The Occupy Wall Street movement finally took on a Brooklyn accent on Saturday, with protesters decrying “crony capitalism” at several controversial sites — rallying most heatedly at a spot that many call the ultimate symbol of corporate control of democracy, the Atlantic Yards megadevelopment.
Occupy Brooklyn protesters started their march at the JP Morgan Chase complex in Downtown’s Metrotech Center, complaining that the bank got a sweetheart tax subsidy deal, but the main target of the anger was Bruce Ratner’s heavily subsidized Atlantic Yards project, which was approved by a secretive state panel in late 2006 without going through the city’s normal public review process.
“There is no greater monument to crony capitalism in all of Brooklyn than Atlantic Yards,” Daniel Goldstein, the founder of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, yelled when the march stopped across the street from skeletal, half-built Barclays Center, the under-construction, 19,000-seat basketball arena.
Goldstein and others — who lost their years-long battle with Ratner and the state — continue to complain that the developer used his connections in government to buy the air rights for his proposed mega-development from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for far less than it was worth, then button-holed the same politicians to greenlight massive subsidies for the project — which is currently stalled because of the slack economy.
For a movement that’s been criticized for a lack of specific and tangible ideas, Occupy Brooklyn’s marchers came fully armed with hard facts about the economic injustice they believe is rife in the borough. Subsidies and sweetheart deals were the main theme of the day.
At the JP Morgan building, Occupy Brooklyn protesters claimed that the bank had received $237 million in tax breaks after promising to create 5,000 local jobs.
Only 1,800 were created, protesters said, though the bank says it is close to 2,500 — the number of jobs it is now required to create under a 2004 rewritten tax deal.
“Banks laid off tons of workers — and still got to keep all that money,” yelled a protester as the group stopped in front of the bank. “That ain’t right!”
At a stop in front of the former Albee Square Mall on Fulton Street, one protester got on the “human mic” and blasted another developer, Joe Sitt, who bought the mall in 2001 and flipped it only a few years later.
“He bought this property for $20 million and then sold it for $120 million,” the lead-chanter said, overestimating Sitt’s eventual big windfall by $20 million. “It was the city that allowed this property to be so valuable through [the controversial Downtown Brooklyn Plan] re-zoning and … more than 100 jobs and 30 businesses were evicted with no relocation assistance.”
The new developers of the project, a 70-story proposed tower called CityPoint, also got a $20-million federal subsidy channeled through the city, though the project is currently stalled.