Skip to main content

The evolution of BrooklynSpeaks, now without the Municipal Art Society, to AY opposition (but the governance proposal remains)

The presence of BrooklynSpeaks constituent groups in court January 19 for the combined case challenging the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) 2009 approval of Atlantic Yards was a watershed of sorts, a sign that the coalition, formed in September 2006 under a "mend it, don't end it" philosophy, had recognized the limits of that strategy.

Also, the presence of group members in the audience significantly boosted the contingent of project opponents in the courtroom.

Their willingness to go to court, as described further below, helped generate a split with the Municipal Art Society (MAS), the venerable preservation and planning organization that spawned the coalition and has advocated for AY reforms.

MAS supplied a significant part of the analysis behind BrooklynSpeaks's critique of AY (such as open space that seems private) as well as BrooklynSpeaks's quite reasonable governance proposal that the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) form a subsidiary to oversee Atlantic Yards, just as subsidiaries have been formed to oversee other long-term projects, such as Battery Park City.

The 2010 version


The current BrooklynSpeaks web site, as indicated above, highlights the empty space created by demolition on the block bounded by Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues and Dean and Pacific streets, space destined for a massive (and lingering) interim surface parking lot.

As with Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, BrooklynSpeaks highlights a notorious quote from project developer Bruce Ratner: "Why should people get to see plans? This isn't a public project."

The current active sponsors of BrooklynSpeaks are listed:
The Atlantic Avenue Local Development Corporation
The Boerum Hill Association
The Brooklyn Heights Association
The Center for New Urbanism (New York Chapter)
The Fifth Avenue Committee
The Park Slope Civic Council
The Pratt Area Community Council
The Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council
Tri State Transportation Campaign
Note that the Center for New Urbanism joined after the group's founding.

The 2006 version


The 2006 web site graphics, as shown above, was more eclectic, contrasting the Frank Gehry skyline, at top center, with a variety of images of Brooklyn.

The sponsors of BrooklynSpeaks at the time were those listed below; those I've italicized are no longer active:
Atlantic Avenue LDC
Boerum Hill Association
Brooklyn Heights Association
Fifth Avenue Committee
Municipal Art Society
National Trust for Historic Preservation
Park Slope Civic Council
Pratt Area Community Council
Project for Public Spaces
Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council
Scenic America
Tri-State Transportation Campaign
Two of those groups, the National Trust and Scenic America, were active specifically in expressing opposition to plans for massive signage at the project--plans that could be revived. I'm not exactly sure why Project for Public Spaces became less active. All three, however, have not been active for a while.

MAS statement

What happened with MAS? The organization has never supported litigation against Atlantic Yards and this case emerged as MAS was going through a transition in leadership. Though new president Vin Cipolla has stated that the MAS aims to be a "big voice" on certain development project, Atlantic Yards is apparently not one of them.

MAS spokeswoman Karen Crowe gave me a statement:
MAS was one of the creators of Brooklyn Speaks, and we are extremely proud of our association with the group. The Brooklyn Speaks coalition has given a powerful voice to community stakeholders concerned with the Atlantic Yards project and its impact on the surrounding neighborhood.

Without commenting on the recent SEIS lawsuit, MAS maintains the same position it had when Brooklyn Speaks was founded: we do not believe that litigation is the best way to improve the project. Because Brooklyn Speaks was so closely associated with the litigation brought by certain of its member organizations, we felt it was inappropriate to remain a member of the coalition.

Through ongoing conversations with ESDC and Forest City Ratner Companies MAS continues to advocate for implementation of the design principles we articulated, with Brooklyn Speaks, when the project was in its nascent stage. We are also continuing to work towards a governance structure that will fully engage local residents and the community.
So MAS is still in dialogue with Forest City Ratner--dialogue that would be hard to maintain if the organization were a plaintiff. It's a fundamental question of pragmatism vs. principle, as I've written, and former allies now disagree.

Philosophical change?

In one place, the BrooklynSpeaks web site seemingly accepts the AY project as a given:
Since its launch in September of 2006, the BrooklynSpeaks initiative has sought to provide the people of Brooklyn and their elected representatives a platform from which to demand change to and accountability from the Atlantic Yards project, helping to promote development at the site that works for Brooklyn and New York City.
However, a subtle shift might be read elsewhere on the site:
Since the approval of the Atlantic Yards plan by the State of New York in December of 2006, the BrooklynSpeaks sponsors have advocated for transparency by State and City government with respect to project governance, as well as for the involvement of the public in the decision-making process. We have also drawn attention to adverse environmental impacts of the plan that remain to be fully and properly addressed.

The sponsors continue to work to create a dialog among residents, Community Boards, elected officials and State and City agencies around responsible development at the Atlantic Yards site that meets Brooklyn's needs and addresses the concerns of surrounding neighborhoods, while maintaining accountability to the taxpayers of the City and the State.
Responsible development does not necessarily mean the Atlantic Yards project.

Update: a comment from BrooklynSpeaks

BrooklynSpeaks spokesman Gib Veconi adds a comment:
Although it is true that there has been change in some of the active BrooklynSpeaks sponsors, there has been no change in the sponsors’ philosophy with respect to development at Atlantic Yards, which is based on the following principles:
-Respect and integrate with surrounding neighborhoods
-Include a transportation plan that works
-Create affordable housing that meets the community’s needs
-Be truly accountable to the public

The continuing purpose of the BrooklynSpeaks initiative is to create a meaningful and constructive dialog between community and government that leads to the implementation of these principles at the Atlantic Yards site. That goal has driven all of our actions to date, including our recent suit against the ESDC and Forest City Ratner Companies.
The governance issue

Still, if the project does proceed, expect BrooklynSpeaks--likely with the cooperation of MAS--to ramp up the governance proposal, which is completely reasonable, given that Atlantic Yards is an outlier compared to other projects that are overseen by structures that have longevity and accountability.

Can the current political appointees and ESDC staffers in charge of Atlantic Yards maintain any long-term vision and local accountabillity?

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…