Saturday, November 17, 2012

Free tickets to arena events distributed today to community groups in third sweepstakes drawing; a report on the program and the last drawing (registration ends Nov. 30)

It's likely the most broadly "community"-based benefit that has emerged from the controversial Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (see p. 31): free tickets--50 upper bowl seats, four lower bowl seats, and ten seats in a suite--for events and games at the Barclays Center.

The Community Tickets Program, managed by CBA signatory Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance, holds its third monthly sweepstakes drawing today at the House of the Lord Church on Atlantic Avenue at 1:30 pm. The event is open to the public.

While only previously registered Brooklyn nonprofit organizations are eligible for today's drawing, those not already registered must sign up by November 30 to be eligible for future monthly drawings through the rest of the year (next September 30).

For some groups, the free tickets have been a huge boost, according to DBNA Executive Director Sharon Daughtry. A group of 25 poor women associated with the YWCA, who cannot afford outside entertainment, got to attend a Barbra Streisand concert. "We went in with shining smiles and our best on," she stated, recounting a report from the group leader.

"One man, who works with mentally challenged, he literally cried, because he told me about the impact on his clientele," Daughtry said at last month's event.

(Also note other distribution channels for free tickets.)

Interest expands

Interest has expanded significantly--and understandably. In initial publicity in September, eligibility was said to be limited to nonprofit organizations serving residents of Community Boards 2, 3, 6, and 8, in the orbit of the arena. I suggested at the time that some nonprofit groups outside those four community boards might cry foul, especially since the CBA refers more broadly to "community use."

Indeed, some Atlantic Yards supporters from more distant precincts complained, confirmed Daughtry in a phone interview yesterday. She said such concerns were presented to arena developer Forest City Ratner, and they agreed to expand it more broadly to Brooklyn groups.

That means that, after having about 50 groups involved in the September drawing, the October drawing included almost 200 organizations, especially after publicity on WABC's Here and Now program 10/7/12 (below). Among them were various public housing tenant groups, school organizations, church groups, the North Flatbush BID, Not Just Hoops, Phoenix House, Prospect Heights Shul, LIU, and MOCADA.


Growing program

Today's event should include nearly 250 groups. While not every group will win, there's still a very good shot, since for most events, there are four winners: the 50 upper bowl seats, since the October drawing, have been divided into two groups of 25. Then there are four lower bowl seats and ten suite seats. 

Indeed, at the first sweepstakes in September, some groups were able to win twice. Previous winners are eligible for today's drawing, though it hasn't been decided if they'll be eligible for future drawings. That means that those savvy or lucky enough to sign up early--the publicity for the first event came with short notice--got a significant advantage.

No list of winning organizations has been made available yet, as the DBNA is still challenged to manage the program and its website. When that list comes, it will boost transparency.

Why cut off eligibility at Nov. 30? "The paperwork is unreal," Daughtry said, noting that she's the only DBNA full-time staffer, with other part-time staffers representing perhaps one FTE.

The DBNA is funded mostly by Forest City Ratner, with some other private contributions. Her father, the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, heads the DBNA and presides over the House of the Lord Church, where the DBNA is based.


While on the WABC program, Sharon Daughtry indicated that the ticket program next year could expand to nonprofit groups throughout New York, she said yesterday that the proposal remains under discussion, and may depend on the amount of tickets available to spread among an increasing number of groups.

(I'd note that some events, with many unsold seats, present opportunities for significant distribution of free tickets, while others--especially Nets games against premier opponents--do not.)

At the sweepstakes

More then 150 people attended the sweepstakes event Oct. 18. It had the friendly, boisterous feel of a church raffle. "Everyone say, 'Let my ticket come out,'" Daughtry declared at one point.

When her sister, a school principal, won tickets for her school, she did a little dance. "That was a good pull," Sharon Daughtry observed.

Though not intentional, the atmosphere might have felt a bit alienating to those of other faiths, as Daughtry reached out to people exuberantly with the Christian phrase, "We touch and agree."

Daughtry said yesterday that she recognized that having an event at a church might not be comfortable for all, but the DBNA can't afford to rent another space. That said, she's been contacting representatives across Brooklyn, including Orthodox Jewish groups, to ensure all are included, even if they can't attend the sweepstakes drawing.

There was one awkward moment in October, when an Orthodox Jewish congregation, not present, was picked for a Nets game but then declared ineligible by Daughtry, who thought the event was on the Jewish Sabbath. (It was actually a Thursday.) No one pointed out the error until I spoke to Daughtry afterward; she said she'd make up for the error and ensure the congregation got tickets to a later event.

She seemed open to suggestions regarding how to increase outreach and ensure that the program works more transparently. (I suggested that winners be named on the website and that they go through the Borough President's office to reach more groups.)

Diversity of acts

Attendees do not have to be present to win, but being there in October was certainly a help, since Janella Meeks of Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment gave out free tickets to an upcoming boxing match as well as to a Nets practice.

(Daughtry said the DBNA will also use the sweepstakes to remind nonprofit groups to stay current in terms of their paperwork.)

The most enthusiasm from the crowd, understandably, was for Nets tickets. There was also enthusiasm for a gospel show, as well as for Disney on Ice, for the kids.

