Thursday, December 29, 2011

A look back at 2011: the arena rises, construction troubles, a reconfigured community response, the modular surprise, an enduring lack of oversight, and the lingering impact of Battle for Brooklyn

Even if the volume was turned down somewhat, it was not a quiet year in Atlantic Yards.

When I wrote my "What's next in 2011" post on 1/4/11, I pointed to "Accountability issues, timetable questions, and a reconfigured community response, with BrooklynSpeaks rising, DDDB receding."

That was mostly right, though hardly the full story. After all, as I wrote, "I wouldn't be surprised if there's a new Atlantic Yards twist."

The surprise in 2010 had been "the astonishing effort" to market Atlantic Yards to immigrant investors seeking green cards. The 2011 surprise was Forest City Ratner's revelation that it was planning to build the long-delayed first tower, and the rest of the project, via untested modular construction. (That's still not firm.)

Accompanying that statement was the astonishing admission by developer Bruce Ratner that union-built towers with affordable housing had never been viable. While that contradicted some eight years of his and backers' statements, it produced few ripples.

While I pointed to "a push to sell Nets tickets and suites, and further evidence of Forest City Ratner/Barclays strategic philanthropy," I didn't fully anticipate the impact of the arena rising and how the Nets and Barclays Center operators would strategically dole out announcements, including the unsurprising team name, to generate press coverage.

Along with the arena and railyard work, which soon stretched to after-hours work, came a steady stream of complaints about the impact of construction--parking, garbage, traffic, and noise, as well as a seeming weekly (if not daily) pattern of violating various promises and rules, all documented via Atlantic Yards Watch, a key new player in the community response.

I had suggested that the legal process in the one lingering court case "may continue for months, though it's highly unlikely [state Supreme Court Justice] Friedman will stop arena construction and unlikely--though more up in the air--whether she'll require any more action regarding Phase 2." That she has, again making a too-easily-dismissed ruling that the state acted improperly, and the case persists.

"It remains to be seen whether the ESDC, under new Governor Andrew Cuomo, will take Atlantic Yards oversight more seriously, and whether any governance entity might emerge," I wrote, and it hasn't--though there's a germ of a new city response.

I wrote that it's "likely that the center of gravity for citizen activism will shift away from Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB), which tried mightily to stop Atlantic Yards and highlight the bypass of democracy, to BrooklynSpeaks and a cluster of groups more concerned with oversight issues and monitoring of construction impacts."

That did happen, though I hadn't predicted Atlantic Yards Watch and the regular violation of construction rules and/or promises at the Atlantic Yards site.

Also, while I suggested that the documentary film Battle for Brooklyn would provoke discussion, I didn't anticipate how the film would have a broader effect, even entering the discourse in the retroactive slipstream of the Occupy Wall Street movement and cracking the short list of 15 top documentaries in Oscar contention.

(Below, a Tracy Collins panorama, as of August 27, from Atlantic Avenue near Fort Greene Place.)

"No elected official, however, has seen it fruitful to keep pounding on Atlantic Yards issues," I wrote, and that's still true. And the timetable, I wrote, "has always been a question mark," and it still is. (I'll write next week about my predictions for 2012.)

"Atlantic Yards is still a big story, but most media organizations are tired of it," I wrote, and that's still true, though Battle for Brooklyn provided a boost.

So did some new twists, such as a protest by former supporters and a lawsuit against Forest City Ratner and its ally BUILD by several people who said they were promised jobs and union cards after a selective training program.

However, the New York Times covered the news of the lawsuit by folding it into a larger story about a Nets promotional event, a reminder that, after so many years, things still can get "brutally weird."

[Here are retrospectives at 2010, 2009, and 2008.]

January

A look at the Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club, and its AY connections.

Carpenters Union officials prominent in AY fight face criticism and sanction for suspected and confirmed improprieties.

Apple said to be looking for retail space in or near AY site. (Nothing came of it.)

FCR Foundation 2009 report shows gift to ACORN Institute.

