It may not be politically correct, but one of the best things to happen to Brooklyn in the past ten years is the Atlantic Yards project.
I mention this because last week I was at the Atlantic Terminal Mall, where from a lunch counter stool on the second floor, one looks out of a giant picture window at the ongoing construction of the arena.
Watching the steel structure rise and union workers on the job gave me the feel that this is New York City – the financial capital of the world and the city can still get projects done.
This thought is also the reason why I never bought into the propaganda-like opposition that stalled the project for seven years in court and nearly killed it.
The newly gentrified in the Prospect Heights area was the brunt of this opposition led by Daniel Goldstein, and his makeshift organization Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn.
Goldstein lived in the footprint of the project, having bought his condo in cash in 2003, the same year that developer Bruce Ratner announced the project. Either he or his wife were the only people that drew a salary from the organization, and after the court battles were over, he sold out to Ratner for a nifty $3 million.
Throughout, the ordeal Goldstein also had an old buddy film his fight, and he is now promoting that film, Battle for Brooklyn, in which he is portrayed as a David fighting a Goliath.
While almost all of the press jumped on Goldstein’s side throughout the ordeal and have given generally good reviews to the film, what was missing was the big picture.
In the last twenty years, America’s infrastructure has been crumbling and the most innovative architecture in the world has moved away from the United States and to the places like Dubai, China and the Pacific Rim.
Indeed, when developer Bruce Ratner first proposed the 22-acre project in 2003 or 2004, he had world-class architect Frank Gehry designing it and the proposal included thousands of units of affordable and market rate housing. It also included sorely needed subway and sewer infrastructure improvements.
Ratner’s company, Forest City Ratner also signed a community benefits agreement with eight or nine community based organizations – all led by people of color. While almost all these organizations also received funding from Ratner, it’s a lot more than Mayor Bloomberg has given to African-American non-profits in his tenure as mayor.
But between the opposition fighting the project in court and the downturn of the economy, Ratner had to can Gehry several years ago, and the project is a shadow of its former self.
That said, I’m betting the government will again try to jumpstart the economy, and the Atlantic Yards project is a good investment as building it out in entirety will create thousands of jobs and better living and working conditions for the borough.
In the meantime, the arena is taking shape and it will do much for the economy and spirit of the borough when it is completed and the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets start calling it home in about 15 months.
It will mean jobs and entrepreneur spin off opportunities. It will add excitement and spirit to a basketball-crazy borough. And when the team makes the playoffs, bars and restaurants will do more business.
Let the excitement begin.