Skip to main content

On BCAT, BUILD's Caldwell and Chamber rep talk up arena "win-win" (and a few things are missing)

Last night, on Brooklyn Independent Television's Intersect, on the BCAT TV Network, Lori Raphael, Director of External Affairs at the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, and James E. Caldwell, President and CEO of Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development (BUILD), joined host Brian Vines "for a discussion about job and business opportunities for Brooklynites" as "the Atlantic Yards become the Barclays Center."

(The show appears Mondays and Thursdays at 1:30pm & 9:30pm and Wednesdays at 3 pm & 11 pm, on Time Warner 56, Cablevision 69, RCN 84, Verizon 44, and streaming: Channel 3. It also should be available on the web site as an individual episode.)

Given such a focus on opportunities, not to mention the conflation of the Vanderbilt Yard with the Atlantic Yards site, it wasn't surprising that the project was presented as a win-win, with a mild acknowledgment of people who "feel" promises haven't been kept. (Is it just a "feeling" or could it maybe be documented?)

There was no mention of the big picture questions, such as the New York City Independent Budget Office's calculation that the arena would be a net loss for city taxpayers, or, however much there may be trickle-down spending and hiring, whether the big beneficiary is developer Forest City Ratner. Or, as the rather mainstream Regional Plan Association recently suggested, it's too soon to come to a verdict.

Nor was there discussion of other charged issues, such as the failure to deliver promised affordable housing--part of the public promotion of the project--or the much-delayed arena transportation plan. It was pretty much happy talk.

A changed landscape

Caldwell (left) saluted a changed landscape, noting that retail spaces have been filling up on Vanderbilt and Washington Avenues, and even on Flatbush Avenue.

"Once the arena was approved in 2006, I started to see a slow process of businesses starting to move into the community," Caldwell said, allowing that "a lot of them was not for the Atlantic Yards project."

In other words, Caldwell is less credulous than the New York Times reporter who credited the arena with driving retail changes on Flatbush. And the question remains: was the arena project necessary to stimulate development in a "blighted" area or was it happening all along?

"This arena has really shook up the economy in a very positive way," Caldwell declared, "and peoples are excited, very excited, because the arena has really brought businesses back to our community and we're very thankful for that."

Caldwell doesn't exactly speak for everybody, given the fact that the state overrides city zoning barring sports facilities from within 200 feet from a residential area, or the looming interim surface parking lot.

Raphael (left) noted that hotels have been coming to the environs of Downtown Brooklyn, helping the borough "hit its stride" as a destination. It's also driven, I'd add, by a rezoning and by increasing demand in the city.

Asked by Vines about the effort by Hooters to move near the arena and the mix of local/national businesses, Raphael sidestepped mention of the not uncontroversial chain and said it was a "good mix" of local and national.

Thus the boundaries of Downtown Brooklyn are "leaking out further, which is a great thing," she declared. And "an influx of nationals" is "terrific," she said, because "they have a tendency to anchor an area," as "they're light, they're bright, they're kept well, they may stay open long enough to increase that 24/7 nature of the street."

She said that the Chamber has been able to introduce contracting opportunities at the arena--extermination, uniform dry cleaning--to its members, as well as introduce food businesses that are actively being considered.

What BUILD does

Vines (right) asked Caldwell what BUILD does. "We try to build lives in our community. We try to reach out for those that are very unfortunate."

He described some basic employment help: "We try to help them with resumes, pull your pants up, take the do-rag off, make yourself look presentable."

"Generally when big projects come to our community, peoples of color generally don't get an opportunity to participate," Caldwell said,  reverting to his basic mantra. "The fact that we was invited to sit down at the table to sit down with Forest City Ratner Companies... We're there to advocate for the little guy, for the little one in our community, to make sure that they get a chance to participate, and more importantly, get a chance to work in the arena. For example, we have, working along with Forest City Ratner, we have a customer service program... that we're trying to prep our community, that they will get a fair chance at maybe obtaining one of those jobs."

There are 172 graduates of the unpaid training, funded by FCR. Unmentioned was whether BUILD really was necessary to get people hired for this project or whether it played a more important role in cheerleading for Atlantic Yards.

Forest City, Caldwell said, is trying to keep the promises they made in the Community Benefit Agreement.

Actually the most important promise in the CBA may have been the pre-apprenticeship training BUILD was supposed to organize.

Vines did ask about the program, but without pointing out that seven of the 36 people in the program have sued BUILD and Forest City Ratner for unfulfilled promises of jobs and union cards.

