Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Party Line

It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.
-- Mark Twain (1835 - 1910)

The January 31st deadline for a decision on the Pier 40 RFP has come and gone and a new deadline is set for March 31st.
Presumably, the parties will be softened up a bit more and will become more “reasonable.” The implication by the Trust Board in sotto voce by its new “Dear Leader” was that the parties would work together at some common table and play nice.
A letter by Speaker Quinn broke her silence on the issue at last, a day before the Trust meeting and apparently the daydream of thousands of angry lower Manhattan parents and their kids storming the pier to protect the ball fields was too much for Related to overcome -- even with its deep pockets and political juice. Even Bloomberg knows when to hang back, at least for the moment.

But, the fact that there was no decision, rather than a bad decision (Related), being supported by the Trust – is not all positive. While there is the money issue still undecided in this market where liquidity is drying up faster than you can say, “credit default swap” -- the one glaring problem that has not been resolved is the length of the lease. From the beginning, Related has been unable to conform to the 30-year requirement. Deborah Glick, fast becoming Downtown’s Hero, has stated that she would not permit any change in the HRP Act in order to accommodate the 50 years needed by that developer.

So, why is another two months necessary when the Trust could simply have made a decision to work with the Pier 40 Partnership. -- since that is what the community wants?
Why, instead of trying to act like a judge settling a case does Taylor want all of the parties to sit down and make a deal?
Is it to keep Related in the mix?
Are those instructions from the Mayor?

This brings up the issue of Bloomberg’s minions. There is a sense of robots, or, like the Stepford Wives in drag closing ranks and acting as one monolithic entity – the Bloomberg Administration – which is starting to aggravate even those who admire the Mayor. Clearly, not every Trust Board member signs on to the same deal. But, the pressure is on.
As one downtown observer commented, “I asked a Commissioner about an issue that required a decision and he would only talk to me as if I were a reporter and it was off the record. He acted as if he were afraid to have it known that he had an opinion before it was cleared first with City Hall. What the Hell is that all about?”

The speculation is that it’s not so much that they are afraid of Bloomberg but that they fear that the promise of a fat paycheck after this government job is over – would evaporate if the party line were not observed. Not to mention the possibility of a job in D.C. if Bloomberg buys his way into the new administration.
Sounds less like a variation on the old “golden shackles” -- and more like the “golden coffin.” Talk out of synch and you may wind up working at McDonald’s – in Detroit.
Doctoroff is already signed up if you’re paying attention. His new deal is now at Bloomberg Media.

Its not good when you have City employees acting like they belong to a secret society instead of people that are supposedly responsive to the community they are paid to serve.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Political Overtones

Politics is not a bad profession. If you succeed there are many rewards, if you disgrace yourself you can always write a book.
--- Ronald Reagan (1911 - 2004)

Pier 40 remains the hot topic for SoHo, Hudson Square, Greenwich Village and Tribeca. For Greenwich Village, Pier 40 is only second in importance to the St.Vincent’s controversy in which the Rudins are threatening to change the landscape of this landmarked area by demolishing part of the hospital and building condos.

This week is a crucial point in the long and winding road for the development of Pier 40. The 14-acre parcel, which recently had a $5 million dollar ball field renovation but needs major structural repairs, is on the last leg of its second set of RFP’s in four years.
The previous process, which gave us three plans to choose from, ended with no developer being chosen. The current two RFP’s – Related and Camp Group – are joined by a veritable spontaneous entry by the Pier 40 Partnership.

Related wants to build a destination pier that is described by Andrew Berman of GVSHP as “Vegas-on-the-Hudson” while Camp Group wants to keep the ball fields as its focus but would add a $1000 per week private camp. These two RFP’s were submitted two years ago and have wended their way through many variations and changes, not to mention a long and sometimes tedious review by everyone; – including the Community Boards, the Advisory to the Trust, Public hearings and comments by the elected officials.
After all of this, the Pier 40 Partnership, a ‘Johnny-come-lately’ group of local residents, seems to be the choice of the community. While their proposal is less formal and was not part of the original process (“Velly Irregular”), it has the support of the community, the Advisory, the Community Boards and the elected officials. It is based upon a plan to establish a non-profit conservancy. Merrill Lynch, in the news lately for chasing cash around the world, would come up with the bonds to support the project. What’s a few hundred Mil when you’re chasing Billions?
Whether the plan has the support of the Hudson River Park Trust is another matter.

Diana Taylor, informally known as Bloomberg’s main squeeze, and a competent public servant on her own is known to prefer the Related proposal. It was also previously Doctoroff’s preference, although from the Villager articles he seems to have gotten religion. Clearly, Related was Bloomberg’s preference. And, until very recently, it seemed to have the tacit support of Speaker Quinn – one of the elected officials who seems to be on the fence.
But, the fact that thousands of residents, school leaders, activists, and now elected officials are no longer waffling – but standing solidly behind the Pier 40 Partnership with financial warts ad all – you can almost smell the Trust’s newfound indecision. The
demonstration of support this past Sunday at Pier 40 may have been the icing on the cake.

A decision on the part of Taylor and the Trust Board now in favor of Related would be a mild form of political suicide for all involved. And, while it is typical of the Trust Board to vote in lock step, with the exception of one or two dissenters, the screaming would only end in legal gridlock if Taylor were to not listen to the not-so-distant drums. It could even affect Bloomberg’s “Kingmaker” ploy in his persistent attempt to foist himself onto the presidential scene. Even Rudy has learned that you cannot spin yourself silly in Manhattan and expect everyone to buy the fairy tale. There IS a limit to what you can make people believe, even with $14 Billion. A few more attempts like the WestSide Stadium, Congestion Pricing, Gansevoort Recycling/Transfer Station, the DSNY Fuel Depots in Hudson Square – and a Pier 40 fiasco and he’ll need more than cash to buy national influence.

What should make the decision easier for Taylor and the Trust Board is the fact that Related’s financing problem was faulty out of the box. This was one of Arthur Schwartz’s (CB2 Waterfront Chair) most relevant and pointed questions put directly to the Related point man at a recent hearing.
The Act limits the length of the lease to 30 years, and therefore limits a developer’s financing options to a 30-year payout. As recently as last week, the Trust’s filing deadline for financial information, this hurdle had not been overcome. To accommodate Related, the Act would require a legislative change and Deborah Glick – a powerful member of the Assembly – has indicated that she would not permit that to happen.
So, between the two RFP’s, Related and Camp Group and among those two and the Pier 40 Partnership – there is really no contest.
None has the financing fully locked up. All have viable plans. Only one has the full support of everyone outside the Trust. And, that is the Pier 40 Partnership.

What will the Trust do at the January 31st hearing? What should the Trust do at this hearing? Given the current financial meltdown in world markets, without convincing plans and financial certainty – no one has a clear answer.
It has been suggest that Taylor and the Board will choose Related. If that were to happen, there would be much gnashing of teeth. And, then the lawsuits would follow.
Some suggest that the only solution that is satisfactory at this point is to table the decision until the Pier 40 Partnership establishes its Bona Fides and provides a solid plan for the financing and the conservancy.