Monday, April 14, 2008

Development Dilemmas: Vornado and the Public Interest

In this morning's NY Times, the paper's Charles Bagli looks at the shaky planning initiatives over at the Far West Side: "For three years, it has been one of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s abiding ambitions: to transform the warehouses, factories, parking lots and railroad tracks between Pennsylvania Station and the Hudson River into a glimmering high-rise business district...Today, those plans are in disarray. Because of the economic downturn, logistical problems and, critics say, design flaws, the expansion of the Javits Center has died, the plan to rebuild Penn Station and the area around it is in jeopardy and there are deep questions about financing, public and private, to extend the subway or build over the railyards."

Just goes to show you, even when the best and the brightest are involved, it ain't easy planning things properly-and it sheds light on the less than stellar record of the "Bloomberg miracle." In fact, when political scientists go to examine the mayor's body of work, they're going to have to exhume it. When Mayor Mike goes for the gold, he just lacks the political skills to attain it.

Which brings us to our friends over at Vornado Realty and Distrust-the folks who we last saw looking to close one of the few modern supermarkets in the Soundview section of the Bronx. Vornado, and its partner in high end heisting, the Related Company, are looking to develop the Moynihan train station. They're going to need a lot of city help in doing so.

Here's Bagli's take: "The Penn Station plan, spearheaded by Stephen M. Ross of Related Companies and Steven Roth of Vornado Realty Trust, calls for rebuilding Pennsylvania Station and moving Madison Square Garden one block west to the nearly vacant Farley post office building, which would also serve as an annex to what would be called Moynihan Station. In return, the developers would get the rights to build a half-dozen office towers nearby."

The two companies, receiving favored nation status for the entire Bloomberg term (that's okay News and Post?), were designated by the Bloombergistas for this task by the former Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff-you know the fella who was also Steve Ross' friend and former business partner. Ross' company also got a no bid contract for the development of the Bronx Terminal Market (no "Knucklehead Award" for Dan here?).

The project, however, is going to need a lot of public support: "The Penn Station project is facing its own problems. The Garden is balking at the move, potentially killing the entire endeavor. If Vornado and Related Companies cannot lure the Garden back, they plan to revive an earlier plan to build a $900 million train station annex at the Farley building, an office tower across the street and improvements at Penn Station in return for more development rights. Vornado also plans to demolish the nearby Pennsylvania Hotel to make way for a large office project."

Could this be the same Vornado that wants to spit in the face of the health needs of South Bronx residents by evicting the Key Food on Bruckner Boulevard? It seems to us, that this would be an appropriate moment for all of the city's elected officials-from the mayor on down-to draw a line in the sand for these pork barrel billionaires. As the old saying goes; "No ticket, no laundry."

If Vornado wants the city to pony up for Moynihan, than a quid pro quo is needed for Bruckner. If Bruckner is private property, than the development rights around Moynihan are public property and belong to the city. It's that simple.