Tuesday, February 19, 2013

NPR: "Inside Brooklyn's New Barclays Center" (and the larger issues not addressed)

Yesterday, NPR's All Things Considered offered team coverage for Inside Brooklyn's New Barclays Center, an eight-minute piece that, according to the blurb, aimed to address "Questions [that] remain on whether the new arena project delivered on its promise of helping to transform Brooklyn — and the Nets."

The background

So we learn about the "Brook-lyn" chant, the (lousy, to me) "locavore black-and-white cookies" in the arena, and we hear some exaggeration: "much of the footprint of the arena sits atop a once troubled and deserted area that the city had been trying to develop since 1968."

First, not so deserted, given the gentrification. Second, about half of the footprint of the arena sits on the the Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area (ATURA). Third, the city, while designating ATURA in 1968, did not try hard to develop it.

Here's a summary of Bruce Ratner's purported thought process:
You want to move the team to one of Brooklyn's most crowded intersections from the New Jersey Meadowlands. Your team hasn't had a winning record in seven years.
So you partner with a Russian billionaire. You engage in nearly a decade's worth of planning, and you're constantly aware of Brooklyn's reputation as Manhattan's lesser relation. You want to open the arena with a slam-dunk. Luckily, there's a fellow who owns about .075 percent of the team who can help with that.
That's a pretty quick hop-skip-and-a-jump over subsidies, tax breaks, and skirting of environmental review to get to Jay-Z.

The Jay-Z effect

Magazine editor Danyel Smith is quoted: "I think what Jay-Z and what Barbra Streisand represent for Barclays Center is, frankly, success, hard work, great music, hometown spirit, sort of a let's-go attitude."

Or, perhaps, also entertainers who distract from the larger story behind the project.

Smith later tells Frannie Kelley of branding the arena with Jay-Z: "It's major. It's huge. It's a pride-filled moment." (Kelley pretty much said the same thing last October.)

Underdogs and traffic

Yes, there's a mention of "some real underdogs," Freddy's Bar & Backroom, that were displaced for the project. And manager Donald O'Finn does get to say:
 "I don't want to be in that neighborhood anymore, and I want Brooklyn to have a basketball team. That's great. But what I don't want is I don't want millionaires when they want something to just be able to come and take it."
But the narrative is upbeat:
The construction of Barclays certainly caused disruptions, but the most dire predictions by the arena's opponents haven't all been realized.
That's true--there isn't gridlock at Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.

Then again, a look at Atlantic Yards Watch shows reports like this, from Saturday, February 16: "9pm and 2.5 hours of gridlock/blaring horns (some for 90 seconds at a pop) just ended."

In closing

The end is a little cheeky, recognizing that the Nets got good by spending big, and that a "slice of Brooklyn that plays the role of greedy underdog while raking in the bucks." But it doesn't touch the larger story.

My posted comment:
The issues addressed in this piece--the basketball team, the lineup of musical acts, the role of Jay-Z, the level of traffic--were not the transformational issues debated during the long battle over the Atlantic Yards project (which includes the Barclays Center).
(And, by the way, a look at AtlanticYardsWatch.net shows that there are still significant problems related to illegal parking and idling in the residential neighborhoods around the arena.)
Rather, public support was premised on jobs and housing. The 10,000 promised office jobs are off the table--three of four office towers were swapped for housing, and the flagship office tower is on permanent hold. The 15,000 promised construction jobs are hard to fathom--especially since developer Forest City Ratner has decided to use modular construction to save money. The "2000 arena jobs" include 1900 part-time jobs without benefits. 
The first tower is going up, two years after it was first promised, and it will contain 50% subsidized units. However, the small number of family-sized "affordable" units will go mainly to middle-income rather than the low-income households who marched with ACORN for this project.
There are also larger questions about public subsidies, tax breaks, and free land--as well as the highly suspect use of eminent domain to acquire land and the acquisition of cheap funding from immigrant investors seeking green cards (who were told, misleadingly, they were investing in an arena).
The NYC Independent Budget Office called the arena a net loss for the city. I call the process the "Culture of Cheating." All these issues might be part of a full midterm report.

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