Thursday, February 28, 2013

Crain's: arena union decertification vote fails

Crain's NY Business, in Barclays workers fail to break from union, reports that "conversion crew" voted 49-6 to de-certify 32BJ in an attempt to join the Carpenters Union, but they didn't have 66 votes, or most of  the 131 total workers.

Did the workers stay home, as 32BJ says, or are there not actually 131 conversion crew employees, as the Carpenters say.

The article provides details not in the previous Daily News coverage: while Madison Square Garden does have highly-paid full-timers, "its 80 part-timers start at $11 an hour and top out at $18," Crain's says, quoting 32BJ, while all Barclays workers start "at $14 an hour, but can work their way up to $20 an hour and have a way to obtain benefits and a path to full-time work." (This is confusing: previous reportage said all MSG workers are full time.)

Bottom line, according to one Barclays worker, is " I can't live on $14 an hour, and I only get work one or two days a month, but can't collect unemployment."

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Daily News: arena conversion workers seek to de-certify union, complain about part-time status, say MSG pay is better

The comparison between the Barclays Center and Cablevision's Madison Square Garden--already more complicated than Public Advocate Bill de Blasio thinks--just got a little more complicated as the Daily News reports, 120 Barclays Center workers plan vote to stop paying dues to their union, SEIU 32BJ, the first step in expected move to de-certify.

The Barclays Center has 120 workers--all part-time--whose job it is to convert the arena from a basketball court to concert hall to other functions. They get only $14/hour and, according to the Daily News, must work some four years before they can get health benefits.

By contrast, Madison Square Garden employes six to 15 full-time carpenters--not sure why this number is so vague--and 20 to 40 part-timers. The full-timers earn $46/hour. It's not clear what the part-timers earn. But the difference is enough to raise hackles. The Daily News reports:
As a result, the workers plan to vote Wednesday to stop paying dues to their union, SEIU 32BJ. That’s the first step in an expected move to de-certify.
“We feel we’ve been misrepresented by them,” said construction worker Micah Wheeler, 40.
While the workers say they want to join the New York City District Council of Carpenters, which represents the MSG workers,  a 32BJ spokeswoman says "we are confident these issues will be resolved” and a Forest City spokesman says "conversion jobs are by their very nature part-time” and they "do not get involved in internal union elections.”

No labor testimony at hearing

Crain's Insider reported:
On Wednesday evening, Empire State Development, the state's economic development agency, is holding a court-ordered hearing to take comments on its environmental impact study for Phase 2 of the Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards development.
The New York City Building Trades Council, the building trades' umbrella labor group, was expected to offer supportive testimony for the Brooklyn project. But its president, Gary LaBarbera, wrote in an email to his council's executive board Wednesday morning that those plans were off. It was apparently because of a simmering dispute between his group, the building workers union 32BJ, and Forest City Ratner.
"There remains a labor dispute involving the New York City District Council of Carpenters and representation of employees in the trades at the Barclays Center," wrote Mr. LaBarbera in the email, which was forwarded to The Insider. "A link to an article in the Daily News that describes the issue is provided below. Under these circumstances, the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York will not be testifying at this evening's public hearing on the Atlantic Yards SEIS."
Note that the hearing is on the scope for a study, not the results of the study. So labor testimony may not be crucial.

BrooklynSpeaks: study ten-year Atlantic Yards timetable, not 25 years

A press release from BrooklynSpeaks, Community leaders and elected officials demand ESDC study restoring Atlantic Yards’ original 10-year construction schedule:
In advance of a public hearing on a draft scope of work for a court-ordered environmental review of 2009 changes to the Atlantic Yards project which extended its construction from ten to twenty-five years, community leaders and elected officials expressed dismay that the draft scope contains no analysis of alternatives that would enable the project to be completed in its original ten-year time frame.
A group of BrooklynSpeaks sponsors, local residents and elected officials filed suit in November of 2009, charging that the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) approved Atlantic Yards’ 2009 Modified General Project Plan (MGPP) without sufficient study of the effects of a 25-year construction period on surrounding communities. In July 2011, State Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman ruled that ESDC’s approval of the 2009 MGPP lacked a rational basis and violated New York State environmental law. Justice Friedman ordered ESDC to complete a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) and revisit its approval of the 2009 MGPP. ESDC’s issuance of the SEIS draft scope of analysis was delayed until December 2012, while the agency unsuccessfully fought to have the court’s decision overturned.
“Atlantic Yards was approved on the basis of removing blight conditions in and around the Vanderbilt rail yards,” said Jo Anne Simon, Democratic District Leader of the 52nd A.D. “Instead, the project has actually created blight by demolishing buildings, displacing residents and businesses, and causing massive disruptions for the project’s neighbors across its 22-acre site. It’s outrageous that ESDC would fail to even consider how a decade or more of delay could be avoided.”
“The profound impacts of the Atlantic Yards development are felt by the surrounding communities every single day,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. “Under the proposed SEIS draft scope of work, however, the myriad benefits that the communities were promised—thousands of units of affordable housing and many acres of open space among them—remain far beyond the horizon. The community deserves better and demands better.”
“The current Atlantic Yards project has no resemblance to the initial proposal, other than an arena causing the most dangerous traffic experience in Brooklyn,” said State Senator Velmanette Montgomery. “Absolutely none of the public benefits have materialized, and pushing the schedule out 25 years only guarantees 25 more years of broken promises. Atlantic Yards must be required to deliver on promised public benefits immediately, for the benefit of a community suffering through its delays.”
Based on Atlantic Yards having broken ground in 2010, its original schedule would have anticipated the project’s completion in 2020. “The economic benefits of residential development at Atlantic Yards to local business could be significant,” said Ellen Fishman, president of the Vanderbilt Avenue Merchants District and chair of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council. “The ESDC should be focused on completing that development, not justifying a delayed build-out.”
“In the last three and a half years, an unprecedented number of new residential units in high-rise buildings have been or will be built in the downtown Brooklyn area,” said Deb Howard, Executive Director of Pratt Area Community Council. “Developer interest in this part of Brooklyn is at an all-time high, and ESDC has an obligation to explore other options if Forest City Ratner sticks to its 25-year delayed time line.”
“Since Atlantic Yards’ announcement in 2003, there has been an enormous demographic shift in downtown and brownstone Brooklyn neighborhoods that has already eroded the area’s historic socioeconomic diversity,” said Council Member Letitia James. “This is no time to be warehousing acres of public land that were awarded on promises of affordable housing and jobs. ESDC must make an honest and transparent assessment of whether re-approving the 2009 MGPP with its delayed build-out is truly in the public’s best interest.”
ESDC’s public hearing on the draft scope of work for the Atlantic Yards SEIS will take place this evening, February 27, at 5:00PM, and will be held at St. Francis College, 182 Remsen Street, Brooklyn, NY.
What's left out

While this statement certainly puts pressure on the state and developer Forest City Ratner, it also is rather diplomatic, as it doesn't mention:
  • Forest City Ratner's plan to build over the parking lot before building a deck over the railyard
  • the push for a governance entity to oversee the project
  • dividing the site and bringing in other developers (though that's implied)
  • reducing the scale of the project (part of BrooklynSpeaks' principles)

Barclays Center vs. MSG, the All-Star Game, and de Blasio's web of allegiances (and selective advocacy)

An article in this week's Crain's New York Business is headlined Garden CEO Hank Ratner dismisses new crosstown rival: He isn't concerned about competition from the Barclays Center.

Ratner, chief executive of Madison Square Garden Co. since it spun off from Cablevision in 2010, is  supervising the arena's $980 million renovation. He was less dismissive than the headline suggested, calling "Barclays Center is a good thing... Our biggest issue is there's only 365 days in the year and we cannot book everything that we'd like to book."

