Union workers and ACORN rally for ‘jobs, housing, hoops’

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First came the flier, then came the rally.

Organized labor and community groups flooded the steps of Borough Hall at noon Thursday in a show of support for the proposed Atlantic Yards basketball arena, office tower and housing development.

The event attracted about 1,000 supporters — many organized by the District Council of Carpenters, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and the pro-arena group BUILD — who carried signs and chanted in support of “Jobs, Housing and Hoops.”

Not to mention heroes — sandwiches that is, which were handed out to those who attended the rally.

Developer Bruce Ratner, who wants to build the $2.5 billion residential and commercial development with a 19,000-seat arena, provided the lunch.

Just two weeks ago Ratner sent out 300,000 glossy pamphlets to residents across Brooklyn promoting his project.

Ratner has agreed to purchase the New Jersey Nets for $300 million pending NBA approval, which is expected later this month.

Borough President Marty Markowitz, one of the project’s loudest supporters, praised the jobs and affordable housing the project would create.

Opponents of the plan walked through the rally during Markowitz’s speech carrying anti-arena placards.

“I believe in the right of opposition,” Markowitz shouted when the crowd loudly booed the opponents — one supporter even ripped a sign out of a woman’s hands and threw it to the ground. When she went to retrieve it he grabbed it again. Police quickly moved in, surrounding the arena opponents, who stationed themselves up front near the podium.

“Marty, Bruce and Mike to Prospect Heights: Drop Dead,” another sign read, referring to Markowitz, Ratner and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who also supports the plan.

“It’s not your rally,” shouted an arena supporter.

Despite the melee, Markowitz continued with his speech. “This job will be built the right way, with 100-percent union labor,” Markowitz said to a loud round of shouts and applause.

Many of the union members at the rally said they did not know the details of the Atlantic Yards project but supported the creation of jobs.

According to a spokesman for Ratner’s development company, Forest City Ratner, the entire project will create 15,000 construction jobs and 10,000 permanent jobs. Ratner has vowed to use only union labor.

Community organizations, spearheaded by BUILD, are negotiating a community benefits agreement with the developer to insure jobs for local residents. Part of that agreement includes providing an apprenticeship program to get area residents into a union, according to Bruce Bender, Ratner’s vice president for government and public affairs.

Darryl Greene, a consultant for Forest City Ratner, said he expected one in every four jobs created to go to local residents.

Bertha Lewis, executive director of New York ACORN praised what she called the developer’s commitment to affordable housing.

“This is the first time any developer has said we need housing for everybody,” said Lewis.

As part of the plan, Ratner intends to build 13 residential towers with 4,500 apartments. He has agreed to offer 50 percent of them as affordable or moderate income housing.

Ratner needs to either buy out or have the state condemn 11-acres of privately owned land. The other half of the project would be built over the Long Island Rail Road storage yards, whose air rights Ratner would purchase from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Opponents of the plan, wearing matching yellow T-shirts, on Thursday passed out fliers promoting their own rally on Saturday, June 19.
“It’s possible to have development that’s good for everybody,” said Jezra Kaye, a member of the Prospect Heights Action Coalition, which is opposed to the use of eminent domain and government subsidies to build the development.

Ratner has not said how much city and state money will be needed to build Atlantic Yards. But a Ratner executive agreed at a City Council hearing that the amount of public money is in the hundreds of millions.

Councilman Bill DeBlasio, whose district includes nearby brownstone communities such as Park Slope and Carroll Gardens, arrived just as late-’60s rocker Felix Cavaliere took the stage for a post-rally concert with the latest incarnation of his band the Rascals.

“We have to make sure we get the affordable housing,” said DeBlasio, who added that he supports the arena plan as long as all of the proposed concessions are in place.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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