Market-Rate Giveaway

Produce merchants get the boot for a City Hall favorite and yet another Olympic stadium

Later, in an effort to stay above reproach, Doctoroff sought and obtained a clearance from the city's Conflicts of Interest Board allowing him to work on matters involving Ross's company. Since the transaction between the two men had taken place before Doctoroff entered government, the board gave him a green light.

Despite the ruling, City Hall has maintained that Doctoroff voluntarily recused himself from any involvement in the Bronx market project. The deputy mayor made that move shortly after his call to Ross about the site in 2002, according to Michael Sherman, a spokesman for the city's Economic Development Corporation, which negotiated the deal with Related and Buntzman.

But for someone who had recused himself, Doctoroff stayed remarkably well informed. Appointment and telephone logs for the deputy mayor, obtained under a Freedom of Information request, show that he held at least seven separate meetings focused on the Bronx Terminal Market during 2002 and 2003 as the project was being negotiated.

Terminal condition: The Bronx market, busy for now
photo: Jay Muhlin
Terminal condition: The Bronx market, busy for now

Sherman said those meetings were merely briefings. "The deputy mayor was occasionally informed about progress towards a resolution. He did not issue any direction," said Sherman.

During that same period, Doctoroff and Ross were in close touch, speaking frequently and meeting regularly. The logs show that Doctoroff made four separate trips to Related's Madison Avenue headquarters to meet with Ross and other company executives. The two also met at the Regency Hotel in January 2003, just before Ross hosted a briefing for real estate CEOs about the Olympics.

Ross was so familiar to Doctoroff's assistants at City Hall, the logs show, that when he left a message he didn't bother to leave his number. At one point in June 2003, Related president Jeff Blau returned a call that Doctoroff had made to Ross. The chairman couldn't return it, Blau said in the message. He was in Baghdad.

A month earlier, on May 6, 2003, Doctoroff had received an excited message, this one from Alex Garvin, the former City Planning Commission member and noted urban planner who is responsible for planning all the sports venues for NYC2012.

"Met with Steve Ross about Bronx Terminal Market," the message read. "He [Garvin] thinks that there are some real opportunities there and he is planning on meeting with him and his architect when he gets back from Italy."

Garvin told the Voice that he had indeed gone to look at the market site that month as part of his NYC2012 duties. Originally, the bicycle arena had been slated to be located near the East River in Long Island City, but the owner of that site, a contributor to NYC2012, decided he had other plans for it. The Bronx site was a good replacement, Garvin said, and the Olympics committee later commissioned a design for the velodrome to be built on a portion of the market site.

Asked about his message to Doctoroff, Garvin said that he wanted to tell the deputy mayor—"the father of the Olympics," as Garvin called him—that he had been to see Ross about the site. "I was keeping him informed as to what was happening," Garvin said.

In his calendar, Doctoroff noted the April 29 press conference in the Bronx announcing the new mall, although he didn't make the trip to stand beside Ross, Mayor Bloomberg, and Borough President Carrión.

Nor was any mention made at the press event that officials had also decided to place a major Olympics venue in the market's southwest corner.

"This was about announcing a great new and exciting project that will bring thousands of jobs to the Bronx," said Sherman. "It wasn't an Olympics announcement."

Carrión said he didn't know when the velodrome was added to the plan, but he recalled bringing Doctoroff to the market sometime in the early spring of 2002.

"I invited Doctoroff to come up," said Carrión. "We stood on the waterfront and I said, 'We have to give this gateway to the Bronx a better image.' "

To carry out its project, Related created a new entity called BTM Development Partners Inc. Among the partners is Michael Lehrman, a grandson of David Buntzman.

Asked if it was appropriate to have the Buntzman family benefit from the market's lucrative redevelopment, city officials said that the inclusion of Buntzman's relative had been part of the negotiations and that he has only limited involvement.

Had anyone ever considered the possibility of including the merchants in the reconfigured market? "Clearly you want to do anything that reduces resistance," said Jesse Masyr, an attorney who represents Related. "But it was two contradictory uses. It would be a transportation nightmare."

Carrión echoed that sentiment. "We are looking for a certain type of development here. They are just not a match."

Attorneys for the merchants' association said they plan to file suit in State Supreme Court in Manhattan to block the evictions. One legal claim will be that Related's lease is void because it was never put out for public bid.

The merchants also drew support from Anthony Weiner, the congressman representing Queens and Brooklyn and who is running for the Democratic nomination for mayor. "Under the Bloomberg administration we have become a city that worships at the altar of the big project, and ignores the fact that, for many families and communities, it is the small businesses that drive the economy," said Weiner.

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