The Barclays Center ribbon-cutting: big win for Ratner, as media focus on impressive building, not broken promises
|Photo by Kathryn Kirk/Brooklyn Borough President|
The dailies, for example sent mostly sports reporters and columnists, so no one played up the rather small turnout of Brooklyn elected officials, and Mikhail Prokhorov, the charismatic Russian billionaire who owns most of the Brooklyn Nets and has finally backed up his promises of success by opening his wallet, got significant attention (and equated the arena to the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge).
The Barclays Center interior, shiny and new, with the herringbone court, views of the court and the surrounding area (hi, Atlantic Center mall!) Brooklyn foodstuffs, and (less mentioned) corporate branding, got mostly positive reviews, especially since journalists were shown the coveted perspectives from the expensive seats and suites.
The Brooklyn Nets are cool, "almost instantly," declared CNBC, and the widely used AP article played up the predictable Dodgers connection. (The New York Post, without citing my scoop, confirmed that the Ebbets Field flagpole has been installed.)
|Photo copyright Jonathan Barkey|
Davidson even claimed the arena "makes nice to the neighbors in various ways," citing the lack of new parking and the loading dock aimed to avoid clogging roadways--a dismayingly blinkered account that ignores the glaring history of truck and construction violations, as well as the lack of residential permit parking.
Such flouting of the rules connects to a theme established at yesterday morning's event, which the Record's John Brennan accurately described as "more like a “celebration that the press gets to watch” (and noted that bottled water would cost $4.50).
Enormous support from the start
The theme was encapsulated in an anecdote Ratner relayed. In June 2003, five months before the official project launch, Ratner recalled, he went to see Mayor Mike Bloomberg. "He just looked at it. After a while, he said, 'I want to get it done.'"
|Photo copyright Nancy Siesel|
Perhaps the most telling visual of the entire event, which lasted about an hour before the several hundred journalists and invited guests could go on building tours or attend an exclusive after-party downstairs, was the succession of images projected in continuous loop on the arena's new scoreboard (visible from the street, as we're reminded).
Those images were thank-you's to some 1,500 people, companies and lawyers and community supporters and officials who had a hand in the project.
|Barclays Center Photo Gallery|
At Unveiling of Barclays Center, Talk of a Nets Championship and stated that "opponents contend Ratner failed to deliver on those promises," a deflected account of checkable facts. (The article in print actually contained a picture of the protest.)
No Metro reporter was there, but the Times does have a major Sunday feature, already online, headlined In Brooklyn, Bracing for Hurricane Barclays, which acknowledges significant skepticism: "the arena stands as an island, a reminder of what is missing," "inherent conflicts" in the Community Benefits Agreement, and a first housing tower with fewer family-sized apartments than promised. It also claims that Forest City "never clearly announced the number of jobs it would deliver." Really? See graphic below.
editorial, one which revealed that the newspaper will be sponsoring the Barclays Center plaza, an apparent conflict of interest that may have only marginal effect, given the newspaper's record. (Does this mean the tabloid rival New York Post will become more critical of the arena?)
The Times editorial, Hoopla in the Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, stated:
Amid all the razzle-dazzle, however, it is worth reminding residents as well as the Barclays Center developer of promises made nine years ago. Forest City Ratner Companies, which is building the $4.9 billion project, originally sold the city on the arena plan because it would provide at least 2,250 affordable apartments, 8 acres of open space in the 22-acre project and 10,000 jobs.
Company officials said this week that they would, at some point, make good on those promises. The recession and numerous lawsuits from opponents have slowed down their progress, according to MaryAnne Gilmartin, an executive vice president of the company.
On Friday, Bruce Ratner, chairman of the development company, announced that he would break ground on the first of 14 residential buildings in December. The first building is supposed to offer 181 units of affordable rental apartments, which leaves more than 2,000 affordable units to be finished by 2031.
In some ways, it feels as though the developers got their dessert first — the splendid arena that will draw crowds and superstars starting on Friday night. Now for the meat and potatoes.
|Photo by Kathryn Kirk/Brooklyn Borough President|
Nor did the Times mention that the starting date for that first tower has been pushed back at least a dozen times. (Ratner's public statement was almost an afterthought, and he didn't mention whether or not the building would use modular technology.)
