On Charlie Rose, uninformed sycophancy redux; host lets Ratner spin, claim arena was gift to Brooklyn, admit working the levers of government "in the traditional way"
In fact, though Rose was slightly more informed than he was when interviewed arena developer Bruce Ratner last March, his performance was even more embarrassing, since even Rose should have seen some tougher-than-before New York Times coverage. And he still couldn't get the name "Atlantic Yards" right.
He not only let Ratner get away with diminishing neighborhood opposition and claiming the arena was a gift to Brooklyn, Rose asked uninformed, leading questions about public concerns, Ratner's liberalism, and why his subject is misunderstood.
There were a few telling moments, however, in which Ratner contradicted his own words, such as acknowledging how he's "manipulated" (Rose's word) politicians "in the traditional way."
"The Barclays Center in Brooklyn has been a dream of developer Bruce Ratner for the last decade," Rose began. "Its much anticipated opening marks the latest step in the revitalization of Brooklyn. It is not without controversy. There have been protests about what development does to neighborhoods."
Actually, the protests go much deeper. Nor has the "Barclays Center" been Ratner's dream, since the naming rights sale was announced only in 2007.
Rose led off, "You have been dreaming and dreaming and dreaming..."
"Now it's finally here," Ratner picked it up. "It's been hard and long, but worth it... there was every single impediment, from the recession to 35 litigations to the difficulty of constructing in the city... Also, I was called different names and so on."
35 litigations? I guess he means legal decisions.
(Videos are excerpts as recorded watching the computer.)
"You were called lots of names," the ever-uniformed Rose continued. "Because people didn't know what your intent was. And they worried that what you were promising you weren't going to deliver."
No, that's not why people question Ratner. They question Ratner because he's not trustworthy; as the Times said, he has a "reputation for promising anything to get a deal, only to renegotiate relentlessly for more favorable terms.
"That's true," Ratner said. "They were worried that it wouldn't be attractive... that we wouldn't even do it."
"What's the level of neighborhood protest now" Rose continued, "community activists that still worry that this kind of size will disrupt?"
"The actual strong opposition is relatively small," Ratner said. "I think there was 20 protesters out one day. But it's generally quite small."
And there were 150 protesters at a vigil and march the night before the arena opened.
Rose raised the cover of New York magazine with a long article about Brooklyn: "The Barclays Center--it's the center of the revitalized Brooklyn, yes?"
"It is," Ratner confirmed. "First of all, where it's located. It's right kind of in the downtown, above 11 subway lines.... As such, it's a place where everybody can go to.... It's got every kind of entertainment.. it's going to be a major major shift in the way people in Brooklyn spend their extra time."
Wait a sec. The C and the G train are a long walk away, and the D/N/R lines are best reached overground, at Fourth Avenue and Pacific Street.
"Did you know early on that you had to get a sports franchise to make this whole Atlantic project work?" Rose asked, misidentifying the project for the second time. (In March, Rose called the project "Atlantic City Yards.")
Ratner said no. "It actually was the reverse... Marty Markowitz, bless his soul, kept pestering me... so the idea was to get a sports team... now where do we put them? the best place to put them was where all these subways were, Atlantic Terminal."
Actually, it was Ratner's cousin Chuck who said 9/9/05, "We had finished a whole bunch of office and we completed MetroTech and we didn't have the next great site in Brooklyn. That was one of the reasons we got so aggressive and creative, Bruce and his team did in this Atlantic Yards project. We saw that land sitting there for this last 10 years, realizing it would be a great opportunity if somebody could turn it on."
Rose asked if buying the Nets was an easy deal.
Ratner said no, "because taking them out of New Jersey wasn't easy," as there were three other bidders.
Rose: "You won the bid because you offered the most?"
"That's the usual way, yes," Ratner responded, beaming. That provoked knowing, comfortable chuckles from the others at the table.
Except it's not the usual way when it came to the Vanderbilt Yard, the key piece of public property. Ratner offered $50 million in cash; rival Extell offered $150 million.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, controlled by political appointees, chose to negotiate only with Forest City Ratner. Even if the MTA thought Forest City's overall bid more valuable, as it claimed, why didn't it ask Extell to revise its bid?
About Brooklyn and the arena
Mikhail Prokhorov at one point said, buttering up his new borough, "for me, Brooklyn is like Moscow, multinational, very active, gutsy, so I feel like home."
Ratner called it the best basketball arena in the world: "Transportation, architecture, the way the seating is done.. food.. every aspect was done with the fan in mind."
Prokhorov agreed, and presented Rose with a Nets t-shirt and hat.
