Friday, February 15, 2013

At emblematic Barclays Center, Bloomberg delivers final State of the City, claiming arena triumphed "against all the odds"

In his 12th and final State of the City Address, a total achieved only by engineering a suspension of term limits, Mayor Mike Bloomberg came to one of New York's most prominent new buildings, the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, for an event that had elements of pep rally (as per the Daily News), valedictory, and triumphant kiss-off to his critics.

As the Times reported, Bloomberg "will attempt to ban plastic-foam products, ease the consequences of marijuana possession, install curbside charging stations for electric cars and legalize European-style youth hostels across the city."

"And five times in the 50-minute speech, he denounced 'special interests,'" the Times reported, prompting journalist Gail Robinson to observe that the speech "proves once again a special interest is any interest the person speaking does not agree with.” (As I tweeted, Bloomberg has said "Bruce Ratner's word... should be enough.")

Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez was another relatively rare dissenter, writing:
And Bloomberg isn’t finished. He is determined to use his final months in office to ram through a string of long-term deals, not only for charter school operators but for real estate developers, the financial industry and information technology firms.
Image via Barclays Center
The arena was festooned with championship-type banners in Nets black-and-white touting positive city statistics.

The lead-in was a Brooklyn-heavy soundtrack (Times coverage), then brief performances by the team's cheerleaders, the  Brooklynnettes, and the Brooklyn Nets Kids dance team.

The event was also a celebration of the Barclays Center and the entire Atlantic Yards project, with a focus on the positive and, of course, a failure to look more closely at those much-ballyhooed promises of jobs and housing.

Enter Markowitz

A cute kid introduced Borough President Marty Markowitz, who began with typical parochialism and personalism: he cited the borough as the home of the new Miss America, Mallory Hagan, and said he'd be richer than Bloomberg if they were only worth their weight in gold.

"When I first ran, I promised to work on a lifelong dream," Markowitz said of his bid to bring Brooklyn big league sports.

"Who would've guess it would have taken the help of two boychicks, who weren't even from Brooklyn, to make it happen," Markowitz said, citing "the visionary developer Bruce Ratner... who believed in Brooklyn, chose to invest in Brooklyn during its toughest, most challenging times. Despite the obstacles that this whole project entailed, he stuck with the project and he made it happen, he made it happen.. he believed in Brooklyn... thank you for making this come true, for this and future generations."

That's of course a rose-colored view of a developer known for making deals and relentlessly renegotiating them.




"Of course, our Mayor," Markowitz continued, "who fully supported the project from Day One and under his watch, he made it a reality."

The question, of course, is whether it's prudent to "fully support" a development project from Day One, given that such a posture tends to forget the public interest.

Enter Bloomberg

BrooklyKnight
Bloomberg's passage to the stage was preceded by the Nets' weird mascot, BrooklyKnight, waving a city flag.

The chorus to Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind" played, with no pesky lyrics mentioning things like "stash spot."

The speech

Bloomberg, early in his speech [transcript], stated:
Let me also thank everyone here on staff at the Barclays Center. Of the 2,000 people employed here, our Workforce One Centers helped 1,100 of them find their jobs. Nearly 75 percent of them are Brooklyn residents and because of the outreach we did, about one-third are NYCHA residents. 
That got moderate applause. Of course, nearly all the jobs are part-time, with no benefits (as DNAinfo's Leslie Albrecht pointed out), and the total is 1,240 full-time equivalent.

Bloomberg no longer mentions the promised 10,000 office jobs because they don't exist: three of the four planned office towers were swapped for housing, and the other--the flagship tower that would rise 510 feet over the arena plaza--is on permanent hold.

He continued:
That's only right - because after all, one of the owners here grew up in Marcy Houses. His name is Shawn Carter, and if you don't recognize that name, you may know him by what he's been called since the Super Bowl: Beyoncé's husband.
That got a few titters.

Beating the obstructionists

Bloomberg continued:
"Now, the Barclays Center is the latest sign of just how hot Brooklyn has become. Of course, not long ago, this arena was nothing more than a glimmer in Marty Markowitz's eye. NBA basketball and NHL hockey? In Brooklyn? According to Marty, everyone told him 'Fuhgeddaboudit!'
"But not us. And here we are. Against all the odds, despite all the legal challenges, despite all the naysayers and NIMBYers, here we are.
That got moderate applause. Crain's New York Business, in Bloomberg defiantly defends legacy in speech, described the setting as having been "built after surviving a bevy of legal challenges and staunch opposition from political and community leaders."

