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Team hype: pomp and (questionable) promises, bitter (and near-final?) protest mark ceremonial groundbreaking for Barclays Center arena

Note: Team Hype is the pep squad for the Nets. More photos and video here.

With salutes from key elected officials, a Commencement Day-worthy oration by developer Bruce Ratner, and the closing speech by uber-marketer Brett Yormark, the ceremonial--and highly-staged--groundbreaking for the Barclays Center yesterday was a testimony to dubious promises, palpable political will, and an unusual coalition involving business, labor, sports, celebrities, and (selected) community representatives, all part of the ever-changing but (perhaps in retrospect) inevitable path of Brooklyn's biggest development.

(Three photos above and below--except Daily News and as marked--copyright 2010 James Leynse. Above, Bruce Ratner beams amid some less engaged public officials, from left,Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Gov. David Paterson, and Borough President Marty Markowitz.)

As sounds from chanting, whistling protesters outside could be heard, clearly if not loudly, inside the packed tent positioned below Atlantic Avenue at Fifth Avenue, there was much talk about sports, and ritual invocations of the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was an example of the unusual grip that sports has on the country, and elected officials, where privately owned "sports entertainment corporations" can call on support from broader constituencies.

(Photo at left copyright Jonathan Barkey)

There was little talk about architecture, once a selling point for the project, given the absence of architect Frank Gehry and landscape architect Laurie Olin, featured at the opening press conference on 12/10/03.

There was indeed talk of jobs and housing and economic development--Governor David Paterson, in a moment of irrational exuberance, claimed the project "will have job creation the likes of which Brooklyn has never seen"--but there was no announced timeline, a crucial issue in a recent court case, given the contradiction between the development agreement (25 years) and the officially announced plan (ten years).

And, with a diverse audience reported at 1000 (and many more on television), the dominant images came from Barclays Capital, which bought naming rights to the Barclays Center, a nominally publicly owned arena.

(The state never tried to share in the revenue, nor were the naming rights--once reported at $400 million over 20 years, now closer to $200 million--ever counted in any cost-benefit analysis.)

Barclays sponsored a special section in the Daily News, with an ad on the back page--an ad that also appeared on the back page of the New York Times's Business section.

The Barclays Center image appeared on tote bags given to each attendee. And it was a truncated image of the Barclays Center, sans even "vaportecture" towers, that appeared as a backdrop on the dais--see top photo. (Here's the Independent of London on Barclays' ambitions to grow in the United States. The Guardian also covered the event, calling the Nets "an NBA team owned by Jay-Z.")

Barclays Capital President Bob Diamond (right) got significant podium time, while Community Benefits Agreement partners like ACORN head Bertha Lewis--perhaps given the scandals tinging the organization--and BUILD (Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development) President James Caldwell, key to public hearings in Brooklyn, got public thank-you's but no more. (CBA Chair Delia Hunley-Adossa did speak briefly.)

As noted yesterday, the crowd seemed supportive most of entrepreneur and entertainer Jay-Z, praised from the podium by the Rev. Al Sharpton--a bit player in the AY saga, actually, though also a beneficiary of FCR largesse--for the (overhyped; see below) racial progress of his ownership stake in the Nets.

While deputies for Mikhail Prokhorov--who'll own 80% of the team and 45% of the arena--were present, they didn't get any podium time, another sign that maybe it wasn't quite seemly to have Russia's richest man portrayed as the savior of Brooklyn and, not incidentally, be seen as the recipient of such public largesse.

And, as noted yesterday, few elected officials from Brooklyn--and none from nearby--attended, a sign of the residual resentment and/or dismay at the bypass of local officials in the project approval and the sense that Forest City Ratner calls the shots in the public-private partnership.

Or, as Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn put it, a "complete failure of democracy"--along with a "corrupt land grab," a "taxpayer ripoff," and a "bait and switch of epic proportions." (All those things, of course, have rebuttals, but courts have deferred to the state rather than actually tried to examine them.)

Mayor Bloomberg suggested that "nobody's going to remember how long it took," which drew flak from DDDB, indeed, there's no timetable for the project and parking lots--and thus blight (the removal of which is ostensibly a justification for the project)--will persist. And the fight for eminent domain reform, public authority accountability, and more judicial oversight will be, as I suggested, an AY legacy.

Bitter protest

There was no talk at the groundbreaking about the Aqueduct racino scandal, though Jay-Z had already bailed from the investment group that was part of Aqueduct Entertainment Group, which has been bounced.

(Photo copyright Jonathan Barkey; more on the bobbleheads in yesterday's coverage.)

A DDDB handout included the handy chart I prepared contending that the deal for Atlantic Yards and the Vanderbilt Yard was more questionable than the Aqueduct deal, though the political configuration is very different.

No local Brooklyn officials attended the vehement protest, which attracted some 150 people (press estimates ranged from 100 to 200), beginning with a "Groundtaking" protest outside Freddy's Bar & Backroom, moving to Pacific Street, where participants shouted "shame" at VIPs arriving at the tent via a now-private street, and then moving outside the tent itself along Atlantic Avenue, shouting "Brooklyn's not for sale" and "indict Ratner" (the latter perhaps a reference to the Ridge Hill corruption case).

