Friday, July 21, 2006

Mystery solved: ESDC should never have promoted 10,000 jobs at Atlantic Yards

Had the Empire State Development Corporation used statistics consistently, it never would have told the public that there would be 10,000 office jobs at the Atlantic Yards project. Rather, the figure would have been 8000, at most, and claims for the project--by the developer and supportive columnists--would have been more modest.

That small but telling clarification emerges from a look at the recently-released Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). At issue is the assignment of office space to jobs. Forest City Ratner initially promised 10,000 jobs in 2 million square feet of office space, using a non-standard ratio of 200 square feet per worker.

Four months ago, I took another look at an 11/6/05 New York Times article, which explained that three-quarters of the originally projected 10,000 jobs were gone. Besides a reduction in office space, another reason was this:
The earlier estimates were also based on a ratio of one job per 200 square feet of space, but the Empire State Development Corporation, which released the September planning documents, uses a less generous ratio of one job per 250 square feet of space, amplifying the reduction.

I noted that the ESDC's Draft Scope of Analysis--a prelude to the DEIS--said nothing about such ratios, though the New York City Economic Development Corporation and FCR consultant Andrew Zimbalist had used the 250 square feet figure, which is not just a "less generous ratio," but also the industry standard. (Forest City Ratner derived the figure of 200 square feet from its MetroTech project.)

Answer: inconsistency

In March, I asked the ESDC if the agency uses 250 square feet per office job, and whether it was in any document. I didn't get an answer. I concluded that either the Times was mistaken or the agency has been inconsistent in its public posture.

Answer: the latter. The DEIS now estimates (p. 69) "4 employees per 1000 square feet of office space," or 250 square feet per worker, the standard ratio.

If the ESDC uses the standard industry ratio of 250 square feet per job, then it should've looked askance at FCR's earlier projections. On 3/4/05, in a press release, the ESDC stated, "The project is expected to create 15,000 construction jobs and over 10,000 permanent jobs."

Yes, it's likely that the press release--versions were issued jointly by the city, state, and ESDC--wasn't written by the ESDC. But it apparently didn't represent the way the agency calculates office jobs.

The ESDC and developers have a "collaborative" relationship in an effort to move projects forward. The Atlantic Yards job numbers, however, suggest that the interests--or at least the statistics--may not always be in tandem.

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