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Times suggests we know the costs of AY and "who will pay"

An article in the New York Times Week in Review section about the city's growth offers an uninformed and contradictory reference to Atlantic Yards. The article, headlined New York, Where the Dreamers Are Asleep, states in part:
But the bills came due, bankruptcy loomed, President Gerald R. Ford threatened to leave the city in the lurch and the place turned practical. Today’s New Yorkers want to know what something costs and who will pay. Turning landfill into a park, or building a new basketball arena and apartment-retail complex in Brooklyn if private dollars foot a healthy part of the bill — fine. Risking citywide gridlock to impress the world by playing host to the Olympics? Not so fine.
(Emphases added)

First, how many New Yorkers have endorsed the project? There's been no official vote. The recent poll touting 60% public support was deeply flawed. And the three local community boards closest to the project site have either opposed the project or raised serious questions abou…

Cognitive dissonance from the tabs on Albany & AY

For a prime example of cognitive dissonance, consider the enthusiastic editorial support for Atlantic Yards (and the state machinations and opacity behind it) from the New York Post and New York Daily News and the contrast with their harsh other editorials on Albany.

In an editorial Friday headlined THE BIG GOV WHO WOULDN'T, the Post editorialized regarding the 12-year stint of Governor George Pataki:
To put it bluntly, Ol' George let New York down.
Ran off, in pursuit of his own interests.
Even as taxes across the state squeezed out residents and businesses.
And political corruption mushroomed.
…Pataki vowed reform - term limits, public debate of the budget, spending growth held to inflation, big tax cuts.
But, almost from the start, it became obvious that he had little interest in shaking things up. His chief goal: to promote himself and his friends.
Patronage became a priority. Contracts got steered to those with political ties. Back-room deals replaced sunlit debate.
…* Con…

Forest City Ratner and the Courier-Life chain: payback time?

The two weekly chain newspapers in Brooklyn have distinct identities. The broadsheet Brooklyn Papers, family-owned, is based in DUMBO and focuses on the neighborhoods of Brownstone Brooklyn. The tabloid Courier-Life chain, based in Sheepshead Bay, is a major supporter of the Chamber of Commerce (its publisher chairs the group, and the chain publishes the Chamber's newspaper) and was recently purchased by the New York Post.

The Brooklyn Papers has editorialized against Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards plan and covered it critically, while the Courier-Life has endorsed it and covered it more gently. In fact, the December 15 issue contained the double-whammy of an editorial and an op-ed by Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, which sounded like a press release from the developer.

Actually, it was a triple-whammy. That week's paper included another boost for the plan, a two-page centerfold of project renderings from architect Frank Gehry and landscape architect Laurie Olin. Given t…

The NY Observer features 29 power families, but not the Ratners

The December 18 issue of the New York Observer, the cheeky weekly that specializes in insider coverage of the city’s professions, featured 29 power families in a number of arenas, including sports, the arts, politics, journalism, and law.

Under the rubric of real estate, there were deft profiles of the Trump, Zeckendorf, Rose, and Walentas families. David Walentas, as we know, is the man who invested in DUMBO decades ago and now reaps the rewards of the revival he steered.

But Brooklyn's biggest real estate empire, Forest City Ratner, didn’t make the list of 29. Sure, it’s a judgment call. There’s no younger Ratner joining CEO Bruce as his designated heir, as Jed Walentas will succeed his father David.

And Forest City Ratner has been subsumed into its Cleveland-based parent, the family-controlled Forest City Enterprises. However, Bruce still runs the show in New York, and there’s a most intriguing relationship between him and his brother Michael, the eminent international human right…

The Marty outtakes: AY & terrorism, density, and traffic

Borough President Marty Markowitz sat down for a year-end interview with Brooklyn Papers’ editor Gersh Kuntzman, and while the newspaper’s excerpts capture the major issues--Markowitz's criticism of the Papers and his forceful defense of AY--the unedited audio linked from the article is worth a listen, both for some tidbits unavailable in print as well as a flavor of our feisty Borough President.
(Photos: The Brooklyn Papers / Julie Rosenberg)

While the discussion ranged over Brooklyn issues from health to the Parachute Jump, it regularly returned to Atlantic Yards, about which Markowitz was sometimes pensive and prideful but more frequently combative and strident.