Unclear is whether any other protest will be able to muster such a turnout and whether Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, which has led the opposition, will have staying power.

Scenes from protest are compiled below; videography by Jonathan Barkey. No local officials attended, which may have been prudent; the group, watched by a major police presence, was generally well-behaved--one guy was arrested for beating a drum, apparently--but at least one sign ("Off the Rat-Man") was beyond the pale.

The view

Below is a shot of the tent, looking west from the Sixth Avenue Bridge between Pacific Street and Atlantic Avenue.

A video summary

Here's the official video from with Paterson, Bloomberg, Sharpton, and Ratner.

Rounding up the news coverage

Curbed's Lockhart Steele live-blogged the event with photos and quips. The Brooklyn Paper offered a good, if unskeptical, overview of the event, plus a cutesy video, including an interview with Fort Greene-born hoopster Albert King, who works for the team, saying of Brooklynites, "we now have our own team." The Brooklyn Ink live-blogged the outside scene. The brief report in the Daily News said "pomp overshadowed protest."

The AP acknowledged that Paterson's statements of jobs were claims, but, leaving out Prospect Heights, said the project was aimed to "transform downtown Brooklyn."

Star-Ledger basketball writer Dave D'Alessandro cast a skeptical eye toward Ratner's commitment to basketball and Daughtry's description of the site, though he allowed that Brooklyn deserved a team and Ratner had "won."

(Photo Copyright 2010 James Leynse)

The New York Observer's Eliot Brown, reflecting on the "Great Recession Groundbreaking," credited Ratner's perseverance and tenacity, but noted that key to the project's survival was the public sector's "willingness to adjust earlier agreements." He called the hasty MTA deal last June "not the agency's finest hour" and pointed out how cities bend over backwards to help privately-owned sports teams, with the added pressure on elected officials to avoid "losing" the team they promised.

A New York Post team unskeptically reported Ratner's victory over "34 lawsuits"--there were closer to ten, though many more interim rulings, and Bloomberg's unsourced estimate of $400 million in tax revenue over the next 30 years--a significant contrast to the New York City Independent Budget Office's analysis that the arena would be a loss to the city. The Post focused on Paterson's basketball reminiscences; New York Magazine's Daily Intel noticed the governor's intact sense of humor.

The Times's overview, written by a reporter who hasn't covered the project, gave the flavor of the day (and, in print, featured a much larger photo of the protest than the groundbreaking), though it unskeptically quoted Paterson's claims that "the economic development opportunities are undeniable.” The Times noted that no elected officials joined the protesters and "inside the tent, many of Brooklyn’s leading politicians were nowhere to be found."

The Daily News, unsurprisingly ran a cheerleading editorial claiming the groundbreaking was "an appropriately joyous affair." Well, there was happiness, and relief, but joy would be straining it.

TV coverage

Here's a Channel 7 report which claims that "hundreds" will be losing their homes--now, hundreds moved, under the threat of eminent domain, and unskeptically quotes Bloomberg's claim of $400 million in new city tax revenue and the developer's claim of "34 lawsuits, to be exact." It reports that people believe "something is better than nothing" to replace the "big hole"--aka a working railyard that's just been moved east.

The press release

(Photo copyright Jonathan Barkey)

The official press release claimed:
It is anticipated that Atlantic Yards will generate over $5 billion in new tax revenues for the State and the City over the next 30 years and will create upwards of 17,000 union construction jobs and up to 8,000 permanent jobs when the entire project is completed.

When we announced Atlantic Yards in December 2003, we anticipated that this project would create buzz and excitement for the borough and the City as well as needed jobs and affordable housing," said Mr. Ratner. "We did not at the time appreciate that Atlantic Yards would be such an important economic engine. The fact that we can start construction in this financial environment is testament to the lasting appeal of New York City. We are a City that continues to grow and prosper and Atlantic Yards will for many years stand as a reminder that we can build and create jobs and homes and dreams even during the most difficult of economic times."
The numbers are bogus--and more jobs were promised from the start. As NLG's Eric McClure put it:
Actually, the fact that they can begin construction in this financial environment is testament to the millions and millions in state and city subsidies Ratner is receiving, including a huge discount on land and sweetened payment terms, to boot.
Inside the tent, before the start

A long invocation

The Rev. Herbert Daughtry, known for going overtime in his passionate address at the August 2006 DEIS hearing and for heckling steadily during the May 2009 state Senate oversight hearing at the Pratt Institute, gave an invocation that turned into a speech, some 7:30.

Jeers from outside, as well as a helicopter above, could be heard as Daughtry saluted former Assemblyman Roger Green and then his own family.

"We are grateful, profoundly so, for the vision and visionaries," he said, citing Ratner at the top of the list, as well as others who worked on the project. (Remember, in the promotional Brooklyn Standard of 2005, Daughtry called Ratner "humble, winsome.")

