Out of the Woods?

Forest City Ratner just issued a press release coming clean with just how much the developer has given to community groups supporting its Atlantic Yards project: $138,000 to BUILD, which is supposed to run job training programs, and $50,000 to the Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Association, which is supposed to set up a community center and a health center. That’s it. No more—or no more until the developer makes more payments.

The press release is a tacit acknowledgment of how much Forest City’s public relations strategy had veered off course. Instead of doing stories about how much good these community organizations were going to do for the community, the media was doing stories about how BUILD couldn’t get its story straight .

“When we provide funding for programs that are good then we should let the public know about that, and when we gave these organizations money after we signed the community benefits agreement, we should have put out a press release at that time,” Forest City spokesman Joe DePlasco told the Real Estate. “If you are trying to operate in an open enough way as possible, when you miss one thing, people will say, ‘Oh you missed one thing.’”

Jim Stuckey, the project director, said outside a hearing last night that DePlasco, who is an outside public relations rep, didn’t know, when he first denied money changed hands , that BUILD had received money.

That doesn’t explain why BUILD President James Caldwell didn’t know it had received money, or that he was getting paid. Cheryl Duncan, a spokeswoman for BUILD, said that the organization’s members had been working for so long without pay, and that it had just received its first general operating support in August, and paid payroll for the first time Sept. 5. Reporters started asking about the payments in late September.

“Quite frankly, they got caught off guard by the question,” she told the Real Estate. “It’s been so long that they have been doing work voluntarily, that it was a relatively new change.”

(Of course, BUILD got money before that–in June or July–to hire people to hand out copies of the Forest City newspaper, the Brooklyn Standard. But it was $10,000, only about a tenth of which BUILD kept for administrative purposes, Duncan said.)

Matthew Schuerman

Out of the Woods?