Nor did the Times mention that there would be far fewer family-size subsidized units than promised in the first tower, or that those units would skew dramatically toward better-off households, with a plurality of the two-bedroom apartments renting for at least $2,700 a month.
And while the Times clearly queried Forest City's Gilmartin for an explanation of delays, it left out the fact that the developer long promised to build Atlantic Yards in ten years, but was given 25 years by the state. (That's 2035, actually; the 2031 date refers to the deadline to acquire Vanderbilt Yard
|Photo from Brownstoner|
See WNYC, Brooklyn Paper, ESPN (with some good photos of logo'd chairs and bathroom ledge for beer), Patch, Newsday photos, DNAInfo, Crain's, NY1 (1, 2) NY Post, and Gothamist (1, 2) . In the Wall Street Journal, Jason Gay called the "guts of the [Rusty] Turtle... slick" but allowed that "it's hard to say how this will work until you see it working."
Also note a skeptical New York Observer account, which noted that "the Calvin Klein VIP entrance... the American Express box office... the Geico atrium" and suggested "this is the [Barclays] bank’s home and everybody else are its guests." Star-Ledger columnist Dave D'Alessandro acknowledged "befuddled awe" for the effort to build it, suggested the arena dominates the neighborhood, but "you can grow to love a building," citing the elliptical oculus at the arena's prow as a special feature.
The full event video (via Mayor's office)
"Hello Brooklyn," Ratner declared, beaming, and in a moment, the arena's scoreboard went live--"September is Just the Beginning," was the tagline--and the digital signage flashed on, provoking cheers from the supporters in the crowd.
"So, how did we get here," Ratner asked. "We first needed to buy a basketball team, and against all odds, we did it." (I'd suggest that they first needed political support and, indeed, that support was lined up well before the sale of the New Jersey Nets went through.)
|Barclays Center Photo Gallery|
"We needed to win 35 judicial decisions, and we did it," he continued rapidly, to chuckles.. I'd like to see that total, but at least Ratner's no longer claiming 35 "lawsuits." Of course he didn't mention the decision lost by his firm and the state of New York, requiring an environmental review to assess the potential impacts of a 25-year project buildout.
"This one's not so funny--we needed to survive the worst economic climate in 70 years, and we did it.
And we needed to finance an arena when no one thought that was possible--and we did it. And we needed to keep our promise to bring the first sports team to Brooklyn since 1957--and we did it." (He meant major league, of course.)
"And we even had to go through four state administrations, and we did it. And we needed to build, for Brooklyn, the most architecturally distinguished arena in the country, and we did it. And we needed to build an entire infrastructure of train tracks, which cost over $250 million, and we did it."
That's an interesting number, given that the 2009 estimate to build a new railyard, according to the MTA, was under $150 million. Was Ratner adding in the $76 million cited for construction of a new subway entrance?
|Photo copyright Nancy Siesel|
Yes, as the Times reported, there are several Brooklyn food purveyors, both individual stands and products spread across stands, but they are all operated by Levy Restaurants. There is also some cheesy localism, such as food stations named for neighborhoods like Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, and Bed-Stuy.
"We needed to hire close to 2000 employees, primarily from the neighborhood and primarily from Brooklyn, and we did that. We needed to open with the best entertainment, and with Jay-Z's help, we did it." (Jay-Z wasn't there, but he was name-checked several times.)
|Photo by Adrian Kinloch|
"Well, what do we have?" Ratner asked rhetorically. "We have a place, where for a few hours a day, a fan... a patron, a guest, can have their troubles left behind, and they can be whooshed away for a few hours, whether a child laughing at a clown... a teen bopping to [Justin] Bieber, or an old Brooklynite swooning to Barbra [Streisand] or the young Brooklynite tapping and rapping to Jay-Z. Or a Sixties guy like me yearning for the yesterday of Bob Dylan. Or a rocker screaming at the Rolling Stones, right here in BK, NY. Or a child of Brooklyn cheering for the hometown team, the Brooklyn Nets."
