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In Brooklyn, Arena’s Opening Is Met With Protests
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Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Protesters opposed to the Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn demonstrated in front of the Barclays Center, which opens officially on Friday with a concert by Jay-Z.
By JOSEPH BERGER Published: September 28, 2012

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Three women came dressed as Billionaires for Barclays, facetiously protesting Brooklyn’s new basketball and entertainment arena with outlandish wigs, rhinestone jewelry and garish sunglasses. Three others identified themselves as “the Guitarmy” from the Occupy Wall Follow us on Twitter and Street movement and strummed and like us on Facebook for news and conversation. sang lyrics like “Forest City Ratner’s kingdom must come down.” And they were all topped by Rev. Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping, a tall man in a white suit, white boots and a clerical collar who parodied a television evangelist but argued that “Bruce Ratner figures” were destroying neighborhoods around the world.
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It was all part of the protests to greet the opening on Friday night of the Barclays Center, the rusted steel and glass arena that will feature as its first act the hip-hop star Jay-Z, a part owner of the Brooklyn Nets. After nine years as the focal point of a pitched confrontation over urban development, power and basketball, the long-delayed $1 billion arena, which brings a major professional sports team back to Brooklyn for the first time in more than a half-century, has become a metaphor for the

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Barclays Center’s Opening Is Met With Protests - NYTimes.com

9/29/12 8:29 AM

back to Brooklyn for the first time in more than a half-century, has become a metaphor for the trials of change in an already changing borough. Activists, some of whom have made a career out of fighting the project, are spending Friday outside the arena and, through street theater, sermons and Twitter posts, reminding patrons of the unfulfilled promises of the center’s developer. Residents in the surrounding neighborhoods are bracing for what they fear will be uncontrollable traffic congestion, noise and trash, while local businesses are hoping for a surge in commerce. Friday morning was taken up with earnest speeches under the arena’s entrance canopy assailing Mr. Ratner, the developer; his company, Forest City Ratner; and government officials who allowed the building of the arena without ensuring that promises of affordable housing and jobs would be met. There were about 50 protesters, some of whom had slept on the street the night before, who paraded peacefully with picket signs while trying to shield themselves from what was often a driving rain. The M.C. was Candace Carponter, a spokeswoman for Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, one of the groups representing residents of the surrounding neighborhoods. She called the arena “a monument to crony capitalism,” saying that “the vast majority of Brooklyn will not benefit” from the 22-acre, $4.9 billion project, which includes the arena and more than a dozen housing towers. She said that a commercial tower that was supposed to deliver the thousands of promised jobs had not been built and that only a few full-time jobs would result from the arena itself. “Ratner has not fulfilled any of his promises, not a single one,” she said. Kathleen Noriega told the assembled protesters that she once had been a supporter of Mr. Ratner’s project because he had promised hundreds of construction jobs through an apprenticeship program. But those in the program did not get training in construction, she said, but instead performed difficult demolition work for no pay. Ms. Noriega is involved in a lawsuit against Forest City Ratner. As she spoke, protesters held up signs saying “Brooklyn Swindled” while one of the “billionaires” waved a sign reading “We Don’t Pay Taxes. Only Little People Pay Taxes.” Umar Jordan, a community organizer from Bedford Stuyvesant who also once supported the project, addressed himself to Jay-Z and told him that he should have made the arena “affordable for young children who grew up in the projects like you did.” “We’ve been robbed; Brooklyn’s been robbed,” he told the crowd. “I’ve seen people go to jail for less.” The protest news conference began on the outdoor plaza, but when the rain became stronger, the protesters moved under the shelter of a canopy at the entrance to the arena built by Mr. Ratner’s company. Joe DePlasco, a spokesman for Mr. Ratner, said construction of the arena created 841 unionized construction jobs. Other construction jobs at additional buildings would have followed by now, he said, had it not been for lawsuits brought by some of the people who were protesting on Friday and accusing Mr. Ratner of broken promises. More than 1,500 people have been hired so far to work in the arena, he said, including 1,265 Brooklyn residents and 572 residents of public housing projects. “There’s a certain irony to the fact that many of the people who sued to stop the project are now saying we haven’t delivered the promises fast enough,” he said. “We are 100 percent committed to the affordable housing, jobs and other benefits of Atlantic Yards and welcome those who were against them at the start to work with us to achieve them going forward.” Other people outside the arena were not interested in the protests, but instead were hoping to spot a celebrity or two.

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Barclays Center’s Opening Is Met With Protests - NYTimes.com

9/29/12 8:29 AM

Two of them, Josie Mignone, 68, and Danny Natale, 72, have lived in Brooklyn all their lives. “Park Slope,” Ms. Mignone amended. “Born and raised.” After walking over to the Barclays Center around 9 a.m., then making stops at some nearby stores — Target, Dunkin’ Donuts, Burlington Coat Factory (“very good sales,” Mr. Natale said) — the two secured a perch in the Starbucks attached to the arena, enjoyed an hour’s worth of free samples, and kept their eyes fixed on a rusted side door beside the building’s grand entrance. “We thought Beyoncé was going to come out the side,” Ms. Mignone said. It was pointed out that the Friday’s concert was Jay-Z’s, and would not be starting for over seven hours. Ms. Mignone was undeterred. “They’re husband and wife, you know,” she said, adding that the singer was certain to make an appearance. Mr. Natale, a former auto parts salesman, whose white mustache had grown tinged with brown from the samples, feigned offense. “They got me here,” he said, his eyes growing bigger behind wide-framed glasses. “If you could sing,” Ms. Mignone said, “you’d be rich.” Though the couple did not have tickets to the concert, Ms. Mignone, who used to arrange artificial flowers for a living, appeared to dress for the occasion. She wore cherry red lipstick, with nails to match. (Mr. Natale’s outfit was compromised when he spilled coffee on his pants.) The arena was a welcome addition, Ms. Mignone said, noting that it was likely to accelerate the changing face of her neighborhood. “Lot of yuppies in our neighborhood,” she said. “Kids. Babies.” And don’t forget dogs, Mr. Natale said, scanning the establishment for the roving tray of white paper cups. But for two lifelong residents, Ms. Mignone said, what was one more change? “This is a big event,” she said, grinning, “for us Brooklyn people.”

Matt Flegenheimer contributed reporting.

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