Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Cornell NYC Tech Lease With NYC Economic Development Corp Disapproved By Community Board 8 Roosevelt Island Committee - Full CB 8 Will Vote On Lease Tonight And Manhattan Borough Board Tomorrow

Reported yesterday that:

... CB 8 Roosevelt Island Committee recommended disapproval of EDC lease with Cornell NYC Tech at last night's meeting.  Full CB 8 Board will vote on the issue Wednesday July 17. The EDC, Cornell and elected officials reps did not look very happy following the meeting. ...
Community Board 8 (CB 8) Roosevelt Island Committee (RI Committee) Member Ellen Polivy tells us why the RI Committee recommended disapproval of the NYC Economic Development Corp (EDC) lease with Cornell NYC Tech for the Roosevelt Island campus.
The CB8 Cornell committee voted unanimously to recommend a no vote to the full Community Board asking that our Chair vote at the Borough Board to deny the lease to Cornell. Reasons: not enough of our community agreements and protections are built into the lease to protect the community from Cornell defaulting on their agreements. We are hoping for the EDC to come back to us with a better lease agreement so they can have a unanimous vote at the Borough Board.
CB 8 RI Committee Member Jeff Escobar adds:
Simply put and speaking individually as a Committee Member but not on behalf of the Board: there were serious concerns and reservations among members of the Committee that the commitments made and negotiated with Cornell were not sufficiently incorporated and integrated into the terms and the provisions of the lease between the City and the Land Development Corporation, as to be assigned to Cornell, so as to properly protect and meet the interests of the community. Many commitments and items which were previously promised by Cornell to be either flushed out or better defined at the time of the execution of the lease were either "still being worked out," as was repeatedly stated by representatives of both Cornell and the EDC during tonight's hearing, or incorporated by reference rather than integrated as operable provision of the lease.

A lease of this size, type and magnitude should be well defined and leave no room for question as to what are the obligations of the parties under the leasehold, the milestone and timelines for certain commitments and events, terms and triggers of default, etc. It became very clear as testimony wore on that this clarity was not integrated within the lease; rather, the EDC thought it more proper to just attach the community commitments of Cornell as an attachment to the lease (vis-a-vis a letter drafted by Cornell, itself, which members of the community and the Committee stated at the meeting does not succinctly and specifically represent the expected community commitments by Cornell) rather than to take the time to review, craft and integrate each of the commitments as specific and actionable provisions, covenants, representations and warranties within the lease itself. It is for these reasons and others which gave members of the Committee pause and unwillingness to merely approve and rubber stamp the disposition, and persuaded the Committee to unanimously vote to disapprove the disposition at this time.
I asked Roosevelt Island's NYC Council Member Jessica Lappin, who negotiated the letter agreement commitments for the Roosevelt Island community with Cornell NYC Tech, for her reaction to the CB 8 RI Committee lease disapproval recommendation. Ms. Lappin replied:
I am confident that with Cornell, RICC, RIRA, RIOC, Community Board 8 and the elected officials working together the commitments made to Roosevelt Island will be met. Everyone wants this project to succeed for the benefit of Roosevelt Island and our city as a whole.
The Cornell commitment letter agreements to the Roosevelt Island community are here and here.

The EDC had no comment at this time.

During the July 15 CB 8 RI Committee Public Meeting, Cornell NYC Tech, EDC officials and a representative of Ms. Lappin's office were stunned at the disapproval recommendation by the RI Committee. They maintained that the commitments made by Cornell NYC Tech were fully enforceable even though they were included in the lease as an attachment.

Here's part of that discussion between CB 8 Board Members and the EDC, Cornell and Council Member Lappin representatives.

Full discussion by CB 8 RI Committee members is here.

Regardless of  tonight's CB 8 vote outcome, the Manhattan Borough Board (MBB) will vote on the EDC/Cornell NYC Tech lease Thursday morning. The MBB is made up of NYC Council Members from Manhattan and the Community Board chairs but only the NYC Council Members and the board chair that represents the area in which the project is locates votes on the matter, in this case CB8. The borough president also votes.

Community Board 8 will be meeting 6:30 tonight at The NY Blood Center to discuss this and other issues.  

EDC President Seth Pinsky announced yesterday that he was leaving EDC to join a real estate firm. According to Capital New York:
... Pinsky, who has served in the position since 2008, has spearheaded some of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's most controversial economic development projects, like the redevelopment of Willets Point, as well as some of its most lauded, like the agreement to create a Cornell-Technion campus on Roosevelt Island....
I would have loved to hear Mr. Pinsky's reaction when he was told of CB 8 RI Committee vote recommending disapproval of the EDC/Cornell NYC Tech Lease. Can you imagine?