Forest City Ratner does better at clearing sidewalks around AY site, after lapses.

Will Panasonic leave New Jersey and move to Brooklyn, specifically the AY site?

Atlantic Yards is one example of why we're "Powerless in Brooklyn," I argue in the Times.

Bruce Ratner talks up the arena to the Times.

Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries gives Atlantic Yards a pass in his State of the District address.

Brooklynite Kenneth Adams is named CEO of the Empire State Development Corporation (generally rebranded without the "Corporation").

Atlantic Yards gets a pass in the Municipal Art Society's 2011 Livability Watch List.

February

Wall Street Journal says Forest City has $249 million commitment in immigrant investor funds; project pitch video surfaces.

A tepid response to AY at Markowitz's State of the Borough address. His Strategic Policy Statement defends AY.

A sideshow over MaryAnne Gilmartin's "disparaging" of cleaning ladies in her EB-5 comments.

Marty Markowitz is fined for using deputy to close home purchase.

Freddy's reopens, in the South Slope.

Does New York City have a plan? No, says City Limits.


New, simplified AY web site emerges, with no renderings beyond arena, and no timetable.

Pushing back timetable for Building 2, Forest City aims for groundbreaking by end of year.

Forest City executive says immigrant investor funds may go to housing.

Daily News columnist Denis Hamill writes valentine to Bruce Ratner.

O'Connor's Bar near arena site expands.

Nets trade for superstar point guard Deron Williams, gain significant ground after losing in free agent competition.

Carlton Avenue Bridge reopening nudged back from April 2012 to "summer 2012."

Economist Andrew Zimbalist's principles for successful arena project sound a lot different than what happened in the Brooklyn project he worked on.

Video finally surfaces of Marty Markowitz's claim that "Brooklyn is 1000 percent behind Atlantic Yards"

Some 29 developers are said to be interested in Willets Point.

March

The battle over the murky plans for Prime 6, a bar on Flatbush Avenue near arena.

City Limits on Defining Brooklyn. "The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn" and the meaning for Atlantic Yards.

Affidavits for plaintiffs in timetable case address the impact of delays. Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, LIU, BAM offer gushing support.

Corruption charges against Sen. Carl Kruger and lobbyist Richard Lipsky involve the (unindicted Forest City executive) Bruce Bender, who sought Carlton Avenue Bridge money from Kruger. Post says Kruger delayed Mill Basin project at FCR's behest. Senate leaders deferred to Bender. An imaginary Ratner-Bender dialogue.

What's complete a year after the ceremonial groundbreaking.

Hard-fought but inconclusive court hearing over AY timetable impacts; no stay issued.


Forest City considers "world's tallest prefab steel structure" to save money on AY construction; union reps say they're angry.

Bruce Ratner gave to AG candidate Schneiderman and Senate Republicans.

"A Sports Myth Grows in Brooklyn"--on the error regarding the "same site" O'Malley sought.


At tense Council hearing, James, Lander press NYC EDC's Pinsky on AY.

New Jay-Z bio suggests he got discount on the Nets, has "loyalty to his his money."

LIU basketball team may play at Barclays Center; that explains some of the cheerleading.

Building Trades Employers' Association pushes unions on modular.

The astounding claim regarding jobs created by immigrant investor funds.

Outgoing HPD Commissioner says FCR's request for additional housing subsidy "was not a good public investment."

Forest City executive Joanne Minieri leaves, quietly, just after FCR sells 49% of malls, other retail/entertainment properties to raise cash.

Nets start selling tickets for Brooklyn 2012; instead of PSLs, there are All-Access Passes.

April

Two more AY-supporting Carpenters Union officials step down, avoiding statements about the union connection with organized crime.

At Forest City Enterprises conference call, no mention of EB-5 or modular construction.

The Rev. Herbert Daughtry's group will control not only free tickets but also use of the arena by community groups, according to the Post.

Barclays Center grand opening announced as 9/28/12.

Ex-FCR executive Jim Stuckey surfaces on Twitter, says "Robert Moses had it easy."

