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Our coalition consists of 21 community organizations and there are 51 community organizations formally aligned in opposition to the Ratner plan.

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"Why should people get to see plans? This isn't a public project."
Bruce Ratner in Crain's Nov. 8, 2009

Ratner's Arena Was on Brink of Failure. Not a Good Sign for Rest of Atlantic Yards Project

As Mikhail Prokhorov is about to shove Ratner off of the NBA stage, The Wall Street Journal sat down with the developer for an exit interview. (Atlantic Yards Report notes, amongst other things, that Ratner admits Gehry was gone six months before Ratner actually announced it to the public.)

Ratner was on the brink with the Atlantic Yards arena. This is portentous for the future of Atlantic Yards, which, we should remember, is supposedly an affordable housing project.

Matthew Futterman reports:

Bruce Ratner's NBA Waterloo
The Developer Looks Back on His Ill-Fated Nets Purchase; My Four-Hour Dinner With Prokhorov
The Wall Street Journal. By Matthew Futterman

With the formal handover of the New Jersey Nets to Russian tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov just days away, Bruce Ratner can go back to what he's good at, things like building big buildings in Brooklyn and making a lot of money in the process.

"I was never one to puff my chest out with some big ego about being the owner of a basketball team," Mr. Ratner said during a rare interview.

True, more like one to puff out his chest with some big ego about remaking a neighborhood in his image. After discussing Ratner's abject failure as an NBA team owner Futterman continues about the tough times that hit Ratner's project:

...Mr. Ratner's employees speak of how he was always optimistic about his project, through six years of litigation and a global financial crisis, when, in basketball parlance, he learned to rebound. Mr. Ratner always promised his troops they would figure out a way to keep alive his dream of moving the basketball team into a gleaming arena in Brooklyn. He didn't tell anyone what he really thought—that the project was dead.

"Back then, no one knew if anything would succeed," said Mr. Ratner, 65 years old. "And we were running out of time."

By fall 2008, Mr. Ratner and his family's parent company, Forest City Enterprises, had shouldered more than $100 million in losses. His project was mired in litigation. And he faced the prospect of losing the rights to develop the property if he didn't complete a $1 billion financing package in 15 months.

"I would bet if you started back in '03 and somebody told him how long this would be and how expensive the fight would be, his stockholders, partners, whatever they are, and even probably him would say, 'you know, if you really costed it all out, you won't make money and you shouldn't do it,' " New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a recent interview. "He's had some very difficult times. He's had to invest an awful lot more at less desirable terms than what the original business model said."

The biggest hit came when the global economy collapsed. Financial advisers told Mr. Ratner to forget about issuing $1 billion in bonds to finance construction of a fancy Frank Gehry-designed arena. He'd be lucky to get $600 million, they said.

"I operate on the theory of the black swan," Mr. Ratner said, referring to the idea made famous in the 2007 book that argued high-impact, hard-to-predict and challenging events are inevitable. "There will be chaos. So you have to be flexible in thinking about your problems."

Sitting in his Upper East Side apartment on a November weekend, Mr. Ratner started to play around with his project's numbers on an Excel spreadsheet and compare them with other arenas in the country. Within hours, Mr. Ratner had decided to ditch the Gehry-designed building that would cost more than $600 million, not including the land development and infrastructure fees that would have pushed the price to more than $1 billion.

He also knew he'd have to delay construction of his commercial and residential buildings and negotiate a new deal with the state's Metropolitan Transit Authority. In the previous deal, he'd agreed to pay $100 million for the site where the project, known as Atlantic Yards, will be built. But now he would have to replace that lump sum with a series of staggered payments.

Even with those changes, he was still $300 million short, leaving him with a task akin to sinking a full-court three-point shot with time running out—he had to find a buyer at the worst possible time for selling an expensive, illiquid asset with limited revenue and huge annual expenses. His search for a buyer landed him in the home of former Russian nickel magnate Mikhail Prokhorov for a four-hour dinner in July.

Mr. Prokhorov was hardly the textbook candidate. He was a colorful billionaire who had built a fortune during the early years of Russian democracy. He also had been arrested in Courchevel, France, in 2007 on suspicions of transporting prostitutes—although he was never charged and said he did nothing wrong.

Mr. Ratner quickly concluded that Mr. Prokhorov was the best partner for the Nets and Atlantic Yards. The Russian loved basketball and New York and, thanks to a fortune estimated at $17 billion, he wasn't afraid of risk...

A $17 billion man is always the best partner when you are a developer saddled with an NBA money pit.

Anyway, Ratner was clearly on the brink and if it wasn't due to the opposition (it was), then what was it, Ratner's own mismanagement?

Remember Ratner once dishonestly and awkwardly said, "I've done a lot of projects, I have never, ever seen a project get less protest than this."

We think it was the opposition and his own mismanagement of the project that put him on the brink, on the ropes. But if we take Ratner at his word, then his mismanagment leaves a lot more failure and coming back for more public subsidy on the horizon.

Posted: 5.10.10
DDDB.net en español.
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Eminent Domain Case
Goldstein et al v. ESDC
[All case files]

November 24, 2009
Court of Appeals

[See ownership map]

EIS Lawsuit

DDDB et al v ESDC et al
Click for a summary of the lawsuit seeking to annul the review and approval the Atlantic Yards project.

Appeal briefs are here.

Appellate Divsion
Rules for ESDC
What would Atlantic Yards Look like?...
Photo Simulations
Before and After views from around the project footprint revealing the massive scale of the proposed luxury apartment and sports complex.

Click for
Screening Schedule
Isabel Hill's
"Atlantic Yards" documentary
Brooklyn Matters

Read a review
Atlantic Yards
would be
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-No Land Grab.org

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-A Child Grows in Bklyn
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-The Real Estate
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-OnNYTurf-Atlantic Yards
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