Thursday, January 29, 2015

Advice for DNC Chair on visit to Brooklyn: take a walk around the Barclays Center, and beyond

Update Feb. 2: see Washington Post editorial writer Jonathan Capeheart's argument that the convention should go to Philadelphia. Among the reasons for rejecting Brooklyn are those in my blog, including logistics and optics.

Dear Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz,

I understand, as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, you're on a whirlwind tour this week of the potential locations for the 2016 Democratic National Convention: Columbus, Philadelphia, and Brooklyn/New York.

I doubt you can see too much in Friday's visit, and I'm confident your hosts can show you a good time and give you the hard sell.

I'll spare you the optics (as I mentioned in my Times op-ed)--the role of a Russian oligarch and the Shanghai government reaping the benefits of crony capitalism in and around an arena named for a bank that paid a huge fine for interest-rate manipulation.

And I'll just mention as an aside that arena developer Bruce Ratner is selling the 55% of the arena his company owns, and the DNC's choice of Brooklyn would be a payoff to one of Mayor Bill de Blasio's big backers.

(Ratner, by the way, also gives to Republicans when it's professionally prudent. But he and fellow executive MaryAnne Gilmartin are part of the 119-member Host Committee.)

The logistics

But please do look at the logistics.

Maybe you'll take the subway to the Barclays Center. Once you're there, do assess the capacity of the arena plaza, which serves as the catchment arena for most arena goers (but was supposed to be the site for a tower). Then, I 'd encourage you to take this walk.

First, go southeast on Flatbush Avenue along the arena flank away from Manhattan, until your reach Dean Street.

Turn left. You're in the street, in an awkwardly shared pedestrian and bike lane caused by the untimely delay in the construction of the B2 modular tower--the "most pathetic building of the year," according to Curbed. It began in December 2012 and was supposed to take two years. Now it's supposed to be finished by the end of 2016.

Bottom line: even if they suspend construction for the week of July 25, 2016, the huge crane will still be there.

Right past the crane is the secondary entrance to the arena, along Dean Street. That's where crowds get sent when the main arena entrance gets saturated. If the convention comes to Brooklyn, the main entrance will be saturated. This has nothing to do with business owners, who understandably wish for more crowds and customers a few or more several blocks away.

The loading dock and beyond

Please keep walking and notice the two huge garage doors. That's the arena loading dock, for trucks and VIP vehicles to enter two elevators and descend to reach the event floor.

Given that trucks enter residential Dean Street, it's crucial that they be timed and managed carefully to avoid disturbing this residential neighborhood. (Do remember that, to facilitate building the arena, New York State overrode zoning that otherwise requires a 200-foot cordon between sports facilities and residential districts.)

Guess what? The record is very, very spotty. That's led to the rather peculiar situation in which operators of the Barclays Center, who otherwise promote its status as a "state of the art" venue, ask forbearance for being a "start-up."

At Dean and Sixth

As you approach the corner of Dean Street and Sixth Avenue, look left. The construction equipment is there to help retrofit a green roof--a second exoskeleton, never planned in this way--aimed in large part to tamp down bass that unaccountably escapes from the arena during certain concerts.

That huge crane will be replaced by another crane later this year, to build an apartment tower that will be under construction all through 2016. Mayor de Blasio touts it as "100% affordable," but steers clear of acknowledging how most of these units--better described as "income-linked"--would rent to middle-class households earning six figures.

Please cross Sixth Avenue. You probably don't know that the 100-foot stretch of land on the north side of Dean--the parking lot, and the three houses--are part of Atlantic Yards, er, Pacific Park Brooklyn.

The three houses, as well as the property directly north of them extending to Pacific Street, have been conveyed by eminent domain to New York State, which is working very hard to ensure all residents vacate the premises by the end of February.

So, by the time the convention rolls around, it should be a vacant lot. Then, a 27-story 100% market-rate rental tower should be built, starting in approximately July 2016.

Note how that tower counter-balances the "100% affordable" building and, in the aggregate, represents the gentrification de Blasio claims to be alleviating. Ah, but there will be a school included, a public use aimed to take the edge off the $4000-a-month apartments.

Why was this plot of land taken for the project and, in part, judged blighted? Well, the original plan to build Atlantic Yards promised four towers and the arena under construction simultaneously, which meant this 100-foot-wide rectangle was to be used for staging.

You might ask: how does a 27-story building get placed next to a row of apartment buildings four stories tall? Well, developer Forest City Ratner got the state to make that happen.

Continuing on Dean

Please continue walking along Dean Street. Do you think you're in Downtown Brooklyn, the home of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership? You're not.

At the corner of Dean Street and Carlton Avenue, you'll see some very large fences, extending into the street. That means that Carlton Avenue is so narrow that trucks regularly damage a tree. On Dean Street, commercial vehicles now have to park on the sidewalk, leading to fines.

The explanation for this is that the state wants to ensure that neighbors are protected from sound, but the fundamental issue is that a very large project has been squeezed into a very tight spot, leaving little margin for error. Something has to go.

Indeed, just yesterday dirt shot from a drill rig blew out the window of a car.

This situation might not impact conventioneers. But it's relevant as a sign of poor planning, incomplete disclosure, and the inevitable side effects of a very tight fit.

There's another "100% affordable tower" going up, at the corner of Dean and Carlton. What de Blasio won't say is that the next three buildings along Dean Street, all the way to Vanderbilt Avenue, will be condos.

At Vanderbilt

Continue to Vanderbilt, and briefly turn right. Then reflect how the state designated nearby properties on the north side of Dean Street blighted and consider this test: "If you're within five minutes of getting decent cappuccino, there can be no blight."

Please return to the corner of Dean and cross Vanderbilt, then cross Dean to the bar WoodWork, whose owner wrote an enthusiastic letter about the convention. (Click that link for my responses to the three letters critiquing my op-ed.)

"You could kick a soccer ball from our pub in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, to what we hope is the future home of the 2016 Democratic Convention," the owner wrote.

Please ask him to kick a soccer ball more than two blocks. 

After that, you deserve a drink. 


  1. Anonymous9:06 AM

    Do you think Debbie Wasserman Schultz's arrival to Brooklyn was one of the reasons they cancelled the ESDC meeting? Maybe she could be a committee member of the committee?
    Best part of the today's city & state schedule is that Ken Adams is giving a 10 a.m. - Kenneth Adams, commissioner, president and CEO of Empire State Development Corporation, delivers the governor’s regional “2015 Opportunity Agenda,” Staten Island Chamber of Commerce, Old Bermuda Inn, 2512 Arthur Kill Road, Staten Island. Isn't this the same time that the meeting was going to happen today?

    1. I doubt it... today's meeting was at 2 pm.