The Brooklyn Paper mailbag

To the editor,

Ed Weintrob’s Feb. 7 front-page editorial (“Paper: Use fed $ for arena”) called for federal stimulus money to bail out Forest City Ratner’s proposed billion-dollar Barclays Center arena.

Weintrob wrote that “the most problematic, oversized components of Bruce Ratner’s proposal for Atlantic Yards should not be built, no matter how much federal money is being thrown around.” But the arena is the most problematic component of the project.

The arena, and the fixation on it, is the major impediment to the construction of affordable housing over the rail yards and job creation within any meaningful time horizon.

The Senate version of the bill specifically does not allow funds for stadiums. Furthermore, the intent of the stimulus bill is to generate jobs and kick-start the economy, not bail out a private developer — TARP took that approach and look where it got us.

But Weintrob does get it partly right. We should be asking for stimulus money for Brooklyn, but not for business as usual — not to benefit well-connected developers at the cost of generating jobs and building desperately needed low- and moderate-income housing and other infrastructure investments that generate well-paying, union jobs that would stimulate the local economy for years to come.

An arena on land obtained through the questionable use of eminent domain violates both sound planning processes and sound community economic development. It also violates provisions of the proposed bill that require a transparent and competitive public bidding process before contracts with entities such as FCR can be entered into.

Finally, the arena is not a “shovel-ready” by any stretch of the imagination, as FCR doesn’t own the land it needs to construct it and, according to the developer, it’s undergoing an extensive redesign.

Most important, nearly all economists agree that arenas are not economic generators or cost-effective job creators. FCR has never even publicly estimated the number of new jobs the arena would create because it would be woefully few, especially in relation to the public cost of the arena. And the opportunity costs are dramatic. A new federal subsidy would allow FCR to triple dip by using federally “subsidized tax-exempt bonds,” city and state subsidies and stimulus funds — the federal tax-exempt arena bond alone is estimated to be a subsidy worth about $165 million.

Forest City Ratner, the borough president and their friends in higher places attempting to lobby for federal stimulus monies for Atlantic Yards is reflective of the ethical morass that has had a strangle hold on Washington and New York for decades.

Last Sunday, Frank Rich wrote in his most-recent New York Times column that “few articulate this ethical morass better than Obama,” who has repeatedly vowed to “close the revolving door” between business and government and end our “two sets of standards, one for the powerful people and one for the ordinary folks.”

Using the federal funds for the arena and the Atlantic Yards as currently proposed, or to relieve the developer of its commitments to the MTA and public would seriously undermine the stimulus package, expose it to widespread ridicule and deepen the ethical morass Rich describes.

Instead, we should move quickly to amend the Atlantic Yards proposal by sub-dividing the MTA’s eight-acre yard into smaller, developable parcels. Then the MTA should reopen the process and invite a number of developers, including FCR, to respond to an open RFP process to jointly and simultaneously build desperately needed low-, moderate- and middle-income housing. This would attract a greater number of smaller developers — both for-profit and non-profit — and would result in the distribution of development risks and responsibilities among a number of development entities to help generate jobs faster and lead to the completion of the housing in a timely and accountable manner.

Using stimulus funds to complete the relocation of the train tracks and to facilitate any other infrastructure necessary to enable the development of affordable housing over the rail yards would be a legitimate use of such funds. Funds could also be set aside for the completion of the Carlton Avenue bridge and improvements to the sites now plagued by the unnecessary demolitions carried out by FCR.

These and other appropriate uses of stimulus funds would meet the needs of the community, generate jobs and send a message that these funds are to be used to meet public needs, to stimulate the economy and that business as usual is no longer the modus operandi.

Ron Shiffman & Daniel Goldstein

The writers are, respectively, a board member and the spokesman for Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn. The group has led opposition to Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards proposal.

• • •

To the editor,

The argument you make is that New York now has a chance to build the arena at minimal cost and all other considerations have little merit. This position directly contradicts much of your own paper’s coverage during the past five years. Just because we could possibly build the arena with federal money doesn’t mean that all of the significant problems you’ve documented with this project would magically go away.

The arena is the piece of the project that poses the most significant environmental threat to Brooklyn, that has led to eminent domain abuse, and which has the least long-term economic value.

I could, however, understand the use of federal stimulus dollars to erect a significant, yet appropriate amount of, sensibly designed, affordable housing over the railyards — something that Brooklyn desperately needs.

In Brooklyn, we have an opportunity to support President Obama’s work by using our own common sense to reprioritize. How tragic if we allow struggling, middle-class New Yorkers to go without decent housing while we build this ill-advised arena.

Josh Skaller, Park Slope

The writer is a candidate for City Council from the 39th district

• • •

To the editor,

Bizarro! Your publisher just undermined years of award-winning anti-Yards reportage!

Sure, Brooklyn should grab for the federal stimulus money, but is an arena really the best way to stimulate the economy? Not even close.

Aaron Naparstek, Park Slope

• • •

To the editor,

What a terrible position for The Brooklyn Paper to take — extolling the worst of behaviors and calling it leadership for our times.

Choosing Atlantic Yards as the poster child for justifying a raid on the federal stimulus reveals how ethically corrupt the editorial actually is. It supports the worst kind of developer-promoted fantasy — implying that funding the arena would magically transform Brooklyn’s future as if it were somehow separate from the greater economy, even while implying that the community’s response to the project is to now focus on aesthetics.

It’s not about our money getting stolen for Peoria’s assumed misuse, it’s that Atlantic Yards is a project born of a corrupt process designed to benefit a pre-selected developer: it’s that city code doesn’t allow arenas in residential neighborhoods for reason; it’s that building the arena alone never made economic sense; and it’s that the jobs associated with arenas are few and mostly marginal.

It is sad to see The Brooklyn Paper editorialize in favor of a money grab, and in doing so, he sounds no better than the politicians whose backroom deals led to the approval of this out-of-scale project in the first place.

What a thin, ethically challenged gruel your readers have been served. And how ironic that right above this editorial is The Paper’s self-congratulatory piece on winning national awards for last year’s editorials, one of which excoriated another of Forest City Ratner’s backroom dealings.

How ironic, indeed.

Alan Rosner, Prospect Heights

• • •

To the editor,

Is your publisher nuts? In this tough economy, he suggests that we subsidize a billionaire so that he can build the most expensive arena in modern history so that folks from Manhattan and Long Island, and maybe a few Brooklynites, can watch a few games a year while still costing New York taxpayers millions of dollars each year.

Why not use the stimulus money to build affordable housing?

We don’t need an expensive arena which will only worsen our borough’s environmental and traffic nightmares. We don’t need to build an arena for the folks from Manhattan and Long Island. We don’t need to subsidize a billionaire.

Robert Ohlerking, Park Slope

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