The Front Page

Coroner's Report from the City Morgue of Dead Projects:

Autopsy of Tishman-Speyer corpse reveals two doses of "delayitis" introduced by Council members.

Mayoral candidate Greer's claim "Neither study slowed the project one bit" debatable when actual news reports of the Tishman-Speyer story are examined.

Ernst & Young study demanded by Democrats took 8 weeks.

Gretsas says "This is politics. We are not into fingerpointing. We want this project (Cappelli City Center) approved."

By John F. Bailey

CityLine: July 16, 2001

Ernst & Young economic study delayed the approval of the Tishman-project by 8 weeks in the spring of 2001, according to public record and examination of WPCNR reports and interviews with reporters covering the Tishman-Speyer involvement with White Plains at the time. This is contrary to reports circulated this week in local media.

The documented delay calls into question the accuracy of Mayoral candidate Robert Greer's claim to a local newspaper that "Neither study slowed the project one bit," as published in The Journal-News Sunday, July 15.

(Without those studies, the project could have been approved by the Common Council in June, not July 10, which may have prevented the city-alleged "disruptive" Ian Behar lawsuit from affecting the project at all, let alone being filed.)

Eight weeks was the amount of time it took Ernst & Young to conduct the study requested by the Council, after E & Y was formally selected to do the study March 16, 2001. The council also added a traffic study request in that week of March.

The twin eleventh hour studies were requested three months after the Council had approved the project PILOT agreement in December of 1999, based on the city Planning Department study of the Tishman-Speyer economic benefits and PILOT, prepared by the late, most respected accountant, Peter Looser.

In fact, Mr. Looser's judgment on city fiscal matters up until his Tishman-Speyer study was revered. Robert Greer chaired the Budget Committee, which wrote this glowing tribute to Peter Looser in its Budget Committee report for the year 2000, in memorium:"He (Looser) enthusiastically led various subcommittees looking for ways to preserve City services at reasonable costs...His service to the community (White Plains) and its people was exemplary."

The Council believed Looser's study evaluating the Tishman-Speyer project in the fall of 1999 was convincing enough to approve the PILOT for the T-S project in December of 1999. However, when presented with essentially the same project in March, 2001 when the Tishman and Loews players returned to the table, asking an additional $10 million, the council demanded the Ernst & Young study.

Political Alzheimer's Syndrome?

Robert Greer, Democratic candidate for Mayor is reported in the Sunday, July 15, Journal-News article as saying the Common Council was not included in the discussions Mayor Delfino held with Tishman-Speyer, and the proposal was not submitted until August, 1999. He is quoted as saying, "The deal presented at that time was so one-sided in favor of the developer that the council, Republicans and Democrats alike, could not, in good conscience accept it."

This statement implies that the studies undertaken by Ernst & Young and the additional traffic study were executed just after August 1999.

This is not true.

The Ernst & Young study and traffic study were not requested until three months after the original Tishman-Speyer PILOT was approved, (the PILOT with the $13 million City garage payment). The studies were only asked for by the Common Council after Loews Cineplex had walked out of the project once and then returned to the project.

The Ernst & Young study was asked for in view of the new $23 million dollar city contribution to the parking garage to enable Loews to stay in the deal. However, the study covered the same areas of economic concern originally spelled out in the Looser report that had been the basis for Council approval of the $13 million payment and PILOT agreement.

Councilman Greer apparently misremembers that the Common Council did approve the August, 1999 proposal PILOT and financing December 13, 1999, when the Ernst & Young study was not on the radar screen.

The Council had apparently accepted Peter Looser's study done for the Planning Department on the economic affects of the project, for the purposes of approving the original PILOT, and what changed by March, 2001 was the request for an additional $10 million payment by the city to entice Loews back to the project.

In fact, the $23 million deal, according to the Mayor's Executive Officer, George Gretsas, was a "better deal." The original December-approved PILOT called for a $13 million city payment with the city having to cover parking shortfalls for Tishman-Speyer if receipts from the parking garage fell below expectations. The new $23 milliion dollar did not hold the city to making up any shortfalls in garage revenue expectations.

It was at that point at the Common Council meeting in March of 2001, that the Council President, Rita Malmud, demanded an independent economic study be undertaken.

After a week more of Council complaints that the city had selected the consultants, they selected Ernst & Young to execute their independent study. Ernst & Young was engaged March 16 by letter, and furnished the study eight weeks later on May 10, 2001, as part of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

It could be argued that waiting for the arrival of the E & Y study added eight weeks to the approval process, indeed delaying the approval of the project, by a lot more than "one bit."

An informed source in the City Planning Department expressed to WPCNR that the Ernst & Young study and the independent traffic study confirmed what the Planning Department original analysis prepared by Looser had told the Common Council in the fall of 1999 that lead to the December 13, original approval of the Tishman-Speyer PILOT.

Candidate Greer is also reported in the Journal News as saying that after the Common Council had a proposal it could work with, it asked for the two studies.

This is not true.

The Council had already approved the PILOT including the $13 million city contribution for the original project on December 13, 2001. The Ernst & Young and traffic studies were asked for in March, 2001. To give the council the benefit of the doubt, they may have wanted to buttress their original decision. However the nature of the project had not changed except for an additional $10 million payment.

Greer apparently confuses the studies with being done for the first proposal, which simply misstates the sequence of events. Simple review of Journal News and WPCNR coverage at the time reveals the disconnection between the first proposal and the Ernst & Young study by 7 months.

Massive doses of "Delayitis:"

The Mayoral candidate's claim that the council was not included in the discussions held with Tishman-Speyer is true. But, what candidate Greer failed to mention to the Journal News, was the numerous executive sessions in which Mayor Delfino briefed the Council on the development of the Tishman-Speyer project, the financing agreements and the city financial obligations in the original deal, as well as the deal hammered out to entice Loews back into the project.

To imply that 'the council was not included', in this reporter's opinion, indicates the council had no idea what was going on, which is simply is a distortion of the facts. Publically, councilmembers mentioned that the Mayor was not keeping them informed. Yet numerous executive sessions kept them informed. By law, only the Mayor is allowed to negotiate for the city, as a matter of ethics.

When these inconsistencies were brought to the attention of the Mayor's office, George Gretsas refused to be drawn into the argument, stating only, ""This is politics. We are not into fingerpointing. We want this project (Cappelli City Center) approved. We have to work with these people."

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