Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Barclays Center and the perception shift: entertainment brings happy headlines; good neighbor or failure of accountability?

Shortly before the (long-delayed) groundbreaking for the first Atlantic Yards tower yesterday, the Commercial Observber published Barclays Center: From Eminent Domain to Deron Williams, a short but useful update on the perception shift created by the arena:
Barclays Center opened on September 28 with the first of eight sold-out performances by Brooklyn bard Jay-Z. Barbara Streisand, another Kings County native, followed Hova. So did the rechristened Brooklyn Nets....
Meanwhile, the development’s opponents wonder how Bieber Fever and creaky nostalgia tours came to define Atlantic Yards. “It’s an irrelevant distraction,” Daniel Goldstein said of the marquee entertainment reeling fans and dollars into Downtown Brooklyn.
Well, it is and it isn't. As Goldstein points out, "the project was supposed to bring 10,000 permanent jobs and thousands of units of affordable housing,” so, yes, it's a distraction.

And the fans and dollars do not necessarily make up for the suite of subsidies, tax breaks, and other government help. But the cumulative fan experience, whether word of mouth or on social media, has to contribute to an increasingly positive perception--at least outside the immediate neighborhood.

Good neighbor?

Forest City's MaryAnne Gilmartin acknowledges that noise is an issue, with traffic not the disaster many feared, and, as the Observer suggests, "[r]elatively quotidian complaints about idling limos and public urination have replaced grand statements about the fight for a borough’s soul."

They have, and they haven't. "We’ve done a good job of being a good neighbor,” Gilmartin claimed. Well, Forest City has given away tickets to arena events and sent Nets players to media events like a Christmas shopping spree.

Failure of accountability

But it constructed the arena while failing to mitigate neighborhood impacts and its partner, Empire State Development, failed to study the community impacts of a 25-year buildout, instead looking only at a ten- or 15-year buildout.

That's a failure of accountability--remember what Atlantic Yards Watch contributor Peter Krashes told the Times: "only when paid professionals working in the public interest are doing their jobs do I get to go away.”

The issue of accountability, whether it be neighborhood impacts or claims about jobs and housing, not addressed at the groundbreaking yesterday, won't go away. And all that contributes, as I wrote in a Reuters opinion essay, to the taint associated with the arena.

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