Skip to main content

Churches organize "Justice at Atlantic Yards!" protest for June 10; accountability and oversight might come before housing and jobs

In a sign of a new configuration of Atlantic Yards criticism, a group of churches, mostly from central Brooklyn and led by Rev. Clinton Miller of the Brown Memorial Baptist Church in Clinton Hill, is organizing a "Justice At Atlantic Yards" protest on June 10.

Protesters, including parishioners from some 25 congregations, as well as others from the overall Brooklyn community including some active Atlantic Yards critics from BrooklynSpeaks, will gather at 3 pm at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and South Portland Avenue, just north of the Barclays Center arena.

Several elected officials are expected to speak, though the line-up isn't yet set. Miller has a longtime close relationship with Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, who joined state Sen. Eric Adams and Assemblyman Karim Camara at a press conference in January expressing their outrage at the lack of results.

Listed after Miller on the poster are the Rev. Mark Taylor of Church of the Open Door in Fort Greene and the Rev. Conrad Tillard of Nazarene Congregational United Church of Christ in Bed-Stuy. Some of the church leaders involved have previously expressed concern or opposition, while others have not. Project opponents Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn are promoting the rally, too.

Goal: fairness

The goal--"Stronger Oversight & the Housing and Jobs Promised!"--is a very difficult one, because the housing and jobs were premised on a full buildout of the project over ten years.

However, given the rather gentle oversight by the Empire State Development Corporation (aka Empire State Development), the state agency overseeing the project, developer Forest City Ratner was given 25 years to build the project. Forest City faces specific penalties only for delays on three towers on the arena block and one tower elsewhere, and has repeatedly delayed the start of the first tower.

(Note that the 300 units of affordable housing in the poster is the minimum required over 12 years; Forest City Ratner surely would say it aims to build more units, and faster. And the developer's plan to hire some 1900 people for part-time arena jobs, however much those are not careers, should win some community support. But Forest City has continually fudged projections regarding permanent jobs.)

Talking with Miller, I pointed out that urging fulfillment of the promises might be seen as playing into Forest City Ratner's presumed effort to gain more public subsidies; Miller said he didn't support additional subsidies.

And while ESD now appears willing to accommodate some measure of community input, that's not the same as a governance body with representatives appointed by elected officials.

Nor is it a commitment to breaking up the site into several parcels and letting other developers bid, a proposal that echoes the community-derived UNITY plan and could deliver faster results--but was rejected by ESD CEO Kenneth Adams.

"When I talk about it on Sundays, it’s a matter of fairness," Miller said. "If taxpayers aren’t getting a benefit, that’s when they start to voice their displeasure." (At a meeting with Adams last September, Miller called for a a more "triangular" version of development, which involves the community.)

Beyond that, when such development helps cause indirect displacement--a trend already in process--people in the congregation are further dismayed, he said.

His congregation, Miller said, has generally not opposed the arena outright, but thought "whatever is done should be done fairly." And the use of eminent domain, and generous deals on public land for the developer, he said, are signs the project has not proceeded fairly.

Not a boycott, but a response

Miller was careful not to use the term boycott, and surely recognizes that the arena will serve diverse audiences depending on the events promoted.

But he said that "if something is not immediately done on the part of the state and the developer, we’re pledging not to go the arena." That may be more symbolic than significant, but it indicates the taint that the arena can't shake off.

The legacy of Battle for Brooklyn

The rally poster suggests a reference to the film Battle for Brooklyn, quoting a memorable line from Mayor Mike Bloomberg at the June 2005 signing of the Community Benefits Agreement (which Bloomberg signed as a witness): "You have Bruce Ratner's word. That should be enough for you."

On April 27, Brown Memorial sponsored a showing of that documentary, which tells the story of the project by focusing on activist Daniel Goldstein of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn. And though Goldstein is not exactly a stand-in for the Brown congregation, which is Baptist and mostly black, the audience gave the film, and Goldstein, hearty applause.

