Gehry says he was ‘misconstrued’ over predicting Yards demise

EXCLUSIVE: Gehry to Brooklyn Paper: Miss Brooklyn ain’t dead — in fact, she’s hotter than ever
The Brooklyn Paper / Gersh Kuntzman

Starchitect Frank Gehry quickly recanted — sort of — a statement he made earlier in the week that the Atlantic Yards project is dead.

The latest brouhaha over the stalled development project began on Monday, when The Architect’s Newspaper, a trade publication, asked the 80-year-old master builder to look ahead to the end of his career and reflect on whether he had any “unrealized commissions” that he “wish had been built.”

Gehry’s answer: “The Corcoran Gallery in D.C., the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn — I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

The always-outspoken Gehry quickly reconsidered his pessimism.

In a statement issued by his Los Angeles-based firm, the architect said his earlier comment had been made in a “free-flowing interview,” and was now being “misconstrued as a prediction of the future of the Atlantic Yards development.”

“All of us at Gehry Architects New York are immensely proud of our work with our client Forest City Ratner on the Atlantic Yards Project and remain hopeful that it will come to fruition in the very near future,” the statement concluded.

Atlantic Yards opponents reminded that some people define a gaffe as when a newsmaker slips up and actually tells the truth.

“World Famous Architect Sounds Like He’s No Longer Working on Bruce Ratner’s Project,” stated a press release from Develop Don’t Destroy, the main Yards opposition group.

“While Bruce Ratner’s project is a big question mark, it seems clear that Frank Gehry — who was a major selling point for the project, its investors and its naming-rights sponsor Barclays — is no longer working on the project,” group spokesman Daniel Goldstein said in the statement. “Mr. Gehry would not have made this comment if he were still involved with Atlantic Yards and Forest City Ratner as his client.”

Untrue, said Ratner.

“Frank Gehry is a friend, a great architect and someone I have huge respect for,” the Forest City Ratner CEO told The Brooklyn Paper in a statement. “It is understandable how he and others have concerns about this project happening in the worst economic environment since the Great Depression. But that said, [we] are ready to proceed even at a time when other projects and industries have faltered. Atlantic Yards will get built and there has never been a time when this project is more important to the people of the state and city of New York and the borough of Brooklyn.”

A spokesman for Barclays did not respond to a question about Gehry’s comment, as well a question about recent calls for the company to abandon the $400-million naming-rights deal in light of the $8 billion in federal recovery funds it received from troubled insurance giant AIG.

Last week, as The Brooklyn Paper reported, Councilwoman Letitia James called for Barclays to back out of its naming-rights agreement with Ratner. And this week, New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell demanded that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner “intervene” in the deal because “Barclays is the recipient of $8.5 billion in bailout money from U.S. taxpayers through credit default swap payments by AIG.”

He said that Barclays decision to go ahead with the $400-million deal was a “questionable business practice.”

“Allowing this naming rights deal to remain in place makes little sense for both taxpayers and Barclays,” he added.

Pascrell’s criticism of the Barclays deal is expected, given that he represents a district in North Jersey that is adjacent to Newark. That hardscrabble city has been courting the Brooklyn-bound New Jersey Nets to the existing Prudential Center.