Last night’s public hearing about the recent changes to the Atlantic Yards proposal that gave would-be developer Bruce Ratner sweeter terms degenerated into mayhem as supporters and opponents shouted at each other and the state panel overseeing the stalled megaproject.
The meeting unleashed years of built-up frustration from people on both sides of the issue who long ago made up their minds on the merits of the basketball arena and 16-skyscraper development planned for Prospect Heights.
Union workers heckled anyone who asked questions critical of the project and eventually broke into stentorian chants of “Build it now!” and “Union jobs!” that brought the informational hearing to a standstill.
Eventually, the workers marched out en masse.
Opponents of project, which currently calls for the arena and one to four towers around it, also sporadically jeered the representatives from Forest City Ratner and the Empire State Development Corporation for evading some questions about the project’s status.
The meeting, held by Community Boards 2, 6 and 8, was organized because the changes approved last month allow Forest City to build the project at a slower pace, pay the Metropolitan Transportation Authority less money up front to build for development rights to a smaller portion of the railyards at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, and to make less-costly railyard renovations than initially promised.
In the one substantive moment in the hearing, MaryAnne Gilmartin, executive vice president of Forest City Ratner, told the panel that the company has already spent more than $500 million on Atlantic Yards and will build the entire $4.9-billion development.
“Some have said that the housing won’t get built,” she said, referring to the stretched-out construction timetable. “I assure you that it will. … We are motivated by our required return hurdles to build, and build expeditiously.”
Critics were disappointed that the company did not offer any renderings for the arena, which is now being drafte by a Midwest architecture firm after Ratner fired Frank Gehry, whose innovative design was one of the project’s initial selling points.
The state, meanwhile, dismissed a report by the city’s Independent Budget Office that said the basketball arena would in fact be a net loss for taxpayers, rather than the promised generator of revenues.
“Own analysis [covers] the entire project,” said Steve Matlin, counsel at the ESDC. “Our calculation determined that it would be a significant benefit to the city and state.”
Two more venting sessions are scheduled for next week. In anticipation of more fireworks, the ESDC posted to its Web site on Wednesday a document called, “Protocol for Public Hearing on the
2009 Modified General Project Plan for the Atlantic Yards Project.”
It stipulates that “any attendee who disrupts the proceedings will be escorted off the premises.”
It also asks that written comments can be submitted via e-mail at [email protected], or via snailm mail to the Empire State Development Corporation, 633 Third Ave., New York, NY 10017. Attention: Steve Matlin, Senior Counsel
Empire State Development Corporation hearing on the revised Atlantic Yards project, NYC College of Technology [285 Jay St., between Tillary and Johnson streets in Downtown, (212) 803-3740], July 29 and 30 at 2-5 pm and 6-8 pm.