Saturday, August 01, 2009

Beer summit with Goldstein and Ratner at Freddy's? Not likely

In a whimsical article today taking off from the "beer summit" hosted in Washington, DC, by President Obama for Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Cambridge cop James Crowley (who arrested Gates in a controversial incident at Gates's home; charges were dropped), the New York Times decided to ask some participants in long-running disputes, including Atlantic Yards, whether they'd be amenable to a similar solution.

The article, headlined In New York, It Takes More Than Beer to End Feuds, states:
Perhaps because New York thrives on feuds, and because they are often fueled by money, power, pride, the tabloids and the sheer magnitude of the place, such disputes tend to burn hotter and longer in the city than they do elsewhere.

But there are other things about the city that get in the way of potential beer summits: some New Yorkers’ preference not for beer but for wine, their conflicting schedules and their general unavailability come summertime.

Dan Goldstein, who has led protests against the Atlantic Yards project in Downtown Brooklyn as the spokesman for the group Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, nevertheless said he would agree to a beer with the project’s developer, Bruce C. Ratner, at Freddy’s Bar and Backroom, which happens to be the de facto headquarters of Atlantic Yards opponents. A spokesman for Mr. Ratner who had promised to respond was later unavailable.


FCR's challenge

Ratner, of course, wouldn't set foot in Freddy's. So that was an interesting public relations challenge for Forest City Ratner, a company that, for example, invited reporters to a "press conference" during the Atlantic Yards public hearing Wednesday that consisted of press statements and cheering but no actual questions.

What might have been a more enlightened response? Well, let me suggest that, from the developer's perspective, a "beer summit" involves both venue and host. The Times let Goldstein choose the venue. The Times didn't suggest a host.

Perhaps Forest City Ratner could have chosen a watering hole at or near its MetroTech complex in Downtown Brooklyn, though the pickings are slim. Or maybe at the Izod Center in New Jersey, the lingering home of the basketball Nets, though it's not exactly convenient.

But Goldstein surely wouldn't have agreed to that.

What about the host

Either way, it shouldn't be up to the parties to choose the venue; that's the job of the host.

But there's no neutral host, is there? Borough President Marty Markowitz couldn't host the summit, since he's aligned with Forest City Ratner. Nor could City Council Member Letitia James, a staunch supporter of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn.

Nor could the Empire State Development Corporation, the state agency charged with both overseeing and approving the project.

Maybe the only place for a beer summit--as with so many elements of the Atlantic Yards dispute--is a courtroom, particularly a court that has not yet weighed in on any Atlantic Yards case.

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