Monday, November 07, 2005

Atlantic Yards vs. BTM

The controversy continues to swirl over the FCRC's Atlantic Yards project. What's interesting to us is the attention that the Brooklyn project is getting over the size and scope of the development and the shifts that Forest City has made to accommodate changes in the costs of the project. In the latest of a series of Times articles, Nick Confessore explores these questions.

The main thing to emphasize here is the sheer level of scrutiny that Atlantic Yards has received. As Jim Stuckey of FCRC points out the company is ironically paying for being as forthcoming as it has. There has been an unprecedented amount of disclosure and discussion with a wide array of community groups. This has, of course, done little to mollify those who feel that the project has little value to begin with or those who, because of their position on eminent domain (see Nicole Gelinas' piece in the current issue of The City Journal), can't support the development.

As Stuckey says,
What's interesting is that we've been talking to people for two years...Here we are opening ourselves up-tremendous transparency, for two years. Yet the criticism is, Wait a second, they didn't tell us something about their planning process before the public process began?
The legitimate question here should be, To what extent have the changes altered the payback from the project?

The fact that the development has changed doesn't necessarily demonstrate any degree of, as the Times articles title suggests, "bait and switch" on the part of the developer (as seen by the usual amount of conspiratorial thinking implied in little Mike Lupica's Sunday column in the Daily News). Once again we believe that the final cost-benefit analysis will demonstrate that this development will be a big winner for Brooklyn and the rest of NYC.

One thing that hasn't been mentioned is the role that the Alliance's Richard Lipsky is playing on behalf of Atlantic Yards. Lipsky, who wrote the seminal book on the role of sports in American life (How We Play the Game) has been working on the development of a unique partnership between the Nets/FCRC and the amateur sports community of Brooklyn.

The alliance will be called the Brooklyn Amateur Sports Alliance (BASA). Lipsky has spent the last two years in a due diligence aimed at formulating an agenda for the promotion of amateur sports in the borough. The key emphasis here will be in developing ways to use sports to promote youth development (sports as a means and not an end).

So while Mike Lupica ridicules the sports component of AY he is literally shooting his lip off. In the process he totally fails to comprehend the depth of support that this project has in the Brooklyn athletic community-support that will escalate once the BASA program is in place.

Atlantic Yards and Bronx Terminal Market

The level to which some of the criticisms of the AY project are off the mark can best be highlighted by comparing the development to the debacle at the Bronx Terminal Market in the Bronx. Where FCRC has spent two years cultivating a great deal of community support for AY, the Related Companies, attempting to build the largest development in the boroughs history, hasn't even bothered to cultivate any-relying instead on the goodwill among elected cultivated by all of the merits implied in the cash nexus.

Now that the ULURP process has begun Related and the Bronx BP have set up a hand-picked group to craft a community benefits agreement. What Ratner and company took over two years to negotiate will be promulgated by the odd Bronx consortium in a little over two months. In essence, the Bronx electeds have given up all of their leverage to use the review process to get the best deal for the impacted community (Doesn't the juncture of Bronx electeds and community benefit have a certain dissonance?).

We would not be ones to say that AY is a perfect project but looking around the city the criticisms of FCRC remind us of the old saying about democracy: It is the worst political system-except for all the others.