Post offers alarmist coverage of Forest City's SEC worst-case warnings boilerplate, and gets taken seriously.

Judge baffled by Court of Appeals decision in AY case; academics criticize AY eminent domain decision, urge new standards regarding blight.

Council Member Letitia James lumps AY in with Bloomberg's third-term curse.

Nudging back the arena completion dates.

ESD CEO Adams, at Senate hearing, expresses optimism about AY.

In Times Real Estate section, Prospect Heights is a "place that a lot of people want to be."

Forest City supports DBP's takeover of MetroTech BID.

Forest City Ratner executive says shrinking arena to preclude major league hockey was conscious choice, calls modular construction a "research project.

Panasonic takes new subsidies to stay in New Jersey.

Gastropub and sports bar coming to Pacific and Flatbush.

Forest City may raise $40M more from immigrant investors.

Extended working hours at the Vanderbilt Yard annnounced.


PlaNYC 2030 and Morrone's history of erroneous NYC predictions.

May

More on the Barclays/Nets Community Alliance charity strategy.

Battle for Brooklyn debuts in Toronto.

The Real Deal offers the sycophantic "Ratner's refute." More comments.

Prokhorov, Ratner in Observer's "100 Most Powerful" list.

FCR spent $345K on lobbying, in slow year.

A profile of Bruce Ratner in the Forward airs some skepticism.

Common Cause points to the real estate industry's role in campaigns.

The scene on Dean Street, as per photographer Tracy Collins.

Atlantic Yards Watch website/initiative launched.

Fireworks over rats, at District Service cabinet meeting; more complaints about rats.

Traffic changes announced.


NY eminent domain law: a "condemnor can condemn a Kasha Knish."

NYU-Poly takes MetroTech office space.

June

Bruce Ratner is among the co-chairs of planned fundraiser for Bill de Blasio.

My Battle for Brooklyn review. Ratner response is to claim AY had and has "overwhelming support." Brooklyn Paper calls it "docu-ganda." Times review is a bit of punt. I say film recasts the narrative.

Is modular construction a legitimate tactic, or a feint?

New Brooklyn Nets website promotes borough icons.

Daily News hoops writer declares Ratner has found "vindication." Interview precondition; no questions about Daniel Goldstein.

ESDC's YA ombudsman Forrest Taylor leaves after 3.5 years as disempowered facilitator.

Forum on traffic provokes new concern about impact on Third Avenue.

Meeting on revision of UNITY plan draws large cowd.
 
Atlantic Yards Watch documents failure to contain garbage around AY site.

An avalance of rat complaints in Prospect Heights, including observation of a "rat tsunami."

Atlantic Yards governance bill passes Assembly, but doesn't get through Senate.

CNG's Brooklyn 200 includes Forest City Ratner, Nets Basketball, and the Barclays Center.

Contentious community meeting on traffic/parking issues.

Times jumps on exclusive re BAM/Barclays alliance; BAM/Ratner claim there will be a new "cultural district."

July

Potential NBA lockout threatens season.

Revisiting the lingering questions from the 7/4/04 Times editorial on the Brooklyn Nets.

Forest City Enterprises sells 49% stake in DKLB BKLN and Beekman Tower, to raise cash.

ESDC responds to questions on sidewalks.

Prokhorov's loan that filled an arena financing gap bears junk-bond level interest of 11%.

More coverage of rampant illegal parking.

Brooklyn Paper covers auditions for Nets dancers on front page.

Forest City Ratner's deceptive memo opposing new subsidiary to oversee Atlantic Yards makes strong argument for more transparency.

The corner of Dean Street and Sixth Avenue is now "620 Atlantic Avenue," the official arena address.

ESDC's mitigation monitor, HDR, is on site at least once a week.

Judge rules for community groups, says state failed to study impact of 25-year buildout, requires SEIS. Press roundup. Brooklyn Paper calls it "minor victory." Little coverage. An op-ed from PHNDC's Veconi on ESDC's willingness to break the law. My HuffPost analysis.

