Mayor Bloomberg said on Monday that Atlantic Yards would be a better project if Bruce Ratner would bring back Frank Gehry’s much-hyped designs for the stalled and increasingly costly arena and 16 skyscrapers.
“If there’s any way Ratner can possibly do it, he should use the Gehry design, because he will get great events from around the world going directly to Brooklyn,” the mayor told a team of reporters and editors from the Community Newspaper Group, the parent company of The Brooklyn Paper. “Simon and Garfunkel on their tour would go to Brooklyn in a second before they go to Madison Square Garden. They’re New Yorkers.”
The meeting was a stop on the campaign trail for the would-be third-termer, who won the chance to run for re-election last year after the City Council acceded to his wishes that the two-term limit be eliminated, despite two public referenda affirming it.
Naturally, that topic came up.
“It was a unique period in the city,” he said. “The economy was starting to fall apart, our school system was on the verge of a major breakthrough … so I just decided that I would go ahead and, if the City Council wanted to change the law, let’s see what the voters want.
“The voters want somebody independent and competent and hopefully they’ll think I’m that way,” he added.
The hour-long interview covered many topics, but Bloomberg spent plenty of time on Brooklyn’s long-running saga, Atlantic Yards.
Like the developer himself — and the borough president he admires — Bloomberg argued that Ratner’s opponents, who have waged numerous court battles against Ratner and his government allies, were largely responsible for depriving Brooklyn of the vaunted architect’s vision.
“One of the great sins here is this small group of people stalled it so long [that] the economy is different,” Bloomberg said.
“I tried to get Ratner to go ahead and do the Gehry design. I thought it would have been an icon, but the economy is just not there.”
But the mayor conceded that Ratner probably would have faltered during the real-estate bust, even without relentless opposition from groups like Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn.
“He might have been in trouble halfway through, but at least he would have a project in the ground, going up.”
Plenty of other topics came up during a far-ranging interview in our Metrotech offices, a chat that the mayor sandwiched between his daily Spanish lesson and a Ramadan dinner later that night at Gracie Mansion:
• Bloomberg also discussed the status of the other major redevelopment project in Brooklyn — his rezoning of Coney Island. Last month, the City Council approved his controversial proposal permitting the creation of a new open-air amusement park surrounded by year-round attractions like hotels, movie theaters and an indoor water park, plus 4,500 apartments.
The mayor has nearly put the final piece of the puzzle in place — the purchase of some or all of the land from developer Joe Sitt’s Coney Island portfolio.
“Fundamentally, the deal with him is done,” said the two-term mayor.
Later, he gave himself more wiggle room, saying the deal is “very close.”
He declined to speculate on what the final price would be, saying that it was in the ballpark of prior announced figures, which were around $100 million.
Throughout the interview, the mayor repeated the importance of wisely spending taxpayer money and said the eventual purchase of Sitt’s land was a sound fiduciary decision.
“We have not gone out and spent more than we think the land is worth,” he said.
When asked why he wouldn’t just allow Sitt to develop the land now that Bloomberg’s zoning plan has passed, the mayor said bluntly that Sitt never intended to carry out his goal of building his own Vegas-by-the-Atlantic tourist magnet.
“He doesn’t want to develop,” Bloomberg asserted.
But now that the zoning has passed, he could, the mayor was reminded.
But Bloomberg fired back with his own reminder to Sitt.
“He needs sewers, he needs water, he needs streets,” the mayor threatened. “If the city doesn’t want to cooperate, [Sitt’s] going to spend a lot of time with a lot of money tied up.”
• Hizzoner’s own budgetary concerns clearly weighed his mind, as he predicted the financial distress for the city — which was one the main reason that Bloomberg cited last year as the need for an extension of term limits.
“We are going to have downsize every part of government and the question is can I find ways to maintain or improve the services with less because the taxpayer is not going to spend any more.”
• If the mayor is re-elected, he will ask Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to stay on the job.
“He is my choice plain and simple,” said Bloomberg. “I believe Ray will stay.”
• Small business owners and individuals who feel they have been given excessive tickets for minor violations, like the Prospect Heights man who got a ticket for drinking a beer on his front stoop, did not get much sympathy from the mayor, who doubts there is a widespread problem with overzealous ticketing agents.
“The enforcement person hopefully uses some judgment. … Generally, these things [drinking in the park, littering] are not enforced,” the mayor said.
Besides, he said, people getting tickets have no one to blame but themselves.
“If people are getting too many traffic tickets, the future is in their hands,” he said. “They’re the ones deliberately breaking the law.”
And although the mayor was questioned about allegations of aggressive ticketing against mom-and-pop businesses, the mayor focused upon what the Finance Department does to assist big businesses deal with fines and summonses, such as traffic penalties against UPS delivery drivers.
“For United Parcel, we have a flat-rate fine that you can sign up for, because I’m sympathetic. You got to be able to double-park or you can’t do your business and the stores that need the deliveries can’t survive.”
He added that the ticketing — whether regarding litter or hazardous driving — was having positive effects on the city overall.
“The city is a lot cleaner than it ever was before,” he said. “Traffic deaths are way down in this city.”
• He also cited a number of statistical accomplishments during his watch, including a 15-month gain in life expectancy, 10,000 fewer smoking deaths per year and a 30-second drop in emergency response times when the city placed navigation systems in every ambulance.
The mayor is hoping to win the endorsement of each of the 30 newspapers in the Community Newspaper Group, which has community weeklies in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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