Challenging Bruce Ratner’s Brooklyn Atlantic Yards project
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Lotsa quick items today:See the Archives for more...
FFFP attended a Fort Greene Association event last night. Hakeen Jeffries', the area's new State Assemblymember-elect was on the bill. Also, Joe Chan, who heads up the newly-coagulated Downtown Brooklyn Partnership.
Jeffries was encouraging, but still hard to read. He announced he would advise Sheldon Silver to postpone the upcoming and crucial vote of the Public Authorities Control Board...the one that would authorize hundreds of millions in state funds for Ratner's Atlantic Yards project. That's good news. Other Brooklyn assemblymembers who have Silver's ear -- Jim Brennan and Joan Millman -- are also urging a delay.
Jeffries has other concerns about the project -- size, lack of democratic process, and eminent domain abuse -- but at the same time, still supports the basic concept of a Ratner's mega-block. In the end, we hope Hakeem prevails on the concerns he has.
Joe Chan was far less encouraging. Formerly with the Bloomberg administration, Chan's just another political operative parlaying his government connections into private-sector enrichment.
The group he heads, the DBP, is billed as a Business Improvement District (BID) organization. BIDs are structured as non-profit, but their chief goal is profit. BIDs traditionally collect dues from local businesses for things like trash pickup, info booths, tourist p.r., and to keep an eye on legislation that could impact the area. In New York, BIDs exist in well-defined areas like Times Square, 34th Street, etc.
The DBP, though, is far scarier. It has combined four smaller BIDs representing Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Fulton Mall, the Downtown Brooklyn Council, and the MetroTech -- the last, of course, heavily Ratner. The DBP now has the task for overseeing the entire downtown Brooklyn redevelopment plan, and effort so huge it makes Atlantic Yards look like a split-level house in the suburbs.
Chan admitted at last night's FGA meeting that DBP is, essentially, a mouthpiece for developers and big-business. No surprise there, but with the heft of four BIDs and responsibility for the downtown Brooklyn plan, the DBP is not just a BID, but a BID on steroids.
More frightening, it's an extra-judicial, non-government agency handling what should be our city government's duties. This will absolve City Hall of blame should the plan. DBP -- a pro-big-biz/developers faction -- with no oversight will be crafting the plan step by step, and only showing the public what it wants when it wants.
This is the city we live in today.
Also, calling it a "Partnership" sounds like everyone's involved in convivial planning. The only partners here are developers and government officials who like developers.
* Chan declared the city's mass transit system to be operating "at capacity." In other words, a tacit admission that it's incapable of handling the Atlantic Yards and the downtown Brooklyn plans;
* Chan's idea of "diversifying" the shopping experience of downtown is to talk with national chain store corporations. This Bloombergian construct -- that the rigid sameness of chain stores is a "diversification" -- shows how out of touch Chan, the DBP, and Bloomberg are. It's also obvious that Chan and the DBP don't like the funky feel of the Fulton Street Mall and hope to replace Black Brooklyn's mall with national chain stores and upper-shelf emporiums.
One of DBP's Ten Priorities is to bring in new businesses for "who's coming next" to downtown Brooklyn. Since Atlantic Yards's numbers indicate an instant gentrification, that means replacing stores like Dr. Jays with, who knows, Neiman Marcus and The Fur Vault. It would be nice if the DBP were mor concerned with "who's living here now" rather than "who's coming next."
* Chan admitted that the city's economic forecasts in 2002 were completely wrong. That was when the Bloomberg administration predicted a desperate need for office space, and though Brooklyn would be a great dumping ground for the new office towers. The downtown Brooklyn plan was created, and according to Chan, over $300 million has been plowed into the plan.
But surpise! There's now a glut of office space throughout the city, and $300 million later, no one's quite sure what downtown Brooklyn's supposed to be. Chan was far more specific about plans for traffic medians, shrubs and tiny parcels of benches and grass than he was about downtown Brooklyn's new raison d'etre.
In 2003, Ratner's Atlantic Yards claimed 10,000 newly-created jobs (a number so pollyanna we had to italicize it). Today, the numbers plummeted to under 400 (a number so numbing we also had to italicize it). This reflects the cricket-din indifference to office-space need in Brooklyn.
Here's the crux: with the city having completely misread the tea leaves and wasted $300 million on those bad prognostications, why should we trust the DBP -- headed by a feller who helped conujure those inaccurate predictions.
Then, there're these bemusements:
* Jay-Z, Mister Power Playa, Mr. NBA Owner, Mr. My Team's Coming To Brooklyn, is so proud of his 7/10 of one-percent ownership in the team. So proud, in fact, that on the cover of his new album Kingdom Come, he's wearing...a Yankees cap.
* 50% of the Daily News' circulation is in Brooklyn. Maybe for that reason, the News has had a Brooklyn section every Tuesday for a while now. It's clear, however, that they have an absolute ban on news, opinions and letters about the Atlantic Yards project. There's no other explanation for the zero reportage in the weekly Brooklyn insert about the biggest Brooklyn development ever.
Still, stuff slips through. There's this letter from Lisa Davie, who works with a non-profit skating program at the Abe Stark rink at Coney Island:
"To reply to cheers for Floyd Bennett [a newly-opened rink at the commercial athletic complex at Floyd Bennett Airfield -- FFFP ]: Cheers to Abe Stark. There is ice skating and hockey in Brooklyn and it has been there for 40 years: the Abe Stark rink right next to the famous parachute jump and Cyclones Stadium in Coney Island.
This is exactly the argument FFFP has made for three years -- that the City is more interested in assisting well-heeled and connected corporations who charge Brooklynites big-time for sports, than going to bat for small programs that really get the job done. Rather than grease the skids for big for-profit enterprises, the City should take the money they're putting in Ratner's pocket for arena "infrastructure" and put it into dozens of athletic facilities borough-wide that all Brooklynites can use.
* Ratner's lucked out a lot -- for a while, the harsh light of public insight was diverted by the West Side Stadium, the Javits Center, the Olympics, the new Yankees and Mets Stadiums, the 7-line extension, and others.
Here's another luck-out: the Knicks stink. The terrible stench from MSG -- both on and off the court -- has made the Nets look far more attractive. Had the Knicks been playing like '69, '73, '94 or even '99, the portion of Ratner's plan that involves romancing hoops fans in Brooklyn would look far, far, far less attractive...and every bit as unnecessary as it actually is.