Kenneth Adams wasn’t CEO of the Empire State Development Corporation when it approved the Atlantic Yards project in 2006. Someone else was in charge when the agency approved the 2009 Modified General Project Plan (MGPP), which pushed construction of Atlantic Yards out to 25 years and delayed most of its promised public benefits almost as long.
To his credit, Mr. Adams has done more than his predecessors in opening a dialog with the public and elected officials. The community meeting he is holding this evening (Wednesday, May 2) at 6PM at Brooklyn Borough Hall is evidence of that.
Unfortunately, Mr. Adams has also defended the mistakes of prior ESDC leaders with respect to Atlantic Yards, as well as continued the agency’s pattern of stonewalling calls for more transparency in planning and greater accountability in project oversight.
Tonight, there are some questions to which the community should hear answers.
First, in July of 2011, ESDC was ordered to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement by a New York State Supreme Court, and revisit the 2009 MGPP with a view toward reducing the impact of 25 years of construction on the local community.
Since then, ESDC has
- failed to comply with the court order;
- instead wasted nine months appealing the order before being denied unanimously by a panel of five Appellate judges;
- nevertheless allowed FCRC to delay for six months release of traffic and parking plans closely linked to project impacts cited by the courts; and
- permitted FCRC to begin construction of the parking lot on block 1129 before plans have even been disclosed to the public.
Since the ESDC has lost its appeal, will Mr. Adams’ agency now honor the July 2011 court order to revisit the project plan? And how does he plan to engage the community and its elected representatives so that ESDC’s errors of 2009 are not repeated?
Second, at the last community meeting he held (in September 2011), Mr. Adams stated that he was comfortable with the level of Atlantic Yards oversight being provided by ESDC, and did not feel it was necessary to create a subsidiary with outside directors as exists for other ESDC projects.
- Forest City Ratner has failed to present the plans for traffic demand management and construction of parking on block 1129 either in the December 2011 timeframe initially promised, or even in a February 2012 timeframe promised later;
- Sidewalk capacity surrounding the arena and adjacent streets has been shown to be have been significantly overestimated in ESDC’s 2006 environmental analysis, leading to questions about public safety when the arena opens that remain unresolved;
- FCR has admitted delays in the start of construction of the first residential building B2 from the beginning of 2012 first to the summer of 2012, and now to the end of 2012;
- FCR has announced plans for B2 including only eight affordable apartments for working families, a very far cry from the 2,250 expected from the project;
- Construction jobs created by the project have peaked and fallen, but never were near the 1,500 per year promised at the time of the project’s approval;
- The number of permanent full-time jobs to be created in the near term has been disclosed by FCR to be 105, far less than then 10,000 promised at the time of the project’s approval; and
- FCR has yet to hire the independent compliance monitor required by the Atlantic Yards Community Benefit Agreement.
It's clear that ESDC's current oversight isn't working. We need to hear whether Mr. Adams still opposes reform of project governance, and if so, how he otherwise expects both to make Atlantic Yards deliver on its promises and to harmonize with surrounding communities.
The ESDC CEO has demonstrated his willingness to listen. It’s time he and his boss, Governor Andrew Cuomo, prove they have the ability to act to restore credibility to the agency and to the Atlantic Yards project.