Thursday, September 22, 2005


MTA's Kalikow dismisses own appraiser as "some guy"

Here's a gem from the 9/14/05 Metropolitan Transportation Authority board meeting that made it into some press coverage, but not the New York Times report. When challenged as to why the MTA would accept Forest City Ratner's $100 million bid for the railyard at issue, while the 8.3-acre property had been appraised at $214.5 million, MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow dismissed the appraiser the agency hired as "some guy."

As the Bergen Record reported 9/15/05 in MTA accepts Ratner bid for Brooklyn rights:
Kalikow dismissed his own agency's two-month-old appraisal, saying that $214.5 million "is just some guy's idea of what it's worth."
"That was his opinion, and it wasn't borne out by the marketplace," he added.
[Forest City Ratner's Jim] Stuckey said the MTA appraisal was unrealistic because it was based on a level of zoning "that doesn't exist on the land today." He also said that the construction of a platform, a storage facility, site cleanup and other improvements at the site would be worth $345 million - making the Ratner bid worth far more than the MTA had sought.

The exchange also made WNYC's 9/14/05 MTA Approves Brooklyn Railyards Sale to Ratner report.

Of course, the marketplace also was represented by Extell's $150 million bid, which also included plans to improve the site. There's been dispute about the legitimacy of that bid, but the MTA chose to negotiate solely with Ratner.

Monday, September 19, 2005


Now we know: luxury housing increased, jobs decreased, Mayor misinformed

Atlantic Yards, according to a project description by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) on 9/16/05 (and yet unreported in the press), would involve the following:
--16 towers + an arena (previously Forest City Ratner's Brooklyn Standard had promised, at least in its text, 17 towers--see p. 3)
--7,300 residential units (covering 7.2 million gross square feet), including 2,800 market-rate condominiums along with the 4,500 rentals
--less than one-third the office space.

That means that Forest City Ratner has chosen a version of its Alternate Plan, which allows it to maximize market-rate units. (Remember, half of the rentals are "affordable," but only 900 units are aimed at people earning less than Brooklyn's $35,000 median income. This is a housing project for the rich.)

So forget the 50/50 affordable housing plan announced in May. This is 31% "affordable housing" and, in actuality, only 12.3% of the units would be affordable to people earning less than Brooklyn's median income.

Curiously, Mayor Bloomberg issued a 9/14/05 press release claiming there would be only 4,500 units. The press release also claimed there would be 8,500 permanent jobs.

Let's do the math. There would only be 628,000 square feet of commercial office space. [An earlier version of this post incorrectly said 975,000 square feet and thus estimated more jobs.] If you use Ratner's formula of one job for every 200 square feet, that means space for 3,140 jobs. If you calculate one job for every 250 square feet--a standard formula according to Ratner's consultant Andrew Zimbalist and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC)--that means space for 2,512 jobs. Of course, given Ratner's track record, there's no assurance the jobs would be new rather than moved from Manhattan, and NYCEDC, unlike Ratner, would subtract some 7% of the jobs in calculating a vacancy rate.

For 2 million square feet of office space, Forest City Ratner promised 10,000 office jobs. For the same amount of space, NYCEDC estimated 7,100 jobs--71% of Ratner's total. Take 71% of the new Ratner total, 3,140 jobs--and you get 2,229 jobs. (This is 2,512 jobs minus the vacancy rate.) Given that NYCEDC estimated that only 30 percent of the jobs would be new, 30 percent of 2,229 jobs would be 669 new office jobs.

Add a few hundred more jobs if you count the arena, retail outlets, and the planned hotel. And add 1,500 construction jobs a year (or 1,200, if you choose the mayor's numbers) for ten years. Still, the "jobs" component of Ratner's "Jobs, Housing, and Hoops" slogan has certainly shrunk.


The Gutter on my report: "self-righteous public space advocate"

So there's this real estate blog called Curbed, which has an offshoot called The Gutter, subtitled "Ill-mannered commentary on the architectural arts." Indeed.
I forwarded them my report, pointing them to the chapter on the Times's architectural critics, which generated this 9/19/05 post:
Herbert and Nicolai: Shills for Frank and Bruce?
We like ourselves a self-righteous public space advocate as much as the next guy. But we really like ourselves a self-righteous public space advocate who puts together a 162 page screed about the New York Times' conflict of interest vis-a-vis its business partner Bruce Ratner and his plans for Frank Gehry's basketball Bilbao in Brooklyn, then includes a full chapter on the misdeeds in this regard perpetrated by Times architecture critics past and present. Dig in starting at page 136 for such gems as "Muschamp should have mentioned his previous role in the Times Tower process in his paean to the initial Frank Gehry arena-cum-skyscrapers plan for Atlantic Yards," and "Ouroussoff treated the lack of specificity as a sign of artistic creativity rather than a lack of responsibility to the public." Wonks rule!

Self-righteous public space advocate? Clearly, they didn't read the report, otherwise they would've called me a "self-righteous press critic."

Screed? Ah, a screed would have been easy, just like a snarky comment in a snarky blog. If it's wonky to try to figure out things like how many jobs this project really promises, or the flaws in Ratner's economic projections, then I'll be a wonk.

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