Told that Barclays, with basketball, concerts and soon hockey, looks like a rival, he responded:
I don't think anybody sees it that way. I'm surprised that you would frame the question that way unless you were just trying to be provocative. The Garden is the Garden, and it's been here since 1879. It sits on top of the busiest transportation hub in New York. It's where people and performers go for big shows. Where else are you going to have the "12-12-12" show? The fight of the century? It happens here; it always has and always will. We hope Barclays is successful. There's room for successful secondary plays around the marketplace.
Well, MSG surely has the edge, but the Barclays Center, with its high-profile events and generally excellent reviews, has surely become more of a rival than expected.

And, unmentioned in this article, the venues are the two finalists for the 2015 National Basketball Association All-Star Game. That's a head-to-head battle both very much want to win.

History vs. hip

Both will be shiny--the Garden will be done this summer--and the Record's John Brennan assessed it this way:
The Garden has all the history, the cachet, and well, what better location than midtown Manhattan?
The Barclays Center is located in the hot borough in Brooklyn, offering the league a much-needed younger, hipper vibe.
The NBA can’t lose, but….
I think that Barclays would have the edge based on freshness – except I wonder if the surrounding neighborhood could handle the clamor as well as Manhattan can with all its experience.
We may hear some more about that "clamor" at tonight's hearing on the scope for a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

The labor issue

There's another distinction, according to Public Advocate (and mayoral candidate) Bill de Blasio. The Daily News reported, in Public Advocate De Blasio tells NBA to nix All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden for ‘anti-union’ James Dolan :
The NBA shouldn’t have the 2015 All-Star game at Madison Square Garden because its owner is a union buster, a top city pol said.
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio fired off a letter to the NBA asking the league to shun the World’s Most Famous Arena in favor of Brooklyn’s upstart Barclays Center for the 2015 All-Star Game - citing owner James Dolan’s clashes with unionized workers at Cablevision, which he heads.
The strife includes a dispute over the controversial firing of 22 workers earlier this year.
“Choosing Barclays would ... ensure that the NBA does not give a tacit stamp of approval to the unfair, anti-worker polices of the owner of Madison Square Garden,” de Blasio wrote to NBA commissioner David Stern.
“Brooklyn would make a compelling host for the 2015 NBA All-Star Game, even without these pressing concerns. I urge you to do right by fans in the outer-boroughs,” he wrote.
Also see coverage in DNAinfo.

Now, there's compelling evidence (see Michael Powell's column) of troubling corporate behavior by Cablevision.

The Ratner connection

But de Blasio's advocacy is just a little selective. If he were truly a crusader for fairness, wouldn't he have written a letter protesting developer Forest City Ratner's failure to hire the long-promised Independent Compliance for the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement?

If he were truly a crusader for workers, wouldn't he have protested Forest City's deceptive claim that its prime construction subcontractor is a union shop or that modular construction shortchanges licensed trade unions? Might he have something to say about Bruce Ratner's inflated claims about arena jobs?

Consider the web of allegiances involving public relations firm BerlinRosen. The company represents de Blasio, the Communications Workers of America (organizing Cablevision workers), and Forest City. Ratner executives have raised money for de Blasio's mayoral run. BerlinRosen long represented ACORN.

Yesterday, Capital New York cited ex-ACORN head Bertha Lewis being at City Hall "for a press conference with union members advocating for Cablevision workers recently dismissed from their jobs, reportedly for labor-organizing activities." Lewis and de Blasio last month were part of a CWA press conference (joined by Council Member Letitia James) "on how Cablevision is shortchanging workers and customers" in Brooklyn.

So de Blasio's letter was no doubt easy to arrange.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Elected officials will ask DOT to ensure safety at Barclays Center crossing, advise attendance at public meeting tomorrow on scope for Supplemental EIS

A couple of elected officials who long opposed Atlantic Yards still have some specific criticisms, voiced last night at a public meeting sponsored by the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council (PHNDC) at PS 9 on Underhill Avenue. (Here's the live blog from Patch.)

State Senator Velmanette Montgomery said elected officials including her, Council Members Steve Levin and Letitia James, and Assemblyman Walter Mosley, are sending a letter to the city Department of Transportation "to complain about the hazardous crossing in front of the Barclays Center."

"It is so hazardous that one of my staff has reported she was almost killed because a limousine ran one of the yellow lights," Montgomery said. "We've had many, many complaints... we're asking for some remedies."

She added that she's been "extremely aggravated... when I drive up and try to park in front of Atlantic Center and there are these limos running their engines... That's totally unacceptable.. they are waiting for people to come out of the arena and taking up space... the limousines should be sent into the parking lot."

The latter issue has been high on the list of community complaints, while there have been fewer complaints about crossing hazards.

Scoping for SEIS

James invited attendees to attend the first step in the process for a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, a public meeting on the Draft Scope of Work for the SEIS, held tomorrow, Feb. 27, from 5-8 pm at St. Francis College, 182 Remsen Street in Brooklyn Heights.

The SEIS was ordered by a state judge after documents unveiled after the 2009 re-approval of the project indicated that Forest City Ratner would have 25 years, not the long-promised ten years and the belatedly studied 15 years, to build the project, but Empire State Development (ESD), the state agency overseeing the project, had not studied the community impacts of such an extended buildout.

"I do not want this district, this borough, to be a construction zone for the next 25 years," James said. "I want promises to be honored... affordable housing... jobs that can sustain families... open space... I want to make sure the development is respectful of the community."

As I wrote in December, the Draft Scope is a first step, intended to draw comments on its "thoroughness and adequacy," either in writing ( and at the public meeting.

After that, a Final Scope will be issued. Then the ESD's consultant, the ubiquitous AKRF, will produce a Draft SEIS. If the pattern from 2006 recurs, that document will be the subject of public comment and a public hearing before a Final SEIS is issued and approved by the ESD board.

The stated goal: to identify any impacts not previously identified and to target potential mitigations.

Though the process likely will lead to few changes, it could raise some contentious issues, such as the delay in removing blight, the impact of delayed (and modular) construction, and whether alternative developers should work alongside Forest City Ratner.

Affordable housing

James said the part of the project she most liked was affordable housing, but "then they did a bait and switch," emphasizing studios and one-bedroom units rather than promised family-sized units. 

She also said, in reference to plans for affordable housing in Crow Hill, that she emphasized housing that served families earning $30-80,000 a year.

From the Fifth Avenue Committee

A press release:
Make Your Voice Heard on the Atlantic Yards Project!
Ensure that Promised Affordable Housing, Jobs and
Open Space become a reality now and not in 25 years
Did you know that Forest City Ratner Corporation (FCRC) is not planning on building the vast majority of promised affordable housing for 25 years? Will anyone in the community who qualifies for that housing still live here in 25 years who is now being displaced?

This Wednesday, February 27, the New York State Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) will hold a public hearing to hear testimony on the draft scope of work for the Atlantic Yards Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS). ESDC was ordered to perform the SEIS as a result of a lawsuit brought by Fifth Avenue Committee and several of the other BrooklynSpeaks organizations. The court found that ESDC's 2009 approval of a modified project plan for Atlantic Yards violated State environmental law by extending the construction schedule from ten to twenty-five years without required environmental review.
We have since called for a new plan for Phase 2 of the project, which stretches from 6th Avenue east to Vanderbilt Avenue, which would restore the original project schedule, and deliver public benefits like affordable housing, open space and jobs in the ten years originally promised. The draft scope (available from ESDC's web site) does not include an analysis of such an alternative.
We strongly encourage you to attend and to share your concerns and questions about phase 2 of the project.
The lawsuit combined two lawsuits, one by BrooklynSpeaks members (and elected officials), the other by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and associated groups.

