Thursday, February 04, 2010

Atlantic Yards gets a cameo in Markowitz's State of the Borough address; response is light (and nonexistent to mention of "Brooklyn Islanders")

Well, Atlantic Yards is still not quite ready for prime time, judging from the underwhelming response to the AY segment last night in Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's typically overstuffed State of the Borough Address.

The speech, held at the handsomely renovated Park Slope Armory, now a recreation center, was preceded by the usual parade of official speakers and diverse entertainers. It also included the swearing-in conducted by a jovial Mayor Mike Bloomberg, whose effort to overturn and extend term limits gave Markowitz his third term.

The event will be re-broadcast on BCAT on February 5, February 9, and February 16 at 2 pm and 10 pm. Also, as of February 5 it will be on-demand at Brooklyn Independent Television.

(Photo by Kathryn Kirk)

The AY segment

Less than a quarter of a way through the speech, Markowitz saluted the Brooklyn Academy of Music, naming and pointing to three of its leaders. They got a medium amount of applause.

Then came the AY segment, as captured in part in NY1 coverage. He continued (according to the official speech):
Of course--in 2009, confident investors also rushed to buy bonds for Atlantic Yards--meaning they believe Brooklyn is the future. Soon we will have affordable housing, union jobs--and the downtown cultural center that the fourth-largest city in America deserves--with a state-of-the-art arena hosting everything from music and theater to pro basketball. (And maybe even a hockey team called the "Brooklyn Islanders!") Listen, I know the Nets are in the cellar right now--but win or lose, the Brooklyn Dodgers were always our beloved "Bums"--and when the Nets play at Barclays Center, I'm confident our Brooklyn fans will cheer "Dem Bums" to an NBA championship!
The applause was light and Markowitz rushed rather than paused on the term "Atlantic Yards." (There was far more applause a few minutes later when Markowitz proposed opening up a call center in East New York rather than halfway across the world.)

The crowd made no response to the mention of the "Brooklyn Islanders," which is where the NY1 segment ended. (There's no evidence the arena could accommodate major league hockey.)

Nor was developer Bruce Ratner present, so no shout-out. (Should the arena proceed, will prospective Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov attend?)

And, of course, the investors bought bonds for the arena, not for the project as a whole. They don't have to believe Brooklyn is the future but rather believe the risk is worth the reward.

Last year Markowitz called AY a "city center;" now he's calling it a "cultural center." That term is usually applied to more civic enterprises like the Public Theater or Lincoln Center. Would anyone call Madison Square Garden a cultural center?

The headline news

The big news of the speech, previously (and strategically) leaked to the press, was the announcement of plans to refurbish the Loew's Kings Theater in Flatbush and to convert armories in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights into rec centers.

Markowitz is kicking in $1 million each for the latter projects, a relatively small percentage of a price tag that could reach $20 million each.

By contrast, more than one third of his capital budget for last year, some $24.6 million, was directed to the $64 million amphitheater planned for Asser Levy Park in Coney Island. Last year's budget also included $10.75 million for the Loew's Kings.

Another announcement: the fifth anniversary of the highly successful Brooklyn Book Festival will include two days of events, including one day of events at independent bookstores.

More details

Markowitz was in his element, saluting the enormous variety of Brooklynites, including writers, entrepreneurs, educators, restaurateurs; and government officials. He got laughs--as shown in the NY1 clip--when, in reciting the oath of office, he pledged his fealty to "the Republic of Brooklyn."

He even jabbed back creatively at a Daily News article describing his purchase of a home thusly: "The king of Brooklyn has a castle."

Markowitz's semi-detached Windsor Terrace home is no castle, especially compared to the home of Daily News publisher Mort Zuckerman, shown on a slide projected on screen. But no one was going to press Markowitz on the more questionable aspects of his home purchase, such as the use of his chief of staff, Carlo Scissura (the MC last night) for the transaction.

Defending the office

Markowitz defended the office of the BP as providing "the borough's voice." He cited his role in advocating for keeping Starrett City affordable; ensuring that school-based health clinics remained open; helping create a high school for innovation in advertising and media; getting a gifted-and-talented school in Brooklyn; helping lead the fight against a power plant on Bushwick Inlet; and more.

The upshot: he wants charter changes to beef up the job of Borough President, Public Advocate, and Community Boards.

That's a reasonable argument, but the BP's budget also could use some more transparency. As I wrote last April, Markowitz has resisted the idea of adding urban planning interns to help Community Boards with land use issues.

