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Challenging Bruce Ratner’s Brooklyn Atlantic Yards project

Monday, March 07, 2005

The New York Post's Campaign of Avarice 

The New York Post has come out swinging -- their clumsy, flailing punches landing between the eyes of Brooklyn’s workers, residents and small business owners.

Today’s editorial shows how little the Post knows about neighborhoods mega-developer Bruce Ratner has in his crosshairs.

The Post, so enamored of Ratner’s self-claimed divine right to destroy Brooklyn, conveniently ignores the facts. What’s sad is that over the past year-and-a-half, the Post’s beat reporters have provided occasional fair and informed reporting on Ratner’s land-grab.

Below, we give you the Post’s AD-itorial for Bruce Ratner, followed by the facts.

BROOKLYN'S NET GAIN
The New York Post, March 7, 2005 editorial

When Robert Moses nixed Walter O'Malley's request in the 1950s to build a stadium for the Dodgers at Flatbush and Atlantic avenues in Brooklyn, O'Malley upped and moved the team to Los Angeles.

Many historians agree that O’Malley already had one foot out the door at the point Moses k.o.’d the Flatbush & Atlantic deal (the plan, by the way, was for a fanciful and not altogether to-be-taken-seriously 100,000 seat domed stadium where the Atlantic Terminal mall now sits). O’Malley had a deal from the city of Los Angeles that was too good for him to turn down.

In fact, Los Angeles was able to steal the Dodgers from Brooklyn with the same unethical sweetheart deals that New York City is offering Bruce Ratner to bring the Nets to Brooklyn -- massive public expenditures, widespread eminent-domain abuse, and the destruction of an established minority working-class neighborhood.
Many New Yorkers still haven't gotten over it.

So what? In fact, most New Yorkers a) have, or b) don’t care, because they don’t remember Ebbets Field. In fact, to be perfectly frank, many of the greater metropolitan area’s proponents of major league sports return to Brooklyn abandoned our borough during the great white flight of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. It’s a different Brooklyn today, and we’re doing just fine without a major league team.
Today, officials are intent on not letting that site cost them another
professional team — the Nets, now based in the swamps of New Jersey.

The difference between spending public money to keep a team and spending public money to lure a team is too obvious to point out…but here, we just did. For the Post, anything, dahling.

On Thursday, Mayor Bloomberg and Gov. Pataki announced a deal with developer Bruce Ratner.

A non-legally-binding deal with no signatories that are actual land owners, or that spells out public funding in nearly enough detail to be taken seriously.

Also, MoUs were signed for the Jets’ stadium, and look how well that’s going.
Ratner owns the Nets and plans to build a Frank Gehry-designed, 19,000-seat, glass-enclosed arena for them at the site.

If all goes well, pro sports will soon be back in the borough after a decades-long absence.

Shows how much the Post knows. The Brooklyn Cyclones are a professional team, as are the Brooklyn Kings (basketball). We hate to copy-edit Post editorials, but what they mean is “major league” sports, not just “pro” sports.

Hear, hear.
"Hear, hear?! Well, you know how many current Brooklynites proclaim their joy on the streets, in the playgrounds, in the clubs with hearty shouts of “hear, hear!” Memo to the New York Post -- unlike the members of their editorial board, Brooklynites don’t wear powdered wigs anymore.
Equally important is Ratner's intention to develop the surrounding
area — some 21 acres — as part of the $2.5 billion plan.

Equally important? This is all the deal’s ever been about! It has little to nothing to do with the basketball arena. Brooklynites aren’t stupid -- we know that the arena was Ratner’s candy-coated bon mot to grease the skids for his 17-building mega-disaster.
He'll build more than 4,000 residential units (including low-cost
housing), more than 2 million square feet of office space, some retail sites and six acres of land for public access.

Ratner’s new figures reduce the number of apartments by 10%, construction jobs by 20%, and permanent jobs by 15%. It proves what we’ve been saying all along -- Ratner’s projections on jobs and affordable house are lie-filled, desperate shots in the dark.
It's a phenomenal boost to an area that, quite honestly, has languished sinfully — seemingly forever.

“Quite honestly” means, in this case “quite misinformed.” The only thing “sinful” here is the Post’s contention that our thriving, diverse neighborhoods are blighted.

Indeed, Ratner's project would be the largest development in any borough besides Manhattan in a quarter-century.

So what? Why is this good, noteworthy, or a positive impetus to undertake the project? Bigger isn’t guaranteed better. The UNITY plan, which provides the same housing density and the potential for more permanent retail and small-business job opportunities than Ratner’s -- all without using eminent domain to take peoples’ homes and jobs -- is smaller in scale. In fact, it’s a scale that fits in with Prospect Heights and Fort Greene.

"This is an historic project that will continue to energize the borough of Brooklyn," said Mayor Mike.

No, see, it won’t. It will drain city services while diverting energy and resources into this money-pit of a project. Besides, Brooklyn -- as evidenced by soaring real-estate prices and small businesses opening throughout the borough -- is already plenty energized.
Aside from the sports team, he said, the jobs and housing brought to
the area will have a "lasting impact."
What the hell does this mean? Leap-frogging the weirdly vague-yet-authoritative creamy nuget of Bloomberg's soundsnipe, the fact is, someone's gonna build over the Atlantic rail yards. The genie's out of that bottle. Ratner's far from the only developer capable of building something there of "lasting impact." There WILL be jobs, there WILL be housing, no matter who builds there.

Of course, the plan is not without its critics and caveats.

City Hall and Albany, for example, must each spend $100 million on the project — even as their future-year budgets are in the red and their debt loads are so large, they're prompting questions about their long-term fiscal solvency.
Neil Demause, the author of the seminal analysis of stadium boondoggles, Field of Schemes says the actual public bill will be $500 million, and Gustav Peebles, who co-authored an independent report challenging Forest City Ratner’s self-serving and haphazardly thrown-together cost-benefits analysis, says it will pass the $1 billion mark.

