The most peculiar groundbreaking ceremony took place on March 11 at the edge of Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.
Billionaire developer Bruce Ratner, Chairman and CEO of Forest City Ratner Companies, hoisted a huge tent on what used to be 5th Avenue (the city just gave it to him) and filled it with about 1,000 handpicked guests to mark the occasion, the official groundbreaking for FCR's Atlantic Yards development for a basketball arena to be called Barclays Center.
As a measure of his clout he had on the dais NY State Governor David Paterson, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Rap Star/Beyoncé husband/Brooklyn street cred symbol Jay-Z, and Brooklyn Borough President, Marty Markowitz.
Considering that he had spent the better part of seven years fighting to get to this point, he had reason to celebrate. "It's been a long time coming, but well worth every moment of it," he said to the cameras.
Worth it, indeed. He made it sound like he was offering us help but glad to do it. Actually, what he probably meant was that if his margins are typical of the industry, he stands to make about a billion dollars off the $4.9 billion project (which is slated to receive close to $2 billion in subsidies and used eminent domain or its threat to acquire most of the land). I'll say it's worth it, to him.
The tent ceremony seemed to symbolize all that was bizarre about the project, especially as the political gyrations: Not one local legislator was present, as the city was bypassed entirely by his process, as were the state reps, due to Ratner's being shielded behind an inscrutable state agency, the Empire State Development Corporation (it proved impossible to sue it). Or his racial manipulation: Having paid millions for support from some black leaders, he then had to hide the most prominent one, Bertha Lewis, founder and national leader of ACORN (who was contractually obliged to publicly support Atlantic Yards), replacing her on the dais with the Rev. Al Sharpton, whose group also was the target of Ratner largesse.
While Forest City provided lobster sliders for his guests, Ratner could hear the noisy protesters at the fences. But he did not worry about them entering. The tent was surrounded by layers of concrete Jersey barriers, extra high cyclone fences, and dozens and dozens of police. So much for a grand gesture of bringing something the public is supposed to treasure. Just as the process was calculated to avoid public input, so was the ceremony.
The Rev. Herbert Daughtry of the House of the Lord Pentecostal Church, another strong supporter, offered some words of caution in his invocation that were full of unintended irony:
"God will be angry if we misuse the people's resources," he said, "Generations of the yet unborn will rise up and curse this project."
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