To fight rat problem, Forest City finally agrees to provide garbage cans to residents

Crain's article on arena calls documentary "latest insult," full of "he said, she said" bad journalism.


Daily News editorial salutes arena as "huge plus." Dishonest photo, too.

Times roundup--"An Arena Rises at Last, But Protests Carry On"--maintains narrative of triumph.

Interior arena renderings released by SHoP, though subject to change.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio remains uninformed but hopeful about AY.


More trucks leave AY site uncovered.

Markowitz fined $20K for accepting free travel for his wife.

Followers of P.P.E.E., who once vocally and disruptively supported Atlantic Yards, now protest lack of local jobs and contracts. Ratner's response is to avoid the issue.

What if Rupert cared? AY story ideas for the New York Post (or another newspaper).

August

Voters defeat bond for new Nassau Coliseum, could lead Islanders to Barclays Center. Forbes says TV deal provides incentive. The inconsistency of the Times on team owners paying for their facilities.

Times Public Editor backs claim that arena naming rights deal is worth "nearly $400 million."

Daily News real estate correspondent deems Ratner "charming" and admirable."

As Jones Soda deal dissolves, arena promoter Yormark says Coke is "all about Brooklyn."

Boundaries announced for FCR's free garbage can plan; Fort Greene not included.

Times article on Chinese investment in New York whiffs on Forest City's EB-5 venture.

The mysteries of after-hours work at the arena site.

State stonewalls FOIL request regarding AY-promoting trip to China by official Peter Davidson.


The passing of Darnell Canada (above), community activist, "moral compass," Atlantic Yards intimidator.

BUILD recruits customer service trainees, with no criminal record; issues broader invitation.

Ratner, Yormark meet with NHL executives.

Another look back at Andrew Zimbalist's questionable work for hire.

Article suggests FCR has chosen low-cost, stackable modular system for Block 1129 surface parking. Questions about when lot will be available.

Above ground level, Barclays Center will be much closer than 20 feet from the street.

Five years after the epic hearing on the DEIS, with new video.


Barclays Center hires consultant to book ethnic shows.

Revised TV deal for Nets doubles current rate.

DOT considering plan to install bollards and tree beds, affecting sidewalks. After CBs bypassed, DOT extends deadline for comments one month.

Permit for first Atlantic Yards tower filed; signs suggests it won't be modular.

Hurricane Irene largely spares New York; signs of flooding an inadequate preparation at arena site.

MTA agrees to remove coffin-like bollards outside Atlantic Terminal.

Study of traffic conditions comes after arena. Also, plans for the surface parking lot, and the impact of traffic on the Dean Street Playground.
 
September

Transportation Demand Management Plan expected by mid-December. (It's delayed.)

First-ever notice of violation issued to Forest City Ratner regarding truck protocols, though no fines announced.

A new entry in the AY lexicon: "Ratner Heights."

Forest City Ratner's success with Liberty Bonds: commercial tower in BK, and largest for a residential tower.

An interview with Arana Hankin, the state's Atlantic Yards point person: "work in progress" is one mantra.

ESDC will appeal Judge Friedman's rulings but still prepare a Supplemental EIS.

Sunday hours in railyard begin, as to 6 am deliveries.

Nets expect most but not all contracted revenues in hand by arena opening, current tab is 56%.

Softball interview, by Bloomberg, with Ratner, who plays dumb when asked about EB-5. Post reports how Ratner "quietly" helped blinded Sudanese ex-slave.

Sports Business Journal confirms Barclays naming rights deal was $200 million.

Need for costly after-hours work to keep up construction pace.

Understatements from Final EIS regarding impact of construction noise and vehicle noise. A month-long root canal?

The Jay-Z "Brooklyn Nets" media event: an anticlimax for news, but a chance for coverage--and curious claims from Ratner and Markowitz. Two views of the hypemasters, smiling and grimacing. Arena pace means cutting corners.

Genial ESD CEO Adams meets with community members, says state supports Forest City.

Nets claim they bring new playground to BK school, but actually pay 1/8 the cost. New York Magazine piles on.

