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Bloomberg Touts Vision in Last State of the City Speech

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Thursday ran the gamut from major development projects to hardening the city from storm damage to calls for a styrofoam ban in his mostly ceremonial 12th and final state of the city address.

Speaking at the new Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn – which itself withstood years of legal challenges – Bloomberg touted economic growth over his three terms. Term limits will force him out on Dec. 31.

“Against all the odds, despite all the legal challenges, despite all the naysayers and NIMBYers, here we are,” said Bloomberg. “Remember: after the courts stopped the Westway highway project in the early 1980s, you’d often hear people say that big projects like this were no longer possible in New York City. And for a long time, that certainly seemed to be largely true. But not any more.”

John Hallacy, manager of municipal bond research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, called it “more of a vision kind of speech.”

Bloomberg, speaking in a city that lost 43 people and countless properties to Hurricane Sandy, called the rebuilding “the single most important piece of unfinished business that lies ahead of us in 2013.”

New York City Economic Development Corp. president Seth Pinsky is expected to deliver a long-term plan on hardening the city from storm effects by May 31.

“After the storm passed, it was clear that the houses and businesses most damaged by Hurricane Sandy were built decades ago, while those that were built in the last few years, or are now being built, held up pretty well,” said Bloomberg, who turned 71 Thursday. “That was no accident. Our administration has fundamentally changed the way we conduct waterfront development. But Sandy raised the bar – and now we must rise to the occasion.”

Bloomberg cited the scheduled completion this year of the second stage of the third water tunnel, the largest capital project in city history, as an example of follow-up to vital infrastructure projects. The 60-mile tunnel connects the city to the upstate water supply.

“Hardening the city is a worthy goal, although one of the biggest challenges is the cost,” said Hallacy. “They may have to do that kind of work in stages. It would be hard to impose a fee for that kind of project. The question is, do you go for more bonding and to what extent will the federal government pay for it?”

Moody’s Investors Service rates the city’s general obligation bonds Aa2, while Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s assign AA ratings.

Bloomberg offered his $70.1 billion budget two weeks ago to the City Council, which must approve it by June 30.

In a commentary at the time, Hallacy called federal enactment of Sandy recovery legislation a positive for the city. New York expects Washington to cover $4.5 billion of documented damage and impairments.

The mayor called styrofoam, which he wants to ban from the environment, “terrible for the environment and for taxpayers,” saying the material increases recycling costs by as much as $20 per ton.

Bloomberg will launch a pilot program to collect curbside organic waste from single-family homes on Staten Island for composting, with an eye toward a citywide plan. The city now pays $100 million annually to send food waste to landfills.

City Comptroller John Liu, a likely candidate for mayor, was critical of Bloomberg. “No one can say that New Yorkers of all walks of life shared equally in the accomplishments he claims as his legacy. Bloomberg’s third term was a great mistake, and this entire city is paying the price for that act of hubris,” said Liu.

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