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Barclays Center rep calls MTV Video Music Awards show a "total success"; some neighbors offer much counter-evidence

It's time for some Atlantic Yards whiplash regarding the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) held 8/26/13, with the red-carpet pre-show on Sixth Avenue and Dean Street outside the Barclays Center, the first arena event to officially adjacent streets.

(Remember, according to the Final Environmental Impact Statement for Atlantic Yards, "The arena block is adjacent to a residential district to the south, and accordingly, the arena has been designed to minimize its presence and effect on the residential uses on these blocks.")

Visitors flood a Dean Street stoop; Atlantic Yards Watch
At the bi-monthly Atlantic Yards Quality of Life meeting 9/26/13, Terence Kelly, the Barclays Center's community affairs manager, declared, "I believe VMAs were a total success."

He soon faced some pushback from residents at the Borough Hall meeting. Those critiques have been amplified in a long account on Atlantic Yards Watch, MTV's Video Music Awards takes neighborhood by storm, and a blog on Prospect Heights Patch, A Tale of Two Shindigs.

Outreach efforts

Kelly thanked the NYPD's 78th Precinct and the mayor's office, and detailed outreach efforts, including one (closed) meeting with residents of the closest large building, Newswalk, private meetings with block associations, responses to queries, and one-on-one meetings.

"One neighbor described it as the block party to end all block parties," Kelly said. "The feedback I've received has been overwhelmingly positive... There will always be room for improvement... I believe we held ourselves to a very high standard, and in this case we achieved it."

What might be improved?, he was asked.

"Well, I believe we took every piece of feedback and we built it into our evolving strategy to engage people," Kelly said. "I believe the room for improvement is just a general statement."

One resident noted there were several requests for a pre-event public meeting. Wouldn't such a meeting be advantageous prior to the next mega-event?

"You have my email, my cell," responded Kelly.

"It's not about me, it's about having a community forum," came the response.

"Point taken," Kelly said.

Criticism emerges

Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association said his group met with arena officials before the event, but not MTV.

He noted that, on the Monday before the event, MTV and the mayor's office released one flier at about the same time the 78th Precinct released different guidelines regarding the restricted area and access to the area.

He asked if there was a representative of the mayor's office present.

One man in the audience, representing Community Affairs, raised his hand.

"It's the Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment that oversees these events," said Krashes, who noted that many "had a wonderful time" but others, elderly people and those with young families, faced disruption and hardship.

"We hope that we have the opportunity to run through an event and talk about realistically what works and what doesn't work in the context of a residential district," Krashes said.

"This is the forum," responded Kelly a bit sharply. "Tell me what you need right now."

"I think this is really a question for the Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment," Krashes responded. "They're the ones providing the permit."

When is the next mega-event, several people asked.

"There's nothing on the schedule," Kelly responded

"The arena hired itself to the VMAs as a business," said one resident, reading notes from Pacific Street Terry Urban: "This was not an emergency... So, the NYPD agreed to implement street closings based on what client of local business wanted... and decided there was no requirement to have the consent of the community.. Street closings for VMAs was a horrible imposition on our residential neighborhood."

Other voices

Assemblyman Walter Mosley, the only elected official in attendance, observed mildly, "There are going to be times when the Barclays Center has to do more to reach out to the community."

Not everyone was frustrated. One Dean Street resident, Elba Vasquez, said she opposed the arena and still has significant issues with arena-related parking, but felt those in charge had done an "incredible job in managing" the VMAs.

She got some pushback from neighbors on other blocks who faced restrictions; one noted that some people left the neighborhood completely.

NYPD post-mortem

Sgt. Angelo Pirozzi of the NYPD said Pacific Street between Fourth and Flatbush avenues had been closed because police didn't want people swarming the block, a primary access point from the subway.

"We did critique the event," he said. "Did we necessarily need to close the block? No. But we had to prepare for the worst-case scenario." That could have been 20,000 people on the block, with no barricades, he said.

Code of Conduct

Meeting host Derek Lynch, the Empire State Development Corporation's community and government relations manager for Atlantic Yards, then wanted to move on to a new topic.

Krashes interrupted and said that wasn't acceptable, given a range of issues to run through.

He noted that the Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment has a Code of Conduct for productions, which stipulates that each neighborhood should be informed about events, and lists requirements regarding issues like trash, noise, and lights.. 

"Either there were a lot of violations of that Code of Conduct, or that Code of Conduct was put aside," Krashes said, expressing hope that any future production does adhere to that code.

Some people at the meeting clapped.

"You've made your point," Lynch said placatingly.

On Atlantic Yards Watch

Krashes lengthy article on Atlantic Yards Watch, MTV's Video Music Awards takes neighborhood by storm, explains:
The experience for local residents went far beyond the red carpet walk seen on t.v. It included: five consecutive nights of after hours outdoors construction work, filming footage prior to the event, live performances with amplified sound, a projection screen with lights, six back-up generators, and a shipped-in cast apparently numbering between one and two thousand people. 
The article, with photo and video, describes:
  • residents complained about constraints to their movement caused by both the security plan and the number of people in the restricted area, including on their stoops
  • the difficulty in getting guests and family members through checkpoints
  • the difficulty of getting information, and consistent information, about the show
  • the failure to minimize crowds
  • threats by visitors and (relatively small) accidents attributable to the event
  • the inability to use the MTV hotline during the event
  • the failure to announce amplified sound until the week of the event, and some very high volumes
  • generator trucks parked in front of residential buildings
  • gridlock and idling from black cars and limousines
  • trash, debris, and damaged trees in the aftermath
  • blocked sidewalks on the perimeter of the event
  • the effort by visitors to use residents' bathrooms
A better way?

Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, said his block, Park Place between Vanderbilt and Underhill avenues, is in discussion with a nationally known arts organization partnering with Brooklyn Museum, whose production would require the street to be closed and would draw many people from outside the neighborhood. (As he wrote on Patch, the group is Creative Time.)

Like the VMAs, they chose this location, because it's evocative of Brooklyn, he said.

In this case, however, the producers recognized that, to get permission to use the street, they'd have to get the support of residents, he noted. So they met with block association over the summer, and those groups listed concerns that needed to be met before they supported the permit application before the Community Board 8.

"This is not what happened with the VMAs," Veconi said, "and why so many people are upset about the process, when, in fact, there are completely regular processes for this that happen all the time.. I don't believe there's any reason why same process wouldn't work with the blocks that are next to Barclays Center."

As Veconi wrote on Patch:
It’s simply unfair to the people on Dean Street if the visibility of an event like the VMAs is reason enough for the Mayor’s office to run interference for MTV, instead of attempting to balance the economic opportunity with the quality of life of the local community.

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