Sunday, September 9, 2012

When Big Projects Fail

The WSJ has a fascinating article on the failed promises of the Atlantic Yards project-and Eliot Brown's take on this is a cautionary tale for all of the grandiose promises still swirling around the Willets Point development:

"Construction crews are putting the finishing touches on a home for the newly renamed Brooklyn Nets basketball team that—at approximately $1 billion—is the country's most expensive professional sports arena.

But as the borough gears up for the brown, metal-wrapped arena's opening event, a Jay-Z concert on Sept. 28 before the Nets take court this fall, the surrounding neighborhood still is waiting for housing and other benefits once touted by the developer as part of a planned $4.9 billion real-estate project known as Atlantic Yards

And wait they will because the promises will be really tough to keep: "Historically, such delays or loss of pledged benefits have been common for large private and public projects alike, said Jerold Kayden, an urban planning professor at Harvard University. "Too often, without carefully drawn contracts, the project gets built without these things," Mr. Kayden said of public benefits to large developments, "and the public ends up with the short end of the stick."

That gets us to the affordable housing pledge the city has made over at Willets Point-and why we have called it a "Wimpy" deal-the likelihood of any of the original promises being kept is closer to nil. This means that, when all is said and done, the city will be taking the property of small owners and handing it over to Sterling Equities and Related to build a lucrative mall for the crony capitalists-shafting not only the property owners but the public as well:

"As one of the largest mixed-use projects under way in the country, Atlantic Yards was meant to transform a swath of Brooklyn. But the missing pieces of the project highlight the challenges many U.S. cities face with large-scale real-estate developments that have become stalled amid a slow economic recovery, leaving them without taxes, jobs and amenities once pledged to the public."

This is, of course, an object lesson about the misuses of eminent domain-and the WSJ makes this very point with reference to New London:

"In New London, Conn., a piece of land once eyed for a sprawling waterfront development with a hotel, office space and residential, is still fallow seven years after a landmark U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of eminent domain to take homes on the site. The new mayor, Daryl Finizio, says now the city is hoping to start on a residential development on a portion of the 90-acre site by mid-2013, but for now the site is without the new neighborhood and the envisioned tax revenues."

Let's take a look at the failed promises in Brooklyn-and this failure should be an object lesson for city council members when the administration lays out the future of Willets Point 2.0:

"As the centerpiece of the development, the arena was supposed to be designed by famed architect Frank Gehry with a roof adorned with grass and a running track. The New York-based developer, Bruce Ratner, also pledged to reserve nearly one third of 6,400 planned apartments for low and middle-income families, along with a community health-care center and other givebacks.

But these and other selling points have been deferred, or in a few cases scrapped, as the company has struggled to get the larger project off the ground amid a chilly climate for new development. The entire project once was slated to be completed by 2016 but Mr. Ratner's Forest City Ratner Cos. hasn't broken ground yet on any of the planned apartment towers. Mr. Gehry's design for the arena was dropped and replaced with a less expensive one from a different team of architects

Wimpy indeed! The plans for Willets Point, unreasonable in the first incarnation, have become farcical-but it is a farce built on a naked theft of other people's land, property bought by the tax payers and gifted to the connected. Gee, there oughta be a law.