Covering Atlantic Yards

The Brooklyn Paper
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Over the last 12 months, no story has been as important to Brooklyn — and, as a result, to this newspaper — as Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards mega-development.

With its 16-towers, 19,000-seat basketball arena, 6,000 units of housing and hundreds of thousands of square feet of office and retail space, Ratner’s mini-city is the biggest single-developer project in the history of Brooklyn.

As such, it deserved — and got — our attention, sometimes obsessively so. As we prepared our year-in-review issue, we noticed that not a single issue this year was devoid of coverage of some element of the Ratner proposal.

Yet our laser-like focus has earned us little praise and sometimes even outright scorn from local elected officials. In an interview in this week’s Papers, the project’s biggest booster, Borough President Markowitz, calls us “biased” because our coverage revealed the shocking density of the project, the traffic it would cause, and the subsidy-enriched sweetheart deal Gov. Pataki’s cronies cooked up in Albany to make this project work for Ratner.

Given how we’ve been attacked for such coverage — and the overwhelming support the project enjoys among city and state powerbrokers — many of our readers have wondered why we even bothered. Indeed, it would have been far easier for us to blow off Atlantic Yards, as did the daily papers, and our weekly competitor, the New York Post-owned, Sheepshead Bay-based, Courier-Life chain.

For most of the year, the supposedly ravenous local press corps took a pass on Atlantic Yards, swallowing whole such Ratner myths as the notion that the project would be a boon to the lower and lower-middle classes (actual state analysis shows it would hasten, not forestall, gentrification in Prospect Heights), and that Brooklyn needs lots of shiny new skyscrapers to feel good about itself (as Markowitz says in the interview).

For some reason, everyone seemed to accept Ratner’s economic projections, even as they dropped and dropped again during the public approval process. And everyone was happy to accept the already-inaccurate traffic analysis provided by Ratner’s state partners.

So why did we persist in our aggressive reporting? Markowitz contends in the interview that we did it because we simply hate Bruce Ratner. We actually do not hate Bruce Ratner. This isn’t personal.

Our obsession with the project’s taxpayer-supported financing, its outright lies about job creation, and its preposterous density is a reflection of exactly what journalists are supposed to do: question authority and ensure that elected officials are doing their jobs.

Yet the elected officials ignored our objective and non-biased reports, which week in and week out demonstrated the flaws of Atlantic Yards.

They did so at their own peril, setting the stage for a costly, permanent change in the heart of Brooklyn.

However this plays out, The Brooklyn Papers will continue to aggressively cover this story.

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