GIVEN THE COMPLEX nature of the three projects, it’s perhaps not surprising that they have been left to the end of Mr. Bloomberg’s final term; the relatively easier projects with broader consensus topped the list earlier on.
“We’ve moved beyond the low-hanging fruit, and these involve I guess what I would call a more aggressive government position because these are really harder, more involved projects,” said Steve Malanga, a senior fellow at the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute.
City Hall’s countdown clock also surely has had an effect on the decision to add regulations and restrictions from which the administration once may have shied away. Mr. Lieber has a mandate from his boss to get these projects in the ground before the administration exits at the end of 2009. While Mr. Lieber’s predecessor, Daniel Doctoroff, pushed back against unions and Council members trying to wrest concessions and restrictions on developments such as Willets Point, Mr. Lieber has taken what many involved in discussions describe as a more conciliatory approach, with the aim of forward movement.
Fueling the mad rush to implement is a fear that future mayors will have a new set of priorities and abandon the Bloomberg-era projects. Messrs. Bloomberg and Lieber have both said their goal is to bring projects so far along that they are virtually irreversible. For instance, at Coney Island, the city wants to enshrine the amusement area in parkland, a designation that would require an act of the State Legislature to remove.
“You have to get these things to a point where they have to be able to be self-sustaining thereafter,” Mr. Lieber said, referring to a need to get through the approvals process this term, and thus sign on necessary constituent groups.
Not that there’s an outcry for the administration to back off.
Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, the city’s major landlord and developer group, said he generally supports the more hands-on approach of the latter-day Bloomberg projects, particularly with Willets Point and Hunter’s Point South. And Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, the city’s main business advocacy group, voiced strong support for pushing the projects before the sun sets on the administration.
“I’ve watched these sites sit for so many years,” she said. “I just think that they’re right to try to take advantage of the momentum and to move them, and these projects require significant public investment.”
Of course, obstacles are many. The approvals quest comes as the bulk of the Council eyes different elective offices in 2008 or 2009, and the financial markets hardly lend a dime to developers, casting doubt on whether any ground could be broken even if projects win approval.
At Willets Point, for instance, 30 Council members—a majority—signed a letter on Tuesday saying they were warning of a “doomed fate” for the project unless changes were made, including a greater commitment to below-market-rate housing. Even if its plan makes it through the Council, the city currently plans to select a developer in 2009, and the value of bids would clearly be limited by the inclement lending market.
And at Coney Island, the city still needs to reach a deal with Mr. Sitt, the major landowner, if it is to create a revitalized amusement district under its current plan.
For all, said Mr. Lieber, “the dialogue is ongoing.”