A View of Forest City - Politics Promises and Payoffs

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A View of Forest City - Politics Promises and Payoffs

February 29, 2012 - 08:39

Questions about the relationship between New Rochelle's administration and Echo Bay developer, Forest City Ratner, are nothing new to the readers of this site. The dichotomy of having one agenda for the public to witness and another "behind closed doors" agenda for the purpose of bypassing public witness of the procedure can only be characterized as self serving. Self serving for the developer, that is, and not, necessarily, for New Rochelle. On one hand, the public is asked to meet and voice concerns and/or support (as required by law mind you) and then the developer disappears behind closed doors to meet with council members, two at a time, thus avoiding open meeting laws. They did this when they were looking to get their first extension and, quite frankly, it was illegal. Will they do it again? Who knows, but it fits their pattern. Couple that with the campaign money to the mayor and the pattern repeats just as it has in Brooklyn, Yonkers and who knows where else.

Lucky for us, unlucky for them, the recent guilty plea of Senator Carl Kruger and the more recent trial of Former Yonkers Councilwoman, Sandy Anabi is providing more and more insight to the concerns that have been raised on this site and elsewhere. Until the Annabi trial, main stream media has been relatively quiet about the manipulations of Forest City, unless of course, it suited the spin requirements of the Cleveland based developer. Congratulations to LoHud reporter, Dwight R Worley, for actually paying attention to the issue and following the trial. This kind of journalism flies in the face of New Rochelle's attempts to control the media. Media control isn't limited to New Rochelle however. The politics of control and manipulation by Forest City have well documented, if one knows where to look. I'll be citing stories from a couple of watchdog sites who have been steadfast in their documentation of Forest City's actions. Atlantic Yards Report and No Land Grab both have a wealth of information and have been noted on this site before.

For example, you might have missed the recent shake up of top executives leaving Forest City just as these trials began. Senior V.P. for government and public relations Scott Cantone and F.C.V.P. Bruce Bender have decided to part ways with Brooklyn's "most powerful developer". Both are connected with the Annabi trial, though no charges have been filed. This comes on the heels of the recent shake up of FC's Board of Directors. Non independent directors James A Ratner (Bramson contributor) and Joan K. Shafran will not be renominated as the board pushes to shed independent directors from its ranks.

"Cleaning House" comes to mind as they shed land holdings in an effort to move away from its land development business unit which was once the foundation of its core services. Results of a stock price dropping from a 2007 high of $70.00 tpo its current value of approximately $14.72?

With all this turmoil, perhaps the key to success IS the pattern of operation. As Norman Oder of Atlantic Yards Report see's it, FC's modus operandi includes

" getting the inside track on potentially valuable public property and then getting the zoning changed"

. As John Murtagh (Former Yonkers City Councilman)is quoted in the Lo Hud article "little or no regard for public opinion..." "Their entire business model is to exploit every tax loophole and taxpayer-funded subsidy...promise the world and deliver far less...all by manipulation". We'll see how it applies to New Rochelle. Again Norman Oder reports on the "hardly radical" Regional Plan Association's Atlantic Yards testimony : Unfortunately, the public review process for the Atlantic Yards project is part of a pattern in which the State and the City enter into an agreement with a single developer prior to a full debate of alternatives. Ideally, this strategically vital piece of public real estate would have been the subject of a planning exercise… open bidding…. Instead, the state worked exclusively with Forest City Ratner while the MTA entered into a truncated bidding process only after a memorandum of understanding had been signed by FCRC, the state and the city.

The details of the project were largely devised behind closed doors by the developer, and only minor modifications have been made in response to public criticisms. While the developer has held numerous public meetings and provided information to the community, most of the decisions regarding the site had already been made. As a result, the public has no way of knowing if this project is the best possible one for the site.

It is greatly handicapped in assessing potential alternatives, and has less leverage for negotiating changes that would add to its community benefits. Grab the link HERE.

Patterns, politics and payoffs in New Rochelle? Connecting the dots may not be all that difficult. Six developers offer proposals for the Echo Bay Area. Little did the city know that thousands of dollars in campaign funding for the mayor was provided by Ratner family members who either now or then sat, on the Board of Directors for Forest City. Also, the now defunct HRH Construction Company also found the need to make their contribution to the mayoral campaign in New Rochelle. How is this important? If you look at the executives, you'll see that more than a couple have shared their time between Forest City and HRH.

Forest City is in. The grand plan is unveiled to both praise and critique. Questions about traffic, impact on schools, tax abatements, and the Armory start to surface. Forest City hires a local public relations firm to garner support for the project and a citizens advisory committee is established. Staring with neighborhood groups then expanding to include union officials, real-estate brokers, and anyone who would cash in on the bounty. When issues of Echo Bay parking came up, we were assured that FC could help to procure "resident parking permits" to keep the Echo Bayers from crowding the already packed East End streets and out of the exclusive Sutton Manor neighborhood. Promise the world. (could they really control the city administration?)

On the issue of overcrowding the schools, the "official" website for the Echo Bay Project states "Does this plan include residential units? Won’t this mean more students in our crowded schools?
Any impact Echo Bay will have on New Rochelle – including on the schools – will be fully examined in a detailed environmental review and though there are approximately 700 units planned, the vast majority are studios and one-bedrooms typically too small to accommodate families with children. The expected impact on schools will be minimal, similar to other recent residential buildings in downtown. (emphasis added). How did that work out in the Avalon? Maybe FC can throw in a new school. But I doubt it.