It's hardly clear that Forest City would wait until the last of the 25 years to deliver most of the housing. If the modular plan works, the process would likely be more steady--though the developer plans to build over the surface parking lot before building an expensive deck over the Vanderbilt Yard, thus delaying the plan to remove blight, a main ostensible justification for the project.

Ratner on Bloomberg TV: projects includes 16 residential (?) buildings; arena job figures indicate "great job"

In a Bloomberg TV interview with the always probing Betty Liu, Bruce Ratner yesterday talked up modular construction and arena progress.

His interviewer asked him about modular.

"We've got 16 buildings to build, 16 residential buildings at Atlantic Yards," Ratner replied, either mistakenly swapping the planned office tower for residential or revealing that such a swap has already been decided.

“We wanted to come up with a method that assured the same kind of pricing and also was less expensive to build, but still as good or higher quality," he said. In other words, they want to maintain rents at luxury level, but save money.

Liu asked if there was demand for housing.

"It's amazing," Ratner responded. " In this city, we have such huge demand for residential rentals.

Why is that?

"This city did not have the kind of recession" that other places had. "Brooklyn is definitely the place to be today,”

Liu mentioned about financial layoff. Ratner said other fields, like tech and media, were growing.

What's next for the arena?

"Just to do it better and better," Ratner said. "We like to say, we're happy, but never satisfied."

Liu brought up "critics" who say the arena hasn't created jobs.

Ratner, naturally, disagreed, said "1800 new jobs have been created in the arena, it's absolutely remarkable... imagine 1800 jobs created, all union jobs. We've done a great job in the job area."

Initially, they announced 1900 part-time jobs and 105 full-time. If they're at 1800, that's a decline. And the initial total meant 1,240 FTE (full-time equivalent) jobs, by Forest City Ratner's own, un-vetted analysis.

Yes, there will be more construction and retail jobs as buildings are built, but nothing compared to the original promises of 10,000 office jobs or even several thousand office jobs.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Crain's: Barclays bounce is mainly for bars

A Crain's article headlined Brooklyn: Few neighbors see biz bounce cites booming business at bars near the arena, but--as others have reported--disappointment for other establishments:
"The Barclays Center has been no good to me," said A.B. Fulani, who has run a boutique suit shop just a block up Flatbush Avenue for 15 years. "People come here to get drunk for a few hours. They don't come to buy a shirt and tie."
One reason is that parking is impossible on event days. And while Fulani claims big-box stores at Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Terminal mall have benefited, I'm not so sure.

The main influx of customers is at bars and restaurants where they can ingest their purchase; no one's carrying bags into the arena.

A Daily News essay claiming "Park Slope was wrong about Barclays Center," the flaws in the logic, and the original skepticism discarded

See bottom for Scott Turner's response.

So, in the wake of a curiously reported New York Times article that declared arena-related problems "everyday irritants" came a conclusory op-ed in the Daily News yesterday, headlined The drunken hordes that never came: Park Slope was wrong about Barclays Center.

Louise Crawford, founder of Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn (at this point more of a press release service than anything), has posted her original essay, declaring she was "very frustrated" with the editing.

(In the case of an essay, rather than reportage, isn't the solution to just pull the piece? The Daily News has long been an Atlantic Yards cheerleader, and one former reporter charged that the paper pulled her off the Atlantic Yards beat at Ratner's request.)

She noted:
I had nothing to do with the headline (The drunken hordes that never came) or the subtitle (Park Slope was wrong about Barclays Center), which, as you can imagine, really rankled me.
Indeed, her original essay contains more nuance and more criticism, but it still has fundamental analytical flaws. In both cases, she writes that, "During the planning stages for the 22-acre site, it was easy to feel apoplectic" about about developer Bruce Ratner's bypass of standard review procedures.

Hold on. However much the arena has caused fewer problems than feared, the reasons to protest the overall process remain, because 1) the whole project has hard been built and 2) the state and Forest City Ratner promised a decade-long buildout and lost a lawsuit that requires a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) to evaluate the impacts of a 25-year buildout. ("Park Slope," in the form of community groups who were petitioners in two combined lawsuits, wasn't "wrong" about this.)

While Crawford originally wrote that opponents in Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn decried a plan "that lacked context and common sense," and listed several issues, including tax dollars, that was edited to:
They wanted to know how many jobs Ratner would bring, what plans he had for calming traffic, how many schools he would build. Most of all, they wanted him stopped.
Much more than that, they pointed to a series of sweetheart deals, including the use of eminent domain.

How Ratner won

Crawford originally wrote:
Ultimately, legal tactics using Eminent Domain won the day. The area, which has been gentrifying at a rapid pace, was dubiously deemed blighted and buildings were demolished, including Freddy’s, a beloved, historic bar, as well as a condo building, home of Daniel Goldstein, the Rosa Parks of the Atlantic Yards battle.
That was edited to:
Ratner won — with a little help from the courts and City Hall.
Just a little? How about $131 million to repay Ratner for properties he seemingly paid generously for, generating a front-page Daily News headline.

Local impacts

Crawford wrote:
And a funny thing has been happening in my beloved Park Slope: Locals have realized it wasn’t so bad to have a basketball arena in their midst, despite their opposition to the way it got there. Fears about noise, traffic, garbage and public urination have so far proved unwarranted.
The original:
Fears about noise, traffic, garbage and public urination proved unwarranted, though there are some problems and traffic on nearby Third Avenue has worsened and the rats are rampant.
Both are conclusory. Park Slope is a big place, and the arena has far more impacts on the North Slope--and pieces of other neighborhoods nearby--than Crawford's Third Street block. While there were specific concerns about the arena, the entire project--with 6430 apartments over 22 tight acres--is what generated the concern.

As Peter Krashes, who lives on Dean Street in Prospect Heights across from the arena parking lot and contributes to Atlantic Yards Watch, wrote me:
I would say first off that the arena has had very meaningful impacts on many people who live near the arena. Before the arena opened anxiety (arguably increased by a lack of trust in the State and the developer) led Brooklynites in far-flung neighborhoods to worry about impacts they were never really anticipated to experience. Numerous complaints about honking, illegal parking and idling have come from nearby (especially in Park Slope!) on Atlantic Yards Watch. Other complaints have been related to concert noise and disruptive behavior.
Second, the arena is not the only source of impacts with Atlantic Yards. Both the State’s own environmental monitor and a consultant hired by community groups documented numerous instances in which environmental commitments were broken, and residents adversely impacted in unanticipated ways, by contractors working on the the arena and railyard. Now that construction may last 25 years instead of the originally anticipated 10. And the arena is really only a piece of what is planned to be one of the most dense residential developments in the United States.
Finally, the controversy over Barclays Center and Atlantic Yards has always been about whether the State is choosing the best course for the public, or instead the best course for the for profit developer. In 2009 the State illegally re-approved the project by giving the developer 25 years instead of the original 10 to construct the project. In essence, the State gave FCRC control of 22 acres of the project site even though they were only able to show they were in a position to build the arena and (maybe) one other building. The State also allowed the developer to reduce (and put at a higher level of risk) the benefits of the project like open space, affordable housing and jobs by delaying the project’s construction as well as changing its construction method and sequence.
Brooklyn pride

Crawford wrote, as published:
We also learned that having a basketball team can actually create a sense of Brooklyn pride. Barclays has become a public square in a racially and economically stratified borough that often seems segregated. It is the one place in Brooklyn, other than the subway (or maybe the Cyclone), that actually feels integrated.
Her original cited "an integrated clientele," but both ignore Barclays--where attendees get wanded, backpacks are prohibited, and corporate logos are rampant--is integrated only for people who have dollars. Don't parks and libraries--public spaces that truly need public support--come first?

