Skip to main content

BrooklynSpeaks principals say it's about strategy

Yesterday, the day after the BrooklynSpeaks web site finally launched, backers of the project spoke at a press conference in Brooklyn--less than an hour after the City Planning Commission, in its only review of the project, essentially ignored many of the flaws in Atlantic Yards pointed out by BrooklynSpeaks, including interim surface parking and open space that looks more like the backyards of buildings.

While the site developers, led by the Municipal Art Society (MAS) and eight other groups, aim to get concerned Brookynites to send letters to public officials, many questions yesterday regarded the groups and their goals. Recently the Boerum Hill Association (BHA) issued a tough set of principles regarding the project, including no use of eminent domain, but BrooklynSpeaks accepts the arena and mentions eminent domain only as a concern that some have expressed.

"Each of our groups has things we feel strongly about," said the BHA's Sue Wolfe, indicating that she didn't consider the two stands contradictory. "We felt that this was more powerful" as a way to get the message out.

The Park Slope Civic Council, said president Lydia Denworth, still might vote on eminent domain. "We don't think it precludes us from participating in this."

DDDB criticism

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, which leads the fight against the project, issued a critical welcome:
However, while the BrooklynSpeaks group takes a position on a few of the relevant issues, they have failed to hear the voice of the community on the issues of the arena, eminent domain abuse, city oversight of the proposal, the unknown public cost, the severe environmental impacts, and the lack of affordable housing guarantees.

Middle ground?

Michelle de la Uz of the Fifth Avenue Committee, whose DeGraw Street headquarters in Gowanus hosted the press conference, lamented--as she had at the Sept. 12 Atlantic Yards community forum, a sense of polarization, in which people were listed only as for or against the project. "We hope to have a more civil discourse," she said.

Do the BrooklynSpeaks principles represent an acceptance of Forest City Ratner as the developer for this project, rather than a challenge to the project's legitimacy and the process by which the developer was allowed to proceed? It seems so. Then again, Denworth was asked if the BrooklynSpeaks members would support Atlantic Yards if the request for changes is met.

"Perhaps," she said. "But I feel that between here and there, there's a whole lot of distance to be covered." Without the relatively moderate position distinct from an all-or-nothing lawsuit expected from DDDB and allies, she suggested, "You might get stuck with what they're planning."

"This has not been a public process," Wolfe said. "If this is delayed, maybe there will be an opportunity for a public process." The MAS's Kent Barwick suggested that a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) might be created for ongoing review of the project.

Relations with DDDB

Asked about the role of DDDB, project principals spoke carefully. "DDDB's position is one that's valuable," said de la Uz, who noted that several organizations in BrooklynSpeaks had joined DDDB in a lawsuit challenging ESDC demolitions and the role of an ESDC lawyer who formerly represented Forest City Ratner.

But, she added, "When our agendas align, it's important that we form coalitions."

Denworth said that "work that DDDB has done is very valuable," but suggested the DDDB strategy is primarily legal. (Ultimately legal, perhaps, though the organization and mobilization goes beyond courtroom issues.)

Some of the groups are members of the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN), an umbrella organization formed to respond to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. "This is to complement the work of the CBN," said Deb Howard of the Pratt Area Community Council (PACC).

Affordable housing

Given that the BrooklynSpeaks principles call for increased affordable housing for poorer Brooklynites, would the two housing advocacy groups seek to play a role in AY affordable housing?

"I didn't place PACC in this position so we'd have a piece of the pie," Howard said. While de la Uz said she never ruled anything out, "I we're not going to compromise our other values."

Superblocks?

While the principles oppose superblocks, BrooklynSpeaks accepts the demapping of Pacific Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues. "If Brooklyn wants an arena, and this is a pretty good place for one, that portion of Pacific Street has to be lost," Barwick said. Still, as he acknowledged in June, it's difficult to assess what exactly Brooklyn wants.

DDDB pointed out that, given the somewhat murky presentation of this issue on the BrooklynSpeaks site, the group "should be explicit in their support of the arena and their acceptance of the use of eminent domain for the “Atlantic Yards” proposal (which is required to construct an arena)."

Future strategy

At the end of the press conference, the representatives spent some time talking with each other, as it was one of the first few times they'd met as a group. As they work on outreach, they likely will work to harmonize their message.

Some people referred to the principles as "mitigation," as if to complement the role of the ESDC. Others said they represented "real change." Given that BrooklynSpeaks says that plan "must be changed substantially or rejected," it sounds like more than mitigation.

Dissent and agreement

ADDENDUM: I neglected to point out that the Prospect Place Block Association, a member of the BrooklynSpeaks constituent group Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, protested that it was not consulted on the development of BrooklynSpeaks. Given that the block association opposes the arena and eminent domain, the association's Atlantic Yards task force "feels the Brooklyn Speaks initiative does not go far enought."

I've also heard there's some dismay among members of the CBN because--as I pointed out last week--this announcement takes away from the significant critique of the DEIS that will be submitted on Friday.

Bob Guskind of the Gowanus Lounge suggests:
The truth is, we're depressed that you didn't try to work this out privately and didn't come up with a division of labor, at it were, on Atlantic Yards before this all went public. But, it's not too late. It would be for the best if everyone involved in trying to shape the outcome of this fight were to hash out their differences and divide up the work.
How? Well, BrooklynSpeaks ought to acknowledge that eminent domain is not an appropriate tool for developing Atlantic Yards, even if it's politically simpler to ignore the issue. Legal action to block Atlantic Yards on the basis of eminent domain and other issues is entirely appropriate and BrooklynSpeaks ought to support those efforts. That turf, however, is best left to Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and its supporters.
We do think it's valuable to push for signficant changes in the project, including a redesign with significant public input, as a fallback. This is necessary for the public good, should the legal strategy not stop the development.

Comments

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…