As Barclays Opens, Neighbors Still Grumble

Friday, September 28, 2012

Letters newly erected and still shrouded on the Atlantic Avenue side of Barclays Center on August 8, 2012 Letters newly erected and still shrouded on the Atlantic Avenue side of Barclays Center on August 8, 2012 (Amy Pearl/WNYC)

After almost a decade of fits and starts, which included opposition from residents and delays resulting from the financial crisis, the first part of the $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards project opens Friday with a concert from borough native Jay-Z.

The 675,000 square foot Barclays Center is part of the first phase of the project, which also includes five other buildings, most of which will be residential buildings in the Brooklyn neighborhood.  The second phase of the project includes 11 other buildings.

Developer Forest City Ratner has promised to break ground on the first residential tower before the end of this year.

“With Barclays Center, the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues has become one of the greatest crossroads in New York,” said Forest City Ratner CEO Bruce Ratner in a press release issued by Barclays Center.

But the hoopla surrounding the opening still can’t quell the controversy that has surrounded the project. The construction has been the subject of dozens of challenges from community groups. 

Community Agreement Doesn’t Mean the Community Agrees

In 2005, Forest City Ratner signed a deal that was supposed to ease neighborhood concerns, called a Community Benefits Agreement. It laid out in detail all sorts of concessions Forest City Ratner would make to neighborhood groups in exchange for support of the Atlantic Yards project. The document was signed by eight community groups, including Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development (BUILD), the Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance (DBNA) and the now defunct Association for Community Organizations for Reform (ACORN).

But some neighbors and groups opposed to Atlantic Yards alleged that the CBA failed to include all of the people who would be affected by the 22-acre Atlantic Yards development.

“It’s not enforceable, it’s not worth the paper it is written on,” said Candace Carponter, one of the attorneys for the group Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, which opposes the Atlantic Yards project.

Groups still opposed complain that the signatories to the Community Benefits Agreement lack the power to enforce the document, and have no reason challenge it, because they assert many of the groups were created — and are still in existence — because of funding from Forest City Ratner, creating a conflict of interest.

“It’s up to the parties to enforce the [Community Benefits Agreement], but that won’t happen since a number of the parties are funded by the developer,” said Gib Veconi, a member of the opposition group BrooklynSpeaks.

 (Photo: The then unfinished Barclays Center looking East at the junction of Atlantic and Flatbush in Brooklyn on August 8, 2012. Amy Pearl/WNYC)

As of 2005, Forest City Ratner provided more than $100,000 to BUILD to begin to develop community outreach. The developer also committed at least $50,000 in funding to DBNA.  

One group that signed the CBA defended its role in securing amenities for the surrounding area. ACORN secured a promise from the developer that 50 percent of the residential units created in the Atlantic Yards project would be dedicated to affordable housing units.

“People want to say the Community Benefits Agreement doesn’t represent the entire community because they’re speaking for themselves,” said ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis.

The group is in bankruptcy proceedings, but Lewis insists that ACORN is still alive. She said the whole process of signing the agreement was very open, and that the signatories to the CBA represented thousands of people throughout the borough.

“When we signed the CBA, ACORN had 30,000 members,” added Lewis.

Aside from affordable housing, the Community Benefits Agreement also called for a minimum of 35 percent of the jobs created by the project to be given to minority workers, and another 10 percent to women workers.

It also said that public housing residents and low and moderate income individuals in surrounding neighborhoods would get priority in available jobs.

The document even called for a meditation room to be built inside the arena.

“I can’t tell you exactly where it is, but there is a meditation room [in the arena], that will be open during events, a non-denominational quiet space for people to get away from the arena,” said Ashley Cotton, executive vice president of External Affairs for Forest City Ratner Companies.

Watch a time lapse video of construction of Barclays Center created by TheBronxBroolyn:

Legal Fights, Delays Put Project on Rocky Footing

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, along with other groups, filed a lawsuit against the Empire State Development Corporation regarding Atlantic Yards, which has resulted in the developer re-evaluating the second phase of the Atlantic Yards project, and creating a new environmental impact statement.

“We will start a new environmental impact statement process, and there are not any more details on that now,” said Cotton of the outcome of the lawsuit. There’s at least one other major suit still moving forward against the project related to unpaid wages and broken promises.

The CBA included a channel — outside the legal system — for the developer to address neighborhood concerns. The agreement called for the developer to hire an independent compliance monitor to guarantee that the company kept its promises. But so far, that monitor has yet to be hired.

