City Ratner had no problem with the IBO's methodology, praising it for concluding that the arena was a 'win-win' situation for the city and the state."

Posted by eric at 5:53 PM

Oh, so the second community information session is a continuing education opportunity for architects

Atlantic Yards Report

Brutally weird.

The long-delayed second community information session, to be held in conjunction with Forest City Ratner and the Center for Architecture, will be "focused on the new arena design," the ESDC said in a press release yesterday.

Now, it sure looks like the ESDC is piggybacking on some other professional opportunity. (Yes, you should RSVP.)

From the Center for Architecture:
A Conversation With the Architects of the Barclays Center
CES: 1 LU, 1 HSW
When: 6:00 PM - 7:30 PM MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 14

Where: Brooklyn Borough Hall, Courtroom, 2nd floor

The Empire State Development Corporation hosts a discussion on the new designs for the Barclays Center with building architects, Bill Crockett, Director of Sports Architecture at Ellerbe Beckett and Gregg Pasquarelli, Founding Partner of SHoP

The Center for Architecture will moderate a discussion on the recently unveiled designs for the Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn. The arena, being developed as part of the Atlantic Yards Development project, is scheduled to break ground by the end of the year. The architects will talk about their collaboration, the foundations for their design and their vision for this landmark building.

Images of the new design and model will be available for public viewing at Brooklyn Borough Hall from 10:00 am on September 14th through 5:30 pm Friday, September 18th. (Hours: Monday, 9/14: 10 am – 6:00 pm; Tuesday, 9/15: 8:30 am – 5:30 pm; Wednesday, 9/16: 8:30 am – 8 pm; Friday, 9/18: 8:30 am – 5:30 pm)

link

Posted by eric at 5:47 PM

September 10, 2009

Atlantic Yards Report React-o-matic

Some analysis of press releases we already posted yesterday from Norman Oder's Atlantic Yards Report:

ESDC announces second public information session, focused on arena design, but after public comment period has closed

Well, the Empire State Development Corporation won't renege completely on the promise, made publicly by former CEO Marisa Lago, to hold two community information sessions.

However, the second session, to be held in conjunction with Forest City Ratner and the Center for Architecture, will be "focused on the new arena design," the ESDC said in a press release issued today.

The meeting will be held at Brooklyn Borough Hall on Monday, September 14 from 6 pm to 7:30 pm.

While the meeting might be intriguing, it's fairly meaningless. There are far more questions about the project than the arena itself and, given that the public comment period has closed, any issues raised in the session Monday can't be brought up before the ESDC board meets on September 17 to approve the plan.

Yes, Markowitz is on board (just as he was in June)

Borough President Marty Markowitz issued a statement regarding the new arena design:

“As I have said all along, Brooklyn is the greatest city in America. We’re ready to get back into professional sports’ big leagues, and this arena is going to make it happen. I am thrilled that the new design delivers not only a luminous, iconic structure that celebrates Brooklyn’s industrial heritage with its steel and glass exterior, but one that harmonizes with the architecture of the surrounding neighborhoods and creates a welcoming environment for the public at street-level.
...
In June, after the original architect, Frank Gehry, had been dropped for arena designer Ellerbe Becket, Markowitz declared that the new design, derided as a "hangar," was "actually better for Brooklyn."

DDDB statement on arena design: "lipstick on a corrupt pig"

Posted by lumi at 7:14 AM

September 9, 2009

ESDC PRESS RELEASE: Empire State Development Announces That Preliminary Review Process For Barclays Center Arena Has Been Completed

ESD staff has been working with FCRC & architects throughout the summer to ensure that design complies with guidelines set forth in MGPP

Empire State Development (ESD) today announced that the preliminary review process for the new Barclays Center arena design has been completed. ESD staff has been working closely with the developer throughout the evolution of the arena design to ensure that it adheres to the design guidelines laid out in the MGPP. The design collaboration by Ellerbe Becket and SHoP Architects will debut later this morning. ESD also announced today that the second public information session will be held on Monday, September 14.

ESD, in conjunction with FCRC and the Center for Architecture, will host a public information session focused on the new arena design at Brooklyn Borough Hall on Monday, September 14 from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The images and model of the design will be available for public viewing at Brooklyn Borough Hall beginning at 10 a.m. on Monday, September 14.

Details on Monday's public information session will be released later this week.

The plan for the Atlantic Yards project includes 16 buildings for residential, office, retail, community facilities, parking, and possibly hotel uses. These buildings provide approximately 5,325 to 6,430 housing units, 2,250 of which will be affordable. The Project also contains 8 acres of publicly accessible open space. The project spans over a 22-acre area, roughly bounded by Flatbush and 4th Avenues on the west, Vanderbilt Avenue on the east, Atlantic Avenue on the north, and Dean and Pacific Streets on the south. The Project is expected to create thousands of construction and permanent jobs.

