It is time to thank Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly for finally issuing a report that for the first time, in the clearest way, states the City can no longer support Atlantic Yards.
This report, “Engineering Security: Protective Design for High Risk Buildings” at last provides the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), which oversees the Atlantic Yards project, with both criteria and a method for determining which of the City’s endless potential targets are in the very highest risk category.
Using standards available to anyone, both the Atlantic Yards (AY) Arena and Office Tower rank as high-risk terrorist targets, while the adjacent Atlantic Ave. Station has been a known target since the failed suicide-bombing attempt in August 1997. With three high value targets all collected in one convenient, easy to reach location, AY, as portrayed in the ESDC’s Modified General Project Plan (MGPP), will immediately become one of the city’s foremost targets.
Early last year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the NYPD met with the developer, Forest City Ratner (FCR). Suddenly making Frank Gehry’s dazzling all glass arena and skyscraper secure exploded AY’s costs - just the Arena’s price tag alone went up by over 300 million dollars. As the Daily News wrote in the aftermath, security costs were one big bottom line reason for FCR’s turn to value engineering, leading to the eventual Frank Gehry vanishing act, and ultimately for the ESDC being forced to issue this Modified Plan and then hold this public hearing.
Withholding new project designs until after the ESDC Board meets next month means that there is no way for the ESDC Board, the NYPD or anyone else to certify the public’s safety. Were it not for lawsuits hiding the fact, the security issue has already cost this project over a year and a half additional, and still unfinished, design effort. Just as bad, virtually every dime spent on Gehry’s multiple design efforts is now down the drain. Project approval this time must not be given without any agency of government providing adult supervision for its sole developer, Forest City Ratner.
In 2006, the ESDC, blatantly ignoring due diligence, refused to address post-9/11 security, Atlantic Yards’ Achilles’ heel from day one. This time, do the right thing, do as the Mayor and Police Commissioner recommend, authorize a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) to study the issues. Without adequate security measures the NYPD will necessarily step in. They already have the authority to close traffic lanes, streets, put up physical barriers or reroute traffic. Wait, they’ve already closed streets, put up barriers and rerouted traffic and bus service - all for security reasons - right here in Brooklyn at FCR’s MetroTech; and they did it years after Metro Tech opened.
Even earlier the NYPD was instrumental in delaying Ground Zero construction by over a year to create hardened standoff distances for a redesigned, safer Freedom Tower. Across the river in Newark, their police department also met with the DHS and suddenly two streets have to be closed every time there’s a hockey game in their brand new arena.
With just a few inches of city curb protecting AY the MGPP guarantees the NYPD will be forced to act. The City’s report “Engineering Security” now provides the grounds for whatever decisions are made. Please don’t wait for others to step in. Ad hoc security measures will overwhelm the Flatbush and Atlantic Avenue intersection creating near constant gridlock with devastating consequences for Brooklyn’s economy, air quality and public health - all without any terrible event ever having to actually happen. It is not too late to do the right thing and take the hard look that was absent the last time AY came up for approval, authorize the Supplemental EIS.
That was my testimony from July. My hope now is that some of our braver politicians and reporters publicly question Mayor Bloomberg about the disconnect between his support for Atlantic Yards and Forrest City Ratner’s total disregard for issues of public safety. It is time, before Bloomberg’s re-election, to force the Mayor to address a proposed project that his own Police Department declares to be among the City’s highest risk terrorist targets and not hide behind platitudes and the too often broken promises of a mega-developer.
Alan Rosner is 20-year resident of Prospect Heights.