UPDATE 7/18 - The Manhattan Borough Board this morning voted 10 - 0 with 2 abstentions to approve the EDC/Cornell NYC Tech lease for the  Roosevelt Island campus.

Speaker Christine Quinn abstained, as she does on all votes, and CB 8 Chair Nick Viest abstained as well. Mr. Viest explained that CB 8 could not come to an agreement at last night's meeting approving the recommendation of lease disapproval by the Roosevelt Island Committee nor could it reach an agreement on a separate motion to approve the lease. Therefore, Mr. Viest abstained.

The final agreement Cornell must now reach is with the Roosevelt Island Operating Corp.


Jean M. Shea said...

Finally, Yeah!! I hope it gets totally rejected.

CheshireKitty said...

Oh, I can imagine Mr. Pinsky's reaction... somewhere between Vesuvius erupting and the SF Earthquake of '06!

CheshireKitty said...

RI community shows integrity and guts in rejecting weak "assurances" by Cornell re environmental impact of project! Cornell should put its money where its mouth is and execute legally binding/enforceable agreements regarding barging etc.

CheshireKitty said...

A good article on Pinsky departure

Jean M. Shea said...

I agree totally, I think the whole idea for R.I. was never good, the Island way too small for something so big. We can't handle what is already built here now, i.e. all the people, transportation problems, infrastructure problems, etc. Cornell seems interested only in their own interests when it comes to this Engineering School project. I am not against a new Tech School in NYC, just not here on R.I. It should be built somewhere else in the City, like Governor's Island, maybe in Long Island City. Roosevelt Island has been ruined enough already with overbuilding, overcrowding, loss of green spaces.

deetelecare said...

Did anyone here think Cornell would NOT be approved? RIOC will just rubberstamp anything they say. Roosevelt Island residents are screwed again! It's gonna be hell here for 10 years with trucks and demolition! Maybe the helix will fall down....

CheshireKitty said...

It's not a question of whether Cornell will be approved - that's a done deal. The question is whether Cornell will sign a legally binding agreement regarding barging and the other issues. The lease should be withheld pending Cornell signing such an agreement.

deetelecare said...

@CheshireKitty do you think RIOC will force the agreement, or let them do whatever they damn well please while building, and later prohibiting free passage on the campus?

CheshireKitty said...

Umm..yeah.. The City and State hold all the cards. If they want that area redeveloped as a campus, that is what will happen.

The sad thing is the entire project could be done with barging, but since it's not economical to do so, Cornell will make the best use of its financial resources by using trucking as well as barging.

I don't see RICC organizing the community comprehensively/ effectively, or even looking into filing a law suit to block the project pending a legally binding agreement.

The CBs are laughably powerless in general, although symbolically powerful - powerful certainly in terms of PR.

Yet, look at what is happening in Queens, with the soccer stadium proposed for FMP, and the redevelopment of Willets Point. Does anybody really think those projects will not go forward? Willets Point is a classic condemnation/eminent domain of a possibly deteriorating neighborhood, which is then handed over for redevelopment as a mall, or luxury hotel/housing -- similar to Atlantic Yards project. The soccer stadium is a pure land grab of park land for a lucrative sports complex development. Queens residents have organized to oppose both "highlights" of Bloomberg's development agenda, but does anybody really think they can shut down either?

The RI community is like a fly compared to the power of the City and State. Cuomo could care less if he loses a handful of votes on RI if trucking is mostly used in the Cornell-Technion project. We are politically expendable.

As I said above, RICC could organize the community by doing a media blitz highlighting the possible health hazards of trucking toxic debris down Main St. Yes, this would mean employing "scare tactics" such as bold flyers or posters explaining the hazard to mobilize the community.

It could do something as simple/basic as a petition combined with an educational effort on the issues.

It could look into filing a law suit similar to the one that has successfully shut down the planned Library rehab at the 42nd St Main branch.

It needs to sign on other, outside organizations that may be concerned about the toxicity of the debris - which would be equally toxic all along the truck route in NYC. Have they formed an alliance with community/pressure groups in W. Queens or Brooklyn that might also be affected by the trucking of toxic debris?

CB8 RI Cttee voting to recommend the lease not be granted to Cornell is big symbolically, but anything CBs do is just that - symbolic. They have no real power.

You might get some traction with a law suit,with picketing, with a petition drive, etc. You might get some attention if the project was in the sights of environmental groups in W. Queens and Brooklyn. For example, imagine how effective a campaign enlisting school children on RI and Queens and Brooklyn might be. The kids could simultaneously learn about the environment and work on a letter/hand-made posters asking that barging be used mostly rather than trucking. The publicity from such a project would be priceless not to mention the educational benefit gained by the kids.