Here he described the site as being transformed "long-neglected, rodent-infested, garbage-strewn strip of geography into a modern oasis of splendid residential and commercial dwellings." From D'Alessandro:
Our favorite part was when the legendary pastor Herbert Daughtry opened his invocation by condemning the “garbage-strewn, rat-infested” acreage behind them — we’re assuming he didn’t mean the $400,000 condos overlooking this area of, uh, blight — and consecrating the manifest destiny of Ratner’s Brooklyn dream.

There wasn’t much chance of anyone walking it back from there.
"If our labor does not fully actualize the vision... if some of the downtrodden are not lifted up, we will have failed," he said, warning that "and generations yet unborn will rise up and curse this project. Our hope is that the vision of a new day of peace and prosperity... will be enjoyed by all."

He expressed hope that "those who oppose this project and even now protest"--someone blew a kazoo, as if in punctuation--"will be drawn into the circle."

(Photo copyright James Leynse)

Daughtry said of Paterson, "We pray especially for him as he is besieged on every side during this testing time."

He closed with words from "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing," the black national anthem.

Markowitz opens

"Today is a great day for Brooklyn and for the soul of Brooklyn, which is very much alive," said Markowitz, in a nod to the effort by protesters to mourn and bury the soul of Brooklyn.


"Thank you so much, Reverend Daughtry. I thought I was at my own funeral for a moment"--Paterson said to laughter. "As Mark Twain once said, 'Rumors of my death are grossly exaggerated.'"

"As we break ground, we break open new opportunities for a whole new generation of New Yorkers," Paterson said. "This project at Atlantic Yards will yield 16,000 union construction jobs and 5500 permanent jobs right here on the site. With the continuing economic downturn, this is the type of groundbreaking job creation that we need here in this state, and there's no better place to have it than right here in Brooklyn."

Note that these statistics differ from those promoted by FCR--even though they're still over-optimistic.

Citing an 11.2% unemployment rate in Kings County, he declared, "As the buildings rise on Atlantic Yards the joblessness rate will fall right here in Brooklyn."

Really--by how much? There are no estimates, and the construction jobs--say 1600 a year (16,000 job-years) over a decade, would make hardly a dent, especially given that a relative fraction would go to Brooklynites. And they'd make less of a dent should the project, as even former ESDC CEO Marisa Lago said, take "decades."

"Already, $51 million in contracts have been awarded to contractors and, of that procurement, 80% of it will go to women and minority-owned businesses," Paterson said, delving into the murk of the CBA. "Of the 65 contracts that have been awarded, 43% of them will go to companies that are located right here in Brooklyn. That is part of the overall commitment that Forest City Ratner has made to ensure that 30% of the contracts and 45% of the construction jobs will go to women and minorities."

Those goals may seem impressive, but the devil's in the details--exactly where are those companies?--and the considerable subsidies put the numbers in context.

(Photo Copyright 2010 James Leynse)

Paterson went on to decry the low rates of contracting for women- and minority-owned businesses, especially African-Americans.

"So the reality is, we're not just giving out contracts to minorities and women,.. a big project that will even the score for past lack of opportunity for no other reason... that the state didn't want to do it."

"Now we have recognized that there was strong opposition that was based on merit, that was based on equity, and that was real for this project," he said. "And we respect that. But the economic development opportunities here are undeniable. This project will yield 1.5 billion dollars in economic development in the state for the next 30 years and will have job creation the likes of which Brooklyn has never seen."

That $1.5 billion figure, while more conservative than Forest City Ratner numbers, depends on a full buildout of the project in a decade--both of which are highly unlikely--and including an office tower, for which there's no market.

"To those who have supported the project and to those who opposed the project, I guarantee that we will be scrupulous in our monitoring of the contract that Forest City Ratner signed with the state to make sure that everything we were promised, we receive," Paterson said. "In addition to a school, there will be job training. There will also be a day care, youth, and senior facility, and a health care facility to offer health care previously unavailable to people in this area."

These will come late, or not at all, or not with FCR funds.

(Photo of NYPD helicopter outside copyright Jonathan Barkey)

"In addition, Forest City Ratner will engage in the development of housing, both rental and ownership, so that thousands of families can come together to thrive and revitalize this community. They will also be building the Barclays Center arena. Our administration has given weekly updates on construction and we want to make sure that this project is transparent and efficient all the way through."

Transparent? The bi-weekly updates come via Forest City Ratner.

Paterson then went off on a personal note that got some ink in the Post: he reflected on, after moving to Long Island from Brooklyn, he watched the Long Island-based Nets, led by star Julius Erving, win a championship. When Erving's contract was sold to Philadelphia, "It was one of the worst days of my life," he quipped, "before I became governor."

Paterson said he'd long rooted for the Nets, "hoping one day that somebody would find a way to get them back to New York. That Borough President Marty Markowitz did is not just a testimony to a sports team coming back to Brooklyn, it is really the catalyst to the revitalization of Brooklyn, one of the world's greatest places."


Mayor Mike Bloomberg took about half the time Paterson needed.

