Friday, September 16, 2005


FAIR and Gotham Gazette link to my Times Report

On 9/15/05, FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting)linked to my Times Report in its Media Views blog, which has this disclaimer: This page features some of the more interesting media criticism and media news we've seen on the Web lately-- as well as some recent reporting that we thought merited comment. We don't endorse every opinion expressed or vouch for the facts presented, except by ourselves.

Earlier, on 9/5/05, the New York-centric web site Gotham Gazette, published by the Citizens Union Foundation, also linked to my report on its Recent Reports page.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


The Times on the MTA meeting: finally, the $1 billion cost is noted

In a 9/15/05 article initially headlined "Huge Arena Project in Brooklyn Takes a Major Step Forward," but in final editions headlined Arena Project For Brooklyn Wins Approval From M.T.A., the Times reported that, as expected, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority agreed to sell the development rights to its Atlantic railyard in Brooklyn to the developer Bruce C. Ratner for $100 million, a major step forward for his plan to build a basketball arena and a huge residential and commercial development on 22 acres.

But the curious thing was how the Times finally added some crucial context, as well as some perplexing contrasts with the 9/7/05 report, Offer Is Doubled by Developer to Build Arena in Brooklyn. Notably, this new article pointed out something missing in the earlier one: Ratner's offer was $114.5 million less than the MTA's own appraisal.

Also, for the first time to my knowledge, the Times reported the overall public cost: The project will also receive tax breaks, low-interest financing and other benefits that would bring the total public investment to an estimated $1 billion. Now, Forest City Ratner VP Jim Stuckey, in City Council testimony last May, estimated $1.1 billion in public costs over 30 years, and the Independent Budget Office recently suggested that the company's cost estimates were low. So the Times figure seems low, but still, shouldn't the public have been informed about that billion-dollar figure long before now?

Also, the earlier report called Atlantic Yards a development "of 6,000 apartments," while the new article declaratively said "7,300 apartments." As far as I know, neither is correct; one plan would have 6,000 apartments, and the other 7,300 units, but Ratner hasn't announced a choice. Still, the plan with more residential units is more likely, since residences are easier to fill than office space.

And the Times acknowledged without offering full context the tradeoff between market-rate housing and office jobs: In the last two years, the project has evolved, with office space declining and apartments increasing. Forest City Ratner said that half of 4,500 rental apartments would be reserved for low- to middle-income residents. The remaining 2,800 would be condominiums.

Translation: 69% of the dwelling units would be market-rate, while only 2,250 units (half the rentals) would be affordable, with only 900 (12.3% of total) designated for people earning under Brooklyn's median income of $35,000.

The earlier report said the project would be on a 21-acre site; the newer one noted 22 acres, which is what Ratner has announced. I try to use the formulation "at least 22 acres," since a city document declared the development site 24 acres.

The new Times article noted that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Gov. George E. Pataki... contend that the project would provide thousands of jobs, badly needed housing and a home for a professional basketball team, college games and other sports.

Well, that's not just a contention, those are facts that can actually be determined. How many jobs would the project actually provide? The company once promised 10,000 office jobs, but if they build 7,300 apartments, there might be space for only 2,144 office jobs. The projected "15,000 construction jobs" refers to job-years: 1,500 jobs a year over 10 years. And the badly needed housing? Most--perhaps 69%--would be market rate, and most of the "affordable housing" would benefit the middle class, with an average income of $75,000.

Is this the best way to add housing and jobs? Shouldn't that have been under discussion months ago?

The new article mentioned the CBA without context: The developer has also signed a "community benefits agreement" pledging that many jobs will go to local residents and to businesses owned by minorities and women. "This project develops Brooklyn," said Anthony Pugliese, an organizer for the New York City District Council of Carpenters who spoke at the hearing. "It will create the jobs that help people grow."

However, as Good Jobs NY has definitively testified, this CBA isn't legitimate: As a sponsored project of Good Jobs First, which provided support for the CBAs negotiated in California and continues to act as a clearinghouse for information on CBAs, we feel it is important to draw the Council’s attention to several major differences between CBAs as they have been used in other parts of the country and the series of negotiations that FCRC is calling a CBA. Perhaps the most striking is that elsewhere CBAs are negotiated by one broad coalition of groups that would otherwise oppose a project, a coalition that includes labor and community organizations representing a variety of interests. The coalition hammers out its points of unity in advance and then each member holds out on settling on its particular issue until the issues of the other members are addressed. This way, the bargaining power of each group is used for the benefit of the coalition as a whole. In the BAY case, several groups, all of which have publicly supported the project already, have each engaged in what seem to be separate negotiations on particular issues.