My comment:
C’mon, the Barclays Center didn’t face “staunch opposition from political and community leaders.”
It faced vigorous *local opposition* and actually polled badly for years, but was backed from the hilt by the political and business establishment. It was pretty much a steamroller, and Mayor Bloomberg, and a series of governors, agreed to renegotiate deals at developer Bruce Ratner’s behest.
Ratner and Markowitz stand; FCR's Ashley Cotton claps
Affordable housing

Bloomberg continued (as delivered):
And as we speak, the first residential tower at Atlantic Yards is rising, and it will have nearly 200 affordable houses. Right now, Marty, thanks to you and thanks to Bruce, who made it happen, I think you and Bruce should stand up and take one more bow.
City Limits' Jarrett Murphy wrote, citing my article for the Brooklyn Bureau:
As naysayers and others have pointed out, those apartments are targeted to relatively high income groups. Much of the affordable housing promised during the promotion of the heavily subsidized project may never fully be realized.
Bloomberg's legacy: Atlantic Yards

Later in the speech, the mayor said:
Today, I'd like to share our plans for how we'll keep New York City on course for a brighter future. And this is the perfect place to do it, here at Atlantic Yards - the largest development project in Brooklyn's history.
Of course, Atlantic Yards was supposed to take ten years but, thanks to renegotiations with city and state officials, could now take 25 years.

The Daily News summarized it:
The sparkling $1 billion home of the Brooklyn Nets, built after years of neighborhood acrimony, seemed to summarize the Bloomberg years as a symbol both of Brooklyn’s rebirth during his administration and the criticism that he’s favored rich developers.
The Times called the arena " itself a monument to his ambitious and controversial development agenda." But no one drilled down to questions, for example, of the land giveaway I wrote about yesterday.&

Then again, an early version of the Times coverage said the mayor viewed the arena "as an economic development success"--an assertion that deserves scrutiny rather than stenography--but didn't make it to the final:

The perfect setting?

In New York Magazine's Daily Intel Chris Smith wrote, Why the Barclays Center Was the Perfect Setting for Bloomberg’s Final State of the City Speech:
But it was the mayor's selection of his specific location today that spoke loudest. Atlantic Yards was first proposed in 2003; with the city in the early stages of recovery from 9/11 and an aggressively pro-development mayor in City Hall, Bruce Ratner showed a good sense of timing. New York State owned the land [AYR--only the railyard, actually, hence the controversy over eminent domain], and the Pataki administration, in particular, was instrumental in moving the project forward, but it never would have happened without Bloomberg's enthusiastic support, both political and financial. The city has contributed at least $179 million in subsidies to Atlantic Yards. Factoring in tax breaks sends the total much higher.
The price that's harder to calculate is how the creation of Atlantic Yards skirted basic democracy. So far the only finished product is the arena, which opened last September and has generated mostly favorable reviews as a piece of architecture and a place to watch sports and music. The greatest public benefit was supposed to be "affordable" housing; the first apartment tower is now under construction, but the rest could take another two decades to build.
Bloomberg's first State of the City speech, the only one he delivered in Manhattan, was somber and businesslike, delivered in the tight quarters of the City Council chamber just four months after the World Trade Center fell. Today, the final edition started with dancing Nets cheerleaders. It ended, though, with the same bracing Bloomberg call to get back to work. A full assessment of how he and the city got from there to here in three terms requires a longer story. But Atlantic Yards already stands as one monument to the Bloomberg years: Big, expensive, more praised than not — and accomplished by the top-down means that are one hallmark of this mayor's legacy.
I pointed out that it's the arena, not the project as a whole that's "more praised than not."

The contradictions

Ben Fried wrote in Streetsblog, Bloomberg’s Final State of the City Captures the Contradictions of His Legacy:
Bloomberg delivered the address from the Barclays Center, the arena built over the Vanderbilt rail yards thanks to a sweetheart land deal with the MTA,copious public subsidies, and a whole lot of eminent domain

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