Sunday, October 30, 2011

In Westchester magazine, a heroic profile of FCR's Gilmartin, with some acknowledgment of controversy

Reporters aiming to profile Forest City Ratner executives have a couple of options: there's the route of total sycophancy, as with the Real Deal's portrait of CEO Bruce Ratner, or the path of complication, as with a piece in the Forward on Ratner.

Given that Westchester Magazine is one of those glossy publications with a booster-ish edge, it's unsurprising that the publication's profile of FCR executive MaryAnne Gilmartin emphasizes triumph: Neighbor: Edgemont Resident MaryAnne Gilmartin, Executive Vice President of Commercial and Residential Development at Forest City Ratner Companies:
She’s overseen some of the area’s largest real-estate projects. But before MaryAnne Gilmartin could become a force among New York’s developers, she had to build up something else from nearly nothing: herself.


The summary:
If the woman in front of [FCR's] 8 Spruce Street is a household name, the woman behind it is less so, though remarkable in her own right: MaryAnne Gilmartin, executive vice president of commercial and residential development at Forest City Ratner Companies. Indeed, the Spruce tower is far from the only mark this innovative and tenacious builder has left on the skyline. The Edgemont mom of three made her first splash by winning the contract to build the New York Times building, an intricately designed tower that brought new life to Eighth Avenue. In Brooklyn, she’s helping to shape Atlantic Yards, a complex of residential and commercial buildings that will also be the new home of the New Jersey Nets. Right here in Yonkers, her handiwork can be seen at Ridge Hill, a cluster of stores, offices, and residences beckoning like Mecca off the Sprain Brook. “They’re more than just buildings to me,” Gilmartin says of her projects. “They sort of become like my children.”
Some controversy

However, the article acknowledges some controversy:
Problem children, some. Atlantic Yards has been a focal point of bitter controversy going on a decade, with certain locals protesting everything from the destruction of neighborhood character to use of eminent domain. Ridge Hill, too, inspired opposition and incited scandal. Smack in the middle of the Sturm und Drang, helping her company’s visions go from point A (abstraction) to point B (built!) is Gilmartin, poised and proud. “We tend to take things on only when they’re complicated,” she declares.

And if you think her present life sounds complicated, wait till you hear about her past.
In other words, the article stresses how Gilmartin, who "looks lovely" during a meeting at a "posh Yonkers restaurant," survived a painful family life by working hard, getting a scholarship (and working her way through school), and graduating Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude. (Yet, she still doesn't understand Atlantic Yards affordable housing.)

Those praising Gilmartin include her boss, Bruce Ratner, and the firm's associate, Mary Ann Tighe, CEO of CB Richard Ellis.

Criticisms emerge

The article mentions criticisms from me, and Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's Daniel Goldstein, who offers an anecdote new to the press:
When Gilmartin first approached him to discuss a buyout, he says, she requested confidentiality, then breached it. “A friend’s child goes to the same school as her kids, and told his mom Gilmartin came to talk to the class about the Yards and gave them Nets swag,” he says. “Apparently she told them that they were building houses for poor people and bringing in a basketball team, but that a mean man named Daniel Goldstein wouldn’t leave. I wasn’t there, obviously. Who knows, maybe she said I was standing up for my beliefs. But to discuss me at all with a bunch of third graders? That’s warped.” He also feels Gilmartin portrayed his settlement to the media as “having been all about money, when the big holdup was, they wanted me to accept a gag order and I kept refusing.”
More on AY

Interestingly, the article gives Gilmartin and Ratner the last word on Atlantic Yards--Ratner suggests that, “Often, when you have a large development, the opposition focuses on an individual, because it’s effective,” which rather misses the point. The only reason Goldstein and I commented on Gilmartin was because we were asked to do so.

The article states:
"[Norman Oder] once put an aerial image of Gilmartin’s home (as well as other homes owned by those managing the Atlantic Yards project) on his blog."
As I commented:
Readers can see that "aerial image" means "home in neighborhood context," not a bulls-eye--and that I also included my own residence.
Gilmartin says the most baseless criticism about her is:
That I don’t really know Brooklyn, so I’m not qualified to develop a project there. I lived in Brooklyn from 1988 to 1993.
Well, she works in Brooklyn too, but maybe that 1993 recollection is why she thinks Brooklyn would just roll over at Forest City's effort to corral valuable public property for itself without any public bidding. I'll stand by what I wrote:
Still, when a project bypasses intermediate institutions like the elected City Council and the appointed (but local) community boards, it's notable how much responsibility has been thrust on unelected officials and private businesspeople who have little affinity for Brooklyn.

