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Activists: Dem convention needs party police

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Somebody call a party planner.

The city must do something to ensure the dignitaries and party people attending the Democratic National Convention at the Barclays Center don’t turn the neighborhood into a nightmare out of a Republican attack ad, residents demanded this week. The massive presidential-candidate-anointing party would come on top of nearly a decade of construction work at the mega-development formerly known as Atlantic Yards, frequent film shoots, and big events at the arena, and the traffic, street closures, and crowds are just too much, a spokesman for a newly formed coalition of community groups said.

“This is just too much piling on,” said Wayne Bailey, a Prospect Heights resident and member of the Barclays Center Impact Zone Alliance. “People in the neighborhood have always been the ones at risk, and then we have to scramble and try to do something after the fact. We don’t want to do that this time.”

Mayor DeBlasio and other Brooklyn boosters have been pushing to bring the convention to the borough, and it is now a finalist alongside the deeply inferior cities of Philadelphia and Columbus, Ohio. Bailey says his group is not against hosting the shindig, but that members want it to be carefully controlled, which if the city’s handling of Atlantic Yards is any indication, it won’t be.

“The group has great concern about the ability of New York City to host the DNC smoothly given the long history of poor coordination of city and state agencies providing oversight over the operation of the arena and the construction of the project,” the organization wrote in a statement.

In addition to clogging area streets, the residents worry the convention will actually hurt area businesses by restricting access to people who would regularly frequent them. That prediction runs counter to the city’s claim that the convention will bring in millions.

“It’s a relative fantasy to think people are just going to be meandering around the area during the convention,” Bailey said. “It’s just not going to happen.”

The group wants DeBlasio to appoint a convention coordinator immediately in consultation with Atlantic Yards co-developer Forest City Ratner, as well as local pols and community boards. City Hall has agreed to do so, but wants to wait until Kings County clinches the hosting honors.

“We will name a community liaison when selected as the host city,” DeBlasio spokeswoman Marti Adams said. “We’ll continue to engage with community members as we work together to build a convention that will bring maximum benefit to the city as well as the Democratic Party.”

Among the fixes the neighbors want to see are re-routing traffic away from the arena, and compensating businesses for losses. And while they’re asking for things, they want the city to place a moratorium on film shoots in the neighborhood.

The bottom line is that the people pushing for the event don’t have to deal with the hassle of waking up to it.

“It’s easy for any organization to say they want it. But not all of these people live here,” Bailey said. “The impacted community wants to speak for itself.”

Not all locals are so skeptical.

About six dozen businesses, from the neighborhood and beyond, signed onto a letter of support on Friday, telling Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democratic committee chairwoman, that they want to bring the convention here.

Francine Stephens, who owns Franny’s and Bklyn Larder, both on Flatbush Avenue, said she does see an uptick in business during big events, such as during the Video Music Awards.

“That night was very good for us,” Stephens said. “The people who would normally be attracted to my businesses, there were just more of them.”

She does acknowledge that during many events at Barclays people tend to go straight to the arena and then straight home. She said the mayor’s office will have to come up with a plan to encourage convention-goers to explore the area around the arena if local businesses are going to benefit.

“If there’s no specific effort made, people will stay in Manhattan, take cars to the convention, and leave,” Stephens said. “That’s what will happen if there’s no plan in place to steer people to the neighborhoods.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260–8310. E-mail him at mperlman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019: Quote added from Marti Adams. Comments added from Francine Stephens, as well as context about businesses signaling their support of the convention pitch.
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