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Where does your man stand? The candidates weigh in.

Real Estate Weekly posed the following six questions to each of the major mayoral candidates. Following the questions are responses from Fernando Ferrer, Mark Green, and Peter Vallone. Michael Bloomberg and Alan Hevesi declined to participate.

* Whether it would be used for the New York Jets, the 2012 Olympics, or another purpose, do you think the city should build a stadium on Manhattan's West Side? Why or why not?

* If the Unified Bulk Program currently being considered by the Planning Commission does not move forward, do you plan to pursue zoning reforms during your administration?

* Do you support the proposal under consideration by a mayoral task force to merge the city's Fire and Building Departments? If not, what do you think should be done (if anything) to address problems with the Buildings Department?

* Should the city pursue - through legal actions or other measures - taking control of LaGuardia and JFK airports from the Port Authority of NY/NJ?

* Few companies seem to be taking advantage of the Digital NYC program. Should the city abandon it or are there ways to improve it?

* Escalating rents have caused many businesses to move from Manhattan to New Jersey, Connecticut and other outlying suburban areas. What should the city do to keep businesses here?

Ferrer's responses:

* Our priority for investing our limited public resources should be to improve education and access to healthcare rather than building a new billion-dollar West Side stadium.

* If the Unified Bulk Program proposed by the Department of City Planning does not move forward, I would revisit the proposal to accomplish a much-needed streamlining of the zoning resolution. Use, community facility and parking regulations should be addressed as well. While I registered my opposition to the Unified Bulk Program, I supported many of its elements as positive steps toward clarifying and simplifying the zoning resolution. Any revision of the zoning resolution should encourage residential and commercial buildings that are more harmonious and in scale with their surroundings. I objected primarily to its piecemeal approach that fails to articulate an integrated policy for community facilities. I also took exception to various specifics of the proposal and to certain omissions that could become loopholes. For example, the provisions for an advisory design review panel should have specified its role, constitution, procedures, structure and function. With regard to special permits and authorizations, the conditions set forth for waivers, notably the distinction between minor and major modifications, are vague and findings are too broad.

* I oppose merging the City's Fire Department and Buildings Department as a solution to the growing concerns over mismanagement within the Building's Department. It is clear that reform is desperately needed in this agency which last year alone (FY2001) boasted revenues totaling $70.2 million from licensing fees, fees for permits and other charges--a stark contrast with its executive budget of $45.5 million in the same year, with a difference of $24.7 million. Despite the glaring disparity in revenues generated by fees and the expense of the staff for examining plans, inspecting buildings and enforcing compliance, questions persist about the department's failure to apply available resources to ensure safe buildings and promote safe development. As I expressed to the mayor's former Buildings Commissioner Richard Visconti, R.A., the agency must develop a plan to hire and deploy staff to provide the needed services for public safety. The hiring of staff trained in examining plans and conducting inspections will work to bring city buildings into compliance.

* I harbor no prejudices about the Port Authority's role in managing New York City's airports. I am prepared to explore with the Port Authority alternatives for improving that agency's relationship with New York City, including enhanced accountability, and for optimizing the efficiency of airport operations. The feud perpetuated by the current administration and the Port Authority of NY and NJ does not serve the public interest. Airports are logistical centers, critically important to the local and regional economies. In this era of globalization, the perspectives of regional and worldwide markets must inform investment decisions. The region's economic strength would benefit from far better coordination among all its transportation and planning groups. As mayor, I will reevaluate the status of Port Authority investments in New York City facilities in terms of investment levels and relative priorities. If, as alleged, the Port Authority has favored New Jersey over New York, the City should seek to negotiate a fair allocation of resources between the two states. New York State's appointees to the Port Authority board must be fully cognizant of city and state economic needs and exercise their representative roles responsibly. The Port Authority represents a substantial source of capital funding for transportation related expenses that should be tapped equitably on both sides of the Hudson River.

