Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Bullet Points: Community Objections to “Barclays” (LIBOR) Arena Operations (Most Relate Back To Zoning Override Locating Arena Close To Residences)

The "Barclays" Center advertising oculus showing Barbra Streisand, one of the singers who has not answered an open letter from the community questioning why she is performing at the Ratner/Prokhorov arena 
When I came out of yesterday evening’s Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Committee meeting I wasn’t going to write anything about it.  Of course there is going to be awkwardness and impacts to the community concerning the operation of the Ratner/Prokhorov so-called "Barclays" arena for which several city blocks were conjoined and certainly an aggrieved community, not enthusiastic bout the arena’s arrival, would be eager to complain. . . .and surely Atlantic Yards Report could be counted upon to quickly provide detailed coverage of the meeting.

But when I slept on it I thought: Why not just hit the highlights with a few bullet points?  That shortened format might help to call attention to the fact that the community’s list of gripes about arena operation is long and that almost all the problems in evidence relate back to the state decision (endorsed by Bloomberg) to override zoning restrictions and shoehorn an arena in closer than 200 feet to the brownstone neighborhood residences of the vicinity.  Besides, whatever Atlantic Yards Report may faithfully chronicle in fastidious detail, the rest of the media seems intent on ignoring the arena’s many negatives.

So here is my bullet list:
    •    Public Urination.  There is much reported (and officially acknowledged) public urination on the streets around the arena.  There was also one reported incidence of defecation. Forest City Ratner is willing to assume responsibility for dealing with (via extra lighting) and cleaning up after the urination in the doorway of Modell’s sporting goods store because Modell’s is their tenant, but was quick to point out that nearby townhouse owners were responsible for their own cleanup.  There was also complaint about clothing being changed in public.

    •    311 Complaints.  The Mayor’s office is likely responsible for the fact that the city’s 311 system has adopted an official policy of refusing to take any complaints about the publicly sponsored, publicly funded arena, deeming it to be a matter for private resolution with arena officials.  Several times the community representatives complained that there was no way to document incidences of complaint (and presumably also ensure followup) as well as it’s being unclear who (amongst a long list of potentials) should be contacted about what.  Right now the answer seems to be that lots of people need to be contacted about most problems.  Forest City Representatives indicated they don’t consider they can respond to, or be responsible for, anything about which they are not contacted about directly.

    •    Backed up trucks loading the arena.   Truck loading and unloading for the arena is not functioning as anticipated, resulting in backing up on local streets and idling trucks.  A Forest City representative suggested that this was partly because the arena was opened and its operations started before the arena was fully complete so that they haven’t been able to properly utilize interior space as planned.

    •    Black car management.  Black car management is an issue.  No one knows where all the backing up black cars should be sent.  Although a community representative pointed out that the need to deal with black cars must have been anticipated, the arena officials are only now trying to figure out a plan that will work to address the issue.  Apparently, there were lots of black cars for the Barbra Streisand concert.

    •    Assaultive Advertising Oculus.  The arena oculus’s illuminated advertising screen with all its bright billboard animations gets left on overnight and when people forget to turn it off as they leave there is then no one there to turn it off.  In theory it is supposed to be turned off from 1:00 AM to 5:00 PM.  Arena officials had no explanation for the community as to why the oculus needed to operate as late as 1:00 AM or start as early as  5:00 PM in the morning instead of providing for a more extended period of quiet respite from advertising.  Arena officials also could not say whether they had contractual commitments affecting when they planned and needed to run the oculus.  Light from the oculus is most broadly transmitted through the neighborhood when light from the oculus hits mist or fog and lights up the sky.  I found it pathetic when one neighbor said she could accept the advertising light coming in her residence window but just wanted to plead for better, more soothing and restful advertising, eliminating pulsating flashing lights that many ads in the oculus use.  She said found living with the Barbra Streisand advertising was the easier variety to endure.

    •    Laser light show complaints.  Arena officials, seeming somewhat abashed (an odd instance of this) could not explain what the laser light shows from the top of the arena were all about.  They said, however, they were just for the opening of the arena and wouldn’t happen again.

    •    Arena playing music for plaza crowds.  It looks like the operators of the arena have been violating city law by playing music for the crowds outside the arena. They said it was news to them that they might need a permit for this.  They also suggested that they didn’t think they needed a permit because they weren’t actually the ones playing the music for the crowds in the plaza, that it was their building that was playing the music for the crowds in the arena.

