opens bidding on rail yards site
If you want to build something other than a basketball arena and skyscrapers
over the Atlantic Avenue rail yards, this is your chance.
But judging from the bidding over the Hudson Yards in Manhattan earlier
this year, you’d better have several-hundred million dollars.
The ear of the mayor and governor wouldn’t hurt.
And you’d better work quickly — the proposals are due July 6.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority quietly issued a Request for
Proposals (RFP) this week seeking bids for development rights over its
Long Island Rail Road storage yards near Atlantic and Flatbush avenues,
where developer Bruce Ratner wants to build a 19,000-seat basketball arena
and four skyscrapers.
The RFP invites proposals for “the sale or lease of all or some of
the air space and related real property interests” in one or more
of three parcels of the rail yards, properly called the Vanderbilt Yards,
which sit between Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Street, from Fifth Avenue
to Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights.
The three parcels are 100,000 square feet, 119,000 square feet, and 148,000
square feet, and the complete guidelines are available on the MTA’s
Web site, www.mta.info.
Although MTA spokesman Tom Kelly had told The Brooklyn Papers in previous
interviews that anybody who wanted to could bid on the MTA property, the
RFP was the first public attempt the agency has made to solicit bids there.
“An RFP makes sure that everybody and his mother knows about it,
and they can bid if they want,” Kelly explained this week. “It
opens up the entire process to anyone who would be interested in bidding.
“The purpose is to see who else is interested in the property,”
The cash-strapped MTA, which faces a massive budget deficit and has threatened
service cutbacks and fare hikes is under great public pressure to seek
top-dollar for the Vanderbilt Yards.
Since Ratner’s Forest City Ratner Companies announced plans to build
a professional basketball arena and 17 residential and commercial high-rises
emanating from Atlantic and Flatbush avenues out to Vanderbilt Avenue
in December 2003, no official bids have come forward, according to the
MTA. Neither has Forest City Ratner offered a public bid on the development
rights over the rail yards.
Forest City Ratner has since discussed plans with MTA officials to move
the rail yards and upgrade them. The yards now actively store MTA buses
and LIRR trains, which come in at night.
The announcement of the RFP this week raised questions as to just where
Forest City Ratner stands in terms of negotiations with the MTA and the
significance of a letter signed by MTA and Forest City Ratner officials
that stipulates an “if ... when” agreement for the property.
In response to the call for proposals last week, which appeared as a public
announcement in the New York Times on May 18, Forest City Ratner said
the request indicated positive movement.
“We welcome the RFP and look forward to a successful completion of
this stage of the project,” said Bruce Bender, Forest City Ratner’s
executive vice president for government and community affairs.
“We always expected that the MTA would issue an RFP, since they stated
as much in the letter of agreement they signed with Forest City Ratner,”
Neysa Pranger, an organizer for the Straphanger’s Campaign, said
in an April interview with The Brooklyn Papers that an open RFP bidding
process is the only way the MTA could “realize the full value of
the rail yards.” But, she cautioned, the competition can be iced
out when “power brokers are running the processes.”
Pranger’s Straphanger’s Campaign was one of four public interest
groups that in April filed a lawsuit against the MTA, charging the agency
violated its statutory duty by not getting as much money as possible for
the Hudson Yards in Manhattan and did not conduct a fair and open bidding
process. The MTA board voted 14-0 to accept the New York Jets’ $250
million bid for the rights to build a football stadium that is also the
centerpiece of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 2012 Olympic bid, over the
rail yards. The agency rejected a $760 million-plus bid from Cablevision,
which owns Madison Square Garden.
Lawyers for MSG said in their own lawsuit that the MTA, with its politically
appointed board, approved the Jets’ bid because the stadium is a
project that the mayor and Gov. George Pataki wanted.
Even if Ratner’s plans are trumped by a bidder willing to pay more
— as Cablevision did in its losing bid for the Hudson Yards site
in Manhattan — the sale must be approved by the 17 members of the
MTA board, all of whom are nominated by Pataki, and four of who are recommended
by the mayor.
Both the mayor and governor have expressed their support for Ratner’s
Asked if the bidding process would help determine the value of the rail
yards development rights, Kelly said, “It would depend on the number
of bids and how many people are interested in the property.”
Forest City Ratner officials have said the company will pay whatever the
land is determined to be worth.
“We have said repeatedly that we would pay fair market value for
this land,” said Bender. “The RFP process is one way to determine
Frustrated residents who oppose the arena, say the RFP should be withheld
until an independent appraisal of the site is undertaken, which the MTA
promised would be done.
“I just think it’s the cart before the horse,” said Patti
Hagan, a staunch opponent of the plan who co-founded the Prospect Heights
Action Coalition, an anti-arena group.
“It’s backwards, the independent appraisal would set a bottom
price from where the bidding would start,” she said.
“If the value were established it would be easier for bidders to
figure out where they had to go in order to get a piece of the property.”
She noted that on the West Side of Manhattan, an appraisal determined
the rail yards’ value to be $923 million.
Kelly said off-handedly that he wasn’t sure of the status of the
appraisal, and did not return several inquiries on the matter by press
©2005 Community Newspaper Group