10 Jul Battle update
Battle for Brooklyn airs on TV in Australia next week and should be hitting the US airwaves this fall. It’s been over a year since the film was first run on screen and as such it’s a good time to write an update about where things stand with the Atlantic Yards project and the film. After launching it at Hot Docs in Toronto, Canada and at Brooklyn Film Festival in the US we opened it theatrically in New York. It went on to dozens of theaters and was short-listed for an Oscar. We had some difficulty getting it past the “gatekeepers” at theaters and film festivals. However, the film really picked up steam when the Occupy movement took off in the US as people made the connection between the story of the film and the impetus for Occupy.
Battle for Brooklyn is a behind the scenes look at a community’s fight to keep a billionaire developer from displacing them for a basketball arena and massive towers. A mantra of “Jobs, Housing, and Hoops” was used to sell the project to the public. The community argued that most of the claims of benefits would not come to fruition. They also asked people to pay attention to how much the benefits would cost. Over the course of 8 years of filming the community’s predictions came true.
When we made film’s end credits (which summed up some of the facts and themes at the end of the edit process) there were very few workers on the project site and no housing construction in sight. Now that there is a mad rush to finish the arena before it opens in September the number of workers has drastically increased and is hovering around a thousand. There are still very few workers from the surrounding communities. There is some talk of breaking ground on the first residential tower early next year. This building will likely use pre-fab technology which means that it will provide far fewer union jobs, lower paid jobs and it will have very little affordable housing. In terms of the hoops, the Nets were a championship caliber team when they were purchased to pave the way for the project. However, for the past few seasons they have been underfunded and consistently terrible. The new owner, Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, has invested a lot more in pulling in star players and things are looking up for the team.
The arena and infrastructure portion of the project has been in full swing for a couple of years now which has meant a great deal of noise and dust pollution for people living near the site. Landlords who have commercial spaces to rent have been able to lease their space at increasingly higher (and exorbitant) rates as they anticipate higher foot traffic around the area, which has driven out long established businesses.
When we made the credit sequence we did not include details about the corruption probe that involved key players, as this investigation was still speculative. State Senator Carl Kruger who vocally supported the project was indicted and convicted for taking bribes unrelated to the project. However, Forest City VP Bruce Bender, who appears in the film, is famously quoted in the court papers discussing the need for state funds for rebuilding a bridge on the project site, even though the developer had committed to paying for the bridge’s reconstruction. When he is told by Senator Kruger that he’s “going to have to F%%K the bridge” he replies, “I’d love to f@%k the bridge but I can’t”. Bruce Bender also appeared in a corruption trial for another Forest City project in which several people were indicted for taking bribes to gain approval for that project. Forest City employees, such as Bender, were not indicted despite the fact that they benefitted from the bribe, and gave a $50,000 no show job to the individual who paid the bribe to an elected official (they were both convicted). Bruce Bender resigned during the trial.
Barclay’s bank, which paid between 200 and 400 million dollars for naming rights to the arena, has been in the news a lot the last week for manipulating bank rates. This is playing out as a minor scandal in the US but it’s making a lot more waves in the UK. It is being referred to as the curse of the naming rights as companies often fall apart after overpaying for naming rights. Despite the fact that Forest City is leasing the arena property for just 1$ a year, and much of the arena funding is from taxpayers, all of the naming rights revenue goes to the company.
It is now July 2012. The main character of the film, Daniel Goldstein is getting ready to move his family to a new home in the neighborhood after renting steps from his old home for the past 2.5 years. The arena is nearing completion and the realities of how the project came to be are starting to become better known. We like to think the film has helped with that a great deal. At the end of the film Mayor Bloomberg, who supported the project and a central figure in pushing in forward, states, “No one is going to care how long it took. They’re just gonna see that it was done.” This is simply not the case.