Arena foes at ‘center court’

The Brooklyn Paper
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It may one day be center court for the Brooklyn Nets, but over the weekend the intersection of Pacific Street and Fifth Avenue was center stage for a rally against Bruce Ratner’s massive arena, housing and office development plan.

Hundreds of opponents, including several elected officials, turned out on the sunny Saturday afternoon to protest what they called the “over-development” of the neighborhood.

“This is a land grab for the rich,” Prospect Heights Councilwoman Letitia James, an ardent opponent of the project, told the crowd.
Rep. Major Owens, who wants to move the proposed arena to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, called details of Ratner’s plan — under which the developer would aquire air rights owned by the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the state would condem acres of private property — “the biggest giveaways in the history of the state.”

Ratner’s purchase of the New Jersey Nets is expected to be approved by the NBA before the end of the month. He wants to build the team a new arena at Flatbush and Atlantic avenues.

His $2.5 billion plan, known as Atlantic Yards, also includes four soaring office towers and 4,500 units of housing. A total of 17 buildings would rise in a six-block area bounded by Dean Street and Flatbush, Atlantic and Vanderbilt avenues, over the MTA-owned Long Island Railroad storage yards and on privately owned land.

As part of the plan Ratner has relied on the state’s authority of eminent domain to condemn the privately held property, thus forcing their sale. With that threat hanging over their heads, several area property owners, primarily in two condominium apartment buildings, have agreed in principal to sell their property to Ratner at well above market rate. As part of those deals, which reportedly have not been signed yet, the property owners must agree to gag orders preventing them from criticizing Ratner’s plan or attending anti-arena rallies.

The contract also reportedly requires two residents from each building to speak in favor of the plan.

Those negotiations are still underway and several tenants from 636 Pacific St. could be seen mingling in the crowd at Saturday’s rally.

Queens Councilman Tony Avella, who chairs a land use subcommittee, joined the opposition this week and called on the developer to seek community input on the plan.

“This is our city. We should have a say. You should have a say,” Avella told the protesters.

“Not one dollar of taxpayer money should be spent to make a billionaire richer,” he said.

Neither Ratner nor the city has disclosed how much public money would be needed for the project, which has been staunchly supported by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Borough President Marty Markowitz.

“We’re here to fight for the resources that belong to the city,” said Owens.

The rally took a wacky turn when Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir took the stage and started preaching to the, well, choir.

Billy Talen, an actor and performance artist who takes on the persona of a southern preacher, was backed up by a dozen “choir” members as he railed against corporate greed and delivered a paean to Daniel Goldstein, a resident of 636 Pacific St. who has so far refused to sell his apartment to Ratner.

Although it appeared there were several hundred people at the rally at any one time, Develop-Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, the group that organized the event, claims 3,000 people attended between the hours of 2 and 8 pm, basing their estimate on the number of stickers given to each person entering the rally. The group raised $5,000 for their cause at the rally.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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