We will pay a price to develop Echo Bay. The question is how much and how will the city fare when none wants to live near the sewage plant. Who will bear the brunt of a new school build out while FC is returning their 8% to their investors? How do you justify the loss of a historic building that would stimulate trade, and community involvement in the area? What happens when parking along Stephenson Boulevard is removed to satisfy "critical mass" traffic?

I'll tell ya' the whole thing stinks.

There are 5 Comments

Let me continue to echo what thoughtful, independent and concerned community members think of the entire Echo Bay project. It is particularly insightful and personally valuable to hear from people of this caliber and as Bob McCaffrey said so well, we are truly "well said" concerning a situation, no more an enabling process followed too long by the City Administration in failing to address core needs and issues while pursuing glitter. But, all that gltters is truly not gold and I continue to urge the city council to understand their role, relationship and responsibility outlined clearly in Charter and Code.

John and I walk a parallel line on this and, among other matters, we find it interesting and revealing that the two active senior principles of Forest City have joined together to form a "consulting team." This is more like a spin-off than an independent action and perhaps, we will learn more about whether they have been "sacrificed" by the Ratner clan until the Yonkers situation comes to fruition. I still have some serious issues around the direction and emphasis this federal action is taking, but from what Worley and others have reported, the former Ratner executives at Ridge Hill leave a lot to be desired. They cannot even get their act together on who said what, why Jereis was hired, and yes, we start to see other actors becoming part of the picture such as the Spano family and now, Amicone. To be absolutely fair, we have no idea whether they have played a part in this, but that said, we do know how Ratner has acted and his actions via Napersink (I think) and his contributions speak volumes for his business strategy. John reports on this quite well.

And so does Hezi Aris in the latest Westchester Guardian. Some might say that this publcation has an axe to grind with Yonkers. Maybe, maybe not. I feel strongly, however, that Hezi is a straight shooter, a quality journalist and his latest on the situation puts something in perspective, something I alluded to in my post.

Sandy Annabi seems to have a particularly tough row to hoe given the presented facts of the situation, the allegations around some aberrant sexual activity with a relative, the curious Jereis who was paid for what? We can answer that much at least. We can also put the pieces of all this together as far as we know it to date and (1) give this woman the benefit of the doubt until the facts in the case disclose themselves and the defense gets up to the plate, and (2) as Mike Scully indicates on the DPW yards regarding a "smell test", this entire matter leaves a bitter assault on the nasal appendage. In sum, it stinks!

But, again, it informs. Let me continue to press a simple point. Given what you know about city finances, our deteriorating school and downtown business district, the brouhaha and lack of competence in handling the DPW situation (regardless of the decision point, is still was mangled), the unwillingness or sheer audacity of not managing this City in terms of Charter or Code, the ever present threat of laying off first providers.........

Do you want to compound the deficits by welcoming back Forest City? Tell your council members this is an unacceptable risk, an unprofitable venture, and a moral stain.

Thank you John for your ever present and skilled input, to Mike Scully, who I do not know, but presents data and opinion in a professional and compelling manner and to the frequent posters and bloggers who continue to demonstrate a love of the City and a zeal to protect it from further harm

yeh but if this goes like New Rochelle's re-districting process, NOBODY'S listening in government nor does any of them care what's written on here.

Just my observation & opinion.

you count a hell of a lot. always make sense. don't give up on council yet. stranger things have happened. keep informing and just maybe?

John, not sure its breaking, but wanted my Wolf Blitzer moment.

New York Post reports today on "Ratners Man's Shady Past." Let me simply write it as it appears.

"Officials of developer Bruce Ratner's firm claim the company had no clue it recruited a convicted drug-dealer and election fraudster to save a stalled $842 million development in Yonkers.

Forest City Ratner officials told the Post that they never did a background check in 2006 on then Yonkers Republican Party Chairman Zehy Jereis before awarding him what amounted to a $5,000 a month no show job.

Jereis, who has no real estate experience, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor drug charge in 1994, in connection with the sale of 20 pounds of marijuana. He also pleaded guilty to an election fraud charge in 1998."

Well, sounds like the right people for any development job in New Rochelle. Napersink (I think) has oiled the presses, checks are being written as we speak to significant people in New Rochelle, and meaningless surface moves are being made by Ratner that can be used as camoflauge to bewitch and bewilder those in city government who love to get their names on plaques while showing little interest in identifying a fixing the real issues.

Well,Bruce, pull out that checkbook and earmark it for a police precinct for the bare minimum. But, that said, Council Members....all seven of you (yes I can count and read a city charter..... you have the unusually exquisite point in time to make a powerful moral/ethical statement for the City as well as putting your stamp on appropriate business decisions that are properly focused and prioritized.

Oh by the way, the State of the City speech is given by the mayor, ceremonial or otherwise, but it should be developed and presented with the advice and consent of the full council. I,for one, would like to know that this is the case. I think Fifth Avenue Guy, John D. and many others have a similar interest.

Let's talk about the fact that every property from the echo ave con ed piece, that has a history of PCP ,all the way to the last one on main street.
all have enviromental issues.
Then the sewer treatment plant, ooh yea... that just got enlarged.

Then now the city want's to spend a few million dollars to move our city yard as to make it attrctive to developers.....

There will need to be dredging in the cannal's too
To build sea walls..

Are we going to spend all that money,before we have
a developer that will commit them selves?????