Skip to main content

Lifting the Markowitz fig leaf from the Atlantic Yards creation myth

Updated 5/10/11 with graphic and clarification.

According to at least two accounts, Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner didn't start thinking about an arena near the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues until the summer or fall of 2002.

And, according to Borough President Marty Markowitz, Ratner needed prompting from him to consider the opportunity.

That's highly unlikely--and it seems to contradict been backed up by some recent statements by Forest City Ratner lawyers. They have claimed, in oral argument and legal papers in the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case, that the developer did not, as charged, initiate the project.

I had written that the claim seemed true only if it were narrowly interpreted as reflecting Markowitz's idea for an arena, since surely Markowitz didn't initiate the idea for a 22-acre development. Now it's questionable that Markowitz even initiated the idea for the arena near Downtown Brooklyn.

The March 2002 registration

See, Forest City Ratner was thinking about basketball a lot earlier. The original Atlantic Yards web site, bball.net (which now resolves to AtlanticYards.com), was registered by Forest City Ratner on 3/27/02 . That was just five days after Markowitz issued a press release urging that the planned SportsPlex in Coney Island be outfitted to attract a National Basketball Association team.

So, if Forest City Ratner wasn't gearing up for an arena near Downtown Brooklyn at that point, at the least the developer had a Coney Island arena in mind. Either way, company head Bruce Ratner had his mind on basketball.

"Bruce had no interest"

That bball.net registration contradicts Markowitz's account in Rebecca Mead's 4/25/05 New Yorker profile, Mr. Brooklyn: Marty Markowitz-the man, the plan, the arena:
When he was campaigning for the borough presidency, Markowitz said that he wanted to bring an N.B.A. team to Brooklyn, and the idea was taken about as seriously as his appeals for Brooklyn’s secession. But in the fall of 2002, when it became clear that the New Jersey Nets were likely to come on the market, Markowitz picked up the phone....

Markowitz said of his Nets-related scheming, “I thought to myself, Who can I call who has a dedication to Brooklyn, and that has got the economic ability, because, let’s face it, someone who builds two-family homes is not going to be in a position to buy a team and to build an arena.” He considered Donald Trump, but feared that Trump might move the team closer to Atlantic City and his casino investments. Markowitz did, however, call Bruce Ratner, whose company, over the past two decades, has built the massive Metro Tech development—more than two million square feet of office space—not far from the proposed site of the arena. “Bruce had no interest, absolutely no interest,” Markowitz said. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look at this fella and know that he’s not a jock.” (Ratner, who is sixty, looks more like the Consumer Affairs Commissioner he was during the Koch administration.) “But I was very persistent with him, and didn’t take no for an answer.”

(Emphases added)

As the bball.net registration showed, Bruce had interest.

1990s plans

Actually, as I noted last September, an even earlier idea for an arena had been entertained by Forest City Ratner, according to a master's thesis by Columbia University graduate student Shirley Morillo:
In the early 1990s, in the midst of the Downtown Brooklyn planning and building cycle, the New Jersey Nets approached Forest City Ratner with a radical proposal – that he buy the team and build them a new arena on his project site. The developer initially dismissed the idea knowing that past stadium schemes had been attempted in the past and that they had failed.

Where exactly was the "project site" mentioned? It's not specified, but I assume it was the location of what is now the Atlantic Center mall.

Doctoroff involved

Chris Smith's 8/14/06 New York magazine cover story, The Battle for the Soul of Brooklyn, offered some skepticism about the creation myth:
It took a while, but he got the chance to do something about it in 2002, when he noticed that the New Jersey Nets were for sale. Markowitz, Brooklyn’s borough president and corniest booster, began hounding Bruce Ratner, telling him that he was the perfect guy to bring big-league sports back to Brooklyn. Finally, as much to get Marty off his back as to enter the ranks of NBA ownership, Ratner launched a bid, bought the team for $300 million, and then set about figuring out what to do with his new prize.

At least that’s the story both men have told. It’s always struck me as a convenient creation myth, akin to Abner Doubleday’s inventing baseball in pastoral Coopers­town. Ratner didn’t get to be a multimillionaire by operating on whims. He’d long been aware of the gaping space stretching east beyond the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues. He built two large projects overlooking that congested hub and the LIRR yards: Atlantic Center mall, in 1996, and Atlantic Terminal mall, in 2004.


