THE “SALE” OF ROBERT MOSES PLAYGROUND
· Alienates Robert Moses Playground with the intent of selling it to the U.N. for a new high-rise office building.
· Purports to provide a replacement park not locally, but somewhere in Manhattan
· Purports to provide financing for a public bikeway/walkway, called an “esplanade,” along the river past the U.N. campus
· Comes into effect immediately upon issuance of a “Memorandum of Understanding” signed by the Mayor, the Speaker of the State Assembly and the Speaker of the State Senate.
HOW IT WAS DONE:
· The legislation was introduced by Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh at the very end of the legislative session, and passed both houses in a week. Senator Krueger voted in favor. It was signed by Governor Cuomo almost immediately. An alternative bill that would have required a public referendum before alienation of any park land in the state did not pass either house.
· Council Member Garodnick sponsored the “home rule message” required in advance of the legislation.
· The rationale for the haste is that the U.N. Space Needs Committee meets only every few years, met this past October, and the politicians wanted them to know the site is available to them for U.N. expansion.
· The three politicians who were supposed to sign the Memorandum of Understanding have deferred to the local representatives – Kavanagh, Krueger and Garodnick – to write and sign it in their stead.
WHAT’S BEHIND IT:
– Years ago, the City designated the block of 44th-45th Streets between First and Second Avenues as a “U.N. Development Zone.” A public bond issue financed the construction of several buildings there for U.N. back offices, at reduced rents.
· Mayor Bloomberg has long wanted to sell U.N. 1 and U.N. 2, and put the money into general funds he can use at his pleasure. But he cannot get the price he wants because the tenants are paying rents way below market. His solution is to take Robert Moses Playground for still another building, move the U.N. tenants in, and sell U.N. 1 and 2.
· The community has long opposed this scheme, so the Mayor has used the city’s Economic Development Corporation to front it, since the EDC is not subject to environmental review.
· He has also tied the sale of Robert Moses Playground to construction of the bikeway/walkway, which brings bikers from all over the city to support the scheme at public “forums.”
· All our local politicians – Kavanagh, Krueger, Garodnick and Maloney – have gotten aboard the mayor’s bandwagon. The media have reported that Community Board 6 supports the scheme, but the Board has not voted on it and many members are said to oppose it.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE LAW:
· We lose a playground, and get another 47-story high-rise — on top of all the high-rises that will go up on the former Con Edison properties. 50% taller than the nearby Tudor City buildings, it will further cut the air and sunlight from the vital Tudor City parks.
· Selling a public playground is outrageous, especially where there is so little open public land.
· It cheats the children of this area of a rare playing field, just when the Solow project is about to add 8,000 people to the neighborhood, overwhelming our very few active-use
· The proposed compensation of the “esplanade” is no compensation at all. A walkway and bikeway along the river should be added to public land, without other subtractions.
· The new U.N. building is to be built directly on top of the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, alongside #7 subway line to Queens and the East River – a triple-whammy terrorist target (and terrorists dream). The UN was the target of a terrorist attack in 1993 (as was 1 World Trade Center). The terrorists came back to finish the job on 9/11 and did so, and we should never forget that point and not make their job easier by constructing an easy target…
· The U.N. is supposed to pay some $73 million for the playground. There is no indication where the U.N. is to get the money – certainly not from the U.S. Congress. The Congress has also said in the past that it will not give tax-exempt status to any bonds issued to benefit the U.N. If it is the United Nations Development Corporation that buys the land and puts up the building, the financial risk will rest with the taxpayers of New York.
· The law does not provide for a replacement playground in the neighborhood, but somewhere in Manhattan. The law “suggests” but doesn’t require Asser Levy Place, a mile away, be closed and used as a replacement playground.
· The law does not require a replacement playground to be equal in area to Robert Moses Playground, of but equal value. In other words, if the City declares Asser Levy Place is worth $72 million, that’s the replacement.
· The law alienates the land as soon as the “Memorandum” issues. If the UN doesn’t want the site, the playground is still alienated, and the Mayor can still build a high-rise there.
· If the Mayor really wanted to build the “esplanade,” he could use the proceeds from the sale of U.N. 1 and and 2 as is. They were under contract of sale ten years ago for a net gain to the City of $50 million, but would be worth much more today, with the mortgages or bond indentures since paid down and the market much higher, even in the current economy. The privately-owned, small 16-story building at 305 East 46th Street, which the U.N. leases for 700 employees, was just sold in May, 2011 for $114 million.
· From the Governor’s website: “For a real change to occur in New York, the people must be directly involved. That is exactly what Governor Cuomo’s ‘People First’ campaign is all about.” But the Governor signed a law that was enacted without any public involvement. So what is he talking about?
· There were no hearings in Albany before the law was passed. “Forums” after the fact are no substitute for a democratic process while that process can still count.
· There was no environmental review done prior to the “home rule message” passed by the City Council, as required by established law. This newly-passed law allows for a review after alienation, which strongly suggests the environmental review is meant as a charade.
· The Memorandum of Understanding, to be drafted and signed by three politicians, allows the appearance, resources and livability of our community to be determined by just three people in a room (and 2 of those people – Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos are currently serving time in jail for corruption).
· The three local representatives have produced the Memorandum of Understanding:
The politicians’ hand-out describing the work they’ve already done toward the Memorandum shows that the taking of the playground is already decided–all the details are about how and when to divide up the spoils. Letting people dispute the taking of the playground at public “forums” has been a calculated farce.
· Also included in the law: A new nine-member Board to oversee the spoils, the majority appointed by the mayor and the rest by the politicians.
WHAT ELSE IS IN THE MIX:
· The bikeway/walkway, supposedly to be built on piles in the East River with funds derived from the “sale,” may never be built at all, no matter what the “Memorandum” says. There are innumerable state and federal approvals required, and the Legislature can easily override this legislation in the interim, and use the funds for other purposes.
· Developer Sheldon Solow has recently offered to put up a new building for the U.N. on his neighboring undeveloped properties, or in the alternative, build on Robert Moses Playground and create a replacement playground on his own property. His offer opens new and better possibilities — and should be pursued — but the politicians refuse. Their line to Solow: Go talk to the U.N. The game is to take park land from the citizens. Period.
This legislation is as much about defying the community as it is about using public land as a development site. It is more important than ever to look behind the curtain of “facts” presented to you when making such critical decisions. What you see on paper or hear in a presentation may appear at first glance to be excellent, but the truth may be far different. People often learn too late, than not everything is as it seems. Did we learn nothing from Bernie Madoff and 9/11?