He's right, there will be lots of entertainment--but it won't come cheap. There's a transaction here, not a gift.
"Championships will be won," he declared, making a meaningful glance, "and championships by the other team will be lost.... Today we are honored to be here, part of something that will entertain our children, our grandchildren, and our great-grandchildren, generation after generation." (Hey, don't most arenas get knocked down or renovated after a few decades?)
"I used the word 'we' because I did not do this. This was done by thousands of people. A Borough President who had an idea and who didn't stop until it was done. A bank that kept its promise and stayed with us through an economic crisis." (Actually, though Barclays didn't leave the naming rights agreement, it renegotiated to half the once-announced $400 million sum, plus unspecified other payments.)
"A basketball player named Deron [Williams], and a coach, a general manager, and an owner who never gave up until we had the best possible team," Ratner continued. "Community groups that held their heads high and stuck with the dream." (That was an oblique reference to the steady cheerleading by certain Community Benefits Agreement signatories, surely not their actual performance under the agreement.)
|Barclays Center photo gallery|
Introducing Bloomberg, he said, "You should be very, very proud of all those in your administration who made this possible. Not only did you support us and help us all the way along, you even bought tickets! And expensive tickets, I might add," he declared, smiling and turning to look at the billionaire mayor. "We got him on that one--highest price, no problem."
"As a matter of fact, I remember a day in 2003, in June, I went in to see the mayor to present our project, and he stood there, he looked at it"--Ratner waved his hand as if scanning the room--"he had all the deputies around, he just looked at it and he said, after a while"--Ratner waved decisively--"I want to get it done. And he used a certain extuperative [sic] and said, Get it done no matter what." (I think Ratner meant "expletive.")
"Is Brooklyn in the house?" Bloomberg began in his Boston accent, to moderate applause. "I thought so."
|Prokhorov, Bloomberg, Ratner; |
photo copyright Nancy Siesel
Now that's not insignificant, but that's only 840 job-years (or somewhat more, counting overtime). The project promised 15,000 job-years.
"And then, staffing the arena will create nearly 2,000 more jobs," he continued, not mentioning that 1,900 or so would be part-time jobs without benefits. "Nearly 1,700 people have been hired already, more than 1,300 are from Brooklyn, more than 550 live in Brooklyn's public housing, and the vast majority of new workers were recruited through Brooklyn's Workforce 1 Career Centers operated by the city's Department of Small Business Services."
"Next week, when Brooklyn's own Jay-Z opens this arena" and other concerts and the Nets begin play, Bloomberg said, "This is going to send a loud and clear message: that Brooklyn has arrived as a center of exciting entertainment, thrilling big time sports, and thriving commerce. And I know Marty hates it when I talk like that, but sometimes, y'know, you just gotta tell it like it is."
|Screenshot from video|
"When we came into office nearly 11 years ago, we saw that this part of Brooklyn was poised for growth that would spell new jobs, and opportunity, and along with Marty and many others, we worked hard to realize that vision in ways that will spell the greatest good for the greatest number for the people who live and work in Brooklyn," Bloomberg said, somehow forgetting that there was no public planning for the site (which is a state project, with no local elected officials voting) or that the New York City Independent Budget Office called the arena a net loss for the city.
"And I think it's fair to say no one has done more to bring jobs and opportunity to Brooklyn than Bruce Ratner and Forest City Ratner Companies," he continued. He also cited city agencies that "played big parts," including EDC, HDC, DOB, DOT.
Of Atlantic Yards, he said, "It is a project that we expect will generate $400 million in tax revenues for our city over the next three decades"--a statement that surely depends on the project being built in ten years, and in full, both questionable. (I'll try to get the backing data.)
|Barclays Center Photo Gallery|
Ratner, before introducing Prokhorov, declared that Bloomberg "did the best possible job with this city than I could imagine."
He added, "Who could've imagine I'd be standing side by side with a Russian oligarch, cutting a ribbon for a new arena, unimaginable." (Hmm--isn't oligarch a tad pejorative?)
