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Real Estate & Property Law

: Kelo and Beyond

It's The End of the World . . . Again

By Greg Alvarez


With word that plans have been scrapped to construct a new Madison Square Garden, threatening the grand vision to bring the old Penn Station back to life in midtown Manhattan, it seems glum times continue to abound across New York City. All of the flashy projects meant to put a new glossy finish on the metropolis have run into road blocks on their long paths to fruition. In my neck of the woods over in Brooklyn, the Atlantic Yards project will be slowed a bit in the wake of touch economic times. Bret Ratner, the impresario behind it all, still plans to bring his New Jersey Nets to a new 18,000 seat arena which will be started by the end of the year. However, "Miss Brooklyn," the commercial centerpiece, and three residential towers have been put on hold until the market recovers from the current climate. Stop everything, because a large-scale real estate project may take longer than anticipated! One commentator has gone so far as to fret over how master architect Frank Gehry's grand vision will be ruined by the setback, and the quandary Mr. Gehry finds himself in deciding whether to walk away from the project.

Even on the heels of an announcement that initial plans have been brokered to proceed with an immense project to add a mix of commercial and residential towers over the rail yards at the western end of midtown Manhattan, the doomsday predictions prevail. Where will the financing come from? How can the developer, Tishman Speyer Properties, hope to get it done? "We face significant short-term economic challenges. . . . But this country and this city are extremely resilient," noted Rob Speyer, the head of the development outfit. Even Mr. Ratner can see the bigger picture. "Good things sometimes take a long time." People often have a hard time grasping development that occurs over the course of decades, which often leads to many of the planning issues America faces -- after the fact. But it is shocking how the public discourse often can't see beyond the short term issues flooding the headlines.

Even the bigwigs at the top of the area's transportation framework appear to have been shouldered with concerns over short-term decisions to wait out the current quagmire. More likely, they are seizing on the opportunity to use it as an excuse. Not too surprisingly, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, or the MTA, decided recently to forego $30 million in planned service improvements due to worsening finances, even though it has been buoyed by recent toll and fare increases. Three weeks earlier, the MTA had made the promises for the improvements. With a track record of pulling these sorts of shenanigans, it seems the MTA is simply trying to bury their own inefficiencies in the economic difficulties of others. With a sigh, the leader of the public transit advocacy group in the city lamented, "They obviously couldn't deliver on the promises they made at the time the fare went up, and that's unfortunate, and it will make people very skeptical about future announcements."

Like the transit advocate, I just can't get too excited that things have grown more difficult to get things done. In the land use arena, it seems like nothing is ever easy, no matter how big or small the project may be. Therefore, when there is talk that the whole world is crumbling around us, I usually can shoulder the news quite well. Take John H. Mollenkopf, a professor at the City University Graduate Center. "None of this is new, he said. Battery Park City took forever to come into being. So did the revitalization of Times Square. There are phases to development in New York, Professor Mollenkopf said." All said very well. My new hero. So let's all relax, keep working on what we can, and hope things will turn around sooner than later, because they will. It's just a matter of when. Recently, the process began to designate 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza, a skyscraper in lower Manhattan, as a local landmark. That took time, too. It got built, and is happily occupied. The world will end at some point, but not over the length of time it takes to get something built.

Full post as published by Kelo and Beyond on March 28, 2008 (boomark / email).

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