And if she means the Barclays Center plaza (given that her original acknowledged it was sponsored by the Daily News), that must acknowledge that there was supposed to be an office tower there, without which Atlantic Yards would not have been passed. Her original did cite a long quote from the Rev. Daniel Meeter as skeptical about the benefits, and "ephemeral emotional gains to individual fans."

Inspired programming?

Crawford wrote, as published:
And basketball aside, the programming at Barclays has been inspired. Hip hop ruled when Brooklyn native Jay-Z — who owns a tiny share of the Nets — performed a series of shows. My Baby Boomer friends, meanwhile, many of whom protested angrily against the project, were excited when Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen performed at the arena.
The original cited skepticism of Jay-Z from Mos Def and the $3,200 fine for noise (actually for Sensation, not Jay-Z). And she wondered, regarding the Baby Boomer programming, if "we were being pandered to."

Either way, if locals can become arena supporters because they can go see Dyland, then they weren't truly critiquing the project.

The symbolism
As published, Crawford wrote:
But we’re adapting. Like it or not, Brooklyn has a new cultural hub, a crossroads for an economically and racially diverse community to come together. And we’ve got a team that gives us all something to cheer about.
That's a Marty Markowitz karaoke. And while the published essay scoffed at fears of "rapacious corporate concerns turning Flatbush Ave. into yet another open-air mall," the original acknowledged:
The Barclay’s logo and other corporate signage is not only ugly but a reminder that corporations have control over our cities and that product placement has more power than the people who live right next door. It reminds me that even the borough of Brooklyn can be bought by corporate interests.
Some comments on the Daily News essay

Daniel Goldstein commented:
"....many of whom protested angrily against the project, were excited when Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen performed at the arena."
Really? That seems rather dubious. Had your "baby boomer friends" known that aging pop stars would have played in a major city's arena they wouldn't have angrily protested? What were they angrily protesting? Because the fundamental problems and abuses of the project still exist and can't ever be rectified (see: demolition of a neighborhood by eminent domain and the biggest single-developer project in NYC history approved without a single vote by an elected official).
It is also shameful that in this article you fail to mention that the promise of 2,250 units of affordable housing has failed, miserably, to materialize.
as for impact from the arena, perhaps if you lived within blocks rather than 1 mile away you'd feel differently.
PHEIGHTS commented:
Welcome to the latest installment of Forest City Ratner's PR campaign to convince the public (who don't live near Barclays Center) that the arena is not so bad. In the last episode this past Tuesday, Joe Berger of the New York Times said that excessive noise spill from concerts and rampant illegal idling by limos were "everyday irritants" (
All this placement is timed to coincide with the court-ordered supplemental environmental impact statement on the 25-year project delay, whose scoping will have a public hearing on Wednesday 2/27 at 5PM at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights.
I'm not sure Forest City's behind the campaign. I think irresponsible press outlets, some with their own clear conflicts of interest or history of non-skepticism, can manage on their own.

Scott Turner's response

Scott Turner, a longtime activist with Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, was invited by Crawford to  run his pub quiz missives in Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn, so his criticism comes not without familiarity or regret. He wrote this response:
On Sunday, February 24, the New York Daily News ran an op-ed by Louise Crawford. "The Drunken Hordes That Never Came: Park Slope Was Wrong About Barclays Center."

It is wrong, it is vicious, it plays loose and fast with the facts, and is a disappointing piece from a writer who has been a strong voice questioning the despicable Atlantic Yards project.
Sadly, it's not the piece that Louise wrote. Her original is here. While it still has a few holes, it's a piece I'd not have spent the wee hours typing a long response to.
Louise saw the News vast recasting of her piece, and, she says, didn't have the time to make changes. She should have made the time, or just killed the piece entirely. What was published under her name is a crass chest-thumping piece of bitter triumphalism, the sort of clap that spews from the likes of Bretty Yormark, Marty Markowitz, and, obviously, the Ratner sycophants on the Daily News' editorial board. 
I know Louise, and that's not her take on the Atlantic Yards. It's one of the tricks in the Ratner machine's vast playbook -- co-opt opponents whenever possible.
Below is a rejoinder to the News' version of Louise's piece. One should read Louise's original, then the News' version. Again, the second-person references are to Louise's voice as corrupted by the News' hack editing job, not to Louise herself or her original piece.
It is valid to nail Louise's News-corrupted voice, however. 
* * * * * * * *
Your deligitimization of DDDB and the dozens of other groups that have fought the Atlantic Yards project is sad. Dan Goldstein sounds selfish and those of us who gave much of our lives from 2003 to now sound like idiots. 
Only The Blog Knows Brooklyn was a seeming supporter, of the battle. Oddly, you excoriate us for crying wolf, but you do the same ("And the traffic could get a lot worse once the residential towers start going up.")

This idea of "moving on" limits every citizen's capacity to fight when the next one comes. It sanctifies the vile machinations that made Atlantic Yards a reality, and worse, it deligitimizes the struggle against AY. 
We live in an age where political action has been rendered uncool. You're just a loser with nothing better to do, AY opponents heard. With every voice that says Ratner won and you lost, now get over it!, energy is drained from future fighters. And of course there will be fights in the future.
"[t]esty Brooklynites"? Good lord! Are you that dismissive of everyone who pulled back the wizard's curtain to see what lurked behind it?
Sports teams are bread-and-circuses for communities divided. I'm a big sports fan, but sports these days is the new opiate of the masses. The city and state will plow billions of public dollars, subsidies, cheap land deals, budget misdirects, tax breaks into Ratner's project. The jobs-created-per-public-dollar spent is an abysmally expensive ratio, among the costliest and most inefficient in city history. It's money that should have gone into serious "good job" creation, schools, social programs, mass transit and infrastructure. 
That's what unites communities. Instead, Brooklynites are being told to unite by buying tickets to Barclays Center events -- lining Ratner's pockets but delivering nothing of use to Brooklynites desperate for something useful.
DDDB never took a "drunken hordes" approach to fighting AY. Maybe if we'd used the same shouting-fire-in-a-crowded-theater rhetoric Ratner, Markowitz, Bloomberg and their minions had deployed, arena opponents would have stopped AY. Stopped it and initiated a true community-useful development.

By 2008, Ratner was on the ropes and the savior wasn't Bloomberg or the courts -- it was Mikhail Prokhorov, whose eleventh-hour billions bailed Ratner out. But for Prokhorov, the economy, community opposition and Ratner's own incompetence would have sunk the project.

More importantly, it would have paved the way for a better development in its place -- one worked out by Brooklynites rather than a cabal of ineffectual politicians slapped about by a manipulative, wealthy real-estate developer.

And anyway, the traffic/pedestrian/transit scenarios suggested by analysts not under hire by Ratner were for the entire 16-building development. Those scenarios are still on the table -- for the next 25 years, not the 10 Ratner suggested. Ratner has admitted the 10-year figure -- one that might have provided housing for many of AY's misled low-income supporters -- was never the truth. Nice guy.
AY opponents had plenty to question. We weren't NIMBYites. We were NIABYites -- not in anyone's back yard.
By the way, Brooklyn has had plenty of professional sports teams since the Dodgers left -- the Cyclones in baseball, the Kings in basketball, the 1960s Brooklyn Dodgers football team in the Continental Football League, the New York Aviators hockey team at Floyd Bennett Field. The Daily News makes this mistake all the time. Since you're adopting their editorial voice, I guess you are too. 
The arena's programming has been "inspired"? Jay-Z constantly appearing in self-absorbed myth-making concerts, a cantorial program that reeks of machine-politics (see Norman Oder's AYR:, and various bands that were already on tour and chose Barclays over other area venues just...because it's a shiny new bauble? The February and March slates are pretty thin -- it's not inspirational, it's whoever is out there.
"Ratner won — with a little help from the courts and City Hall." A little help? Either this is subtle sarcasm that falls flat, or a colossal dismissal of the Bloomberg administration's brutal bullying support for Atlantic Yards. That, and how drastically slanted New York State law is in favor of developers and the Empire State Development Corporation. Those laws and the courts cowardly hands-off rulings gut communities who fight un-democratic plunders like AY. 
"Locals have realized it wasn’t so bad to have a basketball arena in their midst, despite their opposition to the way it got there. Fears about noise, traffic, garbage and public urination have so far proved unwarranted." In fact, all of these things have happened. Street parking for residents on event nights is impossible. Limos idle and block roads without fear. Rats -- as you point out way at the bottom of your piece -- are a problem. Throbbing bass noise courses through residences near the arena.