"Yes, my father came from Russia at age 20, but that was the closest I'd ever gotten to Russia. My dad only had a fourth-grade education, he was five-foot-three. Better educated, more athletic, and to say the least, a lot taller, along comes Mikhail Prokhorov. And as I said, I cannot imagine a better partner, and a better owner--the best owner in the NBA."
|Screenshot from video|
"And, speaking of heart, let me tell you a few words about the real hero of this day. It’s my partner, Bruce Ratner," he said. The crowd clapped.
"This man has it. He would never be out of his dream. Frankly speaking, when we became partners two years ago, he showed me a big hole in the ground," Prokhorov related. "And it was difficult for me to envision what would come out of it all. But he did envision it. And personally, I think that Russians are really tough, but Bruce showed me a wonderful thing about commitment and faith. This is my best partner in my life."
Closing, he encouraged everyone to come to the Nets' debut, stating, "I assure you: we are bringing a team worthy of this great arena, and this great borough of Brooklyn. Thank you."
Markowitz and the electeds
|Barclays Center Photo Gallery|
Markowitz got up and thanked "Cousin Bruce, as I call Bruce Ratner. He then thanked some "colleagues in government" on stage, citing Assemblymembers Joe Lentol, Karim Camara and Alec Brook-Krasny; Senator Marty Golden; and Councilmembers Al Vann, Vincent Gentile, Dominic Recchia, and Darlene Mealy.
That's two more than at the groundbreaking in March 2010, but still a small turnout. Presumably Carl Kruger, were he not convicted of corruption, would have made it. No one representing the site itself attended. I talked later with Vann and Camara, both of whom were wowed by the building and sounded impressed--though not so well-informed--with the job claims.
Markowitz also cited Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano, MTA chair Joe Lhota, and President of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, Brooklynite Seth Pinsky. Later, Ratner cited New York Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly.
Markowitz was his ebullient self. "Imagine what [Ratner] and his company had to go through: more court challenges than any other project in modern history, the economy tanking, and slipping into America’s worst recession since the Depression. But Bruce and his family, and company saw this project through to the end—even though they could have thrown in the towel dozens of times—because they believed that Brooklyn’s best days were yet to come and they believed in the economic vibrancy and the spirit of Brooklyn, which is why, today, we will be able to open America's most beautiful arena." Also, perhaps, because they were losing money with the Nets in New Jersey.
|From Mike Galinsky/Rumur|
That was then, and Brooklynites did feel like underdogs. But isn't it odd that people think a private "sports entertainment corporation" is needed to give them respect?
Markowitz also tried to stress the benefits: "take a look at all our fellow Brooklynites—many of whom reside in public housing—that now have jobs, who are now gainfully employed with healthcare and benefits, and can pursue a career, higher education, and so many other opportunities." Except the part-time arena workers won't have benefits.
"There’s Midtown Manhattan and Lincoln Center, and now Downtown Brooklyn with Barclays Center and the BAM Cultural District," he closed. "What a clear slam dunk for all of Brooklyn! To Bruce Ratner, I say mazel tov." He then tried to speak a little Russian to salute Prokhorov and his deputy Irina Pavlova: "It means we're proud of you."
Lt. Governor Duffy
"Having a professional sports team back here after a 55-year hiatus is a victory," Duffy declared. "The economic development opportunities here have been incredible--over 3,000 full- and part-time jobs... the economic impact is really hard to measure yet, it is profound, in one of the worst recessions."
(Regarding jobs, he must have been counting construction jobs.)
About 30 percent of the housing will be affordable, Duffy declared, "which is a victory for the city. And, also, with all the construction contracts that have been made to be a part of this project, 45 percent were minority and women-owned businesses. So everyone has been elevated throughout this. It's a victory for everyone. So on behalf of the Governor, it's a great day... for New York State, for New York City, and Brooklyn."
"In the fall of 2006, I flew to London with Brett Yormark to meet with Gerard LaRocca and Bob Diamond," Ratner recounted, beginning the tale of the sale of naming rights to Barclays. "A lot of work and a lot and effort and Barclays bought into the vision. A little known fact is that the bank could cancel this deal in 2009, just when the world financial system almost collapsed. Had they done that, there would have been no arena, there would have been no project. But they took a chance on us, and it paid off." (Barclays renegotiated.)
