Fueled by hype that began last Friday -- "Cultural Icon Shawn 'Jay-Z' Carter" would make a "significant announcements" regarding the Barclays Center arena in Brooklyn and the "borough's future NBA team," the media turned out in droves Monday for a heavily-managed press conference in Brooklyn across from the under-construction arena.
There wasn't much news, as I reported, since the owners of the now-New Jersey Nets and the arena operators already had doled out exclusives to the daily papers and Fox 5: yes, the team would become the Brooklyn Nets upon the move in 2012, and Jay-Z would open the arena in September 2012 with some concerts.
Still, they stage-managed many pictures of the construction site and leveraged the fleeting presence of Jay-Z -- less than two minutes on-stage for the anti-climactic announcement, before leaving in a black Maybach -- into international coverage.
The main "controversy" for the press (as on CNBC) was whether it was wise to call the team the "Brooklyn Nets" rather than choose a new name.
Reasons for skepticism
But there were reasons to look deeper. Malcolm Gladwell, in a Grantland essay on the NBA lockout coincidentally published the same day, pointed to the enormous profit the team and arena owners -- Mikhail Prokhorov and Bruce Ratner, mainly -- stand to make.
Michael Galinsky, co-director of the documentary Battle for Brooklyn, which portrays the not-so-seemly machinations behind the project, stood outside the event trying to get the press to recognize that the developer's promises of jobs and housing have come to little.
He got few takers, but those of us listening to developer Ratner noticed that, while making vague promises of jobs at Atlantic Yards -- where 16 promised towers have yet to be built -- he proudly offered statistics about jobs in the malls nearby he developed -- projects completely unrelated to Atlantic Yards.
Nor did anyone notice what Forest City Ratner's pressure to get the arena done in time for Jay-Z's 2012 concerts is doing to the community.
They're building an arena that encroaches on a residential neighborhood, and the tally, as compiled via the initiative Atlantic Yards Watch, includes trucks going down residential streets (instead of truck routes), illegal parking, trucks idling outside residences in the early morning, and vehicles going the wrong way on a one-way street in search of parking.
"We don't want to take any chances," an enthusiastic Ratner told Fox 5 regarding 24/7 construction. "It's going on all the time, on weekends, and after-hours." He didn't mention the collateral damage, including during-the-night noise that's driving some people nuts.
Last week, one of Ratner's staffers reported at a public meeting that the developer had revamped procedures to reduce the impacts of construction.
The only problem: on that day and subsequent days, videos shot by a local resident showed that those procedures hadn't worked.
Construction surely comes with noise and disruption, but it shouldn't come with blatant flouting of site regulations and city regulations.
Who's in charge?
On Monday night, in a far less publicized meeting, Kenneth Adams, the CEO of Empire State Development, the state agency that both partners with Forest City Ratner and oversees the project, met with concerned community residents.
Adams, a Brooklynite, was genial and non-defensive, and he was given credit for at least being willing to show up. However, he wasn't exactly informed. One attendee, pointing to the documentation on Atlantic Yards Watch, asked Adams if he'd ever looked at the site.
The answer was no.
You can bet he'd noticed the Brooklyn Nets.
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