Your friends and neighbors who have grown comfortable with the arena could be some of the many who washed their hands of the project in the first place, who couldn't be bothered when told schools, subways, libraries that serve Park Slope were begging for money but that the sluice gates were open for Ratner.

"Locals have realized it wasn’t so bad to have a basketball arena in their midst, despite their opposition to the way it got there." If they've stopped their opposition to the arena, it means they've given up the fight for low-income housing in the astronomical numbers Ratner promoted, knowing they were pie-in-the-sky falsities. They've given up advocating for a development that provides honest-to-goodness sustainable jobs. Given up pushing for small businesses over mega-brand schemes. They've given up on democratic community empowerment. 
Every ticket bought for a Barclays Center event is a vote for the way Ratner does business. A vote for Bloomberg's pro-developmer/anti-community policies. A vote in favor of Barclays Bank and its role in the fiscal meltdown and its historical malfeasant missteps. A vote for eminent domain abuse.

Every ticket sold tells Bruce Ratner that he got away with the biggest land-grab in the history of Brooklyn.
And they encourage Ratner to do it again and again and...again.

To embrace the Barclays Center is to say "eh, what can you do, it's here now. Damn I can't wait to see Patti Smith" The Barclays Center is exactly the sort of candy that'll shut the kids up. If Park Slope's former AY opponents are that easily bought off, it's a very sad turn of events.
It's hard to believe anyone is this comfortable with
--an arena named for a corporation involved in slavery, apartheid, bankrupting of French Jews at the Nazis' request, and funding of the recent devastating Congo civil war;
--a developer who lied to Brooklyn at every step of the process;
--a borough president whose childish egg-creams-and-Steeplechase-Park nostalgia is a cloying embarrassment;
--vilification of people who had the gall to challenge the project; a policy of community disenfranchisement and disempowerment waged by the developers' allies at City and Borough Halls;
--a removal of people from their homes for a for-profit scheme that hasn't provided those "good jobs" or one square foot of low-income housing....and so much else that is wrong with the project. 
Worst of all is the embracing of the sort of Brett Yormark rhetoric that is so laughable, so disingenuous, so crass and snide and hollow. For generations, Brooklyn has organized for housing, jobs and better quality of life. No one ever advocated for a basketball arena. Somehow, this snake-oil has found its way into the medicine cabinets of people who should know better.
I'm not surprised that there are Brooklynites whose brigands-at-the-gates fears were their only reason for opposing the arena. It's hardly surprising that people have convinced themselves that it's okay to like the Barclays Center. They've swaddled themselves in Bloomberg's obnoxious adage that people won't remember how long it took, just that it was built -- a maxim that dismissed the opposition by not even including it. 
It is unforgivable, however, that Bruce Ratner's victory at the corner of Flatbush & Atlantic gives the green light and absolute cover to the next objectionable project. Park Slopers' newfound chumminess with the least-useful element of Ratner's scheme aids and abets that cover. It could be a pride-inducing development built on top of the Old Stone House someday (hey, jobs and housing and PRIDE!) or on the Neathermeade -- maybe for an MLS soccer team if they can't pave over part of Flushing Meadows Park (no real jobs or housing, but hey, PRIDE!!).
One good thing about the Barclays Center -- it's a big bold rust-encased symbol of corporate greed, governmental corruption, and the millions of Brooklynites who sat by quietly while the city's power elite picked their pockets and stole their voices. What Brooklynites do with this awful talisman is anyone's guess...but given the past ten years, the answer won't be pretty.

Housing advocates call for "real affordability," warning of mismatch between subsidized apartments and local incomes; mismatch long criticized regarding Atlantic Yards

A major affordable housing advocacy group has just confirmed a citywide problem that Atlantic Yards critics have long identified: promised "affordable housing" would be unaffordable for most locals.

The organization proposes a tool to evaluate "real affordability," a measure that should raise questions about numerous promised "affordable housing" projects, including Atlantic Yards.

To recap: a major selling point for Atlantic Yards has been the promises of "affordable housing": 2,250 subsidized rental units among 6,430 overall apartments.

Or, as indicated in a promotional flyer produced by Forest City Ratner in 2006 before the project was trimmed slightly: "over 6,800 units of badly needed mixed-income housing for  Brooklyn." The headline: "Atlantic Yards" Helping Solve Brooklyn's Housing Crisis."

But it wouldn't solve much.

As I wrote in 2006, when the proposed total was 6,860 units, 84% would go to households that earn more than the neighborhood's median income. Then the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods prepared a chart (left), comparing the household income distribution in the Atlantic Yards plan with the distribution in the 3/4-mile area around it.

As the chart indicated, 50% of the residents in that area had an income at or below $35,450--which was then 50% of Area Median Income (AMI)--while only 13% of the Atlantic Yards households would fit in those categories.

Since 2006, those numbers have changed. The AMI, which also factors in affluent suburban counties, has continued to grow. Meanwhile, the income in the 3/4-mile area has surely gone up. (I can't evaluate whether that has decreased or increased the mismatch, but surely the mismatch remains significant.)

Real affordability

The report, Real Affordability: An Evaluation of the Bloomberg Housing Program and Recommendations to Strengthen Affordable Housing Policy, was issued by the Association of Neighborhood Housing Developers (ANHD).

The ANHD's members include non-profit organizations on both sides of the Atlantic Yards debate like Mutual Housing Association of New York (ACORN's successor) and the Fifth Avenue Committee and Pratt Area Community Council. Perhaps because of the delicate diplomacy involved, the report does not mention Atlantic Yards.

The key finding is that sheer numbers--a goal of 165,000 units created or preserved--mask a troubling reality:
Mayor Bloomberg’s New Housing Marketplace (NHMP) affordable housing development plan is an impressive achievement that took great strides towards creating affordable housing opportunities for residents....Yet despite the thousands of housing units created and the multi­billion dollar investment, many City residents and housing advocates believe that the Bloomberg housing production plan was implemented with significant flaws... not in the number of units created... While the City has committed to and developed a significant number of affordable housing units under the Bloomberg administration, about two-­thirds of New Housing Marketplace units are too expensive for the majority of local neighborhood residents.
Rhetoric about "affordable housing" deserves to be dissected, according to the report:
There is a clear need for more housing options throughout the City, across all income levels. However if these options aren’t affordable, the “affordable housing” is simply “housing.” The City should not use taxpayer subsidies to build housing unaffordable to the local community – indeed unaffordable to the majority of New Yorkers overall – and then call it “affordable housing.”
The city's response

The report was summarized in a 2/14/13 Times article headlined Some ‘Affordable’ Units Too Costly, Report Says. It contained a response from the city:
Eric Bederman, a spokesman for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said the report “oversimplifies the issues” by looking only at income and unit sizes to determine the city’s housing needs, while the department also considered factors like whether people were paying too much of their income to rent. For instance, he said, census data showed that nearly two-thirds of low-income households that did not qualify for public housing or other subsidies paid more than 30 percent of their income to rent.
That's a bit confusing: is the city arguing that, because it's still hard for middle-class people to find affordable housing, it's fine to focus on programs that serve the latter population, even if such programs don't necessarily serve the neighborhood?