There was some evidence of a cultural disconnect, given the mostly black crowd. There was little  interest in or knowledge of the Latin music event, with Juan Luis Guerra and Juanes. (The winner was a rock camp for girls.) Nobody knew anything about the Indian-Canadian comedian Russell Peters.

Nor was there much enthusiasm for some acts popular with mostly white baby-boomers. "How many people want The Who?" Silence. As it turned out, there was exactly one middle-aged white guy, representing a block association, who was in the demographic for The Who and Bob Dylan, and the crowd, in a good-natured manner, chanted his name several times in support, but he didn't win.

Teenybopper fave Justin Bieber, it turns out, was pretty popular.

For events that are postponed, tickets are generally reassigned to the new events. And while Daughtry doesn't aim to mix and match winners, she did assign some one church that won basketball tickets to a gospel show. In the past few weeks, given the effects of Superstorm Sandy, some groups have had to reschedule.

How tickets are divided

The winners are picked from a barrel that contains slips of paper with their names. The slips are color-coded: green for general interest; yellow for youth group; orange for religious groups; white for seniors; pink for kids. The goal is to assign the lower bowl seats to seniors, as well as incentives for school groups.

Then, certain events--i.e., gospel--were prioritized for religious groups.

Daughtry noted that groups will now be allowed to self-assign, because a group that may seem to be mostly youth actually has a predominance of kids.

Suites are not always available, because the assigned suite may have an obstructed view. But those seats can be replaced by seats in the lower bowl.

The suites and the CBA signatories

Also, the suites for the initial eight Jay-Z concerts were distributed among the eight CBA signatories. (The Black Institute, headed by former ACORN head Bertha Lewis, raffled off its suite.)

"This is a kickoff, here's a thank-you [to CBA signatories]," Daughtry described it. Her group got opening night; attendees included the eight board of directors and two staff members.

The board, she said, has been working on several aspects of the CBA, including the health component, the intergenerational component, and a prison program. "It was a nice give back," Daughtry said in the phone interview, though she wryly observed that, for the mostly older group, the Jay-Z concert "was quite interesting... [with] a good amount of salty language and great amount of weed." (The first night, several people reported on Twitter, was pervaded by pot smoking.)

At the October event, Daughtry warned the group that they aimed to ensure tickets were distributed in an age-appropriate manner. "I know there was a bunch of cursing," she said of the Jay-Z concerts. "I'm not a prude, but it was a lot."

Winners of free tickets must sign a memorandum of understanding indicating they can't sell them, and no one so far has done so.

Are attendees alerted to the high costs of food and drink at the arena? The DBNA, Daughtry said, meets with winners when the tickets are distributed: "Depending on the event, the discussion topics may included start and end times as well as correct entrances, proper attire, concessions cost, possibilities, and on occasion, donations for concessions."

Senior tickets and ten arena events

The CBA also called for a program for discounted Nets tickets for senior citizens as well as for ten events devoted to community use. Daughtry said both are still under discussion.

She said Forest City Ratner has provided ten open dates available for potential community use, for community fundraising. Such events could fill the arena, or a smaller portion, or even just the 40/40 Club or practice court.

The community group would have to demonstrate a track record in running events, and while it would get the arena rent-free, it still would have to pay for security and other staff costs. She said that, while they've been approached by "a couple of big community groups," they also hope to get some smaller groups involved.

Who gets the profits? On the WABC program, the Rev. Daughtry said the profits would go to DBNA, and at the Oct. 18 meeting he said they'd go to the sponsoring groups. Sharon Daughtry said it's under discussion; it strikes me that, depending on the size of the revenues, some should be shared more broadly.

More on the DBNA and the CBA

On the TV program, the Rev. Daughtry was asked if he had been able to pull some of the Atlantic Yards opponents in.

"We reached out to all my friends, because most of my friends opposed this project, which was very painful to me," he said. "It was one of the most painful times in my ministry... but across the years, as they have seen the project moving forward, and had a time to look at what we negotiated... we negotiated a state of the art health facility that's going to have an impact on that community even when I'm gone."

Well, he may have repaired some rifts, but I'm not sure they're all healed.

"When we decided to negotiate with Forest City Ratner, what is it our community needed most?" he said at the October sweepstakes. "It needed health."

According to Chapter 1 of the Final Environmental Impact Statement, the "20,000-sf health care facility ... would provide a broad range of health care services to the community" and be constructed in a portion of a Phase 1 tower.  Forest City Ratner has no obligation to provide operational funding the health care center, just to help it get off the ground.

The "intergenerational community center," including child care, and youth and senior centers, would be located in the "base of one of the buildings on Block 1120," built only when a deck is built over the railyard, which could take 15 years.

On television, the Rev. Daughtry also cited a community foundation that involves DBNA initiatives, including "to people who are doing prison work.. once they saw what we were after, and had a chance to really see the picture, then a lot of them are coming around. We are still reaching out to them. We have no animosity."

The DBNA does indeed provide a series of prison program initiatives, as noted in the screenshot below left.

It looks like the DBNA is more active than some other CBA signatories, but exactly what's been going on with all has been obscured because Forest City Ratner never hired the promised Independent Compliance Monitor.

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