The future home for the Brooklyn Nets will be emblazoned with the corporate logo of a British bank that was founded on the slave trade, collaborated with the Nazis and did business with South Africa’s apartheid government.
Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner announced his mega-deal with Barclays Bank on Thursday — but critics slammed the developer for plastering the controversial bank’s name atop the arena after having courted African-American support for his mega-development.
“[Black] supporters of Atlantic Yards were just tools used by Ratner to get this project passed,” said Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Prospect Heights), an Atlantic Yards opponent who is black.
“Now that the project has been approved, they don’t serve his purpose anymore. Now, he can insult them by signing an agreement with a bank that financed the slave trade and supported the apartheid system. He’ll take money from anyone.”
Barclays is a London-based bank — one of the world’s biggest — with holdings around the globe, but whose history is inextricably linked to some of mankind’s lowest moments:
• Slavery: The bank itself was founded by the Barclay family in 1756 on profits made in the African slave trade.
The company’s senior archivist, Jessie Campbell, defended the bank’s link to slavery in a letter to the London paper, the Guardian, as something that must “be understood in the context of the times,” he wrote. “In the mid-18th century, trading in slaves was the norm.”
• The Holocaust: Barclays’ French branches froze the accounts of their Jewish customers. After being sued by Hitler’s victims and their descendents, Barclays agreed in 1999 to pay $3.6 million in restitution.
Nazi officials kept the proceeds from Jews’ forced property sales at Barclays, the suit charged.
• Apartheid: Under fire from human-rights groups, Barclays finally pulled out of South Africa in 1986. The bank had earned the wrath of activists for doing business with the Pretoria’s apartheid government.
• War: Last year, the British government cited Barclays as one of a dozen companies that indirectly fueled the civil war in the Congo — but the government ended up closing the case against Barclays and the other firms without issuing any sanctions.
Three years earlier, the United Nations cited Barclays for being involved in “shady networks of business and military figures” operating in the war-stricken Congo, according to the English newspaper, the Independent. As did the British government, the UN earned the wrath of human-rights activists for never following up with sanctions against the bank.
At a press conference at the Brooklyn Museum on Thursday, Mayor Bloomberg joined Ratner and Barclays CEO Bob Diamond to officially announce the deal.
When a Brooklyn Paper reporter asked Diamond about his company’s historic connection to the slave trade and apartheid, Bloomberg jumped in and, answering for Diamond, said: “Barclays is a great corporation. We could not have picked a better one. Barclays is as good as we could have found.”
He added that Barclays and Ratner would work together to rebuild basketball courts all over Brooklyn — and then abruptly closed the press conference without allowing follow-up questions, or even letting Diamond answer the original question.
Barclays will pay Ratner “hundreds of millions of dollars” over the next 20 years for the privilege of having its name in lights above the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues, the New York Post reported on Wednesday.
Though no exact dollar figures were released, the Post characterized the naming-rights deal as the biggest ever, even more lucrative than the $400 million that Citigroup will pay to have the new Shea Stadium be called Citifield.
Besides the bank’s unseemly past, some opponents called the naming-rights deal yet another taxpayer-shouldered boondoggle for Ratner.
Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn demanded that the money trickle back to taxpayers because the arena is being built with hundreds of millions in public subsidies.
The arena will cost $637 million to build, state documents show. Taxpayer-backed bonds will fund the construction, and Ratner will reimburse taxpayers by making payments in lieu of taxes — bureaucratic jargon for revenues such as sales taxes from tickets for games at an arena that doesn’t even exist yet.
— with Ariella Cohen