NoLandGrab: We'd love to know what a "preliminary review process" entails, but we're pretty sure that it features frequent use of the phrase "yes, Bruce." As for the new design adhering to the design guidelines, it does because they say it does.

Posted by eric at 12:31 PM

September 3, 2009

Straight from (then) ESDC CEO's mouth: a promise of two community meetings

Atlantic Yards Report

OK, the production is lousy, but you should get the point. At the June 23 board meeting of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), then CEO Marisa Lago promised not one but two community information sessions, as I wrote August 24.

The video above picks up from here: "So this is the first meeting of the ESDC board, to be followed by a public hearing on 30 days notice, a public hearing in the community, and then to be followed by a second ESDC board meeting."

"Knowing the interest in this project, we have committed to have additional community sessions beyond what is required," she continued. "And we will be having a community session--a question-and-answer session in the community--before the public hearing and then another after the public hearing. And at those community sessions, there will be the opportunity for community questions to be answered."

article

NoLandGrab: Oh well... knowing the controversy around this project, the ESDC has now committed to not holding "additional community sessions beyond what is required."

From the outside, it's hard to tell if Lago was sincere, and if her sincerity forced enough of a rift with the developer-driven powerbase in the ESDC to cause her to resign.

Posted by lumi at 7:49 AM

September 1, 2009

Tracing the deceptive property ownership map back to Forest City Ratner

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder sheds a little more light on the Great Property Control Swindle.

Not unlike the way that the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) puts its name on Atlantic Yards Construction Updates produced by developer Forest City Ratner (FCR), evidence suggests that the map of property ownership in the AY footprint also comes directly from the developer.

I earlier today suggested that the ESDC was misleading people by using an 11/1/06 map to describe current ownership. And I wrote in May that the ESDC seemed to be taking FCR's cue in presenting facts on the map.

But it may be much simpler: ESDC is simply reproducing what Forest City gives them.

article

NoLandGrab: Good grief! The ESDC is either totally incompetent, or Bruce Ratner really is pulling all the strings in Albany.

Posted by eric at 8:58 PM

Who controls the corner of Carlton and Pacific? Behind a deceptive map in the 2009 Modified General Project Plan

Atlantic Yards Report

There are lies, damned lies, and then, there are Forest City Ratner and the Empire State Development Corporation.

There's something wrong with the 2009 Modified General Project Plan (GPP), property owner Henry Weinstein pointed out in comments filed Monday with the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC): it describes his property incorrectly.

The properties, a building and two plots used as a parking lot, have a dark shade in the map, dated 11/1/06, indicating that the property is owned or controlled by Forest City Ratner. (See color version [PDF] from 2006 Modified GPP. Click on all graphics to enlarge.)

Double asterixes attached to each of the three lots indicate, "FCRC has closed on an option to take by assignment the lessee's interest under the ground leases for these properties. However, the property owner has objected to such assignments."

That's no longer accurate. Weinstein has so far prevailed in court. As he wrote:
New York State courts have ruled twice that those properties have never been owned or controlled by Bruce Ratner or FCRC....

ESDC continues a pattern of intentional misrepresentation of the facts and the far worse conduct of ignoring the truth when it is brought to their attention in their continuing efforts to benefit FCRC and Bruce Ratner. ESDC even went so far as to single my property out for a special mention of condemnation to the media after my unanimous Appellant Court decision in an apparent further effort to help Bruce Ratner and blunt the decision’s meaning... My dual court cases reveal a pattern of illegal and questionable behavior which only benefits Bruce Ratner and FCRC, why ESDC is a willing partner, remains to be answered.

article

Posted by eric at 11:56 AM

August 31, 2009

Last day to submit comments to ESDC; harsh comments from condemnees' lawyer

Atlantic Yards Report

Today is the last day in which comments are accepted on the 2009 Modified General Project Plan (GPP) for Atlantic Yards, so the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) likely should receive a host of comments by the deadline.

Will any of them have an impact? Unlikely.

However, the ESDC, likely via its environmental consultant, AKRF, will have to respond to the comments and present a summary of those responses to its board members before the vote to re-approve the plan, likely on September 17.

And those responses, or lack thereof, may be part of future litigation. Note that the ESDC did not issue a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), as many critics have argued, and comments on the environmental impact--rather than the business terms in the GPP--may be considered off topic.

Still, it will be interesting to see how and if they're answered.

Read on for highlights of "harsh criticisms" from George Locker, attorney for "residential condemnees within two buildings in the AY footprint."

Posted by lumi at 5:34 AM

August 29, 2009

Atlantic Yards Rainy Weekend Activity

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

Here's a civic-minded suggestion for something to do on a rainy weekend: Let the ESDC (the tool of developer Bruce Ratner) know what you think about the proposed Atlantic Yards project before the deadline passes for public comments to the Modified Project Plan.

The deadline for all submission of comments on the Atlantic Yards Modified General Project Plan (MGPP) to the Empire State Development Corporation is Monday, August 31, 2009 at 5:30pm.

The Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods has a great deal of useful information about the MGPP, issues to consider and more on its website.

PLEASE submit your written comments about the project and responses to the MGPP...here's how:

Written comments can be submitted via email:

Email: atlanticyards@empire.state.ny.us

*** Please indicate in subject line:
"Public Comment for Atlantic Yards MGPP."

link

Posted by steve at 9:44 AM

August 28, 2009

A few questions for the ESDC's phantom community information session

Atlantic Yards Report

So it looks like no additional community information session will be held, as seemingly promised, before the Monday deadline for comment to the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) on the 2009 Modified General Project Plan.

But what if, by some miracle, a session is held either first thing Monday morning or the deadline is extended?

Here are just a few questions:

  • Despite what Forest City Ratner executive Mary Anne Gilmartin said, does the ESDC believe there would be sufficient housing bonds for the anticipated ten-year project buildout?
  • How long would it take to build the arena and how long would the eminent domain process take before construction could begin?
  • If Forest City Ratner has seen new renderings of the arena and arena block, what's keeping them from sharing them publicly?
  • How long will stages 2&3 of the Carlton Avenue Bridge reconstruction project take to complete?

link

Posted by eric at 9:22 AM

August 24, 2009

With one week to go before comment deadline, no news about the second community information session

Atlantic Yards Report

A week ago, I reported how I've been asking when the promised second community information session about Atlantic Yards would be held.

The first was held on July 22, with representatives of developer Forest City Ratner and the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) facing some tough questions.

No second session has been announced yet, even as the August 31st deadline for comments approaches.
...
Though [former ESDC CEO Marissa] Lago's words weren't precise, the implication was that the community information sessions would help residents formulate input to the ESDC board, including comments at the public hearing and comments submitted in writing.

That means the second session would have to be held before the comment period closes.

There are seven days left.

article

Posted by lumi at 6:03 AM

August 23, 2009

Reminder: There's Still Time to Submit Comments to the ESDC

Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods

The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) says they want your comments on the proposed Atlantic Yards.

The Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods has an online handbook (PDF document) to help you draft your comments.

Here are two topics, taken from CBN alerts circulated via email, meant to get the thinking process going:

Affordable Housing

How will the "affordable" housing be subsidized when sources of financing for affordable housing have not yet been allocated and are scarce?

Given that recent reports indicate that new construction as well as other first-class apartments will rent at figures lower than the rates projected (in 2006) for the highest tier of "affordable housing" (141-160% of AMI, resulting in rentals of approximately $3000 per month), how confident are you that the affordable housing would be less costly than market rate?

  • What percentage of the affordable housing would be at or above market rate in Phase I?
  • What percentage of the affordable housing would be at or above market rate in Phase II?

MTA benefits of renovated rail yard

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is a participant in this project according to the MGGP.

How does allowing FCR to build a rail yard with a 56-car capacity as a replacement for a yard with 72-car capacity constitute an upgrade?

How does the MTA justify hitting subway and bus riders with a 12.5% fare increase on June 28th just days after the MTA's board gave FCR an 80% discount on its down promised payment of $100 million for the 8-acre Vanderbilt Rail Yard.

The original MTA request for proposals (“RFP”) in May 2005 required a business plan and profit projection from respondents. FCR refused to provide the required profit projection at that time but still was chosen as sole developer for the Project.

  • Did FCR provide those figures since then?

  • Has FCR now provided these projections, updated to 2009, to the MTA as part of the renegotiation of their deal?

  • If not, is the ESDC going to require that those figures be presented before it approves the Modified GPP? If not, why not?

link

Posted by steve at 8:08 AM

August 20, 2009

Next ESDC board meeting: September 17

Atlantic Yards Report

Watchdog Norman Oder is keeping an eye on the Empire State Developerment Corporation's calendar to see when the state agency might have its first shot at "re-approving" Bruce Ratner's controversial Atlantic Yards project:

Thursday, September 17 will be the first opportunity for the board of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) to re-approve the Atlantic Yards project, assuming that consultant AKRF and internal staffers respond sufficiently to questions raised in response to the 2009 Modified General Project Plan. (Comments are due by August 31.)

From an ESDC press release:

The next meeting of the Board of Directors will tentatively be held on September 17, 2009 at a location to be announced closer to the time of the event.

article

NoLandGrab: Keep in mind that the "re-approval" is primarily for changes in the financial structure of the project, not for all of the design and programmatic changes that are in the pipeline. Developer Bruce Ratner and the ESDC are trying to satisfy the need for a "re-approval" without triggering the requirement for a new Environmental Impact Statement, which would push out the timeline well past crucial deadlines for financial incentives.

Posted by lumi at 6:13 AM

August 19, 2009

Brodsky, Perkins fire back at objections to public authority reform raised by Paterson aide; are authorities really checked by elected officials?

