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BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | The speculation is over: Michael Fortenbaugh is officially out of North Cove Marina as the Battery Park City Authority named Brookfield Office Properties and its partner Island Global Yachting the marina’s operator at their Thurs., Jan. 22 morning meeting.
Brookfield Properties will pay $4.5 million in license payments over ten years, as well as an up-front capital improvement offer of $450,000 for the marina: lighting, new signage and landscaping, said Shari Hyman, president and C.O.O. of the authority.
Fortenbaugh’s North Cove Marina Management was paying the authority $300,000 a year and offered $400,000 during this bidding process.
The meeting took place at 200 Liberty St., once the World Financial Center and now Brookfield Place. Supporters of Fortenbaugh, who has run the marina for the past ten years, lined up downstairs to attend the meeting. The room adjacent to the boardroom was packed and many carried signs that said “Stop Albany Pay-to-Play.”
Dennis Mehiel, the chairperson and C.E.O. of the authority explained its position before a vote was taken on the request for proposals, or R.F.P., for the marina operator.
Community Board 1 had passed a resolution in December asking that the B.P.C.A. to withdraw the current R.F.P. process and asked for more community input. Elected officials then wrote a Dec. 29 letter to the authority supporting C.B. 1’s unanimously passed resolution.
Mehiel said that the authority was “pleased” and “overwhelmed a little bit at the tremendous interest” that the community has shown in the meeting.
“In two and half years or a little more that I’ve been here, I’ve never seen such a crowd,” he said.
He stressed that the authority has protocols that are not subject to discretion.
Mehiel said that the authority “satisfied” itself that it had made the right decision on the successful bidder in the extra time that it had after the unplanned delay at its December meeting — the board did not have a quorum for the vote because Mehiel did not attend and member Martha Gallo recused herself.
“We took that time, went back, spent a little bit more time with the successful bidder, clarified our expectations and their commitments,” he said, “and decided again that we are doing the right thing for Battery Park City residents, for the marina, for the community at large and, of no small significance, for the taxpayers.”
Mehiel said that when the R.F.P. was issued, the current operator, Fortenbaugh was invited to bid. He did not refer to Fortenbaugh by name, calling him the “incumbent.”
“We got the bids in. We looked at it, we saw the deficiencies,” said Mehiel. “We do value incumbency, we do not ignore incumbency so we decided to invite all the bidders in for additional meetings.”
Mehiel did not offer details of the bid’s “deficiencies.”
The authority has received letters and phone calls from the community, the community board and elected officials, he said.
“It’s all their right to do that,” said Mehiel. “But when you think about it, what it really amounts to is an individual bidder in a R.F.P. process who believes he is unsuccessful and decides to mount political pressure on the authority to subvert our process and preserve his economic interests in the operation of the marina.”
The crowd in the back started booing.
“When we don’t respond with a change in our process or protocol, we are accused of running a process subject to political manipulation by the governor of the state of New York,” said Mehiel. “We start with political pressure to change the outcome. If it’s not successful we accuse the authority of having political pressure to have made the decision that we are going to vote on this morning.”
He also answered questions about the fact that his yacht has sometimes docked at Brookfield’s partner, Island Global Yachting marinas. Andrew Farkas is the chairperson of IGY and was one of the largest contributors to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s campaign.
“I own a yacht,” he said. “Guilty. Guilty as charged.”
He said that the boat lives in the Caribbean and the “suggestion is put forward that businesses conducted between my boat and IGY, that is to say Mr. Farkas’ company has somehow contaminated this process and I [have] a conflict [of interest] and should recuse myself. Preposterous.”
Cries of “yes, yes” were heard from the people in the back. People yelled questions and when Mehiel didn’t respond, “answer the question” was shouted.
“We don’t have questions, unfortunately,” he said. “I apologize for this — with the protocols that we have here there are no public comments and we can’t change that precedent unfortunately.”
When pressed again, he reiterated that there is no public comment during the meeting. “I don’t want to get into a dialogue,” he said to many laughs in the room.
Many within the community decried the lack of transparency of this R.F.P. process.
“It is disappointing that the Battery Park City Authority ignored the resolution from the community to withdraw the R.F.P.,” said Tammy Meltzer, C.B. 1 member, said by phone.
Ina Woronoff, whose husband is a member of the club, said, “It’s disgusting that big business takes away pleasure from this community and from people in this city.”
“Mr. Mehiel referred to political pressure, it was community pressure,” said Sinclair.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer attended the meeting and told Downtown Express that moving forward, “We’ll see what we can do.”
Meltzer said, “A greater conversation needs to be had” about the authority’s relationship with the community.
“At the end of the day, it is a state agency that runs a local community,” said Meltzer, who said she couldn’t think of another area in the city that the state controls without any major community input.
Brewer, along with Congressman Jerrold Nadler, State Senator Daniel Squadron and Councilmember Margaret Chin sent a Jan. 22 letter to Governor Cuomo asking for more local representation, asking him to “take advantage of current vacancies and appoint additional residents to the board as soon as possible.”
They also requested that “moving forward, major authority decision-making, including R.F.P.s incorporate local input.”
“Today the B.P.C.A. failed to provide the Battery Park City community with the representation it deserves,” said Jenifer Rajkumar, a Democratic district leader, in an email. “The B.P.C.A.’s process violated fundamental principles of good government and transparency and revealed an organization out of touch with the community and insensitive to the negative perceptions it has created. We now need to consider whether the Battery Park City Authority should be restructured and reformulated so that it will fairly and properly represent the interests of our community.”
After the meeting, a B.P.C.A press release listed community programming that Brookfield Properties proposed: a wide variety of programs, a sailing school accessible to all income levels, a summer camp programs, water safety classes and a corporate sailing league.
The specifics of these programs have not been revealed.
“We will be working on a comprehensive plan for the marina over the coming months. We are also reaching out to members of the community,” said Melissa Coley, vice president for investor relations and communications for Brookfield Property Group, when asked about details.
She issued this statement via email: “Our vision includes a sailing school for the community, summer and learn to sail programs. Our vision is an active, attractive and sustainable hub for the community. We will look to our 25 years of experience at Battery Park City in programming free community programs and events.”
For his part, Mehiel said: “Indeed, it is our opinion … that these changes that we intend to implement at the marina are going to result in wider, not narrower, community use, access to the marina.”
IGY and Governor Cuomo’s office did not respond.
Fortenbaugh said after the meeting that he has got to keep going and he is moving his operations to Liberty Harbor in New Jersey.
Asked if he has had any discussions with the Howard Hughes Corporation about their proposed marina at the Seaport, he said that IGY is designing it.
“I don’t think we’re going to be invited there,” he said.