It’s not that Frank Yost went out of his way to get involved in the
fracas surrounding developer Bruce Ratner’s plans to build a basketball
arena and skyscrapers in Prospect Heights.
The maelstrom came to him, so to speak — Yost’s bar, Freddy’s
Bar & Backroom, sits in the middle of Ratner’s development site
at Dean Street and Sixth Avenue.
Now the building housing the former speakeasy is about to become another
Ratner acquisition, but the bar may not sink so quickly.
“We’re talking about, as part of the project, bringing in lots
of food establishments and restaurants,” James Stuckey, executive
vice president of Forest City Ratner, told The Brooklyn Papers this week.
“Doesn’t it make sense for a business like Freddy’s to
be relocated back in the project?”
Yost isn’t so sure.
When plans for the 19,000-seat arena and 17 towers of commercial and residential
buildings were announced in late 2003, the bar on Dean Street near Sixth
Avenue became ground zero for neighborhood opposition to the Ratner plan,
quickly becoming plastered over with anti-Ratner literature and fliers
decrying its dependence on eminent domain condemnations.
Several anti-Ratner arena events have been held there and members of the
project’s opposition regularly meet in the old bar.
A year and half later, following the exodus of local condominium and co-op
dwellers that sold to Ratner, Yost is himself facing eviction — both
from his bar and his apartment at 485 Dean St.
He was told by his landlord this month that the property would soon be
Yost was denied a new apartment lease, and the fate of Freddy’s,
for which he holds a lease with seven years left on it, is up in the air.
“Forest City Ratner has said they’ve gone under contract [to
purchase the building],” said Yost, 69, “but it has not been
signed. They have agreed on a price, essentially, and if I cooperate,
and [another tenant] cooperates, they’ll apparently buy the building.
“Whatever that means for Freddy’s Bar, I don’t know,”
he said. “They haven’t contacted me other than the one boiler-plate
With little choice, Yost has begun to consider the advances of Forest
City Ratner executives, who have come to his bar four times in the past
month seeking to persuade him to agree to relocate the bar.
“It’s all smoke and mirrors,” said Yost. “They come
in when I’m not here, and they leave me a card, and I call the number
and I get a voice recorder. I’ve said to Stuckey, ‘Put your
thoughts down on paper and send it in the mail.’”
Then he received a letter with a proposal.
“They said they wanted to relocate the bar, and would find me a place
to live. I found me a place to live, at enormous rent, just so I could
be close to the bar,” Yost said, adding that he’s paying twice
what he used to pay in rent.
Stuckey said he couldn’t talk about the specifics of his Freddy’s
offer, but that Forest City Ratner is committed to keeping area businesses
displaced by their Atlantic Yards plan afloat.
“I can’t speak about specifics, as much as I’d like to,”
Stuckey said. “It’s probably better coming from [Yost]. But
similar to the residential tenants that we’ve made a commitment to,
there are a number of businesses we would like to bring back into this
As far as relocating the bar goes, Yost said he’s not sure what to
“I haven’t gotten back to them yet. I am speaking with lawyers
just to find out what can they do to me,” he said.
“It’s been very difficult to fight off the wolves and do business
at the same time,” he said.
Visits by Forest City Ratner executives have only been experienced by
“One [of the bartenders] said it’s the biggest bunch of hoodlums
that she’s ever seen in her life, and she has no axe to grind other
than that she loves the bar,” he said of the developer’s representatives.
For the most part, he hasn’t asked his bartenders about the Forest
City Ratner visits.
“My staff knows if I don’t ask, don’t start talking about
it,” Yost said.
Part of the aim of Atlantic Yards, said Stuckey, is to place local businesses
in the site, which is why they are starting with those currently in the
“We talk, in our community benefits agreement, about wanting to do
all we can to encourage local businesses to come into our retail space,”
he said. “With that as a goal, why in the world would we not what
to keep those businesses that make sense in the project? We clearly do.”
Yost said it would take a lot more than just guaranteed space inside the
new project site, which is bounded by Dean Street and Flatbush, Atlantic
and Vanderbilt avenues.
“It took me three, three and half years to get this place into gear,
and I’m at that age that I don’t have the strength to do it
again,” Yost said.
“I don’t want drunks, I don’t want fistfights, and I don’t
want jag-offs in here. And it takes forever to pull the weeds, and just
have a good following.”
Stuckey said his company is just trying to compensate dislocated businesses
fairly. “I think one way or another, and it depends on the type of
tenant, we’ll figure something out with them to keep them whole,”
For Yost, it would take more than just payment — “a big buyout
“I would have to peruse the neighborhood, I would have to do head
counts, and see, would I have an audience here?
“Otherwise its opening up without any basis. I don’t believe
an intelligent person goes out to get drunk; I believe they come out for
a good conversation,” Yost said.
“Normally, they only have their three, four, five drinks, and say,
‘Thank you, good night,’ and off they go. That’s the kind
of operation I would like to have.”