When the city brokered a $201 million deal to sell the Riverton in 2015, officials touted it as a major victory. A&E Real Estate Holdings pledged to keep nearly 1,000 units in the Harlem housing complex affordable for 30 years, in exchange for hefty tax breaks. One of the officials at the center of the deal, James Patchett, said he spent a lot of time with tenants before approaching the developers.
“I really felt like I was representing them as their agent, the person who was standing on the public side with the strength and the tools to ensure that they were protected,” he said.
In his last gig as Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen’s Chief of Staff, Patchett had to juggle public and private interests, negotiating affordable housing at Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village and pushing through Mandatory Inclusionary Housing. Before that, he worked under Glen for Goldman Sachs’ Urban Investment Group, which invests in “social impact” development projects. His time on both sides of the negotiation table, Patchett said, set him up for his most visible role yet: president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation.
“You really have to understand where the public sector can make key interventions to change the outcome of either individual projects or the economy,” he told The Real Deal on Tuesday, shortly after his new role was made public. “We obviously are not in the business of doing job-retention deals, like many other cities. We don’t need to pay people to stay here. But what we do have to do is use our economic development tools very smartly and intervene creatively in very limited and targeted ways that the best jobs come and stay here.”
Patchett will take over the EDC next month from Maria Torres-Springer, who will replace Vicki Been as commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Been is returning to the Furman Center at New York University.
As EDC president and CEO, Patchett, 37, will oversee an agency whose operating budget for fiscal year 2017 is $848 million and that has a 10-year capital plan of just under $5 billion. Patchett said he expects to initially focus on the city’s newly announced $500 million investment in life science facilities and businesses, as well as rezoning plans for Far Rockaway and economic opportunities in Sunset Park.
He’ll also likely confront the Kingsbridge Armory project, which has been the scene of a legal battle between the city and the development group, Kingsbridge National Ice Center (KNIC) development group for the past year. The city has withheld turning over the lease for the property until the developer can show funding for the first phase of the project, which will transform the armory into a skating rink.
During one of his state of the state addresses, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the state will provide the final installment of $138 million it pledged to the project. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz praised the announcement and blamed City Hall for holding up the project. Patchett noted that the city has been working with the developer for some time to come up with the money for the project.
“At this point, we’re just looking to see the details of the financing that he’s committed to and understand if it’s true dollars ready for the project. From our perspective, the last thing that we can have happen is allow the armory to sit vacant with a deal that’s not going to happen,” Patchett said. “So, if there’s real money available, then we’re ready to go.”