The organization that promised to deliver jobs for black supporters of Atlantic Yards has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from developer Bruce Ratner to help train workers for the positions — but has only secured work for 15 people at the $5-billion mega-project.
The mostly black members of Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development who were promised some of the 1,500 jobs per year over the project’s 10-year buildout loudly supported Atlantic Yards during the approval process, often appearing in hard hats at rallies and hearings and presenting a contrasting face to the project’s mostly white opponents.
BUILD’s President James Caldwell said that the group has helped 400 people find work around town — but he admitted that only 15 of those positions were on Ratner’s Prospect Heights development, which currently consists of only the under-construction Barclays Center near the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues.
Residents filed a lawsuit against Ratner and BUILD last Tuesday in federal court, claiming that executives at BUILD and Ratner’s company falsely promised them union memberships and jobs in exchange for completing a “sham” 15-week training program run by the Downtown nonprofit in 2010.
Caldwell disputed the claim, and blamed his failure to secure more Atlantic Yards jobs for local residents on the economy and lawsuits from Yards opponents.
“There would be [more jobs] had all these things not taken place,” he said. “The bottom fell out of the economy.”
But the Great Recession didn’t hurt BUILD’s bottom line: the organization’s annual operating budget increased from $191,721 in 2007 to $279,395 in 2009, according to the latest available documents from the Internal Revenue Service.
Approximately 85 percent of the money is spent on the salaries and benefits of Caldwell and his chief operating officer Marie Louis.
Ratner has covered a significant portion of those funds; including 77 percent of the group’s operating costs this year, according to Louis. BUILD runs a storefront office on Hudson Place that offers job-training and resume- and interview preparation.
The developer began paying the organization in 2005, after BUILD and seven other groups signed a controversial “community benefits agreement” that promised jobs, jobs-training, housing, and other amenities to supporters.
In exchange, agreement signatories are contractually obligated to speak favorably about Atlantic Yards — a clause that provided Ratner with critical support for the project as it went through the public approval process that year.
Similar agreements in Los Angeles, San Diego, Pittsburgh and other cities have been hailed because community groups were able to pressure developers into fulfilling their promise to create benefits like jobs. But that’s not the case in Brooklyn.
“I don’t see how you can pressure [a developer] if you take money from them,” said Barney Oursler, whose organization negotiated to get 300 jobs at the new Pittsburgh Penguins arena, which opened last year.
“In the best of circumstances everyone involved ought to get something of value,” added David Marcello, the executive director of The Public Law Center, who studies community benefits agreements.
Ratner’s spokesman Joe DePlasco said that 779 people are working on the arena, which will open next fall. Of those, roughly 20 percent are from Brooklyn. DePlasco did not say what percentage were minorities. He confirmed that the developer has provided money for BUILD, but declined to comment further.
Ratner’s allies said that the developer should not be held responsible for the project’s slow start.
“If in fact the project is not living up to what it has promised with regard to the jobs than those who opposed the project bear some of the responsibility [for that],” said Rev. Herbert Daughtry, pastor of the House of the Lord Pentecostal Church in Boerum Hill, who was given final say over the distribution of free tickets at the arena.
But Atlantic Yards opponents criticized BUILD and the developer for failing to deliver more jobs.
“The jobs [promise] was all hype from the beginning,” said Democratic District Leader Chris Owens. “If BUILD can’t hold Ratner’s feet to the fire for these jobs than it says a lot about the credibility of Ratner or the lack thereof.”
Reach reporter Daniel Bush at (718) 260-8310 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.