Brooklynites Who Once Supported Atlantic Yards Switch Sides, Claiming Broken Promises
Across the street from the under-construction Atlantic Yards stadium, the future home of the Nets in Prospect Heights, a group of about 100 Brooklynites gathered yesterday to protest several large development projects in the neighborhood which they say have not delivered the promised job and contracts to the local community.
Martin Allen, President of People for Political and Economic Empowerment, a community organization which provides job placement assistance, shouted through a megaphone: "We're only here because we've been lied to. We supported them and they gave us nothing." The group, with signs held high decrying Forest City Ratner, Bovis, and other developers, continued past the Atlantic Terminal complex and ended their protests in front of a Sciame worksite a few blocks over. Two NYPD vehicles followed closely.
When the Atlantic Yards project was first proposed, it courted the usual controversy and fears. But the developer, Forest City Ratner -- who famously used extraordinary smooth-dealing tactics to push the plan forward -- guaranteed local economic benefits like jobs and contracts in a formal Community Benefits Agreement (CBA).
The project was presented as "a win and double-win situation" for the developers and community, said Robert E. Cornegy, Jr, the Democratic District Leader in neighboring Bed-Stuy who was present at the rally. "But we got hosed," Cornegy said.
It's hard to gauge how "hosed," exactly, the local community has been. The evidence provided at the rally was mostly anecdotal -- isolated stories of unjust firings, subcontract bids awarded to less-qualified firms outside Brooklyn, and the general lack of jobs at the sites.
A spokesperson for the Atlantic Yards project told us that of 543 people currently working on the arena, 217 are Brooklyn residents. And,
For the entire project, including the arena and residential buildings, we project 16,000 construction jobs by worker hour. Unfortunately, however, there have been significant delays due to litigation and more recently the recession. But we are working very hard to start construction on the first residential building by the end of this year.
The developer claims that $340 million has been awarded to prime contractors, and a total of $56.4 million or 17% has been awarded to minority and women owned businesses, though there's no additional breakdown explaining what portion went to local vendors.
Forest City Ratner did not answer questions as to whether an independent compliance monitor, which is required in the agreement, has been or will soon be implemented to verify if the developer and community signatories have upheld their parts of the CBA.
According to an analysis by Atlantic Yards watchdog Norman Oder, it seems extremely unlikely that Forest City Ratner will be able to fulfill its initial financial projections on tax revenues and job creation.
Wednesday morning's rally, however loud and visible, mostly resulted in protesters shouting indignities through fences at silent, bewildered construction workers. Allen said the group plans to stage more protests at developers' offices in the next few months.
Meanwhile, yesterday afternoon, FUREE held a separate walk-through on the same issues, from Fulton Mall to Atlantic Yards and beyond.