Hearts, not wallets, drive anti-arena
Nearly two-dozen Brooklyn restaurants have agreed to donate up to 5 percent
of their proceeds this week to help Develop-Don’t Destroy Brooklyn
fight Bruce Ratner’s plan to build a 19,000-seat basketball arena,
office towers and high-rise apartment buildings in Prospect Heights.
But for many of the owners of these restaurants, the decision to help
the anti-arena group had nothing to do with protecting their businesses.
Most of the restaurant, cafe and bar owners participating in DDDB’s
“Brooklyn Dodge” restaurant week fundraiser — it runs Oct.
17-24 and a complete list can be viewed at www.dddb.net/restaurants
— could not predict how the arena would impact their businesses.
Many even acknowledged that the Ratner development might generate more
business for them.
But what has brought these owners together is the overwhelming sense that
the developer and his allies have neglected to include the community in
“It’s not an issue of there being any new business in the community
or who will prosper or not. I’m not willing to trade off my prosperity
for your misfortune,” said Bob Law, who owns a seafood cafe on Vanderbilt
Avenue that bears his name. “
“I have a concern about the process by which Ratner is bypassing
the community,” by going directly to the state, said Law.
Francine Stephens, owner of Franny’s, on Flatbush Avenue at Prospect
Place, said a lack of community involvement is her main concern, too.
“On some level, I think it will be a positive for the business. But
that’s not what matters to me,” she said. “We not only
own a business in this neighborhood, we live here as well.”
Stephens said she and her husband, Andrew Feinberg, have invested a lot
in their neighborhood, and that type of investment, not outside investment
migrating in, is the best way for the community to prosper over the long
Eric Goetze, who owns the Blue Sky Bakery, on Fifth Avenue at Bergen Street
in Park Slope, said he, too, is mostly upset about the lack of community
involvement in a project that he describes as hastily pre-approved. “I
don’t think there’s any disagreement that the community needs
to be developed, but it’s a question of doing it the right way,”
As it stands, he said, the fate of the project is being determined by
state and city politicians without the consultation of a neighborhood
that might have specific needs and desires very different from what the
developers have in mind.
“There wasn’t inclusion of the community about whether this
is what we want as a community,” he said.
A Forest City Ratner spokeswoman this week refuted that claim. “I
would have to disagree that the community has been excluded,” said
Lupe Todd. “We have shown a tremendous amount of inclusion.”
Todd noted that Ratner’s company has been negotiating a community
benefits agreement that includes representatives from Community Boards
2, 6 and 8, along with associations representing Prospect Heights and
“I’m not certain I’ll be negatively affected, but I’m
not sure that it will have a positive effect either,” said Adam Robertson,
who opened Total Wine Bar only nine weeks ago. “I’m more concerned
about quality of life issues,” he said.
While Robertson said he is not opposed to the idea of development, Robertson
is worried that this project could open the door for giant chains like
Wal-Mart. Once that happens, he said, the neighborhood would lose the
charm and flavor that he values.
“It becomes just another place to land an airplane,” said Robertson.
Lucy Koteen, who organized the fundraising drive for DDDB, disagrees with
project advocates and even some participating restaurant owners that the
arena will bring more foot traffic, and thus more business, to the area.
“People who come to the arena for basketball games won’t even
see the street,” Koteen said.
But many restaurant owners also said that the 5 percent donation DDDB
is asking for will be difficult for them to swing.
“I’m a new business and I have a lot of misgivings about giving
away 5 percent,” Robertson said. Like many of his counterparts, Robertson
said he would donate what he could.
Koteen said that 5 percent is just a target DDDB is shooting for. And
while Franny’s owner Stephens said she doesn’t know of a single
restaurant owner who can afford 5 percent, she believes giving DDDB a
way to showcase their support is the most important thing.
“We’ll give what we feel is appropriate,” said Stephens,
“because we support the work that they’re doing that we can’t
Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010