The Brooklyn Atlantic Yards project was announced at Borough Hall this past December and depending on where you live, it is either a boon for Brooklyn or a Sultan of Subsidies= dream come true, or both. The plan is for Forest City Ratner Companies to build an arena for the NBA Nets, along with phased-in residential units, commercial and retail space and six acres of public space including an open-air, rooftop skating rink and running track. The estimated $2.5 billion project is said to be primarily privately funded, with what the press release calls, AIncremental revenues (which) will be derived from sales taxes on tickets, food and merchandise sold at the new arena.@
Job Creation, Mayoral Support
According to the release, the Brooklyn Atlantic Yards is projected to bring Amore than 15,000 construction jobs over 10,000 permanent jobs created and/or retained in the commercial offices, 400 permanent jobs at the arena and additional indirect benefits.@
At the press conference, Mayor Bloomberg said, AOur administration is ready to put on a full-court press for its approval – just as we=re prepared to team up with Forest City Ratner Companies and with the elected officials and people of this borough to bring the Nets to Brooklyn. We=re rooting hard for their success.@
Economic Opportunity For Brooklyn
In a separate interview, Una Clarke, director of the Brooklyn office of the Empire State Development Corporation, voiced support for the project. Ms. Clarke said AWe=re all here today to support and endorse the project and concept, and then look at the mitigating circumstances and concerns of local people who may not understand the scope of the economic opportunity that this is for the borough of Brooklyn.@ Ms. Clarke asserted that; AMy interest is the participation of minority and women-owned construction firms to be able to be subcontractors in the project. I=m also concerned that when employment comes, that women in particular, who are qualified for positions, will be in there.@
Speaking of the Avisionaries@ who conceived the project, Ms. Clarke, whose state-controlled agency used its power of condemnation to assist another Forest City project, the yet-to-be-built new home of The New York Times, was glad that they had seen fit to include housing as part of the plan. And regarding the Astiff@, as she termed it, traffic and parking, Ms. Clarke said; AI=m sure that people who study cities and how they work will be able to design it in a way that everything will fit neatly together in downtown Brooklyn.@
communities of color
Asked about how this is going to benefit the African-American and Latino communities in Brooklyn, Assemblyman Roger Green said, AThe challenge is going to be to put together a formulation that includes opportunities on the investment side, some affirmative- action proscriptions, project labor agreements and enhanced educational services for the project. If we get that, then I think it=ll be a good thing.@ The assemblyman noted that businessman Bernard King, former basketball player and former resident of Fort Greene Houses, is going to be investing in some of the commercial buildings with his brother Albert. AJay- Z, who comes out of Marcy Houses, may be one of the partners in the Nets as well,@ he added.
The assemblyman said that ALondel Macmillan is going to be our point person in these negotiations. Londel started out as a sports agent, he=s on the cover of Black Enterprise this month, he=s going to be the lead person in the negotiations for the African-American and Latino- elected officials as we put our menu of issues together.@
Speaking of how her constituents would view this project, City Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D/WFP), who=s 34th Council District covers Williamsburg and Bushwick, was of the opinion that; AThis is perhaps the revitalization plan we need for Brooklyn, to spearhead job development opportunities and residences that are badly needed. We need the players to come together and unite all the elected officials and create a package that can deliver to the people of Brooklyn.@
Councilman Kendall Stewart (D- 45th CD) added, ANow that we have people at the table there is no doubt that young Black people will have an opportunity to see history in its making and be part of this in terms of economics, in term of opportunity, education, services and that is very good for all of us. Even the homeowners around the area, their property value will escalate.@
Potential is there, but…
Bedford Stuyvesant Councilman Al Vann,(D- 36CD), said he didn=t know yet if the project was a good thing for his community. AWhat they project in terms of jobs being available, of housing being available for low- income people, all of that sounds good and of course whenever you have that kind of economic stimulus, it can have a tremendously powerful impact on Bed-Stuy and beyond.@ Councilman Vann went on to say that he reserves his personal decision on it, but AI do recognize the possibility and the potential. When we have an opportunity to have a different kind of meeting with the Ratners and the people involved, then I will be able to speak more publicly about it. But I know if you=re not in at the beginning of the equation, you won=t be in at the finish. So before we put our imprimatur on this project, we have to see that we, the community, African and Latinos are there from the beginning to the end.@
Objections to arena project
AThis project is a bad idea,@ said Councilwoman Tish James of the 35th District where the project is located. Ms. James was speaking at a community forum held at the Hanson Place Central United Methodist Church. Declaring her support for residential Ahousing, housing, housing@,commercial and community-centered development including recreational programs for young people, Ms. James is opposed to the arena component and the size of the envisioned complex.
Health and community impact concerns
Citing health concerns, Councilwoman James says the 19-20,000 seat arena would add to the traffic density and air pollution. AWith the high rate of asthma and other respiratory problems already in the community, this project has serious environmental concerns.@
Speaking of what she called the Adisruption to the character of a vibrant community@, what the councilwoman found Aparticularly offensive,@ was Athe exercise of eminent domain in taking private land, homes and places of business, for a private commercial development. Eminent domain is supposed to be used for public projects, not for private developers.@
Public financing an issue
Then there are the tax dollars used in the project. AWe just had a property tax increase, and at a time when the schools are crumbling, they=re closing firehouses, and services are being cut back, this is not the best use of public resources.@
The public financing Ms. James refers to is Atax increment financing;@ a method of financing a project that uses the increase in tax revenue generated by the project to pay for the costs of development. (See AWhat is a TIF? page 8)
On the issue of jobs created, Ms. James said that she has looked at arena projects in other cities and there is no real evidence of net job gain. She added that most of the jobs created will be at the low end of the wage scale. (The arena is also not a very efficent job-producer, providing a job for every 2,000sq. ft. while the commercial space provides a job for every 216.7sq. ft.)
