Fans For Fair Play
Challenging Bruce Ratner’s Brooklyn Atlantic Yards project

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

It's now more than a month into the NBA season, and we've gone from autumn leaves to twinkly lights on Main Street.

But in Ratnerville, Bruce Ratner keeps insisting we happily accept the same grimy bag of coal he's been offering all year long.

Ratner's proposal is still what it was upon introduction at a goofball press event last December at Junior's Restaurant: 17 buildings, one arena, more office space than the Empire State Building, open space that isn't necessarily public space, no clear numbers on public money Ranter's demanding, investors fleeing, dicey financing schemes, and most of project's land still owned by people and entities not named "Forest City Ratner."

A year later, the Atlatntic Yards colossus is no longer a "slam-dunk." That's the magical phrase Ratner, Marty Markowitz, Mike Bloomberg, George Pataki and Chuck Schumer keep using, much like I'd blather "Statistical mechanics interprets the increase in entropy in a closed system to a maximum at equilibrium as the consequence of the trend from a less probable to a more probable state" if I wanted people to think I knew something about quantum physics.

Forest City Ratner (FCR), in league with undemocratic leadership at the helm of Community Boards 2, 6 and 8, stages dog-and-pony shows euphemistically called "public information hearings." They don't go so well for FCR -- spokesperson and talking-head Jim Stuckey is heckled continually, embarrased by his own supporters' overexuberance, and walked-out on by a contingent from the Black community.

Particularly distressing at the latest of these events, held at New York Tech on November 29th, was the way Stuckey let one of the predominantly-Black community groups that backs the Ratner plan, ACORN, twist in the wind when asked whether FCR funds the group. He could've just said "no," whether or not that was the truth. It's called protective gratitude. But he hung them out to dry by giving a vague answer that left the issue floating in the air. Geez...if that's how FCR treats their "friends" in the Black community...

Any day now, the MTA (i.e. Money's Tight Again) is expected to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with FCR and the Empire State Development Corp. This will begin the process of officially moving forward. This will continue the process' complete lack of democracy and transparency to date. Before the ink dries, Pataki, Ratner and the ESDC's pithy Charles Gargano will wave the document like Neville Chamberlain did as he stepped of the plane just back from Munich.

Lack of democractic process for these reasons:

* Despite FCR's claim that it was their idea, and that they're the only ones stepping up to plate, there are other developers who wish to develop the Atlantic Yards -- now, and in the recent past. Long Island University wanted to build dorms, classrooms and offices there a few years ago, but were told NO by the city. A local developer made a pitch back in the late '90s, and was also refuted. The failed LIU bid is particularly galling because all the college wanted from City Hall was a publicly-built platform over the rail yards...the same platform the city will gladly build for both Ratner and and the other zillionaire's stadium project, Woody Johnson's West Side Jets stadium.

In short, the city is willing to build these platforms for wealthy moguls, but not for a local college.

In shorter, this massive reshaping of Brooklyn is a no-bid project.

* Lies. FCR is lying to the construction unions, housing advocates, poor locals who desperately need jobs and sports fans. Markowitz, Pataki, Schumer and Bloomberg are helping him by publicly voicing those lies. (see our Factsheet for those pesky facts that cause the FCR to clam up when questioned.)

* FCR is doing everything it can to ensure as little public oversight as possible. With law-school chum Pataki's help, Ratner is funneling the project through the less-stringent state review process. Some city officials, like Tish James, Charles Barron, Richard Gottfried, and Tony Avella, and Christine Quinn, have voiced support for returning the Atlantic Yards to city oversight, but since Gifford Miller and Mike Bloomberg -- who could have saved the day on this issue -- have turned their backs on the city they profess to love, it may be too late for the tougher, more democratic and publicly-involving city review process.

* FCR continues to force gag orders on anyone who signs a deal with him. This project, supposedly so good for Brooklyn, can't even withstand public comment from those who've done business with Bruce Ratner. Sorry, but there's no other way to couch this -- gag orders mean FCR's hiding something. Hiding a lot.

* To date, FCR has poured a quarter-of-a-million dollars into lobbying Community Boards 2,6 and 8. It's not illegal, but it certainly defies the spirit of the law that created CBs -- giving a greater voice to local residents. Groups opposed to the Atlantic Yards don't have the lobbying money, but FCR does. So far, it's only the leadership at these three CBs that's backing Ratner. Many subcommittees have issued determinations and votes against the project, only to see those recommendations tossed in the trash by CB leadership. Very, very Tammany.

On other fronts, it's very roomy at the Meadowlands these days as the New Jersey Nets -- Ratner's skid-greasing acquisition -- play before half-empty houses. It's hard to imagine drawing less people to Nets games than last year, but Ratner's managed it. You read the attendance figures, which include all season tickets sold, and it looks bad. You see the games on t.v., or actually join the few hardy souls in the cacophonous arena, and you realize it's a good night when the attendance breaches the high four-figure mark.

And Nets fans...what on earth are they cheering for? Their team is being yanked away in a manner that makes Bob Irsay's midnight moving vans leaving Baltimore the model of owner-to-fan compassion...the Nets have been decimated and made not just bad, but a league-wide laughingstock (tying or setting early-season records for scoring ineptitude)...their star is alienated and another top player is being vilified (even though the latter, Alonzo Mourning, has every right to be frustrated since the deal he signed was with a different ownership than the one currently calling the shots)...and ticket prices were raised at the beginning of the season.

And yet...and yet...there they were, Nets fans jumping for joy when Vince Carter's last-second layup (after forcing his way past a still-rusty Jason Kidd in his first game back from injury) dramatically rolled off the rim, securing a rare Nets victory.

Imagine if Walter O'Malley announced in 1957 that he'd be moving the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles in three, four, five years. Can you imagine how desolate Ebbets Field would have been. Would Brooklyn fans today, supposedly made from the same stuff as the borough's mythological yesteryears, put up with such nonsense from an owner native to Cleveland who won't even live in Brooklyn? (The bland, smooth-edged, tony Upper East Side of Manhattan's his preferred 'hood.)

Remember, Brooklyn: Bruce Ratner's a guy whose m.o. is to target "marginal neighborhoods" (his words, his m.o.) and build them in his image. Wherever Ratner chooses to build, he sees the area as "blighted," "marginal," a "wasteland" (all words he's used). Sees the people that way too -- to either acquiesce to his demands, or be ignored when they don't.

This is the guy you want bringing glory to Brooklyn? All he sees in Brooklyn is opportunity, not soul, financial gain, not cultural renaissance.

As the New Year approaches, more and more people are learning what makes Bruce Ratner tick. Every day, there are more and more people calling themselves "Ratner's opponents" -- people who do favor development with an eye to the future, but the kind that doesn't wreck neighborhoods, force people from their homes, waste public money, and lie to people desperate for jobs and affordable housing.

Try on "Ratner's opponent." See how it fits...
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