Friday, March 05, 2010

Freddy's prepares for art retrospective, condemnation, move; it's the centerpiece of (libertarian) reason.tv's take on AY case

With low prices, no cover for its eclectic events, and a low-key vibe, the much-honored Freddy's Bar & Backroom, slated for demolition for the Atlantic Yards project, probably qualifies as an "authentic" place as delineated in sociologist Sharon Zukin's new book Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places.

And the bar, located at Dean Street and Sixth Avenue, stands in stark contrast to the plans for the Barclays Center, where as many spaces and elements are "branded" with corporate logos as possible.

Freddy's on Sunday opens a retrospective on 13 years of art, a sign that its current incarnation--morphing from a true workingman's bar to a neighborhood bar for a diverse neighborhood--is well less than 20 years old.

Freddy's II

Manager Donald O'Finn told the Village Voice (in an article that doesn't acknowledge a judge's ruling approving condemnation) that he expects to establish a successor bar:
Yep. Freddy's II. Son of Freddy's. I think Freddy's is an idea, not an address. If they hadn't thrown us out, we might have considered moving anyway. It's like someone saying, "You can't sit there." You're like, "Wait a minute. Of course I can sit here." Then, you're stuck in some ridiculous argument about being allowed to sit [where you want]. It's about the law.
However, for affordable space, O'Finn likely will have to look for a location further to the edge of Prospect Heights or Park Slope.

Doing their thing


While some associated with Freddy's plan a last stand--ch
aining themselves to the bar to protest eviction--the bar is not a place of constant anti-AY fomentation.

I stopped by Monday night, after Justice Abraham Gerges had sealed the bar's fate. The Backroom was packed with people watching comedy, performed from Freddy's non-elevated "stage."

The barroom was mostly full. I chatted briefly about AY with the bartender, who had recently had to move from the apartment he rented in the footprint. Everyone else was just enjoying their neighborhood bar.

On Reason.tv

The libertarian magazine Reason, on its reason.tv video channel, now offers a mini-documentary, BILLIONAIRES VS. BROOKLYN'S BEST BAR: Eminent Domain Abuse & The Atlantic Yards Project.

According to Reason's summary:
But don't mistake Atlantic Yards as one more instance of the market-driven transformations for which New York is rightly famous. It's actually the latest case of eminent domain abuse, where private property is seized by the state on dubious grounds and then immediately handed over to private interests for private gain.

In this case, the Empire State Development Corporation has designated the thriving area as blighted to facilitate the taking of privately owned houses and businesses without having to pay full market value. Ratner, whose partners in the venture include rapper Jay Z and the Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, stands to pocket hundreds of millions of dollars on the deal, all thanks to the brute force of the state.
I'm not sure we could call the entire area "thriving," but we sure could call it "steadily improving" and "coveted."

From the video

"We're about making this place, in the time that they come to take it, the standoff point," says Steve de Seve, an organizer of the past media events and future protest. "We want to make this as ugly and difficult for the other side as possible."



O'Finne explains the philosophy behind the bar: "It's about community and about art... it's about embracing the concept of an old saloon. It's a meeting place, a cultural center."

Adds de Seve, "It's not Cheers, it's something much darker and richer."

More on the issue

Reason staffers Damon Root and Nick Gillespie offer summaries of the project and eminent domain issue.

"This is not a public project," Root declares, contrasting Atlantic Yards with classic public uses such as a road but without acknowledging how courts have vastly expanded the notion of "public use."

"Our best option is civil disobedience," says de Seve. "We have a state Senator who's going to lie down in front of the bulldozers." (He must mean state Senator Velmanette Montgomery; that's news to me.)

"Some argue that fighting for Freddy's Bar is a lost cause," concludes Gillespie. "The Atlantic Yards project isn't a legitimate public use, it's a land grab. And if New York can tear down Freddy's, they can tear down any business or home in the state. That's eminent domain, and it's got to stop."

Hyperventilating?

To the New York Times staffer covering blogs, that last statement was over the top:
The interviews with regulars, bartenders and the owner are what’s notable and unexpected here; the political hyperventilating, perhaps less so. (“If New York can tear down Freddy’s, they can tear down any business or home in the state,” someone from ReasonTV states.)
That could sound like political hyperventilating to the untutored ear used to "objectively" splitting the difference between competing quotes.

Still, consider this exchange before the Court of Appeals last October, as I wrote:
[Judge Robert] Smith interjected and, without referencing Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s fiery dissent in Kelo, essentially brought up her point: "Is it the law in New York that if I own a house in an area that the government thinks could be improved, a perfectly nice house and it's a clean house and there's nothing particularly wrong with the area but it could better, it could be more vibrant, it could be more dynamic--is that enough for the government to take the house?

"Under New York State constitutional law, yes,” said [Empire State Development Corporation attorney Philip] Karmel, essentially saying that condemnors have carte blanche, given the wide latitude of eminent domain law.
I actually think Karmel gave up a bit too much in the exchange, given that there must be a "plan" behind that governmental decision.

But the plan, as we've seen, can include studies by the firm AKRF, which frequently works first for the developer, always finds blight and delivers results sought by the ESDC and its "arm's length" partner in the private sector.

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