WNYC assesses Ratner's "mixed record"

A 9/13/05 WNYC radio report, Developer Has Mixed Record in Brooklyn, points out that Forest City Ratner (FCR) did not produce new jobs for Brooklynites at MetroTech and has been forced to find government tenants for vacant retail space at the Atlantic Center mall. On the other hand, analysts say that MetroTech did retain jobs in the city and that the Atlantic Terminal mall is better than its neighbor, the Atlantic Center mall. (Well, the report left out the subsidized office tower at Atlantic Terminal.)

The final paragraph of the radio report, however, summed things up too vaguely regarding the proposed Atlantic Yards project: Forest City has promised to build thousands of units of affordable housing. It says it will give preference to people from surrounding communities for the jobs created by the housing, offices and Basketball arena. And it put those promises in writing.

First, as my report points out, the definition of "affordable housing" means that it mostly helps the middle class. Also, Forest City Ratner may control construction and arena jobs, but it does not control the office jobs--the lion's share of the jobs in the project.

City Council Member Charles Barron cross-examined FCR's Jim Stuckey on this issue at the 5/26/05 City Council hearing:
STUCKEY: Well, we’re not even sure who those companies will be yet, Council member. I can’t tell you who the employees will be.
BARRON: Those jobs won’t be controlled by you?
STUCKEY: Those jobs are controlled by the companies that --
BARRON: That’s right. So, those, they could hire whoever they want basically.
STUCKEY: Typically that’s what happens with businesses in our country.


Times puts Giants Stadium story in the Metro section, not Sports

The Times put a 9/14/05 article headlined Giants Make Another Offer for Stadium at Meadowlands on the front of the Metro section. There's an interesting contrast between this article and the large majority of the early (2003-04) coverage of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project. Most of those article, also authored by Charles Bagli (real estate reporter) and Richard Sandomir (sports business), appeared in the Sports section. And Atlantic Yards, in contrast with the Giants stadium, was and remains mostly an office/residential real estate project, not a sports deal. So the Times finally, belatedly, wises up.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


Yassky & Brennan to MTA: Stall Atlantic Yards bid

A day before a Metropolitan Transportation Authority meeting in which the agency was expected to sell its Brooklyn railyard to developer Forest City Ratner, City Council Member David Yassky and Assembly Member Jim Brennan urged the agency to stall the bid. They called Ratner's Atlantic Yards proposal much too dense: The public interest is satisfied by a site that is less-dense, but still offers affordable housing and a significant investment in Downtown Brooklyn,” Brennan said.
“The price of the property should be set as part of a planning process that allows only sensible development at the site,” Yassky said. “Brooklyn would then be guaranteed much-needed housing and jobs without congestion and wildly out of scale buildings.”

Here they lost me a bit: Brennan and Yassky argued that the MTA is relying merely on developers to pay for all development costs at Atlantic Yards, when it should be depending on City, State and Federal money as well.

I didn't see their letter--all I could find was a press release--but this is confusing. Perhaps they mean that the MTA is relying on developers to pay for building a platform at the site and moving the railyard east. But the MTA calls the property Vanderbilt Yard. "Atlantic Yards" is Ratner's name for a development that would be nearly three times the size of the railyard. And the entire project would require $200 million in direct subsidies in the next few years and cost the public more than $1 billion over 30 years for public services and infrastructure. So that's not exactly relying on developers.

As for the scale issue, I'm not sure that Yassky and Brennan understand an essential aspect of Ratner's plan. In order to provide a certain amount of "affordable" housing, the developer has to build bigger, including enough market-rate housing to ensure the desired amount of profit. That's the message of the "economically necessary" clause on p, 2 of the Housing Memorandum of Understanding: If the projected number of residential units should increase for any reason the Developer determines to be economically necessary...

Sunday, September 11, 2005


The Brooklyn Papers provides some crucial context the Times left out

In a 9/10/05 article headlined Ratner doubles down, the Brooklyn Papers provided some crucial context that the Times article of 9/7/07 left out: that, as the Papers' article was subtitled, "Higher bid still far short of MTA site’s value." To quote the article:
Citing unnamed sources, identified only as “two executives involved in the talks,” the New York Times on Wednesday reported that a special meeting might be held as soon as this Tuesday, Sept. 13, to approve the deal because developer Bruce Ratner had upped his company’s bid from $50 million to $100 million.
An appraisal of the property for the MTA put its value at $214 million.
The MTA put out a request for proposals, or RFP, for the site on May 26. Although Ratner’s bid was the lower of the two bids submitted by the July 6 deadline, the MTA board on July 27 chose to negotiate exclusively with Ratner.
The competing bid, by Extell Development Company, was for $150 million for the three parcels, and offered to pay to build platforms above them.

The MTA has a board meeting scheduled for Wednesday, September 14, apparently to approve the Ratner bid. Let's see whether the coverage of that meeting mentions the appraised value and the competing bid.

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