"This arena, and the name Barclays is on everbody's lips, not only in Brooklyn, not only in New York City, in New York State, not only in this country... but the Barlcays arena is on everybody's list, from Beijing to Paris."
"So it is with great pleasure that I introduce our favorite, favorite person, in terms of getting naming rights and things done, Tom Kalaris, Executive Chairman of the Bank of the Americas for Barclays Bank."
Kalaris said, "On behalf of the 140,000 employees of Barclays, we could not be more proud... it will transform Brooklyn, it will add to the great architecture of New York City, and we know it will do what great buildings do: it will bring people together."
"Our commitment is far beyond just having a sign," he said, noting that Barclays has supported more than 75 local charities, focusing on education, community development, healthcare, and athletics for the young, helping refurbish 30 playgrounds.
"Family is family, but being in business with a family is not always easy," Ratner said. "But I got lucky, because I have a great family," citing "my cousins and the public company, Forest City Enterprises."
"This is a great day," Chuck Ratner declared, thanking his partners and associates and supporters, citing corporate officials and executives in the room.
"Our board has been steadfast," Ratner said. "Every time Bruce came and said It's $10 million more, they never said no." (Except, apparently, for the time when Forest City Ratner had to ask city housing officials for exactly $10 million to get past the board and get the Atlantic Yards housing started.)
"Bruce's team has been so steadfast," Ratner said, citing MaryAnne Gilmartin, Bob Sanna, Matt Messinger, Jim Lester, Chris Clayton, and, "of course, Brett Yormark."
"We started 25 years ago, we did with Bruce, we opened the Pierrepont building in 1988," he said, and now New York represents 30 percent of the company. He called the arena opening as big a day as any in the company's 90-year history. "Real estate does have the ability to be transformative," he declared.
"Can't say enough for the Barclays bank," he said. "They were so steadfast." (Commented the Observer's Dillon, "One can only imagine that it is easier to remain steadfast in troubling economic times when you’re helping to manipulate international interest rates.")
"Most of all, I want to close with sharing my deep regard for Bruce," he said, citing a story about Bruce being sworn in as Consumer Affairs Commissioner some 30 years ago, and how family members had a drink at the top of the World Trade Center, looking down at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
Lowering his voice, he continued in wonderment, "Imagine, in one generation, we had gone from a family of immigrants, entering Ellis Island, with nothing, to our cousin being sworn in as commissioner of Consumer Affairs. This morning... that same man is today celebrating a milestone of equal importance. What a country we live in... that it constantly, constantly creates those type of opportunities."
"Seven years ago, we signed a historic Community Benefits Agreement with eight community groups, and we're proud to call them our partners," Ratner stated. "Job placement, affordable housing, arena access for the community are some of the many goals which we've worked together on."
He introduced (video start) Delia Hunley-Adossa, chair of the CBA coalition. "I'm a lifelong resident of Brooklyn," she began, as if establishing her bona fides as of a 2006 public hearing. "I am the executive director of the Brooklyn Endeavor Experience, Inc., the environmental component of the CBA. I am so proud to be here today, I'm really, really stoked. Because it's a historic day... for all of my business partners."
Potemkin, made more glaring by the failure to enforce environmental protocols, as a recent report showed.
(After the event, I walked to the Dean Street side of the under-construction arena. There was an 18-wheeler parked in a No Parking zone, and vans parked in a No Standing zone.)
She cited CBA coalition members: Rev. Herbert Daughtry of the Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance; Bertha Lewis, "housing representative;" Charlene Nimmons, Public Housing Communities; James Caldwell, Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development; Joseph Coello, Brooklyn Voices for Children; the Rev. Lydia Sloley, Faith in Action; and Elnora Bernard, NY State Association of Minority Contractors.
"That agreement committed Forest City Ratner to work with the community, to make sure that the Barclays Center and all of Atlantic Yards brought true, lasting, tangible benefits to all," she said.
Then, in what seemed to be a nod to widespread criticism of the agreement, including the fact that the promised Independent Compliance Monitor hasn't been hired in seven years, she said, "We're still a work in progress, but we're on the right track and today I am confidently saying that they are delivering." (Note the mangled pronouns.)