The second part of this sentence, about the huge debts taxpayers are already socked with in current city and state budgets, is a core reason this entire editorial is wrong.
But the public funds will go to prepare the site, construct new streets and infrastructure and perform the requisite environmental cleanup.
For a private development. Why does this make it right? If by “prepare the site,” the Post means “build a platform over the rail yards,” this is a 180-degree turnaround from the city’s stance several years ago, when Long Island University was rebuffed in their plans to privately build dorms and classrooms above the rail yards if only the city would pony up the money for a platform. Back then, the city couldn’t be bothered with helping out an institute of higher education. Now, they’re willing do it for a wealthy private real-estate developer.

“Construct new streets” is wrong. The Ratner plan actually calls for the elimination of city streets.

Why shouldn’t Forest City Ratner shoulder the cost of environmental cleanup? And what’s in the ground that needs such an expensive cleanup?

This, in our view, is a perfectly legitimate use of public funds.
This opinion, in our view, is insane in its selfishness and skewed priorities for a city that can’t keep schools in working order, social services in the black or municipal workers paid what they deserve.

Property owners and others in the area also may be displaced (though many have taken incredibly generous buyouts from Ratner).
Not “many.” Few. Most people living and working in the footprint have received no offers at all. Ranter‘s divide-and-conquer strategy involves buying out the more expensive condo and co-op owners -- so that the press will dutifully report the occasional before-taxes million-dollar offer -- while at the same time making no offers on the large number of rental-unit buildings, the ones occupied by poorer lease-holders who, despite Ratner’s claims to care, will be left with no enforceable protections if their landlords decide to sell to Ratner.

Ratner’s also waiting for the big Supreme Court eminent domain decision (due in June). If it goes his way, he’ll make lowball offers to the remaining property owners, knowing that if they refuse him, he can whack them with eminent domain -- a procedure just endorsed by BUILD (a pro-Ratner minority jobs agency negotiating a deal with FCR to facilitate job allocations if the project ever gets built). Another local entity who likes the idea of strong-arming working-class Brooklynites is the Reverend Herbert Daughtry, who along with BUILD submitted a pro-eminent domain amices brief to the Supreme Court.

What it comes down to is this: it’s not “generous” when you offer cash with one hand while holding an eminent-domain club in the other.

And Thursday's deal was just a first step — a "memorandum of understanding."
Again, a legally non-binding document with faulty fiscal numbers and absent any landowners in the footprint. Also, this MoU -- delayed for over a year because of a minefield of civic and financial issues -- was created without Pataki, Bloomberg and the Empire State Development Corporation (the agency charged with facilitating Ratner’s empirical monstrosity) considering any other bids, designs and initiatives, nor consulting with the communities affected.

Up above, the Post gloated that “Ratner's project would be the largest development in any borough besides Manhattan in a quarter-century.” The MoU, then, is the “first step” in non-Manhattan New York’s largest no-bid contract possibly ever.

Remaining are lengthy environmental hurdles, potential legislative
action, formal condemnation proceedings, approval by the state public-authorities board, agreement on a sale price for MTA-owned Property…
AND no oversight by the City of New York, no ULURP (the process that provides transparency and some safeguards, things absent in the Ratner-preferred New York State oversight procedure), no democratic process -- the sorts of omissions that should outrage any civic-minded newspaper.

And on and on.

Then will follow — as sure as a Vince Carter swish — the endless lawsuits, meant to delay the project to death.
No…meant to save peoples’ homes, jobs, communities, and taxpayer dollars.
Similar obstacles are giving Mayor Mike agita regarding his plans for a stadium in Manhattan for the Jets.

But let's be blunt: If Gotham won't allow a blighted swath of land in Brooklyn to be turned into a beautiful, spanking new development that spawns jobs, housing, economic activity and tax revenues — and brings pro sports back to Brooklyn, to boot — then what will it allow?
"A blighted swath of land"?! Soaring real-estate prices and rents, brownstones, converted lofts, businesses, restaurants, union halls, a fully-functioning rail yard, pubs, live culture -- how is this blighted. If Ratner plays the blight card, he’ll lose.

What else is wrong with this statement? Gotham isn’t being given a choice on whether to allow such a thing. Pataki, Bloomberg and small, obscure semi-secret state agencies are making these decisions, not Gotham.

Finally, anyone whose laid eyes on Ratner’s MetroTech, Atlantic Center Mall and Atlantic Terminal Mall (and then been forced to undergo surgery to repair the damage to their peepers) can tell you that “Ratner” and “a beautiful, spanking new development that spawns jobs, housing, economic activity and tax revenues” do not fit together.

Ratner is hoping to have the arena finished and the Nets playing in
Brooklyn in just a few years.

Just enough time, we hope, for the team to crack .500.
Exactly. The Post says Brooklyn needs a pro team (when they mean a “major league” team), then sarcastically castigate the Nets as a perennial loser under Bruce Ratner’s ownership. How, exactly, is a team as woeful and exploited as the Nets under Ratner expected to bring the pride back to Brooklyn? It isn’t. Not that we need it -- we've got Brooklyn pride, all without Bruce's paternalistic help.

Get moving, guys.
The vast coalition of community groups, clergy and elected officials opposed to this deal are moving -- fast and hard, with determination, smarts and community support.

The New York Post, on the other hand, is stuck in a Tammany Hall mindset of graft, political back-room deals, and siding with a rich Cleveland native whose mega-developer aesthetics will destroy what’s left of the Brooklyn of New York Post editorial-writers’ youths.
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