Changes outpace policy?

It may be that the administration is faced with a city that is shifting fast.

In City Limits, Jarrett Murphy wrote A Housing Problem … Or an Income Problem?, noting that "from fiscal year 2004 through fiscal year 2011, 82.9 percent of units produced under the mayor's plan served households making less than 80% percent of [AMI]," which was more than the initial goal of 68%.

So if unaffordability outpaces policy, what's going on? Murphy cites the rising AMI and the challenge of making housing numbers work--as with the Atlantic Yards negotiations for higher-income subsidized units--but says it's ultimately it relates to jobs:
Both the flaws in AMI and the math challenge underlying all affordable housing point to an underlying issue: The housing crunch in New York is as much an income problem as it is a housing problem. In the past six years median income for a family of four in the city has increased 8.7 percent, while the inflation rate for housing has run about 16.7 percent
From the ANHD report

Below, a summary of the problems: not only are the units too expensive for most locals, they're concentrated in relatively few places, and they're not permanent.

The solutions

Not only should units be more affordable to locals and permanent, according to ANHD, they should be distributed in more neighborhoods, include a variety of sizes, and add community facilities.

AY reflections: location

Though Atlantic Yards would be too expensive for most locals, in one way it does respond to the policy prescription, by adding subsidized units in districts that lack them.

For example, the chart at left indicates that, while Community Board 2 in Brooklyn has 9.7% of the borough's subsidized units in the New Housing Marketplace Plan, CB6 has 1.2%, and CB8 has 4.9%.

So Atlantic Yards, at least if the units are delivered rapidly rather than over the 25 years allowed, could help balance the share in those three districts better.

The impact, according to the map below, would be greatest in middle-income Community District 6 (the only district in white in the central-west portion of Brooklyn in the map below), which has a small pice of the Atlantic Yards site.

The report states:
This lack of low­ income housing in our wealthiest neighborhoods illustrates a mismatch– while the City often builds housing targeting households with incomes higher than what is average for a neighborhood, the City rarely builds housing geared towards incomes below what is typical for neighborhood residents. In fact, only 2.9% of  low­ and moderate­-income housing (120% AMI and below) was built in middle­ and upper-­income neighborhoods (120% AMI and above).

AY reflections: apartment size

Atlantic Yards would fare less well, however, under another index of evaluation: unit size. Only 20% of the subsidized apartments in the first tower would be 2-bedroom units, with 80% of the subsidized units studios or 1-bedroom units. (The announced goal, according to a Memorandum of Understanding signed with ACORN, was 50% of the units, in floor area, devoted to 2- and 3-bedroom units.) This could change, of course, as Forest City lowers its costs with modular construction.

By contrast, according to the report, less than 38% of the subsidized units citywide between FY 2004 and FY 2010 were smaller units.

AY reflections: subsidy policy

The report does validate criticism of city policy by ex-ACORN officials, who pointed out that city policy, which assigns subsidy by unit rather than by number of bedrooms, advantages smaller units. (On the other hand, they knew that when Atlantic Yards was proposed.)

The report states:
This uniform subsidy regardless of unit size is an unnecessary impediment to building larger unit sizes. In the future, the City must take a more nuanced approach to constructing affordable housing, in this case taking into account that different size households have different affordability needs and different unit sizes require different subsidy levels.
Why is AMI so high?

The report cites three facts that skew HUD AMIs higher than actual median incomes for New York City, including not only wealthier suburban counties, but also a “high housing cost” adjuster that "artificially raised the AMI by 26.1% in 2010" and the policy of using a multiplier to estimate the incomes for households that are larger or smaller than the four-person statistical base.

However, while HUD suggests that a single­-person household should make 70% of the four-person household, in reality, the figure is 49%.

This leads to some anomalous results:
For example, the HUD calculated median income for a family of four in New York in 2010 was $79,200. Yet, the actual median income for a 4­-person household in New York City was only $62,799, over 20% lower.

Note that median income in Brooklyn is only 62% of overall AMI, which indicates a significant mismatch between affordability to locals and to the region. This mismatch was hardly acknowledged by ACORN, which brought mainly low-income followers to testify in favor of Atlantic Yards, with little recognition that only 900 of 2,250 units--would be at 50% of AMI or below.

Recommendations: deeper affordability

Note that the focus on deeper affordability, recommending more units below 40% of AMI. In the first Atlantic Yards tower, only 11 of 181 subsidized units would be between 30-40% of AMI.

Recommendations: make it permanent

The report recommends that any new project that uses city-owned land be affordable for 30 years. A good part of Atlantic Yards would be on formerly city- and state-owned land, while the city reimbursed Forest City Ratner for $131 million of land purchases.

However, according to the Community Benefits Agreement, the affordability would last 30 years--though that would be mitigated by rent stabilization, which caps rent increases.

Recommendation: nonprofit organization + local impacts

The report recommends using "responsible, local not-for profit developers with community based boards," because they can better reflect the neighborhood--a process obviously bypassed with Atlantic Yards. (This recommendation also appears in an ANHD policy brief.)

For-profit developers like Forest City Ratner have more capacity--but they also negotiate relentlessly to meet "required return hurdles"--profits demanded by their boards.

And while Atlantic Yards would have space for a health care facility and open space, evidence suggests the capacity would go mainly to the new residents.

Moving toward Real Affordability

As the graphic below indicates, Real Affordability factors in the local AMI, the length of term, and the impact of ancillary facilities.

No one's plugged the numbers in regarding Atlantic Yards. As my analysis above indicates, the project would get some credit for bringing some low-income units to (a tiny piece) of a middle-income neighborhood.

But the skewing of subsidizes toward middle-income units--a skewing that seems up for negotiation with each building--would decrease the credit.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

As New York vies for marquee sports events, a good deal for the public or just good business for owners?

From a New York Times Sports section article today headlined New York Builds Momentum in Sports:
In the next few years, though, the New York metropolitan area will host numerous marquee events that will thrust it into the sports spotlight. This summer, the major league baseball All-Star Game will be played at Citi Field, followed next year by the first outdoor cold-weather Super Bowl, at MetLife Stadium. A few weeks later, basketball fans will head to Madison Square Garden to see the final rounds of the East Regional of the N.C.A.A. men’s basketball tournament. By then, the N.B.A. will probably have decided whether the 2015 All-Star Game will be played at the Garden or at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Throw in the N.F.L. and N.B.A. drafts in Manhattan and the N.H.L. draft at Prudential Center in Newark, as well as annual events like the United States Open tennis tournament and the New York City Marathon, and New Yorkers will have a full slate of top-flight sports to attend.
The Barclays Center perspective

The article explains what's good business for the Brooklyn arena:
Brett Yormark, the chief executive of Barclays Center and the Nets, said that hosting boxing matches, college basketball games and other events helped put his arena on the map outside the city.

“We want to host events with national appeal,” he said. “It creates value for our naming rights partner, and it’s important to be seen nationally because boxers, artists and others will aspire to perform on our court and stage.”
In other words, it's all about the bottom line.

A good deal for the public?

The article equivocates:
For all of sports’ appeal, critics contend that stadiums and arenas rarely generate the economic benefits that their backers claim because cities, including New York, provide builders with hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks and other subsidies that could be used for other things, like hospitals and schools. Others argue that New York is already one of the most visited cities and does not need an All-Star Game, for instance, to boost tourism.
Consider a 9/7/10 article by the same reporter, headlined As Stadiums Vanish, Their Debt Lives On:
How municipalities acquire so much debt on buildings that have been torn down or are underused illustrates the excesses of publicly financed stadiums and the almost mystical sway professional sports teams have over politicians, voters and fans.