    •    Nearby Modell’s sporting goods store playing music for outside crowds.  Modell’s, the nearby sporting goods store that is a Forest City Ratner tenant, seems to have gotten into the concert spirit and is also now playing music outside their store.  Apparently they have been repeatedly told not to do this and gotten violations which they may be ignoring as fractional cost of generating extra business.

    •    Truckers that don’t obey truck route and other rules.  Arena officials complained about how little control they had over teamster truckers who were choosing to ignore their directives to follow rules.  (There was discussion about how “big” you had to be to effectively communicate with these truckers.  One community representative asked if this was to be interpreted to mean that, because the arena officials professed not to have control, the community should expect that it, in turn, had no control through those officials.  Could be.  Seems so.  It was asked whether ESD, the state agency that granted all the overrides of local controls to make the arena possible, had any control over the arena officials, if so, what kind of control.  Could be.

    •    Sound emanating from concerts escaping into the neighborhood.  There are different kinds of sound that can escape from the arena concerts.  A police official (worried about providing TMI) said that legally they fell into five categories, four of which were actually relevant.  She characterized the Jay-Z concerts as having something called “bass prevalent” sound.  Windows are reported to have been shaking from the bass a full block away.  Officials who showed up at nearby residences to monitor sound froma Jay-Z concert reportedly elected to leave again before the concert started: Jay-Z likes to start his concerts long after the official starting time.  Questions were raised about whether something was wrong with the arena’s sound proofing and insulation.  The representative from the state agency that sponsored the arena and permitting its overrides said she was confident in the arena work that had been done to date.

    •    Illegal substances being consumed in arena.  Apparently people have been smoking pot in the arena during concerts.

    •    Crowd surges outside the arena at exit time.  Crowds have surged from the arena to outside streets in inconsistent unpredictable patterns.  Different crowds surge differently: Jay-Z crowds surge out in twenty minutes while Barbra Streisand crowds (who also maxed out the entire available wheelchair supply) amble out in 35 minutes.  Decisions have had to be made, on an ad hoc basis (it’s impossible to have pre-existing plans in place), to halt vehicular traffic on Atlantic Avenue to accommodate the crowds.  One community-expressed worry is that pedestrians will be pushed out into the path of vehicular traffic.  One police officer commented that one night, with an unexpected surge from the arena, “we were losing [residential] Dean Street.”

    •     Unclear what police resources are being devoted.  City Council member Tish James thought that, at one point, about 150 officers had been devoted to a concert. A police representative said it was a number more nearly less than half that. Maybe the answer is that the number is closer to a 150 if you include transit police in the overall figure as well and maybe DOT officers.  Based on what I saw I think this might be a good guess to explain the differential in the numbers offered.  But the numbers of police that will be devoted to concerts is uncertain and will probably vary.

    •    Crowded subway stations.  Subway station platforms are reportedly very crowed when arena patrons surge out.  One community representative said the crowding was dangerous enough so that there were those who felt they had to exit the station rather than continue ot wait for a train.  WNYC’s Transportation Nation reports that LIRR crowds for the Streisand concert were more than four times what is normal and subway ridership was also substantially up.  Running more subway trains was suggested.

    •     Illegal parking and idling.   Arena patrons are supposed to be grabbing local parking spots whether legal or, as where hydrants are, illegal.  Cars are also idling, without parking, adding to pollution.  Tish James said that Fort Greene and South Portland street were getting the brunt of these problems.

    •    Previously undisclosed parking pad next to the arena.  Apparently there is a parking pad being used next to the arena that the community was not told about beforehand.  The community complained that this meant a presumed buffer was nonexistent.  Arena officials said the parking pad was required by the NBA for visiting team buses (but should it get other use as well?).

    •    Sanitation.  Sanitation was not reported to be that much of a problem but the arena has attracted lots of food trucks, resulting in potentially rat-attracting trash and there is no easy way to ban the licensed food trucks from the area.

    •    Unlicensed vendors creating bazaar.   Apparently the arena has also started to attract unlicensed vendors so that something of a bazaar is beginning to form around the arena.
Forest City Ratner and arena officials suggested that they only have to deal with what they consider “kinks,” that they should be viewed with some tolerance as being a “start-up,” and that it should be remembered that so far there have been only two concerts to evaluate.  On the other hand, one community representative warned that Lady Gaga would be showing up with a somewhat startling 45 semis when she comes.

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