He dismissed opponents and critics by suggesting they should turn their attention to more important things, argued for greater density without defining limits, and flatly lied (or misspoke) about the traffic impacts of the project.

One word that came up several times was “hateful,” and Markowitz used it to describe the Pape…

Affordable housing, AY, & 421-a: the solution that came too late

A telling pairing of lead articles appeared on the front page of the 12/21/06 New York Times. The passage of the Atlantic Yards project was deemed the day's second most important story. The lead was the City Council's reform of 421-a legislation, which is expected to lead to some 20,000 affordable apartments over the next decade.

(Graphic from New York Magazine's Daily Intelligencer.)

Seen together, it's clear how much backers of the Atlantic Yards project benefited from the city's failure to reform 421-a any sooner, much less rezone the 22-acre site designated for the project.

Each action could have guaranteed a significant number of affordable low-income apartments, rather than leaving it to a private deal between developer Forest City Ratner and the advocacy group ACORN, which gave crucial cover to a development of unprecedented residential density.

In other words, in part because of the inclusion of affordable housing--which, it was infrequently mentioned, would …

At Gargano’s valedictory, transparency on AY still hard to find

As valedictories go, it was rather subdued, lasting less than 40 minutes, with only a bit of real news. But Charles Gargano, for 12 years the chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), the man who led fundraising for Governor George Pataki, is still canny after all these years.

With the advent of a new gubernatorial administration next week, Gargano has already left his job, but he visited the ESDC’s 633 Third Avenue office yesterday for a press conference his agency organized. Gargano neither tried to settle scores (remember, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, no ethical paragon, called him “corrupt”) nor catalog his challenges and achievements, such as the struggle to rebuild Ground Zero.

Rather, Gargano made himself available to the media, as he has long done, declared his desire to continue to help “this great city and state,” and took the opportunity to urge his successors to move ahead with the expansion of the Javits Convention Center and especially Moynihan Stati…

Ratner's profit likely would exceed IRR, but the public's still in the dark

So how much profit would Forest City Ratner make? Remember, a real estate expert consulted by New York Magazine estimated 25 percent, though he didn't have enough figures to be certain.

Two things are clear, however. First, the "internal rate of return" (or IRR) figures in the KPMG audit commissioned by the Empire State Development Corporation don't tell us anything about Ratner's profit.

Second, the public still doesn't know whether this is a good deal or not.

Overall rate of return?

In covering the approval last week of the Atlantic Yards plan, the Times reported:
The developer has yet to divulge precisely how much money it will make on the project. But Mr. Silver yesterday played down concerns that the developers were using public subsidies to generate excessive private profits, noting that the board’s official review powers were limited to vetting the state’s contribution to the infrastructure costs.
“Our role is not to measure the profits that the private inve…

The Times defends the front-page scaleback story, but then practices "rowback"

A month ago, on 11/29/06, I wrote an open letter to New York Times Public Editor Byron Calame, contending that the Times had failed to report on new information that essentially demolished the premise of the lead story about a "six to eight percent" Atlantic Yards cutback published September 5.

Calame wrote back, saying I should first complain directly to the newspaper. I did so, and got a response the next day from Deputy Metro Editor Patrick LaForge. I challenged the response and sent it to the Public Editor. Calame, responding five days later, found LaForge's response sufficient.

That was no surprise. Calame practices his own version of judicial deference, seeming to reflexively back the newspaper when I've questioned Atlantic Yards coverage. Could it be because he spent his career at the Wall Street Journal, where there's no metro desk? Or that he's too busy covering national news?

The Times's own coverage, however, suggests that they acknowledge the …

Eminent domain attorney: look to federal court

Eminent domain attorney Michael Rikon, speaking on the Brian Lehrer Show last Thursday, offered both cautionary and encouraging words to those hoping to challenge the Atlantic Yards project in court.

