Wednesday, November 21, 2007

News flash: Brooklyn arena would be as close to the street as the Newark arena

Mystery solved, and compounded: now the New York Times tells us that the planned Atlantic Yards arena would be--at least in part--as close to the street as the Prudential Center in Newark.

And, given that city officials in Newark have chosen to close streets outside the new arena for security purposes and city officials in New York vow they won't do so, that raises further questions about the security plans, and the tension between necessary confidentiality and public oversight.

In other words, given that Newark has chosen to close the streets, it shouldn't be enough for New York City and state officials, and developer Forest City Ratner, to say "trust us." Some form of independent scrutiny, however confidential, is necessary.

(The graphic is from the FEIS--note that the green space is on the rooftop of the arena.)

Underplaying some news

The news surfaced this afternoon on the Times's CityRoom blog, in an article both substantial and whimsical that was marred by the oblique headline Putting the Atlantic Yards Arena in a Secure Place. (A literal reading suggests that some entity is enhancing AY security, which is not the subject of the article.)

How about another headline that gets to the point:
Atlantic Yards Arena Closer to Street Than Stated
Atlantic Yards Arena Security Issues Echo Newark
For Brooklyn Arena, Security Question Echoes Newark


The lead was a tad gentle, so I've appended my edit in bold:
Once the basketball arena at Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn gets built — assuming it does get built — it should be fairly obvious where it is. But until now, the precise location of where the arena is going to be has proved strangely elusive because government officials and the developer have been unwilling to say.

The NYTimes's estimate

Andy Newman's article explains that his earlier report, that "renderings of Atlantic Yards show the arena about 75 feet back from Atlantic Avenue and about 150 feet from Flatbush Avenue," was based on a look at a rough site diagram. However, he notes, "the prolific Atlantic Yards watchdog Norman Oder" cited a rendering that appeared to show the arena much closer to the street.

That was last week. Forest City Ratner spokesman Loren Riegelhaupt pointed Newman to a state document that declared that sidewalks would be widened to 20 feet. Was that the setback--the same distance that led Newark to close streets?

Finally, the answer

Newman writes:
Mr. Riegelhaupt was initially unable to answer. The problem was that the location of the arena falls under the rubric of a “security issue,” a phrase that brings a magic cone of silence crashing down onto even the most innocent-seeming inquiry. Somehow the planned location of an 18,000 seat basketball arena had become as classified a piece of antiterror information as, say, the structural vulnerabilities of a bridge.

Finally, after more than 24 hours of tense negotiations, Mr. Riegelhaupt called at 1:43 p.m. today with the definitive number: at its closest point to the street, the arena will indeed be 20 feet from the street, on both the Atlantic Avenue side and the Flatbush Avenue side.

That is the same distance as the Newark arena is from its neighboring streets. So what’s different about the Atlantic Yards arena? That, Mr. Riegelhaupt said, is a security question, to be directed to the Police Department. The Police Department has said that its policy is not to comment on such matters.


Keeping a lid on the news?

While I have no knowledge of "tense negotiations," it's curious that Forest City Ratner chose to release some key, potentially damaging information on the afternoon before Thanksgiving, a time when much less attention is paid to hard news.

(Remember, FCR has strategically fed the New York Times exclusives to gain prominent play in the first workday after July Fourth in 2005 and the first workday after Labor Day in 2006.)

The Times's decision to publish the story first on its blog, in a rather un-Timesian narrative style, raises the question of whether the story will appear in print.

It should. The news that parts of the arena would be 20 feet from the street updates/contradicts/corrects the newspaper's previous report that it would be 75 feet from the street. Not putting that in print disserves the readers regarding a still-controversial issue.

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