Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Times focuses on retail changes near arena site, suggests blight of "dreary" rail yards transformed & "die-hard opponents" worried about liquor license (nah)

I can't say I didn't predict that the New York Times would cover last week's appellate court ruling parenthetically, essentially dismissing an important rebuke to the state agency that has championed Atlantic Yards.

Instead, the Times's Impact of Atlantic Yards, for Good or Ill, Is Already Felt, complete with several photos, focuses on retail changes near Flatbush Avenue, some accelerated by the arena, some already in process, and pretty much ignores issues of accountability:
the reality is that the Atlantic Yards project has already done the very thing that critics feared and supporters promoted: transform surrounding neighborhoods prized for their streets of tree-lined brownstones and low-key living.
Was an arena really needed to accelerate retail along Flatbush Avenue? How about a rezoning of the few blocks zoned industrial and an effort to market the Vanderbilt Yard? (Streetsblog nails it: "NYT Mistakes Ongoing Gentrification of Brooklyn for Atlantic Yards Effect.")

(Clink on my Twitter feed for links regarding my first reactions. Also note that the Times published a similar article, more real estate-focused, last month.)

Blight removed?

Here's the most deceptive passage:
For Forest City Ratner, the developer of the project, which was strongly backed by many city leaders, the changes are evidence that the arena has already met its goal of transforming a dreary section of Brooklyn — the Long Island Rail Road’s rail yards and surrounding industrial buildings, which the company’s spokesman described as “ a scar that divided the neighborhood.”
“That’s a sign of economic vitality, something that’s good for the borough,” said Joe DePlasco, the Ratner spokesman.
In other words, the project has successfully removed the blight that was the justification for eminent domain.

It hasn't.

Forest City Ratner hasn't even paid the MTA for the development rights to most of the railyard. It renegotiated a 22-year schedule to pay. As for the "surrounding industrial buildings," the largest (the Ward Bakery) was torn down for the interim surface parking lot (bookended by a historic district), and other large ones were condo conversions torn down for the arena (Spalding, Atlantic Arts).

Rather, the combination of the arena, and dense nearby residential populations, has driven up rents. And, as Chuck Ratner, then CEO of parent Forest City Enterprises, once said, "it's a great piece of real estate" (not a "dreary section of Brooklyn").
Map from NY Times, annotations in blue

(Note that the article does not include the more-often-than-not disclosure that the Times Company and Forest City Ratner were partners in building the Times's new headquarters. Also note that comments are not enabled for the article.)

A deceptive map

The attached map (right) is misleading in several ways. First, it covers only the arena block, west of Sixth Avenue, plus a small fraction of the rest of the project site. (For the overall project plan, see the top of this blog.) So there's no mention of the planned interim surface parking lot.

Also, the map suggests that the Barclays Center arena extends barely halfway between Fifth and Sixth avenues, rather than quite close to Sixth. Similarly, it suggests that the arena extends south from Atlantic Avenue barely past Pacific Street, rather than nearly to Dean Street.  (See photo below left of the arena, from the Barclays Center Facebook page.)

Two streets are missing: Sixth Avenue is a through street east of the arena block, continuing north from Dean Street to Atlantic Avenue. Pacific Street, while demapped for the arena block, extends east of Sixth Avenue.

Photo from Barclays Center Facebook page
Finally, the map gives no indication that there's a missing "tooth" in the site plan on Block 1128, between Dean and Pacific Street, 100 feet east of Sixth Avenue. That's the width of five houses. Two of those houses have been demolished and the space will be used for a broadcast support area. Three houses remain privately owned, though they occupy land designed for a future project building. Everything east of that is not part of the project site.

Missing context

The article lacks crucial context, such as explaining sufficiently why neighbors might be concerned about shoehorning an arena, at least on a couple of flanks, into a residential district, complete with an interim surface parking lot.

The article states:
The 19,000-seat arena plans 220 events a year. That kind of building should never have been allowed in a residential neighborhood, said Peter Krashes, president of the Dean Street Block Association.

That's not just his opinion.

That's the opinion of the City Planning Commission, which requires a 200-foot cordon between sports facilities and residential areas--but in this case city zoning was overridden by the state. (Update) Krashes tells me that he didn't say that the arena "should never have been allowed," but rather that zoning aimed to protect residents had been overriden, leading to various flaws associated with trying to operate an arena in such a tight spot.

While a few neighbors get their say in the article, the Times doesn't explain the zoning issue, or that the path from the parking lot goes down a block with sidewalks that narrow to six feet. The term "parking lot" doesn't appear in the article.

