Skip to main content

"Brooklyn Boondoggle": a short film that packs in protest, ambivalence, and AY episodes circa 2008

To me, the most interesting element of the 11-minute documentary Brooklyn Boondoggle, which debuted last night at Galapagos Art Space in DUMBO, was not the critique of Atlantic Yards, made by elected officials and a diverse array of residents. 

(The title apparently takes off from City Council Member Letitia James's statement calling the project "a gigantic boondoggle.")

Nor was it the general absence of political and community supporters of the project--though footage of "Build It Now" counter-protestors assembling does appear early in the film.

Ambivalence

Rather, it was the not-so-coherent ambivalence expressed by some residents around the project site, in the main working-class black Brooklynites who identify with neither the project's supporters nor opponents.

Such ambivalence represents the closing words of the film. "We just gotta be heard," utters a man pictured in the Dean Street Playground near the project site. "Go Brooklyn Nets.... Slow down, Bruce Ratner, we still here, man. That's all. That's all."

Of course, Ratner is slowing down, for reasons other than community concern, but the arena can't be decoupled from a project that grants Ratner control of 22 acres, a "great piece of real estate," in the words of his cousin Chuck Ratner, CEO of parent Forest City Enterprises.

And, however much it might be convenient to walk to a game or a concert, as one interviewee suggests, the impact of indefinite interim parking lots and indefinite construction--remember, the project would take "decades," admits CEO Marisa Lago of the Empire State Development Corporation--might make life in the neighborhood not-so-pleasant. 

Overview and more

The producers of the film manage a decent mini-overview of the project via text superimposed on screen, rather than a narrator. 

Given that the film was produced mostly in 2008, including scenes of utility work that long made life on Dean Street unpleasant for residents, that sketch is more up-to-date than in Brooklyn Matters, the indictment-as-documentary that debuted in early 2007, but the latter is more substantial.

It's impossible for a film this short to fully convey the complexity of the project and the debate, but "Brooklyn Boondoggle" packs a good amount in. 

"I think Brooklyn having a sports team on the national stage will give Brooklyn a sense of pride and will focus national attention on Brooklyn," says Bill Shapiro, owner of Triangle Sports at Fifth and Flatbush avenues. (He's the only interviewee to self-identify on camera, though names of those interviewed are listed in the credits.)

"In my case, he's going to move me, and then move me back into the development at the same rent," declares Joe Pastore, a crusty Dean Street resident who once was a plaintiff challenging the project. "We're going to see if he keeps his promise."

Eminent domain and more

"I've lived here since '79," says a white woman with a distinct Brooklyn accent, as a young black man walks past, interjecting, "Let's build the stadium."

"The stadium's all right," she ripostes--in a line that drew laughs from the audience last night--and segues into criticizing the developer for forcing people to give up their homes under the threat of eminent domain. "Why should they have to move? It's their neighborhood."

"I just think he came in like a bully, and thought that he could just bulldoze over everything," says another neighbor.

Arguments for eminent domain become more credible when it proceeds from a plan developed by government, rather than presented by a developer with an inside track and, indeed, one interviewee points that out.

The man pictured above, who lives with relatives on Pacific Street within the project site, laments that the developer is trying to kick them out. Later, after another interviewee notes that Ratner is losing money, the man above says that the developer wants people to "panic and give in," but "we're not stupid."

Gentrification

There's one amusing moment in which a sincere young woman (Asian), with her male partner (white), explains, "There's definitely a lot of gentrification going on right now, which is good and bad, always. I guess you could say we're a part of it too."

Another interviewee (black) then , "Every other house, there's a new condo going up," and, indeed, we are quickly shown new construction and real estate signs.

Unexplained, however, is that Atlantic Yards supporters like ACORN's Bertha Lewis say Atlantic Yards would fight gentrification--at least compared to other new buildings in and around Downtown Brooklyn with no affordable housing--while statistics suggest that 84% of new residents would have incomes above the median. 

Moreover, the affordable housing is essentially a privately-negotiated affordable housing bonus, in which ACORN said it would support the project without considering the impact of the increased density. 

Time Out

Several elected officials are shown--while an ominous underlying soundtrack plays--speaking at the "Time Out" rally held May 3 of last year. "You were so right," declares State Senator Velmanette Montgomery. "It's not a done deal."

“We’re here not because we’re anti-progress,” asserts Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries. “We’re here today because we're pro-democracy.”

“There is one plain truth here," trumpets City Council Member David Yassky. "The community has never had its say in this project."

"I want the developer to respect this community," warns James. "I want to see real jobs and real affordable housing."

A year ago, perhaps, project supporters might have rebutted James by saying that, whatever the criticisms of Atlantic Yards, it would supply at least some jobs and affordable housing. Given the attenuated and still-unclear timetable, that argument is tougher to make.

What next?

What should be built? "Something a bit more natural and reasonable," says a resident of the footprint, who's also pictured--amidst Dean Street construction--how those in his building and another are in court trying to keep from losing their apartments.

"The quality of life may not be there after this project," acknowledges Triangle Sports' Shapiro. (Without seeing the complete interview, I'm not clear exactly on his stance.)

"We need jobs and we need help," says a young man. "This is not going to do anything for us." (Surely a member of the group rallying in the beginning of the film would've argued the opposite, given commitments in the Community Benefits Agreement, though others in the film warn that construction workers often come from out of town and arena jobs are seasonal.)

"For them to come and run us out of here, change it, and rearrange the neighborhood," utters another. "We welcome the stadium, but the rest of the community, don't take from us."

Then comes the final speaker, welcoming the Nets but warning about Ratner.

Bottom line

I'm not sure how much the film serves as a lesson to other communities facing development pressures, given that, for example, there's no explanation of the role of the Empire State Development Corporation, no discussion of the controversy over blight, and only brief mention of "benefits" to the community, without analysis of the controversial Community Benefits Agreement.

But it does convey some memorable sights and sounds during the course of an epic controversy.

Comments

  1. What's with all the black, white and asian references?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Well, if you watched the film you'd process race and class signifiers. And race and class are part of the AY story, as many others have discussed.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

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…

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…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…