Rotten From the Start

I haven’t written about our film “Battle for Brooklyn” in a while. Other projects have take up my time and attention. However, this weekend it played on Direct TV and we got a slew of messages from people who saw it and were shocked to find that things were not as they had seemed. Also this week it’s been reported that Mikhail Prokhorov and Forest City Ratner are angling to sell the Brooklyn Nets, and the whole thing is coming rushing back to me on a very visceral level. When cash-strapped Bruce Ratner arranged to sell 80% of the team to Russian oligarch Prokhorov for 223 million dollars, his goal was to hold on to the real estate. The team was simply a Trojan horse for getting control of the most valuable piece of real estate in Brooklyn via eminent domain. Things worked out well for everyone except the People. FCRC held onto the land, and even their small piece of the team is worth more than what they sold their 80% share for. Prokhorov is now looking to get $1.6 billion for his investment.

The whole thing was an exercise in “public private partnership”. It was aided and abetted by “community groups” that forged partnerships with the developer for their own benefit, and a media that gave exponentially more weight to the ideas and arguments of those with money and power (this link goes to a video of a publicist kicking me out of a press conference because they weren’t sure I would report positively on the event). The idea put forth by FCRC and the government is that the public benefits because something gets built. In theory, this creates jobs and new tax revenues. In practice, the process is much uglier, but most people don’t see or understand that because the media failed to accurately report it. In the end, the business people reap all of the benefits while the public takes all of the risk. The biggest beneficiary of all is a wildly corrupt “business man” from Russia who will be taking a cool billion dollars out of the US economy thanks to the support and influence of the New York State government.

When the project was first announced, local resident Patti Hagen spent 16 hours a day trying to get press people to understand what was happening. For the most part, they were blinded by the glittery presence of money and fame. Jay Z, who had only a .067 percent stake in the team, was held out as an “owner”. He became the public face of the project. At the time of the announcement, the Nets were based in New Jersey and Bruce Ratner proclaimed that he was going to get the “Nets to Brooklyn if it’s the last thing I do.” It wasn’t about basketball though. It was about money, and everyone in the media and the government participated in the charade.

Now it should be clear to everyone that it wasn’t about creating affordable housing; 10 years later there is none. It should be clear to everyone that it wasn’t about jobs; 10 years later there are very few jobs created for the billions invested by the public. The public was told that eminent domain wouldn’t be used. It was used and our main character had his home seized. When the NY Times reported that he sold his home to the developer, they were informed that this wasn’t true. They wouldn’t correct it. Now in the articles about the upcoming sale of the Nets, outlets like Slate report that the property was obtained under “the threat” of eminent domain. They don’t even realize it was used. Last month, a massive storage facility on the site was seized by eminent domain. Everyone has a few weeks left to get their materials out of storage.

There is an arena, and a team that is vastly more valuable thanks to the Public money that went into it, as well as the Public effort and expense that went into moving the team to Brooklyn. Perhaps the fact that the “Brooklyn Brand” is more valuable is seen as a benefit, but that isn’t such good news to those who actually live there. They are being priced out faster than ever. I wish we could stand here today and say the naysayers’ and malcontents’ projections were wrong, but I can’t.

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