The delays in the Transportation Demand Management plan, once promised for December, now due in May, go unmentioned. Ditto with the state's deceptions regarding the Carlton Avenue Bridge.

Is there any mention of Atlantic Yards Watch, which steadily catalogs the impact of construction on the neighborhood, and the ways the developer and state periodically evade responsibility? No.

Any mention of Forest City Ratner's $500,000+ a year lobbying tab, aimed in part to stave off a proposal for a new governance entity? No.

Any mention of the delay in affordable housing, aimed to counter gentrification, as project supporters like ACORN's Bertha Lewis argued? No.

The lawsuit

Here's the coverage, in toto, of the lawsuit:
A ruling by a state appeals court last week, stemming from one of the lawsuits over the project, may cause additional delays in putting up most of the housing — though not in building the arena itself — by requiring the state to conduct a new environmental impact statement.
The ruling by the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court said that the Empire State Development Corporation conducted its environmental review based on a 10-year time frame, but that a 25-year schedule could force residents to “tolerate vacant lots, above-ground arena parking and Phase II construction staging for decades.”
Actually, that's not what the ruling said. It said that the ESDC should have examined a 25-year schedule. And the implication, as lawyers for the petitioners pointed out, is that the Barclays Center would never have gotten tax-exempt financing had the state, as it should have, conducted a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement in late 2009.

That liquor license

The article states:
Even now, as the oyster-shaped basketball arena that will anchor a 22-acre housing and office complex rises against the low-slung Brooklyn skyline, die-hard opponents are still resisting. Last week they packed a hearing held by two community boards to block the arena from speedily receiving a liquor license.
The implication is that those clueless bitter-enders should stop resisting. Actually, most of those at the Community Board meeting last week on the liquor license were not "die-hard opponents." (The reporter, new to Atlantic Yards, wasn't there. Was he relying on the New York Post article or the more sober account in the Times's Local blog?)

Actually, a good number were just Community Board members. And some of the most vocal people were, in the history of Atlantic Yards activism, never "die-hard" opponents but rather "mend-it-don't-end-it" BrooklynSpeaks types.

A caption states:
Some neighbors talk of the prospect of drunken, celebrating fans, though the team has had little to celebrate in the last few seasons in New Jersey.
The issue isn't whether the team wins. The issue is rowdiness in a residential neighborhood, whether from crowds attending basketball games or concerts. After all, as the Times doesn't acknowledge, the setting is nothing like that of the United Center in Chicago, offered as an example by a security official at the liquor license meeting.

"Beguiling" retail

The article states:
Shops along the workaday stretch of Flatbush Avenue south of the arena that for generations sold unglamorous products like hardware, paint, plumbing supplies, prescription drugs, even artificial limbs, are seeing new businesses pop up that sell high-heel shoes for $3,500 a pair, revealing party dresses, exotic cheeses and, of course, high-priced martinis. Dozens of restaurants and bars, with beguiling names like Fish and Sip and Va beh’ (Italian slang for “It’s all good!”), have sprouted on major thoroughfares and serene side streets.
Actually, changes began well before the arena, with restaurants like Franny's (gaining acclaim for more than five years) and stores like Brooklyn Larder (opened March 2009) that are doing quite well without it.

Brooklyn Larder, which appears in a photo, opened before the key state Court of Appeals decision on eminent domain that allowed the arena to go forward. Its neighbor, Park Slope Optical, was there well before then.

Ditto with Fish & Sip, which opened in Spring 2009 and appears in a photo with its neighbor, Gino's Pizza, which has been there since almost forever. (Fish and Sip, by the way, replaced a restaurant with a basketball-themed sign.)

Now there are new bars and restaurants, some established and some coming, but they're not pictured in the article.

And, by the way, there's no mention of the effort by the beguilingly named Hooters to gain a foothold.

Transportation plan?

The article states:
Sam Schwartz, the project’s traffic engineering consultant, said the arena was working to limit the numbers of drivers and pedestrians by ensuring that most of the dozen subway lines to the area empty out directly into the arena’s plaza; that express trains are provided at night; and that shuttle buses at remote parking areas pick up those who choose to drive.
Unmentioned: the transportation plan is more than five months late. We know there's a new subway entrance.

Are there a dozen subway lines are there to the area? The Barclays Center website cites 11, nine of them to the transit hub known at this point as Atlantic Avenue/Pacific Street:
Take the 2, 3, 4, 5, B, D, N, Q, or R train to Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center Station.
Take the C Lafayette Avenue or the G to Fulton Street.
Initial tweets

2 comments:

  1. So frustrating that they're not taking comments on that story!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great rebuttal of a truly awful piece of journalism. Thanks for keeping up the fight!

    ReplyDelete