In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Seattle Squeeze: New Urban Living
  2. Checking In
  3. Ben Aronson's Representational Abstractions
  4. Rock is ... Forever?
  5. We Need the Arts: A Sob Story
  6. Form Following (Commercial) Function
  7. Two Humorous Items from the Financial Crisis
  8. Ken Auster of the Kute Kaptions
  9. What Might Representational Painters Paint?
  10. In The Times ...

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

« Econ Elsewhere | Main | "100 Bullets" »

August 18, 2005

Eminent Domain and the New York Times

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

You may be aware that the New York Times is building a new office tower for itself in midtown Manhattan, near Times Square. You may also know that the Times received city subsidies worth tens of millions of dollars in order not to move its offices to New Jersey.

Translation: The NYC government took tens of millions of dollars from taxpayers and gave that money to the New York Times to help the Times construct a building that will generate profits for the Times.

Two questions: If I were to threaten to move from New York City, would Mayor Bloomberg give me a few million to keep me from leaving? Plus, hey: I've got some really, really good ideas about how to make myself some money. Would Mayor Bloomberg like to seize a few million from other New Yorkers and give that money to me so that I can make these investments?

You may also be aware that the Times played some very ugly games in order to obtain the land on which it's building its twinkly, 52 story starchitect-designed skyscraper. (The starchitect explains his aesthetic strategy this way: "Each architecture tells a story, and the story this new building proposes to tell is one of lightness and transparency." As opposed to, say, comfort, utility, and attractiveness?) The paper got the state to condemn -- for no good reason -- the 16 story building that existed on the site before, and which housed a student dormitory, a business school, a hat shop, and a fabric store.

What you might not know is that the Times' hijinks represent as flagrant an abuse of eminent domain as the recent Kelo case -- the New London, CT, case that was ruled on by the Supreme Court, and that created such an uproar.

The Village Voice's Paul Moses -- who has done a first-rate job of following the story of the Times' real-estate shenanigans -- reveals some interesting points.

* The lease on the new Times tower forbids the building to be used for educational, medical, or governmental purposes. Discount stores and Taco Bells are also verboten.

* Yet the basis for condemning the site's previous building was "public purpose."

As Paul Moses writes:

At one time, "public purpose" usually meant a highway, bridge, or utility service—something the public was actually allowed to use. But now it's routine for the courts to declare it a "public purpose" for the state to seize privately owned land so that another private owner can erect a very private office building where the public can't even buy an inexpensive taco. In this case, the services many New Yorkers most need—health, education, job placement—are officially locked out of a building that will be heavily subsidized by city taxpayers.

The excuse -- er, "public purpose" -- that was used to justify condemning the previous building? Helping de-blight Times Square. Which, as most people probably know by now, is an area that is no longer blighted.

I enjoy keeping these facts and tales in mind whenever I read a NYTimes editorial that takes a particularly high moral tone ...



posted by Michael at August 18, 2005


In it's editorial on New London v. Kelo the Times said "a welcome vindication of cities' ability to act in the public interest." It's the easy identification by powerful institutions of "my interests" with "public interests" that make the decsion so insidious.

I'll be checking the sofa cushions tonight for inducements for your move across the river.

Posted by: Sluggo on August 18, 2005 1:09 PM

Nothing unique to New York in this. Companies all over the country expect major tax subsidies and/or infrastructure improvements from local governments as a condition for locating new facilities or refraining from relocating existing facilities. From what I've heard, the auto assembly plants springing up all over the South are among the worst "offenders."
While corporate greed may be a factor, I suspect that this practice mainly stems from the fact that few businesses are tied down to specific geographic areas any longer and hence are free to make cities and states compete for their facilities. The New York Times could move its entire operations across the river to New Jersey, and still function perfectly well. If NYC wants to retain the Times' operations, it has to face economic reality and offer incentives.

Posted by: Peter on August 18, 2005 1:31 PM

Sigh. "Economics" at its ugliest and truest---people use their advantage to wring every ounce of value out of it for themselves. My goodness---you'd think the person who negotiated that deal for the Times was...a Republican...or a capitalist...or something. As the Times allows Krugman to trumpet the evil of the Bush tax cuts (and they may not be smart, at least given W's other grandiose plans)because we should all be willing to pony up for the "less fortunate" and the good of society---WHY would the New York Times not simply consider it their civic duty to not highjack the city for tax breaks because obviously the Times should be IN NEW YORK for god's sake---and should employ New Yorkers? I god...its like those evil companies who OUTSOURCE jobs to India or something.