ESD's Hankin says project remains on schedule, despite trending slower, and trucking procedures "a work in progress," despite continued violations.

A caution on BrooklynSpeaks/DDDB press release.

Markowitz aide Scissura to run for Borough President.

Malcolm Gladwell, in Grantland, gets the big picture.

October

Ratner, in CNN interview, claims "we won 37 lawsuits."

Lots of coverage of auditions for Nets' announcer spot.

Daily News claims AY activist Goldstein "disses neighbors" by pursuing as-of-right work.

At DOT hearing on bollard plan, a challenge to claim that effective width of 5'2" would not create sidewalk bottleneck.

Exec Steve Stoute from ad agency Translation calls Ratner "our generation's Robert Moses."
 Forest City and Council Member James to help on rat-proof trash cans in Fort Greene.

First two weeks of NBA regular season canceled in labor strife.

Atlantic Yards Watch map shows after-hours work everywhere, though Final EIS downplayed the possibility.

Did state really consider impact of workers and residents at 470 Vanderbilt?

Regarding real estate, retail enthusiasm but residential wariness around AY site; Atlantic Terrace prices way off KPMG predictions.

Jim Stuckey leaves NYU job "abruptly." Post says allegations of sexual harassment provoked Stuckey's departure from FCR and NYU; Ratner helped get him latter job. The widespread rumors and more board departures.

Predictable answers re AY impacts from Kenneth Adams, in online Q&A.

Competitive bidding (unlike with AY) for a proposed school of science and engineering.

Gridlock on Flatbush Avenue, sluggish traffic on Sixth Avenue.

Ratner gave to de Blasio and New York Uprising.

ArtBridge spruces up construction fencing at arena site. (Tracy Collins shows how corner of Dean Street and Sixth Avenue has changed.)
 
AKRF president gets softball interview in the Times.

My City Limits essay on the absence of an Independent Compliance Monitor.

Is the image of AY site artwork, or neglected fences, as AY Watch suggests?

Times takes belated, but critical look at Markowitz's charity strategy; largest donor (though not emphasized) is Forest City. Markowitz says I did it for Brooklyn. (Who was left out? Bloomberg.)

Jay-Z slammed (by me) in Salon for being the arena frontman. Does Jay-Z just feel uncomfortable?

What's Markowitz really like? Lawsuit depositions point to a calculating, volatile pol.

FCR's Mill Basin project withdrawn, company claims it had nothing to do with corruption probe involving Kruger.

In Westchester magazine, a heroic profile of FCR's Gilmartin, with some acknowledgement of controversy.

The secret history of Forest City's prefab plans: partner modular firm charged with sneaky business, before case is resolved in settlement.

November

Public Advocate de Blasio seeks more transparency regarding subsidies.

Senator Montgomery asks NYPD for details on arena security study.

Residential permit parking passes Council, but not without some resistance. James says Cuomo must muscle state Senate.

Consultant's report references project "delays;" first photo of escalators at transit connection.

FCR says project is on schedule, "working very aggressively" on Carlton Avenue Bridge. FCR says Independent Compliance Monitor is up to CBA executive committee. Progress on noise complaints, still waiting for demand management plan. Questions that could have been asked about delays, oversight. Promised state staffer still not hired.

NY1 claims "Barclays Suite Showroom Has Robust Sales."

DOB commissioner supports modular construction.

AKRF contract for Supplementary EIS is up to $1.7 million.

New ESD Chief of Staff Justin Ginsburgh now has Atlantic Yards in his portfolio. (He's never been to a public meeting.)

Barclays Nets Community Alliance revises promotional rhetoric, claims less credit for funding playgrounds.

Railyard flood lights going on 90 minutes before announced official time.

"Occupy Brooklyn" march features denunciation of Atlantic Yards.

DOT finally restores missing traffic barriers, parking signs to Pacific Street.

"Prospect Heights Is Happening," claims Corcoran.

BUILD and its unpaid customer service training.