Atlantic Yards Report

In a scorching letter issued yesterday, Assemblyman Richard Brodsky and state Senator Bill Perkins slammed an attempt to gut public authorities reform legislation and charged that objections raised in a memo by Peter Kiernan, Counsel to Governor David Paterson, would gut authority reform.

Kiernan’s memo was dated August 14 but released yesterday by the legislators, who, protesting that no objections were raised while the bill was pending in the legislature, promised a detailed reply.

Notably Kiernan suggests, unreliably, that the elected officials serve as a sufficient check on authorities, and proposes that, in lieu of a requirement that property be sold at market rates, there be greater disclosure, including the appraised value.

While this would be fall short of the provisions in the bill, recommended by a bipartisan commission appointed by former Gov. George Pataki, it nonetheless would represent somewhat more disclosure than emerged in June when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority approved a revised deal with Forest City Ratner for the Vanderbilt Yard.

article

NoLandGrab: Yes, that's right, the people who direct their appointees on the boards of public authorities to carry out their bidding and approve crooked deals like Atlantic Yards are the very same people who are going to act as a check against the abuses of public authorities. Excellent plan!

Is it any wonder that New York State's government is widely viewed as the nation's most dysfunctional? Please contact Governor Paterson today and tell him to sign the Public Authorities Reform Bill.

Posted by eric at 10:10 AM

August 15, 2009

Reaction to Governor Paterson's Refusal to Reign In Public Authorities

Here's reaction to today's story in the New York Times regarding how Governor Paterson is about to veto legislation to reign in public authorities.

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, Paterson & Bloomberg Team Up to Veto Reform Impacting Sweetheart Deals Like Atlantic Yards

Paterson and Bloomberg are uniting to veto major reform of the cess pool of unaccountability and non-transparency otherwise known as the New York State Public Authorities. And why? Because it might block or upset thier friends' developments such as Atlantic Yards and diminish their control over the authorities which laughably claim to be independent.

We're looking at you Empire State Development Corporation, and you Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Atlantic Yards Report, Paterson stalls public authority reform that would establish new budget office, require fiduciary duty of board members (including ESDC)

A lot of people think that a bill to reform state authorities, passed by the state legislature but awaiting Governor David Paterson's increasingly unlikely signature, is a good idea.

The New York Times, in an editorial July 23 headlined New York’s Phantom Government, praised the idea of an independent authorities budget office with subpoena power, and an automatic review by the state Comptroller's office of authority contracts valued at more than $1 million.

"Perhaps even more important, board members at these entities would have a new fiduciary duty to protect the authority’s bottom line, just like board members in most private corporations," the Times opined. (That duty, as I will explain on Monday, already applies to the board members of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, according to a clause in the MTA bailout bill passed this spring.)

The Buffalo News praised the legislation. So did Newsday.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said, "Assemblyman Brodsky and Senator Perkins’ bill is the first major step toward public authority reform we’ve seen in years. It’s long overdue."

...

While no one has used the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) as an example, I wonder if the ESDC board would be following a fiduciary duty if it voted to approve Atlantic Yards without a current fiscal impact analysis or a (never-conducted) cost-benefit analysis.

Could the board have approved AY in 2006 without considering the availability of housing bonds and can it do so going forward?

(The law would go into effect 60 days after signature, so if Paterson signs it, which seems unlikely, it wouldn't affect the planned ESDC vote in September. But I wonder if the governor and mayor had Atlantic Yards in mind as a project they'd like to see passed before it got mucked up by reform legislation.)

This blog entry concludes by listing aspects of the legislation that would force authorities to act responsibly.

Fiduciary Duty of Authority Board Members

Members of authority boards will no longer be beholden to those who appoint them. They will have an explicit fiduciary duty to the authority and their mission. Board members’ primary responsibility will be to ensure that the authority runs in the best manner possible.

Debt Reform

The legislation empowers the ABO [Authorities Budget Office] to issue debt reform plans for pub lic authorities. Also, public authorities must submit debt reform measures to the ABO. The legislation will also limit the amount of debt Subsidiaries of Public Authorities may issue.

Comptroller Approval of Contracts

This legislation will require each authority to submit to the comptroller contracts over $1 million. Having this oversight of contracts will prevent fraud and mismanagement while keeping the authority focused on its mission.

Subsidiaries

Public Authorities will no longer be able to create subsidiaries whenever they feel the need to. Unless formed for a very specific purpose, subsidiaries will now only be formed with the approval of the legislature. Authorities will no longer be able to use subsidiaries to create more debt without a clear purpose and proper oversight.

Disposition of Property

All authority property must now be sold at fair market value.

Posted by steve at 8:40 AM

Paterson Set to Reject Public Authority Overhaul

New York Times

Paterson Set to Reject Public Authority Overhaul
By Danny Hakim

The proposed Atlantic Yards project would require massive public subsidies, yet aspects of the project (i.e. what it will look like, what it will cost ), are being kept secret from the public by the tool of developer Bruce Ratner, the ESDC. Also, the MTA has agreed to sell the Vanderbilt rail yards to Bruce Ratner for less than their appraised value, and has even allowed a longer term for him to pay for the purchase.