In a document released by Forest City Ratner on October 19, 2005, the company’s then Executive Vice President Jim Stuckey said plans for the compliance monitor were being finalized.

“The CBA Executive Committee is finalizing a Request for Proposals to retain an independent monitor to ensure that the CBA goals are met,” Stuckey said at the time.

“Forest City Ratner is one-hundred percent committed to meeting the targets in the CBA and that means we will have to partially fund many of these programs,” said Stuckey, referring to the community groups the developer helped fund.

Still, at the Wyckoff Gardens New York City Housing Authority Developments in Brooklyn, less than a mile from the Barclays Center, many residents just want the arena to open already.

“I can’t wait,” said 14-year-old Nassir Ali.

“I think it’s going to be great, because we finally got a stadium next to us, and we can just go there and watch basketball,” he said.

The arena will offer more than 200 events in its first year, including concerts from a diverse group of artists, from Neil Young and Crazy Horse to Barbara Streisand to  Justin Bieber.  Barclays Center will also be home to the Brooklyn Nets basketball team, of which Jay-Z is a part owner.  The team is scheduled to play its first home game of the regular season against the New York Knicks on November 1.

On March 11, 201, several people, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, attend the groundbreaking for Barclays Center.
Spencer T Tucker
On March 11, 201, several people, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, attend the groundbreaking for Barclays Center.
Mauricio Lopez's "Color Mesh" surrounds construction site in Brooklyn.
Barclays Center in early April 2011.
Fred Mogul/WNYC
Barclays Center by late April 2012.
Barclays in July 2012.
Amy Pearl/WNYC
Barclays in early August.
Amy Pearl/WNYC
Barclays Center almost completed in early August.
Jim O'Grady/WNYC
The ribbon-cutting for the Center took place last Friday.
Janet Babin/WNYC
Inside the arena during construction in July 2012.
Jim O'Grady
The arena, now completed, will he home to the Brooklyn Nets.
Courtesy of Forest City Ratner Companies
What Atlantic Yards was supposed to look like, when original architect Frank Gehry was on board.
Courtesy of Forest City Ratner Companies
The current renderings for Atlantic Yards.


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Comments [14]

Jeremy Davis

The BOO! Y'ALL CAN'T PLAY Center is ready for the Nets ... can't wait. I'm right around the corner. Thing looks like a smushed cockroach, guts glittering from the sides.

Oct. 12 2012 07:07 PM
Lisa from Prospect heights

Do they have insurance for people climbing up the rusty facad? The whole outside of the building is set up like a ladder. It is a huge mess. Maybe it's time we push for a change to public domain laws.

Oct. 02 2012 10:28 PM
Frank Marino from East village

It is pathetic and disgraceful that you would lead into the news with consumer spending went up and repeated that again . Leaving out the part about -because is HIGHER GAS PRICES . this isn't news it's cheerleading for your man Obama the other side of this out of control CORPORATE CAMPAIGN COIN with two SHILLS running to be their spokesman . NO NEWS IS BAD NEWS

Sep. 28 2012 10:18 PM
Wendy Sacks

I have to agree with all the negative comments of my Brooklyn neighbors. This is a hideous looking monstrosity that looms over Flatbush Avenue, even uglier than the very ugly Ratner mall. As a lifelong Brooklynite, and Park Slope resident since 1974, I've been against this project from the beginning. I agree about the horrible gridlock, the negative effects on the surrounding area, and broken promises of this unethical private developer. I don't see any benefits to Brooklyn. I am shocked that people like Barbra Streisand and Leonard Cohen would perform at this place.

Sep. 28 2012 03:13 PM
John from Bklyn

Public facility?!! It's a privately owned business that was in no small part PUBLICLY FUNDED. Tax cuts and infrastructure costs add up, you know? The public---especially the displaced former residents---paid dearly so the rich could get richer.

A public facility, like say, a park with lots of trees, would have been nice.

Sep. 28 2012 01:32 PM
Helen Cohen from Park Slope

I am glad that there is a public facility at that intersection, but really scared that they have almost no parking.

Sep. 28 2012 01:03 PM
Bergen St Resident from Brooklyn

Living so close to this development it's not been hard to see / hear the ridiculous amount of corruption that has gone into bringing this cockroach building to one of the busiest corners of Brooklyn. A corner that was already subject to grid-lock before this roach appeared. What's shocking is how little people seem to care about how their tax $ have been spent and how much the press is now glorifying the cockroach - probably due to ad $ at work. Fact is this cockroach is just the start of a serious infection. Take a look at this image of proposed housing next to the stadium

This has been noted as the largest density housing development anywhere in the US and don't tell me that any of us living close to this won't be impacted in horrible ways - it's about scale - once this development is in place then buildings around this area are going to start to be sold - more skyscrapers will follow. The entire character of Brooklyn is seriously in the balance. Small scale buildings with tree lined streets are under threat.

