Local Coalition Decries Lack of Results on Atlantic Yards Ahead of Foreclosure Auction

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By Ximena Del Cerro, Brooklyn Paper

Twenty years later, it’s about to be someone else’s problem.

Two decades since the ambitious Atlantic Yards project was first announced, the remaining rights to the $6 billion plan to redevelop 26 acres in Prospect Heights will be auctioned off in less than a month — with plenty of promises left unkept to the community.

And with the 20th anniversary of the project now in the rearview mirror, a coalition of local groups is putting the past developers of Atlantic Yards on blast, calling on whoever ends up in charge to finish the project and do the right thing for Brooklyn.

A checkered history at Atlantic Yards
Brooklyn Speaks — a group of 11 local stakeholders including neighborhood associations — are calling on the New York State development agency, Empire State Development, to finish what they started nearly two decades ago, and help see the lofty Atlantic Yards project across the finish line.

The controversial project, first announced on December 10, 2003, promised to bring an arena — now the Barclays Center — open space and commercial and residential development to Brooklyn, including 2,250 affordable apartments, along Pacific Street from 4th Avenue to Vanderbilt. (The development is in Prospect Heights, apart from one block in Park Slope.) Proponents said the project would help bring down crime rates, prevent negative environmental impacts, and provide affordable housing. Critics objected to the use of eminent domain for a private development.

traffic on atlantic avenue with view of barclays stadium

Atlantic Avenue near 4th Avenue in 2023. Photo by Susan De Vries

Since then, the Barclays Center has gone up, as have eight residential buildings. But, after 20 years, the area’s rail yard remains largely undeveloped, abandoning one of the project’s main purposes — its proposed environmental benefit — and leaving more than 800 affordable apartment units unbuilt.

Unlike some of its other large projects, such as the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation, Empire State Development did not form a local development corporation to oversee Atlantic Yards (later renamed Pacific Park) and engage the needed developers. Instead, it awarded the entire project to developer Forest City Ratner without a competitive bid.

The Brooklyn Speaks Coalition was formed in 2006 with the support of New York State Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon to increase public engagement and improve accountability at Atlantic Yards. Members include the Boerum Hill Association, Brooklyn Heights Association, Fifth Avenue Committee, Park Slope Civic Council, the Atlantic Avenue Local Development Corporation, and the Prospect Heights Neighbohood Development Council.

Brooklyn Speaks maintains that Empire State Development did not asses whether the development would be viable and relied on Forest City’s capacity to complete the project. Empire State Development allowed Forest City to jump to the final phase first: the construction of Barclays.

Once the arena was completed in 2014, and with one residential building under construction, Empire State Development allowed Forest City to sell a 70 percent interest in the remainder of the project to Greenland USA, a developer controlled by the government of Shanghai. In 2018, Greenland acquired 20 percent more, bringing its share to 90 percent. Later that year, Forest City was acquired by Brookfield Asset Management and the lines got even blurrier.

“The developer that got the single-source contract for Atlantic Yards in 2006 has now disappeared,” said Gib Vecony, chair of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council.

press conference

Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon speaks at a 2022 press conference about developers breaking promises at Atlantic Yards. Photo by Ben Brachfeld

Last year, locals urged the state to collect on a $10 million debt they said Greenland owed because it failed to build a promised “urban room” at Barclays Center. In November of this year, Greenland USA defaulted on $350 million of loans to complete the Atlantic Yards project.

Now, the remaining development rights to Atlantic Yards are slated to be auctioned on January 11, 2024. According to the coalition, future development of the unbuilt areas will likely be controlled by separate entities and the promises that were once made to the community could dissolve.

Locals say developers must fulfill promises
When it comes to the progress made and the fulfillment of the promised benefits, the coalition is far from satisfied.

“Many of the 1,373 built affordable units have been offered to tenants earning significantly more than what was promised in a 2005 affordable housing memorandum of understanding,” said Michelle de la Uz, executive director of the Fifth Avenue Committee.

“Atlantic Yards, instead of providing additional housing and bringing people together, has actually furthered displacement in this area,” said Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon, who has represented the area since 2015. “We need accountability and affordability at this project. We need that open space that was so much promised.”

In July of last year, Simon was one of a number of local pols and advocates to call on the state to collect on a $10 million debt they said was owed by Greenland Forest City Partners over missing community space.

“What we have found throughout the lengthy history of this project is that indeed, it was not a Field of Dreams, it was a Field of Schemes,” Simon said last summer. “And the governmental agencies that are there to protect the public’s finances and their investment in this project have completely been ignored.”

ESD and Greenland USA did not respond to requests for comments.

— Additional reporting by Cate Corcoran

Editor’s note: A version of this story originally ran in Brooklyn Paper. Click here to see the original story.

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