Forest City Ratner: Carlton Ave Bridge Closure “a Bit of a Conundrum”

Norman Oder at Atlantic Yards Report has the details from Wednesday’s public meeting on street closures and traffic changes near the footprint of Bruce Ratner’s Brooklyn arena project. With construction apparently on the verge of ramping up significantly, local electeds, NYCDOT, and representatives of developer Forest City Ratner engaged in a Q&A session as notable for what was left unsaid as for what was revealed.

carlton_bridge.jpgThe Vanderbilt Rail Yards and the rump of the Carlton Avenue bridge. Photo: threecee/Flickr

Forest City Ratner did discuss its failure to reopen the Carlton Avenue bridge. This missing piece of the Prospect Heights/Fort Greene street grid — a critical link for cyclists who use the Manhattan Bridge — was originally expected to be rebuilt two years after closing in January 2008, with Forest City facing a three-year deadline to complete the work before incurring penalties. Now the reconstructed bridge is unlikely to open until 2012 at the earliest, and Oder reports that Forest City’s explanation, along with its timetable, keeps on shifting.

Largely unmentioned at the meeting was Forest City’s intention to construct more than a thousand "interim" surface parking spaces on the site, mostly to store vehicles belonging to their employees and construction workers. Since all this new parking could sit around generating traffic and blighting the landscape for quite some time, neighborhood groups want to know exactly how much would be constructed, and how it will be priced and managed. They didn’t get any answers on Wednesday.

For more on the meeting, head over to Atlantic Yards Report.

  • The long-term absence of this bridge is one of the reasons that I am pushing for two-way bike lanes on Vanderbilt Ave to get across Atlantic Ave.

  • Jeffrey Hymen

    Perhaps I am missing something, but I don’t understand why Norman finds the timing such a mystery. The bridge cannot be re-built until a certain point in the reconstruction of the rail yard. Although Forest City could, and probably even should, it isn’t going to spend millions on re-building the yard until it is certain that it has a project (that is, until there is no chance of a legal challenge blowing up the whole thing). The city should have been as cautious as Forest City; it shouldn’t have let the developer tear the bridge down until it was ready to commit to the whole project. What does Norman want? Forest City to apologize for tearing down the bridge prematurely? That would be kind of out of character at this point, wouldn’t you say?

  • No, you’re not missing anything, Jeffrey. You’ve got all the pieces there but you didn’t quite manage to put them together.

    The city didn’t insist that Forest City tear down the Carlton Avenue Bridge. Forest City went ahead and did that on their own for no other reason than to show investors, community opponents and everyone else: “Look, construction has begun! We’re moving ahead! Atlantic Yards is real and is happening!”

    There was no actual reason for tearing down the bridge other than the optics. As Ariel Sharon used to say when he was building his ruinous settlements all across the West Bank during the 1980’s, Bruce Ratner tore down the bridge to create “facts-on-the-ground.” No other reason.

    So, what does Norman want? I don’t know. But I want Forest City to immediately start building a temporary bike-ped accommodation where Carlton Avenue used to be. And if they refuse to do it or drag their feet, then I want the city to penalize them 3x the amount that’d be necessary for DOT to construct a new bridge itself.

  • Marty: good comment overall, but you’re getting the history of Israel’s use of facts on the grounds wrong. The original use was in the 1930s, when Jews would build kibbutzes overnight in areas where the British forbade them to settle. With the settlements, the main facts on the ground era was in the 1970s; by the 1980s, it was all legally sanctioned. Ariel Sharon didn’t have much to do with it – his pet project was the Lebanon War.

    Also, what you want the city to do to Forest City is irrelevant, unless you can pony up political contributions matching those of Ratner. We’re talking about a guy who got the yards for one tenth what they’re worth, and you want the city to penalize him for breaking DOT laws? What are you going to propose next – throwing Dick Cheney in jail?

  • pher

    I understood that the work on the railyards was finoshed, and FCRC always claimed they would rebuild the bridge when the rail work was done….so i think Norman’s point is that the only thing stopping reconstruction is FCRC’s choice to spend money elsewhere right now…

  • Jeffrey Hymen

    Marty, I know the city didn’t ask FCRC to demolish the bridge, but it did approve the request. Was there no one at DOT or elsewhere that could ask, ‘are you really going to start construction, or are you going to wait until the lawsuits are settled?’

  • Jeffrey Hymen

    pher, my understanding is only a portion of the work on the rail yard is finished, and it the part east of Carlton Avenue.

  • Alon: I’m well aware that Ariel Sharon didn’t invent the concept of “facts-on-the-ground.” But plenty of Israelis, regardless of whether they agreed or disagreed with Sharon, have used the term to describe his military and political philosophy. Sharon himself was happy to use the term to describe his own work, whether it was removing Jewish settlers from the Sinai or building Jewish settlements around Jerusalem. Sharon’s nickname, afterall, was “The Bulldozer.” Google “Ariel Sharon facts on the ground.” My use of the term in this context is 100% solid.

    Jeffrey: If NYC DOT or City Planning had the authority to tell Bruce Ratner not to tear down the Carlton Avenue bridge, I’m sure they would have. But this game is happening at a much higher level. Mayor Bloomberg is fully supportive of Bruce and the ESDC’s approach. You’re not going to see one of the Mayor’s commissioners step out and hand Ratner a stop-work order.

    The only hope for stopping this misbegotten deal is another, bigger, global financial meltdown or a miraculous court ruling in favor of DDDB. But mark my words: If the project does go forward, Forest City isn’t going to be the company that finishes it. The numbers can’t possibly work on this thing. I predict that within five years Bruce Ratner will bankrupt the company that generations of his family built. Some other real estate developer will finish Atlantic Yards.

  • Angry Pete

    The hubris, greed and stupidity of the “Lucky Sperm Club” — which includes Ratner, Little Robbie Speyer of Tishman Speyer, Jim Dolan of Cablevision, and I suppose Donald Trump — is rather amazing. These ambitious ego strokes show a consistent pattern of overspending, misjudging the market, poor management and bad results for their backers. Neither Metro Tech or Atlantic Center would be able to survive without state subsidies.

    My guess is that Marty’s right.


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