"This really is such a huge win for the Nets," Bloomberg said, then alluded to the team's dismal season. "It's just a shame that it doesn't count in the standings. But it's still a moment to celebrate because we are bringing national professional sports back to Brooklyn, back to one of the greatest sports boroughs ever."

He reminded the crowd that hoops greats Chris Mullin and Michael Jordan were born in Brooklyn--though he didn't mention that only Mullin played high school sports in Brooklyn.

The mayor insisted that the team's "record is going to be spectacular," with enormous fan support--likely, at least, in the first year of a new arena, especially if the team achieves a quite-possible turnaround with draft picks and free agents.

"And I've told you, I want to buy tickets," he said, in a quip some saw as a dig at Paterson, slammed for requesting free Yankees' tickets.

"With our city still struggling and the national recession still going on, we need these kinds of major investments more than ever before," Bloomberg said. "By all accounts, the Atlantic Yards is the largest private investment in job creation in Brooklyn history, right here. And for those who said it took a long time to get here, yes it did, but nobody's going to remember how long it took, they're only going to look and see that it was done."

Well, maybe sports fans will say so, but if the project takes decades, with indefinite interim surface parking, a lot of people will keep remembering how long it takes.

"This project will create tens of thousands of construction and permanent jobs at this time we really do need these in New York City," Bloomberg said, continuing the "jobs" meme. "They're going to generate tax revenue so we can pay our cops, firefighters, and teachers, and keep the growth of this city going on. And the money they earn, a lot is going to be plowed back into this community, the local community, helping small businesses and people that live here."

Then, in a tone that signaled just how much of an inside game this can be, he said, "Now I know that Forest City Ratner and my friend, and my neighbor, Bruce, and Barclays, my friend, Bob Diamond, are going to work together to make sure that many of the jobs generated here are going to go right here, to people that already live in this community."

Actually, Barclays, though engaged in local philanthropy, has nothing to do with jobs.

"And what this is going to mean for New York City is something like 400 million dollars in new tax revenues for the city over the next 30 years," Bloomberg declared.

Well, the city and state have their own numbers, but the New York City Independent Budget Office concluded that the arena would be a net loss for the city. No one's done a credible cost-benefit analysis for the project as a whole.

"The Atlantic Yards project is helping fulfill our dream, Marty's dream, everybody's dream, of a more vibrant downtown Brooklyn, a vision that we all talked about over the last eight years," Bloomberg continued. "Central to our vision is building more housing. This project, as Reverend Daughtry referred to, will ultimately produce more than 6400 new units of housing, and about a third of those, 2250, will be part of our new housing, affordable housing plan. In fact, the first residential building on the site, which will contain up to 400 units of housing and will rise within three years, will have a significant number of units of low-income affordable housing, people who really need the help to stay in the city. Those are the people that built our city, we want to make sure that they can stay here."

Crain's and the Courier-Life's Stephen Witt somehow took this as news.

A significant number of units of low-income housing? Of 400 rentals, 200 would be subsidized, "affordable" units, with 40% of those units, or 80, going to households earning 50% or less of Area Median Income (AMI), 20% (40), going to households earning 60-100% of AMI, and the rest (80), going to households earning above 100% of AMI.

(And that's if the original plan is followed. The Development Agreement contemplates a subsidized housing plan for the first residential building that could be much less affordable.)

Keep in mind that AMI encompasses far wealthier counties in the metro area. As I wrote, maybe half of the 2250 units would be affordable to the "real Brooklyn." A good number of the rest would come close to--or be above--market rates.

(Photo copyright Jonathan Barkey)

"So today's groundbreaking symbolizes more than just the construction of a basketball arena," the mayor concluded. "It's really sending a loud message across the country, that even in these tough times, New York City is determined to keep growing, to keep moving forward, to keep doing business. And I want to thank and congratulate everyone... you're all casting a great vote of confidence in the future of Brooklyn and the future of the greatest city in the world."

As with the other speakers, Bloomberg did not venture to estimate when this might be achieved.

The Rev. Al Sharpton

A surprising addition to the lineup was the Rev. Al Sharpton.

"I was scheduled to be elsewhere today, but Jay-Z promised me if I came I would have the opportunity to sit next to Beyonce," Sharpton quipped. "This project has gone through many hurdles, and there are those that continue to take different views. But I want to say that what this project represents, in terms of jobs and contracts and inclusion, is something that weighs heavily on the need of a national mentality for a model on how we do these types of programs."

Actually, Mayor Bloomberg calls CBAs "extortion."

"When Reverend Daughtry and others said to Marc Morial and I, that we should support this project, despite the fact that there were issues around that gave discomfort, I sat at the table and watched Bruce Ratner and others wrestle with trying to bring about something that would have long-term change for the borough that I came from. I believe that the jobs and the contract and the inclusion that this project represents is something we should bring around this country. We are in the 21st century, where we must expand, but we must expand knowing that everyone is in the expansion."

"As I speak, the president is meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus about jobs," he said. "As I speak, jobs will be provided on this site."

Sure, but how many and at what cost?

(Photo Copyright 2010 James Leynse)

"Though we have different views, and though some of us have various sympathies, I think that what we embarked on here with the governor and the mayor and Mr. Ratner is very important," said Sharpton.