Rather than confront teams, they have often buckled when owners — usually threatening to move — have demanded that the public pay for new suites, parking or arenas and stadiums.
Or a 10/11/09 article by the same reporter, headlined In East Rutherford, N.J., New Football Stadium, but at Whose Cost?:
But critics remain unrepentant. George Zoffinger, then the authority’s chief executive, who opposed the deal, said that the authority might ultimately need to ask lawmakers in Trenton to help make its payment to East Rutherford.

“It’s a travesty that no one is focused on them building a $1.5 billion stadium and that they don’t pay any more in taxes,” he said. “At the end of the day, the authority is going to have to go back to the state for subsidies.”

Zoffinger said that while the teams liked to claim that they built their stadium with private funds, New Jersey taxpayers are on the hook for about $400 million in road improvements, a new rail link from Secaucus and more than $100 million to retire the debt on the old stadium after it is torn down.

[East Rutherford Mayor James] Cassella added that under the terms of the authority’s agreement with the teams, the Jets and the Giants can keep any money from stadium naming rights, parking and other revenue that is sometimes shared with local governments that subsidize sports complexes.
Ditto for the Barclays Center, but there's no authoritative local official to protest about a decision made by a larger political entity. And while the arena is not publicly funded through a bond issue, the nearly $300 million in direct subsidies, more than $100 million in free land, and other tax breaks/assistance add up to significant advantage.

Getting real on rezonings: "you’re dumping a whole lot of untapped value on property owners" (and an override of zoning is even more lucrative)

From The Great Air Race, an article about air rights and developer on the front of today's New York TImes Real Estate section:
Controversial when it was built, Trump World Tower has its defenders. “You could subscribe to the theory that towers like these are the Empire State Buildings of the 21st century,” said Joshua Stein, a prominent commercial real estate lawyer.
“In the real estate market,” he added, “some projects are very buffeted by the economic winds and some aren’t, but residential development projects are often the first to get buffeted. And now we’re in a market where people are developing again, which is why we’re talking about development rights again. Whenever you see a potential rezoning, like we’re seeing with Midtown East, you create unused development potential: you’re dumping a whole lot of untapped value on property owners.
(Emphasis added)

He is saying the obvious, but the obvious needs to be said more often.

The rationale for rezonings

Rezonings aim not merely to increase density and pursue the goals of growth, as Department of City Planning said about the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning:
The Department of City Planning and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC), in partnership with the Downtown Brooklyn Council (DBC), a local business organization, are proposing a new comprehensive development plan to facilitate the continued growth of Downtown Brooklyn. The plan recommends a series of zoning map and zoning text changes, new public open spaces, pedestrian and transit improvements, urban renewal, street mappings and other actions that would foster a multi-use urban environment to serve the residents, businesses, academic institutions and cultural institutions of Downtown Brooklyn and its surrounding communities. Building on the success of previous development efforts that have retained and attracted companies in New York, the plan would create new retail and housing, and would foster expanded academic and cultural facilities.
The Downtown Brooklyn rezoning also made numerous property owners rich, as it dumped "a whole lot of untapped value" on them. That's one of the themes of the film My Brooklyn.

Even better than a rezoning...

So, what dumps even more untapped value? An override of zoning for a particular applicant--essentially a private rezoning. And that's what happened with the Atlantic Yards project.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Naming rights go down the slippery slope: a private prison corporation and KFC get slammed (but what about Barclays?)

A lot of people think that naming rights for sports facilities--especially those associated with colleges--can get dicey, but, curiously enough, the Barclays Center, named for a bank with a rather problematic recent ethical record (not just one big fine but two other probes), doesn't get mentioned much.

New York Times op-ed columnist Gail Collins, in her Feb. 21 column headlined Peculiar Naming Rites, wrote:
Auctioning off your motto is nothing, really. We have lived with the sale of naming rights so long that generations of Americans have grown up taking it for granted that it is a fine thing to see your college team end a season by winning the Beef ‘O’Brady’s Bowl. Remember when Houston was stuck with Enron Field in 2001? Embarrassing for a second, but then the city resold the rights to Minute Maid for $170 million. Naming rights: good. Renaming rights: better.

This week Florida Atlantic University announced plans to christen its football stadium in honor of GEO Group, a private prison corporation. “It’s like calling something Blackwater Stadium,” a critic told Greg Bishop of The Times. Meanwhile, the folks at the University of Louisville are cheering for their basketball teams in the KFC Yum! Center.

Yum! is the parent company of fast-food chains like Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC. It forked over $13.5 million to imprint the stadium for the next decade. Sandra Kendall, the marketing manager for the center, said the exclamation point was “part of the deal.” The folks in Louisville, she said, do not find this disturbing. 
Among the comments:
Carol Anne, Seattle:
Actually, the naming rights process goes back as far as 1926, when Chicago's Weeghman Park was renamed Wrigley Field.
Steve, MO:
My favorite is the University of Phoenix stadium, home to the Arizona Cardinals and the Fiesta Bowl. Naming rights bought by a school without a residential campus, much less a football team. Can you spell "for profit"?
JO, Colorado:
Haha. KFC Yum! Center wouldn't be half as good without the exclamation point. What's next? Mr Softee's line of NFL-sanctioned football helmets?
BUT, there is this: whereas sports stadiums once were named after government entities (e.g Denver's Mile High Stadium, and that was well before pot was declared legal) Or for the teams that played in them, we now see evidence in LED moving lightboards of the true extent to which "corporations" have become the power centers of American culture.
In turn, these corporations are controlled by major (not necessarily majority) stockholders intent on maximizing their personal benefit and by CEOs (not necessarily the corps of VPs below doing their bidding) intent on a place at the 1% Table on the 19th green.
Names of stadia are symbols, of course, but important ones, claims to fealty and gratitude. The trend in naming these symbols has a much greater significance than immediately obvious in the humor.

Janet Ellingson, Salt Lake City, Utah:
The arena where the Utah Jazz play (the team moved from New Orleans where the name was appropriate to SLC a long time ago) was once named for Delta Airlines. Now it is the Energy Solutions Arena, named for a not so reputable company that disposes of nuclear waste in Utah's eastern desert. The big donations to the arena were an effort by the corporation to clean up its image.
I was very proud of the faculty of the University of Utah's School of Medicine when they refused many years ago to allow the School to be named after a multi-millionaire who promised to give millions to the School if it was named after him. When the name was a no-go, the money went away.
This act of getting big bucks in exchange for naming rights is a sign of the times. When We The People can no longer finance our public buildings through taxes and sales receipts, we must go to the corporations and the 0.1% that do have the money. It is fortunate that the 0.1% also have tremendous egos that must be fed with naming rights. If we can't get fair corporate taxes and taxes on the wealthy, at least we can get their money by giving them a privilege they seem to want. 
Rich, New Haven:
During the stadium and arena construction binge of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the buildings carried the name Veterans Memorial in many cases (i.e., Philadelphia and New Haven). The shift to corporate naming rights speaks much to how we treat public spaces in the 21st century and to the fact that a corporate name commemorates nothing.  
Jonathan, Louisville, Kentucky:
It's stretching a point, exclamation or otherwise, to claim that Louisville residents do not care about the downtown arena being named after a fast-food corporation, but it wouldn't matter if it did disturb us - we didn't have any voice in the matter. As is usually the case with these things, the naming rights were sold by the arena authority to the highest bidder. If the people had had more say, perhaps the name might have had a closer approximation to truth in advertising: perhaps the "Childhood Obesity Epidemic Arena" would have been appropriate. Or perhaps, given Yum! Corporation's iconic KFC brand, we could just call it "The Bucket."
planckmass, New Haven:
In Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace took this to it's logically yet absurd conclusion in branded years. They are.
Year of the Whopper
Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad
Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar
Year of the Perdue Wonderchicken
Year of the Whisper-Quiet Maytag Dishmaster
Year of the Yush*tyu 2007 Mimetic-Resolution-Cartridge-View-Motherboard-Easy-To-Install-Upgrade For Infernatron/InterLace TP Systems For Home, Office Or Mobile [sic]
Year of Dairy Products from the American Heartland
Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment
Year of Glad

Friday, February 22, 2013

Behind that Barclays Center cantorial concert, a whiff of Lower East Side development politics (Ratner + Met Council/Silver = Seward Park edge?)