On the one hand, Rikon said that eminent domain law offered a lot of leeway to government agencies making determinations of blight. "Our courts will allow the taking for anything that has the slightest incidental public benefit," said Rikon, who represents parties threatened with condemnation. "In this case, they allege the area is blighted and the project will clear the blight up. Blight is a standard that is in the eyes of the beholder. I’ve seen blighting studies that were totally absurd. If it wasn’t blighted, it will soon be blighted by the cloud of condemnation."

Chimed in Brooklyn Papers editor Gersh Kuntzman, "It’s funny to think of a area that’s blighted where brownstones neighboring this supposedly blighted area sell for $1.5 million."

Rikon again said…

Forest City press release emphasizes Nets, downplays subsidies

The press release from Forest City Enterprises, dated December 21, a day after the approval vote, and headlined Forest City’s Atlantic Yards Project Approved By State Board:
CLEVELAND--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Forest City Enterprises, Inc. (NYSE:FCEA) and (NYSE:FCEB) today announced that New York’s Public Authorities Control Board (PACB) unanimously approved the Company’s Atlantic Yards project, a mixed-use development in downtown Brooklyn whose main attraction is expected to be a new sports and entertainment arena for the Nets NBA basketball team.

Note the use of "downtown Brooklyn."

Special benefits

The three voting members of PACB, representing the governor, Senate and Assembly, unanimously authorized public financing for the project. Based on the Board’s vote, government agencies are expected to provide tax-exempt bonds and subsidies to help finance the project, thus completing the public review process for Atlantic Yards.

Note the acknowledgement of tax-exempt bonds along with subsi…

The Times Magazine correction comes too late

From today's New York Times Magazine:
An item in the Year in Ideas issue on Dec. 10 about the increasing size and scale of urban planning referred imprecisely to the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn. The New York City Planning Commission endorsed it but did not approve it; approval can be given only by state officials.

Now they tell us.

As I wrote the day the item was published, a correction was required in the daily paper, since it might be too late to correct it in the Magazine before the scheduled vote December 20 by the Public Authorities Control Board.

Senior editor Greg Brock wrote back and seemed to concur:
I have passed this query on to the magazine editors. As a rule, we run magazine corrections in the magazine, not in the daily newspaper. But the magazines have early closes, so if the magazine cannot print a correction before the vote, then a daily correction -- or more likely a correction next Sunday on Page A2, so magazine readers will see it -- would be an option.

Option …

The Gehry contradiction

From an interview (reg. required) with architect Frank Gehry in today's Wall Street Journal:
Frank Gehry is 77, white haired, paunchy, and when we talked one afternoon in late autumn the topics of age and death never seemed far off. Mr. Gehry is, of course, one of the world's great architects, creator of the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao and enough of an icon to have been among the personalities featured in Apple's "Think Different" campaign.
Describing what it takes for him to accept a commission, Mr. Gehry says, "The determining factor is: Can I get it done while I am still alive?" Explaining why he doesn't build houses any more, Mr. Gehry says, "They involve a lot of personal hand holding. I guess at my age I don't have the patience."

(Emphasis added)

The Atlantic Yards project, unmentioned in the interview, would take ten years to build, at best, and even supporters and cordial critics believe it more likely would take 15-20 years.

Last J…

Is the Daily News in the tank when it comes to AY?

In my press criticism, I've focused much of my attention on the New York Times, because it's the city's most important newspaper and because the Times has a special obligation to exactingly cover Forest City Ratner, which is in business with the parent New York Times Company.

But the Daily News, owned by real estate mogul Mort Zuckerman, deserves scrutiny as well. Let's acknowledge that the newspaper has the right to run numerous masthead editorials and Errol Louis columns cheerleading for the Atlantic Yards project. (I've dissected them regularly.) Still, the rate of such editorials far outpaced any other daily.

Also, let's acknowledge that the paper has published a point-counterpoint and, of course, let sports columnist Mike Lupica challenge Bruce Ratner's plan.

Don't believe the hype

But the Daily News has a problem, and it goes way beyond the practice of a tabloid editorializing on its front page.

Inside the news pages, the newspaper has truly embarrasse…