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March 24, 2005

Blacks remain divided over Ratner development

Amsterdam News: Ratner's most recent PR appearance raised eyebrows in the African-American Community, when, to great fanfare, he deposited $1 million in Carver Federal Savings Bank, the nation's largest African and Caribbean American bank and Atlantic Terminal Tenant (See NY1, "Brooklyn Developer Makes Large Deposit In Local Bank"). This is the latest in several moves that has driven a wedge between local African-American leaders, even leading to suspicions that Ratner supporters have been bought off. These allegations that have been denied.

NoLandGrab: The allegations may or may not be true, but all of the leaders who are stumping at community meetings for the CBA just happen to be African Americans (the unions only make occasional appearances). The article mentions that there are eight community groups who are negotiating the CBA with Ratner. Only three have appeared in the press -- what's the big secret?

Blacks remain divided over Ratner development

Special to the AmNews
Originally posted 3/23/2005

Amidst a whirl of local controversy, Bruce Ratner, the developer who is lobbying to build a stadium in Brooklyn for the Nets, opened a $1 million account with Carver Federal Savings Bank, the nation’s largest African and Caribbean American bank. In what some hail as community development and others call a racially divisive public relations gimmick, the Forest City Ratner Companies CEO announced the million-dollar account last week at Carver’s new downtown Brooklyn branch in Atlantic Terminal Mall, owned by Ratner.

“It was a nice gesture … but it was a PR move,” said Rev. Clinton Miller, a founding member of the Downtown Brooklyn Leadership Coalition, adding that as Carver’s landlord, “some of that money is going right back to Bruce Ratner.”

The New Jersey Nets owner, who this month signed a non-binding agreement with the city and state to build the arena, 4,500 apartments and retail space over the Atlantic Rail Yards on Atlantic and Flatbush avenues at a cost of $2.5 billion, said in a statement announcing the million-dollar Carver account, “It is important to support local businesses though sizable community reinvestment.” But Ratner’s critics say the developer’s plans would be a disaster for the neighborhood. “Ratner is destroying the mom and pop businesses that are the life-blood of Brooklyn,” said Patti Hagan, co-founder of Prospect Heights Action Coalition, one of several local groups protesting the developer’s plans, maintaining that Ratner will remove nearly 1,000 people from their homes and businesses, and burden traffic, increase pollution and spoil the low-rise landscape of their neighborhood if the stadium is built. What’s more disturbing is that Ratner’s opponents accuse him of buying off local Black leaders and pitting those leaders against the interests of the community. Besides getting former basketball stars like Bernard King and rap mogul Jay Z to promote the stadium, Ratner has garnered the support of a number of community leaders like Rev. Herbert Daughtry, pastor of House of the Lord Church, and James Caldwell, president of Brooklyn United for Innovative Development (BUILD), a pro-Ratner group.

“It’s the most ridiculous thing I have heard,” said Bertha Lewis, executive director of ACORN, a housing advocacy group based in Brooklyn. She scoffs at the notion that she and other Black leaders are being paid off by Ratner. ACORN is among eight local advocacy groups negotiating a Community Benefits Agreement with Ratner. The legally binding agreement forces Ratner to reserve half of the 4,500 apartments for low and moderate income residents. Ten percent of these apartments will be reserved for seniors and residents currently living at the site who will be displaced because of construction.

Other perks of the Community Benefits Agreement, lauded as “historic” by Lewis, Caldwell, and Daughtry, include programs that will train locals for construction and retail jobs at the arena; initiatives that reserve at least 30% of pre- and post-construction contracts to minority- and women-owned businesses; and an agreement to sell discounted game tickets to make the stadium accessible to all in the community.

“[Ratner] should be commended for doing this,” said Lewis, explaining that the company “caught a lot of flack from other developers in the city” because of the concessions made in the agreement. Some like Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Brooklyn) are not impressed by the agreement, expected to be signed by Ratner in the next few weeks. Councilwoman James says Ratner, who developed Brooklyn’s MetroTech Center, made similar promises to benefit the community and local businesses while constructing the 16 acre campus that houses the offices of big corporations like Keyspan, Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan. “MetroTech turned it’s back on Myrtle Avenue,” said James, who does not trust the Community Benefits Agreement as “Ratner has a history of going back on his word.”

Miller of the Downtown Brooklyn Leadership Coalition, whose group, together with local community boards and elected officials like James, did not participate in negotiating the agreement, questioned whether the contract was made in the best interest of the community. Miller ultimately questions the integrity of some of the community leaders involved in hashing out the contract like Daughtry, who once headed the DBLC but left the group to negotiate with Ratner separately.

“I resigned because I felt they weren’t doing anything,” said Daughtry, who together with BUILD leader Caldwell firmly denies being paid off by Ratner in any way. “It’s not a question of whether Ratner is good or bad. I happen to think that he’s a good man. But even if he’s a bad man the question is: what can we get for the community?” Daughtry said about the agreement, vowing, “If he doesn’t honor this agreement I will do all in my power to make downtown Brooklyn as ungovernable as possible.”

Posted by lumi at March 24, 2005 7:01 AM