Since New York Governor David Paterson seems to think that he can have political cover for supporting Atlantic Yards by allowing the ESDC and the MTA to abuse their power, it is disappointing, but not surprising, that he is about to veto legislation that would force public authorities to act more responsibly.

It is also not surprising that Atlantic Yards is not mentioned in this article produced by Bruce Ratner's business partner, the New York Times.

Gov. David A. Paterson is set to reject a sweeping overhaul of the state’s hundreds of public authorities that was passed by lawmakers last month but is opposed by the governor’s staff and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York City.

...

If the governor were to veto the bill, or leave it in limbo, he would be turning aside the most ambitious attempt in decades to overhaul the system, which includes groups ranging from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission, and which has been criticized as functioning as a shadow government with little oversight.

...

The governor’s office objects to a number of provisions, including one that would require the comptroller to review authority contracts of over $1 million — a restriction that Mr. Paterson and business groups say will be too time-consuming. They also oppose a provision that would require authorities to record and disclose all contacts with lobbyists because it appears to encompass contacts with officials in other government agencies or authorities.

Supporters of the bill argue that the dispute is about power, and that the governor’s office and the mayor fear that the bill would diminish their sway over the authorities, which are ostensibly independent.

The legislation’s main provision would create an independent budget office with an array of powers over state authorities, including the ability to issue subpoenas in investigations and to conduct regular audits.

The legislation also makes clear that people who serve on authority boards have a fiduciary responsibility to the authorities and their missions rather than to the mayor, the governor or the elected officials who appointed them. Mr. Bloomberg is especially opposed to that provision.

The mayor also believes restrictions that would prevent authorities from selling off their land for below fair market value could hamper a number of developments, including a $700 million East Harlem project, which includes 600 housing units for low- and moderate-income families, and the East River Science Park, a $700 million complex in Manhattan that the city hopes will make it a leader in biotechnology.

...

The measure, adopted by the Senate in the wee hours near the end of its chaotic session last month, is one of the few actions to emerge from Albany this year that have been praised by editorial boards and civic groups. Many of the bill’s principles were drawn from a Pataki-era commission on authority reform led by Ira Millstein, a lawyer who is a leading expert on corporate governance.

The legislation has been promoted for years by Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky, a Westchester Democrat who has investigated abuses at the transit authority and the Canal Corporation and, more recently, has scrutinized the financing of Yankee Stadium.

Mr. Brodsky said that Mr. Bloomberg’s concerns about property sales were a smoke screen because the city could easily award grants to developers instead of selling them land for below the market value.

“Their arguments are bogus,” he said. “It’s about power; it’s not about any particular projects.”

...

Senator Bill Perkins, a Harlem Democrat who was the chief sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said that taxpayers have too often been shortchanged in development deals.

“The whole purpose of this is to make sure that the public gets the best deal,” he said.

link

Posted by steve at 8:07 AM

July 5, 2009

Notice of Public Hearing to Be Held On July 29, 2009 And July 30, 2009

Empire State Development Corporation

The public hearings allowing for comment on the Modified Project Plans for the proposed Atlantic Yards project have already been announced via an ad in the New York Post. The ESDC, tool of developer Bruce Ratner, has posted the legal notice (PDF document) on Atlantic Yards Arena and Redevelopment Project web page.

Posted by steve at 8:57 AM

June 24, 2009

This Week in Bailouts: ESDC Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GlobeSt.com, ESDC Approves Modified Atlantic Yards Plan

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

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

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

Posted by eric at 12:59 PM

Three from WNYC

The Skinny on the New Atlantic Yards Project

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

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

Atlantic Yards Hearing Draws Overflow Crowd

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

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

MTA to Vote on New Atlantic Yards Plan

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

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

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

Posted by eric at 12:44 PM

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

Atlantic Yards Report

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

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

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

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

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

article

Posted by lumi at 6:05 AM

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

NY Daily News
By Jotham Sederstrom and Erin Durkin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

article

Bergen Record, Atlantic Yards project closer to final approval

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

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

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

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

Posted by lumi at 5:58 AM

June 23, 2009

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

Decision Makes Agency Vulnerable to Litigation

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

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

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

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

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

link

Posted by eric at 5:33 PM

TODAY: ESDC Board Meeting

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

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

JUNE 23, 9am

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

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

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

Posted by lumi at 6:54 AM

June 22, 2009

Questions Hold Up Atlantic Yards Project

New York Post reporter Rich Calder talked to some off-the-record sources who attended Friday's behind-the-scenes meeting between officials of the Empire State Development Corporation and local legislators, where the new plans for Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards megaproject were revealed:

Some who attended the closed-door session told The Post they're furious the agency is claiming revisions are minor, when they feel the project has completely changed from the one state officials approved three years ago.