Smith also nudged the timing back to the late summer or early fall of 2002, though not to March:
...Ratner is more astute politician than saint; he surely knew the do-gooder goals would help sell the project. He also has impeccable timing. While there was no public hint of Ratner’s interest in either the Nets or the Brooklyn rail-yards site until late July 2003, the developer had been meeting with Bloomberg nearly a year before that, according to Dan Doctoroff, the city’s economic-­development czar. Bloomberg, a political novice but a billionaire businessman, had been elected largely on the hope he’d rescue the city’s economy. Doctoroff was orchestrating the campaign for the 2012 Olympics and to build a West Side stadium for the Jets, controversies that provided invaluable media cover for Atlantic Yards, percolating in the background. “We did not require a lot of convincing as to the conceptual merits of Bruce’s plan,” Doctoroff says. “We’ve been involved in it from almost day one. I was advising Bruce on his purchase of the Nets. Clearly, he was going to use it as a centerpiece for a significant development over the yards. The mayor was always very intrigued by the design. He’s in favor of big statements. What you’ve got now is an opportunity to have an independent economy in Brooklyn.”

Markowitz on Coney

Meanwhile, Markowitz was maintaining straightfaced support for Coney Island as an arena site. As I wrote last June, on the day of his 1/23/03 State of the Borough Address, the New York Daily News reported (Marty’s Minding Our Manners, 1/23/03):
The borough president also goes to sleep dreaming of bringing a National Basketball Association team to Coney Island.

The same day, in his address, Markowitz devoted six consecutive paragraphs to Coney Island, and in the fourth of those paragraphs said:
And, some will laugh, but I'll keep on saying it. Brooklyn deserves a sports team on a national stage. Major league sports owes Brooklyn for the great theft of 1957, when the devil O'Malley stole the Dodgers out of Brooklyn in the middle of the night. That's why, until the door is finally slammed in my face, I will continue to fight for a NBA team for Brooklyn.

Revising the myth

Let's recap. First, it's clear that, as of early 2003, despite his rhetoric, Markowitz was not dreaming of bringing an NBA team only to Coney Island. He had to be thinking about a site involving the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard.

Second, it's clear that Ratner didn't need Markowitz to figure out that there was some valuable land near the transit hub for a development; he knew that all along.

Third, Ratner didn't need a call from Markowitz in the fall of 2002 to become interested in a sports arena; the bball.net registration had been in place some six months earlier. The developer was already in the driver's seat.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

No, security guards can't ban photos. Questions remain about visibility of ID/sticker system.

The bi-monthly Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting June 14, held at 55 Hanson Place, addressed multiple issues, including delays in the project, a new detente with project neighbors,concerns about traffic congestion, upcoming sewer work and demolitions, and an explanation of how high winds caused debris to fly off the under-construction 38 Sixth Avenue building. I'll have more coverage.
Security issues came up several times at the meeting.
Wayne Bailey, a resident who regularly takes photos and videos (that I often use) of construction/operations issues that impact residents, asked representatives of Tishman Construction if the security guard at the sites they're building works for them.
After Tishman Senior VP Eric Reid said yes, Bailey asked why a guard told him not to shoot video of the site, even though he was on a public street.

"I will address it with principals for that security firm," Reid said.
Forest City Ratner executive Ashley Cotton, the …

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what might be coming (post-dated pinned post)

This graphic, posted in November 2017, is post-dated to stay at the top of the blog. It will be updated as announced configurations change and buildings launch. Note the unbuilt B1 and the proposed shift in bulk to the unbuilt Site 5.

The August 2014 tentative configurations proposed by developer Greenland Forest City Partners will change. The project is already well behind that tentative timetable.

The previous graphic, from August 2017 (without the ghost B1)

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website Matzav.com explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

Not quite the pattern: Greenland selling development sites, not completed condos

Real Estate Weekly, reporting on trends in Chinese investment in New York City, on 11/18/15 quoted Jim Costello, a senior vice president at research firm Real Capital Analytics:
“They’re typically building high-end condos, build it and sell it. Capital return is in a few years. That’s something that is ingrained in the companies that have been coming here because that’s how they’ve grown in the last 35 years. It’s always been a development game for them. So they’re just repeating their business model here,” he said. When I read that last November, I didn't think it necessarily applied to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, now 70% owned (outside of the Barclays Center and B2 modular apartment tower), by the Greenland Group, owned significantly by the Shanghai government.
A majority of the buildings will be rentals, some 100% market, some 100% affordable, and several--the last several built--are supposed to be 50% market/50% subsidized. (See tentative timetable below.)

Selling development …