Tag Archives: Forest City Ratner

‘Don’t sell out’: Brooklyn holdouts’ message to Willets Point owners


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

The battle against the behemoth billion dollar Barclays Center has long been lost for some Brooklynites, but leading opponents of the project are hoping the war waged against the city will be won in Willets Point.

“Fight to the bitter end,” said Donald O’Finn, one of 14 Brooklyn plaintiffs that took state developers to court in 2009. “These are really important fights. We lost our battle, but the war is not done.”

The Barclays Center — Brooklyn’s new 675,000-square-foot sports arena and home to the Nets — opened on Friday, September 21, but only after a decade of debates by community activists who opposed the project and multiple lawsuits filed by landowners fighting to keep their properties.

Daniel Goldstein, co-founder of “Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn” (DDDB), a volunteer-run community coalition, said he fought against developer Bruce Ratner of Forest City Ratner, for seven years in federal and state court until eminent domain was used to condemn the entire 22-acre site, including 171 units of housing and 35 businesses, in 2009.

O’Finn, co-owner of Freddy’s Bar — which received a “Ratner payout” to vacate — recalled the seven years spent aggressively fighting legal battles as “sad,” in light of the arena’s grand ribbon-cutting last week.

“It seemed wrong the way things were happening, with the misuse of Eminent Domain, how things were sort of just taken by people who have power and wealth just because they want to,” he said. “It was just so wrong.”

Meanwhile, a similar battle has been brewing over in the next borough.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced in June that he had selected the Wilpons of the Mets, Sterling Equities and Related Companies to develop 23 acres of land in Willets Point into a major hub for retail, hotels, entertainment and dining.

But before “environmental remediation” can begin, the entire area — home to scores of long-established auto repair shops near Citi Field — must first be vacated, according to Benjamin Branham, a spokesperson for the city’s Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC).

Twenty-seven property-owning entities in the “Phase 1” area have reached deals with the city for an undisclosed amount, while four have refused to sell, Branham said. They are Janice Serrone, Ralph Paterno, George Romano and Tony Crozzoli — none of whom returned calls for comment.

The city rescinded its first bid to acquire the “Phase 1” neighborhood using Eminent Domain in May. Branham said the city would only go back to using it “as a last resort.”

“It remains our strong preference to reach negotiated agreements with these remaining owners, and we’re optimistic that we can achieve this,” he said.

O’Finn, who urged remaining residents in Willets Point not to sell out, said the key to securing victory is to ignite the community.

“You need to get people to listen,” he said. “If you can find a way to get people to actually hear you — that would be my advice, especially in New York, where everything is so busy and fast. I really hope at some point we can win this war.”

Goldstein, however, said the land grab in Willets Point is only similar to what happened in Brooklyn in one way.

“They’re getting screwed just like we are,” he said.

Barclays Center opens to fanfare, protests


| hchin@homereporternews.com

BROOKLYN MEDIA GROUP/Photos by Heather J. Chin

After a decade of debates, lawsuits, hearings and more, Brooklyn officially welcomed its new sports arena, Barclays Center.

It was a festive atmosphere inside the 675,000-square-foot arena, where business, political and sports leaders from around the city and state gathered on Friday, September 21, to get a peek at the 18,000-plus-seat basketball court and the state-of-the-art event facilities, as well as see which 26 Brooklyn restaurants were setting up mini-outposts inside.

The first item on their list was checked off immediately, as Bruce Ratner, chairperson and CEO of developer Forest City Ratner, took the stage in the mezzanine area and a switch was flipped, illuminating the basketball court, which looked dazzling with its shiny floors, perimeter-wide ticker, and four-screen Jumbotron hanging above center court and the Brooklyn Nets logo.

“We needed to buy the team, buy the [rights], finance it, weather the worst economic climate in decades, to bring [it through several] state administrations, to build the entire infrastructure out of train tracks… and we did it,” exclaimed Ratner, who was joined by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, New York State Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy, and Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov and CEO Brett Yormark to cut the celebratory ribbon.

“The ghost of Ebbets Field is gone and this is a new era for Brooklyn,” declared Markowitz, who has been a staunch advocate of the arena as an engine for job creation, new businesses and future housing developments, despite the years of lawsuits and protests from residents concerned about the impact of an arena on quality of life, and of the city’s use of eminent domain to evict people.

“I believe it will help local businesses, commercial streets will be busier than they have been, and there will be a lot of flourishing,” he said, adding that he does “not believe it will have a negative impact on the area,” since “this is a commercial area, not a bedroom community.”

Carlo Scissura, CEO and president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, agreed, calling the day an “incredible” one for the business community.

“The opening of Barclays Center at the crossroads of Downtown Brooklyn, Fort Greene and the BAM Cultural District will fuel economic development, create jobs and spur business growth across the entire borough,” he said. “I look forward to working with [them] and can’t wait to cheer on the Brooklyn Nets!”

The Brooklyn Nets is the first major sports team in the borough since the Dodgers left for Los Angeles in 1957. A transplant from New Jersey, the team will have as its main local opponent, the New York Knicks, playing at Madison Square Garden.

Barclays Center Executive Chef Ralph Romano said that food lovers will also find plenty to love at the arena, where notable Brooklyn eateries such as Nathan’s Famous, Junior’s, L & B Spumoni, Blue Marble Ice Cream, Fatty Cue, Calexico, and Brooklyn Brewery will have popular dishes for sale alongside standard stadium snack and drink fare.

Romano described the food options as “freshly cooked on-site,” stressing that “all those details lead to a superior eating experience.”

Barclays is also aiming for a superior customer service experience, training its employees under the Walt Disney Company’s Disney Institute.

It wasn’t all congratulations and cheers, though, as dozens of residents and activists from the surrounding communities of Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Fort Greene, and Bedford-Stuyvesant protested outside the arena, disputing Markowitz’s claim that the area is more commercial than residential.

“This is not what we were promised. We were promised an arena with full-time jobs, living-wage jobs, affordable housing, and open space. None of those things marketed as benefits to the community have happened,” said Danae Oratowski of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council.

“So it’s like waking up one day and realizing that you live across the street from Madison Square Garden,” she went on. “No one wants to begrudge the opening, and everyone wants to celebrate, but we spent hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies and soft costs that were not intended to fund a sports facility. We paid the money, but we haven’t gotten the benefits.”

The coalition includes the Fifth Avenue Committee, BrooklynSpeaks, the Brown Community Development Corporation, FUREE, Develop Don’t Destroy, and the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council.

According to Bloomberg, Ratner, and Markowitz, the first housing complex in the Atlantic Yards project will break ground on December 18.

The brown-rust-colored arena, sits at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues, and features a sweeping donut-shaped overhang that points towards the newest subway entrance to the recently renamed Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center station.

Barclays Center opens to the public on Friday, September 28, with a concert by native Brooklynite Jay-Z, aka Shawn Carter. The first Nets basketball game is set for November 1.