Nobody’s gonna remember how long it took. They’re only gonna look and see that it was done.
– New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, on the use of eminent domain to build a basketball arena in Brooklyn.
And if it were not for tonight’s film, Battle for Brooklyn, how many would remember how long it took to build the Nets’ arena at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic, and the human cost as well?
In 2003, developer Bruce Ratner announced he would be building Atlantic Yards, a a grandiose arena/retail/residential/mixed use facility–22 acres, with 16 high rises–in Prospect Heights in the heart of Brooklyn, which he claimed would provide thousands of jobs in the neighborhood. Graphic designer Daniel Goldstein, who had just bought an apartment in the center of the proposed Atlantic Yards development–his new home would be center court, is stunned and he joins forces with others who oppose what is seen as a land grab.
Using eminent domain, The city of New York seizes property, displacing hundreds of residents and numerous businesses. Goldstein, living with his fiancee in an apartment he had spent five years searching for, refuses to sell and remains the lone holdout in his own building, joining with others, including city council member Letitia James, to fight the development . The struggle lasts for seven years and through 35 court battles. Ratner’s company finally encourages the city to declare the neighborhood blighted–despite thriving businesses like the local bar and an auto repair shop that has been operating for over four decades.
Ratner’s PR people start to spin the race and class cards: Grassroots supporters of the Atlantic Yards project chant
Jobs, jobs, jobs
only to be revealed as an Astroturf group whose tax filings show them to be funded by Ratner’s company to the tune of $5 million.
While Ratner starts to feel financial pressure as the stock market drops–shares of his company tumble from almost $65 down to $5 and he is forced to downscale the project, loosing architect Frank Gehry’s design–reluctant activist Goldstein faces personal difficulties: His mother dies and he and his fiancee break up. But as Goldstein soldiers on, his skills as a community organizer and spokesperson grow, and he falls in love with, then marries, a fellow organizer and they begin to raise their children as they battle for the soul of their community.