"Various sympathies" must have been a reference to general political issues rather than the project itself. Sharpton got very little response from the union guys (white and black) near me.

"I think it is important because we may not have always been at the same place, but we've got to learn how to walk down the same street, and we've got to learn how to do it where everyone benefits, and we don't do it in a heartless way," he said.

"Let me say this, also: the symbolism of what this team will mean," said Sharpton, getting into his Brooklyn Dodgers moment. "When I was growing up in Brooklyn, my mother used to tell me about how it made her feel, that she could go to Ebbets Field before I was born, and see Jackie Robinson play. Jackie Robinson was the first black to own--to be able to play in major league baseball. He played his first games right here in Brooklyn and broke the color line in terms of major league baseball players. I'm glad I lived to see the color line in ownership broken in Brooklyn, where we've gone from Jackie to Jay-Z, where we can not only play the game but we can own a piece of the game. So my mother saw Jackie and my daughters will see Jay-Z--we have come a long way."

Members of the public should root for an owner, one who owns a tiny piece of the team? (Remember, the majority owner will soon be Russia's richest man.)

Sharpton somehow neglected to point out that in June 2006, the majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, Robert L. Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television, announced that Brooklyn-born Michael Jordan would become the second-largest investor--two black men running a basketball team.

"But we have a long way to go," Sharpton continued. "And I think that progress takes tension, it takes discomfort--you can't have a baby without labor pains. But let the baby be born. Let us go forth. The pain is over in terms of the negotiations."

Negotiations? He probably didn't mean arm's length negotiations dubiously claimed by the ESDC. He probably did mean the CBA "negotiations" that involved only groups favorable to the project and neglected, for example, the three local community boards.

"Let's break ground on a new day, where in Brooklyn all of us will build together, work together, and share together," he said, unmindful of the fact that so few Brooklyn officials--and no local reps--were on the dais. "Let those of us that are concerned about the affordable housing keep on advocating, but let us also know that... people like Jay-Z out of the Marcy Projects can now sit back in the owner's box and say that we have a piece of the rock, too. That's why I came to Brooklyn."

Markowitz introduces Ratner

Markowitz, introducing Ratner, stated, "There is no one, I mean no one, who has kept the faith and invested more money, time and resources in Brooklyn's bright future, than our next speaker. Going back to the early days of MetroTech, he had the vision that the city could indeed rise again, that our downtown could be a major city center and an economic engine for New York City and for New York State.

"When I pestered him to bring a national sports franchise back to our borough, he could easily have brushed me off as just a noodge, and he did that the first few times," Markowitz said. "But instead, he saw a vision so much bigger, so much grander, for Brooklyn and all of New York City. I guess that's why I'm a salary man, and he's an entrepreneur. Now we're about the two most unlikely guys to ever be selected to play basketball in a pick-up game. But we're going to be this NBA team's biggest fans, Forest City Ratner Chairman and CEO Bruce Ratner."

Ratner got a standing ovation.

Official video (not an actual press conference)

AYR video

Ratner's address

Ratner took 17 minutes.

"I can't believe I'm standing here today," Ratner began. " Anyhow--today's a great day for Brooklyn! Yes! It's a great day for New York! For the NBA! And a great day for the Brooklyn Nets."

"And it's a great day for all of you, because you made it possible. It's not about a person, it's about the teamwork and effort. And Marty, you pestered me every day. It took seven years, but we got there together and you're still Brooklyn Borough President."


"I made one commitment," Ratner reflected. "I said, 'Marty, I'll get this open while you're Borough President and Mayor, I was able to do that. Anyhow, thanks for dreaming, Marty."

I couldn't tell whether Ratner was including Markowitz and Bloomberg as a team, or referencing Markowitz's flirtation with a mayoral race.

"And Mr. Mayor, in July 2003, I remember presenting this project to you. After listening, you said, 'Let's get this done.' Design reviews, transportation issues, infrastructure, housing programs, water, sewer, building department, DEP. Your agencies responded and you responded. You met that commitment."

"In spring 2008, not too long ago relevant to this project, Governor Paterson," Ratner continued. "We met soon after he took his new office. We talked Brooklyn. We talked jobs. We talked housing. And...we even talked Nets. From that day on, you were a supporter. You followed through. And I would tell, each and every one of you, the governor followed through on every single thing his administration was supposed to. They followed through well. ESDC, the state agency that led this project"--a perhaps curious past tense, given the ESDC's continued involvement--"worked days and nights, sometimes prodded by our governor. I will tell you, rarely, no matter what anybody says, have I seen a governor, or any administration, push so hard to get something done."

"And then Bob Diamond--fall 2006. We meet with you in London, and we instantly forge a relationship. And history is made. We signed an agreement that, for generations, will ensure entertainment to Brooklynites and New Yorkers, at the Barclays Center!"

What? They signed an agreement to take a chunk of the burden of paying for the arena off Ratner's company and other investors.

"Most importantly, I will never forget," Ratner said, "how through the very difficult times, Barclays and its team stood with us through thick and thin, and that was not easy."

