NY state spokesperson on last-minute Isles land appraisal: Ha ha, we had it for months but you didn’t ask right, joke’s on you

So this escalated quickly: Yesterday, I noted that Jack Sterne, the Empire State Development spokesperson assigned to the New York Islanders arena project, had told me that an assessment of the value of New York state land being leased to the developers for $50 million would be forthcoming before the ESD board’s vote — and indeed it was, a whole three and a half hours before. And the released documents only included the executive summaries of the assessments, which contained no details of how the land values had been arrived at, making it impossible to determine why their conclusions ($35.9 million to $41 million) were so much lower than those arrived at by looking at comparable nearby land values ($114 million to $340 million).

I immediately emailed Sterne to ask if he could provide more details. He wrote back:

Hey Neil — yes I believe the summaries are in the board materials.

If you’re looking for additional docs you are always welcome to FOIL — https://esd.ny.gov/freedom-information-law-foil

A FOIL — Freedom of Information Law request, in New York state terms — typically takes at least a couple of months to get a response to, and some state agencies have been known to drag it out for a year or more. So this wasn’t entirely helpful with a vote just two hours and change away at this point, and I noted that here in a comment. (Then the board unanimously voted to approve the plan, though the arena still has a couple more hoops to jump through before it’s finalized.)

Norman Oder, who’s been covering the Belmont arena shenanigans at Gotham Gazette, then picked my comment up in a tweet:

Jack Sterne then responded on his personal Twitter account:


Sterne almost has a point: Oder, or I, or anyone else, could have filed a FOIL request months ago to get the full appraisals. (According to the dates on the executive summaries, they were submitted to ESD on December 3, 2018 and July 3, 2019.) If, that is, we had known they existed. But when I had asked Sterne previously for the documents, I got answers that in retrospect seem designed to throw researchers off the trail.

On July 8, I asked Sterne via email: “When I spoke to one of your predecessors early last year, they said that ESD would conduct an appraisal of the arena project land before the final presentation to the ESD board. Is that still happening before the final vote at the end of the month?”

Sterne answered several of my other questions in a subsequent email, but ignored this one. On July 22, I tried again: “Is ESD still conducting an appraisal of the value of state land being leased for the project, and if so is there a target date for releasing that appraisal?”

Sterne’s response:

The appraisals will be completed by the time the General Project Plan is approved by the ESD Board.

Now, this isn’t technically lying: The appraisals had already been completed, in one case for months, meaning they would indeed be completed by the time of the ESD board’s approval vote! It is at best, however, deceptive, since an honest answer would have been “No, we’re not still conducting an appraisal, we already have two in hand!”

It’s also pretty exceptional behavior from a press flack, whose job is usually to try to spin or stonewall reporters or sometimes call them up and yell at them when they don’t like what was written. (Sterne has done that, too, but I’m used to that.) All this, combined with the abbreviated last-minute release of the appraisal documents, is certainly enough to fuel suspicions that there’s something in those full appraisals that ESD — or Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who controls ESD — really doesn’t want anyone to see until all the t’s are crossed in the deal. We’ll find out once they process my FOIL request, I guess — hopefully before the new arena opens for its first game.



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4 comments on “NY state spokesperson on last-minute Isles land appraisal: Ha ha, we had it for months but you didn’t ask right, joke’s on you

  1. I’ll post this but I am sure others are thinking of it:

    “But the plans were on display…”
    “On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
    “That’s the display department.”
    “With a flashlight.”
    “Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
    “So had the stairs.”
    “But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
    “Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”

    ― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

    1. Exactly. Clearly Sterne & co have read the Guide. A civic official capable of so shamelessly throwing up roadblocks… the sky is literally the limit for this clown.

  2. Steal a $50 public park bench, maybe end up in solitary on Rikers.

    Help some extremely wealthy developers steal hundreds of millions from the public under false pretexts, everyone gets a raise!

  3. In ancient Rome, government attempted to curry favor with the masses by offering free bread and circuses. Today, we have sports pork. How sad that taxpayers are continually asked to pay for new stadiums. Public dollars are being used as corporate welfare to subsidize a private-sector business. The only real beneficiaries of these expenditures are team owners and their players, who earn far more than the average fan.

    It is impossible to judge the amount of new economic activities that these so-called public benefits will generate. Between selling the stadium name, season sky boxes and reserve seating, cable, television and radio revenues, concession refreshment and souvenir sales along with rental income for other sports, rock concerts and commercial events, it is hard to believe that the Islanders Hockey Team owner and Belmont Park developers can’t finance the proposed new stadium on their own.

    Professional sports are not an essential service and should not qualify for government subsidy. Scarce taxpayer funds would be better spent elsewhere. If this is going to be such a great financial deal, why don’t team owners float their own bonds or issue stock to finance the Belmont Park stadium rather than turn to taxpayers and government for support? Go obtain loans from banks, like medium and small businesses.

    Real business people believe in capitalism and build companies on their own. How sad that some don’t want to do it the old fashion way by sweat and hard work. They are looking for shortcuts in the form of subsidies at taxpayers expense and favors from elected officials. What is the cost of improved sewer, water, electrical, road, traffic signal and other infrastructure improvements? There is also increased fire, police and sanitation services. How much will taxpayers be on the hook to pick up the tab?

    The Belmont Park arena project promises all sorts of service options which are already available. Do we really need another “retail village” with various stores and boutiques? They also propose to offer new dining options, sports bars and restaurants. Next, there will be conference centers and meeting rooms along with movie theaters and concert facilities. All of these so-called benefits would just compete against existing shopping malls, upscale stores, restaurants, sports bars and end up stealing some of their customers. There are already plenty of hotels and colleges which offer conference centers. The same is true for movie theaters and smaller more intimate concert facilities.

    Since there are less than 60 Islanders home games, the facility will have to be leased out for another 100 events to turn a profit. Why would any rock band appear there, when they can go to Jones Beach Theater, Westbury Music Fair, Nassau Coliseum, Shea Stadium, Arthur Ash Stadium, Forest Hills Stadium. Madison Square Garden, Barclay Arena or Radio City Music Hall? The same is true for World Wrestling Federation, circuses, college sports or other events requiring space for several thousand participants.

    (Larry Penner is a transportation historian, writer and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the United States Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island Rail Road, Metro North Rail Road MTA Bus, Nassau County NICE Bus, New Jersey Transit along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ)..


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