Air guns were fired and confetti rained down at a ceremonial groundbreaking for the basketball arena at the long-delayed Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. David Paterson were on hand to celebrate the start of construction on the $1 billion Barclays Center that will eventually be home to the New Jersey Nets.
The project, first announced in 2003, has been plagued by financial woes and lawsuits. After years of fighting those suits, changing architects, securing subsidies and changing the project’s outlines in order to keep it alive, developer Bruce Ratner now has the money and the legal right to move forward.
Vocal opponents of the project turned out and held a mock funeral for the “soul of Brooklyn.” A leader of one group opposed to the project, Daniel Goldstein, says the state is planning to destroy his home to make way for the project.
“This is a hardship. We're being thrown out of our home and not just being thrown our of our home, but the state doesn't want to pay us for our home. This is not the way to develop New York City,” Goldstein says.
The state is required to compensate Goldstein for his property, even if it is seized through eminent domain. Goldstein has led the fight against the Atlantic yards project.
Gov. Paterson says $51 million in contracts have already been awarded in the massive project, stimulating Brooklyn’s economy. The governor says that 80 percent of those contracts are going to women and minority owned businesses.
“As the buildings rise on Atlantic Yards, the joblessness rate will fall,” Paterson says.
Mayor Bloomberg describes the project as the largest private investment and job creator in Brooklyn’s history.
“For those that say it took a long time to get here, yes it did. But nobody is going to remember how long it took. They're only going to look and see that it was done,” Bloomberg says.
Bloomberg says that he has convinced the development companies to increase their commitment to building affordable housing. He said they agreed to increase the number of units for lower, moderate, and middle income residents from 30 percent to 50 percent.
The basketball arena was originally supposed to be open in time for the current NBA season, but is now scheduled to open sometime in 2012.