The Barclays Center is built. The ribbon has been cut. To open the Brooklyn arena, none other than Jay-Z (also an investor in the home-team Brooklyn Nets) is playing eight shows starting Friday night — and they’re all sold out.
While much of New York City and the region hears the cheers emanating from the offices of elected officials like Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, the neighborhood groups that have long questioned the Atlantic Yards development, a larger project of which the Barclays Center is just one piece, continue to cry foul.
“We want to make sure nobody forgets how this project came to be,” said Daniel Goldstein, the founder of the anti-Atlantic Yards group Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB), speaking for members of his group. “In our minds, this project to date is a failure.”
The Atlantic Yards development used eminent domain to purchase land from people living within the planned footprint of the project, and was awarded public subsidies in exchange for affordable and market rate housing and jobs. Neither the number of estimated jobs nor the housing has yet to materialize, much of this a result of the slow down caused by the 2008 recession. But while Bruce Ratner, owner of Forest City Ratner Companies, the developers behind Atlantic Yards, told New York magazine that in 100 years, “no one will care what we had to do to make it [the Barclays Center] happen,” there are some who beg to differ.Brooklyn Speaks (a coalition of nine groups launched in 2006 in response to Atlantic Yards), DDDB, Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE), The Fifth Avenue Committee and Brown Community Development Corporation — groups that have long questioned the development — have combined forces to sponsor actions and a website under the name AY Crime Scene. Their goal is to continue to hold the city and state accountable for the project, which promised many benefits to the community. To coincide with the opening of the arena, they are hosting a series of events around it this weekend in order to raise awareness.
AY Crime Scene held a counter ribbon-cutting outside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Friday morning, satirizing state and city politicians, Nets owner and Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, and Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner with with bobbleheads, while several of those impersonated held a press conference within center. Video by RUMUR, the producers of the award-winning “Battle for Brooklyn.”
The Brooklyn Nets will be the first major league team to call the borough of Kings home since the Dodgers left for Los Angeles after the 1957 season. Many residents are excited for a team to call their own, and a feeling of resignation about the Barclays Center among nearby residents is common. And in the same vein, AY Crime Scene is not protesting the arena. Instead, the group is calling to attention what the community was promised and has yet to receive.They are seizing what they see as an opportunity.
“This is a chance to get our important, serious points heard,” said Goldstein. “We’re using the event of the opening to make our points and educate the new media that will be there.”
Indeed, while some media have been covering Atlantic Yards since its inception nine years ago, the arena, now home to the Brooklyn Nets (formerly the New Jersey Nets), is sure to draw even more attention.
The Atlantic Yards development “was approved on the basis of significant commitments when it comes to affordable housing, jobs and open space, for which the project got direct and indirect public subsidies,” said Gib Veconi, Prospect Heights resident and a member of Brooklyn Speaks and the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council. “What we have now is a sliver of what was originally promised.”
Back in 2003, the Atlantic Yards development was sold as good for everyone. Developers and officials said there would be 10,000 jobs, but those jobs have yet to materialize. While 35,000 people applied this summer for jobs at the arena, there were only 2,000 available, 1,900 of which are part-time. And while the Empire State Development Corporation projected the project would generate 8,560 permanent jobs and 16,924 construction jobs, a Forest City spokesman, Joe DePlasco, told The New York Times that an average of 841 workers per day were on site over the past year.
Housing was another promise. From a total of 6,300 apartments, 2,250 affordable housing units were pledged, but only 181 are planned for a first tower, which has yet to break ground.
“We’re already seeing an affordable housing component not at all like what was projected at the time of project approval,” said Veconi. “The affordable units are largely studios and one-bedrooms.”
Further housing is planned, but critics wonder if financing will come through, and worry the area will be blighted for years to come.
Forest City Ratner representatives did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
So what’s next? Forest City has said it will break ground on the first residential tower on Dec. 18, and Phase 2 of the development, originally said to take 10 years, has been extended to 25. Just when the remainder of the project will be introduced is unknown. But before anything can happen, an additional environmental impact study must be performed by Forest City, and then released and debated by the public. The additional study was ordered by a judge following a lawsuit brought against Forest City in 2011.
Goldstein of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn is calling for new developers for Atlantic Yards.
“The site is being held hostage,” said Goldstein. “Bring in multiple developers so that the burden isn’t on one developer.”
Today the only visible symbol of Atlantic Yards is the Barclays Center. Neighbors will be putting up with nearly 19,000 more people on the streets when the arena is sold out, and they are bracing for it. But day-to-day changes are only the beginning of what’s in store for the area.
“It’s probably difficult to overestimate the impact of this project on the area,” said Veconi. “Looking out over the next five years, it’s not just construction trucks and crowds. We’re also talking about demographics and economic development.”
Upcoming AY Crime Scene Events
The planned events begin Wednesday with a screening of the Oscar short-listed documentary “Battle for Brooklyn” at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture in Park Slope. The film will also be shown outdoors on Friday night at the Dean Playground on Dean Street. On Thursday night, the group is holding a candlelight vigil outside the arena entrance to remember the people and families displaced by the Atlantic Yards project. Pop-up actions will be staged during the weekend, as well as a virtual (online) rally and a march following FUREE’s annual convention on Saturday. The full schedule is available at AY Crime Scene.