Challenging Bruce Ratner’s Brooklyn Atlantic Yards project
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
The New York Post's Rich Calder is reporting this morning that Barclays Bank will pay Bruce Ratner "hundreds of millions" of dollars for a few advertising signs.See the Archives for more...
Not just any signs, but the ones called "naming rights."
The deal would be for twenty years.
How much of the money would be returned to taxpayers to pay off $2 billion in public susidies for the Atlantic Yards project?
As stadium financing analyst Neil deMause is fond of saying, "bupkis."
Traditionally, naming rights profits go straight into team owners' pockets. Since the vast majority of arenas and stadiums are publicly funded, naming-rights deals are affronts to taxpayers and fans.
Ticket prices aren't held down on new arenas, and they aren't reduced on older venues with new naming-rights deals.
It's never clear that naming-rights money is used to sign better players.
Public officials don't force millionaire owners to use naming-rights profits to repay loans the taxpayers didn't okay in the first.
And here in Brooklyn, not one job or affordable apartment will be created with Barclays naming-rights money.
Historically and aesthetically, naming rights are detestable -- rather than honor a city, culture, historic figure, veteran or even the team, they honor bloated corporations for whom the rights are simply a line-item in the year's budget and a tax deduction for the IRS.
The popular argument for naming rights is "sports is so expensive these days, you have to do it." Sports has always been expensive. In fact, there's far more money available to owners these days -- massive cash flow, everything from merchandising to t.v. contracts. While some expenses are higher (player salaries, larger organizations), todays revenue generators more than make up for it.
In fact, the New York Yankees -- by far the highest team payroll in the U.S. -- has never had naming rights on its stadium.
And what of Barclays Bank? For the most unsavory of starters, it was founded in 1756 on profits made in the slave trade. In more recent times, Barclays has been:
* a major funder of South Africa's apartheid regime;
* a rotten place for women to work through the 1970s;
* sued by French Jewish holocaust survivors for working with French Nazi collaborators during World War II;
* funding exploitive mining operations in Congo;
* criticized by the World Bank (!) for not supporting more environmentally-positive energy consortiums and initiatives;
* sued by defrauded Enron shareholders and employees for collaborating with Enron execs during the company's meltdown.
This is the company whose name Bruce Ratner wants to put on his arena for all of Brooklyn to see.
We're curious to see how ACORN's Bertha Lewis, the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, former State Assemblymember Roger Green and newspaper columnist Errol Louis -- all outspoken Ratner supporters and, except for Louis, known recipients of Ratner money in return for supporting the project -- feel about Ratner's arena being named for a company founded with profits earned on the backs of African slaves.
We single out these three because in years past, before the Ratner project, they admirably confronted our nation's sordid racism. Daughtry is a long-time civil-rights figure. Lewis confronted illicit redlining loan practices in Black neighborhoods and fought for more low-income housing. Green, at least before he was tossed from the state assembly on corruption charges, was a young political fighter in Brooklyn. Louis writes often about institutionalized racism.
In short, before doing the wrong thing by supporting Ratner, they did the right thing by fighting racism in America. What will they think if the arena ends up being built with blue neon signs advertising Barclays slave legacy every night? Will they say it doesn't matter? That the Ratner fiscal goodies allowing them to sit at a table and believe they're part of the power structure were worth it? That this is somehow a convenient form of reparations?
Daughtry and Green have both called for reparations in order to compensate the Black community for their ancestors' suffering under slavery. (For the record, FFFP backs that call.) Perhaps they can continue that quest by asking Barclays officials about it.
Bob Law, a Brooklyn community activist who's also fought racism for decades, has noted how insulting Ratner has been to the Black community by offering basketball as an contemptuous inducement.
Now Ratner wants to put company built by the slave trade on his basketball arena's facade. The man knows how to top himself...
Ratner, by the way, for all bluster about loving Brooklyn, has sold the arena's name to a non-Brooklyn, non-New York-based corporation. In fact, it's not even a United States-based consortium.
The crux here is that corporations and rich team owners conspire to use public funds to build arenas with naming rights that make the corporations and owners richer still.
All this while public schools, transit systems and social service agencies go begging for funds.
To be sure, this Barclays announcement is just another Ratner p.r. stunt to convince people the project's writ in stone.
It's not. A bevy of state and federal lawsuits, further legislative oversight, a new administration in Albany, the slackening of the country's luxury housing bubble, and increased costs are all shaking the house of cards that is the Atlantic Yards.
Previous attempts to convince people they can't do anything about Atlantic Yards include "done deal" and "slam dunk," a phrase the basketball ignorant and sports-challenged Ratner loved getting his stubby mits on.
They've said "done deal" since 2003. It's now 2007, and it's still not a done deal.
But this pact of Ratner's with a devil from the past seems pretty done.
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Tomorrow, Thursday the 18th at noon, Ratner and Barclays will announce their deal at the Brooklyn Museum. We urge everyone who oppose a slave-trade company's name on a publicly-funded arena to show up and voice her and his displeasure.
Here are the directions to the museum. See you there at 12:00 p.m.