When the Political, Real Estate and Financial power centers agree on a project, you have what they market as “a done deal.” Left out of the equation are the people, and on this project they intend to be players.
Bling-bling marketing with celebrity names distracts some people, but others see this project as a rich guys’ game.
“The politicians team up with wealthy businessmen on projects that are sold to the public as engines for economic development,” said former Yankee pitcher and author Jim Bouton. Bouton was speaking in the back of Freddy’s, a prohibition-era bar on Dean Street that serves as an informal headquarters of the Prospect Heights Action Coalition, the group spearheading the fight against the arena. “But all economic studies have shown that this is not true and in fact, jobs are lost and replaced with jobs at a lower level. The real jobs go to the players and the owners. But the arena overall has a negative impact on the community.”
Bouton says there are several characteristics of stadium that are common to all the projects. They are never grassroots motivated, they are planned in secret, the people most affected are the last to know and they are always complicated in order to hide the subsidy. He says that these projects are planned by businessmen who don’t like to compete, and enabled by politicians who don’t like democracy.
Bouton points out that teams move, and that Business and Real Estate Developer Ratner may want to move the Nets to Brooklyn now, but they may move someplace else later. He describes it as a national problem and suggests that cities and states team up against the teams and agree not to give tax incentives to teams looking to move.
“The profits are possible because the owners don’t have to build the stadium. If stadiums were good investments, business people would want to build them.”
According to the door-to-door census done by Patti Hagan of the Prospect Heights Action Coalition, 864 people currently live in the 73 buildings scheduled to be removed. 200 of these people work out of their homes and there are additional four dozen small businesses providing employment to the 237 people who come in for day jobs. “Some of the housing they are calling ‘blighted’ cost over a million dollars.” A local business owner noted that he pays his taxes, but “Ratner is not paying property taxes on Atlantic Center.”
Down the road and across the way, the residents of Duffield Street between Fulton and Willoughby met to discuss the condemnation of their property as a result of the Downtown Development Plan, now moving through ULURP, the Uniform Land Use Review Process. Many spoke of being stunned by the notices they received and were as one said, “Glad to see that someone had some information about what was going on.” At one point it was suggested that this was a racial issue. Irene Van Slyke of Community Board 2 disagreed saying “This is not a racial issue. It’s greed.”
Joe Wright of the Castle Coalition explained that the new rationale for eminent domain abuse is the idea of “under-performing” neighborhoods. “A neighborhood can be called under-performing if another type of structure or business could bring in more tax revenue. Using this logic, a row of single- family homes can be labeled under-performing because a high rise would generate more tax revenue. But once that becomes the criteria, then any neighborhood can be considered under-performing.”
David Walker, a local property owner, said he recognized that the situation is one of “small businesses and home owners against big business.” The situation was also simple for Joy Chatel, is chair of the Duffield St. Block Association. Her husband died in her home, over her beauty parlor. “They want to steal this block plain and simple…
We the people must lock arms and stand for something.” Homeowner Lou Greenstein said that none of the residents on the block knew of the meetings, “They did not give us a thought.”
Back up at Hanson Place Methodist Episcopal Church, Councilwoman Letitia James was ticking off her list of objections to Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards Project.
“It’s an abuse of eminent domain, a land- grab deal that’s more about real estate than sports. It’s unhealthy and will contribute to already- high asthma rates, it is designed for luxury and not affordable housing and I’m opposed to public financing for private gain.”
“We’ve been getting calls telling us to stay out of this,” said the councilwoman, “and the New York Post called me a traitor. If by that they mean I’m a traitor to corporate interests, then yes, call me a traitor.” In the question- and-answer period that followed, Chris Owens said of the Post editorial, “How dare you call us traitors for standing up for our homes! ”
Scott Bullock, Senior Attorney, Institute for Justice/Castle Coalition told the gathering of over three hundred, that “You are not alone in this fight” and that “the good news is that there is a nationwide movement against eminent domain, courts are beginning to crack down.” “Developers are taking land because it is ‘under-performing’.” “If this is upheld, then nobody’s property is safe.” The one good thing about eminent domain is that “it unites people,” said Mr. Bullock.
In order to be effective, he said to “dig deep into the project. These things are usually rushed through and corners get cut that can be brought up in court.” He said the group can expect to hear, “What are they objecting to? They’re getting paid.” “You people are against development,” and “eminent domain will only be a last resort.” Which is like saying “sign it or I’ll kill you. But don’t worry, that’s a last resort.”
All the smart money is riding on Ratner, but people may start to think about alternatives (see page 4) and the abuse of government power for private gain (accompanying article) as well as any public subsidy for the project and the environmental impact.
The battle has been joined and it will be a doozie.