Thursday, July 30, 2009

Carpenters Turn Up the Volume Atlantic Yards

The public hearing Wednesday afternoon on the proposed revisions to the Atlantic Yards project plan was prefaced with a protest staged by Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn outside the Klitgord Auditorium at New York City College of Technology on Jay Street. It turned into a pep rally filled with boos and cheers inside once the hearing began.

The gathering was noteworthy for the number of politicians and political hopefuls who turned out to speak against Atlantic Yards. The anti-AY bandwagon seems to be getting more crowded.

“I think the safe political position in these neighborhoods is to be opposed to it,” said DDDB’s Daniel Goldstein, who was later removed by security for heckling pro-Yards Assemblyman Alan Maisel. “It’s a mix of people who are trying to get that crowd, and people who are from that crowd,” he said, but no candidates running in the surrounding districts support the project.

About 75 people attended the hearing at the New York City College of Technology on Jay Street, the second of two days of hearings held by the Empire State Development Commission, which is to vote in September on proposed changes to the original plan.

“I’m not sure exactly what the project will bring, but I am hoping that it will bring jobs to the community for people like me,” said Shiler Gelin, 41, a resident of Canarsie who has been unemployed for two years.

Proposed modifications to the 22-acre, $4.9 billion project include dividing it into phases and extending the time line for construction and for developer Forest City Ratner to pay for the land. The project, if completed as planned, would bring an 18,000-seat sports arena and more than 6,000 units of housing to Brooklyn.

Several union carpenters spoke, including Derrick Taylor, 41, of Carpenters Local 926, who compared the debate over the plans to crabs in a bucket.

“If you have 20 crabs in a bucket, none of them will ever get out because they will naturally pull each other down. This is the crab with buckets, and Ratner is a crab — let him out.” Mr. Taylor said that Ratner is offering the community an opportunity to flourish.

Though outnumbered, those against the Atlantic Yards project also stated their case.

“I think that the plans are filled with delusions of grandeur,” said Bleu Liverpool, 26, a resident of Fort Greene who went on to say that she doesn’t think it will help the community as much as people think.

Here are some highlights from the hearing, held under the auspices of the Empire State Development Corporation, Atlantic Yards’ state sponsor. The hearings continue on Thursday.

In The Opposition Corner

Mayoral Candidates Tony Avella and Rev. Billy Talen; City Council candidates Brad Lander (39th), Evan Thies (33rd), David Pechefsky(39th), Ken Diamondstone (33rd), Ken Baer (33rd), Bob Zuckerman (39th), Josh Skaller (39th) and Doug Biviano (33rd); Norman Siegel, running for Public Advocate; SEIU local 371; Municipal Arts Society; Councilwoman Letitia James; Assemblyman Jim Brennan; State Senator Velmanette Montgomery; activist and sometime-candidate Kevin Powell.

* Assemblyman Brennan testified that the city and state would “never get the money back” that they put into this, citing the arena’s 40-year tax break and up to $300 million in bonded funds for infrastructure costs. “It’s not even a credible proposal,” he said. “The arena isn’t even an economic proposal — it’s a financial loss for the city and the state,” he said. “It’s ridiculous.” The project could be complete by now, he said, “if the state had agreed to undertake a rational project.”

* Councilwoman James declared the near-death of the project. “It’s time to put Atlantic Yards out of its misery,” she said. “The end is near.” She predicted that the ultimate fate of the project would be “the arena, and the arena only, and it will be a fraction of the affordable housing — that’s what [Bruce Ratner] will get away with.”

* Michael Rogers, a writer and journalist from Fort Greene, likened the battle to a terrible “scene” in a dark comedy about the abuse of public money. (He noted he would have set it in China or the Soviet Union.) “We’ve been told fantasy after fantasy,” he said, adding that Forest City Ratner needs, “to describe what’s really going to be built — no fantasies.”

* Rev. Billy Talen (mayoral candidate), called the development “anti-neighborhood” and decried any large development that removed public spaces where people congregate, like “On the stoop. At the bodega. Walking down the street.” He capped his speech with “Changelujah, we will win!”

* Activist and writer Kevin Powell noted the affordability promises were for higher-than-average families, not families headed by single moms, like the one he grew up in. “If you’re making less than $150,000, this is not affordable housing,” he said.

In the Pro-Yards Corner

Assemblyman Alan Maisel; State Senator Marty Golden; Borough Presdient Marty Markowitz; Congressman Edolphus Townes; City Council hopeful Anthony Herbert (41st); Ironworkers Local 580; Carpenters Local 79; Junior’s Restaurant; Downtown Brooklyn Alliance; BUILD; ACORN; New York Building Trades Council; Long Island University; Brooklyn Academy of Music.

* Long Island University’s Annette Fuentes said the arena would be valuable to LIU’s students and, specifically, the school’s sports management program. Echoing a point made by BAM, she said, “The presence of the Atlantic Yards will increase the visiblity of Downtown Brooklyn, which will clearly benefit LIU and the other academic institutions.”

* Junior’s Restaurant’s third-generation owner Alan Rosen noted that his longtime eatery may benefit from the surge of interest in the downtown area. “It will re-establish Downtown Brooklyn as a hub for economic activity large and small.”

* Sal Zarzana of Carpenter’s Local 79 noted that it would provide a good portion of his membership, of which he estimated 2,500 live in Brooklyn, with local construction jobs.

* New York State Assemblyman Alan Maisel called the project “vital for our future” and said those who spoke against it were a small group. “Most of the people that do the complaining are people who are not doing any developing.” Update | 5:58 a.m. DDDB leader Daniel Goldstein took issue with Mr. Maisel’s contention that the opposition was small, calling out that it was the supporters who were in the minority. For this, he was escorted from the premises.

* State Senator Marty Golden thanked Bertha Lewis of ACORN for her advocacy, and said the project promised economic development in what he called an otherwise fallow area. He added that Brooklyn needed the sports team.

* City Council hopeful Tony Herbert advocated for the project to proceed so it could keep local business thriving. He called the arena, “Brooklyn’s very own Madison Square Garden” and urged Brooklynites to “keep our money in Brooklyn and not go spend it in Manhattan. Let’s do it here, let’s keep it here, let’s move it forward.”

* Brownsville high school junior Troynel Andrews, 16, said she looked forward to using the space in the arena for community recreational activities and wanted to see her unemployed family members get work there. “They couldn’t pay me to talk about the arena,” she stated in her testimony, in which she detailed the plight of her aunt on welfare. Later she told The Local she is presently working a paid summer internship for BUILD, the community group leading the hiring efforts with Ratner. She hopes to work for them full time when she’s finished with school.

The hearing continued with an evening session. There will be two more sessions today, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., at Klitgord Auditorium, 285 Jay Street.

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