* Building on this high technology district concept, I would expand the program's emphasis beyond a strictly real estate focus to creating the educated pool of workers essential to support technological business development outside of Manhattan. With locally based development strategies involving learning institutions, the program should relate labor force and real estate needs to create the potential for critical mass that will enhance a district's attractiveness to business. With this objective, in July 2000 I created the Bronx Task Force on the Digital Divide to draw together presidents of colleges and universities in the Bronx with technology companies so that both sectors can work in partnership to better prepare our graduates to meet industry needs. In addition, I would explore such improvements to the Digital NYC Program as more tangible incentives and benefits to building owners. The city should increase its outreach to local development groups who may be unaware of the program. The Digital NYC Progr am provides benefits to not-for-profit organizations providing business assistance that submit qualifying proposals for designation of their communities as high technology districts. Benefits, limited to $250,000 per district over two years, require a local match generally available only from those same property owners who must make sizable investments to install Internet service and other telecommunication infrastructure. The grants cover district marketing costs only. This may explain why only eight districts citywide have been designated to date, leaving more than half of the $2.8 million budget allocation unused.

* Many of the businesses that have left Manhattan for New Jersey, Connecticut and other suburbs are back office functions of large corporations, or support industries like printing, that could have been retained through policies to encourage development in thriving borough districts such as Fordham Road, the Hub, Downtown Brooklyn and Long Island City. Other companies forced out of the city by space costs or land use pressures are small firms, both industrial and commercial, that would benefit from enhanced, targeted programs to meet their needs. The city has not used its designated Empowerment Zones effectively to respond to the crisis facing these small firms. Some industries, like printing, need a comprehensive plan to relocate in a new clustered setting.

Green's responses:

* I strongly support the NYC2012 efforts to bring the Olympic Games to New York City and efforts to get the Jets back in the five boroughs. However, I'm not persuaded that hosting the Olympic Games or providing a home for the Jets requires a stadium on the far West Side of Manhattan. The viability of alternative sites should be studied. In any event, I continue to oppose public financing of stadiums. NYC's capital needs -- for schools, housing and transit -- are simply more important.

* I support a comprehensive review of New York City's current 40-year-old zoning resolution to find out what's working and what's not. But even now, it is clear that a few areas need reform. For example, I have already called for approval of the Downtown Brooklyn Special District as a key to keeping NYC growing and expanding its prosperity beyond Manhattan. And some manufacturing areas should be rezoned to allow mixed use -- where manufacturing can coexist with artists or small business owners or light manufacturers can use one space for living and working.

* The current Department of Buildings needs to be rebuilt. Permit requirements and procedures must be streamlined: Information systems must be upgraded to reflect today's technology. Corruption must be wiped out. Coordination with other departments -- Housing Preservation and Development, Sanitation, Transportation, Finance and Fire -- must improve and redundancies eliminated. Most importantly, the Department of Buildings needs a strong commissioner to get the agency on track and then keep it there.

* The city could continue to explore its legal options. An attempt to take over the airports before 2015 should be ruled out only if the authority agrees to a much greater city role in capital planning and decision-making, if it provides substantial increases in prospective and retroactive lease payments to the city, and if it satisfies tough but realistic performance benchmarks, particularly in customer service.

* The city's recently tripled Relocation Employment Assistance Program tax credit and the expanded commercial rent abatement program hopefully will lead more companies to locate in the city's new high-tech districts. Additional incentives should be offered. I have called for the establishment of "state tech zones" where expanding or relocating businesses can obtain a 40 percent reduction of state payroll taxes for up to ten years. In New York City, tech zones could overlap with some of the Digital NYC high-tech districts. New York should also emulate cities like Seattle and San Francisco and spur strong partnerships between community colleges and private sector employers to develop a New York City Technology Education Consortium for Hiring (NYC-TECH) made up of a coalition of colleges, schools, government and industry focused on creating job tracks to, and careers in, technology industries.

* In November 2000, I released "A Plan to Grow New York City's Third Central Business District: Downtown Brooklyn, 2015," outlining what it will take to make Downtown Brooklyn the preferred regional lower cost location alternative for white collar and high-tech businesses priced out of Manhattan. I've called on the Empire State Development Corporation to create a Downtown Brooklyn Development Corporation subsidiary, modeled on their highly successful 42nd Street Development Corporation, to assemble development sites for millions of square feet of commercial space. Long Island City also holds great promise as a less expensive commercial space alternative. Proposed zoning changes to encourage large-scale commercial development there should be approved. Finally, to retain jobs citywide, we must continue to keep taxes down. That's why I've called on the city to repeal its gross receipts tax on telecommunications and energy.

