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We have the financial support of well over 3,500 individual
The Atlantic Yards Saga: 2007's Biggest Stories
Happy New Year
A whole heck of a lot went on in the Atlantic Yards saga during 2007. With much
difficulty we tried to choose the BIGGEST stories of the year, from a Develop
Don't Destroy Brooklyn perspective. There were many more BIG stories, but we chose
the following by category and in no particular order (we'd figured you'd have
a lot of down time over the long weekend):
> Biggest Beneficiary of PILOTS:
PILOTS, or Payments in Lieu of Taxes, are a mechanism by which developers either
don't pay any property taxes, or pay a percentage of what their property taxes
should be. In his December 20th article, "Deals
that lead to lost property taxes," Daily News columnist
Juan Gonzalez wrote that the "undisputed king of PILOTS is real estate developer
Bruce Ratner." This is true without even counting the PILOTs for
Atlantic Yards--foregone property taxes that Ratner would use to pay off the bond
debt on his private arena and pay to the state, instead of the city, on the non-arena
portion of Atlantic Yards. Yup, the public pays for that arena.
> Best Kept Secret (a
1. The total
public cost of the project continues to be a secret, just as it was
at the end of 2006. Our estimate is here.
2. The total
amount of housing subsidies and tax breaks Forest City Ratner expects
to receive. It could reach well over $1.5 billion in government backed financing.
3. The total
amount of PILOTS for Forest City Ratner's project.
> Biggest Mystery (Unsolved):
Jim Stuckey's Departure.
The unceremonious "resignation" of Forest City Ratner Executive VP
and Atlantic Yards Development Group President Jim Stuckey on June 13th. Crain's
New York Business broke
the story without any skepticism about the terms of the resignation. That
same day on his Atlantic Yards Report Norman
Oder wondered, what many others were, and are still, wondering:
Was Stuckey fired? Well, we can't be certain, and Stuckey did lead Atlantic
Yards past some significant challenges (though others remain). Still, whenever
an executive leaves without a new job, seeking "new challenges," and
when the accompanying press release makes no effort to honor him for his accomplishments,
there's no celebration going on.
> Biggest Mystery (Solved):
Barclays Center Arena only 20 Feet from the Street.
For years Forest City Ratner never divulged the distance between its proposed
arena and the streets abutting it--Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues. This setback
distance, significant for security purposes, started
coming under greater scrutiny in October when Newark police officials decided
to close the streets abutting the new Prudential Center arena for terrorism
protection because it stood only 25 feet from its abutting streets. For weeks
Forest City Ratner, the Empire State Development Corporation and the NYPD stonewalled
when asked for the distance. Finally, on Thanksgiving eve the
developer told the New York Times that some portions of its glass-walled
Barclays Center arena would be only 20 feet from Flatbush and Atlantic
prompting more questions from project critics, opponents and supporters; such
is Brooklyn different than Newark?"
> Biggest Lawsuits (a
2-way tie and one honorable mention):
Thirteen property owners and tenants continue to press their lawsuit against
the ESDC's use of eminent domain for Atlantic Yards, charging that it is an
abusive use which violates the US Constitution. The plaintiffs
argue in court in February and defeat 3 motions to dismiss by the defendants
but lose one in the Eastern District Court of New York. In July the plaintiffs
appeal the lower court's decision in the 2nd Circuit Court of the United
States, in front of a
panel of three judges, to argue that the taking of their property is
not for a public use. As of January 1, 2008, that court's decision is pending.
If plaintiffs win their case and keep their properties, Atlantic Yards as we
know it can't be built.
2. DDDB et al v. ESDC
Twenty-six community groups, political clubs, civic groups and environmental
groups, let by DDDB, file suit in April challenging the state's Atlantic Yards
Environmental Impact Statement and overall approval of the project. In May the
case is heard, in
a marathon argument, in State Supreme Court by Justice Joan Madden. Strong
arguments are made that the state's required blight determination is illegitimate
and that the arena does not fit the state's definition of a "civic project."
As of January 1, 2008, Justice Madden's decision is pending.
Honorable Mention: Eugene
Greene v. Bruce Ratner
Former Nets investor Eugene Greene sues Bruce Ratner in May for allegedly
breaking a promise that Mr. Greene would "play a key role in the team's
organization" in return for rounding up millions in investor dollars. "We
need money, money, money," Ratner said, according
to court papers. "And you need to get it for us." The
claim filed by Mr. Greene says that when he confronted Mr. Ratner about the
alleged broken promises, Mr. Ratner said, "I don't remember exactly
what I said. As you know, I have a memory problem."...
> Biggest, Most Enduring Myth:
1. "Atlantic Yards is a Done Deal".
