Peabody award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is Senior Editor for Politics & Policy for WNYC News. She has previously served as Metro Editor, Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
Atlantic Yards Project has Long Shadow
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
New York, NY —
Most of the attention on the Brooklyn Atlantic Yards development has focused on the proposed Nets arena. But th development, if approved, would actually stretch a mile along Atlantic Svenue. WNYC’s Andrea Bernstein takes a look at the block farthest from the arena –what’s there now, and what would change.
REPORTER: On the South Side of Dean Street, between Carlton and Vanderbilt, there’s a motley assortment of low-rise buildings – a one story factory some condos, a tofu factory, three and four story buildings housing some forty artists. From his own three-story home, a former SRO he restored himself, painter Peter Krashes looks across the street at the proposed site for the new development. The block is now dominated by a sprawling 6-story grey-white, turn-of the last century factory building.
KRASHES: This big building here is called the Hector bread factory originally. It has been for years a storage facility from a company called Time moving and storage. Time moving and storage sold the building, which is a massive, massive building.
REPORTER: But Forest City Ratner, the developer for the proposed Atlantic Yards project, is acquiring the now-dormant building.
KRASHES: Those are all vacated now and could easily stay vacated; they could be empty for another ten years. We don’t know how long it’s going to take. This is one of the great worries of our neighborhood that it could be in transition for 20 years.
REPORTER: Krashes, who is President of the Dean Street Block Association says he was reading the paper one morning at his small rough-hewn wood table in his kitchen. He learned from the morning paper that he lived at the cusp of the proposed development.
Krashes brought the paper across the street to his friend Simon Liu. Nestled in a fold of the old Time Moving and Storage buidlign, Liu runs a small, sunny factory that makes stretchers for painters, an art gallery and an art supply store.
LIU: My heart sank I never even heard of the term ‘eminent domain’ and I asked what it was. I thought what you owned in this country you owned that’s after I did all of the renovations.
REPORTER: Liu says he’s in talks with Forest City Ratner, but he’s not sure where hel’l be able to find comparable space, one where he can still gather all 25 of his employees for lunch every day.
LIU: We don’t do mass production, we don’t just crank things out, everything is built to order we also eat together the workers...They bring food in and heat it up they will make two big pots of rice every day
REPORTER: Krashes says he – and the 40 artists who live and work on this block – will miss Liu when he leaves.
KRASHES: For someone like me, to be able to walk across the street and get paints, brushes, it’s a dream. It’s a perfect set up
LIU: And the price--
KRASHES: Well you don’t give me a break.
LIU: I give everybody a break, the price is good, right?
REPORTER: Outside on a biting cold day, Krashes takes me for a tour around the block. On the corner of Vanderbilt Avenue, there’s an empty lot, surrounded by a rusting chain link fence, filled with trash blowing in the chill wind.
REPORTER: Here there smashed up rusted up car bodies.
KRASHES: This is inside the footprint, right, a lot of the property has the appearance of being more dormant. That’s one of the things that people miss when they walk here they don’t understand that what was a pretty active area has been emptied.
REPORTER: Around the corner from the lot, facing the long open pit that constitutes the Atlantic rail yards, there are two old, low-rise apartment buildings. When the project is built out, these buildings will be gone.
Victoria Harmon lives in one of the apartments. It’s nothing fancy. The kitchen is lined with sepia-tinged linoleum, the ceiling cracked. Victoria Harmon, who is 87 now, sits by an aging stove.
HARMON: Since 1940, May on Mother’s Day we moved, we got the apartment in April. I’m here since 1940. We had Schraders over on Atlantic Avenue, now its telecommunications. I can’t talk too good I had a stroke. And we had a school here, St. Josephs, which was, my children graduated from there now its an old age - a senior school.
REPORTER: When she moved in, she paid twenty five dollars a month in rent.
HARMON: Everything was cheaper, I remember when the man came around saying ‘Bananas! Four pounds for a quarter!’
REPORTER: Harmon raised two sons here. A third child was born here, but died at the age of two from leukemia. Her husband came home from a World War 2 factory, maimed by mustard gas. He died two years ago. She thought she’d die here, too, until she got a letter from Forest City Ratner saying she lived in the footprint.
HARMON: To think to go away now I could have gone away when I was younger you know what I mean. But he didn’t want to go because the rent was cheap.
REPORTER: But Harmon says she would leave – if she could get something on the ground floor, or in a building with an elevator. It’s the uncertainty that bothers her. She reads from the letter Forest City sent her:
HARMON: You may also have heard that Forest City Ratner has announced it will be offering tenants impacted by the construction the opportunity to relocate into the project.
REPORTER: Forest City Ratner says they’re in talks with the tenants, and promise they’ll be taken care of. But they’ve given no timeline for moving from this block, which will not be completed for a decade, at least. But the developer the developer has begun making plans. There would be seven towers here, one almost fifty stories high. Architect Frank Gehry says he’s yet to work out the details of what those buildings would look like. But landscape architect Laurie Olin, who is designing the park, has given this block more thought. His park would contain a pond, a meadow basketball courts, a skating rink. Not long ago, Olin spoke to a group of New York Architects
OLIN: One of the concerns that city planning has and that we of course share is that if you come off the streets say Pacific and walk into a space what can you see. And we made sure you can see right through to the next street.
REPORTER: To create the space for this, one block of Pacific street – Victoria Harmon’s block – would be de-mapped. That would create a superblock – something that was tried a lot in the 1970’s, without much success. But Olin says to have traffic on that block of Pacific would mean much fewer amenities inside the park.
Back in Peter Krashes’ kitchen on Dean Street, I ask him about the beautiful park that’s planned for here.
REPORTER: Is there any part of you that would like to look out your window and see trees and flowers and be able to walk over there and play bocce on a summer evening?
KRASHES: You know our block association hasn’t taken a position on this project, and some people are going to benefit, what we’re trying to do is make sure at those points when the project doesn’t take care of the public interest, they’re addressed.
REPORTER: Krashes is particularly worried about what will happen to the small manufacturers on his side of the street. He’s worried about how this row of low-rises buildings will feel faced with 40- story towers across the street. He’s also worried about traffic from the de-mapped Pacific street being re-routed to Dean Street, and a 2000-car parking garage that would face a row of historic brownstones at the western edge of his block. Right now, the state is studying some of these issues. But since this is a state review process, not a city process, there is no requirement that views of those like Krashes be taken into account. The state’s initial assessment of the project’s environmental impact is due early next year. For WNYC, I’m Andrea Bernstein