One angry source called it a "bait and switch," and another said, "I think there needs to be an investigation into why this is being rubber-stamped."

They want the developer to start from square one and resubmit the plans for another full public review, a process that could take years.

Ratner can't wait years and is pulling out all the stops in a last-ditch effort to get the project moving forward this year, in order to receive tax-exempt financing.

In a new twist, the ESDC is saying that eminent domain will be used in stages because it will save Ratner money.

ESDC spokesman Warner Johnston yesterday said... that eminent domain is being broken up into phases -- not because certain parts of plan won't be built -- but because this will allows Ratner to "defer acquisitions costs" associated with a controversial deal to buy a rail yard from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority needed for the project.

The community coalition Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn is planning on seizing upon these new twists as grounds for further litigation.

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Posted by steve at 6:16 AM

June 18, 2009

The six ESDC board members--half from upstate, none from Brooklyn--who (likely) will rubber-stamp AY

Atlantic Yards Report

So, let's meet the board of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), the gubernatorial appointees who almost surely will approve revised plans for Atlantic Yards with no dissent, as the board did in December 2006.

All the directors (including ex-officio ones) are appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate. All are male. Three of the six are from upstate. Two are from Manhattan and one from Westchester. None are from Brooklyn.

Two of the six were appointed by Gov. George Pataki. Two spots are vacant. (The list does not appear on the ESDC site, but was provided in response to my request.)

In December 2006, I described the ESDC board as "team players and big donors;" the current configuration contains only one big donor to statewide campaigns, but surely includes team players.

NAME   APPOINTED BY   TERM EXPIRES
Dennis M. Mullen* (Chairman)   Governor   Pleasure of Governor
Kevin S. Corbett   Governor   Pleasure of Governor
Stanford Lipsey   Governor   Pleasure of Governor
Mark E. Hamister   Governor   1/1/2009 (holdover)
Derrick D. Cephas   Governor   1/1/2013
Richard Neiman   Governor   Ex Officio

Check out the rest of the article for a review of the starting line-up.

Syracuse Post-Standard, ESDC adrift

Here's our favorite laugh from an editorial about the mayhem at the ESDC:

[ESDC President and CEO] Lago announced earlier this month she was leaving her $215,000 post, amid reports of turf battles with Wilmers. Now Wilmers, too, is out.

Gov. David Paterson appointed Dennis Mullen, whom he chose last September to handle Upstate economic development, to take over Lago's duties. Now Mullen has been tapped to take on Wilmers' job as well. One hopes Mullen won't have turf battles with himself.

NoLandGrab: Once again, we gotta hand it to Bruce Ratner, who not only manages to advance his interests before the public's, but gets it all done in an agency in disarray.

Posted by lumi at 6:41 AM

June 17, 2009

ESDC meeting moved up; schedule now is MTA June 22, ESDC June 23, MTA June 24

Atlantic Yards Report

Today, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) announced that its board meeting would be held Tuesday, June 23, at 9 am, rather than, as previously indicated, June 24.

While ESDC spokesman Warner Johnston told me that changes in meeting times aren't unusual--true--the switch also apparently gives the board the opportunity to adopt a revised Modified General Project Plan for Atlantic Yards before the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) acts.

The MTA Finance Committee on June 22 is expected to examine on a revised deal with Forest City Ratner to develop the Vanderbilt Yard. On June 24, the full MTA board is expected to approve the deal.

article

NoLandGrab: With the recent resignations of key executives, things must be pretty chaotic over at the Empire State Developerment Corporation and Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

However, Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner must have some sort of guardian angel looking over its project, because the review and approval of important changes made it on to the schedule of both agencies' board meetings.

Posted by lumi at 4:50 AM

June 11, 2009

Even more turmoil at ESDC: the Chairman resigns, and a Republican businessman from Rochester will be in charge

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder provides a little background on the heir-apparent at the Empire State Developers' Development Corporation.

So, who'll be in charge? ESDC Upstate President Dennis M. Mullen, who's been based in Rochester. After Lago's departure, Mullen was set to become President and CEO of the ESDC; now he'll be combined Chairman and CEO, though that requires legislative approval. (There hasn't been a Downstate President since Avi Schick left in January, after a long goodbye.)

Mullen, then President and CEO of the Greater Rochester Enterprise, a regional economic development organization supported by both private and public sector leaders, was named ESDC Upstate President last August, the same time Lago was appointed.

A gubernatorial press release at the time noted that, at GRE, Mullen had focused on marketing Rochester’s core assets: alternative energy, biotechnology, food and beverage manufacturing and optics.

He previously served a decade as the chairman, president and CEO of Birds Eye Foods and headed three other food enterprises.

His approximately $16,000 in state political contributions in the past two years have been focused on the Rochester area and all but one (a $1000 contribution) have gone to Republicans.

article

Posted by eric at 9:47 PM

Chair of NY economic development agency quits

Crain's NY Business
By Erik Engquist

Holy crap! Less than a week after Empire State Development Corporation's Downstate Chairperson tendered her resignation, the head honcho quits too. The ESDC is the Atlantic Yards state sponsor.

