Reality Bangs on Bloomberg’s Development Door

For at least the past year, the Bloomberg administration’s official line has been crystal clear regarding its planned mega-projects citywide: All were to battle the clock and gather enough momentum so that come Dec. 31, 2009, they could not be reversed by the next mayor.

As the boom turns to bust, it’s evident that those projects, almost all of which have yet to be implemented, missed their chance at the latest thriving economy. So now that Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants another four years in the captain’s chair, the main obstacle to his agenda of high-profile economic development will likely shift from limited time to the economic climate. Existing projects historically risk collapse or years of delays in recessions, a fact that would undoubtedly endanger the mayor’s unfinished efforts in another term.

Bloomberg administration officials have said most of their projects are long-term in scope, and a third term would not change the timelines, but rather allow the city to do more.

“What you can’t do is abandon these projects altogether,” a city official said. “Many of the big projects call for the public sector to lay the groundwork and then rely on the private sector to make long-term investments. What you want is for the city to do the things now so that when things turn around, the ensuing boom market can be fully leveraged.”

The Bloomberg administration has long made economic development a priority, and for years has been juggling a panoply of ambitious initiatives. Led by the former deputy mayor, Dan Doctoroff, and then his successor, Bob Lieber, the administration promised billions in investment for a myriad of ambitious commercial, residential and mixed-use projects.

But, to date, the mayor’s big success stories are mostly confined to the fast-paced rezonings that have covered one-sixth of the city and cleared the way for major new development on the far West Side and on the Greenpoint and Williamsburg waterfront in Brooklyn. Almost all of the large, high-profile projects have yet to start construction, and in many cases have yet to receive approvals.

Including projects where the state has control, the list is a long one: the redevelopment of Coney Island; the Javits Center expansion; the planned redo of Penn Station; the construction of a new park on Governors Island; the development over the West Side rail yards; the proposed Nets arena and 6,400 apartments in Brooklyn as part of Atlantic Yards; and the new mixed-use neighborhood planned for Willets Point, among others.

Another four years, planners say, would increase the chances of executing much of the mayor’s economic development plans. And any landowners waiting out the end of the Bloomberg era—such as Coney Island’s largest property owner—would likely have to change course, thereby boosting the administration’s plans.

“They’re trying to beat the clock, and in four more years, it would certainly give them the opportunity to lock these big projects down,” said Bob Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association. “There’s one thing that’s clear, and that’s that his administration considers these big projects to be a big part of his legacy.”


FOR NOW, uncertainty abounds.

“Everything has been derailed by a circumstance that no matter who you talk to, they can’t describe a precedent, so there’s total uncertainty and total insecurity about what comes next,” said Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, the business community’s main advocacy organization. “The global economic crisis dwarfs any plans at this point.”

Reality Bangs on Bloomberg’s Development Door