Sunday, October 09, 2005


NY Post and NY Daily News press Ratner on privatized park space

Taking off from posts on this blog Sept. 26 and Oct. 5 about how the park space on top of the Brooklyn arena, orginally promised to be public, would be private, the New York Daily News followed up in a 10/9/05 Score column headlined Ratner's latest shell game:
In other words, according to foes of the project, the taxpayers Ratner wants to pony up at least $200 million for the project should take a hike unless they live or work at the complex.
Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco acknowledges the rooftop park won't be open to hoi polloi. The towers around the arena were originally supposed to be primarily for commercial use, he says, but plans have changed. Now the towers will be heavily residential, and the developer is reserving the rooftop, which would be connected to adjacent buildings, for tenants so they would have easy access to laundry rooms and other amenities.
But that doesn't mean the public is getting stiffed, DePlasco says - new plans call for seven-plus acres of public space, an acre more than the original proposal. Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz, perhaps the project's biggest booster, says Forest City Ratner's change of heart is unacceptable. "I believe there should be some public access to the roof," Markowitz says. "I will definitely use whatever power I have to make sure that happens."

It's time for a little factchecking. Ratner originally announced, in a December 2003 project fact sheet that the roof was aimed at the whole community:
The roof of the Arena offers an exciting opportunity to create new public space, with 52,000 square feet in four lushly landscaped areas for passive recreation and a promenade along the outside edge of the roof with outstanding panoramic vistas facing Manhattan. For active recreation, an outdoor ice-skating ink connects the four gardens; in warmer months the rink will become a running track. This open space not only provides a destination for community residents as well as for the workers in the office buildings-–it also allows the commercial buildings surrounding the arena to be connected at the sky-lobby level.

Ice skating rink? Running track? Those weren't for the office workers--those were community amenities that helped draw public support for the original plan. Now the private open space raises the value of the market-rate housing in the towers around the arena. In other words, commercial space (space for jobs) has been replaced by housing, most (69%) of which is market-rate.

And maybe the public is getting stiffed. That seven-plus acres of public space may not be available until 2016, according to the scoping document, while the rooftop park is supposed to be finished by 2009, so that's a seven-year wait. And the additional acre is offset by the increased height of Ratner's planned towers.

The New York Post, in a 10/9/05 article headlined B'KLYNITES CALL A FOUL ON PARK, wrote:
"Originally, all the buildings around the arena were commercial, and members of the public would be walking in that area," said Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco. "But now, with all the buildings around the arena being residential, we've made the space accessible to those people."
Critics point to other "broken promises" — like the vow that 50 percent of the residential units would be affordable. Of 7,300 housing units, only about 2,200 will be affordable — more like a 30-70 split, James said.
DePlasco said the 50-50 promise was for the 4,500 rentals only — not the remaining condo units. James countered: "It was 50-50 for all the units. This is not being done right."

Members of the public would be walking in that area? They'll still be walking in that area--it's the busiest crossroads in Brooklyn.

As for DePlasco's statement, it may be technically correct, but when announced, the 4,500 rental units were the only residential units in the plan. A 5/19/05 mayoral press release stated:
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Forest City Ratner Companies President & CEO Bruce C. Ratner and Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) Executive Director Bertha Lewis today announced that approximately half of the 4,500 new rental units in the proposed Atlantic Yards development will be set aside for low- and moderate-income households using financing tools created by the Bloomberg Administration's New Housing Marketplace plan.

None of the subsequent news coverage suggested that there would be any additional units beyond the rental units. See coverage in the New York Times (Brooklyn Arena Plan Calls For Many Subsidized Units, 5/20/05), Newsday (CAMPAIGN '05: Praise from an unexpected source, 5/20/05), the New York Post (YOU'RE BUSS-TED, MIKE - HOUSING DEAL SEALED WITH A KISS, 5/20/05), The New York Sun (Ratner Delivers on Affordable Housing', 5/20/05), and the Daily News (HOUSING PLAN NET GAIN FOR MIKE, 5/21/05).

As for the 50-50 housing promise, as noted in my report, soon the developer increased the amount of housing:
FCR ’s 5/17/05 Memorandum of Understanding with the New York affiliate of ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), the nation ’s largest community organization of low-and moderate-income families, contains this passage ( If the projected number of residential units should increase for any reason that the Developer determines to be economically necessary, both the Developer and ACORN will work towards developing a program that follows the same guidelines and principles set forth in this document.The MOU refers to 2,250 “affordable” units out of a projected 4,500 units of housing.Once ACORN was on board, FCR, at a City Council Economic Development Committee hearing nine days later, announced an increase in the number of planned housing units to at least 6,000 and possibly 7,300. See coverage in The Brooklyn Papers (Ratner site expands —into Park Slope, 6/2/05): The presentation, shown at the May 26 hearing,indicated that the developer might increase the number of housing units from 4,500 to at least 6,000 or possibly 7,300.
[Note that my report is italicized, with quotations bolded]

Forest City Ratner has been rather quiet about developing that "program that follows the same guidelines and principles." According to the MOU:
Developer and ACORN will work on a program to develop affordable for-sale units, which are intended to be in the range of 600 to 1000 units, over the course of ten (10) years and can be on or off site. It is currently contemplated that a majority of the affordable for-sale units will be sold to families in the upper affordable income tiers.

The upper-affordable income tiers include families earning more than $100,000 a year—surely not ACORN ’s constituency.

Why did the project size increase? Because the developer considered it to be "economically necessary," it seems. And why has the proposed public park been made private? Given the incoherence of the explanations offered by DePlasco, the answer may well be that the developer simply thinks it's "economically necessary."

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