Posted by: annette on August 18, 2005 1:52 PM

NYC probably wouldn't care that much if you left, but why not use the power of the internet to do a little blackmail of your own. You can start up a second blog where you ask your fellow New Yorker to agree to stage a mass exodus to New Jersey on October 15 (a la Israelites from Egypt) if the city doesn't give every citizen ten free Metrocards. If you got a half million New Yorkers to sign on, I think you could make it work. You probably have a few hundred in your readership already. Pass it on!

Posted by: Neil on August 18, 2005 2:05 PM

Republican? Capitalist? I think it's quite the opposite, a mark of truly socialist logic of notoriously left newspaper (and wolf-in-the-lamb's coat mayor).
I wish though the financing of the deal would be required only from the readers of NYT - you know, all those limusine liberal do-gooders, not the rest of this city.

Posted by: Tatyana on August 18, 2005 2:05 PM

Thanks for blogging about the Paul Moses article. I normally don't read the "Village Voice" so I would have missed it, and it has a lot of very interesting info.

Intertwined with the abuse of eminent domain angle of this controversy (which is indeed very troubling), what I also find troubling is the idea that the "Times" and many others seem to genuinely believe that a project like this is actually good for New York.

I'm not an anti-development type. I believe true economic development is essential for a healthy city, but I don't think that such subsidized mega developments like this one are true economic development. Rather, so it seems to me, it's like replacing a mouthful of normal, but perhaps yellowed, teeth with a set of blindingly white artificial dentures and thinking that this is dental health.

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on August 18, 2005 4:06 PM

The building is also just kinda ugly.

Posted by: annette on August 18, 2005 4:13 PM

New York had to provide a ton of tax money to the New York Times or otherwise the New York Times would have relocated to an office park in Arlington, Texas... Not.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on August 18, 2005 5:37 PM

I've been back on the West Coast for so long that I've halfway lost track of NYC nitty-gritty. (I also gave up on the Times, cancelling my mail subscription in the early 90s -- it had all the local news that the national edition leaves out.)

So here are two questions for Gotham mavens:

1) What will happen to the old 43rd Street building?

2) The new digs are below 42nd Street. Am I right in thinking the location is near the old Herald-Tribune offices, or were they at that latitude, but closer to 7th? It would be kinda ironic if the Times planted itself on the H-T, but I'll have to admit any irony would be lost to anyone under 50.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on August 18, 2005 8:46 PM

In answer to Donald's questions:

1) I don't really know what the "Times" is planning to do with its old building, but I've been eager to find out myself. It seems to me that everyone (e.g., who has written about it) assumes the "Times" will eventually sell it.

I'm especialy curious because I'm wondering what they will be doing with the old "New York Times" printing plant and the numerous loading docks at the eastern end of the building. (I believe it is in an annex to the original building.)

I'm hoping that who ever buys the building will consider making the loading docks, which I believe line up with Shubert Alley, into an open, through block arcade -- thus extending Shubert Alley one block further south.

Shubert Alley has already been extended through the Marriott Marquis building one block to the north, but this extension doesn't seem particularly successful. Furthermore, there is an extension of sorts via a well-know through block passageway through the Edison Hotel just to the north of that.

It seems to me that adding a 43rd to 44th St. section to what already exists might create the right critical mass to finally make the whole thing work.

Perhaps, if the "Times" is made to feel guilty enough about its new building, it could be prevailed upon to finally show a little public spiritness and give the City an easement for a pedestrian passageway throught the site before it sells the building?

2) I'm not sure about this, but I believe the Donna Karan company (DKNY) owns or at least rents the top floors of the old Herald Tribune Building. If that's the correct building, then you can currently see it just to the south of the new "Times" building's building site.

I just saw the "Times" building site for the first time the other day. That is, I just saw the site with all the buildings knocked down, and I was surprised at how deep it is. It seems like they've demolitioned almost half the block -- and these blocks are very long (800' feet?).

It will be a real shame if the "Times" tears down all those buildings and doesn't put some kind of mid-block passageway (a la Shubert Alley) through this block. These long blocks, between Seventh Ave. and Eight Ave. could really benefit from an additional pedestrian street.

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on August 18, 2005 9:32 PM

Most of the mid-block passageways in Midtown are the result of developers having to add civic amenities in return for zoning variances. I sort of doubt that there'll be anything of the sort in the new Times building, given all the incentives the city is granting.

Posted by: Peter on August 18, 2005 10:00 PM

Funny you should mention the loading docks, Mr. Hemric. For some reason they always reminded me that the NY Times, whose editorial page always urged the ultimate in virtue on the Federal government and everybody else in the business world, almost certainly had a business relationship with the mob in order to get their newspapers delivered.

Did you ever notice, given that NYC is the world headquarters of mob activity, how little of it gets covered in the Times?

Always wondered about that.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on August 23, 2005 1:12 AM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?