Atlantic Yards Watch
by Eric McClure
Jul 22, 2009 | 1854 views | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
On Wednesday, July 22nd, Brooklyn's Community Boards Two, Six and Eight will host a joint "informational meeting" at which representatives of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner will present "proposed modifications" to the planned Atlantic Yards project. Following the presentation, according to the notice issued by the Community Boards, "there will be an opportunity for questions (submitted in writing) and answers." (More information on the meeting at: www.brooklyncb6.org/calendar/#22)

How enlightening those answers may be will remain to be seen, since the ESDC often defers to Forest City, which has been notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to divulging meaningful information about the controversial project. In fact, the lack of substantive public disclosure has become a running joke among critics of the Atlantic Yards project, who frequently mock a statement, made last year by a Forest City spokesperson, that "when it comes to sharing information with the public and governmental bodies, there's no such thing as too much, as far as we are concerned." Reality indicates otherwise.

But on the outside chance that the folks at Forest City and the ESDC might get an accidental hit of truth serum, we've prepared a number of important questions that, despite all of the developer's claimed information-sharing, still lack satisfactory answers. Here are just a few:

• How can what appears to be a major redesign of the arena, the apparent elimination of the "Urban Room" and the shelving of the main office tower (Building One) constitute only a "minor change" to the site plan?

• And when will the public see a new site plan and renderings?

• If the arena has been reoriented to parallel Fifth and Sixth Avenues, and the "Urban Room" has indeed been eliminated, might that eliminate the need to close Fifth Avenue?

• (Paraphrasing Atlantic Yards Report's Norman Oder,) with the worst economy since the Great Depression, near-zero demand for office space and hundreds if not thousands of unsold or half-built condos dotting the Brooklyn cityscape, what's the real projection for tax revenues generated by the project? And how can the ESDC properly evaluate the appropriateness of subsidies for the project without producing an independent cost-benefit analysis?

• If the timetable for the project is really ten years, as the ESDC and Forest City claim, why does the Funding Agreement for the project allow 12 years to build Phase I and 25 years to build Phase II? How would such a construction schedule affect tax-revenue projections?

• Why did Forest City claim that lawsuits were preventing them from continuing work on the Vanderbilt Rail Yard when they stopped pre-construction activities last year, only to resume those activities recently while still facing the same lawsuits? Does the ESDC really accept Forest City's explanation at face value?

• Why did the ESDC allow Forest City to begin demolition of the Carlton Avenue Bridge - a piece of public infrastructure - and then allow the developer to cease all work on the bridge for several months? What's the timetable for construction of a new bridge?

• Why does the ESDC support the construction of the arena when New York City's Independent Budget Office projects that the arena will be a net money-loser for taxpayers?

• Why will Forest City get to keep the naming-rights revenue for what ESDC claims would be a publicly owned arena?

• How will the "affordable" housing be subsidized when sources of financing for affordable housing are scarce?

• And lastly, though the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is not participating in the meeting with Forest City and the ESDC, we just have to ask two questions of the cash-strapped transit agency: how does allowing Forest City to build a railyard with a 56-car capacity as a replacement for a yard with 72-car capacity constitute an upgrade? And 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 Forest City an 80% discount on its down promised payment of $100 million for the 8-acre Vanderbilt Rail Yard?

• Will any of these questions receive honest, satisfactory answers on July 22nd? While you shouldn't hold your breath, we encourage you to come out and ask these questions and your own.

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