BUILDer steps down

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The president of the group Brooklyn United for Innovative Development, or BUILD, has stepped down, claiming the group he helped found has veered from its initial goal of securing jobs for the community from developer Bruce Ratner’s proposed Atlantic Yards development.

In his resignation, Darnell Canada accused fellow BUILD leaders of seeking “financial self gain” out of the proposal to build a professional basketball arena and housing and office towers in Prospect Heights.

“I am resigning out of the need to distance myself from those in the organization who see this organization as financial self gain, [rather] than for the needs of the Brooklyn community,” Canada wrote in a letter circulated to local community groups.

For the past few months, BUILD has been working with Ratner to secure jobs for local residents if the proposed Atlantic Yards plan, including a $450 million basketball arena to house the New Jersey Nets, gets the go-ahead from the state.

The group is angling for a community benefits agreement with the developer, a legal document first used in Los Angeles to address local hiring, affordable housing, environmental concerns and other community needs.

Canada, a window installer and longtime Fort Greene activist, said he would continue to fight for jobs for the community.

“My focus is basically jobs. I feel I can better serve my community by just going after jobs,” Canada said. “[BUILD] started going in other directions. I hope they’re successful, but I want to focus on jobs.”

Eric Blackwell, an urban studies professor at Long Island University and executive director of BUILD, declined to comment on Canada’s allegations.

“Projects like this don’t solve community problems, they just help to create the kind of atmosphere where people can make money,” said Blackwell.

BUILD members have long complained that Metrotech, a major high rise office complex in Downtown Brooklyn, provided few jobs or business opportunities for area residents. The group was formed last year to advocate for jobs in response to massive development in the Downtown Brooklyn area.

James Caldwell, president of the 77th Precinct Community Council, will step in to replace Canada as BUILD’s president.

The tricky part about negotiating a community benefits agreement is often determining who will benefit and how much benefit a developer will provide.

“We would like to see jobs for people in the community, but our focus is that whatever happens the community has a big say,” said Patti Hagan, a spokeswoman for the Prospect Heights Action Coalition, an anti-arena group.

“Part of a community benefits agreement should be no eminent domain. No one’s job, business or home should be eliminated in order to construct something else,” Hagan added.

As part of the sweeping, 24-acre Atlantic Yards plan — including soaring office and residential buildings totaling almost 7 million square feet — Ratner says he will need the state to condemn more than two square blocks of private property.

“We will certainly sit down with BUILD and other organizati­ons,” said Joe Deplasco, a spokesman for Ratner.

“We see this project as more than a basketball arena — but a larger development project that can provide many needed jobs and much-needed housing and we look forward to discussing with BUILD the community and economic benefits of this project”

Canada and Blackwell each said they were not in cahoots with Ratner.

“I am certainly in nobody’s pocket,” Canada said. “I don’t want to get caught up in a battle about what BUILD is doing and what they’re not gong after. I wish them well.”

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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