Another high-level resignation rocked the Paterson administration Thursday. Robert Wilmers, the unpaid chairman of the Empire State Development Corp., the state’s primary development agency, quit to devote more time to his paid job as head of M&T Bank.

Mr. Wilmers’ departure after one year comes five days after Marisa Lago quit as president and chief executive of ESDC with no explanation beyond a desire to take one of the job offers that were coming her way. Published reports indicated she and Mr. Wilmers had clashed. Ms. Lago had been hired only eight months ago.
...
Mr. Paterson said in a statement, “Under Bob’s leadership, Empire State Development Corp. moved forward, creating jobs and expanding opportunities for all New Yorkers.”

article

NoLandGrab: Under Paterson's leadership, ESDC has moved nothing, except for pushing paper for Bruce Ratner.

Two resignations in less than a week, that makes the ESDC not only rudderless, but also headless. Lucky for Ratner, the ESDC accepts volunteer help.

Posted by lumi at 8:24 PM

June 7, 2009

Marisa Lago Exit Roundup

Here's a quick look at coverage of the resignation of Marisa Lago, Head of the Empire State Development Corporation which is the state entity overseeing the proposed Atlantic Yards project.

The New York Times, Paterson’s Economic Development Chief Announces Resignation

One of New York State’s top economic development officials announced her resignation on Saturday, after less than a year in office, in yet another setback for the troubled agency she had been appointed to lead.

The official, Marisa Lago, president and chief executive of the Empire State Development Corporation, said she would step down at the end of the month, according to a press release from Gov. David A. Paterson’s office. Just last August, Mr. Paterson appointed Ms. Lago to run the agency, which had long been buffeted by turf wars, management problems and a lack of direction.

...

A spokesman for Mr. Wilmers, who is chairman and chief executive of MT Bank Corporation of Buffalo, said he could not be reached for comment on Ms. Lago’s departure or his role in the direction of the agency, which is involved in the expansion of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, the planned expansion of Pennsylvania Station and the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn.

Newsday, Head of NY economic development agency quits

The president of the state's economic development agency has quit after less than a year.

Gov. David Paterson announced Marisa Lago's resignation Saturday as president of the Empire State Development Corp. The former Wall Street executive was named to the job last August. She says she wants time to pursue jobs outside government.

Paterson praised Lago for pushing ahead work on the Javits Convention Center in New York City and Buffalo's Erie Canal Inner Harbor.

The economic meltdown has stalled several of the agency's key projects, including the rebuilding of Penn Station and the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn.

Dennis Mullen, upstate president of the agency, will take over Lago's positions.

NY1, Economic Development Head To Step Down

The head of the Empire State Development Corporation and the Department of Economic Development is stepping down.

Marisa Lago was appointed eight months ago and issued a statement saying she wants to pursue positions outside of state government.

The corporation provides state financing for projects like Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn which underwent a major redesign this week, with the replacement of architect Frank Gehry.

The Empire State Development Corporation's Upstate President, Dennis Mullen, will replace Lago.

AP Via WCAX-TV, Head of NY economic development agency quits

The president of the state's economic development agency has quit after less than a year.

Gov. David Paterson announced Marisa Lago's resignation Saturday as president of the Empire State Development Corp. The former Wall Street executive was named to the job last August. She says she wants time to pursue jobs outside government.

Paterson praised Lago for pushing ahead work on the Javits Convention Center in New York City and Buffalo's Erie Canal Inner Harbor.

The economic meltdown has stalled several of the agency's key projects, including the rebuilding of Penn Station and the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn.

Dennis Mullen, upstate president of the agency, will take over Lago's positions.

Lago joins top administration aides to leave in recent weeks, including Insurance Superintendent Eric Dinallo and budget director Laura Anglin.

Posted by steve at 7:53 AM

June 6, 2009

More Disarray for the ESDC: Chairwoman Marisa Lago Quits

Develop Don't Destroy's take on the resignation of Marisa Lago, the CEO of the ESDC, is notable because it includes a list of individuals who have played a part in the Atlantic Yards saga over the years.

First Ratner dumped Gehry on Thursday. On Friday, according to the NY Observer, the Chair of the Empire State Development Corporation, Marisa Lago, called it quits only ten months after her appointment. This will bring even more disarray to the dysfunctional ESDC at a time when it is trying to fasttrack a modified Atlantic Yards plan.

Apparently the Lago testimony at last week's Atlantic Yards Senate hearing was her grand finale.

Ms. Lago, we hardly knew ye.

