July 29, 2009
Testimony Presented to:
Empire State Development Corporation
Joan L. Millman
Member of Assembly, 52nd Assembly District
Re: Atlantic Yards Arena and the Modified GPP
When I testified to ESDC in October of 2005, I recognized that the arena, the affordable housing and the union construction jobs were beneficial to Brooklyn, but the government subsidies and the size of the proposed project were too high a price to pay. Four years later, the price has gotten even higher and the benefits have all but disappeared.
Most of my frustration is directed at ESDC which, as a state agency, is supposed to be accountable to the people of New York State and, in this case, the people of Brooklyn. ESDC has bent over backwards to accommodate the developer at the expense of the public. That has to stop now.
The plan that we are all here to comment on, and that ESDC has already voted on, will not be available to the public until September. Has ESDC seen this plan? If not, how can you approve a plan you haven’t seen? As a state agency, how can you, in essence, sign a blank check?
We were promised a world-class arena, construction jobs that pay a living wage and thousands of units of much-needed affordable housing. In the new, but unseen and revised plan, we’re getting 300 units of affordable housing and an arena that looks like an airplane hangar. Well, we think it looks like an airplane hangar but since we’re not allowed to see the plans we can only base our comments on a few rough sketches.
Before ESDC rubber stamps this plan, ESDC needs to answer the following questions:
- How can ESDC vote on a revised plan that no one has seen?
- How can ESDC say the GPP is not being changed despite the fact that the plan now has significantly less affordable housing, an airplane hangar for an arena and a revised timeline that will bring almost no benefits to the community in the next decade?
- Since the modified plan is clearly different from the originally approved plan, why does ESDC insist that a Supplemental Environment Impact Statement is not necessary?
- Lastly, ESDC needs to explain how the cost to the public is still determined to be only $200 million despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The city has stated they are contributing over $200 million to this project, plus the $100 million committed by the state; factor in the property taxes not being paid by the developer and the over $100 million that the MTA absorbed by selling the land to the developer for less than it was worth. I’m not a budget analyst or a mathematician but I think that adds up to a more than $200 million.
We were promised an arena designed by a world-class architect. Are we getting that? No.
We were promised thousands of units of affordable housing. Are we getting that? No.
We were promised economic development, vibrant commercial activity and new businesses. Are we getting that? No.
It’s impossible to be against affordable housing and construction jobs that pay a living wage. The sad irony is that if this project had gone through the ULURP and had ESDC respected the democratic process, this project would have been well on its way to completion.