NEW YORK CITY — Developer Bruce Ratner may have bid on the massive Lower East Side site known as SPURA — the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area — but getting the name right proved difficult for the Barclays Center developer on Tuesday.
When asked by DNAinfo New York about his company's reported bid on the proposed 1.65-million-square-foot SPURA development on several largely vacant lots surrounding Delancey Street, Ratner appeared unfamiliar with the term.
Ratner — who was at a bone marrow drive Tuesday to find a donor for a Barclays Center security chief who was stricken with a rare form of blood cancer — declined to give details on his company's rumored bid.
"The No. 1 most important thing is to get as many people signed up as possible [to find a compatible bone marrow donor]. That is the answer to your SPIRA — whatever it's called," Ratner said, attempting to pronounce the acronym, which stands for the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area.
"SPURA," corrected Ashley Cotton, Forest City Ratner's vice president of external affairs.
"It's Seward Park. SPURA — that is what they call it," Cotton explained to her befuddled boss.
Monday was the application deadline for developers interested in the controversial project, and a Wall Street Journal article listed Ratner as one of the major New York City developers planning to submit a bid.
The term "SPURA" does not appear in the city's bidding documents — which refer to the site as the Seward Park Mixed-Used Development Project — but SPURA is widely used in the community, particularly among former tenants evicted from the site decades ago and housing advocates who fought for years to ensure that affordable housing was built.
Ratner's lack of familiarity with the name SPURA did not surprise housing advocate Harvey Epstein, the director of the Urban Justice Center.
"It is used by people in the community to describe the site," said Epstein, who also worked on SPURA as member of Community Board 3, when the proposal moved through the city's approval process last year. "We built a movement around it. People created a struggle around SPURA.
"The development community did not know it by that name," he added.
Nearly 50 years ago, hundreds of mostly low-income SPURA residents where relocated when the city demolished their tenement apartments with the promise of new homes in a new development on the site.
After decades of delays and debate, the city finally approved and released a request for proposals in January, requiring that any construction include 500 units of affordable housing, public parkland and room for a possible school.
The city also promised former tenants of the SPURA site priority access to affordable housing built by the chosen developer.
"I think you should really understand the history of the neighborhood before putting a huge development in," Epstein said.
Ratner, who is also a minority owner of the Brooklyn Nets basketball team, is no stranger to controversy. The Atlantic Yards development, which includes the Barclays Center, sits atop 22 acres of land acquired through eminent domain in 2009, with many businesses and residents — some reluctantly — bought out.
"They [developers] don't known because they don't care," said a former SPURA resident who was evicted from the site as a child.
He said any developer or city resident should be aware of the term SPURA, given its vast news coverage over the years.
"I guess [Ratner] doesn't know because he doesn't want to know," said the former tenant, who declined to give his name.
Like Ratner, many Lower East Side residents also weren't familiar with the term SPURA.
Erving Batista, a 21-year-old lifelong resident of the Lower East Side, didn't recognize the acronym, but "Seward Park Urban Renewal Area" jogged his memory.
"It is going to be high-rises, hotels," he said. "But I haven't really looked into it."
Lisa Kearns, who has lived in the surrounding neighborhoods for 30 years, instantly recognized the term SPURA and knew all about the history of controversies there, but she couldn't immediately remember what it stood for.
She listed off a brief history of the issues surrounding the site and the development that is to come.
"I just called it SPURA for so long," she said. "I forgot what it stood for."