What could go wrong?
"So what could go wrong here, Bruce," Rose asked, not so probingly.
"I hope nothing," Ratner replied.
"What worries you," Rose continued. "You're a worrier--a soft-spoken worrier."
(Soft-spoken sometimes, but, as the Times reported, Ratner "loudly berated Rafael E. Cestero, then the housing commissioner, and Seth W. Pinsky, president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, after not getting his way.")
"I guess, I'm worried about traffic a little bit, even though everybody had better take public transportation," Ratner continued. "There's always issues of safety.. everybody's looking at us.. it's really all the attention we've gotten, which means that anything that doesn't go right is going to be magnified."
"It is, I assume, to make sure that none of this causes Brooklyn to lose Brooklyn, to be what it is," Rose pontificated. "I mean, if you have the definition of something that has soul, you want to make sure that nothing gets in the way of that soul."
He looked toward Ratner.
"That's really it," Ratner affirmed, "and y'know something, throughout all of this, that was very critical, whether it be the food or everything, how do we continue the soul of Brooklyn? That's not easy to define, the soul of Brooklyn--
"--so it doesn't look like Brooklyn has been bought," Rose continued.
"That's correct," Ratner affirmed. "That is correct."
Wait a sec. Even Atlantic Yards supporter Steve Hindy of the Brooklyn Brewery told the Observer that he couldn't get his product out front at Barclays because others were paying more for sponsorship.
Rose turned to Prokhorov: "You're smiling--do you think I'm right or wrong?"
"I think the Barclays Center is in keeping with the spirit of Brooklyn," the oligarch replied. "It's very energetic, it's passion, y'know, if you look at history, there were a lot of claims to change urban landscapes."
He suggested it was "just a matter of years and years" until the Barclays Center is considered an integral part of the landscape, not unlike the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
"You can't imagine New York without Central Park.... or the Empire State Building," Rose continued..
Brooks Hopkins observed, "I would say that Brooklyn today sort of represents the urban energy of 21st century New York City. "Our audience is very young, very diverse, they're ready to be challenged... I think that's sort of the vibe and whole attitude of Brooklyn. So the sports, the culture, everything that's happening sort of fits together right now. It's the Brooklyn moment."
"In other words, you want people, when they think New York, to think Brooklyn," Rose responded.
"Yeah," said Brooks Hopkins. "And I think people are thinking Brooklyn, because of all of this energy we are talking about. Because there is all this edge and attitude that is Brooklyn. And I think BAM has been a large part of driving that revitalization."
About two-thirds of the way in, Rose tossed a big softball to Ratner: "What's the biggest misconception about you, that you would people like to know is simply not true?"
"You ask very good questions," Ratner replied, buttering up his interviewer. "I think that, this idea that the intent was to do really something great for Brooklyn, it really was. It was not economic, it was not all this, it was to try and do something great for Brooklyn."
That, of course, is why he renegotiates deals so often and why he wanted to build a "airplane hangar" arena before public outcry changed his plans. (And why water at the arena costs $4.50 and soda $5.)
"I love Brooklyn. I've been working in Brooklyn for 25 years, chairman of BAM for ten years, I like every aspect of Brooklyn," Ratner continued, in an exercise of hyperbole. "So that was the idea. On the other hand, it's been described that I had all these other motives.. That's really, I think, been the biggest."
"You had to do all kinds of things to get there," Rose said with a smile, and a nudge toward reality. "A lot of roadblocks, you had to manipulate politicians."
"That's another thing. We did it in the traditional way in which large projects are done," Ratner replied, with a smile and a shrug. (That would mean lobbying and political contributions.)
Just last August Ratner told the Wall Street Journal, on video, "When you work with government, it's heavily on a staff level. It's really more about working on a staff level. On that level, we work in a very unpolitical way. We work just on the merits."
Ratner told Rose that "occasionally it was very difficult" to present his plans to the family-controlled Forest City Enterprises. "And of course, they're not from New York... when you see litigations, the kind of noise, it was not easy."
"You always have been a liberal politically," Rose said, missing the point, "but people say, he's a liberal, but he's in real estate development?"
"The day I started in real estate development, I said I'd only do real estate development if it had a civic purpose, or employment," Ratner said. "And every project I've done I've attempted to do that."
But "civic" is a weasel word, encompassing a large number of things. I thought Ratner left public service and the non-profit world to go into business so he could make more money to raise his children, as he's said.
Rose said at the end, "Brooklyn has had a romance around it for a long, long time... you will see that it is a place that has a firm foundation to build something new, and that is what is taking place today."