By Jack Mirkinson
Our own Vinnie Rotondaro is at the Atlantic Yards site and is sending us frequent updates:
10 AM: There is already a police presence consisting of two squad cars and five police officers along Atlantic Ave. near 4th Ave. Industrial CAT shovels are busy digging into the earth at the construction site. Pacific Street, between 6th and 5th Aves., has been cordoned off and listed as a ‘private street.’ Nearby, just outside the Atlantic Yards Community Liason office, day laborers have assembled, looking to score work on the Ratner project. ‘We want a piece of the action,’ said Bran Williams, 35, an immigrant from Jamaica.
10:56: Police officers along Atlantic Avenue said they don’t know how much, if any, protesting will take place today. Three more squad cars and what appears to be a police mobile command unit, about 20 in length, have stationed themselves on 6th Avenue between Pacific and Atlantic. A silver link chain has been festooned along the countertop at Freddy’s Bar, the site of this afternoon’s protest. No crowds have gathered yet.
12:00 PM: Two updates. Yepoka Yeebo, who is also at the ceremony, tells us that workers and construction equipment are already lined up to start working as soon as the ceremony gets through. She sends this picture of the shovels that the bigwigs will use to formally break the ground, and one with the seats reserved for Mike Bloomberg, David Paterson, Bruce Ratner and Marty Markowitz:
Vinnie has this further update, on a conversation with a Brooklyn resident:
At 11:30 this morning, a small band of locals looked on at the white tent where the ceremony was set to take place. Patrick Brown, a man from Crown Heights, expressed support for the project. “It’s going to bring jobs, it should be done,” he said. Asked for his opinion on the displaced residents and store owners in the immediate area who oppose the arena’s construction, Brown said: “In this country it’s all about survival. A handful of people can’t beat the majority.” But he also said that the people losing their property should have been made shareholders in the project: “they shouldn’t have just been bought out.”
12:20: More pictures, this time of the protests that are just beginning, and another update from Vinnie:
At 12:07, two medium Peavey amplifiers and a harp were produced outside Freddy’s Bar. A man wearing an oversized Marty Markowitz mask walked out of the bar’s front door, hamming it up for the reporters at the scene. (At this point, the press outnumbered the protesters.) A plastic bag full of dirt was brought out and dumped in front of a poster reading “Groundbreaking to bury the soul of Brooklyn: Here Lies Brooklyn’s Soul, 1896-2010.”
1:01 PM: The protest has been going on for about a half-hour now. We’ll be getting you updates as soon as possible, and we’ll be bringing you a video report, a written report and a story that places the entire Atlantic Yards project in historical context. Just keep checking in!
1:13 PM: More from Vinnie, at the protests: At 12:30, a thoroughly sarcastic press conference held in front of Freddy’s bar began. Men and women wearing bobblehead poster masks of Borough president Marty Markowitz, Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and others, gave faux speeches to a group of 40 to 50 protesters. Daniel Goldstein, of Develop Don’t Destroy, took the mic. He wore no mask. “This is a 22-acre, no-bid land grab,” Goldstein said. “This is a celebration of eminent domain, a money-losing arena, a bait and switch…this is a celebration of everything that should not be celebrated.” After Goldstein’s speech, the protesters made their way down to the dignitaries’ entrance to the groundbreaking ceremony at 6th Ave. and Pacific and began chanting, “Shame on you.” (UPDATE: Scroll to the bottom to see a picture of Goldstein speaking, and other pictures from Vinnie at the rally. We do it all!)
1:34 PM: Yepoka Yeebo says that, as the groundbreaking ceremony officially begins, the protest has heated up, with hundreds of people in the streets. People are right behind the fence where the dirt mound for the groundbreaking has been set up, and traffic has been completely tied up. Vinnie caught a debate between two Brooklyn residents a little earlier, and sent this along:
Outside the dignitaries’ entrance, a shouting match broke out between a Brooklyn-born black man and a protesting white woman who had moved to Brooklyn from elswhere. “I speak for a place I’ve lived 15 years in,” the woman said. “We’re getting our jobs back,” the man countered. “We’re the Brooklyn born. You just moved over here.” Pulled aside for an interview, the man, Athony Taylor, a 50-year-old Crown heights resident, further explained his gripe with the protestors. “They don’t know the whole story,” he said. “We’ve lost thousands of jobs in the past: the Daily News, the chocolate factory, even the meat market we lost. The city said were gonna get those jobs replaced. Now it’s time.”
2:19: While the Ink is outside with protesters, the actual ceremony is happening inside that swanky tent we showed you earlier. We couldn’t make it back into the event, because we didn’t have the proper credentials. (Insert grumbling about the Man here.) But local blog Curbed does have a front row seat, and their very entertaining take on the proceedings is here. Every politician is making a speech, and Jay-Z has a row of seats reserved entirely for him.
2:35: The ceremony is still going on, speech after speech after effusive speech. Our Van Tieu tells us that the protesters are now mere meters away from the site where the pols and bigwigs will officially break the ground. It should make for a bit of an awkward moment when the dignitaries venture out of the tent and pick up their shovels.
2:45: The last entry from the ever-intrepid, ever-resourceful Vinnie Rotondaro. According to him, at least one protester has been arrested:
At 2:20, police directed the protesters away from the tent, back towards 6th Avenue, and begin unfurling an orange “do not cross” mesh fence. Protesters continued to make noise; some hung off the chain link fence and fanned out along the sidewalk on Atlantic Avenue. A protester beating a boran–a traditional Irish drum– was handcuffed and taken away by two officers. Police instructed the rest to stop blowing whistles and banging drums.
2:54: Here’s a NY1 report on the ceremony so far. And we’ve got a slideshow of Ink pictures of the scene on our home page. Go there, won’t you?
This is probably a good time to remind you of what, exactly, the fuss is all about. Our Sierra Brown has a great recap of both the magnitude and the controversial nature of the Atlantic Yards project here. Just one fact is, in some ways, sufficient to convey the scale of what we are talking about: Atlantic Yards is the largest development project in the entire city, other than the project to rebuild the World Trade Center. (That’s courtesy of the Times, by the way.) Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that the project marks a profound turning point in the history of the borough.
3:20: And…they did it! Many shovels went ceremoniously into the soft dirt, and the Atlantic Yards project is officially underway. Click here for more pictures. And so it was that a new day in the history of Brooklyn arrived. How it ultimately will affect the borough is something we can’t predict with certainty today. What we can do is bring you more coverage, which we will have for you shortly. There will be a video report from the protest, and a rich, context-filled, historically-minded slice of analytical cake from our own Mustafa Mehdi Vural. Keep checking back, and thanks for following us today!