Seven of 36 trainees in competitive program required by Atlantic Yards CBA sue BUILD, Forest City over unfulfilled promises regarding jobs and union cards. Missing Independent Compliance Monitor should have reported on job training.

Building on GQ's gastronomic praise to call BK the "coolest city on the planet."
 
Barclays Center Classic" to include University of Kentucky--and, on the undercard, LIU, which boosted AY.

Times covers BUILD/FCR lawsuit amid longer article about Nets promotional event. A column: "The Modern Blueprint" and the Triumph of Marketing over Memory.

Ratner announces intention (not yet firm) to build B2 and entire project via modular technology, claims "existing incentives" don't work for the project he promised. An endorsement from New York magazine's critic. A statement from CM James. Fewer larger affordable units, apparently. Timetable pushed back? AY may indeed look like the buildings in Atlantic Lots.

City promises not to sweeten deals after developers are selected and praised.

Battle for Brooklyn is shortlisted for the Oscars.

"Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown": ogtghghn AY indifference.

Forest City claims Independent Compliance Monitor will be hired as "the project progresses"

Federal agency stonewalls on EB-5 info, including job creation.

Forbes feature on Gilmartin repeats developer's talking points, revisionist history.

December

Brooklyn Paper covers BUILD's failure to deliver AY jobs, overstates claims about BUILD salaries.

At MetroTech tree lighting ceremony, Markowitz talks up the Nets.

Another look at huge benefits from EB-5 program to Ratner, NYCRC (busiest nationally in China market).


Times architecture critic Kimmelman, embracing planner Garvin's take on the "public realm," calls AY "ill-conceived."

A Krashes op-ed in the Courier-Life: unanswered questions about modular plan, need for state oversight.

Horse show planned for arena, but, experience in Washington suggests complications.

Bloomberg overpromotes AY retail space; Observer reporter calls AY "thriving."

The notorious Stephen Witt writes an AY novel, gets coverage in the Daily News.

Lawsuits involving NYC Regional Center: former affiliate; co-founder.

ESD says roofing contractor that poured power on Pacific Street "was appropriately reprimanded."

Consultant reports arena barely on schedule, transit connection behind; release of revised schedule indicating "delays" has been pushed back. How many jobs at AY site?

At Senate hearing, enthusiasm (but some skepticism) for EB-5 regional center program. Endorsement from Schumer. Support from Obama's Jobs Council.

Observer finds support and skepticism for Forest City's modular plans. FCE reports that FCR spent $3.5 million on modular development. CEO, in conference call, doesn't mention modular.

Mayor assigns Director of Special Projects Lolita Jackson to AY quality-of-life issues. An open letter to Jackson: try to avoid saying, "Sorry, it won't happen again."

Frustration at community meeting on AY transportation issues, with so little in place.

Former Gov. Paterson signs up to promote EB-5 project. Continued uneasiness about EB-5 marketing. Why local government role is key.

Did Bloomberg's Olympic legacy really pay off? Some dispute, and an awkward attempt to include AY.

Graphic by Abby Weissman
Prokhorov enters Russian political fray, though some say he's a Kremlin stooge; plans to buy media holding; business associates buff him.

The "Bed-Stuy Boomerang": gerrymandering for EB-5 investors in Atlantic Yards. Times produces front-page story on overall EB-5 gerrymandering in NYC.

A Times puff piece on the new Nets announcer.

Markowitz blames lawsuits for failure to fulfill Atlantic Yards promises.

State Senator Carl Kruger resigns, pleads guilty; no mention of "Real Estate Developer #1."

EB-5 investors now own mortgage on site for Building 12.

Foot injury to Brook Lopez complicates Nets' Brooklyn ambitions.

The parallels (and not) between Battle for Brooklyn and Occupy Wall Street.

Atlantic Yards Down the Memory Hole: Times editorial on EB-5 gerrymandering ignores Atlantic Yards example; Capital's salute to Gersh Kuntzman suggests robust Brooklyn Paper AY coverage; Patch's end-of-year list has some curious gaps.



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