by Michael R. Allen
Next American City has an article by Katherine Mella entitled “Atlantic Yards: A Crash Course” that provides a great overview of Forest City Ratner’s controversial Brooklyn mega-project centered around a new sports arena.
The supposedly “done deal” project was pushed through at the state rather than local level to head off opposition. Aggressive agents made over-market-value offers to secure control of key property around desired public land (underused Metropolitan Transit Authority rail yards). Atlantic Yards bolstered political support by lining up labor leaders, clergy and others who typically might oppose a large project and mass use of eminent domain. To woo the urbanist community, Forest City Ratner hired superstar architect Frank Gehry to design the complex. Residents who would be pushed out by the project have always had an uphill struggle.
There are many parallels to the NorthSide project. However, one thing about Atlantic Yards that we have not seen with NorthSide is a political swing in favor of opposition. Mella’s article concludes by noting that Atlantic Yards has lost much of its initial advantages:
Being able to borrow money and raise capital in this fiscal climate has placed the project at a severe disadvantage. And with a less than exciting main attraction, resolute local opposition, and legal and financial hurdles, it is hard to say if Ratner’s Atlantic Yards will ever — or even ought to — come to fruition.
I suppose the perils of large-scale development have never been as clear as now. Atlantic Yards may have killed itself through sheer folly of its ambitious scope and clumsy execution. The development team behind NorthSide should take heed.