(In a rather odd moment during the post-film panel discussion, Council Member Letitia James invited audience member James Caldwell of Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement signatory BUILD, to joint the panel. Audience members did not seem swayed by Caldwell's recounting that, at least for this development, "we" were at the table.)

Miller said he's had occasional, frustrating interaction with representatives of Forest City Ratner and even Irina Pavlova, Mikhail Prokhorov's deputy, but hasn't talked with them recently.

Justice, accountability, and credibility

If the aspiration is justice, accountability might be more achievable. What might accountability look like?

For one thing, I'd suggest, Forest City should hire the Independent Compliance Monitor promised in the Community Benefits Agreement. That would replace the developer's self-reporting of statistics in ways that mislead the public.

For example, the developer reports on minority- and women-owned business contracting without mentioning whether those numbers meet the goals in the CBA. It reports the number of construction workers without explaining what the (lower) full-time equivalent would be.

When at the 4/26/12 press conference at the Barclays Center I encountered Delia Hunley-Adossa, who chairs the CBA coalition, I asked when an ICM would be hired.

"Forthcoming," she responded. Only CBA signatories can enforce the CBA, but elected officials, and project backers could add their voice. After all, CBA signatory Bertha Lewis once responded to CBA doubters by citing the compliance monitor.

The ESD, and Cuomo's legacy

As for Empire State Development (ESD), the state agency lost twice in court (and is appealing) in the case challenging the project timetable. The agency did not study the impact of the 25-year project buildout it allowed, and withheld a document--the Development Agreement--that made that 25-year buildout clear.

In other words, the ESD, in the eyes of critics, has lost credibility. Should Gov. Andrew Cuomo truly care about his legacy--even if he looks forward to a ribbon-cutting, even if he inherited a project he might have shaped differently--shouldn't he make changes, such as enacting governance reform, to achieve credibility? (Or might Atlantic Yards be part of opposition research for his presumed 2016 presidential run?)

At a 9/26/11 community meeting, the ESD's Adams said, "We’re still fully confident that Forest City is going to build this whole thing and, over time, deliver all the promised benefits."

There's much reason for doubt. That was nearly months before Forest City Ratner announced a plan to build all the towers via modular construction to save money--likely lowering the number of workers and almost certainly reducing cumulative salaries and thus tax revenues. The state has performed no new recalculation.

At the same time, Bruce Ratner said, that "existing incentives" don't work for high-rise, union-built affordable housing, even though that's what he proposed--and the state approved.

In the Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding, the developer pledged that 50% of the subsidized units, in terms of floor area, would be larger (2BR and 3BR) units. That pledge is not being met with the first building, even after a tweak in configuration in response to criticism.

The political dynamic

Beyond the Cuomo administration's general support, the political dynamic favors the status quo. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn favors the project, and has blocked any oversight hearing, despite requests from Brooklyn Council Members Letitia James and Brad Lander.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver also favors the project, and has stymied--either directly or implicitly--any oversight hearings. Thus local legislators like Jeffries and Assemblyman Jim Brennan, the latter of whom chairs the Committee on Corporations and thus has oversight over ESD, are hampered.

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…

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 …

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

"There is no alternative": DM Glen on de Blasio's affordable housing strategy

As I've written, Mayor Bill de Blasio sure knows how to steer and spin coverage of his affordable housing initiatives.

Indeed, his latest announcement, claiming significant progress, came with a pre-press release op-ed in the New York Daily News and then a friendly photo-op press conference with an understandably grateful--and very lucky--winner of an affordable housing lottery.

To me, though, the most significant quote came from Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who, as the Wall Street Journal reported:
said public housing had been “starved” of federal support for years now, leaving the city with fewer ways of creating affordable housing. “Are we relying too heavily on the private sector?” she said. “There is no alternative.” Though Glen was using what she surely sees as a common-sense phrase, it recalls the slogan of a politician with whom I doubt de Blasio identifies: former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a Conservative who believed in free markets.

It suggests the limits to …