The New York Post and Pomegranate market are sponsors
When the New York Times last month got the scoop on the new Barclays Center's first-ever concert of Jewish music, it was explained as an outgrowth of a three-decade friendship between violinist Itzhak Perlman and arena developer Bruce Ratner, whose daughters went to private school together.

The concert also features cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot and Ratner, we were told, "remains an aficionado of cantorial music." Jewish publications like the Forward took the same angle. The latest detail, as reported in the Huffington Post, is that this concert unusually will offer separate seating for men and women.

But Ratner didn't get to be Brooklyn's most powerful developer simply by indulging in artistic passions and helping out a friend.

The Seward Park RFP
Other evidence--even if Ratner won't confirm it--hints at business calculation, an effort to bolster ties with a charitable ally and one of the state's most powerful politicians.

That could help Forest City Ratner in the heated competition for the last large development site on Lower East Side, the Seward Park Mixed-Use Development Project, which the city's economic development agency calls an "unprecedented development opportunity."

The Met Council connection

Consider: profits from the Feb. 28 concert, expected to draw 6,500 people, will go to the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty and a music camp associated with Perlman.

The Met Council, which since 1972 "has been the voice of New York's Jewish poor," according to its website, has grown into a social services powerhouse that serves a broader, non-denominational constituency with home care, kosher food, career services, and affordable housing.

The Silver connection

The Met Council boasts a tight relationship with Sheldon Silver, the longtime Speaker of the New York State Assembly and an Orthodox Jew from the Lower East Side. In fiscal year 2010, according to its IRS filing, the Met Council raised $24.4 million, with support from a wide range of private and government sources.

Silver's chief of staff, Judy Rapfogel, is married to William Rapfogel, who has headed the Met Council since 1992. The Rapfogels are longtime Silver friends, and Silver has regularly directed state funding to the Met Council via so-called "member items."

The Met Council is no slack at reaping city funding, either, in one year receiving more than any other religious organization. William Rapfogel's annual compensation, over $400,000, has also raised eyebrows.

Valuable land

Enter the Seward Park Mixed-Use Development Project, a plan that took 45 contentious years to emerge after urban renewal leveled blocks near the Williamsburg Bridge and created SPURA, the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area.

While this is a city project, Silver, the area's most powerful official, remains a key voice.

The six-acre development includes 1.65 million square feet of buildable area over nine sites, including a new Essex Street Market. The project's 1000 apartments, half of them subsidized, will occupy about 60% of the space; the rest will be commercial.

Silver was crucial in brokering the plan; while it may reflect the current demographics of the gentrifying Lower East Side, critics point to the failure to fulfill promises to rehouse the poor after their tenements were razed in 1967.

New York developers are salivating over the site. An RFP (request for proposals) for the Seward Park project was distributed in January; respondents must file plans by May 6.

Forest City representatives, Crain's New York Business reported last week, were among the 300 people who filled an information session on the project. (Even before then, one rival groused to me about Forest City's perceived inside track.)

The Ratner connections

Forest City Ratner has long had a close relationship with Silver and with the Met Council, and Silver has long delivered for Ratner. In 2006, Silver green-lighted the Atlantic Yards project from his position on the Public Authorities Control Board, the "three men in a room" body that earlier killed the proposed West Side Stadium.

In 2007, intervention by Silver and others into an ongoing reform of a tax break known as 421-a enabled Ratner's Atlantic Yards, alone among projects, to retain the tax break even in buildings that included no subsidized housing.

Meanwhile, despite enormous controversy over Atlantic Yards, the Silver-controlled Assembly has kept hands off; the only oversight hearing emerged in 2009 when the state Senate was briefly in Democratic hands.

Ratner in turn has rewarded Silver. In January 2008, his company gave $58,420, to the Democratic Assembly Housekeeping Committee, essentially a slush fund for party activities. That gift was cited by civic watchdogs as an argument for campaign finance reform.

Ratner and Silver also converge at the Met Council. In August 2008, Ratner helped raise $1 million for the organization and was honored at a luncheon attended by several elected officials; Silver presented Ratner with what a Met Council press release called a "beautifully decorated charity box." One of the Rapfogels' three sons, Michael, works on government relations for Forest City Ratner.

Business trumps all

For Ratner, business considerations have always trumped ideology. According to an interview in the Jewish Voice, "Ratner is a staunch Democrat and liberal and cannot imagine people, especially Jews, who are not."

However, in November 2010, Ratner wrote a check for $7500 to the New York State Senate Republican Campaign Committee, ensuring smooth relations with the party that controls the legislature's second chamber.

Bruce Ratner's brother Michael Ratner, the eminent human rights lawyer, and his wife, live in Greenwich Village, but have made campaign contributions to Brooklyn political hacks, using Forest City Ratner's Brooklyn office as the return address. (When I first wrote about this, Michael Ratner wouldn't comment.)

Seward Park faces the music

So maybe this concert isn't just a concert.

It's notable that this first Barclays Center event with a charitable focus, will benefit the Met Council rather than an organization in Central Brooklyn, the base for the groups--reflecting mostly black constituencies--that signed the controversial Community Benefits Agreement regarding Atlantic Yards. As part of that agreement, Forest City agreed to hold ten events at the arena, with proceeds going to charity.

Forest City might even wind up partnering with the Met Council on the Seward Park project; the organization describes itself as "one of New York City’s premier developers of low-income senior housing and a top choice of private developers to partner with in building inclusionary housing."

We won't know until May, at least. But whether Forest City responds to the RFP solo or with a partner, the cantorial concert at the Barclays Center might be seen not merely as a reflection of Jewish culture but also as lobbying in a different guise.

Caution from The Lo-Down

Lower East Side blogger Ed Litvak suggests caution:
A couple of points worth making. First, Silver has no direct role to play in the awarding of the Seward Park contracts, though there’s always been a widespread belief that he has influence over practically everything that happens on the Lower East Side. Second, it’s not known for certain that Ratner is preparing a bid.

At tonight's Barclays Center community tickets giveaway, DBNA offers prize for "best African attire"

Tonight is the latest event in the monthly community tickets giveaway mandated under the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement( CBA), and managed by the Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance (DBNA), led by the Rev. Herbert Daughtry under the administration of his daughter Sharon Daughtry.

Only nonprofits registered as of last November 30 are eligible for the monthly drawing, though eligibility should reopen in July or August for the second year of operation

As indicated on the flyer below, tonight's event also serves as an African American History Month Celebration and "The DBNA Suite will be given for a game event at Barclays Center to the person wearing the best African attire!!!"

The impulse to recognize the month is understandable. But I'm not sure offering a prize for "best African attire" is the most inclusive strategy for a project serving a broad community, given that some potential attendees, for a number of reasons, do not have such attire in their wardrobe. (Also, isn't African-American history more American than African?)

I'm also not certain what the "DBNA Suite" means, since I didn't know if the DBNA bought or was given a suite.