Friday, June 24, 2005

No news here

The New York Times editorializes in support of the kelo decision. No surpise though, they got their new building through eminant domain. As Jonathan Rauch reported back in 2002:
The Times is planning to build a new corporate headquarters. The building will be a marvel of contemporary architecture, with 52 stories, dual skins of glass and white ceramic rods, and a small grove of maples outside a rooftop conference room at the summit. Casting about for a location, The Times and its partner, a developer called Forest City Ratner Companies, lit upon Eighth Avenue between 40th and 41st streets, in the somewhat grubby neighborhood of the Port Authority bus terminal. The Empire State Development Corp. -- New York's economic-development agency -- promptly condemned the whole site.

Various critics and outside observers say that The Times will get the property for substantially less than its market value. The Village Voice recently quoted a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor of real estate finance as saying that the developers were getting "at least a 25 percent discount." The developers dispute the point. Not in dispute is that taxpayers will shoulder several tens of millions of dollars of the project's ultimate cost, and that dozens of businesses, firms, and other denizens will be displaced.

Why is the government stepping in? "This will be an important final piece of the puzzle to revitalize the entire Times Square area," a spokesman for the development corporation told me. A smaller puzzle piece is Sidney Orbach. He and his two brothers own a 16-story office building on the condemned block.

"I would have said this couldn't happen in the United States," Orbach told me recently in a phone interview. He said of his building, "It used to be a factory building, and we totally converted it to an office building. It became a very, very desirable place. We just want to keep the building. We've put a lot of money, energy, and sweat into this." Meanwhile, "I am now sitting with a tremendous amount of vacancy because no one wants to rent space that has a good chance of being condemned."

Around the corner, on Eighth Avenue, is Arnold Hatters. The shop has been on the block since 1960, when Arnold Rubin opened it. His 30-year-old son Mark grew up with the store and is now its general manager. "Having to move is scaring the hell out of me," Mark Rubin says. "This is a gold mine location," near the bus terminal, Pennsylvania Station, and the hat-intensive theatrical industry. Rubin doubts he could afford as large a store elsewhere, and he fears that many of his customers may not move with him.

"As far as I can remember, this has always been our family's breadbasket," Rubin says. "I think it's atrocious that for the sake of a private corporation like The New York Times, somebody has the right to take it away from us." He might understand if the block were being condemned for a city road or hospital. "But no one has explained to me why they have to do this so The New York Times can have a big new skyscraper here."

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