Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Diogenes Self-Immolated: EDC Supplies Matches

We all know-or should know-the story of Diogenes and his search for the one honest man. What we now no for certain is that the fellow isn't employed by the NYC Economic Development Corporation. Yesterday the NY Daily News reported on the potential for the Flushing Commons project to have a negative economic impact on the area's small businesses: "AS THE controversial Flushing Commons development inches closer to a vote in the City Council, shopkeepers and elected officials alike are waiting for the city to reveal the details of a business assistance program that could make or break local retailers. The $2 million plan is meant to aid local merchants during construction of the 5-acre complex of condos and stores. Locals fear that won't be enough to help them cope with the three-year construction and its aftermath. "We need to be able to compensate and make sure these businesses survive the transition," said City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone)."

The paper went on to report on the study commissioned by the Flushing Coalition and prepared by  the Hunter College Center for Community Planning and Development.: "A group of skeptical locals - the Flushing Coalition for Responsible Development - recently commissioned its own study to fact check the city's Environmental Impact Statement. "We wanted to do an economic study so we could determine what made sense for a business assistance program," said coalition member Jim Gerson. The main discrepancy between the two analyses is that the city counted 970 storefronts within a 1/2-mile radius of the project and the other, prepared by Hunter College, tallied 2,100 businesses. "If you use the 2,100 figure, that $2 million would amount to only $26 a month for each business over the construction period," said Brian Paul, a fellow at the Hunter College Center for Community Planning and Development."

EDC's response? Sheer derision, and the opportunity, once again, for the agency's chief stand up comedian to strut his stuff: "EDC officials discounted the Hunter College study. "Our EIS was conducted by experienced consultants over the course of several years and followed a rigorous and approved methodology," said David Lombino, an agency spokesman. The Hunter College report "was written by a group of graduate students in a matter of weeks, and significantly misrepresents aspects of the EIS," he said."

We love the, "rigorous and approved methodology," rhetoric-just like the method to the agency's madness next door at Willets Point; where two contradictory traffic reports were prepared for the same project. But why go next door? This rigorous methodology was on display right in the current EIS for Flushing Commons where the, "experienced consultants," detailed how there would be either 120,000 sq. ft. of  national destination retail; or only 36,000 sq. ft.-depending on which section of the voluminous document you happened to pick up.

So rigor and honesty, when paired with EDC, is the oxymoronic equivalent to military intelligence-and Lombino's response underscores the old admonition of I. F. Stone never to believe an official government hand out (remember Izzy, David? You know, when you used to be a reporter). But let's let Tom Angotti respond to EDC's calumny.

Writing in the comments section of the Daily news, Dr. Angotti shoots back: "The City's Economic Development Corporation as represented by Mr. Lombino apparently has not consulted the Hunter College report which they dismiss. The title page notes that it was prepared not by a bunch of students but by myself (Professor of Urban Planning at Hunter College) and Hunter College Fellow Brian Paul, who did most of the work under my direction. The fact that EDC consultants spent years and couldn't even get the number of local businesses right raises the question about who the amateurs are. Those of us familiar with the work of EDC's consultant, AKRF, are not surprised at the size of their mistakes and the equally inflated size of their bills to the taxpayers. The fact that we could turn up such a basic error in such a short time with limited resources should be disturbing. The number of businesses affects so much of the rest of AKRF's conclusions in the EIS and thus calls into question the entire study."

Indeed it does, as does the story last week that the News reported on detailing the plight of neighborhood stores on one of the city's busiest commercial strips: "For many Queens small businesses, their neighbors are shuttered gray gates, stripped awnings and "For Rent" signs, a new study has found. An alarming number of stores along 10 of the borough's busiest commercial strips is vacant - an average of 12%, or 206 closed stores. "If you want to take the economic temperature of our city the best thing to do is take a look at how our shopping strips are doing," Rep. Anthony Weiner, who commissioned the study, said Monday at a news conference in front of three closed shops along Jamaica Ave. in Woodhaven."

This under-reported story is what the EDC legacy under Mike Bloomberg will look like-and why Flushing Commons is such an outrage. Instead of promoting and nurturing these businesses, EDC pursues policies that further endanger their viability. That they do so in Flushing, where economic activity is drawn back into NYC by the unique nature of this core Asian business district, only underscores the gross malfeasance of  the entire cohort of economic development pretenders down at William Street.

And while the local small businesses are gasping for air-and revenue-EDC is caught hoarding funds, as the NY Times reports today: "Bowing to pressure from auditors, the organization that oversees economic development in New York City has agreed to hand over more than $20 million in rental payments each year to the city. The group, the Economic Development Corporation, had previously resisted giving up the money, which it earns by leasing space in Times Square. But after Comptroller John C. Liu released a stinging audit of the corporation’s financial methods in April, officials re-examined the practice. In explaining the reversal, the corporation said it was responding to Mr. Liu’s report — one of the first major salvos of his tenure as comptroller — as well as the dire economic circumstances facing the city."

Just a honest mistake-like not being able to find how many shops there are at Flushing's own mini ground zero. Maybe Lombino shouldn't be so quick to rag on the so-called incompetency of Hunters, "graduate students." At least Tom Angotti's crew fulfilled their contract and gave the city council a honest accounting of the economic impact of the Flushing Commons project.

And today the Zoning and Franchise Committee will cast the important initial vote on the project-the entire small business community is watching. If the council fails to mitigate the project's impact, than the subsequent deluge will become a dishonest joint legacy.