If Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony for the first residential tower at Atlantic Yards was a long time coming, it was a long time that Bruce Ratner has spent making friends.
Among the event’s long list of speakers was not only Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York President Gary LaBarbera, but activist and former ACORN head Bertha Lewis.
“How did I meet Bertha?” Ratner asked, by way of introduction. “She protested me for two weeks.”
Protesting no longer, Lewis praised Ratner on the first step towards making good on Forest City Ratner’s commitment that in the residential towers that will one day surround the new Barclays Center Arena, 50 percent of the units will be affordable to low- and middle-income families.
“This project is meant to be a model, not just for New York, but for the country,” for how to build affordable high-rise development, Lewis said, adding: “You have to have a partner, someone who will say, ‘I’ll sit down with you rabble-rousers.’ Bruce Ratner could have walked away a dozen times.“
Markowitz, meanwhile, called Ratner “cousin Brucie.”
There were no shovels at Tuesday’s ceremony, as MaryAnn Gilmartin, FCR executive vice-president, pointed out. Most of the work on the 346,000 s/f, 32-story tower, dubbed B2, will be completed in a factory at the Brooklyn Navy Yards. When completed, the building will be the tallest modular building in the world.
FCR and New York’s construction unions negotiated for a year and a half before they struck a deal for a new modular division of the building union, LaBarbera said.
“The reality is, this may be a means and a method to create more jobs and more construction,” he said.
Half of the building’s 363 units will be affordable housing, for which resident’s income must fall below a level set by the city. The affordable units will be distributed evenly throughout the building, Ratner said.
“You will not be able to tell the affordable units from the market-rate units,” he said.
The mood at the ceremony was celebratory, but speakers still acknowledged the work to be done before the development reaches it’s planned total of 6,430 units of housing and 247,000 s/f of neighborhood retail.
“I feel like I’ve been pregnant for eight years and we’re finally going to birth this baby,” Lewis said. “And we only have 14 more to go. So thanks for knocking me up, Bruce.”