August 9, 2022

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Adams Economic Czar Likely Pick Had Secret Sideline Securing City Real Estate Deals

5 min read

Mayor Eric Adams’ reported pick to lead the city’s Economic Development Corporation had a sideline while running a real estate industry trade group: drumming up support for private property deals with city government.

In one 2019 transaction, Carlos Scisurra’s client sold a former Nathan’s Famous hot dog outpost in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, to the School Construction Authority for more than $25 million — double what he’d paid for it six months earlier.

Scisurra’s work on behalf of property owner Tim Ziss is detailed in a contract obtained by THE CITY and signed by Scissura on October 3, 2018.

The first item listed under “scope of services” was to “Conduct strategic meetings with community and members of CB 10, City agencies and elected and community leaders.”

Another item reads: “Work with the team to secure full approvals and support” for “planning and development of” five Bay Ridge-area property holdings, including a second site also sold to the School Construction Authority.

A line on the last page of the contract specifies that it is “specifically understood that the contractor shall not be acting in a capacity as a lobbyist as defined by New York State lobbying rules and shall not be acting as an attorney on this project.”

Scissura is not registered in the New York City or New York State lobbyist records systems.

But government affairs experts who spoke with THE CITY contended the work as outlined in the contract appears to fit New York’s legal definition of lobbying — particularly communications with public officials “related to a governmental procurement.”

Under the city and state lobbying laws, a person found guilty of unregistered lobbying work faces civil penalties of up to $30,000, in addition to the criminal penalties associated with a class A misdemeanor.

“This was work conducted outside of my role at the New York Building Congress,” Scissura said through a spokesperson for the New York Building Congress. “This was advice for a friend, who is not a member of the organization, seeking help to navigate through the complexity of city government, especially given my past experience on a local school board.”

He did not say whether he’s worked with other developers nor address questions from THE CITY about any attempts to influence the community board or local officials.

Then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks at a reception welcoming incoming Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Carlo Scissura, center, Sept. 20, 2012.
Kristen Artz/Mayoral Photography Office

Ziss could not be reached for comment.

Scissura joined the Building Congress in 2017. As CEO, his job was to advance the building and construction industry across New York City. He was paid $330,000 a year as of 2019, according to the most recent documents filed by the organization.

The Economic Development Corporation is a non-profit entity that oversees some of New York City’s largest real estate projects, including managing 64.5 million square feet of public property at sites such as Brooklyn Army Terminal, along with piers and ports.

The EDC orchestrates and subsidizes the NYC Ferry service, and was a key mover in the bid to help Amazon to open a new headquarters in Queens before the company pulled out of the plan.

The nonprofit corporation receives more than $2 billion from City Hall annually through two contracts with the city Department of Small Business Services, city records show, and also doles out bonds and tax breaks to major companies like Fresh Direct to facilitate development.

One of its latest projects is a plan to revamp the lower Manhattan waterfront to adapt to climate change.

Trader Joe’s Contended

The contract committed Ziss to paying Scissura a $15,000 retainer fee in July 2018 and then $6,000 a month starting that October. The agreement did not specify an end date.

The outlined work focused on five commercial properties in Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights – including the former Nathan’s site on 86th Street near the Gowanus Expressway. Ziss officially purchased the property from Nathan’s on December 4, 2018 for $12.25 million, according to city records.

By then, Scissura was already signed on to advocate for “revolutionary mixed-use developments” there and on the other Ziss-linked sites, the document shows.

Just seven months later, on July 1, 2019, Ziss sold the same parcel for $25 million to the School Construction Authority. It is now under development as a new middle school for District 20, where overcrowding has been an issue.

A spokesman for the School Construction Authority, Kevin Ortiz, said “competition” for the site explained the higher purchase price.

“The owner had been offered a 10-year lease with renewal options by a potential tenant, a major national grocer,” Ortiz said.

A source told THE CITY that Trader Joe’s was the grocer in question. Trader Joe’s did not respond to a request for comment.

Ortiz added that Ziss “had incurred significant expenses in acquiring the property and creating plans for development.”

In a statement to THE CITY, City Hall spokesperson Kate Smart wrote: “As is standard process, after a need is identified, SCA objectively evaluates referred properties for feasibility based on standard criteria, public review is held, and the City Council holds a vote.

She added: “While anyone can refer properties, all site acquisitions, including this one, go through the same standard process before being purchased.”

Touting His Deal

Scissura, who lives in Bay Ridge and formerly headed the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, was quoted praising the new school project in news reports — without disclosing he had signed a paid agreement to promote the development.

“I said 20 years ago, when I got elected to the school board in District 20, I will work hard — and we should all work hard — on getting a new middle school for Bay Ridge,” he told the Brooklyn Reporter in 2019. Scissura worked closely with local City Councilmember Justin Brannan (D-Brooklyn), the story said, to get the school built.

Brannan declined to comment.

The Nathan’s deal wasn’t Scissura’s last in the area, nor his last with the School Construction Authority.

On Aug. 16, 2021, Ziss sold a former bank on 5th Avenue in Bay Ridge to the SCA for $21 million, after purchasing it in 2017 for $15 million, records show.

The three other properties are mixed-use commercial buildings in Brooklyn.

Scissura also signed on to help Ziss secure a “rent deal” with the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development in connection with an Astoria, Queens, affordable housing complex he partially owns — with a promised $100,000 “performance bonus” if successful, the contract shows.

One other aspect of the would-be lobbying work was to help Ziss get a financial bailout for Bridgeview III, an affordable apartment building under the state’s Mitchell Lama program he partially owns in Astoria, Queens.

A spokesperson for Adams said the administration would not comment on appointment news that had not been officially released. Scissura’s coming appointment was first reported by the Real Deal.

https://www.thecity.nyc/2022/1/11/22879122/adams-economic-czar-pick-city-real-estate-deals

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