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Are AY foes 'real land-grabbers'? The Courier-Life gets "brutally weird"

So, Forest City Ratner helps orchestrate a counter-protest last Saturday and the Courier-Life chain--or, to be specific, reporter Stephen Witt--finds a novel and bizarre angle: it’s all the fault of the people who bought condos in repurposed industrial buildings.

It's "brutally weird."

(For the record, the Courier-Life chain gives its staffers a long leash. The same issue this week contains a completely promotional article in the arts section, headlined "Rocking and rolling against Ratner's Atlantic Yards plan," about a fundraising concert sponsored by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn.)

40,000 jobs in the footprint?

The article on the rally (not online), headlined "Yards foes called ‘real land-grabbers,’" begins:
Anthony Taylor sat on a metal folding chair in the St. Bartholomew's Church cafeteria, 1227 Pacific Street, and recalled the days when several buildings in the Atlantic Yards footprint held jobs, "We lost 40,000 jobs back there. We lost the Daily News building. We lost the bakery, the Chunky factory, the soap factory, the box company. Then these people came from Long Island and now it's all condos. These gentrifiers don't want to replace the jobs they took," said Taylor, president of the Pacific Street Block Association.

Let's first clarify the numbers.

The Daily News printing plant, now the Newswalk condos (cut out of the footprint), had "200-plus pressmen," according to a 4/16/90 issue of New York Newsday. There were also hundreds of drivers, but the Daily News, according to a 10/26/90 New York Newsday article, had 3500 employees total in and around the city, including in its newsroom.

The Pechter Field bakery, operating in the building known as the Ward Bakery, closed in 1995; an 8/20/95 New York Times article reported that 400 were left jobless.

Cities need industrial jobs; one of the provisions of the UNITY plan is to retain mixed-use zoning in the project footprint. But no one was going to put new printing equipment in the Daily News building, since the newspaper was moving to more modern facilities. It took buyer Shaya Boymelgreen "a year and a half just to demo and to take out all the printing machines," he told an interviewer in 2006.

The real land grabbers?

The next paragraph in the Courier-Life article amps up the claim:
"They are the real land grabbers, because they took the property first and turned back what was jobs into condos," chimed in Charlene Nimmons, sitting nearby and a signatory to the Atlantic Yards community benefits agreement (CBA) with developer Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC).

Nimmons is not a neutral observer and, in this case, not a coherent one.

It's not unusual to repurpose former industrial properties as housing. Forest City Enterprises, the parent company of Forest City Ratner, does it all the time; it's called historic preservation and saving embodied energy.

In the Brooklyn, the "they" who "took" property includes Boymelgreen, an ally of Forest City Ratner in a lease dispute with Henry Weinstein, who owns a building in the footprint. Should counter-protestors have be protesting Ratner and Boymelgreen?

How many people?

Note that Witt's article quoted the attendance at the counter-protest at 800, the number announced by Forest City Ratner (whose role in organizing the protest went unmentioned), while it alleged that 200 people attended the main rally, half the number announced by organizers.

My rough estimates were 500 and 300, though those are, I repeat, rough estimates. In Our Time Press (not online), Mary Alice Miller estimated the crowd at the main rally as 400-500 and wrote, "This eyewitness saw, at most 150 union members in the "Built it Now" counter-rally. (She may have been looking later in the afternoon.) Her lengthy account quoted mainly the speakers at the main rally.

Note that Our Time Press, a Bed-Stuy-based newspaper (formerly twice a month, now weekly) aimed at the black community, has published a variety of voices on Atlantic Yards. Miller's piece, as well as co-founder Bernice Elizabeth Green's endorsement in 2006 of Owens for Congress, looked critically at the project. Regular "Commerce and Community" columns by Errol Louis, on the other hand, have cheered Atlantic Yards and harshly criticized opponents.


  1. Anonymous11:31 AM

    They also don't print your letter if you write to complain about Witt's journalistic contortions to make all AY stories pro-AY.

    My favorite was the one when there was a press conference about additional lawsuits against AY. Witt wrote a story asking opponents what they thought about the press conference and headlined it "Ratner Foes Irk Atlantic Yards Supporters."

    All AY stories must be reangled by Witt through the lens of AY support.


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