He didn't mention that the naming rights deal was cut in half.

"Now we go to a very important day, Fall 2003. Somebody named Shawn Carter, aka Jay-Z, you and I met together," Ratner reflected. "We toured this site, I couldn't believe it, mobbed by every kid in Brooklyn. Later, we break open that bottle of champagne and, to my honor, we are partners. With his advice on marketing, on business, you've got it all. With your leadership, the Barclays Center will be the hottest music venue and the most successful arena in the world."

It would not be surprising if concerts by Jay-Z open up the arena.

(Photo Copyright 2010 James Leynse)

There was no mention of Vinnie Viola, who owns much more of the team.

"Now we go to a dark, difficult time, summer 2009, along comes Mikhail"--the urbane Ratner nevertheless pronounced it "Michael"--"Prokhorov. I jet over to Moscow. We have dinner [with Prokhorov and deputies]. Within two months, we have another historic deal. Russia comes to the NBA and the Barclays Center right here in Brooklyn, a few miles away from Little Odessa. And thank you very much... You bought into our dream, and you've been proud partners for the nine months we've worked together."

Nine months would go back to June 2009, before the Empire State Development Corporation unveiled the 2009 Modified General Project Plan.

"Now, 2004, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10--union labor!" declared Ratner. He cited "dozens of rallies... it's all about jobs. You have built this city and you will build this Barclays Center and Atlantic Yards and everything that our company does. thank you, Gary LaBarbera, and particuarly, thank you for union workers."

Well, there were once supposed to be 10,000 office jobs.

"December 2004. A guy named Brett Yormark. We meet for the first time. I pitch you on a job...Brett, you're recognized, honestly, as one of, if not the best sports executives in America. More than any single person, you have gotten this done."

(At left, a view of the building where DDDB spokesman Daniel Goldstein lives, visible from inside the tent, with a crane intervening.)

Ratner then saluted Nets President Rod Thorn for teaching "me everything I know about basketball."

"June 2005, the Mayor was there, our Community Benefits Agreement is signed," Ratner continued. "As Reverend Sharpton said, it's going to be a model for what's done in the rest of this country, and it's got to be a model, because it's really important. Reverent Daughtry, a Brooklyn treasure, a national civil rights leader, a great an inspirational man, your idea.

(Former Assemblyman Roger Green and Darnell Canada of BUILD and later ReBUILD have also taken credit.)

"Bertha Lewis"--who got relatively light applause--"Brooklyn's own, and one of the great leaders and organizers of this generation, ensures that our housing is available for all.

Ratner went on to quickly salute other CBA partners--only James Caldwell of BUILD got some adjectives of praise--who got perfunctory applause.

Unmentioned: George Pataki

Unmentioned in Ratner's speech, but clearly important to the project, was former Governor George Pataki, present at the initial press conference. Pataki, a law school classmate of Ratner, greeted the developer warmly before the ceremony, as the brief video shows.

Second half

Ratner toggled back to his meeting with NBA Commissioner David Stern, citing Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver's presence. "The NBA is the best--I can attest to that."

"I met him for supper in the fall of 2005," Ratner continued, referencing "a man who understands the need for jobs and housing. My dream is to walk down Atlantic Avenue, celebrating his dreams, so thank you, Reverend Al Sharpton."

He saluted MaryAnne Gilmartin, who led the project for FCR in 2007 after the mysterious departure of point man Jim Stuckey (left): "Along with Brett, MaryAnne gets this project done. Probably the best development executive in the nation."

(Photo copyright Jonathan Barkey)

He saluted partners in government but said he wanted to mention "one very outstanding person: Helena Williams of the Long Island Rail Road. She met with MaryAnne Gilmartin in 2009,
make or break [inaudible]major breakthroughs. The railroad got done. We got all the agreements done, and we're on our way. Thank you very much, Helena."

Williams, presumably under pressure from above, agreed to a smaller, cheaper replacement railyard, as well as only $20 million down for the railyard segment needed for the arena, rather than $100 million for it all, with the remaining $80 million to be paid at a generous 6.5% interest rate.

"Nothing works without business. Business is our business," Ratner said, moving into praise for the corporate board of parent Forest City Enterprises. "When the great recession hit us about two-and-a-half years ago," he noted, the arena plan was too expensive. "Our corporate board... showed Midwestern courage and New York toughness. We don't give up. They said 'forge on,' and forge on we did."

Perhaps that had something to do with losing $30 million-plus on the Nets in New Jersey.

(Photo Copyright 2010 James Leynse)

He thanked his cousins, executives Al Ratner and Chuck Ratner.

"In 2009, a new design was needed for the arena"--no need to mention Frank Gehry--necessitated by the economy. In comes Ellerbe Becket, SHoP architects, and Hunt Construction, and in one year of designs and prices, a new Barclays Center that is cool and gorgeous and spectacular--in one year."

He left out the fact that the initial design, by Ellerbe Becket, was panned, and SHoP was brought in to re-do the facade.

