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Plans for MTV Video Music Awards alarm Prospect Heights residents facing “lockdown,” but no one from network or city agency at major meeting

Updated with MTV response.

On Sunday, August 25, the Barclays Center will be in the spotlight as the host of MTV’s annual Video Music Awards, which, when announced, was portrayed by the city as a major coup.

However much a boon, the event promises to be extremely trying to Prospect Heights residents will see streets south and east of the arena closed or facing restricted access for two days, as well as crowds of attendees and paparazzi in their neighborhood.

Compounding that, those most responsible--MTV and the Mayor’s Office of Film and Television--were not present at last night’s bi-monthly meeting of the Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Committee, which includes representatives of involved agencies and community groups.

That absence was a “snub,” contended Robert Puca, a resident of the Newswalk condo and a member of Community Board 8, after the meeting, held at the YWCA on Atlantic and Third avenues. “I don’t think they care about what we have to say... we have no one to voice our concerns to.”

“It's going to be an exceptional event,” observed arena Community Affairs Manager Terence Kelly during the meeting. He somewhat gingerly explained what he knew and volunteered to be a conduit for information but eschewed full responsibility: “It's an enormous, enormous project, and it's going to be outside.”

Behind the arena

While one resident proposed that the arena plaza would be a natural setting for the outdoor component of the event, and the closure of lanes on wide Flatbush and Atlantic avenues far less disruptive, MTV is apparently trying to celebrate/exploit the neighborhood feel of the low-rise blocks immediately south and east of the arena, thus having several residential streets closed or restricted.

The intersection of Dean Street and Sixth Avenue at the southeast corner of the arena block will be a key crossing, as an outdoor stage set will be set up near there, with a red carpet for stars.

MTV reps, according to Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association, had told residents they “fell in love with Dean Street” and wanted to use it as a backdrop.

Citing residents’ efforts to improve the Dean Street Playground and plant street trees, “the irony of having what we created become an instrument for hurting us is something we'd like to avoid,” he said, noting that city zoning was overridden to place the arena abutting a residential neighborhood.

It's not quite clear what the event will be like, but below is one example, from 2010, of the crowded, cheering scene when star Lady Gaga arrived.

Getting a meeting

Krashes said the community deserved to have impacts minimized, and to get mitigations for unavoidable impacts. “Ultimately, the community should not feel that they're used by MTV,” he said. “It’s not a good thing that MTV is not here... and the Mayor's office [of film and TV],” he said. “I think that's a slight.”

Can community representatives get a meeting with MTV?, asked Puca.

“We can make that suggestion,” said Arana Hankin, Director, Atlantic Yards Project, for Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing/enabling the project.

“It's really uncomfortable hearing that the neighborhood is being put in hands of a private production company,” said Jim Vogel, a resident of Pacific Street wqst of the arena and representative of state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery. “We keep hearing ‘MTV’s doing this’... There's a good chance this neighborhood is going to be in a form of lockdown.”

“That’s not accurate,” Hankin responded. “The city has oversight.”

“Why isn't the city here?” Vogel asked.

“We’ve asked them to come,” Hankin responded, saying state officials had been trying “for weeks. If you guys are not calling to let them know how important this issue is, they’re not going to come out.”

That drew some raised eyebrows from those who remember that the state not only overrode city zoning but exercised eminent domain to enable the project. In other words, city officials have been quite cooperative with state officials, but less so with residents.

Krashes said he’d reached out to MTV, which would not provide the name of a point person, but took his contact information. “The city has to make sure MTV is here,” He said.

“It’s a good point,” allowed Hankin.

Vogel put the onus on the Barclays Center. “If the community is being tasked this way, it is incumbent upon the venue to help them reach out to the city. You can’t just say say it's up to neighborhood,” he said, to claps from the several of the few dozen people in the audience.

“The arena operator hosted a public meeting with the most significantly impacted residents,” Hankin later observed, pointing to a meeting held at the Newswalk last month. (She’s leaving her position at the end of next week.)

DNAInfo reported:
An MTV spokesman said Wednesday that the network has already begun discussions and meetings with locals. "We look forward to continuing to engage them as we finalize plans for the ‘2013 Video Music Awards,’" said spokesman Jake Urbanski in an email. "It is a top priority for us to make August 25 a night that the whole community can enjoy."
However, as the reporter acknowledged via Twitter, MTV didn't comment on why they didn't attend the meeting last night or give residents a contact person.
Three-week process

The load-in for the event will start Tuesday August 6, and “several trucks a day” will be arriving Monday through Friday, Kelly said. The five days of high volume begin on Wednesday, August 21.

On that day, the construction buildout for the pre-show will start, with a se--including grandstands, apparently--somewhere near the intersection of Sixth and Dean.

“You'll start to see street closure on Friday afternoon after rush hour,” he added.

On Saturday and Sunday, Dean Street from Flatbush to Carlton Avenue will be closed, and Dean between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues will have restricted access. Also restricted will be Pacific Street between Sixth and Carlton avenues, and Carlton between Dean and Atlantic avenues. He didn’t mention Sixth Avenue, but at least part of it will be closed, I understand.

“Many of these plans are not set in stone,” he said.

On the day of the show, the pre-show will be outside 6:30-8:30 pm, with the main show from 9-11:30 pm. Immediately after the pre-show, they will begin to strike the set.

At the event

The red carpet event, around Dean Street and Sixth Avenue, will have “people milling ten deep,” one attendee warned.

“It’s going to be a very very secure and controlled environment,” Kelly said, likening it to a high-profile parade. “Saturday is a dry run of Sunday.”

Regina Cahill, a Flatbush Avenue resident and president of the North Flatbush Business Improvement District suggested that residents all be credentialed.

“I know MTV, though they could not be here... and the mayor's office,” said Kelly, ”have made it clear they are going to contact individual residents on all impacted streets and find solutions for questions people have.”

He said he didn’t “exactly know” what restricted access to streets meant.

What about the impact of press?

That, said Kelly, is " totally controlled by MTV... they are inside the building.”

Where would they park?

“It's all being handled and managed by MTV,” Kelly replied. “They don't want press to be running around... and they have answers for that.”

Krashes, who politely thanked Kelly for his work so far, stressed that accountability was needed, not just MTV and the Mayor’s office but “frankly, I think the Borough President’s office should be here.” Ultimately, he said, the community needs a contact person, because MTV is likely to hire numerous producers at the last minute.

Why not plaza?

Cahill said the plan “begs the question”: why isn’t the main entrance on the arena plaza, rather than the back of the arena”?

Plans, said Kelly, are evolving.

“I recommend that it be the front end of the arena,” Cahill said, suggesting it was better to lose a lane on Flatbush and Atlantic avenues rather than impinge on neighborhood. Beyond all those credentialed, she observed, there would be groupies and others struggling to get into a restricted zone.

“I think you need to get them to refocus to the front of the arena,” she added. “They've got this beautiful plaza: use it.”

Several people agreed.

“Let's agree this is not in any of our hands,” observed Kelly.

Some adjustments

Kelly said anyone who parks on the street and loses a space will get a place in the arena parking lot.

As for the stars attending, “there's a total plan in place by MTV,” he said. “They have to marshal way off site.”

Vehicles will be radioed into the building, he said: “It's ‘Car 12, come now’... totally controlled.” That, however, hasn’t worked so perfectly with trucks approaching the arena.

Sandy Balboza of the Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association said that, in her experience, the city has not been responsive to community concerns regarding TV and movie shoots. “The best we can do,” she said, is to get a donation, so “we can get something for all the inconvenience.”