Francis Byrd, Democratic District Leader and State Committee person for the 57th Assembly District,said that the scope and magnitude of the project was a major objection. Mr. Byrd said that canvassing by the Prospect Heights Action Coalition has shown that over a thousand people with homes and businesses would be displaced. AWe have to see what we can do as a group to stop this project.@
Explaining her stance on the project, Ms. James asserted that AThis is not a payback for Prospect Heights voting overwhelmingly to put me into office. As I stood on the corner looking at the railroad tracks, I don=t think it makes sense. It goes against the character of the community. I think it=s going to destroy Prospect Heights and Fort Greene and divide the two communities. These are young communities with a lot of children. And I don=t believe you want to live in residential towers taller than the Williamsburg Bank Building or an arena in your backyard. You want better schools, more day care, some character in the community, some commercial, some retail and we need more housing.
AEminent domain requires legislation which means they have to go to the state legislature or the city council. I=m not prepared to accept this and I don=t want to hear any further discussions about; >Well, when are you moving? When can we begin negotiations with Ratner?=@
AThey tell you it is private financing but that=s not true at all. Tax Increment Financing are funds that should be going to city coffers to pay for schools and social services.@
James says that Ratner has several hurdles to get over. AFirst; he=s in a war with New Jersey, he still has to buy the team; two, he has to get past some elected officials, eminent domain has to be approved by the state and the city. Three, he has to get past all of you and a bunch of environmentalists who are very concerned about the impact on the area.@
AWe are prepared to fight this. I am with you and you are with me, we are one. One shared purpose and one shared common destiny to stop this.@
AI=m here to support our councilwoman,@ said State Senator Velmanette Montgomery. AShe=s the captain here and I=m an excited soldier,@ Ms. Montgomery warned that there was a disinformation campaign being waged in the press and by some of Aour colleagues who believe what they have been told.@ They believe Athis is going to be a boon to the economic development of Brooklyn. It=s going to benefit small businesses in the area. Bring in new jobs and we=re all going to be happy and richer.@ AI don=t know where an arena has added to the economic vitality of a neighborhood ….I think we=re being sold a bill of goods.@
Regarding the misinformation, Senator Montgomery said that her new office in the YWCA building at Third and Atlantic gave her a view of Atlantic, Flatbush and the beginning of Lafayette Avenue. AAt 3 o=clock; the cars are just parked on all those avenues.@ The senator said there was a report that the people downtown had higher rates of lung diseases. AWell, there=s more to come.@
We have to send the message that we will not accept the burden of this traffic, pollution, and uprooting of our community, to benefit other people.@ I can guarantee you it is not going to be built with private money. This is an opportunity for a developer to make a lot of money and we should not have to pay for it.@
The Prospect Heights Action Coalition is a neighborhood organization that is investigating the area to be condemned. Organization member Patti Hagan reported that a census the PHAC is taking has so far revealed that over a thousand people will be displaced, Aand for many of them, their homes are their businesses.@ Among the businesses, Ms. Hagan lists are a violin maker, a jewelry maker, artists, writers, home care attendants, movers, truck drivers, storage companies, carpenters, canvas stretchers and frame fabricators, and more. Some of these are multigenerational businesses. The Atlas Auto Service on Vanderbilt Avenue, for example, has been owned by the Sarno family since 1960.
ANext door the Privat=s, a Haitian family, has been there for 40 years running World Class Auto.@ Owner Leslie Privat was raised on Vanderbilt Avenue and is raising his children there now. AThese are the homes and the businesses that Marty Markowitz and Bruce Ratner want to bulldoze,@ says Ms. Hagan. AEminent domain is to be used for public purpose only. In this plan they have only eleven acres over the train tracks. An additional ten acres are privately owned. They want to seize it. During the public comments a supporter of the arena project said she and her friends thought it was a good idea because of the jobs it would bring. Councilwoman James said the arena will only bring a few hundred Abasically low-skilled and low-wage jobs.@ Ms. James drives home the point about jobs by bringing attention to MetroTech. AYou have a housing development with 75% unemployment right across the street from MetroTech and its been that way since MetroTech was built. They did not hire from the community. @
Local resident Sue Metzer was of the opinion that Athe content and the process are despicable.@ and that Agovernment has not consulted us anywhere along the way. We have two elected officials here and we have to support them. Markowitz has been a traitor to our community, he=s selling our community and he has no right to do that.@ AWe don=t need places to watch the game, we need places where the kids can play the game. We need subsidized housing, but not towers. The government has been captured by the private developers so it is political work we have to do.@
Standing like a general calling her troops into action Ms. James, AThis is not a done deal as of yet. Do not concede anything to Ratner, the borough president, or any powers that be. I am not prepared to say we are defeated. I am prepared to fight this and the question is, >Are you with me?=@ Declaring they were, many signed the committee sheets in the back of the church for the upcoming fight. If Bruce Ratner is able to buy the Nets, it will be a tough fight to win. Reports in The Brooklyn Papers are that the project would be a state imposition that bypasses the city=s Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP), allowing no input from the community boards, city council or the City Planning Commission.