Monday, April 19, 2010

Unable to wait and protest condemnation, Freddy's plans to close on Dean Street after April 30 and move to a new location

Despite a media-friendly plan announced last December to install "chains of justice" so bar-goers could chain themselves to the bar to resist condemnation, Freddy's Bar & Backroom, the much-lauded Prospect Heights dive bar and no-cover eclectic art space, will close for relocation after a April 30 event and celebration, and prepare for relocation.

Patrons and supporters of Freddy's will laud the spirit of resistance--fighting a government and developer with far bigger resources--but must confront a fundamental hurdle.

"Unfortunately, in order to assure our capacity to keep Freddy's alive in another location, and keep people employed," manager Donald O'Finn said, "we have to move the contents of the bar in a particular timely fashion to 'lock down' the next space, and thus we will not be facing an eviction situation in which a protest by chaining ourselves could happen."

(I took the above photo Saturday. Note the word "home" painted on the adjacent residential building, as well as the scaffolding set up as part of the planned demolition of 475 Dean Street, a former industrial building turned into residential and live/work lofts, since purchased by Forest City Ratner. Freddy's occupies the southeast corner of the arena block, at Dean Street and Sixth Avenue.)

A business decision

"The owner of Freddy's has had to consider those employed at Freddy's as well as his own situation, no one being billionaires here, needing employment and food on the table, he made a difficult decision to pull out in such a way as to keep the contents of the bar and move it into another location," O'Finn explained. "If we wait for condemnation we might sacrifice too much."

Presumably the settlement offer was deemed sufficient, or at least a good start. The Empire State Development Corporation has asked a judge to set a May 17 deadline for condemnees to leave, though some are expected to resist that at a hearing in Kings County Supreme Court on April 21.

Two to three months

O'Finn said it's too soon to announce a new location, but is aiming at Fourth Avenue and Union Street, which is the Gowanus/Park Slope border rather than Prospect Heights. He hopes to have a smooth transition and reopen within two or three months, with the same web address. (In early March, he told the Village Voice about efforts to find a successor space.)

"I am very sorry about this, more than you know," added O'Finn, a painter and video artist who saw the adjacent Backroom as a place to help an artistic community develop when he took over Freddy's as manager about a dozen years ago. "Freddy’s has been the culmination of everything I am and everything I ever wanted in a bar."

(For background on Freddy's and discussion about the difference between organic development and top-down development, go to the video series Freddy's Brooklyn Roundhouse, produced by video activists Steve deSève and Sabine Aronowsky, and scroll down to "Shows About the Freddy's Community." Freddy's, a one-time speakeasy and bowling alley, was once more of a standard neighborhood bar.)

Home to opposition

"We made a lot of progress in the fight against eminent domain and did a lot of harm to the Atlantic Yards project," O'Finn said, "and we are proud of that. We will not stop our fight against corrupt political processes and still intend to do all we can for our Brooklyn community."

"The Chains ('The Chains of Justice') have served their purpose...to raise awareness of corruption, and they will move with us, forever installed on that bar as a symbol of a united community and that community's power for affecting change," O'Finn said in a statement that offers the conclusory claim that the "Yonkers and Zimbabwe sanctions busting scandals are criminal acts." (The statement was toned down.)

Freddy's was one of the plaintiffs in the federal and state eminent domain cases and has been the locus for many public protests and events, including, for example, the press conference (above), featuring bobblehead versions of various Atlantic Yards proponents, that preceded the ceremonial groundbreaking on 3/11/10.

"DDDB is truly saddened that Freddy's has to move on, but the New York state and FCR left them no other option," Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn said in a statement. "The neighborhoods that surround Freddy's will sorely miss it. And we are proud to have fought Atlantic Yards with allies and comrades as dedicated as Freddy's management and regulars have been. In particular we want to thank Donald O'Finn and Frank Yost for their commitment to the fight and allowing Freddy's to be a hub of community activity and organizing. "

Freddy's has been the easiest place, for example, for visiting reporters, especially from television stations, to get a sense of the scale and spirit of the neighborhood.

Tough location

As the 4/18/08 photo (left) and set by Tracy Collins indicates, for many months in 2008, utility work and noise limited access to Freddy's and residential buildings on Dean Street.

As I wrote 7/29/08, the Empire State Development Corporation’s voluminous environmental review, required to disclose the potential impacts of the project, said nothing about the impact on those in the footprint, whether residents or those working at or visiting Freddy's.

The Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), which detailed the potential impact of the project, did disclose that construction activities might be “perceptible and annoying in buildings very close to a construction site.”

But it didn’t acknowledge that some “very close” buildings might be on the north side of Dean Street, destined to be demolished for the project.

A video about Freddy's

Here's a video by Peg Byron.

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