There is no such thing as a "done deal" in a democracy with
a functioning judiciary and an attentive public. Not even Forest City Ratner's
Atlantic Yards project with its millions spent on lobbying and public relations.
With still no construction under way for the project, this has been proven again
Honorable Mention: Atlantic Yards Will Create a Net Gain of Affordable
In January we had a chance to catch our breath and read deeper into the ESDC's
Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). What
we found was that though the project proposes 900 low-income units, the
FEIS says that there could be 2,920 households at risk of indirect residential
displacement. Even if we include all of the "affordable" units, 2,920
outpace the proposed 2,250 (most of which are skewed to higher income bands).
It is possible that there then would be a net loss
of "affordable" housing.
> Widest, Intentional, Indefensible Loophole:
Reform-minded Governor Eliot Spitzer signs into law a much needed change in
the outdated 421a tax break for residential development. But the bill Governor
Spitzer signs includes a special clause or loophole only for Forest
City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, in a
deal cut by Brooklyn Democratic Party boss Vito Lopez. The loophole
allows Bruce Ratner to receive a tax break for buildings that contain no
affordable housing at all, while all other developers only get
the break if they build affordable housing on a per building basis. Daily
News columnist Juan Gonzalez called it a "deal
so sweet it's sick." Even Mayor
Bloomberg didn't like the Ratner "carve-out," though he changed
his tune once some other modifications to the bill were made, but left the Ratner
clause in. The Times called
the bill a "flop", in part because of the loophole. And The
Brooklyn Paper editorialized strongly against the bill because of the "Ratner
> Biggest Controversy Over Biggest Naming Rights
Ratner Signs $300-400 Million Deal With Barclays Bank While Black Leaders Condemn
In January, with great fanfare and a glitzy event at the Brooklyn Museum, Forest
City Ratner and Barclays Bank announced that the bank would pay the developer
$300-400 million for the exclusive right to slap its brand and logo all over
the developer's arena. With full branding blaring for the phantom arena (see
below) Barclays marketing exclaimed "It's time the world gave something
to Brooklyn," and boy would the bank be "giving
it to Brooklyn."
Within days of the announcement, black leaders from Brooklyn--project supporters,
critics, and opponents (including
former Assemblyman Roger Green and his successor Hakeem Jeffries, and Reverend
the deal with the bank because of its alleged historical involvement in
the slave trade and with the apartheid regime in South Africa.
> Most Premature Naming Rights Deal
Barclays Commits $300-400 Million in Arena Naming Rights Before Ratner Owns
Land to Build Arena
Despite the fact that Ratner
still does not own the land he needs to build his proposed arena--because
other private owners own the land and are defending
their constitutional rights in court, and the deal on the rail yard still
hasn't closed--Barclays Bank and Forest City Ratner announce their lucrative
naming rights deal for a phantom arena.
> Best Misnomer
Barclays Center Arena Called a "Publicly-owned Arena"
If it's a "publicly-owned arena" why does Ratner get the $300-400
million naming rights? (See above). Simple answer: it's not a publicly
owned arena, even though the
state's lawyer called it that at a court hearing in October.
> Pettiest Political Payback:
Borough Prez Markowitz Doesn't Reappoint Community Board 6 Members Who
Voted Against Atlantic Yards
Enough said. The story
of the "purge" is here.
> Largest Percent Increase in Direct Cash Subsidy
in Shortest Time:
105% From NYC to Forest City Ratner form December 2006 to January 2007
In late January, about one month after the Public Authorities Control Board
(Silver, Bruno, Pataki) approved the Atlantic Yards project, Mayor Bloomberg's
budget was released. The budget
included $205 million in direct cash taxpayer subsidy to Forest City Ratner
for Atlantic Yards. When the project was approved the direct cash from the city
was $100 million.
> Most Frequent Wolf Crying About Arena Opening
Forest City Ratner and Its Arena.
When the project was unveiled in December 2003, Forest City Ratner
said the arena would open for the 2006 basketball season. When the
project was approved in December 2006, the developer said the arena would open
for the 2009 basketball season. In December 2007, Ratner once again cried
wolf and told the NY Times, after it was abundantly clear
to everyone, that the arena would
open for the 2010 basketball season. But there is ample
evidence that the earliest the arena could open would be for the 2011
basketball season. That is, of course, if it ever opens at all.
> Biggest About Face:
Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff Admission Atlantic Yards Should Have Gone
The original sin of Atlantic Yards
is that it bypassed the city's democratic Uniform Land Use Review Procedure
(ULURP). Critics, opponents and even supporters, on the whole, agree that the
process by which Forest City, NY City and NY State, have tried to move Atlantic
Yards forward has been atrocious. Yet government officials from the Governor
to the Mayor and his deputies on down have never admitted even this much; consistently
they have defended the state override of ULURP, the City Charter and local zoning.