There's also a question of diversity - anyone who doesn't believe that the islamic strip at Atlantic Ave near the stadium is history is fooling themselves. Anyone who doesn't see a growing number of bars and other questionable enterprises arising near this cockroach stadium and hideous housing is fooling themselves. Of course rents will rise and lower income people will be forced out. People in Prospect Heights, Fort Greene and Park Slope should be very very worried about this housing development. That density of people is going to bring a large tidal wave of mainly negative change. The cost for people living near this is just too high.

I will never ever enter the cockroach. Ratner doesn't care who he screws over - union workers included. And why anyone would think he could build something better than the ugly shopping mall at Atlantic Ave could is beyond me. His sense of architecture is a big F you to anyone with taste, class and style.

As someone who has lived here for over 15 years I can tell you this area has never been about white vs black, poor vs rich - people of all creeds and wages live right next to each other here including a lot of Latinos and Muslims and we all talk to each other and get along. Reporters are simply blind to diversity because it doesn't sell. It's this diversity that is the best of New York (and a model for the rest of America to learn from) and yet again we're seeing it crushed by the will of rich people out to make themselves richer. This cockroach building and it's to be built box cutter housing is nothing but an infestation of the worse kind. I wish I had some bug spray that would work on it...

Sep. 28 2012 12:41 PM
Displaced 25 year Resident

The majority of people on my block displaced were Latinos who lived there over 50 years. I guess Bertha Lewis considers those folks "white" . And the Build organization suing Ratner for his broken promises was all black. The two government officials representing the area and who courageously fought the project are also black. Race was used by the proponents to divide, distract and collect their payoffs. And would the WNYC reporter ask 14 year old Mr. Ali if he knows what the price of aN NBA ticket is?

Sep. 28 2012 12:03 PM

Exactly Brooklyn Parent. Nor did anyone call into question her assertion that white people who moved into the area recently had no right to complain about the development, because other white people left the area decades ago.

Sep. 28 2012 11:29 AM
berdachenyc from NYC

I was walking the whole area last weekend on a tour about the controversy and to see its larger context and impacts. I must say I had been prepared to hate the arena. Much to my surprise I think at least visually, aesthetically, architecturally and in terms of height and bulk and how it fits in the larger context, it actually works quite well and makes a striking iconic addition to the skyline etc. BUT: much of this is due to it being set off on its own with nice view corridors and nice public plaza in front and back. If 4 towers go up on the Barclays arena site that will ruin the whole thing. Besides practicaly speaking it is just insane!Gathering space outside the arena is needed on all sides. One wonders how these towers could even fit! One would think this would violate an number of regs re: open space and density, but such is the major drawback of having things done under auspices of a state authority as they can run roughshod over all sorts of local laws and requirements.

The other major drawback is that there is no direct LIRR exit to arena. Folks exiting the train will have to walk about two blocks it seems. That should have been figured out and dealt with in a much more effective way.

Sep. 28 2012 11:25 AM
John from Bklyn

Love those sci-fi artist renderings. All that's missing are jetpacks! And affordable housing.
What sad, sick joke on Brooklynites.

Let's see, so in 25 years Ratner's heirs and Jay-Z will be threatening to leave Brooklyn unless the city kicks in for arena upgrades.

Sep. 28 2012 10:54 AM

"Barclay's" is part of the PR game to sanitize the scandalous behavior of this banking predator. Who could dislike a company that helped build a basketball arena ... and oh, by the way ... put at risk the entire world financial system again by lying for years about a key interest rate? It makes me sick.

Sep. 28 2012 10:21 AM
jb from Brooklyn

The only things that really bother me about the whole development project are; I doubt the affordable housing will ever be built and the arena is HIDEOUS. It looks like a big turd.

Sep. 28 2012 07:57 AM
Brooklyn Parent from Brooklyn

Just listened to story on the radio, in which Bertha Lewis sagely noted that only white people oppose Atlantic Yards and there was no mention of the money that her (now disgraced and defunct) organization Acorn received from Forest City Ratner. Think that may be relevant?

Sep. 28 2012 06:41 AM

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