He claimed it was a budget issue and, yes, his budget has been shrinking, but he still spends a bunch of money on drivers and p.r.

The official press release

BP MARKOWITZ DELIVERS 2010 STATE OF THE BOROUGH ADDRESS, SWORN IN BY MAYOR FOR THIRD TERM AT PARK SLOPE ARMORY

Announces agreement with developer to restore Loew’s Kings Theater; capital funding for redevelopment of Bedford-Atlantic and Sumner armories; Brooklyn Book Festival expansion; and new Brooklyn poet laureate Tina Chang

On February 3, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz was joined by Deputy Borough President Yvonne Graham, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, New York City Comptroller John Liu, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and more than a thousand guests and honorees for the 2010 State of the Borough Address at the Park Slope Armory. Mayor Bloomberg administered the oath of office for BP Markowitz’s third term.

Among the major initiatives and updates outlined by BP Markowitz:

* Loew’s Kings Theater. The announcement of an agreement between the City and Arts Center Enterprises—the company behind the Boston Opera House, the Warner Theater in Washington, D.C., and the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center in Baltimore—who will work to restore and manage this historic jewel in Flatbush.
* Bedford-Atlantic and Sumner armories. The borough president will allocate $1 million in capital funds for each armory, to begin the redevelopment of the historic structures into vibrant community centers mirroring the successful transformation of the Park Slope Armory.
* Brooklyn Book Festival grows! This year, the Brooklyn Book Festival Weekend (September 11 and 12) will be launched, with special Saturday readings, parties and events followed by the main programming on Sunday.
* Brooklyn’s new poet laureate. After an extensive search by an advisory committee formed by BP Markowitz, Tina Chang of Park Slope has been appointed as Brooklyn’s next poet laureate, succeeding the late Ken Siegelman. Chang is the author of Half-Lit Houses and co-editor of Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond.
* 4th Avenue streetscape. The borough president envisions a long overdue transformation of 4th Avenue from Atlantic Avenue to the Atlantic Ocean into a magnificent “Brooklyn Boulevard.” The borough president’s office is teaming up with New York University urban planning graduate students to develop a community-based plan for an initial scope on the reconstruction.
* Borough President’s Office. BP Markowitz called for charter changes that would beef up the jobs of borough presidents, public advocate and community boards. He cited his major role in the land use process that resulted in more affordable housing and achievements such as the neighborhood downzoning in Carroll Gardens, Sunset Park, North Flatbush, Greenpoint-Williamsburg and Canarsie this past year.

Other highlights of 2009 included the successful battle to provide affordable housing in the Coney Island Plan; the creation of jobs by supporting projects such as the redevelopment of Coney Island; facilitating the merger of SUNY Downstate and Long Island College Hospital (LICH) to save LICH maternity and pediatric services; providing capital money for the playground on pier 6 at Brooklyn Bridge Park; successfully advocating for a gifted and talented school in Bensonhurst; and expanding cultural and tourism initiatives such as the Brooklyn Book Festival, Shop Brooklyn, Dine in Brooklyn and the smART Gallery Hop.

The theme of this year’s State of the Borough Address was “Brooklyn Counts”—the upcoming 2010 Federal Census and the Complete Count Committee convened by the borough president’s office to promote the Census in traditionally undercounted communities. According to estimates, 38 percent of Brooklyn residents are foreign-born and nearly half speak a language other than English in the home.

“This census year, it’s critical that every Brooklynite be counted, both documented and undocumented,” said BP Markowitz. “We are proud of our diversity, and we need to proudly put those numbers on the board. Everything from our government funding to congressional representation depends on it.”

The State of the Borough Address also celebrated community leaders and Brooklyn “characters,” and paid tribute to Brooklynites lost in 2009, including Rev. Timothy Wright, Brooklyn’s “Godfather of Gospel”; Anna Gonzalez, longtime chair of Community Board 4; Frank Mickens, beloved principal of Boys and Girls High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant; Rosemarie O’Keefe of Bay Ridge, former commissioner of the mayor’s community assistance unit; Jackie Randazzo Page, longtime owner of Randazzo’s Clam Bar in Sheepshead Bay; Louis Valentino, Sr., community activist; Louvinia Pointer of Great Day Chorale; Suzanne Fiol of Issue Project Room; Pulitzer Prize-winning teacher and author Frank McCourt; New York Daily News columnist Joyce Shelby; Rena “Rusty” Kanokogi, “The Mother of Women’s Judo”; and Army Specialist Kevin Hill of Bushwick.

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