That is until December when, one day after announcing his resignation, Deputy
Mayor for Economic Development Dan
Doctoroff told the NY Observer: “I am a huge believer
in the ULURP process. If it happened again, and the state were to ask if I would
encourage them to take Atlantic Yards through the ULURP process, I would say
admission came four years after Atlantic Yards (and its ULURP bypass) was
announced, and one year after the project received approval from 3-men-in-a-room.
It was a little,
but it was not too late. As Councilwoman Letitia
James told The Brooklyn Paper: “What does he mean, ‘If
it happened again?’ It’s still happening. This is not a done deal.
Dan Doctoroff is still in office and he should pick up the phone, call the governor
and get this project reviewed again, this time through ULURP.”
The Brooklyn Paper editorialized about Doctoroff's admission, in an
editorial headlined "Doctoroff's
> Most Abrupt About Face:
The New York Times on the Arena Setbacks.
(See "Biggest Mystery" above.) On November
8th the NY Times reported that "renderings of Atlantic
Yards show the arena about 75 feet back from Atlantic Avenue
and about 150 feet from Flatbush Avenue."
Two weeks later on November 21st the "Paper of Record" published
a story stating:
"On Wednesday, a spokesman for Forest City, Loren Riegelhaupt, offered
an updated response to a reporter’s inquiries: At its closest point to
the street, the arena will be set back 20 feet from both Atlantic
and Flatbush Avenues.
That is the same distance as the arena in Newark. This new information prompted
another question: What makes the Atlantic Yards arena sufficiently different
from the Newark arena that it will not require street closings?"
To date the "Paper of Record" has not published a correction of the
> Most Difficult Extraction of Financial Disclosure (Albeit Incomplete)
Via Lawsuit, Assemblyman Jim Brennan Gains Access to Some of
Ratner's Financial Documents.
The ESDC, the state development agency supposedly overseeing the Atlantic Yards
saw a business plan from Forest City Ratner, yet it approved the project
in December 2006. When Assemblyman Jim Brennan and State Senator Velmanette
Montgomery had their October Freedom of Information (FOI) request for financial
documents rejected by the ESDC, the two legislators took the ESDC to court to
force the disclosure of the financial documents since they should have been
part of the public record. The ESDC moved to dismiss the FOI case, but after
the court hearing Forest
City Ratner "agreed" to turn the documents over to the legislators.
The documents were subsequently handed over to the NY Times, which
published an article--"Official
Sees Possible Risk in Big Project in Brooklyn"--on July 1st.
Sill, many questions remain about the public and private financing of the project.
> Widest Citywide Demonstration of People Power:
New Yorkers Against Eminent Domain Abuse at City Hall
Over one hundred New Yorkers, from Prospect Heights, Downtown Brooklyn, Willets
Point and West Harlem rally
at a City Hall press conference on a sweltering June day to call for an
end to the abuse of eminent domain in New York City. The Atlantic Yards
Report covered the event and wrote: [City Councilwoman Letitia] James
said eminent domain was "stealing property for individuals in high places,"
adding that "the Mayor cannot talk about [PlaNYC] 2030 and support eminent
domain." She said she hoped the Atlantic Yards case challenging eminent
domain—currently pending appeal in federal appellate court—goes
all the way to the Supreme Court...
Closing the rally, DDDB spokesman Daniel Goldstein (right) declared, "When
they say it's a public use just because they say it's a public use, it doesn't
mean it's a public use." He offered the same mantra substituting the word
"blight" for "public use." "The mayor says often, ‘you
can't let one guy' stand in the way of development," Goldstein continued.
"We're not 'one guy.'"
> Most Discussed and Mysterious Parapet Collapse:
Ward Bakery's Parapet
In late April Forest City Ratner's demolition contractors knock
the stone parapet off of the historic
Ward Bakery building in the proposed project footprint, sending tons of
down on to Pacific Street on top of parked cars. Nobody is hurt, fortunately.
The ESDC suspends all demolitions. Shortly after that suspension, the ESDC allows
resumption of all demolitions. In August the Daily News exculsively
reported that the collapse was avoidable and that precautions should have been
collapse no surprise: Ratner knew of damage to Ward building, but didn't halt
demolition - report."
> Best Example of Starchitect Supernova and/or
Frank Gehry Gets Sued by M.I.T.
Atlantic Yards "starchitect" Frank Gehry gets
sued by M.I.T. for flaws in the Stata Center he designed for the school.
The NY Post wonders if he has become "Frank
Lloyd Wrong," and the Brits wonder if his "bubble
has burst." And the "smart
kids" at MIT had a mouthful to say about Gehry's M.I.T. "masterpiece."