"And then, for this long haul, my fellow investors," he said, saying they'd stuck together, despite occasional disagreements. "I always say it's all in the family, and they've been my extended family, going on six years."

"One other very important organization, speaking of sticking with it, Gramercy Capital," which he said evolved from loan provider to partner.

He saluted Barclays and Goldman Sachs for selling the arena bonds.

"And nothing would be complete without talking about lawyers," he said, citing 150 of them and speeding up: "real estate lawyers, litigators, environmental lawyers, M&A lawyers, lawyers representing governmental agencies, bond lawyers, sports lawyers. These lawyers... give the profession a great name."

"Then, lawsuits and more lawsuits. 34 lawsuits. 34 wins--and no losses." (Actually, not even close. There might have been 34 rulings of some sort, but closer to ten lawsuits.) "Thank you, all you brilliant lawyers--you're incredible."

He then saluted the courage, conviction, and hard work of colleagues at Forest City, noting that "our core group has worked for me for almost 20 years." Joanne Minieri got cheers. Then as he listed more employees, the crowd--many, apparently from the company--offered hearty applause. He said 60 people worked on the deal.

Then, more than 16 minutes in, on this public-private project, Ratner started thanking his family, as if it were a family event. He asserted playfully that that his wife Pam--who attended Nets games--is "definitely coach material," then saluted his children, grandchild, and siblings.

Finally, he was done.

Bob Diamond

"Barclays shares our love for Brooklyn and is committed to our community," declared Markowitz, introducing Bob Diamond, CEO of Barclays Capital, a British company aiming to make its mark in the United States.

Diamond, was relatively brief, leading off by thanking several people, "including my good friend Bruce."

"This is a landmark partnership in so many ways," he said. "It's about our commitment to the regeneration of Brooklyn in some small way. But it's also about facilitating absolutely top-flight professional sporting achievement."

(He sure must be hoping/expecting the bottom-dwelling Nets to turn it around.)

Not only the Nets but "many great events" will be held at the arena. "All of them will emphasize commitment," he said. "All of them will emphasize dedication to excellence. And all of them will emphasize teamwork. And that fits very very strongly with the ethos and the values of Barclays."

"It's important that we give back," he said.

(Photograph of protester Patti Hagan copyright Adrian Kinloch)

"The governor talked about the incredible generation of jobs: thousands and thousands of jobs, during construction, but more importantly, permanent jobs for many, many years going forward," he said. "The Barclays Center will not only help secure those jobs, but it's also about affordable housing, about new schools, and so many opportunities for the youth in these communities."

He cited a "20-year commitment to Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Nets, and the Barclays Center." (How about a 20-year advertising arrangement that will help pay for arena construction?)

In closing, he said he had been looking forward to introducing the next speaker. "Man, I had an introduction you wouldn't believe," he said, pandering--as so many did--to the celebrity of Jay-Z.


Jay-Z, after Diamond, indicated to Markowitz that he should perform the planned introduction. "Jay-Z is a Brooklyn native, who we hope will be a Brooklyn resident once again very soon," said Markowitz. "He recently gave this city its new anthem: Empire State of Mind."

Then, after citing Jay-Z's wife Beyonce's support of a new cosmetology school at Phoenix House in Brooklyn, Markowitz showed the crowd a picture of him with the entertainer, giving him a peck on the cheek.

"I really believe, if I had met her before you, I could've been a contender," said the 60ish, pudgy, non-hip-hop BP. "But seriously, I always say, Brooklyn is where legends are made and dreams come true. And no one's proves it more than this man, who as he famously said, went from bricks to billboards."

"I give you: dedicated philanthropist, innovative artist, and entrepreneur, Nets investor and cultural icon, Shawn Carter, aka Jay-Z."

Jay-Z spoke for little more than a minute. "Everyone spoke about, uh, community inclusion and job creation, and, um, so, I'm not going to go through all that again. Um. But I stand here representing hope for Brooklyn, New York City. I'm a son of Brooklyn, Marcy Projects [in Bed-Stuy]."

"I think about growing up in New York Ci--I mean Brooklyn, in Marcy Projects, and shooting jump shots and thinking I was going to make it to the NBA," he said. "Now I stand here as an owner of a team that's coming back to Brooklyn and the pride in that, in bringing that dream so much forward to people from Marcy, from Tompkins, from Fort Greene"--the crowd interrupted with applause.

"It gives me so much pride I'm going to get a little nervous about it, but I'm very happy, I'm very excited on this day," he said in closing. "We did it again, Brooklyn. Shout out to [Notorious] B.I.G."

An interview with Jay-Z

From, Jay-Z cited his relief at the day and "all the job opportunities and everything, and the housing and the community inclusion, gives me a tremendous sense of pride, y'know."

Delia Hunley-Adossa

Hunley-Adossa, chairperson of the CBA Coalition (and much-lagging 2009 challenger to 35th District Council Member Letitia James, the project's leading political opponent), was next.

"Our next speaker is one of the most hard-working community activists in Brooklyn," Markowitz said. "She not only runs her own business, she's also chair of the CBA executive committee and president of the 88th Precinct Community Council and executive director of the Brooklyn Endeavor Experience."