Ridge Hill and the lingering tensions

When it comes to Ridge Hill, the article leaves it more ambiguous, stating, "Less easy to shrug off is the bribery scandal that tainted the project last year." However, Gilmartin doesn't get asked any questions about it; in her view, as it's described, Ridge Hill represents the fulfillment of community needs.

So, is Gilmartin merely the driven, creative businessperson who gets major projects done? Or is she integral to a company that plays hardball and just might play dirty?

When I say "play dirty," I mean official misconduct, with which Forest City has not been charged. But Gilmartin has no trouble shading the truth, as described, for example, in my comments on her notorious Observer op-ed.

My comments

That tension shadows the article. I posted several comments, including the full statement I gave to the reporter, refutation of the reporter's claim that Atlantic Yards would be "situated over an active rail yard," and refutation of Gilmartin's assertion that Brooklyn has "never recovered from the loss of the Dodgers.”

My statement to the magazine:
Forest City's successes are inextricably related to acquisition of public subsidies (Bruce Ratner has been called "the master of subsidy"), major spending on lobbying, and substantial political/charitable contributions--as well as hardball tactics.

For the Frank Gehry-designed Beekman Tower, the developer gained triple tax-free Liberty Bonds, yet halted construction midway to renegotiate and gain concessions from construction unions. In Westchester, Forest City's Ridge Hill project passed thanks to the surprisingly changed vote of a City Council member who was later charged with taking bribes. Her cousin, a lobbyist, was charged with giving bribes, but Forest City, which gave a no-show job to that lobbyist, somehow emerged unscathed.

With Atlantic Yards, Forest City promised Brooklyn 17 Frank Gehry-designed buildings, but dumped Gehry when his plans proved too costly. The developer initially promised four office towers--and 10,000 office jobs--only to trade office space for more lucrative condos. Forest City--and Gilmartin herself--have promised 17,000 union construction jobs (actually 17,000 job-years, or 1700 jobs a year over a decade)--even as the developer, with Gilmartin in the lead, was exploring how to slash that total by using lower-cost modular construction.

In 2009, FCR and Gilmartin successfully renegotiated separate and settled Atlantic Yards agreements with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), ensuring a lesser flow of dollars to the public and a greater margin for the developer. The revision of the design for a replacement railyard saved FCR well over $100 million, while the developer saved tens of millions of dollars by deferring payments to the MTA for Vanderbilt Yard development rights. Similarly, the developer saved significant cash flow by having the ESDC condemn Atlantic Yards property in stages, rather than all at once.

Gilmartin, who commutes by chauffeured car to Brooklyn, strikes me as comfortable among real estate peers, but chilly at the few--and heavily managed--opportunities she has to interact with Brooklynites with qualms about Atlantic Yards. Two years ago, at a public meeting, Gilmartin said, in a carefully worded formulation, “Forest City does not expect to ask for more subsidy” regarding Atlantic Yards. The company has since done just that. "I'm paid to make sure we make some money," Gilmartin has said. That goal apparently trumps candor.

4 comments:

  1. She's a war criminal, Norm.

    What a pathetic piece from you today.

    Your disdain for her achievements is sad and borders on misogynist.

    She didn't get into Yale and actually used her college degree to do something. You have a degree from the finest school on the planet and yet this is the best you can do with your formidable skills.

    As for that simplistic piece on journalism, no private development has spurred as much negative ink in recent years than Atlantic Yards. You don't want sustained coverage. You want obsessive coverage to justify your own.

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  2. Bobbo won't sign his name. Pathetic.

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  3. Interesting that her harsh background, which admittedly deserves a lot of compassion, makes her totally uncompassionate to others. It is as if she is acting out the insensitivity of her own parents with the community groups she fails to realize have needs as well.

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  4. Bobbo should sign his name Bob Windrem.

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