Recently at Billionaires vs. Brooklyn's Best Bar—Eminent Domain Abuse & The Atlantic Yard Project


Freddy's in Brooklyn is a happening place that has been named one of the city's best bars by the Village Voice, Esquire, and The New York Times.

Unfortunately, Freddy's—and the surrounding neighborhood—is smack-dab in the footprint of the Atlantic Yards project, a multi-million-dollar, 22-acre development that is intended to create "an urban utopia" in the language of developer Bruce Ratner, and a new, publicly subsidized home to Ratner's Nets, who currently play NBA basketball (if you can call it that) in New Jersey.

But don't mistake Atlantic Yards as one more instance of the market-driven transformations for which New York is rightly famous. It's actually the latest case of eminent domain abuse, where private property is seized by the state on dubious grounds and then immediately handed over to private interests for private gain.

In this case, the Empire State Development Corporation has designated the thriving area as blighted to facilitate the taking of privately owned houses and businesses without having to pay full market value. Ratner, whose partners in the venture include rapper Jay Z and the Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, stands to pocket hundreds of millions of dollars on the deal, all thanks to the brute force of the state.

This week, a Brooklyn Supreme Court ruling tossed out the eminent domain objections of residents and property owners who had held out for six years and Ratner plans to break ground on the site on March 11, if not before.

The workers and patrons of Freddy's, however, are not going gentle into that good night. They've pledged to engage in civil disobedience and chain themselves to the bar when the bulldozers and wrecking balls come for their favorite haunt. A state sentator has even declared that she'll lay down in front of the demolition machinery. The awful 2005 Supreme Court decision in Kelo, which held that governments can seize property to increase potential tax revenues, may have paved the way for Atlantic Yards, but Freddy's is the next last stand in an ongoing battle against eminent domain abuse.

Produced by Dan Hayes, who conceived, shot, and edited the video; Damon Root, who researched the legal issues and did logistics; and Nick Gillespie, who co-wrote the piece and hosts.  

Approximately 5 minutes.

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Read Reason's archive on eminent domain.