Caldwell deflected the question, suggesting that construction jobs were usually temporary, and that people with a "consistent job... can do more for their families." Thus he plugged the customer service and hospitality training that BUILD's done, without pointing out that the latter prepares people, generally, for low-wage jobs, whereas unionized construction work pays much more.

BUILD and FCR

Caldwell at one point dismissed critics' claims that "we're puppets" by saying "we're independent." He did acknowledge that "Forest City has been funding us," along with grants the developer helped BUILD get. His interviewer didn't press the issue, but however formally independent BUILD may seem, it's financially dependent on the developer. And that's one of the issues in the lawsuit.

Caldwell, for the first time to my knowledge, used a particular formulation in describing the Community Benefits Agreement: "Eight black organizations that signed on to be partners with Forest City Ratner to ensure that peoples living in the surrounding communities would get a shot."

Now Caldwell's a personable man with a folksy style, and has a definite record of community work at the 77th Precinct Community Council, but statements like that are why longtime BUILD Chief Operating Officer Marie Louis, who died late last year, usually went on TV ahead of him.

First, Caldwell was excluding the diversity--at least among people of color--implied by the role of CBA signatories ACORN and the New York State Association of Minority Contractors. But he's right, essentially: those who signed the CBA were black, and they represent mostly black constituencies.

And that leads to a question: how could it then be a true "Community" Benefits Agreement?

Also, does the head of a neighborhood organization that's supposed to negotiate with a powerful developer like Forest City Ratner inspire confidence it's a fair match when he talks about how "peoples are excited" or how "peoples... would get a shot"?"

Net gains?

Vines asked if his guests saw the arena "as a net positive gain for Brooklyn businesses."

Unsurprisingly, his guests concurred. Raphael said "the stadium" is a tool for the Chamber to introduce smaller businesses to the larger business community to present procurement and other opportunities.

Caldwell said it's going to create all kinds of opportunity.

Vines, showing mild familiarity with less happy talk, said he knows "there's a segment of people" who "feel like there's still a lot of promises not kept in terms of job creation."

Even if there are only part-time jobs, Vines said, serving Caldwell a fat pitch, what do they "mean to people who walk through your doors"?

Caldwell cited a young man he met he wanted any job to get custody of his child. Then he acknowledged that the CBA "is not going to happen overnight."

Vines later asked what they asked for from Forest City that hasn't happened. Caldwell allowed that he would have liked to have seen more BUILD members working on the construction site.

Raphael followed up by saying that "construction jobs by their very nature are temporary" and "we've got to concentrate our positive energies where the growth is." (Does that mean part-time arena jobs? She didn't say, but I doubt it.)

And, after referencing the long gestation period of MetroTech, she suggested it would 20-25 years before the fruit of current development is clear.

Irony note

Instead of Caldwell on the show with Raphael, it could have been me--or so it seemed. I was actually invited last Wednesday to appear on the show:
We are requesting that you appear as the second panelist on this half-hour talk-show, to weigh in on our conversation about the status of the Atlantic Yards project and where opportunities can be found for local businesses and residents. We are consistent readers of your “Atlantic Yard Report” blog and hope you will be able to provide perspective for us, based on the on-going coverage you provide.
Doubtful that they were "consistent readers" of my blog, I called the producer for more information. I never got a response. (Update: I was told that my return call was missed.)

Maybe someone in the office pointed out that Caldwell and I might have different perspectives on the extent of the opportunities and even the role of BUILD.

But if it is truly Brooklyn Independent Television--and I wonder--I look forward to my invitation to appear on an episode later this year. After all, here's the show's description:
Guest panelists representing Brooklyn community activists, political leaders, business owners, residents, and journalists tackle topics important to the people of Brooklyn and beyond. Viewers can expect a lively discussion representing all sides of an issue, as well as firsthand insight into the impact these issues have on the people of Brooklyn.

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…

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…

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 …

For Atlantic Yards Quality of Life meeting Sept. 19, another bare-bones agenda (green wall?)

A message from Empire State Development (ESD) reminds us that the next Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Quality of Life Meeting--which aims to update community members on construction and other issues--will be held:
Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 6 pm
Shirley Chisholm State Office Building
55 Hanson Place
1st Floor Conference Room
Brooklyn, NY 11217 The typically bare-bones, agenda, below, tells us nothing about the content of the presentation. One thing to look for is any hint of plans to start a new building on the southeast block of the project by the end of the year.

If not, ESD is supposed to re-evaluate a longstanding request from project neighbors to move back a giant wall encroaching on part of Dean Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues. It's said to enclose construction activity, but, in recent months, has significantly served to protect worker parking.

Also, by the way, if you search for Atlantic Yards on Google or the ESD website, it leads to this page for the Atlantic Ya…