Sunday, September 08, 2013

Daily News columnist Denis Hamill, useful, memory-challenged sycophant, salutes Barclays Center, forgets hype about jobs, housing, cheap tickets, community center

Daily News columnist Denis Hamill has always been a useful sycophant for Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, so his column today is no surprise, headlined Hamill: Bruce Ratner’s Barclays Center is a hit after first year: Since it opened a year ago, Barclays Center has put Brooklyn on the map as a pro sports city and a live concert destination – without the drawbacks that critics had predicted.

So we can't blame his sycophancy on the fact that the Daily News sponsors the arena plaza--though surely that should be a regular disclosure in the newspaper, especially when people quotes offer such suspiciously excellent sound bites as:
One of them, Franklin Hill, a security supervisor from Canarsie, tells me, “I was hired before Barclays even opened. Great place to work. No crossing bridges or tunnels. And finally we have a home team to root for, which has given Brooklyn a soul.”
Well, a "great place to work" where there's enormous regular turnover.

A little more complexity

Yes, it's true that the arena has put "Brooklyn" on the map--though that was not what the subsidies, tax breaks, eminent domain and other government help was for.

And the impact has not been as bad as feared, though Hamill, who relies on Bruce Ratner as his main source, doesn't seem to recognize that there have been, and remain, significant impacts on residents within several blocks of the arena, like idling limos, drivers seeking free parking, and bass escaping from the building-as-subwoofer.

But Hamill seems to forget that he once hyped Ratner boilerplate regarding "15,000 temporary construction jobs and 10,000 new permanent jobs," now vanished or severely reduced, or the $15 tickets that after one year will become $25.

Does he remember that the arena was once supposed to be a "community center," home to high school sports, and that nonprofit groups were supposed to use it at a discount?

The opening

Hamill begins;
Bruce Ratner was right.

Brooklyn needed Barclays Center.

In the year since it opened, Barclays Center has transformed Brooklyn into the live music capital of the country and a major pro sports cathedral without creating the traffic and environmental problems the naysayers predicted.

“We’ve had 2 million customers, 80% of the population of Brooklyn, 25% of the population of New York City, visit our 19,000-seat arena in our first year,” says Ratner, who conceived and built Barclays Center, as he walked across the front plaza on a sunny morning last week.
Fascinating how 2 million visitors gets transformed into 80% of Brooklyn's population, though the number of Brooklynites who can afford to pay for Barclays Center tickets is understandably fractional.


He writes:
“Our parking lot is rarely full because the vast majority of people come by mass transit. The traffic and environmental impact has been less than we predicted, never mind what our opponents predicted.” 
That's only part of the story. The parking lot--and other paid lots--are rarely full for another reason: there's free parking on local streets, and no residential permanent parking.

He says the recent Video Music Awards had ratings up 66% from last year’s telecast from Staples Center in Los Angeles.

The VMAs

Hamill quotes Ratner:
“People from nearby buildings, many of whom opposed the arena, leaned from their windows with cameras to get pictures of BeyoncĂ©, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, Miley Cyrus on the red carpet on Flatbush and Atlantic in Brooklyn,” he says. “It’s been a dream come true.”

What does he think of the bodega owner who was selling a piece of that red carpet on the Internet? “It’s so Brooklyn that it’s funny,” he says.
Yes, some people liked the show, but others were imposed on. Check out comments here and here.
No hitches

Hamill channels Ratner:

“We had already had nine sold-out Jay Z shows to kick-start the arena,” says Ratner. “But the Streisand crowd was a little older, a little fussier. So I was nervous that night, yeah. It went off without a hitch, thank God. The rest has been smooth sailing. BeyoncĂ©, Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Bob Dylan. Sometimes it’s hard to believe the level of talent we’ve staged here. Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney, icons of my youth.”
Without a hitch? Not exactly.

Filling a void

Hamill quotes Ratner:
He gazes out across the empty arena that saw the Brooklyn Nets fastbreak to a winning debut season.

“We sold out 26 of 44 Nets home games,” he says. “Now we have new players like Kevin Garnett coming and Jason Kidd, who just bought Jay Z’s ownership share, coaching the team. And the Islanders will be coming soon. Look, there was a void in Brooklyn. This arena has helped fill it. It has enriched Brooklyn. And we’re just getting started.”
Well, there was a void in New York City for a venue to have major league hoops and concerts, that's for sure. It was a good business decision to recognize that. Not so sure the Nets give Brooklyn a soul.

Hamill goes on to salute Ratner's plan to refurbish the Nassau Coliseum.

The housing promise

Hamill continues:
Okay, what about the 6,400 units of housing you promised to build at Atlantic Yards, of which 2,250 will be for moderate to low-income tenants?

“Our first 32-story apartment tower will be up by 2014,” he says. “It’s a completely modular construction which is being prefabricated in our own factory in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and snapped together like Lego blocks, using all trade union workers. There will be 363 units of new housing, 50% moderate- and low-income.”
Ah, they've just moved the goalposts six months on this tower, several unions are unhappy with the modular plan, and some trade groups have filed suit. Moreover, for the first tower, the developer has reneged on his promise to ensure that 50% of the affordable units, in floor area, would be devoted to two- and three-bedroom apartments.

Selling the project

Hamill writes:
Ratner says that just as he sold off 80% of his ownership in the Nets to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov and 45% of Barclays Center to other investors, he’s seeking new investors to complete the rest of the 6,400 units of Atlantic Yards housing, 30% of which will be moderate- and low-income.

“Last year when Barclays Center was finished I worried whether people would come,” he says. “It has exceeded all expectations. I’m proud of this arena because it’s a place where fathers and sons, mothers and children, whole families, will make memories that will outlive me.”
Actually, Ratner sold 45% of the arena to Prokhorov, as well. He made those sales because he was desperate for capital. He's not as desperate now--not that we know--but Hamill rather sloppily leaves that impression.

No mistakes?

In closing, Hamill asks:
Mistakes, regrets?

“Mistakes, not really,” he says. “I regret that maybe I could have personally met with some of the people who so passionately opposed us. Time will help. I think a lot of the people who opposed us are starting to like the arena now. I think their kids will. I sure hope so, because this is not just a building. It’s now a part of Brooklyn life.”

He’s right.
Sure, some people like going to games or concerts, and their kids will. That's understandable.

But that also depends on being blind to the unfulfilled promises and renegotiations for which Ratner is notorious. Hamill helps enforce that blindness, and that is his shame.

My comment

My initial comment on the column was somehow removed, so I posted another on Thursday, Sept. 12, and pasted in a screenshot below.

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