Thursday, May 20, 2010

Prokhorov gets questioned about Brooklyn by a guy who caricatures AY opposition; has blight arrested growth on Vanderbilt Avenue? (video)

A (just-graduated) Columbia J-School student got a one-on-one interview with Mikhail Prokhorov yesterday, which The Brooklyn Ink published under the headline Tea Time with Mikhail Prokhorov.

(Here's some backstory from the Observer on how the interview came about. And here's Vinnie Rotondaro's coverage of the groundbreaking--happy to quote without skepticism claims of jobs--which might have caught the eye of Prokhorov's handlers.)

While much of the interview was unsurprising, given Prokhorov's parries in other interviews, the billionaire was asked if he was cognizant of the protests against the project (answer: not much).

But Prokhorov was not pressed on his claim that the arena would offer "affordable housing, new jobs, excellent opportunities for the small and middle-sized businesses."

AY vs. DC's Chinatown

And the interviewer, apparently not familiar with the revival of Prospect Heights and the bogus claims of blight at the project site, compared the site to the "dump" that was Washington, DC's Chinatown and suggested "some people still don’t like the idea of there being a downtown, Manhattan-esque part of Brooklyn."

Um, there already is a Downtown Brooklyn. It was rezoned. The 22-acre Atlantic Yards site is outside the boundaries.

But Prokhorov's answer is intriguing, given that he claims to seek a balance between change and protecting local culture. That's not in the AY plan, given that an opportunity to meld historic preservation with new construction was bypassed.

[Also see Rotondaro's account on HuffPost, and Daniel Goldstein's comment: "It is nice that the Russian billionaire thinks that "change is tough," but "change" is not what the fight against Atlantic Yards has been about. It has been about corruption, violations of basic democratic processes, the disenfranchisement of communities, misuse of public subsidies and the abuse of eminent domain. That's just to name a few of the issues. The knee-jerk caricature of folks being afraid of change is just silly, and as a reporter you shouldn't have played into it."]

A video, for context

I took a walk tonight up Vanderbilt Avenue, to the eastern border of the project site and the projected location of 1100 surface parking spaces. Remember, the Empire State Development Corporation, in its Blight Study, declared at the outset:
This report presents an evaluation of conditions in the area proposed for the Atlantic Yards Arena and Redevelopment Project which themselves are evidence of blight or which may retard the sound growth and development of surrounding areas.



From the Q&A

A lot of Brooklynites are excited about this. They want a professional team. They think back to the days of the Dodgers. But other Brooklynites don’t like this. How aware were you of this when you were thinking about the project?

I know that nobody likes changes. I am very conservative with my social activity. I’m very flexible in my office and my businesses. But very stubborn in my social life. I think as soon the team comes, it will be a really fascinating story.

But how much attention did you pay to the resistance? Locals fought it for years. Whole groups formed against it.

I understand their concerns. But I think Bruce [Ratner] did a great job to reach a good agreement with the tenants—

I’m just asking how much it was on your radar.

My priority is the team. And I’m a minority shareholder in the arena. (Prokhorov has a 45 percent interest in the Barclay’s Center.)

I understand that. Many of these questions should be directed at Bruce Ratner, and not you. But people want to know, because you were big part of the project coming through in the end.

I’m a minority shareholder in the arena. But my personal opinion is that it will add a lot to the community. Its offers affordable housing, new jobs, excellent opportunities for the small and middle-sized businesses.

There’s definitely a debate. For example, the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. completely revitalized Chinatown. Chinatown was kind of a dump. And then the arena came in and the neighborhood was completely transformed. Still, some people still don’t like the idea of there being a downtown, Manhattan-esque part of Brooklyn.

It’s best to keep a balance. On the one hand we need to change, but on the other hand we need to protect local culture. Local heritage. We need to be in between. That’s my goal.

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