The matter of Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project has been raised in this space several times over the years, but what with completion of construction of the Barclays Center, the inaugural season for the Brooklyn Nets and pending concert appearances by Jay-Z, Neil Young and the Rolling Stones (amongst others), there’s considerable excitement….for something that’s still a shitty deal for the neighborhood.
While Sirius/XM’s Dino Costa — not exactly a lover of the urban experience — took to the airwaves this week to sing the praises of the Nets’ new venue, the New York Observer’s Kevin Baker reminds us Bruce Ratner’s successful eminent domain campaign was akin to, “a game of bait-and-switch that is slowly reducing New York to the level of any other American city, while simultaneously robbing the people who live here.” If you’re surprised to learn that Dino Costa and the Association Of Community Organizations For Reform Now are proponents of the same project, suffice to say that ignorance and greed make for strange bedfellows.
Mr. Ratner deftly secured the support of the city’s construction unions by promising 17,000 construction jobs on the project. In an ugly sort of reverse Bonfire of the Vanities, local minority leaders and organizations were quickly bought off and recruited. Longtime race panderer Rev. Herb Daughtry got $50,000 for his neighborhood association, control of 54 tickets for every Nets game and a $300,000 luxury suite at Barclays. Another neighborhood group, “B.U.I.L.D.”—Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development—was created out of whole cloth, thanks to at least $1 million from Mr. Ratner, and there was even $1.5 million for the late, unlamented ACORN. Their members did their best to keep out and shout down any neighborhood opponents at public meetings.
So far, at least, there are no apartments for anyone, nothing but hundreds of parking spaces for Nets ticket-holders. There aren’t 10,000 permanent jobs for local residents or anyone else, nothing like the 17,000 construction jobs promised. Mr. Ratner is lobbying the state for another $92 million in scarce housing subsidies, saying he can’t build affordable housing with union labor. He’s proposed an alternative: a 32-story building made out of pre-fabricated, modular units, imported from China and assembled at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. This should be interesting, as no pre-fabricated building that tall has ever been erected before.
Anyway, there’s no rush. The ESDC has given Forest City Ratner at least 25 years to complete the whole project. The MTA has allowed Ratner to renegotiate his contract down to $20 million up front, with the rest to be paid over the next 22 years. It has thus left tens and probably hundreds of millions of dollars on the table. (By comparison, two developers recently agreed to pay $1 billion for the air rights over Manhattan’s Hudson Yards.) We may all be paying higher subway fares for years to come so that a Russian billionaire can have a place to party with Jay-Z and Beyoncé.