Skip to main content

"A Walk Around the Footprint" and one holdout no more

There's a poignant aspect to the 18-minute film, A Walk Around the Footprint, a snapshot of people and places in the shadow of eminent domain and Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project. When the film was shot six months ago, Vince Bruns was a holdout, one of the last loft residents in the handsomely-renovated former Spalding factory at 6th Avenue and Pacific Street. "I love the space. I'd be perfectly happy to die here," Bruns told filmmaker George Lerner, whose film was shown Friday night at the Park Slope Food Coop.

But Bruns had to be experiencing some pressure. A 6/30/05 New York Times article about the aftermath of the Supreme Court's Kelo eminent domain decision described Bruns as a holdout, noting that a sign in his window proclaimed: "I love my home and my neighborhood. I intend to stay here." But Bruns "acknowledged he might someday be forced to sell."

Indeed, though Bruns remains in his loft , he's agreed to leave by the end of September. He's bought an apartment in nearby Boerum Hill. And he took the sign down three months ago.

A lesser gag

Unlike most of the other residential owners who sold to Forest City Ratner, Bruns, a self-described longtime ACLU supporter, negotiated a less onerous set of restrictions. He doesn't need the developer's approval to talk about the project or the buyout, and he can participate in rallies and forums--just not as a "prominent speaker." So his low-key role on a panel after the film Friday night would seem to qualify. He had to agree not to donate money to the project opposition--but he did write a check to Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) before he signed that agreement.

So why'd he leave? "I had a big investment in my space," Bruns said later, "and I felt we were getting close enough to condemnation." He added, "I think they treated me fairly. The only unfairness is that they had an unfair weapon, in the way that eminent domain is perverted."

He said that his property had been appraised for more than double the price he paid in 2002, and that Forest City Ratner paid more than that appraisal, but not the 50 percent premium that has been proposed in some legislation regarding eminent domain.

A sense of place

Filmmaker Lerner said his model was the Barry Lewis/David Hartman "A Walk Around..." series for PBS, and he was not trying to make a film about the project, in all its details and contentious arguments. The film contains no interviews with project supporters. But the implication was clear: there are successful elements of a mixed-use neighborhood within the footprint, though they have been winnowed by time, and there are buildings that have historic value.

(Indeed, the neighborhood has quieted down; as Peter Krashes, who lives on Dean Street across from the proposed project footprint, told WNYC radio last December, "a lot of the property has the appearance of being more dormant. That’s one of the things that people miss when they walk here they don’t understand that what was a pretty active area has been emptied.")

And, as the rendering of the western segment of Gehry's plan shows, what might replace it would be very, very different--a change hinted at but not shown explicitly in the film, which was shot before the latest project renderings were released. (Graphic from New York Times)

The eminent domain battle

Bruns's decision leaves Daniel Goldstein of DDDB, the last condo owner from three owner-occupied condo or coop buildings in the footprint. However, several others--including commercial owners, residential renters, and owners of smaller residential buildings--remain subject to eminent domain. About 70 people, mostly tenants, still live in the footprint, which would be 22 acres, including an 8.3-acre railyard. (That number does not include the population in a homeless shelter, which had been estimated to constitute more than half of the 800+ residents in the footprint.)

Goldstein Friday expressed appreciation that Bruns held out for so long, but it seemed apparent that Bruns, who runs a fish business, had not been ready to join Goldstein--a graphic designer-turned-full-time-activist--as an eminent domain plaintiff. Some among the remaining residents in the footprint were afraid to be in the film, Goldstein said, but several potential plaintiffs remain.

Goldstein told the audience there would be an eminent domain lawsuit. "[Forest City Ratner's] Jim Stuckey called my attorney," Goldstein recounted. "He said, 'Will Goldstein take an offer. He can keep fighting us, but will he agree not to be an eminent domain plaintiff?' I think they're worried."

"There are a lot of 'done deals' that have been undone," he said in response to a questioner who offered that common observation. "He can't build the project without my apartment. He can't build the project without fixing traffic [problems]. He can't built the project if the condo market crashes."

Added Scott Turner, who appeared with Goldstein in the movie, "When it started in December 03, I'd say we had a ten percent chance. I'd say it's even money now." He took pains to say that project opponents were not against jobs and housing, and that there could be construction on the railyards--a smaller-scale project--without encroaching on the existing neighborhood.

Renters under pressure

Also in the film was 87-year-old Victoria (Mary) Harmon, who said she had no desire to leave the apartment she's rented for 62 years. "I'm too old to go looking for places."

David Sheets, an eight-year resident, talked about how he and other long-term renters had helped stabilize and restore the neighborhood. Now, he said in the film, his building is showing water damage. Given the specter of eminent domain, "There's no incentive for anyone to pay any money into repairing it... It's a self-fulfilling prophecy." And that will help the state declare that the area is blighted, a prerequisite to invoke eminent domain.

Sheets added that the lack of focus on renters, many of whom are minorities and also uncomfortable with publicity, "feeds into the perception" that "it's just a handful of white yuppies" opposing the project.

"If Freddy's goes, Brooklyn goes"

The film also included scenes in Freddy's, the prohibition-era bar at the corner of Dean Street and Sixth Avenue that hosts everything from punk to jazz to knitting nights. "You take away all this, you're going to kill Brooklyn," Turner declared on film. Kill the borough?, he was asked afterward. "Every neighborhood has a bar like Freddy's," he responded.

"It's symbolic," Goldstein continued. "Change can be good. Change can be bad. I don't think anyone wants to see that kind of change." Some do, of course, and attitudes toward change depend not only on issues like scale and place, but also on larger political and economic forces.


Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

So, Forest City has some property subject to the future Gowanus rezoning

Writing yesterday, MAP: Who Owns All the Property Along the Gowanus Canal, DNAinfo's Leslie Albrecht lays out the positioning of various real estate players along the Gowanus Canal, a Superfund site:
As the city considers whether to rezone Gowanus and, perhaps, morph the gritty low-rise industrial area into a hot new neighborhood of residential towers (albeit at a fraction of the height of Manhattan's supertall buildings), DNAinfo reviewed property records along the canal to find out who stands to benefit most from the changes.
Investors have poured at least $440 million into buying land on the polluted waterway and more than a third of the properties have changed hands in the past decade, according to an examination of records for the nearly 130 properties along the 1.8-mile canal. While the single largest landowner is developer Property Markets Group, other landowners include Kushner Companies, Alloy Development, Two Trees, and Forest City New York.

Forest City's plans unc…

At 550 Vanderbilt, big chunk of apartments pitched to Chinese buyers as "international units"

One key to sales at the 550 Vanderbilt condo is the connection to China, thanks to Shanghai-based developer Greenland Holdings.

It's the parent of Greenland USA, which as part of Greenland Forest City Partners owns 70% of Pacific Park (except 461 Dean and the arena).

And sales in China may help explain how the developer was able to claim early momentum.
"Since 550 Vanderbilt launched pre-sales in June [2015], more than 80 residences have gone into contract, representing over 30% of the building’s 278 total residences," the developer said in a 9/25/15 press release announcing the opening of a sales gallery in Brooklyn. "The strong response from the marketplace indicates the high level of demand for well-designed new luxury homes in Brooklyn..."

Maybe. Or maybe it just meant a decent initial pipeline to Chinese buyers.

As lawyer Jay Neveloff, who represents Forest City, told the Real Deal in 2015, a project involving a Chinese firm "creates a huge market for…