While we're on this subject, here is a list of all of those Atlantic Yards players who have come and gone while the opposition fights on into the end of its sixth year:

Governors:
George Pataki
Eliot Spitzer

Assemblymember:
Roger Green

ESDC Heads:
Charles Gargano
Patrick Foye
Avi Schick
Marisa Lago

MTA Heads:
Peter Kalikow
Katherine Lapp
Eliot Sander

Team Ratner:
Frank Gehry
Jim Stuckey
Loren Riegelhaupt
Randall Toure

Team Nets:
Kenyon Martin
Jason Kidd
Richard Jefferson

(Any key players we're missing is unintended.)

link

NoLandGrab: All of these folks will be included in the Atlantic Yards Fight edition of 'Trivial Pursuit'.

Posted by steve at 8:01 AM

Marisa Lago, CEO of the ESDC, Quits

The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) is the state entity in charge of the proposed Atlantic Yards project. How will the loss of the head of the ESDC effect the project? It's too soon to tell, but here's an account of the resignation from The Observer and commentary from the Atlantic Yards Report.

The Observer, Marisa Lago, Paterson’s Development Chief, Quits

Marisa Lago, the state’s top economic development official since August 2008, is resigning from her post, according to multiple people informed of the decision, adding to a growing number of top aides to leave the Paterson administration.

As CEO of the Empire State Development Corporation, her departure adds to the turmoil at an agency that has seen its fair share in recent years. The agency, which oversees incentive programs statewide and large-scale development projects in New York City, has been rocked by infighting, both between Ms. Lago and ESDC chairman Bob Wilmers, and among top Spitzer administration officials as well. (Much more on the disorder at ESDC in an article I wrote a few weeks back).

According to multiple people who have talked with Ms. Lago directly, she has expressed unhappiness in the position, perhaps in part because she did not have as strong a connection with the governor or his top aides as did previous officials in that post.

Atlantic Yards Report, Observer: internal ESDC turmoil leads to resignation of CEO Lago; AYR: did testimony gnaw at her conscience?

The New York Observer reports that Empire State Development Corporation CEO Marisa Lago has resigned after little more than nine months in her post.

She was appointed last August, along with Upstate ESDC President Dennis Mullen. No Downstate President has been appointed, and the tensions between Lago and Chairman Bob Wilmers were the subject of an Observer report last month.

...

There's no evidence that Lago's performance on Atlantic Yards led to her resignation, but her deceptive testimony at last Friday's state Senate oversight hearing (video excerpt here) could not have impressed her superiors. And perhaps it gnawed a bit at her conscience.

What does this mean for Atlantic Yards? Unclear, but maybe it's good to have volunteer help, given the role of Susan Rahm, who has a murky role, perhaps as project manager. Someone will have to be in charge of the ESDC on June 24 when the authority is expected to adopt a revision of the Modified General Project Plan for AY.

When the project was approved, Charles Gargano ran the ESDC. The Spitzer Administration brought in Patrick Foye. When Foye left, Avi Schick was acting head. Lago came next. (DDDB has a list of more Atlantic Yards players who've moved on.)

Posted by steve at 7:29 AM

June 2, 2009

Some confirmation on the ESDC's mystery volunteer: it sure sounds like she's in charge

Atlantic Yards Report

Who is that unmasked woman?

After I suggested yesterday that someday an oversight committee will ask what lawyer Susan Rahm, a volunteer, does for the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) on the Atlantic Yards project, I got an interesting email from a reader.

WhoIsThis.jpg

Remember, I had questioned whether Rahm was in a policy-making position, and was told by the ESDC that no, she was just a consultant.

Project manager?

"When I was introduced to Susan Rahm, she was called the 'project manager' for Atlantic Yards," my correspondent wrote. "Yeah, it’s a pretty general term, but I got the impression she was the chief operating official for the project, salary or no."

article

NoLandGrab: Is it just us, or should there perhaps be a little more disclosure — ok, yes, a lot more disclosure — about Ms. Rahm's role in the Atlantic Yards project? Here's a starter question: does she have any relationship with Forest City Ratner?

[Photo courtesy Jonathan Barkey]

Posted by eric at 10:56 AM

May 28, 2009

Curious case: at the ESDC, a volunteer lawyer plays a key role in the Atlantic Yards project

Atlantic Yards Report

Ever heard of Susan Rahm?

One key contributor to the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) oversight of Atlantic Yards is an unpaid consultant--a retired partner at a major law firm, with a background in city planning and urban redevelopment--who has volunteered several days a week since the summer of 2007, well after the project was approved.

Though Norman Oder sheds some light on a key "volunteer" at the ESDC, he ends up with more questions than answers.

"Rahm was brought in by the administration of then-Governor Eliot Spitzer to work on the project. How typical is such a role?"

Does Rahm play a policy-making role or not?

To whom is a volunteer accountable?

"[S]houldn't the ESDC have been more forthcoming with the public?"

"[W]hat kind of interaction she has with Forest City Ratner, and why the agency was so ill-equipped it needed a volunteer to help out on this project[?]"

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NoLandGrab: We'd like to know if there are more volunteer opportunities at the ESDC, perhaps for community volunteers?

Posted by lumi at 6:54 AM