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"Why should people get to see plans? This isn't a public project."
Bruce Ratner in Crain's Nov. 8, 2009

Times Critic Ouroussoff Takes Forest City Ratner to the Woodshed For Gehry Bait-and-Switch

The new Barclays Centter Hangar design.

In the wake of the Great Bruce Ratner Frank Gehry Bait 'n' Switch©, NY Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff takes developer Forest City Ratner to the woodshed.:
Battle Between Budget and Beauty, Which Budget Won

The recent news that the developer Forest City Ratner had scrapped Frank Gehry’s design for a Nets arena in central Brooklyn is not just a blow to the art of architecture. It is a shameful betrayal of the public trust, one that should enrage all those who care about this city.

Whatever you may have felt about Mr. Gehry’s design — too big, too flamboyant — there is little doubt that it was thoughtful architecture. His arena complex, in which the stadium was embedded in a matrix of towers resembling falling shards of glass, was a striking addition to the Brooklyn skyline; it was also a fervent effort to engage the life of the city below.

A new design by the firm Ellerbe Becket has no such ambitions. A colossal, spiritless box, it would fit more comfortably in a cornfield than at one of the busiest intersections of a vibrant metropolis. Its low-budget, no-frills design embodies the crass, bottom-line mentality that puts personal profit above the public good. If it is ever built, it will create a black hole in the heart of a vital neighborhood.

In a stunning bait-and-switch, Forest City Ratner (which was the development partner for The New York Times Company’s headquarters in Midtown) has now decided that it can’t afford an architect of Mr. Gehry’s stature. Neglecting to tell the public, the firm went out months ago and hired Ellerbe Becket, corporate architects known for producing generic, unimaginative buildings. And although it has refused to release details of the design, the renderings, obtained by The New York Times, tell you all you need to know.

A massive vaulted shed that rests on a masonry base, the arena is as glamorous as a storage warehouse.

Building this monstrosity at such a critical urban intersection would be deadly. Clearly, the city would be better off with nothing.

I suppose we should have seen this coming. The scale and location of the project posed serious challenges — challenges that could not be solved by the conventional development formulas. Arenas are notorious black holes in urban neighborhoods, sitting empty most of the year and draining the life around them. And in this case, the arena would dominate a major intersection and anchor a dense 22-acre residential development several blocks to the east.
Notably Ouroussoff, unlike Steve Cuozzo's knee-jerk comments in the NY Post, places the blame squarely on Forest City Ratner's head and, to a lesser extent, government—right where it belongs.

We suggest reading the whole tirade (we also strongly suggest going to the article and email it to friends--click "email" link to right of article--to make it the day's most popular article.)

Our opposition to Atlantic Yards, to name just a few reasons, has always been about the political corruption, the sweetheart, backroom deals, the laughable and undemocratic approval "process," the ongoing bait-and-switch, the feeding from the public subsidy trough, the abuse of eminent domain, the superblocks, and the offensive scale and density of the project. We also weren't too pleased when the now-lamented Gehry said in 2003 that he was "excited to build a neighborhood practically from scratch."

The opposition is about the concept of the arena itself, NOT what it looks like or who designed it. It was wrongheaded as a concept in 2003, and it is wrongheaded as a concept now. An arena doesn't belong and doesn't fit in the fabric of Brownstone Brooklyn, or any residential neighborhood. That is why city zoning regulations, overridden in this instance by the state, do not allow arenas in residential neighborhoods.

Ellerbe Becket, Lemony Snicket or Frank Gehry could be the architect, but it all would be just so much window-dressing on an affront to the community.

There is no accounting for taste. Some like Gehry some don't. Some like Ellerbe Becket (really, some do) and some don't. Whether one prefers spaceships to airplane hangars is not the issue.

We fully understand that Ouroussoff must view the project through his critic's lens, and well he should (though had he brought his skeptic lens earlier, he might not be kicking himself now, as Norman Oder thoroughly explains.) And though we don't agree with him that Atlantic Yards was ever about the public good—even as architecture—we do agree with him that Ratner's dumping of Gehry is a "shameful betrayal of the public trust," and a bait-and-switch.

The final dots that need to be connected are left unconnected by Ourossoff. Bait-and-switchers don't just bait-and-switch once, it is a pattern. And if Ratner's Gehry bait-and-switch is stunning, so is the bait-and-switch on "affordable" housing, "publicly accessible open space," job creation, commercial space, reneging on a contract with the MTA, and changing the project timeline from 10 years to, unofficially "decades" and officially 6 years to build just the arena according to state financing documents. Atlantic Yards itself is a monument to bait-and-switch.

And remember, numerous times over the past six months various Ratner team members, including Bruce Ratner, Nets President Brett Yormark, and Forest City Ratner mouthpiece Joe DePlasco have all told the public, through reporters, that Frank Gehry was their architect for the arena when all the while Elllerbe Becket was working up their new "spiritless box" or "airplane hangar."

Why should anyone trust Forest City about anything they say or do, at this point?

Now we need our elected leaders, starting with Gov Paterson, to restore the public trust, to convince us that they view the public as more than mere play things for duplicitous developers and backdrops for ribbon cuttings. We need the man in charge of the two agencies preparing to make concessions to Forest City for its Zombie Project—the MTA and the Empire State Development Corporation—to say enough is enough, and take away Ratner's tackle box so the Atlantic Yards bait-and-switch ploys can be put to rest.

Posted: 6.08.09
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Eminent Domain Case
Goldstein et al v. ESDC
[All case files]

November 24, 2009
Court of Appeals

[See ownership map]

EIS Lawsuit

DDDB et al v ESDC et al
Click for a summary of the lawsuit seeking to annul the review and approval the Atlantic Yards project.

Appeal briefs are here.

Appellate Divsion
Rules for ESDC
What would Atlantic Yards Look like?...
Photo Simulations
Before and After views from around the project footprint revealing the massive scale of the proposed luxury apartment and sports complex.

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Isabel Hill's
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Brooklyn Matters

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Atlantic Yards
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-No Land Grab.org

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-Sustainable Flatbush
-A Child Grows in Bklyn
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-The Real Estate
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-OnNYTurf-Atlantic Yards
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