"It's truly an exciting day for Brooklyn," Hunley-Adossa said, leading off, speaking in a deliberate fashion. "I am really elated to be in your presence. Today, not only do we unite in support of the Atlantic Yards, but also we enjoy the groundbreaking of Barclays Center, and that's pretty awesome."

The crowd clapped. "Give it up, Brooklyn," she said, encouragingly.

"I'm thrilled to be here with you and to share in this historic moment. First, I'd like to acknowledge and thank my Community Benefits Agreement partners. I want to begin with Miss Bertha Lewis of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now."

Lewis took a bow.

"Mr. James Caldwell." He got up and doffed his cap. "Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development."

"The Honorable Reverend Lydia Sloley," Hunley-Adossa said of a CBA signatory who, as far as I know, has never spoken at a public meeting beyond the CBA. "Faith in Action."

"The Honorable Reverend Herbert Daughtry. Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance. Mr. Joseph Coello. Brooklyn Voices for Children. One of my partners, Miss Melvina Harris, Brooklyn Endeavor Experience. My two daughters, Saadia, and my other one, Malacia. Elnora Bernard. New York State Association for Minority Contractors. And Miss Charlene Nimmons"--Hunley Adossa's campaign treasurer--"Public Housing Communities."

"And the community, for their belief in the Atlantic Yards project. Although it meant supporting a project that didn't always receive popular votes"--actually, it received no votes--"to us, the communities who've supported it, it meant doing what is right for Brooklyn, and we're very proud to be a part of that."

(Photo of Jay-Z copyright James Leynse)

Then Hunley-Adossa displayed her faith: "It is our belief, and will remain, that this project will be instrumental in creating a resurgence in Brooklyn, through the creation of jobs, affordable housing, and community benefits. On behalf of the CBA and the executive committee, I would like to thank Forest City Ratner for your vision of changing the paradigm of how developers and community relations work together on large-scale projects. We look forward to working with Forest City Ratner and our community partners throughout the next phases of this project."

"Once again, thank you, and congratulations, Brooklyn!" she declared, lifting both fists in triumph.

Brett Yormark

The very politic Yormark thanked several people "who have helped make Bruce Ratner's vision a reality." He started with Ratner, then the leaders of Barclays. (Yes, people clapped for a business deal that's a gift from the state.)

Then he thanked the Barclays Center "founding partners," aka sponsors, "including several who are represented here today." Cushman & Wakefield. Philips Van Heusen. Haier America. Metro PCS. They got applause, too.

He said the Barclays Center must be unique, and he cited presenters IMG and LiveNation, asserting that the arena "will offer the best sports entertainment in the world."

He also cited Jay-Z, always a good applause line.

"Thanks to our unique location, with ten subway lines and the Long Island Rail Road, these guests will find the Barclays Center easily accessible," he said.

"Our goal is to be the most community-active team in professional sports," he said of the Brooklyn Nets. "I can assure you that the Nets will be part of the fabric of the community like the Dodgers used to be. It will be Brooklyn's team."

(The Dodgers--really?)

He noted that 2000 seats for every game would be priced at $15/game--a longstanding pledged. "As Bruce says, Our organization is about character, leadership, family, teamwork, and perseverance--sounds just like Brooklyn, to me," said the New Jersey resident.

"I look forward to seeing you all on opening night," he said, in closing.

At the end, a screen of thank-you's

James's statement

Council Member Letitia James, the project's leading political opponent, issued a statement:
He, who has money, has power, influence, and ultimately politicians.

It is a sad day in Brooklyn when basketball rules over affordable housing, schools, playgrounds, youth centers, libraries, and MetroCards for students. This ceremonial groundbreaking best represents the priorities of a few misguided men, and will do nothing to fix the budget deficits on either the State, or local levels.

The proposed Atlantic Yards Project is not about jobs or housing, but about bailing out a developer with friends in high places, for an NBA team that is the worst in the league. Governor Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg should commit today to refuse any additional public dollars towards this boondoggle and demand that the affordable housing be built immediately.

I will now take on the fight to keep Forest City Ratner Companies true to their promises: to build much needed affordable housing, provide opportunities for local women and minority businesses, and to mitigate the adverse affects of ongoing construction and traffic congestion in this district.

I refused to celebrate with FCR today, and I renew my objection to this entire project, the process, the land grabbing, and the waste of public funds.
James, however, has herself in a bit of a bind. If the affordable housing is to be built immediately, that likely means a diversion of scarce subsidies to this project. Is the AY affordable housing the best bang for the buck? If it's not, given other infrastructure costs, is it even close?

Remember, a lot of the subsidized housing wouldn't be that affordable to people in Brooklyn, much less ACORN's constituency. And subsidized housing is no charitable act by the developer. In essence, elected officials like James are now locked into pushing to move subsidies to FCR for a good chunk of not-so-affordable housing.


  1. Matteo

    I would think that you your question was rhetorical. They arrested a man for banging a tambourine and brought out 200 cops for 100 protesters because they got too close to power.


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