Monday, July 06, 2009

In editorial, Newsday channels two of RPA's relatively mild AY reforms (that the MTA ignored)

A Newsday editorial on Atlantic Yards sounds like it came directly from the mend-it-don't-end-it Regional Plan Association (RPA), but the writers don't acknowledge that part of their prescription is already out of date.

The editorial, headlined Public's interests must be preserved at Atlantic Yards, begins:
Atlantic Yards - a project to build a Nets arena, housing and other development in downtown Brooklyn - also holds out hope of local jobs, better Long Island Rail Road facilities and a much-needed financial boost for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. But the project is on life-support. Famed architect Frank Gehry has departed, and developer Bruce Ratner needs financial help.

No, it wouldn't be downtown Brooklyn. And how exactly would it be a financial boost for the MTA, given that it would deliver far fewer dollars than the MTA initially expected in the short term?

Preliminary approval?

The editorial continues:
The Empire State Development Corp. and the MTA recently gave Ratner preliminary approval for a deal that may or may not be in the MTA's best interest. Before a final pact is signed, state officials should be sure they are protecting the agency and, by extension, the public in this $4.9-billion behemoth.

As I understand it, the ESDC gave preliminary approval but the MTA gave final approval. Perhaps a stall by the ESDC could provoke the MTA board to reopen the deal, but that's highly unlikely.

Channeling the RPA

The editorial continues:
Instead of the original $100 million paid upfront for the right to develop the LIRR's rail yards, Ratner wants to stretch payments over 21 years, with interest, which works out to $193.5 million. The MTA should require a share of future revenue in addition, to take advantage of a market recovery.

The editorial doesn't say that the interest rate would be a notably low 6.5%. As for the share of future revenue, that's a not unreasonable concept should the project go forward, but it should be way more specific. When the RPA suggested it at the June 24 hearing, no one took it up.

Smaller railyard - new subsidiary?

The editorial concludes:
The developer also is proposing to rebuild the rail yard, which is needed for storing, cleaning and inspecting trains. This yard will support LIRR service into Grand Central Terminal. But Ratner is now planning that the new yard accommodate 56 train cars instead of 76. Such major, continuing changes argue for the creation of a new government subsidiary to oversee progress and ensure that the project's public benefits are not relegated to the back burner.

Well, as the RPA and BrooklynSpeaks have suggested, not unreasonably, other large projects are overseen by their own subsidiary. 

But the subsidiary has nothing to do with agreeing to a smaller railyard when a larger one--remember, the previous railyard could hold 72 train cars--was promised, to support not only service to Brooklyn but the above-mentioned East Side Access.

The latter decision simply reflects power politics, and the MTA's willingness to let the developer save $100 million. However reasonable, the RPA's suggestions don't challenge the MTA's questionable justifications for renegotiating the deal.

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