Vallone's responses:

* I believe a stadium on the West Side of Manhattan would snarl traffic and would worsen the quality of life for the residents who live near the proposed area of development. I welcome the movement for a new stadium in New York City, but I feel a new arena adjacent to Shea Stadium would make much more sense. The Mets have a sound plan in place for a new stadium and the current Shea Stadium could be renovated and restored to host the Jets and several athletic events for the 2012 Olympics. There is plenty of parking and ample space to build in that part of the city, and there is also ideal train and highway access. The West Side of Manhattan cannot offer these same amenities.

* I intend on continuing the kind of zoning reforms the City Council has approved to date. These reforms, which include the theater district enhancement and more recently the implementation of stricter rules on outdoor signage, are smart individual reforms that have targeted specific areas of our city that needed attention. The Unified Bulk Program has some benefits, but the Planning Commission must convince residents, builders and everyone else who may be effected that it is a plan worthy of approval. I am skeptical that such a broad proposal would not limit the ability of the city to alleviate our housing crunch, which is one of the biggest priorities we must confront.

* The Digital NYC program is a wonderful concept, but like with any program, some of the kinks need to be ironed out. For instance, safety concerns in the targeted areas must be addressed. Areas like DUMBO do not have much of a police presence because they have traditionally been inhabited by "9 to 5" industries. In addition, transportation problems have also caused these areas to be unattractive to new businesses. We should work to implement more bus and train service, which would spur more business development. Finally, during a recent City Council subcommittee hearing, we heard testimony that these targeted areas do not always offer the low rents that were promised. I am currently working with the city's Economic Development Corporation to find answers as to why these rents are not sufficiently low enough to spur interest.

* Several years ago, there were a number of cost pressures facing manufacturers and businesses in Manhattan, the most significant of which was increasing rent. The opposite problems faced the outer boroughs, which were able to offer inexpensive manufacturing space but had no profile in the eyes of business developers. Businesses have always faced built-in costs because of the fact that Manhattan is an island and the transportation costs are therefore inherently higher than in other parts of the country. In recent years, under my leadership as speaker, the City Council has worked hard to provide incentives to assist businesses in New York City and to reduce their escalating rent burdens. We have already abolished the Commercial Rent Tax on businesses located in the outer boroughs. In the recent budget modification we continued our planned phase-out of this tax by increasing the exemption from $100,000 to $150,000 for businesses below 96th Street in Manhattan. In 1998 the City Council eliminated all sales tax on clothing and shoes under $100, providing $254 million in tax relief and helping local retailers to remain competitive with retailers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In the same year the council granted small unincorporated business owners a partial credit on their personal income taxes, saving small business owners $43 million per year. Since 1994 the overall property tax rate has been frozen, yielding lower taxes than found in the surrounding suburban counties in New York and New Jersey. In fiscal year 2000 we introduced the Outer Borough Development Program to encourage companies to expand in New York outside of Manhattan. The Outer Borough Development Program provides tax and real estate benefits to eligible businesses and includes the In Place Industrial Parks Program which provides area improvement and technical assistance to the city's eight zoned industrial parks. Under the Outer Borough Development Program, firms that relocate from central Manhattan or from outside the city to Upper Manhattan or th e outer boroughs are eligible for a four-part business development program including an expanded Relocation Employment Assistance tax credit, real estate tax abatements for up to five years, tax exemptions for renovations and grants for site preparation and demolition. The council also allocated money to create the Emerging Industries fund, which was established to support small fast-growing high technology companies. This fund is a $25 million early stage fund with investments ranging from $100,000 to $1.5 million. Since 1984 the City Council has continued to support the Industrial and Commercial Incentive Program which confers real property tax exemption benefits for commercial and industrial construction in the city.
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Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 21, 2001
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