She cited the effort made by Caldwell, Nimmons, and CBA to help recruit local and public housing residents for jobs at the arena. "At the outset, the CBA partners, led by" Daughtry, "pushed to ensure that all of our community" would have access to events at the arena. She cited a program that will give local nonprofits free access to every event at the arena.
Ratner "has kept his commitment to make sure that so many community members... would be able to come" to the arena. "We welcome our Brooklyn Nets, and we support them forever."
"This is only the beginning of an end, a precursor of things to come... With Bertha Lewis, Forest City made an unparalleled commitment to affordable housing," she said, calling the day a day to "acknowledge promises made, promises kept, and promises still to come."
She congratulated several Forest City Ratner executive: Bruce Ratner, MaryAnne Gilmartin, Bob Sanna, Jane Marshall, Sonya Covington, Janella Meeks, "my Brigitte [LaBonte], and also, I just want to say, the community at large deserves a great round of applause."
|Barclays Center Photo Gallery|
"If I were to single out one person who is the most important person in effectuating the vision of Barclays Center, that person would be Brett Yormark," Ratner said. "More than me, Brett's job was to get it done, and he really got it done."
"There were dark times when Brett could have given up," Ratner said, "but his loyalty and dedication to the vision never wavered. When I met Brett, he was a marketer. Today, Brett is one of the best CEOs in America."
"This is a great day for so many of us, and I am proud to be part of such a big moment for Brooklyn," Yormark said, repeating his observation that he feels this is one of the biggest stories in sports in 25 years. He thanked Ratner: "Thank you for what you've done for Brooklyn, and for the community, and for overcoming so many challenges."
He thanked Prokhorov and his team, and Ratner's team, then his Barclays Center partners, then arena GM David Anderson and Julie Margolin of Levy Restaurants. He cited the arena's founding partners: Honda, American Express, Calvin Klein, Cushman and Wakefield, EmblemHealth, Foxwoods Resort Casino, Geico, MetroPCS, Stolichnaya, and TicketMaster.
"As you know, we have promised to bring the best in sports and entertainment to the Barclays Center, and I am proud to say, we have delivered," he said, citing the Nets, major college basketball, and "some of the greatest artists in the world... Barclays Center will be Brooklyn's biggest stage." He said the Disney Institute was training 2,000 employees, who "are exhibiting an overwhelming pride" about working there.
"One of the things that surprised me... is what this arena will mean to so many people," he said, referring to middleweight boxer Danny Jacobs, struck with spinal cancer. Jacobs said "one of the main factors keeping him alive was his aspiration to one day fight at the Barclays Center." He has since beaten cancer and will be fighting on the arena's first boxing card.
"You have my word that we are committed to being the best, and doing our best," Yormark said in closing. "Thank you, Brooklyn."
The housing announcement
More than 53 minutes into the event, Ratner finally changed the subject. "Today is only one part of our larger Atlantic Yards vision," he read somewhat dutifully. "There is more to come, and today, I am pleased to announce that, on December 18th, we will break ground on the first residential building... That will be 350 units, half of which will be middle-income and affordable."
Then the architects, Ellerbe Becket and SHoP, led by Gregg Pasquarelli and Chris Sharples. Then Hunt Construction. Then the NBA Commissioner David Stern and his deputy, Adam Silver. Then family members. Then, just about an hour in, he pointed to the 1500 scrolling names on the scoreboard--not counting the construction workers--needed to get the building done. Then everybody split up for tours, talk, and celebration.
"We look forward to generations of fun together," he said. As a song played, "Thank you, friends, wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you," the ribbon cutting proceeded, with streams of confetti descending from the ceiling. It was dramatic, in its way, but nothing like a groundbreaking with ceremonial shovels. Still, Ratner beamed.
A missing speaker
Only one speaker in the list was missing: union leader Gary LaBarbera of the Building & Construction Trades Council. Presumably he wouldn't have been on the list if he wasn't in at least preliminary concord regarding the developer's modular construction plans. It's possible his absence related to the informational protest by one union outside, though they did say they weren't asking anyone to stay away.